I rate Pandemic 8/10 on Boardgamegeek, where it has an average rating nearly 8/10 too. It's one of the hottest new games in 2008/09 and I had to wait months to get my own copy. Pandemic is one of the latest trend in modern games, a co-operative game. You all play together and win or lose together. And it's a hard game to beat as well. I've only won a few times out of many games.
In Pandemic, there are four diseases spreading around the world (just coloured cubes, red, blue, black and yellow). The board has a lot of cities linked by networks in the same colours, and there is a matching deck of Infection cards, one for each city. As you draw a card, you place the coloured cube on the city to show it is infected.
If a city gets a fourth cube, instead of placing it, there's an Outbreak, and you place a cube of that colour in each of the connected cities on the board. Of course, that can trigger more Outbreaks. If there are more than 8 Outbreaks in the game, you lose. If all the cubes of one colour get on the board, you lose. If you run out of time, by exhausting the Players' deck, you lose.
It is a tough game!
The Players' deck is another set of cards, again with the cities in their colours. You spend these cards to fly around the world, to build research labs, and crucially, to find each of the four cures. You cure a disease simply by any one player having 5 cards in a disease colour, and being at a lab. You can only win the game by finding all four cures.
It's a very tough game!
On your turn, you get just 4 actions, such as move to the next city, or fly to a far city, remove a cube, swap cards and so on. After completing your actions, you draw 2 cards. Then you turn up some Infection cards, to place more cubes around the world. But in the Players' deck, there are some Epidemic cards too. If one turns up, the Infections get much worse. You take a fresh card from the bottom of the Infection deck; that city gets 3 cubes! Then you shuffle the discarded Infection cards and they go back ON TOP OF THE INFECTION DECK! That means that the same cities get re-infected again, leading to more Outbreaks! Finally, you push the Infection rate up, so instead of 2 cards, it might be 3 or 4 cards a turn. The diseases can run out of control.
It's a really, really tough game!
You have one good thing on your side though. Each player randomly takes a Role in the game. That role gives them a special power. The Medic can remove all the cubes in a city, whereas the other players can only remove one cube. The Dispatcher can move the other players around the world. The Scientist only needs 4 cards to find a cure. The Researcher can swap any cards they like, the other players can only swap a card if both players are standing in that city, and so on.
By using these Roles carefully, by timing your moves, and with some help from special event cards, you might just keep the diseases in check long enough to find the cures. If you cure a disease, and remove all the cubes in that colour, then the world is free of that infection and those Infection cards don't matter, which can buy you a lot of time. But you only win by finding all four cures.
The game takes a while to set up and there are a few special rules to learn, such as the Roles, but once you have the hang of it, the game plays very quickly and easily. There's a lot of tension as the diseases build up around the globe, and you have some difficult decisions to make. Let me repeat that. There's A LOT OF TENSION as the diseases build up around the globe, and you have some DIFFICULT DECISIONS TO MAKE. As the infections keep coming back, and you're desperately trying to hook up and find the cures, suddenly there's another Epidemic, then an Outbreak, and then more Outbreaks. You feel under so much pressure as you see the diseases build up, but you must keep trying.
When you lose, you feel bad. What could you have done better? Did you spend to much time removing cubes instead of finding the cure? Did you waste time trying to eradicate the cured disease? Could you have worked better as a team?
There's only one answer. You have to play Pandemic again, try to win this time.
And when you win, you feel just fantastic! You have saved the world.
Pandemic has a lot going for it. It is a fun game, even though you struggle, it's a fun struggle. It is very different from the old games with dice and money, it feels a very modern game. It's really well made, top quality components and graphic design. Kids can learn a little about diseases spreading around the world. You really do have to work together, one player cannot dominate. You can play the game on different settings, fewer Epidemic cards make it easier, more make the game Heroic. Younger children will find it harder, but kids aged 10+ will get it very quickly. But most of all, you just want to play it again and again. It's so hard to win, you get a great feeling of triumph when you do beat the game. It's very nice to play a positive, unselfish game for a change.
Play Pandemic just once, and like me, you'll be a carrier for life. Then, pretty soon, you'll have to infect your friends too...