This is the opposite to the Pandemic games in which humans battle to eradicate bugs; here you are the bug and the aim is to infect cities of the world and kill off entire countries and continents! Now I feel this game lacks the shear panic that Pandemic Legacy gave me but it has meant I have slept over the two weeks of Christmas, which I did not when playing Pandemic Legacy (the ultimate, epic, scary and brilliant game for Microbiologists and all those interested in infection).
But back to Plague Inc, you start as a bacterium (all bacilli of various colours) with one country that you already infect and 5 Trait Cards. You gain DNA points (1 bonus point each round plus 1 for each country where your infection cubes are in control) that allow you to evolve by buying a trait from the Trait Cards you hold in your hand… At the start your bacterium has little potency (2 DNA points) so the game feels a bit slow, but it will grow on you!
Or you might evolve the Heat Resistance trait (5 DNA points) – “avoids cellular breakdown at high temperatures”, which allows your bacterium to spread to hot climate countries like Kenya, Brazil, Australia or India. Without the specific trait your bacterium cannot infect specific “trait requiring cities” e.g. a city accessible only by a port needs the bacterium to have evolved the Waterborne trait, or a hot climate city, Nairobi, needs the bacterium to have evolved the Heat Resistant trait. REMEMBER without the DNA points you cannot buy the trait!
Then you can infect cities with as many cubes as you have “Infectivity” traits, 2 at the start of the game. These can be placed on that new Country Card you have just selected or any other available city on an accessible Country Card (REMEMBER the traits). You can infect your original starting city or any other city(s) you can access, either because they are in the same country or continent, or because you have a trait that allows you to move (e.g. Waterborne or Airborne, Cold Resistant or Heat Resistant). You could also add them to your opponent’s countries as long as you have the traits to access them.
At this initial stage you will not infect every city in a country and therefore will not be in “ultimate control” (all cities infected) of that country so the play transfers to your opponent who repeats these steps for themselves.
This all seems fairly tame; your bugs are multiplying and evolving and your opponents bug is also multiplying and spreading contently. BUT then conflict arises! Your bacteria occupy Peru and another bug lands there by air as it has just evolved the Airborne trait (2 DNA points) and gained the ability to “survive suspended in air for a long time” (making it especially good at spreading via captive passengers on board an aircraft). Now only 3 cities in Peru remain uninfected and this new bacterium has the potential to control them, and therefore the country as a whole (NB that’s bad news for your bug’s ability to multiply and conquer the world!)
It is now a bug-fight to place infection cubes on the last 3 city spaces in Peru. If you win and have “ultimate control” of the country (have more cubes than your opponent bug) then you can roll the Death dice and try and eliminate the country and its population. Rolling the dice acts like the population fighting back against its total demise. Your bugs “Lethality” rating (something you can also develop by spending 2 DNA points and evolving) increases your chances of success.
If you win the dice roll, all infection cubes get returned so they can be spread again, DNA points go up according to numbers of infected cities, you get an “Event Card” as well as getting to keep the Country Card. Your fellow bug gets his cubes back, the equivalent points and an event card but NOT the Country Card. NB the countries you kill, and the overall number killed, may decide if you get powerful end game bonuses, so plan your strategy well.
Even though you both get an Event Card, it is still a big bonus! These add an element of “oh no!”… “oh, no, no, no!” to the game and can make your bug’s ability to spread or be eliminated more likely… or of course you can apply any elimination elements to competing bugs, not your own! If you are mean!!! (Note: my wife likes “take that” elements to games, I do not…it’s just mean).
As a Microbiologist, I like this game a lot. It’s no way near as terrifyingly accurate as Pandemic Legacy but it is much quicker to play! Could it be improved? Maybe. I’d like the Player Evolution Slides to be specific to different bacterial species, not just the artwork but also varying traits and starting abilities. Bacteria species traits are not all the same so having some variations between players’ bacteria at the start may add another more realistic element to the bacteria.
I’d also like the ability to try and defend the world’s population with a “take that” element in the form of an antibiotic which would satisfy the Microbiologist in me and may add another element to the game. The antibiotic could be specifically targeted to a bacterial trait e.g. heat resistance, and if played it would remove the bacterium’s ability to use that trait, either temporarily (static) or permanently (cidal). But maybe that’s the Microbiologist in me going too far!
Umm and one other thing, each player’s Evolution Slide has the title “Bacteria”, on which they develop their bacterium’s traits, so surely this should really read “Bacterium” – singular; the multiple cubes represent the bacteria - pleural… I should know, I get that wrong/muddled all the time when writing the book.
Overall though this is a great game and I urge all of you who like games to give it a go... you won't be disappointed.
P.S. Forgive me if I have missed a muddled up bacteria and bacterium in the book!