Saving the world from deadly diseases is not a simple task as it requires flying around the world, building research stations, setting up quarantine zones, treating the infected, managing outbreaks, and finally discovering cures! The question we are asking is, ‘Can you do all of this, blind?’ Let’s find out…
Welcome to the first post in my ‘Board Games You Can Play Blind’ series! We will start with a brief overview of the game and how it is played. Then, I will share my ‘algorithm’ of how I play Pandemic blind, starting from the initial setup of the game, followed by what I do on my turn, and finally how I contribute to the team when it is another player’s turn.
Image showing all the Pandemic game components
Game name: Pandemic
Publisher: Z-Man Games
Player count: 2-4
Playing time: 45-60 minutes
Pandemic is a cooperative board game that can be played up to 4 players. In Pandemic, each player takes a specific role to stop four different deadly diseases from destroying the world’s population.
The board is a map of the world that shows 48 cities that are connected to each other with white lines. If you have some vision, you may be able to see that the continents have different colors, for instance North America and Europe are blue, South America and Africa are yellow, West Asia is black, while East Asia and Australia are colored red. This means that when a city gets infected, you put a disease cube of the same color to the infected city.
On a player’s turn, you have a total of 4 actions that can be a combination of driving to an adjacent city, taking a direct or charter flight to another city, treating the infected in the city you are located in (by removing a disease cube), building a research station in the city you are located in, discovering a cure if you have the necessary cards, or sharing knowledge (trading city cards) with another player. We will not go too much into the details of how the game is played, as that is not the goal of this post.
If you are blind or severely visually impaired, you will require a sighted person to teach you the game rules. A how-to play video on youtube might also be helpful, but having a person nearby teach you the rules should work best.
Game Set Up
If you’ve read my intro posts, you might say “But you said you still have some vision left, didn’t you?” and you would be right, however, since I can’t read the names of the cities on the cards, see where exactly the disease cubes and player pawns are located, the sight I still have does not really help me. So when playing Pandemic, I am blind.
Image shows a close up of the player cards with other components in the background
Even though I can’t see much, I can still help during the initial set up of the game, as long as another player tells me what I have in hand. In Pandemic, this mostly means shuffling and dealing cards. Once all the infection cards are shuffled, player cards are dealt and reshuffled with the added Epidemic cards, and one role card is dealt to each player, I have to sit back for the next phase in the set up. A sighted player then draws several infection cards and starts with the initial placement of disease cubes on the world map. The infection cards contain the city name and color of the disease cubes that need to be placed. They also put a few other markers on the board that mark the number of outbreaks, infection rate, etc.
You should now be aware that you will need a sighted player to handle the placement and removal of the cubes, but that is not so bad and does not really affect my enjoyment of the game. The player doing the initial infection reads the city names out loud, so I know which cities are being infected.
Now that the board is set up, I need to find out what my role is and what player cards I have in hand. Since all information is public, I can simply ask another player to read the text on my cards for me. During this stage, I also ask another player to tell me which way the world map is facing so I know where to look when we are discussing about a particular city or region. I have this impression that it would look weird if we are talking about Mexico City and I am staring at Tokyo :).
My (Blind Player’s) Turn
Since I have a software engineering background, I have an algorithmic approach to solving problems. So it pretty much comes down to conditional tests (if this happens, do this thing, otherwise do the other thing).
Depending on the number of players, I might need someone to refresh my memory of where my pawn is currently located. Usually, the first thing I do in my turn is to check whether I need to trade cards with another player and how many actions I need to take to do the trade. If I’ve forgotten what everyone has in their hand, I ask them for an update. Then, that is followed by asking for the cities that are in critical condition. By critical, I mean the cities that have three disease cubes (of the same color) and are on the verge of an outbreak. Here it is also important whether those cities have a high probability of being drawn at the end of my turn or if they’ve already been drawn before and are safe for the time being.
I also check if I am in a good position to build a research station. Research stations allow you to move from one station to another by spending one action, and they are also needed to discover a cure when you collect five cards of the same color.
After I have the above information, I try to find the most optimal way to spend my 4 actions. Having some basic knowledge in geography really helps as a blind player, but the more you play the game, the more you learn how the cities are connected, as well as the color of the cities. For example, if my pawn is located in Atlanta, I know that in order to get to New York, I will first need to move to Washington and then reach New York - that’s total of two actions. If I don’t know the total number of moves I need to make to get from one city to another, I just ask for another player to count for me.
Of course, while I’m doing all the planning and thinking, another player may suggest a couple of moves I can take, but I still weigh the different options before I make the final decision. When I finally decide, I have another player move my pawn and depending on my decision, either treat the infected by removing disease cubes or place a research station in the city my pawn is located in.
After I complete my actions, another player draws two player cards for me, reads them out loud, and puts them in front of me. If an Epidemic card is drawn (which is a bad card), after I joke about their poor card draw luck, they resolve the epidemic for me, and finally proceed with the infection step by drawing infection cards and placing cubes on the cities that were drawn. With that, my turn is concluded.
Other (Sighted) Players’ Turns
As in many other cooperative games, there is a lot of discussion between the players during a game of Pandemic. People, at least the ones I have played with so far, tend to be thinking out loud during their turn. Therefore you can easily follow what’s going on, even though you can’t see. There are some players that ask for suggestions if they can’t figure out a good way to spend their four actions.
There have also been situations where we have planned a move beforehand and the player simply does what was agreed on without commenting about it. When this happens, if I was distracted, I may need to ask them on what moves they took, just to stay on the same page with the others.
The Alpha Gamer (Quarterbacking)
Most cooperative games suffer from a syndrome known as the ‘alpha gamer’ or ‘quarterbacking’. What this means is, one player (usually the ene most familiar with the game) tells what other players should do, and what the best move is. Many people hate this as they are not given a chance to solve the puzzle they are presented with. If this keeps repeating, you should kindly tell such player to stop doing that, and only give move suggestions if asked. I haven’t experienced this myself since I’m most familiar with the game on the table, but I would guess as a blind player, you would be susceptible to being quarterbacked.
I must admit though, even though I’m playing the game blind, on a few occasions, I have told other players what they should do before they ask if I have any better ideas.
An interesting thing about the alpha gamer syndrome, however, is that if a game suffers from this, it is highly likely that a blind person can play it. This is mostly because there is no hidden information in those games, and the blind player does not have secret information that the other players do not need to know about. So, the blind player can simply ask anything they want information on.
I am most likely one of the few who would look for games that can be quarterbacked. I wonder how a ‘Friendly Local Game Store’ employee would react if I said “Hey! I’m looking for games that suffer from quarterbacking!”. Response will most likely be “Well that’s a first…”
So can you play this blind?
With a little bit of focus, the answer is yes, you can absolutely play Pandemic without relying on your sight. You won’t be able to play it solo (even though the publisher states the player count is 2-4, you can still play this game solo if you are sighted), but if you have one sighted player with you, you can easily play Pandemic. After you learn the game, you can even teach new players!
There still are some minor drawbacks like not being able to place and remove disease cubes, or move your pawn around the board without assistance. Personally, these problems do not take much out of the experience and I still greatly enjoy the game. Pandemic is highly recommended as an introductory gateway game by many board game reviewers, and even though they do not mention this, it can also be an enjoyable game for the blind.
If you read this far, thank you for sticking around in my first ‘Board Games You Can Play Blind’ post! I hope by now you’re curious to give this hobby a try and see what you think of it. If you already are a seasoned board gamer, I hope you learned something interesting today. Feel free to drop a comment below if you have any questions or suggestions.