Type: Co-Operative

Time to play: < 45 minutes (Teaching: 10 minutes)

Best played with: 4 players

Pandemic is the quintessential co-operative board game; its legacy version holds the number 1 spot on Board Game Geek and there are about as many versions as you can imagine – yes including Cthulu! Here I will only cover the very basic core version of the game – no expansions, no Cthulu and definitely no legacy!

The game’s basic mechanics are simple – move your individual player tokens across a map and remove disease cubes. Each player has special abilities to help with this. Then at the end of the round you draw new cards to help with your actions and then draw new disease cards to spread the disease cubes.

On your turn, you have a limited number of action points to spend which you can use on moving (under different rules) and on removing disease cubes. All players combine to control the spread of the four diseases on the map. If at any time one player can meet the condition of holding 4 cards of one colour and being in a research centre then they can cure that disease. Once all four disease are cured the game is won. If they are not cured, and you run out of cards or 8 outbreaks occur (more than three disease cubes in one location) then you lose.

This is a really simple set of rules, made fractionally more complex by one disease card called an epidemic. This card has special rules that you read out and enact when it comes up and makes you more likely to fail. There are 4 in the easy setting, 5 in the moderate setting and 6 in the heroic setting for the game.

Taking that simple construct you end up with a game which is fun, variable and challenging at a level that suits the group, experience and desired difficulty. The positives of this games are many including simple and intuitive mechanics which help you learn the game quickly. A short play time also offers you the chance to replay and learn quickly withing a group. The individual characters that have unique abilities allows you to switch roles and try new tactics. All in all, it has a lot of replay-ability without huge complexity or an overly high amount of luck.

That said, a clear drawback to this game is the output luck – you move and act, only to then discover which cards are drawn / where is ineffected. This output luck vs input luck (e.g. rolling dice and then choosing how to use the results) is generally less preferable but at a reasonable level and with a short game can be enjoyable nonetheless.

The biggest drawback of pandemic is that it does not take that long to master – once the puzzle is solved it is still fun, but it won’t give you as much of a challenge. However, this is true of most co-operative games. The other major drawback though of this is that it can lead to one player taking on the “alpha player” role and making this more like a solo game that others watch. The most helpful moves are often obvious, but when one player starts to tell others the optimal moves to end the game quickly this can descend into a solo player game with little to enjoy on your on turn.

Last notes:

  • If you like an introduction to co-operative gaming, you couldn’t do better than to get this!
  • If you have (or maybe are) that “alpha” player, it’s going to take a more complex co-op to enjoy!
  • If you win at this game then well…try 6 epidemics – that’s tough!