Several virulent diseases are ravaging the globe. Standing between humanity and rapid extinction is a small group of brave CDC employees dedicated to saving the world.
In Pandemic, players take on one of several roles, such as Medic, Dispatcher, or Researcher, in their quest to cure 4 diseases before time runs out and humanity is wiped out.
Visually, the game is very pretty, but complex; on the board are the figurines for each of the players, colored cubes representing the diseases (and how many they’ve infected), counters recording how many epidemics have rocked the world, and cards that help the players travel the world, cure diseases, and determine where the next infection arises.
Game play follows a fairly standard turn-based approach: a player starts their turn by drawing from an event deck to determine where the newest infections are. Then, they use location cards to move around the globe, treating diseases to prevent outbreaks. Finally, they draw more location cards to restock their hand. If a player can get three location cards of a single color and can get to a lab, they can create a cure – a cure that won’t immediately eradicate the disease, but will make it easier to treat.
Make no mistake: this game is difficult. Play can change from “we’ve got this!” to “wait, how did we lose?!” in a heartbeat. I recommend expecting to lose your first game, while you learn the game and start figuring out the tactics. That said, once you know how the game is played, this is an excellent way to test your teamwork and tactical skills; there is one way to win (working together to cure all 4 diseases), and multiple ways to lose (running out of time, being overwhelmed by diseases, etc.) Game play can be made more difficult by increasing the starting number of infections.
Given the complexity of the game, it’s unlikely that younger players will be able to handle the game without a lot of coaching. Most younger players will be able to easily grasp the basic concepts – using location cards to move around the map, or using turns to treat diseases requires only limited reading and counting skills – but the high-end strategies and teamwork needed to beat the game before cards run out is most likely above the capabilities of most pre-teens. For those who can, however, the game presents excellent opportunities to work on team dynamic and leadership skills. Likewise, the decision-making requirements – and the potentially catastrophic (in the game) consequences – is a great way for kids or adults to learn the best methods for weighing their available options, and determining what to do when given a number of bad options.
Despite – or perhaps because of – the difficulty of this game, it’s a definite winner. The game pieces provide a good abstraction to the concept of epidemics, and the challenge will keep you coming back until you can beat it, and get the rush of exhilaration from the perfect mix of planning, teamwork, and luck.