Could anything be worse than the world’s population being wiped out by four diseases? Surely not.
How about FIVE diseases? And one of them happens to be mutating. Oh, and why not throw a bio-terrorist in there, too?
If you thought co-operative titan Pandemic couldn’t get any more gruellingly intense, think again! Check out the full Pandemic: On the Brink Board Game Expansion Review below.
Brief Overview of Pandemic: On the Brink
Most readers of GameCows have probably already played Pandemic – and no doubt have some stories that have gone down in legend among their friends as a result.
For those unacquainted, Pandemic is a co-operative team game that pits you, a rough and ready team of disease experts, against the spread of four deadly diseases. Your job is to traverse the globe, on a mission to treat and cure the diseases before they destroy humanity. (NOTE: make sure you also check out Bryan’s awesome review and ultimate guide to the original Pandemic).
On The Brink is one of several expansions, throwing in additional player roles, extra Special Events to mix things up, and three new modules that transform the nature of the game.
For those that feel like they’ve played Pandemic to death (there have been calls in the medical community to add Pandemic to the WHO’s list of infectious diseases), On The Brink lets you attempt to tackle the game with wholly new strategies. The three additional modules give a new perspective on the game for when you want to change things up a little.
Versions & Expansions
Haven’t tried the original Pandemic? Stop reading now and go play it. (You need the original to play On the Brink anyway…)
Pandemic has a TON of amazing versions and expansions. They are all so good we wrote an article about it.
Unboxing Pandemic: On the Brink
It’s important to note that On The Brink is an expansion, so if you don’t yet own the original, you will need to buy it first. In the box, you’ll find:
- 1 Rulebook
- 7 Role Cards
- 7 pawns
- 8 Event Cards
- 12 Disease Cubes
- 1 Cure Marker
- 1 Cure Indicator
- 1 Cure Indicator Card
- 3 Mutation Event Cards
- 2 Mutation Cards
- 5 petri dishes
- 4 blank cards
- 6 Virulent Strain Epidemic Cards
- 1 Bio-terrorist Location Pad
The first thing Pandemic fans will notice is the neat little Petri dishes that you can store the disease cubes in. They have no impact on the game itself, but they’re a nice thematic addition, and help keep things nice and tidy.
You’ll also see the 12 new purple disease cubes. While you might be expecting 24, don’t worry (or maybe you should worry), you’re not missing any. No. This new disease purposefully has only 12 cubes, meaning it can wipe you out twice as fast!
Helpfully, the box is large enough to fit all the original components. So you can easily keep everything nicely together in one place
How to Play Pandemic: On the Brink
The basics of the game are the same as the original Pandemic. However, in the beginning, you’ll get to choose from six additional roles: Archivist, Containment Specialist, Epidemiologist (which is very fun to say), Field Operative (less so), Generalist, and Troubleshooter.
With just the new roles and additional Special Events, you can continue playing Pandemic as normal. However, these mean you can develop entirely new strategies and techniques to quash the spread of the four diseases. Special Events that have been added include Commercial Travel Ban, which brings the infection rate down to one for a single round of turns, or the no-messing-about Remote Treatment, allowing you to remove two disease cubes from anywhere on the board.
The most notable additions, though, are the three new game modules (or “challenges”), which I’ll briefly run through.
The Virulent Strain
In this challenge, one of the diseases has taken a turn for the even worse. Each Epidemic Card that comes into the game adds in a new trait to the Virulent Strain disease, making it harder to defeat. What’s more, often these are continuing effects that last throughout the game. The longer it goes on, the stronger it becomes – very much like a fine wine, just a lot less tasty.
At first, you may find your Virulent Strain has a Complex Molecular Structure, meaning you need to turn in six City Cards, rather than five, to eradicate. Or, if you’re incredibly unlucky, you may even find there was an undetected Hidden Pocket of the disease, which will require you to put the Virulent Strain cubes back on the board even if you’ve already eradicated it.
The Mutation challenge brings the fifth, purple disease into play. In this scenario, to win you must either cure all diseases or cure the original four and have no purple cubes left on the board.
It acts a little differently to the other diseases in the way that it enters play:
- If a Mutation Card is drawn, you must take an Infection Card from the bottom of the infection deck, bringing another city into the game.
- Mutation Event Cards – These are drawn from the player deck as normal. If one appears you must follow the rules on the card. As you can probably guess, they’re not good and will see the purple disease threaten, spread and then intensify throughout the game.
- Infection Cards – If a city has a purple cube on it and its Infection Card is drawn (no matter what color), you must add both a purple cube and a cube of that card’s color.
The other notable quirk of the purple disease is how to eradicate it. To do so, you can discard five cards of any color. However, one of those cards must have a purple cube on it. The effect is that as the purple disease spreads it becomes easier to cure. However, as it has a total of only 12 cubes, you also become much closer to losing!
The final challenge is the most controversial. In this version of the game, one member of your party becomes the enemy, taking on the role of the Bio-terrorist. This adds an entirely new dimension to the game. Instead of just working to eradicate the four diseases, you also have to deal with the dastardly doings of an evil genius, set on destroying humanity by spreading their violent purple disease (comical evil voice is optional, but encouraged).
The Bio-terrorist doesn’t move about the board, but instead secretly plots their moves and keeps track of their position on the provided pad of paper. It’s the job of the other players to determine where they are and, hopefully, capture them.
As the Bio-terrorist, you’re able to be quite nimble. You get to move after each player’s turn, albeit you have just three actions rather than four. As you do so, you can infect the city you’re in, infect a city whose card you have in your hand, or, if you really want to annoy people, even remove research stations.
Your First Game of Pandemic: On the Brink
If you’ve got this far, you’re probably already well aware of the intricacies of Pandemic gameplay. However, there are a few things to bear in mind with this expansion.
Firstly, as mentioned in Bryan’s overview of the Best Pandemic Expansions, if you’re playing with a few newbies, or have one player that typically dictates the game by meddling in other people’s turns, why not make them the Bio-terrorist? This gives the less dominant players the opportunity to make decisions for themselves, and they can take out some of that pent up frustration within the rules of the game.
If you want to make things ultra-difficult for yourselves, you could combine the modules to face two challenges at once. Although, bear in mind that you need the purple cubes for both the Mutation and Bio-terrorist challenges, so you can’t play with both these modules active.
To keep things interesting, make sure you mix and match the roles you choose to play. In the original Pandemic, you could quite quickly use up all the combinations of the seven roles among four people. By adding in seven more, there’s a whole new level of variation.
Of course, because of their special abilities, it’s very tempting to choose the Medic and Scientist every game you play, but give other combinations a go. I feel like the Generalist, whose special ability is to do five actions each turn rather than four, often gets overlooked. But you’ll find that having one extra action each turn comes in real handy!
Pros & Cons
- Even more replayability
- Can now play with five people
- New competitive element
It’s hard to think of many cons here as the original game was so good. The main benefit is the new roles and Special Events, which will get you thinking about totally new ways to win the game (or, as usual, lose). You could play three games of Pandemic and send out three almost entirely different teams.
Also, the option to play with five people is a big benefit, solving the awkward moment when one of your regulars asks to bring their boyfriend/girlfriend along to meet everyone over a quick game.
- New modules might get old quickly
- Bio-terrorist module is not for everyone
While it may seem a bit risky to introduce a competitive element to one of the world’s favorite cooperative games, the introduction of the new modules provides some welcome variation. Notably, we enjoyed the human element the Bio-terrorist adds to the spread of diseases, rather than your foe’s movements simply being dictated by cards.
That said, though, the modules are limited in scope. In particular, as if the game wasn’t already hard enough, the job of the Bio-terrorist felt too easy. Not to mention, after a couple of games, we did end up longing for the thing that made Pandemic so good in the first place – playing as part of one team.
For avid fans of Pandemic, the extra roles and events introduced in On The Brink are a great way to spice up the game and boost its replayability even further. The new modules are a fun addition, however, are likely to, in time, be overlooked in favor of the original rules we all know and love. That doesn’t at all take away from the great value this expansion adds to the original, though.
Conclusion – Verdict?
Adding On The Brink to your arsenal is a no-brainer for any regular disease-busters out there. The new modules bring with them an entirely new type of challenge, while it’s great to have the option of introducing a fifth player should it be necessary.
Some players may become a bit tired of the new modules over time, but the additional roles and Special Events will fit seamlessly into your normal Pandemic sessions for years to come – I often find myself pining for the assistance of the Generalist or the Containment Specialist when playing with a friend that only owns the original.
For avid fans of Pandemic (basically, anyone that’s played Pandemic) the additional roles and events introduced in On The Brink are a great way to spice up the game, even if after six months you choose to leave the new modules to one side.