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Which Is The Best Version of Pandemic?

As of this year, the co-operative board game, Pandemic (by game designer Matt Leacock), has turned 10 years old. In those 10 years, it has gone from being just a game to one of the quintessential experiences of the new board game renaissance. Pandemic has become a champion of the co-operative genre of games, becoming one of the most recommended games and highest rated franchises on the market.

Of course, like all successful franchises, there has been a whole universe created of Pandemic games, ranging from Pandemic to Pandemic: Iberia to even Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu.

So, with that in mind, it’s time to put Pandemic under the microscope. Which is the best version of Pandemic? Which are the essential must plays? And which ones can be left to get diseased?

How Are We Going To Compare The Games?

There are six different Pandemic games we are going to be looking at in this article. These do not include Pandemic: Rising Tide as it hasn’t had enough reviews across all the aggregators to really be comparable to the others due to it being such a recent release. It also doesn’t include expansions.

For this, we are going to compare theme first of all, as well as exploring the shared (and unique) mechanics of each Pandemic. We’ll also look at how complex each version of the game is and use two different rating systems – we’ll use BoardGameGeek (the board game database – also known as BGG) and Amazon. We’ll be using Amazon dot com, rather than dot co do uk, because it has more reviews available for analysis. It is likely to provide a fairer picture.

Okay, let’s start. Let’s see if we can answer the question: which is the best version of Pandemic?

Which Is The Best Version of Pandemic?

To begin with – here is the pure data we are working from in this article. There are a couple of other spreadsheets, but this is the base rating comparison.

Screen Shot 2018-03-10 at 02.01.47

The base core data for figuring out which version of Pandemic is the best.

Versions and Themes

As mentioned earlier in this article, there are six versions of Pandemic we will be looking at today. This does not include any form of expansion or Rising Tide, for the aforementioned reason. With that in mind, these are versions of Pandemic under scrutiny in this article:

  1. Pandemic
  2. Pandemic Legacy: Season 1
  3. Pandemic Legacy: Season 2
  4. Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu
  5. Pandemic: Iberia
  6. Pandemic: The Cure

Out of these, there are three contemporary versions of Pandemic – these being the obvious Pandemic, the dice based Pandemic: The Cure, and Pandemic Legacy: Season 1. There is one fiction based version, which is the Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu, a historical version in Iberia, and finally a futuristic version (or post-apocalyptic version) in Pandemic Legacy: Season 2.

As a game, Pandemic has diversified, especially in these last few years. Where Pandemic and The Cure are the same game with different mechanics, all the other games try something new as well. Iberia, for instance, is more localised. The two legacy games are obviously legacy games (games which evolve permanently as you play them) and Reign of Cthulhu is a mix between an RPG and a Pandemic game.

This means that, unlike with other franchises that shall remain nameless, depending on which version you play (or buy) you can end up with a very different gaming experience. If we look at the core mechanics listed in BGG, then we can see:

Which is the best version of Pandemic - mechanic comparison

*ahem*…yes, Pandemics is the plural…

The above graph shows all the mechanics listed under the six games in BGG, and then how many games use that mechanic.

There are certain things that constitute a Pandemic game. For instance, Pandemic games are co-operative. They include Hand Management as a mechanic, and Set Collecting, as well as Point to Point movement. Not all Pandemic games, however, allow trading, or have the Pick-Up and Deliver mechanic (that is only in Legacy Season 2). Dice Rolling and Press Your Luck are both in the same version of Pandemic, and that is The Cure, but nothing else.

So, although the games are all very similar, and they all have the same feeling, they are not necessarily identical. They share common traits, but other traits they don’t necessarily advocate as a whole group.

Which is the best version of Pandemic when it comes to complexity?

The answer to this question, which the best version of Pandemic is based on complexity rating, depends very much on the kind of gamer you are – so there isn’t a basic answer in regards to which is better from a complexity perspective. That being said, we can compare the complexity of the games. For this, we will look at the Board Game Geek complexity rating.

There has been some discussion on these comparison blogs in the past as to which other metrics could be used to judge how complex a game is. Counting forum discussions over rules were one suggested way of looking at the complexity; however, in this case, the original and legacy games seriously outweigh the other versions in regards to forum posts because they have become so iconic.

Complexity Rating

As it can be seen, the two Legacy games are, by far, the most complex versions of the game. It is important to note that complexity is a rating from 0-5, and scoring over 3 is considered high. Iberia also comes above a 2.5/5.

What is surprising here is not that The Cure is the least complex – after all, it is a dice version of the game and thus relies more on luck – but rather that Reign of Cthulhu is considered significantly simpler than the basic version of the game. This is surprising since Cthulhu has the exact same mechanics list.

Trouble in Arkham in Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu

Trouble in Arkham in Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu

What are the average reviews from Board Game Geek?

One of the easiest ways to compare games is to look at the reviews they have in the board gaming world. For this, we are going to look at the aggregated reviews from Board Game Geek for the hardcore gaming audience, and Amazon dot com for the wider consumer market.

BGG Aggregated User Reviews

Once again, the two Legacy games are the obvious games to comment on here. Legacy Season 1 is actually currently rated #2 in the BGG top 100. This is something we will come onto in a bit; however, for now, it is interesting to note that both Legacy games are highly thought of. Of course, you are more likely to buy Legacy Season 2, if you enjoyed Season 1, so it is worth taking that into account.

Iberia is also scoring highly, and as is the original game. The second major point to note is that the two games that are considered the easiest (Reign of Cthulhu and The Cure) are also considered the worst of the games relatively speaking. They still score well – just not as well.

And what is the overall ranking?

The overall ranking is hugely telling about these games, and with this graph, it is important to note the bars are inverted. The higher the bar, the lower the game is ranked.

BGG Overall Ranking

Now, the above graph is telling of the series. There are thousands upon thousands of games on Board Game Geek (it is a database after all) and yet all six of the Pandemic games we are looking at are within the top 350. If that isn’t impressive enough, four of the games are in the top 100, with the two Legacy games being in the top 50. All in all, as mentioned before, Legacy Season 1 is currently ranked #2, just after Gloomhaven and that is pretty hard to argue with from the board game community. It even has a mode score of 10/10. Amazing. To put that in context, one game in every 25 in the top 100 list, is a Pandemic game.

What About Amazon and the Consumer Market?

Comparing Amazon to Board Game Geek is always interesting. Amazon, as the world’s largest e-commerce store, is a fantastic place to go for aggregated reviews from the consumer market. Where the reviews may not always be first hand (ie. “I bought this for my grandson/husband/wife/sister/friend” etc.) they are from a potentially wider demographic. They are from more casual gamers as well as the more serious ones.

Amazon Reviews

Here, we see the Amazon/BGG divide in action. Once again, Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 tops the top of the chart, but this time with Reign of Cthulhu coming in beside it. The biggest shock, however, comes from Legacy Season 2, as it is not rated as highly on Amazon as Legacy Season 1. There is only 0.2 between them, which could be down to Legacy Season 2 having had fewer reviews so far; however, it is still an interesting comparison to make. Also, PandemicIberia, and The Cure are all in their respective places, not too dissimilar to the other graphs.

Now, using the Amazon and BGG data we can apply a simple formula to come up with an average score overall.

There is automatically a problem that arises here, which is that Amazon scores everything out of 5 and BGG scores out of 10. Amazon also has far fewer reviews per item than Board Game Geek. With all this in mind, I have used this formula in the past to try and figure out a potential average:


In the simple equation above, A is the Amazon (dot com) review score and B is the BGG aggregated score. It gives an idea as to which game is the best; however, it doesn’t take the number of reviews into account (it is a formula in progress). It generates a bit of an arbitrary score; however, it is not designed to be perfect. Just to give an idea.

Which is the best version of Pandemic - once and for all.

Which is the best version of Pandemic – once and for all.

When we look at the graph above, there are two things that stand out. The first is how close everything is. All the bars hover around the same region. The second is how well the games do on average. Every single game scored above 4.5 on Amazon. Every single game scored above 7/10 on BGG. These are fantastic scores.

If we truncate the graph a little bit to exaggerate the difference then we can see more clearly which game tops the table and which comes last.

Aggregated Reviews 2

Now we can see a clearer winner, and that is that Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 has topped the charts, with The Cure coming last. Everything else is really close, with only 0.5 between them.

Commentary and Conclusion: Which is the Best Version of Pandemic?

In this analysis, we have looked at fewer graphs than usual in an effort to get to the pure facts. That being said, the graphs that have been displayed are telling. Where all the Pandemics score well, Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 is an incredibly highly thought of game. It has topped every single test, so much so that it could be argued the results are somewhat definitive. According to popular opinion, Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 is the best version of Pandemic.

There is some good reason for this. Where Pandemic is a great game that helped refine the co-operative genre, Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 helped create a genre to begin with. Where Risk: Legacy was already a thing, it wasn’t half as successful as Pandemic: Legacy proved to be. Pandemic Legacy helped forge that legacy system in the eyes of the board gaming world, bringing it into the light for all to see. For that alone it deserves recognition. The fact it is a Pandemic game is just the icing on the cake.

That being said, all of the Pandemics score relatively well in accordance with other games in the co-operative marketplace, and this speaks of a different legacy. This speaks of the legacy of Matt Leacock, and how amazing his gaming concept is. No other game has four renditions within the BGG top 100. No other franchise is that prominent on the list.

The diversity of Pandemic is just another thing that comes through. Yes, there are six games, and all six share four similar core mechanics. That being said, they are also unique games in their own right. Each is completely different to the others, something which is actually quite rare within a franchise. These aren’t just reskinned, but each game has a unique identity. This shows when we see the differences in score between Amazon and BGG. If they weren’t so radically different then the games would all be roughly the same, as we have seen with other franchises in the past. The fact they are all really different is awesome.

So, no matter what your taste, no matter what you like in your co-operative plague-themed games, you can be sure that there is a Pandemic game for you. It may not be Legacy. It may be Reign of Cthulhu or Iberia. My advice would be to go for the game whose theme appeals to you the most. You can’t go far wrong with that.

10 years of Pandemic – can you believe it? What was your first experience with Pandemic like? Which version do you like the most? Do you even like the game? Let me know in the comments below.

Other “Best Version” Analysis:
Love Letter


  1. Now, I haven’t played the Legacy games so I can’t comment on those, but I utterly love Reign of C’thulhu. The theme is excellent and the mechanics of the core game translate very well. The Epidemics now awaken different gods that change the game in various ways. It’s a great use of the licence to my mind.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. I haven’t yet played Cthulhu or Iberia, but we just completed Season 1 (with a couple of mistakes made that we found out about later – oops!) and went straight into Season 2, which we only played the intro game of, but none of us really enjoyed. In fact, our next session was Vanilla Pandemic again, and despite losing twice it was a hell of a lot more fun than Season 2’s intro game was.
    Dunno. We should get back to it, but I think we’re going to take a (probably long) break before we do.

    Liked by 2 people

    • That’s really interesting to hear. I haven’t played Season 2, but I didn’t expect it to be that different to Season 1, which is so insanely highly rated that it is surprising. Do you reckon Legacy Season 1 set the bar too high, or does Season 2 just not live up to its predecessor?


      • Season 2 feels like a different game. It might be a good game, but it’s a different game. The “supply” mechanic feels like the “curing” mechanic simply turned on its head because let’s change the mechanics here. Season 1 is already *Pandemic* before taking the twists and turns.

        Liked by 1 person

        • That’s such a shame. Is it a case of the designers trying to fix something that wasn’t broken or trying to do something fresh with it when they didn’t need to?


  3. Erm, so yeah.
    Pandemic Vanilla = amazing.
    Season 1 = awesomely amazing.
    Season 2 = hrm, it’s okay I guess but who wants to play something else instead? Everyone? Okay, that’s decided, then.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I gotta admit I found Pandemic utterly impossible to beat in a collaborative setting. It reminded me of playing some computer games, like say any Civilization iteration, on the “hard” setting. One where frustration is the guaranteed result. As a result, it gathers dust in the closet!

    Liked by 3 people

    • I’d recommend toning it down to 4 Outbreak cards until you get the hang of it. Also, you could allow your players to choose their roles – our preferred roles are Medic, Dispatcher, Researcher and Scientist. We’ve got them down pretty good now. Researcher is the most vital one of that four IMO.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I would definitely take Azazel’s suggestions into account. It is worth toning it back until you find a gameplay mode that works for you 🙂 we kept losing as well until we found our own kind of rhythm. You do need to be careful about which roles go in, but you will find your own way of doing it 🙂 have you played Forbidden Island or Forbidden Desert?

      Liked by 2 people

      • No, but my game time is so limited that if a game does not work for my wife, that’s it for her, and she (and I) love Catan, so we default to that if we have guests enough to play. If only I could get her into regular tabletop gaming that would be awesome! Appreciate your and Azazel’s suggestions. Maybe I’m more into less cooperative games as I think about it.

        Liked by 2 people

        • That’s fair enough. I actually came across these awesome guys the other day called the Quantic Foundry – they have a board game personality quiz and a board games recommendation engine you may like if you have limited playing time (or just want to find something new) – it’s a really good engine 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

      • Interestingly, a co-worker was telling me that she and her husband play Pandemic together all the time, to the point where they have it down pat and almost never lose. She said they find it easier because you get more turns with fewer players. Haven’t tried it with any numbers other than four, myself.

        Have you (Mark) tried Carcassonne? That’s a pretty fun and easy game, and playable with two if you don’t have the people for Catan.

        Liked by 1 person

    • If you add in the extra Events from the first supplement suddenly it’s winnable with good concentration all around and everyone making use of their abilities. Frequently you win on the last card or two cards before the deck runs out.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Nice one Luke. Best analysis article so far. This topic is something I’d like to do myself one day. After getting Iberia played a few times – it’s a great version of Pandemic – I’m very interested in giving the rest a shot. Even if it breaks my own code of no Legacy games. :p

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Very interesting way to determine the overall winner. And yet, you can’t get to Legacy or Cthulhu without playing and liking the original really. (Okay you could but I suspect everyone plays the basic game first.) Cthulhu plays a little “easier” than the base game but it gets the horror part right. Ironically I really like Iberia. You have to strategize more and do more than just move about. Laying the right track is critical. That said I want to play in a full campaign of Season 1 – I was in two games – and Season 2.

    Liked by 1 person

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