Written Reviews

Pandemic: Rising Tide

When the water rises, we have to come together to stop the flooding before everything is submerged under the ocean’s grasp.

Designer(s): Matt Leacock and Jeroen Doumen

Artist(s): Jeroen Doumen, Atha Kanaani, Matt Leacock

Publisher:  Z-Man Games

I have a soft spot for the Pandemic series. Especially those game using the core pandemic mechanics but spinning the game to be a little different that the standard four diseases infecting the modern world. And Pandemic: Rising Tide does just that.

In Rising Tide, the Netherlands are under threat of falling beneath the sea and the players, as a group, must try to keep the encroaching waters at bay. This cooperative game is very different from the others in the Pandemic line because there is only one threat: water. There is no spread of multiple diseases just the oceans ever hungry grasp.

I’m not going to lie, one reason this game was intriguing to me is that is it designed (in part) by Jeroen Doumen. He is one half of the Splotter Spellen team, and I have a particularly weak spot for that publishers’ games.

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Gameplay Overview

This is a general overview to provide context for the review, not an in-depth how to play. Some rules may be glossed over or missing.

Pandemic: Rising Tide is a cooperative game for two to five players that can last between forty-five to sixty minutes (according to the box). I think the game takes slightly longer but can go quickly depending on how the core loop is internalized

Game Flow

The game flow for Pandemic: Rising Tide is the same as any other Pandemic game. One player is chosen to be the start player. Then, in clockwise order, each player will take their turn and this loop with repeat until the game is either won or lost.


The set up for Rising Tide is very similar to other Pandemic games but there are some obvious changes. Instead of outbreak cards, storm cards are stacked throughout the player deck to indicate the threat level of the game increasing. Each player will also get one specialist.

Water is also placed out as a part of the set up because the must be some threat at the beginning of the game. From the very beginning, the water will flow out of the specified areas and into the neighboring regions.

What’s interesting about Rising Tide is that the game starts with some infrastructure already on the board: dikes. The board does specify where the dikes should be at the beginning of the game. I guess the regions were somewhat prepared for the floods!

Player Turns

A player’s turn is divided into five steps: do 4 actions, operate pumps, draw 2 player cards, dikes fail, and water flows. The four actions are where players will have the most control over the state of the board. These four actions include moving, pumping water (i.e., getting rid of a water cube), building infrastructure, and sharing resources.

The infrastructure in Rising Tide is unique to the game and something I find very interesting. Dikes can only be built if there is no water in the region and will prevent the future flow of water. Pumping stations will passively remove water that is it connected to. Ports will help player movement. And Hydraulic Structures are the win condition but can only be built from predesignated spots.

One other moment I want to point out in a player turn is the dikes failing and water flowing being two different steps. I find this very different from other Pandemic games. Normally spread disease is just one step where you flip over a certain number of cards, add disease cubes to those area, and see if they cascade into surrounding areas.

This is the same as dikes failing. A card is flipped over, and a dike is removed from that area if possible. If there are no dikes attached to the specified area, then a water cube is placed. If the area already has three water cubes, then a flood occurs affecting the surrounding areas.

But then what is water flows? Well, each region hat has three water cubes will cause the neighboring regions to have two water cubes. Each region with two water cubes will cause the adjacent regions to have at least one water cube. Water is unstoppable!

Having both phases add water to the map make the threat of this game feel even more real. The increasing pressure of Rising Tide is no joke.

End Game

Since this is a co-operative game, Rising Tide has multiple conditions for ending the game. In order to win, all four hydraulic structures must be built. This condition does not care how many water cubes are on the board. In this situation, the players have done everything they can to hold back the rising tide and prevent submerging the Netherlands.

While there is only one way to win, there are two ways to lose. The first is if players are unable to place the number of water cubes needed on the board. So, if you have the exact amount needed, you still have some time to fix this. But if another cube it needed, the game will immediately end with the players losing. The water has become too widespread to handle.

The other loss condition is if a player is unable to draw two player cards from the player cards deck. The time to handle this crisis has run out and resources have dwindled too far. Now all that’s left is to face the consequences of our ineffectiveness. Brutal.

Concept:The Restriction of Cards

One thing I find absolutely fascinating about Pandemic games is how the card restrict what you can do. You can always move from one region to a neighboring region. But for long distance travel, you need to have the card of the exact area you want to fly to.

The same goes for building, pumping stations and port require card of the matching region you want to build in. Don’t have the exact card? Well, then you need to build somewhere else. Sharing also feels weirdly limiting where you can only give or take a card matching the region that you are in.

And just to clarify, I don’t mean the whole are that is joined together by one color when I say region. I mean the specific region that is individually named.

Who Will Like it?

Pandemic: Rising Tide is a great cooperative game that takes the core mechanics of pandemic and alters them just enough to make the game interesting in its own unique way!  Just like any pandemic game, Rising Tide does require a lot of cooperation and planning to get the positive results desired. And there is an element of negating randomness that naturally comes with a game directed by a deck of cards.

What I Think

I liked Pandemic: Rising Tide because the natural threat presented felt a lot different from the normal pandemic game. 

What did I like?

I loved having only the threat of water made the game feel more difficult in a way. There were no safety cascades, there was no solving or curing one region. There was only water. And having only one threat meant that there was one major breakage point that was coming to kill you. But it meant there was only on major thing to focus on as well.

What didn’t I like?

Like all cooperative game, having one player dictate what the table should do can be a very real issue. If someone gets an idea of how they want the game to run, other players can feel like they are not playing the game but simply going through the motions. And it can be hard to hold back that instinct of wanting to take control.

My Take

After figuring out the balance between players, Pandemic: Rising Tide was a really great experience. I love the unique approach it had to the pandemic games by focusing on one threat and having multiple types of infrastructure.

I did not talk about Pumping stations much but have a way to passively remove water from the game is a fascinating idea. No other pandemic game really goes into this realm (as far as I know). But keeping the chains of water available for a pumping station is also difficult to do. It’s easy not to remember how the chains need to work because you just want the water out of there.


Rulebook/Learning the Game

The rulebook is very conscience with its explanations. I love the number of visual aids used to help explain the set up and the examples. It can be great for explaining how the game works and walking someone newer to board games through some common concepts.

First Play

The first game I played of Pandemic: Rising Tide was a very fun experience. We had four players at the table. Since all four of us were new to the game, we picked our player power based off our favorite color rather than strategic picks.

I think this was the right way to do this, but some players did end up with character powers that did not necessarily match their play styles. Someone who is more introverted ending up playing a very heavy support character which meant that we were constantly asking for help.



While I do like Pandemic: Rising Tide, it might not be my first choice of game. Mainly because I am more of a competitive girl than a cooperative one. But, when looking for a co-operative game, I would definitely pick Pandemic: Rising Tide over some of the other coop games that we own.

*See my rating scale Here

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