By Louis Sylvester
For months the word “pandemic” has appeared in the news and even in casual conversation. Every time I hear the word, I am reminded of one of the greatest cooperative board games available. In 2008, designer Matt Leacock released Pandemic (1-4 players, age 10+), a strategic game where players strive to develop cures to diseases before sickness ravages the world.
The original Pandemic gamified the challenges faced by a world under threat of deadly, infectious viruses. Players each took on the role of an infectious disease expert working for the CDC to battle four viruses spreading across the globe. A turn consists of a player taking four actions to help the sick, build medical infrastructure, and develop cures. Once finished, the player’s turn is followed by drawing cards to see where the diseases spread. The players need to cooperate to treat the sick and overcome the contagion or risk viral outbreaks that devastate cities.
However, I realize that the theme of this game may hit a little too close to reality for some people. Fortunately, there are other versions of Pandemic that players can enjoy without feeling like they are playing the daily news.
One of the best alternate themes is Pandemic: Iberia (2-5 players, age 10+). Set in 1848 Spain, players struggle to contain malaria, cholera, and yellow fever. To better help doctors and nurses move to trouble spots, players build railways across the peninsula. The game is a little more complicated and strategic than the original Pandemic, but it is worth playing as it teaches players about the recent history of pandemics.
For players who want to escape the theme of disease entirely, Pandemic: The Fall of Rome (1-5 players, age 10+) changes the game in a significant way. Although the basic mechanisms of the game remain the same, instead of players fighting the spread of viruses, they play fifth century Romans struggling against the steady advance of barbarians. Based on actual historical invasions, players will need to work together to hold back tribes such as the Goths, Vandals and Huns.
Finally, if players want to escape the real world, there is always Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu (2-4 players, age 14+). While the basic game rules remain the same, this version alters the invisible viruses into hideous creatures from beyond. Players must work together to close otherworldly gates while evading wicked cultists and shambling Shoggoths.
No matter what version of Pandemic makes the most sense for you, now is the perfect time to play. This cooperative game combines strategic fun with a lesson in the challenges of holding back a spreading danger.
Sylvester is an associate professor in the creative writing program at Lewis-Clark State College. He is the co-author of “Legends of the Lost Causes” series, a rip-roaring adventure set in the fantasy West. Questions about tabletop games may be sent to him at email@example.com.