Quick Look: Latitude 90: The Origin
Designer: Nick Keith, Alex Zolynsky
Artist: Chandler Candela
Publisher: Ghost Roadhouse
Year Published: 2018
No. of Players: 6-50 (yes, really)
Ages: 5+ (see below)
Playing Time: 5-10 min
WARNING: This is a preview of The Origin. All components and rules are prototype and subject to change.
tl;dr: Social deduction game designed for very high player counts, set in the Antarctic. Slick interface and lots of opportunity for deception.
Getting to the Game: The rules of L90 are standard social deduction fare, with enough deviation to make things way more interesting, in my opinion. Best way to learn L90 absent a tutorial is to budget one game that won't "count." Getting used to the interface, understanding how information is presented, and seeing how the game actually works is incredibly important to be an effective baddie. The developer has talked about a tutorial, which would certainly be welcome, but wasn't able to be tested for this review.
Physical setup was non-existent for my testing version of the game. The host goes to the site on any device, creates a game by specifying available roles, and then a room code is generated. Everyone else puts the room code into their device, and they're admitted into the game. Once the room is full, the host starts it up.
Playing the Game: You're going to be spending a lot of your time either solidfying alliances between people you trust, or finding more and more creative ways to lie. There's really no way to practice this. Experienced players of the genre can tell you that the way to get better at these types of games is to play them. Over and over and over. This presents somewhat of a conundrum, as banging your head against a wall in a game you're not enjoying or doing well in makes for a rough night. I mention this because L90 seems to have some solutions to that problem baked in, which makes for a really neat experience.
Most of your social deduction games, you'll want to keep as much information as you have close to your vest. Here's how these games usually play out: Everyone claims they're a good guy, some bad things happen that are known to everyone, people start drawing conclusions based on who interacted with that person, and then someone gets accused, voted on, and eliminated. L90 flips this a little. Talking and lying is constantly happening. Your job here is to analyze samples taken from your fellow players. Every 30 seconds, each player generates a tissue sample of themselves which they can then send to one other person, who can opt into or out of analyzing it for another 30 seconds. If they choose to analyze, one of two things can happen: If the sample came from a "safe" player, they will be given a piece of true information about the other players. This information should be widely shared, and quickly. It's true only for the time it was received. If the sample came from an infected player, it has some percentage chance based on what role the infected has, to turn you into an infected player.
If the group is able to suss out who might be infected, they have a limited number of "tests" to see if they're right. A majority of safe players have to agree to perform the test, and then the alignment of the tested player is revealed. Find all of the "origin" players, and the researchers win. Fail to source them all, and you're doomed to a cold, infected future.
L90 in practice, then, ends up devolving into a delightful shouting match where infected players are pretending they're also getting information to share, and trying to figure out how they can lie most effectively. The clock is running the entire time, so anyone trying to stall even a little bit, should be considered extremely suspicious. Our games of 6 people curved very nicely from the first, where our Origin said not one word the entire game, to full-on accusation fests where well-crafted lies eventually won out. What sets L90 apart from other games of its kind, for me, is this constant flow of information. It's entirely possible for someone to shout out that two players are on the same team, but no one really knows if they're on the good team or the bad one. Additionally, any information you get from the game is guaranteed to be true only for the exact moment you got it. Allegiances shift with every analysis, so you have to keep every action taken in mind, and doing so with a group of 6 isn't bad... but when you're playing with a dozen? Or two? Things get out of control in a hurry, in the best possible way. For my dollar, a game like this where the objective and gameplay is simple earns it a spot well above other huge-count games, like Two Rooms and a Boom, for example.
Now to a warning: In its current iteration, the interface has a few bugs. More than once during our games, a player has not had the current tally of infected/researchers update correctly. Some of us were seeing a 3/3 split, and they were only seeing 2/4. Additionally, it's possible that this is how it's supposed to work, but I can't find anything to back it up: the "Send Sample" button at the beginning of a game doesn't have all the players as options. It only has one, seemingly random, player as an option. No doubt these bugs get hammered out before the full launch, but they were pretty frustrating to deal with as we were playing.
A quick note about the age recommendation on this game. The dev hasn't provided one, and BGG's community recommendation is 5+. While technically possible to be played with 5-year-olds, the subtleties of the lying required by the game are above that age, and frankly, teaching a 5-year-old to lie seems like a recipe for disaster. I'd place this more in the 12+ range myself. Your mileage may vary.
Artwork and Components: Chandler Candela delivers on some really nice thematic work here. The player art is nice, and the interface is very slick. Everything has a nice science-feel, and while immersion probably isn't a huge goal, it feels like this could easily be an interface government scientists would be forced to use in the middle of nowhere.
No components were included for review, but individual player cards to track suspicion and tokens may be a part of retail, as well as other components.
The Good: Fast, fully interactive social deduction action. Great opportunities for infected to hide in plain sight with elaborate lies. Intuitive, clean interface that lives on the web, rather than a standalone app. Digital deployment means lots of opportunities in the future for new game modes.
The Bad: Games with higher player counts may be very hard to coordinate amongst the players. Takes a game or two to figure out what you're doing. A tutorial would be great, rules don't fully explain all the roles and what they mean. Website has been down a few times throughout my testing.
Score: The Origin feels great to play, and will force your group into some pretty heated moments. The information passed around the table is done so fast and in such a staccato fashion, that it's hard not to play with a grin on your face the entire time. If the idea of social deduction games hasn't completely burned you out yet, this one is definitely worth a look. I'm giving L90: The Origin a score of Infectious.
See more from Nicholas and EBG at http://www.everythingboardgames.com/p/reviews.html