Pandemic Review

Name: Pandemic
Type: Co-Operative Board game
Publisher: Z-Man Games
Players: 2-4
Age: 8+
Size: 35cm x 22.5cm
Playtime: 45mins
Price:  £29.99
Rating: 3.5 Stars (3.5 / 5)

 

Pandemic Box

This review is for the 2013 edition of the game which comes with 2 extra playable roles, the Contingency Planner and the Quarantine Specialist.

Pandemic is a simple game of the Euro style (despite being developed by a North American company). That means that it only has a small variety of components and simple mechanics. What makes this definitely American is that it requires a heavy dose of luck to succeed when played at it’s hardest. For it’s price it comes with a surprising amount in the box, being the board, 2 decks of cards which are the player deck (59 cards) and the infection deck (48 cards for a total of 107 cards), 96 plastic cubes in 4 colours (24 per disease), 6 wooden tokens (1 for each disease, 1 for the infection rate counter and 1 for the outbreak counter), 7 role cards, 6 plastic research stations, 4 cards listing the actions a player can take and, of course, the rules.

The board is split into 4 coloured zones, which match the 4 colours of disease cubes and has space for the player deck and discard, the infection deck and discard, all 4 disease counters with space to define them as cured, plus both the infection rate counter and the epidemic outbreak counter. Each zone on the board has a number of associated cities which the players can move between and in which the diseases outbreak. Cities are linked to adjacent cities by lines which define where a player can move and where a disease spreads if it outbreaks.  The player deck comprises of 48 city cards (matching those on the board by name and colour), 6 epidemics cards and 5 special cards.

For any experienced gamer Pandemic will be very quick and easy to pick up. Within a couple of turns I fully understood the mechanics and could play the game with minimum reference to the rulebook and that’s great because it means that it’s easy to teach and inexperienced gamers can pick it up very quickly. The goal of the game, as summed up by the tagline “Can you save Humanity?” is to cure the world of the 4 diseases, represented by the little plastic cubes and this is achieved by the players taking turns and playing Pandemic against the Infection Deck which determines where the diseases spread to. Each player plays a role, such as Contingency Planner, Medic or Researcher and each roll has a special ability that allows that player to defy the rules in a specific way and, on their turn, they can take 4 actions to work towards countering the diseases. Actions allow players to move, cure outbreaks, cure diseases if specific goals are met, build research stations or take other actions as defined by their role.

The board at the start of the game-

Pandemic starting board

After each individual player takes a turn they draw cards from the player deck and if the player draws an epidemic card from the player deck then the process on the card is followed causing a large outbreak in one city and infecting all adjacent cities. Drawing an epidemic card also causes the infection discard to be shuffled back into the top of the deck which dramatically increases the chance of infection growing in already infected cities, which can cause further outbreaks. After drawing from the player deck the active player draws a number from the infection deck designated by the infection counter and infects the chosen cities accordingly.

The board mid-game-

Pandemic mid-game board

Diseases can be cured and eradicated. Cured diseases still spread but are easier to clear, eradicated diseases don’t appear any more after they are eradicated. The players win if all 4 diseases are cured (not necessarily eradicated). The players lose if there are a certain number of outbreaks, if the player deck runs out of cards, or if all of the cubes for a single disease are on the board.

Pandemic is not an easy game to win. It can be made easier by playing with less epidemic cards in the deck and I would suggest playing with no more than 4 for beginners. The more epidemic cards you play with the more luck becomes a factor as the random order of the decks decides when and where outbreaks happen and if you get a couple of successive epidemics in an already heavily infected region then it’s game over. My regular gaming group, made up of experienced somewhat hardcore gamers, is on a 40% win rate and we’ve yet to win a game with more than 4 epidemics in the deck, although we have been close with 5 a couple of times.

The board after being defeated by the yellow disease-

Pandemic end of game board

I have a couple of criticisms of Pandemic.

First is the aforementioned luck element. While I’m sure that it gets easier with a few more games under your belt, the random element means that the game could, hypothetically, be over within a couple of players turns with some bad luck and there is very little that the players can do to influence this. While luck is an element in a great many games there is normally an element of player skill that can be used to counter or avoid potentially bad situations but this isn’t the case in Pandemic. It can be argued that this mechanic represents the very real threat of a global disease outbreak but I find it to be a little heavy-handed in a game.

Second is, rather weirdly, the co-operative aspect of the game. This is a little weird as I am a great lover of co-operative games but it seems to me that every action made by every player is a matter of group discussion and consensus which can mean that quiet or shy players can have their turns dominated by the will of forceful or more vocal ones. It also reduces the feeling of influence or personal interaction that each player has because the individual doesn’t get to decide what actions they take. You could play with a stipulation that players can’t ask another to take actions but I can’t help but think that that would make the game substantially harder.

These are personal criticisms that I have with the game, both actually highlight and almost simulate an epidemic outbreak and that is a good thing but it also reduces the enjoyment I got out of the game.

The game has many positives, it is a true co-operative game and no-one can die making it ‘all for one and one for all’. It’s simple enough that a family could play it on a games night but it has enough variation that hardcore gamers can find enough to enjoy because of the tactical nature of play. It is also remarkable value for money as the production values are high with the tokens and cards all being high quality, especially given that you can often find it for around £20.00 online.

If you enjoy the idea of forward planning, consensus decision-making and challenging play then Pandemic is a game for you. I would certainly suggest that any hardcore gamer try it out if they are offered the opportunity, even if you don’t plan on buying it yourself as it is good fun and certainly gets hectic as the deck dwindles and outbreaks surge.

At the time of writing there are 2 expansions available for Pandemic.

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