Friday, June 3, 2011

We all live in a non-yellow Submarine!

Imagine being on a submarine where everything is going wrong! The oxygen level is dropping, the atmospheric pressure is increasing, and heat from a malfunctioning reactor is becoming intense. In addition, some compartments are flooding, others are on fire, and your fellow crew members have got into the captain's store of "grog" and are passing out. That would be the premise of Fantasy Flight Game's "Red November" a cooperative game from their silver line of smaller, less expensive games.

I guess I should begin by saying that I normally don't care for cooperative games. I like games that let me "stick it to the other guy" and that offer fierce competition. However, Red November intrigues me because its system reminds me of an addictive computer game where the player moved crates around. As the player moved crates around he either improved or harmed his situtation and ability to complete the mission. Red November offers the same challenge. It seems like the more the player does to resolve problems the more problems seem to pop up.

The Submarine board shown above is small and if you note the track around the edge, it is very difficult to use that mini-track. This was the biggest annoyance in the game, so I thought I would get that complaint out of the way. On each turn, the player can move about freely and even choose to fix problems, etc. How many minutes the player decides to use to repair a problem becomes a target number. For example, if a player choose to spend 5 minutes attempting to repair the reactor he would have a 50% chance of accomplishing this fix by rolling a five or less on a ten sided die. Here's where the really tricky part comes in... The more time he spends trying to accomplish this task, the more time marches on. As the time marker is tracked in minutes, almost every other space on the track has an event card. Events can range from the "respite" card (nothing happens.. and that's good) to a random fire breaking out, a hatch becoming jammed, missile malfunction, oxygen disaster track increasing, reactor heating up, pressure increasing, etc. Even sudden death events occur which set up a ten minute track window of resolving a problem or dying immediately. Players have to balance the use of time and the urgency of a repair because as time marches on those events keep happening. By the way, a failed repair doesn't make matters worse, it just allows time to keep on slipping into a future filled with more and more frustrating events.

Tiles represent objects that the players find to assist them in their tasks. For example, a crowbar gives a postiive modifier to unjamming a hatch. A fire extinguisher allows the player to put out a fire (so does grog, but we will get to that in a moment. One item, the lucky charm, allows a player to use up minutes but skip drawing new event cards. Events often cause a player (or all players) to discard tiles (and they are out of the game until all tiles are drawn.

Players can go to the Captain's quarters in order to draw grog tiles. Grog gives the player the fortitude to enter a room that is on fire and attempt to put the fire out. The fire extinguisher does the same thing but without the intoxicating result. A player who uses his grog (for a nice die modifier in fighting a fire) also risks becoming inebriated. When he uses the grog he indicates with his character card the inebriation status (levels 1-4) of his character. At the end of his turn he does a faint check by drawing an event card. If the inebriation number is equal to or less than the number on the card, the character passes out and ten minutes are added to the chart. This can and does happen at the worst moments. Sometimes, it causes the "ghost marker" to cross the minute where a catastrophic game ending event occurs. In one game, a fire fighting gnome used grog to fight a fire and passed out, causing the marker to go over the missile malfunction and BOOM!!! Game over.

This is the place where players either will love or hate the game. Personally, I like the uncertainty and inability to completely game the system. I like a game that has enough strategy to keep a player interested with enough wacky random stuff to keep the game uncertain. On the other hand, an individual gnome can pass out and get burned up and die halfway through the game, and it is not fun to get shut out of a game. The rule booklet suggests an optional rule for players who don't like getting eliminated from a game. Since games are social, elimination is sometimes not the best option.

I found "Red November" to be a quirky niche game. I would love to see someone program this one for the computer. It would be a great solitaire computer game.