Aaron Sturgill
United States
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"Your mission is simple. Infiltrate a key Raxxon Global facility, download the encrypted data from at least three of the four terminals, and escape alive so that you can get the data in the hands of A.R.K. We've narrowed it down to you four, but only one of you will be selected for the task. Cobra, your natural stealth and ability to stalk your prey delivering a stunning blow in encounters has made you a very worthwhile candidate. Orangutan, your strength and resistance to pain has made you a veritable tank yet with the quietness of a bug. Any guard that encounters you will be the one to be squashed. Speaking of bugs, Spider, with our technology and your expertise and versatility in its use, you are not one to be tangled with. And Blue Jay, with your expert knowledge in computer skills and hacking, when their data is breached, they won't even see it coming. You each possess the level of skill to successfully sneak inside and complete this mission, but the future of humanity rests upon your ability to succeed. Which one of you is up for the task?"

[b] "Your mission is simple. An alarm has been triggered in entrance N1 of Facility 83X. You were engineered and trained for this. This is literally what you were "born" to do, and there isn't a team better at it than you. The A.I. is prepping your car for dispatch, you will ride to the facility and locate the target and eliminate them without hesitation through any means necessary. We can't afford to let Raxxon's secrets be stolen by those who oppose us. We have worked too hard at achieving worldwide peace and delivering a utopia to our citizens and employees. Your teammates are all superior soldiers of Raxxon's experimental Elite. You have "The Gun", a deadly shot with both sniper rifle and pistol, quick at the trigger and never one to cross paths with. You have "The Prophet", capable of both premonition and post-cognition. He could find a needle in a haystack in a freshly cut field from a mile away. Then there's "The Beast", capable of covering more ground in a single fluid movement than any of us with the ability to sniff out his prey and pounce them with his razor sharp claws. Lastly, you have "The Puppet", an A.I. remotely connected to your vehicle and able to dispatch it and utilize its equipment from anywhere in the facility to box in your target with precision and speed. Lock and load, team. I want this done by dinner."

Specter Ops is a medium weight sci-fi, hidden movement game developed by Plaid Hat Games and Nazca Games. As a video gamer as well, I can't help but associate it with the story and feel of the Metal Gear series (hence the title above). I even went as far as playing the Metal Gear soundtrack and various sound effects during my group's first crack at the game. It enhanced the tension and fun quite well!

Specter Ops pits one player as an agent of the A.R.K. sneaking into a top secret Raxxon facility tasked with capturing three of four randomly placed objectives and escaping alive. This player utilizes an included pad of paper with an exact replica of the board to track their movement and equipment use secretly while a team of 1-4 other players work together to hunt them down and kill them. The players playing the Hunters choose their characters openly and place them on the board while the Agent chooses their character in secret and is never on the board until seen by a Hunter. This allows them to sneak around and take objectives in whatever order they desire while the Hunters seek them out and try to stop them.

Agents are equipped with a number of equipment cards once again kept secret from the team of Hunters. These equipment cards can range from adrenaline surges (allowing them to move up to two extra spaces in a single turn) to flash bangs (allowing them to blind opponents and get by them without being seen) as well as a suite of special equipment cards used only by specific agents such as Blue Jay's Decoy, a hologram that can move a different direction and create a much needed distraction to throw the Hunter's off of her trail, or Orangutan's Power Fists, a powerful ground pounding move that stuns Hunters within a certain radius around him.

Hunters utilize their own special abilities from their character cards as well as the special functions of the vehicle on the board to track down and corner the Agent. A Hunter can see orthogonally (up, down, left, and right) until their view is stopped by an obstruction on the board. At the end of a Hunter's movement, the Agent must say if they can be seen on the board. If they are seen, they must place their figure on the board and flip over the card for their Agent if it was not yet found out and the Hunter can then make an attack to damage the Agent by rolling a regular six sided die and calculating the distance between themselves and their target. A 1 is an automatic miss regardless of special abilities and a 6 allows you to roll the die an additional time and add up the result. If the Hunter meets or exceeds the distance, the Agent takes damage.

If an Agent crosses the path of a Hunter but does not stop directly within their field of vision, the Agent must place a Last Seen token at the last grid spot they could be seen in during their movement giving the Hunters some valuable insight as to where they may have gone. To complete an objective, an Agent must begin their turn in a spot adjacent to the objective flipping (or placing depending on the number of players) the objective token to show the objective was completed as they move away from that location. Adjacent spaces can be both orthogonal or diagonal. Both Hunters and Agents can move adjacently from 1-4 spaces in each turn without the use of special skills or equipment. Only clear spaces on the grid with actual letters and numbers can be moved to. The vehicle the Hunters use has special movement and can be moved up to 10 spaces per round which can be divided up by different Hunters in the vehicle but it can only be moved on one of the map's roadways. Hunters may enter or exit the vehicle on their turn, but it costs their full amount of movement to do so. Any Hunter in a roadway can see the entire two lanes of the roadway until their field of vision meets an obstruction. The vehicle may also be used as a motion tracker allowing a player starting their turn in the vehicle (or utilizing the special ability of "The Puppet") to track the cardinal direction of an agent on the board using the compass on the board. If the agent moved 3 or more spaces, they must announce which direction on the board they are in respects to the location of the car.

The Agent is the first to take their turn followed by all the Hunters who are playing. This constitutes a round. If an Agent does not succeed in capturing three of the four objectives and escaping through one of the board's exits within 40 rounds, they are captured and killed and the Hunters win automatically.

There are a number of special rules that take place within Specter Ops, some of which exist differently depending upon the number of players. For instance, in a 2-3 player game, the Agent player openly rolls for the placement of objectives on the board and puts them on the board for everyone to see. However, in a 4-5 player game, the agent rolls secretly to find where the objectives are, and then he or she marks them on their included notepad while the Hunters only know the general range the objectives may be in. The different amount of players also determine how much health and equipment an Agent starts with. There is even a special variant in play for a 5 player game where the Agent player gets to secretly pick one of the Hunters to be a double Agent and work together with them to throw off the other Hunters. This is actually a pretty neat mechanic which adds a slightly new level of tension to the gameplay. Any interaction between the Agent and the Hunter that is the traitor can be faked. For instance, the Agent can choose to say he isn't in the Hunter's line of sight when he really is, but should another Hunter find out that the Agent was somewhere he should've been seen, they can call that Hunter out. If they are correct, that Hunter must take their figure of the board, grab a movement sheet, immediately move and then select one of the remaining agents to play us. From there forward, they simply serve to throw the other Hunters off of the original Agent's trail as they themselves cannot complete objectives. Once all objectives are complete, both Agents must escape to succeed and win.

Speaking of tension, this game definitely gets some stress going. There are very few games like this that I've played where I felt, in either a Hunter or an Agent role, that my task was absolutely impossible, but this game delivers that tense feeling of despair. You'll swear the game isn't balanced and that, as the Agent, it is impossible to hide and get away from the Hunters, and you'll swear that, as the Hunter, it is impossible to locate and kill this Agent, but both sides quickly find that the game is actually very well designed and balanced and that there is hope and a way to succeed. As an Agent, it is important to utilize careful planning and rationing of equipment. As a Hunter, it is important to utilize teamwork and strategy. This game delivers amazingly in this respect!

Another thing I love about this game is the level of detail in the design of the board and the included figures. There is a figure for every hunter and every agent even though the agents are only on the board on occasion. The board itself has embossed and glossy coordinates that stand out and have a shimmer to them so that they can be seen amidst the board's highly detailed artwork. And speaking of that artwork, the appearance of light and shadow on the board do an awesome job of putting you into the game.

If you've never played a hidden movement game before, Specter Ops does a great job at hitting the middle ground in terms of difficulty meaning that it is a challenging game with a lot more variety than something like Nuns on the Run or even Scotland Yard, but it plays shorter and is easier to understand than Fury of Dracula. My only major negative feedback on this game is that it is ripe for expansions and App support and have yet to receive either although an App has been in the works for sometime, though it is now several months past its expected release date with little info from the developer.

If you want to get the feeling of sneaking around a facility under the watchful eyes of powerful patrolling guards, or if you want to be the guards working together to exterminate the lone agent sneaking around in the shadows, this game is sure to please! Specter Ops receives TWO HOOVES from WYLD Gaming and goes into the MANE Collection as a go-to game in the Hidden Movement genre.
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