After months of waiting for my preordered copy of the Pandemic: On the Brink expansion to arrive, I was finally rewarded with a package in the mail the other day. That night I got together with Mike, Katie, and Jesse to play the new game, but I did have some questions going into it. The truth is morale has been real low lately with team games. Between Pandemic and Shadows Over Camelot we are really struggling, victories are few and far between these days. While I was going through the rules for On the Brink everything in there told me that this just a way to make the game harder. The game comes with three variants on the traditional game; Virulent Disease, Mutation, and Bio Terrorist (in which the game is turned upside down by having one player go against the others) all of which just seem to increase the difficulty level. Did we really need this, seeing as how we routinely get our butts kicked? So we decided to not play one of these new games right away. Fortunately for us the expansion comes with a bunch of other things which increase the fun of an already very enjoyable game.
One of the best aspects of the expansion is these really cool plastic Petri dishes that are used for containers for all the cubes and pieces for the game. Previously players had no choice but to put all the components in the small bags that the game came with, which really isn’t all that bad. But the little dishes are real cool and fit into the theme of the game, they have little stickers to go on them that make them look like hazmat containers. An excellent touch. Plus, it does make the game a bit more organized. What they really should have included was something to put the cards into, instead of that bizarre, ninth rate cardboard monstrosity that the original comes with. Really, what is that? Maybe next time. The game also comes with some smaller pawns which is good because the pawns were way too big, it was sort of awkward when you were on a space with another player or a couple infection cubes.
Aside from the new scenarios the game also comes with eight new Special Event cards and seven new Role cards. Additionally there is also a revised role card for the Operations Expert, which I find to be hilarious. Ever since we started playing Pandemic the Operations Expert has been the most maligned of all the roles, drawing that in the game was essentially the kiss of death. There was something charmingly morbid about being him actually, so it was very funny to see the game designers essentially acknowledge this by issuing a “patch” for the Op Ex. In addition to his awesome normal power of building research stations, he can now also discard any card if he is at a station to move anywhere on the board. It’s not a bad power, but it’s still not great. What it does is allow him to fly all over the board and quickly build stations anywhere that the group wants. Certainly makes getting around much easier.
Much like the original five roles, the new seven are a mixed bunch of usefulness. The Generalist looks like she may be the winner of the bunch since she gets five actions each turns, instead of four. That’s real good. The Troubleshooter is also excellent. He can peek at the infection deck at the start of his turn, allowing him to sniff out trouble before it happens and he also can use cards to fly around without discarding them. The Epidemiologist can take cards from other players, much like the Bizarro version of the Researcher. The Archivist can have eight cards in his hand! He can also take city cards from the discard if he is in the matching city. Eh, nothing special there. There are also some others that I have not seen in action yet, so I will reserve judgement on them but all of these news cards really just decrease the chance that you will get the Dispatcher or the Medic, which still seem to be the best cards. Have these new roles actually made the game harder?
Like the new roles, I have not had a chance to see all the Special Events in action. We just took all the new cards and mixed them in with the old, so I am sure they will come up at some point. I think that my favorite is New Assignment, which allows one player to draw a new role during the game. The other night when we first played with the new cards I, ironically, drew the improved Operations Expert. I was able to build several stations in a hurry and then Mike used it on me to call in some useful backup. The card is sort of unclear if the draw should be random or chosen, but we went with random and I would up with the Researcher. Some of the other new Events include one that allows a player two extra actions on a turn, the ability to remove five cubes of a color immediately when a cure is found, remove any three infections cubes on the board, and a couple others of varying power. The rules also recommend putting two Special Events per player into the deck, which is a boon to the players if you have three or more going at it. The original game had five cards, so it equals a gain for the CDC.
I don’t mind that we keep losing at Pandemic, but I don’t understand why it keeps happening. I feel like we have pretty solid strategy, understand the game well, work as a team. Yet we always seem to come up a turn or two short. What usually gets us is that we run out of cards in the Player Deck, despite making curing our top priorities. The other night everything seemed aligned for us. We had the Dispatcher and the Medic, used the Event cards well, and we still came up short.