7 Epic Coop Games Like Pandemic (+18 Alternatives)

Cooperative board games like Pandemic are a boon for families with kids.

We’ve all seen our share of children getting upset or throwing tantrums after losing a game. While it’s generally a good idea to teach your child how to deal with losing, sometimes it helps to switch gears and break out a cooperative game where you win or lose as a team.

Pandemic—and its many expansions and spinoffs—is perhaps the most well-known cooperative board game in existence. In it, characters with different skills join forces to eradicate deadly diseases. (Unfortunately, COVID-19 isn’t one of them.)

But you might eventually get bored of the game and be ready to try something new. For when that happens, I’ve put together a long list of cooperative games like Pandemic.

Here’s what I’ll cover in this post:

  • My criteria for selecting the top games similar to Pandemic
  • 7 best coop board games like Pandemic (+their video reviews)
  • List of 18 more alternatives to Pandemic that didn’t make the cut
  • Helpful links to the games on BoardGameGeek and Amazon (to learn more and buy, respectively)

Disclosure: As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

The 7 best board games like Pandemic

To arrive at the top 7 Pandemic-like games, I read through over a dozen of forums and sites. I ended up with no fewer than 25 potential cooperative games to include.

I wanted a shorter list that offers a variety of game mechanics while appealing to fans of Pandemic.

So I tried to narrow things down using a few specific criteria. All of the games on this shortlist have this in common:

  • Characters with abilities:
    Players can pick a character that has a unique flavor and can often perform actions that others can’t.

  • Turn-based gameplay:
    There are great cooperative games that play in real time, but I felt they strayed too far from the feel of Pandemic.

  • Family-friendly:
    Since my focus is on playing with kids, I only included games that have a maximum recommended age of 10 years.

  • Play in max 60 minutes:
    Pandemic typically plays in just under 1 hour, so the games on this list follow suit.

  • Highly rated:
    These games have an “Average Rating” of at least 7 out of 10 on BoardGameGeek.com

  • Easy to learn:
    Pandemic has a moderate “Complexity Rating” of 2.4 out of 5 on BoardGameGeek.com, so I picked games that don’t exceed 2.5.

  • Games I genuinely like:
    I’ll never recommend a game I don’t see myself playing. So I either already own the following games or have them on my wishlist.

Below, I’ve ranked the 7 best games like Pandemic based purely on their BoardGameGeek rating.

At the end of the article, you’ll find all of the 18 games that didn’t make it into the top 7.


7. Sentinels of the Multiverse

Number of players:2 – 5
Playing time:30 – 60 minutes
Recommend age:8+
Complexity:2.5 (out of 5)
User rating:7.2 (out of 10)

This choice may raise a few eyebrows. After all, it’s purely a card-based game without any map or game board to speak of. Still, it matches all of my above criteria and sounds like a great family coop game in its own right.

In Sentinels of the Multiverse, you play as a team of superheroes trying to take down a villain by playing various cards from your heroes’ decks.

There are 10 different heroes to choose from, each with a separate deck of cards that give them unique individual abilities. In each game, you’ll face one of four available villains and fight in one of four environments. The heroes win by reducing the villain’s health points to zero. The villain wins by doing the same to all of the heroes or triggering his special win condition.

Video review of Sentinels of the Multiverse

Here’s a “how to” guide and review of the game by Tom Vasel:

How is Sentinels of the Multiverse similar to Pandemic?

Both games rely on shuffled decks of cards to ensure replayability. (“Infection” and “Player” cards in Pandemic; “Villain” and “Hero” cards in Sentinels of the Multiverse). Each game has a cast of characters with different abilities that work as a team to defeat something evil.

Finally, the strategy in each game lies in deciding how best to use your available cards and actions.

How is it different from Pandemic?

Unlike in Pandemic, you won’t be making broader strategic decisions. You don’t have to plan out your future moves many turns in advance. Since there’s no map movement, players won’t to worry about identifying the best location to travel to.

And, of course, the two games are very different thematically – comic book superheroes vs. real world disease fighting specialists.


6. The Grizzled

Number of players:2 – 5
Playing time:30 minutes
Recommend age:10+
Complexity:1.9 (out of 5)
User rating:7.2 (out of 10)

This is another game I was at first hesitant to include. It also relies primarily on card mechanics rather than map movement. Besides, its WWI trench warfare setting isn’t exactly a light subject for games with children. Yet the BGG community consensus is that The Grizzled is suitable for 10-year-olds.

In The Grizzled, you’ll control a squad of WWI soldiers that has to survive the hardships of trench warfare and environmental threats in order to win the game. The soliders have different abilities and must use them to their advantage.

Video review of The Grizzled

Check out the “how to” guide and game review from Zee Garcia:

How is The Grizzled similar to Pandemic?

The Grizzled, like Pandemic, has a cast of characters with varying individual abilities that players can pick from. The draw deck in The Grizzled reveals unpredictable threats to overcome, similar to Pandemic‘s “Infection” deck. The cards in everyone’s hands are kept private—just as in the standard version of Pandemic—so players have to rely on teamwork and communication to get ahead.

Finally, if you’re a fan of Pandemic Legacy where each game has an impact on subsequent playthroughs, the updated The Grizzled: Armistice Edition introduces a very similar campaign mechanic that ties the separate rounds together.

How is it different from Pandemic?

Just as with Sentinels of the Multiverse, The Grizzled involves less strategic planning for future turns and there’s no map movement to speak of. Its setting is also quite different from Pandemic, even though both are grounded in the real world.


5. Flash Point: Fire Rescue

Number of players:2 – 6
Playing time:45 minutes
Recommend age:10+
Complexity:2.2 (out of 5)
User rating:7.2 (out of 10)

This is an obvious inclusion on any list of games like Pandemic. Trained emergency personnel fighting environmental hazards? Check. Characters with unique abilities? Check. Map movement? Check!

In Flash Point: Fire Rescue, you control a team of firefighters trying to rescue victims from a burning building. Every turn, you’ll be using your limited actions points to put out fires, move your characters around the map, and carry victims to safety. Save 7 victims, and you win the game. If 4 victims perish in the fire, you’ve lost.

Video review of Flash Point: Fire Rescue

Here’s a “how to” guide and review of the game by Game Boy Geek:

How is Flash Point: Fire Rescue similar to Pandemic?

The games are similar in many ways. In both of them, you’ll be optimizing your limited action points to best position your characters during each turn. The fire explosion chains in Flash Point: Fire Rescue are reminiscent of the outbreaks in Pandemic, each having a knock-on effect that can quickly make things spiral out of control. The player characters have different individual abilities that can be used in combination to help the team.

Finally, the theme of rescue workers saving humanity gives these two games an extremely similar flavor.

How is it different from Pandemic?

There are, of course, a few key differences.

In Flash Point: Fire Rescue, players roll dice to determine where the fire will spread next, rather than pulling cards from a preshuffled deck as in Pandemic. This makes future map developments more random and difficult to plan for in advance. Pandemic favors careful planning, while Flash Point: Fire Rescue favors thinking on your feet and adapting to unpredictable circumstances.

One cool feature of Flash Point: Fire Rescue is the ability to “store” action points. Instead of using up all of your character’s actions, you can choose to exchange them for action tokens that you’ll use to make more moves on your next turn. This gives you added flexibility to respond to new threats.

All in all, Flash Point: Fire Rescue feels more tactical. Your focus is a single building rather than the entire world, and you’re primarily thinking of the best way to react to the ever-changing environment instead of planning out your overarching strategy.


4. Forbidden Desert

Number of players:2 – 5
Playing time:45 minutes
Recommend age:8+
Complexity:2.1 (out of 5)
User rating:7.2 (out of 10)

Made by Pandemic‘s designer, Matt Leacock, Forbidden Desert is a fantastc game in its own right.

In Forbidden Desert, your airship has crashed in the middle of a—wait for it—desert. You’ll lead a group of survivors on a race to find the scattered airship parts, repair the airship, and escape.

But time is against you: The desert storm threatens to bury your team under the sand, and your limited water supplies are running out. Will you find the missing parts and make your escape in time?

Video review of Forbidden Desert

Have a look at the “how to” guide and review of the game by Tom Vasel and his daughter Melody:

How is Forbidden Desert similar to Pandemic?

Apart from its desert setting, Forbidden Desert really feels like a more casual version of Pandemic. Let’s call it “Pandemic Lite”.

Your team consists of characters with different abilities. You have a limited amount of action points per turn that you use to move around the map or perform actions like digging sand, picking up items, etc. Players can share items with each other when they’re on the same spot. And so on.

The difficulty progression is also very similar to Pandemic. Some of the cards in the “Storm” deck increase the storm level, just like infection increases in Pandemic. Reach the maximum storm level, and you lose the game.

How is it different from Pandemic?

The reason I call this game Pandemic Lite is because of its more limited scope and somewhat easier strategic decisions. For instance, you don’t have to sacrifice cards in your hand in order to move around. This removes the hand management and card prioritization issue. You also find “Gear” cards that have beneficial abilities you can use without spending your action points.

At the same time, Forbidden Desert has enough unique mechanics to keep things fresh. As an example, the way you locate the missing airship parts by identifying the rows and columns of the desert tiles feels like a mini-game of its own.

Forbidden Desert also replaces the individual hand management with the need to keep an eye on your character’s water supply. If even a single player runs out of water, the team loses. Finally, the way the desert tiles change location when the wind blows makes the map more dynamic and unpredictable.

All in all, Forbidden Desert is slightly easier to teach and play than Pandemic, which makes it a great gateway game for introducing younger children to the concept of cooperative strategic play. (See also Forbidden Island below.)


3. Pandemic: The Cure

Number of players:2 – 5
Playing time:30 minutes
Recommend age:8+
Complexity:2.1 (out of 5)
User rating:7.3 (out of 10)

Yet another Matt Leacock game that’s an actual spinoff of the classic Pandemic. But despite their shared roots, Pandemic: The Cure plays differently enough to recommend as a standalone alternative.

The overall setting is almost identical: A team of medical experts and emergency personnel race against the clock to eradicate four deadly diseases by using their unique individual abilities.

The critical difference is that Pandemic: The Cure relies on dice to dictate which actions the players will take. Each specialist has their own unique set of dice and will be rolling these each turn to determine the available pool of actions. But watch out: If your die lands on the “biohazard” face, you can’t use it or re-roll it until your next turn!

Video review of Pandemic: The Cure

Here’s a “how to” guide and game review by Tom Vasel:

How is Pandemic: The Cure similar to Pandemic?

For obvious reasons, there are a ton of similarities, from the thematic setting to using your actions to move around and cure diseases. Many of the characters and their abilities even feel like direct clones of their Pandemic counterparts.

There’s a limited “map,” so players have to coordinate where to travel. There are infection phases at the end of each player’s turn. There are outbreaks and epidemics. There’s also a deck of “Special Events” cards that lets you play beneficial effects to help you in the fight.

All in all, Pandemic: The Cure feels like a faithful, scaled-down adaptation of the original game.

How is it different from Pandemic?

In Pandemic: The Cure, most things are decided by the roll of the die, for better or worse.

The player dice determine which actions you can perform. The infection dice decide which continents get infected (or whether you instead get a few “+” points to spend on helpful special events).

Even trying to find the cure for a disease requires you to first collect a number of dice as “samples” of that disease. Then, you’ll be rolling those dice and trying to get at least 13+ points to cure it.

What this does is shift the focus from long-term strategy to tactical turn-by-turn decisions. It also introduces a push-your-luck element: Players can re-roll each of their dice as many times as they want in the hope of rolling the perfect actions…but rolling a “biohazard” blocks the die and raises the infection rate instead.

The individual characters’ roles are more pronounced. They not only have unique special abilities but also their own dice that feel different enough to affect how the characters act and which actions they prioritize.

In our house, Pandemic: The Cure definitely gets more play than the original Pandemic. It’s quicker to set up, the games are shorter, and the unpredictability of the dice makes each game feel more exciting.


2. Burgle Bros

Number of players:1 – 4
Playing time:45 minutes
Recommend age:10+
Complexity:2.3 (out of 5)
User rating:7.6 (out of 10)

And now, for a refreshing change of scenery.

In Burgle Bros, you won’t be saving the world. Instead, you’re a crew of burglars trying to pull off a heist. You’ll use your unique abilities to sneak into a secure building, crack three safes, grab the loot, and escape through the roof.

(If it helps, you can imagine you’re doing it for a good cause, ala Robin Hood.)

Video review of Burgle Bros

Check out Tom Vasel’s “how to” guide and review of the game:

How is Burgle Bros similar to Pandemic?

Despite being very different thematically, Burgle Bros actually shares many similarities with Pandemic. There’s the turn-based play, the specialist characters with different abilities, and the 4 action points to spend each turn.

You also have environmental hazards like guards and alarms. Finding and cracking the safe on each floor in Burgle Bros has many parallels with finding the colored cubes and curing diseases in Pandemic.

How is it different from Pandemic?

This game oozes unique personality that’s clearly different from Pandemic‘s. The stealth mechanic gives Burgle Bros a distinct feel: Threats like guards and alarms are much more immediate here and affect your play in a more direct way compared to e.g. having to prepare for eventual damage control in Pandemic.

It’s fair to say that in Pandemic you’re trying to actively move towards the danger to eliminate it, while in Burgle Bros, you’re trying to stay stealthy and avoid the threats.

The city locations in Pandemic do not by themselves impact the play. In Burgle Bros, each tile adds a twist that affects your strategy. In fact, revealing and planning around the tiles themselves is a big part of the game.

On top of the randomness created by shuffling the tiles prior to each game, Burgle Bros offers replayability in the form of different scenarios to keep things fresh. Finally, the specialists you select have an advanced side for players who find the “normal” game too easy

All of this adds up to making Burgle Bros feel more like a different game each time you play it than Pandemic.


1. Horrified

Number of players:1 – 5
Playing time:60 minutes
Recommend age:8+
Complexity:2.0 (out of 5)
User rating:7.9 (out of 10)

We have a winner!

In Horrified, the players will face classic monsters like Dracula, Frankenstein, and The Invisible Man. (There are six in total.) These monsters are terrorizing a small town, and you’ve got to defeat them. Will you do so before all the townsfolk are taken out or run away?

“Hold up,” you might say, “A horror game about fighting monsters tops your list of family-friendly games like Pandemic?!”

I know. I honestly had my doubts as well.

Yet when you look closely at Horrified, you’ll quickly find that the designers went for campy rather than scary. The colorful monster figures and the often goofy actions make this game perfectly suitable for ages 8 and above (at least according to the BoardGameGeek community).

Video review of Horrifiede

Here’s a great “how to” guide and review of the game by Tom Vasel:

How is Horrified similar to Pandemic?

For a game that’s so thematically different, its gameplay is surprisingly similar to Pandemic in many ways.

You defeat “bad things” (monsters or diseases) by moving players around a map on a turn-by-turn basis. Your characters have different abilities and a limited pool of actions each round (usually 4). Players collect items to defeat the monsters / cure diseases and can share these items with each other when standing on the same space.

There’s a deck of hazards (infection or monsters) from which you’ll reveal new threats each turn. There’s even a “Terror track” that goes up when villagers are defeated, just like the “Infection rate” in Pandemic.

You lose the game if the Terror tracker hits the maximum level or you run out cards in the monster deck.

Sound familiar?

How is it different from Pandemic?

The way you defeat each monster is completely unique.

For instance, you defeat Wolf Man by administering a cure for his condition. In the case of Frankenstein and his Bride, you teach them how to love. As for Dracula…okay, yeah, you pretty much just murder him.

But getting to that point requires playing a sort of mini-game within the main game, which again is completely different for each monster. As an example, in the case of The Mummy, you’ll be moving six Scarabs on a tablet to arrange them in a specific order. Playing these mini-games requires spending items that you’ll acquire in the main game.

This mechanic contributes wonderfully to the thematic feel of the game.

In Pandemic, the players’ turns are only interrupted by extra infection cubes being added to the board. In Horrified, the monsters get their own turn. They will move, attack villagers, and use their monster powers—all depending on the cards that come out of the monster deck. This really makes the monsters feel like sentient creatures with an agenda.

There are a bunch of minor differences, too. Instead of starting in the same location, the players and the monsters are placed in individual spots on the map, depending on their specific character.

In Pandemic, you increase the difficulty by simply starting at higher infection levels. Horrified relies on adding more starting monsters to ramp up the difficulty (2 for the intro game, 3 for standard, and 4 for experienced). The unpredictable interactions between these monsters and their agendas keeps replayability high.

Horrified is a fantastic, well-polished game that’s a joy to play. It is also far more likely to immerse the younger players in the action than the somewhat stale, “mathy” feel of Pandemic.


18 Pandemic alternatives (that didn’t make the cut)

Many of the following cooperative board games are well worth playing. They just didn’t quite make it into the top 7 games like Pandemic for various reasons.

I’ve linked each heading to the corresponding BoardGameGeek entry for that game. So you’re only a click away from checking the game out and deciding whether it’s for you. Enjoy!

Aeon’s End

Fight against supernatural demons in this cooperative, deck-building game.

(Cut due to its higher complexity rating and its 12+ age rating. Also, you build up your deck over time rather than starting with your abilities from the get-go.)

Betrayal at House on the Hill

Explore a haunted mansion together…until one of you betrays the team!

(Cut for the 12+ age rating and the “traitor” mechanic that detracts from the cooperative vibe.)

Castle Panic

Defend your castle together in this board version of a tower defense game.

(Cut because of the static feel and the user rating of under 7.)

Dead of Winter: A Crossroads Game

Survive the zombie onslaught in this horror survival game.

(Cut due to the high complexity, age rating of 12+, and a long playtime of up to 2 hours)

Defenders of the Realm

This game is often called a “reskin” of Pandemic, so it may well appeal to fans of the fantasy setting.

(Cut for the higher complexity, longer playtime, and the recommended age.)

Forbidden Island

This prequel to Forbidden Desert is a more simplistic game, which may just work great for introducing younger kids to games like Pandemic.

(Cut for the user rating below 7 and due to the inclusion of its successor Forbidden Desert on the “best” list.)

Forbidden Sky

The final installment of the “Forbidden” trilogy takes you up into the sky. Great for fans of the “Forbidden” series who may want to complete their collection.

(Cut for having a user rating under 7 and the slightly higher complexity.)

Fuse

Quick! Roll your dice and defuse all 20 bombs before the 10-minute timer runs out in this realtime cooperative game.

(Cut because of the real-time gameplay and lack of individual player abilities.)

Ghost Stories

Protect the village from the lord of Hell and his hordes of ghosts.

(Cut due to the not-so-family-friendly theme, the age rating of 12+, and the higher complexity.)

Gloomhaven

Superb, multi-award-winning game that’s beloved especially by avid gamers and fans of dungeon crawlers.

(Cut due to its extremely high complexity, age rating of 14+, and the longer playtime)

Legendary: A Marvel Deck Building Game

Awesome cooperative superhero card game that’s focused on deck building.

(Cut due to the inclusion of Sentinels of the Multiverse. The games are quite similar, but in Sentinels players start with full access to their fixed abilities instead of having to slowly build them up over time.)

Red November

Your gnomish submarine is falling apart. You’ll have to keep things functioning long enough for rescue to arrive.

(Cut due to the rating of under 7 and the playtime of up to 2 hours.)

Robinson Crusoe: Adventures on the Cursed Island

Fantastic game of teamwork and survival on an uninhabited island.

(Cut because of the high complexity, long playtime, and the age rating of 12+)

Saboteur

Lead your group of dwarves through mine tunnels in search of gold. But watch out! One of you is a saboteur that wants the gold for themselves.

(Cut because of the user rating below 7 and the “traitor” mechanic which makes the game less cooperative.)

Samurai Spirit

Your team of samurai must protect a village from vicious villains. Samurai Spirit is a less complex, family-friendly alternative to Ghost Stories.

(Cut for the user rating below 7.)

Shadows over Camelot

Work together with your fellow knights to defend Camelot…but look out for the traitor in your midst.

(Cut because of the traitor element and the somewhat high playtime and complexity.)

Space Alert

Travel the galaxy, protect your spaceship, and survive in this realtime coop game.

(Cut due to the high complexity, the 12+ age rating, and the real-time gameplay.)

The Lost Expedition

Venture into the Amazon jungle and try to escape with your life.

(Cut due to the lack of unique character abilities and the more solitaire feel: This game plays best solo.)

25 Pandemic-like board games to pick from

Phew!

There you have it: No fewer than 25 games like Pandemic for your next cooperative game night.

With themes ranging from medieval knights to comic book superheroes to classic monsters, you won’t be starved for choice.


Have you already tried any of these games? Can you recommend a game you think I’ve missed? I’d love to hear from you, so drop me a comment below.

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