Pandemic: On the Brink makes a good game great

Pandemic: On the Brink is the special sauce that turned the great board game of Pandemic into a classic for the ages. In this review we’ll break down what gets added in the expansion and why it makes a good game great.

Designers: Matt Leacock, Tom Lehmann

Publisher: Z-Man Games

They say that variety is the spice of life. While that’s not always true, it is in the case of Pandemic. In my original review, while glowing, I do make mention of the ease of the game. It’s not just ease but repetitiveness of the original board game that’s the concern.

For instance, one constraint is player powers. The base game includes five, meaning you only need to play two four player games to see all of the powers. On the Brink, adds an additional six (plus one for the Bio-Terrorist challenge).

The expansion also adds eight new events.

Already, with just these added roles and events you’ll notice a difference each time you set up the board. But it’s not until you start adding in modules that this expansion really shines.

Specifically, I’m talking about Virulent Strains.

The black virulent strain cards were too strong and overwhelmed most of Europe and Asia.
The Virulent Strain was too strong!

The Virulent Strain cards replace some or all of the Epidemic cards from the base game. When drawn, you perform the same steps as an Epidemic cards with one difference. The most abundant disease becomes the Virulent Strain, and a debuff gets attached to it. An example of one Virulent Strain condition is not allowing you to leave a city with a Virulent Strain without treating one cube first.

These cards change the game dramatically, and make the game feel more alive.

They force you to reassess and change your strategy throughout. You can go from ignoring the blue cubes, to oh my god the blue cubes are killing us really quickly, and then all your carefully laid plans are out the window. Which I find to be dramatic and exciting.

The difficulty increases too. Often the game changes from cruising to win, to strapping yourself on a rocket that might explode at any second. When that happens the game gets thrilling. You’re either saying we’re dead, we’re dead, we’re dead, or in deep thought with your friends trying to find the one right move to survive this turn.

Either way it is so much fun!

It’s how consistent Pandemic, specifically Pandemic: On the Brink, is in eliciting this experience that keeps me coming back for more.

Three of the Virulent Strain cards that come with Pandemic: On the Brink. On the right it shows that we lost due to outbreaks.
After the game, we lost!

The second module introduces a fifth purple disease. And if one on the spectrum you have boring, stable, reliable Pandemic, and on the other you have exciting, spontaneous Virulent Strain Pandemic. Then this module sits somewhere in between. The purple disease is slower, and more random than the other diseases but none the less dangerous.

Deceptively so.

The disease has half the cubes of the others so even though it doesn’t look it you may be on the brink of losing. Which is annoying that it’s not more noticeable on the map, and leads to a lot of anti-climatic losses.

It’s decent if you want to change the game up. But it’s not something I incorporate often.

Some purple mutation cubes slowly spreading down South America.
The purple strain slowly creeps, creeps

Finally, Bio-Terrorist Challenge, which I honestly don’t know what Matt & Tom were thinking with this one. Changing a cooperative game to a game where one of the players acts as a terrorist spreading a new type of virus kind of goes against the core value of the game, and why you’d want to play it. I’ve only played it twice, and still have a bitter taste in my mouth from both those games. Fortunately the other two modules are so strong, that this one being a dud doesn’t matter.

Overall Pandemic: on the Brink enters that realm of being an essential expansion. It doesn’t add a lot of complexity, but changes the game enough to raise excitement levels and variability to the point you’ll want to play game after game. It’s also the reason why I’ve got a lifelong obsession with Pandemic.

Thanks for reading my review, I’m currently ranking all my board games in one exciting list. You can see Pandemic: On the Brink’s initial ranking below.

Initial Rating: 5

I hope you’ve been enjoying my Pandemic coverage. We have one more expansion to go with Pandemic: In the Lab before we’ll take a break and move onto something else. My question this week is given all of the flavours of Pandemic, which ones have you played and enjoyed the most?

David Norris

Lover of dogs, books, comics, movies, anime, television, video games and most importantly board games. My site is all about the latter, and my journey through the glorious hobby.

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