Review: Pandemic: The Board Game

By Dave Neumann 07 Oct 2013 0
Is that our crack Emergency team or the auditions for next season's The Bachelor? Is that our crack Emergency team, or are they holding auditions for next season's The Bachelor?


2008 was an amazing year for board games. I’m not just talking about some great games being released that year. It’s way bigger than that. 2008 saw three games release that literally changed the hobby by either creating new mechanisms completely, or re-imagining little-used mechanisms and bringing them into the spotlight. Many new releases today can trace their ludological pedigree to these three titles.

Dominion created the new mechanic of deckbuilding, which is now legally required to be used in at least 30% of all games released. Battlestar Galactica took the “hidden role” mechanic found in games like Bang! and Shadows Over Camelot and turned it up to eleven. The third title to hit that year was a little game called Pandemic. Its claim to fame? Players would work together to win, playing against the game itself rather than each other. It had been done before by Knizia and, more recently, by Fantasy Flight Games with Arkham Horror. Pandemic, however, brought the cooperative mechanism to the mainstream. How? It had the simplicity of a Euro, but the heart and soul of the most theme-heavy American games. Here was a summer blockbuster in a box, and yet so simple to grasp that the entire family could play.

Pandemic was gaming gold, and I have yet to introduce it to anyone, gamer or not, who doesn’t immediately want to set it up and play another game. Hell, this is one of the only games my wife will play with me. We even played it one year at a bed & breakfast...on our anniversary. As good as the board game is, however, the iPad app is better in just about every way imaginable.



Pandemic casts you in the role of some sexy-ass scientists tasked with saving the world from four diseases that have broken out and are spreading faster than Captain Trips. So, unless you’re working for the Umbrella Corporation, the thought of curing disease and saving humanity is a pretty alluring one. Saving humanity is as easy as finding cures for the four diseases ravaging earth but, like any cooperative game worth its salt, Pandemic gives you many, many more ways to lose. Run out of cards to draw? You lose. Run out of cubes to play? You lose. Have too many outbreaks? You lose.

Other than the fact that we're airlifting in a female quarantine specialist, it's pretty much the same plot as Rambo II. Other than the fact that we're airlifting in a female quarantine specialist, it's pretty much the same plot as Rambo II.


In other words, you’re going to lose a lot. If you stop losing a lot, you can bump up the difficulty. At the heroic difficulty, even long-time veterans will have a hard time pulling out victories on a regular basis. On the other hand, games never feel so far out of control that you can’t think back to the one or two spots where the game turned on you. If we had just drawn a different card, or if we had just removed some disease cubes from that city...there’s always something specific you can point to, and realizing that you COULD have won makes you want to play it again. And again.

Gameplay consists of managing your hand of cards, trying to get enough of each color to cure a disease. Lurking within the draw deck, however, are the dreaded Epidemic cards which, basically, cause all sorts of hell to break loose. Every turn, the diseases spread via cards draws, and you play until the diseases are cured or until you’re the last surviving humans on earth.

Players can choose from 7 different roles to play. Roles like the Researcher, Dispatcher, Scientist and Medic each allow you to break the rules in an effort to give your team the advantage. While some roles seem about as useful as Hawkeye when compared to The Hulk, all the roles have their place and usefulness. Part of the metagame is figuring out how to use these roles and mixing and matching them to create a perfect team. The app allows you to pick each players' role, or assign them randomly.

Pssst....Africa. I think you should go to Africa. Pssst....Africa. I think you should go to Africa.


The app hews very close to the board game, down to showing the cards shuffling when Epidemics hit, and representing players as pawns on the game map and diseases as wooden cubes like you would in the actual physical version. Of course, it does all this without having to go through the setup and take down routine. It also adds some cinematic flair that makes the game feel even more like an action movie. The interface is clean, with everything you need to know readily visible or available via off-screen trays similar to Eclipse.

One thing the game doesn’t have is online multiplayer. To be honest, I prefer to play the game solo, running 3 or 4 characters myself, rather than playing with others. Aside from that, Pandemic is the kind of game where, when it’s not your turn, you’re discussing what everyone else needs to do. I can’t imagine playing this asynchronously, or even in real-time unless there was either audio or video chat included inside the game. Pandemic is the rare board game that works best without online multiplayer, and I don’t miss it for a second.

Much like the digital port of Agricola (whose English cardboard version was released in, you guessed it, 2008) which arrived earlier this year, Pandemic is another high-profile board game that has successfully made the jump to the digital realm. Is it possible that 2013 will be as influential to the digital realm as 2008 was for cardboard? If we keep getting ports like this, the answer is most definitely a yes.

Review: Pandemic: The Board Game

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