Build a Cure (Sky Developed Games, 2018)

Date played: March 21 and 22, 2020

Basic details: 1-6 players, 30-45 minutes

Gist of the game: After a failed nuclear test, the only shelter you and your fellow scientists can find is a disease storage facility whose vials were all broken in the blast. You’re responsible, and don’t want any diseases to escape the storage facility. To win in cooperative mode, you and your teammates must cure all active diseases. You lose by not curing all diseases before running out of resources, having 5 uncured diseases at the end of any player’s turn, or by having 4 uncured diseases when a Contagion card is drawn.

Diseases are assigned (along with their negative effect) to the player who drew them and cannot be transferred. To cure a disease, you and your teammates must work together to create the correct molecular compound using element cards and various types of bonds to create a single compound with all the required elements and the correct values of each.

Unbonded elements only remain in play for one rotation around the players, so bonding in a timely manner is of the essence and may require coordination with your teammates (e.g., player 1 plays 3 elements, and player 2 plays a complex covalent bond which bonds all three together with the other cards that have already been bonded into a partial compound). All elements and compounds must be applied to a specific disease, but compounds survive indefinitely. And although you eventually need a single compound to cure a disease, you may have several smaller compounds working toward a cure but awaiting further bonding.

There are three types of bond cards: simple covalent bonds (bind 2 element cards); polar covalent bonds (bond 2 elements, and element and a compound, or 2 compounds); and complex covalent bond (bond any number of anything).

The resource deck you draw from throughout the game includes all the various element and bond cards, as well as some cards that let you recycle resources or elements, plus a few other that seem like it’d be getting down into the deep, deep weeds to discuss in any detail here. A couple of note are the immunity card, which protects you from the next disease you draw, a quarantine card, which protects you from all diseases, and an ultimate sacrifice card, which you can play at the of the resource deck if you’re already in quarantine to save the rest of your teammates. When preparing the game, you divide the resource deck in half and shuffle 6 exposure cards into one of the half decks, which then becomes the top half of the full deck.

Drawing an exposure card requires you to draw from the disease deck, which contains both diseases, curable through clever chemistry, and symptom cards, which are a one-of inconvenience that you then discard.

To start the game, you draw a disease (going through the disease deck until a disease comes up). Hand size and the number of actions per turn vary based on the number of players.

There are also a solo variant and a competitive variant to the game.

Color commentary: All the exposure cards being in the top half of the deck makes the first half of the game super intense and stressful, but if you can survive it, means you’re much more likely to be able to cure everything than if there was the possibility of your last card drawn being an exposure card.

In terms of the variants, the solo options include both a competitive and a cooperative version, which I don’t really understand since you’re alone…Also, the competitive mode involves a separate deck of “sabotage” cards, which feels stressful.

We backed this through Kickstarter and actually got to playtest this game with the creator in April 2019, and it was comforting how familiar it felt once we got going even though we never played it in the intervening year. This gives me hope for all the games we’ve played once or twice and might not return to in the short-term.

In the first game (March 21), we drew 3 diseases total (including the mandatory disease to start the game) and the rest were symptom cards, so the game was mostly a matter of math and time, rather than worrying we were going to max out the number of diseases. In terms of math, for example, I had played a Nitrogen-1 card to help me get to a total of 2 Nitrogen. An N1 was already in the discard pile and M needed just 1 Nitrogen for a cure and had an N2 card in hand. So with some lucky draws he also drew a card that lets you remove cards from a compound and put them back in your hand. He shared that card, which I used on my turn to extract the N1 from my compound to give to him. On his next turn, he was then able to share the N2 card with me. Sometimes it’s a matter of waiting for bond cards to show up, but we never had to wait long.

In the second game, we drew a total of 4 diseases, which again took some of the stress off, but it was still exciting as we tried to calculate when we might be able to cure a disease and what our options were for accruing the appropriate combinations of elements based on what had already been played and/or discarded and what would still be in the deck (the game provides reference cards showing how many of each element card exist in the deck).

The diseases, even if manageable in number, can still create inconveniences by placing limits, either on your hand size, number of actions, etc. You’re also really only guaranteed one disease, the one you start the game with, which could create a kind of anticlimactic game if the only other disease cards you draw are symptoms.

Thoughts from M: The artwork is great, but the cards are too slippery (Petra here: truth. I think actually having card sleeves would make them easier to handle and pick up, which seems counter-intuitive).

The game seems a little too cooperative for nuclear apocalyptic end times. Oh sure, you do cooperate, but only with those in your tribe as you wage war for scant resources against other tribes. And if there are only two actors in this simulation, then we must be in different tribes, so why do I care if Petra gets nerve gas? Out of the goodness of my heart? In these troubled times, there is no goodness there. (Petra again: Clearly I’ll be sleeping with one eye open from now on). Also, I feel like the company is missing a real opportunity for a Covid-19 expansion card that doesn’t actually have a cure, and thus would doom you if drawn. 

The strategy of the game, counting card values, is pretty basic, but interesting nonetheless. It’s a lot of fun, which is why we played this one twice. That, and we’re really trying to lean in to embracing  the enforced togetherness right now.

It might be an interesting variation to have the option of drawing the two cards at the end of your turn rather than the beginning. You might do this because it would delay the negative consequences of exposure cards were you to draw a symptom that requires discarding, for example.

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