Pandemic (board game)

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Pandemic game.jpg
The box cover of Pandemic, 1st edition
Designer(s) Matt Leacock
Illustrator(s) Joshua Cappel (graphics and illustration), Régis Moulun (cover painting), Chris Quilliams (2013 edition)
Publisher(s) Z-Man Games (U.S.)
Κάισσα (Greece)
Hobby Japan (Japan)
Filosofia (France)
Players 2–4 (5 with On the Brink expansion)(1-5 with the "In the Lab" expansion)
Setup time 10 min
Playing time 45 min
Random chance Moderate
Skill(s) required tactics, cooperation, logic, logistics

Pandemic is a cooperative board game designed by Matt Leacock and published by Z-Man Games in 2007.[1] Pandemic is based on the premise that four diseases have broken out in the world, each threatening to wipe out a region. The game accommodates 2 to 4 players, each playing one of five possible specialists: dispatcher, medic, scientist, researcher, or operations expert. The game is unlike most board games in that the gameplay is cooperative, rather than competitive. Through the combined effort of all the players, the goal is to discover all four cures before any of several game-losing conditions are reached.

Three expansions, Pandemic: On the Brink, Pandemic: In the Lab, and Pandemic: State of Emergency, co-designed by Matt Leacock and Tom Lehmann, each add several new roles and special events, as well as rule adjustments to allow a fifth player or to play in teams. In addition, several rule expansions are included, referred to as "challenge kits".[2]

Pandemic is considered one of the most successful cooperative games that has reached mainstream market sales, condensing the type of deep strategy offered by earlier cooperative games, like Arkham Horror, into a game that can be played in a limited time by a wider range of players.[3]

Pandemic Legacy: Season 1, a spinoff version of Pandemic, which adds an ongoing storyline to the game, is currently rated by the website Board Game Geek as the greatest board game ever made.[4][5]


A game in progress

The goal of Pandemic is for the players, in their randomly selected roles, to work cooperatively to stop the spread of four diseases and cure them before a pandemic occurs.[6] Pandemic setup consists of a game board representing a network connecting 48 cities on the map of the earth, two decks of cards (Player cards and Infection cards), four colors of cubes (each representing a different disease), six Research Stations, and a pawn for each player. The Player cards include cards with each city name (the same as those on the board); Special Event cards, which can be played at specific times to take beneficial actions; and Epidemic cards. Infection cards consist of one card for each city on the board and a color of the disease that will start there. At the start of the game, Infection cards are randomly drawn to populate the board with infections, from 1 to 3 cubes for a number of cities. Players start at Atlanta, the home of the Centers for Disease Control, and are given a random role and a number of Player cards. On each turn, a player can take 4 actions, consisting of any combination of the following:

  • movement, as per the following four options:
  • between interconnected cities (car and ferry travel)
  • to a city that the player holds that Player card of, discarding the Player card (direct flight)
  • to any city if the player is currently in one of the cities they hold the card of, discarding the Player card (charter flight)
  • from a city with a research lab to any city with a research lab, without discarding a city card (shuttle flight)
  • sharing information with another player, by being in the same city as that player and either giving or receiving the Player card representing that city
  • treating one unit of infection from a city that the player is presently in, removing a cube from that city
  • constructing a research lab in a city that the player holds the city card for (discarding that card afterwards)
  • finding the cure by being in a city with a research lab and holding five Player cards of the same color. Finding a cure does not stop further infection of that disease until all cubes of that color are removed from the board; from then on, drawing an Infection card of a color that is eradicated will result in no change to the board's state

On conclusion of the turn, the player draws two Player cards, reducing their hand down to seven cards by discarding Player cards and/or immediately playing Special Event cards.[6] If either draw is an Epidemic card, the player draws a card from the bottom of the Infection deck and places three cubes on that city, puts that card into the Infection discard pile, reshuffles the discard pile, and places it back on top of the Infection deck. After the two Player cards are drawn (epidemic or otherwise), a number of Infection cards are revealed, and one cube of the indicated color is placed on each city drawn. Should a city already have three cubes and a new cube is to be added, an Outbreak occurs, and each interconnected city gains one cube of that colour. This can create a chain reaction across many cities if several already have three disease cubes on them.

The game is over if any of the following occur:

  • more than seven Outbreaks occur (a loss for the players)
  • there are no more cubes of the specific disease color when they are needed during Infection or Epidemic (a loss for the players)
  • there are no more Player cards to be drawn (a loss for the players)
  • the players discover the cure for all four diseases (a victory for the players)

To aid in winning the game, players are given roles that allow them to alter the above rules. Five roles were introduced with the core game, but additional roles were added through the game's expansion. For example, the Medic is able to treat all cubes in a city with one action or, once a cure for a disease is found, can remove cubes of that color without spending an action, while the Scientist needs only four cards of the same color to discover the cure. The players are also helped by the Special Event cards, which allow for similar one-time actions, such as direct removal of a few infection tokens or immediate construction of a research lab.

Pandemic requires the players to coordinate their efforts to win the game, specifically in gathering and sharing the necessary cards to discover cures while moving in coordination around the board and preventing Outbreaks in an efficient manner.


On the Brink[edit]

In 2009 the first official expansion was released, featuring several new roles, rules variants for a fifth player, new Special Event cards, and new challenges for the players.

There are eight Role Cards in this expansion, including a revised Operation Expert card and a Bio-Terrorist card, which pits one player against the rest of the team.

The challenges include a fifth disease, Mutation, which must be cured or not present at the game board when the players score for victory. Another challenge is the Virulent Strain, which makes one disease particularly deadly, replacing standard Epidemic cards with new ones. Each such card represents a special nasty effect that this particular epidemic has on the game play.

In the Lab[edit]

This is second expansion, released in the summer of 2013,[7] with a new game board that allows players to research disease cures in a laboratory. The goal of this activity is the same as in the base game—to find cures for diseases—but this time with an added research aspect. Players can also use new characters and new special events included with the expansion. In addition, it added a one-player mode[8] and a team play mode,[9] in which teams of two compete to be the most effective team.[10] In the Lab requires both Pandemic and On the Brink to play,[11] and also requires replacement decks if using the first editions of Pandemic and On the Brink.

State of Emergency[edit]

A third expansion, released in March 2015, adds new roles and events and three new challenges: The Hinterlands, Emergency Events, and Superbug.[12] The expansion is compatible with the two previous expansions, but neither is required. However, the purple disease cubes included with State of Emergency make the set included in On the Brink redundant.[13]


Z-man Games has released free-to-download scenarios, with changes to the base game. Various scenarios are set to be released.[14] As of March 2017, scenarios Isolation [15] and Government Shutdown[16] had been published.[17] They are currently not available.


A second edition of Pandemic was released in 2013, with new artwork and two new characters: the Contingency Planner and the Quarantine Specialist.[7] Some prints of the second edition had an error with a missing line between Lagos and São Paulo[18] and edge-to-edge printing on cards.[19]

A second edition of the On the Brink expansion was released in 2013.[7]

Replacement decks[edit]

The Pandemic base replacement deck updates the first edition of Pandemic to its second edition.[20]

Compatibility pack #2 updates the first edition of the On the Brink expansion to its second edition.

The In the Lab expansion (released after the second editions of Pandemic and On the Brink) requires the second edition(s), or the first edition(s) along with its compatibility pack(s).[21]


Five spinoffs or alternate versions of Pandemic have been released by Z-Man Games, all of which are stand-alone games and are not compatible with the original or with each other.

Pandemic: The Cure[edit]

Pandemic: The Cure is a dice-based game that uses a similar rule set to the original board game but strips down the number of cities and leaves the outcome of turns up to chance via dice rolls.[22] An expansion to the game, Pandemic: The Cure - Experimental Meds, was released in November 2016, adding a fifth disease and a new hot zone mechanism.

Pandemic: Contagion[edit]

Pandemic: Contagion puts players in the role of the diseases and unlike the base game is non-cooperative. The object of the game is to eradicate the human race by spreading infections.[23]

Pandemic Legacy[edit]

Released in October 2015[24] and designed by Leacock and Rob Daviau, Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 is a version of the base game released by Z-Man Games,[25] similar to Risk Legacy, in which the game added an ongoing storyline to the basic game, meaning the game board and rules change permanently after each game.[26]

Each game represents one month of time in a campaign which simulates the passage of one year. If the players win the first game, they move on to the next month, and if they lose, they try again, but move on to the next month regardless of what happens in the second game.[27] New rules and components are included in packages that remain sealed until certain events take place, such as completing the game for a given month, or losing a certain number of games in a row.[5]

Pandemic Legacy: Season 2, set in a devastated earth 71 years after Season 1, is scheduled for release in the second half of 2017.[28]

Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu[edit]

Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu, designed by Matt Leacock and Chuck Yager, was released at GenCon 2016.[29][30]

Pandemic Iberia[edit]

Released in the fall of 2016 and designed by Matt Leacock and Jesus Torres Castro, Pandemic Iberia is set on the Iberian peninsula in 1848. It introduced developing railways and purifying water, and players cure four specific historical diseases: malaria, typhus, yellow fever, and cholera.[31]

Pandemic Rising Tide[edit]

Scheduled to be released the last quarter of 2017, Pandemic Rising Tide is set in historical Netherlands where players cooperate to prevent flooding of the country by the rising waters.

Acclaim for Pandemic Legacy[edit]

Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 has been described as a leap forward in modern board game design,[32] and the best board game ever created,[5][26] quickly becoming the highest rated board game of all time on the influential Board Game Geek website.[4][5]

The game won a record four golden geek awards in 2015, including best board game of the year, best strategy game, most innovative game, and best thematic game.[33]


  • GAMES Magazine – Best new family game 2009[34]
  • Golden Geek Award – Best expansion 2009 (for Pandemic: On the Brink), best board game of the year, best strategy game, most innovative game, and best thematic game in 2015 (for Pandemic Legacy: Season 1)


Pandemic has also been the subject of empirical published research studies as an example of a non-computer-based activity that involves distributed Computational thinking.[35]


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  2. ^ "Pandemic:OTB". 
  3. ^ Chabris, Christopher (April 10, 2015). "The Rise of Cooperative Games". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved April 10, 2015. 
  4. ^ a b Hune-Brown, Nicholas (August 25, 2016). "This Man Will Change the Way You Play Board Games". Slate. Retrieved September 29, 2016. 
  5. ^ a b c d Anderson, Nate (March 12, 2016). "Pandemic Legacy is the best board game ever—but is it "fun?"". ars technica. Retrieved October 1, 2016. 
  6. ^ a b (20140113) Pandemic rulebook
  7. ^ a b c "5 years of Pandemic: the virus is growing stronger!". Z-Man Games. 2013-01-14. Archived from the original on September 14, 2013. Retrieved 2013-09-25. 
  8. ^ "In The Lab – Solo Game". Z-Man Games. 2013-07-31. Retrieved 2013-09-25. 
  9. ^ "In The Lab – Team Game". Z-Man Games. 2013-07-25. Retrieved 2013-09-25. 
  10. ^
  11. ^ "Pandemic In The Lab". Z-Man Games. Retrieved 2013-09-25. 
  12. ^ "Pandemic State Of Emergency Universe". Z-Man Games. Retrieved 14 March 2017. 
  13. ^
  14. ^ Z-man games (2013-06-27) First of various Pandemic scenarios released
  15. ^ Z-man games Pandemic scenario 1: Isolation
  16. ^ Z-man games Pandemic scenario 2: Government Shutdown
  17. ^ Z-man games Pandemic product page
  18. ^ Why is everyone talking about a misprinted Pademic board game? BoardGameGeek
  19. ^ Card issue in new edition (color/type visible from side) BoardGameGeek
  20. ^ Z-man games (2013-06-23) Pandemic base replacement deck: availability
  21. ^ Z-man games (2013-01-14) Pandemic - Compatibility packs
  22. ^ "Pandemic The Cure". Z-Man Games. Retrieved 14 March 2017. 
  23. ^ "Pandemic Contagion". Z-Man Games. Retrieved 14 March 2017. 
  24. ^
  25. ^ "Pandemic Legacy". Z-Man Games. Retrieved 14 March 2017. 
  26. ^ a b Duffy, Owen (January 16, 2016). "Pandemic Legacy review: Emotional highs and agonising lows". The Guardian. Retrieved September 29, 2016. 
  27. ^ Anderson, Nate (July 16, 2016). "The 2016 “Board Game of the Year” nominees, reviewed". ars technica. Retrieved October 9, 2016. 
  28. ^ Mendelsohn, Tom (June 19, 2017). "How Pandemic gave board games an ingenious plot twist". wired. Retrieved June 19, 2017. 
  29. ^ "Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu". Matt Leacock Games. Retrieved 2016-07-28. 
  30. ^ ""Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu" Spreads Madness This Summer | Geek and Sundry". 2016-02-04. Retrieved 2016-07-28. 
  31. ^ Hall, Charlie (May 3, 2016). "Tabletop classic Pandemic returns with a collector's edition set in nineteenth century Spain". Polygon. Retrieved October 26, 2016. 
  32. ^ Jolin, Dan (September 25, 2016). "The rise and rise of tabletop gaming". The Guardian. Retrieved September 28, 2016. 
  33. ^ Hall, Charlie (March 22, 2016). "The best board games of 2015, Board Game Geek's Golden Geek awards". Polygon. Retrieved October 2, 2016. 
  34. ^ "GAMES Game of the Year". Retrieved 11 Jan 2010. 
  35. ^ Berland, Matthew & Lee, Victor R (2011), "Collaborative strategic board games as a site for distributed computational thinking", International Journal of Game-Based Learning, 1 (2): 65–81, doi:10.4018/ijgbl.2011040105 

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