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How To Play Pandemic

Updated on September 29, 2014
Chennai is in danger of an outbreak, but the nearby Quarantine Specialist holds the disease at bay.
Chennai is in danger of an outbreak, but the nearby Quarantine Specialist holds the disease at bay. | Source

Pandemic Strategy

So you have your copy of Pandemic.

The board is all set out on the table and those nasty diseases stare back at you with a baleful eye (if they could have eyes?).

What to do next?

Playing the 'Introductory' game shouldn't be too hard to beat, but once you move up to the 'Standard' difficulty, things can get tricky.

This article is a "work in progress": I will start with some basics of how to play the game and I'll add more to it over time.

Later we'll talk about possible strategies you can try to beat it!

Have you saved the world today?

Photo credit: All photos by the author, unless stated otherwise.

Get It Here!


The second edition of the game.

If you haven't got it yet, then why not?!


What Are You On?!

Some of you may be thinking, "I have no idea what you are talking about, Tim!"

If you're not sure what I was going on about in the introduction, or you don't know what a cooperative game is, then be sure to read my review first and then come back here to find out more!

Well, have you played Pandemic yet???


Role Cards
Role Cards | Source

Board Setup

I won't reproduce all the rules of the game here, but will give you an idea of how it plays in practice.

The setup is fairly simple, with Roles being assigned, and markers placed on the Outbreak and Infection Rate tracks.

Player pawns, plus a research station are placed on Atlanta (the real life location of the Centre for Disease Control).

Starting Cards are dealt to each player, then Epidemic cards are added into the Player deck.

The number of Epidemic cards determines the difficulty of the game: 4 for 'Introductory', 5 for 'Standard and 6 for 'Heroic'.

Finally, some of the infection cards are turned over to set up the first few cities with their 'starting' diseases.

The players check the cards in their hand: the player holding the city card with the highest population goes first.

Alternatively, you can use the rule from the first edition of the game: the first player is the person who was sick last!

Z-Man Games Pandemic: On the Brink
Z-Man Games Pandemic: On the Brink

If you are finding the Heroic difficulty level of the 'base' game too easy, or just want to change things up, then this expansion pack may be just up your street.

It adds new scenarios to give you a new challenge, along with the possibility of a 5th extra virulent disease if you think you can handle it!


Game Turn

Pandemic Board Mid Game
Pandemic Board Mid Game | Source

Three Phases

Each player turn consists of 3 phases (displayed clearly on the board):

1. Take 4 actions

2. Draw 2 player cards

3. Infect cities

The second phase may be interrupted if the player draws an Epidemic card.

If this happens, then the Epidemic is resolved before the player continues ...and yes, the player still has to infect cities afterwards!

At any time, anyone can play event cards, even in the middle of another player's turn.


In the above photo, you can see the board, mid way through a game.

The players are doing well, with 2 diseases already cured (red and black bottles, bottom) and only 1 outbreak (marker on the left hand track).

However, there have already been 2 Epidemics and the Infection Rate marker (top right, just below Infection cards deck) is creeping along.

When another Epidemic inevitably appears, the Infection Rate will increase again and 3 cities will then get infected each turn!

Each player turn consists of 3 phases:

1. Take 4 actions

2. Draw 2 player cards

3. Infect cities

Z-Man Games Pandemic: In the Lab
Z-Man Games Pandemic: In the Lab

In the base game, you only need to hand in 5 cards of the same colour to cure a disease.

In this latest expansion pack, you can track your research through the lab.

Now you must collect samples from the main board and process them, in order to characterise and sequence the disease, before testing the cure.

If you're a veteran player, you'll appreciate the thematic change of strategy.

Psst - you can also read my review. ;)



Each turn, players can do up to 4 actions.

These boil down to movement actions and things you can do to help deal with the threats around you:

  • Drive or take the ferry to another city - along one of the links on the board
  • Fly to another city by discarding the matching player card
  • Take a charter flight to any city on the board by discarding the player card of the city you are in
  • Travel directly from one Research Station to another Research Station, anywhere on the board
  • Build a Research Station in your current city by discarding the matching player card
  • Treat disease - remove 1 disease cube in your current city
  • Exchange information with another player in the same city by giving (or receiving) the player card matching that city
  • Cure a disease at a Research Station by discarding 5 cards of a given colour

The game helps by giving each player a handy reference card to remind them of the possibilities.

Don't forget that the reference cards are double sided: make sure to point this out to new players too!

Example Turn

Pandemic Board Close Up
Pandemic Board Close Up | Source

Gameplay Examples

As you can tell from the list, there's nothing complicated here:

Everything counts as 1 action, but sometimes you have to play a card or be in the right place.

For example, moving from one city to another along one of the links is 1 action, while playing a city card allows you to take a direct flight to the location on the card.

If you play the card for the city you are already in, you can take a 'charter flight' to anywhere on the board.

You can spend an action to Treat Disease and remove 1 disease cube in the city you are in.

You can also spend an action to build a Research Station anywhere on the board (although you are limited to 6 in total).

Once built, you can use an action to move directly from one Research Station to another.

Research Stations are also important, because they are the only place where you can cure a disease (also an action).

Take a closer look at the photo above and you'll see that the Quarantine Specialist (the green Pawn) is on Kolkata, where there is a Research Station.

This means that on her turn, she could:

  • Hand in 5 cards of the same colour to cure that disease
  • Move direct from Kolkata to another city with a Research Station
  • Move to an adjacent city along on of the connection lines
  • Treat disease to remove a disease cube from one of those cities

Let's say that Green doesn't have enough cards to make a cure and wants to clear up some of the disease already in the area.

She could move to Delhi and treat 1 disease cube there (2 actions - 1 for the move, then 1 to treat disease), followed by another move to Mumbai and treat disease there (another 2 actions = 4 total).

With the Quarantine Specialist finishing their move on Mumbai, it would prevent any outbreaks occurring at Chennai (due to that role's special ability).

The players discuss this scenario, but are concerned that Green may be needed somewhere else next turn.

In the end, she decides to move directly to Chennai (1 action) and treat disease 3 times (3 actions) instead.

At any time, anyone can play event cards, even in the middle of another player's turn.

Hints and Tips

Here's a selection of hints and tips for the game.

I'll add to these when I think of something else.

If you can think of something not on the list, then let me know in the comments!

  • Don't underestimate any of the Roles: all of them are useful in different situations.
  • Read out your Role card aloud to all players at the beginning of the game.

    This ensures that everyone knows who can do what.

  • It's not a memory game: the rules say you can freely check the discard piles for the Infection and Player decks at any time!
  • Focus on cities which already have 3 disease cubes: you want to prevent outbreaks before they happen!
  • Don't underestimate Research Stations.

    As well as helping you to cure disease, they allow for quick movement without spending precious cards.

    Try to place them in strategic places, such as in each coloured disease "area".

  • Don't forget the goal of the game is to cure diseases.

    If you get too caught up in mopping up what's on the board, you can easily run out of time due to player cards running out.

  • Try to be as efficient as possible with your movement and cards.

    Removing 1 disease cube from a city which already has 3 means you will almost certainly have to revisit it again - particularly if you are near the beginning of the game.

  • Don't forget that you can play Event cards at any time, even during another player's turn.

    The card "One quiet night" prevents the Infection phase from happening on that player turn.

    A really good time to play this card is just after an Epidemic, when the previous discards have been re-shuffled and placed back on top of the deck.

  • Don't forget that once you have cured a disease, you can remove all cubes of that colour from a city, using only 1 action.

    We forgot this rule the other day and lost the game to too many outbreaks as a result!

  • The Researcher's ability allows them to give city cards to another player without having to be in the matching city.

    This can happen on their turn or the other player's turn and they still have to be together in the same city.

    However, this only applies to cards given to another player - the Researcher cannot receive cards from other players in this way.

Take the Poll

How difficult do you find Pandemic?

See results

A Penny For Your Thoughts

Are you a Pandemic newbie, or a Past Master?

Do you quail at the thought of playing the Standard game, or do you eat Heroic difficulty for breakfast and then laugh for the rest of the day?

If you have tips about how to defeat the menace, then let us know in the comments!

...and did you know there is now an iPad version of Pandemic (titled "Pandemic The Board Game")?

It is currently only $6.99 on the iTunes App store, so is well worth a go if you're not sure about springing for the full experience!

Any Thoughts?

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    • Tim Bader profile imageAUTHOR

      Tim Bader 

      4 years ago from Surrey, UK

      @Ben Reed: Go for it! He he!

    • Ben Reed profile image

      Ben Reed 

      4 years ago from Redcar

      I must give this a go.

    • Tim Bader profile imageAUTHOR

      Tim Bader 

      4 years ago from Surrey, UK

      @janey126: Thank you very much!

      Thanks for reading.

    • janey126 profile image


      4 years ago

      Wow what a great info and lens! Just awesome!


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