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Tabletop Game / Pandemic

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Pandemic is a cooperative Board Game first released in 2008, where the players take on the roles of a small band of researchers and medics trying to stem the outbreaks of four deadly diseases across the globe. The second edition of the game came out in 2013, whose rules are available here.

Three expansions have been released, adding new gameplay mechanics:

  • On the Brink added several new gameplay modes, including the Bio-Terrorist mode, where one of the players works against the others, spreading a special fifth disease. An iOS version of the game was released that only included the roles from On the Brink expansion, but not the fifth disease or special epidemic cards.
  • In the Lab added a second board to the game, an alternative to the base game's method of curing diseases.
  • State of Emergency was released in March 2015, adding animal-borne methods of disease transmission (letting the diseases spread without following the connection on the board) and a superbug that cannot be treated or cured and must be eradicated with a vaccine.

In addition to the base game and expansions, several variants of the game exist:


  • Pandemic: The Cure (2014) is a die-rolling variation on the main game.
    • Pandemic: The Cure - Experimental Meds (2015) is an expansion to The Cure, adding a fifth disease, eight new roles, "Hot Zones", and eleven new events.
  • Pandemic: Contagion (2014) is a Perspective Flip, in which players competed among each other to destroy the world with their disease.
  • Pandemic Legacy. The first "season" was released in October 2015, which is a legacy-style game that makes permanent changes to the board. The second season was released in October 2017.
  • Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu (2016) is a Lovecraftian horror-based sequel where the 'pandemic' is the spreading influence of the Great Old Ones.
  • Pandemic: Survival Series is a sub-series of games with historical themes inspired by the location of that year's Pandemic Survival World Championships.
    • Pandemic: Iberia (2016) takes place on the Iberian peninsula in 1848.
    • Pandemic: Rising Tide (2017) takes place in The Netherlands during the Industrial Revolution, as players attempt to construct the nation's flood defences.
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    • Pandemic: Fall of Rome (2018) tasks players with protecting 5th century Rome from barbarian tribes.
  • Pandemic: Rapid Response (2019) is a board game centred around disaster relief that is played with a real-time limit.
  • Pandemic: Hot Zone (2020) is a small-scale version of the original game intended for short demonstration games in-stores and at conventions. The first version is based on the continent of North America, with other continents coming later.

Like Ticket to Ride, a 10th Anniversary Edition for Pandemic was released with high quality components for $100 in early 2019.

Not to be confused with the video game of the same name, where the player goal is to DESTROY the world with a disease epidemic; confusing matters further is that an iOS version of the board game was released for iPad.note  Both games have a reputation for being fairly challenging. Interesting, eh?

The game contains examples of following tropes:

  • After the End: Pandemic Legacy Season 2 is set after a plague destroyed much of the world. The plague was released when you destroyed the CDC in the first Pandemic Legacy, so Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!.
  • Aliens in Cardiff: Reign of Cthulhu has adventurers entering Arkham via bus, with them able to visit the other iconic locations including Innsmouth, Kingsport, and Dunwich, but still a case of a remote location (as par for Lovecraftian stories, to be fair).
  • America Saves the Day:
    • All players start the game in Atlanta — they all work for the US Centers for Disease Control. The solo game has the CDC as an ally. The Legacy game starts in Atlanta, but lets them start elsewhere if they so choose (or in Atlanta if they have no choice).
    • Averted in Iberia, as the players are local Spanish and Portuguese researchers and doctors.
  • Anti-Hoarding: The base game limits the number of city cards a player can hold in their hand to sevennote , forcing you to play or discard excess cards unless expended or given to another player before the end of your turn. This puts the players into a crisis mindset that the game is predicated upon.
  • Arbitrary Headcount Limit: There are 21 possible roles, but you cannot play with more than five playersnote .
  • Asymmetric Multiplayer: In the Bio-Terrorist challenge from On The Brink.
  • Awesome, but Impractical: When you find a cure for a disease and remove its last cube from the board, the disease is considered Eradicated, and Infection cards of this color are henceforth summarily ignored. In practice, however, you'll be too busy dealing with potential outbreaks to chase down that last lousy cubenote .
  • Badass Bureaucrat: If your role isn't a scientist or medical professional, they're this.
  • Boring, but Practical: The Generalist. In the base game, she gets an extra action, which makes a big difference in a timed game. In The Cure, the generalist gets two extra dice for two potential actions, as well as being able to igonore the first biohazard die rolled on a turn, which also helps with getting extra time.
  • Canon Immigrant: The characters in Reign of Cthulhu are from Arkham Horror.
  • Cardboard Prison: In the Bio-Terrorist scenario, the Bio-Terrorist can be captured, but need only take an action and discard a card to escape.
  • City on the Water: Legacy Season 2 has you operating from a number of floating "Havens".
  • Color-Coded for Your Convenience: All cities in the game are grouped into four regions, each corresponding to a particular disease associated with the same color (blue, yellow, black or red). Also, the player tokens come in colors matching their specialist role card.
  • Coop Multiplayer: If you don't coordinate your plans, you'll losenote .
  • Cue the Sun: In the first edition, eradicating a disease was marked by flipping the cure token over, revealing a sunrise.
  • Damager, Healer, Tank: If finding the cures is considered "dealing damage" (the objective to win the game) and the infection cubes are seen as damage to your team, the roles line up fairly nicely. The Medic role is definitely the healer (healing damage), the Quarantine Specialist is the tank (preventing damage), and the Scientist is the damage-dealing class (dealing the most damage to the objective). The remaining classes are various forms of support: the researcher buffs the damage and mobility of other characters by providing cards, the Operations Expert and the Dispatcher facilitate tactical movement, and the Contingency Planner can use special abilities extra times and (ideally) has the final trump card if all else fails.
  • Darker and Edgier: Legacy can become this compared to the base game, with rioting, blocking off entire cities, and the Nuclear Option occurring as the game goes on. Legacy Season 2 takes this even further, with the world set After the End.
  • Difficulty Levels: Depending on the experience of the group, you can decide to play with between four and six Epidemic cards mixed into the player card deck. The expansions also introduce optional additional challenge modes.
  • Disaster Dominoes: Having a city reach 4 or more cubes of a single color will trigger an outbreak, spreading additional cubes onto adjacent cities. If this puts them over 4 or more cubes, this causes a chain reaction outbreak that also spreads cubes onto adjacent cities.
  • The Dreaded:
    • The Epidemic player card. On the Brink adds special Epidemic cards that not only have the regular function of intensifying the diseases, but also has permanent effects for one disease.
    • The Supercrisis cards, if used. One even emulates an Epidemic.
  • Easier Than Easy: New players are often encouraged to start with four Epidemic cards on their first go, making the game fairly easy to win.
  • Everyone Has a Special Move: Each player has their own unique skill (or an upgraded version of an existing skill) that is theirs alone, and coordinating these talents is quintessential to victory.
    • The Archivist (On the Brink only) can hold 8 cards instead of 7, and can also recover the discarded City Card of the city he resides in.
    • The Colonel (State of Emergency and Legacy), when using the Quarantine gameplay mechanic, can reset a "1" Quarantine marker to its "2" side. He can also play a city card to place a Quarantine in any city. In Legacy he is the first character able to combat the Faded, by shooting them. He can also quarantine all adjacent cities while in a Military Base.
    • The Containment Specialist (On the Brink only) automatically removes one disease cube from any city he enters if it contains at least two of that color.
    • The Contingency Planner (2nd edition only) can take back one already-played special event card and play it again at any time, permanently removing it from the game afterwards.
    • The Dispatcher can move other players' tokens on his turn as if they were his own, as well as instantly move them to a city already occupied by another player.
    • The Epidemiologist (On the Brink only) can take city cards from other players regardless of location. Unlike the Researcher, however, the Epidemiologist can only use her power once per turn.
    • The Field Director (In the Lab only) can pick up cubes in cities adjacent to him. He can also move players in cities adjacent to him one step closer to him or one step away from him.
    • The Field Operative (On the Brink only) can collect disease cubes and cure a disease with three cards and three cubes.
    • The First Responder (State of Emergency only) can move to any research station as an action, and can remove a cube from an Epidemic city before the Infection phase begins.
    • The Gene Splicer (State of Emergency only) can alternatively Cure a Disease if the Research Station is in a disease city of that color, just using 2 City cards of that color and one each of the other colors.
    • The Generalist (On the Brink and Legacy) gets five actions instead of four. Legacy also allows the Generalist use of 4 Upgrades as opposed to the standard 2.
    • The Immunologist (Legacy only) can treat the superbug Faded disease, removing the Faded from cities and vaccinating them, granting a No-Sell eradication ability). While all players can do this, he can do it multiple times per action and once a round can do it with an adjacent city.
    • The Local Liaison (In the Lab only) can trade any city of a color with another player if they're both in a city of that color.
    • The Medic removes all infection cubes from a city as a single action or even as a free action if the corresponding cure has been found. When playing with the Superbug Challenge from State of Emergency, the Medic gains a new ability to vaccinate quickly.
    • The Operations Expert can erect Research Centers in any city without spending player cards, as well as fly from a city with a Research Center to any other city by discarding any card.
    • The Pharmacist (State of Emergency only) can Treat a disease in any city by showing the corresponding City card for an action. He can also Treat any cube of a cured disease remotely as an action.
    • The Pilot (In the Lab only) can move three spaces instead of one space per turn, and can even pick up other players and take them with him. However, he may not build Research Stations or use other movement modes.
    • The Quarantine Specialist (2nd edition only) prevents any infection cubes from being added to the city she is in, as well as to any city that connects to it.
    • The Researcher can give any player card she wants to another player in the same city (everyone else can only share cards of the same city as they are in).
    • The Scientist only needs four player cards of the same color to find the corresponding cure (instead of the regular five).
    • The Soldier (Legacy only) can grab special equipment cards that have been discarded as an action, granting him a wide variety of extra powers. He can also No-Sell getting injured by the Faded.
    • The Troubleshooter (On the Brink only) can peek at which cities will be infected on her turn. She can also fly to other cities without discarding that city's card.
    • The Veterinarian (State of Emergency only) can only be used with The Hinterlands expansion. He may move from a Research Station to The Hinterlands as an action, and can treat up to 2 cubes in The Hinterlands.
    • The Virologist (In the Lab only) can replace one missing city card with two cards of a different color to discover a cure, as well as discard city cards to cure diseases remotely.
  • Evil Overlooker: The cover artwork for On the Brink casts the Bio-Terrorist in this role.
  • Expansion Pack: On the Brink (2009), In the Lab (2013) and State of Emergency (2015). The Cure got Experimental Meds (2015).
  • Extrinsic Go-First Rule: In some versions, the player who was most recently sick begins the game.
    • Reign of Cthulhu has the player who most recently read a scary story go first.
  • The Faceless: The Bio-Terrorist from the On the Brink expansion is a hazmat-suited figure, with no details of their sex or ethnicity visible.
  • Idiosyncratic Cover Art: The second edition boxes of On the Brink, Pandemic, and In the Lab join together to create a larger image. The red and blue editions of Pandemic Legacy also do the same.
  • The Immune: Of sorts. One special card allows a player to take one of the city infection cards and remove it from the game, meaning that city can no longer get sick (except via outbreak from a neighboring city, though that may be interpreted as the sick migrating to the immune city).
  • Intercontinuity Crossover: Reign of Cthulhu features characters from Fantasy Flight's Arkham Horror universe.
  • Instant-Win Condition: Discovering all four cures is the necessary and sufficient condition to win the game. Which means that the entire planet may stand knee-deep in pathogens, yet everyone is instantly saved once you have that last cure.
    • Averted in the Superbug challenge in State of Emergency, in which not only must the Superbug be cured, but it must be vaccinated off the board.
  • Irony: The COVID-19 pandemic actually increased interest in the board game. It may be partly because it gives people a way to fight back against a rampaging disease instead of being passive. For added irony, Matt Leacock was inspired to make the game in reaction to the previous coronavirus pandemic, SARS.
  • Kill 'Em All: This being a co-op game, but even in the Bioterrorist and Team variants, everybody can lose.
  • Lighter and Softer: Pandemic: Iberia.
  • Luck Manipulation Mechanic: The Forecast special player card allows you to draw six cards from the top of the Infection deck and shuffle them into any order you want, potentially securing yourself two or three relatively safe turns.
  • The Many Deaths of You: There's only onenote  way to win, but a few ways to lose.
    • There's no City cards left to drawnote .
    • There are eight Outbreaks.
    • There are not enough Disease cubes of a color left to place on the boardnote .
    • Reign of Cthulhu has additional ways to lose:
      • The "outbreaks" become the various Elders waking up - when Cthulhu himself awakens, game over, you lose.
      • You need to place a fourth Shoggoth on the boardnote .
      • Every player goes insane at the same time.
  • Medical Game: This is about healing the entire world of four simultaneous deadly plagues.
  • Nintendo Hard:
    • Heroic has the players starting with six Epidemic cards seeded in the deck. Legendary has all seven (you must have the On the Brink expansion).
    • The "Supercrisis" cards from State of Emergency requires the players to put cards equivalent to the number of players in the City deck, each bringing nasty effects such as limiting hand size one less for the rest of the game.
    • A four player game tends to be harder - the board has more changes between one player's turns, and also increases the delay at which a player near an outbreak can respond to a given event, or to even finish transferring cards required to complete the cure. The game is easier with fewer players.
    • In Reign of Cthulhu, most characters can only kill cultists only at the same rate as they appear - compared to Pandemic where diseases can be treated more quickly when cured.
    • The Old Ones cards in Reign of Cthulhu can cause this, as each one flipped will have mechanical effects on the game such as making travel more difficult, restricting artifact usage, causing sanity loss, or removing cultist tokens from the available pool.
  • Non-Indicative Difficulty: Heroic is usually harder than Standard which is usually harder than Easy. But the greater number of Epidemic cards in Heroic means that there is less chance for the deck of infectable cities to grow, before a new Epidemic shuffles them back on top again. So Heroic can sometimes be easier than Standard would have been (depending on the random board start, and the Epidemic spacing) as it can result in the same few cities getting infection cubes over and over, allowing players to focus on a few select areas and not having to spend very many actions moving around.
  • No-Sell: The Quarantine Specialist prevents any infection from being added to the city she ends her turn in and the ones directly connected to it. No-selling a potential outbreak is particularly satisfying.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: One special epidemic card namechecks the trope, forcing players to spend an action to remove a virulent disease cube from a city before they can leave.
  • One-Word Title: Because curing the pandemic is the point of the game.
  • Patient Zero:
    • One of the nastier Supercrisis cards. Drawing it causes one city to receive a cube in every Infection phase.
    • Legacy has you venturing into Faded territory to rescue Patient Zero for their biology to find the cure to the CODA supervirus.
  • The Plague:
    • Not one, but four, all breaking out at the same time. While the game doesn't specify which diseases they are, except colors and some ominous symbols, virtually every table comes up with their own names for them. Black is often considered bubonic plague, blue is bird flu, yellow is malaria, while red is SARS. Other Fanon diseases include the Zombie Apocalypse. On the Brink introduces the fifth mutant virus. A new mutant virus in State of Emergency cannot be treated at all until a cure is found first.
    • "The Hinterlands" gameplay mode in State of Emergency has the diseases being spread by infected animals.
    • Pandemic: Iberia explicitly states black is malaria, red is typhus, blue is cholera, and yellow is yellow fever.
    • Legacy reveals that one of the four viruses is the CODA supervirus, which eventually causes a Zombie Apocalypse in the form of the 'Faded'.
  • Player Headquarters:
    • The Research Centers (especially the starting one in Atlanta), which are required to find the cures but also allow quick travel across the globe without discarding valuable cards.
    • In the Team Game, each team will have their own unique HQ that no other team can use.
  • Pyrrhic Victory: In the Team game. In order for any team to have a chance to win, the diseases must be cured. However, the teams that didn't score the most points end up suffering this trope. A team doing particularly bad can bitterly start a Taking You with Me ("If we can't win, you won't either.").
  • Race Against the Clock: You lose if you don't find all cures before running out of player cards—and since every player must take two cards at the end of their turn, you only have so many turns before the endgame.
  • Race Lift: The artwork changed between the first and second edition, leading to the "Diversifying a Cast" variant of this trope. The Scientist goes from being black to being white, while the Medic and Operations Expert go from white to black.
  • Resources Management Gameplay: You need five (four if you're lucky enough to have a Scientist on board) cards of each color to find all cures—but you also need said cards to move to outbreak areas and build research centers. Not only that but the player card deck cannot be repopulated by any means, and you lose if you cannot draw any more cards from it and still haven't discovered the last cure. The Archivist is the only role that can regularly "save" old City Cards. One special card can have a City Card returned as a one-time effect.
  • Sanity Slippage: Players can go insane in Reign of Cthulhu, which forces players to behave in certain ways depending on their role. Insanity can be cured by sealing a Gate or via a special card.
  • Science Foils: The Scientist's role is to spend player cards to find cures faster, while the Researcher's is to hoard cards and pass them out to other players as necessary. The two of them make a perfect team despite vastly different functions.
  • Science Hero: Your job is to fight diseases, and many of the roles are in the scientific and medical fields.
  • Scenery Porn: The artwork for Iberia is exquisite and detailed.
  • Shout-Out: The city on the board that represents Germany is Essen, instead of a more recognizable city like Berlin—probably because it is the site of Spiel, the largest board game convention in the world.
  • Sickly Green Glow:
    • Zig-Zagged by the game art: while no disease, surprisingly, is color-coded green (instead, blue and other mostly heroic colors are used), the back of each infection card is painted black and green—as are the faces of the Epidemic player cards.
    • Played straight with the cover of State of Emergency, but averted in game pieces in that the Vaccine Factory and vaccine pills are a bright green.
    • Played straight with the Faded, which are represented by greenish figures, and the plague cubes in Legacy Season 2, which are also green.
  • Sliding Scale of Cooperation vs. Competition: The basic game is definitely an example of "Enforced Cooperation", though the expansions move it to the "Team vs. Lone Wolf" corner or even "Fixed Teams", with the introduction of the Bio-Terrorist role and team-based competition mechanics.
  • Solo-Character Run: In the Lab introduced a solo player mode with one character teamed with the CDC as a "companion". Card distribution is changed as well to fit the game mode. The game also advises not using certain roles such as the The Pilot or The Researcher, as they'd have a significant disadvantage without other players. invoked
  • Something Completely Different: Reign of Cthulhu completely drops the original theme, and instead applies the same basic game mechanics to the Cthulhu Mythos.
  • Spreading Disaster Map Graphic: The board can look like this when multiple cascading outbreaks occur.
  • Support Party Member: The Dispatcher's purpose is to help synergize the group's efforts by using his action points to move other players around. The Dispatcher and the Medic make a particularly efficient pair, especially with Cured diseases.
  • Synthetic Plague: The purple disease is this under the Bio-Terrorist.
  • Timed Mission: The player deck has 48 cards, plus epidemics and events. Near the end of the turn, the active player is required to draw two player cards, and the game ends with a loss if they are unable to do so.
  • Variable Player Goals: In the Bio-Terrorist challenge from On the Brink, one of the players is actually the eponymous terrorist whose goal it is to infect cities with the fifth disease, colored purple—and wins by having the purple disease present on the board when the other players lose. If the heroes lose and there aren't any purple cubes, everyone loses.
  • V-Formation Team Shot: Both edition's box covers depict the playable characters like this. In the first edition art, the team is led by the Scientist, flanked by the Medic and the Researcher, as well as the Operations Expert and the Dispatcher in the back row. In the second edition (see above), the Scientist is still The Leader with the Medic at her right hand, but the Researcher is gone and the Dispatcher is replaced by the Contingency Planner. While the second edition's box art no longer depicts all the possible roles, it does correctly reflect the game's Arbitrary Headcount Limit.


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