Friday, December 18, 2009

Pandemic: On The Brink- Virulent Strain

Just when we were starting to get the hang of Pandemic and reel off some consecutive wins we decided to start to use the On The Brink expansion, thus once again endangering the world and setting back our success considerably. On The Brink comes with a bunch of goodies including new Roles, Special Events, and extra scenarios. Of the three additional games in the expansion the Virulent Strain challenge is currently my favorite.

In the Virulent Strain challenge one of the four viruses takes on deadly new properties. It¹s virtually the same game as the original Pandemic, except that the Epidemic cards are replaced with new Virulent Strain Epidemic cards. Otherwise it plays the same way. All of the new Epidemic cards function just like the Epidemic cards from the original set (i.e. Increase, Infect, Intensify), except they all have one added nasty effect that impacts the virulent strain for that game. When the first Epidemic card comes up during the game the color that currently has out the most cubes becomes the virulent strain for the rest of the game; making it tougher, harder to cure, and usually more abundant as it seeks to infect the known world. Or at least one localized quarter of it. The added effects vary from card to card and depending on when you get them in the game can be completely lethal. Some of them are one time effects, others are continual and will torment you until the game comes to it¹s (bitter) conclusion.

One that I’ve found to be particularly difficult is the Complex Molecular Structure, which increases the number of cards needed to cure the virulent strain by one. This can be an absolute devestator of an effect if there is no role suited to curing with fewer cards. Needing six cards of a color to cure a virus (out of a total of twelve) is crippling in several regards. First off, when playing with three or more players each player is most likely not going to see six cards of the same color over the course of the game (they are probably not going to see five either) which means that the difficult practice of trading cards will have to come into play. Second, it also means that only six cards of a particular color can be discarded over the course of the game, either from chartering flights, building stations, or discarding for being over the hand limit. Getting the right cards into the right hands is really the key to the game. A lot of it also has to do with the number of players. Have too few players and you will wind up discarding cards that will come back to haunt you. Have too many players and the Player Cards will run out after each player has only had a couple of turns, thus really limiting the chance of getting the needed number to cure.

Slippery Slope is another one that will push the world to the brink of extermination. A continuing effect, it causes each outbreak of the virulent strain to move the Outbreak Marker two spaces instead of one. That can end the world in a hurry. Of course, not all are deadly as these two, but none of them are pleasant.

One of the aspects of the On The Brink expansion that I find interesting is that, unlike most game expansions, it just makes the game harder. A lot of expansions do nothing other than introduce new characters or make the map bigger, ultimately making the game easier in some cases by giving the players a larger arsenal of options to work with. Not so with this one. Additionally, the Virulent Strain contains eight Epidemic cards, allowing the players to really test their skill by having one more potential epidemic than in the original game. I have to say that I think that Pandemic is absolutely one of the best games around, probably the best game that we’ve added to our group since the classic Starfarers of Catan. Having an expansion that really enhances the game only makes it that much better.

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