Fixing Nigel – Pandemic On The Brink

Previously on Pandemic.

“Without wishing to be rude, what actually happened was that the elite gamer of the group basically played all four roles and the rest of us pushed things around as we were told…

“(a ball gag and lockable mittens can be very helpful in this respect)…

“There’s a lot of choice and as the game is cooperative, the table is free to discuss the best strategy (except Nigel, he’s wearing his gag because he knows what he’s done)…

“Pandemic is very well regarded, and rightly so, it’s a lot of fun and with the adjustable difficulty, can have a lot of replayability, but it is a puzzle, which can be solved. This is why players like Nigel (who’s been moved to a cage in the corner, for good behaviour) can get a bit overbearing with a group of new players. They get less “here’s what I think we might need to be doing between us” and more “you go here, via here, cure this and on your next turn do that. You, meet them there, give them that and then fly over here” (but for a fee, such players can be retrained).”

And now, the conclusion…

*roll titles*

I mentioned a fee for dealing with your overbearing players. I propose that fee could either be a talented Domme, or simply a copy of the first Pandemic expansion: On The Brink.

On The Brink adds extra epidemic cards, so you can play the standard game on an even harder mode, a virulent strain challenge (replace all the epidemic cards with much nastier ones), a mutation challenge (which adds a whole extra disease to conquer), and a bio-terrorist challenge (ripping one player away from the co-op fun to take on a hidden role game, spreading a fifth disease across the globe). The box also includes petri dish containers for all five colours of cubes, new roles, new events, extra pawns for the new characters and a pad of pages for the bio-terrorist. There’s also blank role and event cards, so if you want to homebrew a new card, now’s your chance to get creative.

The petri dishes are a really nice touch, that were an unexpected, but most welcome addition (I ended up borrowing them when we played Pandemic Legacy as they’re a nice bit of extra immersion). The new characters bring with them new skills, none of which feel unbalanced compared to the original game. There’s also the option of a sticker to go on the board to indicate the new disease type, or a card that does the same job. It’s up to you whether you’re willing to put a sticker on your original board.

All of the cards in this expansion feature a small symbol so you can separate them back out if you choose. Honestly though. I moved the new insert over to the base game box, tossed the original, and now house all of the components in a single box (shelf space is limited these days so it’s nice if I can get more on without adding an extra box).

On The Brink solves the issue of power players controlling the game in several ways, firstly, they won’t know all the new issues that may arise. So while they have some transferrable skills, they should find themselves much more uncertain. If that still doesn’t stop them, you can take the manual’s advice and just make them play as the bio-terrorist (or, as I said, a Domme with reasonable prices), that should keep them from “helping you out” (playing for you).

The virulent strain challenge makes one of the diseases particularly nasty. A new set of epidemic cards replace the originals (there’s up to eight, so you can play on legendary difficulty with this one too). These new cards add additional negative effects to each epidemic drawn, making the heart drop moment of an epidemic all the more intense.

In the mutation challenge, you start with two cards sitting in the infection discard pile and three related event cards mixed into the player deck. While the danger of these new events can be a bit hit and miss (one only has an effect if there’s already two mutant strain cubes on a city), the cards in the infection pile bring an unparalleled level of chaos to the board.

Normally you can get a grip on what is likely to come back around in the infection deck. However, once these mutation cards start coming out, you’ll be pulling cards from the bottom of the deck to add a cube of the new strain to. Suddenly there’s a lot more variables and things can quickly go wrong. This is all the more concerning since there are less purple mutant cubes than the four classic disease flavours. Now you’re rushing all over the world as the extra cities join the Wheel! Of! Disease!

The purple strain can be treated as per normal treatment rules, and is cured by handing in any 5 city cards at a research station. While this can sound easy, you’ll want to avoid using up or discarding too many cards of each colour as you could find yourself unable to cure one of the original diseases.

Finally we get to the bio-terrorist challenge. They get a secret sheet to work on and hatch their nefarious plans. Their moves are hidden from the other players (think Scotland Yard) and they only declare their location if they happen to be in the same city as another player or if they take a flight action. The bio-terrorist can place down purple disease cubes in cities as they pass or spend cards from their hand to infect remotely. While this player can be captured, there are mechanics for them to escape, so it’s not a complete game over.

While it’s theoretically possible to mix and match some of the new modes, I really don’t recommend it unless you’re an absolute sadist.

Pandemic – On The Brink pumps a huge amount of extra gameplay into the base game while providing you enough space to pack everything into a single box. If you’ve played Pandemic to death, this is your chance to resurrect it.

Pros:

  • New play modes add tons of replayability and variety.
  • New characters are well balanced.
  • The new insert allows this and the base game to fit tidily into a single box.

Cons:

  • Not every single role needs their own coloured pawn. It makes more sense for each player to just remember what colour they’re playing.

Final Score: 10/10