Pandemic: An Infectious Board Game

November 16, 2011 — 10 Comments

Board games are fun. Obviously. But maybe not so obviously. Board games are also the bane of good friendships and family stability. They are explicitly designed to create competition, and competition leads to people getting frustrated with each other. It’s a wonder that family murder-suicides are not more commonly sparked by long games of Monopoly. That’s why I was so impressed when I sat down with some friends to play a few rounds of the game, Pandemic. Instead of fostering intense competition, it encourages intense cooperation, and it’s fun as hell.

So what is Pandemic?

Well, it’s a board game, with an actual board. So not just a party game like Charades or Apples to Apples. It’s got a board that looks something like a Risk map, with an array of cities connected to each other in a web. There are four diseases, represented by coloured cubes, that are spread throughout the board at the end of each player’s turn. The players, 2-4 of them, are all on the same team. The goal is to work together to stop the spread of the diseases and get all four cures.

Where are the complications?

Well, let’s get to the difficulty of the game. There are two stacks of cards. One stack is for collecting cities, which can be used for various tasks like building research centres, but also for eventually creating a cure. The second stack is also a stack of cities, only these cards tell you which cities to place disease cubes on at the end of every turn. Complicating matters are the Epidemic cards. There are six of these, and they are shuffled into the first stack. When one is pulled, it ramps up the difficulty level by making you pick up more disease spreading cards. The more Epidemic cards you pull, the faster the diseases spread, the harder they are to contain.

This leads to the next complication: containing the diseases. Each city can only hold three cubes of one colour. If you must put down a fourth cube, it cuases an outbreak and all the connecting cities must get a cube of that colour. Worse still, if any of those cities have three cubes then a second or third outbreak can occur. Things can spiral out of control pretty quickly, and if you hit a certain number of outbreaks over the course of the game, the players lose.

So how can you win?

Winning, as I’ve said, is as simple as collecting four or five cards from a particular colour region on the map and then making a cure. But in the time that this can take to happen, diseases spread and outbreaks occur. To combat this, each player can have up to four actions per turn. These actions can involve moving to a different city, and when on that city, eliminating one cube to curb the chance of an outbreak. There are also special actions like giving a card to another player or building a CDC building. Helping to build an extra layer of strategy, there are five Role cards. At the beginning of the game the Role cards are handed out at random, one to each player. Each Role gives that specific player unique abilities, like requiring four cards instead of five to create a cure, or being able to move another player’s token on your turn. The upshot of this is that while the game involves randomness and luck in how the diseases spread, the amount of strategizing that goes on can get pretty intense.

Great board game or GREATEST board game?

I don’t know if Pandemic is the best board game I’ve ever played. It also takes at least one round to really get a hang of the intricacies of the rules. But to me, what makes the game special, is how it promotes working together as a group to build strategies and come up with solutions to unforeseen obstacles. The level of cooperation required for the game to really work is huge, but the more cooperation you get, the more fun the game becomes. So not only is Pandemic as really great concept for a board game, the way in which it’s played is a refreshing twist and one that doesn’t lead to friends not speaking to each other for years at a time. This kind of game is absolutely perfect for families. Sure, it’s fun to kick your mom’s ass at Monopoly, but if parents want to teach their kids the value of working together to solve problems, Pandemic is just about the most fun way you can do that without putting the entire family in danger.

If you haven’t played Pandemic, do yourself a favour and pick up a copy.


10 responses to Pandemic: An Infectious Board Game


    Pandemic is a great game. Easy to learn, difficult to master, like all the best are. Plus, it’s a great way to bone up on geography. Unlike Ticket to Ride, the city locations are accurate. Nice review, Corey!


      Yeah, you know, the geography lesson was pretty good. My friend invited a few of us over to play it, and after thinking the rules sounded complicated at first, it really was quite easy to get the hang of, but coming up with ways to beat the game was difficult, even in easy mode.


    Cooperation? What is this? A pansy game that seeks to make humans work together instead of pitting each other off in pure, unbridled competition?

    I should check it out.


      I know! I thought it would be all pansy as well. But it’s totally not. It’s really intense and fun. Easily as fun and tense as a good game of Risk, only more consistently fun and a lot easier to get into. The piece are still small and small kids can choke on them though, so there’s that.


    I’ve never heard of this before. It sounds like a game my family would love, so I’ll consider getting it, at your recommendation.


    I particularly like Pandemic with the expansion; adding in the extra tension of the mutation and the virulent strain makes an already good game that much better.


    Hello dudes! How are you in the present day?


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    I agree! cannot believe that this was happening these days. I am very happy I am not jogging. We would love to help answer about the future. I will want to know this new development to this.

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