So Frankly...

So Frankly...

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Saving Humankind from Death and Disease: Pandemic

Pandemic (image from Z-man Games)
Our gaming group, which will meet this Sunday, is regularly beaten by the game, Pandemic.  That’s right, the game beats us.  As I mentioned in the session report after last month’s game day, Pandemic is a cooperative game, where everyone is playing as a team against the game mechanisms, trying to cure the world of diseases that are threatening to wipe out the human race.  For each of the past several months, we have played this game once the group has whittled down to four players, which is the most that the game can support.  In over 25 plays, I have only been part of a winning team a handful of times.  However, in nearly every loss we have been incredibly close to winning, which is what keeps us coming back.  (Well, there was one game that went very, very badly and very, very quickly, ending with a crushing defeat in about 10 minutes.)

This game is widely regarded as a fantastic game.  On BoardGameGeek, it is ranked #4 in family games, and ranked in the top 50 for strategy games (“thinky” games) and in the overall ranking.  Everyone I personally have played it with loves it.  There are several reasons why I think this should be one of the first games anyone should own: it’s almost universally appealing theme, the ease of play, and the fact that it is a co-op.

The Roles (Photo by Richard van Vugt)
Many people enjoy having some theme, some plot line, to the game they are playing.  However, not everyone likes to play a ruthless tycoon trying to make money at the expense of others.  I understand that.  Not everyone wants to play the heroic leader of the forces of good defending against the evil horde of malicious creatures that I, AND I ALONE, COMMAND!  Yeah… this one I have trouble understanding.  But it is what it is.  Nearly everyone loves the idea of saving world, the real world, from the brink of disaster, and Pandemic allows the players to do just that.  The theme is reinforced by the different role each player has, which allow him or her to contribute to the team in different ways.  For instance, the Scientist role allows a player to find cures for diseases more easily and quickly.  The Medic, on the other hand, can treat diseases more easily.  It’s easy to see how these two can play off of one another, and the other roles similarly give each player a different way to help.  There are five roles, but a maximum of four players.  As a result, there are five different combinations of roles in a four player game, and many more combinations when the game is played with fewer players.  The game plays well with any number of players up to four; it even makes a pretty good solo game.

It's the end of the world as we know it! (Photo by Chris Norword)
The game is very easy to play.  Each player gets four actions per turn, which include moving in various ways, curing a disease if they have the right hand of cards, treating diseases, exchanging information (cards), and building research stations.  After playing their four actions, the player draws two cards.  Lastly, the player acts as “the infector” spreading the diseases a little bit.  Sounds simple enough, but there are terribly bad things that can happen.  First of all, whenever a disease reaches a certain level in a city, there is an outbreak, which infects surrounding cities.  If those cities then are above the threshold, they outbreak in a chain reaction.  Furthermore, when drawing new cards, a player can draw an “Epidemic” card, which puts infected cities at additional risk, making outbreaks more likely.  The net result is that once bad things start to happen, they tend to accelerate, which keeps the team of players on edge and forces a coordinated effort to win!

My last reason for whole-heartedly recommending Pandemic is the nature of cooperative games themselves.  As a style of play, co-op games are still relatively uncommon, and offer new players a fresh look at gaming.  Because co-ops are a team effort, the game lends itself to bringing along both new players and younger players.  Discussion amongst players is allowed, and even necessary.  Furthermore, since everyone wins or loses as a team, children tend to be less heartbroken, and can learn as the adults around the table (hopefully!) deal with the loss gracefully.  In fact, there are lots of lessons about healthy interplay that can be learned in this style of game.  That said, I have to admit the nature of co-op games makes them difficult games to play with very controlling or very passive people.  Neither person contributes equally with the rest of the team.  Either can make for a bad situation; control freaks can absolutely destroy the game experience.  This is the one drawback, though even this can also provide a lesson to a controlling or demanding child.

Pandemic is a great game.  It is right up there with my top games, both in how I rate it and in number of plays.  Your family and friends can save the world together in an easy to play game in about an hour; I am confident this will make it one of your favorite games.  Our local Barnes and Nobles are now carrying it for roughly $35.00 (USD), so it is getting easier to find.  Even at full price, the high number of plays for me means the game has yielded an entertainment value of $1.25/hr, and I am ready for more plays!  I cannot recommend this game enough!

Vital Statistics:

                Ages:                     10 and up (perhaps as low as 7 due to the co-op nature)
                Time:                     60 minutes
                Players:                  1-4 


It's Your Move!


  1. Dad,
    I love your blog and thought it deserved a comment. It is so cool that you are saring this stuff with the world of gamers and you need to share more strategies of yours (like your CHESS strategy) since I can't beat you in most of the games we play often (like CHESS... oh and Dominion). as well as others.