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.
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:
- Pandemic Legacy: Season 1
- Pandemic Legacy: Season 2
- Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu
- Pandemic: Iberia
- 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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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, Pandemic, Iberia, 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.
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.
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.