The best game to play during the COVID-19 crisis right now is NOT Pandemic. I know it is on everyone’s list (including my own), but the truth is we are all wrong. The best game to play during the COVID-19 crisis is Antidote, a simple card to teach all about lab research etiquette, analytical thinking, and, most of all, the importance of proper safety protocols in the lab. Do you think I’m kidding? Well, I have the perfect antidote for your doubt. And whatever else ails you.
What Is Antidote?
This one is a new game we bought last year and has quickly become a family favorite (it was first published in 2015). Antidote is a card game based on a process of elimination and a bit of subterfuge. You can play with only 2-players or as many as 7-players, from ages 13-years and up. We bought ours for AUD$25 at Good Games, however, I have seen it for USD$20 online.
For this game, you are a laboratory scientist working with others on a mysterious formula. And then, someone breaks a test-tube and the entire laboratory has now been poisoned with a deadly airborne toxin. Fortunately, you (and your fellow scientists) have been working on a number of antidotes, but no-one knows exactly which is the reliable cure. Through a process of deduction, elimination, and a bit of card-swapping, your goal is to reduce your hand down to one single card—and hope that card matches the antidote.
- 64x Formula Cards
- Including 8 formulas numbered 1-7 and “X”
- 8x Syringe Cards
- 22x Expansion Cards
- 8x ID Badges
- 8x Lab Romance Cards
- 3x Clinical Trials
- 3x Placebos
- 7x Lab Assistant Cards
- 1x ‘My Turn’ Card
- Rules Booklet
The cards are high-quality gloss cardboard with a smooth finish, as you can see from the shine off the photo above. It makes the cards almost slippery but not quite; I really love the quality of all components.
How to Play
If you want to read through the entire rule book, you can find an online copy on the Bellwether website here.
The goal, as with most things, is TO LIVE!!! Meaning, to have the antidote and not be poisoned by the careless Lab Etiquette of your comrades. At the end of the game, have a Number Card in your hand that matches the antidote. The higher the number, the more points you receive.
Set-up can take a little time, compared with the gameplay being limited to 30mins per round. However, it is pretty easy to follow.
- Unless you are playing a 7-player game, place all the Agent-U Cards (numbers 1-7 and “X”) back into the box.
- Separate all of the “X” cards from the deck and shuffle them face-down.
- Select one “X” card at random and set it face-down in the game box. Do NOT look at this card until the end of the game—this is the antidote.
- Depending on how many players you have, shuffle the required syringe cards in with the remaining “X” cards and deal two cards face-down to each player.
- With the numbered cards, take out any numbers greater than the number of players you have. For example, if you have 5-players, remove cards numbered 6 and 7.
- Shuffle and deal all remaining cards to all players.
Each player takes turns around the table. When it is your turn, you may take one of three actions:
- Discard a Card
All players must simultaneously discard one card from their hand to their workstation (the space in front of you). “X” cards are discarded face-down and all other cards must be discarded face-up.
- Trade Research
You can either do a one-on-on trade with another player of your choice, or everyone passes a card to the left or right (Your turn so your choice). Take the card passed to you into your hand
- Use a Syringe Card
Reveal your syringe card and steal a card from another player’s hand or workstation. If you steal from their hand, choose randomly. If you steal a card from their workstation, select any card you like (face-up or face-down). Place your syringe card in place of the card you stole.
Continue until all players are left with one card. When this occurs, reveal your last card. This indicates the formula you are to “drink.”
And now for the moment, we have all been waiting for: reveal the antidote!!! That is the “X” card hidden in the game box during set-up. If your formula matches the antidote, YOU LIVE!!! You also earn points for finding the antidote—your points match the number on the card.
If your card does not match the antidote, then alas, dear friend, you die. You also lose points equal to the number on your last card. If your last card is NOT a number card (like a syringe) then you die but only lose 1 point.
Variation Within Family
There are variations if you want to play with 2-players or manage the gameplay to be child-friendly for younger siblings.
When played with 2-players, a “silent player” is included in the turn structure of the game. Further elements are changed in the game, such as no 1-on-1 trading with the “silent player.”
For younger players, start off with a few games where ALL cards are face-up. This way, they are able to learn the importance of deduction and elimination. It is also important to encourage information trading as first-choice for player actions. On a side-note, here is your opportunity to teach the importance of lab etiquette and information sharing between scientists, especially during a pandemic like COVID-19.
Expanding the Gameplay of Antidote
There are two expansion packs included in the original game box: The Placebo Effect and Lab Romance. Each expansion pack is a separate add-on to the base game, once you have mastered the original game. There is also a third expansion to be purchased separately, Antidote: Lab Alliance, but I have not included this in my review as we are yet to play it. Stay tuned.
The Placebo Effect includes three new cards: ID Badge, the Placebo, and Clinical Trial. Each player receives a unique ID, to be kept secret from all other players. The ID Badge is linked with a formula and will either add or remove points at the end of the game, depending on the card. Placebos work more as failsafe in the game, giving you a bluff card to trade or discard while you are still working out your next move. Clinical Trials create an additional move for all players, either taking or discarding cards directly from workstations.
Lab Romance turns the microscope on to the players rather than simply the cards. Each of the Lab Romance cards gives you a new objective; this is no longer a simple game of “drink the antidote.” There is a whole other level of player manipulation. To add further salt to the wound, each Lab Romance card is based on a well-known Shakespeare character or relationship. Because, really, who else would be the master of poisonous tragedies?
Why You Should Play Antidote
With younger kids, Antidote is a really easy game of deduction and elimination. Even though the game is aimed at 13-years and older, it can be picked up fairly quickly by kids as young as 6-years old. To be honest, it is absolutely hilarious when you take a positive laughing attitude as you watch everyone die (figuratively speaking). This coming from the person who has died the most frequently.
However, for teens, this game can be quite dastardly. EG Sinister (our 14-year-old) takes great pleasure in leading us astray. He will go out of his way to collect multiple cards so as to purposely trick me into a false sense of safety. He also likes to tease, torment, and be downright theatrical with his cards. While the younger kids will be able to manage the card management, they are not as comfortable with the treachery. This is not a character flaw of the teen; it is another way teens like to test boundaries and tabletop games is a perfectly safe environment to do so. With the right audience. In fact, it is great to have a few games on hand for the teenager to flex his teen-muscles, so to speak. So often, we are busy trying to find games to be either family-friendly for the younger kids or high-level maturity/gameplay for us older adults. It’s important to remember our teen-geeklings, often feeling a little out of orbit already with the wonderful world of the teen years.
Score: 4 out of 5 successful vaccines