Pandemic Review

Pandemic is a cooperative board game where players take on the roles of medical experts trying to save the world from being destroyed by four deadly diseases.

Published by Z-Man Games (of Agricola fame) in 2008, the Pandemic series has spawned one expansion, Pandemic: On the Brink. Several games by different designers have also imitated Pandemic's co-op gameplay.

Up to 4 players can play Pandemic, and the game set up allows for three different difficulty levels so that after you feel like you've mastered the basics of the game, you can continue to challenge yourself.

The game's box advertises an estimated playing time of 45 minutes, and recommends the game for ages 10 and up.

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A Brief Overview of what Gameplay in Pandemic is Like

At the time of its release, the concept of Pandemic was very unique. Instead of the players competing against each other, every player in the game works as a team. The players either win or lose together at the end of the game.

The story behind Pandemic is that the world's population is on the verge of being whiped out by four deadly viruses to which no cure is known. To win the game, your team of experts must discover the cures for all four diseases.

Pandemic does an EXCELLENT job of pacing out the tension and ramping it up significantly. The game begins at a slow enough pace for beginners to work their way into it, but by the end of the game, the diseases are spreading at a quicker and quicker pace and the gameplay feels very hectic. If you win a game of Pandemic, it is typically by the skin of your teeth.

How the Gameplay Mechanics in Pandemic Work

At the start of the game, each player is assigned a random role out of five available: Researcher, Scientist, Medic, Dispatcher, and Operations Expert.

Each of the five roles has their own little special advantage that lets them bend the rules of the game in their favor.

Gameplay consists of moving around the cities on the board (which is shaped like a map of the planet Earth) in a non-random fashion. On your turn, you get to choose where you move to, whether it be by car, ferry, or plane (plane gets you around faster than a car or ferry, but comes with a cost).

Pandemic Game Board

On your turn you can treat diseases, build new research stations, and share knowledge cards that you have acquired with other players.

The main strategy in Pandemic comes into play with the hard choices that you are forced to make every single turn. You are limited to four actions during each turn, and there are usually many more things you would like to do. Do you save San Francisco from the Blue Plague, or do you sacrifice it so you can hurry up and meet the Scientist in Madrid and share your findings with him? Your team will be faced with decisions like these constantly.

To achieve victory and win the game, your team must research cures for all four of the diseases. To research the cures, you will need to accumulate five research cards for the specific disease you are trying to cure. You can work towards this goal much faster by sharing your acquired cards with other members of your team.

Beware! While you are running around frantically trying to cure these diseases, the diseases have a mind of their own. A deck of "Infection cards" which you must draw from at the end of every turn determines where the diseases spread to next.

While there is only one way to win, there are three ways to lose! You can lose from any one disease spiraling out of control, from too many "outbreaks" occuring (an outbreak is an event triggered when a virus spirals out of control in a single city), or from hitting the game's built in turn-limit (in the form of player cards which you draw to your hand every turn).

Pandemic's Most Interesting Feature: The Five Different Roles

As mentioned before, in Pandemic you get to control one of five different roles. Each one specializes in a certain task, and to do well in the game it would be a good idea to make sure you maximize the use of each of these team member's abilities, as it is likely that they can perform certain tasks more efficently than the rest of the players.

The Medic in Pandemic

The Medic specializes in treating diseases. He can be up to 3 times more efficent in this task than the other roles.

The Scientist specializes in researching cures. He can research cures with 20% more efficency than the other roles.

The Dispatcher specializes in travel. She can aid herself and other players in saving a lot of time and expense travelling to the various cities on the map.

The Researcher specializes in sharing knowledge. She can break the normal rules that prohibit players from sharing knowledge too easily.

The Operations Expert specializes in building new research labs, which are a vital structure that allows your team to move around the board more easily and is also necesarry to research cures.

Due to random role seleciton at the start of the game and other variable elements, no two games of Pandemic will feel exactly the same. You will have to play differently depending on your own role, and the roles of your team.

Playing Time, Demographics, Etc.

Pandemic supports anywhere from the 2 to 4 players. 3 and 4 player games are usually more interesting than 2 player games because the interactions between the different roles is very cool. The more players you add, the more difficult the game generally becomes as well.

The game does not drag on even as you add more players. The way the game is designed, it can end very quickly with more players because you burn through the player deck much more quickly and therefore the games "turn limit" seems somewhat shorter. Turns do not take long at all, and the best part is that since you are all on a team, everyone is usually involved even when its not their turn.

Both adults and children seem to enjoy the cooperative elements of Pandemic, although adults will probably enjoy the theme more as it is quite mature in nature and the board isn't artificially colorful or stimulating to children. The graphics of the game are a bit more on the realistic side of things.

People who like to solve puzzles will especially enjoy Pandemic, and from my experience, it is a game that you can introduce to just about anybody, whether they normally play games or not. For this reason Pandemic is on my "Board Game Essentials" list.

Recap Time: Positives and Negatives about the Pandemic board game:

Cooperative play means everyone is involved, and makes Pandemic an easy game to "teach as you go"

Simple to learn, yet still manages to be incredibly challenging.

Due to the suspense factor, losing can often feel just as fun as winning.

Multiple difficulty settings means theres something for everyone

Small, efficent box with quality components

Some players notice a tendency for one "dominant" player to end up leading the group and minimizing other player's decisions. I do notice this, and don't necesarilly think it is a problem.

The theme of the world in danger of a massive disease outbreak may be a bit heavy to younger or more sensitive players

Player pawns are slightly oversized; when multiple players occupy the same infected city, this can become a slight problem.

If you need a copy of the Pandemic rules, they are here: Pandemic Rules

Check below for my final verdict on Pandemic

The Verdict on Pandemic - Is it Fun?

Not only is Pandemic fun, but I consider it a great staple for anyone's collection -- and I'll tell you why.

There aren't too many cooperative board games out there. Since Pandemic's release, a few have tried to imitate it, but Pandemic still remains the master of this domain.

You will easily get anyone to try this game with you once they hear its cooperative. That makes it a nice light game that is not intimidating.

Amazingly, Pandemic is so accessible and yet remains so challenging at the same time.

Perhaps the best part about it is that it feels just as fun to lose as it does to win.

I am docking one point off Pandemic's score because I suspect that part of its appeal is novelty that will wear off over time.

However, if Pandemic ever grows stale for you, you can either pick up the expansion or just rest assured that you already got your money's worth out of it (it's quite inexpensive).

I rate Pandemic: (1-6):

-Roger Wilco

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