Ian's Movie Reviews
Short Reviews of Movies, Board Games, and Other Stuff

Pandemic: Infectiously Intense

Some board games are great at creating a unique gaming experience which feels different from all other games. Pandemic is one such game. Pandemic is different than many games for two reasons: its a cooperative game where all players work together, and it is incredibly intense. You feel like you are on pins and needles the entire time, never knowing when the next medical disaster will strike, always anticipating the next roadblock on your race to victory.
The theme of pandemic fits the tone and feel of this game wonderfully. You are a team of virology resear4chers trying to cure four deadly diseases which have broken out all over the world. You must find the cures while racing against the spread of the virus. The ever-present tension feels very real since you never know which city may show up with the virus next , nor do you know when the next outbreak will occur. Fighting against deadly, flesh-eating viruses is not for the fainthearted, and neither is this game.
Pandemic really does feel like a race against time throughout the duration of the game which is why its such an intense experience. And you always feel like the water is above your head, never seeming to be able to stop the rapid spread of the disease. Another aspect which ads to this intensity is the way the game can turn on you in a heartbeat through the chain reaction of outbreaks. I’ve had so many games which come right down to the bitter end, where we either lose the game in a heartbeat or manage to pull of success in the nick of time. Not many board games are able to invoke such a sense of urgency and tension as Pandemic.


Pandemic plays with up to four players who work together as a medical team to stop the deadly viruses. All of you will either win the game or lose the game together, which ramps up the excitement and the tension since everyone is in it together. The goal is to find a cure for all four of the differently coloured viruses in the game before the world is overrun. You find a cure when one person collects five cards of that particular colour.
Everyone can carry out four actions on their turns. These actions can be used for moving around the board, treating diseases to try to stem the virulent tide, curing the disease (with the right amount of cards), building a research station, or trading cards between players.
Each player is also assigned a role, such as scientists, medic, dispatcher, etc., which will make one of these areas easier for them. These different roles allow the players to assign people different objective throughout the game. For example, the scientist can find a cure with four cards instead of five so the other players do their best to get the scientist the cards he needs. This is very inducive of teamwork as all of the players are constantly discussing the best moves and the best areas of the world they need to be in.
The most heart-stopping elements in the game, however, come from the spreading infection after every turn, the possibility of outbreaks (of which you are only allowed seven before you lose the game) and those dreaded epidemic cards. Infection cards are drawn from a deck which show the cities that will be infected that turn. But if an epidemic card shows up in the game, then all of those cities are reshuffled and put back on top of the pile. This intensifies the danger since already infected cities can now easily become infected even further and are at high risk of an outbreak and a spread to adjacent cities. The team’s ability to survive these epidemics will determine their success or failure in the game This is why even drawing simple cards makes players cringe just at the thought of seeing on of these epidemics show up.


Let’s start with the board, since its the component which stands out the most. The world map here is fantastic. The dark colours and matte-style of the board really adds to the dire feeling of near-hopelessness which the players face. It fits the tone perfectly. Likewise for the infection cards, while the player cards, their only chance for success, are in brighter colours.
The player pawns are determined by the roles that each player will take on. They are comprised of colours not usually seen in board games; orange, white, brown, pink and green. They are pretty basic but do their job nicely enough. The viruses are represented by small wooden cubes in yellow, red, blue and black. The cubes may seem bland at first but they represent their nameless threat well.
Overall, the board, cards and cubes add to just the right atmosphere. The world is in dark times, under attack by microscopic assailants, and it is a tense time for all. The components of pandemic to a brilliant job of aesthetically portraying this mood and atmosphere or impending doom.


Pandemic is a cooperative game which provides and intense shared experience. It is a fast-paced, high energy game which can really amp up the level of teamwork between you and your friends. However, it does run the risk of one person in the group turning into the “boss” and always directing people on what to do. So watch out for the group dynamic and try to limit the possibility of one person taking control.
There are a number of ways to lose the game which you always have to watch out for; reaching eight total outbreaks, running out of disease cubes in any one colour, or running out of time (i.e. Running out of player cards). As each of these three conditions get closer and closer, the tension rises higher and higher. This game has a great way to coming right down to the bitter end. We’ve had many games where we think we’ve won but one turn of events can suddenly trigger a triple outbreak and we lose in a heartbeat. These previous experiences also add to the pins-and-needles intensity of future games since you are well aware of the possibility of having victory slip from your grasp in seconds.
Likewise, many games we’ve played have been won on the very last turn, followed by a collective sigh and a leaning back into chairs in unison. There is the possibility of an anti-climactic ending however as the result can be calculated a few turns ahead of time, which results in the rest of the game just being a carrying out of the motions. However, this only happens every few games or so. The rest of the time Pandemic can come down to a nail-biting finish.
Pandemic is a great game for providing a unique gaming experience. It is not a simple sit-back and relax type game. It is an edge-of-your-seat game full of fervour and excitement. The first time my friends and I played it roused such a sense of determination we refused to leave the table until we had won. It is a brilliant co-op game with a great theme and provides exceptional tone and atmosphere.

2 Responses to “Pandemic: Infectiously Intense”

  1. S and I got Forbidden Island (“Pandemic lite”) for Christmas, and we’re looking forward to trying it. We’re hoping it will be easier to teach to newbies.

    We didn’t get to play it today, though: we played Hive, Incan Gold, and Trans Europa instead.

    I like all three, but Incan Gold in particular stands out — I’m impressed by how much gameplay is packed into such a small number of rules. It’s so simple and so elegant, I wish I had designed it.

  2. […] As a former microbiologist, I appreciated this movie a lot.  It provided a very realistic idea of how something like this might go down.  And hey, its pretty much the film version of one of my favourite board games: Pandemic! […]

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