This falls into my “holy crap, why didn’t I review this before?” list because I should have done it a while back but entirely forgot. It isn’t because Pandemic is a bad game, most certainly it isn’t, it just fell through the cracks like so many things do when I’m absurdly busy.
However, this classic cooperative game by Matt Leacock really does deserve my attention and my review, so here I go, saving the world, one cube at a time, here’s my take on Pandemic.
In the game of Pandemic, players take the roles of doctors, working out of the CDC in Atlanta, trying to stop four diseases from becoming pandemics and destroying civilization as we know it. There are a variety of different roles, from Medic, which can cure all of the disease cubes in any city they are in, instead of just one, to Dispatcher, which can move other player’s tokens around to various cities, to Researcher, who can give other players in the same city cards from their hand. Each turn, players take several different actions, from setting up research facilities to fighting infections, their goal is to completely cure and wipe out each of four diseases. Those diseases are forever advancing though and when a city becomes too infected, it can cascade across the map, turning a once healthy continent into a seething hotbed of pathogens. Only the players stand between a healthy world and complete biological contagion.
Where most board games pit the players against each other in a “one shall rule them all” showdown, cooperative board games are exactly the opposite. The players work together against the game, everyone wins or loses together, the gameplay is collaborative and requires the players to work together or fail. This means players spend considerable time talking about what they should all do, it isn’t one person making a move at a time, every move is collective. That also means that type-A personalities and people with control issues won’t do well in such games, they can’t call the shots and think they’ll win the game.
Matt Leacock has written some really great co-op games including Pandemic, Forbidden Island and Forbidden Desert, which I also have to get around to reviewing. All of them are relentless, they go straight for the jugular of the players and even when you think you have the game beat, it comes back and pounces on you, rips out your throat and pees on your corpse. It’s not frustrating though and even losing is a lot of fun. It has a high replay value, every game is different, there are different roles to play, the diseases infect different parts of the globe and your tactics have to adapt to a quickly changing landscape. This isn’t a game that you can learn the secret to and win every time. It’s a living thing and even when you get good at beating it, there are multiple difficulty settings to change things up.
Pandemic had a new edition come out recently that I really like. Whereas the original edition had wooden cubes to designate the various diseases and plagues that players had to wipe out, the new one has semi-transparent plastic cubes which I think just look more like diseases for some weird reason. It’s been cleaned up a bit from the original edition, I think it looks even better and plays more cleanly.
Of course, Pandemic as several expansions for the particularly adventurous, including On the Brink, which adds both a fifth disease, the option of including virulent strains and even a Bio Terrorist which fights on the side of the diseases against the other players. Then there’s In the Lab, which lets players get into the nitty gritty of actually curing the diseases by sequencing genomes and testing cures. Play the regular game first, then get into the expansions, this is the game that keeps on giving… you punches to the face and you happily ask for more.
This one is highly recommended.