Pandemic board game review: “A psychological shot of espresso”

Essential info

Price: $49.99 (opens in new tab) / £39.99 (opens in new tab)
Players: 2 – 4
Ages: 8+
Difficulty: Hard
Setup: 5 mins
Lasts: 60 mins

If you’ve not tried the Pandemic board game before, you need to remedy that immediately. Although it’s taken on a new edge for obvious reasons, it remains one of the best board games ever made. 

A co-op race against time for two to four players, Pandemic tasks you with nothing less than saving the world; a clutch of diseases threaten to overwhelm civilization as we know it, so the odds are against you from the start. But that’s why the Pandemic board game excels. Nail-biting tension and last-minute Hail Marys make winning all the more satisfying, and it’s never less than memorable as a result. Strategic, satisfying, and strangely moreish, this is the perfect storm of ideas that shows off everything tabletop gaming is capable of.

United we stand

Your job is simple – hunt down the cure before it’s too late. Although doing so is a matter of gathering the right cards, winning isn’t as easy as that would suggest. Coughs and sneezes answer to no-one, and infections can tumble into neighbouring cities like dominoes if too many gather in one place. Worse still, yet more pop up at the end of every turn. 

What follows is a sense of urgency that’s like a psychological shot of espresso. You’ll need to move fast or be overrun.

Pandemic board game

(Image credit: Z-Man Games, Target)

This is where most of the game’s drama can be found. Should you focus on the cure or work to keep that infection rate down? There’s no definitive answer, leaving you with plenty of space to carve out your own strategies

That’s why Pandemic is often listed as a frontrunner when it comes to board games for adults; it leaves room to take charge and feel like a hero. More importantly, teamwork is essential. Everyone’s got a skill that may just turn the tide if used correctly (the Medic can remove all infections from a location at once, for instance), so good communication and planning spells the difference between winning and losing.

You succeed or fail together, and it won’t be down to luck

This makes Pandemic one of the best cooperative board games around – rather than twiddling your thumbs and waiting for your next go, everyone stays involved by discussing tactics. You succeed or fail together, and it won’t be down to luck.

Built to last

Pandemic’s got plenty of longevity, too. Besides being playable in a group or as a board game for 2 players, infection locations are randomised at the beginning of each game. That means you never really know what you’ll be facing.

In addition, it can be made harder or easier thanks to a clutch of ‘Epidemic’ cards that are hidden within the main deck. Upon being drawn, these increase the number of infections in play. The more you choose to have, the more difficult things will become.

Pandemic board game

(Image credit: Z-Man Games)

Surprisingly, it never feels hopeless even if you ratchet up the challenge. Clever placement, your powers, and special event cards can really turn the tide even when things seem dire. This creates a special kind of bond between players (resulting in a superb board game for families), and it’s utterly engrossing.

However, the downside is that it can be a little unfair. Depending on how the cards are shuffled, you could wind up with outbreaks and cascading infections across the globe within a few turns. It’s actually possible to lose within a few turns if you get an unlucky setup, and that’s obviously frustrating.

Getting the better of Pandemic is… kinda cathartic right now

Fortunately, it doesn’t happen all that often. And even if it does, you’ll almost certainly want to try again. It’s the sort of game that keeps reeling you in. Plus, getting the better of Pandemic is… kinda cathartic right now. Throw in numerous expansions and a more accessible version by way of Pandemic: Hot Zone – North America (not to mention the fantasy-themed Pandemic World of Warcraft spinoff) and you’ve got a franchise that’ll keep you busy for quite some time.

Overall – should you buy the Pandemic board game?

The Pandemic board game deserves to be on everyone’s shelf. It’s a compelling chase that’ll tease out the best in its players, and its emphasis on teamwork brings its players closer in the process.

The Verdict


5 out of 5

Pandemic board game

The Pandemic board game is a stone-cold classic that deserves a place on everyone’s shelf.

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