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Blackout: Hong Kong» Forums » Reviews

Subject: Blackout: Hong Kong impressions after first play rss

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Michal Czerwinski
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Blackout: HK is the new large game from Alexander Pfister (Mombasa, Great Western Trail). It debuted this Essen, and I picked it up blindly because of my love for his other games. Here are our first impressions after learning the game and playing it once (4 players).

Game description


Hong Kong is hit with a days-long blackout, leaving the city in shambles. You play as organisations trying to restore power and order in the city. This is achieved by cooperating with volunteers and so-called specialists, completing emergency plans, tasks and building rescue networks.

As in many of Pfister's creations, there are multiple mechanisms intertwined to form a coherent and in this case, thematic game. First, we have the card play and hand management known from Mombasa. At the start of every turn, you play a line up of aforementioned volunteers and specialists to earn resources, money, to spread your network around different locations and to secure other bonuses. The second mechanism comes in play around the same time: you roll dice determining the produced goods of all volunteers for this round. For example: the yellow die can only roll food, water, gasoline, and books. The roll is determined before the deployment fase, so if the yellow dice lands on water, and you are in need of water, it may be the time to send out your yellow volunteers. With the use of transportation tokens (or by paying victory points) you can manipulate the produced goods on the rondel.

Afterwards, you complete objectives to gain more team members, expand your network around the city to later secure districts and secure so-called "check-mark actions", which can be permanent upgrades or bonuses you gain when you refresh your hand at the end of the round. The objectives are completed by delivering supplies or cash and matching character colors in your deployment rows (adding another layer of planning).

Scouting might be my favorite mechanism, where you send out your team to search the districts to gain a variety of bonuses at a cost; one member of your team will be injured (at random) and sent to the hospital, rendering them unable to be deployed, and also not scoring points at the end of the game. Do not fear though, one of your specialists is a doctor who can heal people in the hospital, letting you score points in yet another way (nota bene; there is also some endgame set collection mixed in with scouting)!

Then we have a objective card market, area majority scoring (unlocking even more check-mark actions), upgrades that can be done to your player board, a card pick-up mechanism, and oh boy, it is a lot. of. stuff. Is it too much? No, not more than let's say, GWT. Can it be overwhelming to newer players? For sure.

Impressions


Pfister has not lost his magic touch yet! I love this game right away. There is a lot to keep track of and many ways to score points, but it all works beautifully together. There is not a ton of player interaction, but scouting, the central board and objective card market keep everyone involved at all times. Because of all the different things to do, the starting player keeps track of the game phases on his tableau for everyone and keeps the game running. After a couple of rounds we did the first half of the round simultaneously (planning+deployment and objectives), to later go turn-by-turn in the second half and this kept the game moving at a good pace.

The black and orange accomodate a very cool and unique table presence. The iconography is clear and easy to grasp and the player boards + main board contain almost all relevant information. I had to check the rulebook 3 times in the first play, to clear out a minor rule and look up 2 specialist cards.

As you already figured, this is a point-salady-many-mechanism-euro-game. But it is one with theme! To start, I adore the setting in modern times Hong Kong. But furthermore, the injury and hospital/doctor mechanism is great thematically, there are little bits of flavor text on some cards, and most of the objectives and specialist actions even make thematic sense. Help the doctor with water and medicine, and you will unlock an action to convert books to double the amount of medicine. Also, if you 'secure' a district, you will score VP's, but if other players also have expanded around that district, they will score with you; this gave me the feeling of 'we are your true saviors, but these people also contributed a bit to help'. Lastly, there is a campaign mode where you play through an entire week of blackout (in a couple of sessions) which sounds very nice, but I haven't checked this out yet.

We also had some gripes with the game, as nothing is perfect. The component quality is solid, I would put it on par with Concordia, but I wish it was a tad better (maybe some translucent cubes and plastic tokens instead of the cardboard GPS and transport). Also, one of the player colours, gray, really blends in with the black board and the white player tokens; I wish this was a more popping colour alike the orange and green which are included. And as I said, there is a ton of stuff to plan to, but also a ton of stuff to keep up, making it just a little bit fiddly. This feeling might improve after multiple plays. Lastly, the rulebook doesn't start with a short description of the game. I had no idea how the hell you win this game or how it flows; it only clicked after reading the entire rulebook and playing a round.



Extra stats


Plays 1-4 (yes, Pfister with solo mode!)

Playtime, with 4 players and learning: 2-2.5 hours, so I think it's around 30 minutes per player

Weight: medium to medium-heavy (for me, right the same weight as GWT and Mombasa)

Price: 45 euro's



Verdict

Pros:

- awesome mechanisms and gameplay ('greatest hits complilation')

- multiple ways to victory and plenty depth

- good pace, the 'phase tracker' is a very welcome addition

- clear iconography

- interesting theme and table presence, art direction fits the game

Cons:

- 'only solid' component quality

- some bookkeeping/fiddliness

- rulebook is clear, but does not describe the game flow or a general direction



For now, on par with Great Western Trail, a bit above Mombasa




Pic: https://imgur.com/a/f8d9dwO



Edit: all mechanics have lost their jobs and been replaced by mechanisms

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Ken Sinn
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In your opinion, how do you think it will play with 2 players? Will the map be too open?
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davide pessach
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I will add my two bits as I have been playing it solo in my Essen room for the last couple of days. Sufficient to say that I have 3 other unopened games and this one is keeping my undivided attention. It’s great to try and achieve the most with limited resources and it is simple enough to avoid being labelled a heavy euro.
The only let down is the production values which I deem only sufficient...with a city like HK in the theme this could have been so much better...so so much...
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Randolph Bookman
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Question from those who have played. I love Mombasa (still his top in my opinion) Is this too similar or is there enough of a difference that you would keep/play both? I have so many games I'm starting to be very selective about games and was worried this was going to be too similar to Mombasa.
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Adrian Todea
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I have played Mombasa, but not Blackout (read the rules and followed a few videos and have a thorough understanding of the game). So take my opinion with the applicable amount of salt

I'd say this is slightly lighter than Mombasa and it will feel a bit similar to it due to the way cards are played and retrieved back into your hand.

But that would be about it, I think they will ultimately play differently. I see Blackout a bit more engine building than Mombasa, I think there can be some clever combos in Blackout.
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Jonas Vanschooren
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2 player first impression
We played it twice today.
First was a demo in Essen, we got a very quick rules explanation (the booth was pretty understaffed today). My gf and me played with 2 other people.
We kinda rushed a bit trough a few turns (played an hour with our group, then one had to go and another person joined in, we tried a few more turns will I explained a bit how it worked). Once we kinda got the flow of it we decided to call it quits and just get the game and go home (we're lucky we only live like a 2 hour drive from Essen).

After unloading the bags, cleaning up and getting a pizza to eat.
I sat down, unpunched and setup the game. Quick reading through the rules I noticed we did make plenty of mistakes in our demo.
Quick explanation to my gf and we began our first 2 player game.

Not to much stuff gets tighter, just the number of cards in the market deck gets reduced, and that dictates the game end.

But it didn't really matter we found, yes there is less chance you want to go for the same sector, you don't pigyback score as much on that part as well.
But that just made us think about the map in a different way. In the multiplayer I found I wanted to get some piggy back scores, get some sectors secured, now we more tried to protect our corners, it worked equally good. It was just as thinky just different.
Love the market with 2, with 4 it changed so fast you just could think one card ahead, now we really could work the market, pass more tactical, we really liked this.

For us it's a perfect game for us as couple. It had enough interaction but not to much to be considered really be at each others throat. Which is perfect for us.
Rules are clear, just reading the rulebook with the components out would have been enough.
We really couldn't figure out the game when we where seeing the people in Essen finish up their game (we waited a bit over half and hour I think to get a table to try it), but just setting up, and reading through the steps and how everything worked and it clicks very fast.
Everything made thematic sense I found, you have to tell the stories, but they are there. A quick story on occasion about one of my guys doing some heroic stuff freeing people from a broken elevator or freeing a politician trapped under his desk, was very fun and brings up the theme.

I'm very impressed by this, we got a bunch of new games, even some we haven't played yet, not even in demo form, yet Blackout is still set up on the table and we gone play again tomorrow. It's just that good.
But first a good nights sleep in my own bed, to rest up from 4 long days in Essen.
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Michal Czerwinski
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I have played both. It is definitely not lighter than Mombasa in my opinion!
Also the 2 player game is brilliant I found, as described here above
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Darrell Goodridge
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Sounds like an instabuy for me! Thanks for the insight.
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Shoosh shoo
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Damn... I would really like to get a copy of this. Pfister is an amazing designer and ive really enjoyed his previous games to date. I hope its going to be released in canada soon.
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Chris Smith
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How significant are the area control elements? It's my least favourite mechanism but I'm so, so tempted to get this anyway ^^.
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Sigrid De Braekeleer
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I'm a huge fan of Mr. Pfister too and was glad to get a chance to play this game at the Pegasus Booth.

The game has lent some mechanisms from Mombasa (stacking cards in multiple rows, triggering actions from them) but it is a lot more accessible in my opinion. I am struggling to get Mombasa to the table as much as I would like to. Also, Mombasa shines with 3+ imho, Blackout is perfect with 2 as well.

Blackout goes straight into our collection and I am sure it will get plenty of plays.

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Sigrid De Braekeleer
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Smoothsmith wrote:
How significant are the area control elements? It's my least favourite mechanism but I'm so, so tempted to get this anyway ^^.
I am not a huge fan of area control myself, but I really did enjoy this aspect of the game. Adding extra cubes to an area gives you an advantage as you will be able to piggyback should your opponent(s) score that area. You cannot be pushed out or blocked in any way. I'd rather call it network building in this game iso area control to be honest.
 
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Jeroen van der Valk
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Thanks for the review. I bought it at Spiel as well, but have only read the rules so far. Playing solo sometime this week.

It struck me too, just from the rules readthrough, that though it seems quite a thematic game, there is none of that to be found in the rules themselves. I was hoping that playing the game brings that out much more, and that seems to be the case, so that's good.
 
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Andreas Lange
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Thanks for this great review. Got this game at Essen as well and played it with three persons tonight. Very smooth, thematic gameplay, nice atmosphere. We loved the exploring and hospital part. Definitely worth a try with 2 Persons, should work out as fine as with 3. Looking forward to play this again.
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Michael Weber
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Thanks for the review. I enjoyed reading it.

On one aspect I totally disagree though - and that is

THEME?

To me this is one of the most themeless games I have ever played (apart from abstract games of course). Yes, the theme is blackout - which is awesome as I would love to see a good game on this theme, but the tagged on theme of this game does not get through at all. The mechanisms do not flow with the theme.

You mention the injuries as a great example for theme integration. TO me this is not the case:
* Whenever you send someone on a scouting mission ONE random person AUTOMATICALLY gets hurt - how does this integrate into the theme??? What do they even do on these explore mission? They find resource in the districts, yet they are the ones the should BRING the resources to the districts, not extract them from there!

TO give you another example
* What is the "control" of a district supposed to mean??? Is this district supposed to have power again???
* What is the objective market supposed to mean??


Don't get me wrong, I like the game and I mostly agree with your review, but claiming the theme game as a PRO, is WAY out for me personally.
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Michael Weber
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Smoothsmith wrote:
How significant are the area control elements? It's my least favourite mechanism but I'm so, so tempted to get this anyway ^^.

If that is what's hindering you, then go and get it! In my definition there is no area control in this game. All areas in the game can be taken by all players in the game, there is no competition and no judging of majorities/dominance about the areas.
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benjamin CLOVIS
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completely agree with Mixo. This is the most themeless game I think I have ever played. I think it is a great game, and I highly recommend it, but I was so excited to play a medium euro that was not going to be the usual medieval map, stone, wood, and food with Klemens Franz illustrations that I am sad to say it probably would have made more sense if we had played as competing guilds building a castle than this completely illogical pasted on theme. i don't need much to get into a boardgame's theme but here there was NOTHING. You can't even have fun saying "i'm going to save the financial district" or "water front is what I'm all about" since the map is faceless. There is nothing to cling on to as a theme. It's just red,blue, yellow resources and an abstract map to solve.
Once again, I highly recommend this game, but for those who like theme, you will be very disspointed.

Also agree with mixo that this isn't really an area control game in the classic sense.
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John Herbst
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Anyone willing to check country of origin on the back of the box? Curious as to where it's being made. Thanks!
 
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Jeroen van der Valk
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Made in Germany
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Jeroen van der Valk
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Well, for me the link between mechanisms and theme is pretty clear, just from reading the rules. Scouting is going into darkened places to get resources to fulfill objectives, which are named, and going into darkened places leads to injuries.

Getting volunteer objectives is adding volunteers to your team, once you provide them with resources, which grows your team. Placing cubes and houses is securing districts.

I'm curious, to those who don't feel the theme, how they view games like say Gentes or Terra Mystica?
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John Herbst
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hieronymus71 wrote:

Made in Germany

Danke!
 
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marne
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hieronymus71 wrote:

Well, for me the link between mechanisms and theme is pretty clear, just from reading the rules.

What is the theme of this? I've read a bunch of the rules and really don't know. I know the power went out - but what's the thematic answer to what I'm trying to do? Maybe the digital rulebook is missing a page early on, it seems strange not to be clearly stated upfront.

Like, The Castles of Burgundy it's: "Each player takes on the role of an aristocrat, originally controlling a small princedom. While playing they aim to build settlements and powerful castles, practice trade along the river, exploit silver mines, and use the knowledge of travelers."
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Jeroen van der Valk
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No I agree, and have mentioned elsewhere, that they could have added some flavor text or introductory text in places in the rulebook. But taking the basic premise of being a team of volunteers trying to keep the city from falling into chaos, for me the mechanisms for the most part made sense.
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Jeroen van der Valk
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Just played my first solo game. The theme is not superstrong, but it's there. A misconception may be that you are not trying to get the power back on, you are trying to keep the city from falling into complete chaos.

So each location on the board with a cube is a secured checkpoint or other important landmark. A secured district is when all adjacent locations are secured. That means thematically that there are enough people, resources, etcetera to keep everyone safe and fed in that district.

I conflated Scouting and Securing in a post earlier. Scouting is going into an unsecured area (Scout tiles are removed when a district is secured) to find stuff, based on "GPS" information. This is dangerous, so someone in your team gets hurt.

Overall, both mechanically and for points, the gist of the game is to build a team of volunteers who can help gather resources and/or convert resources into other things. Then, your team helps around the city (plan objectives), and whichever player's team is best at that (expressed in points), wins the game.
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Alexander Pfister
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It's like Jeroen wrote: You face a blackout. First you do nothing, but as you see that electricity does not come back and chaos spreads, you team up with other volunteers and try to help the city. The group, who best helps during the blackout, wins.

This is the text of the rule book:
"Shortly after midnight on that
faithful day in Autumn 2020,
the lights in Hong Kong went
out.

As the next morning dawned and
people tried to begin their days
only to find nothing working,
chaos descended on Hong Kong...

Initially, only a few supervisors and
security officers at the power stations
around Hong Kong worried. They didn’t
have a clue what had happened to
their power plants, everything seemed
normal, but they could not restart the
generators."

I see what you mean. A 4th paragraph like
"You team up with other volunteers and try to restore the order. The group, who best helps during the blackout, wins."
or "Each player takes on the role of a leader of a group of people trying to help Hong Kong during these dark moments."

Thanks for the feedback.
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