It’s 11 AM when the call comes in. The details are scarce at best, but they paint a terrifying picture. A desperate individual has taken control of a building and sealed off all the exits. Worse still, a number of innocent people have been caught up in the situation. The local officers have formed a perimeter, but have had no luck establishing communication with the building. It’s become clear that this situation requires the delicate touch of a professional. That’s why they’ve called for you…The Hostage Negotiator.
I have not always been a fan of solo games. It’s the social interaction that really attracts me to the hobby, otherwise why not play a video game or watch a movie? When you add in the fact that most ‘solo’ games are really multi-player games with solo variants you have a recipe for an underwhelming experience. There have certainly been exceptions to that rule of course and I’m not against solo gaming, it’s just not the gaming experience I personally prefer.
All that being said, I must confess to really enjoying Hostage Negotiator. For one thing it is one of those rare games intended to be played solo. It’s a tense balance where you always feel like you’re one mistake away from disaster. The goal of the game is to save at least half of the hostages caught. I mean c’mon, you’re not going to save them all, right? You can also win if the Abductor has been caught or eliminated. You lose if more than half of the hostages are killed, the Abductor escapes or if you’re unable to draw a card during the Terror phase.
All of this tense negotiation is going to play out over a series of rounds. Each round you’ll attempt to talk to the Abductor and reason with them to let some of the hostages go. It’ll depend on your gift of the gab how successful you are. This is known as the Conversation phase.
You start off the game with a set of zero cost cards with names like “Small Talk” and “Keep Cool.” You can play as many as you like during a round and roll dice to see their affect on the situation inside. Successful rolls can earn you Conversation points (the currency in the game), a reduction in the threat level (the Abductor calms down and starts to see things more reasonably), or can allow you to reveal the Abductor’s demands(critical for victory). If you fail in your attempts to engage the Abductor there can be some dire consequences. They may hang up the phone (immediately ending the round), their threat level might increase (possibly causing you to roll fewer dice), they might even be driven to kill a hostage. Cards can be played facedown to gain conversation points or in certain situations to turn failed rolls into successes.
Once you decide or are forced to end a Conversation you enter the Spend phase. Any cards you played go to a discard pile and can’t be used during the following turn. Any cards you held on to form the start of your hand for the next round. Now you can do a little hand building. There are a wide range of tactics available to the skilled negotiator and if you have the conversation points you can take those cards into your hand. Cards like “You need to trust me” and “Just a few more minutes” will be helpful in getting some of those people out of the building, but if you can afford “I’m coming in to talk,” “Major extraction,” or “Sniper take the shot,” you may be pretty close to ending the standoff. Those cards could allow for a lot of the hostages to get out or even the Abductor to be eliminated.
Any cards you purchase during the Spend phase go into your hand. Any left over conversation points are lost. Finally the cards you played on the previous Conversation get returned to the card pool making them available for purchase during the next Spend phase… then it’s time for a little Terror!
The Terror phase marks the end of the round. You flip the top card of the randomly built Terror deck and resolve it’s instructions. Usually it’s something bad like a dead hostage or an increased threat level, on some rare occasions something good will happen.
Assuming none of the win or lose conditions are met at the end of the Terror phase, you dial up the Abductor and take another crack at talking that psycho out of the building.
I’m not going to lie to you. Hostage Negotiator is tough, but that’s kinda what you want from a good solo game. It’s sort of luck a cooperative game you play by yourself. Adding to the fun are the number of different Abductors you may face off against and their different quirky personalities. There are even different Abductor pack expansions you can pick up to face new challenges and different situations.
The tag line for Hostage Negotiator is The Fate of the innocent is in your hands and you really feel that. With each murdered victim you feel as if you’ve let someone down. Designer AJ Porfirio and Van Ryder games have done a wonderful job creating a game that can be enjoyed by even the most skeptical solo players. It’s not really surprising from the company that brought Saloon Tycoon and Detective, a game I can’t talk too much about yet. However I can say it’s designed by Evan Derrick (of Dark Moon fame) and will definitely be a hit with the noir deduction crowd. It’s nice to see a small publisher coming up with games that work outside of a narrow box.
Hostage Negotiator is a pretty fresh and fun experience and should be given a shot by anyone who has ever found themselves flying solo and looking to game.