How to Win Pandemic the Board Game

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 tips can help you shift the odds in your favor.

Good luck…even the best of teams will need it!

Pandemic the board game
Pandemic the board game being setup.

Top Tips to Win Pandemic the Board Game

Even in the best of times Pandemic is challenging. No strategy can guarantee a victory, but you can shift the scales a little bit closer to even in your favor. These are the game tips you need to follow to give yourself the best chance of winning.

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.

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 – 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!

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.

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 that. At least for as long as that is possible with this game, anyway.

Don’t Hoard Your Event Cards

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 wind.

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.

What’s the Dream Team?

Look the rules are clear on this one, despite how many tables choose to play.

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 position. 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

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

No Guarantee of Victory

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.

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