Pandemic: In the Lab is the second expansion to Pandemic. In order to get the most from this expansion, you’ll need to own Pandemic, and Pandemic: On the Brink. There’s also Pandemic: State of Emergency expansion for the base game, then 7 other stand alone variations. It’s like there’s a pandemic of Pandemic out there.
Deisgners: Matt Leacock, Tom Lehmann
Publisher: Z-Man Games
Like Pandemic: On the Brink, In the Lab adds some additional roles, events, and virulent strain cards. But the exciting changes are in the modules.
For instance they’ve doubled the number of cubes for the mutation challenge. Also, introducing other major changes to the module including placing 2 purple cubes instead of 1 when you draw a mutation card, and adding some purple cubes to the board during setup.
These rule changes make the disease outbreak far more often. The purple disease goes from being a silent killer to flooding the board in a wave violet cubes. Which is the modification this module needed. It creates that wonderful stress of feeling like all is lost, and yet somehow you keep surviving, and inching towards victory.
This module has risen in status from being OK, to being an acceptable alternative to my favourite: the Virulent Strain cards.
The titular In the Lab challenge adds a laboratory side board, and changes the way that you cure the diseases. In which you’re still collecting 5 cards, but now you’re doing sort of a laboratory mini game as well.
Unfortunately, I find this module makes Pandemic a little bit worse. It’s not terrible, but it’s not as good as base Pandemic. It’s like a filler episode to your favourite TV show. While yes, technically, you’re still playing the main Pandemic puzzle, but the moves you make on the laboratory board aren’t as satisfying, interesting or impactful as the moves you make on the main board.
Part of this is because it breaks the core Pandemic loop of moving somewhere and treating something. During some turns of In the Lab you won’t move, and instead spend all four of your actions sliding cubes around on the laboratory board. Which I found to be extremely dissatisfying. Like someone asked me to do the dishes, while they’re out saving the world.
From other reviews I’ve read, they’ve called this board thematic and engaging. I never felt this. The ideas are cool, but the execution doesn’t live up. An example of this, is there’s meant to be this game play loop where you clear a bunch of disease cubes from the board, then use actions to sort these disease cubes in one of two ways. A great idea. In reality though, you never have enough cubes to sort so the mechanic becomes redundant.
The one bright spot of this module is the splitting of the cards needed for the cure. In the base game you need to discard 5 cards of the same colour at the same time. One of the worst experiences of Pandemic, is having 4 cards for a cure and having to pray to RNGesus to give you the 5th. In the Lab lets you start putting cards towards a cure early on so you only have to hold 3 of a single colour. The on-flow of this, is more cards cycle through your hand and allowing more freedom to move around the board.
This expansion adds a solo mode which looks fine, but I’m not much of a solo gamer. And when I do solo Pandemic I generally two hand it. They’ve also added a team expansion, but like the Bio-Terrorist expansion in On the Brink I feel that any form of competing goes against why I actually want to play Pandemic. As such, I’ve owned this for 8 years and never felt the need to play this module.
Lastly, with this expansion, it no longer all fits into the base game box. Which isn’t a knock on the game, but it does make me sad.
Overall, it’s a fine expansion. There’s some good, some OK, and some of Matt and Tom just doing their thing. Which I can appreciate. However, when it all comes down to it, I’d rather play the base game. Preferably with On the Brink.
Thanks for reading my review, I’m currently ranking all my board games in one laboratory tested list. You can see Pandemic: In the Lab’s initial ranking below.
In reference to the title, my wife had a good laugh at the art on the laboratory board. The lack of masks, the woman watching the centrifuge, and the woman holding the samples as she injects them are all examples of things not seen in a lab. Especially one which houses global viruses.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this foray into the world Pandemic, it’s not the end of the series I own, but we are going to take a break for a while. But before we do, let me know which one out of Iberia, Rising Tides, and Fall of Rome which one you’re most interested in, and why?