In our post-Covid age, this game may be timely but, no, it isn’t another Pandemic (Z-Man/Asmodee) clone. In Save Patient Zero from Helvetiq, players represent labs racing to be the first to find the antidote to a new pathogen. Think Pfizer versus Astra Zeneca, tho’ you’re actually Lab-T (blue) versus Lab-M (red).
Designed by Cedric Martinez, with art by Emiliano Ponzi, Save Patient Zero is a light deduction game played with either two players or two teams. Ideally, you’ll also have a games master (GM) to take on the role of ‘Savvy’ – the computer – but, in the absence of a GM, you can download an app to fill the role and facilitate play. Alternatively, each team can act as Savvy for the other.
At the start of the game, Savvy removes three molecule cards from a deck of 25. The labs are in a race with each other to find these molecules, which are the ones needed for the antidote... The game comes with a thick pad of roll & write style sheets for each lab. This includes a 5 x 5 grid showing all the possible molecules and you’ll be using that to record the answers you get when you use ‘tool’ cards to pursue your investigations; for example, deleting molecules you know not to be search targets.
The various tool cards quiz Savvy but the different cards elicit responses in a number of different ways. For example, Samply lets you draw cards that show an assortment of molecules; Savvy responds by classifying a sample as ‘positive’ if it includes at least one of the molecules you are seeking; negative if it shows none. Scanpad lets you indicate a group of six adjacent molecules in your 5 x 5 grid. Some ‘tools’ give you a mathematical answer: the molecules all have a number assigned to them, and Fuzio tells you whether the sum of the three numbers is in the range 6-22, 23-39, 40-56 or 57-72 (albeit that the sheets in our copy were misprinted 33-39).
A screen shields each team’s sheet and deductions from the prying eyes of the rival lab, and it also gives an explanation of the workings of each of the tools. The choice of which tool to use and when can be an important aspect of your puzzle solving; tho’ there are multiple copies of some tools, each card can be used only once.
You’re playing in rounds with each simultaneously activating a tool in order to narrow down the molecules, so Save Patient Zero feels like a real-time game. It’s a game based on logic and deduction – in the tradition of Mastermind (Pressman) or Wordle – but knowing that you are in race with a rival lab certainly injects a shot of adrenaline!
Btw, tho’ this game is titled Save Patient Zero, the word ‘Save’ is all but invisible on the box, so it’s bound to be known as and referred to as just Patient Zero. Just be warned tho’ that there are other games out there with this title, so you’ll probably need to specify that it’s the Helvetiq game that you’re looking for. Oh, and just to keep you on your toes, this game is in 22 x 28 cm box, so much larger than most other titles in Helvetiq’s mainly small-box range.