With the current COVID-19 pandemic occurring at the time of this writing, it seemed appropriate to take a look at some games that prominently feature the end of the world as we know it, or at least the post-apocalyptic landscape of the time after. In this installment, we will be looking at Pandemic published by Z-Man Games in 2008. Pandemic is a multiplayer cooperative board game for 2-4 players, though in my opinion four players is ideal.
As the name implies, the apocalypse here is a global pandemic. In fact, in Pandemic it is four pandemics happening around the world at the same time. The players take up the role of Center for Disease Control, or CDC, operatives trying to find a cure for all four diseases, while also preventing the outbreak from spreading.
There are two sets of cards on the board. The top set of cards shows you where new disease counters are placed, and are drawn after each player’s turn. The bottom set of cards are also a list of cities, which the players draw two of after each turn and add to their hand. These cards act as resources that can be spent to perform certain actions, such as flying to that city, building a research station, or finding the cure for a disease.
The flow of gameplay is that a player can take four actions per turn. These actions can be to move to an adjacent city, build a research station, remove a disease counter from the city they are currently in, fly to a new city, or cure one of the four diseases, if they have the appropriate resources. To cure a disease, a player needs to have 5 city cards of the same color in their hand and be at a research station. If the players can cure all four diseases, then they win the game.
The colored squares represent the different diseases. Each city can have up to 3 disease counters of one color, and if a fourth would be placed at that city then there is an Outbreak instead. When an Outbreak occurs, instead of placing a fourth disease counter on a city, each connected city gets a disease counter instead. If eight outbreaks occur, the players lose the game.
Where things get difficult are the Epidemic cards. These are sorted into the set of cards that the players draw, and when they come up a city gets 3 disease counters and all of the already drawn cards from the top deck are shuffled and placed back on top. The number of cards drawn to place new diseases also increases after a certain number of Epidemic cards have been drawn. You can control the difficulty of the game by the number of Epidemic cards shuffled into the deck.
There are also some special cards in the player deck that, when found, can be used once to help the players in various ways: such as skipping drawing infection cards for one turn or building a research station without needing to discard a city card. Each player also takes on a specific role with special abilities, such as the Scientist, who only needs 4 matching cards to cure a disease, or the Medic, who clears all disease squares from a city instead of only one at a time.
There are a few other ways you can lose the game as well. If you run out of city cards to draw, the players lose. If you need to place a disease cube and there are no more left, the players lose. Playing with the full set of Epidemic cards makes this game extremely difficult, even for seasoned players.
At easier levels, this can be a fun game for casual board game enthusiasts. The rules are relatively simple and the cooperative nature of the game helps prevent any hard feelings that can arise after playing competitive board games. Unfortunately, the real pandemic is making it much harder to get together and play games with friends in person right now.
Overall, I would give Pandemic an “A-“, or 9/10 stars. It is definitely worth picking up if you are into strategy board games that you can play with friends. It can be a little expensive, but comparable to the price of a AAA video game title.
There have been three expansions and at least six spin-offs released for Pandemic, so suffice to say it is a popular title. I have not personally played any of the expansions, so this is just about the core title. If you want to pick up a copy of Pandemic you can order from the publisher here.