Sunday, September 12, 2010

Ranking the Pandemic Roles

Pandemic is a tough game. In addition to the horrendous surge of disease that is plaguing the world, there are also the questionable hiring practices of the CDC. Sure, some of the staff I understand, but others I really wonder about. How did they get a job with an organization that seems responsible for saving the world? And wouldn’t the CDC just send out the people best suited for the task? Maybe they were on vacation and no one could get a hold of them. However, the variable roles in the game are also one of the best aspects of the game so I’ve decided to rank all of the roles, including the ones that are introduced in the On The Brink expansion. Unlike the characters in Last Night on Earth none of the roles are wretched, they all have some use. Though the gap between the best and worst is still pretty large.

Dispatcher- In my eyes the unquestioned number one in the game. One of the most important tactics in Pandemic is to be able to trade cards between players and no one makes this easier to do than the Dispatcher. The ability to dispatch any player to another player makes so many things possible when it comes to trading cards. And on top of that they can also move other players around with their own actions, usually setting people up to be in a good position when they start their turn. Any group with a Dispatcher gets a big leg up when it comes to winning. Ideally the Dispatcher never even leaves the greater Atlanta region. The only downside is that the Dispatcher can be hard to use, often requiring the player to think a couple of turns ahead. Which I actually consider to be pretty fun.

Medic- The medic will not help you win the game in the curing sense, but no role is as productive when it comes to keeping the world safe. Being able to clear off all the infection markers with a single action is really strong, assuming that you can get them to the trouble spot. Once a cure is found they can also wipe out all the cubes without spending an action, making them the perfect partner for the Dispatcher to run them through an infected region and clean the whole mess up.

Researcher- Who doesn’t like the Researcher, the most giving of all CDC employees? Seriously, the Santa Claus of Pandemic is a welcome addition to any crew. For one action per card this lady (I think it’s a lady) can give city cards to other players as long as they are in the same place. One of the best tactics is to give away their initial cards on the first turn when everyone is in Atlanta, it’s a good way to get some direction early and maybe snuff out a color in the first two rounds if the cards cooperate a little bit.

Scientist- The object of the game is curing diseases and the Scientist does it better than anyone else. Needing only four cards (instead of five) makes them the ideal candidate to get the job down. However, they still need to get those cards and possess no ability to help with that. The Researcher, Dispatcher and Scientist make an awesome combo should you be so lucky to get them all together.


Field Operative- My favorite of the expansion Roles, the Field Operative has a cool mechanic that makes them very useful in finding cures. Once a turn when they remove cubes from a city they can put one of the cubes on their card. When they have collected three cubes of the same color they can then cure that color for only three cards. Awesome. I like this for a couple of reasons. Obviously it’s pretty powerful, it just takes a bit to develop. But I also like that it makes sense. This guy is out there collecting samples and then can use that evidence to find a cure. Though I am a bit concerned about their haircut, it looks like blonde noodles springing forth from their head.

Troubleshooter- The best preventative role in the game, whatever that means. The Troubleshooter works best in a game with four or five players when they can play the role of freelance operative, flying around and preventing outbreaks. The ability to peek at the upcoming infections is really handy, but if that is all they are doing they are nothing more than middle of the pack. The secondary ability of not discarding city cards to fly there is also useful, especially when it comes to trading since they can fly to a city that they have a card of. Makes it easier to trade.

Containment Specialist- Ultra specialized character that can be very helpful, though at times it’s power will go unused for long stretches. Perhaps the best character at preventing those horrid chain outbreaks, you just need to make sure that he is in the right location to take advantage of his unique skill set. Another character that works well with the Dispatcher, though really everyone does.

Generalist- That’s not a real job. How did they get hired? I wonder if the position was posted as Generalist on a government job site. “We are looking for someone who doesn’t do anything all that well but it useful to have around.” Each turn they get an extra action. It is what it is. Some turns it is very useful, other times it won’t make that much of a difference. About as average a character that you can be. And what it she holding in her hand? Is it for injections?


Epidemiologist- The ability to trade cards easier is very good, but the Epidemiologist gets the short end of the stick as far as this ability is concerned. The issue is that it is capped at being usable once per turn, which is okay but definitely inferior to the Researcher. Also, being able to give cards seems to help more than being able to take cards from players (which is what the Epidemiologist does). This is one of the roles that I’ve just never seen be all that useful during the actual course of the game. Additionally the fact that the woman’s face appears to be melting makes me nervous.

Operations Expert- It’s not so much that the Operations Expert is bad, being able to easily build stations is actually really nice, but the problem is that he becomes quickly obsolete. Once they build a couple of stations they can’t really do all that much. If you happen to have the New Assignment special event it works great here; build some stations and then bring in someone who can still do their thing. The added ability to discard any card at a station to fly somewhere is nothing all that great, but at least it let’s you put a station anywhere that you want. Oh yeah, it’s the On the Brink version that we are discussing here. The original killed himself in shame.

Archivist- Weak. A hand limit of eight cards instead of seven is okay, but it really doesn’t stack up to just about any other power in the game. The more useful ability is the one that allows the Archivist to bring a city card back from the dead, but it’s really an ability that takes a lot to make it work. Chances are it is something that you will want to use during the end of the game when you need a certain color. In order to yield some results the Archivist has to get to the correct city, get the card and then get it to the appropriate player (assuming it is not the Archivist) and give it to them (or more likely have the player come to them and take it). That’s a lot of work in a very time sensitive game.

6 comments:

Ent said...

Also the ability it is very helpful for the Archivist to fly to a city, taking the card back and then either building a lab or trading this card. It is also possible to do all 3 things in 2 turns with 1 card if done correctly.

Anonymous said...

I agree that the dispatcher is the best... but after than we have very different opinions.

You are right that the operations expert loses his shine toward the end of the game... but i feel like the first three or four moves he makes can set up the team for success... then using the cards from the cured colors to turn into a troubleshooter seems pretty awesome to me.

I have had a lot of success with the archivist as well.. it helps when there are a ton of research stations... when the archivist has 4... i love having another player build a research station in the needed color, then the archivist can pluck the card and cure with 2 actions.

my only disagreement at the top of the list is the field op... the field op works great in 2 player games... but as their number of turns dwindles in 3-5 player games they simply dont have enough turns to make their special actions function at an optimal level.

Tukka said...

I also like the Archivist role. Being able to take a card from the discard pile is a very flexible power.

For example, you can direct flight to a city in a hotzone, then pick up the card you just discarded to fly, then build a research station with it and treat a disease. On your next turn, you can pick the card back up to do charter flight or keep for a cure, or trade to another player (who may be able link up with you more easily now that the research station is there).

Also, so far I'm not very fond of the Field Operative -- I agree that his power is thematic, but I find it a bit tricky to use effectively. I don't like that the power requires 2 or 3 rounds of setup to get any value out of it. Stuff can happen in the meantime that disrupts your plans, and moving around to get the cubes you need can be action-intensive.

Anonymous said...

As a veteran of dozens of 'legendary' wins (7 epidemics), I can tell you without a doubt the 'king' of the Pandemic roles is the Contingency Planner. Event cards are the most powerful weapons at your disposal, and to be able to use these cards twice is unbeliveably powerful. This role is a 'must' have and is ALWAYS the role of choice with the New Role event card, if he is not on the original team. The second most powerful role in Pandemic is the Quantine Specialist. In a legendary game you will always have a specifically profound hot spot and setting her up in the middle of trouble is very often the difference between winning and losing. Deeper into each game, you will veer toward a need for one of the other roles, and as long as you have the 'king', you have a chance to pull victory from certain defeat using the New Role event card. Sometimes you may need the Scientist, sometimes the Dispatcher, sometimes the Researcher or Epidemiologist. Good teams track the number of remaining turns, and plot out a strategy to emerge victorious. But make no mistake about it, without the 'King', chances of a 'legendary' win are remote.

Jonah Falcon said...

How about the newest roles, like Quarantine Specialist?

Lord Snicklebeck said...

Field Operative is very weak. He is useful in a 2 person game, but if there are many more players than that, he doesn't have enough turns to really be helpful. In a game of 4, the field operative typically has time to cure 1 disease and after that, he's useless.

Archivist is strong, reusing discarded cards is very versatile, but he requires creative thinking. On one turn for example, you direct flight to Egypt, then pull Egypt from the discard pile and reuse it to build a research station, then do three lab actions. Then on your next turn you could take Egypt out of the discard pile again and perform a charter flight to anywhere else on the map. That's getting three actions out of 1 card!

Containment specialist is perhaps the weakest role in the game, even with the other expansions included. He is outclassed by both the Medic and the Quarantine specialist. Without receiving help from other players or other cards, a typical player can remove a maximum of 3 cubes from an uncured disease. The Containment specialist can remove a maximum of 4, and that's only if he plays his role perfectly. Medic on the other hand can remove a max of 6. After a cure is discovered, the Medic completely outclasses him as the medic can now just walk through a city and automatically remove all cubes whereas the containment specialist still just removes 1, maybe.

Operations expert should not be so low on the list. He is the only character in the game who can go anywhere on the map in 1 move. His power level drops off quickly, but if played right he can put your team far enough ahead early that it's an easy victory.


In a normal game the scientist and researcher are both very strong, but in the "In the Lab" expansion both are drastically weaker. In that version, any player can discover a cure with only 3 cards of the proper color, but you also have to do about 6 lab actions prior and by the time you are done with those, most people will have the required cards to discover the cure anyways.