Review: Pandemic Board Game from Z-Man Games

I played Pandemic from Z-Man games a few weeks ago and decided to buy it for a proper review. Pandemic is a cooperative board game that pits the players against a rapidly spreading Pandemic Board Game Box series of viruses that threaten the entire planet. Game play begins with each player receiving a role card. Roles grant a special ability, like curing a disease with fewer resources or the ability to move other players around the board. Each player gets a token that matches their role and everyone begins at the CDC in Atlanta, Georgia. Victory occurs when players cure the four diseases. Everyone loses if the plagues overwhelm the planet.

Before play begins, colored blocks representing virus infections spawn randomly on the board.

Pandemic Board

Sequence of play is very easy. There are two decks of cards, a player draw pile containing cards with city names on them and some infection cards. There is also an infection draw pile of card with city cards also. Each player takes up to four actions (move, cure disease, build a research station, give a card to another player), then draws two cards from the player pile. The player cards allow movement around the board and once you have 5 of the same color, you can cure that color disease at a research station.

Then the active player draws two cards from the infection pile and adds virus cubes to those cities. If a city reaches 4 cubes it is an outbreak. Outbreaks spread virus blocks to adjacent cities. Then the infection cards go to the infection discard pile…until there is an epidemic card.

Epidemic cards live in the player’s card deck, so every player has a chance to get a city card or an epidemic card. When an epidemic appears, you draw a card from the bottom of the infection deck and infect it with three cubes. Then you shuffle the infection discard pile and put it back ON TOP of the infection deck, so the odds of getting an already infected city in a random draw go up considerably. The point of the game is to control the outbreaks long enough to eradicate the plague before it overwhelms the players. It is much harder than it sounds.

It is incredibly easy to lose this game. Eight outbreaks during the game results in everyone dying. If you run out of colored cubes for a specific disease and cannot place anymore, everyone dies. When the player draw pile runs out, everyone dies. A very unscientific poll among regular players indicated that death is the usual outcome.

I usually hate losing, but I had a great time even during the games that ended in viral apocalypse, so Pandemic’s difficult victory conditions did not bother me at all.

Play is quite fast, with a game taking about an hour. There is a surprising amount of strategy in the game, because you can only trade cards in the same city as is on the card. Pawns in Atlanta are the only ones allowed to exchange the “Atlanta” card. This results in players wanting to do 10 things per round, but only allowed to do four. It forces some fairly long-term thinking and careful resource (ie actions) management.

One of my regular board game players complained he is not fond of cooperative games. He enjoys the back-stabbing and “screw you” factor in games like  Puerto Rico. Happily Z-Man has that covered with the next supplement “Pandemic: On the Brink.” The supplement add support for a fifth player, an additional, rapidly mutating disease and a bio-terrorist role. The bio-terrorist actively works against the other players and works towards global infection. Fun!

“On the Brink” comes out on September 21, 2009.

Trask, The Last Tyromancer

From Haaldaar: I asked Trask to let me comment on this post; because, there are a couple of important things I would like to add about Pandemic. I played a few times with Trask, and a few times with my wife, and I agree; it is very easy to lose this game. Especially if you do not have a job that allows easy card transfer. Out of the two times I played with my wife, we won one, and lost one. But I learned a couple key things about this game in the process.

1st – This is a great game to play with non-gamers. It is still a strategy game, but it it removes two of the roadblocks that keep non-gamers from playing games: the genre and the style. Genre, because it is a current times setting (non fantasy or historical era) and easy for non-gamers to have an interest in. It is even more apropos with the H1N1 Swine Flu virus swirling around this year. Also, the style, because it is cooperative.  My wife is especially difficult to play competitive strategy games with, for reasons I will cover in another post. However, this cooperative game made it really easy, fun, and less stressful for her. This will make a great party game with a mix of gamers and non-gamers.

2nd – I am constantly harping on games for doing poor market research when it comes to color. As a colorblind male, I am always having issues with gaming pieces for a variety of games. We always start a game with “Which colors can you tell apart easily”.  Pandemic, gets the gold prize for colorblind friendliness!  Not only are the colors chosen well, as I can tell all of them apart, but the color on the cards also has a corresponding symbol. You have no need to see color at all to play this game. A little bit of research leads to a lot of playability. Those who are colorblind should go out and buy this game just to support this kind of thinking!

I look forward to further rounds of Pandemic.  Happy Gaming!



Stuart Greenwell

My first experiences with serious gaming came from the Hero Quest board game. I then made the next step to the RoboTech RPG and a lunchtime meeting of AD&D Oriental Adventures. My interests now are pretty much the same. Boardgames and RPGS. Some of my favorites boardgames are currently Settlers of Catan, Battlestar Galactica, and Space Alert. For RPGS, it is Monte Cook's Cypher System. But I am always down for a good round of Dungeons & Dragons.

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