Pandemic is one of the first board games we reviewed because it’s such a great family board game. It was the first cooperative board game we ever played and was an instant hit in our family.
From its original release in 2008, Pandemic has taken the gaming world by storm. Tons of cooperative board games have been created since then trying to duplicate the success of Pandemic. And every time a new cooperative board game hits the game shelves, they’re immediately compared to Pandemic. Not a bad position to be in.
Earlier this year, Z-Man Games released a new edition of Pandemic to celebrate the 5 year anniversary of the game. And while we haven’t yet tried the new edition, we have seen it in the game aisles of big box retailers. Way to go Pandemic!
But that’s enough about the base game Pandemic because we want to talk about Pandemic: On the Brink – the expansion we bought that we hardly play without any more.
What’s the draw of Pandemic: On the Brink?
Pandemic: On the Brink adds a lot of stuff: A 5th player, 6 new roles, 8 new special events, new components, petri dishes, and 3 challenges – like the bio-terrorist (a favorite). But the coolest thing is that it’s not an all or nothing proposition – you can choose whatever elements you’d like to add in or leave out. And combinations of the new elements means there’s a lot of replayability.
This doesn’t mean we were tired of playing just the base game. But rather it means we’ve simply added new ways to enjoy Pandemic.
The 6 new roles added to the game are: Containment Specialist, Epidemiologist, Field Operative, Archivist, Troubleshooter, and Generalist. Mixing these in with the original roles and randomly dealing them to the players means that there are a lot more combinations of abilities to discover.
In the base game, there were 5 roles for 4 players which means that you’re going to have most of the abilities at your disposal. Having a total of 11 roles to select from means there’s a lot more to figure out how to work well together with your fellow players. Keeps the game interesting.
Likewise the base game includes 5 Special Events cards that were always in the Player card deck. With On the Brink, you now add those 5 to the additional 8 and randomly select 2 per player to be shuffled into the Player card deck. So again, you don’t know what you’re going to get each time. You can hope for certain ones, but there’s no guarantees.
Some of the new Special Events are: Borrowed Time, Mobile Hospital, Rapid Vaccine Deployment, and Special Orders.
Now on to the Challenges.
Challenge 1: Virulent Strain
The Virulent Strain challenge is where one of the diseases you’re trying to cure will suddenly go out of control. The reason is because you replace the standard Epidemic cards with these Virulent Stain Epidemic cards that each have something twisted to offer.
Like the other new cards, these are randomly selected and mixed in with the Player card deck. So now when you turn over an Epidemic card, in addition to the standard effects of an epidemic, each of these cards gives additional instructions of what will happen to the disease with the virulent strain. And some of those effects continue even after the card is played!
Challenge 2: Mutation
The Mutation challenge adds another disease to the mix. But not only do players now have a 5th disease to deal with, the mutation disease will also act in strange ways. There are 3 Mutation Event cards that also get mixed into the Player card deck and will pop up at unexpected times to cause more chaos.
An added challenge to the mutation disease is that there are only 12 purple cubes (instead of 24 like the other diseases). And yes, you can lose the game if you run out of purple cubes to place on the board. Ouch!
Challenge 3: Bio-Terrorist
The Bio-Terrorist challenge the highlight of the game for our boys. Not only do they want to play with the bio-terrorist every time, but they also fight over who gets to be the bio-terrorist.
The bio-terrorist turns Pandemic into a semi-cooperative game rather than a straight cooperative game because now it’s 1 player working against the rest of the players.
The bio-terrorist takes the black pawn but doesn’t place it on the board. It only comes on the board once the bio-terrorist is spotted. That player also gets a special pad to track their actions throughout the game – which is necessary because they move and act secretly.
The bio-terrorist has special actions that they use throughout the game to move around, draw cards, infect cities, and sabotage research stations.
They can also be captured.
Of course, they can also escape.
There’s a lot going on and chasing after the bio-terrorist while also trying to cure diseases is a tough proposition. The good thing is that the bio-terrorist only gets 2 actions on their turn. The bad thing is that player also gets to take a turn after each other player takes a turn (Player 1, Bio-terrorist, Player 2, Bio-terrorist, Player 3, Bio-terrorist…). As such, he/she’s all over the place wrecking havoc and hard to nail down.
It’s pretty obvious why the boys love being the bio-terrorist so much – subverting everything else going on in the game. They cackle maniacally and love it.
The Pandemic: On the Brink expansion is a “must have” in our book.
If you haven’t yet played Pandemic, don’t wait any longer – go grab a copy today. And once you get the hang of how to play it, then grab a copy of On the Brink and mix it up even more.
Summary of Added Components
8 Role cards
8 Special Event cards
3 Mutation Event cards
2 Mutation cards
8 Virulent Strain cards
12 Pawns (replaces the originals plus the new roles)
12 Purple disease cubes
1 Purple cure marker
1 Purple status tile
1 Epidemic card (for Legendary difficulty)
1 Reference card (for 5th player)
1 Bio-Terrorist Location pad
4 Blank cards (make your own roles and special events)
6 Petri Dishes!
Gotta love a game that comes with it's own petri dishes!