Tabletop games Wargaming

Pandemic - board game

The box cover of Pandemic, 1st edition
Players 2-4 (5 with On the brink expansion)
Age range 10+
Playing time 45 min
Random chance Moderate
Skill(s) required tactics, cooperation, logic, logistics

Pandemic is a cooperative board game designed by Matt Leacock and published by Z-Man Games in 2007. Pandemic is based on the premise that four diseases have broken out in the world, each threatening to wipe out a region. The game accommodates 2 to 4 players, each playing one of five possible specialists: (dispatcher, medic, scientist, researcher or operations expert). The game is unlike most boardgames as the gameplay is cooperative, rather than competitive. Through the combined effort of all the players, the goal is to discover all four cures before any of several game-losing conditions are reached.

Three expansions, Pandemic: On the Brink, Pandemic: In the Lab, and Pandemic: State of Emergency, co-designed by Matt Leacock and Tom Lehmann, each add several new roles and special events, and rules adjustments to allow a fifth player or to play in teams. In addition, several rules expansions are included, referred to as "challenge kits".

Pandemic is considered one of the most successful cooperative games that has reached mainstream market sales, condensing the type of deep strategy that earlier cooperative games, like Arkham Horror, offer into a game that can be played in a limited time by a wider ranges of players.


The goal of Pandemic is for the players, in their randomly selected roles, to work cooperatively to stop the spread of four diseases and cure them before a pandemic occurs. Pandemic setup consists of a game board representing a network between 48 cities on the map of the Earth, two decks of cards (Player cards and Infection cards), four colors of cubes (each representing a different disease), six Research Stations, and a pawn for each player. The Player cards include cards with each city name (same as on the board), Special Event cards that can be played at specific times to take beneficial actions, and Epidemic cards. Infection cards consist of one card for each city on the board and a color of the disease that will start there. At the start of the game, Infection cards are randomly drawn to populate the board with infections, from 1 to 3 cubes for a number of cities. Players start at Atlanta, the home of the Centers for Disease Control, and are given a random role and a number of Player cards. On each turn, a player can take 4 actions which consists of any combination of the following:

  • Between interconnected cities (car and ferry travel).
  • To a city that the player holds that Player card of, discarding the Player card (direct flight).
  • To any city if the player is currently in one of the cities they hold the card of, discarding the Player card (charter flight).
  • From a city with a research lab to any city with a research lab, without discarding a city card (shuttle flight).

On conclusion of the turn, the player draws two Player cards, reducing their hand down to seven cards by discarding Player cards and/or immediately playing Special Event cards. If either draw is an Epidemic card, the player draws a card from the bottom of the Infection deck and places three cubes on that city, puts that card into the Infection discard pile, reshuffles the discard pile, and places it back on top of the Infection deck. After the two Player cards are drawn (epidemic or no), a number of Infection cards are revealed and one cube of the indicated color is placed on each city drawn. Should a city already have three cubes and a new cube is to be added, an Outbreak occurs and each interconnected city gains one more cube of that color; this can create a chain reaction across many cities if several already have three disease cubes on them.

The game is over if any of the following occur:

To aid in winning the game, players are given roles that allow them to alter the above rules. Five roles were introduced with the core game, but additional roles were added through the game's expansion. For example, the Medic is able to treat all cubes in a city with one action or, once a cure for a disease is found, can remove cubes of that color without spending an action, while the Scientist only needs four cards of the same color to discover the cure. The players are also helped by the Special Event cards which allow for similar one-time actions akin to the roles, such as the direct removal of a few infection tokens or immediate construction of a research lab.

Pandemic requires the players to coordinate their efforts to win the game, specifically in gathering and sharing the necessary cards to discover cures while moving in coordination around the board and preventing Outbreaks in an efficient manner.


On the Brink

In 2009 the first official expansion was released, featuring several new roles, rules variants for a fifth player, new Special Event cards and new challenges for the players.

There are eight Role Cards in this expansion, including a revised Operation Expert card and a "Bio-Terrorist" card which puts one player against the rest of the team.

The challenges include fifth disease - "Mutation", which should be cured or not present at the game board when the players score for victory. Another challenge is the "Virulent Strain", which makes one disease particularly deadly, replacing standard Epidemic cards with new ones. Each such card represents a special nasty effect, that this particular epidemic has on the game play.

In the Lab

A second expansion released in the Summer of 2013 with a new game board that allows players to research disease cures in a laboratory. The goal of this activity is the same as in the base game - finding cures for diseases - but this time with an added aspect of research. Players can also use new characters and new special events included with the expansion. In addition, it added a one-player mode and a team play mode, in which teams of two compete to be the most effective team. In the Lab requires both Pandemic and On the Brink to play, and also requires replacement decks if using the first editions of Pandemic and On the Brink.

State of Emergency

A third expansion released in March 2015 adds new roles and events, and three new challenges: The Hinterlands, Emergency Events, and Superbug. The expansion is compatible with the two previous expansions but neither is required. However, the purple disease cubes included with State of Emergency make the set included in On the Brink redundant.


A 2nd edition of Pandemic was released in 2013, with new artwork and two new characters: the Contingency Planner and the Quarantine Specialist. Some prints of the 2nd edition had an error with a missing line between Lagos and São Paulo and edge to edge printing on cards.

A 2nd edition of the On the Brink expansion was released in 2013.

Replacement decks

The Pandemic base replacement deck updates the 1st edition of Pandemic to its 2nd edition.

Compatibility pack #2 updates the 1st edition of the On the Brink expansion to its 2nd edition.

The In the Lab expansion (released after the 2nd editions of Pandemic and On the Brink) requires the 2nd edition(s), or the 1st edition(s) along with its compatibility pack(s).


Z-man Games have released free to download scenarios, with changes to playing the base game. Various scenarios are set to be released.

As of January 2014, the officially released scenario list is:

  1. Isolation
  2. Government Shutdown

The latest rulebooks and scenarios list can be found on the Z-man games Pandemic product page.


Three spinoffs or alternate versions of Pandemic have been released or announced by Z-Man Games, all of which are stand-alone games and are not compatible with the original or each other.

Pandemic: The Cure

Pandemic: The Cure is a dice-based game that uses a similar rule set to the original board game, but strips down the number of cities and leaves the outcome of turns up to chance via dice rolls.

Pandemic: Contagion

Pandemic: Contagion puts players in the role of the diseases, and unlike the base game is non-cooperative. The object of the game is to eradicate the human race via spreading infections.

Pandemic: Legacy

Pandemic: Legacy is a new version of the base game released by Z-Man Games, similar to Risk Legacy in which the game board changes permanently through each game played, and takes place over the course of a year. The game was released on October 8, 2015.



Pandemic has also been the subject of empirical published research studies as an example of a non-computer based activity that involves distributed Computational thinking.

Tabletop games: Rules and Strategy