Pandemic: Contagion and Pandemic: The Cure Reviews

Today, dear readers, you are in for a treat! Not one, but TWO reviews for the price of one! (Still free.) I'm going to take a look at two new games in the "Pandemic-verse," - Pandemic: Contagion and Pandemic: The Cure.

Pandemic has a special place in my gamer heart. It is the first modern board game I played (I had already tried Carcassonne and Catan at this point) that really captured my imagination and made me think, "Wow - we can do this with a board game?? What else is out there??"

Pandemic is the game that is responsible for me doing new things with old friends, meeting great new friends, having an owned games list over 200 (and a previously owned game list approaching 1000), and for writing these silly game reviews.

When I heard on the Dice Tower that a Pandemic dice game was in the works, I was definitely interested. I obviously love Pandemic, but I also really enjoy cooperative games and dice games in general. I was also excited when I heard about Pandemic: Contagion - the idea of playing as diseases sounded neat, and I wanted to see what Z-Man would do with that concept.

The first thing I should mention about Pandemic: Contagion is that it is a stand-alone competitive game. It has Pandemic branding, but aesthetics is pretty much where the similarities end. In fact, Contagion is not designed by Pandemic's designer, Matt Leacock. Contagion was designed by Carey Grayson.

As I mentioned, in Pandemic: Contagion, players are diseases, trying to infect and kill off as much of humanity as possible. Countries are represented by cards, which players will be placing their cubes onto - each cube represents that disease infecting 1,000,000 of that location's population.

On a turn, a player will have two actions available. Players can draw cards (Incubate), infect a location card, or mutate their disease. Cards are the currency of the game, and come in 6 suits - one matching each continent in the game. In order to infect a new city, a player must discard two cards matching the color of the city, but to spread an infection where a player already has her disease present only costs 1 matching card.

Mutating your disease means discarding cards in order to move up on 1 of 3 tracks. The first two tracks dictate how many cards a player draws and how many cubes she places each time she takes an Incubate or Infect action, respectively. The last track, the Resistance track, symbolizes how resistant a player's disease is to the effects of humanity's medical and epidemiology communities. Each round, a new event card will be revealed. If the effect is negative, being higher up on the resistance track means a disease will be less affected by the event.

Players will score points by having the most or second most disease cubes in a city when the total number of disease cubes meets or exceeds the total population of the city.

Play continues in this way until either the event deck runs out or when there are only two city cards left. All remaining cities are scored and the player with the most points wins!

Pandemic: Contagion is not a bad game. It is also, unfortunately, not a good game. I really like when games have upgrade tracks that each player can move up to individualize how they will play the game. I was hoping that this is where the interesting decisions in Contagion would be. Unfortunately, Pandemic: Contagion does not have anything interesting here. Not much changes from game to game, and although I haven't played the game over 10 times, I would feel pretty confident in saying players should always upgrade their Incubation ability, then their Infection rate, and then their Resistance level, if they feel like it. In all of the games of this I've played, the first few rounds consisted of everyone taking the same exact turn - Incubation action then grade Incubation track.

The game starts to get interesting once a few players decide to stop upgrading and get infecting the board. But even then, the game doesn't have much to offer. There are some interesting decisions to make when infecting, since the player who places the cube that triggers a scoring gets a one-time special action, but that's about it. Even the once a round global events deck is rather boring.

Pandemic: Contagion is a very simple card game with a neat theme. It is inoffensive enough, but I found myself bored while playing it. I can't recommend it. 5.5/10.

Jim would like to thank Z-Man Games for providing him a review copy of Pandemic: Contagion.

Pandemic: The Cure has a lot more in common with its big sister than Contagion. The Cure is cooperative, and it was also designed by Matt Leacock, the designer or the original Pandemic. In Pandemic: The Cure, players are a team of specialists, working together to cure 4 diseases ravaging humanity worldwide, before either the number of outbreaks or the number of infected become overwhelming.

The world map is represented by 6 tiles, arranged in a circle. Each tiles has a continent on it and is assigned a number from 1-6. Players can move their pawns to adjacent tiles by using a boat die result, or to any tile by using an airplane result.

Much like the original, players will all win if they can cure all 4 diseases. In The Cure, they do this by collecting samples of the disease, and finding a cure by rolling the samples and getting a result of at least a 13 or higher. 

Disease cubes in The Cure are actually 6 sided dice. At the end of each player's turn, a number of cubes are drawn from a bag and rolled. These disease cubes are placed onto the continent tile that has the number matching each cube's die result. Any cross symbols are moved to the CDC tile as resources the players can use whenever they wish.

On a player's turn, she will roll all of her available dice. Any Biohazard results must be kept and will advance the Infection Rate. The player can take actions according to her die results, or she may reroll her dice. In fact, she may continue rerolling as long as she has not used all of her available dice.

Aside from the Biohazard symbol, the player dice also have the basic actions of Fly (move anywhere), Sail (move to an adjacent location), Treat (take a disease cube from your location and place it into the Treatment Center), and Collect Sample (take a disease cube from the Treatment Center and put it onto your role card, with the Collect Sample die on top).

Each player's dice will also have special symbols on them, depending on their role. Some roles are better at moving, some are better at treating and curing, while others have special faces that are unique to their role.

At the end of any turn which a player has enough samples, they can attempt to find a cure for a disease. To do this, they roll all the disease cubes they have collected, and if the result is a 13 or higher, a cure for that disease has been found! If players find a cure for all four diseases, they win! If either the Infection Rate or the Outbreaks markers reach the end of their tracks, or if there are no disease cubes left in the bag and more need to be drawn, the game ends and the players all lose.

I think the biggest gripe I have with Pandemic: The Cure is that depending on how the dice get rolled, the players could either have a cakewalk or have their butts handed to them. This is not too much of a con, since this was also true for the original Pandemic - I've certainly experienced both the "cakewalk" and "butt-handed-to-me" varieties of that game as well. 

One of my favorite parts of this game is (unsurprisingly) the dice. First, the disease dice are not simple D6 dice with a cross on one side. They are weighted very differently - the red dice, for instance, do not have 2, 3, or 5 sides. This means that certain diseases will mostly affect certain continents, which makes outbreaks more common. Another thing I like about the disease dice is that because they all have a cross side, each time a player draws disease dice from the bag, there's always hope that at least a couple of them will come up as crosses, which can be spent by the players during the game to pay for communal event cards (which all have positive effects).

Thirdly, I really like the player dice. It is really neat that the dice for each role have custom sides, but I also really like the press your luck mechanism of players being able to roll as much as they wish, but all bad results must be kept. It really adds a lot of excitement to each turn and to each roll.

While Pandemic: The Cure is a bit shorter than the original, I would say that it retains much of the feel of the "full game." The Cure even simulates the collection of cards in Pandemic by forcing players to temporarily give up dice while they are looking for a cure. 

I really like Pandemic: The Cure, and would be hard pressed if asked which game I would rather keep, original Pandemic or The Cure. Fortunately, I don't have to make such a ridiculous decision. =) I'd rate Pandemic: The Cure 8.5/10.


  1. How would you compare these games to my solitaire boardgame Infection: Humanity's Last Gasp?

    1. I'd say that Infection is MUCH better than Contagion, although that isn't really fair, since they are pretty radically different.

      I like The Cure better than Infection, but that's mostly because I like my coop/solitaire games to be difficult, but not brutal - Infection isn't totally brutal, but falls more into that category than The Cure does.

  2. Our gaming group really likes Contagion. It's small enough to take anywhere, teaches in minutes, plays in under half an hour and generally fun. I can't blame Z-Man for wanting to cash in on the name, but the game stands proudly on its own.