(2008 Z-Man Games)
While not one of the first celebrated cooperative games released (see Arkham Horror, Shadows Over Camelot, etc), Pandemic has remained one of the most popular in the genre. Mixing cooperative play with role selection, a high difficulty setting, yet a simple to understand rule set, Pandemic melds everything together nicely within a strong, thematic and tense atmosphere. In Pandemic, players take on the roles of different members of a disease control team, trying to find cures for four different, fast-spreading diseases before they overtake humanity. Nominated for the 2009 Spiel des Jahres (the German Game of the Year and highest touted award in the industry), Pandemic has seen a huge amount of success in the last five years since its release, and is commonly credited as the game that ignited the emergence of cooperative games since 2008 (Flash Point: Fire Rescue, Defenders of the Realm, Lord of the Rings: Card Game, The Resistance, among many others).
In this review, I’ll be taking a look at the revamped 2013 Z-Man edition of Pandemic. While there are slight differences in components and certain card text, as well as a couple additional Roles, this review should be sufficient for those interested in either edition of the game. (Note however, that all new expansions released for Pandemic will be compatible with the 2013 edition, as opposed to the original. Though, Z-Man has released compatibility packs for those with original editions.)
– Pandemic game board
– Virus cubes representing 4 different Viruses (Red, Blue, Yellow, Black)
– Virus Cure tokens for each Virus
– The Infection Cards are shuffled and placed into a Draw Pile on the designated spot on the top-right section of the game board. The first 3 cards are then flipped and 3 Virus Cubes (matching the color of the city) are placed in the cities represented on each of these 3 cards. Next, 3 more Infection Cards are flipped and 2 Virus Cubes are placed on these cities. Finally, the next 3 Infection Cards are flipped off the Draw Pile and 1 Virus Cube is placed on each of these cities. All flipped Infection cards remain in the designated Discard Pile to the right of the Infection Card Draw Pile. The Virus Cubes that have been placed on the board will represent the starting areas for the 4 different Viruses.
– The Infection Rate token is placed on the leftmost “2” spot of the Infection Rate track that is directly below the Infection Card Draw Pile.
For example, players have determined that they will play on the medium difficulty setting. After being dealt their individual Player cards from the Draw Pile, they will separate the remaining cards from the Draw Pile into 5 smaller piles of relatively equal size. The 1st Epidemic card is shuffled into the 1st small pile and placed on the Player Card Draw Pile section of the game board. The 2nd Epidemic card is then shuffled into the 2nd small pile and placed on top of the 1st set of cards in the Draw Pile. This continues with each small pile until there is 1 large Player Card Draw Pile on the board. This helps the evenly distribute the Epidemic cards throughout the deck, though it is still possible to get 2 of them back to back.
Once set up, the board and its components should look something like this:
Pandemic is a cooperative game, and a difficult one at that, even at its easiest setting. While finding cures for all 4 diseases is the only way for players to win the game, there are many different ways to lose. Players will collectively lose the game if any of the following events take place:
– If the Player Card Draw Pile runs out of cards.
– If there are not enough Virus cubes of a particular color to place on the game board when needed to do so.
– If the Outbreak token ever reaches the end on the Outbreak track.
At the beginning of the game, the starting player is the one that has the largest population on one of the city cards in his hand. Players will take turns clockwise from that player around the board. A player’s turn consist of the following steps:
1.) Take 4 actions.
2.) Draw 2 cards from the Player Card Draw Pile.
3.) Draw a number of cards from the Infection Deck equal to the current number on the Infection Rate track.
1.) Take Actions:
The first thing a player will do on his turn is take 4 actions. This is the heart of the game and where most of the strategy and collective decision-making amongst players will take place. A player may take the same type of action as many times as he wants, as long as each is counted as 1 separate action. There are different types of actions that may be used by all players, but each player can also do a special type of action which is designated by the Role they’ve selected. Let’s take a look at the main actions for now (I’ll cover the different Role types and what they can do a little further down).
A player may move his pawn 1 space to a city connected by a line from the city in which he is currently in.
Player A is the Scientist (white pawn). As 1 of his Actions, he may move from Washington to New York, Montreal, Atlanta, or Miami.
A player may discard a city card and place his pawn on that particular city.
Player B is the Contingency Planner (light blue pawn). He can discard his Beijing City card and move his pawn from Baghdad directly to the Beijing City space.
If a player is already on a city that he has a particular card for, he can discard that city’s card and move his pawn to any city.
Player C is the Dispatcher (purple pawn). He is currently in the city of Chennai. If he has the Chennai City card, as an action he may discard this card and move to any city location.
A player may take a action to move from 1 city with a Research Station, to another city with a Research Station.
Player C is now in the city of Lagos which houses a Research Station. As an action, he can move to any other Research Station, in this case, Atlanta.
Build a Research Station:
Research Stations can be used to cure diseases (see below) as well as for quick travel between cities. A player may discard a city card that matches the city he is in, and place 1 Research Station in that city.
Player B is in Hong Kong and decides to discard his Hong Kong City card in order to build a Research Station there.
Find a Cure:
Once at a Research Station, a player may discard 5 city cards of the same color, thus discovering a cure for the disease designated by that color. The Virus Cure token is then placed over top of the particular disease to show that a cure has been found.
Player C has collected 5 blue City cards. As an action, he can choose to discard all 5 cards, thus discovering a Cure for the blue disease. The blue Virus Cure token is then placed on top of the blue disease icon to show that it has been Cured. Remember that all 4 diseases must be Cured in this way to win the game.
When in a city, a player may remove 1 Virus cube from that city, placing it back in the Virus cube supply. If however, a cure has been found for a disease, when in a city, a player may remove all Virus cubes of the same color from that city.
Player A will take the Treat Disease action while in London. Since a Cure has been discovered for the blue disease, he may remove all 3 blue Virus Cubes from the city and place them back into the supply. If however, a Cure had not yet been found yet, he could only use the 1 action to remove only 1 Cube. Though he could decide to remove all 3 Cubes by taking 3 of his 4 actions to do so.
On a player’s turn, if he is in the same city as 1 or more other players, he may either give his Player Card of that city to another player (that player must also be in the same city), or take the Player card of that city from another player (as long as this player agrees). No player can ever have more than 7 cards in their hand, so if this puts them over the limit, they must immediately discard a card.
Players are now working together to Cure the black disease. Player B (light blue pawn) currently has 4 black City cards in his hand, thus only needs 1 more black City card in order to find a Cure on his turn. Player C has the Cairo black City card, so they plan their actions so that they are able to meet in Cairo. As an action, Player C can give Player B his Cairo City card since they are both on the Cairo city space.
2.) Draw Cards – Player Cards:
After taking his 4 actions, the player will draw 2 cards off of the top of the Player Card Draw Pile. These cards will consists of Cities, Special Events, and Epidemics. If the cards drawn are Cities and/or Event cards, the players will keep them in their hand. Remember, that in order to discover a Cure to a disease, a player must discard 5 of the same colored card as an action. Player may give/take City cards to/from other players by taking the Share Cards action (If a player is the Researcher, his special ability is that he can give any City card to another player that shares the same city space as himself).
If one of the Epidemic cards are drawn however, player must take the appropriate actions before continuing a turn:
– Move the Infection Rate token to the next space on the Infection Rate track. The number printed below the token represents how many Infection cards are drawn during the last step of a players turn. Therefore, the further along the track the token is moved, the more cards will need to be drawn, and Virus cubes placed on the board.
– Next, the player who drew the Epidemic card will take the bottom card from the Infection deck and place it face-up on the Infection discard pile. The card will represent one of the 48 cities in the game. The player will then place 3 Virus Cubes onto the city that was discarded. If there are already cubes on this spot, an outbreak takes effect since no city may have more than 3 Cubes (which I’ll go over in just a bit).
– Finally, the player will take the Infection discard pile and shuffle all of the cards together (only shuffle the discard pile, do not add them to the draw pile and then shuffle). Then, the reshuffled discard pile will be placed face-down on top of the remaining draw pile, thus creating a new Draw Pile. This will now make it even harder on the team of players, since drawing from this deck will reveal cards that have already previously been revealed, thus having to place Virus Cubes on a lot of cities that already have them.
3.) Infect Cities:
After taking the Epidemic steps (or after drawing the 2 cards from the Player Card Draw Pile if there were no Epidemic Cards drawn), the final step of a players turn is the infect cities. The player will draw a number of cards off of the Infection deck equal to the number printed below the Infection Rate token. 1 Virus Cube is placed in each city that is drawn from the Infection deck. After this step is complete, the next player starts their turn.
In the above picture, the Cairo Infection card is drawn, therefore 1 Cube must be placed in Cairo.
As mentioned before, there are times when a Virus Cube needs to be placed onto a city that already has the maximum of 3. If this happens, an Outbreak occurs. Instead of placing a 4th Virus Cube in that particular city, 1 Virus Cube of that color is placed in every city that is connected to the original one. The Outbreak token on the Outbreak track is then moved to the next space. Remember, that once the token reaches the last space on the Outbreak track, the players automatically lose the game, so it is important to try to minimize the number of Outbreaks that occur in the game. It is possible for an Outbreak to cause another Outbreak, as seen below.
In this example, there are 3 Blue Virus Cubes in New York, 1 in Montreal, 2 in Madrid, and 3 in London. It is the final step of Player A’s turn in which he draws cards from the Infection deck. One of the cards drawn is the New York card. Since no more blue cubes can be placed in New York, an Outbreak occurs. After moving the Outbreak token 1 space along the Outbreak track, Player A places 1 blue cube in Montreal, 1 in Washington, 1 in Madrid, and attempts to place 1 in London.
However, there are already the maximum of 3 blue cubes in London. Therefore, another Outbreak occurs. So, Player A will move the Outbreak token again, and then will place 1 blue cube in Essen, 1 in Paris, and attempt to place 1 in Madrid. Madrid then causes an Outbreak, and so on (you can see how things can unravel quickly.) It’s important to note that even when a Cure has been discovered, Outbreaks can still take effect with that particular disease. The only way to keep this from taking place is to Eradicate a disease.
If at any time during the game, players have completely removed all Virus Cubes of a particular color from the board, this disease is considered “Eradicated”. To show this, the Virus token should be flipped to show its Eradicated icon. Diseases can be Eradicated only after a Cure is found. But remember, the only Victory condition to winning the game is discovering a Cure for all 4 diseases (discarding 5 matching City cards of the Viruses color).
There is a major advantage to Eradicating a disease, however. When a disease is Eradicated, no new cubes of that color will be placed on the board when drawing cards from the Infection deck. This will make it much easier in dealing with the other remaining diseases.
Once a disease has been cured, the Virus Cure token is placed over top of the particular disease on at the bottom section of the game board. From now on, any time a player takes the “Treat Disease” action, they may remove all colored cubes from the particular city that they are on that matches the color of the Cured disease, instead of only being able to remove 1.
This will help make it easier to manage that particular disease while attempting to find Cures for the remaining diseases.
As discussed above, players will need to Draw 2 Player Cards during the 2nd step of their turn. Event Cards are scattered throughout the Player Card deck (there are only 5 Events), and allow special abilities to the player that owns them. The Event Cards do count towards the 7 hand maximum, but do not count as actions when using their abilities. Also, the player controlling the Event Card can play it during any other player’s turn, not just during his own. They only stipulation is that they can not be played while resolving another card, such as an Epidemic or resolving the placement of cubes from an Infection Card.
For instance, the Event Card entitled “One Quiet Night” allows the team to skip the Infect Cities step of a player’s turn. This means that when played, that particular player does not need to flip Infection Cards from the Infection deck.
Players MUST work together in order to be successful in Pandemic. The Roles that players can take will help break certain rules and add special abilities for the group to use. Let’s take a look at what each Role can do:
When a Medic takes the “Treat Disease” action, he may remove all cubes of the same color from that particular city, not just 1. If however, a disease has already been Cured, his ability is upgraded in that he automatically removes all cubes of the cured disease from a city space when entering that particular city. This does not count as a separate action. Also, once a disease has been Cured, no cubes of the Cured disease are placed in the same city space as the Medic.
The Dispatcher may move other players around the game board, with a few stipulations. He may either move them as if it were his own (he can take 1 of his movement actions per 1 movement of another player) or he can move any player to the same city space of another player.
When a Researcher takes the “Share Cards” action, she may give any City Card to another player that is in the same city as the Researcher. She can only ever give cards away in this sense, not take. However, this can be used on either the Researchers turn or the other player’s turn.
When discarding City cards in order to Cure a disease, the Scientist is only required to discard 4 matching colored City cards, instead of the normal 4.
When the Operations Expert takes the “Build Research Station” action, he may build a Research Station in the city he is in without having to discard a card. Once per turn, he may also move from a Research Station to any City space by discarding any City card. So, if the Operations Expert is at a Research Station in Atlanta, he can discard ANY City card to move to, say for instance, Algiers.
As on of his actions, the Contingency Planner may go through the Player Card Discard Pile and recover an Event Card, placing it on top of the Contingency Planner’s Role Card. He can then use this Event Card as he pleases. Only 1 Event may ever be on his Role Card at a time, and once that Event is used by the Contingency Planner, it is removed from the game instead of going back into the discard pile (thus not allowing him to use it again).
A City that a Quarantine Specialist is currently in, as well as those that are directly connected to this city, are immune to the placement of Virus Cubes as well as Outbreaks.
Pandemic is designed to win, to beat the team of players. And that is what makes it such a powerful, cooperative experience. It is only with strategic planning, communication, and a bit of luck that players will discover all 4 Cures in time to rescue the world. And even then, sometimes that’s not quite enough. There are so many different ways to lose the game. While you may focus on minimizing Outbreaks and collecting City Cards for curing diseases, Virus Cubes can start to run out. Focus on Eradicating one disease, and the others spread like wildfire. Discard too many City cards to move freely around the board to get rid of cubes and you’ll eventually run out of cards in the Player Card Draw Pile searching for sets of 5 to discard for Cures, thus losing the game. And then there’s the Epidemic Cards. The bane of Pandemic itself. Just when you think you have everything under control, that dreaded Epidemic Card gets flipped over, and all hell starts to unravel before you.
Of course, this is what makes Pandemic great, and why it sits atop as one of the highest ranked games in the board game community. Every game brings about a different strategy, with a different combination of Roles (the game is set between 2-4 players, but includes 7 different Roles). If any issue can evolve from the game, it can be in how players interact and communicate with one another. There can be a problem if one gamer (sometimes referred to as an Alpha Gamer) has taken control of telling everyone else what they need to be doing, and when to do it. This is the downside to some cooperative games, but not the game’s fault. If one individual player is dominating the communication and strategy revolved around the decision-making between players in the game, it loses everything that makes Pandemic such an amazing experience.
Thematically, the game just works. It’s quite telling how much you really start to care about the little colored cubes on the board, and how much you want to get rid of them. The game is fighting so hard against the team, that players will feel a huge relief when a Cure has been discovered for a disease. Pandemic isn’t so much about winning or losing (which you’ll definitely get a fair dose of), it’s in the excitement and tension revolved around that possible victory, and fighting tooth and nail along with the other members of your team to achieve it.