Pandemic Board Games

Mychelle Blake
Man with dangerous viruses in laboratory

One of the most successful and highly rated cooperative board games on the market is Pandemic. Along with its three expansions, the hit game has won multiple international honors and awards.

Gameplay Overview

Unlike strategy board games, Pandemic is a cooperative game where players work together to win. The game begins with a world map board with 48 cities. Mankind is suffering from four different epidemics and the goal is to find cures for all four before everyone is wiped out by the pandemic.

Each player is randomly assigned a role. Available roles include dispatcher, operations expert, scientist, researcher, and medic, and each role has a unique ability set.

Game Cards and Pieces

The game utilizes two sets of cards:

  • Player cards include those with the names of cities on them, Special Event cards and Epidemic cards.
  • Infection cards have a card for each city and a disease.

Game pieces include:

  • Game board
  • Cubes for each disease in four different colors
  • Six research stations
  • Outbreak and cure markers
  • Player pawns

How to Play Pandemic

First, familiarize yourself with the standard rules for the game.

To begin:

  • Infection Cards are chosen at random to place epidemics in several cities along with infection cubes.
  • Players all begin in Atlanta and are randomly assigned their role and given Player cards.

During each player's turn, they can do a number of actions depending on their location and the cards they have in hand.

  • Move their pawn to other cities
  • Give other players information
  • Treat infection in the city they are in
  • Build a research lab in the city
  • Discover the cure

When a turn is over, the player draws two Player cards and must have only seven cards left by playing a Special Event card or by discarding regular Player cards. If an Epidemic card is drawn, three cubes will be put on that city on the board, and the card is reshuffled back into the deck.

At this point, several infection cards will be turned over, and a cube is put on each city that has been affected. If a city has three infection cubes, and a fourth is added at the end of a turn, this means there is now an Outbreak. All cities that are connected to this city will receive an infection cube and if any of these cities already had three cubes, an Outbreak will occur there as well.

The Endgame

The game will end under any of the following conditions:

  • If there are seven Outbreaks
  • If the players run out of disease cubes or Player cards
  • If all the diseases are cured (the only "winning" scenario)

Expansions

Three official expansions to the game were added in subsequent years. The expansions include new challenges and options to add a fifth player, as well as new types of cards, player roles, and diseases.

  1. "On the Brink" includes a new disease, Mutation, and the Virulent Strain challenge which increases the gameplay difficulty. New roles include are Bio-Terrorist, where one player works against the rest, and a new Operations Expert.
  2. "In the Lab" has a new game board set in a research laboratory. There is a new player mode for a single player and for teams. The game includes new Special Event cards and roles too.
  3. "State of Emergency" adds three challenges: Emergency Events, The Hinterlands and Superbug. New roles and Super Event cards are included as well.

In addition to the expansions, players can also download two free scenarios, Isolation and Government Shutdown, with new ways to tackle the base game. There are also six spinoff games with the Pandemic name, but these each have completely different types of gameplay from the original game and its expansions.

Praise for Pandemic

Pandemic received an overall score of about eight out of 10 on Boardgaming.com. User reviews indicate the game has "great replay value" and "there's a reason all other co-op games are ultimately compared to Pandemic." Some reviewers point out that the possibility of "co-op co-opt," where a stronger player will dictate how the game is played, which can make the game less enjoyable for newer players or ones who enjoy creating their own strategy without dealing with a team dynamic.

BoardGameGeek.com users rate Pandemic similarly in around the eight point range. Favorable reviewers note it is easy to learn and play, and a game can be completed in a short amount of time. They recommend it even for those just starting out in the board game community.

A Game for Teams

Pandemic is an excellent choice for people who don't enjoy competition. The only way to win the game is by cooperating with the other people at your table. Children ages 8 and up can learn to work collaboratively, which can make it a good choice for younger players although adults should make sure they are comfortable with the subject matter. It can also be played in about 45 minutes so it's a game adults may prefer to longer campaign and strategy games that are more of a time commitment.

Pandemic Board Games