Hey there! We’re Chris & Valerie and we like to play games together. Unfortunately, it’s not always easy for us to find others to play with – this means we often have to pay special attention whether the selected game is a good fit for two players. Here we explore these games and help you decide the all-important question, “Can this game work well with just two players?”
As usual with our write-ups, we’re not going to go over the game play in its entirety. We all know others have covered that before and of course we’ve linked a few above. That said, a very brief overview of the core play mechanics can’t hurt for those that don’t have the time to watch a few videos prior to reading an article on a game that will take you less time to play than the above research.
Pandemic’s mechanics are many so I’ll try to keep it brief. I really suggest you watch a few videos.
- You pick 1 of 5 roles such as Medic, Dispatcher, Scientist, etc. Each has a benefit to the game such as easier travel, easier curing, etc.
- There is a starting infection of diseases in cities. You use cubes to represent the intensity of the infection on any given city in the world-layout board. A 3 is the highest stack of cubes you can have before it triggers an outbreak which reaches its neighboring cities.
- As these diseases spread (at an amazing rate!) the players are globe-hopping trying to cull the hotspots, research cures, and deploy vaccines before one of the three failure conditions is met.
Before we get to our thoughts let’s preface this by saying this game is intense. If you do not chain your moves together perfectly you will fail. Failure in our house hold is about 60-80%. It is clear that having fewer people playing increases the difficulty as well as you have less roles (and their abilities) optimizing your moves and visa versa.
Since I wrote the last paragraph I’ll echo my own thoughts. This game is extremely hard for two players. We only won this game once or twice and both times we had the medic. Certain roles benefit a 2-Player game more than others. Contrary a 4 Player game was tight but do-able. I brought this over to the Friday night group (Mike, Greg, Laurie, and Sean) and the five of us went 2:0 for the night and it was their first time playing.
I dislike this game because of one simple quirk, the game’s difficulty is arbitrarily set based on the random placement of the “Epidemic” cards. If within the first 2-3 turns you have your first Epidemic card, you’re recycling through the initial 9 cards (and any few you’ve added to the pool) for quick double-damage. In this case you may not have the ability to reduce infection rates from your initial outbreak before that double-damage comes back to haunt you. I remember vividly a game where the ‘black’ disease exhausted itself within 4 turns, simply because of the initial outbreak and quick epidemic turn. Between the chain reacting outbreaks and ‘black’ intensive card pool it wasn’t possible for us to win. Conversely one game the first Epidemic card was further down the stack so our pool of infection cards was much larger and more diverse. We easily beat that game. Admittedly not every game is one we should win, but when I open a box I like to think I’m not back in the 5th grade getting bullied because I let the kick ball slide through my arms while trying to get an ‘out.’ IT WAS COLD OUTSIDE AND DENIM GETS SLIPPERY GUYS! STOP TEASING ME!
Like many higher-difficulty Cooperative games this one can suffer from ‘boss syndrome.” If you’re not careful your alpha member of the group will take over and boss everyone around. Remember that when playing for a better experience.
To the point of a 2Player Review, do I feel this is a good 2 player game? Negative. I cannot recommend this game to a solely 2 Player group. It’s disproportionately more difficult. In order to win you must optimize and maximize your role’s talents. Certain roles play very well together like the Medic and Dispatcher. Others do not. You really need to have the tools the game provides in the game in order to have a fair shot. While the experience is still genuine fun there are other alternatives if you’re not interested in dabbling in house rules.
Nurse Valerie’s Thoughts
Pandemic is one of my favorite cooperative games, for a surprising reason – it is not easy to win. We have played this game multiple times with two and four players and in both occasions have lost more than won. Yet that is part of the beauty of the game – every time you lose, rather than be completely discouraged, you are all the more determined to win. I have one friend who has lost every game she has played yet still loves Pandemic and wants to play all of the time because she is insistent we can beat it. Pandemic is the type of game that makes you believe if you are just smart enough and work your moves carefully, you CAN win. And truth be told, when you win a cooperative game over and over, it starts to get stale. That never happens with Pandemic.
Although game play is the same each time, we haven’t found Pandemic to feel old. In one night, Chris and I played two games of Pandemic back to back. We literally lost the first game in four moves. The second game, while not outright easy, was one of the simplest, least stressful games we’ve ever played and we actually managed to win. It taught us that a lot depends on the shuffling of the cards and when you draw Epidemics. While Chris may disagree with me, I don’t think this means there are certain scenarios that are not win-able, but the degree of difficulty based on solely what’s in the cards can change greatly. As an example of this, in our first game, we pulled an Epidemic card very early, which meant that cities that had just been infected were infected again, which began a series of outbreaks that ultimately ended the game for us when we ran out of cubes in one color. In our second game, the first Epidemic card took fairly long to appear and gave us a chance to tackle the initial diseases on the board before being re-infected.
Although I find the Pandemic theme to be a good one, the overall theming of the game in my opinion is just slightly above average. There is nothing that really screams sickness – you are dealing with cubes to represent disease, after all. Yet even so, amazing things happen every game. The colored cubes always seem to get assigned a disease – it isn’t the red disease, it’s scarlett fever! – and you start to have feelings about those cubes. Sure, you’re over in the Middle East taking care of “the black plague” but you know by making a decision to clean up the plague, you’re taking a risk that scarlett fever is going to spread in Asia. And you start to feel guilty about leaving some areas to fester. Furthermore, there is an intensity about the game beyond its difficulty which seems to be magnified by the theme. Either a loss or win is much more dramatic with Pandemic than many other games.
Having played Pandemic with the minimum and maximum number of players, I feel it is a great investment either way, both in money and time. This game has always been a favorite of mine, even when I feel too dejected by a string of losses to tackle it again. It has never lost its appeal and game play is fairly similar with two players versus three or four. There are certain roles that seem critical to have to win the game (in particular, the medic) but I am optimistic (or foolish?) enough to believe that each game can be won with any choice of roles and any number of players. Bottom line: Pandemic is a worthy game to have on your shelf. It works great with two players and if you lucky enough to get gaming company it can still be very much enjoyed with three or four. I’d advise against multiple plays without breaks, though – you don’t want to spiral into depression, do you?
Suggested House Rules:
- Play a 3rd or 4th person if you like to make the game more do-able for 2 Players.
- Play the ‘introductory’ rules which only ask you to mix in 4 (out of 6!) epidemic cards in the outbreak deck.
- Wash your hands after using the bathroom and don’t touch your face in public.
Oh boy! Our first disagreement. Chris believes the randomness of setup and Epidemic cards, combo-ed with 2Player limit of available roles makes the 2 Player version a no-buy. Val loves that randomness and doesn’t see the (sometimes overwhelming) challenge insurmountable. You can see, without discussion from either player, they mention the same specific experiences with different yet-valid opinions. How interesting! Perhaps this goes back to our personalities, Val has always been a optimist and Chris has….not. So is this game right for you and a friend? Let’s leave this one as a ‘try it before you buy it.’
~Chris & Valerie