Mesa boardgames & Arcane Wonders

A review by


  • 2-5 Players
  • 60-90 minutes
  • 12+ Age

You make me sick!

Viral is one of those delightful games that turns conformity on its head. Instead of the usual your fighting to save the world/town/person tropes you might expect. Viral moves in the other direction. Not all the way into “Kill everything” territory that would be no fun either. Instead Viral is much more about you being the Virus overlord of your particular species of bug. You need to steer your little cherubs (OK I know that is stretching the definition a bit) into a human body’s vital organs. You need to ensure they get a good foothold to be able to control parts of the body’s system. They also need to be strong enough to oust the other bugs that seem intent on finding a home inside the body that you have made home.

Stomach Churning.

Viral has a nice mix of components to use throughout your playtime.

  • 1 Rule book
  • 1 Game board.
  • 5 Player boards (1 in each players colour).
  • 40 Virus tokens (8 in each players colour).
  • 4 Numbered Crisis tokens.
  • 1 First player marker.
  • 1 Step / turn marker.
  • 15 Tie / research / score tokens (3 per player colour).
  • 30 Zone cards (6 per player).
  • 25 Basic infection cards (5 per player)
  • 13 Event cards.
  • 22 Virus mutation cards.

Itchy Skin.

Now you know what your getting how nice does this illness look? The artwork in Viral is bright and colourful to say the very least. It appears as if the designers have looked at a colour board and just gone “Yep we will have one of each colour please”. With purples, yellows, greens and blues all over the place throw in some blacks, whites and greys for good measure. The thing is it works. Everything is easy to find and well laid out. All the icons are easy to make sense of and the players boards have inbuilt handy reference sections. The main game board itself is laid out with a persons main organs, veins and arteries connecting them in the centre. While on the right hand side is the “Virus Points” tracker (score track) While on the left is the round order / counter with large clear icons to remind you what order everything is resolved.

Hacking Cough.

So on the surface all is well. Scratch a little and you discover some little aches and pains. Nothing terminal just more of a cough than pneumonia. First is the cards used in a game of Viral. Considering the amount of handling that these cards are going to receive, the quality is well below what you would expect from a modern game. At least with the white borders the marks to the edges will not show straight away. This is one of those time when I would suggest. If you buy this game? Buy some card sleeves to go with it. Now onto the board. There are several comments around the internet regarding game board construction issues. I did not encounter these apart from one 2cm round mark on the board which did not affect the gameplay but was slightly annoying none the less. My issue is with the size of the board. The central part with the main play area was nicely laid out. Around that however there was so much emptiness. While the creators have tried to carry the theme across the whole of the board they have ended up making it at least 1/3rd as big again as it needed to be. You find yourself time and again reaching much further than you need to. Do not get me wrong I do like the board it is just much bigger than needed.

Viral Variety.

So just how do you do illness then?

In a game of Viral each player will have virus tokens, some basic virus mutation cards and six zone cards. Players will then take it in turns to “infect” the body’s organs (place virus tokens).

All players will then simultaneously select a zone card and a mutation card from their hand and place them face down to keep them secret. In turn order they will use those two cards to take their action. This is where the nice simple iconography really comes into its own. You will have no trouble remembering the actions available. Initially they will be simple basic actions, Infect, Move, Shield, Attack. As you increase your virus point score you will gain access to more cards with different abilities.

At this point I want to point out a clever little nod to accuracy in that the veins and arteries will, like in a real body. Only allow flow (movement) in one direction.

Once all players have taken their actions. The cards are put to one side and you repeat the process with your remaining cards. These four cards will become unavailable for the following round (They will however be available in later rounds). This is to stop anyone just using a “this is a good card I will use it all the time” strategy.

Players will then look at who has control of the zones and score accordingly while at the same time causing research into the viruses to increase (not a good thing). Followed by event card resolution. Zones are then checked for “crisis” which is effectively when a certain number of viruses are present in a region. It triggers the body’s immune system to attack the viruses in that region wiping them out. If you succeed in surviving all this. You will then check the current research levels. Have the scientists discovered a treatment? If they have all the viruses of a particular strain are wiped out. Leaving the player to start infecting all over again. Repeat this process for six rounds and the player with the highest score wins. 

Bowels of Despair.

Viral is a bit of a strange candidate to review. On the one hand are the bright colourful cartoonish graphics which give the impression of a simple, kids game. But the actual gameplay which is focussed well into the “area control” category is a lot more involved than the artwork suggests. The options available as actions are just a basic four (up to two more depending on bonus cards). While this gives the initial impression of a simplicity of actions. It is the utilization of combining moves and the order you execute them that makes the depth start to shine through. But in many situations the circulatory system rules which govern movement. Will quickly mean you are only going to take one or two of those actions in a turn. The efforts taken to increase variety and replay-ability while initially appealing for me personally lost their sheen following repeated plays. I quickly found myself taking the same starting actions each turn and based on what the various points per zone were (there is a variable point system meaning each game zones were worth differing point values). Then I would be focusing on just two or three zones. I genuinely believe Viral is the beating heart of an exceptional area control game. It does however suffer from trying to be all things to all people. It could have been slimmed down to a lighter game and made much more “gateway” family suitable or beefed up and gone for a much more medium heavyweight approach. Instead it is caught in the middle. In the doctors waiting for a prescription or a referral

Felling Better.

A game I will play from time to time. Not a regular table feature. Nice to look at simple to learn and teach.


  • Simple to learn.
  • Easy to teach.
  • Bright colour scheme.
  • Interesting theme.


  • Component quality.
  • Replay-ability.
  • Long term appeal.
  • Not as gateway as it first appears.

I was provided with a copy of Viral for review purposes. This in no way affects my review or my final thoughts on the game.

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