Pandemic - In-Depth Review
This review is for Pandemic, the board game by Matt Leacock and Z-Man Games. The one we're living through gets zero stars, would not recommend.
- High tension, with lots of nail biting moments
- Game works well at any of the supported player counts
- Great over Zoom
- Hard - we lose all the time (I love this about the game)
- Alpha player syndrome
- Excellent theme, bland world
Pandemic is one of my most played games. If I divided the cost of the game by the number of hours played, the result would be in the pennies. I could recommend it for this reason alone, though there are lots of reasons to recommend it!
There are a lot of games in the Pandemic series. If you are new to the series, I suggest you start here. The Legacy series, while among the best board games ever made, have an extremely steep learning curve if you have not already played the base game. (Interested? Check out Season 0 and Season 1.)
Pandemic is a cooperative game with a simple structure. The goal of the game is to cure four diseases. This game is easy to teach to a group that has never played before. Each player is assigned a CDC-style role, like the "Medic" or "Scientist" which gives a special power. For example, the Medic removes disease cubes in cities he enters without using a move action. These roles are randomly assigned, but one common house rule is for each player to choose a role instead of drawing a random card (this makes the game a bit easier if you know the key power combos). Although players work together to win the game, each player takes their own turn. On a turn, a player can take four total actions. Available actions are to move, trade cards with another player, treat diseases (remove disease cubes), or cure diseases. Once each player phase ends, you draw city cards to choose which cities are infected. Each infected city has disease cubes placed on it. Infection is randomized, but epidemics can wreak havoc on your board when a special "epidemic" card is randomly drawn and cause snowballing disease rates. This epidemic feature ensures that the cities who get hit early will keep getting hit throughout the game, and the number of epidemic cards you play with is one way to moderate the difficulty level of teh game.
There are many ways to lose this game, but only one way to win - by curing all four diseases. I lose more games than I win. Sometimes we will be within one turn of winning, and an outbreak in a really out-of-the-way city we meant to get down to and never did (always Johannesburg) costs us the game. Often, if the game is going really well and our group has excellent early gains, we crash and burn. Don't play like us!
Pandemic is fun with two players; this is the number of players I typically play with. Difficulty scales with player level. A four player game is much harder than a two player game, because more cities get infected between turns.
People commonly complain about "alpha player syndrome" with cooperative games. This is when a player (like... my bossy sister Annie) decides they know better than everyone and dictates everyone's moves. There are little mechanics in the game that impede this, but it's still a problem. The best way I've found to get around alpha player syndrome is to move quickly and never take it back. If you play over Zoom, pretend you can't hear (best performed if you start the blender at the exact same time).
The theme and the mechanics work very well together. The world is bland though, and the player roles and diseases don't even have names. I call each disease by its color, while my husband makes up names for the diseases or assigns real-world diseases to each color. The Legacy Seasons add a lot of depth to the world that are undeveloped in this game. The theme is unfortunate for the times. If you are trying to escape from the cold reality of 2020-2021, this may not be the best choice. This does not impede my enjoyment of the game, though, and I've owned it for many years. I even gave it to Annie and the Warehouse Bear as a wedding present!
Remote play score: 4 out of 4
What our remote score means: Works well over Zoom or your remote video conferencing system of choice.
I play this game over Zoom with four players across two households. My spouse and I dial in with another couple, and each household has their own copy of the game. One group draws the cards for the infect cities phase and announces the infected cities. The other maintains the deck for player draws and announces the cards. (You could also just have one house draw the cards with the master deck and the other house replicate the draws). Both sides keep their boards updated. This requires very little housekeeping between turns.