Get limited edition Mythic Kingdoms fantasy-themed playing cards while supplies last.
Pandemic: Contagion - Board Game Box Shot

Pandemic: Contagion

58 15 1

Tired of saving the universe? Why not become a virus and try to annihilate a few major metropolitan cities? You know, just for kicks.

go to: Who would enjoy this game?


In Pandemic: Contagion you take on the role of a virus. Not the sneezy achy, have a bowl of chicken soup and feel better… virus. We are talking population extermination strength virus. Each player on their turn may choose a city and infect it by placing colored cubes representing their virus on City cards. Once the number of infection cubes (from any and all players) reaches or exceed the population of that city, that city and all the folks living there are eradicated and the player who placed the most virus cubes on it scores points equal to its population. Runners up score a bit less depending on the size of the city. The game lasts 12 rounds from a programmed Event deck. After a final scoring round, the player , eh I mean the virus with the most points wins. And we all lose.

Pandemic: Contagion gameplay

Set Up

Each player chooses a color and takes the matching player board and Petri dish which contains 15 disease cubes. Being a virus, each player has three Mutations to track during the game: Incubation Rate, Infection Rate and Resistance. One cube is placed on level 1 on each of these tracks. Next Shuffle and deal 4 Contagion cards to each players and place the rest aside. Shuffle and place a number of City cards on the table face up based. The number of cities differs based on the numbers of players… eh viruses. Each player then places one disease cube on a city of their choice – just to get things moving.

Finally, the Event deck is programmed – randomly choosing nine of the 12 Event cards, and three of the 6 WHO (World Health Org.). The Event deck is built bottom up with one WHO card then three Event cards and so forth until the 12 card Event deck is built.


At the start of each round, the top card from the Event deck is revealed, read and resolved. Each player resolves the effect on the event card and then each player in turn may take two out of three available actions.

Draw Cards

Simply draw into your hand a number of cards equal to the Incubation mutation level. If you have more than nine cards, you have to discard down to nine.

Pandemic: Contagion cards

Infect a City

In this phase you can place a number of infection cubes on a city equal to your Infection level. To infect a New City, you must discard two Contagion cards that match the color of the city you want to infect. If the city is already infected by your virus, then you must only discard one card of matching color. The first player to infect a city places their cubes on the top row of the City card. Subsequent players place them one row down and so forth.

Pandemic: Contagion city cards

Mutate your Disease

Each player or disease has three different mutations. They each range in strength from 0-4. This more or less defines your abilities or attributes as you make your way across the world infecting us lowly homo sapiens. Each player begins the game with each Mutation at strength 1.

  1. Incubation: This mutation’s level represents the number of cards you may draw when you choose the Draw cards action.
  2. Infection: This mutation’s level represents the number of cubes you may place on a city when you choose the Infect a City action
  3. Resistance: This mutation’s level represents the number of, disease cubes or Mutations that are protected from Event and WHO cards.

To Mutate your disease, discard a number of Contagion cards equal to the next level of that mutation and move the cube up one level.

The Event deck

At the beginning of each round an Event or WHO card is upturned. And each player must resolve its effect. Event cards can have positive or negative effects that will affect the spread of your disease. WHO cards always have a negative effect to your disease (or a positive effect for the world because they want to cure the diseases and slow your progress). This is where your Resistance mutation comes in. You may decrease your Resistance level one for each cube or card that is affected by the Event or WHO cards.

Pandemic: Contagion events

Pandemic: Contagion icons

Sometimes a New City icon appears on the Event card. If so, draw a new City card and add it to the table face up. In addition, a Skull and Crossbones icon may also appear on an Event card. If so, all infected cities immediately score. This is called Death Toll Scoring. In this case, the player with the most disease cubes on a City card scores the lowest number on that City card, and no one else scores. Death Toll Scoring only occurs when the second, fourth and sixth Skull and Crossbones icons is revealed in the Event deck.


Besides the Death Toll Scoring, most of the games points are scored as soon as the number of Disease cubes on a City card equals or exceeds the population of that city. (The large number in the City cards’ upper right). The player with the most disease cubes scores points equal to the population of the city. The player with the second most disease cubes on the city scores the next number down, and finally the player with next most disease cubes scores the third number. Scores are tracked on the score board for each player and the city card is flipped over to show that, alas, no more human life populates it. (ulp!).

Game End

The game’s final turn begins when the last WHO card is reveled from the Event deck, or when there are two City cards left face up on the table. Players complete the final round, and then move to final scoring.

After the final round, players complete one more Death Toll scoring round for all infected cities. They then add to this the cumulative total of each of their mutation levels. All these points are tracked on the score board and the player with the highest score wins. And the world as we know it will never be the same!


As with most Z-man games, the production quality is very good. Each player board has cut outs to place cubes, (a new standard in “cube placement” among hobby games) and nice petri dishes to store them. The card art and box cover are eye catching. The box could have been a bit deeper to house the petri dishes, but all in all, a perfect little package.

Learning Curve

Low. The game play is very straightforward with two actions available each turn. The random acquisition of Contagion cards matched to the random City cards does make the game a bit reactionary – providing even more ease of play. The deeper strategy of the game reveals itself slowly as the game develops. Al in all, its not too deep. Easy to pick up and play and replay.

Who would enjoy this game?

Family Gamer {no}
Based solely on the theme of this game we can’t recommend it for younger gamers or families with younger children. There are plenty of other games that have similar mechanics with more friendly themes.
Strategy Gamer {maybe}
The game is more tactical than strategic due to the random cards in the City Deck and the Event deck. However when it comes to cube placement, definite strategies can emerge based on the current game conditions. Consider this a light strategy game.
Casual Gamer {yes}
This game provide a great light game experience perfect for casual players. Quick game play, great replay value as well as some fun “take that!” moments. A must try for casual players.
Avid Gamer {yes}
Do you enjoy all things Pandemic? Even though this is not a Leacock design, it definitely has the flavor of the Pandemic series, albeit with a slightly grim twist. Even though it’s not a co-op experience, Avid gamers may find it entertaining.
Power Gamer {no}
Pandemic: Contagion provides too light a game play experience for Power gamers. They should mutate over to the full co-op version for the best Pandemic experience.

Final Thoughts

Games about mass population destruction always seem to get a bad rap. Is it because they hit too close to home? Too grim? The subject matter is no more controversial than war, and there are certainly many games about that historical and otherwise. In fact, one might argue that a disease is more an uncontrolled force of nature rather than a man-made tragedy. Controversial themes seem to be more prevalent as board game designers push the envelope. What about the recent game Freedom: The Underground Railroad? Sons of Anarchy? Will there be a game based on Breaking Bad where players trade blue meth? Fact is the gaming industry is a part of the entertainment industry. We can’t sensor entertainment. That’s that.

Pandemic: Contagion close-up

So all that said, this game is safe. The fact is, in this game you really don’t feel like you are a virus annihilating the human race. ( which I guess take away from the thematic immersion). I imagine some players can “go there” during in-game chatter: (“Dude I just killed all the remaining souls in Tokyo!’”) but you really can play without ever mentioning the notion. You place cubes and advance your ability to do so with mutation scores. Match the population number on City cards to score points. That’s the raw mechanics. And we have seen them before. The mechanics are similar to two games: Smash up where players place cards on locations to max out the base’s Strength value, and the new Mars Attacks: The Dice Game in which as Martians you place ray guns on locations cards to destroy them.

Some feedback on the game has been that it doesn’t “feel” like Pandemic. And with the recent release of Pandemic: The Cure (essentially Pandemic in dice form), this detraction is more strongly felt. Perhaps because it wasn’t designed by the game’s original designer Matt Leacock. Perhaps its because it isn’t a cooperative experience. Some even suggest, Z-man was just capitalizing on the Pandemic property to try to make money?

Put aside all this chatter and what you have is a very solid and enjoyable game. Well designed, well implemented with enough replay value to hold a place on any avid gamer’s shelf. The choices presented to players for their turn are varied enough to provide a good tactical challenge to advance their own goals or to prevent other players’ from realizing theirs. Choosing to advance your mutations will cost you a turn of cube placement (and possibly points), but they will set you up for the long term – avoiding some nasty consequences from those do-gooders at the World Health Organization. In most cases you will ALWAYS want to advance your Incubation mutation. Drawing more cards is a necessity to winning. So this may at first seem like a dominant strategy. However the other mutations provide a good balance between spending time not infecting cities and boosting your resistance to the WHO cards. Also, while it seems like a filer, and certainly qualifies as such, after several plays you are compelled to play again and investigate the many nuances of the “chess match-like” game experience Contagion provides.

The Event deck as a whole provides the variables which players can count on messing with their plans to dominate the game. Event cards may be positive or negative so you never really know whether you gain or lose ground with their effects. In addition the Death toll scoring is a nice way to prevent run away victories – scoring the lowest point total to the player with the least cubes placed. WHO cards you can more or less plan on being bad and so some early planning can prevent their positive effects to your devastating infection. Even though there are not many different Event and WHO cards, the experience is they provide is still rewarding.

Designer Carey Grayson (having deigned some modestly interesting games like 24/7 and Tumblin’ Dice) has eclipsed his previous games with this elegant design.

Even though Pandemic and Pandemic: the Cure soar high above this version as co-op game experiences, Contagion is not to be discounted. Quality components, a tight game system (albeit not very original) and some interesting tactical game play choices make Pandemic: Contagion a good, light filler. However, if the theme is in any way objectionable, you can go back to saving the world instead of trying to infect it.

User Reviews (2)

Filter by: Order by:
Player Avatar
13 of 15 gamers found this helpful
“Satisfying and Short”

I think it is a fun game and a unique way to play the opposite of it’s big brother, Pandemic. For one, it’s a much lighter, but it’s still pretty good and much shorter. It is also a great follow after losing to the diseases in Pandemic.

I’ve heard some compare the game to Smash Up, but I think this is an unfair comparison because this game is so different. It has one mechanic that is similar, but that’s all. In Contagion, you can mutate your disease and make it stronger helping to infect more cities and score more points.

I’m also confused why some who are turned off by the dark subject matter. I know disease is no laughing matter, but I hope these same people don’t play video games where you shoot people. It’s a game. Not reality.

I’d recommend this to anyone is a casual gamer or gamers who don’t mind playing casual games. If you are into heavy, strategy games only, you probably won’t be interested in this game.

Player Avatar
Reviewed My First Game
21 of 28 gamers found this helpful
“Flip Pandemic On Its Head--Be The Disease!”

This was sitting on the counter at my local game store and I grabbed it since I’m a fan of Pandemic. I have played it with 2 players and 3. Both were fun, the two player version gives you an NPC to play against.

What I like:
1) Simple, easy to learn and takes about 20min. to play once you get it down.
2) This version came with plastic Petrie dishes, so I can use them when I play In The Lab. I was disappointed to find that in the lab didn’t come with is own.
3) Competitive rather than coop. I like coop, but competitive means someone wins every time.
4) Visually, as appealing as original Pandemic and takes up less space.

What I didn’t like:
1) I hope they release expansions. After playing a couple of times, I’ve seen all of the cards. This might lead to limited replayability.
2) Kinda wish there was a backing for the player mutation trackers so that you didn’t have to keep it on the table.


Add a Review for "Pandemic: Contagion"

You must be to add a review.

× Visit Your Profile