Pandemic (2013)
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Pandemic (2013)

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In Pandemic, a game for 2-4 players, you will take on the role of one of seven different, disease fighting specialists, each with a unique skill which will come in handy when tackling four of the most deadly diseases ever known to man. The goal of Pandemic, from Z-Man Games, is relatively simple. Work together to find the cure for each of the four diseases before time runs out. Seem…
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  • Artwork
  • Complexity
  • Replayability
  • Player Interaction
  • Component Quality

You Might Like

  • It's well-balanced.
  • Great replay-ability.
  • High quality components.

Might Not Like

  • The deck can be unforgiving and you can lose due to the luck of the draw.
  • Player pawns don't really fit the theme.
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In Pandemic, a game for 2-4 players, you will take on the role of one of seven different disease-fighting specialists, each with a unique skill that will come in handy when tackling four of the most deadly diseases ever known to man.

The goal of Pandemic, from Z-Man Games, is relatively simple. Work together to find the cure for each of the four diseases before time runs out. Seems simple? Well, not so fast soldier!

Pandemic is a co-operative game where you must work together to identify and carry out the best strategy to getting the cures, while also fighting off the disease, managing its spread and keeping track of which cities could be infected next. Use your specialist's strengths and skills to your advantage and stop the disease from taking over.

Each turn, a player can utilise a multitude of actions, from moving to different cities, tackling the disease head-on, building vital research centres or finding that precious cure by discarding five disease cards.

As the game progresses, the spread of the disease gets larger and the chance of an Epidemic occurring increases. Perhaps the most revolutionary element of this game is the Epidemic mechanic. Draw an epidemic card from the pile and you will infect a completely new city with three cubes, putting it on the verge of an outbreak. The infection rate increases and the disease intensifies, meaning the previously drawn “Infect City” cards are shuffled and put back on top of the deck, laying in wait to be drawn and infect at a greater rate.

If you and your team manage to keep on top of the ever-growing infection and manage to find those all-important cures, you can officially call yourselves disease control specialists. Fail, however, and you will find the world at the mercy of all four diseases, with little else that can be done to save humanity.

Pandemic is an absolute staple, a go-to game for any avid board game player and an essential for any board game collection! The co-operative element paired with the theme makes it an enjoyable, fast-paced game that can be played by all!

Player Count: 2-4
Time: 45 Minutes
Age: 8+

Pandemic Review

The great reviews of Pandemic spread like an epidemic, can a game really be that good? Anybody who has read my blog on the stigma of board gaming and how I got involved will know that this was the first game I played and like other gateway games, Splendor for one, it still has a place in my collection but gets played less and less as I try out more niche games and my tastes change.

Introduction to Pandemic

The key to getting most out of Pandemic is to immerse yourself into the theme and really look at it as you try to save the world. The premise is that the world is suddenly hit by disease and you play as one of the people tasked with curing said diseases.

There are four diseases to fight against in Pandemic, with each one being represented by a different coloured cube, and making use of one of the seven role’s special skills is essential for victory.

Pandemic is a co-operative game and plays up to four people, with each player choosing a specific a role to play in the game. These roles are as follows:

  • Contingency Planner
  • Dispatcher
  • Medic
  • Operations expert
  • Quarantine specialist
  • Researcher
  • Scientist.

Pandemic Review - Game Components Pandemic Review – Game Components (Credit: Z-Man Games)

Playing the game

On your turn you’re allowed to take four actions. You can select any combination of these actions and you can do an action more than once. The actions you can take include….

Movement actions:

  • Drive/Ferry- Move to a city connected by a white line to the city you are in
  • Direct flight- Discard a city card from your hand and move to that city
  • Charter flight- If you have the city card matching the city you are in then discard and move to any city
  • Shuttle flight- Move from a city with a Research station to another city with a research station.

Other Actions:

  • Build a research Station- Discard the matching city card to build a Station in that city you are in.
  • Treat disease- Remove one cube from the city you are in
  • Share Knowledge- This action has two variations, Give a city card that matches the city you are in to another player or take the city card that matches. (the other player must be in the same city and this action cannot take you above the hand limit)
  • Discover a cure- If you are at a research station discard 5 city cards of the same colour to cure that disease. (if no cubes of the colour remain it is eradicated).

Final Thoughts on Pandemic

You have to work as a team using the above actions and the roles special ability’s to cure all the diseases. The game is very well balanced and by adding or removing the epidemic cards, the game can have varying difficulties which adds replay value as does playing as different roles.

The best way to get most out of this game is to not let any one player take command and work as a team equally. The quality of the components is very good and I love the little plastic disease cubes. The game board is very easy to understand and there is a place for everything so you don’t need a large space to play.

The player’s pawns (or meeples) are a let-down and don’t sit right within the theme for me and this is the only area I can think lets the game down component wise. The cards are of decent quality and even with all the shuffling show no sign of wear. The cards have all different artwork and make sorting the decks out simple.

The game ebbs and flows nicely and one minute you can be close to winning and the next you will have a fight on your hands. You must think ahead and if a lot of one colour cube is very prominent then working as a team to get rid of them is necessary. After a few turns of failing you soon get to understand what you must do to improve and you suddenly start thinking in advance and the games moves along as you get immersed in the world.

This past week I was extremely lucky to speak with board game designer Matt Leacock – the man behind the the hugely successful Pandemic board game franchise. Pandemic Legacy: Season One has been sitting pretty at the top of the BoardGameGeek Top 100 chart since its release and with Season Two now on the way, the excitement is beginning to build.

Alongside the Pandemic series, Matt has also designed other top game such as Forbidden Island and the Thunderbirds board game.

Have a read below to see what Matt had to say to say about Pandemic, future projects and the design process.

I wanted to try designing a co-operative game of my own after playing Reiner Knizia’s Lord of the Rings game back in 2000. I was surprised how engaging co-operative games could be – how a “cardboard enemy” could cause us so much excitement and stress. Prior to that, I’d assumed co-op games were harmless educational experiences. I also really liked how, win or lose, my wife and I always had a good experience playing together because the games weren’t confrontational.

Pandemics were in the news at that time and it struck me that viruses would make a great unfeeling, scary enemy for the players to battle against. I was also interested in modelling a game with emergent behaviours: creating a simple rule set that could generate interesting play experiences and wild chain reactions.

I never get tired of seeing it on the shelf at the local Target. My favourite thing, however, is when people tell me that Pandemic introduced them into the hobby and got them hooked.

Rob and I knew we were on to something good when we developed it – we watched as our play-testers would binge play two, three, sometimes four games in a row – but we had no idea that the game would be as popular as it turned out to be.

I can give you a few details at this point: The game takes place 71 years after Season 1. A terrible plague has wiped out much of humanity and the remaining cities are supplied with antivirals by floating “havens” on the sea. As players you must venture out into the world to keep cities in supply, but soon you must venture into the unknown in order to find out what happened to your world and to complete objectives.

I can also tell you that owning or playing Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 isn’t required. (Season 2 is a fully standalone game, linked by its story line.)

I have about a half dozen other games in various stages of development. Now that I’m working full time on games, I’m able to design about four to six products a year, ranging from full-blown games to smaller add-ons or expansions. Expect to see more products in the Pandemic line, as well as a few other surprises.

Start with the fundamentals: have a good development process that involves plenty of prototyping, experimentation, and testing. Test with a diverse set of players. Blind test and iterate to ensure your game is easy to learn.

For co-operative games, I try to come up with a novel antagonist, made up of a simple rule set, that generates complex problems that are easy to understand but hard to resolve in any one “best” way. Coming up with those cardboard bad guys is one of my favourite activities because it’s so challenging. Don’t be afraid of experimenting with weird, crazy ideas when you start out. If you don’t, you run the risk of being derivative.

When you run a play-test session – especially for a co-operative game – watch and listen to your testers carefully. Don’t rely too much on self report, e.g: “that was fun.”

Look to see what engages the players physically and emotionally (are they leaning in? are their conversations animated?) and chase that.

I’m not sure! I think if I could easily identify a new project that I was excited about, I would have started on it by now. And I’ve enjoyed collaborating with people who have been near-complete strangers when we began.

The types of games I enjoy designing most are those that appeal to both casual players and gamers alike – gateway games – so I tend to look for opportunities to design those above others.

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.

Pandemic is 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!

Final Thoughts

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.

Zatu Score


  • Artwork
  • Complexity
  • Replayability
  • Player Interaction
  • Component Quality

You might like

  • It's well-balanced.
  • Great replay-ability.
  • High quality components.

Might not like

  • The deck can be unforgiving and you can lose due to the luck of the draw.
  • Player pawns don't really fit the theme.