Why review Pandemic?! It’s been out years and everyone who’s played a modern boardgame either has it or has played it. It’s like the modern Monopoly, kind or essential. The reason: I like boardgames, I like writing reviews, I’m trying to get better at writing reviews. So strap in it’s time for an outbreak.

I first played Matt Leacock’s Pandemic with some local boardgame friends who’d borrowed it from a family member. They’d been playing it an awful lot (if the record sheet of wins to losses they were storing in the box was anything to go by) so understandably, they were very good at directing people on the best moves to make.

Without wishing to be rude, what actually happened was that the elite gamer of the group basically played all four roles and the rest of us pushed things around as we were told. Victory, hooray (/s). Even so, I could see where the fun was in the game and wanted to give it another try some time.

One person power playing is a known problem with the game and something you’ll just have to negotiate with your gaming group (a ball gag and lockable mittens can be very helpful in this respect).

Pandemic sees you take on one of several roles as you work together to fight four diseases which are breaking out across the globe. Each role has their own, unique abilities such as needing less cards to find a cure for the disease or being better equipped to treat affected areas.

The main board shows a map of the world, with cities linked, mostly to their nearest neighbour. Areas of the world are divided into four colours, representing the four diseases that will appear. Players start at a research station in Atlanta with a hand of cards, each showing either one of the major cities, or an event which grants them a single use ability which can be used at any time.

During setup three cities are drawn from the infection deck to receive three disease cubes, three more to receive two cubes, and a final three to receive a single, lonely cube (all alone in the world, just wishing for friends. Is that so wrong?). These nine infection cards are put into the discard pile and wait patiently for their chance to come again (and again).

On your turn you may take four actions. These include things like travelling along one of the connecting lines to a neighbouring city, discarding a city card to travel to that location, fast travel between research stations, build a new research station, treating the disease in your current city, etc. There’s a lot of choice and as the game is cooperative, the table is free to discuss the best strategy (except Nigel, he’s wearing his gag because he knows what he’s done).

At the end of each player’s turn, they draw two new cards from the player deck and a number of infection cards based on the current infection level. Those cities are infected with a single cube of their colour.

Scattered throughout the player deck are a number of epidemic cards (boo! hiss!) depending on the difficulty level agreed upon during setup there could be up to seven epidemics. When an epidemic comes out the infection rate goes up, and a city is drawn from the bottom of the infection deck which will receive a maximum three disease cubes. This is added to the infection discard pile which is shuffled and put back on top of the infection deck and only the infection phase happens. If your luck is particularly bad, you may find that city you just filled to the brim with disease coming straight back up and causing an outbreak (instead of adding a fourth cube, add one cube of that colour to each adjoining city).

It’s important to get as much board coverage as possible, to treat diseases that are getting out of hand and prevent a possible outbreak (you can only afford so many of these). That said, because of the way the infection cards cycle around, you can get a good idea of which cities are most at risk and which can be left a little longer.

If a player has five cards of a matching colour and happens to be chilling out at a research station, they can trade these in for a cure. Once you’ve cured all four diseases, you win the game (hooray! (not sarcastically this time)). Winning though, anyone can manage that (except me, the first few times I played solo). Let’s talk about losing: If the player deck runs out, you lose! If you get too many outbreaks, you lose! If you need to add a disease cube of a certain colour and there’s none left in the stockpile, you lose! If you look at the game funny, you lose! (at least I think that’s my issue).

Pandemic is very well regarded, and rightly so, it’s a lot of fun and with the adjustable difficulty, can have a lot of replayability, but it is a puzzle, which can be solved. This is why players like Nigel (who’s been moved to a cage in the corner, for good behaviour) can get a bit overbearing with a group of new players. They get less “I’ve noticed these areas are in peril, perhaps we should think about that” and more “you go here, via here, cure this and on your next turn do that. You, meet them there, give them that and then fly over here” (but for a fee, such players can be retrained).

Pros:

  • Simple design.
  • Easy teach.
  • Can be very addictive.

Cons:

  • Can be “solved”.
  • Can bring out the worst in some players.
  • Some of the events feel considerably weaker than others.

Final Score: 9/10

Come back next time for some thoughts on the first expansion: On The Brink

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