Skip to Content

How To Play Pandemic (7 Minute Guide)

How To Play Pandemic (7 Minute Guide)

The fate of humanity rests on all who hold Pandemic in their hands. Mass panic and disease run rampant, but only if you don’t find the cure. Pandemic is a uniquely cooperative board game where every player has a special role and works together to cure four different diseases before it’s too late. Build a team of 2 to 4 specialists to find the solution starting in Atlanta, home of the Center for Disease Control. The fate of the world depends it so good luck!

If you don’t own Pandemic already, check it out here on Amazon.


Understanding Pandemic is an essential part of the game. By doing so, players can plan out moves better, think of strategies, and even get some tips or tricks from the creator. Find out below all you’ll need to know to play Pandemic.

How to Setup the Game

Since Pandemic is a cooperative game, players need to ensure that there is enough space for all the components of the game and that they are all within the reach of other players. Players can also look at each other’s card in Pandemic so leave space for those as well if desired.

  1. To begin, lay out the board after separating disease cubes into their respective color piles.
  2. Place one research station in Atlanta, one cure marker of each color near the Discovered Cure Indicators, set the outbreak marker on the first space (zero) on the Outbreaks track, and place the infection rate marker on the first 2 in the Infection Rate Track.
  3.  Shuffle the Infection cards. Then, do the following:
    1. Flip over 3 cards then put 3 disease cubes on these cities (make sure to match the disease cube cover to the card color)
    1. Flip over 3 cards – then put 2 disease cubes on these cities
    1. Flip over 3 cards – then put 1 disease cube on these cities
  4. Shuffle the Role deck and then give each player 1 card and 1 pawn in the same color. Place the pawns in Atlanta to start.
  5. Give each player a hand of cards based on how many players there are (see section below) from the Player Deck. Do not include any Epidemic cards when doing so.
  6. Decide with the other players how hard the game should be. Below are the levels of difficulty and the corresponding number of Epidemic cards that should be placed in the Player Deck before being split into Player decks:
    1. Introductory – 4 Epidemic Cards – Split the Player deck into 4 even decks, with one Epidemic card for each deck shuffled in.
    1. Standard – 5 Epidemic Cards – Split the Player deck into 5 even decks, with one Epidemic card for each deck shuffled in.
    1. Heroic – 6 Epidemic Cards – Split the Player deck into 6 even decks, with one Epidemic card for each deck shuffled in.
  7. Take each pile formed above and stack them on top of each other with smaller piles at the bottom.
  8. The player with the highest City population card begins the game.

Possible Actions

Each turn, the players will get to do 4 actions. Some possible actions are listed below:

  • Movement: Drive to a city connected by white line, directly fly to a city (costs the City card of the city being flown to), fly charter to any city after discarding the City card of the city the player is in, or take a shuttle flight from a city with a research station to another city with a research station.
  • Other Actions include building a research station (costs the City card of the city the player is in), treat a disease by removing 1 disease cube from that city (must in in city to do so), share knowledge by giving or taking a City card to/from another player (players must be in the same City, or discover a cure by discarding 5 City cards of the same color.

Each turn players will also draw 2 cards, but they can only have 7 cards at one time. If more than 7 cards are in hand, one must be discarded, or an Event card must be used. If an Epidemic card is drawn during a turn, the following rules apply:

  1. The infection rate marker moves 1 space ahead on the Infection Rate Track.
  2. The bottom card of the Infection deck is drawn, and 3 cubes of that disease color are placed in the city mentioned (unless there are already 3 cubes in which case the total cubes must add to 3 and then an outbreak then occurs there.)
  3. The Infection Discard Pile is reshuffled and added to the top of the Infection Deck.

Lastly, each turn must include an Infection portion which occurs as follows:

  1. Note the number on the Infection Rate Track that is currently in play and draw that number of cards from the Infection Deck.
  2. Place 1 disease cube of the respective color on the named city. Again, if there are 3 cubes, an outbreak occurs in this city instead of more cubes being added.

Ending the Game

The game can end two different ways. Players win when the cures (not eradication) of the diseases have been found.

Unfortunately, if any of the following occur, all the players have lost:

  • The outbreak marker reaches the last space, sending the world into a massive panic
  • No disease cubes are left when required because the diseases have spread so extensively that they can’t be cured.
  • Less than two player cards are available when required because it’s been too long since the outbreak. 

Changes to Game Based on Player Number

The number of players will determine a few options within the game.

  • Number of Cards: Each player will receive cards at the beginning of the games based on how many are playing. For example, if 2 people are playing, each will receive 4 cards to start while 4 players will receive 2 cards and 3 players get 3 cards.
  • If you are playing with 5 people, you will need to use the Government Shutdown scenario and some expansion pack cards (see below).


Pandemic is a strategic game because the success or failure of all players depends on one another. Take heed with actions and be prepared for various obstacles. Some strategies include:

  •  Moving a pawn is a costly action as the game goes on because other actions are more important. Focus on movement only if it gets the team closer to a useful goal.
  • When Operations Expert is available, build many research stations because some other their abilities cost fewer actions than others.
  •  When in a city, try to get rid of the disease cubes before leaving or returning later will be necessary.
  • When choosing which color cards to keep, see how many of that color have been discarded and keep the one that has been discarded less because more of them will be in the deck.
  • Plan ahead when possible, but beware Epidemics

Variations of the Game

In addition to the various expansion packs available (see below), two different scenarios, Isolation and Government Shutdown, have been released by Z-man Games to add to the fun.

  • Isolation: In this scenario for 4 people, the Western world has shut its doors in favor of complete isolation. Four coins are used to block off San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, and São Paulo so that they cannot be accessed (and neither can their Infection cards). It’s a race against the clock to find the cure without some of the major cities available.
  • Government Shutdown: In this scenario for 2-5 people, the government has shut down and greatly limited the resources available. 35 coins are used in this scenario, with each penny representing the number of actions each player can do per turn. Each player starts with 2 pennies though more are doled out as each new infection occurs and the government decides to invest in saving the world.  Use Pandemic: On the Brink event cards if playing with more than 3 people in this situation.

Quick Info

Gameplay Time: 45 min

Alternative Titles: EPIZOotic

Suggested player age: Ages 8 and Over

Community suggested player age:  Ages 10 and Over

Expansions: (7) – Pandemic: On the Brink, Pandemic: In the Lab, Pandemic: State of Emergency, Pandemic: Promo Roles, Pandemic: Survival Promos, Pandemic: Gen Con Promos, Pandemic: Uitbreiding “De Generalist” (Netherlands Special Release)

Community rating:  7.6

Popularity: Popular (Top 100 Board Games)

Difficulty: Moderate (Difficulty can be chosen in game)

Published year and Creator: 2008, created by Matt Leacock

Rules and Publisher Site:


2011 Ludoteca Ideale Official Selection Winner

2010 Australian Games Association Game of the Year

2009 Lys Passioné Finalist

2009 Gouden Ludo Winner

2009 Golden Geek Best Family Board Game Winner

2009 Games Magazine Best New Family Game Winner

2009 Deutscher Spiele Preis Best Family/Adult Game 3rd Place

2009 Boardgames Australia Awards Best International Game Winner

2008 Tric Trac d’Argent Winner

2008 Meeples’ Choice Award

2008 JoTa Best Cooperative Board Game Winner

If you like this game, you’ll also like:

Pandemic Legacy: Season 1, The Resistance, Small World

If you don’t like this game, you should try:

Forbidden Desert, Ticket to Ride, Codenames