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Digital Subscriptions > Tabletop Gaming > March 2018 (#16) > Pandemic Anniversary

Pandemic Anniversary

It’s hard to imagine board gaming today without Pandemic, Matt Leacock’s radical infection-fighting smash hit. As the first game in the series turns ten, the designer and his collaborators reveal how they changed the world forever


In 2004, Matt Leacock was a user experience designer working for Silicon Valley tech company Yahoo. At least, that’s what he was doing by day. At night and during the weekend, he was beginning to put together a board game that would permanently change the face of the tabletop and propel him to game design stardom. That game was Pandemic.

“I’ve been making games since I was a little kid, really,” Leacock says. “I gradually just kind of refined my ability to do so by making lots and lots of really bad games. I was applying a lot of the things I learned at work, whether it was graphic design or the process used for developing user experience: videotaping, lots of observing of people and not interrupting them, seeing what kind of mistakes and decisions they make. So I applied a lot of that to the game as I developed it.”

Leacock’s first published game was Borderlands, a kingdom-expanding card game put out by his own Locust Games label with little fanfare in 1995. A second, lightweight racing game Lunatix Loop, followed five years later. It would be nearly a decade before his next release.

“Games took me a lot longer back then to develop,” Leacock says. “[Pandemic] had a long gestation period. But I was also a new father and, y’know, I was reffining my craft and so on.”

Leacock started designing what would become Pandemic in 2004, developing it alongside a project he been working on for even longer, loosely titled Ants.

“I brought [Pandemic] to a convention every year to show off in its rough state,” Leacock says. “I brought it to a lot of different meet-ups – there’s a game group at Yahoo and Silicon Valley Boardgamers – and just bounced it off lots and lots of people over about three years.”

Over the course of a couple of years, he would show Pandemic and Ants to publishers together – at one point retitling Pandemic in an effort to make the theme of curing disease more palatable.

“In 2006, a publisher remarked to me, ‘I have no idea how I’d market a game called Pandemic,” Leacock reveals. “So I changed the name to Global Outbreak for my next round of pitches.

“Ultimately I ended up pitching it to about five or six publishers in April of 2007.”

Among the publishers who saw Pandemic in early 2007 was Zev Shlasinger, founder of Z-Man Games, who met Leacock at The Gathering of Friends, an invitation-only gaming event hosted by Ticket to Ride creator Alan R. Moon.

“There, he showed me an ant-themed game,” Shlasinger recalls. “We were just about to do scoring but I had to run to catch a plane. As I was leaving he said he had another game, a co-operative one, and I told him to send it to me.”

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About Tabletop Gaming

Dive into March’s issue of Tabletop Gaming read our whopping exclusive interview with Blood Rage mastermind Eric Lang about his next legendary strategy game, the incredible Rising Sun. You won’t want to miss it! As Pandemic turns 10 years old, we catch up with series creator Matt Leacock and some of the designers, artists and publishers that helped bring the groundbreaking co-op hit to life, hearing how a simple idea became one of the biggest board games of all time. Also taking a look back is Francis Tresham, the inventor of original empire-building epic Civilization. In a rare interview, he tells us about turning his fascination with history into a brand new genre and the lasting legacy of the game almost four decades on. The next instalment in our ever-popular How We Made feature meets up with Splendor designer Marc André to peek behind-the-scenes of his chip-collecting gem, discovering how his childhood hatred of chess and love of maths inspired one of the most absorbing card games in years. There’s plenty more to discover inside the latest issue of Tabletop Gaming, from tips on taking a board game holiday and a look at Legend of Korra sports game Pro-Bending Arena to new columns diving deep into indie games you might’ve missed and the history of the tabletop’s most influential mechanics. Not to mention our regular buffet of hobby tips, designer interviews and more. Of course, there’s no shortage of reviews, either – this month we give our definitive thoughts on Dinosaur Island, Escape the Dark Castle, Altiplano, Transatlantic, Favelas, Dungeon Draft, Kitchen Rush, Elite: Dangerous RPG, Empires, Nusfjord, Time Barons, Coaster Park and many, many more.