As a lifelong fan of board games, I’ve been familiar with Plague Inc for a while now. It was originally released as a browser based flash game that morphed into a fully featured PC game and then later, reworked console and mobile versions were launched. Even though it existed exclusively as a digital game, Plague Inc has always been a board game at heart, and so it is perfectly natural that a paper and card version would follow.
Featuring a suitably “icky” red and pink theme against a black backdrop, and decorated with scientific motifs such as DNA strands, molecules and suchlike, the card stock for Plague Inc feels very appropriate based on the subject matter. The board itself is fairly small and deceptively simple, but when you add the neat and informative dashboard cards that sit around the edge, the play area expands considerably without any cost to the games neatness.
The objective of Plague Inc (as macabre as it may be) is simple. 1-5 players each assume the role of an individual virus or bacteria, and then spend the game evolving and spreading, before ultimately destroying the human race by killing countries one at a time. Thematically, it’s the exact opposite of Pandemic, and as long as the idea itself isn’t too offensive to you, it makes for a really entertaining twist that enables mechanics we might not see otherwise, such as mutations and some of the event cards, which include launching nuclear strikes on countries ravaged by rival infections.
The aim of Plague Inc is to collect the most of what the game calls DNA points, which are a numerical representation of how prolific your infection is. DNA points are awarded each turn for the number of countries that the player controls, and they can be spent on evolutions, which allow the player to choose new traits for their infection. Traits usually increase the players ability to spread into other countries by granting benefits such as cold and heat resistance, or by allowing an infection to become water or airborne. Some also increase the infectivity or lethality of an infection, which respectively allow it to spread faster, or to eradicate the in-country population more effectively.
Personally, I loved the customisation aspect of Plague Inc because there is a genuine feeling of uniqueness about each play through, especially when you consider the way that countries come into play, and how event cards affect the board when they occur. This positive note is further enhanced by the ability to play as either virus or bacteria based infections, because they are actually very different. Bacteria tends to play logically, with a focus on slow, steady expansion, whilst virus players can rapidly change tactics to leverage advantageous card draws or spread quickly, with the possible drawback of burning out too early.
At the end of the game, each player counts his or her DNA points on the board, spent on trait cards and gained elsewhere through bonuses such as having killed the largest country, or having infected the most of a specific continent. DNA points are simple to count up, and scoring is only done once at the end of the game, so the theme of simplicity and ease of access is maintained throughout. Plague Inc is also quite quick, with an average game between two to four moderately familiar players taking just over an hour.
The card stock and other pieces in Plague Inc are all of really high quality, without being overly exciting considering the price point. What I mean by that is, this isn’t a miniatures game with twenty or thirty sculpted characters, it’s an area control game with clearly laid out boards, cards that feel of high quality and fit well in the hand, and a load of counters that are colourful and nicely sculpted. The whole package fits nicely in the box, and it weighs in at just a couple of kilos, so if it matters to you, then it’s worth knowing that Plague Inc is more transportable than most modern board games tend to be.
Another benefit of Plague Inc is that it has a credible and fun solo mode, called Plaguebot. This mode involves a separate dashboard card that drives the behaviour of the Plaguebot, and there are a couple of options afforded to the player that allow fine tuning of the difficulty level. It’s simple enough to run, and broadly mirrors the same gameplay as in multiplayer modes, albeit with the Plaguebot specific behaviour that the additional card drives. I’ve played two games against the Plaguebot and lost both, but I hope that’s because at the time I hadn’t played any other games, and I was treating it like a tutorial mode.
With the exception of being themed around eradicating the human race, I really have nothing negative to say about Plague Inc. Clearly, young players and those who feel uneasy about playing as a deadly bacteria or virus should steer clear (and probably go directly to Pandemic if theming is the only issue) but the game itself is very solid. The card stock and pieces are of a very high standard and the rulebook is clear and concise, with the added benefit that each player dashboard revisits key mechanics in a very straightforward way. The Plaguebot solo mode is a valuable addition that some people will enjoy, and the game itself is a fantastic example of an area control game that has some fun, innovative features. Considering that Ndemic Creations and James Vaughan are each new to game manufacturing and design respectively, they’ve done a superb job with Plague Inc: The Board Game.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Board Game was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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