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I learned of Pandemic at the wedding of one my friends. He had been introduced to it a few weeks ago and loved it. So much so that he and his wife tore through their wedding gifts to find it and take it on their honeymoon. That’s quite an endorsement. I found out the original source for this information was a new web series called Tabletop which is hosted by Wil Wheaton and produced by Felicia Day.

The premise for Pandemic is simple. The players are a research team from the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, Georgia. Four viruses, represented by colored cubes (Blue, Yellow, Black and Orange/Red), have popped up across the globe and the team must discover cures before time runs out. To discover a cure, the team must collect five samples (draw deck cards) of a particular color and travel to a research center.

Of course, there are several ways time runs out in this game. The first being too many outbreaks of the viruses. On the eighth outbreak, the team has failed to respond and control the viruses and loses the game. The second is to run out of the cards in the draw deck. The third is to run out of cubes to represent a particular virus.

Each turn a player can move, give cards to another player, treat a city, discover a cure or build a research center. They can do four of these actions each turn. The map is divided into four colors, the Blue virus covers Canada, the Northern US and Europe. The Yellow virus covers the Southern US, South America and Sub-Saharan Africa. The Black virus covers Northern Africa, the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent. The Orange/Red virus covers Asia and Oceania.

There are five possible roles in the base game:

  • The Operations Expert can build a Research Center, once per turn, for free.
  • The Medic can remove all cubes of one color from a city when treating a disease. Also, when a virus has been cured, all cubes of that color are removed from the city wherever the Medic is.
  • The Dispatcher can move another player at the cost of his/her own actions.
  • The Scientist only needs four samples to cure a disease
  • The Researcher can give any card to another player in the same city (normally this is restricted to the card of the city that the players are in).

The diseases spread by the infection mechanic. At the end of each player’s turn, a number of cards equal to the infection counter from the infection deck are drawn and an appropriately colored cube is added to those locations. If any location has three cubes of the color already, a cube is instead added to each of the connection cities.

The last major mechanic to discuss is the epidemic card. When drawn, the bottom card of the infection deck is revealed and discarded. That city receives three of the appropriately colored cubes. The infection deck discard is then shuffled and put on the top of the infection deck and the infection counter is increased one step. After that, the infection phase continues as normal.

You might not be able to tell by the description, but this game is really hard. In the beginning, we made it harder by having to eradicate (cure and remove all traces of the diseases from the board) all the diseases. This proved impossible even at lower difficulty levels. Despite all our attempts, the all-time winning percentage for our group is still incredibly low. Maybe one out of every three or four games. It’s hard but it’s a lot of fun and the first cooperative game outside of Zombicide I picked up. Paired with Zombicide, Pandemic really fueled the beginning of our board game nights.

If you like difficult but cooperative games, pick the second edition of this game up. In a few weeks, I’ll discuss the first expansion, On The Brink.