13 May 2021 Pandemic

Announcing Pandemic: Hot Zone - Europe

The Hot Zone series continues...

Matt Leacock, designer of Pandemic, joins Steve Kimball, Z-Man Games' Head of Studio, to share news about the second game in the Hot Zone series and where the series is headed.

STEVE: We hope that you and your loved ones have been able to stay healthy and safe despite the real-world pandemic disrupting our lives. Last year, during COVID’s initial spread, we postponed our expected announcements of Pandemic: Hot Zone – North America and Pandemic Legacy: Season 0. Here we are again, one year since our initial announcement for the Hot Zone series of Pandemic games, and the situation continues to evolve.

I’m not sure any of us expected to go an entire year without a return to normalcy… but through this unprecedented crisis we have witnessed heroic acts of sacrifice and courage across the board, from healthcare professionals to civic leaders, which is exactly the spirit of teamwork, cooperation, and empowerment portrayed in Pandemic. For our situation here in the US, with vaccines rolling out apace and safety protocols being more widely accepted and enforced, it feels like a light’s flickering at the end of the tunnel. We recognize the situation varies around the world, and wherever you are, we hope that your local situation steadily improves.

Hot Zone – North America has enjoyed widespread success—even beyond the continent it depicts. Fans have really enjoyed the game’s distilled mechanisms, shortened play time, and portability. In our initial announcement for the game, we confirmed that the continent’s name included in the title alluded to our plans for future stops around the globe, and we’re here today to show you what’s new and exciting in the second installment in the series: Pandemic: Hot Zone – Europe!


Pandemic: Hot Zone - Europe game board and components

STEVE: One of Hot Zone’s major innovations was Matt successfully scaling down the numbers in the Pandemic base game to achieve a smaller, faster game without losing the palpable tension that makes Pandemic so beloved. Obviously that template would carry over to the other games in the series—but we weren’t interested in doing straight reskins of North America’s gameplay five more times.

Both Matt and I felt strongly that each game needed to establish its own identity, while at the same time being approachable for a casual audience and make a great first impression. Tell us how you and Tom pulled it off, Matt.

MATT: I thought it would be best if each game had its own personality. The first, most obvious thought was to capture the important cities and geography of each region on the gameboard. But I also saw this as an opportunity to include a new cast of characters, new events, and a unique rules module for each set to offer greater variety. I thought it would be best if each game had its own personality.

This turned out to be an extremely fun and complex undertaking, and I immediately thought to partner with Tom Lehmann on the project. Tom co-designed Pandemic’s three expansions with me and knows them inside and out. I couldn’t think of anyone better suited to work with me on the series.

So far, we’ve wrapped up the designs for North America and Europe, and we have an exciting roadmap planned that will eventually span the entire globe. I wonder if people will be able to guess which continent we’re headed to next!


STEVE: Another key aspect that Matt and Tom focused on was maximizing variety, and they accomplished that by making the entire series cross-compatible! What this means is that each box equally serves two purposes: an excellent standalone entry point for new gamers to experience Pandemic as well as a bundle of goodies that exponentially increase the game’s variety. It’s known as expandalone, the best of both worlds!

MATT: I’ve loved how this lets us have our cake and eat it too. Each set (on its own) is a simple, straightforward, condensed experience. But when you mix them all together, the number of character, event, and challenge combinations simply explodes. You can play with a mix of characters and events on any board and add whatever mix of challenges you like for additional variety or difficulty.

Components from both games can be mixed in with each other, as seen above with the Crisis Cards and the Researcher and Medic characters from Pandemic: Hot Zone - North America being used to play Hot Zone - Europe

MATT: For what's new, Pandemic: Hot Zone – Europe features Mutation cards that gradually make each disease behave in a new way until it is cured. Diseases can become harder to treat when they reach a critical mass, can appear more intensely, or cause more Infection cards to be drawn. And, if you also own Pandemic: Hot Zone – North America, you can either use these Mutation cards instead of the Crisis cards, or you can combine both the Crisis cards and the Mutation cards into the same game for even more variety and challenge. While each challenge makes the game harder, both integrate directly into the Player deck, so including them also gives players a few extra turns to eke out the win.


STEVE: And, if all this wasn’t enough, Matt and Tom came to me with an innovative idea unlike anything seen in base game Pandemic. Matt, why don’t you tell us about your grand plans for multi-board play in Hot Zone?

MATT: As soon as I had two different boards on the table, I immediately wanted to play with them together in the same game. And once Tom and I started to imagine games with up to six boards…the possibilities seemed really exciting.

We came up with a whole range of modes for playing with multiple boards, and our plan is to release a new way to play across several boards with each new game in the series. In Hemispheres, you play with two sets at the same time, and each player runs a team of 3 characters. Some, like the first globetrotting mode called Hemispheres, are suited for two players, while others work with three or more players (depending on how many different sets you have). 

In Hemispheres, you play with two sets at the same time, and each player runs a team of 3 characters. Your characters start on your own board, but they can take charter flights to the other board to exchange cards with your partner, treat disease, and even discover cures. Both players share a single set of cubes, and if any single color runs out, both players lose the game. To win, you and your partner must collectively cure all 6 diseases (3 on each board).

The game gives you a chance to manage your own part of the world, but you’ll quickly find that it’s easier to win if you actively work with your partner to exchange cards and look after each other – and your shared pool of disease cubes!

Pandemic: Hot Zone - Europe and North America, set up for Hemishpheres rules


STEVE: And, just like last year, the best part is you can try out the game for free with our Print-and-Play version. You can simply test a few new characters or the Mutation challenge on your existing copy of Pandemic: Hot Zone – North America, or you can go the full lengths and mockup a complete copy of the game if you’d like. This also means that you can take the Hemispheres rules for a spin today! If you're happy with the experience, you can pre-order here!

The Pandemic: Hot Zone series...with more to come

STEVE: Well, I think that just about wraps it up for today. It’s been great seeing memories shared on social media, especially stories about the game providing a welcome escape and a cathartic safe space to “beat the virus” amid our current environment. Aside from players enjoying the game itself, we hope it continues raising awareness, sparking important conversations on public health, and encouraging collaborative problem-solving. Any last words, Matt?

MATT: I hope you all get a chance to try the game and have as much fun playing it as Tom and I had designing it.

Thanks for the inside scoop, Matt & Steve. Don’t forget you can pre-order the game here. For more info on Hot Zone: Europe, and for all the latest Z-Man updates, stay tuned on our website and social media channels.

Matt Leacock photo by Owen Duffy