Drinking and disaster aboard Red November


  • Nate Warren
There’s a whole category of game I haven’t bothered to cover yet in any of my previous posts: the cooperative game. If the tension of squaring off against and victimizing other players generates feelings of extreme discomfort — or you just want a twist on the usual board game experience — cooperative games let everybody at the table focus on a common enemy: The merciless mechanics of the game itself.

We broke out Red November, a co-op set aboard a distressed submarine, and found, like all good cooperative games, it starts light before becoming hilariously difficult by mid-game — quickly generating the feeling that you all have your backs to each other, the bullets are nearly gone, the torch is almost snuffed and the beasts are closing in.

The beasts in this case are the multitudes of things going wrong aboard the Red November, a craft filled with gnomish submariners that you control. Your collective job is to stay alive and keep the craft from imploding long enough to reach the rescue square at the end of the game’s timekeeping track. Let me tell you what lies between you and that square: engine room fires, hull leaks, kraken attacks, jammed hatches and missile room malfunctions.

You must collaborate and rush your fellow crewmembers from compartment to compartment in an attempt to deal with the mounting, overlapping crises. This hinges on a pretty ingenious mechanism. You spend minutes (spaces marked on the timekeeping track) during your turn to move from place to place, and wager even more minutes on die rolls to fix various problems.

Want to boost your odds? That pushes your time marker further down a track littered with red stars. Every red star you pass means you draw more event cards, most of them bad. While you’re tending to a flooded compartment, fires spread into other rooms, oxygen levels drop and engine rooms start to redline. By midgame, you’ll be making some very tough decisions together.

There are other neat touches worth mentioning: You can raid the captain’s secret grog stash in the forward compartment. Draining a bottle of grog enables your gnomes to get their courage up and do stupid things like rush into flaming rooms to extinguish fires. But too many bottles of grog and your gnomes will be at risk of passing out and losing valuable turns while you sleep off your drunk.

Then there’s the option to betray your buddies at clutch time. If you have an aqualung (one of the game’s many items your gnomes can find around the sub), are near an external hatch and have decided that the pooch is screwed, you can bail on the other players and swim to the surface. If they survive, you lose. If the sub implodes, you win – and earn a forest of middle fingers from the gnomes who stuck it out. A wicked little twist, to be sure.

We ended up sticking together — and drowning together as compartment after compartment flooded. Pretty grim, but it was a hell of ride up until then. Like I said, cooperative games are designed to be brutal and galvanize you in the face of near-impossible challenges. This was our experience. We cheered and groaned together as our gnomes defused crisis situations or stumbled at key junctures.

Because this was our first play, we screwed up on some of the key rules. This is to be expected with any initial effort, especially one in which the rulebook has a lot of conditional information. But once we got the basic flow of the game, we were quite under its spell. You’ll want to inspect this disaster-prone vehicle and share its hellish ride with a few of your crew.

Nate Warren is a Colorado Springs-based copywriter who offers both the veteran gamer and the uninitiated a local window into the burgeoning and wildly creative world of hobby and designer board games enjoyed by fanatics and connoisseurs — around the corner and and across the globe.

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