Here’s the blurb for FFG’s game, Red November, which explains it better than I would.
Red November is a cooperative game in a gnomish attack submarine where everything is going wrong. The sub is descending and the water pressure increasing, the nuclear reactor is overheating, the nuclear missile launchers are pre-igniting, fires and water leaks are everywhere, there’s a giant Kraken looming nearby and there’s very little oxygen and vodka left. While the storyline feels more and more like a disaster movie, the players must get organized to solve the problems, divide the tasks among themselves to minimize the risks, and sometimes accept to sacrifice themselves for the common cause.
The game is played on the map of the submarine. The conditions in the submarine are represented by three disaster tracks: Asphyxiation, Heat and Pressure. During the game, these conditions get worse, and if anyone of them reaches its maximum value, the submarine is lost. In addition, various emergencies can occur which have to be dealt with swiftly, or they’ll also lead to the loss of the submarine.
Each turn, a player can move to a new location, and perform some action there. Such an action can be repairs (which will improve conditions on the sub and/or fix emergencies), removing obstacles (unblocking hatches, removing flooding or extinguishing fires) or stocking up on equipment (which will help with later actions). Each action is paid for with time. The more time a player spends on an action, the greater the chance of success. After each player’s turn, a number of events will happen; the more time was spent, the more events will occur. Such events will be the worsening of conditions in the submarine, or the triggering of emergencies.
If the Gnomes can keep alive long enough, rescue will arrive and the game is won.
Two things had me excited about this game when I first heard about it. First, the concept sounded interesting — doomed sub, trying to stay alive. That’s a great theme! Second, the designer is Bruno Faidutti, one of my favorite game designers (He did Citadels, Mission: Red Planet, and Mystery of the Abbey, all of which I really like.) The fact that it’s a cooperative game was a bit of a turn-off, since I’m not crazy about those (this was before I’d played Pandemic, a co-op I love), but I was willing to give it a whirl.
Of course, being released by Fantasy Flight was a double-edged sword. It would have lovely production (which it does, despite its muy petite size), and of course it’s going to have a fantasy theme because a game has to first prove it somehow CAN’T involve fantasy before it’s allowed not to. Hence the gnomes. But I have said enough on that topic and am doing what the kids mean when they say to “get over it”.
It finally got general release recently and I grabbed a copy. I went in with some trepidation, for I had read and been told that the rulebook was horrible. Six of us sat down, we went through the rules, and I guess we’re all boardgame prodigies, because we didn’t have much of any problems with it. A few questions came up, but we found the answers fairly quickly in the rulebook.
Gameplay is fast and frenetic. The game uses a time mechanism similar to that of Thebes, where actions take up a certain amount of time, and once you do things, you have to wait until the time elapses for your turn again. The events come fast and furious and really do build the feeling that nothing is going right and you’re all going to die. In our game there was no single player bossing everyone around, and all the players felt they had something worthwhile to do most of the time. There’s even a mechanism where if you think the sub is doomed, you can split and leave the rest of the guys to deal with it.
We succeeded in our game, but things did get tense. I’m looking forward to trying again to see how it goes. I’m also curious to find out how many players is optimum; we had six, I believe.
The whole thing fits in a wee little box which on the one hand means you get a LOT of game for your buck, but also means that everything is smaller than it should be. This deserves a deluxe, bigger treatment, in my opinion.
I really dig Red November, gnomes and all, and between it and Pandemic, I’m seriously having to re-think cooperative games.