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I've looked at a lot of forum posts on several sites on Pandemic and it seems that there is a decent amount of luck. You may win 2 6-epidemic games in a row, then lose 3 5-epidemic games. I have no trouble at all with luck, but I'm curious:

What Pandemic strategies did you figure out after several games that help you get better win %'s on normal and heroic modes?

After reading through a large portion of this thread I've gathered a few things that are important. Any other suggestions on strategy are appreciated as well! :D

  • Know special combinations: when a disease is cured you can use the dispatcher to walk the medic around, which automatically cures any cubes of the cured color on those cities. Any other good combos you've discovered?

  • know when its worth it to eradicate a disease, and when to focus on curing diseases vs. removing cubes. How can I tell that? What other hard decisions are there that I should be aware of?

  • know the rules. I just found out that you can take cards from another player if they would be able to give them to you on their turn. So if you're on the same tile as the researcher, you can take any other their cards for 1 action each. Any other rule gotchas that make the game easier?

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IIRC, only the Researcher is allowed to give/take a city card on their turn. If it is another player's turn the Researcher special ability is not available. – Ed Griebel Feb 7 '11 at 17:47
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@Ed: that's not correct. In fact, the sample turn included in the rules specifically includes an example of using the Researcher's ability on another player's turn. – BJ Homer Mar 2 '11 at 4:00
    
@BJHomer Some translated versions of the game gets that wrong. IIRC the correct rule is that the researchers can give cards in his turn, and other players can take cards in their turn. Ie. limitations on whose turns it is, but cards can only move away from the researcher. The researcher in some translation has the power to both give and take, but only during researchers turn. This gets weird in the Norwegian translation, because it is shipped together with the Danish. The card has both languages, and the text on those languages does not agree. – Taemyr Oct 5 '15 at 14:15
up vote 24 down vote accepted

A few points:

Movement is usually the most expensive action. Sure, you're getting closer to be being able to do something useful, but the moving itself isn't technically doing anything - it's just using up a turn. Because of this, if you go to a city with 3 disease cubes on it - strongly consider clearing them all off. If you don't, it just means you'll need to return sooner, and waste more turns getting there. The exception is late in the game - you're probably safe reducing it to the point where it cannot outbreak (ie. when there are two Epidemics left...you only need to reduce a city down to 1 disease cube).

When you have an Operations Expert in play, build research stations liberally. There are lots of instances where you can save someone else 2 (or many more) actions at the cost of building 1 research station with an Ops Expert. Even something that seems like a 1 for 1 tradeoff is probably worth it, especially if your Ops Expert doesn't have any pressing needs. Late game, you might be able to save someone who has a cure (or is about to have one) 3-4 movement actions that they would have needed just to get to a research station. Build a station in the city they are already in.

I used to place one research station in the middle of a problem area, then fan out from it to clear the surrounding cities. Now I build one station at either end of a problem area, so I can enter on one side, sweep across the problem cities, and leave from the other side, without having to backtrack. (But don't leave huge gaps - I'm talking like: research station -> city -> city -> research station)

This might be obvious, but pay attention to how many cards of a particular color you've already played. Later in the game, you'll have to make decisions about which to keep. Keep the colors that you've discarded the most of, since there are fewer of them in the deck.

And when deciding what to keep: I used to think that it made sense to keep the cards that are furthest away from existing research stations. Now, I believe that it might be better to keep cards that are closest to research stations, since you'll be able to quickly get to that area, and you'll probably be there often since it's a problem area, you can use those cards for charter flights - which offer greater flexibility.

Also, wait as long as possible to make the decision of which color to go for (since you'll have to discard so you don't go above 7). If you have 3 red and 3 blue, don't even think about picking one and discarding the other. Get rid of whatever the 7th or 8th card in your had is. Even consider using a special, that is if it will provide a solid benefit at that moment. (An exception would be if another player has 4 red or 4 blue - then you know that they will be curing that disease, not you - so you'd probably rather keep those 2 yellow cards.)

I know I said movement is the most expensive action, but getting together 5 of one color is probably worse. It takes a TON of move actions to use the Share Knowledge action.

That said, if you have the Researcher at the start, find someone with two or more cards of one color, and give them more of that color. This will be the easiest chance you'll have the entire game to use Share Knowledge.

As for eradicating - I only do it if I can guarantee eradication in the next two player turns (using all 8 of their actions). No scientific basis for that really, but it's something that I have to be able to almost guarantee, given the state of the board (where an Epidemic is unlikely, or unlikely to stymie the attempt). The number of movement actions this will save you down the line is massive. This most often happens with the Dispatcher, Medic combo you mentioned. Also, don't eradicate late in the game (unless it somehow won't negatively affect your ability to cure the other diseases).

Plan ahead as much as possible, but be wary of Epidemics. Don't plan out 4 player turns ahead if an Epidemic is probably going to happen before then. Having a long term plan get interrupted (because of a new emergency) can be devastating.

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Some good points! However, clearing all three cubes to avoid coming back is part of what I meant in my answer about worrying about outbreaks a bit too much. Likewise, 8 turns is way too much for an eradication. – Neal Tibrewala Feb 1 '11 at 16:06
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As for clearing all three - I view the strategy of moving around and clearing one cube (while leaving two cubes remaining) from all of the danger cities as a strategy that "worries about outbreaks too much". In my view, it's better to clear all three, risk an outbreak somewhere else, knowing that you won't have to come back later. Also, there has to be a threshold somewhere as to the number of actions spent eradicating that makes it worthwhile. Might be less, but you can imagine needing 8 future actions attending to a disease you already eradicated. Depends on the exact situation of course. – Ryan Feb 1 '11 at 16:23
    
Usually once I have cured a disease it stops being a problem and I have to spend very few actions to prevent outbreaks there. I only ever eradicate if it takes at most one player's turn, and sometimes even then I still don't. – Matt Oct 1 '12 at 11:34

Pandemic is an interesting game, with an interesting luck curve. Actually, on heroic levels there's less randomness in the game than on normal levels, since fewer black cards will come into play in the game. The players, therefore, have more predictability and can plan better.

One of the most important read the rules trick is that the rules state that this is not a game of memory and players are encouraged to look at all available information. This means that when you're about to reshuffle black, study the cards. The plans formed should not be about the cubes on the board, but the cards about to be drawn from the top.

Combine that knowledge with the cubes on the board to make the plan. Count the number of black cards that come up in the reshuffle pile to know when to switch to playing it safe.

A corollary to this, is that most strategic players overestimate how bad outbreaks are. The only really bad thing is a chain-reaction outbreak. For heroic games, consider the outbreak counter a pool of resources to be consumed. Don't worry about it until it's halfway used. Time spent early curing disease is far better than time spent on 3 cube cities, since it's far cheaper to clean up after the disease has been cured.

Finally, curing is everything, as that's the only way to win. Don't waste time treating or worse, eradicating, if you can productively move game state towards a cure.

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re: eradicating - While I'll agree that eradicating is often not worth the effort, if you're lucky enough to be have the chance to cure and eradicate a color early game, it can be a massive help (and worth the detour). – Allen Gould Oct 3 '12 at 18:49
    
Can be, yes, but it's risky early as you don't know yet how often that color will be coming up. This is why i suggest it only for a player who can't help make progress toward the next cure that turn. – Neal Tibrewala Oct 4 '12 at 14:02
    
True, it all depends on how much effort it'll take to eradicate. (I've had a few games where it was pretty much "on the way" to get an early sunset; some games the color didn't come up much, some games became a cakewalk). – Allen Gould Oct 4 '12 at 15:28
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@JefBray are you sure? I thought once you found a medicine of a color, and eradicated the last cube of that color, the disease can not come back anymore. New cards of that color are to be discarded? – Konerak Jan 2 '14 at 12:50
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Eradication is a game term. It specifically means eliminating all cubes from the board AFTER you have found the cure. At that point no cubes of that color can ever come back. However, simply removing all the cubes of a color is NOT Eradicating the disease, if you haven't cured it yet. – Neal Tibrewala Jan 3 '14 at 21:33

It's true. Make sure you pay attention to your vocabulary. Treat disease. Cure disease. Eradicate disease. I do agree that you should not try to eradicate a disease if it will cost more than two turns. However, eradication does have major advantages. Once you have eradicated a disease you now welcome the drawing of the eradicated color card during infect disease, simply because no more disease cubes can be placed on an eradicated country. Eradication will also narrow your movement down to the areas where diseases still need to be cured, which is better for treating areas without having to worry about moving far across the map to treat others.

Regarding player roles and roles working well together: special attention should be payed to each role. Not using a player role to your advantage is a big mistake in this game and is a sure way to lose consistently. I've played games where, especially in the instance of the contingency planner, where roles were not effectively used. This game is about taking advantage of every possible scenario, so critical thinking with player roles in mind is a must. I like how roles can be used in conjunction with each other like the dispatcher/medic combo. The dispatcher can move the medic over cured diseases and cure all in one move. Another one would be the scientist/researcher combo. It would be in the best interest for these two to stay close to each other since the scientist only needs four cards to cure a disease.

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I think the biggest thing is just to not worry too much about outbreaks. Chained outbreaks are bad, but which is why you want to watch out for cities with three of a color (and especially adjacent cities with three of a color) but it's often better to just let outbreaks happen rather than spending a lot of effort preventing it.

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step 1 is to be aware of role synergy.

The dispatcher can move the medic through a cured disease and clean it up.

The dispatcher can bring people together to share knowledge. this works extra well if one of them is the researcher.

The dispatcher can send the operations person to someone else's square to build a research station so a disease can be cured.

Bringing the researcher to the scientist is a good idea.

The quarantine specialist should be near hostpots, and adjacent to many cities as possible at once. Stopping outbreaks simply by being nearby is a GOOD thing.

DON'T FLY TOO OFTEN! this is the biggest mistake in the game. That colored card you used to fly may have delayed your cure. Of course sometimes a hotspot really needs to be dealt with now, so your hand may be forced. DO your best to not set back the cure! Once you have determined that the card you want to use to fly is not needed to get the cure, feel free to use it.

Don't spend city cards to create research stations if the operations expert is around to make them for free. If there is no operations planner to make them for free, then you will need to spend city cards on them to help get your cures.

Keep a count of player cards drawn. You will then know if an epidemic is due or not. Also keep track of city cards that have shown.

If you MUST discard, try to NOT discard a card that may be needed for a cure.

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It makes a massive difference to use the contingency planner to allow you to have two goes at the Commercial Travel Ban. Use the New Assignment to change a player to contingency planner if he is not one of your starters. You can then use his ability to re-use New Assignment.

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What expansion does this apply to? None of those mechanics exist in the base game. – Gordon Gustafson Jun 23 '15 at 18:03
    
This is when playing with the expansion. – Adrian Jun 24 '15 at 3:20
    
On The Brink: Roles and Events – Adrian Jun 24 '15 at 3:30

Count cards ;-) Less metaphorically: while trying to get better, focus on what micro-optimizations you can do. While playing to win, have micro-optimizations in mind, but always keep your eyes on the goal, which is gathering the five cards and bringing them to a research center.

The strategic advice in other posts have looked good to me. I think I might be able to help with some general analysis. While it (mostly) doesn't suggest what plays to (not) make, it might help to have the structure and logic of the game spelled out.

Time and city cards:

The deck has 48 city cards, 5 event cards and (say) 7 epidemic cards (it makes the numbers rounder without distorting the big picture), for a total of 60. Of these, opening hands of 8 or 9 cards total are drawn, so on turn one the deck has 51 or 52 cards. With 2 cards drawn each turn, that's 26 or 27 turns (if you can start but not end your turn on an empty deck). With n players, the number of turns each player gets is 13.5 (n=2) or 8.66 (n=3) or 6.75 (n=4); for n > 2, one player gets one fewer turn than the rest.

Note that with four players and 6 epidemic cards, between the end of your turn and the beginning of your next turn you will very often have drawn an epidemic card, whereas you get two turns between epidemic with two players.

You draw two cards per turn. The time it takes to have a well-underway set (3 or 4 of the same color) is a function of how many cards you draw. Meaning it takes the same number of rounds, where a round is n turns, but more turns to get close to having a set.

In a 4-player game you draw 52/4 + 2 = 15 cards (13 at the end of your turns, plus your opening hand of 2), of which 12 (48/4) will be city cards. If the colors are evenly distributed it's 3 of each, so you'll have to rely on card swaps for the remaining two; more likely it'll be 2-3-3-4 or something close to even. Unless you're very fast, most likely each player will only be able to collect one color, and you'll have to choose who collects what around halfway through the game.

This also means that discovering a cure is likely to happen quite late in the game, and the special benefit of having a cure (better actions) is likely to be unavailable except for a few turns. Likewise, the benefits of eradication (which happen when you draw from the infect deck) is greater the earlier you eradicate, but it's likely to happen late or not at all. (It gives a greater per-turn benefit in later turns, but a greater overall the earlier it's done.)

On the other hand, with two players you have 52/2+4=30 cards, of which 48/2=24 will be city cards, or 6 of each color. The need for coordination is low, you will likely discover cures throughout the game and reap the benefits thereof, and eradication is often doable if you focus on it. In my experience you discard a lot in two-player games due to hand limit; after each cure is discovered, it's probably a good idea to count city cards in the discard pile and calculate how many are left of each color.

For three players, you get 51/3+3 = 20, among these 48/3 = 16 city cards, or four of each color. Most likely you can discover one cure without help, but a moderate amount of swapping will be useful. Also, who discovers the fourth cure? Having 8.66 turns, you probably can't afford to just wait for the cards to show up, but I haven't played 3-player all that much.

Roles versus the number of players:

  • The Medic has powerful actions; the more actions he can take, the better. The more players, the fewer he can do that; his effectiveness is about 1/n in a game with n players—except for synergy with the dispatcher once a cure has been found.
  • The Scientist gains more from drawing and receiving cards, and he draws card more often the fewer players there are. Receiving cards is made easier by the Researcher (less mobility is required) and Operations Export and Dispatcher (mobility is cheaper).
  • The Contingency Planner can replay event cards, but only those that have been drawn. The probability that an event card has been drawn since the beginning of the CP's last turn is roughly linear in the number of players in the game, so he becomes more powerful the more players are in the game. He is enabled by other players.
  • The Operations Expert has very flexible movement on his own turn and enables the fast movement of other players on their turns. His power on his own turns is independent of the number of players, but he adds power to each other player's turn, so he also gets better the larger the number of players. He enables other players.
  • The Dispatcher is both enabled by having more players in the game (allowing more warps), and there is more need for coordination the larger the number of players. He enables other players, and is enabled to do so by the presence of more players.
  • The Quarantine Specialist allows other players to not worry about a given board area. The number of "safe" turns bought by the QS is the the number of non-QS players. She enables other players not by adding to their power but by removing an expenditure of it.
  • I'm not quite sure about the player-scaling characteristics of the Researcher: one the one hand, other players can take cards from you on their turns, which suggests it's more powerful the more players there are, but that's limited by two factors: 1. you only draw two cards each turn, so you can only give away two cards for every turn you have; and 2. you need to meet up with other players to exchange cards, which is hard unless the Dispatcher or Operations Expert can help. Also, a larger group of players have a greater need for the Researcher by the above section. On the other hand, with two players the coordination tends to be easy, so once the two of you have a set of five cards you can rapidly convert it into a cure, and you have longer time over which to reap the benefits of having a cure. Think of it this way: the Researcher has a joint up-to-14-card hand with each other player individually, but it takes longer to get to 14 the more players there are in the game. (~12 turns for n=4 vs. ~4 turns for n=2.)

More about the roles:

Of the four that I'm certain get better the more players there are in the game, the Operations Expert is great in a two-player game and the rest are weak. The OE is awesome in a large game, the Dispatcher is good and the QS and CP are sort of OK. (As others have said, movement is very expensive and the OE greatly cuts down on some of the costs.)

From the above you should not conclude that the best two-role team is Scientist and Medic, or that the best four-player team consists of OE, CP, QS and Dispatcher.

  • The Dispatcher has synergies with the Medic if a cure has been discovered; he also makes it easier for the Researcher to deliver cards.

  • The Operations Expert has a two-move combo: build a research center, then discard a city card to fly anywhere. This can often be followed up by one more research center and the removal of a disease cube; i.e. he can act as a one-man strike team and have the crew show up later. He can also facility card delivery, but this hasn't been a big part of my plays.

  • Together the Scientist and Researcher can hold 14 cards. If they have 13 city cards, there is one color they have at least four cards of, meaning the scientist can discover a cure if they swap stuff around. (It might involve discards, but then there's one less color to hold.)

  • Comparing Scientist and Researcher: the Scientist moves the 5-card finish line closer to the starting line. The Researcher lets you travel faster towards the finish line (2 players) and/or give everyone else a push forward (more players). Of the two, the Researcher is more effective, in my experience, which admittedly is mostly two-player games.

  • Comparing Dispatcher and Operations Expert: the Dispatcher makes everyone more mobile on the Dispatcher's turn, i.e. in one big burst every n turns. The Operations Expert makes everyone more mobile on their own turns.

  • Comparing Medic and Quarantine Specialist: they both fight disease. The Medic removes cubes from the board; the Quarantine Specialist prevents them from getting there. It's easier to plan how to use the Medic; it's more luck-dependent with the QS, but you can boost your luck if you keep track of what cards have been shuffled and put on top of the infection deck (and can come up in the future), and what has been subsequently been drawn (and can't before an epidemic shows up). That's incredibly demanding if you want to keep track of multiple shuffle-and-put-on-top steps; I don't know how big a difference it makes.

Event cards:

  • Unless you're at your hand limit, it almost always pays to hold the Forecast event card until you have drawn an epidemic. By then, you can plan how to work around the epidemic. Before then, your plans might get messed up by an Epidemic card. Also, it is more powerful early in the game, where the number of cards you can look at is three times the infection rate (late game it'll be 2 or 1.5)—i.e. where you can plan the largest number of turns ahead.

  • Similarly for Resilient Population: hold it until an Epidemic shows up and you have dumped three cubes on a city. At that point you have the most information, and know what you need to protect against.

  • One Quiet Night is more powerful the larger the infection rate it (effectively) reduces to 0, i.e. later in the game. But if you only get 3, or the 2 that saves you from an outbreak, it's probably still a good play.

  • I always play Government Grant straight away and near the disease or where mobility is needed (e.g. for a card swap), and have not regretted it. The future is always equally uncertain, so you might as well get benefit for the largest number of turns by playing it earlier. Likewise for Airlift.

When deciding whether to spend a card, remember that the Contingency Planner can pick it up later; plan up to and including his turn.

Miscellaneous:

  • If someone needs to collect two cards and discover a cure on their turn, they have one action to spend on movement. This implies the have to start their turn in a city in which they can collect a card, and spend one move action to get to another city where they can also collect a card and which has a research center.

  • If they only need to collect one card and discover a cure on their turn, they can afford two move actions, e.g. one to the collection site and one to a research center, or two to the collection site if there's a research center in that city.

  • When drawing an epidemic card and drawing the bottom of the infection deck, the newly drawn card is shuffled and put on top. The Quarantine Specialist is the only role that can prevent an outbreak caused by drawing that card again. The outbreak can also be prevented with Resilient Population and plain ol' not-having-bad-luck.

  • The ordering of card draws in the infection phase matters: if you have two connected cities, one with three cubes and one with two, if you draw the two-cube city first you get 2 outbreaks, but you get 3 if you draw them the other way around.

  • Exercise (while playing): whenever you have two or more connected cities, if you were to draw a card for each city in the cluster, count (or estimate) the smallest and largest possible number of outbreaks caused by this chain of events. Experience report: a city with three cubes that's removed from the deck by Resilient Population can still cost you the game if it's connected to enough large cities. (We had 5 outbreaks that turn.)

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As the other answers are a bit broad, let me add some general tips that apply to every team composition and every number of players (even one). Some may not apply depending on the randomized distribution of diseases at the start of the game (for example, disregard everything about movement if all diseases are in North America), but they should be as general as it gets aside from that.

  • Statistically, it's highly unlikely that multiple cubes are placed on the same city before you can react. This means that removing a single cube from every 3-cube cities will be enough to keep the game contained. If you dedicate all your efforts to this, there is very low probability you're going to lose the game, other than by running out of time
  • Build about 2-4 research labs early and efficiently - don't make the mistake to assume you don't need them because you have a lot of players, or you can build them later, as they're more vital for movement (and of course, winning the game) than anything else. Make sure you place them efficiently, which almost always means as far away from your currently existing labs as you can
  • There are certain hot zones that are more prone to unexpected outbreaks and hard-to-counter events than others. Other areas seem almost disregardable, such as South America, Africa and Australia, because of the smaller amount of cities and therefore lower probability to become infected. More often than not, you can win games without ever visiting those continents, which saves valueable resources and time.
  • Be aware of which cities appeared in your infection pile so far, and what cities will be shuffled on top after an Epidemic. You won't know what's coming, but you will be able to make educated guesses.
  • Others have correctly suggested that using the roles to their full potential is a key factor, however it's equally important not to over-specialize - if your Scientist is the only person ever collecting cards to cure a disease, and the Medic is trying to get to every single 3-cube city by themselves, that's actually counter-productive. Prioritize working as a team, and consider the special abilities a bonus where they apply.
  • While not necessarily as realistic or fun to play, keep in mind that your only objective is that you have to find all cures. You're not dealing with any actual human lives, so just not paying attention to infected cities is perfectly fine, as long as they don't break your back later on.
    One example is if you have a city with 3 cubes, and none or few of the surrounding cities have had cubes on them yet. If you manage to remove that card from the Infection pile, there is no need to ever take a single cube off of it!

When I play this game these days, I actually play with custom rules that make the game harder/more random, simply because once you realize taking the third cube off of every city is enough to win most games on regular Legendary mode.


On a different note, I feel it's very important to have every player make their own decisions. A flaw of cooperative games with public information is that one experienced player can spoil the fun for everyone by assuming command of the game, turning all other players into mere henchmen. Also, if you realize they can do something really cool, don't spoil it for them, but either have them figure it out themselves or pass on the opportunity - if they figure it out, they will have a way higher sense of accomplishment.
While not directly related to the question, I figure that guy would be reading this thread ;)

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