Pandemic Iberia (Game Review by Chris Wray)

  • Designers: Matt Leacock, Jesus Torres Castro
  • Publisher: Z-Man Games
  • Players: 2 – 5
  • Ages: 8 and Up
  • Time: 45 Minutes
  • Times Played: 5 (with 2-5 Players)

Pandemic Iberia.png

Pandemic Iberia made its debut at Essen 2016, receiving a much wider release in December.   

There’s obviously an all-new map featuring the Iberian Peninsula.  The map has fewer places to travel than in the original game, but it is also initially a bit more difficult to travel between parts of the map.  Whereas in Pandemic you can fly around the world, here, that technology was not yet invented, so the only way to fast travel at the start of the game is by ship, which allows movement between port cities.  But fear not: players can make it easier to travel by building railway lines!  This simple change creates a new layer of strategy.  

Throw in the clever historic scenarios, and fans of Pandemic will like where Matt Leacock and Jesus Torres Castro have taken the game.

Gameplay Walkthrough

Note: This is a full walkthrough.  If you’re familiar with Pandemic, you can arguably skip this and jump straight to my section on the differences between Iberia and Pandemic.  

You and your fellow players are “embarking on your mission to discover the origins of diseases that are devastating the countryside of the Iberian Peninsula.”  

You win if you successfully research all four diseases.  However, your team loses if:

  • 8 outbreaks occur, due to the massive panic that ensues;
  • Not enough disease cubes are left when needed, as that disease has spread too much; or
  • Not enough player cards are left when needed, as your team has run out of time.

Each player has a special role that can help their team.  For example, when the “rural doctor” treats a disease, it removes one cube from the present city, plus an extra from either that city or a different city in an adjacent region.  The “railwayman” can place two consecutive railroad tokens (instead of one) when building railroad.  There are seven different roles in all.  

Each player takes a reference card, plus a role card and the matching pawn, which will be placed on a city corresponding to a city card in their hand.

From the infection cards, flip over the top two and place three cubes on each of these locations.  Then flip two more cards and place two cubes on these locations, then two more and place one cube on each.  Thus, the game will begin with six cities having disease cubes.  These cards are all placed face up in the infection discard pile.


The Player card deck is then set up.  Event cards are then worked in based on the number of players, and then a starting hand is dealt to each player.  The player deck is prepared by separating it into four to six face down piles (depending on the desired difficulty level) and shuffling one epidemic card into each pile.  The game then begins.  

A turn consists of doing four actions, drawing two cards from the player cards, and the infecting cities.

For the actions, a player may:

  • Move one space by carriage or by boat (i.e. between cities connected by a brown line).
  • Move by train to a city connected by a continuous rail line.
  • Move by ship between two port cities by discarding a city card matching the color of your destination.
  • Build railroad on a line coming out of your current city.
  • Build a hospital by discarding the city card that matches your current city.  Hospitals are where you must go to research a disease.
  • Treat a disease by removing one disease cube from the city you are in.
  • Share knowledge by giving the city card that matches the city you are in or by taking the city card that matches the city are in.  Both you and the other player must be in that city.  
  • Research a disease.  Discard five city cards matching the color of the hospital from your hand to research the disease.  You need to do this to all four diseases to win the game.
  • Purify water.  Discard a city card matching the color of a city in an adjacent region to put two water tokens into that region.  Alternatively, discard a city card matching the color of a researched disease to put the two tokens in any one adjacent region.  Purification (i.e. water) tokens prevent the addition of one disease cube into a city adjacent to the region that contains it.  

There is a hand limit of seven cards for each player.

After the four actions, a player draws the top two cards from the play deck.  If you draw an epidemic card, immediately do the following steps in order:

  • Move the infection marker forward, which may increase the infection rate.
  • Take the bottom card from the infection deck and put three disease cubes in that city.  Put it in the discard pile.  
  • Shuffle the discard pile and put them back on top of the infection deck.

Finally, flip over as many infection cards as the current infection rate.  Place a cube in each location.

Once again, players win if they can research all four diseases before any of the loss conditions are met.

The Big Differences Between Pandemic and Iberia, Plus a Couple of Lines About Those Scenarios

If you’re familiar with Pandemic, there are obviously a number of similarities to that game.  But there are also a few key differences, and these are what I see as the big changes.  

First, the map is quite different, and movement is harder at the start of the game.  You can’t fly around the map like in Pandemic, and moving via port doesn’t work for several of the cities.  So you’ll probably want to build some railway, which costs an action.  I’ve found it useful to have the railwayman in the game as one of the roles.  

Second, there is no way to completely eradicate diseases, so those disease cubes will keep giving you headaches even after you’ve researched them.

Third, because of the new movement restrictions and the fact that you can’t eradicate diseases, the the water/purification tokens are important, especially later in the game.  They are also a new action at your disposal.  

Fourth, you need hospitals of each color to research diseases, as opposed to going to any research station.  

Fifth, there are several new roles and event cards.

Finally, there are two historic scenarios to play through.  The first is called the “Influx of Patients Challenge,” in which disease cubes slowly move towards (and overrun) hospitals.  The second is called “Historical Diseases Challenge,” in which each disease has a special power.  

My thoughts on the game…

2016 could be fairly described as the year of Pandemic for me and my gaming friends.  We beat Pandemic Legacy (which took BGG’s #1 spot on New Year’s day) after 17 plays.  Months later, at Gen Con, Pandemic Reign of Cthulhu made its debut and was a big hit with us.  Then, at Essen, I got to try Pandemic Iberia, with my preorder copy arriving a few weeks later.  

Pandemic Iberia feels a lot like Pandemic, but with some clever twists, and I think fans of the series will enjoy what Matt Leacock and Jesus Torres Castro have done for this special edition.  Of the new titles, this feels like the closest thing to base Pandemic.  Reign of Cthulhu varied considerably from the original, and so did Pandemic Legacy (at least after four or five months), but most of what makes up the original game is present in Iberia.  That said, Iberia feels more strategic than its predecessor, almost like an advanced form of Pandemic.  

Because of the need to build railroads and place down purification tokens, Iberia is different enough from Pandemic mechanically to feel fresh.  Pandemic was obviously a starting point for the design, and much of the gameplay is indeed similar.  But as I outline above, this is a fresh take, with several historic tie ins to past epidemics on the Iberian Peninsula.

I think the railroads are an especially nice touch, and I think striking the right balance of when to build them is one of the tougher parts of the game.  You know you’ll need them — disease cubes tend to come out faster than come off! — but it isn’t immediately clear where you’ll need them at the start of the game.  By the time you have that information, you’ll be picking between triage and railroad construction.

The purification tokens are also a fun addition.  They can help take the stress off of regions far from the railroad, plus they also prove helpful since disease eradication isn’t possible.  They’re costly to build — I always loath giving up cards — but sometimes it is a necessity.  

In terms of the odds of winning, Iberia strikes me as being on par with the difficulty of Pandemic.  We’re 2/5, whereas our ratio with Reign of Cthulhu would be higher than that.  

In terms of complexity, this is slightly more complex than base Pandemic.  This essentially has everything from the base game, plus railroads and purification tokens, so this is marginally more difficult to teach.  Nonetheless, Iberia is certainly still an approachable game, one that could be taught to children.  

The new board is beautiful and thematic, evoking the feel of a different era.  This is certainly more attractive — at least to me — than Pandemic.  And because of how attractive the game is, and because of a couple of the new mechanics (particularly the railroads), I think I prefer this game to base Pandemic.

Much like the other Pandemic games that have come out in recent months, Iberia has been a hit with me and my group.  Pandemic was the inspiration, so this was always going to be a great game.  But some of the new mechanics offer an engaging strategic twist, and for fans of Pandemic, I think this limited edition might be a must-have.   

Thoughts of Other Opinionated Gamers

Erik Arneson: Pandemic Iberia is an outstanding addition to the Pandemic family. I’ve enjoyed every Pandemic game I’ve played (all of them except Cthulhu), and this is no exception. The changes are enough to give it a very different feel than any of the others, the gameplay is challenging, and I highly recommend it.

Greg S:  I am a big fan of Pandemic, and feel Pandemic Legacy is a masterpiece.  I also enjoy the twists and horror theme of Pandemic: Cthulhu.  Iberia, however, felt too close to the original and, for some reason, did not generate the excitement of the previous titles.  It certainly is not bad, but with the other games in my collection, I just didn’t see the need to add this one.

Jonathan F.: I love this iteration more than the base game and first expansion (the only two I have played).  The special abilities for the diseases and the rails make it a better game for me.  I also like that the art is less dark and more thematic.  Finally, the hospital patient migration variant is amazing in that it makes sense and ups the theme and challenge.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it! Chris Wray, Erik Arneson, Eric M., Jonathan F.
  • I like it. Greg S.
  • Neutral.
  • Not for me…
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