Rowdy van Lieshout
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This is a copy of an As a Board Gamer (LINK) article
You can find a geeklist of all my reviews HERE.
Hostage Negotiator is a solo game from A. J. Porfirio and Van Ryder Games. A deranged teacher has taken twelve students hostage. Do you have it in you to save them all?
What do you get for your money?
You get 3 Abductor cards, 1 Second in command card, 7 Major demand card, 4 Escape cards, 21 Red terror cards, 6 Gold pivotal event terror cards and 22 Conversation cards. You also get 5 custom dice, 15 hostage meeples, 1 Threat level marker, 1 Conversation point marker, a Hostage Negotiator Tableau and the rules.
How do you play the game?
An abductor has taken a couple of hostages and you, as a Hostage Negotiator, have to save a least half of them and capture or eliminate the bad guy.
You win if there are no hostages left in the building, you've saved at least half of them and you've captured or eliminated the abductor. You lose the game if the abductor gets away, or more than half of the hostages get killed, or you cannot draw a card from the Terror deck.
First you set up the game. The game comes with three different abductors with their own card and set of major demand cards. The card shows how many hostages the abductor has taken, how threatening the situation is, how many demands they have and some abductors have special rules.
So, you choose the abductor, place the threat marker in the right spot, draw the necessary demand cards and place the hostage meeples in the hostage pool on the Negotiator board. You start with 6 starting Conversation cards, but during the game you can buy new cards with conversation points that you acquire by playing cards. Now you draw 10 Terror cards and one Pivotal Event Terror card to place it at the bottom of the Terror deck.
The game can begin. A turn starts with the conversation phase. During this phase you can play as many cards from your hand as you want. You always, if you use the card's front side, have to check if your plans succeed. You do that by rolling dice. A die has two success sides (5 and 6), three failure sides and one side where you can discard two cards from your hand to get a success.
So, you roll and check the result. Every card has an effect that needs two successes, an effect that only needs one success and an effect for when you roll no successes. For instance, the 'Keep Cool' card lowers the threat level by one point and gives you one Conversation point when you roll two successes, it only lowers the threat by one if you roll one success and you lose one Conversation point if you roll no success.
When you turn a card over to its back you find that you can always use a card, without rolling dice, to gain one Conversation point. Other effects are like: save a hostage, kill a hostage, increase the number of dice or end the Conversation phase immediately.
The lower the threat level gets, by the way, the more dice you roll, the higher the chances of a success.
During the game, you can spend conversation points to concede a face-up demand. Demands start as face-down cards and have to be revealed by talking to the abductor. By conceding you can get an immediate benefit, but it also has a penalty that stays into effect during the rest of the game.
OK, when you've played the cards you want to play, you discard those cards. You always get you starting cards back later on, but the cards you buy in the next phase are one time use only.
So, during the Spend phase you can buy new, more powerful cards, with your conversation points. You add them to your hand, reset your conversation point to zero and place the cards you used in the previous phase in the market. the starting cards cost nothing, so, like I said, you can get them for free during the next round.
The last phase of a round is the Terror phase. Here you have to resolve the Terror card from the top of the Terror deck. This can be a bad thing, like a new demand or a higher threat level. Or it can be a good thing, like the release of a hostage. However, they are probably bad news. When you get to the last Terror card, the Pivotal Event, you have one last conversation with the Abductor and this event card will make winning the game harder or easier, like 'The abductor may not be eliminated while there is at least one hostage left in the hostage pool'.
So, you go through a couple of rounds, talking to the guy, freeing some hostages and at one point you acquire a card that lets you eliminate the abductor. That's great news if you have removed all the hostages from the hostage pool. Hurray, you win. However, if that's not the case the 2nd in command comes in and takes his place and keeps on killing hostages.
In the end there have to be no hostages left in the hostage pool, at least on half of them have to be saved and the abductor (the original one) has to be captured or eliminated and then you win.
Let me just start with saying that I enjoyed playing Hostage Negotiator. The rules are simple, there's some luck when rolling the dice, but you have a lot in your own hands when the cards are concerned. Not only you decide which card you buy from the market, you also decide when to play it and that's particularly important, because all but the starting cards are one-time use and cost you points to buy them again later. This combination of luck and tactics makes Hostage Negotiator fall into the more relaxing, easygoing, solo games as far as I can judge it. It's not a walk in the park, but it's not terribly hard either. It's right in the middle.
That's also because it's a very quick game. I'm mean, it will take you twenty minutes to play, at most. So, if the dice or cards aren't in your favour during one game, you immediately can try again.
I also really like that all Abductors are different. You can always use the same strategy if you want to, but the different bad guys all require a slightly different way of dealing with them and that's cool.
Keep the cards coming
The most important thing for you, during the game, is that you keep the cards coming. Don't use all cards at once or otherwise you have nothing to do next turn if you roll badly. Every round you have to assess; which cards will give you something extra and which cards can better be used later on. Additionally, you have to make sure there's a fresh inflow of better cards, so getting conversation points and spending them efficiently is pretty important, because you can't take them with you to the next round.
The last thing that's important is managing the threat level. If the level is one or lower you can roll with three dice, increasing the chance that you roll two successes, and you can save hostages every time it goes below zero, S-level. The opposite, the killing of hostages, happens when your threat level goes beyond 7, or K-level. Plus, you may only roll with one die if the threat level is at K-level.
Like I already said, there's die rolling, so there's luck involved. However, if you keep your threat level low, you can roll more dice, so you have a better chance in succeeding.
The theme might be a bit off-putting for some people. It's about deranged or desperate people who use the lives of other human beings as barter. You will see the hostages dying as they move to the killed hostages zone. The theme is implemented well and not everyone will like that, probably.
I, however, did enjoy myself with the game. There are enough important choices you have to make and that makes Hostage Negotiator a nice solo filler.