There’s nothing quite like a classic board game to get the ol’ noggin working. There’s also nothing quite like bringing your foes to bitter ruin with your logic prowess. Pathogen lets you do both, combining the best of that classic strategy game feel with all of the schoolyard competitiveness of a multiplayer board game.
Pathogen is the first Android title for developer Birnam Wood Games, but not the company’s first strategy game, and that experienced touch shows in the game’s sweet spots. The game is often infuriating, taking you to the brink of success only to get pwned by the AI in the final turns. Yet, you find yourself pummeling the “Try Again” button as soon as you’ve failed to defeat a scenario of the brilliantly varied campaign.
Your battlefield is a square grid. Your mission is to occupy the majority of the board by strategically placing your cells to capture enemy numbers. The game ends when the board is full. Got it? Good. Ready, set, go.
…as in Go, if you’ll entertain a bit of wordplay. Go is the ancient Chinese board game of territorial conquest, to which Pathogen pays due homage. In the same flavor, the themed mechanics of Pathogen create an addictive game of biological warfare with enough twists to keep it fresh. Inspired by the mechanism of viruses in the human body, your game pieces are not Go stones, but cells. Three cell types comprise your troops: A, B, and C cells. Each cell type can stack to varying degrees on your own cells to expand the area of your troops, or an enemy cells to capture those cells while expanding your coverage.
If Pathogen is a battlefield, then A cells are your lowest ranking soldiers. A cells can be placed freely on any blank space on the board, or stacked on your existing A cells to create B cells. With the creation of B cells comes expanding territory, and the ability to capture neighboring enemy cells. B and C cells require charging before you can make your move, and can be stacked to conquer territory or create wall cells. The wall cells erect an impenetrable barrier that cannot be captured by opposing ranks, and can be destroyed only by the game’s super bomb move. The bomb move also needs to charge over time, forcing you to think critically about where and when you’ll pull out the big guns.
With four move types, varied maps, and up to four players per board, Pathogen‘s campaign mode poses as much amusement as it does challenge—but it’s mere practice for what lies in the realm of multiplayer. Some of the competition is fierce, which may extend to your own home when playing local multiplayer. (We nearly came to bloodshed on this side—the horror.)
If you get frustrated—and you will—the calming atmosphere created by the game’s clean art style and ambient soundtrack is like an electronic oasis to soothe your fried brain. The end of each round births a lovely series of graphics and statistics about you and your enemy’s game, giving you some insight into how you might need to up your ante. If you’re truly stumped, the in-game help menu is easy to navigate and, indeed, helpful.
Tired of playing the game? Why not make your own map? One of the best features of Pathogen is the Map Editor. Whether your goal is aerial aesthetics or mind-blowing feats of strategy, the Map Editor gives you all of the tools to create and share playable maps. The creative control to dazzle and stump is entirely at your fingertips.
Without a doubt, everything about Pathogen is at your fingertips, from the touch-friendly gameplay to the ease of learning the game’s theory. Pathogen is what experts in combinatorial gametheory would call a “zero-sum, perfect-information, partisan, deterministic strategy game” (Wikipedia). TL;DR: simple rules, extensive strategy. Replay value is at least threefold for the campaign’s increasing difficulty settings, and arguably of infinite enjoyment against multiplayer foes.
For $2.99, Pathogen is a solid entry into the strategy gamer’s prized collection. The developers are working to improve its compatibility across more devices, so for now, we’ll hold on to half of one of the stars Pathogen would otherwise earn in its final score. Like the viruses it emulates, Pathogen is slowly capturing more players. Watch out in that multiplayer arena—it makes the Battle of Helm’s Deep look like a T-ball tournament.
Is it Hardcore?
As only the best are.
You’ll rack your brain and shake your device in an amused fury with this fun strategy title.