Building on the legacy of 2008’s Pandemic board game, Pandemic: Hot Zone Europe features the same stress-inducing cooperative gameplay of its larger counterpart, albeit in a smaller, more portable option. With gameplay focusing solely on Europe as a whole, you’re no longer trotting the globe to discover a cure, but the overall experience remains largely the same.
While this may appear to be Pandemic “Lite” on the surface, it still features all the same components: multiple cures to discover, unique character roles, and a variety of different obstacles to interfere with your team’s progress. The streamlined gameplay is a double-edged sword, however. While it allows for quicker sessions that can be completed in about 30 minutes, it’s far less forgiving and requires players to execute near-optimal decisions during each turn to avoid an inevitable defeat.
What’s in the Box
Just like the game itself, Pandemic: Hot Zone Europe has distilled the packaging down to just the essentials. At roughly the size of a book, this box is perfect for travel, easily fitting into a bag or backpack. Inside, you’ll find the folded game board which features a map of Europe and various locations connected by a series of lines. Everything on the game board is color-coded and clearly labeled, making it easy to understand at a glance.
Below the board, you’ll find two compartments containing various playing cards, small bags of colored cubes, four player tokens, and more. The cards themselves are very small, roughly the same size as a Tic Tac container, further adding to the portable nature. Three small press-seal bags are included to store the small pieces in between game sessions, allowing you to keep everything nice and tidy.
Rules and How to Play
The core gameplay of Pandemic: Hot Zone Legacy revolves around players working together to discover three cures, indicated by the trio of colored cubes that will inevitably spread across the game board. Games can be played with two to four players, with each taking on a specific role as depicted by their character card.
Each role offers a unique perk that allows you to move around the game board more efficiently, more easily discover a cure, or keep diseases from spreading as quickly. Each role provides a unique strategy that synergizes with the team and makes each game session feel just different enough to not become repetitive.
Every turn, players will take four actions which involve moving around the game board in some way, treating a disease in a specific city, sharing cards with other players, or discovering a cure. At first, the number of options can be a bit overwhelming, but after a few turns it becomes second nature. Thankfully, each player can keep a reference card in front of them outlining every action they can take on a given turn, and the player turn steps are printed on the game board, as well.
Each player has a hand of cards, which are played face-up since everybody is working together. Among these cards are colored city cards that correspond with locations on the board and event cards which provide helpful one-time abilities for the team that can be played at any time. Players will work together to accumulate four city cards of the same color, whether by drawing them or trading between one another. Once a player has collected four city cards of the same color, they can discover a cure for one of the diseases. The overall win condition is to discover a cure for all three diseases.
While this may sound like a walk in the park, the cards are quite literally stacked against you as there are a number of conditions that — when met — result in an instant loss. This ranges from diseases spreading too rapidly, running out of disease cubes to infect new cities, or simply being unable to draw a card on your turn. Thus, each player’s turn is critical, as you’re all on the clock the moment the game begins. This creates a true sense of urgency and pairs perfectly with the theme of Pandemic — trying to save Europe from catastrophe before it’s too late.
There are a lot of moving pieces in Pandemic (no pun intended) and the cooperation between players is absolutely essential for victory. Each turn feels like a small puzzle that must be solved in the most efficient manner, and there’s no better feeling than seeing multiple turns of planning come to fruition. This is where Pandemic: Hot Zone Europe shines best — in the moment-to-moment decision-making between teammates.
Mutation Cards are unique to Pandemic: Hot Zone Europe and can be added to the draw pile during setup. When drawn, these Mutation Cards modify one of the existing diseases on the board and present new scenarios for teams looking for additional challenges or for veterans of the Pandemic series. This is a great option to artificially increase the difficulty, but in my experience, it makes winning near-impossible when playing with the maximum amount of Mutations.
Aside from the standard gameplay, there are additional rules and variations you can download from Z-Man Games’ website for free, including a solo game mode, unique challenges, and even the special Hemisphere Rules, which allows you to play in tandem with Pandemic: Hot Zone North America.
Games can be finished in 30 minutes or less, making this a great option for just about any game night with friends or family. However, the streamlined nature of Hot Zone Europe allows for little-to-no room for error during player turns, resulting in far more games ending in a loss than the original Pandemic. Many games came down to the final turn, which is equal parts exciting and stressful. While this is great for those looking for a challenge, it may be a bit discouraging for newcomers to the series.
Where to Buy
Pandemic: Hot Zone Europe is available to purchase from a variety of different retailers for an MSRP of $19.99.