Pandemic is one of those board games that has no problem with throwing a major challenge at the group. Sometimes you can do everything right and still lose. Because this is a really, really hard game with an incredible replay value as you and your fellow players race to stop a global catastrophe.
No matter what there’s a lot of luck to winning Pandemic, but as a general rule you greatly increase your odds by delaying the first outbreak as long as possible, dealing with any 3 cube spaces immediately, use Event Cards early to get ahead, and pay special attention to the Hong Kong and Istanbul tiles since they connect to the most other spots.
There’s a reason that Pandemic topped out list of the best co-op board games and remains one of the top “gateway games” that many gamers use to introduce friends to in-depth board games who aren’t in the gaming scene yet. This is an incredibly challenging game but the following strategy tips can help you shift the odds in your favor.
Good luck…even the best of teams will need it!
Top Tips to Win Pandemic Board Game
Even in the best of times Pandemic is challenging. In fact, this game about pandemics and epidemics is like a Dark Souls roguelite among board games. In other words, even in the best of times this game is out to kill its players. The deck of cards is nerve wracking every time because the disease spreads and you just hope it doesn’t become an epidemic that ends up spiraling completely out of control.
No strategy can guarantee a victory, but you can shift the scales a little bit closer to even in your favor. These are the top game tips you need to follow to give yourself the best chance of winning.
Because if you find yourself wondering how to win pandemic, it’s important to make sure everything possible is on your side because this strategy game doesn’t mess around!
Have you tried the Pandemic Expansion? It adds an entirely new wrinkle to the incredibly challenging board game.
Communicate, Communicate, Communicate!
Many of us who are used to competitive board games tend to stumble here. While no one likes an armchair quarterback, there are often multiple potential actions that can be done by each player, and the best move for each person in a vacuum might not be the best team strategy for getting ahead in the game. Or at least staying alive for one more turn.
Unlike many games, in Pandemic you can share knowledge! Yes, that means it’s not only good to table talk but plyers are heavily encouraged to do so. If you’re playing with the full four players,
Communication is really important. The tie breaking decision on what a player does could depend on what another player’s character has the ability to do. Discussing the various moves available, what the strategy should be, and throwing out options (both obvious and creative) not only give your team a better chance of winning, but really pulls together the group aspect.
Don’t tell other players what to do (no one likes someone who takes over as a board game quarterback) – but suggest options, let them weigh those options, and keep an eye on the board as things change.
Communication is key for a group to win, so don’t stare at the board quietly!
You may assume everyone sees the trip wire of how Baghdad could spill to Istanbul which spills into Europe which would set off an end-game scenario, but they might actually be missing that, and that information could change what the best course of action is for another player.
If you want to win at Pandemic you need to not only keep your eyes on every epidemic on the game board but you need to communicate and strategize as a team if you are going to win.
Understand the Pandemic Board Game Rules
I know, I know, this sounds like a “no duh” piece of basic advice but stick with me for a bit on this one. It can be very easy to misread the rules and think certain actions happen at the beginning of the turn instead of the end of one, or hey here’s a limiting detail on this character’s ability that lets them do A, B, & C but not D.
These are very important to understand so you don’t build or act around a strategy that is going to fail during actual gameplay because of a rules mess up, something I’ve personally seen happen multiple times during playthroughs of this game, especially when it comes to understanding how the dispatcher works.
This problem is so common that the updated rules PDF even mentions commonly overlooked rules that include:
- You do not draw a replacement card after drawing an Epidemic card
- You many discover a cure at ANY Research Station, you don’t need the color of the city to match the disease that you’re curing.
- You may take a cared from another player on your turn if both of you are in the city that matches the card you are taking
- You may take any City card from the Researcher if you are both in the same city.
- Hand limit rules apply IMMEDIATELY after getting a card from another player
It’s also funny how often someone comments on Pandemic not being hard and then you find out they took replacement cards after drawing an Epidemic Card, took other cards from players they weren’t allowed to take, and didn’t immediately apply hand limit rules but waited until the end of the turn.
Know the rules of Pandemic to earn a well-deserved victory.
Delay the First Outbreak as Long as You Can
I know, this seems like a bit of a “Duh!” and yet I see many groups making decisions on their early turns that allow viruses on the board to thrive and explode. Exactly the opposite of what they should be doing.
Outbreaks send viruses in every direction and many times Pandemic gets out of control because an outbreak leads to another outbreak, which sends viruses in every direction, which leads to another outbreak, which leads to more viruses and the dominos fall. Even if an outbreak doesn’t immediately create a domino effect, if you’re suddenly looking at tons of 2 and 3 cube cities, you know it’s about to go bad.
At that point an epidemic card can be the beginning of the end, especially if you are placing on city cards that you really didn’t want to see come up when drawing the cards for the game.
So why did you let it get to that point?
Pro Tip: Deal with ANY city with 3 cubes as quickly as possible – and DO THIS NOW – even if you need to burn a card you want to keep or not pass a card you really want to pass anyway
If there are two 3 cube cities together you MUST throw everything you have to deal with that. Mathematically, that ends up overwhelming you the majority of the time if you don’t deal with them.
Many teams wait until disaster is already clearly about to happen (or happening) before taking the right actions. Take the following steps to help avoid getting to the point where multiple city cards or an epidemic card starts off a series of dominoes that cascade into disaster.
You may not be able to avoid this all game, but you do want to delay this situation in Pandemic the board game for at least for as long as that is possible. This is a winning strategy, though that is easier said than done with this game, anyway.
Don’t Hoard Your Event Card (s)
This is contrary to some advice you’ll find out there, which recommends saving them, because disaster will strike…but what if not using these cards early enough is the reason everything spirals out of control in your games later?
Early on if you have a clear chance to cure a disease completely early on (thus making future color cards of that virus dead cards that don’t make things worse in the future) or can eliminate all potential three cube cities, or even two cube cities, then you should absolutely burn those event cards early.
While this can come back to bite you, allowing multiple outbreaks or three cube cities to pop up on the board when you could have stopped it is an even worse move. This is not a game you can win purely on damage control.
Situations where you should burn those event cards early:
- You can eliminate one or more “three cube” cities threatening to outbreak
- You have a chance to cure a disease completely
If you have an early shot at doing this, that’s almost ALWAYS the right move. Things will almost always spiral out of control in the game so keeping control as long as you can to set yourself up for success early, you take that opportunity.
Roll the Dice on Eliminating a Disease
If it’s early in the game eliminating a disease is an opportunity you can’t just pass up on. I would even argue you allow a couple of two cube spots to go to three cubes and deal with that later to go after a disease cure early.
There are 48 infection cards and 4 diseases. If you can cure a disease early that’s 12 potential cards in the deck that go from adding problems to being a “freebie.” If they are heavy stacked early in the deck, that could buy you time to leap ahead in the game and steal the rare fast win, or at least weather your way through some unfortunate city cards and infection cards to avoid getting completely crushed.
Even if not, every time one of those 12 infection cards of a cured disease comes up, that is mitigated damage. That allows you to focus to an increasingly smaller section of map to keep things under control, and that can be the difference between winning and losing.
Undervaluing eradication is a major mistake that beginning Pandemic players make. The one exception is that if a disease is clearly on the ropes, don’t spend three turns wiping it out in areas with one cube when two other diseases are piling up and ready to spill over.
What’s the Dream Team?
Look the rules are clear on this one, despite how many tables choose to play otherwise.
The rule is to draw at random for the positions. However, a LOT of players house rule this one to allow choice. If you are going by the actual rules you don’t have this option and you get dealt your team and just have to deal with it as is.
Take what you’re dealt and hopefully the premium dream team cards come out.
NOTE: You can look up the Pandemic Board Game Rules PDF right here!
But if you actually have the ability to choose – (something even normally strict rules lawyers might do with a 4-player Heroic Mode game of Pandemic) then you want to see: Medic, Scientist, Researcher, Dispatcher and generally in that order of importance.
The team you don’t want to see according to a poll of experienced board game players from a major gaming forum?
The Anti-Dream Team: Contingency planner, operations expert, quarantine specialist, dispatcher
The fact that in this game dispatcher shows up on both lists of the best team and the worst team shows how importance teamwork and synergy are. Having professions that work well together is crucial to whether or not a team has the potential to win a Pandemic game or not…especially if playing the Heroic Mode of the board game.
I also laughed at the discussion of several gamers who throw the contingency planner out of the deck the way our group throws Xanathar out from the Lords of Waterdeep board game.
Throw the Contingency Planner out of the deck. Seriously, he’s the Xanathar of Pandemic. See this Lords of Waterdeep Lords Tier List if you don’t understand what that is.Braden, who really doesn’t think much of the Contingency Planner in your average Pandemic game
TableTop Episode of Pandemic
Avoiding Pandemic Board Game Common Mistakes
Avoiding these common mistakes can make a huge difference in your success when it comes to this game. Good Pandemic strategy doesn’t guarantee a victory, but avoiding these common mistakes will definitely shift the odds in your gaming group’s favor!
Not Properly Valuing Eradication
Eradication is a powerful tool, especially when you can get lucky and get it done early. This makes any disease cards for that disease letter basically DOA which buys your team time to focus on other parts of the board and concentrate their actions in those places that can still hurt.
Many times eradication of a disease is worth taking one outbreak. Granted, cleanup and damage control must follow, but generally speaking in most games if you can pull the eradication, doing that is crucial and the dead cards in-deck will help buy you time as you go to the clean up side of things.
Keep in mind that eradication is more effective early in the game. If you find yourself with only two epidemics left and the cities that have that disease are well contained (just one cube) then you may just want to ignore them and focus on containing the other disease issues that are going to be clear on the game board.
Focusing Too Much on Individual Player Jobs
Each player has a job and their cards clearly tell them what their #1 strength is. However, Pandemic is both a team game and a game all about being able to adapt. While it makes sense that you want the Operations Expert to build a research station or the Medic treating disease as they move, this might not be the best move in the game.
This reminds me of Dead of Winter in many ways, in that even if your character is very good at 1 or 2 things, sometimes the team needs you to shoot two zombies and take out the trash. Or to translate it – you have to play what the board is throwing at you.
Sometimes it’s best for the Operations Expert to head to Sao Paolo or Tokyo to place a lab. This is good, it helps in mid and late game, but this can’t come at the expense of what is going on in the game and on the board. Sometimes they need to stop and treat cubes to desperately contain an area until the Medic can make their way over.
Sometimes the Dispatcher needs to stop coordinating others and deal with a growing threat of outbreak near their location.
In other words, your character has special skills, but they should not trump your ability to work as a team to contain the threats on the current Pandemic game board.
Treat the City Before Moving to A “More Dangerous” One
So use your action economy intelligently. A great example from a board game geek forum points out that if you are on a city with two cubes and two spaces away there’s a city with three cubes, moving and treating two cubes, while it looks like it makes sense, is actually the wrong move.
Why? Because if you treat one cube, then walk to that city and treat one cube, you end up with one city with two cubes and one city with one. So the danger is the same…except if you moved and removed two cubes, now you’re not in the city with two cubes that could gain another to become three.
By treating one and then moving if the old city gets another cube, it’s not an immediate disaster. If the one you’re in gains one, you’re there to clean up the next turn.
In other words, plan. It’s always best to plan all 4 of your actions before taking 1 than starting with the “2 most important things” and then trying to figure out what you can still do at the end with leftover actions.
Not Ending Near a City with 3 Cubes
This could also be called “Using your last action for walking.” If you are walking to a city with 3 cubes planning to treat it on your next turn, keep in mind it’s extremely likely an epidemic will happen before you get there. Meaning someone else has to get there to treat it and potential spillover.
Unless you’re the Medic, end near a city with three cubes. If you are the Medic, then by all means, start there to treat multiple cities in one turn.
Improperly Using the Resilient Population cards
The knee-jerk reaction is to play the resilient population cards on cities that have a large number of infections. I’d argue from experience this is often a trap. Not to say it can’t work, but there is a much better way to use this card.
Some cities have a lot of connections and are easy to get to. Some are isolated, hard to get to, yet can become a huge freaking problem if left alone and a problem springs up there (glaring at you, Santiago). Why put a resilient population so far away?
Cities like Ho Chi Minh City, Delhi, Baghdad, and others have tons of connection meaning they will inevitably get spillover which means one or multiple players will be in those areas a lot…possibly for the whole game.
In other words, there are people there to deal with emerging problems. If you have players in those cities, how are you going to go from there to Santiago if that isolated city is suddenly in trouble?
You’re not. And the domino effect then begins. By making the more isolated cities resilient, you can leave them be and not be forced to pull one or more players away from traditional hot spots.
Making Common Character Specific Mistakes
The specialties of the characters can be a major boon to Pandemic players trying to win the game, but it’s important to note that getting used to how the Dispatcher and Researcher in particular work is important.
For example, a player playing the Dispatcher job may take an extra move when there’s a creative way to do the same action in less. For example, instead of moving to a player you want to move then moving both of you (3 actions) you can move them to the end target city, and then move to them (2 actions).
That extra action can make a huge difference and if nothing else, you can remove a cube. That’s always a good move when you can sneak it in!
A Researcher is incredibly powerful and in the beginning when cards are being exchanged it makes sense to try to match colors, but if you can’t get to 5/5 or at least 4/5 then it actually is a bad strategy because cards might need to be discarded, they may close in on a different color cure, it just doesn’t always make sense to do this unless there’s a clear turn one advantage into doing so.
In other words, don’t stretch to match the colors early. Either ya’ll have enough or you don’t. Play accordingly.
Deep Diving Into Pandemic Board Game Strategy
At this point we’re already going past the basics and diving into the deeper parts of Pandemic strategy. If you follow the Pandemic tips and strategies in this article then you’re on the way to winning more games, but let’s dive in even further so once you master the basic Pandemic strategy and middle game strategy you may come back for the deep dive strategy for this board game.
Is It Possible to Win Pandemic Board Game?
Absolutely! In the beginning, it’s rough. There are many ways to lose and sometimes just plain bad luck or questionable shuffling of the deck of cards will be enough to do you in. Having a strong game plan with experienced players and being able to adjust on the fly makes a huge difference.
What Are The Chances of Winning Pandemic?
In a best case scenario with good strategy employed the average odds sit between 32.9% and 40.3% to cure a disease…which is crucial in both early and mid game to get the victory. Without curing a disease it’s not impossible to win…but it is really, really close.
Can You Win Pandemic with Only Two Players?
Ironically, it might actually be a little bit easier to win the game with 2 players as opposed to four. Why? Because of the larger more concentrated hands. Pandemic 2-player strategy allows much more focusing curing disease and working from a centralized place while a 4-player game requires much more communication, planning, and logistics.
And that can just be harder, especially if you don’t have the right roles, have players poorly positioned to help each other out, or have just plain bad luck. Those issues are much less pronounced with two players who can work together in a tighter more coordinated way which is why this is a game where the difficulty scaling shoots up with more people playing because of the necessary coordination.
No Guarantee of a Win
One of the amazing things that makes Pandemic is the challenge. Even at the easiest ratings this is a difficult game to beat when it’s being played properly. You can all play well and just plain bad luck puts you down. The domino effects one or more pandemic getting out of control can take a board that looked great and just spiral it out of control.
That’s one of the major mechanics of the game that makes it so unique and so enjoyable. But by making sure to focus on a few tips or a few strategies like those laid out here, you at least give yourself the best possible chance you’ll get to coming out ahead as a team and triumphing over the game of pandemic.
Other Board Game Articles of Interest You May Enjoy
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- Red Dragon Inn Complete Deck Guide
- Best Plot Quests in Lords of Waterdeep
- What Happens When You Die in Munchkin?
- Is Mage Knight Hard to Learn?
Proud to embrace the locally created moniker of “Corrupt Overlord” from one of the all time great Lords of Waterdeep runs, Shane is one member of the Assorted Meeples crew and will be hard at work creating awesome content for the website. He is a long-time player of board games, one time semi-professional poker player, and tends to run to the quirky or RPG side of things when it comes to playing video games. He loves tabletop roleplaying systems like Dungeons & Dragons, Pathfinder, Werewolf, Fate, and others, and not only has been a player but has run games as DM for years. You can find his other work in publications like Level Skip or Hobby Lark.