Dale Yu: Preview of Save Patient Zero

Save Patient Zero

  • Design: Cedric Martinez
  • Publisher: Helvetiq
  • Players: 2-5
  • Age: 10-99
  • Time: 45-60 min
  • Played with advanced prototype copy provided by publisher

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Helvetiq is a game company that you might not be too familiar with; they are out of Switzerland, and they generally have a booth at SPIEL in Essen; but their games are usually small format and targeted at families.  We have reviewed a number of their games here on the blog, and they make great games for their audience.

Save Patient Zero is going to be a departure from their comfort zone.  The game is slated to be a “big box” release, and they are toying with the idea of a Kickstarter campaign – which I do not recall them doing before.  I was asked to try out a near-final prototype of the game, and given that I’ve enjoyed their earlier games, I was excited to give it a try.  However, given the theme – saving patients – that also piqued my interest.

The timing of the game seems on point given the global pandemic, but the Helvetiq folks say that they actually started working on it before that, signing the game at the Cannes game festival in Feb 2020, before the pandemic really became the worldwide issue we are all now all too familiar with.

In this game, a new disease has been found and it has infected Patient Zero.  Two teams rush to try to  discover the three molecules (out of 25) which will save the patient.  There are a number of different tools in your laboratory, and the team which uses them most efficiently and effectively will find the answer first and therefore win the game.

In this game, the players are split into teams, with one player possibly being a neutral computer (Savvy) player.  Each team sits on one side of the table, and they get a screen representing their laboratory.   For our game, we had an even number of players and we chose to use a variant that does not use the Savvy player.  In our case, each team draws three molecule cards that the other team has to discover.  (If playing with Savvy, a single set of 3 molecule cards is drawn by the Savvy player and both teams work to discover this set).

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The game will be played over a number of rounds – until one team wins.  While you want to be careful and prudent about choosing which tool to use (designated by a deck of tool cards), there is a race element – as the team which first chooses their tool for the round will get to go first in that particular round!  Once both teams have picked a tool, they are resolved in the order that they were chosen in.  This pattern continues until someone has successfully discovered the three molecules needed to develop the antidote!

The different tools:

SAMPLY (3 per lab) – Draw 3 cards from your Sample deck, give them to the other team/Savvy.  If at least one molecule on the card (out of 5) has a matching molecule to the solution, it is placed to the right of the team board.  If there are no matching molecules, it is placed on the left of the team board.

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MIKROSKOPO (3 per lab) – The team gets 60 seconds to look through their sample deck and then give 2 cards to the other team/savvy.  Again, if there is at least one target molecule on the card, it goes to the right of the team board; otherwise it goes on the left.

ANTIDOTE (2 per lab) – Circle three molecules on the team board.  Then Savvy/the other team grades the proposed antidote.  If all 3 match, the team wins.  If not, they are told how many molecules match the set.  Note that you only have 2 ANTIDOTE cards available, so if you are wrong a second time, you lose the game automatically.

DEDUKTO (2 per lab) – Receive 5 Molecule cards from the deck (i.e. cards not in the solution).  Keep them hidden.  The other team cannot ever see these cards

INTERVALLO (1 per lab) – Chose Min or Max – Savvy/the other team marks the row which has the lower/highest numbered molecule in the solution.

CENTROFUGO (1 per lab) – place the centrifugo piece on the board in the intersection of four molecules.  Savvy/the other team tells you: yes or no – whether at least one of those four molecules is in the solution or not.

SCANPAD (1 per lab) – place the scan pad over any 6 molecules on the board – Savvy/the other team tell you how many answer molecules, 0 to 3, are in the designated area

ANALYZER ( 3 per lab) – Select one of the cards to the right of the player board (which you already know have at least one correct molecule one them).  Savvy/the other team then tell you exactly how many of the answer molecules are found on that card

HACKZ (1 per lab) – play whatever tool your opponent chose

SPIONADO (not used in the non-Savvy game) – look at 2 of the cards found to the left side of your opponent’s board – i.e. cards that do not have any correct molecules on it

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That’s the whole game; use the tools and try to figure out which three molecules you need.  Whether you play with Savvy or not, it’s still a race.  As the turn order for each round is determined by how quickly the cards are placed on the table, one team always goes first and therefore there will never be a tie.

My thoughts on the game

Save Patient Zero is a really interesting deduction game that definitely caught my eye due to the theme – both due to my profession as a physician as well as the overall Coronavirus pandemic going on right now.  I love the idea of trying to find a cure for a deadly disease.

The ten different tools all give you certain bits of information, and the goal here is to figure out how to best use those tools.  Through my limited number of plays, I don’t know if there is going to be a set strategy that always works best, but my guess is that this isn’t so.  When I first read the rules, one of my group members felt that DEDUKTO would be de rigeur for the first two turns.  However, my team chose to go a different route, and we ended up not ever using a DEDUKTO action.  

Given the layout of the molecules on the workout sheet, the random nature of the target molecules and the random draw of sample cards, you’ll have to figure out the best path each game.  Perhaps a SAMPLY will prove to be more valuable than a DEDUKTO?

Thus far, we’ve only played the version without the Savvy player as our group is exactly 4 players.  It has worked fine in that format, and I have enjoyed my plays that way.  Honestly, that neutral role is one I’m not personally thrilled about, because while you are facilitating the game, you’re not really playing the game.  I know that Helvetiq is planning an app for this game (and that would be an awesome way to take any possible human error out of the game) – and I look forward to playing this game with that app.  As it stands now, I try to make sure that I double check each answer twice before telling my opponents anything, as an error on my part will screw up the whole game.

The one thing in the rules that I’d like more clarity on is the timing issue.  There is some advantage in getting to go first – namely, the game is sudden death, so near the end of the game, you’d like to go first each round!  However, it’s unclear when the clock starts to choose cards.  Can one of the players on a team have a card in hand in the middle of the current round so that he’s ready to play it for the next round immediately?  I’d almost just as soon have the start player pass back and forth rather than have this high level of uncertainty about this phase of the game.  Or maybe there could be priority numbers on the different cards so that the lowest priority number played gets to go first?  That’s definitely a question I’d leave for the designers/developers…

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The components in our prototype was pretty slick.  The molecules are mostly distinct, but their “blobbiness” does require you to pay pretty close attention to the shapes to make sure that you are getting the one you want.  The art is well done – the only thing that I’d like is the first word of the title to be a bit more prominent so that you can see what the actual name of the game is!

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The games move quicker than I expected – we have yet to play a game that lasted more than 30 minutes.  I like the amount of deduction that is crammed into this game, and the short duration of the game really makes it important to choose your actions wisely.  You really can’t afford to have a wasted action as you play because you will find yourself behind the eight ball quickly. Thus far, I have enjoyed all my games of Save Patient Zero, and I look forward to my chance to play the game with the Savvy character (hopefully in an app) – to see what it’s like to go head-to-head with another team while looking for the same trio of molecules!

Until your next appointment

The Gaming Doctor.

About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
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