I wrestled with myself for several days on whether to write about this game given the current climate of our world. Then I remembered that we sometimes need to look outside the seriousness of life and enjoy some of the more humorous and entertaining aspects of living.
With that in mind, I guess there’s no better time to write this post than during a worldwide pandemic.
Pandemic is another cooperation game where all of the players either win together or lose together. The game is designed by the same company that makes Forbidden Island, another cooperation game I discussed in a previous post. The mechanics work in much the same way, but a few key differences exist that separate the two games. My personal preference lies in Pandemic, but they are both enjoyable games.
Pandemic is a game for 2-4 players, takes approximately 45 minutes to play, and is for ages eight and older.
Setting up Pandemic is just as difficult as Forbidden Island, but requires more smaller pieces and minute changes. First thing you do is setup the game board in the middle. Then shuffle the role cards and deal one randomly to each player. Much like Forbidden Island, some of the roles work strongly together, so choosing the roles ahead of time makes the game less challenging. Shuffle the Infection Deck and place it in the appropriate spot. Remove the Epidemic cards from the Player Deck, shuffle it, and then deal a number of cards to each player based on how many players there are. Set the small disease cubes off to the side. Take the infection deck and draw three cards. Put three disease cubes on each city that matches those first three cards. Draw three more cards and put two disease cubes on those cities, and then finally draw three more and put one cube on each of those cities. Make sure you leave the cards drawn for the previous infections in the discard pile. Set the infection rate tracker on the left most spot of the infection track and the outbreak marker on the upper most spot of the outbreak track. Finally, put Epidemic cards equal to your desired difficulty level (4 for your first time, up to 6 after that) back into the Player Deck. Shuffle it and place it on the appropriate spot on the board. Place everybody’s token in Atlanta (this is where everybody starts).
Finally, after all of that convoluted setup, it’s time to play Pandemic!
During Pandemic, four diseases have started to plague the world. It is your job as a Research Team to move around the world and attempt to cure and possibly eradicate all four diseases. You do this through different actions, all of which are taken on your turn. Make sure you’re constantly communicating with your teammates throughout the game, planning out your moves, and talking strategy. Just make sure you’re not hogging the limelight and trying to run the table. Let everybody make decisions by themselves throughout the game if need be.
On your turn, you can take up to 4 actions. You do not have to take all of them. The actions you can take on your turn are as follows:
Build a Research Station
Discover a Cure
Move your pawn to another city connected to the one in which you’re standing. This takes 1 action.
The cards dealt to you at the beginning of the game (and the cards you’ll eventually draw from the Player Deck) all have cities across the game board on them. There is one card for every city. You may discard any city card to take a direct flight to that city. This takes 1 action.
If you discard the city card for the city you’re currently standing in, you can fly to any city on the board. This takes 1 action.
If you have a research station built on one of the cities, you may fly to another city with a research station. This takes 1 action.
Build a Research Station
Instead of using a Charter Flight, you can choose to discard the city you’re currently in to build a research station there. Research stations are where you develop cures for each disease. This takes 1 action.
You can choose to treat a disease by removing one cube of any of the diseases that might in the city you’re standing in. Treat disease changes if a cure has been found for one of the diseases, and in that case, remove all of the cubes of one color from the city instead of just one. This takes 1 action.
If you and another player are in the same city, you can trade the card with the same city you’re both standing in to the other player OR you can take a card of the same city you’re both standing in from the other player. This takes 1 action.
Discover a Cure
If you are in a city with a research station, you can trade in/discard five cards of one color to cure that color’s disease. Make sure to move the cure indicator token to the appropriate spot on the board to show that you’ve cured it. If a disease has been cured, and there are no more tokens of that color on the board, the disease is considered eradicated. Flip over the cured token to the other side with the crossed out circle on it. This disease can no longer be placed on the board during the Infection phase or if drawn during an Epidemic event. This takes 1 action.
After you have taken your four actions, now comes the part where the game can take dangerous turns for the worse. As soon as your turn as finished, it’s time to draw two cards from the Player Deck. Flip over the cards once at a time. Most of the cards you draw will be cards with cities on them, like the ones you use to build research stations, fly to other cities, discover cures, and so forth. Others might have special abilities on them that can be used at any time. However, remember those Epidemic cards we shuffled into the deck during setup? You might draw one of those.
The Epidemic cards are what propel the the infection rate further, causing all of your hard work curing the diseases to be set back. If you draw an Epidemic card, here is what you do.
First, move the infection rate marker forward one. We started at two, and it gets increasingly higher the more Epidemic cards that get drawn. Next, take the bottom card from the Infection Deck and turn it over. Place 3 cubes of the corresponding disease color on the city on that card. If that city already has 3 cubes, you’ll take a different action called an Outbreak, but we’ll discuss that shortly. Finally, shuffle the discard pile for the Infection Deck and place those shuffled cards back on top of the Infection Deck. This is the dangerous part of the game because all of the Infection Deck cards drawn so far have caused infections, and now you have a chance of furthering the infections in the cities you’ve already drawn. Also, if you DO draw an Epidemic card, that does not mean you get to draw a replacement card. The Epidemic card counts as one of your two draws.
You are only allowed to have seven cards in your hand at any time. After you draw cards from the Player Deck, if you have more than seven, you have to discard down to seven cards.
Once you have finished drawing the two cards from the Player Deck, it is now time to infect. Based on where the infection marker is on, draw that many cards from the Infection Deck. Add one corresponding disease color cube to the cities that you draw from that deck.
Now, during an Epidemic card event or draws from the Infection Deck, there might be a chance that a city already has 3 cubes on it. If that’s the case, this causes an Outbreak. Instead of placing a cube on the city that already has 3 cubes, you will place 1 cube of each color on all the cities connected to the one with 3 cubes. When this happens, make sure you move the Outbreak token to the next number on the Outbreak track. During an Outbreak, it’s entirely possible that you’ll have cube colors that are different than the color of the city. This is the only way this will happen.
Just like Forbidden Island, there are many ways to lose in Pandemic, and only one way to win. If the Outbreak marker reaches the end of the track, the players lose. If you run out of any of the disease cubes because they’re all on the board, the players lose. If the Player Deck runs out of cards, the players lose.
However, if the players are able to cure all four diseases before any of the previous losing conditions are met, everybody wins!
Pandemic is a wildly fun and infuriating board game. We have managed to win a couple of times, but every single game is intense and anxiety ridden. We always seem to get to a point where we shuffle the discard pile for the Infection Deck during an Epidemic event and know that we have a chance to draw the one city during the Infection phase that will lose us the game. In the early game, your actions can be relatively inconsequential, however, when the later game happens, every single action you take is the difference between winning and losing. We often find ourselves discussing upcoming turns in detail and length before actually taking the actions. We try to strategize and plan out moves several turns in advance. Even with all of that, the draw of the cards still cause us to lose sometimes.
The game is fun, fast paced, and makes for an overall enjoyable cooperative experience. Funny enough, we actually played Pandemic shortly after the Safer at Home orders began, and we lost that game rather handily. Was it a premonition or poor planning? Did we fall short in our strategy or did the game just get the better of us? Pandemic is fun, doesn’t take long to play, and provides such an interesting and different perspective on board games.