Updated: Jun 14
Epidemics sweep the world, hospitals are crowded with the sick and the dying. Their only hope is you, brave adventurer. You must go forth and search for a cure, to end the suffering and the dying. Save those you can, quarantine those you can’t and don’t forget to wash your hands.
Many moons ago, back when this blog was young I reviewed Pandemic with a sardonic vigour, ending with “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.”
Since then I’ve played the game 80+ times! So Replayability isn’t an issue.
A Quick Overview
In Pandemic there are 4 different coloured diseases. In order to win the game you must cure each disease by collecting 5 cards of the same colour and handing them in at a research station.
Each turn a player can take 4 actions:
Treat (remove disease cubes)
Share Knowledge (give cards to other players)
Build a Structure
Cure (Hand in 5 cards of the same colour)
You may take these actions in any combination and repeat any as often as you are able. After they have taken 4 actions the player draws two cards from the player deck and then infects more cities on the board.
Players lose the game if:
The Player deck is runs out
There are ever no cubes left in a colour when one needs to be placed
If the outbreak track ever reaches the end
That’s a brief overview, now let's take a look at some of the unique elements of Pandemic before we get to my thoughts.
Pandemic was not the first Co-operative game ever made but it certainly popularised the format in modern board games today and designer Matt Leacock has gone on to design a whole raft of other cooperative games.
Pandemic is a great gateway to the Co-operative genre. It has simple rules but a difficult challenge. On your turn you can take 4 actions then you draw some cards and do a small amount of board maintenance. If you have a player who has played before, Pandemic is super easy for new players, they just need to worry about their four actions and can ask for help if they need it, unlike in a competitive game.
Simple co-ops like Pandemic or Flashpoint Fire Rescue pave the way for more complex co-ops and of course semi-co-ops with a traitor mechanic like Dead of Winter or Battlestar Galactica… but I’m getting ahead of myself.
The Role Powers in Pandemic are another way in which the game lends itself to new gamers. In some games you are given free reign, presented with a bazillion choices and left to flounder in a sea of options. In Pandemic you have a few choices you can make but your role power helps guide you towards which of those choices will be most beneficial.
The Medic for example can treat diseases easier and once you find the cures he becomes like a pill dispensing Jesus who can simply walk through cities and set the world to rights. However if you are playing the scientist you should concentrate more on finding cures, if you are the researcher you should be trying to share your cards with as many players as possible.
The Role Powers offer a direction, a way to ease in new players while making them feel special because they can offer something the rest of the team cannot.
The Alpha Gamer
Now we come to the part of the review that spanks Pandemic’s bottom and puts it in the naughty corner until it learns to behave. Alpha Gamer was a term I hadn’t really heard of until Pandemic came along and there is a good reason that the two are inseparable. The Alpha Gamer is the jerk at the table who takes everyone else's turns for them, let's call him Vince.
Don’t misunderstand me here, Vince means well, Vince wants to win, Vince truly believes that he, and only he, can see the true solution to the puzzle. Here’s the thing Vince, you’re not the only person at the table and, yeah, Bob’s slow but he’ll get there in the end.
The thing about Pandemic is that sometimes it’s really obvious what you should do on your turn, so if someone else tells you that obvious thing, it’s pretty insulting. Secondly, although there may be an obvious move there are dozens of permutations of what you could do on your turn and so the obvious move isn’t always the best move.
In a competitive game, when Vince tells you what to do, you can tell him to shut up. In a co-op game Vince is probably right but if Vince wants to play everyone else's characters for them Vince should probably download the game on his phone.
Every co-op game can suffer from Alpha Gamer syndrome and the only way to really combat it is to keep yourself in check. Allow the other players time to think of the solutions on their own and never pick up someone else's pawn and move it for them!
Did They Like It?
Yes! Pandemic is a popular game because it’s really easy to like it. It presents a puzzle that is solvable but requires the cooperation and the special powers of all the players involved achieve. Pandemic is popular for the same reasons that Escape Rooms are growing in popularity, it provides that sense of group achievement and co-operation but in a short play time and inexpensive package.
Buy it. If you haven’t played Pandemic by now you really owe it to yourself to at least try it. There are many different flavours out there these days including the obligatory Cthulhu variant and the 12 month campaign version via the Legacy system. However, you don’t even need to splash out and buy the cardboard version, you can pick up the app version for around £5 and try it out.
Every good game collection should have a good co-op game and Pandemic is a great option, however if you prefer a little more theme in your games then maybe take a look at #ForbiddenIsland, the same great mechanics, tiny price point and gorgeous art!