Review: Pandemic

Game Name: Pandemic Published Year: 2008
Game Publisher: Z-Man Games Player Scale: 2 – 4
Game Designer: Matt Leacock Run Time: 45 mins


There are four deadly and destructive diseases rampaging across the world and only you and your fellow agents from the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) can stop them.  To do this not only must you treat the poor, suffering inhabitants of the world’s worst affected cities, but you must simultaneously research and develop a cure.  Time is running out fast, the diseases are spreading and intensifying faster, and at any point another epidemic could burst forth and lay waste to all of your carefully considered plans.  This is Pandemic, and easily the best £25 (ish) you will probably ever spend.

Pan In PlayPandemic is a rich, exciting cooperative game, meaning there will be no sour-faced tantrums or table flipping.  You will win or lose as a team, and the success or failure will never feel like it was caused by one person or one decision.  In fact, when you lose (and you will), it will feel very much like the board is displaying some sort of Jumanji-esque sentience and is playing you back, and your victories will be all the sweeter for it.

Pandemic handles the very morbid theme of world ending plagues in a simple and abstract fashion that makes this game suitable for the young, the squeamish and those recovering from major surgery.  The globe and the un-named diseases are represented by four different colours, and each level of infection is a corresponding coloured cube, the stages of the cure – the Player Deck – is similarly dived into the same four colours.  The Player Deck and Infection Deck are both made up of cards denoting one of the forty-eight cities on the board and the Cure/Disease colour.

As agents of the CDC players will use their four available actions each turn to Drive, Ferry or Fly around the globe in an attempt to Treat Diseases, Share Knowledge, build

The different Roles provide additional replay and strategic value.

additional Research Stations and hopefully Develop a Cure.  To create the all-important Cure, one player must have their pawn at a Research Station with five, colour-suited city cards.  Sounds simple?  Not a chance.  After spending their four actions, players will gain two more cards from the Player Deck and then a number of new cities will become infected using the Infection Deck.  Trading cards between players isn’t nearly as simple as everyone wishes it were, and while players are trying to do that, more and more cities are becoming infected, or the infection is escalating.  The pressure never comes off; the board, the cards, the very game itself works against you, and it will take cooperation and team work to overcome, and win a game.

EpidemicsAs if this wasn’t already enough, hidden amongst the Player Deck are the cards that every Pandemic player quickly comes to fear the dreaded; Epidemic Cards.  The more of these in the Player Deck, the more difficult the game, and what these bring is as simple and as elegant as it is devastating. Increase – more Infection Cards now need to be drawn – Infect – a new city is infected at the highest level of infection – and Intensify  – all of those previously infected cities are shuffled and placed back on top of the deck, ready to be infected all over again.  This is usually where Outbreaks start happening, and they are as bad as they Outbreak Trackersound.

Should the Infection level of a city surpass three, every connected city becomes infected.
And if that city also has three cubes on it, you have an Outbreak chain-reaction on your hands.  Yes, this is also as bad as it sounds, maybe worse, as every time an Outbreak occurs the Outbreak Track advances, and when it reaches the skull and cross bones…well, you lose.

The players also lose if ever more disease cubes are needed than are available.

So to conclude three ways to lose, one way to win.

Getting a cure isn’t as easy as it sounds.

Pandemic does a fantastic job of creating a tense, suspenseful atmosphere around each game, done through a simple illusion of choice.  The objective is attainable; five colour suited cards.  Simple, if only you were able to focus on that you’d accomplish it easily, but the game distracts you with Epidemics, Outbreaks and mounting pressure by other players who have become attached to the idea of treating and removing cubes.  Although the cubes and pawns are the very basic of components their very lack of tangible connection creates a very visceral one – YOU are in a city when it outbreaks, not the Researcher.  The lack of detailed miniatures and fancy disease tokens actually contribute to the immersion of the drama that is unfolding on the table before you.  The plans and counter-plans that players create to combat a random deck of cards to maintain a sense of control of the game creates some truly brilliant and unique player interaction.  That a trembling hand and held breaths accompany each successive reach for another card from the Player Deck when you know statistically and Epidemic Card should appear any moment…

In cooperative games, some players may have a tendency to “quarterback”, or control the gameplay, and it is

Event cards provide a little relief for players

very easily done; I know I’ve done it myself.  But “no-one is as smart as everyone”, and you won’t see all the angles all the time.  Once; my nine-year old niece spotted a simple solution that I had completely overlooked and it is in these moments, seeing another player draw the same conclusion as you, or even a better one, that this game will always be one of my favourites.

Pandemic is a game that can come to the table again and again, and in many cases, it won’t even leave the table between games.  With a short run time, short set up time and deep atmosphere I doubt I will ever get tired of playing this game.  Of course, there are plenty of expansions which add new variants and roles for players to assume and these all have their own merits, but if you say:

“Fancy a game of Pandemic.”

My answer will always be: “Yes”


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