In which our columnist and resident game affoniciado, Kenny Nguyen, considers the dark future of genetically modified corporate espionage.
The Beast and The Puppet were called in to track the source of a security breach at Raxxon HQ. Those rebels, they thought to themselves. They’d done nothing but serve as a destabilising force in the new world utopia. All this talk of wanting to be natural and not genetically engineered; why couldn’t they just accept their science enhanced lives?
The Puppet drove the car up to the north of the facility, where the breach had occurred. The Beast, an imposing figure that was more wolf than man, started sniffing around, trying to find the culprit. Nothing. At least, not yet.
The motion detector on the car pointed the duo the east, and soon the wolfman had picked up the scent. He could smell their fear. They wouldn’t be escaping the facility today. At least, not with the confidential information they sought. Or their lives.
The Beast continued to hunt the source of the smell, before the Puppet finally discovered the source; it was Blue Jay, a well known “terrorist” and rebel. Letting out a small yelp, the Blue Jay escaped to the shadows again, but not before the Puppet was able to wound her.
And so the chase continued…
This is Specter Ops, a two to five player hidden movement game where one player plays an agent while the other players play hunters, genetically mutated guardians of Raxxon corp trying to hunt down the infiltrator. The objective of the game for the agent is to tag three of four objectives and escape. The objective for the hunters is simple; ensure the agent doesn’t get out alive.
The Brief How-To
One player must play the agent, while all remaining players select a hunter to play as. There are multiple agents that the player can use, but which agent the player is using is kept secret until they are spotted.
Each turn, the agent secrets plots a move on a piece of paper. Movement is simple; you have a certain amount of movement points, and each square costs one of those. You need not spend all of those, or any in fact; you could simply stay put, and there are strategic reasons for doing so. The agent is trying to end their move adjacent to objectives in order to activate them, simultaneously advancing their win condition while also alerting the hunters to their approximate location.
The hunters are similar, except they’re completely visible on the board. They move in similar ways, but have a cool car and powers to aid them. The Beast is able to sniff out nearby agents if he moves carefully. The Prophet can detect the rough position of the agent from anywhere on the board. Playing the hunters feels more like a cooperative game; you need to combine your powers in order to efficiently and quickly hunt down the pesky agent. If, at the end of your move, you can see the agent, you get to attack them; do enough damage, and you’ll win the game!
There are a few other aspects to the game, such as the car, the gadgets the agent gets to use, and the traitor element at five players, but that’s enough of a look at the game for now.
Why I Like Spectre Ops
Spectre Ops is a game that manages to always be tense for both sides; as the hunters draw close to the agent, you can feel your heart beating faster and faster, just like when your friend is about to open the cupboard you’re hiding in during a game of hide-and-seek (kids still play that, right?). As the hunters, the moment the first objective falls and you’re not there to see it, you realise you’ve just been fumbling around in the dark, and need to get hot on this pesky agent’s tail. There’s a persistent air of urgency for both sides.
While I would have liked slightly more variation for the hunters (just one or two more characters would have been perfect), there’s a whole heap of replayability in the box. There are twenty-four character combinations in the two and three player game, and sixteen in three player. In reality, however, there are many more combinations than that. Gadget choice, which, like agent choice, is hidden, and the plethora of tricks that the plucky agent can employ is quite vast. They could simply be very speedy, rushing to finish their objective and get out as soon as possible. Or they could come with grenades, ready to blind and stun the hunters to vanish from sight.
Yet, in spite of all of these options, the game is incredibly simple. I’d say I could teach a brand new player to play either side in around five minutes, and get them right into it. It’s the kind of game you could show to someone who’s never played a board game in their life, and even they’d grasp the simple concepts and ideas of the game quickly. That doesn’t mean it lacks strategic depth; clever planning and use of the options in available to you, especially as the agents, will allow for rewarding and flashy tactical plays that will leave everyone wondering exactly how you did it.
It’s not just the agent that gets to feel clever; the hunters, coordinating as a hive mind, will have moments where the combination of their abilities allows them to track down even the most savvy agent. And as you corner the “terrorist” and eliminate the pest, you can give each other a well earned high-five and rejoice in the fact that the world is now safe from revolutionaries. In all seriousness, cooperation feels great, and the game gets serious props for giving those with a more competitive mind a time to shine while also providing an opportunity for those who enjoy cooperation to work together to defeat a “bad guy” opponent. I’ve always loved one versus all games for exactly that reason, and Spectre Ops delivers.