Since it’s release in 2008, Pandemic has been a juggernaut that has continued to spawn new variants like a… well, like a pandemic.
Most Pandemics (or the ones I’ve played at least) have similar rules. Each player has a character with a specific ability and has a maximum of four actions (unless their abilities or events allow them extra) and they’re allowed a maximum of seven cards in their hands. There’s always something kicking off, which is often made worse by flipping cards at the end of a player’s turn. You work together to prevent the thing that’s kicking off from doing so too many times.
The original game, whilst being one of my favourites, might not be for everyone. Some people might feel the theme is too close to home after the couple of years we’ve just had. Others just aren’t fans of cooperative games.
But what if I told you that there’s probably a Pandemic out there for you? Even though they are based around the same mechanics, they vary greatly in how they play. Just call me Aladdin, because I can show you the world… a world that designer Matt Leacock has created!
If You Like War Games, Try Fall Of Rome
As well as being a better-looking game than original Pandemic, Fall of Rome has slightly different mechanics. Instead of preventing the spread of diseases, you’re trying to prevent invaders from marching into the city of Rome. You do this by forging alliances, in the same way you cure diseases in the original game. There is dice chucking, as often you’re forced to fight invaders. “Outbreaks” happen in the form of revolts, and cities can become “sacked,” meaning they’ve become overwhelmed by invaders. If this happens too many times, or Rome is taken over by an invading force, the game is lost.
I’d argue that Fall of Rome is the most thematic variant of the family, as you can see your opponents gradually move nearer and nearer to Rome, ready to take a stranglehold and end the game. Turns can feel more restricted too, as you try and ensure you have enough forts and legions on the board to fight invading forces.
If You Want Pandemic But Prettier, Try Iberia
Pandemic Iberia isn’t just the most aesthetically pleasing of the Pandemic family, it also levels up the complexity. Yes, you’re still fighting against four deadly diseases, but winning is much harder. You can only really slow the spread of the diseases, and there’s no way to eradicate them completely from the board. Each disease also has its own specific hospital, rather than being able to cure diseases at any research centre like the original. It’s also much harder to move around the board… planes weren’t around in 19th century Iberia, so you must build train tracks or rely on boats to move around. There’s also water purification tokens. These slow the spread down, but again are only a short-term fix.
There’s also two variants that can be added to make the game harder still. You can choose to have the cubes act in a way which closely resembles a disease that was prevalent at the time. The cubes can also represent patients, rushing to get to hospitals and causing them to be overrun.
Iberia is the Pandemic which gets the most table time in my house. Like Fall of Rome, going for wooden rather than plastic components makes the game feel more inviting, rather than the plastic and sterile appearance of the original.
If You're A Fantasy Fan, Try World Of Warcraft: Wrath Of The Lich King
Whilst I would argue that Iberia is the best looking of the Pandemic games, Wrath of the Lich King is probably the best value for money. The miniatures in the game are very cool. You play as a team of heroes from across Azeroth trying to complete quests, fight ghouls and abominations, and ultimately defeat the Lich King. Instead of cards having locations on them, they have abilities. Cards help you heal, move, fight, or defend. They can also help build strongholds and be used to complete quests quicker.
Unlike other Pandemics, you must also monitor your character’s health. Instead of outbreaks, you have scourges, which cause more ghouls and abominations to be added to the board. There’s dice chucking involved once again to combat enemies. Once you have completed three quests, you have a final one to complete: going to the Icecrown Citadel and fighting the Lich King himself. This feels like the biggest departure from the original game, without necessarily being harder to learn.
My partner is a World of Warcraft fan, as well as being a fan of cooperative games, so this felt like a safe bet. Even myself, who wouldn’t claim to be a Warcraft fan, really enjoys it. It also has a solo mode, so he will often happily immerse himself in the world of Azeroth.
If You Like Competitive Games, Get The On The Brink Expansion
Matt Leacock designed Pandemic to be a cooperative game because of a bad experience he had with his wife playing competitive board games. For that reason, this expansion sticks out like a sore thumb. Not because of the virulent strain or mutation challenge, which just make the base game harder, but because of the bio-terrorist variant. This variant pits one player against the rest as they try to sabotage the rest of the team, infecting cities and destroying research centres as they go.
If you know someone who isn’t a fan of cooperative games, then maybe this is the route to go down. It follows similar mechanics to Whitehall Mystery in that the bio-terrorist spends most of their time off the board. The team must decide whether it’s worth letting their enemy wreak havoc, or try to rein them in, all whilst trying to save the world from impending doom.
If You're A Fan Of Legacy Games, Try Season 0
At the time of writing, my partner and I are just under halfway through our journey on Pandemic Legacy Season 0. I fully expect it to become my favourite of them all. Yes, legacy games are a huge investment for a game that you can only play through once, but this one is so worth it!
Season 0 is set in the 1960s, and you’ve been hired by the CIA to uncover details of the Soviet bioweapon named Project MEDUSA. The game takes place over twelve months, and each month has objectives that need to be completed. If you succeed, then you move straight onto the next month. Failing means you have one more attempt, before moving onto the next month regardless.
I love the shared experience of cooperative games. Either winning or losing together. If you lose, discussing what you might have done differently next time. The problem is that if it’s your second attempt at a scenario, there won’t be another chance. It’s tense, thrilling and honestly one month at a time is enough for me. I’m not sure my ticker could cope with more than that.
So there are just a few suggestions for you. The truth is that Pandemic will always hold a special place in my heart as one of my entry games into the hobby. It was also one of the first games I introduced my partner to. I believe there’s enough range in the different versions to appeal to almost every taste. There are many more that I’ve not even mentioned, such as Rising Tide, Rapid Response and The Cure. Even though the newer varieties may have things about them that make them better, I will always, always come back to the original. Nearly fifteen years after being published, it still rivals any cooperative game on the market.