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Subject: Red November: A grog-induced fun time for all rss

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JR
Canada
Sooke
British Columbia
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"I fear threatening JC with a thumb boycott would be as effective as threatening Br'er Rabbit with the briar patch." (E. Brosius)
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Preamble

Red November is a cooperative game (like Pandemic and others) in which the players are a group of gnomish sailors on a submarine (the Red November). The submarine is coming apart at the seams and the gnomes are tasked with holding it together long enough to be rescued.

The game plays 3-8 players officially, but playing with 2 players (or even solo), controlling multiple gnomes should work just fine. There is a betrayal mechanism that would be best ignored for 2-player games and which wouldn't work at all in solo, but that's a fairly insignificant matter.

The theme of the game is cartoonish and comical, with elements such as drinking "grog" (alcohol) as a performance enhancer or defending the Red November from the deep sea monster, the Kraken.


Components

As you will have read in any review you've seen thus far, there is a lot of game packed in this tiny box. The game is part of the FFG Silver line of games. The box is the same size as the Citadels box. Once all of the pieces have been punched and removed from packaging, the insert tossed away, there's just barely enough room to pack it all back up again and have the lid close correctly (but it does if you pack it right). Included are:

A game board which is 4 times the size of the box. It is nicely illustrated and has attractive art on it. It would be nicer if the rooms in the sub were a bit larger to allow for several gnomes to easily fit in one room, but with the limitations of the box size, this is as good as it could have been done.

A deck of event cards. The cards are designed for gnomish hands (extremely small), so you humans will just have to make due. The quality of the cards is very good, however, and they have nice artwork on them and are easy to understand. Almost every card is another bad thing that happens to our sailors as they try to make it to the rescue, with a few cards which do nothing being the only relief to be had on this journey.

A whack of item tiles. Instead of using cards to collect and use items, the game uses tiles. I can't say whether it's better or worse this way. I guess I might prefer cards because they would pack more easily, but the tiles are nice looking and if you were to use a cloth draw bag, it would work better because all of the tiles would not need to be mixed up and then turned face down to begin play.

8 gnome player pieces with matching time track pawns. The player pieces are the least exciting of the components. They are relatively cheap plastic and due to the way they have to be crammed into the tiny box at manufacturing, several of my gnomes arrived quite badly bent. I haven't cared enough to heat and cool them to straighten them out, as I may end up replacing them all with appropriately coloured meeples from Carcassonne.

Assorted obstacle bits such as lock tokens to represent blocked hatches in the ship as well as fire tokens and high/low water flooding tokens to mark rooms which have obstacles in them. Also, there are a few special tokens used to make timed events along the time track which are basically kill points. If the gnome pawns all pass the marker without having fixed the problem, the game ends in defeat.


Rules

The rules are surprisingly large for the size of the game, but again, there's more game here than meets the eye. It took me a few runs through the book to get the whole game down, but it's not as bad as it seems at first. The rules jump around a little and the first time through I was left feeling like I really wasn't totally clear on things, but a quick bit of solo play before introducing my girlfriend let me sort it out. The rule book is well nicely illustrated but could perhaps be improved by having more diagram illustrations to make some rules very clear.


Gameplay

I will describe the basic flow of play in the game. Each gnome in the ship has a corresponding stackable pawn along the edge of the game board. The edge of the game board is divided into 60 "minutes" (spaces). The "active" player is the player controlling the gnome who is the furthest back on the time track. If there are stacked pawns at the back of the track, the pawn on top of the stack is the active player. As a gnome is moved around the ship and then assigned an action by the active player, a "ghost pawn" is moved forward along the time track, starting at the current position of the player pawn. Once the gnome has performed all of his duties, his coloured pawn then "catches up" (moves forward) to the ghost pawn (which marks where he will finish his turn on the time track). So, the more stuff you do in a turn (or the more time you spend on your actions), the further forward on the time track your pawn will move. This is a very important aspect to the game, because as time passes, more event cards (bad) get drawn. So for each extra minute you spend trying to unblock that hatch this turn, the risk of encountering more disasters is increased.

During a player's turn, he may move his active gnome around the ship, opening hatches and moving into rooms as he wishes (all of this takes time). Finally, once he has arrived where he wishes to be, he may perform an action. He may spend as little as 1 minute on an action or as many as 10 minutes. The more time that is spent on the action, the better the odds of succeeding at that action become. But, again, more time spent equals more bad incidents occurring in your wake. A D10 dice is rolled for actions performed where the number rolled must be less than or equal to the number of minutes assigned to the task (items can modify the roll required). In most cases, as you can see, there need not be any risk at all. You CAN usually spend 10 minutes (or 6 minutes plus a 4-point bonus item) to guarantee that a fix will succeed. Alas, you do not always have the luxury of so much time to afford. There will be timed events which must be fixed within a certain amount of time or failure is unavoidable. These are what make the game particularly tense.

Some examples of actions a gnome will perform on his turn are unblocking hatches (as I already mentioned), extinguishing fires, pumping out flooded rooms (actions performed in a flooded room require more time), repairing the ship's engines, disarming nuclear missile launches, and more. There is a multitude of different disasters waiting for you to deal with in this game and for each case there are (fortunately) tools to help with the job. Fire extinguishers, bilge pumps, engine manuals, toolboxes, and crowbards are just some of several items the gnomes can acquire from the store room to aide in making repairs. In most cases, items are optional and simply help you make repairs by using less time. There are some cases where a certain item is REQURIED to make a fix, and if you lack the items required, it's going to end in tears.

If all of the gnomes manage to reach the 60-minute (Rescue!) mark of the track, then the players have won the game together. If any one of the various defeat conditions occurs before this, the players lose. There are many ways for the game to end before rescue, so once the game starts to move (after 10 or 15 minutes in), the gnomes are almost constantly just keeping ahead of complete disaster by prioritizing the most critical fixes (such as repairing the oxygen pumps) while being forced to ignore slightly less critical ones, such as the fire in the storage room.

There are some fairly interested mechanics to the game which are worth a brief mention. One is how flooding is handled. It is assumed that each room in the ship is connected to adjacent rooms by hatches which are always closed. To move around the ship, gnomes open hatches and pass through them (closing automatically behind them). When a gnome opens a hatch leading into a room which has high flooding, the water from that flooded room automatically pours through the hatch into the gnome's room so that both rooms now have LOW flooding, so the gnome is now allowed to enter the high flooded room. This is even more interesting because it's a tactic which can be used to extinguish fires very quickly. By opening a hatch joining a flooded room to a room on fire, the flooding will put out the fire, replacing it with low water instead.

I also briefly mentioned above that there's a betrayal mechanic where a player can decide to ditch the ship and leave everyone behind. If he does this (it can only be done in the last 10 minutes of the game) and the other players save the ship, he is the lone loser of the game while all players win. However, if a gnome flees his comrades and the ship perishes, the guy who saved himself is the lone winner of the game while the rest lose. Having played only a few times, I've not yet seen someone brazen enough to abandon ship.

Conclusion

I bought this game on a whim because my girlfriend is interested in all things gnomish and I have been desiring a decent cooperative game to play for now until I can get my hands on a copy of Pandemic. The theme and the price were both attractive and I am glad I made the purchase. My girlfriend enjoyed the game and we actual won the game on the only outing we've had so far (we played 2 player each controlling 2 gnomes).

The real test for the game was when I brought it to my local gaming group on Sunday night, which is attended by mostly pretty serious gamers and we had a big 6-player game. Again, to my surprise, we won the game. It took a lot of team work, with people in particular areas of the ship being responsible for tasks specific to that region, and a few people acting as "hoppers" to deal with fires, flooding, and blocked hatches as needed to clear the way for the critical fixes. At one point around mid-game, we came upon a dire situation where we had a timed event which was going to end the game on us if no one was able to fix it very soon. The timing was horrible and when it came down to it, we had three people who were able to take a shot at the fix, but the best chance we had was the first guy, with a 40% chance. He took his shot at the fix and failed, sadly, with a roll of 8 (needed 4 or less). Up next was a guy who was only able to put 3 minutes into the job (needed 3 or less) and rolled a 5 or something. This left the whole thing on my own blue gnome. At this point, besides the 6 people playing at the table, we now had a number of spectators from another table surrounding our table to see if we were going to make it out. Because of the time I had to spend moving into the room to make the fix, I was left with a mere 2 minutes to make the fix, therefore requiring a roll of 2 or less. Failure was instant game over for the whole team. Luck smiled on us this day and I rolled a 1, disarming the timed event to a great amount of cheering from everyone at the shop. A good time was had by all.

In closing, I am surprised at how well it went with the gaming group, because I expected some of the more serious gamers to be a bit disinterested in the comical theme and light, random, chaotic gameplay, but everyone seemed to be pleased with the game just because of how much fun it was. For what this game costs and the space it consumes in your collection, I'd say it's a great purchase for almost anyone. If you have any interest in cooperative gaming or things gnomish, then it's a no-brainer.

Edit: fixed some typos.
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Ted Conn
United States
Lee's Summit
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Excellent review. I also played this in my FLGS's game room with the 'locals'. Like you, we had spectators that truly appreciated the dire circumstances we were facing. Also like you, we won the game, but not by much! Fortuitous dice rolls and careful planning kept the ol' tub afloat just long enough!
 
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Leonardo Martino
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jrebelo wrote:
There are some cases where a certain item is REQURIED to make a fix, and if you lack the items required, it's going to end in tears.


Which items are you refering too?? I read the manual but didnt catch a sentence like this one!
 
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Chris Ingersoll
United States
North Carolina
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You need the Aqualung to fight the Kraken, I believe.
 
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JR
Canada
Sooke
British Columbia
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"I fear threatening JC with a thumb boycott would be as effective as threatening Br'er Rabbit with the briar patch." (E. Brosius)
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Vyolynce wrote:
You need the Aqualung to fight the Kraken, I believe.


Correct. You may not exit the submarine without the aqualung. Also, you may not enter a room on fire unless you have and use grog or a fire extinguisher. So if you lack those implements, the only way to deal with a fire is for it to start in the room your gnome is already in or for your gnome's room to be flooded with high water and be adjacent to a room on fire so that you can open the hatch on your turn into the fire room, causing the water to put out the fire.
 
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