Since 2007, a unique medical-emergency strategy game known as Pandemic has been on the market and winning awards such as the 2008 JoTa Best Cooperative Board Game honors and the 2009 Games Magazine Best New Family Game award. It was also designated the 2009 Best International Game by Boardgames Australia, which isn’t surprising given its availability in numerous languages and through a host of international publishers.

Image used under Creative Commons from Mark Longair

The theme of the game is saving the world from four deadly diseases by discovering and dispersing the cures to major world cities. The diseases intensify naturally as time goes by and whenever an epidemic card is drawn, which adds to the tensions as the players must race against time. Each player is a specialist who has bonus abilities, which aid him in achieving the goal. For example, the operation specialist can construct research centers, and the scientist need only collect four disease cards instead of five to find the cure. The game must be won through cooperative play, wherein all players work together to achieve the common goal- and all players will ultimately either win or lose together. You can have two to five players, a higher number of players tending to make the game more challenging. The rules are fairly simple, fitting easily into an eight-page rulebook, and total play time is normally 45 minutes to an hour.

Pandemic Expansions

If you and your friends are into Pandemic but start to feel that the game becomes repetitive and are looking for new challenges, buy expansions to Pandemic. That’s a great way to both get even more from the game and save money, as buying an expansion isn’t as expensive as buying another game. Besides the expansions, make sure to check out additional free scenarios on Z-man’s site.

Pandemic on The Brink Expansion

Pandemic on The Brink Expansion

PROS

  • adds fifth players
  • new roles and events
  • adds complexity

CONS

    On The Brink is the first expansion to Pandemic (it requires the game to play). It adds new roles and events and adds a fifth player. All of this adds complexity to the game, so even if you’ve mastered Pandemic, you now have a lot of new things to learn and situations to handle.The expansion introdues three new variants. One of them that players love (or hate) is the option for one of the players to become a bio terrorist that spreads a disease. As you could’ve guess, the goal of other players is to catch the terrorist.

    Here’s what players wrote about this expansion:

    The game became so intense because of the cat and mouse of chasing the terrorist that we didn’t hear the phone ring or the 3 knocks on the door.

    Overall, this is a MUST OWN if you like “Pandemic”. Also, the box is high quality and the insert is able to hold every game piece from both “Pandemic” & “On the Brink”. They’ve even made space for the upcoming third expansion “In the Lab”.

    If you love pandemic, definitely get this expansion. It allows a lot of options how to play the game.

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    Pandemic: In The Lab

    Pandemic- In The Lab Expansion

    PROS

    • additional board – laboratory
    • new way you cure diseases

    CONS

    • not all scenarios are really great

    In The Lab is the second expansion to Pandemic. It requires both Pandemic and the On The Brink expansion. It adds a new board – the Lab where you are a scientist in a race against time to cure the disease. When you’re playing with the laboratory board, the method of curing diseases changes. To do that you have to first do some work in the lab: discovery, sequencing and testing. Only once that’s done you can cure a disease with 3 (instead of 5) cards of the same color.Another thing added is the ability to play in rival teams with different objectives if there are 4 or 6 players. Many players didn’t find this option that interesting simply because Pandemic is a fast paced co-op game and dividing players into teams and pitting them against each other messes with that concept. But if you always wanted a somewhat more competitive Pandemic, or you were looking for even more variety, this might be the option you’re looking for.

    Last but not least, as was the case with On The Brink, this expansion also adds new events and roles.

    Here’s what players wrote about this expansion:

    Another must-have expansion for fans of Pandemic! It’s fun and interesting and offers up fresh, new ways to play.

    Pandemic: In the Lab is a good, but not great, expansion that falls slightly beneath the greatness of the expansion that is On the Brink.

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    Best Board Games like Pandemic

    If you love Pandemic and are looking for other board games that are similar to it, here’s a list prepared especially for you.

    Forbidden Island

    Forbidden Island

    PROS

    • fast-paced
    • easy to explain

    CONS

    • might become a bit repetitve

    Forbidden Island is, similarly to Pandemic, a cooperative game. Instead of saving the world you need to work with other players to capture four treasures and escape from the island before you drown in the ocean. There’s some strategic planning and problem solving skills required to win, but overall it’s a pretty fast-paced game. If you’re looking for an easy-to-explain cooperative board game that takes about 30 minutes to play, it’s definitely worth considering.The premise of the game is based on the legendary Archean empire, which is said to have possessed four sacred objects that could control earth’s four main elements. The Earth Stone has powers of earth, the Ocean’s Chalice over water, and the Crystal of Fire and the Statute of the Wind over fire and wind. The team of adventurers must travel to Forbidden Island, where these treasures lie hidden, and recover them all before the island sinks beneath their feet.

    Each player is given an Adventure Card, which designates his special strengths. The players must learn to use each others’ strengths to quickly place Adventurer, Treasure, and Flood Cards on the island’s 24 tiles. Through this process, they will be able to capture all four treasures. To win, however, they must still arrive at Fools’ Landing and escape in a helicopter before Forbidden Island sinks and takes them with it. While the game can be challenging, the difficulty level can be adjusted by setting the initial water level to extend or shorten the time limit.

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    Space Alert

    Space Alert

    PROS

    • online mission generator – great repetitive value
    • real time aspect – you must make your desicions quickly

    CONS

      Space Alert originated in the Czech Republic, is manufactured in Germany, and was introduced to U.S. markets by WorldWise Imports. Thus, it is a truly international game. It is also, like Pandemic, a two to five player cooperative-play game, though it is more fun with four or five players. It is designed for ages 12 and up, takes about half an hour to play, and requires the use of a CD player.Like Forbidden Island, the players are a team of adventurers whose common mission forces them to depend on each other for survival. In Space Alert, a crew of astronauts are sent in a spaceship to explore one of the most dangerous regions in the galaxy. The game is divided into two halves, a “choices” phase and a “results” phase. During the first phase, the CD announces various threats approaching the ship, such as alien attacks or asteroid fields, and the players must scramble to put down “actions cards” indicating their choices. During the second phase, the action cards are reviewed and the results are revealed.

      The replay value of the game is extensive. Even though you learn how to handle similar threats better next time, the CD and the online mission generator constantly give you new scenarios. The “real time” aspect of the game has won it several awards for innovation, including the Dice Tower Gaming Award and the Spiel des Jahres award. The game moves too fast for one “leader” to organize the responses, so everyone gets involved. The difficulty is easily adjusted by choosing missions marked for the appropriate difficulty level.

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      Ghost Stories

      Ghost Stories

      PROS

      • strong coop element – everyone has a role and noone can stand on their own
      • easily adjustible difficult
      • easy to teach

      CONS

        Ghost Stories is a cooperative game that originated in China and is based upon Chinese history and legends. The historical basis of the game is Wu-Feng’s “reign of terror” and the fact that his ashes are located in a funerary urn in a small Chinese village. The legendary aspect is the story that Wu-Feng, “Lord of the Nine Hells,” is attempting to escape from those hells in order to regain possession of his remains. The object of the game for the players, who are Taoist priests, to defeat demonic hordes and force a reincarnated Wu-Feng to return to fiery abode.Up to four players can participate, the age rating is 12 and up, and the play lasts about an hour. You can also choose among four difficulty levels: Initiation, Normal, Nightmare, and Hell. Players must work together to defend the village as new foe cards are drawn and new plastic goblins placed on the board. Each player gets two special abilities to use against the ghosts, and Buddha statues and villagers also assist. Dice with sides of various colors are rolled to slay them, and if enough of the colors match, a ghost dies. The game has fairly complex rules, but once you learn them, it is a lot of fun.

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        Battlestar Galactica

        Battlestar Galactica

        PROS

        • semi-cooperative – involves traitor(s)
        • theme and characters you know and love

        CONS

        • quite complex (might be a plus if you’re into complex games)

        This game is based on the SyFy Channel t.v. show that bears the same name. It is similar to Pandemic in that players must cooperate to defeat the threat, which here is marauding Cylons. However, it is considered “semi-cooperative” since at least one player in every game plays the role of a traitor, who secretly sides with the Cylons and tries to sabotage the mission.The game allows three to six participants, the age recommendation is 10 and up, and the usual playing time is two to three hours. The players play the roles of any of 10 characters from the t.v. show, each of which has his or her own sets or strengths and weaknesses. Players draw skill cards, move to a new location on Galactica or elsewhere, play action cards, draw crisis cards, and attempt to resolve crises like food shortages, fuel shortages, and enemy ship attacks, that crisis cards initiate.

        Battlestar Galactica has lots of action and will be especially well-liked by those already familiar with the television series. The game allows each player his or her individual actions, but these actions all contribute to the team victory. Some will dislike the secret traitor rule, but it at least keeps things interesting.

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        Last Night On Earth

        Last Night On Earth

        PROS

        • heroes vs. zombies
        • be a part of a horror movie

        CONS

        • bit complex rules

        If you were looking for a heroes versus zombies co-op game, Last Night On Earth is definitely worth checking out. Players are divided into two competitive teams. One team are peoples, who just want to survive the night. The other are zombies who want to, well, eat brains. Join one of the teams in a deathmatch.The game does a great job of making you feel like being a part of a horror movie. You have to spend the night in a building to find something that will help you fight the creatures. Then burd or blow up a couple of zombies the next day. Great artwork and photos help with that too.

        The game is designed for 2 to 6 players and takes between 60 to 90 minutes, so you don’t have to spend the entire afternoon and still have lots of fun.

        Here’s what players wrote about this game:

        I called 2 of the players that demonstrated interest in the game to play after work. We had such a fun time that we played a different scenario every day for an entire week. My friends and I were hooked. I am even considering buying the expansion packs.

        There is nothing like wiping out three zombies at one time by drenching them in gasoline and shooting a flare gun at them. Good times, good times.

        This is a game that, like few others, is a total blast to play regardless of whether your side wins or loses, simply because you never quite know what to expect next.

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        Shadows Over Camelot

        Shadows Over Camelot

        PROS

        • easy to learn, hard to master
        • based on Arthurian tales (if you like them)

        CONS

        • based on Arthurian tales (if you’re not into them)

        In Shadows Over Camelot you join forces with 2 to 6 other players to take part in legendary quest such as the search for the Holy Grail or the Excalibur. Unfortunately not all knights in your team are commited to the cause – there’s (or might be) a traitor amongst you. Together with other heroes you face challenges that require strategic thinking and cooperation, but are fun at the same time.Everything in this game is based on Arthurian tales. Each character has unique strengths, feels different and makes sense in the universe. Carefully thought out mechanics are coupled with beautifully designed pieces which give you that warm feeling when opening the box.

        Here’s what players wrote about Shadows Over Camelot:

        Shadows Over Camelot neither loses its fantastical feel nor disconnects the elements of play from the rich Arthurian history. Its designers should be hailed for their brilliant use of characters with unique strengths, relevant and interesting quests, wonderful artwork and incredible game play balance.

        Shadows Over Camelot is my favorite game, for one main reason. The Traitor. Not only does the mere idea that one of your knights might not be loyal throw a wrench into the cooperative mechanics of the game, but actually *being* the traitor is… is… so delightfully treacherous!!! You undermine your friends’ work.

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