Dale Yu: Review of Pandemic: The Cure (Z-Man)

Pandemic: The Cure

  • Designer: Matt Leacock
  • Publisher: Z-Man Games
  • Players: 2-5
  • Ages: 8+
  • Time: 30 minutes
  • Times played: 8, with review copy provided by Z-Man Games

pandemic cure box

Pandemic is a game that I’ve always been interested in.  The first time that I played the game was in the Spring of 2009 – though I was not (and still am not) a fan of cooperative games, Pandemic was one of the first games to hit the mainstream in terms of exposure.  It was also competition against Dominion for the 2009 Spiel des Jahres, and I was quite interested in finding out what the fuss was all about.

For me, there is a fine line that all cooperative games have to tread – I want them to be interesting and to present me with interesting challenges, but I also want them to be set up so that no single player (myself or someone else) can quarterback the whole game.  The original Pandemic definitely met my requirements, and it was one of the first cooperative games that I didn’t mind playing.

Since then, there have been maybe 1,000 new cooperative games (this might be some slight hyperbole), and the coop is now a firmly established genre.  Pandemic remains one of the few cooperative games that I have in my personal game collection; partly because it was one of the first that I ever played and enjoyed, but also because I still feel it is one of the the best designed.

Pandemic: The Cure is a fresh take on the same story.  Designer Matt Leacock again presents the players with a quest to eradicate deadly diseases from the world – but this time, instead of cards, you must use dice.  There are four different colors of viral dice, each color representing a different deadly disease.  The players must find a cure for each of these different colored viruses in order to win the game.

The world is represented by six numbered discs.  There is also a melamine disk in the center of the table that keeps track of your progress as well as providing a “treatment area” in the center for treated disease dice. At the start of the game, twelve dice are drawn at random from the bag and rolled.  They are placed on the numbered area corresponding to their roll.  This disk keeps track of both the number of outbreaks in the game as well as the overall infection rate.  If either of these counters reaches the skull and crossbones area, then the players lose the game!  At the start of the game, players decide on the level of difficulty they want in the game – they start on the Infection Rate track closer and closer to the skull and crossbones that marks the end of the game with each harder level.


Each player is then given a role (or players might choose what role they want).  There are 7 different Roles in the game, and each one comes with its own colored set of dice specifically for that role.  All of the dice have the five basic actions on them (more on this later) and some of them have special actions which are specific to their role.

Each player turn follows a simple format.

1) Roll your dice and perform the actions

Each player rolls their specific role dice.  If any biohazard results come up, you immediately advance the infection rate meter by one spot for each biohazard icon seen.  The biohazard die is placed on your role card to show that you can’t do anything else with it this turn.  If you manage to cross into the next area on the meter, you will trigger an epidemic (more on this later).

Otherwise, you are able to take the actions that you have rolled.  You can use each die once.  Once you take an action, you place it on your role card to show that you can’t use it again.  There are four basic options

  1. Treat (a syringe icon) – this allows you to EITHER move a die from the region you’re in to the Treatment Center, the area in the center of the ring OR you can return a die from the Treatment Center back into the bag.
  2. Fly (airplane icon) – You can move your pawn to any other region on the board
  3. Sail (boat icon) – You can move your pawn to any adjacent region
  4. Collect sample (jar icon) – you can take a die from the Treatment Center and place it under this jar.  You will eventually use this sample to try to cure that disease

In addition, a few of the roles have special icons that are unique to their role


You may re-roll any non-biohazard icons as many times as you wish.  You may want to do this in order to get the type of action that you want to do.  Of course, with each roll, you risk rolling a biohazard result which will freeze that die and cause the infection rate meter to move closer to the end.  You are not obligated to use all of the actions on your dice, and you may in fact choose not to re-roll your dice

2) Give Samples

Once you have taken all the actions that you want to take, you may then give your Samples to another player, provided that the other player is in the same region as yourself.  Your die and the sampled colored die underneath it are placed on the other player’s role card.

3) Try to Find a Cure

If you have collected sample dice on your own role card (either collected by yourself or given to you by other players on their previous turns) – you can try to cure a disease.  To do this, you take all of the samples of a single color and roll them.  If you roll a total of 13 pips or more, you have cured the disease!  You place one of those dice on the “Diseases Cured” card to remind everyone that you’ve succeeded in this color; this represents 25% of the goal of winning the game.   Curing a disease also makes it easier to deal with this color for the rest of the game.  From now on, when you are in a region, a single syringe icon can move ALL of the dice of that color from the region to the treatment center OR it can move ALL of the dice of that color from the Treatment Center to the dice bag.


If you fail, you simply return all the samples back to your role card where you can try again on your next turn (or give them to another player)…

4) Infect Regions

Finally, the game gets a chance to get back at you.  Depending on where you are on the Infection Rate track, you will draw between three and five dice from the bag and roll them.  All numbered results are placed on their corresponding regions.  Any cross results are placed on the CDC area, which I will talk about in a second.  After the numbered dice are placed, then you check for an outbreak.  Starting in region 1 and continuing clockwise, you see if there are 4 or more dice of a single color in a region.  (This might even happen more than once in a single region!)  If so, you’ve just had an outbreak, and you must move the outbreak marker ahead one step – it takes 8 outbreaks to lose the game.  Then, you leave only three dice of that color in the region and then move the rest onto the next higher numbered region.  Next, you evaluate that next region and again see if there are 4 or more of a color in that region.  You repeat this around the board, and if there is an outbreak in 6, that will spill over into 1 and might trigger another round of outbreaks.

Assuming that the game is still going on – the next player gets to take their turn and go thru the same four phases.  The game is won immediately by the players if they are able to cure all four diseases.  There are three game losing conditions: 1) if the Infection Rate meter reaches the skull and crossbones (number of steps determined by difficulty choice at the start of the game), 2) If the outbreak meter reaches the skull and crossbones (always 8 steps), and 3) if there is ever a time you need to draw dice from the dice bag and you cannot do so because it is empty.

So, there are two other things I haven’t talked about yet – one which is good for the players and one which is not as good.  Let’s start with the bad first — the Epidemics.  These are triggered when you roll a biohazard result and you take the marker into the next section on the track – this happens on every fourth move.  When this happens, you take a number of dice from the bag equal to the new infection rate (somewhere between three and five dice).  To this, you add ALL the dice that are currently in the Treatment Center.  This whole handful of dice are rolled and placed on their respective areas just as in the “Infect Regions” phase.  Once all the dice are placed, then you check for Outbreaks as outlined above.

Players can use Events to help gain the upper hand on the viruses.  Each time that dice are rolled for Epidemics or for Infection regions, there is a chance that they will come up as Crosses.  When this happens, these dice are placed on the CDC marker.  Next to this are three face up event cards, each of which has a special action which is always beneficial for the players.  In order to use an event, the cost of the card must be paid in dice from the CDC area and returned to the dice bag.  Once an event is used, it is discarded and a new one is drawn so that the players always have three events to choose from.


My thoughts on the game

This is one of the few cooperative games that I truly like.   This may stem in part from the fact that it uses dice, and I do love my dice games.  Pandemic: The Cure keeps the same story from the original game as well as the same palpable excitement/stress that made the original version so compelling.  After 8 games, I think that I actually like the dice version better.  The whole risk/reward bit feels better in this game.  It is more interesting to me to decide about rolling a die or not rather than flipping over the next card on the deck.  The card option feels pre-determined… I can’t change what it is.  However, with some good mojo, the die roll could be anything – and that appeals to me more.

I have found that my different plays of this game have definitely felt a bit different based on the roles that are selected.  Each game presents a slightly different puzzle because of how the special actions interact with each other.  It also slightly changes the approach depending on player order – though not as much as another recent cooperative game that I have liked, Samurai Spirit.    In my plays, it has not felt necessary to specifically choose which roles go to which players in specific player order – we’ve pretty much just dealt them out and played.

A few more of the different characters

A few more of the different characters

Scaling is interesting in this game – you pretty much don’t have to make any changes for the number of players – and that’s something you really don’t see in cooperative games.   You have fewer special abilities as you have fewer roles in the game, but essentially, it’s still the same format whether you play with 2 or with 5 – the only thing that changes is how many actions you get in the game.  The reduction in the number of special roles is balanced out by the fact that fewer players will have more frequent chances to cure diseases as there are fewer other player turns to wait thru before your own turn comes back up.

Games are quick – mostly coming in under the 30 minutes suggested on the box.  The tempo of the games tends to be similar; not much tension on the first few rounds but then once dice start accumulating on the regions, the threat of outbreaks looms large.  In our most recent game, we had cured three of the four diseases and looked like we were cruising to an easy victory, but then two horrendously unlucky rolls put us in seriously bad position.  We went from 2 outbreaks to 7 in a matter of minutes – and then suddenly the game was a true battle (which the viruses ended up winning…).

I think this unpredictability is part and parcel of any game that relies on die rolling results, and it’s the main reason why I really like this one.  Will this cause me to remove Pandemic from my game collection?  Not sure yet.  But, I definitely want to play this one more than the original.  Do I love It?  Actually – no.  It’s still a cooperative game, and I’m still way more inclined to play a non-cooperative game over any coop.  But, if pushed into playing something in the genre, this is easily in the top 3 now (along with Ghost Stories and Samurai Spirit).

Opinions from Other Opinionated Gamers

Joe Huber (2 plays, one of the published edition): I have an odd take on cooperative games; I generally enjoy playing them, but don’t feel the need to own them or request to play them.  Pandemic: The Cure fits nicely into this niche.  I’ve truly enjoyed both of my plays of the game, and would readily agree to play it, but I don’t feel any need to own it.  I do feel that Matt’s done a nice job of creating a dice game with the feel of the original, while being a little easier and faster to pick up.

Patrick Brennan: It’s a really nice dice version of Pandemic, providing familiarity in theme and objective, as well as new touches to provide interest. The dice rolled at the end of your turn come in the 4 different disease colours, and after they’re rolled, they’re allocated to 6 different locations. Your job is to clean up those disease dice by rolling your character’s unique set of dice, which will allow you to variously heal a disease die, collect a disease die, move between locations, do your character’s special power (nice touch!) or, if you’re unlucky, be forced to advance the epidemic marker up. Regions outbreak when there’s more than 3 dice in a colour at a location, as you’d expect, and you can still lose by outbreaks. You can roll your dice as much as you like to get the results you want, but that of course runs the risk of rolling epidemics and accelerating the badness. The decisions you make within each turn on how to keep vs re-roll your dice are more interesting than Pandemic turns (which is generally more straight-forward removes, clears, and cards) but the dice obviously make it more tactical and less strategic – it’s much easier to organise meetups and sample swaps here than it is to organise card swaps in the main game. The loss of the map and location relevance also results in a loss of theme and epic-ness, leaving you with a more abstracted feel and less investment in the win. So it ranks a little lower for me than base Pandemic, but still a game I’d enjoy playing any time.


Jonathan F.: I expected to love this game.  I really like Pandemic and would love a quick after-dinner version.  I have played it three times with varying numbers and it seems to run well longer than the listed 30 minutes.  We do discuss the use of cards as a group, but otherwise it is pretty tactical. I’d be happy to play it if anyone wanted to, but it does not call to me.  At the same time, it is a fantastically designed game.  Everything fits, it often comes down to the end, and it is an elegant design.  My issue is that due to its essentialized form, your planning is talking about getting the blacks off the three, rather than thinking about the circles as continents/countries.  For me, without the map, the game becomes less engaging.


Greg Schloesser:  A rarity: we have a dice game version of a board game that is actually quite good.  The game, for the most part, usually manages to keep the tension level high, with doom and defeat often just a poor dice roll away.  However, since the game is dice-based, the healthy dose of luck can also swing fortune the other way, resulting in games that are ridiculously easy.  I’ve experienced both and much prefer the former.  I agree with Patrick, though, that the lack of a geographical board gives the game an abstract feel that I don’t particularly enjoy.  Still, the fact that the game plays quickly (30 minutes or so) and usually results in a high degree of tension makes it a keeper.


Lorna (1 play): So many dice games this year. This happens to be one that I enjoyed. It’s quick and for a cooperative game there seems to be less opportunity for coaching from other players. I’ll probably be more likely to pull this out than the original.



Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it!
  • I like it. Dale Y, Alan H, Jennifer G, Greg S, Jonathan F, Joe H, Mark J, Patrick B, Lorna, Eric M
  • Neutral.  Patrick K, John P., Jonathan F.
  • Not for me… Nathan Beeler

About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
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4 Responses to Dale Yu: Review of Pandemic: The Cure (Z-Man)

  1. Erik Arneson says:

    I didn’t get to play in time to add my comments above, but I would be squarely in the “I Like It” category as well. I’m a fan of Pandemic and a fan of dice games, so this is a natural for me. Given a choice and enough time, I’d opt for the original Pandemic (with or without expansions) about 7 times in 10, but this is a really nice way to fill the other 3 out of 10. Recommended.

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