Games of Plagues and Pestilence

2010 Update note: I’m going to update this post when I hear about a new entry.  Think of this as a “Living List”– if you have a suggestion I’ve not heard of, please comment or email me (contact information in the “About” tab up top).  I’ll be happy to consider adding it.

Amended 2009 Post Follows.

I am fond of wacky game themes.

Every once in a while I notice that someone went to great trouble to design and publish a game about an odd subject. With the advent of Z-Man’s hit game PANDEMIC– a very enjoyable cooperative game of fighting a worldwide disease outbreak, I got to thinking that maybe, perhaps, I’d seen this before somewhere before, or a game like it. Sure enough there are a few games with disease as the featured theme out there, and all of them are quite different from each other.  Publisher Descriptions are all copyright BoardGameGeek.


Jun 2012 Added: Pandemic (Flash)

This darkly humorous flash enabled browser game can be played for free, here.  Visually, it is reminiscent of Pandemic (the board game) in layout only– the focus is more on the disease and creating superversions of plagues to wipe out the world.  In this respect it is very close to Plague, Inc. in scope– though I think the IoS app has better graphics.  Enjoy!

Jun 2012 Added: Plague, Inc.

Plague, Inc.

Publishers: Ndemic Creations, 2012

Title Page

Plague Inc. is a solitaire gaming app for the Ipad, IPhone, and Ipod Touch.  Like the BLACK DEATH boardgame listed below, the focus of the game design is on the disease itself– players assume the role of plagues, constantly spreading, growing, mutating.. and trying to wipe out humanity.  I give this a full up review in June 2012so I won’t say much more about it here, other than 2 thumbs up.

Added: Rattus (Dec 2010)


by Ase & Henrik Berg
Publishers: Z-Man Games, 2010


Publisher’s Description: “Europe, 1347. A disaster is about to strike. The Black Death reaches Europe, and during the next 4 – 5 years, the population of Europe will be halved. The players settle in the various regions of Europe, while the plague spreads throughout all of the continent. The players gain help from the various classes of the middle ages: The Peasants provide population growth, the wise Monks keep the rats away, the rich Merchants flee when the plague approaches, the warfare conducted by the Knights spreads the plague to new areas, the Witches control the spread through magic and witchcraft, whereas the Kings avoid the plague by staying in their fortified palaces. But the plague does not make any distinction: When the rats arrive, no one can feel safe. When the plague withdraws and the game ends, the player with the highest surviving population wins.

Honestly, I know next to nothing about this game beyond what I heard described on a podcast.  Rattus solidly fits the theme of a plague and pestilence game, that is certainly true.  The rules are available at the Z-Man site, as well as pictures of game bits.   Rattus sounds like a game I might be interested in, but it’s so new (in late 2010) I haven’t had a chance to play it or review it.  The bits look pretty impressive, although Tom Vasel (of the Dice Tower fame) was somewhat dismissive of the “colored cubes on a map of medieval Europe” approach Z-man took with it.  I’ll give it a chance at some point.  Apparently the parent game of Rattus is doing rather well, as Z-Man is already planning on publishing a sequel (The Pied Piper Expansion).


By Matt Leacock
Publishers: Various (2008)

Pandemic Box Cover

Publisher’s Description: “You are specialists at the CDC/Atlanta where you watch several virulent diseases break out simultaneously all over the world. The team mission is to prevent a world-wide pandemic outbreak, treating hotspots while researching cures for each of the four plagues before they get out of hand.

Players must plan their strategy to mesh their specialist’s strengths before the diseases overwhelm the world. For example, the Operations Specialist can build research stations, which are needed to find cures for the diseases. The Scientist needs only 4 cards of a particular disease to cure it instead of the normal 5. But the diseases are breaking out fast and time is running out: the team must try to stem the tide of infection in diseased areas while developing cures. If disease spreads uncontrolled, the players all lose. If they can cure all four diseases, they win”.

I have played PANDEMIC just recently for the first time.  The cooperative mechanic, which my competitive brain was ready to dislike, was actually a nice surprise.  The mechanics really establish a sense of urgency.  My first game was a very, very narrow victory– we had one turn left to eliminate the last outbreak from the globe.  Quite enjoyable.  The basic game is expanded by an expansion pack called On the Brink.

Black Death

by Greg Porter
Publisher: Blacksburg Tactical Research (1993)
Print and play from Wargame Downloads (2008)

Black Death
Black Death Cover

Publisher’s Description: Black Death is the game of plagues for 2 to 6 players. Each player is a different strain of disease in 14th century Europe, and whoever racks up the highest body count wins. The map is based on the trade routes and major population centers of Europe at the time, the events are based on historical events, and the rules are interspersed with grim quotes from the survivors. It is a game of conquest and strategy, just a different sort of conquest than your average wargame.

The stage is slightly smaller than the Pandemic game, mostly just medieval era Europe this time.  The time period is earlier– and the focus of the game entirely different.  This time you are playing competitive diseases trying to compete for large population centers to “score” on.

The sense of humor here is evident.  Black Death is a game of black humor and funny premises.  It can be quite competitive.  I have played Black Death quite a few times and even built a Cyberboard game module to play it via email, but never got permission from Mr. Porter to post it online on the PBeM Emporium.  I believe the game is out of print  from BTRC but it does appear to be a print and play PDF from Wargame Downloads.

Plague & Pestilience

by Dawn Payne and Tray Green
publisher: Chessex/Hilary’s Toy Box (1993)


Publisher’s Description: “A light card game involving the build-up and destruction of medieval towns. In the Prosperity phase players attempt to build up their populations via stealing from other players or via improvements. Then the Death Ship arrives bearing the plague! In the Plague phase players attempt to kill off other players by playing war, pestilence or other deadly attacks. The cards contain illustrations reminiscent of medieval woodcuts featuring the Grim Reaper.”

This is an older game published by in 1993.   Plague and Pestilence is a card game I own and have played in the past.  In the Prosperity phase, it reminds me more of a Build and Explore game than a game about plagues.  Once the Plague Ships show up, the game changes focus fast.  At that point the effort shifts from the building up your medieval city into a powerhouse to just holding on to what you have built (and screwing over other cities).  P&P is a little gem of a game, pretty much forgotten these days.


by Steve Barsky
Publisher: B&B Productions (1991)

Plague! Box Cover

Publisher’s Description: “The Black Death was no Weekend Special. A lot of people became poorly, very poorly indeed. In fact, so poorly they had to be taken away because their Immortality was wearing rather thin. And… as Fate would have it they died right on time, left, right and center. The best place for these unfortunate victims was somewhere deep, dark and damp. Not too much unlike a pit (and people were dying to get there). Plague! Is a germ-free board game, we hope, for those of you who dare to transport wagon loads of infected victims to their final resting place, a deep pit at Clarks Hill.

Object: Inspired by the yodel ‘Bring out your Dead’ the object of the game, for those who wish to play, is for each player to control a wagon which is used to visit the houses. Plague victims are ‘claimed’ and taken away to a burial site. All this whilst avoiding rats and fleas. The first to ‘bury’ 99 victims wins (remember, you’re only doing your job). The winner must now go off and infect the rest of England.”

Plague! is a very old game that was put out in a very limited distribution.  As far as I know, it was published once by a small company in 1991, and has never been reprinted.  I have never played it but have sought it ought for years.  The premise sounds very intriguing and darkly hilarious.

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