Pandemic: Innovation, Cooperation and Teamwork in the Popular Board Game

Of all the recent innovations in board games, few are as remarkable as cooperative play. This contemporary approach is simple in concept: you and your fellow players work together to achieve a common goal. As a result, the game itself – by way of its theme – becomes your opponent. 


In the case of the original Pandemic, your opponent is a group of diseases that threaten the world, and you and your team must do everything you can to prevent their spread. These days, the premise seems eerily topical, but the idea for Pandemic the board game was first incepted in 2004. Back then, as today, the word pandemic dominated headlines. It was against this backdrop that inventor Matt Leacock designed his ground-breaking game

The Idea 

Leacock had seen that competitive games didn’t always play well with others. With that in mind, he began developing a game that would put players on the same team, against a common enemy. In Pandemic, 2-4 players take on the roles of specialists working to combat four diseases outbreaking in different regions of the world. Players choose from seven characters with unique abilities and titles: Contingency Planner, Quarantine Specialist, Operations Expert, Dispatcher, Scientist, Researcher or Medic. Each player can use their special ability to their advantage, but should always work together toward the goal of curing all four diseases. 

Winning and Losing 

While you work together to discover cures, the game itself fights back. If the board falls into certain conditions—like too many outbreaks or running out of cubes or player cards—then the game wins and players lose. Be proactive to prevent outbreaks, don’t let any disease spread out of control, and be careful not to run out of time.

Easy to Learn, Plenty to Do 

While Pandemic is a cooperative board game, players still take individual turns. On each turn, you take any four actions out of several options, such as discovering a cure and building or moving between research stations. You might decide to fly to a new city, treat a disease, share research, or draw or play Event cards. There’s always plenty to do, and you and your team will have to adapt your strategy throughout the game to win. 


Something that seems to make Pandemic such a well-loved title is its rare spirit of collaboration and positivity—both key to defeating the threats on the board, and to overcoming challenges in real life. According to the Wall Street Journal,even front-line healthcare workers find playing Pandemic cathartic. The WSJ reported that staff at Duke Infection Control Outreach Network oftenplay the game to de-stress on days off, and that’s despite the fact they’re leading the fight against the coronavirus in their daily work.

Award Winning 

After its initial release in 2008, Pandemic earned a range of awards for its never-seen-before cooperative mechanics. It’s since inspired a full line of expansions and original standalone games for players looking for a new co-op challenge. While the game invites you to save humanity, in reality it also helps you do more immediate things: enjoy a highly original game, bond with your teammates… And avoid all those arguments about who won, lost, or cheated!

Have you played Pandemic the board game? What do you think about cooperative games?