I sometimes think that making a smaller PnP version Pandemic is its own sub-genre. You’ve got Infection Express, Epidemic and Contagion. Heck, Asmodee itself got into the game when they offered Hot Zone as a free PnP file :D
Epidemic is the first one I’ve tried, since I didn’t have to worry about colors. And nine cards, plus some tokens, made it an easy project to throw together. (Yes, Contagion is one card. I’ll try that one next, okay?)
I would have actually tried Epidemic when it first showed up in the 2018 Nine-Card Design Contest (I made my copy then) but the rules had some vague bits, particularly about set-up, that confused me. When I saw someone had posted some revised rules, it all clicked and I was good to go.
Three of the cards form a map of the world with fifteen interconnected spots for virus tokens. One card is a track to track research and mutation. And the last five cards are the action cards.
The core mechanic is dead simple. You shuffle the action cards and lay them out. You can do any action but if you choose one that isn’t on the far right, it will cost you. Every card you pass over gets a virus tokens. The card you play goes to the end of row on the left. And if you pick a card that has virus tokens, they get added to the board. Oh, and the farther to the right (the start of the cars track), the stronger the card effect.
The three happy cards let you move along the research track, move the medic to clear virus tokens and make different special events happen. The bad cards add virus tokens to the board and move the mutation track along. To add to the fun, the mutation track has milestones that, when you hit them, make things worse.
Epidemic is a tiny little game with a tiny little track and a tiny little supply of virus tokens. It’s not hard to speed along the research track BUT it’s also easy to speed along the mutation track or use up virus tokens.
Epidemic is an interesting beast. Once I had the couple rules issues ironed out, it was very easy to understand. And some of that understanding came from knowing Pandemic. And I enjoyed it as a interesting puzzle game. The selling point of Epidemic is that you hit the managing the train wreck part of the game super fast.
But you can’t help but compare it to Pandemic and it isn’t Pandemic :P
If you are looking for a pocket-sized little puzzler that’s free to download and easy to make, Epidemic is worth a look. If you are looking for a pocket-sized substitute for Pandemic, a Pandemic you can fit in your pocket, Epidemic isn’t it.
It’s worst failing in that regard is that it really doesn’t function as a multi-player cooperative game. In Pandemic, everyone has their own hand of cards, pawn and special power to look after. In Epidemic, all the resources are global. Taking turns only makes sense if you use a variation where you can only talk by adding a virus token. And that sounds annoying. There are better games to manage communication with.
I do think that Epidemic might have the PnP Forgiveness Syndrome for me. I spent less than a dollar in materials and fifteen minutes in crafting. If I get five, ten initial plays in and then play it once ina blue moon for novelty, I’ll be happy. But if paid twenty dollars for it, I don’t think I’d be as pleased.
But Epidemic is free to download and easy to make. And it is a solid little puzzle that used tried and true mechanics and theme. I think most folks will find it worth the effort to try it out.