Cooperative games tend to face similar problems, there is inherently less tension when playing cooperatively with other people and there exists the potential for a single individual to take over the decision-making process. Sometimes attempting to fix the former can accentuate the latter. Pandemic Fall of Rome has done one of the best jobs of balancing a cooperative game for a fun and relaxing experience.
The original Pandemic game should be familiar to anyone even moderately into board games, it is one of the classics. In Pandemic you play a team of professionals hopping around the globe trying to stop the outbreak of diseases before they get out of hand. It was revolutionary for its time and provided an incredibly tense and challenging experience. Unfortunately, initial playthroughs might feel like the randomness of the game is too punishing while later playthroughs will uncover very specific routes to victory that might trivialize the experience. There is very little middle ground with Pandemic and the difficulty of the game to new players means that any integration of experienced players would see them take over the game. Numerous expansions have tried to add things like new mechanics to keep excitement going for veteran groups and even a “One vs Many” expansion to allow the most experienced player to act as the antagonist rather than a quarterback. This has actually been reasonably successful and it an excellent example of patching holes in an older base game.
Pandemic Fall of Rome is a spin off game in the Pandemic series and swaps virus outbreaks for rampaging barbarians. In addition to a shift in theme the difficulty of Fall of Rome has been ratcheted down significantly for a more relaxing experience. Barbarian invasions now happen along a fixed path and are easier to keep contained. It is still possible for them to sprout up in the middle of nowhere but not to the extent of the original pandemic. There is also much more that can be done preemptively; a long-term strategy can be formed and it’s much less “Whack-a-mole” than the original. This winds up giving players more of a sense of control which I always feel is a positive in games. On the other hand, it also causes the game to be easier which could be considered as either a positive or a negative depending on the group.
All the variables of Fall of Rome allow it to be my number one choice for a relaxing cooperative experience. It’s not as stressful as the original Pandemic and it doesn’t have the mountain of rules and overwhelming starting position as Spirit Island. Sometimes you want to wind down after a really competitive game and Fall of Rome is perfect for that. I’ve also found that Fall of Rome does a decent job of avoiding too much quarterbacking. As you rarely feel truly overwhelmed there isn’t much need for someone to take control of the actions to get the group out of a bind. Additionally, because the rules are decently streamlined players can offer up how their own role can fit into the puzzle on their own. There have been times in games of Spirit Island where some of the rules are so detailed or corner case that a newer player would need to have someone else chime in on when that should be used and necessitated experienced players constantly keeping up with newer players cards and leading to more quarterbacking, this isn’t the case with Fall of Rome.
Over the last year I’ve found myself enjoying Fall of Rome more than any other cooperative game. As great as Spirit Island is, I often groan at the setup and explanation needed for first time players. My playing groups are constantly changing and the ease at which Fall of Rome and be set up and explained alleviates the taxing feeling I get with some other games. The low barrier to starting a game doesn’t detract from the enjoyment of the experience. Fall of Rome still offers an interesting puzzle that feels thematic and satisfying. The game also contains a beautiful minimalistic art style and a price point that is incredibly affordable. Even if someone didn’t like the original Pandemic, I would still wholeheartedly recommend Fall of Rome to any group that is looking for a new cooperative game.
Takes the core of the classic Pandemic system and gives a new interesting theme
Barbarian invasion routes give a nice sense of control and alleviates RNG frustration Interesting decisions when moving hikers
Easy setup and streamlined rules make getting into the game a breeze