I’m here to clue you in on the fun of Renegade Games’ recent release Covert. I had thought about cleverly presenting this review in coded format, but let’s be serious – I’m not really good at this whole spy thing, except if I can be rolling some dice to do it. Just as well I got my hands on Covert, from Fuse designer Kane Klenko!
In Covert, every player will take on the role of spies acting covertly to accomplish missions. To do so, you’ll be moving around a map, breaking codes and collecting intel and equipment – and all of this is achieved by the rolling and placement of dice. Once you’ve strategically gathered what you need and have your agent where you need them, use actions to finish up missions and the first to 6 completed missions will trigger game end. If you have the most points from your missions, you’re the best spy who ever spied!
Now, there are a lot of cool dice placement / dice as actions games out there, and many of them are among my favourites – Alien Frontiers, Castles of Burgundy, La Granja and Grand Austria Hotel come to mind as using dice in these forms. In Covert, dice are placed on action circles or the code breaker puzzle; the former is a tricky play, as you must place dice adjacent to those already placed. This could leave you out in the cold if you haven’t got the right numbers! There is a little wiggle room with the dice rolling thanks to special abilities (allowing you to modify results, place extra dice, etc.) which means you can use your wily spy ways to get the job done.
The code breaking part of each round is almost like little mini game separate to the action circles. Each player has a number of code cards that that, once decoded through this puzzle, are converted into useful bits of equipment to help achieve missions. You’re looking for patterns of numbers in the random mix – you’re able to switch around a little, and use dice you’ve placed there to stand in as part of combinations. While not particularly tricky, it can be tough to follow other players to do these actions as they can really mess up the order of things for you! Turn order can really matter here – so if you’re keen on making sure you’re first in to break codes you’ll want to try and get in early for turn order (i.e. having played out your dice to action spots before other players).
So with all of the actions – movement around the map, collecting new agency cards, taking missions, or finishing missions – and options for code breaking and taking special abilities, there’s a lot going on here! You may think, where’s the deduction, the bluffing – the SPYING? Honestly, it’s kinda nice not to have that going on for once in a game about hiding what you’re up to, secretly aiming to win. Instead, Covert is this sort of slow burn – players start off tentatively gathering equipment, sending agents out into cities far and wide, and as they start completing missions (which then provide resources for further missions) things really ramp up. You’ll be trying to keep an eye on where your competitors are moving around the board, the types of cards they’re taking, and perhaps even moving around the map to pick up ‘intel’ left behind by agents travelling. Best of all, each player starts with a character that will give them a special ability to use throughout the game, which can offer some fun asymmetry where there’s not much in the game. (I was lucky enough to snag one of the promo characters at Gen Con – which is in fact a small polaroid of my face in a card! Coolest promo or coolest promo?)
For a little while, I was trying hard to make sure I remembered which symbols and colours referred to certain cities and agency cards, but that’s the only thing that took me out of the flow of the game – iconography and design (Luis Francisco) overall is clear, understandable, and the game looks great. It’s got a sort of pulpy spy novel feel to the art (Hokunin) – and the rulebook even looks like a file book! (Don’t get me started on how, when I put this game on the shelf I did a double-take as I noticed the sneaky white printing of the game title on one side, appearing blank!) As the rounds progressed, I was enjoying the balance of getting all of my ducks (agents, equipment and the like) in a row to spy the heck out of those missions. At first blush, the code breaking puzzle seemed tacked on, but then once you’re amassing the equipment from having broken codes, it frees you up to use Agency Cards for their other-than-equipment value (special abilities, travel to cities). Juggling these aspects was the fun strategy that came out of a game that is otherwise simple to play, with straightforward process and actions.
Covert, while being easy to pick up and learn/play, will be one that rewards repeat plays – honing your spy skills to build up your resources and efficiently place dice to beat your enemies to the punch. Be the best spy you can be! Covert, from Renegade Games, plays 2 – 4 players and takes approximately 45 – 90 minutes. Make sure to check it out!