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Subject: A Major Player in Cooperative Gaming rss

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Tim Deagan
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Full Disclosure: I LOVE cooperative games!

Red November, by the legendary designer Bruno Faidutti and newcomer Jef Gontier, is a board game for 2-8 players in Fantasy Flight's Silver Line series {http://www.fantasyflightgames.com/silverline.html}. Players take the role of gnomes in a sinking submarine, attempting to rescue themselves. Originally intended as something of a homage to the Kursk disaster {http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russian_submarine_K-141_Kursk} the game was given humorous fantasy quasi-steampunk re-themeing out of respect for the Russian sailors lost in the sinking.

I am hugely excited at this significant addition to the world of truly cooperative games. I think about co-op games a lot {http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/100454} and am a purist in that I'm not excited by the 'many vs. one' sub-genre (Shadows over Camelot , Betrayal at House on the Hill, and so forth.) I prefer the model of everyone loses or wins together. To be fair, Red November does provide a rule whereby a single player may attempt to completely escape the sub and win if the others lose (or lose if the others win.) But this is not the primary dynamic in the game and the game doesn't end for rest of the players when this occurs. For the remaining players, the mechanic of everyone wins, everyone loses continues. The game feels cooperative, players truly share a sense of doom.

Like most full co-op games, solitaire play is very straightforward. Simply play multiple characters in turn. The open information of the game extracts no penalty for solitaire play. Bruno Faidutti is skeptical that any game is fun in solitaire mode {http://www.boardgamegeek.com/article/2747463}, but some of us are lonelier than others and must make do. My experience of solitaire play was that it was easily one of my absolute favorites with lots of replay ability (and I have a lot of solitaire games in my collection {http://www.boardgamegeek.com/collection/user/revtim?own=1&ff...}.)

The game components are wonderful. I was astonished at how many bits were packed into the box. There is absolutely no empty space. The components arrive pre-punched, nicely sized heavy-gauge counters with that wonderful silky finish that has come to mark quality games. The gnome figures are delightful, though two of mine arrived bent over at the base. Dozens of BattleLore threads describe how to fix this problem {http://www.boardgamegeek.com/article/2229882#2229882}. The cards are the size of the original Ticket to Ride cards, smaller than perfect but more than adequate. Two player-aid cards are included with the details necessary to understand the item tokens and other relevant game details. The board is firm, requiring a bit of back bending to lay flat but happy to do so with a small effort. When unpacked, there are as many components as games packed into boxes three times the size. As a zip-lok fanatic {http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/144461} I strongly recommend having zip-loks on hand to hold all the counters and cards immediately upon first unboxing. Two small baggies are included but cannot hold the wealth of counters provided.

This game is HARD. Be prepared to die. A LOT. There are multiple ticking clocks counting down the different ways to die and only one way to win; stop them all. Events, which occur with painful frequency, are almost uniformly bad. Only the 'Respite' event allows a moment of breathing room. The inclusion of the 'Respite' event cards is a nice touch in that it allows players to dial up or down the level of grief in the game. Even with all them all in the deck, the steady drumbeat of fires, floods and broken critical systems provides razor thin margins for success. Various tasks such as fixing the engine or disarming the missiles require that gnomes be in the correct rooms of the sub at the right times. In addition the ability to fix the problems is dependent on spending time and items. Time means more problems, so nothing is free. Movement management, item management and luck (in the end, the number of minutes and the bonuses provided by items must be less than or equal to the value rolled on a D10 to succeed,) provide a nail biting set of challenges.

One mechanic especially stands out in this game; Time and Turn Order. As the various players move along the time track, the player who is farthest back in time always goes next. This may mean that a given player gets multiple turns in a row. As simple an idea as this sounds, it provides a unique dimension to the game, creating a fascinating balance between simultaneous (in game time) and sequential (in real time) action. (EDIT - Commentors below have noted that this mechanic is present in Thebes, a game to which the authors give specific thanks in the manual.)

Undoubtedly, this game will engender many comparisons to Pandemic. I remain a big fan of Pandemic, but Red November succeeds in feeling a bit less methodical in the gameplay and decisions. The experience of having problems blossom and grow around the board is similar, but the variety of problems and the range of items needed to combat them is greater in Red November. Pandemic's mechanic of variable player powers is not present in Red November and remains a significant differentiator.

While I believe a player familiar with the game could introduce non-gamers to Red November without any problem, the game does have a mild learning curve. Expect to jump around in the rulebook quite a bit for the first few rounds of play. The rhythm establishes itself fairly quickly, but, as always, access to the BGG forums will help clear up some questions that are likely to arise.

The whimsical nature of this game is best represented by the necessity of imbibing Grog to gain bonuses for fixing systems or entering rooms on fire. Grog has its downside (don't I know it,) requiring faint checks at the end of turns. The back side of the gnome player card represents four levels of inebriation. Drink too much and you're doomed. Don't drink at the right times and you're doomed. Drink just the right amount and fail anyway and you're doomed. You're doomed, it's a theme in this game.

Optional rules provide for a game without player elimination (your gnome still dies, but you can start playing another one who just came out of hiding,) and more player elimination (attack fellow gnomes with crowbars.) Between these rules and the ability to mod the level of events with the 'Respite' cards, Red November can provide a wide range of challenges. There is bound to be too much luck in the game for some gamers, fires, blocked hatches and flooding occur randomly throughout the sub and you have to roll a D10 to resolve fixing things. This part of the game does feel like Pandemic and can be frustrating. The alternative would be a far more elaborate rule-based AI system that would make this a much heavier game. Personally I think Faidutti and Gontier struck just the right balance between randomness, theme and structure.

Red November has what it takes to stand alongside Pandemic, Aliens, Vanished Planet and Lord of the Rings as a top shelf cooperative game.

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-=[Ran Over]=-
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Quote:
As the various players move along the time track, the player who is farthest back in time always goes next. This may mean that a given player gets multiple turns in a row. As simple an idea as this sounds, it provides a unique dimension to the game...
Welcome to 2008. ;)

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Sean Dooley
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rgmnetid wrote:
Quote:
As the various players move along the time track, the player who is farthest back in time always goes next. This may mean that a given player gets multiple turns in a row. As simple an idea as this sounds, it provides a unique dimension to the game...
Welcome to 2008.



Like Thebes?
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Tim Deagan
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wittdooley wrote:
rgmnetid wrote:
Quote:
As the various players move along the time track, the player who is farthest back in time always goes next. This may mean that a given player gets multiple turns in a row. As simple an idea as this sounds, it provides a unique dimension to the game...
Welcome to 2008.



Like Thebes?


That's a good call. I'm not familiar with Thebes so I missed that it has that mechanic. I should make note that in the credits section of the Red November manual there is a specific thanks to Peter Prinz for Jenseits of Theben. The other thanks is to Serge Laget and Bruno Cathala for Shadows over Camelot. (Now noted in the text above.)



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The theme of running around a nearly-doomed ship cooperatively putting out fires reminds me more of the forthcoming Space Alert than Pandemic. Apart from the obvious "real-time" vs "turn-based" aspect, can anyone offer a comparison of Space Alert and this game?
 
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Sean Dooley
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revtim wrote:
wittdooley wrote:
rgmnetid wrote:
Quote:
As the various players move along the time track, the player who is farthest back in time always goes next. This may mean that a given player gets multiple turns in a row. As simple an idea as this sounds, it provides a unique dimension to the game...
Welcome to 2008.



Like Thebes?


That's a good call. I'm not familiar with Thebes so I missed that it has that mechanic. I should make note that in the credits section of the Red November manual there is a specific thanks to Peter Prinz for Jenseits of Theben. The other thanks is to Serge Laget and Bruno Cathala for Shadows over Camelot. (Now noted in the text above.)





So is it similar to that? I wasn't trying to be snooty, I was hoping to get some idea of the mechanic is similar! Thanks!
 
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Thomas Taylor
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Yes, it works exactly like Thebes.
 
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Alex Martinez
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Yes, I remember seeing the turn timer the first time in Thebes and really liking it there. It works just as well in Red November. In fact, it even works a little better since the game is co-operative in nature and it's all about time management even more than the spirit of competition.

Red November is a very good co-op game. Heck, it's a great solitaire game. I enjoy the small box and easily portable nature, and find that it's a heck of a lot of fun. A great addition to my game library and one of the few games I have that doesn't even require any other players, making it a terrific game to break out when you're all alone and bored or looking for a challenging multiplayer experience.
 
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Gunther Schmidl
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MrSkeletor wrote:
When soloing are you controlling only 1 gnome or several?


The game requires 3 players or more, so the least you need to control is 3 (and the maximum is 8).
 
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Alex Martinez
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The rules say 3+ players, but the box says 2+. Considering that the game scales to the number of gnomes on board the sub (more gnomes, more disasters), I think you could easily play with 1 or 2 gnomes. If it proves too easy you can always adjust the difficulty by starting with a few event cards before the players' first turn. Or too difficult you could always start farther down the time track.

Although I've played a few solo games with 3 gnomes and found it worked fine. More gnomes doesn't seem to equal a more dangerous game. Rather, they seem to make a more complex one. I look at Red November almost like a puzzle game. Almost like those old wooden peg puzzle games people used to leave on their coffee tables in the days of yore. (Much cooler and more interesting, of course.) I might even try a full crew game solo, just for a change of pace.
 
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Anthony DuLac
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My only gripe with these Co-op games is that you rarely win, it seems, even after several plays. That's not the biggest deal but it can turn some people off. I am interested in Red November though and I also like the small box - nice change of pace from the huge box FFG games that are a gigantic pain to tote around.
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Aaron Watson
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Great review! I watched this being played at Gen Con this year. I didn't get a chance to sit down and demo it, but watching it and talking to a guy in line, I could tell it would be one I'd enjoy. So, I bought it.

That being said. After reading the rules, it hasn't hit my table yet. It seems like it would be very confusing to most of the folks I game with. And is even a little daunting to me. I'm wishing I sat down at that demo table. However, it still seems like a lot of fun and I need to get it to the table soon!

The fact that it can be played solitaire is a bonus too, since I'm trying to play through my entire collection of games within a years time. As infrequently as I get gaming groups together, I can see I'm going to have to play a lot of games in solitaire mode to reach my goal!

When I purchased the game they actually handed me the cardboard tiles/chits separately. They hadn't made it from the printer in time to make it into the box in time for Gen Con. After punching them out, I had to remove the insert in the box just to cram everything in there! And still the box top seems to sit a little high. Amazing how much they crammed into the little box. (And I'm glad they did. I'm a big fan of this new smaller box size.)
 
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Brian Modreski
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So this is really 2 playerable? My girlfriend and I love co-op games, but we especially love being able to play them with just the two of us. We dismissed this when we saw the 3+ players on it.
 
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Tim Deagan
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StormKnight wrote:
So this is really 2 playerable? My girlfriend and I love co-op games, but we especially love being able to play them with just the two of us. We dismissed this when we saw the 3+ players on it.



I think two player would be fine, but I'd recommend playing two (or more) gnomes each. It's not any more difficult (okay you have to pay a bit more attention,) and it gives you lots of interesting things to do, even if you main gnome has raced ahead in time.

The game Aliens keeps coming to mind. There are a set number of game-characters and the players just divide them up among themselves by whatever distribution feels right. That's why it works so well in solo, you just take them all.

In Red November, I think that it's just as reasonable to decouple the number of gnomes from the number of players and just run as many characters as you like.
 
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Tim Seitz
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rgmnetid wrote:
Quote:
As the various players move along the time track, the player who is farthest back in time always goes next. This may mean that a given player gets multiple turns in a row. As simple an idea as this sounds, it provides a unique dimension to the game...
Welcome to 2008.



That would be 2004, or this 2004
 
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Patrick McNamara
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StormKnight wrote:
So this is really 2 playerable? My girlfriend and I love co-op games, but we especially love being able to play them with just the two of us. We dismissed this when we saw the 3+ players on it.



This game is very desireable to me as well. I love the co-op games! Stormknight, if you're looking for a good 2-player co-op, I would recommend Vanished Planet, a very good sci-fi game.
 
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Brian Modreski
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Tim - thanks for the reply. We'd just assumed that the only reason it would say '3+ players' is because there was some sort of hidden information mechanic (a la clue) that simply wouldn't work with only two actual players.
Playing two 'characters' each doesn't present a problem at all (and is our preference with Arkham Horror).
 
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Tony M
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Given the fact its fairly likely gnomes will die, I think playing 2 gnomes each for a 2 player game would probably work out. You have a backup if you lose one... maybe just take out the "desert the sub" rules.
 
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Ian McCarthy
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Thanks so much for the review. I went ahead and ordered this one, mainly based upon your praise and description. I think the box is small enough that my wife won't notice it.

ninja
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Anders Olin
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KenToad wrote:
Thanks so much for the review. I went ahead and ordered this one, mainly based upon your praise and description. I think the box is small enough that my wife won't notice it.

ninja


Awesome !

I try to order some games whike my wife is away on a business trip
*dang it, where are you Le Havre!*
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Josh

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tmarozas wrote:
Given the fact its fairly likely gnomes will die, I think playing 2 gnomes each for a 2 player game would probably work out. You have a backup if you lose one... maybe just take out the "desert the sub" rules.


Or leave them in, and have the remaining player take over all remaining gnomes.
 
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Mark DeHate
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I have played this 2-player (each only controlling one gnome) and 6-player. The 2-player worked out just fine...we did win, and it was significantly easier than the 6-player game. It may be more enjoyable with each player controlling two gnomes though, that would definitely make it more interesting anyway.
 
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Doug Epperson
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We played several games at Euro Quest (MD) last weekend and had a blast (literally). We died the first game (6 player game) right after killing the dreaded Kraken. The sub over pressurized and sank right under the feet of the brave gnome who went out in the deep blue to kill the Kraken (he died too because we were too deep).

The second (and faster game) with four went very well. We all ended our timer at the zero mark, but as we prepared to open the hatch, we overheated and died….sub lost. What a thrill ride!

robotGreat multiplayer game of madness!
Von Epp
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Jack Wells
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Great review, I like how you gave a sense of how the game plays without going into exhaustive detail of all the rules.

I think I'll definitely pick this up now, especially since it's so cheap and I like the idea of a small box, far too many of my games are in big boxes that have half of it empty.
 
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