I want to talk about one of my favorite board games.

It’s not my favorite because of any one thing I normally use to appraise my games, but because the combination really makes it stand out.


Pandemic from Z-Man Games

Pandemic is about a group of people trying to prevent a global pandemic from wiping out humanity.

Quick Primer

Pandemic is a generally abstract game in which the disease is represented by wooden cubes. At the end of each player’s turn, a deck of location cards is revealed one card at a time to reveal where the infections are spreading. Players take turns moving around the board curing cubes, collecting location cards, and trying to get together enough research to develop a vaccine for each of the four diseases.

The cooperative nature of Pandemic is awesome, making for a real bonding experience unlike some more famous games on the market. The difficulty can scale from easy to ‘legendary,’ allowing all skill levels to enjoy it. Due to the random nature of the game, with both roles and the infections themselves, the game is great for replaying.

In Pandemic, the rate that the infection spreads is determined by an Infection Rate, which starts at two. So at the beginning of the game, you only reveal two new infections per turn. In the player deck there are a number of Epidemic cards (From four to six, or eight with the expansion) that when they are drawn do some fairly significant things. The first is that they draw the bottom card from the infection deck and place three cubes on that city. Then, they shuffle the infection discard pile and place it on top of the deck. And then they increase the infection rate tracker.

This creates a rising tension. As the game goes on and you get closer to your goal, the game starts getting harder. The viruses spread faster, the board slowly gets congested, and the player cards start to run low. I’ve even see players panic and fall apart during a game, making the climax turn into a death spiral of bad choices.

Another mechanic I love is the roles. Each role has a special ability that only they get to use. This allows strategists to appreciate the game a bit more, but also adds to the overall ‘story’ of the game. For example, how a medic, researcher, and scientist deal with the board is quite different from a generalist, dispatcher, and operations expert. To a creative mind, a whole series of stories could be developed out of multiple games of Pandemic.