I still remember the moment in my first game of Pandemic when we drew an Epidemic card and after infecting a city drawn from the bottom of the infection deck I experienced a moment of realisation when we had to shuffle the discard pile then put it back onto the top of the deck – “Hang on, that means that all the cities previously infected could get worse or even outbreak!... Ohhh…” Pandemic’s global success was not a right-place right-time thing – it was the dawn of world-class co-operative gaming, setting the standard for tense, cinematic board gaming.
A year later, designers Matt Leacock and Tom Lehmann looked to build upon the game with a modular expansion, aptly titled On The Brink. The expansion includes three new modules that change an element of the game. It also includes more roles, events, an increased base game difficulty level and five petri dishes to store each disease in!
The three main modules of this expansion pit you against the Virulent Strain challenge, a Mutated purple disease and the dreaded Bio-Terrorist! Before looking at each of the modules I’d like to quickly look at the added extras.
Loads More Stuff
On the Brink adds six new regular roles (not including the Bio-Terrorist, which I’ll discuss later) that all add something a little different to your world-saving endeavours. The Generalist is nice, simple and effective – she gets five actions each turn rather than the usual four. Perhaps my favourite role is the Containment Specialist, who can remove a disease cube when he enters a city if there are two or more of the same colour – I call him the vacuum cleaner!
The eight new event cards in On the Brink are great and come with a new rule of dealing two event cards per player to the deck during setup (so the game isn’t overloaded with events). There are also a couple of blank event cards and role cards if you fell inclined to add your own creations to the game.
The expansion now allows for the game to be played with five players and also includes an extra seventh Epidemic card to play what is a near-unbeatable “Legendary” difficulty setting. While offering nothing to the game itself the plastic Petri dishes are a widely loved and thematic way to store the disease cubes.
One thing, which might get overlooked, is the On the Brink expansion comes with a plastic insert to organise and store everything from this expansion and the base game in a single box.
Virulent Strain Challenge
In the Virulent Strain challenge, one of the diseases has gone out of control and has become unpredictable and nasty. In this challenge the normal Epidemic cards are replaced with the Virulent Strain cards and the disease with the most cubes on the board at the time of the first Epidemic becomes the Virulent Strain – for the rest of the game, every Epidemic causes the Virulent Strain disease to undergo an immediate or continuing effect, which can range from “Complex Molecular Structure” (which makes it harder to cure), “Government Interference” (making it necessary to treat the Virulent Strain before leaving a city) and “Rate Effect” (adding more disease cubes!)
I really like this challenge as it ups the difficulty level while only adding slightly to the base game rules – everything you need to do is explained on the Virulent Strain cards so things don’t get too complicated. Game upon game, the colour of the Virulent Strain might be different from the last, which adds a different geographical test and makes this a very replay-able module. Plus you can alter the difficulty by adding different Virulent Strain cards to the deck, in the exact same way you do with Epidemic cards in the base game.
The Mutation challenge adds a fifth (purple) disease to the game that can appear unexpectedly and mutate! The Mutation challenge comes with 12 purple disease cubes, three Mutation Event cards that are shuffled into the player deck and aid the purple disease in spreading. Two Mutation cards are put into the infection discard pile, so they won’t come into play until after the first epidemic occurs, but once that happens things get interesting and tough!
You can cure the purple disease by discarding five city cards in a mix of colours (as long as one of those cities contains at least one purple disease cube), but curing the purple disease is not essential – you just need to cure the other four diseases and have no purple disease cubes on the board.
This challenge adds a nice dilemma as you may feel like you can largely ignore the purple disease early in the game as it takes a while to establish itself but the mutations can be devastating and there are only half as many purple cubes as there are of the other diseases, which means if you become complacent you will lose the game in a flash, as I have found out myself!
This challenge pits one player, the Bio-Terrorist, against the rest. The Bio-Terrorist’s movements around the world are hidden from the team (and secretly logged on a location sheet) as he/she manually spreads the purple disease around the world. The Bio-Terrorist takes their turns in the gap between player’s turns and can take Infection cards and use them much like the players use Player cards to take flights or even infect cities remotely, but must also announce an airport sighting when doing so.
The Bio-Terrorist can also be spotted when in the same city as another player, and for an action that player can capture him/her (the Bio-Terrorist must then discard all their cards and perform an escape on a subsequent turn).
The purple disease also spreads through infections when a purple disease cube is in a city when that city card is drawn (just like in the Mutation challenge), but when the disease outbreaks it “flares-out” and the city that just had the outbreak is reduced to only having one purple cube on it – small mercies…
The team wins in the same way as the Mutation challenge and The Bio-Terrorist wins if the players lose and there is at least one purple cube on the board. The Bio-Terrorist instantly loses (and is out of the game) if the players ever eradicate the purple disease, which means he/she must plan well. In a nice twist, everyone loses if the players lose and there are no purple cubes on the board.
The Bio-Terrorist challenge often polarises lovers of Pandemic as some feel this game should be fully co-operative, but I love it! The hidden movement is intriguing and ratchets up the stress levels on the team as the Bio-Terrorist clings onto their location sheet with an evil smile.
Final Thoughts on Pandemic: On the Brink
The On the Brink expansion takes an already great game into the stratosphere and gives more modular options that take the gameplay and experience into new realms of fun and longevity. Simply essential.