Designer: Kuan Chen
Publisher: Kolor Deep Studio
Player Count: 2 player
Time: 15-30 minutes
Pathogen is a new 2 player abstract game that will be released at Essen Spiel this year after a successful crowdfunding in Taiwan. I have only played online so I can’t speak as to the final production components but the prototype components look functional and quite nice. The board is modular.
The Goal: Be the first player to connect from one side of the main board to the other via orthogonally adjacent player tokens of your color or be the first player to have a settlement in each of the 4 quadrants of the main board.
How to Play:
One player has the Doctor and Angel (Blue) and one has the Plague and Demon (Red). Player abilities are asymmetrical. Players take turns moving one of their two pieces, the Doctor and Angel or the Plague and Demon. Doctor/Plague pieces will only move on the white squares of humanity and the Angel/Demon only on black squares of the underworld. The pieces skip squares of the opposite color when counting movement. Movement is orthogonal and determined by the Movement panel. Red starts with 4 tokens on the board.
The movement panel stands in as a smaller area of the main board. It has a token for each player and you use the opponent’s token as the representative starting space for one of your pieces and then place your token in relation to that for your movement. You choose the shortest orthogonal path between the two tokens as your movement. This is also where the asymmetrical abilities come into play. The Red Plague player’s ability is to use the outer edge of the movement panel. The Blue Doctor player has an ability where they are allowed to change the orientation of the movement panel thus altering their choice of movement by playing in the center square and in addition this limits the red player to using only the inner squares on their next turn.
After moving one of your pieces you must place tokens along your path. You also remove your opponent’s tokens along the path. For each opponent token you remove, you place one less of your own. Blue is allowed to place 5 tokens, first removing any red tokens they then distribute any remaining blue tokens. Red places only 4 tokens and must distribute them as evenly as possible (removal of a token counts as part of the distribution number).
Settlements are built if a stack of tokens reaches 6. Settlements prevent your opponent’s piece of the matching board color from passing through or landing on that square. They cannot be removed. Each player may only build one settlement per quadrant.
My First Impressions:
I have a fondness for abstract games and when I first heard about Pathogen I was intrigued, especially when someone described it as brain burning. I am really happy to say that my first games of Pathogen have met and even exceeded my expectations (not an easy thing to do with this jaded ol’ gamer!). I like the modular board and variable set up. I am a great fan of asymmetrical powers and happy to see it balances out nicely here.
At first I was skeptical of the movement panel but it works much better and more smoothly than I imagined. It’s also really a challenge for your spatial abilities not only in figuring your own moves but trying to mentally picture your opponents options will melt your brain in a good way. I am excited to try and master using the blue player’s ability better.
The two end game goals are really a nice touch. Often in 2 player games you can reach a kind of stalemate where the game stalls and I could see that happening with the connection goal but by adding in the settlement goal you have nice options.
Possible downsides for some: Pathogen is abstract with a thin veneer of theme with the plague spreading disease and the doctor combating it. It can take a bit to wrap your head around the movement panel so it may have a steeper learning curve for some. I’m also guessing for some folks there may be an AP issue.
Pathogen had me thinking a lot about it after I played, a good sign! – really looking forward to my next play.