Monday, 10 December 2012

Review of Red November

It's been a bit quiet on this blog lately, largely because I've been horrendously busy, but as we're approaching 50,000 page impressions, I thought I'd do a little bit to help these along with a quick review of Red November from Fantasy Flight Games.

Red November is a co-op board game about gnomes trying to save their experimental submarine from sinking. It is highly reminiscent of some aspects of Battlestar Galactica, but does not require as much time to play and is not as complicated. I successfully taught a six year old to play it, so there you go. Each player takes on the role of one of the gnome crew, running around the submarine trying to fix problems and save it from disaster. The gnomes need to stay alive for 60 minutes in order to be rescued.

Time is measured on a track around the board. Each action, from opening a hatch to fixing the missile system, takes up time. On the one hand this is a good thing, as burning time brings you closer to your goal. On the other, it is bad, because the more time you spend on a task, the more additional event cards you have to pull, and the more likely that something else will go wrong while your character is busy.

You fix things by deciding how long you want to spend on the task: between one and 10 minutes. You then need to roll that number or less on 1d10. You can raise your chances by using additional items, like a crow bar or a tool box, which usually give you a +3 or +4 bonus. You get assigned extra equipment in the course of the game, or can spend time in the sub's Equipment Locker to draw more items from the deck.

In addition to all this, there is the booze. Bottles of vodka/gin can be swigged to give your gnome the courage to enter burning rooms to put the fire out, or just give you a generic +3 bonus on fix it rolls. However, they also mean your gnome becomes increasingly intoxicated, growing the chance that he will pass out at an inconvenient moment, resulting in an automatic loss of 10 minutes.

The turn order is also very innovative: the player whose character is highest up on the turn track - i.e. has spent the least amount of time - always goes first. This way you can end up with multiple turns, especially if your colleagues have drunk themselves into a stupour.

Many, many things can go wrong with the sub. There are three tracks which measure how deep the sub is, increasing pressure on the hull, how hot the reactor is, and how much air is in the sub (fires burn this up, naturally). If any of these tracks gets to critical, it is game over (cf Battlestar Galactica). In addition, sometimes you receive a critical disaster task, which gives the crew 10-15 minutes to fix something or lose the game anyway. In addition, the sub can catch fire, get flooded, doors can jam, and it can even be attacked by a giant squid!

This is a really fast game. In our first effort, our reactor over-heated and the sub blew up inside 15 minutes. On the second, we did well with three gnomes, winning the game for the loss of one gnome (my character, who passed out in the air pump room which then got promptly flooded).

Red November can be really tense too: there were a couple of occasions in the second game where the entire game pivoted on one roll of the dice. There are never periods of downtime while you're twiddling your thumbs, and it is rules light enough that there is little scope for the analysis paralysis that some games occasionally suffer from. It does not have the same level of crunch as Battlestar Galactica (not that I'm knocking BG - it is an awesome game with the right crew to play it). You could describe it a Battlestar Galactica 'lite' if you will.

Traitor mechanic? Not really. There is scope for a gnome who has an aqualung to escape from the sub once the countdown passes a certain point. If the sub sinks, he wins. If it doesn't, he loses. It is a calculated gamble based on an assessment of the situation at the time. But there is no plotting against the other players.

Overall, I really like this game. Plus it is easy enough for the kids to both get stuck into it.

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