Like XCOM: Enemy Unknown? Try the board game Pandemic!

The only thing more soul crushing than losing all your best soldiers in XCOM: Enemy Unknown (which we praised in our review), is when all of the nations you’ve sworn to protect go into panic mode and abandon the project all together. The result? The XCOM organization, starved for resources, ultimately shuts down, damning the Earth’s population to plasma-toting alien scumbags.

While we definitely encourage you to stick it out and put those jerks down, we understand if you’re starting to get depressed watching the troops you’ve named after friends and family get murdered because of stupid decisions you’ve made. If that’s the case, grab the real-life versions of those friends and family and sit down to a nice game of Pandemic.

Game Name: Pandemic
Publisher: Z-Man Games
Number of Players: 2-4, co-op
Price: $30

Pandemic, like Enemy Unknown, is all about preventing the world from being overrun by a deadly force–except instead of aliens, you’ll be fighting off disease. You and at least one friend will have to work together to do so, as this is very much a strategic co-op game. Though Pandemic doesn’t have any alien invasions to speak of, and you won’t be commanding a squad of soldiers into battle, you’ll still have to carefully consider every move you make, as one misstep can spell disaster for an entire campaign. Sound familiar, XCOM players?

You not only have to stop diseases from spreading, but must also find a cure and actively cleanse the world of them. To do so, players are randomly assigned a role, each with a special ability, much like the way classes are assigned in Enemy Unknown. For example, an Operations Manager can quickly build Research Stations, which are needed to cure diseases, while Medics can efficiently clear viral hot spots to prevent an outbreak from occurring.

You’ll spend turns traveling to major cities across the globe, clearing some of sickness while strategically choosing to ignore others. Neglect any of them for too long, though, and they–as well as neighboring cities–will be overwhelmed. You’re very limited in the number of movements and actions you can take per turn; and when an outbreak occurs, you’ll instantly be reminded of the stinging loss that manifests every time a neglected nation abandons the XCOM project.

At least Pandemic offers some comedic relief: You get to name and choose the symptoms of every epidemic, just as you get to name your soldiers in Enemy Unknown. When the denizens of North America are infected with mad tongue disease and start attacking each other with, uh, their tongues, at least you can laugh a little while tears of defeat stream down your face. The whole process is made all the more difficult by Infection Cards, which can randomly turn small infections into full-blown outbreaks. Terror missions, anyone?

There are tons of initially not-so-obvious parallels between Enemy Unknown and Pandemic, and both are worthwhile distractions from that whole “real life” gig. Saving the world–either from aliens or disease–is never easy. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be fun.

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