The front page of the Wall St. Journal yesterday morning has the headline “Ebola Is Now a Disease We Can Treat.” It is a spark of good news in the a treatment of a disease that has a lethality as high as 90% for some strains. It also meshed well with a game that I’ve been playing over the last few days.
It was years ago when I loaded the free version of Plague, Inc. app on my tablet. I had read some very positive things about it and, well, it was free. Why not give it a try? Unfortunately for me, in order to run, the game required some kind of Google Play network support, which I did not have installed. I have a pretty old tablet and a) I didn’t want to install a new background program that was going to make it run even slower than it already does and b) I’m not sure Google-whatever would be compatible with my ancient operating system.
Periodically, I thought about trying to make it work but never quite managed to motivate myself. I even picked up the PC version (Steam) in a package deal, but still just didn’t have the right combination of interest and stellar alignment to get it running.
A week or two ago, however, I noticed that there the company who created Plague Inc.: Evolved (the name of the extended, PC version) has a new game in development called Rebel Inc: Escalation. They’re taking the same gaming engine that works so well for epidemiological modeling and using it to take on the challenges of counter-insurgency operations. It seems like a wonderful idea. It seems like an idea I could have, nay should have, come up with myself. The new game is in early access now, and I’ll probably look to get it sooner rather than later, but meanwhile…
I was diddling around on my tablet and once again launched the Plague app, perhaps with my mind on the above. As usual it failed due to the lack of the networking software. However, this time, after telling me it wasn’t going to work, the game actually launched and allowed me to run the tutorial. The free version is missing some of the features, but it was enough to motivate me to install it on the PC and try it again there.
Plague Inc.: Evolved a fun, light game. I think it took me in the neighborhood of 20-30 minutes to finish a session. The variety isn’t huge, although there are many different settings which ramp up the difficulty if you want to keep it challenging. There is also a range of locked content to keep you playing, should that float your boat. Otherwise, it is a fairly simply game that, one you get the hang of it, there isn’t going to have that much more too it.
Essentially, you’ve got to spread your disease, inhibit research, and then kill all the people. These three goals have to be kept in balance. Spread too alarmingly or manifest yourself as too deadly, and the world’s countermeasures will ramp up and stop you. In my first game, I got too lethal too fast and ended up wiping out most of the earth but leaving several countries (Cuba and New Zealand, as I recall) disease free with no way to transmit the disease there. Despite all the options for replay, I think this would only last your typical gamer so long. This is not Crusader Kings. Roleplaying as a bacterium doesn’t have quite the emotional engagement as manipulating politics to put your son onto the throne of France.
It’s deep enough, though, to be enjoyable and realistic enough to have captured the attention of the CDC. The interface is pleasant, intuitive, and runs smoothly and without issues. It’s also only $15 full-price and even less if you pick it up in a sale (it’s 60% off as I type this). So maybe it isn’t novel or deep, but it is a well made little game that I shouldn’t have waited so long to try out.