Pandemic: The Board Game

Multiplayer:Yes, pass n play only
AI:None, but 3 levels of game difficulty
Universal App:No
Purchase for iPhone:None available. Buy an iPad now!
Purchase for iPad:
Pandemic: The Board Game
Price: $4.99
User rating:
GD Star Rating
Pandemic: The Board Game, 8.4 out of 10 based on 131 ratings

There are a few games that are responsible for introducing ideas to the gaming lexicon. Settlers of Catan brought the idea of Eurogaming to the American masses. Dominion more or less single-handedly created the genre of deck building. Pandemic is arguably the game that popularised the idea of cooperative boardgames, and is popular enough to have been widely (ahem) imitated on the App Store. Now that an official adaptation has hit the iPad, will the App Store catch the fever?




Pandemic posits that 4 different diseases have sprung upon the world. The world is divided into 48 major cities, 12 of which can be the outbreak point for any given disease. Each turn, a number of these cities will gain additional infections. Utilizing different roles with different special abilities, it is the job of the players to develop cures for all 4 diseases before the entire world is irrevocably infected.


Up to 4 different players each select one of seven unique roles, each with a different special ability; these can be randomly assigned or selected to the players’ preference. Each player then receives 2 random cards that correspond to one of the 48 cities on the map as well as to one of the four diseases. The game then randomly selects the initially infected cities, and the game begins.


On their turn, each player has 4 actions. This can be any combination of moving between connected cities (each action moves one step), treating diseases in their current location (each cube of infection costs one action), sharing cards between players (each card shared…you get the idea), constructing a research station (necessary to create a cure for a disease), or curing a diseases if they are at a research station and have 5 cards of the appropriate color. Once their actions are used up, players draw 2 cards from the deck, and infect a number of cities equal to the current infection rate.


There are any number of factors working against the players in their quest to save humanity. First, there are several Epidemic cards buried in the player deck (the number varies with the difficulty level) which are used to randomly infect cities. When an epidemic occurs, a random city is selected to receive 3 infection cubes, then all the discarded cities are shuffled back into the deck – meaning that previously infected cities may well come back up again. If a given city ever has more than 3 cubes, an outbreak occurs, spreading the infection to all connected cities – and allowing the possibility of an outbreak chain reaction if this causes a connected city to exceed its 3 cube maximum.


There are also some timer mechanisms working against the players. If 8 outbreaks occur, or the players ever run out of cards to draw from their deck or run out of cubes to infect cities, the game ends with the players having lost. This means that players must work to cure the existing diseases to make sure that outbreaks are kept to a minimum to ensure that cubes don’t run out. This also necessarily puts a limitation on turns, because all players MUST draw 2 cards at the end of their turn. Fortunately there are  Event cards which can give the players a few advantages, and these are mixed in to the player deck, granting both a few extra turns and a few extra options as they race to cure the diseases.


To cure a disease, a given player needs to hold 5 cards matching that disease’s color (4 if they are the Scientist) and be at a Research Station. Cards are also needed to create these research stations, or to move quickly around the board. Research stations can be created strategically to allow a movement shortcut for the players. Cards can only be shared between players in the same city, and only if it matches the city those players occupy. The different roles allow players to do things like create free research stations, cure the diseases more effectively, share cards more easily, move players around the board, and so on.



Pandemic takes a similar approach to its interface as Elder Signs, in that it implements a cooperative game as essentially a single player experience on the iPad. Before the game begins you can define 1-4 players, each of which is assigned one of the seven different roles in the game. Fewer players means that each player will get more turns, but also means you have fewer of the available special abilities to help you in your quest.


With no online multiplayer to speak of, pass’n’play is rendered the only effective method of allowing more than 1 person to actually play the game. In some ways this stands to reason – as a cooperative game, all players would have to agree on any given move any given player makes, and face to face interaction makes this much easier than online chat. It does mean, however, that you can only play with others who are at the same physical location as you, at which point you might just as well break out the physical game.


Pandemic is a game that contains a fairly great deal of information that must be available to all players at any given time. The good news is that the interface handles this very well. The top of the screen constantly shows the cure status of the four diseases and how many cubes remain against the players losing by running out. A slide-out drawer in the top monitors the infection rate (how many cities are randomly infected every turn) and the number of outbreaks. Slide out drawers to the left and right show you the infection discard pile and the cards held by any given player. An icon in the lower left shows how many actions the current player has remaining and can be used to call up the player’s role and special ability. Finally, the available actions are in the lower center of the screen, and anything that can’t currently be executed is greyed out.


The game offers an excellent interactive tutorial that summarizes very clearly both the rules of Pandemic and the intricacies of the interface itself. The game also sports a complete implementation of the rulebook which is accessible at any time, and an optional “information made” pops up onscreen help text bubbles to explain various game events, even outside of the tutorial. Various animations accompany the various card interactions as well, making Pandemic one of the clearest translations of an offline game while still fully utilizing the advantages the digital platform has to offer – all of it crammed into an app that takes up only 25 MB installed, and fully supports both portrait and landscape orientations on the iPad.



There is no doubt that Pandemic represents one of the most sophisticated implementations of a board game on the iPad that has yet hit the App Store. There is similarly no doubting the significance of Pandemic in the evolution of cooperative board games. The app represents without a question the best way to play the game solo, and its excellent tutorial and information capabilities make it a fantastic tool for teaching the game to new players. While the lack of online interaction may be off-putting for some, the obvious production values and care put into making this the best translation possible make it a must-buy for any fans of cooperative hobby games.

There are 10 comments

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  1. JonE

    This is a great game. I never played the table version but no problem picking up the rules from tutorial. The cooperative component is enjoyable. (I don’t care for Ghost Stories, though.)
    BTW – I thought that MTG started the deck building genre.

  2. Mennix

    Great implementation for a great board game. I own the board game version and the app transposition is excellent. Looking forward to seeing the game expansions available for iPad.

  3. yloquen

    In MTG you have deck building but it happens before the game. What is considered deck building as a genre includes games in which the building of a player’s deck happens inside the game itself.

  4. Loganeer

    I’m loving this iPad version. Even though I could play the actual boardgame solo the digital version makes the solo game exciting and pressing. I usually play game after game until I win with a select group of characters. One of the best iPad board games to date.

  5. raindog308

    Love the board game…but the app seems 10x harder. My family beats the board game about two-thirds of the time on normal difficulty. I have YET ti beat the app on introductory. 90% of my losses are “out of cards”.

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