This cooperative game differs from most board games in that players are all working together, rather than playing against each other. The players, as a team, must coordinate their actions to stop a global pandemic.
96 wooden disease cubes, 5 player pawns, 6 wooden research stations, 6 little markers, 115 Cards (48 infection cards, 59 player cards, 4 role cards, and 4 quick reference cards), and one board depicting a map of the world with connections between cities.
Players are each dealt a role, and place the appropriate pawn in Atlanta to start. Nine infection cards are revealed to populate the board with disease markers, and then the cards are placed in the discard pile. On your turn, you get four actions. An action can be moving to another city, removing a disease cube from your current city, building a research station in your current city, or curing one of the disease types.
After your four actions, you will draw two more cards, which will likely help you travel to different cities and cure diseases but may be one of the dangerous EPIDEMIC cards that increase the infection rate. Once you have drawn your cards, you must reveal the top few cards of the infection deck, and add disease cubes to the cities revealed.
If a fourth disease cube would ever be added to a city, that city suffers an outbreak, spreading cubes to all adjacent cities.
If eight outbreaks happen, or if too many cubes of one color are added to the board, the players lose the game. If the players manage to cure all four diseases before the draw pile runs out, the players win the game.
This is only a summary of the gameplay. For a more in-depth look, read How to Play Pandemic.
The Good and Bad
As a cooperative game, Pandemic provides a refreshing change of pace from most board games. Rather than competing against each other, players all have to work together to try to defeat the game itself. This makes Pandemic a fantastic game for players who don't like overly competitive games or players who normally might not enjoy a board game because other players always beat them. In Pandemic, everyone can share in the victory.
Another side effect of the game being cooperative is that a lot more conversation and interaction between players goes on that in many other games. A game of Pandemic will have all the players discussing strategy and options together on almost every turn. As opposed to a game like Chess, where players can play silently for hours, Pandemic encourages players to talk with each other about the game while it is in progress.
The adjustible difficulty of the game is definitely a nice feature. While a group of new players should not expect to win their first game, eventually you will find that your group will consistently be able to win the recommended beginner setting. The game provides additional epidemic cards that can be added to keep the game challenging for many plays into the future.
Cooperative games tend to have one big problem that competitive games don't, and Pandemic is no exception. The problem is that the game is essentially one giant puzzle.
Although players should work together evenly to solve this puzzle, there is the potential for one aggressive and outspoken player to essentially play the game single-handedly and give orders to everyone else. If you let the most experienced player in your group make all the decisions, it won't be very fun for the other players.
Also, since you are playing against the game instead of against other players, games of Pandemic may start to feel similar over time.
Pandemic provides a pretty interesting cooperative experience at a level that doesn't take too long to learn or play. As long as you make sure that your players are working as a team, rather than one puppet-master and three minions, it should be fun for many plays.