Pandemic Expansions and Standalone Versions Reviewed – Best Options for 2021

In these crazy times with the global pandemic, I thought it would be a good time to talk about the Pandemic board game series. The game was released back in 2008, and it has some resemblance with the events from the past year. 

I won’t be diving in too much into the original game; instead, I would be focusing on the expansions, hot zone series, standalone and systematic versions. I also won’t be talking about the Legacy series, as that version of Pandemic deserves a separate article.

The game’s goal is for you and the other players to work together to fight 4 contagions that pop up in random places in the world. All of you play on the same side to battle the viruses. Each member has a different set of skills, and you will need to work together, monitor the viruses, find a cure. If you manage to do so, you will win the game; otherwise, you will lose.

With that out of the way, let’s get down with the rest of the additions to the original Pandemic game.

Best Standalone of the Original – Pandemic 10th anniversary
Best Standalone of the Original – Pandemic 10th anniversary
Best Standalone of the Original – Pandemic 10th anniversary
Our Score

As you may have guessed from the title, this is a version released 10 years after the release since the initial game release. This version of the game is essentially the same, ranging from rules to the overall gameplay. The same goes for the number of players and game time. It can be played by 2 to 4 players with a round lasting around 45 minutes.

The only difference between the 10 anniversary edition and the original is the content and the packaging. On the content side of things, you get more durable cards and pieces, updated art, and a few more improvements. Everything comes in a big metal box giving you the sense that you are really the team that will save the world.

One thing I feel I should mention – I don’t say that the original game is poorly made, but the 10th-anniversary edition is a bit better.


Pandemic Base Game Expansions

The original Pandemic and the 10th anniversary can be bundled up with one of the expansions I’ll talk about in this section. On top of the regular gameplay, you get some additional challenges, characters, or situations with these expansions. You can also link for even more complex gameplay.

1. On the Brink

The first Pandemic expansion in today’s list is On the brink. Combining it with the original game opens the doors for a more expanded gameplay. The game mechanics are identical, and these are just an addition. As for the game’s goal, it doesn’t change, as you and your team are tasked with saving the world from diseases.

On the brink includes 3 additional challenges that make the game slightly more exciting. You can introduce a new disease in the game with the Mutation challenge. The new strain is different and can be a challenge to defeat and find a cure.

If you want a bit more unpredictable gameplay, you should use the Virulent challenge. One of the 4 diseases will become more deadly in a way you cannot be prepared for. The final challenge is where the fifth player will be the bad guy, trying to slow down the other players’ work. You can also combine all 3 challenges if you want the most challenging experience.

As you may have guessed, when you pair this expansion with the original game, you can have one extra player on the table. Despite that, the time it takes to complete a round remains the same, around 45 minutes. An excellent addition is that you can have a solo mission and take on all diseases on your own, unlike the original game.

2. In the Lab Expansion

Next up in the list of Pandemic expansions is In the lab. Don’t let the name fool you; you won’t be stuck just in the lab synthesizing a cure.

The goal remains the same, save the world from diseases, but with this expansion, you get more lab time with the additional board. With it, you can control the pawns in the laboratory while they work on analyzing samples, synthesizing, and testing the cure.

The expansion includes several scenarios that make the game even more enjoyable. You have the lab scenario where you play with the additional lab one on top of the regular board. As you go around the world and collect samples, you return them to the lab for the team to work on finding a cure.

Seasoned Pandemic players looking for a bigger challenge can utilize the solo option offered by In the lab. You will be taking on the role of the entire team and try to save the world single-handedly.

There is also an option for a duel, where you split into two teams. While both groups’ goal is the same, the winner will be the team that manages to find the cures first. One thing to note is that both scenarios require On the brink expansion to make them work.

Since the expansion adds two more players to the game, the maximum number goes up to 6. That also means that the game time can be slightly longer and range from 45 to 60 minutes.

3. State Of Emergency Expansion

If you want to kick things up a notch, you should check out the State of emergency. This expansion brings 3 new challenges to the table. Based on which ones you use and how you set up the game, you can control the difficulty.

The first challenge is Hinterlands, where the diseases can jump from animals to humans, making them easier to spread. If you want to have a little more unpredictable game, you can insert the Emergency Events challenge.

During it, random, unexpected events will occur during the game, increasing the difficulty and excitement. The most challenging challenge in this expansion is Superbug. With this, a fifth disease enters the game, but it’s not like the other 4.

This is a resilient one and can be hard to eliminate. To eradicate it, you need to find a develop a vaccine. Enforcing quarantines in certain cities can help you slow it down. While you’re battling it, keep in mind that 4 other diseases are roaming the world.

The State of emergency expansion doesn’t introduce additional players to the game. It means that the number of players remains 2 to 4, while the game time is around 45 minutes.

Hot Zone Series

There is only one Hot Zone game at the moment of writing, but we believe that there may be more coming.

The Hot Zones are identical to the original Pandemic games. The difference is that instead of saving the world, you work in a specific region. This results in a more compact game that has a shorter game time, perfect for a quick game of Pandemic. 

Pandemic: Hot Zone – North America

Many people find Pandemic a very contagious game, pun intended. With that said, some may find that it’s too long and want something shorter. This is where the Hot Zone series come into play, specifically North America.

If we compare this hot zone version with the original one, we won’t find many differences, at least not in the game mechanics part. The game can be played by 2 to 4 players where they team up to identify the diseases and find cures for them. If the team is successful, they win the game.

Even though the number of players is unchanged, some aspects are different. Instead of the regular 4 diseases, in this version, there are only 3. Also, the diseases are not worldwide but are attacking North America. Since you have a smaller map to work with, the game time is reduced to 30 minutes.

Overall, the North America hot zone version is a smaller and more portable version of the regular Pandemic. It offers the same exciting gameplay but in a smaller package with a shorter game time.

Best Pandemic Standalone Games

The original Pandemic game is also standalone to avoid confusion, but the ones I’ll be talking about in this section are a bit different. Unlike the original one where you need to rid the world of diseases, here the roles are slightly different. 

1. Pandemic: Rapid Response

I’ll start the list of standalone version with Pandemic Rapid Response. This version of the game moves the gameplay away from the diseases in the original Pandemic.

Instead, in this version, you and your team are tasked with managing supplies to locations struck by natural disasters. You and up to 3 other players are a part of the CRU (Crisis Response Unit), whose task is to carry out humanitarian missions worldwide. Various natural disasters have struck multiple cities, and the CRU consisting of multiple experts fly to different cities to bring aid. 

Unlike the other Pandemic games, this one is relatively shorter, where a single game lasts around 20 minutes. During that time, you and your team need to create the supplies and deliver them to the designated locations. Coordination is the key as it’s a race against time to save as many as possible.

2. Pandemic: Contagion

So far, in all Pandemic versions or expansions, the goal was to defeat the diseases and save the world. The Pandemic Contagion turns things over, and now you are the disease, and the goal is to destroy humanity.

Another key difference is that this is not a team effort where you join forces to reach the goal. Each player is a different disease, and the one that manages to exterminate the humans first is the winner.

As the game progresses, you will need to find various ways to evolve the disease and make it more contagious. Keep in mind that as you supercharge your disease, the CDC continually works to slow you down. You must find various ways to bypass the obstacles and beat your opponents.

There is no solo option for this version, and Pandemic Contagion can be played by 2 to 5 players, where a game can last around 30 minutes.

3. Pandemic: The Cure

In this standalone version of Pandemic, things remain more or less the same, but the game mechanics are slightly different. The game is determined by the roll of a dice, meaning that you need to work with what your luck brings you.

During the game, as each player rolls the dice, the move they will make will depend on the number. There are multiple moves each player can make, ranging from visiting hot spots, working on the cure, collecting samples, and more. Keep in mind that as you and your team progress in the fight against the diseases, they evolve as well. Depending on the rolls of the dice, the disorders can become more resistant or more contagious.

Team-play is crucial, and as long as you coordinate with each other, you should have no problem beating the game. You can play from 2 to 5 players with a game-time of around 30 minutes.

The cure doesn’t have as many expansions as the original Pandemic game. Regardless of that, I’ll still be mentioning it, as it brings a few things to the mix

The Cure Expansion – Experimental Meds

the original Pandemic game isn’t the only one that has its own extensions. Pandemic The cure experimental meds is an addition to the standalone version where you can add two challenges to the mix.

The mechanics remain the same, a dice-based game where you and your team need to save the world from devastating diseases. One of the challenges is similar to the State of emergency expansion, and with it, a new fifth disease enters the game.

You get a new set of dice which manage how the disease evolves and behaves. However you play it, you should expect a pretty unpredictable event.

Several new roles are introduced to the game, as well as tons of potential setbacks, all depending on how the dice roll. Despite all the unique aspects added to the game, the number of players remains the same. 2 to 5 people can play it with a game time of around 30 minutes.

Best System Pandemic Games

The next 4 games offer quite an interesting twist to the original Pandemic game. If you compare them to Pandemic, you will find many similarities, but still have different games. In this series, you won’t be the hero of the world; instead, you will be focused on a particular region and time. While some are real, others are fantasy, but both provide a fun gaming experience.

1. Pandemic: Reign Of Cthulhu

The first system version of Pandemic I’ll be mentioning is the Reign of Cthulu. The game is more or less the same, where you work with a team to save the world.

This time, instead of diseases, you are put up against the Old Ones. They are ancient evil monsters on a mission to conquer the Earth.

Your team is put up against 12 Old Ones, where each one has a unique set of devastating skills. The players are a group of investigators where you work together to find the portals and close them.

Stopping you in your portal closing mission are the cults. As you go deeper and deeper into the game, another aspect is also slowing down your progress, and that’s insanity. As the insanity grows, your abilities will become weaker and less able to investigate.

This is like a sci-fi version of the original Pandemic board game, but instead of Earth, you are defending a different land. You can team up with up to 3 more players and spend 40 minutes in a scary story, fighting to save the world.

2. Pandemic: Iberia

Moving away from the evil monsters, we come to Iberia. This system version of Pandemic takes place in the 19th century in the Iberian Peninsula. Even though it’s a different type of game, it still draws some aspects from the original Pandemic game. 

Like the original, the Iberia region is in danger of 4 diseases, and while your goal is to save them, you don’t have a lab to find a cure. Your team consists of several experts in a different field where you will be tasked with treating the patients and deliver supplies.

Considering that you don’t get a lab for a cure, the endgame isn’t the cure, but it’s to slow down and stop the diseases’ spread. You can create railroad connections that will speed up travels and help you with delivering supplies. You are also tasked with making sure you bring clean drinking water to the people, which will help you slow down the diseases.

Pandemic Iberia is a version of the original game, where the goal is similar, but getting there is different. It can be played by up to 5 players, where you will have around 45 minutes to save Iberia.

3. Pandemic: Rising Tide

Pandemic Rising Tide is a game where the attack on the land comes from the sea. As you know, the Netherlands is the country in Europe that is below sea level.

It means that in order to keep the lands dry, specific measures need to be taken, and this is where you and your team come into the picture.

As the population grows and the sea is rising, your task is to find a better way to keep the Dutch in the dry. The team consists of Dutch officials tasked with building 4 hydraulic strictures that will help the country keep the water contained. While it sounds simple, there are things you need to plan ahead.

To build the structures, first you need to have a strategy on how to contain the sea long enough to collect the materials and build them. You can build dikes that will help you with control over the incoming water.

As the water rises, you can also build windmills that will help you get the water back to the sea. Finally, you will need to make ports to speed up your travels across the land.

As you play more and more games, you will find that the objectives don’t overlap too often, leading you to different gaming scenarios. Gather a team of up to 5 experts and start your hour-long mission to save the Dutch from the rising tide.

4. Pandemic: Fall of Rome

The last system version of Pandemic and the last game on this list is the Fall of Rome. As the name suggests, the story of the game takes place in Rome in the times when the Roman empire is starting to lose its power. As the army loses its strength, Rome becomes more and more open to attacks.

Once the team is assembled, you need to march through the lands and recruit new soldiers for the army. During that time, you also have the opportunity to improve the protection the cities have against attackers.

Another great way to enhance the defense is to forge alliances with tribes. As you gather the tribe cards, you can convert them into soldiers. Not everything is done peacefully, so you may run into a situation where a battle is inevitable.

Unlike the other system games, the Fall of Rome has a solo mode. That is where you play as the emperor and have multiple roles with the same goal.

If you go for the multi-player option, the board can handle up to 5 players with a game time of 45 to 60 minutes.


As you may have gathered by now, I have a very high opinion of Pandemic. No matter which game you chose, you will have an excellent time playing them. The thing I like the most is that they are short but fun. You won’t be stuck to your seat for hours, as most of them can be played in an hour or less. During that time, you are guaranteed to have a blast.

In the introduction, I mentioned that I wouldn’t be discussing the Legacy series, as they are longer and need to be addressed in a separate article. Stay tuned for that, and in the meantime, get one of the Pandemic games I talked about to stay entertained.