Pandemic: Hot Zone – North America Review: a short cooperative board game with big ambitions


This Pandemic: Hot Zone – North America review aims to replicate the game itself by packing big ideas into a small package. This is one of the best cheap board games right now because it takes the collaborative, disease wrecking concept of the Pandemic franchise – which was rightly such a huge success – and manages to make it shorter, easier and smaller but without losing the tough choices which make the game one of the best board games overall.

Pandemic: Hot Zone – North America’s trick is to provide a smaller board than the regular Pandemic game, with fewer places to move but also less time to complete the mission at its core. These decisions balance each other out great – fewer places may have made the game too easy, but shortening it makes it back to a tense game that regularly throws you to the curb when you think you’ve won.

The format change means losing some of the replayability that made the full version of Pandemic a top spot on our list of the best board games, but that might be okay, especially for the price. We explain the concept of the game, what this version gets right, and where there are some issues.

Don’t forget that we also have our guide to help you choose which version of Pandemic you should receive.

The components of the pandemic Hot Zone North America jumped on the table

(Photo credit: Asmodee USA)

Pandemic: Hot Zone North America Review: Who It Is For

This is a cooperative game that is officially for 2-4 players, although there is no reason why you couldn’t play it alone when you might control two different “players” yourself. I think it’s best played with two or three, but four is nothing wrong with at all – only two or three can do it really quickly as it is designed for games that last around 30 minutes.

It’s officially listed for ages 8 and up, and that seems fine, but mostly with adults involved too. There are a few different decks of cards that need to be set up in a special way at the beginning, and the rounds have specific stages and “housekeeping” to do this requires a bit of learning – if an adult takes on this (at least initially). ), it should be fine for this age as well as older ones.

The fact that this is a cooperative game helps with this – when it is your turn to act, you are the one making decisions about what you will do, but the way to win the game is by working with you As the other players work on strategies feeling lost about what to do next, it is really part of the adult game to lead them.

All of this means that it’s a great family game, but great for groups of adults too. Anyone who likes the cooperative aspects of the game, triumphing together or feeling sorry for losing together in just under half an hour (maximum) of playing time.

However, it may suffer from the same problem as many cooperative games, namely that one person who thinks they know best might try to boss everyone else around on what to do. Obviously, making suggestions to other people is a big part of this game, but if you have someone who likes to be in control and is frustrated when others don’t listen, this may not be the ideal game. However, it is actually better than normal Pandemic because the games are shorter.

Pandemic Hot Zone North America Board Ready to Play

(Photo credit: Asmodee USA)

Pandemic: Hot Zone North America Review: Here’s How It Played

If you’ve played a Pandemic game before you know the exercise – but here’s an overview. In cities that are connected by lines, disease dice appear on the game board. Too many disease cubes in a city cause an outbreak in connected cities and spread even more cubes.

When it is your turn to act, you can perform four actions. For example, you can move from town to town and “treat” the disease to reduce the number of dice in a town. And then, after it’s your turn, you draw “Infection” cards, which add more dice to the game board.

Yes, more cubes will be added after that every Moves of the individual players. Pandemic is a game of swimming against the current, and the current is full of bacteria.

To win you must “heal” the three colors on the disease die. The resource for discovering cures is city cards, and you start with some of them in hand and then draw two more after each of your turns. To find a cure you need four of the same color, and city cards come in three different colors.

One important trick with Pandemic, however, is that these cards aren’t just good for finding cures. You can also use them to dash across the field in a single action – otherwise you’ll have to trudge through town after town and devour your train before doing anything useful. So you have to save them for healing … but you also have to use them for travel because how else are you going to get to this city before it erupts? Can you risk waiting another lap?

And of course, you won’t be drawing exactly the cards you need. You have to find ways to exchange cards between players by meeting in the right places. But if you do, you won’t cure a disease, will you? Can you afford it?

There are several ways to lose the game. If too many breakouts happen, you lose instantly. If you ever need to add a Plague Cube and none of that color is left, you lose instantly. If you run out of cards in the city deck, you lose immediately.

Nevertheless, it is a reliable and safe thing to pick up new city cards at least at the end of the turn, right? Hahaha no This deck contains three “Epidemic” cards, which will cause any cities that already have Disease Dice to be queued for them to receive more Disease Cube in the very near future.

To aid you in your quest, each player has a different beneficial power and there are ‘event’ cards under the city cards that give you additional bonuses.

All of this is very similar to how Pandemic works, and hence the game too. The puzzle isn’t that overwhelmingly wide because the board is smaller – I wasn’t during my first few games even Fear of losing or running out of disease dice to outbreaks (although I’ve played a ton of pandemic over the years, this may not come as a surprise). For me, the real challenge was getting the city card deck small enough to leave zero Room for complacency unless you are lucky and only draw matching cards. That makes it a short game.

Still, it’s not too difficult to just play like that, even for newbies. Because of this, this is a great game for those new to strategic board games – it doesn’t feel like thinking that far ahead, and it’s not all that hard to get a win.

The challenge is really added by the ‘Crisis’ cards which (along with the Epidemic cards) are hidden in the city card deck and create a kind of crease in the game. They can prevent you from performing certain Movement Actions, or they can suddenly add more Disease Dice to the board.

These should provide variety, because you only put a limited number of them from the selection into the deck, ideally without looking at them beforehand. Actually, I’m not a big fan of it. It’s mostly things that frustrate you – by narrowing down your toolset or undoing your progress – instead of adding an interesting new challenge. Variation and difficulty are best when added by expanding the puzzle, not restricting the players. The first full-size Pandemic expansion, On The Brink, did this perfectly with its Virulent Strain variations.

It’s by no means a deal breaker – I think the game is great fun anyway, like I said, and these crisis cards are optional – but that doesn’t make it a real classic for me. There is no other way to add variety or additional difficulty to the game. The fact that they aren’t that great ultimately limits the overall replayability of the game.

You also get less variation than the full size game because the board itself is smaller – there is simply less ways the game can play. Again, that’s not really a problem because it makes it easier and faster. But there is one factor that can affect its longevity for you.

Pandemic Hot Zone North America game in the middle of the game, focuses on one player's cards

(Photo credit: Asmodee USA)

Pandemic: Hot Zone – North America Review: Verdict

As I mentioned earlier, I think Pandemic: Hot Zone – North America is as intelligent as it is overly dotted. There’s a whole brain teaser game here that feels epic but isn’t too hard to beat for newbies and will be over in the time it takes to have your coffee.

Its small size makes it pretty travel-friendly, and for the price, it’s a breeze to add to your collection (or to start your collection) if you aren’t already experiencing a regular pandemic.

But I think it’s best to mix it up with other activities or games – a couple of games in a row is great as you might lose the first and want to get revenge, while the great pandemic can be played week after week as a shared activity that is fun, this one has less stamina.

But here’s the good news: you can actually try this for free! There is a Print & Play version on the manufacturer’s website.

Pandemic: Hot Zone – North America Review: Consider too

Well, the main alternative to think about here is the full version of Pandemic. Honestly, if you’re just curious about this game in general and aren’t worried about getting the cheap version of it, just get yourself some normal pandemic. And after you’ve played it to death for over a couple of weeks (and you will), get yourself the Pandemic: On The Brink expansion. Those two combined are just A + top stuff that offers a lot of different ways to mix up the challenge. You can find the prices for this in our guide to all types of pandemics.

If you want a game that is so small, so cheap, and plays at the same time, this is it Even based on a larger classic game … but competitive rather than cooperative, then you’ll want Ticket to Ride: New York.


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