Welcome to my strategy guide for the board game ‘Pandemic’, designed by Matt Leacock.
Part of the fun of playing Pandemic is figuring the game out together with your friends, learning through play what works and what does not work. If I was to give you a full breakdown of the probabilities and expected values in the game, it would spoil it for you.
The biggest tip that I can give you for playing Pandemic is this: just try to have fun and let everybody else have fun too. If one player knows the game better (or even just thinks he knows the game better) than the others it can spoil it for everyone else if that player just tells them what to play; the other players might as well not be there, and they will resent being bossed around.
While it is undoubtedly nice to beat the game, it can also be exciting and fun to lose too. The best game of Pandemic I have ever played included a sudden outbreak of Coldplay in Bogota that spread to neighbouring cities creating a chain reaction. The outbreak counter suddenly moved up to six and we were down to our last two yellow cubes. All four players immediately converged on the region and desperately fought the disease. We were just starting to get it under control and two of the players even went as far as high-fiving each other, when a freak consecutive infection-deck draw of Atlanta and San Francisco created a mini chain-reaction that caused two outbreaks and finished us off there instead. Millions of people died. It was hilarious.
However, I sense that if the only tip I give you is ‘enjoy losing’, you are not going to want to be my friend. For that reason therefore, I am going to give you a few tips, but try to use them sparingly – casually drop them into conversation at the right moment. And by ‘at the right moment’ I mean if somebody actually asks you your opinion!
- The first priority should be to treat as many of the three most infected cities before the first epidemic card is drawn.
- Try to cure one disease as early as possible.
- Do not try to eradicate one disease at the expense of curing the others. Only eradicate if it is straightforward to do so.
- Be careful not to discard too many cards of the same colour or you might not have enough left to cure the disease. Once a disease has been cured you can discard that colour without worrying.
- Treating cities with three cubes is far more important than treating cities with one or two cubes. If you have to choose between several cities with three cubes you should prioritise as follows:
1. Cities who’s infection card might be coming up soon
2. Cities adjacent to other cities with three cubes (in which case try to reduce both cities to two cubes rather than reduce one to zero).
3. Cities with lots of routes in and out
- Be wary of a city with one cube in it which came from an outbreak. It is possible that the card for that city is at the bottom of the infection deck, and if so, there will be an outbreak when the next epidemic card is drawn. It is therefore sensible to treat these single-cube cities when you have finished dealing with the outbreak.
- Keep an eye on the number of player cards left in the stack. When they gets close to running out you will need to plan your moves very carefully.
- If you and your friends find yourselves consistently losing in the same way then this is an indicator of what you are doing wrong.
Be aware that there is a certain amount of luck in the game. The first time my group beat the ‘heroic’ (yes, that’s what they call it) level, we got very lucky with the cards; one of us drew five red cities in the first three turns, and another one five blue.
You should also know that the game is easier with fewer players, especially if you have the right roles. If there are only two of you then the logistics of swapping cards is easier than if there are three or four of you who all need to move to the same place.
Here are some comments in the roles in the game. I am not going to say which I think are the best roles, because all of them are useful in their own ways. The key is to use the ability, whatever it is, often and efficiently. I will say however, that some combinations of roles work well together, though the effectiveness of these combinations can be greatly affected by the playing order.
As an action, the Researcher may give any City card from her hand to another player in the same city as her, without this card having to match her city. The transfer must be from her hand to the other player’s hand, but it can occur on either player’s turn.
The ability to transfer cards is extremely useful in curing diseases. Researchers should avoid discarding cards or using them for transportation, and should try to give them to other players (especially the Scientist if she is present) instead.
The Contingency Planner may, as an action, take an Event card from anywhere in the Player Discard Pile and place it on his Role card. Only 1 Event card can be on his role card at a time. It does not count against his hand limit. When the Contingency Planner plays the Event card on his role card, remove this Event card from the game (instead of discarding it).
If Contingency planner is in the game, all players should try to use their Event Cards earlier in the game than they otherwise would. That way the Contingency Planner has more options. Rather than just keeping hold of one powerful action card for the whole game, it is often a good idea to use the Contingency Planner’s ability often, because that way you get to use more action cards twice.
Ironically though, the Contingency Planner does not have a contingency plan for how to deal with the event of no decent event cards appearing.
This role is quite weak in a two player game, because there are not as many Event cards. It is a better role in a four player game.
The Medic removes all cubes (i.e. not just 1) of the same colour when doing the Treat Disease action. If a disease has been cured, he automatically removes all cubes of that colour from a city, simply by entering it or being there. This does not take an action.
The Medic is a popular role, and one which is easy to play. The Medic should be sent to deal with the worst-hit areas immediately.
The Quarantine Specialist prevents both outbreaks and the placement of disease cubes in the city she is in and all cities connected to that city. She does not affect cubes placed during setup.
Like the Medic, the Quarantine Specialist should be sent to the worst-hit area of the board immediately to prevent outbreaks.
The Dispatcher may, as an action, either move any pawn (if its owner agrees) to any city containing another pawn, or move another player’s pawn (if its owner agrees) as if it were his own.
Moving around the board uses up a lot of actions, so the ability to move pawns around quickly is very useful.
Dispatcher combines well with Medic and the Quarantine Specialist. Dispatching these roles to an area where diseases need to be fought is extremely effective. For cured diseases, the Dispatcher can move the Medic around and clear out lots of cubes.
Another powerful combination (though not seen as often) is Dispatcher – Researcher – Scientist. The Dispatcher can move the Researcher to the Scientist’s location, where the Researcher can give the Scientist useful cards.
The Operations Expert may, as an action, either build a research station in his current city without discarding (or using) a City card, or once per turn, move from a research station to any city by discarding any City card.
Building research stations at regular positions on the map is useful because it means that players do not need to travel so far in order to cure a disease. Also, shuttling between research stations is an efficient mode of transport, so a number of research stations can function as a transport network. Such a network operates more efficiently if players can shuttle to one research station, treat some diseases, then go out of the area via another research station without having to double back.
Note that in the first edition of the game, Operations Expert did not have the ‘move from a research station to any city by discarding any City card’ ability and was considered to be the weakest role. With this extra ability it is much stronger.
The Scientist needs only 4 (not 5) city cards of the same disease colour to discover a cure for that disease.
The Scientist should be the focus for curing diseases within the team, and other players should be giving her their cards where possible. Scientists should avoid using cards for transportation unless absolutely necessary.