Pandemic — Going viral

A quick overview of Pandemic the board game
Every fortnight, some of the team at B3 meet up to play tabletop games together, trying out new games and playing some old favourites. This week, we played Pandemic by Z-Man Games.

In Pandemic, four diseases are threatening to wipe out civilisation — each spreading to its own region. The players have to work together to find cures and rid the world of each one before a pandemic occurs. It has been designed for two to four players who play cooperatively. They each take on one of five roles: dispatcher, medic, scientist, researcher or operations expert.

How to play

The board consists of 48 cities. Each of the four infections can only spread within its own colour-coded region, represented by a coloured cube.

The main focus of the game is the Player cards. Player cards include colour-coded cards of each city on the board, Special Event cards and Epidemic cards. There are also Infection cards, which also consist of a colour-coded card for each city on the board. Drawing these determines where the infection is going to spread — adding an additional coloured cube to the board.

Pandemic Board set up for play
The Pandemic board set up for play

At the start of the game, each of the players is randomly given a role to play. Each of these roles have additional perks — for example, the scientist only needs four cards to cure a disease rather than five and the Medic is able to treat all the cubes in a city with one action (or once the cure has been found, without using an action).

Each player can take four actions during their turn:

  • Movement — players can move to interconnected cities, get a direct flight to a city they hold the Player card for, get a chartered flight to a city that another player is in if they hold the Player card for their current location or a Shuttle flight from research lab to research lab.
  • Share knowledge with another player — giving them one of the Player cards, as long as both players are in the same city and they are exchanging the Player card from that city.
  • Treat disease — treating one cube of infection in the city they are currently in.
  • Build a research station — building a research lab in their current city, as long as they have the Player card for that city.
  • Discover a cure — which can be done if their current city has a research lab and they hold five Player cards of the same colour.

At the end of each turn, the player draws two Player cards and a set number of Infection cards. If a city has more than three cubes on it, an Outbreak occurs and each interconnected city gains an additional cube.

To find a cure, players must collect five cards of each colour and be on a city that has a research lab. Once a cure has been found, players then have to move to each city to remove the disease from the board until it is eradicated. The game is only won if the players discover the cure for all four diseases.

However, the game is lost if more than seven Outbreaks occur, there are no more cubes of the specific disease colour remaining when they are needed or if there are no more Player cards to be drawn.

Pandemic The Board Game - the Scientist role card
The Scientist card in Pandemic
Our thoughts

We chose to play Pandemic after enjoying last week’s cooperative board game, XCOM, in our last session. Again, we really enjoyed the cooperative elements: “It’s very good that you not only can, but that you have to communicate with other players throughout your turn. You’re very often not making a decision that you would have made yourself, you’re making a decision that’s better for the team,” explained Dann.

Despite how it might sound from my brief guide above, this game is very straightforward and easy to play. It is also a relatively short game — it took us an hour and a half to play and the game suggests it should only take 45 minutes. “I feel like there should have been more Player cards to make the game longer or a way to reshuffle the used cards back into the deck,” said Dan O’Reilly. However, knowing that the game ends once the pile of Player cards is depleted does give the game a real sense of urgency.

The guide offers an Easy Mode for new players (which we used). “But I do feel like, if it wanted to do a real Easy Mode, it should recommend what character roles to play,” said Dann. Each character has very distinct abilities and getting the right combination can be a real deciding factor in whether you win or lose.

Pandemic the player tokens and disease markers in play
Pandemic the player tokens and disease markers in play

We also liked that each player receives a mini rule guide to the game on a card — though none of us actually referred to this during our play through!

Perhaps if we had, we might have won  — unfortunately, on this play through we lost the game. Rather than each team member working to find a cure, we instead chose to have the scientist collect cards. This meant that while we managed to find three of the four cures, we were not able to clear all of the disease cubes off the board before running out of Player cards in the deck.

One of the things we disliked about this game was that the rules refer to an app — which we downloaded before playing the board game. The app doesn’t seem to relate to the board game and instead appears to be a stand-alone mobile game. “If it had an app that tied into the board game and drove everything forward, it could give you the rules there and then — which makes things move a bit faster and makes the rules more easily accessible,” said Dan O’Reilly.

Final Thoughts

We all agreed that we would like to play Pandemic again — especially to try and beat the game! It is a really fun cooperative game that is perfect for small groups of friends or families to play. It is also easy to pick up and so would be ideal for anyone who is new to board games.

Once you have played the standard Pandemic board game, there are multiple expansion packs available which we all said we would be interested in trying out.

We also liked the sound of Pandemic Legacy: Season One, which begins like the original Pandemic game, but has a story arc that occurs over the course of a year and each decision made carries over to future games.

Pandemic: The Board Game is available to buy on Amazon. You can also buy the adaptation for Windows and Mac via Steam and Humble Bundle.

Looking to get your friends or family into board games? Check out our list of great, accessible games, perfect for just that, here.

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