Unlike many board games, Pandemic is a cooperative board game – the 2-4 players in a game don’t compete against each other, instead, they fight the seemingly inevitable spread of a global health epidemic.
Players work together in an attempt to stop diseases from spreading all over the globe and wiping out humanity in the process. The only way to win the game is to completely wipe the diseases out.
The survival of any of the four viruses at play in a round will eventually mean the end of human life. Since the genocide of all humanity is kind of a bad thing, that results in a loss.
The stakes are high in Pandemic and the gameplay reflects this: it’s a difficult and tense experience.
In Pandemic, there are four different diseases that are spreading across the globe. Each has already begun to claim victims when the game begins. As each turn progresses, more and more cities become infected by the plague.
As you progress further through the game, the viruses’ growth rate become exponentially faster. This makes Pandemic prone to spiraling rapidly out of control, and a few bad turns can completely sink your efforts.
The game really rewards players who really think through their actions and try to assess the problems that may occur. The worst of these is probably the Epidemic Cards can randomly be drawn, these re-infect cities and threaten to derail your entire operation.
There are 7 distinct roles in Pandemic, each with unique abilities to help the team prevent the outbreak in some fashion:
- Contingency Planner – Can take any discarded Event card and store it
- Dispatcher – Can move another player’s pawn and move any pawn to a city with another pawn
- Medic – Can remove all cubes of one color and automatically removes cubes of cured diseases from the city you’re in
- Operations Expert – Can build a research station in his city
- Quarantine Specialist – Can prevent disease cube placements and outbreaks in her city
- Researcher – Can give a City card to another player when they’re in the same city
- Scientist – Can Discover a Cure with only 4 cards of the same color
Fighting the plague is a lot harder than letting it win. At the beginning of the game each player is assigned a role card to decide which medical professional they will be playing as.
Each person gets four actions every turn. You can move around the map, build research centers, treat diseases to slow the spread, or share knowledge. You can also draw more cards to try and find those you really need, but you run the risk of drawing a card to spread the diseases even further.
To actually discover a cure to each of the four diseases and win, you have to find five cards of the same color and bring them to a research center.
This might seem simple but the game makes achieving it difficult. Even though you get four actions, you have to really ration each player’s time.
Even travelling around the map can become a burden and you’ll realize you might not have enough action points to spend. There are faster modes of travel than driving, but these use up resources as well.
To win the game, you’ve got to eliminate all four diseases while dealing with all of the complications that arise in the process.
In order to stand a chance of winning, you’ve got to engage in long-term strategic thinking and properly assess risks. Being aware of the potentially horrific things that can happen in the next turn will help you prevent the infections spiraling out of control.
Evidently, in Pandemic, it’s a lot easier to doom the human race than save it. Pandemic stacks the odds up against you and gives you a merciless ticking clock to remind you of your impending doom.
Not every game is going to be a winner, so don’t get too discouraged if you don’t win at first. You’re fighting against the randomness of drawn cards as much as you are fighting against diseases.
As well as losing from too many outbreaks, you can also trigger an early extinction by running out of one color of disease cubes or running out of cards to draw.
Despite the various ways to lose, there is only one way you can actually win: curing all four of the diseases on the board.
Packing and Strategy: Outsmarting The Germs
Pandemic comes out of the box as a nice package, if a little utilitarian. The board game and its pieces aren’t anything flashy, but they do a great job of combing the themes of the game with its mechanics.
In terms of pieces, there aren’t that many to setup or keep track of over the course of the game. Infection cards inform how the diseases will spread, cubes keep track of the diseases’ progress, character tokens represent the players, and cure tokens are for cured outbreaks.
It will take a few games before you become skilled at Pandemic. The best strategy is to always expect the worst turn of events. This makes progress slow and difficult, but it can stop you from gambling your chance at victory on a good draw on the next turn.
Players who don’t have a coherent plan on how to treat the outbreak simply won’t win. You can’t predict how the virus will spread, but you can work together to keep progressing despite the problems that occur.
Pandemic is a deep game with a lot of potential for replaying. Despite the complexity, the rules are relatively simple and most players can pick them up in about fifteen minutes.
Playing your first game with a more experienced disease handler will help new players learn the ropes, as it is ultimately about being able to manage the problems that occur and the risks of certain strategies.
As you play more games, you will understand the horrendous possibilities of each turn and the impact of wrong decisions.
Pandemic’s Pros and Cons
One of Pandemic’s biggest successes is making the mechanics of playing the game feel really connected with the theme and plot. As each game unfolds, your actions feel completely tied with what is happening on the board, even if you’re just moving markers around and drawing cards.
This connection really improves the experience; it especially helps keep the constant tension alive. While Pandemic can be stressful at times, the reward is in the challenge and Pandemic will definitely keep you and your friends engaged.
Pandemic’s difficulty is really its only drawback, as losses happen frequently and can outweigh the wins. This might be disheartening to new players but it is worth it in the long-run.
As the game is cooperative, a hard difficulty curve is necessary to keep Pandemic fun as you play it over and over again in an attempt to beat it.
The good thing is the difficulty is adjustable. Players can decide how many Epidemic cards get put in the deck (these are the cards that make a game spiral into absolute chaos), so reducing the number makes for an easier experience.
A lower difficulty still isn’t a guarantee of victory but it will help you ease into the game.
Pandemic is a fantastic introduction to cooperative board games for newcomers and a deeply enjoyable experience for seasoned players. It isn’t necessarily a relaxing game to play, as the ticking clock and high stakes make Pandemic quite tense.
But as long as you’re playing with the right people, Pandemic is a rewarding and captivating board game that rewards good coordination and teamwork.