Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Tuesday Reviewsday: Pandemic - On the Brink

I'm going to assume you have read my review of the base game Pandemic, or know how the gameplay is structured.

If you have played Pandemic or read my review, you know that you lose. A lot. But for some reason I decided to go out and buy the Pandemic expansion On The Brink. And now I have three new and brilliant ways to lose.

What's in the box?

  • A seventh Epidemic card - if you want to make it more impossible.
  • Petri dishes - they look amazing and make keeping track of your cubes much easier
  • 12 Purple cubes - a fifth disease, what a great idea
  • Eight new event cards - my favourites are Commercial Travel Ban (which drops the infection rate to one for an entire round) and Re-Examined Research (which allows you to return a discarded city card to your hand).
  • Seven new role card including the bio-terrorist (he's a dick) and matching player tokens.
  • Eight new 'Virulent Strain' Epidemics.
  • Five Mutation cards - three events and two infection cards
  • A purple cure indicator, sticker or card (if you don't want to ruin your board with the sticker)
  • A bio-terrorist notepad
  • A new rulebook
The best part is Z-Man games has redesigned the box insert so everything fits nicely. The new scenarios available are "The Virulent Strain", "The Mutation" and "The Bio-Terrorist".

The Virulent Strain Challenge

To play the virulent strain challenge simply exchange the original Epidemics cards with the new Virulent Strain Epidemic cards. Each Epidemic card has an extra effect. Effects are either one-off, or continuous. For example Unacceptable Loss forces you to remove four virulent strain disease cubes from the supply and place them in the box, increasing your odds of running out of cubes. Government Interference is a continuing effect that forces you to treat a virulent strain cube before leaving a city, making it significantly harder to traverse the map.

The Virulent Strain is established when the first Epidemic card is drawn. Whichever disease has the most cubes on the board when the Epidemic card is drawn becomes the Virulent Strain for the remainder of the game.

I would say this is the easier of the two new challenges. Most games are only slightly more difficult than the base game. The most challenging card is "Complex Molecular Structure" which forces you to use one extra city card to cure the virulent strain disease. With a hand limit of seven, trying to collect six of the same colour is prohibitively difficult.

The Mutation Challenge

The Mutation Challenge adds a couple of steps to setting up. Place the petri dish of purple cubes nearby - you don't start with any on the board. The two Mutation Infection cards are placed in the infection discard pile to be shuffled on to the top of the deck when the first Epidemic card is drawn. The three mutation events are shuffled into the player deck after each players hand is dealt, but before splitting the Epidemics into the deck.

At the beginning the game is exactly the same as the base game until the first Epidemic is drawn. Once the Epidemic is drawn the infection discard pile (containing the mutation cards) is shuffled and returned to the top of the infection draw pile. This is when the expansion begins to take effect. When a mutation card is drawn, take a card from the bottom of the infection pile and place a purple disease cube on it.

It seems like a small thing to place one extra purple cube on the board, and at first it is super helpful, because it gets more cards into play and lowers your odds of having a disease outbreak. However, if an infection card is drawn (for example, for Sydney) and it has a purple disease cube on it, you need to place both a red and a purple cube. Also, by having more cards in play you end up with a wider spread of diseases, meaning more time is spent travelling between cities.

On top of dealing with the purple disease popping up all over the world, you have to either cure or remove it to win the game. It is not necessary to eradicate the disease (cure and then remove all cubes from the board). Curing the disease costs 5 city cards (as with a normal disease) however those can be any five city cards, as long as one of the cities discarded currently has a purple cube in it. This makes things a little trickier in terms of strategy - do you try and keep all the purple cubes off the board so you only need to find four cures? Or do you let the purple disease run rampant to increase your odds of being able to cure it.

The Mutation Challenge is noticeably harder than the Virulent Strain Challenge because you only have 12 purple disease cubes, compared to the usual 24, and things can get out of hand very quickly.

The Bio-terrorist Challenge

I'll be honest, I don't like this addition. To play the Bio-terrorist Challenge, one of your friends is the bad guy. He or She gets a turn between each players turn in which they can place purple disease cubes, destroy research stations, move secretly around the map, and draw cards from the infection pile. The bio-terrorist is (of course) invisible, unless they are sighted in the same city as a player, or passing through an airport (flying by using an infection card). The bio-terrorist token is not placed on the board unless they are captured by a player, instead movement is recorded on a notepad and the player must announce if they are sighted. In order to 'win' as the bio-terrorist, the players must lose with at least one purple cube remaining on the board. The players win in the normal way.

It is far too easy to win as the bio-terrorist. I found my actions barely effected the gameplay, about as irritating as a fly at a barbeque. But because I was placing a cube between each persons turn it was easy to win. I just had to irritate people enough that they took a swipe at me and spilled their beer on the table, I mean, got distracted from the game and wasted actions. Then they lost in the normal way.

Thing is, playing Pandemic is a team experience. It's about bonding with your friends. We tend to play two or three rounds ahead, plotting and scheming and organising our moves, only to have them fall apart when the cards don't play along. Playing the Bio-terrorist Challenge means that you can't scheme too much with your friends because the bio-terrorist will hear you. And if you are playing as the bio-terrorist you can't scheme with your friends at all.

Just to make it worse...

You can  play the challenges together if you are in the mood to lose terribly. The Mutation and Bio-terrorist Challenges cannot be combined as they both rely on the purple disease cubes - winning would go past "insanely difficult" into "impossible". I'm proud to say I have won a game with both the mutation and virulent strain in play. Once. Lately I've been struggling to make headway on the mutation challenge alone. Generally if I play I game where I constantly, consistently and convincingly lose I get pissed off and stop playing. But Pandemic has the opposite effect on me. Every time I lose I want to set up the board and play again. It's addictive, it's frustrating, it's amazing.

9/10 - I'd give it 10, but the Bio-terrorist Challenge is a letdown

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