Sunday, January 13, 2013

Pandemic Review


Four diseases have broken out in the world and it is up to a team of specialists in various fields to find cures for these diseases before mankind is wiped out.

Players must work together, playing to their characters' strengths and planning their strategy of eradication before the diseases overwhelm the world with ever-increasing outbreaks. But the diseases are outbreaking fast and time is running out: the team must try to stem the tide of infection in diseased areas while also working towards cures.

A truly cooperative game where you all win or you all lose.

Number of players: 2-4
Ages: 10+
Length: 30-60 minutes

How to Play

Example of initial setup.

Z-Man Games provide an excellent manual to this game. I recommend reading it to get an in-depth explanation of all the rules. The game starts with your team at the Centre for Disease Control in Atlanta. A pandemic has started and its your team mission to discover a cure for all four diseases before the pandemic gets out of control.

In order to discover a cure you need five cards (four if you are the scientist) of the same colour and to be at a research station. You can only have a maximum of seven cards in your hand, so all members of the team have to work together in finding cures. Your team has to balance the discovery of cures with treating of diseases as they are constantly spreading and growing around the world.

Play proceeds clockwise around the table with players taking turns until the game ends. A turn consists of:

  1. Take 4 Actions from the following:
    • Drive (or Ferry): Move your pawn to an adjacent city (connected by a red line. Note some lines wrap around the board, for example Los Angeles to Sydney).
    • Direct Flight: Discard a card from your hand and move to the city on the card.
    • Charter Flight: Discard a card showing your current city and move to any city on the board.
    • Shuttle Flight: If in a city with a research station, move to any other city with a research station.
    • Build A Research Station: Discard a card showing your current city and build a Research Station there.
    • Treat Disease: Remove a disease cube from your current city. If the disease is cured remove all cubes of that colour.
    • Share Knowledge: If two players are in the same city they can trade the card that is for the city they are in.
    • Discover A Cure: If at a research station, discard 5 cards of the same colour to cure the disease of that colour.
  2. Draw 2 cards into your hand. If you draw an Epidemic resolve it by discarding it to the Player Discard Pile and follow the steps written on the card:
    1. Increase: Move the Infection Rate up by 1
    2. Infect: Draw a card from bottom of the Infection Draw Pile and infect that city with 3 cubes. Discard the card.
    3. Intensify: Shuffle the Infection Discard Pile and place it on top of the Infection Draw Pile.
    Discard cards from your hand until you only have 7 cards.
  3. Play the Infector by drawing cards from the Infection Draw Pile equal to the current Infection Rate and add one cube to that city, using a cube of the same colour as each card. Resolve the cards in the order you draw them. If, however, the disease for that colour has been eradicated, do not add a cube.

If unable to add a cube because there are none left in the spare cube pile then your team loses. Once a city has 3 cubes instead of adding a fourth cube, an outbreak occurs instead. An outbreak involves adding cubes of that colour to adjacent cities and increasing the outbreak counter. Yes, when adding cubes to an adjacent city it can result in another outbreak if that city already has 3 cubes of that colour. On the eighth outbreak your team loses the game. So chain outbreaks can very quickly end the game. Also if there are not enough player cards left when drawing, your team also loses.

Note that the Epidemic card puts all the recently infected cities on top of the pile. So without treatment, the diseases in the previously infected cities will grow and result in outbreaks occurring and cause your team to be defeated.

In order to help your team in the difficult task of defeating the pandemic each player has a role with unique abilities:

  • Medic
    • Remove all cubes of a single colour when you treat a city.
    • Treat a cured disease without using an action.
  • Scientist
    • You need only 4 cards of the same colour to discover a cure.
  • Researcher
    • When performing the Share Knowledge action you may give a player any city card from your hand.
  • Operations Expert
    • You may build a research station in your current city for one action (ie. don't need the city card that is usually required).
  • Dispatcher
    • Move your fellow players' pawns on your turn as if they were your own.
    • Move any pawn to another city containing a pawn for 1 action.

Once your team has discovered a cure for all four diseases your team immediately wins. Players do not need to administer cures to every infected city in order to win the game. Victory is instant when any player discovers the fourth and final cure. :)


This is a great game to add to the collection due to its co-operative element as it gets everyone working together instead of against each other. It is very well designed with each mechanic working together to create a challenge for your group and foster coordination between members. You really have to make the most of each players special ability to be successful on the harder difficulty levels.

You will come to fear this card!

In particular the Epidemic mechanic is very neat as it makes your team have to balance between treating diseases to stop outbreaks and finding cures. And with the outbreak counter increasing it really adds to the suspense of drawing those infection cards as you hope it doesn't trigger a game ending outbreak chain.

The game almost always feels like you don't know if you going to win or lose right up to the end. For example in my plays, we had numerous games end were the difference between winning or losing was only a turn or two. So the game really keeps everyone on their toes the entire time and the tension it creates gets everyone involved rigorously discussing the best course of action and pitching in ideas.

The only faults I can find are minor. The pawn pieces are too large, as it is especially difficult to fit multiple pawns on the same city. The colour choice for the researcher pawn is a terrible dark brown colour that doesn't match the colour displayed on the role card and creates confusion with the medic pawn piece. Also it can sometimes be a little fiddly adding disease cubes when there is a cluster of diseases as it is not uncommon to knock over a stack of cubes. I have also had players complain that the game can feel a little anti-climactic in not having to remove all of the disease cubes.

This game is seeing a lot of plays in my groups and I am loving the discussions and nail biting finishes. Rating: 5 out of 5