Pandemic Board Game: Teamwork Saves the World
The board game Pandemic is one of a rare breed - a fully cooperative board game, where all of the players must work together to defeat the mechanics of the game itself. It’s also fast-paced (30-60 minutes per game) and has simple enough mechanics that players aged 10 and up can enjoy it.
The goal of the Pandemic board game is for the players to take on the role of a CDC team and cure four diseases that are threatening to spread around the world. Time is short (guaranteed by a limited draw deck) and the diseases spread rapidly. Each player takes on a random role, which gives them a unique ability. There are also always more roles than there are players, so this guarantees a somewhat randomized team each game. It’s up to the players to figure out how to best combine the team’s unique abilities in their fight against a global pandemic.
This team strategy is one of Pandemic’s strongest points as a board game. In order to win, the players must work together. To get ahead of the rapidly spreading diseases, turns have to be planned out in advance. Each player has only four actions per turn, and everything takes an action to do - this means that it’s important to never waste an action.
Curing a disease requires a certain number of cards of one color, where hand sizes are limited and most roles have severe limitations on trading cards. If the team wants to create a cure, it’s imperative for everyone to plan out how and when to trade cards while still eliminating enough disease to keep the plague at bay.
The Plague Spreads
Aside from its demanding teamwork, what makes the Pandemic board game fascinating is the way the disease works. Cities on the board are connected to each other; it one city develops a critical mass of the disease, it “explodes” and spreads the disease to all of the cities connected to it. This can lead to heavily infected cities chaining together and setting each other off - and each time a city “explodes” with disease, the game is one step closer to being lost.
As a model for the spread of disease, this is perhaps as close to the real world as a board game can get. This also means that one turn, the team might feel confident about their progress against the game, and then three turns later the world has been overtaken by disease and the game is lost. This rapid turnaround adds a lot of tension to the game.
When a cure is found for a disease, it becomes easier to remove disease counters from the board - and it’s even possible to eliminate a disease from the board entirely, which means that after that any cards drawn for that disease are simply ignored. This is another fun parallel to epidemiology in the real world, with the possibility of completely eliminating diseases - as has been done with smallpox.
Tune the Difficulty
Another thing to love about the Pandemic board game is that it has multiple levels of difficulty, which can be chosen by the players at the start of the game. The difficulty is controlled by the epidemic cards. Easy difficulty uses four of the cards. The hardest uses all six. The epidemic cards cause a major spread of disease that the team must then fight through. The most often these cards come up, the harder it is to win.
Being able to tune the difficulty of the game to the proficiency of the team is important; no one likes losing one hundred percent of the time, but likewise a fight that’s a sure win isn’t all that interesting to repeat. Setting the difficulty to a level that’s challenging but not impossible is an important feature that makes Pandemic a game that can be played over and over, with teams of various makeups and skill levels.
It takes a well-thought-out game to make players eager to come back for more after a humiliating loss to an inanimate object. Pandemic has what it takes, and I highly recommend it.