Pandemic – Board Game Exercises in Futility

I use games as an excuse to socialize with people.  It doesn’t matter all that much to me what game we play, I just want to be able to spend time with like-minded individuals and enjoy ourselves.  So,  while the blog is primarily 40k focused, that does mean that I play a variety of card and board games.  So, when Brandon offered to bring over a new one called “Pandemic” that I’d heard of, I figured I’d give it a shot.

The game itself is a cooperative exercise wherein a team of researchers are running around the world in an attempt to contain and eradicate various diseases.  In essence, it’s kind of like Outbreak! the board game.

The game is won when cures are found for each of the four diseases, but it can be lost in multiple ways:

  • Running out of city cards (ie. running out of time)
  • Having an excessive number of outbreaks
  • Letting any one disease expand enough to outgrow the available components

It has some really basic rules with really intuitive mechanics.  It’s enjoyable to play, and even at the most basic difficulty level provides a challenge to everyone.

The thing is, the game is impossible to win.


Ok, so that’s a bit of an overstatement.  Brandon had brought it over a few times, and in each time we played it, we got really close to winning, but ultimately lost in every game we tried.  He said that was pretty much par for the course, but that he had beaten it before, so it had to be possible.  Likewise, lots of people online seem to think it’s quite easy to win.

Well, when I threw my back out last time, I wound up buying the game on IOS to see if there was something fundamental mistake we were making in the way we played the game.  Maybe we had misinterpreted a rule?  Well, after the first thirty games played–and lost–on the easiest of settings, it seemed pretty clear to me that my original assessment of the game being impossible was pretty accurate.

In one particular game (on the easy setting, mind you), I managed to be completely defeated before each of my four characters had a turn.    Sure, it was an unfortunate set of random events, but that shouldn’t be possible for a game on EZ mode.

Anywho, after perseverance, I did manage to finally beat the game.  In fact, I found a particular set of characters (Scientist, Dispatcher, Constrution Worker, & Medic) and a strategy that seemed to work for me.  And now, I’d say I win a little over half of my games–though I haven’t manage to win it on any other difficulty setting yet (nor do I particularly care to try).

I do wind up playing it from time to time still, and it really isn’t a bad waste of time, but I don’t think it’s a great game.  I also went out and bought Pandemic: Contagion (a game where it’s not cooperative and you play as the viruses, so it isn’t anywhere near impossible to win).

So, this post isn’t so much a review, per se, but a rambling warning for those of you who are thinking about buying the game, and a virtual support group for those who think the game is impossible.  My advice though, would be to stay away.




12 comments on “Pandemic – Board Game Exercises in Futility

  1. Aw, that’s a shame – I love this game!

    I’ve only played it a few times, and only won once (although I think that was on the ‘normal’ setting). It is very tough, and we too found it surprising that people online seem able to beat it constantly. That said, we’re normally very close even if we lose, and we can normally identify a mistake we made.

    If you know you can’t win then it does seem a bit weird to play a game, but as you said, if you’re mainly doing this to hang out with friends, then I think this is a really good one. It keeps you constantly engaged and planning with all of the players.

    Perhaps the key is to not play it too often. If you’re playing and losing every week, then I can see it getting annoying. We tend to just bring it out a Christmas, or on the rare occasions the whole family is together. Losing to it once or twice a year doesn’t seem so bad!

    • Tell me about it! Everyone online was so dismissive of how easy the game was, and it seems nearly impossible on the easiest setting. I’m glad to hear that we’re not the only ones that have difficulty with it.

      On Mon, Jul 27, 2015 at 8:51 AM, Warhammer 39,9999 wrote:


  2. I’ve played pandemic a few times and it is a lot of fun, the co-op aspect is a nice change from the usual adversarial games I play.
    It is a difficult game to win and certain characters make it much easier to do so.

    • Yeah, that’s what finally clicked for me. Having a specific set of characters really helped flip the odds. I find it easiest with the Researcher, Dispatcher, Medic & the Construction specialist.

      On Mon, Jul 27, 2015 at 9:17 AM, Warhammer 39,9999 wrote:


  3. We got Pandemic, am I right in thinking you might have commented back then that you thought it was impossible. I wanted something that was co-operative so we could play together as a family instead of against each other as a family. Funnily enough it ends up in more arguments than Catan because someone will have a plan but have to shout to get their voice heard and the younger ones dail to be patient.

    Anyways, we cheat because if I recall you can only swap city cards for the city you’re in but that just makes no sense to us because invariably you’d need that card to get to the very same city so our house rules are you can swap any card you want for an action point. Even on easy we’ve only beat it once, although we’ve only had a few games and haven’t played for a while. We should really have another go.

    • My friends and I have beat it before, though it took us a while to figure out that you just need to cure the diseases rather than eradicate them all (we have come close to doing this once).
      We have certainly lost it quite a few times. Sometimes you just don’t have the right mix of characters or the cards are against you. I have only ever played it with 4 people, I think with fewer players you would really struggle to win.

    • Yeah, I can see how this would lead to more frustration than Catan. It’s very difficult to win, so having multiple strategies going at once is doomed to failure. We still haven’t beaten it at all when we were playing co-op; I’ve only beaten it playing by myself.

      Plus, it’s frustrating knowing that you’re historically going to lose just about every game you play. IMO, that’s just bad game design.

      On Tue, Jul 28, 2015 at 2:26 PM, Warhammer 39,9999 wrote:


    • Yeah, I actually own the board game version. It’s much better IMO because somebody wins it every time you play. I’ve only played it a couple of times, and it seemed almost a little too formulaic (ie, one strategy seems to win every time, which is: card advantage). Then again, I haven’t played all that many times, so I could be wrong on that.

      On Thu, Jul 30, 2015 at 4:58 AM, Warhammer 39,9999 wrote:


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