How to make Pathogen Markers for Pandemic!
Pandemic is a great game with a unique theme, and while the game is beautiful the 'disease cubes' were begging to be unleashed into their non-cube form. I decided to make my own pathogens out of polymer clay to liven up the game. Here's how they turned out:
I wanted each pathogen to be similar to the art on the cards, but there were some limitations in making them "identical," so these were the designs I came up with:
In reality, this project took about 12 hours from start to finish, with about an hour added for prototyping. This project is probably reasonable for a beginner who's done some crafting before, or someone who has a lot of patience with learning new things.
Time: 9-16 hours depending on skill
Cost: $10-20 if you're starting fresh, but you will have lots of clay left over (and some tools). The actual cost of clay is closer to $5.
- 6 colors of Polymer Clay (red, black, blue, yellow, orange and white). I use Premo! brand, but you can use other polymer clays.
- Razor blade (preferred) OR sharp knife
- Non-permeable work surface (I use a dry-erase board)
- 1/4 inch round clay cutter (optional)
- Silicone shaper (optional)
Total # of Game Pieces: 96
Don't have time to make them yourself?
You can purchase these here!
Let's get started!
Start by making a small, round ball of clay about the same size as the original disease cube. You can adjust the size to your preference (quarter for reference).
Roll out a long, thin piece of clay at least 5 cm (2 inches) long and not very thick. Cut into 3 pieces about 1.5 cm each. It's okay if these are not identical lengths, they will be trimmed later.
Position your 3 pieces on top of one another so that they are crossing to form an asterix * shape. Press down lightly in the middle so that the center is partially flattened and the clay mixes.
Position the ball in the middle of the crossed pieces and push down lightly to secure it to the base.
Now we need to trim the "legs" so that they are equal lengths. You can do this with a blade or knife individually, but to speed things up you can use a 1/2" round clay cutter. Position the clay cutter over the pathogen body (round ball portion) so that it is centered within the cutter, and push down.
Next we will add the white details.
There is 1 large, central "donut" and 3 smaller donuts. Start with your center donut by forming a small ball about 3 mm in diameter (you can eyeball this). Position this in the center on top of your pathogen body and press down lightly to secure.
Using a toothpick (or similar item), push down into the center. This should expand your ball into a more flattened disk and secure it to the body.
Add your 3 smaller balls around the central donut equidistant apart, and press the toothpick into the center of each.
Voila, you are done with your first piece!
You can use a razor blade (or similar) to gently lift the piece up and move it to your baking sheet.
Only 23 more to go!
This one is the easiest of all!
Start by rolling a ball of clay so that when it is pressed down slightly it is about 1 cm in diameter. We want a slightly flat bottom so that it rests on the game board.
There are two different sizes for the orange details. You can eyeball this, or for consistency (especially across 24 pieces) you can roll out two ropes, one each of larger and smaller thickness.
I use 4 pieces from the large rope, and about 6 pieces from the small rope. Using a razor blade (or similar) cut pieces about 2mm long (4 from thick rope and 6 from the thin rope).
Roll these pieces into circular balls, then attach the 4 large ones to the body where you wish.
Use a toothpick to puncture the 4 large pieces. This should flatten them slightly and adhere them better to the body.
Finally, add the remaining small spheres around the body, pressing firmly enough to adhere the clay well.
After 23 more you are done with the yellow pathogens!
The blue pathogen has a body that consists of 3 "squiggly" ropes. The center is thicker than the two sides.
To begin, roll out two ropes, the large one of ~4-5 mm thickness, the small one ~2-3mm thick.
Cut the thick rope to be a bit longer than 1.5cm. Roll the ends slightly so they become somewhat rounded. Then use your hands to shape the rope into a gentle "S." It should be about 1.5cm long after bending.
Cut the thinner rope into two smaller sizes, one about 1 cm and one slightly less than 1cm. The sizing doesn't need to be perfect. If they are the same size that's okay.
Position the thinner pieces one either side of the main body. Adhere each of them to their respective sides, following the curvature of the main body.
The body is finished!
To add the white details, we need a thick and thin rope. The thin rope will be incredibly thin, about half the thickness of a quarter.
Cut 2 pieces of the thin rope, one for each side of the main body. The lengths should be slightly less than the lengths of your body sides. Adhere these to the tops of the body sides, bending them to fit the curvatures.
Cut the thick rope to be slightly shorter than your center body length. Adhere this to the top of the center body, bending it to fit the curvature.
You can use the remaining thick rope to cut 3 equal sized pieces that will be formed into balls and attached to the center of each white rope. Make sure you press firmly enough to adhere the clay well.
Aaaaaand you know the drill...
These are the most time-consuming of the set because the details are small and elaborate. There are many ways to simplify this design which would work just fine, so don't be afraid to experiment with it.
Shape an oval to your desired size. Mine came out to be 0.5cm wide and ~1.3cm long, but I eyeballed it mostly. Make sure you press these a bit harder to give them a flat base, as they will roll around otherwise.
Take a small ball of white clay and flatten it with your finger to make a disk (not super hard). You need the disk to fit in the top 3rd of the red base, and you'll probably need a lot less clay than you think.
Take a blade/knife and cut a few slits along the edges to form the "petals" you see in the image. Then lift the disk using a blade and place it onto the top of your red base, pressing gently to adhere it.
Use a toothpick to poke a hole in the center of the disk.
Next roll out a very thin rope of white clay. You'll only need about 2cm.
Cut 3 different lengths, the longest being about 1/3 the size of your red base, the next two being about 1mm shorter than the previous. You will overestimate the length of these, these are extremely short.
Position the longest one in the middle and the other two on either side. The bottom ends will be covered by disks, so they don't need to look good.
You can use the extra rope to cut 3 small pieces (same size) for the bottom "donuts."
Roll these pieces into balls and place them at the ends of the thin ropes, overlapping the ends and pressing gently to adhere. Then use a toothpick to poke a hole in the center of each.
OPTIONAL: You can use something to smooth out the ends and make these nicer. I use a silicone clay shaper brush, but you can use your finger nail if you have a steady hand.
And it's done!
The last of the bunch!
You can move these onto a baking sheet and bake all at once, since these are all similar thicknesses. Bake at the suggested temperature and time listed on your clay packaging (this differs by brand). *Premo! clay bakes at 275 degrees for 30 minutes per 1/4 inch of clay, so I bake these for 30 min.
I put mine straight in an ice bath after removing in the oven, but this step is optional (there are claims that this makes the product more durable).
A note on baking: Polymer clay companies claim it is safe to bake their product in your food-safe oven, but in the past it leeched toxic chemicals. Some people still prefer to use a separate oven for baking clay, like a small toaster oven. I have not found any peer-reviewed literature that testifies either way. I personally cook in my home oven, but the decision should be made by you and what you are comfortable with.
And that's it!
Your game pieces are now waterproof, paintable, varnishable, and surprisingly durable! Enjoy!
Don't have time to make them yourself?
You can purchase these here!
About the Author
My name is Alee! I'm an avid board gamer who loves to craft. I started upgrading my games in various ways and stumbled upon polymer clay 4 months ago. Since then I've been making tons of board game pieces and have fallen in love with the outcome.
When I'm not playing games or crafting I'm typically out rock climbing, backpacking, or watching space launches. For work I'm a molecular biologist, so I love science (of all kinds).
What's my favorite game? #X-ODUS: Rise of the Corruption