Board Game Book Club – May 2015


Spurring from the idea of trying to combat the pervasive Cult of the New, we’re decided to start what we’re calling the Board Game Book Club. Just like a real book club where members all read a selected book and then come together discuss it as a group, we’re doing the same thing only with a “carefully” selected board game. (Listen to podcast episode 7 to find out how we chose the first book club game).

Each month we’re going to choose a game that we intend to play multiple times for that month. At the end of the month we’ll come together to discuss our thoughts on the game, the depth, the strategy, and how our opinions have changed. But we want you to be part of the dialogue too. If you have the chosen game, we want you to play along with us with your game group, at home, or wherever you game. You don’t necessarily need play it as much we’re going to, but we encourage you to try to really dive deep into the game. Then share your thoughts and perceptions as you play right here on this page in the comments section below. And to kick off the start of the club, we’ll be giving away a copy of June’s book club game to one of you who shares your experiences with us. Not only do we want to do this for ourselves, but we really want to develop a community around this. We’ll be posting our game recaps, experiences, and perspectives throughout the month of May, and we’ll be responding in the comments to your posts as well.

The inaugural Board Game Book Club game is…


Next month’s game will be Castles of Burgundy, and you have a chance to win a copy for yourself if you participate in the club by sharing your thoughts on Pandemic. Be as creative as you like, but you have to participate in the comments below to win!

Stay tuned as we update this page all through May. We sincerely hope that you’ll join us. We’ll be trying some different things so let us know what’s working and what you’d like us to try out. Now, go save the world!

Week 1: Live Stream on Normal Difficulty

Shawn’s Thoughts:

Jonathan, Clint, and I did a live play of Pandemic on normal difficulty using only the base game and broadcasted through Periscope. During our live stream, the very first question that was asked by one of the viewers was “Would you recommend this game?” Wholeheartedly, with a resounding yes. This is a classic, approachable cooperative board game. After introducing this game to non-gamers (basically co-workers during our lunch hour game sessions), nearly everyone who has played has ended up purchasing the game for themselves. This really begs the question why? The cooperative nature of the game is what I believe attracts so many new players. It’s something different from what we have traditionally expected from board games. For many, this may actually be the first cooperative, strategic board game they have played. I know for me this was a whole new world when I first played it. Thinking back, I loved Clue: The Great Museum Caper when I was younger, but the aspect that really caught me was that we had to work together to stop another player from stealing paintings from the museum. However, there was a still a winner and a loser (or a group of such) in the game. Pandemic is completely about teamwork. We win or lose together. Yet while we’re all part of the same team, we’re not all the same. The base game comes with 5 different roles and finding the synergy among the roles used really makes or breaks whether the team is successful. It’s not enough to just move around and clear cubes from the board, although that’s certainly important. You must utilize the strengths of your role in conjunction with role of your fellow players. You have to communicate and coordinate to work through the problem because no one player can do everything.

While Jonathan has only played the game twice, Clint and I have played numerous times. Anecdotally, I’ve noticed that as a player’s experience with the game increase, so too does the tendency for alpha gamer syndrome (while perhaps not true for everyone, I have certainly noticed this within myself to a certain extent). When I’m teaching a new player how to play Pandemic, I naturally want to point out what I believe would have been a more optimal move. The intention is not to tell the player what to do but rather to teach them alternate perspectives and options. Personally I’m thinking it best to only give advice when a player asks for it, and maybe reserve sharing potentially more effective strategies until after the game’s conclusion. I am curious what others think on this topic. While a lot of people want their cooperative games hard, I worry that losing the first game might discourage new players from wanting to try again, especially if it ends in a blood bath (Pandemic, she be a cruel mistress). On the flip side, you don’t want the game to be a cakewalk where there’s no challenge. However, it’s interesting that none of us have ventured beyond the normal difficulty setting. Our next play will certainly take us into the unknown territory of having 6 (or more if we’re feeling stupid) epidemic cards. It will be interesting to see how the increased challenge will impact the way I’ve played the game. Playing on normal difficulty is never a guaranteed win for me, but perhaps my higher win to loss ratio on the normal setting warrants taking it up a notch (and I’m sure I’ll immediately regret it).

  • Mark Johnson

    Very excited about this concept. My game groups have done something like this in the past. Back then, the “new” we were avoiding was 2003! 🙂 Take a look at this article I wrote back then. Maybe some of it is still applicable. (Or maybe not.)

    If you’re really brave, you can listen to whatever I said about this topic in a very early episode of my own podcast. It’s so old, though, I’m afraid to listen myself!

    Now I need to go subscribe to YOUR podcast. 🙂 Good luck with it!

  • Dave Racette

    Very cool idea. Love Pandemic as I’m a big fan of the coop games! Especially the tough ones like Pandemic or Space Cadets. The replay on this game is awesome as well with the roles either chosen or random. And the ability to make the game mediocre to super hard is a nice bonus as well. Looking forward to more from here!!

    • That’s one of the great things about Pandemic and Space Cadets; each player has a unique role that makes them feel special. We’ve not yet tried Pandemic on the Heroic (not to mention the Legendary difficulty in the On the Brink expansion), but we plan to remedy that. We played on Normal difficulty tonight and pulled out a win. I don’t think we’ll be so lucky when we crank up the difficulty. Have you been able to win on the harder difficulty levels?

      • Dave Racette

        I have not had the privilege of playing any of the expansions for Pandemic. We have only sneaked out one win. We chose roles and only 4 Epidemic cards. Optimal team. We were down to just a few cards left in the Cities deck and we snaked out the win! O do not own the game (yet) so that last win was the last time we’ve played. Still one of my favorites for the difficulty and the tension it can create!

  • Jacob Coon

    I think this is a great idea. I’ve been doing something similar with my game group (bringing the same 4 or 5 games every week) since I am the game buyer. It’s been fun to replay games consistently.

    Im headed over to my friend’s place tonight to play Pandemic: State of Emergency and who knows we might play it a couple times. Just to make sure, we can play any of the expansions, right?

    • Expansions are absolutely welcome. We’re planning to introduce some of the On the Brink expansions to add new challenges in our future games of Pandemic. Let us know how your game goes! I haven’t been able to play State of Emergency so I’d love to hear your thoughts.

      • Jacob Coon

        Excellent since that is what we played. 🙂 We played two of the modules that come with SoE; Quarantines and Hinterlands. To put it simply Quarantine makes the game a bit easier by allowing you to prevent 2 cubes being placed in a quarantined city (up to 4 or 6 based on characters) and Hinterlands gives you 4 new location where disease can spread and one additional cube that might be placed every round. How that works is you roll a die with one side for each color and 2 blank sides. If you roll a color you place a cube in the Hinterlands area (new board pieces). If an outbreak happens in the Hinterlands region it spreads to 4 or 5 (can’t remember) cities and vice versa. We lost (no surprise), but we didn’t use the Quarantine as much as we probably should have. I think these two modules add decent changes to the game so I would try them again and I would like to try the other two as well sometime soon.

  • Mark Kohls

    I’ve played it 5 or 6 time since you announced the book club. Only 2 player but on varying levels of difficulty. Only one once on regular (5 epidemic cards) and lost the one time on legendary. The key seems to be the luck of the card draws and good roles. It seems like some of the roles are not very useful with 2 players while others are extra useful with 2 players. The operations expert and researcher, moving people passing cards, are not very useful in the 2 player one as you only have the one person to pass cards with. While the medic, and scientist seem more useful as the medic can clear more faster and the scientist can cure even faster with a good draw as they can act every other turn, I guess that’s game balance in a way as the other roles are more useful with more players and more area can be covered with more players.

    Also I feels like could be certain setups, initial city, role and player card combos that while, not technically impossible might be unwinnable unless played 100% perfectly while others are more manageable. It’s not in the spirit of how I try to game but as I’ve only won pandemic correctly once or twice. I’d be tempted to reshuffle and restart if a bad combo came up as I’d rather not be playing futilely.

    Overall still a very fun game that I’d like to explore more of in the future.

    • Absolutely. We had some very unlucky draws in some of our games with the one city we absolutely didn’t want to get infected that pops up and things spiral out of control. The medic seems to be a crowd favorite when it comes to Pandemic for us. The other issue that I’ve experienced with the Operations Expert and Researcher even outside of 2 player games is knowing when and how to effectively use their abilities. While they’re not complicated roles, they aren’t always a straightforward as the other two. I have noticed that a lot of people tend to feel that the 2 players games are easier, but I’m not certain that’s really been my experience.

      Glad you found some enjoyment playing the game this past month.

  • Thanks to everyone who participated in May’s Board Game Book Club. We randomly selected one of the contributors, and Dave Racette is our winner of Castles of Burgundy. We’ll be in touch.

  • Dave Racette

    Can’t wait for this to arrive!! Thanks for the contest!