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I was looking for a small (table size-wize mostly) solo game that could fit some lunch breaks at work, and even though Hostage Negociator (HN) didn't fill the gap needed at first (seemed to take just a little too much of space), I nevertheless decided to get it because the game intrigued me. After reading various reviews, I decided it was worth a try. I'm now well after 10 plays, and here's the conclusion to many hours wasted
I fell in love with that speech-bubble meeple. A Beeple ? Don't know, but it's darn cute ! Of course, the rest has to be judged against that beeble, and they all sustain the test : Hostage Negociator has a good deal of fine material to play with. The play mat is nice and holds many of the game's information and flow ; the cards are nice, a bit "fakish" maybe, but clear and thematic ; some ordinary meoples and a little rule book.
All of this has a sturdy feel and that's great. Had it not needed such a damn space to play, it might definitively have been my choice for work : after all, the box is rather compact and fit nicely in my bag. The cards were smoothly bent, but nothing that a heavy dictionnary or some sleeves wouldn't fix.
Hostage Negociator is a dice-driven game that led me nowhere in any of my plays. I read some other material to see if I did things wrong, it seemed not... A typical situation would unfold like this :
- Turn 1 : play a card => fail my roll ; play another card => fail my roll, but I have a 4, which means I can discard two cards to change it into a win => I now have 2 Conversation points. I purchase a card, and proceed to the Terror phase.
- Turn 2 : play the card previously bought, fail my roll, have a 4, modify... my hand is empty now, I have no conversation points and the Terror phase sees the death of one of the hostages, even though I managed to decrease the threat level. Great.
- Turn 3 : play nothing, buy free cards, Terror phase, oh no, increase Threat level...
- Turn 4 : play a card, gain 1 conversation point, play another, fail, discard => 3 conversation points, still no chance to fulfill any demand, Terror phase.
- Turn 5 : throw the game out the window
The inability to buy just played cards or that no Converstation points carried on to the next turn was a slow but irremediable killer. I felt no sense of accomplishment whatsoever. ANY action demands a roll, and if you fail it, it's almost always an end to the current conversation. If it was your first card, there's no other way to gain points to buy a card for the next turn. So actually, I was just playing every other turn.
Here's a quote (highlighted by me) from the game designer in his little strategy post :
Build your hand! Having lots of cards in your hand gives you so many options. I know it is tempting to resolve most of your cards, but if you can succeed with just one "Small Talk" you can buy two 1 pt cards to use as CP the next conversation.
I tried to lower the Threat level first, to gather more dice. Most of the time, the rolls fail, but even if I win a roll, and can throw more, that doesn't mean there's such a higher success rate. Not once in my plays did I manage to concede a demand : it needs 4 conversation points, and I only have 3 at most. So I focus on Conversation, because that's what allows me to buy more cards. But there again am I dependent on pesky results. So building my hand was indeed more on the "try" side of the suggestion. I ended up buying cards just so I could discard them in hope of modifying a bad mitigated roll. I was fighting against the gameplay, not playing or being led by it.
It is a push-your-luck game alright, but I must compare it to two other games I like a lot : In Magnificent Style (IMS) and Dungeon Roll (DR). In both of these games, there's a lot of dice-rolling, of course, but there are also a lot of options to carry on through the turns that really make a difference when luck strikes you on the head. Be it Generals or Rebel yells in IMS or potions and Champions in DR, the dice results carry some sort of meaning, are embeded in the game ; that's something I never felt right in HN. When my dice result sends one of my divisions back at the starting point in IMS, I know it's just a setback, because I might be able to diminish the impact of that result : assign one of my Generals, invoke Lee's help, maybe pull a helpful chit ?! Here in HN, such a setback is such a pain in the ***, because you can't even get those cards back until after your action phase on the next turn...
A huge disapointment given all the praise the game has. There's merit in the theme, the design, and the mechanics, and I see how fun the game can be when it goes right. But in 15~16 plays, I never won ! I'm okay with games where victory has to be earned, and that makes you loose some time before you win, but that means the game has to offer me suspense and a fullfilling gameplay. That never occured here. In IMS, it took three plays to finally hold more than two positions ; in Zulus on the Ramparts!, I lost a few times before winning. In DR, there's no real loss, as you can always come up with personal achievments to attain, if you play solo.
Final verdict, no more than 2 for me. It could be raised a bit higher given its material qualities, but that is not enough. So desperate was I to win at least once, it only lead me to hate the game so much ! I never felt in control of anything, and that's a shame. In my first tries, I had some narrative implication in the game, but that faded away real fast. I tried each characters, but their actions didn't quite catch with me. The background didn't really have enough flesh to fit the theme either. That's something I felt almost immediatly : despite a careful design, the theme didn't really feel interwoven with the gameplay.
I loved the premise of the game, I loved the idea of booster packs to discover new situations, but that will only be an obscure promise to me, nothing more.
PS : I read about the theory about unbalanced dice, and used two different sets of dice for testing, to no avail. I now even realise that I almost played more games of Hostage Negociator than I did with Zulus !
Hmmm. I just got this game a little while ago too.
I lost maybe my 6 first games. And then I managed to win 3 in a row against the first hostage taker. I'm fairly confident I can win the first mission most of the time now.
That seems to indicate that there is some skill involved and that there was learning and experimentation happening. There are 2 ways of winning and you need to know when to switch strategies between the 2 ways. That is the main thing I learned from all of the losses.
You can do experiments to see if you are able to win with no luck or less luck and that might show you places where your strategies are bad.
You know that if you throw away your 6 zero cards without playing them, you get 6 conversation points for them with no risk of failure at all? Every card is worth 1 conversation point if you play it face-down. So on the zero cards, you can actually make a profit with no risk.
I have a feeling you just got very frustrated before experimenting with all of the various tactics you can try.
I lost maybe my 6 first games. And then I managed to win 3 in a row against the first hostage taker.
I started the same way and now I win most of the time against the base game abductors (those in the abductor packs are tougher). I also had to experiment different approaches at first, and I have now established a strategy that I like to start with for each abductor but then possibly have to modify part way through because either the rolls and/or terror card draws are not complementing my strategy... it's important to re-evaluate the current strategy and course correct throughout the game.
A couple of things to consider:
1) You can use cards face-down for conversation points (as Peter mentioned). Once the demands are revealed (usually by the first 3 turns depending on your rolls), I only use the "What are your demand" cards facedown for the rest of the game (either to convert a 4 to a success, or as conversation points)
2) Depending on the abductor, start with a strategy that'll either focus on saving hostages through reducing the threat level below S, or by extraction. This will help focus your card purchases (eg "Just stay calm" if the focus is to reduce the threat level, or "Just a few more minutes" if the focus is to make larger purchases of higher value extraction cards.) Staying focused on a particular strategy was helpful for me.
3) Time the use of important cards. For example, playing "Major Extraction" with just 2 dice and no other cards is risky because the downside of a failed roll is 2 killed hostages. I would try to time using this card when I have 3 dice (either through terror level reduction, conceding demand, or "You need to trust me"), and/or have 2 cost 0 cards in hand (to play facedown in case of a 4), and/or have some "What I meant was" cards in hand in case I have a bad roll. There are ways to increase the likelihood of getting successes but it requires planning so that you have the right cards in your hand to make a big move.
I hope you give it another go and experiment with some different approaches. I love this game, but also understand that no game is for everyone. Maybe walk away from it for a few days (or a few weeks) and re-visit it when the frustration has worn off a little.
Quick strategy. Discard your entire first hand (what?) and take the 6 conversation points. Now buy "I'm coming in to talk" (+2 dice if you win) and "What I meant was" (re-roll 1 die). Next hand discard all except for what you just bought and buy "A bold lie" (-3 threat if you win) and "You need to trust me" (All 2-cards = win if you win).
You have 10 cards now. First you play "You need to trust me." Discard 2 of the "What are your demands" if it helps you get a win, or use the "What I meant was" to re-roll.
If you get the abductor to trust you, play the "I'm coming in to talk". Your chances are good for a win. If you have to, discard the two "Small talk" cards to help get the win.
If you're lucky, you now have 4 dice and all 2-cards = Win. Play "A bold lie" to reduce the threat level by 3, followed by the two "Just stay calm" cards.
You stand a good chance at lowering the threat level to zero and maybe even rescued a hostage before you've had to draw three terror cards.
Is it something that works everytime ? And does it also apply to the other characters ? ^^'
Is it something that works everytime ?
It's just one strategy to reduce the threat level. You could do something similar, but focus on getting conversation points. If there's only one or two hostages left your options really expand. My point was, that there's a lot of strategy beyond just playing the six default conversation cards.
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Quick strategy. Discard your entire first hand (what?) and take the 6 conversation points. Now buy "I'm coming in to talk" (+2 dice if you win) and "What I meant was" (re-roll 1 die). Next hand discard all except for what you just bought and buy "A bold lie" (-3 threat if you win) and "You need to trust me" (All 2-cards = win if you win).I have a feeling you buy/take back the 0 cards you just discarded in the Conversation phase in the same turn's Spend phase. You cannot do that, the just played/discarded cards are not available yet.
I have a feeling you buy/take back the 0 cards you just discarded in the Conversation phase in the same turn's Spend phase.
I know you can't. I omitted the fact you have to take a terror card and re-start a new conversation to concentrate on the strategy, and for the sake of brevity.
- Last edited Mon Nov 7, 2016 5:18 pm (Total Number of Edits: 1)
- Posted Mon Nov 7, 2016 5:17 pm