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The Hunt for Red November

I recently had the opportunity to try out two new board games: Red November by Fantasy Flight Games and Small World by Days of Wonder.  I’ll be discussing Red November in this post and Small World in the future.

Red November is a cooperative stress/crisis game, where players take on the personas of maritime gnomes on a submarine, literally running around and putting out fires.  If you can survive for 60 “minutes” without getting killed by a kracken, asphixiating to death, drowning, burning in a fire, or getting crushed by pressure, you win.

The submarine is divided into 10 cells, some of which have special functions, such as being the supply room or the reactor control room.  While in a room, a player gnome can undergo a number of possible actions, such as attempting to fix a problem, stocking up on supplies, drinking grog, or trading inventory tiles with other nearby players.

The most intersting mechanic to the game is how actions are undertaken.  When you want to enact an activity, you can apply any inventory tiles in your posession for a fixed bonus, such as crowbars or fire extinguishers, and then you decide how many “minutes” you want to spend attempting the activity.  Then, you roll a d10 and if your result is less than or equal to the amount of effort you spent, you succeed.  This mechanic provides an interesting risk calculation because every 5 “minutes” or so, you have to draw an event card, most of which are bad, such as fires breaking out or rooms flooding.

Overall it was a pretty fun game to play, and I’m satisfied with the mechanics, but there were a few things that annoyed me about the materials.

First of all, the iconic symbols for asphixiation, pressure, and the reactor didn’t match between the board, the inventory tiles, and the event cards.  It would help if they were consistent so you can identify them easily.  Also, the oxygen/asphixiation icon looked like a pressure gague, which was confusing because the pressure gague was a gear.  A better choice would have been an oxygen tank for the oxygen track and a pressure gague for the pressure track.  The reactor icon should have been the nuclear symbol instead of a lightning bolt.

Second, the d10 that was provided with the game seemed cheap.  Most 10-sided dice will have an underline or a period after the numerals 6 and 9 to indicate their orientation, but this one didn’t.  I’m sure this is just nitpicking, but I run a dice store, so I think I have the right to be picky about board game dice.

The third thing that bothered me were the timer tokens.  Each time you move or take an action, you have to move your colored token forward, and stack it on other tokens if they share the same “minute”.  The tokens themselves were too small and lightweight to manipulate easy, and this is coming from someone with pretty nimble fingers.  By the end of the game, we were just putting the tokens adjacent to each other on the table instead of stacking them because they just didn’t handle well.

Finally, the theme seemed a little weak.  The fact that the sailors were gnomes instead of, say, Russians, wasn’t exploited at all.  It was like a throwaway reference which didn’t affect the gameplay in any way.  Some people may like the gnomes because they are a little cartoonish, which helps relieve some of the stress of the game, but I would have liked a serious and straightforward approach just as well.


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