Updated: Feb 1
This week we’re talking about Fantasy Flight’s Silver Line games and that brings me to this week’s review Red November. I first read about this gnomish co-op game of disaster aboard a submarine around Christmas time in one of FFG’s Family Games suggestion articles. I loved the concept, but the reviews on BBG were less than favourable in most cases. However, when I found the game on ebay for just £13 inc. P&P I decided “what’s the harm?” and bought the game.
You are a Gnome aboard the Red November, the doomed submarine. Besieged by floods, fires, defunct missiles and the abominable Kraken you must fight to survive for sixty minutes until you can be rescued. Luckily there is plenty of grog around to make the whole experience that little bit more pleasant.
The main element of the game is the Time Track that runs round the edge of the board, going from 0-60. The track is marked with Event Markers, every time you pass one of these something bad will happen or something bad that had already happened will get worse.
On your turn you can move around the sub, but doing so takes time. You can move through as many rooms as you like at the cost of 1 minute per hatch you opened, plus 1 additional minute for every flooded room you move through. Once you have moved you may take one of several actions, generally these are “Fix It” actions or “Take Item” actions. Once you have taken an action your turn ends and you move your marker on the time track forward the number of minutes you spent moving and performing your action (you mark this using a white marker so you don’t forget how many minutes you used). As you pass the icons on the Time Track you now draw Event Cards and resolve them. Play then passes to the player whose marker is furthest back on the Time Track. This process of moving and actions continues until you are all dead or until you are rescued.
Like other co-op games Red November is driven by disasters. Unlike, for example Pandemic, however, the disasters are VERY random and also varied. I’m not a huge fan of Pandemic (at the moment, I need more plays to be sure) and part of the reason is you know, until you draw an Epidemic card, that cities with 2 or fewer cubes are safe and you can ignore them. In Red November all disasters occur in a room decided by a die roll so you never know what is going to happen and where. I like it, but I can see why some people will find this luck element frustrating. The disasters in Red November are as follows:
Fire – To be able to enter a room on fire you need to have a Fire Extinguisher or Grog. The only action allowed in a room on fire is “Extinguish Fire” but it should be noted that opening an unblocked hatch is NOT an action. A fire in Room 5 effectively cuts the sub in half and if you don’t have either of the above items you can be seriously screwed!
Flood – When a room is flooded the “high water” level can be lowered by opening a hatch, the water then equalizes and both rooms are at “Low Water”. Low Water slows most actions down by adding 2 minutes to the time it takes to perform them. It also adds an extra minute to movement through the room so pumping the water out can be a good idea. The only action that can be taken in a room at “High Water” is no action, but again it should be noted that opening an unblocked hatch is NOT an action. However if all the hatches are blocked, you are screwed! Any amount of water in a room, High or Low, will extinguish a fire or prevent one from starting.
Timed Destruction – There are four Timed Destruction Events, exploding missiles jammed in the launch tubes, failing oxygen pumps, the enormous Kraken and engine failure. Whenever you draw one of these cards they are placed ahead of you by 10 minutes. If they are not fixed by the time every player’s Marker has passed them then the sub is destroyed and you all lose.
Asphyxiated, Crushed by Pressure, Nuclear Reactor Overload – The final three ways to lose the game are shown on three tacks on the board, should the marker reach the end of one these tracks you all die. The tracks can be reset to 0 (or 5 if you are passed halfway) by fixing the appropriate area (Oxygen Pumps, Engines or Reactor Core.).
When you try to “Fix” any of the above disasters you choose to take a certain number of minutes between 1 and 10 and roll a d10, roll equal to or under the number you pick and you fix the problem. Hurrah. Fail and you just wasted all that time and even worse you now have to draw even more events. Various item tiles give you bonuses on these rolls…
Is it as Fun as it Sounds?
Yes! I like the game, although analysis paralysis slows the game down and steals away its thunder. The game is intended to be fast and frantic, if players don’t play this way its slow and interminable.
There is an element of risk to every move you make, especially when putting out fires whilst under the influence of grog. Grog allows you a +3 bonus to your roll, but you also risk passing out at the end of your turn. This moves your marker forward 10 minutes in time and triggers approximately 3 events. While passed out you can do nothing, if your room floods or catches on fire you die and are out of the game. Or, in my case, you wake up to see the missiles with 1 minute left til they explode, with a fire between you and the controls and totally alone because your “team mates” have donned their aqualungs and escaped LEAVING YOU BEHIND TO DIE!
Now that is something you don't find in Pandemic.
This is a Fantasy Flight game, so you would expect me to rave on and on about quality components in this section, but actually this section could be called “What’s not to like?” Ok… so what do you get in this tiny but well constructed box?
1 Game Board
8 Gnome Sailors
9 Time Keepers
3 Disaster Markers
4 Destruction Tokens
54 Item Tiles
12 Grog Tiles
3 Toolbox Tiles
4 Engine Manual Tiles
4 Pump Manual Tiles
4 Reactor Manual Tiles
3 Deactivation Code Tiles
6 Crowbar Tiles
5 Fire Extinguisher Tiles
6 Water Pump Tiles
1 Coffee Tile
2 Aqualung Tiles
2 Diving Gun Tiles
2 Lucky Charm Tiles
15 Hatch Blocked Tokens
10 Flood Tokens
10 Fire Tokens
1 Action Die
8 Gnome Cards
56 Event Cards
2 Player Aids
1 Rule Book
Ok, that’s a lot of stuff in a box as small as Citadels and therein lies the problem. The tiles and disaster markers are very nice, thick card, usual FFG fair. The cards too are nicely designed and functional.
The board however is tiny… it’s too small. The most important element of the game is the time track and it’s not wide enough to fit the Time Keepers on it! The rules in fact suggest that the Time Keepers be placed on the table next to the track, but because the board is so small it shifts easily. A bigger box (say the same size as pandemic) would have meant a bigger board and better time track. It would have also not looked as daft when you play with the full 8 people crowded round a board that’s about the size of a sandwich.
Unfortunately the bad doesn’t end there, the plastic Gnomes all come bent (because they are crushed into the tiny box) so they refuse to stand up straight. Bigger box… better components! Other than that the components work well, the player aids are great, the rules can be a bit confusing until you separate “Moving” and “Actions” in your mind and then it all starts to make sense.
I don’t play board games solo, I don’t know why I don't but something in my head tells me that to do so would be like me to admit to having no friends. However, when I got Red November I thought I’d better play it through once to get all the rules straight in my head before I introduced it to the family and I had a blast! I should note here that the game is designed for 3 to 8 players, but to play solo I just played the role of three Gnomes (I tried one Gnome and died within 20 minutes). Playing solo took me less than an hour and it was really tense. I felt like I was some kind of General, attempting to control a bunch of Drunken Gnomes who refused to do as they were told. I won two of the three solo games I played and it made me rethink my attitude towards playing games alone.
Although the game is not designed for 2 players I can’t see why each player couldn’t control two Gnomes if you want to give this game a go.
That Conclusion-y Bit
So then, what can I say about the game? I love it, but I also loathe the compact nature of the components. If you like the idea of Pandemic, but you want more uncontrolled chaos (plus the ability to bash your team mates over the head with a crowbar) then I think you should give this game a go.
I picked my copy up pretty cheap, but had I paid full price I think I may have felt short changed. All in all a good game made in a less than optimal way.