The portable Pandemic: Hot Zone - North America is available right now, and timing couldn't be better. Fight the spread of a dangerous virus across North America. Try to discover a cure. Who doesn't want to feel heroic?
Hot Zone distills the essence of Pandemic and feels exactly like the big games. You can even be very unlucky in set up and first card draw, and have three outbreaks on your first turn because of chain reactions. - It only takes four outbreaks to lose this version... so yeah, that particular session didn't take long:
I realise one of the outbreaks could have been prevented, even though it was my first turn. I am not that good a Pandemic player. I love the game and have at least seven versions of it. But I don't play it often solo. Because set up takes time. That problem is solved with this smaller edition. There are less City cards, less diseases and less Epidemics. It's not only quick to set up, but also quick to play. Finding a cure takes less cards, losing to Outbreaks is a swift affair. A session won't take longer than 20 minutes, including set up.
What I really like is that even after you've found a cure, people still get sick (you just can treat them better). This keeps the pressure on. But the best thing, hands down, are the Crisis cards. There are always just three Epidemic cards in the game. You can make it harder by shuffling in three or six Crisis cards as well. Some of these have an immediate effect, like removing cubes from the game permanently. Some of them are in effect until the next Crisis pops up, like no flights or a reduced hand limit. It makes gameplay more varied and unpredictable.
Though the rulebook tells you to play without Crisis cards the first few times, that is way too easy. You should really only do that if you've never played Pandemic or any other cooperative game and need some easing into the rules. I don't think you can lose that way though, and it wasn't much fun. I almost wrote off Hot Zone.
Adding Crisis cards however turns this into an exciting race to find the cure. Pretty soon the pressure is on, especially when playing four characters. I admit it is still a light game, not for the pros. But for me it's a nice one to play when I'm tired or don't have much time.
So Pandemic: Hot Zone - North America is our Solitaire Select for May 2020. Because for me it is a real fun filler game. Because we'll only overcome the virus by cooperating. Because in the spirit of these #stayathome times, Z-man Games has made it available as a free Print and Play on their website as well.