Updated: Jun 14, 2021
In Pandemic you are a member of the CDC sent out to battle disease wherever it may lie. What are those diseases called you ask? Why… Red, Blue, Yellow and Black of course. And how do those diseases manifest you might ask, why as Cubes of course.
The truth is while the game claims to be about fighting disease, it’s really not, it’s an abstract maths puzzle. In a lecture given by Matt Leacock, he describes the method he used to create the game and it is really mathy, that’s not a bad thing, but if you buy this game expecting it to feel like you are fighting off killer diseases, you’ll probably be disappointed.
6 research stations
96 cubes in 5 colours
Pandemic is reasonably cheap to pick up these days, it’ll set you back less than Setters but more than Carcassonne. The cards in the game are linen finished (if you bought the game from the second print run onwards) and they are pretty nice. I particularly like the facts and figures on the cards such as population, the population density and the Flag of the country the city is in. The cards are also reversible like playing cards and have a symbol as well as a colour to help make the game colour-blind-friendly.
The wood bits are also nice, I like the cubes, the pawns are a little big, which is fixed with the expansion, the only complaint I have is the decision to have just plain wood for the research stations, but that is really a minor niggle.
The main component I don’t like is the board. A lot of people love it, but to me it looks a little high-school art level. All the graphics are fine, but the world map is just coloured smudges, I’ve definitely seen cooler boards. Also some of the cities are a little too clustered together which can get a bit messy with lots of cubes. I wouldn’t mind but there is a ton of wasted space up in Russia, Canada and Greenland. What i do like about the board however is the turn summary, although it does become obsolete after the first two turns, but is great for new players to refer to.
Ok, so we’ve established that Pandemic is a puzzle, but it is one that the players must work together to solve. If one player attempts to solve the puzzle by himself the game is essentially no fun for anyone else involved. If one player continues to do this… do not play Pandemic with that person!
To win the game the Players must find all 4 cures for the diseases. This is the only way to win the game, but there are many ways to lose…
At the beginning of the game each player receives a role card. In the game there are 5 roles:
The Medic – The Medic is considered the Über role. The Medic can remove all cubes from a city for 1 action and once the cure is known he can do so without spending an action at all.
The Scientist – When discovering a cure the scientist only needs 4 cards of the same colour instead of 5.
The Dispatcher – The Dispatcher can move other players on his turn to help get players where they need to be. One very important thing he can do is move one pawn to the same city as another pawn for one action,
The Researcher – The researcher may give any card to another player in the same city for one action, an important ability to ensure that players can find the cures for the diseases.
The Operations Expert – The weakest of the 5 characters the operations expert can found research stations for one action without needing a card.
Once each player has a role they place their pawn in the research station in Atlanta (home of the CDC). Each player is then dealt a starting hand of cards depending on the number of players. After that the difficulty of the game is set. If you want to play on the easy level split the player deck into 4 equal piles and shuffle one epidemic card into each deck, for medium split into 5 and legendary into 6.
Epidemics are bad…
Finally, turn over the top 3 cards of the infection deck, these cards show one of the cities on the board and there is one card for each city. Place three cubes of the colour shown on the card in that city. Turn over three more cards and place 2 cubes in each city shown, then 3 more cards and place 1 cube in each city shown. All of these cards form the discard pile. You are now ready to start the game.
On their turn each player may take 4 actions. These can be:
Treat Disease (Remove 1 cube from your current city)
Build a Research Station (Hand in the card of the city you are currently in)
Share Knowledge (Give another player in the same city as you the card of the city you are in)
Discover a Cure (Hand in 5 cards of the same colour to a research station)
So for example a player could move to a city for one action, remove 2 cubes for 2 more actions and then move again for a total of 4 actions. Once you have taken your 4 actions you draw two cards from the player deck into your hand. You must then immediately discard down to 7.
Finally you must infect more cities. To do this you look at the infection rate marker and read the number under it. At the start of the game it will be 2. This means you draw two cards from the infection deck and place a cube in each of them. The cards then go into the discard pile.
A city may never have more than 3 cubes in it, if a city already has 3 cubes and you need to place a fourth an outbreak occurs. When this happens you move the outbreak marker on 1 space (8 outbreaks and you lose). Then you place 1 cube in each of the cities connected to the outbreaking city by a red line.
Outbreaks are bad too…
Outbreaks can also trigger other outbreaks in a kind of chain reaction, however a city may only outbreak once per card drawn.
Play then continues in this way, players take 4 moves, draw two cards and then infect some more cities, all the while attempting to find the four cures needed to win the game. However, the player deck has a few things to shake this format up.
Firstly, if the player deck runs out of cards the game is over and you lose, which gives a built in timer of just over 20 turns. However, even worse, you remember the epidemic cards we shuffled in earlier…
Yeah, well… Epidemics are bad!
When a player draws an epidemic card the following things happen:
The Infection Rate increases, this means that after 3 epidemics the number of cities infected per turn rises to 3 and after 5 epidemics it rises 4.
A card is then drawn from the bottom of the deck and three cubes are placed in the corresponding city. That card is then added to the discard pile.
Then the discard pile is shuffled and placed back on top of the infection deck.
Even worse than that, you then have to move on to the infection phase. Now you are drawing cards from previously infected cities, including one that you just added 3 cubes to meaning you run a serious risk of an outbreak.
In theory, because you shuffle the epidemic cards into different sections of the player decks you should have some breathing room between each one, but it is always a case of pushing your luck if you choose to ignore cities with 3 cubes.
Losing the Game
So that’s it. To win the game the players must find the 4 cures. This is done by going to a research station and handing in 5 cards of the same colour, one set for each colour disease.
However the players can lose the game by having the player deck run out, by having 8 or more outbreaks or by running out of cubes for any colour disease.
Up until recently my play group refused to play the game with their hands hidden. This was entirely frustrating to me because it meant I knew every piece of the puzzle and could practically play it by myself.
However the last two times we played we played with concealed hands which made the game a lot more fun for me. This meant I could only concentrate on what I needed to do, as well as facilitating the rest of the group when they needed cards I had.
I cannot stress enough how important it is to play with your hands concealed. It may certainly make the game more difficult to solve, but it also makes it more fun.
I am still not as blown away by Pandemic as I feel I ought to be. For me it is a filler game at best and it lacks true replayability. Once you learn to treat the three cube cities but ignore the two and one cube cities until after the next epidemic the game really just becomes about set collecting and putting yourself in a position to take best advantage of the cards your teammates have.
I’m pretty sure that with the expansion I would find the game much more replayable, after all it adds new roles and new play modes, but as a base game Pandemic can be fun and tense, but for me it cannot be the whole nights entertainment.
That said, Pandemic’s box is small enough to fit in a rucksack and fast enough to play over lunch, so as a take to work game I would highly recommend it.
This Review was based on the first edition of the game which features minor differences to the current edition at time of publishing.