Pandemic: Iberia Review - Theme Makes A Comeback!

Ah Pandemic, I may not love you, but I humbly respect you. I love co-ops and even though I get enjoyment from playing Pandemic, it's not my favourite one out there compared to many, mostly because of the feeling of being a puzzle more than a thematic experience. Pandemic Legacy however managed to rectify that and then some with a very entertaining cinematic experience (though not #1 on BoardGameGeek worthy, come on people). Despite that though, I can't deny it ticks the boxes for what a gateway co-operative game should be. Tense, challenging, quick, a little bit of luck, and a good amount of communication in the group ignoring any alpha player issues. It gets the praise and deservedly so.

But Z-Man has gone on a mission lately with these spin-off's. First we got the dice game, which was OK. Then Pandemic Cthulhu recently, which was decent, but talk about jumping the shark. Almost straight after that we now have a limited print edition of Iberia, which at first glance looks exactly like regular Pandemic, just set in historical Spain. Was there a need, does it improve the game and should you even consider this if you've already got a ton of Pandemic content on your shelf?




Designer: Matt Leacock & Jesus Torres Castro
Age: 8+
Players: 1-5
Time: 45-60 Minutes
RRP: £46.99


Note that this review is going to assume that you know about regular Pandemic and specifically go over how this feels similar and different. If you want to read my thoughts on the original, please check out my review.


From Board Game Geek

Welcome to the Iberian Peninsula! Set in 1848, Pandemic Iberia asks you to take on the roles of nurse, railwayman, rural doctor, sailor, and more to find the cures to malaria, typhus, the yellow fever, and cholera.
From Barcelona to Lisboa, you will need to travel by carriage, by boat, or by train to help the Iberian populace. While doing so, distributing purified water and developing railways will help you slow the spread of diseases in this new version of Pandemic.
Discover a unique part of the world during a historically significant time period: the construction of the first railroad in the Iberian Peninsula during the Spring of Nations.
The game comes with two variants that can be added :
  • Influx of Patients : the cubes, representing patients, will tend to flock to hospitals to try to get cured. Hospitals also are a bit more powerful.
  • Historical Diseases : instead of being generic, each disease has a specific power to better represent what it is (Malaria, Cholera, Yellow Fever etc.)


VIVA PANDEMIC


Certainly Iberia is more brighter version of Pandemic. They've done away with the black and blue "sci-fi" styling (looked like something out of X-Com) and now it's all about pale yellows and browns and a kind of "old fashioned" styling for the board. I think it looks great, zooming in on one region allows for more detail than a full basic world map. Even the artwork has been significantly improved for the cards, particularly the new roles. Overall it's far more striking on the table than before whether or not you'll miss the translucent cubes or are happy with wooden ones (if those custom disease tokens weren't so expensive I'd have a bunch of them). Unfortunately you're paying the cost of these upgrades in the RRP.

In terms of rules there's very little in the basic game that changes from the original so anyone familiar with Pandemic is going to pick this up in no time at all. But newcomers will also grasp the concepts fine, the rulebook is crystal clear with many examples and at the end of the day, Pandemic has always been a gateway game.


INITIAL OUTBREAK


For the base game alone, there's very few tweaks from the standard rules and most are quite minor, however I approve of all of them. It's like they picked out a few tidbits from the various Pandemic games and expansions with a pair of tweezers and added them in. Just to highlight a few of them:

Interesting Roles - there's a good selection here that feel different from their original counterparts. I particularly enjoy the Nurse with her Prevention token that follows her around (though it looks too closely like a bullseye which raises some questions. . . )


Railroads / Ports - it's now possible to build railroads on the map to speed up future movement and with a card you can even zip around the entire map by sea. Iberia feels like there's much more freedom to get around whereas in the original, I felt quite confined.

Purifying Water - remember the Quarantine tokens from the last Pandemic expansion? That's essentially what these are, except it costs cards to place down and they affect entire regions of the board. There's a cool system where by each enclosed area is a region and different effects will influence an entire region of cities. Don't underestimate how useful these are!

No Cure - you don't actually cure a disease in this game (remember this is pre-Penicillin days), you merely research them. This means that you never get to "hoover" up cubes after you've cashed in the cards. One role is like a semi-Medic, but other than that it's one cube per treat action. I give props to the designers for the attention to detail given here to bring out a strong theme/setting.


FURTHER RESEARCH


So far we've essentially got base Pandemic, but with a few minor tweaks. An improvement but not exactly a must-buy. Read the back of the rulebook however because it's the variants which catapault Iberia to a new level of enjoyment and difficulty.

"Patients Influx" - theme disconnect from using cubes? Then this is your fix. This variant treats the cubes as actual patients on the board and grants bonuses from building hospitals. The catch is that every turn the patients will start slowly moving towards their respective colour hospital, thus potentially causing the hospital to over-run and cause an outbreak. I love this variant and opt to use it whenever possible, not only is it a fair challenge increase, but the theme and mechanics fit well together as patients panic and try to seek medical help. Puzzle fans will also love trying to factor in patient movement on top of everything as it's something you can properly predict - it's not luck based. You know when cubes will move and where they will move to. Of course, what the Infection deck does after that is another story.

"Historic Diseases" - I never liked how every disease acted the same in the original. Naming them after a colour and that's it. In Iberia you can now include between 1 and 4 historic diseases, each of which adds a behavioural pattern to a colour. Yellow Fever for example worsens a yellow outbreak on port cities and Malaria brings in two black cubes per infection on an empty city. Be warned however that these increase the difficulty significantly. I can only imagine all four would be used at once by those conducting a "survival" mode game for a laugh. Playing on Easy mode with the Epidemic cards, but using historic diseases with the patients variant creates a nice thematic, yet beatable challenge.    


I HAVE PANDEMIC, DO I NEED PANDEMIC?


I'm asked by many people who have been with Pandemic since the days of old whether this is worth getting on top of what they already own. My personal view is that if you already own Pandemic with expansions on top, you don't need this version unless you're a completionist or a fanboy. Despite its merits, you're unlikely to gain more than a few variants and rule tweaks from the investment. But then we all buy map packs for games like Ticket to Ride and Power Grid (ugh did I just say that name?) so you could think of this as a map expansion.

It's unlikely that this version will be expanded given that it's a limited print edition. So it's self contained and therefore you're not going to see the pleathora of additions for Iberia as you have for the original Pandemic. Therefore this feels more like an alternative for newcomers to look into who probably don't want to spend lots of money on expansions. The new tweaks add to the base game we already know in a good way and the variants will ensure plenty of replay value from this box alone.


VERDICT ON PANDEMIC IBERIA


If you are new to Pandemic and starting fresh, then I can sincerely recommend Pandemic Iberia as the best of the range to pick up while stocks last despite the high cost. It's unlikely to be expanded like the original was, but a lot of those expansions are rarely used in full and this version feels like it's taken little pieces from all of them to make a more full bodied experience and yet keep it at a gateway level. The theme which previously was lacking, is now so much stronger here. And if you need more theme and difficulty, the variants do a great job of incorporating that.

However if you are a Pandemic veteran, unless you're a completionist or a total fanboy of the brand, you don't need to grab this. It will certainly be more accessible to new players than your expanded copy of Pandemic and won't require you to extract all the complex additions though. And maybe you just fancy a new map with some rule tweaks, in which case that's your choice.

I sold off my original copy of Pandemic a long time ago. And I still have a bigger love of some other Co-Op's for theme and excitement, but thanks to Iberia, the brand has found its way back to my shelf.
   


BROKEN RATING - 8 Outbreaks of Yellow Fever




YOU WILL LIKE PANDEMIC IBERIA IF:


You love Pandemic in general - it's so similar in comparison.


You want a standalone version that doesn't require expansion in the future.


You enjoy a need a gateway co-op game that can provide a challenge.



YOU WILL NOT LIKE PANDEMIC IBERIA IF:


You want something fundamentally different and unique from regular Pandemic.


You want a decent level of theme in the standard game - the variants help though.


You feel the alpha player issue still poses a problem.


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