Who wouldn’t want to save the world? In Pandemic that is exactly what you are endeavouring to do; find cures for the 4 diseases that are sweeping the globe before time runs out. Everybody works together to beat the game and save humanity. This is our most played game and one of our favourites, we love cooperative games and this seems well balanced for two players with most games feeling that they are on a knife edge between success and failure.
Each player takes on a role with their own special abilities: faster treatment of disease (medic), sharing knowledge with other players more easily (researcher), or needing less information to discover a cure (scientist). However, we do feel some roles are much better than others, with the contingency planner being particularly weak in comparison to the other available roles. His ability to retrieve a previously used event in order to reuse it is limited as there are only five event cards in the deck. We choose roles randomly, but have chosen not to use the contingency planner any more as we don’t find the game as fun to play as him. All the other roles are great though, and they change how you play the game depending on what your abilities are. If you are the dispatcher you might spend the game moving other people around so they can make the best use of their abilities and share knowledge more easily. Whereas if you are the quarantine specialist you are probably going to head to an area with lots of disease cubes to try and slow down the spread of disease. While the operations expert might start the game setting up a network of research centres to make travel easier for the other players.
Each turn you do 4 actions, draw 2 cards and then infect new cities. Actions are straightforward and include moving city, treating disease, trading information, building a research centre or discovering a cure. You draw cards hoping not to get an epidemic card, because this can spell disaster. An epidemic means things just got a lot harder. First you infect a new city with 3 disease cube. But then, and this is the clever part, you shuffle the discard pile and place it back on top of the deck thus ensuring that already infected cities will come up again, and soon. Any city that needs a fourth cube of one colour placed on it outbreaks and the disease spreads into all the surrounding cities. (Have eight outbreaks or run out of cubes of a disease colour and you lose.) Outbreaks are both a sign that a disease is getting out of control and make the game harder by quickly increasing the number of disease cubes on the board. It is very easy for outbreaks to spiral out of control by setting off a chain reaction in adjacent cities.
Throughout the game tension is high. What is the immediate priority? Where might there be an outbreak? Which disease cubes are we running low on? But concentrate too much on disease management and you will run out of time to cure all four diseases (if the player deck runs out you also lose). So there are important decisions to make about which risks to take. You need to work well as a team to ensure information gets to the right people (unless you are the researcher you can only trade the city card of the city you are currently in so you need to coordinate with your fellow players to arrive in the same place at the same time so you aren’t wasting actions waiting).
There are three suggested difficultly levels with different numbers of epidemic cards shuffled into the player deck. For a beginners game you start with four epidemics, this is by no means guarantees an easy win. A normal difficulty game involves five epidemics, I’d say we win just under half the time we play on this level. We are yet to try expert with six epidemics.
One downside of this game, in common with many cooperative games, is that it is easy for one player to dominate and to just boss the other players around. This is particularly a risk if some players are new to the game and if the experienced players want to try to ensure a win. It is essential for victory to communicate in order to get sets of cards into one person’s hand, so a dominating player is hard to negate by keeping information hidden. Thankfully my husband and I seem quite good at working as a team, so this isn’t so much of a problem. However when we tried to introduce pandemic to my husband’s parents I think they were a bit overwhelmed by what to do and how to effectively work together without just doing what we suggested every time.
Overall, I think pandemic is a great game. It is simple to understand, yet difficult to win (and if you are finding it too easy to win it is very simple to increase the difficulty).