Head to Head (Pandemic Versus Horrified)

                            Cooperatives are EVERYWHERE!!!

Cooperative games, or co-ops, are quite popular with many modern board game players. Count this board gamer among those that loves a good cooperative game. Many novice gamers have a history of playing competitive games such as Sorry and Monopoly which almost inevitably lead to shouting matches, tears, and irreparable damage to relationships. These games pit brothers against sisters, mothers against daughters, fathers against sons, etc. This creates a tension that can prevent family members from wanting to try a new game. 

Co-ops are different. Instead of ripping families apart, co-ops can bring them together. The shy, non-competitive person in a group can allow his anxiety to wane as he'll be working with the overly-aggressive player instead of battling against him. They'll be working as a team. And not fully understanding the rules or what a particular card does, typically a difficult handicap to overcome, is not a problem in cooperative games so long as one person has some experience with it. Since you are a team working together to accomplish a singular goal, it doesn't matter if the player beside you looked at your cards. That type of behavior- usually a cardinal sin of gaming- is encouraged (at least in a majority of co-ops)! 

There are probably hundreds of cooperative games. Just glancing up at a small shelf of games I own revealed at least three: Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion, Zombicide: Black Plague, and Forbidden (no colon) Island. Three out of fifteen is a staggering twenty percent! Now, I wouldn't say that my entire collection leans so heavily this way, but I mention it to hammer the point that there is a plethora of co-ops out there to try. It is an immensely popular genre. I want to look at two titles that seem to be among the most popular right now. One is an old landmark of the cooperative- Pandemic. The other a spry newcomer- Horrified.

Two celebrated cooperative games, but which is better?

The Basic Information

Pandemic was released in 2008 by Z-Man Games and was designed by Matt Leacock. In it, a team from the CDC looks to find a cure to four infectious diseases running rampant in the world. Game count is from two-to-four players with an age recommendation of eight and up.

Horrified was released in 2019 by Prospero Hall, published by Ravensburger. During the game, players will work to rid a besieged town from two-to-four monsters. Anywhere from one-to-five players can take part in the monster hunting fun, but the game advises that players be at least ten years old. 

Similarities in Set-Up

Preparing to play both games is surprisingly similar. Players will randomly select one character to play as. You could simply choose a favorite, but if you remain tight to the rules you'll pick blindly. Each character in Pandemic has a special ability and will be able to perform a total of four actions during the player's turn. This is mostly true for Horrified as well. After selecting a hero or heroine, the boards of both games will be seeded. 

In Pandemic, players will take a green deck with cities printed on the back, shuffle, then place it in the appropriate spot on the board. The first three cards will be drawn from the deck and placed in the discard pile. Those cities will each receive three infection cubes. That's bad news because any more in that territory and an outbreak occurs. Outbreaks are bad. You don't want those. The next three cards will be revealed, and those cities will each gain two cubes. Finally, three more cards will be overturned and the cities they represent will be infected with a single cube.

Seeding is only slightly different in Horrified. Without looking, players will draw twelve tokens from a bag. These tokens come in three colors- blue, red, and yellow, and will have a name (which is honestly irrelevant, but somewhat thematic), a picture, and a location to be placed at. When a token is drawn, lay it in the area of town that is printed on it. Simple. 

Both games give a little helping hand (of cards) to begin the game. Pandemic is more generous, giving players two-to-four cards, depending on player count, while stingy Horrified only allows its players to have one "Perk" card.

Each game also has a track representing something bad. In Pandemic, it's an "Outbreak" track. Outbreaks occur if any town has three infection cubes and is then required to be burdened with another. Players will be forced to add an infection cube to each attached city. If you have more than seven outbreaks during a game, the world succumbs to the disease and you lose.

Horrified has a "Terror" track. Any time a player gets attacked by a monster and fails (or chooses not to) defend himself, the track goes up. If a monster attacks a supporting character, a citizen of the town that is not directly controlled by any player, the track goes up. When the terror reaches a fever-pitch of seven, the players lose. 

Both games also have two decks of cards. Pandemic has the infection deck and player deck. Horrified has the monster deck and the perk card deck. 

Pandemic's green infection deck and blue
player deck and Horrified's black monster
deck and white perk deck.

                                      Differences in Set Up

The differences in set up are fairly small. Players all begin in Atlanta in a freshly built (okay, placed) research station in a game of Pandemic. Where you begin in Horrified depends upon the character you selected. Each player begins in a unique area on the board. This actually makes the beginning of the game a bit easier. How? I'll explain more when I get to game play. 

Pandemic has spaces devoted for both decks of its cards as well as a separate place to discard them. You'll have to keep the decks of cards close to the game board in Horrified. This is a small difference, but it makes a big one. It keeps clutter down in Pandemic and also takes up less space. Horrified ends up spanning more table space than it should have to because the company failed to create a specific, dedicated spot on the board for its two decks of cards and a place to discard them. 

Pandemic's dedicated spaces for cards, along with the colors 
 used in the board, give it a clean look on the table.

Even though Pandemic also has an additional location on the board to keep track of the Infection Rate, which will tell players how many cards to overturn if an "Epidemic" card is drawn from the player deck, its board still manages to feel less busy than a game of Horrified. 

Horrified requires a ton of components to be nearby, but
doesn't have places on the board for them. If your group
isn't tidy, this game can become a table hog!

Of the decks of cards, Pandemic's infection cards and Horrified's monster deck serve a very similar function. When an infection card is revealed in Pandemic, players will place a new infection cube in that city. As players draw another monster card in Horrified, the card will give players instructions on which monsters to move, but also how violent their attack will be. These cards have additional information as well. They have a number on the top which tells players how many new items to draw from the bag and place. The cards also have an event that occurs. These events might involve moving a monster to a new space, transporting a player token to the same space as a monster, or introducing a new non-playable character to the board. 

Perhaps the most obvious difference is in the enemy of each game. Translucent cubes representing diseases are in every game of Pandemic. The blues for North America and Europe, the yellows for South America and the lower part of Africa, the blacks for Northern Africa and the western parts of Asia, and the reds for east Asia and Australia. These are a constant. The colors really don't matter. They act the same way in every play of Pandemic. It's reliable, but it can get stagnate.

Horrified, on the other hand, has seven different monsters to choose from (although two only work together). Each monster has a unique way to be dealt with, and you'll be playing against anywhere from two-to-four of them. This offers several new and interesting combinations to play against. This helps the game remain fresh and interesting. If you get tired of breaking Dracula's coffins, for instance, well then try to keep Frankenstein (technically, his monster) and the Bride away from each other until you've helped them regain their humanity. Steer a boat up a narrow river in search of the Creature's Black Lagoon. The game play can be different just about every time it hits the table!

Horrified's monster boards

But it seems like I'm drifting into the mechanics of the games, so let's get to it!

                                  Similarities in Game Play

Perhaps the most rudimentary aspect of gaming is movement. Even in ancient abstract games such as Checkers, Chess, and Mancala, movement is the basic element. Likewise, movement is a key component in both Pandemic and Horrified. What makes these games different from the aforementioned examples, or any game where dice are rolled to determine where a player ends up, is how movement is accomplished. These co-ops allot each player a certain number of actions that can be taken, including moving from one area to an adjacent area.

The characters available for both games offer great variety
in the game, and have diverse gender and ethnic representation.

Another action that both of these games share is the ability to, well, share. In Pandemic you are allowed to "share information" by giving a card to any player in the same space as you. However, the city you occupy must match the city on the card you are giving. Whew! That sure is specific! Horrified also allows a player in the same space as another to share items. However, standing in the same area of town is the only requirement.

Additionally, in Pandemic players will arrive in spaces littered with infection cubes. An action includes the ability to take away one cube from the city you are in per action. There is one character with a special ability that allows him to remove all cubes from a location as one action, but one cube per action is the standard. Horrified contains a similar action that allows a player to pick up item tokens that are in the city. 

At the end of each player's turn in both games, the "enemy" may attack. In Pandemic, the player who has just completed the four actions will overturn two of the player cards. If one is an "outbreak" card, the infection in two or more cities is about to increase. The monsters' turn in Horrified is similar. A single card is taken from the top of the monster deck which will instruct players how to proceed. Most likely, at least one monster on the board will move if not attack, but not always. These possibilities make each card turn in both games dripping with stress like eating a dozen eclairs knowing that one is harboring mayonnaise inside its flaky exterior.

These cards also offer another nail-biting twist in both games- as soon as the player deck in Pandemic and the monster deck in Horrified has run out of cards, time is up for the players and they lose the game. It gives incentive to use each action wisely and with intent. The longer it takes you to accomplish the task at hand, whether it be discovering cures for four diseases or defeating fearsome monsters, the higher the probability becomes that you will fail.

                                Differences in Game Play

Earlier, I mentioned how the beginning of the game is a bit easier in Horrified due to players beginning in different areas. This highlights one way that Horrified is less daunting, at least on the onset. Pandemic has each player beginning in a single location. If there are a few cities burdened with infection cubes across the map, it might take a few turns for enough people to get there to help in those areas. Getting loaded with cubes in central Asia or in Africa, for instance, is a tough way to begin the game since it would take all of your action movements just to get close. Simply by starting the game with each character in a unique location across the board means that item tokens are almost always going to be close to someone. If all the items somehow managed to be near the bottom right of the board, chances are high that at least one of the characters can not only get to those locations, but have enough actions left to do something about it.

Talking about infection cubes and item tokens brings me to what I believe is the single biggest difference between Pandemic and Horrified- how players interact with the pieces on the board. On a player's turn in Pandemic, he will want to get to a location with cubes and spend an action to remove a cube from that city. He will then place it back in the supply. If he has any actions left to spend he could take another cube from the same city. Each infection cube on a city takes an action to remove (unless you happen to have the special action that allows its character to remove all cubes for one action, or if the particular type/color disease has been cured). 

Horrified uses its item tokens very differently. Players don't want to get rid of the items, but instead want to collect them. They are instrumental in defeating the monsters. Each character will have to get to a city location that has item tokens on them, and there is no limit to how many item tokens may be waiting in a space. Unlike Pandemic's rule of one cube removed per action, Horrified's players can collect all of the tokens occupying that space as one action. These differences, while they might appear to be minor, are huge

Item tokens from Horrified

It becomes even more advantageous if two city locations are heavy-laden with items next to one another, particularly if you have the character whose special action is the ability to collect items in locations adjacent to their position.

Pandemic does have a clever mechanic to help players quickly traverse one side of the board to another- by discarding a location card and "flying" to that city as an action. If there is a massive outbreak to start the game, say in Bangkok, Tokyo, and Jakarta, it would be impossible to get to those locations on your first turn, even if you designate all actions to try. However, if you had Osaka in your hand of cards, you could choose to discard it to charter a flight directly there for only one action. 

While you can travel to a city in Pandemic by discarding the card that represents that city, the greatest purpose these cards have are in finding a cure for a disease. These cards match the color of the infection cubes on the board. Players need to collect five cards in a single color (while maintaining a hand limit of no more than seven) and discard them at a research station to discover the cure for that particular disease. So while you could burn a card to travel in the above example, your team would then be down one red location card before the game really had a chance to take off. It could be absolutely paramount to choose to fly. It could be to the team's detriment. That's what makes the choice stressful, ridden with anxiety, important, but also interesting and fun.

It's impossible to get to many of the spaces on the board in a single
turn unless you charter a direct flight by sacrificing that city's card.

Horrified's perk cards are different and only serve a single purpose. They can be quite powerful, which is why they, too, are only usable once, although they work in a different way from Pandemic's player cards. Perk cards are not required to defeat monsters or to travel to a particular spot on the board, but give their owner a chance to do a variety of actions that do not count against the number of actions a player has. These include the ability to move a character additional spaces, forcing a monster into another space, or even giving another player anywhere on the board as many item tokens as the team has. These cards are difficult to earn- you do so by successfully guiding a villager to his or her destination- so when you use them can be crucial. 

The games do share two losing conditions- the outbreak and terror tracks reaching their highest level in Pandemic and Horrified respectively, and Pandemic's player deck and Horrified's monster deck running out of cards. However, Pandemic has another losing condition, and it can be brutal- running out of cubes in a single color. 

There will be anywhere from four to six of these cards
stored away in the player deck waiting to make your 
task that much more difficult!

The color of the cubes is very important and they are not interchangeable. Players have twenty-four cubes in a color and are not allowed to substitute anything else if they run out. If the team is required to put a cube of a certain color down but are not able to because all of those cubes are already on the board, that's an L. This means that players must plan even more to eliminate infection cubes that are stacking up in certain cities, but also in certain colors. There might be two or three cities in South America/South Africa containing three yellow cubes a piece- which is alarming, but blue cubes might be littered across North America/Europe more evenly, but more dangerously. A team might assign players to take care of the yellow cubes that seem the most urgent situation, but end up losing because blue territories keep coming up in the infection deck. 

Winning the game is accomplished in a similar but different fashion. Pandemic requires players to amass five player cards in a single color, take them to a research station, and discard them to find a cure. If the team is able to do this for all four diseases before one of the lose conditions are met, the group is victorious! Horrified works differently.

Each monster has two phases and must be done in a certain order. You can't defeat any monster until the first phase has been accomplished. For instance, you can't overcome the Invisible Man until you first prove that he exists. Phase one involves collecting and then using items of a certain color and strength in a particular location. Monsters are able to rescind some of your progress if they attack, but once you have completed part one, they can do nothing to push you back anymore. Phase two (usually) involves going to the space where the monster is and using the required items to drive the final nail into the proverbial coffin. If the group is able to take care of all of the monsters used in the game before either of the fail conditions occur, then the town will sleep safely without fear of an attack.

Players will first get to place two new item 
tokens on the board, then perform the action
in the center of the card before the Mummy,
the Creature, and Frankenstein's Monster
move a space and attack with three dice.

To Sum It Up

This is not an exhaustive list of every minute detail of similarities and differences in the games, but I have highlighted what I feel are the most important. I did not look at each character's special action in each of the games nor did I mention that games can be made easier or more difficult. 

So which game is superior? Which game would work best with your group or family? Which do I like better? Well, that's like asking Dracula where he likes to draw blood from- it's neck and neck. Sorry for the terrible pun, but these games are fairly equal across the (game) board. Dang it! I did it again. I apologize.

If you prefer deeper strategy and a more realistic theme, then Pandemic is your game. If you like to mix things up and keep the experience fresh, then Horrified is going to be more intriguing for you. For the family that prefers light, easier games, then I would recommend Horrified. For families that are more experienced gamers, then Pandemic is probably the better fit. However, there should be room on your gaming shelf or closet for both. While they share many similarities with one another, they are different enough to not feel the same. These are different experiences.

Both games are readily available for around the same price. Pandemic can be found everywhere from your local game store to Walmart for $40.00 MSRP. Horrified can be purchased online, but should be at a Target near you for $35.00. If those prices are too high, then you probably want to see about getting Pandemic second-hand for a substantially lower price tag. I got very lucky when I bought mine as it was essentially brand-new and only cost me about $4. Expect to spend about $25.00 or so for a good used copy. And while Horrified has more diversity out of the box, it must be mentioned that Pandemic has a couple of expansions that mix the formula up a bit. Then again, that's more of an investment.

Which would I recommend? Well, after multiple plays of both, I think I enjoy Horrified slightly more. While I do prefer the clean layout of Pandemic over the clutter of Horrified, I enjoy the overall experience and variety of Horrified more. But, if you are looking for a great game to play together with your family, you truly can't go wrong with either one.


  1. I completely agree, both games are great, and I own both. I would add that the one only advantage Pandemic has (for now) is that it has a few expansions which expand and add a few additional things for more experienced gamers. But Horrified still is my choice when playing with family or people new to the hobbie.

  2. Nicely written article. The theme puts horrified over Pandemic for me


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