Pandemic is an unusually good game. The legacy version of the title is the best-rated game of all time over on Board Game Geek, the IMDB of board games. The original Pandemic offers cooperative, rather than competitive, play and invites players to experience a slightly different story each time they play it.
Now, nine years on from its original release, there are a multitude of expansions and variations available to players looking for virus-themed fun. We’re gonna take you on a whirlwind ride through the best of them.
Plain ol’ vanilla Pandemic. Run of the mill, standard, every man Pandemic. Where it all began. Well, we may as well explain the basic premise in case you’re not familiar.
Up to four of you and your mad mates must team up to prevent four nasty diseases from spreading across the globe. Manageable at first, these afflictions quickly spread in severity and reach, and you have to work together to strategically distinguish the problem.
Different characters bring with them a variety of advantages, and you’ll use them to collaborate as you dart around the global map that the game takes place on.
This is a win or lose situation. You all win together by curing the world of these pandemics, or things go from bad to worse and you lose. All of you. And everyone dies. That’s Pandemic.
Pandemic: On the Brink
The first expansion, On The Brink builds upon the original game by adding new characters and providing players with some brilliant little Petri dishes within which to store their disease cubes.
The biggest new feature in OTB is the inclusion of a fifth disease, dubbed ‘the virulent strain’. These purple virus behaves in a difficult and unpredictable way to the traditional ones. It’s simpler than making the game 25% harder to win though, as the instructions offer new modes to play too. The most novel of these is the chance to play as a bio-terrorist, disrupting the work of the others.
On the Brink is mostly about enriching and enhancing the original game, offering more substance and new creativity to players tired of the original recipe.
Pandemic: In the Lab
In the lab is a strange one. It feels a little bit like they ran out of ideas in improving Pandemic, but once you start playing you start to understand what they’re going for.
While On the Brink attempted to flesh out the core gameplay, it paid no attention at all to the act of curing diseases. Essentially, all that must be done is to collect enough cards of the corresponding colour in order to successfully give yellow disease the middle finger, for example.
In the lab offers a more sophisticated, if a little convoluted, way of approaching the scientific side. You’ll have to use a more complex sequence of tools to eradicate each virus, which does enrich the experience and give new life to the game if your interest in it had started to wane. This is more for the players already interested in Pandemic and might prove a bit overwhelming for first-time players.
Pandemic: The Cure
This one’s not an expansion, but a whole new game altogether. With a nod to Race for the Galaxy and its reflection, Roll for the Galaxy, Pandemic: The Cure recreates the classic Pandemic experience using only dice.
There’s an awful lot of rolling involved, but the premise is very similar to the main game. The most interesting part is again concerning the curing of diseases, which this time is no longer a foregone conclusion even if you have enough of the correct rolls to cure. This adds an element of risk and reward to the proceedings, allowing players to gamble on a low-likelihood cure or play it safe on a slower but more certain solution.
One for the rollers, then. The Cure is an innovative but arguably less fun outing for the Pandemic formula.
Oh mama. Here she comes. The legacy concept first came from a unique spin on Risk, the dice-rolling game of conquest. This spin saw the conclusion of one game become the basis for the next. The idea of this was that each play session would be one episode in a longer narrative of sequential games.
Pandemic Legacy takes this concept and runs with it. Scripted as a pre-determined linear series of events, Legacy takes place over 10-20 episodes (depending on your success) with a fixed team of players. For Best Play, there were three of us along for the ride, assuming different characters but always forming the same team of three to slowly work our way through sessions with the game.
As each round unfolds – and players complete objectives or succumb to failures – boxes are opened, plotlines are unlocked and the physical game is altered irreversibly with stickers and other modifications.
It makes for an excellent, detailed and immersive experience, weaving individual play sessions into an intricate and compelling story. It has to be played to be believed, and yes: for all intents and purposes, you’ll never be able to play it again.
Until season two, that is. We can’t wait for that, and wrote about some of the things we’re hoping to see here.
We know there’s also State of Emergency, Contagion, Reign of Cthulhu and Iberia editions of Pandemic too. But we’ve never played those so can’t really tell you too much about them. In any case, it’s clear that Matt Leacock’s masterpiece is a versatile and captivating experience that we have no problem in wholeheartedly recommending.