The world is suddenly hit by crippling disease outbreaks, and your team are the only ones who can stop it. You need to work together, strategise, and push yourselves to overcome the fallout and save the world before it’s too late. In pandemic, 2-4 players work together to cooperatively save the world from sickness. Combat the spread of sickness, cure outbreaks, and travel the world to save the day. You’ll need to put your heads together and think carefully if you want to save humanity.
Playing the game
In pandemic, you play as one of a member of a team - with unique abilities to help save the world. 4 diseases are ravaging the world, and every turn they will spread and develop - sometimes dramatically so. You need to use your abilities, combined with those of your fellow players, to work out the best strategy to stave off the worst of the diseases and cure them to save everyone.Setup involves turning over 9 cards from an infection deck, which will determine the very specific game you'll start off facing - by spreading a total of 18 disease cubes of 1 of 4 colours across the map. All players start in Atlanta, and have a number of cards in their hand which came from the player deck. These will be the basis of curing diseases, travelling to specific locations, and building research stations to actually make the cures. Each turn you can take 4 actions, from a pool of 8. This could be the same action 4 times, or choosing a combination. You’ve got the abilities to travel around the map, build research stations, treat individual instances of diseases, or cure diseases outright. After your 4 actions, you draw 2 cards from the player deck into your hands, and discard if you’re over the maximum. If you draw ‘normal’ cards, you move to the infection step, where you turn over cards from the infection deck and diseases spread in those cities (unless you’ve eradicated those diseases). However, if you draw epidemic cards, the infections amplify, which can cause diseases to outbreak and spread out of control. If you run out of disease cubes, or cards in the player card deck, or if you suffer too many outbreaks - you lose! But if you can cure the 4 diseases before it’s too late, you save the world.
How it feels to play
All in all, Pandemic is a very well balanced and designed game. The map is very well designed, so that some cities are more of a threat than others due to their ability to spread diseases. There’s also the right number of cities & cards so that the swing and variability in game play is enough to be interesting but not too much as to result in games feeling unfair. Of course, the random nature of drawing & shuffling the infection cards means poor luck can afflict a small number of games, but this can always happen in games with elements of randomness - and it’s carefully protected against with clever design. The spacing of the epidemic cards throughout the player deck is also a stroke of genius. It means that you always know something is coming, but not exactly when. It keeps you on your toes, having to adjust strategy on the fly based on risk. Has it been a while since you last drew one? Well maybe it’s coming up very soon. Maybe it’s best to take out your worst strategic vulnerabilities rather than risk it for something grander. Just had one? Then there’s a good chance you’ve got some time before the next, maybe you can try some more risky play that pays off. You can also vary the number of these cards in the deck, if you want to increase the difficulty or decrease it a bit. In addition to city cards, which have colours needed to cure diseases and represent the cities on the map, you have event cards - flexible cards which can save you in a pinch and can heavily influence strategy. They don’t take actions to use, so can feel like a super-powered punch, just when you need it the most. It’s the kind of game that’s easy to play, but hard to play well. Almost anyone, no matter their board game experience level, can get started easily. The more you play, the better you get - and get the satisfaction of taking on harder and harder difficulty scenarios. Soon you’ll end up working out and optimising solutions with friends, and you’ll realise that this planning and strategizing is where the real game happens. It’s all about risk. As every different role has a different ability, you can swap out roles to not only test yourself but also to change up gameplay and force yourself to come up with new, creative strategies which you would have never tried before. Because they’re all unique, it means that every player can feel like they’re using their unique trait to be the hero of the hour in various turns and situations throughout the game - meaning everyone can feel like they’re a linchpin in the grander strategy. As the pairing of these can heavily influence strategy, it also does the same from gameplay. As a result, not only do you get randomised games from the setup, but also how you interact with it & follow-on turns through role combinations make every game feel unique. The only meaningful downside is not with the game itself, but with the players: the more you play the better you get. As small decisions can make big differences, this means that experienced players watching newer players make choices they wouldn’t themselves can be disheartening. As long as you can stop yourself from taking over and dictating the strategy, so that newer players have the chance to enjoy it to the max, then all is fine. Very few people want to play a coop strategy game with one player deciding all the actions!
There’s a very good reason Pandemic is recognised as one of the best board games to come out in recent years - not just in the niche of co-op strategy games, but overall. I’d thoroughly recommend giving it a go, and seeing why for yourself. I’ve probably played around 100 games, and will continue to do so.