Date: Mon 21 Sep 2009
Venue: Carcasean boardgame cafe
I asked Chong Sean to teach me Red November, since he has played it before. Red November is one of the many cooperative games that were released around last year. In this game, players are Russian gnomes stuck in a submarine, the Red November, where things keep going wrong one after another. The gnomes try to survive for one hour, waiting for rescue. You win together if some of you survive, with the submarine not completely destroyed, after one hour.
The game uses a Thebes-like mechanic for tracking time. When the gnomes take actions, every action costs time, and your use a white marker to temporarily mark how much time you've used on your turn. After your turn is done, you need to check how many red stars you have passed on the time track. For each star, you draw a disaster card. Usually bad things will happen. There are some spaces which award you tools, but there are less of these than the disaster spaces. Many types of bad things can happen. Fires start, fires spread, rooms flood, doors become stuck, the oxygen level drops, the heat level rises, the pressure increases, the missiles malfunction and threaten to explode, and worst of all, a giant kraken approach and eye the submarine hungrily. When you take a turn, you basically move about the submarine and attempt to fix a problem, e.g. unlocking a door, pumping out water, reducing the heat level to the next stable state, etc. You can also go to the equipment room to collect tools, or go to the captain's room to collect grog (vodka?), which is considered a type of tool. Grog allows you to fix problems quicker, and if a room is on fire and you don't have a fire extinguisher, drinking grog is the only way to give yourself enough courage to enter the burning room. But then, drinking means getting drunk, and you may pass out because of your exertion. If the room where you lie unconscious is on fire or is flooded, you die.
The submarine can get destroyed in a number of ways. There are three tracks on the board showing heat level, pressure level and oxygen level. If the marker on any of these tracks reach the last spot, the submarine is destroyed. There are also four major disasters, which, if not prevented in time, will destroy the submarine. E.g. missile malfunction, kraken attack.
Chong Sean and I played a 2-player game, controlling 2 gnomes each. I am pleased that the game has two green gnomes, a dark and a light one. So I could still stick to playing with green. We were quite conservative when trying to fix problems. In this game, every problem takes at most 10 minutes to fix. You can try to spend less time to fix a problem, but risk wasting your time because you may fail to fix it. E.g. if you decide to spend only 5 minutes, you roll a 10-sided die to see whether you manage to fix the problem. Roll and 6 or more, and you fail. Chong Sean is quite conservative and usually prefers to spend about 8 minutes on a problem. Spending more time means a higher likelihood of fixing a problem, but also less time to work on other problems.
We were relatively lucky and didn't fail many times when fixing problems. There was one turn on which I had a gut feel that I would roll a 10, so I decided to spend 10 minutes on the problem. If you spend 10 minutes, you are guaranteed to fix the problem and do not need to roll the die, but I rolled the die anyway, and it was a 10! My completely baseless prediction turned out to be true! Every time that we chose to spend 10 minutes on a task, we rolled the die anyway, just so that we could feel good if we rolled a high number.
We didn't play the traitor variant, where a gnome may abandon his comrades and win the game by himself, if the submarine is destroyed. So when we drew "hatch stuck" cards, we assigned the "stuck" tokens to the outer hatches, or to rooms which lead to the outer hatches. When you draw a "hatch stuck" event card, you roll the die to determine which room will have one of its hatches locked, but once the room is determined, you can choose which hatch to be the one to get locked. Maybe a little unthematic, but I think if otherwise the game becomes too difficult or too luck-dependent.
More and more rooms were flooded, or were on fire, or were locked up, as we retreated and decided not to spend more effort to save those rooms. As we approached the arrival time of our rescuers, we depleted the disaster deck, and now the kraken card gets shuffled in as we reshuffled the whole deck. Chong Sean said he had never seen the kraken card drawn before. The kraken is hard to defeat, because (a) you need to be able to gain access to one of the three external hatches in order to leave the submarine, and (b) you need the aqualung to be able to go outside. Guess what... we drew the kraken card soon after we started using the reshuffled disaster deck. The kraken timed event was to happen in 15 minutes. We checked the time track, and to our relief, that would be exactly at the 0 mark. The rules say the event will only happen if we pass that event marker, so we were safe. Phew...
Later on we drew yet another timed event card which we wouldn't have been able to prevent, but the event time was yet again on exactly 0 minute mark. We were very unlucky to have drawn these major disasters so soon after the deck reshuffle, but we were also very lucky that neither would occur. Eventually we won the game, with none of the three tracks nearing the last space.
Red November is quite thematic, I would say. Many things that you can or cannot do, or what can and cannot happen in the game, are logical. There are quite many types of tools available in the game, so in the beginning you'll need to spend some time looking up what they do. However there are icons to help you remember. The rules are not complex.
Han has played this before and didn't quite like it. Maybe his comments made me set my expectations lower, so I found the game to be alright. Not a game that I plan to buy, but I wouldn't mind playing again. That said, although there isn't anything in particular that I dislike, there isn't anything in particular that draws me either. Bruno Faidutti is a popular designer, but somehow I find that I don't have any particular liking in any of his games. My favourites are probably Incan Gold / Diamant and Castle. I don't quite like Citadels, maybe because I was scarred by the very slow 6/7-player games that I have played. I like Red November more than Citadels, but probably slightly less than Incan Gold.