After sampling Pandemic, there remained a nagging question: are there any other cooperative board games and do they have the same quality? One of the titles that got mentioned was Red November, a board game in which the players are gnomes that need to survive for 60 minutes on an experimental submarine where everything goes awry. The theme sounded perfect, the coop element was there, what could possibly go wrong?
Once you get the badly-written rules, it obtains a pleasure-spike quite quickly. The way the time track keeps events and players neatly adhering to the progress of the game’s 60 minutes, is very clever and actually gives a sense of destiny and control. Sadly it’s just about the only thing that gives you that sense. Every time a player passes a red star on the time track and event takes place, which usually spells disaster in one way or another. Chambers may flood, fires can break out, the pressure rises or other bad stuff happens
Now the players can act against these random events by moving about and fixing stuff, spending more time and triggering more events. This keeps everybody in a perpetual loop of fixing problems and generating them anew. The major problem with the game is fire. To ‘fix’ a fire you’ll need either grog or a fire-extinguisher. Grog is available in an additional fixed amount, but normally you can only get those items through sheer luck: either by drawing items from the stock room, or by passing item stars on the time track.
So while all the events and items are random but can be fixed regardless, fire is the only event that requires items. It doesn’t take long to discover that any and all fires quickly wreck the game. A few fires can be handled, but go over four of them and you can just as well give up if you don’t have grog or a fire extinguisher. Even when you take the randomness of the items in account and try to prepare for it, the fire manages to gain the upper hand.
Result: five games of four players later and we have yet to win the game. And each and every time it’s fire that kills off any attempt to survive or impedes any attempt to survive. The entire game seems to become one of chance, as fixing any problem still requires a die roll or extra time to assure success.
So even if you have enough items to fight fire (or other events), you still need luck to win or risk even more events. This all makes you feel as if the game plays you, instead of the other way around. And any sense of control is removed as yet another fire breaks out. Careful planning starts to fail and it becomes, well… frustrating.
What could possibly go wrong? Apparently just about everything… Red November is a very nice idea but in the end it’s only fun to watch the way in which the gnomes go down with the ship this time around. You might as well play the Game of the Goose; Pandemic this is not.