Did you ever wonder how good you really are at communication? How about compromise? In the world of Pandemic, you don’t have time to disagree. Your team needs you, and most importantly, the world needs you. In Pandemic, you’re part of a team of specialists trying to work together to find the cures for 4 diseases plaguing the planet. You have very little time, very little room for error, and very little resources.
Did I mention you’re part of a team of only four (or in some cases, 2 or 3) specialists!? The world is putting a lot of faith in just a few people. That’s even ridiculous by movie standards. Saving the world is going to take strong decision making, thinking ahead, and a little bit of luck, but if you can pull this off, feel free to add “Pulled the Planet from the Grips of Annihilation” under the accomplishments section of your resume. It’s sure to impress.
Pandemic is a 2-4 player cooperative game designed by Matt Leacock and published by Z-Man Games. The game takes about 45 minutes to play and contains elements of hand management, variable player powers, and a set number of actions each turn for players to choose from.
First I want to mention that this game has a difficulty setting: Hard, Holy Crap, and Impossible. All jokes aside, before you start the game, you get to choose between playing with 4, 5, or 6 “Epidemic” cards in your player deck. Epidemic cards cause the tension in the game to ramp up when they’re revealed. More on them later. You will also select (or be given at random) a player role that gives you a special ability to use throughout the game.
Shuffle the player deck and deal 4 cards to each player. Then, you’ll add in the epidemic cards you chose at the start of setup to the player deck. The initial infected cities are determined by flipping over infection cards and adding disease cubes to those cities. You’ll add one cube for the first three cards, two for the next three and three cubes for the final three. After the board is setup with disease cubes and you’ve placed all of your markers in their designated areas, place your player pawns and a research station in Atlanta, as this signifies the Center for Disease Control.
Each player’s turn takes on three phases: Perform actions, Draw 2 player cards, and infect cities. You can perform 4 out of a total of 8 actions on your turn (actions can be repeated). These actions include things like movement, building a research station, trading cards with other players and finding a cure. Finding a cure requires you to possess 5 player cards of the same color, which then can be traded in at a research station to “cure” the disease.
After performing actions, you’ll draw two player cards, of which there are three types: Cities (one for each city), Events (that benefit you when played) and Epidemics. If you draw an epidemic card, you’ll infect a brand new city with 3 disease cubes and place all of the already flipped infection cards back onto the top of the deck. This is what ramps up the intensity of the game.
Outbreaks occur when you go to place a disease cube on a city that already has 3 of that color. When this happens, you place one disease cube of that color in every adjacent city. You also increase your outbreak track by 1. You can lose the game by letting 8 outbreaks occur, running out of player cards or even running out of disease cubes to use on the board. To win the game, your team must find the cures to all four of the diseases before any one of the losing conditions happen.
Art, Graphic Design and Components
Pandemic contains quality components that feel good in your hands and look good on the table. The rulebook is easy to navigate and reference, giving first time players an easier transition into the game. The player pawns match the color of the role cards, making it easier to not only tell who is at what location, but also what role they are without having to check their role card. The board is laid out very well, giving geographically close cities enough space for players to navigate.
Theme and Gameplay
Who knew that global disease outbreaks could be turned into wholesome family fun!? At the forefront of Pandemic is a constant feeling of being on the ground, in the mess, trying to help people. At times I felt bad when I let a certain area become really, really infected. I understand it’s just cubes on a board, but these are my fake people that need my fake help and I’ll be damned if I let them fake suffer.
The gameplay does everything to enhance and intensify the experience. The fact that you can lose in multiple ways, but can only win by finding cures, is what makes the game so engaging. Not only do you have to prevent outbreaks, but if you wait too long you may run out of player cards. Or let’s say you’re focusing really hard on getting rid of a specific disease, if you let another one spread too far, you could run out of disease cubes to play and boom you just lost. Every aspect of the game lends itself to a constant state of mild panic, before getting full on panic.
What I really enjoy about the game though is the way you have to not only manage what’s happening on the board, but also what’s going on within your own team. Working together is the most important aspect of the game. You will not win without working together and talking things through. Not only is it fun and exciting to manage the diseases on the board, but managing each role and how they fit into your success and strategy is where this game shines the most.
The only issue I’ve had with Pandemic (and it’s not a big one) is the fact that because your setups are completely random, sometimes you’re given a board that is very hard to work with at the beginning of the game. Some may view this as a challenge though, which is what it’s all about. Just keep in mind your mileage may vary from game to game, so don’t get discouraged if you lose in 10 minutes.
Two Player Experience
Pandemic is an experience that scales extremely well. Playing the game at any player count feels just as intense, with enough hope for victory. Regardless of player count, at the end of each player’s turn, you’re infecting cities and drawing player cards. You’re inching closer to defeat. More players just means more things happening on the board before it’s your turn again, and that’s scary.
At the two player count, I feel as though the game is as solid as ever. It’s easier to plan turns and strategies with just one other player. Even though you’re only working with 2 player abilities instead of 3 or 4, the simple fact is your ping-ponging your turns back and forth, which makes for some slim, tactical gameplay, and that’s sexy. I will say that in a two player game, certain role combinations may not be ideal. Some roles do great on their own while others are more of a supporting presence. If you get two “supporting” roles, the game may be more difficult in general.
Pandemic is quite simply an excellent cooperative game. There’s a reason why everyone uses this game to introduce others to the cooperative game genre (and even the modern tabletop gaming hobby itself). It’s a well-designed, well-produced game that keeps up the intensity from the very beginning and doesn’t let go until you either snatch victory from the jaws of defeat or fail miserably, letting down the entire planet.
- Excellent cooperative elements that make teamwork a must
- Well-designed mechanics that keep the game intense and engaging
- Beautiful artwork and design make the game easy to learn and teach
- The infected cities at the setup of the game are random and sometimes can present a challenging disadvantage