The Average Gamer

Friday Night Unplugged #13: Pandemic

This week on Friday Night Unplugged we’re entering a world of disease, death and tense card draws as we step into the world of Pandemic.


What is it?

Pandemic is a co-operative board game for 2-4 players. The players take on the role of a special team tasked with stemming and ultimately curing diseases spreading across a world map. Each player is randomly dealt a specific role and each role has unique abilities. The Medic for instance can heal cities and administer cures faster than other roles and the Dispatcher can move himself and other players around the map faster than others.

  • Players take it in turns, each taking four actions before moving on to the next.
  • Actions include moving a disease block from a city, moving from one city to another or performing each role’s special actions.
  • At the end of each player’s turn they draw two cards from a player stack. There are four coloured city cards that can be drawn and a player needs five of one colour to creature a cure for that disease.
  • After the draw phase the infection phase begins. The current player draws a set number of cards from the top of an infection deck. A disease block is placed on each city draw. Any city with three cubes on cannot grow any further, instead of a block needs to be placed an outbreak occurs.
  • Outbreaks are the game’s main lose-condition. When an outbreak happens the outbreak rating goes up by one and if it hits nine you lose the game. Outbreaks also spread one disease block to each neighbouring city, triggering further outbreaks.
A basic game of Pandemic setup and ready to go.

A basic game of Pandemic setup and ready to go.

There are a few other ways to lose a game of Pandemic. Firstly there are a number of Epidemic cards mixed in with the players draw deck depending on the difficulty. Whenever one of these is drawn, the bottom card of the infection deck is revealed and the named city gets three blocks placed on it. After any already-drawn infection cards are shuffled and placed back on top of the infection deck, the infection rate is increased, meaning more infection cards are drawn each turn in future. When the last block of any coloured disease is placed, the game ends in a loss and if the players’ draw deck runs out the game also ends at a loss. There is only one real way to win a game of Pandemic; cure all four diseases by collecting the right coloured cards and trading them in for a cure.

Let’s Play

This week Myself and Fi are joined by Ellise. Ellise enjoys board games but doesn’t actively play them as much as we do although she has played Pandemic with us before.

Setup: Fi drew the Medic which she always enjoys playing. I drew the Scientist which means I need only four coloured cards instead of five to create a cure. Ellise drew the Dispatcher. Her job is to make sure everyone is where they need to be. We’re all ready to go and the starting board is relatively clear though there is a potential chain reaction between Sao Paulo and Lagos.

A trio of cubes are sign of worse to come.

A trio of cubes are sign of worse to come.

Round 1: The first round didn’t go well. Me and Fi decided to head south from our starting point to hopefully tackle the Yellow disease before it outbreaks. Ellise made her way into Europe towards the Black disease. Sadly we were being outraced by the infection deck, a few bad draws were setting up a death-trap in Africa, Khartoum was now almost ready to outbreak and a cure was nowhere in reach.

The great yellow plague of 2013 spreads it's way across to america.

The great yellow plague of 2013 spreads its way across to america.

Round 2: Taking advantage of the the horde of yellow cards I was holding and with a few easy card trades I managed to gather all the yellows I needed to buy a cure. Fi spent her actions trading cards with me. Ellise proceeded towards Asia thanks to another round of bad draws. While we had been gathering the information we needed to tackle the Yellow disease, the Black and Red diseases were getting a little out of hand.

With the yellow disease under control it's time to tackle the black and red.

With the yellow disease under control it’s time to tackle the black and red.

Round 3: This is where it all went wrong. I started by purchasing the Yellow cure. Great news right? Too little too late. The next card I drew was an epidemic forcing an outbreak in Sao Paulo, which turned into a three-outbreak mega chain. Disease cubes everywhere. Thankfully as the medic, Fi can can remove all disease from a city just by moving through it once a cure has been found. With five outbreaks left until end-game, she zipped through northern Africa and cleaned up the majority of the mess. Ellise, now on the outskirts of Asia, spent her actions removing blocks from cities that were close to an outbreak.

The mottled green of the Epidemic card is not a sight you want to see.

The mottled green of the epidemic card is not a sight you want to see.

Round 4: This was the End of Days. While we had been busy focusing on the yellow diseases, a new threat had emerged from the depths of Eurasia. Nearly every city was close to outbreak or ready to burst. Then it happened. As we struggled to maintain control of the diseases 2 on mine and Ellise’s turns we drew two consecutive epidemic cards. The first set off another three-outbreak reaction spanning the entire Asian border. The second spread through eastern Asia into Japan. We we’re now one outbreak away from losing the game. Fi spent her last turn heroically trying to remove the major outbreaks in China. Her last card draw lost us the game.

The Disease that started it all ends the game rather fittingly.

The Disease that started it all ends the game rather fittingly.

The last card: The first disease we had cured, the yellow disease had come back to haunt us. Away from the hustle and bustle of Eurasia, in the city of Johannesburg the disease had become too much. Ripping through South Africa we had our final outbreak and lost the fight against viral destruction.

The Basics

Pandemic is a co-operative boardgame for 2-4 players and takes up to an hour to play. The Pandemic board is gorgeous. While a few pickier gamers may have issue with placement of some cities, for the most part it’s pretty accurate. The cards are thick and of high quality and the disease blocks are well… blocky.

In comparison to bigger flashier games such as Descent there’s not much to Pandemic in regards to content. Despite this the quality of pieces are great; our board has survived many breakthroughs without rips and the cards haven’t even begun to bend yet.

The rulebook for me is the standout part of the Pandemic contents. It’s extremely well designed. Each step of the setup is laid out well with full picture guides and the rules are broken down nicely, making it easy to pick up for the first time and play out of the box.

Knowledge and management of each role is key to the Pandemic experience.

Knowledge and management of each role is key to the Pandemic experience.

For hardcore Pandemic addicts there is an expansion titled On The Brink, adding support for more players plus new mechanics and roles. There is also a new print of both the expansion and base set launching soon, with additional roles and brand new artwork. I’ll keep you posted with more information here on The Average Gamer.

What We Thought

Lets make one thing clear. Pandemic is one of my favourite board games of all time and one that, as a group, we all love. Yeah, we’ve lost games more times than we have won but we’ve never felt bad losing. It’s a weird concept to get used to but the end result of Pandemic isn’t what matters. What really matters is your team. It’s a game of communication; everyone has to work together, even when it’s not your turn. Medics need to be at the right place at the right time to cure cities, dispatchers need to make sure that everyone is where they need to be. Scientists need less information to cure diseases and the operations experts need to ensure there are research centres being built so the cure can be created at all. It’s a complex and beautiful machine when it gets going.

Drawing the Epidemic heralds panic and a quick change of plans.

Drawing the Epidemic heralds panic and a quick change of plans.

The only issue we have with Pandemic is the fact it’s so reliant on luck. Even the best laid tactical plans go to waste if you pull two epidemics and trigger four chain reaction outbreaks in a single turn. There have been games set up with the hardest difficulty rules which we have flown through and even come out successful. There have been others on the easiest (like the playthough you read today) where we have lost in a few turns. Sometimes the cards just aren’t on your side.

Really that’s what Pandemic tries to put across. Not everything is a success, not every plan works and you can’t always come out victorious. What matters is you worked together, you fought your best and you shared each moment. If you’re anything like our group then you won’t remember most of the times when you won. The nick-of-time successes make great stories to re-tell of course but the ones you remember the most? Those are the tales of glorious defeat.

Pandemic is available at  Travelling Man for £29.99

Next Week

Next week we’re delving into one of BoardGameGeek’s top-rated games – the sprawling space game Eclipse. Join us as we take over the universe via politics or in my case sheer military might. Either way it’s going to be stellar.