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[Boardgame Review] Pandemic: On The Brink

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pic469441_t.jpg Pandemic: On The Brink (expansion)

Publisher: Z-Man Games

MSRP: $29.99

Pandemic: On The Brink is an expansion for the original Pandemic that adds new roles, new events, and three challenges to the game to add additional levels of difficulty.



Continuing the theme of the base set On The Brink features new roles like the Containment Specialist, Epidemiologist, Field Specialist, and others, adds three challenge modes to play with, the Virulent Strain, the Mutation, and the Bio-terrorist, and adds a handful of event cards for the player deck. The added roles and challenge modes are all solid additions to the game both mechanically and thematically, with the Virulent Strain challenge being my stand-out favorite.

pic977650_md.jpg The Bits:

New role cards, epidemic cards, and event cards are all of the same good to high quality of the base set, though I have heard that some people with 1st edition prints of the base game had slightly smaller cards. Z-Man Games did offer to exchange those older cards for new ones however at no cost save shipping, so good on them. New pawns are provided for all of the roles including the original game's roles, and are smaller, making crowding on the board less of an issue. There is a nice preprinted pad for use with the Bio-terrorist challenge (more on that later), and 6 clear plastic petri dishes are provided to store all of the loose bits from this game and the base set, a nice touch, especially with the labels saying "infectious substance". New Disease cubes in purple are also provided for use with the mutation and Bio-terrorist challenges.


The Roles: The new roles are all solid additions to the game providing unique abilities that really shine and can make a good game play impact. The most powerful in my opinion is the Archivist who has a hand size of 8 and can pull location cards from the Player Deck Discard if he is at the city shown. All of the new roles are useful however.

The Events: New event cards are provided, a few are only so-so, but a couple are really stand out, like Remote Treatment (remove 2 Disease Cubes from anywhere on the board) and Commercial Air Ban (which reduces the Infection Rate to 1 for 1 full round, very useful during the late game). In general they are all at least a little useful and none are too powerful.

Challenge Mode - The Virulent Strain: Hold on to your hats because there's a new influenza out there. The Virulent Strain is determined from one of the four diseases based on how many cubes are on the board. Each Virulent Strain Epidemic Card has an addition effect on the bottom that applies to the Virulent Strain only. Some are one time effects, adding more cubes to the board, or removing cubes from the Strain's supply. Others are Continuous Effects and can really impact play. Complex Molecular Structure requires you to have 1 more card than normal to create a Cure for instance (6 cards!). Depending on the Epidemic Cards in your deck (you get 8 and only typically need 4-6) the Virulent Strain can make the game a little more difficult, or a lot. It is fun though, and satisfying as heck to be able to Eradicate.

Challenge Mode - Mutation: Three event cards for the Player Deck and two Infection Deck cards combine with the Purple Disease Cubes for this challenge which introduces a new disease. Whenever the Mutation Event or Infection cards come up Purple Disease Cubes are put into play and follow their own subset of rules for infections. The challenge comes from the fact that there are only 12 Purple Disease Cubes in the supply meaning that you have to be more vigilant about Treatment. Curing the purple disease is a matter of discarding any 5 Location cards (they need not be all the same color) while at a Research Station. There is a caveat though, at least one of the discarded Location Cards needs to depict a city that currently has at least 1 Purple Disease Cube. On its own the Mutation adds a slight challenge to the game but combined with the Virulent Strain a relatively easy to complete game with 5 Epidemics can become a very real challenge.

pic568157_md.jpgChallenge Mode - Bio-Terrorist: The last of the Challenges requires at least 3 players and pits one of them against the other two. By taking up the Bio-terrorist Role that player becomes an agent of disease running about the board in secret and sowing the Purple Disease on their turn. I've only played this one time since roughly 80% of my play is with 2 players, but the one time it proved an interesting twist to the game, with the Bio-terrorist keeping track of his actions in secret on the pad provided while the players kept their cards hidden and tried to deal with both the regular diseases and the purple cubes sown by their hidden enemy.


Even without the Challenges the added roles add a great degree of replay value by adding more combinations and unique abilities to the game. With the Challenge modes the game doesn't change so much as adds additional layers of complexity. Everything here is good and I have yet to get sick of the Virulent Strain or Mutation, and am eager for the chance to try the Bio-terrorist again.

Rating: 95% - again, I cannot find fault with anything here with the notable exception of a couple of rules glitches when using the Mutation Challenge that were easily sorted out online.

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As I posted in the other thread, I enjoyed the base game. I only skimmed over this review prior to playing the game. I thought it would make more sense once I understood the context.

The review makes this add-on sound like fun. My only concern is regarding the price. It has a couple of twists, but with a price almost equal to that of the game, I'm not sure of the value. Do you think that what it adds to the game is on par for almost doubling the price?

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I think it depends strongly on how much you end up liking the base game after multiple plays.

I play most often with a college friend and the two of use had gotten very good at beating 6 epidemic games. Adding in the mutation, virulent strain, and the new roles opened the game up some and made 5 epidemic games challenging again. For us the expansion was a welcome addition by adding more variety, and new challenges to the play.

I would suggest you get a good number of play throughs under your belt first before making a choice to buy the expansion or not. By the time I bought mine I knew I loved the game, and I also had not grown weary of repeat play, so I felt that the addition would likely be a good one. If you've played a dozen times and decide it's a game that you won't want to play frequently thereafter the expansion probably will not change that for you.

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