Pandemic is a cooperative game where players work together to save the world from dangerous diseases. Each player has a unique ability that the others don’t have, so it requires a lot of discussion and coordination.
I think the most fun experiences I have had playing Pandemic are the times when everything is going wrong and the diseases take over, because it’s so crazy and chaotic! But it’s also very satisfying to win as a team against a challenging game. Sean and I played Pandemic this weekend and had one of our rare and satisfying wins.
Basic stats: 2-4 players, 60 min, ages 10 and up
I got Pandemic in late 2009, at the same time I got Stone Age. Our first game of Pandemic was a four-player game with Brian and Leigh, and we lost big time…on the EASY setting. It made us all want to try again!
I have lost more games of Pandemic than I have won, for sure. But Sean and I have progressed up to the Normal difficulty instead of Easy, and we have actually won at Normal twice, so I think we have improved!
The goal of the game is to cure all four diseases. To cure a disease, a player must collect five cards of that color, go to a research station, and discard those cards. But players must balance their desire to cure a disease with managing the growing infections all over the place.
At the start of the game, each player gets a random role that gives them a special ability. The scientist needs only four cards to cure a disease instead of five. The medic can treat diseases in a city much more efficiently, keeping the infections under control. The dispatcher can move other players around. The researcher can exchange information (cards) with other players more easily. And the operations expert can build research stations more easily.
At first, it seemed that we only had a shot at winning if the dispatcher was in play, because moving other players out of turn is hugely helpful. But last night, Sean and I won a two-player game with only the medic and scientist!
At the start of the game, each player gets a few cards in their hand with cities on them. Those cards are valuable during the game for getting around more efficiently, building research stations, and curing diseases. The rest of the city cards are put in a draw pile along with special event cards that help the players and with epidemic cards (bad cards) mixed in that increase the intensity of infections when they come up.
A separate deck of cards with cities on them is shuffled and put in a different pile. This is the infection deck, and players use it to spread diseases when they play the infector at the end of their turn.
On your turn, you get to take up to four actions. Actions include things like driving or ferrying from one city to the next, flying to other cities by using cards from your hand, moving from one research station to another, removing a disease cube from a city you are in, exchanging information (a card) with another player, building a research station, discarding cards to cure a disease, etc.
When Sean and I play together, we don’t show each other the cards in our hands, but we talk somewhat openly about what we have. Keeping the cards hidden from each other and discussing them instead of seeing both hands at once helps to keep one of us from dominating the plans.
When we first played, Sean felt like I was being too bossy and not giving him enough chances to make decisions or think things out. But neither of us think that’s an issue anymore. I still share my ideas, but I try not to sound bossy, and Sean is more confident about his own ideas now, too, and he knows that my suggestion is not always best.
When it’s Sean’s turn, we both talk about what his options are and what plans might make most sense, but he ultimately decides what to do. And when it’s my turn, we do the same thing. Often, though, we have to make plans on one turn that will carry over into future turns, like when we want to meet up in a certain city to exchange a card and it will take us each multiple turns to get there.
After you have taken four actions, you draw two cards from the draw pile. Usually, these are more city cards. Each player has a hand limit of seven, which is tough when you are trying to collect five cards of a color to cure! It means you should use the other colored cities to get around, or you will have to discard them. And we always end up throwing away some cards because of that hand limit.
After you have taken your turn, you have to play the infector. There is an indicator of intensity that tells you how many cities to infect. At the beginning of the game, this starts at two, but it may go up to three or four! You flip over that number of cards from the infection deck and add one disease cube to each city.
If a city has three cubes of one color in it and then gets a fourth, you don’t add a fourth cube. Instead, the city has an outbreak, and you add one disease cube of that color to every other city that is connected to that city. This means that whenever a city has three cubes of a color in it, it’s a top priority to get that one under control. It’s likely that there will be some outbreaks in a game, but minimizing them is key.
There is only one way to win at Pandemic, but there are many ways to lose! Winning requires that you cure all four diseases. The weird thing about winning is that the board often still looks full of diseases at this point, because you don’t have to eradicate a disease in order to win. You just have to discover the cure. This can make winning a little anticlimactic.
You can lose at Pandemic by having too many outbreaks, by running out of cards, by running out of disease cubes, etc. As the game progresses, things get tougher and tougher.
Epidemic cards come up in the “good” player draw pile that cause terrible things to happen. When an epidemic happens, you take a brand new city from the bottom of the infection deck and add three cubes to it. And, even worse, you then shuffle the discarded–already infected!–city cards and put them back on top of the infection pile. This means that the cities that have already had problems earlier in the game will continue to be your problem areas!
I was surprised to realize that this game of Pandemic was our first one since October of last year! Sean and I both like Pandemic a lot, and I hope we’ll get to play it more often. I am tempted to try it on the Hard instead of Normal setting and see how that goes!
If we get really good at it, there is an expansion called On the Brink that looks very interesting. It has little petri dishes for the disease cubes, mutant and virulent diseases, a bioterrorist, and other challenges!
I like how different Pandemic is from my other games. It’s fun to win or lose as a group. And losing makes you want to play again!