Pandemic: Rising Tide is the close companion to Pandemic: Iberia, discussed here two weeks ago. However, it moves further away from Pandemic’s core, to show how the same simulation can also work for floods! It’s quite clever.
Pandemic: Rising Tide by Jeroen Doumen & Matt Leacock
Publisher: Z-Man Games (2017)
Cooperative Style: True Co-Op
Play Style: Action Point, Card Management, Set Collection
The players are now trying to fight the waters in the Netherlands. The problem is that much of the country is below sea level, protected on by dikes, but those dikes are constantly degrading, while the sea level is simultaneously rising. Work is needed to keep the country above water! Meanwhile, the players must collect cards to build four hydraulic structures to ensure the country’s existence in perpetuity.
The bipartite challenge structure in Pandemic: Rising Tide should look familiar: players must work to avoid loss (by pumping water and building dikes) while simultaneously marching toward victory (by building hydraulic structures). Many of the specifics are the same as in past Pandemic games, with the biggest differences coming in the game’s core simulation system.
Like all of the Pandemic games, players are trying keep geographic locales from being flooded with undesirable components. But instead of diseases this time, players are trying to prevent a literal flood of water. The flooding comes through the revelation of geographic location cards, as usual, but their results occur in two stages. First, a location card removes (“degrades”) nearby dikes, and then when all of the dikes surrounding a location have been removed, it starts depositing water cubes in the region instead. It feels like a combination of the Pandemic Legacy: Season 2 (2017) mechanic, where players maintain supply cubes on spaces, with the more traditional Pandmic mechanic of placing disease (now water) cubes.
With two levels of defense: first the dikes, then the accumulation of water cubes, it might sound like it’s easier to stay ahead in Rising Tide. It would be if not for the fact that there’s an additional balance: after dikes have fallen and water cubes have been placed, water then flows across the country. This is done via a simple, mathematical simulation: a region accrues water cubes if an adjacent region has sufficient water cubes and there’s no dike between them. This flooding can also occur starting in the outer seas as the sea levels rise.
And there’s one additional level of complexity to the simulation: you can also build pumping stations that can reduce water levels! This occurs before dike failure and water flow and so can either make a big difference, or be worthless, depending on how thoughtful you are about how the overall simulation is going to work. Whew!
Unfortunately, this simulation requires a lot more attention than any other Pandemics. Every single region that has had an increase in cubes has to be examined, and as the water flows it can have cascade effects. This is made more difficult by the fact that it can sometimes be hard to see whether there are dikes between regions, as they’re placed somewhat chaotically on a map that’s a bit hard to read. In fact, it’s possible that the whole system wouldn’t feel nearly as complex with a clearer board, with is an important caveat for complex systems in games.
Simulations can be a great mechanism in co-op games for producing unexpected results because players can’t keep all of the cause and effect in their head. The more complex they become, the harder it is to see those results (which is mostly good), but also the harder it becomes to administer the system (which is mostly bad). A computerized simulation would work great with Rising Tide, but as is, it feels like it trends toward the too-complex side.
Mind you, not only is the water flow system thematic, but it can also create large-scale changes of a sort unknown in previous Pandemic games. Falling dikes might have no effect on the interior, if there’s no water there, but a single storm on a coast can then cause water to flow across half the country! This creates a level of tension and an all-or-nothing system that’s virtually unknown in Pandemic, and which makes the new system feel very different from its predecessors, even with the same core design.
Challenge System Elements: Turn Activation; Arbitrary Trigger; multiple Simulations; Exponential Cascade; Decay; multiplying Task Threats.
The cooperative system in Pandemic: Rising Tide feels like it’s following right in the footsteps of Pandemic: Iberia (2016). There’s a stronger geographic basis (thanks to the adjacency of floods) and there are cooperative resources (thanks to pumps and dikes). A lot of the cooperation also tends to focus on the new game systems thanks (again) to carefully redesigned roles.
Rising Ride is another very successful adaptation of an evocative setting and problem to the Pandemic game system. Though the simulation system can be a bit heavy, it also feels like water!
Expansions & Variants
Pandemic: Rising Ride is the second of the “Pandemic Survival” games: limited-edition games set in specific times and places that vary the core Pandemic rules. It’s further from the original that Pandemic: Iberia, with Pandemic: Fall of Rome (2018), moving even further away with its focus on invading warriors.
Pandemic: Rising Tide is the first Pandemic game to step away from disease and explore how the core game system could be used for a different invasive problem. It’s a very clever adaptation. It also shows how the balance of a challenge system can be entirely upended by simultaneously making it easier (through the dikes that hold back the water) and harder (through the flow that spreads water after it’s landed on the board).
Whether the simulation is too complex for play or not (which will be a question for individual groups), the game certainly does show that there are boundaries of complexity out there that must be considered.
“Water can rush in and take over large regions if you’re not careful and you don’t have your fingers in the right place.”
—Matt Leacock, October 2017, “Interview with Matt Leacock at Essen Spiel 2017”, The Dice Tower, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O6hlMWSpvsk&list=LLu3SatyGjMa1XRPkP7ipXKw