Geek Review – Pandemic: Hot Zone – North America

Here’s something nobody expected this year: a global pandemic bringing the world to a standstill. Well, amidst the turmoil, here’s another unexpected development – a new Pandemic game amidst the global pandemic happening in real life.

Z-Man Games and designer Matt Leacock are back with Pandemic: Hot Zone – North America, a lite version of the popular co-operative game that pits players against a — you guessed it — series of widespread diseases that threaten to swallow the whole of humanity in a race against time. But instead of the game set across the globe, this spinoff is situated within North America itself because we all know that if a pandemic was real, North America would be the least equipped nation to deal with it (a fact that Z-Man Games themselves are no doubt aware of as a tongue-in-cheek thing).

Pandemic: Hot Zone – North America puts players in the shoes of a medical team that has to contain three diseases that are slowly spreading across North America. Players take turns performing up to four actions with a combination of either moving to different cities, treating diseases (shaped like coloured cubes), sharing knowledge with one another (i.e. exchanging coloured city cards) and researching for cures to cure one of three coloured diseases. 

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Similar to the original, Pandemic: Hot Zone – North America is playable for 2 – 4 players, but runs for about half the time (20 – 30 minutes as opposed to 40 – 60). To suit the more fast-paced nature of this title, a lot of the original has been shaved off, including three diseases to cure instead of four, less cards and locations, and a smaller board size. 

The cardboard cutout size is more than enough to accommodate sleeved cards, in case you want some additional protection for these tiny pieces of cardboard (which is always personally recommended). And to suit the portable nature of the game, everything is packaged nicely in a box about half the size of the original, which makes it a great travel companion. 

Bottom line – finding cures for all three diseases automatically wins the game. It’s that simple, right? Wrong.

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At the end of each round, infections will spread across cities, but there is also a chance that an epidemic will occur, which instantly infects any random city on the map, while advancing the infection tracker on the board (which in turn causes more cities to be infected each round). Additionally, if any city ends up with more than three cubes, it will result in an outbreak. Outbreaks cause disease cubes to spread to adjacent cities, and also advance the outbreak tracker on the board. 

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Not all is doom and gloom in Pandemic: Hot Zone – North America, though. Players are given various tools with which to make their lives easier, such as the presence of event cards that give players that extra boost such as more actions or free travel to be able to worm their way out of sticky situations. And not forgetting the fact that each player has their own unique roles that let them perform specific actions that alleviate their (many) headaches on the game board just a little more.

Whether or not you have played Pandemic previously or are totally new to this game, know that this is a tough one. While there is only one way to win, there are a slew of ways to lose this game: if the deck runs out of cards, if the outbreak track goes past 3, or if you run out of any of the disease cubes. But thankfully, unlike your Monopolies or Exploding Kittens, this is a cooperative game, so groups are often encouraged to discuss what they have to do before committing to each turn to make the most out of the situation. 

That said, even the best-laid plans can still fall flat on their faces, due to the unpredictability of the random chance of drawing an epidemic card, which causes the difficulty to spike, sometimes even to impossible odds. And that is the beauty of this game.

The optional Crisis cards add a good amount of strategic depth (or difficulty spike, depending on whether you’re a glass-half-full or glass-half-empty type of person) as they add more complexity to Hot Zone – North America, and make the game just that much more unpredictable.

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If you’ve played previous versions of Pandemic, then Hot Zone – North America should feel right at home for you, if not a little more rapid. Rounds certainly feel like a breeze, and within 15 minutes, players will be knee-deep in heated discussions about what to do next before the ticking time bombs that is the next epidemic card is drawn. 

Since this is a more rules-lite version of Pandemic, it’s actually perfect for board game greenhorns, as the rules can be taught within just one round (especially when new players are just focusing on their one role), and that there aren’t that many rules components to follow. But at the same time, this also makes Hot Zone – North America not as strategically complex as compared to the full-size version, which may not appeal to more hardcore players.

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Even if you’re playing this as the only board game in your collection after a while, you’ll find yourself craving for a much more challenging version of Pandemic (yes, we can testify that the challenge that this game presents somehow turns players into masochists looking to torture themselves with more difficult gameplay). However, this serves as a great travel game, or at least something to ease new players into the hobby.

GEEK REVIEW SCORE

Summary

Like how one shouldn’t underestimate a juvenile tiger just for being a smaller version of the big cat, one definitely needs to respect just how satisfyingly challenging Pandemic: Hot Zone – North America can be, and rightly so.

Overall
8.8/10
8.8/10
  • Gameplay - 8.5/10
    8.5/10
  • Presentation - 9/10
    9/10
  • Value - 9/10
    9/10
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