Quick Hits from the Vault is back and, once again, the BGQ Team has gathered to give our thoughts on a classic or hot game. This week we take on one of the cooperative juggernauts of tabletop gaming in Pandemic. Now a decade old, Pandemic has long been a staple for players looking for a tough, cooperative game. But does it hold up in today’s market where gamers have not shortage of cooperative titles? Let’s find out.
Pandemic is a cooperative game where the players’ goal is to control the spread and find cures for four different diseases. On their turn, players can move to different cities, treat infections, trade cards, and a bevy of other actions, before the infection deck causes new cities to become diseased. If epidemics occur, a city becomes fully infected, and the chance of outbreaks to other cities becomes heightened. The players lose if they lose control of the diseases through massive outbreaks or widespread infection of a single type of disease, but can emerge victorious if they can cure all 4 diseases.
After experiencing both Pandemic Legacy games, I thought I might not enjoy going back to the vanilla Pandemic. The Legacy seasons added so many interesting wrinkles that it could make the original seem bland. I was wrong. Recently, I was looking for a game to bring to play with my non-gamer friends and decided to bring Pandemic. After our victory, they all wanted to reset the game and play again. I’d forgotten how much I love this game and how it is still a joy to play. So many difficult moments throughout that make every decision have weight and you can see the immediate significance of your actions. While the core gameplay is the same, there are many roles that force you to play differently to get the most out of their powers. The game can throw difficult curveballs, but that is the nature of co-op games. If it was easy, why play it? The game can suffer from Alpha gamers, but those people are just bad gamers in general and should be cast into the fire. The game produces great moments during close victory or defeat and is something very few games can generate.
Pandemic was one of the first cooperative games I ever played and will always be a game that I have in some form or another. The gameplay is easy to learn and can provide for a lot of tense moments. However, for me, I feel like the original Pandemic has long since been eclipsed by both the Legacy versions and some of its thematic offshoots. I have long since traded away my copy of the original version of Pandemic, instead I have kept Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu was my current flavor of choice. I find the gameplay in that one to be much more entertaining than “vanilla Pandemic”…heck, almost all the thematic ones are.
Pandemic is an evergreen title that will deservedly be played for generations to come. Sure, seasoned gamers may prefer the story of the Legacy versions or the complications you find in the offshoot Pandemic-ish games. But keep in mind those only exist because of the wonderful skeleton that Pandemic provides. The fact so many hardcore gamers aren’t just willing, but excited to play 20+ games of Pandemic Legacy in a few weeks speaks volumes about the systems at play here. And Tyler hits the nail right on the head—it’s the fantastic last few turns where you squeak out a victory or fail miserably that give the game it’s longevity. After all, the only thing that is at stake is the fate of the entire planet.
Pandemic will always have a special place in my heart – it was literally the first game where I read the rulebook online to be prepared for when we showed up to the game store to play. It is one of my go-to gateway games to bring people into the hobby and show what co-ops are all about. Sure, there may be some balance issues with different player counts and with different roles (with the scientist/medic being an absolute buzzsaw at 2p). Yes, there is definitely a problem with both alpha-gamering (as with many co-ops). Sure, you may have a setup where you lose on turn 2. This doesn’t take away from the great immersive experience this game gives you, with a win or loss contingent on the flip of a single card. My OG edition is a permanent part of my collection, no matter what fancy variant is released.
I used to love Pandemic. In fact, it was #5 on my top 10 Cooperative Board game list that I wrote back in 2015. Unfortunately for Pandemic, cooperative game design has improved dramatically and led to more dynamic games in the last three years. Since I love cooperative games, I have played and purchased many of these. Compared to games such as Spirit Island, Aeon’s End, or Eldritch Horror, I find Pandemic too simple and with limited replay value. I sold it last year and have not played it since.
I’ve never really been a fan of base game Pandemic. While I recognize it’s gotten somewhat better with expansions, grandfathered cooperative board games, and the legacy version has sort of spawned its own genre, it’s just not my cup of tea. I’m not a big fan of cooperative games to begin with. I particularly don’t love how much is randomly seeded in the game. You can have a terrific start or an awful one back to back (ditto epidemics). A few of the roles have better powers than others. Pity the poor ops expert who is literally waiting around all game for their one big moment. Additionally, while I like the idea of fully cooperative play, I think it’s far too easy for regular Pandemic to be taken over by one or two alpha players, spoiling it entirely for the group at large. (Legacy doesn’t seem to suffer from the same, likely because you choose that group more carefully.) Unfortunately Pandemic is just not for me.
Pandemic was one of the first hobby board games I ever purchased. Alex’s copy was a snow day favorite for us, so I eventually decided it was worth having my own copy. I drove up to Board Game King in Bayonne, NJ (RIP) made my first F(not-so)LGS purchase… then drove back down to Alex and Steph’s house to christen it. I never realized the addiction this would spawn and the additional real estate I would need to satisfy it. Like many cooperative games, Pandemic shares the same vulnerability to alpha-gaming, but there are ways around that from limiting table-talk to scheduling “conference calls” every few turns. Since this was among one of my true gateway games into the hobby, I still fall back on this one any time I bring someone new to the table (making alpha-gaming something I need to be wary of). While it may not hit the table on game nights as much as it used to, it does make an appearance on most snow days with me and my fiancée.
While the concept of fighting a global virus is exciting, noble, and perfect for a cooperative game, the single most frustrating thing about Pandemic is the way it can’t avoid the reputation of being arbitrarily punishing with a single bad shuffle of cards. The manner in which epidemics resolve in the game and can spread to other cities can make certain games result in a foregone conclusion of defeat. For that reason, after many play sessions, Pandemic is something I’m just not interested in.
I’m sure, like most, Pandemic was one of my first gateway games for co-op play. What always stood out to me with was adding the discarded cards back to the top of infection deck. It was a great and original mechanic that added a lot of tension to this game. But the original Pandemic is long gone from my collection and replaced with both of the Legacy versions and Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu. These games more align with my gaming tastes. While there are some other recent offshoots that I would gladly play, like Pandemic: Rising Tide or Fall of Rome, I do not own them because I’m pretty satisfied with Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu. Its theme and use of the Pandemic core mechanics again fit perfectly into my collection. While I enjoyed the original Pandemic, I want more than a gateway experience in my games now.