This Pandemic review was made after playing the game about 30 times.
What is Pandemic?
Pandemic is all about, well, dealing with a pandemic! Pandemic has players attempt to eradicate four diseases that have broken out around the world, with each disease threatening to wipe out an entire region of people. It is up to the players to deal with the threats before too many people get infected.
Your goal in Pandemic is to work together to slow the spread of diseases around the planet and to cure them before they get too out of hand.
The Pandemic components consist of a board/map with 48 cities, player cards, infection cards, four sets of cubes to represent the diseases, a pawn for each player, and research stations. Each player gets a role card, which could be the dispatcher, the medic, the scientist, the researcher, or the operations expert. These roles give players unique abilities to use throughout the game.
On your turn, you can move between cities, share cards, treat diseases, and use your special ability. The key to each turn is realizing when you should treat diseases and when you should try to get the cards you need to cure a disease. You need to collect five City cards of the same color and make it to a research station in order to cure a disease. After you’ve taken four actions, you draw two new player cards and then draw a number of infection cards based on the current infection level.
Mixed in with the player cards are epidemic cards, which spread the diseases around the globe. Epidemics are horrible because they not only put a city on the brink of outbreaking, they also add the discarded infection cards back on top of the deck, making it very possible that you will have major issues in the next few turns.
Outbreaks happen when you have to add a disease cube to a city and it already has three cubes of that color. When an outbreak happens, you have to add a disease cube to every city connected to the city that just had the outbreak.
You’ll lose if more than seven outbreaks occur, if there are no more cubes of a disease color when needed, or if there are no more player cards to be played. You’ll beat Pandemic if you’re able to cure all four diseases.
- Pandemic is very thematic, which makes it easy to get into and helps it to tell a different story every time it hits the table. All of the game’s mechanics make thematic sense, such as the set collection representing your group slowly figuring out the cures for the diseases. It’s a near-perfect marriage of theme and mechanics.
- I really like the way the tension rises as you play through the game. You definitely feel the pressure to make good decisions as those diseases spread. That tension makes victories feel even greater, and losing just makes you want to get right back in there and try again.
- The different player roles force you to come up with different strategies and ensures that the game stays fresh through many playthroughs. This is not a game you’ll be bored with after three or four (or 20) plays.
- Sometimes randomized event decks can feel a bit forced into cooperative board games, but in Pandemic it just makes sense that random events are taking place. In fact, the Infection deck is still one of the best mechanisms in modern board games because it does the job of keeping the tension high while also making thematic sense; the badly hit cities early on in the game usually continue to be a huge threat for the remainder of the game.
- Pandemic is very easy to pick up and learn. It is straightforward enough to be considered a gateway game; in fact, many people still consider it to be the best gateway game out there. There are also some excellent reference cards to help you out if you ever forget any of the key rules.
- Pandemic plays well at all player counts. You can definitely tell that it was made to be a four-player game, but it’s actually an excellent two-player game as well. That’s just another reason why it stays on most people’s board game shelves.
- Quarterbacking can definitely be an issue while playing Pandemic, especially if you play open-handed where everyone can see everyone else’s cards. One person could try to take over if they think they see the best plays, which can make it a frustrating experience for everyone else.
- The roles aren’t perfectly balanced. That’s not a terrible thing since it presents different challenges with different role combinations, but some people might not like having certain weaker roles when they know other players will be more powerful throughout the game.
Pandemic is one of the best cooperative board games out there and it’s the game that inspired a lot of other designers to start making co-ops. The theme seems to work for everyone, it has a good amount of tension, and it’s easy to adjust the difficulty to suit your group. No matter how many times you play it, you simply can’t help but feel great after you’ve worked together to cure those fast-spreading diseases. It is no surprise to me that Pandemic won multiple awards and that it continues to be one of the most popular board games in the world.
If you end up being a fan of the base game, definitely check out the Pandemic expansions, especially Pandemic: On The Brink, which I think is one of the best board game expansions out there. You can also test out the game by getting the Pandemic app for iOS or Android.
BGG | Amazon | CoolStuffInc | eBay
Games Like Pandemic
(April 2020 Update)
If you’ve already played Pandemic and are looking for something similar or you just want to find co-ops that play similarly but with different themes, here are some games to check out (not listed are the many other Pandemic games have been released):
- Forbidden Island or Forbidden Desert – Both of these games were made by the designer of Pandemic and have very similar mechanisms. In Forbidden Island you’re attempting to find four items and escape off of the island before it sinks, while in Forbidden Desert you’re trying to dig through sand to find the four items you need. Desert is slightly more complex, but both games can definitely work as family co-ops.
- The Captain is Dead – In this game you work together to fix your space ship and fly away before the aliens overwhelm you. If you want a sci-fi game that is similar to Pandemic, The Captain is Dead is the one I’d recommend getting.
- Flash Point: Fire Rescue – Rather than having to deal with diseases spreading around the world, in Flash Point you have to work together to stop a fire from spreading around a house. This is pretty much the same weight as Pandemic and it is another theme that just about anyone can get into.
- Burgle Bros. – Unlike the other games listed here, Burgle Bros. is not all about surviving or saving the world. It’s a heist game (think Ocean’s 11) in which you’re attempting break into safes and avoid the security guards. What makes it similar to Pandemic is the simple “take four actions and then bad things happen” turn structure. In this game the “bad thing” is the guards moving around the building.