The 2019 Pandemic Survival Worlds and Looking to the Future
A message from Z-Man Head of Studio Steve Kimball
With the German National Championships wrapped up and another winner crowned, we’re marching closer and closer to the 2019 Pandemic Survival World Championships. I’m thrilled to announce that this year’s Worlds will be held in Vancouver, Canada at SHUX (October 4–6). The SUSD crew has been a pleasure to work with (yes, they really are just as awesome behind the scenes). It’s sure to be a fun-filled weekend, and the Z-Man team is excited to experience SHUX firsthand.
This upcoming Worlds marks five years of the first ever co-op tournament in tabletop gaming. Since the inaugural Survival Worlds in October 2015 at SPIEL in Essen, Germany, each year the attendance and exposure has steadily grown to what it is today—13 different countries sending their national champs to compete for the global Survival crown.
Still, while Pandemic has a passionate fanbase around the world, the truth is that Survival is not nearly as well known. So, at this 5-year mark, we’ve solicited a lot of community feedback and taken a hard look at what improvements could make Survival more engaging and robust as we move forward. We’re finalizing updates to the 2020 Survival season, which kicks off after Worlds, and we can’t wait to share those details with you soon. For now, I want to tell you about some exciting changes to how we’ll approach the different varieties of Pandemic games.
Creating the Survival Series
The catalyst for these changes began back in spring of 2017. Every year Alan R. Moon (of Ticket to Ride fame) hosts an intimate show called The Gathering of Friends in Niagara Falls, NY, and this was my first chance to attend. After teaching Majesty: For the Realm to some of the Dice Tower crew, I found myself in an engaging conversation with a key industry figure talking about Pandemic: Iberia, and what would later become Rising Tide. As I recall, the conversation went something like this: “So Steve, what’s with these different variations of Pandemic anyway?”
Frankly, I was surprised by the question. When I assumed my current role and inherited Pandemic and the Survival Series, my impression was that the greater community just “got” what it was. So I attempted to explain:
Those games are part of the “Survival Series,” a chance for Matt Leacock to team up with a co-designer from the territory where that year’s Pandemic Survival World Championships will take place. They’re limited-edition releases, intended to celebrate the host country’s language, history, and culture.
Wait, I’ve never heard of a Pandemic Championship. Like a tournament?
Yes! Although it sounds like my team and I have our work cut out to promote it better...
nd Matt designs a new version of the game for players to use in that year’s competition?
Well, no. They compete playing regular Pandemic, sometimes with a splash of content from the On the Brink expansion.
The game is based on the tournament location, but you don’t use it in the tournament?
So why release it at the same time, why base the theme on the tournament, why make it limited? Why call it the Survival Series at all?
Obviously these were tough, legitimate questions. And it turns out that many fans had similar questions that required a series of “logical leaps” to answer. I didn’t know it then, but the hallmarks of the Survival Series—limited edition, historical, based on the World Championship location—weren’t immediately clear to a lot of the gaming community, or even to the community of Pandemic players we were ultimately making these games for. While they enjoyed the new releases, they were just that—new Pandemic variations.
A clear option for resolving the confusion didn’t present itself, so I continued to let this marinate in the background.
The next crucial step happened in 2018. After finishing development of Fall of Rome, I started to hear “good complaints” from our European distribution partners—by that I mean the game had proven to be so successful that several countries were clamoring for reprints. With all of Europe depicted on the map, its appeal wasn’t limited to Italy alone (where the 2018 Worlds were held). I reiterated to them that the Survival Series was limited edition.
But now I had some additional questions to consider. Why would we limit the game to one print run, especially given that it was doing so well? If it goes out of print, how would new gamers discover it later? Why not remove the printing limitation so that future Pandemic players can have that experience?
It became clearer that we needed to reassess how we could best serve fans on a global level. My team and I spent a lot of hours discussing the feedback we’d received from the community and taking a hard look at our options. We needed to take a new approach that would support not only current players in specific regions, but also future players and the core Pandemic community around the world.
An Evolving Pandemic
With all of that in mind, I’m excited to announce that we’re defining a new category of Pandemic games. Going forward, games whose foundations are rooted in Pandemic’s gameplay will be known as Pandemic System games. We want players to know that the engine under the hood is based on Matt Leacock’s award-winning co-op mechanics, while the setting—be it historical or fantastical—allows us to adapt gameplay to create a more nuanced, thematic experience.
Pandemic System games will not be limited edition, nor will they be tied to the Survival World Championship. This does a few things. First, it means these games aren’t one-and-done affairs. Second, this eases deadline constraints to give Matt and my team ample dev time to make the absolute best game possible. Third, this allows us a great deal of freedom to explore all sorts of novel, obscure locations, or even fictional realms. In fact, you already know the first Pandemic System game: Reign of Cthulhu. Reprints of Reign of Cthulhu will feature a nifty button in the corner of the box to illustrate this:
This does mean that Fall of Rome was the final game in the Survival Series trilogy. As demand dictates, any reprints of Iberia, Rising Tide, or Fall of Rome will be part of Pandemic System. Note that these reprints are not considered new editions, and gameplay will remain unchanged.
With my team hard at work this past year on major new releases like Pandemic: Rapid Response, the new edition of Love Letter, the second Choose Your Own Adventure game, and of course the next installment of Pandemic Legacy, that jam-packed release schedule meant the ideal time to carry out this switch was this year. While we unfortunately won’t be releasing a Canada-focused Pandemic game for Worlds, we hope to continue developing variations on Pandemic that celebrate different countries and cultures.
It has been extremely rewarding for our entire team to lay this groundwork for both Pandemic System and the future of the Survival format, but what makes it truly rewarding is the incredible community of players who are tirelessly enthusiastic about exposing Pandemic to new audiences by “spreading the cure.” Thanks to all those who have played a Pandemic game or participated in a Survival tournament—we couldn’t do it without you.
Keep an eye out for more updates soon about the next season of Survival. I’m excited to say there’s a lot more in store for Pandemic.