The New Roles on Pandemic: On the Brink

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Cooperation should be the name of the game, otherwise known as Pandemic: On the Brink. Published in 2007, this board game has become a worldwide favorite emphasizing group play and strategy. Pandemic: On the Brink is an expansion pack that introduces new roles, which we will discuss below. 

In Pandemic, players are charged with saving the world from extinction. Disease outbreaks are wreaking havoc in global hot spots. From Atlanta, the Center for Disease Control (CDC ) sends out a crack team to identify, research, treat, and cure every disease. Each player is assigned a role crucial to dealing with epidemics and finding a cure once and for all. Using action cards, each player can choose to travel to a specific destination, build a research center, share knowledge, treat a disease, or discover a cure. 

The original version of Pandemic offered four roles: Dispatcher, Medic, Researcher, and Scientist. On the Brink expansion pack added seven new roles: Archivist, Containment Specialist, Epidemiologist, Field Operative, Generalist, Operation Expert, and Troubleshooter.  

General Gameplay of Pandemic: On the Brink  

The CDC team wins if it can find cures for all the diseases. However, they stand to lose if eight outbreaks coincide. CDC can also fail in their mission if they run out of player action cards or if one disease spreads uncontrollably to too many places. With multiple ways to lose, it’s all hands on deck for every second of the game. By themselves, no one role can do the job. If each player is playing solo, then they will all certainly lose. Players must pool their collective knowledge and coordinate actions. 

Although each player takes a turn in the game, the disease is far from idle. After each turn, players hold their collective breath as Infection Cards are drawn. These cards reveal how the various infections are spreading quietly from city to city, causing explosions of diseases or incubating two illnesses at once in one place. Your team can find its strategy ripped to shreds at any moment. 

Speed is required to stop a pandemic. Nothing kills speed more than being disorganized and unfocused. Two of the critical elements of Pandemic gameplay are the trading of cards among players and the movement of players for maximum effectiveness. If a player collects five cards of the same color, they have cured that disease. There are four diseases in all with different assigned colors – blue, yellow, black, and red. 

In-Game Roles  

Deploying the right roles to contain an outbreak or to create a research center requires that the right player is in the right place at the right time. If the team can build a center in good time, they can slow the spread of diseases enough to find a cure. Pandemic: On the Brink is played by two to five players.

Having more players is always better as it means more potential ways to control epidemics. It is just as critical to have the right roles in play. It can make the difference between a decisive triumph or a whimpering defeat. 

Researcher (Original)  

This role is always helpful, no matter the number of players or scenarios in play. The Researcher can give any quantity of cards to any player in the same city during their turn. This character can direct tactics early on by trading cards while all the players remain in the Atlanta center. In this way, card colors can be accumulated quickly by all players. 

Scientist (Original)  

The Scientist is an absolute must-have role. This player can cure a disease if they have four cards of the same color instead of the five required by other characters. Unfortunately for the Scientist, this is their sole unique ability. They usually need help from the Researcher or the Dispatcher to move from place to place efficiently. 

Medic (Original)  

Once a Medic reaches an infected city, they can clear all the cubes of a cured disease in one move. In tandem with the Dispatcher, the Medic role can make quick work of disease eradication. Although the Medic can’t directly win by creating a cure, the team gets to save time and cards when containing and stopping epidemic spreading. 

Dispatcher (Original)  

In the hands of a practiced player, the Dispatcher role can be the difference in keeping up with the spread of disease or being left in the dust. A Dispatcher can send any player to join another player in a city. The two players can then combine actions to control or treat the epidemic. Also, a Dispatcher can move players to other locations without using up an Action card. 

Think of the Dispatcher as the strategic ace in the pocket. A seasoned Dispatcher can direct the team well enough to complete the mission by thinking a few steps ahead.

Archivist On the Brink (OTB)  

An experienced Archivist is especially invaluable when playing the Virulent Strain scenario. This character gets eight cards in hand instead of the usual seven. They can use a city card to fly to the associated city, then retrieve that same city card to build a Research Center.

While traveling, an Archivist can pick up specific card colors, giving other players a reason to discard color cards for the Archivist to collect in their hand, which speeds up the cure-search process. 

Containment Specialist (OTB)  

The Containment Specialist is similar to the Medic role but with less powerful actions. This player’s primary value is to remove one disease cube when arriving in a city infected with multiple diseases. The player should be able to do so without using up an Action card. 

Troubleshooter (OTB)  

The Troubleshooter comes with an assortment of abilities that can make gameplay faster and strategy more robust. A player with this role can fly to any city without discarding a city card. This essentially means that cards can be traded quickly between players without using up an Action card.

This player can also fly to one city then use and discard that same city card to build a Research Center. Using one city card to complete two separate actions is a neat trick. The Troubleshooter can have a peek at the Infection deck and see what’s likely to happen in future turns. 

This role is most useful when there are more players involved. Due to its varied abilities, the Troubleshooter role can be assigned to deal with one specific disease while the other players collectively handle the other infections.

Epidemiologist (OTB)  

In the expansion pack, the Epidemiologist can trade cards of non-matching cities without using up an Action card. On the surface, this seems somewhat limiting and less capable than the Researcher role. However, this role comes in handy when city-hopping across continents rapidly while conserving Action cards. 

Field Operative (OTB)  

The Field Operative is a collector at heart. When this player arrives in a city, they can collect one disease cube. If the Field Operative collects three matching cubes along with three matching cards, then they can cure that particular disease. Alternatively, if the player has three of the same color, they can use one card to make one research center speed up cure development. 

This role relies on a high degree of planning and cooperation from other players to take advantage of its unique actions. With the right strategy, this role can change a team’s game from a defensive position to an offensive one. 

Generalist (OTB)  

This role’s specialty is having five actions per turn instead of the standard four. While the Generalist cannot directly create a cure like a Field Operative, they can prove their worth by stepping in to assist with creating a new research center, so that another player doesn’t have to. This action, in turn, saves the team an Action card. 

Think of the Generalist as the floating assistant in an office. If properly managed, the Generalist can use their four primary points, then “lend” the fifth action to help send another Player to an affected city or any other useful task. 

Operations Expert (Revised)  

This role was original to Pandemic but was revised and replaced in the new series: On the Brink. An Operations Expert builds research centers rapidly. From a center, an expert can fly to any other city using a city card: an action that wasn’t possible in the older version of the game. The Operations Expert plays more of a balancing role. They can check the spread of disease and stop outbreaks before they happen. 


Not strictly a team role but a role that any player can assume, the Bio-terrorist character is available in one of the challenge scenarios. Able to take a turn after every team role, this mischief-maker can cause all kinds of problems by drawing new Infection cards. One player working against the others infuses the game with a high level of unpredictability. 

Final Thoughts  

Although it may seem that some of the new roles resemble the original functions, in actuality, the new characters serve the purposes listed below:  

  • To add more options to the game, thus increasing the replay value.   
  • To allow players to experiment with role combinations to see what works in short games, long games, or with a varying number of players.
  • To add variety in potential actions and moves.      
  • To set the stage for more expansion pack scenarios in the future.  

Avid players of Pandemic can quickly adapt to the new roles. On the other hand, Novice players may find that the new characters make the game easier to play and understand.


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