Sunday, 22 November 2009

Pandemic: On the Brink - Mutation Challenge

I have now played the Mutation Challenge variant of Pandemic: On the Brink. This is the one that introduces the purple disease. Now instead of four, you need to cure five diseases. And this fifth purple disease behaves in strange ways. Also there are 12 purple cubes only, not 24, which means you can easily run out of them and lose the game.

With the Mutation Challenge, there are three special cards shuffled into the player deck, and two special cards that will be shuffled into the infection deck after the game starts. All these cards cause purple cubes to appear or grow on the board. Most tell you to draw one or more cards from the bottom of the infection deck, and place one or more purple cubes on the city or cities depicted. These cards are the only way purple cubes appear. Purple cubes grow via a similar way as normal cubes. If you draw a card from the infection deck showing a city that already has one or more purple cubes, you add one more cube.

The appearance of purple cubes is very unpredictable, because cards are drawn from the bottom of the infection deck. In Pandemic, the discard pile of the infection deck (which tells you which cities will have disease growth) is often shuffled and added to the top of the infection deck, so you will have some idea which cards will keep coming up again and again. With the purple disease, things get trickier.

To cure the purple cube, you use 5 cards of any colour, but one of them must be of a city that currently has at least one purple cube. This can be very easy if you happen to have the right card, but if you are unlucky, this can be quite tough, especially if you have already used or discarded many of those required cards. By spending cards to cure the purple disease, you will also have fewer to cure the other 4 diseases. So you need to be careful about using and wasting cards.

Purple cubes can appear anywhere. At this point in the game, we had found a cure for the purple disease. See the purple bottle token on the top right. The black disease had also been completely eradicated (sunrise icon).

North America heavily infected with the purple disease, especially Miami.

Michelle and I played the Mutation Challenge at medium difficulty. It took us three attempts to beat the game, compared to four with the Virulent Strain variant. The purple disease was very unpredictable, and it was sometimes tough to decide whether to try to eradicate it or to just contain it. The purple disease distracted us from other diseases, and also seemed to slow down the pace of the game somewhat. I'm not sure what gave me such a feeling. It may be because we kept being instructed to draw cards from the bottom of the infection deck, which meant more and more cards were moved to the top of the deck, thus "diluting" the infection cards that we would see. So disease growth seemed to be less intensive, although it seemed to be wider.

The Mutation Challenge is very different from the Virulent Strain variant. It seems to be slightly easier (admittedly based on very few plays). From just these few initial plays, I like this less than the Virulent Strain variant, because the experience is less "fast and furious". Not that it's easy, just that how it kills you is different. The Virulent Strain stabs you in the heart. The Mutation Challenge bleeds you to death from multiple cuts. How's that for visual shock?

Having played a few more games with the various new roles, I find that these new roles are very good value for money. I discovered many interesting uses for some of the abilities of the new roles. Many of them are a lot of fun. For example, the Archivist can pick up a card from the discard deck. One trick is you play a card to fly to a city, then take the card back immediately, and use it to build a research lab, all on the same turn. The new special action cards are fun too. One of them allows you to switch roles. This can be very very useful, e.g. after a disease is cured, you can switch to become the Medic, who free-treats any cured disease by just passing by.

Now the only part of Pandemic: On the Brink I have not yet tried is the Bio-Terrorist variant. Let's hope I'll get to try this soon.


Notso said...

sounds interesting. I asked for this for Christmas. Seems like a good choice. The variety does sound interesting.

This game gets me eager to try other co-op games. Have you tried Shadows Over Chamelot? That is supposed to be a good co-op one too. I'd like to try it but I am not sure a lot of people own it or have even heard of it.

Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

I have tried Shadows Over Camelot, but just once. You can search for my old blog post about it. I thought it was just so-so, maybe due to comparing it against Battlestar Galactica. Also in our game there was no traitor, so the game turned out to be a little anti-climatic.

My favourite coop game is still Lord of the Rings by Reiner Knizia. Have you tried that? It confusing to learn by yourself. Expect some mistakes in your first game.

Notso said...

I haven't tried it yet, but it is on my radar now. I would have never expected a Lord Of The Rings themed game to be that good for some reason, but I will check out your posts on the game.

steve fox said...

I'm an old time gamer. Ran into this blog via google. Looking to see what games are like today. I'll be trolling through this site for a while now that you have me interested.

Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

Welcome, Steve. I mostly play "Eurogames", but I also play some "Ameritrash" games, because one of my regular gaming partner likes them. I don't play many wargames, so that would be one lacking aspect. Hope you'll enjoy reading.

Notso said...

Hiew, how do you beat (regular) Pandemic with 6 epidemics? I played 3 or 4 games with 6 epidemics over the past 4 days (U.S. Thanksgiving holiday). We got close twice, but lost. I am guessing we just need to accept that with 6, you will lose more than you win; we just need to get luckier. Do you win often with 6? Maybe we are just playing poorly...

Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

I checked my game play log. I've played 16 games of base Pandemic with 6 epidemics, won 7 and lost 9. All these games were 2-player games, and I think 2P Pandemic is easier than with more players. I don't have any one strategy for Pandemic, because every game can be very different depending on the distribution of the diseases and how cards come up. It's always tricky to balance between long- and short-term goals, e.g. spending effort finding cures vs preventing outbreaks, or eradicating one disease vs treating another. I have some general principles, but sometimes I have to break them too when I play - e.g. make good use of your character power, use your actions efficiently.

Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

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so, another spam post preserved for entertainment purposes.