Review by Ken Tidwell, July 16, 1994.
Plague & Pestilence is a light beer & pretzels card game that reminds me of Nuclear War. Each player is issued a set of Population Points (abbreviated PPs on the cards which we pronounce "peeps") which represent the people of a medieval city. Each player is also dealt a hand of cards. There are two types of cards: suns and rats. Suns are beneficial and normally played on oneself. A sun may bring a bumper harvest or trade center which boosts population, a pied piper who tempts people away from other cities, or a home improvement like sewers or city walls which boost population and help keep out the rats. The rat cards bring death and destruction to other players' cities. Rats may be disasters like droughts or famine which kill outright, even more destructive like fires and earthquakes which kill and destroy improvements, or wars which pit two other players against one another in a struggle that brings woe to both. A small number of sun cards may be used to reverse the effects of rats (such as the infamous Pope on a Rope cards) but usually the target city has no choice but to gather up the bodies.
At the start of the game the world is enjoying an age of prosperity. On their turn each player rolls two dice and consults a small chart to see how many peeps have arrived in their city this go. Then cards are drawn to bring their hand up to six and one card, be it rat or sun, is played. However, at some point during the game a player will draw the Death Ship. When that happens plague has arrived in the land and the good times are over!
The Death Ship card is immediately played, costing the target city ten peeps and beginning the age of plague. The charts showing die roll results are flipped from prosperity to plague and from then on each die roll reduces the peep count of your city. The player with the last city with survivors staggering about is declared the winner!
The game is quick, taking about twenty minutes to play, and very easy to learn. It has a lot of the same fiendish humor found in Nuclear War with none of the endless waiting around for the right missile to launch your warheads. The artwork on the cards is top notch. It is styled after medieval woodcuts and features hair raising renditions of Death in all his bony glory. My favorite is the image of Drought, a dry, leather covered skeleton with a few stray hairs still sticking to its head, grabbing a bucket of water out of a serfs hands and drinking it all down in one go. A bit of trivia: the chap petitioning the Pope on the papal indulgence card is, in fact, Tray Green, one of the game's designers!
Game play is interesting. Its very tempting to spend the whole game bashing the other cities with rats. But if one player manages to play and hold onto a civic improvement of some sort early in the game, their population will be much larger when the plague comes and their chances of winning much greater. In the first few games we've played I've also noticed a tension between slowing down the plague attrition by adding civic improvements versus speeding the death of your opponents by playing rats. Its a very tricky call and a few bad rolls near the end can leave you with an empty city. My current belief is that in the second half of the game your real enemy is the plague and limiting its effect is the shortest path to victory.
At $14.95 apiece this great game is a must buy in my book. It can be acquired direct from Hillary's Toy Box or from Games People Play in Boston.
Copyright 1994, Ken Tidwell
The Game Cabinet - firstname.lastname@example.org - Ken Tidwell