Pandemic is a cooperative board game for 1 to 4 players. Each player takes on the role of a different CDC team member, working together to stop 4 separate diseases from ravaging the world. Each player on your team will have a different special ability to help defeat the diseases. Since this is a cooperative game, everyone will either win or lose together, and you really have to cooperate in order to beat the game.
Every turn you’ll get 4 actions, then you’ll draw 2 player cards (either city cards, special action cards, or epidemics — more on that later), and then based on the current infection rate, you’ll draw 2 or more infection cards to determine the spread of the diseases.
The spread of the diseases is represented by disease cubes — each city can have 0 to 3 cubes of a given disease in it. If at any time, if there is already 3 disease cubes in a city, and you are forced to add another, an outbreak happens. Instead of placing another disease cube in that city, you add one disease cube to every city connected to that city. If one of those cities also already has 3 disease cubes in it, you’ll end up with a second outbreak… and so on.
Outbreaks are really bad, and if the total number of outbreaks that occur in the game reaches 8, the game is over and everyone loses. Furthermore, if at any time you have to place a disease marker and there are none left of that color (there are 24 of each color in the game), again, the game is over, and everyone loses. If at any time you have to draw 2 player cards, and there aren’t enough cards left, again, the game is over, and everyone loses. The only way to win is to cure all 4 diseases before any of those three things happen.
I’ve left out a few details, and you can read the entire rulebook here, if you want to.
I’ve played the game several times, both solo and with friends. I really love the game. It’s the very first cooperative board game that I ever played. One of the things I love about it is that you can easily tweak the difficulty of the game if you want an easier or harder time of it. I played on easy difficulty once, and after that I stuck with normal. Normal difficulty I believe gives you a reasonable chance of victory, and even the games I lost looked like I just barely lost by one turn. There’s a mechanic in it that is actually very common nowadays in card games, but was new to me (because of my hiatus from gaming) which I found to be very clever — every time there is an epidemic, you reshuffle all of the discarded infection cards and then place them on top of the infection deck. What that does is it really effectively simulates the intensification of the spread of the diseases, so that immediately any city that already has 3 disease markers in it is at risk of creating an outbreak. The game starts out seeming pretty relaxed, but as it goes on, you’ll find yourself not really knowing if you’ll be able to do everything you need to do before time runs out. It really adds to the feeling that you are fighting for incredible stakes.
Of all of the games that I’ve purchased since getting back into gaming, this is the best of them, imho. The pieces are all high-quality, the rules are very easy to learn, the game plays quickly, and I was able to teach it to a few non-gamer adults really easily. The only negative I found is that (and I understand that this can be a problem with a lot of cooperative games) is that you can wind up with one player who knows the game better than everyone else, telling everyone what to do. When I played, I consciously tried to make it a discussion so I wasn’t making all of the decisions, and that worked ok… sort of. One of the other players really didn’t seem to get into it as much. But, otherwise, I considered it a success.