Specter Ops Review

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Posted May 11, 2015 by Crystal Pisano in Nerdy Bits

Designer: Emerson Matsuuchi

Artist: Steven Hamilton, Emerson Matsuuchi, & David Richards

Publisher: Plaid Hat Games & Nazca Games

Number of Players: 2-5

Duration: 60-90 min

 

Overview

In this game, one player is a secret agent who has infiltrated a facility run by the Raxxon Corporation. They must complete three objectives and escape the building, but the other players are controlling genetically enhanced Raxxon hunters who will stop at nothing to kill the agent before they can get out.

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Three hunters plotting their next moves

Gameplay

At the beginning of the game, everyone but the agent chooses which hunter they want to be (there are only four to choose from, so in a five-player game, all hunters will be utilized).

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The Hunters

After the hunters have been chosen, the player who is the agent chooses one of four possible agent characters in secret, and rolls a die to determine the location of their objectives on the map.

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The Agents

In a two- or three-player game, the objective locations are placed on the board for the hunters to see, in a four- or five-player game, they are marked on the agent’s sheet and kept secret from the hunters. The agent has to complete (begin a turn next to) three out of the four objectives during the course of the game. The agent also gets to secretly select equipment cards to assist them during the game. Depending on the number of players, they either get three or five equipment cards.

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Some Equipment Cards

At the beginning of each turn, the agent documents their movement secretly on a piece of paper and then the hunters each get to take their turns in whatever order they choose. The order the hunters play in can be different each round. The hunters have a vehicle they can utilize to move around the map along with a number of special character abilities. If a hunter ends their turn within the line of sight with an agent, the agent is required to reveal his character on the board and the hunter has the opportunity to attack! The hunters’ goal is to kill the agent, the agent’s goal is to complete their objectives and get out alive.

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The Beast is attacking Blue Jay!

Thoughts

I’ve heard comparisons of this game to both Fury of Dracula and Letters From Whitechapel, but since I have played neither of those games, I can’t speak to the validity of the comparisons. I am enjoying this game because it fills a hole in my collection. I don’t have many one vs. all games and I don’t have any games where information is being tracked secretly. I’ve now played it a few times (as the agent each time since I was introducing it to new people) and I’ve only won once, but that win came as a result of some very lucky breaks I caught.

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My moment of triumph!

I believe this game is meant to be tough for the agent, but not impossible to win. The tension and stress levels are high throughout the game and while that is usually something I do not enjoy while gaming, I actually like the anxiety this game induces. I have noticed that some of my friends playing as the hunters were becoming visibly frustrated when they couldn’t find me, but their joy was even sweeter when they finally caught me on the map.

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Yes, I put on sunglasses. I’m THAT type of agent.

There are a few issues that I’m not 100% happy with. Since there are only four hunter characters to choose from, in a five-player game, all the hunters are utilized. So rather than picking from a larger group of hunters to try to form an interesting team, it’s just a matter of who gets which hunter. Also, in a five-player game, one of the hunters is secretly a traitor working for the agent (the agent gets to pick that person before the game begins, so they know who it is). While this seems helpful, it became problematic for me because the rulebook doesn’t clearly explain how that hunter’s special abilities are addressed during gameplay. If the puppet is the traitor and he uses the motion sensor in the car, is the agent allowed to lie and say it detected nothing even if he moved more than two spaces? The relationship between the agent and his traitor need to be more clearly defined to make the five-player game understandable.

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The frustration sets in

It becomes nearly impossible for the agents to win if the traitor is revealed (and therefore becomes a second agent) because if either agent dies, the hunters win. I actually missed this part of the rulebook in my first playthrough and after my traitor was revealed and then subsequently killed trying to protect me, we continued playing. It seems odd that the traitor/agent can’t help me complete objectives after he turns into an agent, yet his death somehow stops the game.

I pre-ordered the game directly from Plaid Hat Games before it was released so I got two promo equipment cards for the agent. They were surprisingly disappointing because while they have cool abilities, their use is somewhat situational. The EMP grenade only effects the vehicle and only if the vehicle is within four spaces of your agent. I’ve found that rarely happens during the course of the game, making this card nearly useless (even though you are allowed to use it twice if you have it in your hand during the game).

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Promo Equipment Cards

The stock equipment cards that come with the game are actually fine, but there isn’t a large enough variety of them to choose from. Four of the cards are usable only by specific agents, so three of those four are always unavailable in any game. Then there are two cards of each of the four other types of equipment. As the agent, you need to pick your equipment very carefully to give yourself a fighting chance (especially if you aren’t VERY familiar with the game already). I haven’t played a single game thus far where I regretted at least one of my equipment choices after-the-fact.

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Agent-Specific Equipment Cards

Admittedly, if there were a lot of other equipment options, it would make teaching this game to new players much more difficult because the hunters need to be knowledgeable about all the equipment the agent could have picked from to make the game fair. I’ve played this game where the hunters weren’t concerned with reading all the equipment cards before we started the game and then came to realize that they had no idea what I could possibly be doing when I utilized them during the game. I was torn because I want to teach the game properly, but by telling them what I could be doing I would almost definitely be giving away information that would give them an even bigger edge over me by explaining things during the middle of the game.

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She HAS to be in this section, right?

If I’m creating a wishlist of things I want for this game, alternative maps would also be great. The map included is great and works fine, but having options would definitely increase the replayability over time.

Here’s the good news. All of the issues I mentioned above could be fixed with an expansion to the game. If the game had more hunters (and maybe more agents) to choose from, more equipment cards, more maps, and clarified rules for the five-player game, I think it could be absolutely spectacular. Even with all the issues, I do love playing it now, I just don’t see myself loving it as much as time passes and I play through it a bunch of times.

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Added bonus: the minis are really cool

Because of all that, I’m giving the game a score of 75 out of 100. It’s a great game with even greater potential. The issues are fixable and I have high hopes that will happen. There are rumors on the internet that an expansion is likely already in the works. *fingers crossed* Even with the issues, the game is a lot of fun to play and I recommend it highly.


About the Author

Crystal Pisano