Geekly Essentials: Pandemic

By Brad Brockway on

About Brad Brockway

Board Game Editor

Has a magnificently manicured beard, and knows how to use it.


Geekly Essential means that something is so good that it deserves to be discussed long after it was released. It may be 10 years old, but it is still worth your time.

Losing, it’s one of those things that pretty much everyone hates. Most board game enthusiasts will say that playing the game is what’s fun, and winning is just the icing on the cake. I totally agree with this sentiment, and anyone who has ever played Pandemic can testify that sometimes losing can be just as fun as winning.

Pandemic is a cooperative strategy board game designed by Matt Leacock, who also designed Forbidden Island, and the forthcoming Thunderbirds game. In Pandemic two to four players (up to five with expansions) play as a crack team of scientists, logisticians, and medical personnel working together to cure four deadly diseases before they wipe humanity off the face of the Earth. This might sound easy, but trust me in Pandemic there are many ways to lose and only one way to win.

At the beginning of the game each of the players are given a Role card, each with its own special ability that gives the players a fighting chance to delay and eventually cure each of the diseases. Some roles allow players to move further than otherwise possible. While others, like the medic, make treating diseases easier. Each disease is represented by a color: red, blue, yellow, and black. These colors also represent the manner in which the board, a map of the world that identifies 48 cities, is divided.

Without going into too much detail, the game begins with 9 cities across the globe infected, and the players start at the CDC in Atlanta. Players each take turns which are divided into three parts: take four actions, draw cards from the Player deck, then draw from the infection deck to infect cities. The strategy of Pandemic is in  the players work together to uses their four actions to eliminate the diseases. With only four actions, the choice between treating disease, moving to a new city or using a special ability can be a surprisingly difficult one. If that weren’t enough of a challenge, lurking in the Player deck are dreaded Epidemic cards which force players to infect a new city and to replace the cities that have already been infected on top of the infection pile. Epidemic cards also increase the number of cities that are infected each turn. Needless to say, things can get out of hand pretty fast in Pandemic.

Let’s talk winning and losing. In Pandemic there are three ways to lose and only one way to win.


  • You know those cute little cubes that represent the diseases? Run out of any color, and the game is over, humanity is lost.
  • On the board is a meter that tracks the number of outbreaks that occur in the game. Outbreaks occur when one city has three cubes of one color and needs to be infected with that color again. Instead of simply placing one more cube on the city players place one cube on all of the connected cities.Reach the skull and crossbones at the bottom of the track and the game is over, the players lose.
  • The Player deck goes by fast, and if a player reaches for, but cannot draw two cards at the end of their turn then the game is over.


  • Cure all four diseases. Diseases are cured by discarding five of the same color city cards at a research station. Players can build research stations as an action during there turn, but there are only six total in the game. Good placement can be the difference between winning or losing.

The really great thing about Pandemic is that it really doesn’t matter whether you as a player win or lose. Some of the most fun I have ever had in playing Pandemic was while playing losing games. When set to its hardest difficulty the deck is quite literally stacked against the players, but everyone wins and loses as a team. The cooperative nature of Pandemic is also what won it so many family awards, and its difficulty has earned Matt Leacock a special place in most board game enthusiasts’ list of favorite opponents. More often than not when I’ve played Pandemic, my group has played and replayed the game until we manage to beat it. Each loss is a chance to look back at the game and try to figure out what to do next time.

Another fantastic aspect of this game is that no two games are ever alike, and so no one strategy will work in all games. Different Role cards  mean entirely different methods of play, and changing the level of difficulty ramps up the sense of urgency. If the variety inherent in the base game isn’t enough to keep you hooked there are also three expansions, and two altered rules sets called scenarios which are available for free download from the Z-Man Games website. The game also has a single player version available from the iTunes store that does a good job explaining the rules, but loses the cooperative nature of Pandemic.

Pandemic is my go-to game for introducing non-board gamers to the world of board gaming outside of Parker Brothers and Milton Bradley, and I have probably given more copies of it as a gift than any other game. I highly recommend Pandemic and think it would be a fantastic addition to any gaming library.

Buy Pandemic on Amazon

One comment

  1. I was moments away from picking up a copy of Pandemic at Target yesterday. Thanks for the write up. You made the decision to go back and make the purchase an easy one for me.

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