Filling up the Corners – Specter Ops

Good Evening! I’m a big fan of deduction games, especially those focused around hidden movement. When I first got into the hobby I discovered a game which featured hidden movement that, combined with a very interesting theme, stood out to me in a strong way. Board games are all about the visuals and being tangible (outside of the social environments they create). Knowing there were games out there that took away part of the visual nature to further enhance the gameplay completely blew me away. Now, nearly two years later I still love those styles of games and Specter Ops, designed by Emerson Matsuuchi and published by Plaid Hat Games, hits all the right notes and is a fun and excellent hidden movement game.

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Overview

FUTC_SpecterOps_AgentSheetAt its core Specter Ops is a game of hide and seek. It does this through a mechanic known as hidden movement. For those unfamiliar a hidden movement game often has players tracking an opponent’s movement (typically it’s a one versus many scenario) before that player’s goal is met or before time runs out. The “hidden” player tracks their moves on a sheet of paper while the other players usually move their pieces around on the board attempting to track them down, box them in, etc.

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In Specter Ops players take on the role of Hunters or Agent(s) in an effort to fulfill their goals. For the Hunters the goal is to track down the Agent Player and kill them before they complete their objectives and flee the scene. Alternatively they can keep the Agent player at bay and prevent he or she from fleeing before the fortieth turn. For the Agent Player the mission is to complete a number of objectives and flee the compound before the fortieth turn. The Agent player, and their movement, will be for the most part unknown to the Hunter Players with only little bits being revealed here and there. Both sides play a game of cat and mouse until one is crowned the victor.

Gameplay

pic2486489_lgBefore the game begins players choose sides. One player will become the Agent and the rest of the players will be Hunters. There are four different Agent characters from which the Agent Player can choose. Each character comes with their own special abilities and equipment (more on equipment later) and so this choice is, for the time being, made in secret. The Hunter players however, will begin to openly choose which characters they will play. Like the Agent Player, the Hunter Players will have access to characters with unique abilities (though the Hunter Players get no special equipment). The Agent Characters typically have abilities that assist with stealth or stunning Hunter Players while Hunter Characters have abilities that help track Agent Player movement. Pretty straightforward. An added perk for Agents are equipment cards and at the beginning of the game the Agent Player may select a number of equipment cards depending on the player count. The only real restriction in choosing equipment is that players may not take items specific to an Agent they did not choose. Any equipment specific to their character and those that are character neutral are fair game.

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Depending on the number of players the Hunters and Agent will begin on different areas of the board. The board represents the compound the Agent Player is attempting to infiltrate and each space is labeled with a letter and number (i.e. E5, F2, H10, etc). Before the game can begin the Agent player will find out where their objectives are. Objectives are spots on the board that the Agent player must reach and they must reach a certain number of these (typically 3) before they can escape. The location of these objectives are semi random in that they are in five general areas but their specific location is determined by dice rolls. In certain player counts the locations are known to all players. In larger player counts the locations are only known to the Agent until they capture them.

pic2837795_mdOnce everyone is placed on the board and objectives have been determined the game then begins. Starting with the Agent, players take their turns. The Agent Player moves and may use one of their equipment cards. To move the Agent moves 1-4 spaces (diagonally or orthogonally). If the Agent Player ends their space in line of sight of a Hunter (you can draw a straight line orthogonally from Hunter to Agent without crossing obstructions) then they reveal themselves and place their character token on the board, indicating not only where they are but what character they selected. However, if the Agent only moved through line of sight instead of ending in it then they simply place a generic token on the spot they would have last been seen. This is referred to as a Last Seen token. If an Agent wishes to use an equipment card then they do so according to the card text. Some cards, for instance, are pretty simple and require the Agent Player to place the card face up for everyone to see, indicating its use. Others require the player to rotate the card (facedown) 90 degrees or to just say “I’ve used an equipment card.” Either way once the Agent Player has moved and chosen to use equipment or not the turn passes to the Hunters.

pic2552035_mdThe Hunters behave very similarly to the Agent except instead of using equipment they can attack. The Hunters also start in a car, however, and must spend a turn of movement to get in and out of it. Simply put the car can move 10 spaces to the standard 4, and can be used to great effect in getting players farther than normally expected. Otherwise the Hunters behave the same and move about the board, 1-4 spaces, and hope to catch sight of the Agent. If a Hunter ends its movement and is in line of sight of the Agent then the Agent is revealed. If a Hunter is in line of sight of a revealed Agent then they may choose to attack. Like many of the mechanics in this game, attacking is pretty simple. The Hunter counts the number of spaces between them and the Agent (counting the Agent’s space too) and rolls a die. If the result meets or exceeds the number of spaces then the Hunter has landed a hit and the Agent marks a wound. After four wounds (typically) the Agent is defeated and the Hunters win.

Play continues like this, back and forth, until the Agent is dead or the Hunters have failed to prevent the Agent from escaping. Throughout the game Hunters will be using their abilities to narrow down the Agent Player’s location while the Agent Player will be using their abilities, equipment cards, and other tomfoolerly to evade their pursuers, grab their objectives, and win the game.

I could get into more detail but it’s best for you to give it a play yourself or to perhaps read the rules or watch a video. I will post those links below!

Components

pic2677976_mdIf you’ve played any of Plaid Hat Games other titles then you know what to expect here. Though I wouldn’t go running down the street praising the components of this game, I would be ignorant to say there is a level of quality that Plaid Hat produces that you don’t see everywhere. In simple words, they are very much above average. The miniatures, though they may be a little droopy from copy to copy, are standard and have just the right amount of detail. I particularly like that the Agent miniatures are just as nice as those of the Hunters given that the Agent piece isn’t often seen. It could have just as easily been a token and it adds a nice touch to the game. The cards are a bit on the thin side but if you are like most board gamers you’ll sleeve these up and be fine.

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Now the board is something else entirely. Where the game in general is above average in quality components I would say the board specifically is excellent! It’s sturdy and well produced and the colors on the board just pop. The artwork on the board, for it being a representation of a factory/generic compound, is quite impressive and the changes in lighting and color throughout help differentiate these “districts.” The lettering on the board also stands out and is easy to see for all of the players. One downside to the board, which is only a downside based on personal preference, is that it is glossy. For starters, if you don’t like glossy in general then the board won’t appeal to you as strongly as it did for me. The glossy board may also create a glare depending on where you are sitting. I will say though that I played this on a dining room table with a lamp directly above and no one in my five player game made any comment.

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Lastly the artwork is fantastic, as it is in all Plaid Hat Games. The art does take a back seat since most of the game is about deduction as opposed to card playing and such but when it wasn’t my turn I did find myself staring at my card, enjoying the great artwork on my character. I would sometimes even grab another player’s card and gawk at the art on their card. My particular favorite illustration is the one for The Puppet (seen above).

Overall

I love this game. It shouldn’t come as a big surprise since I was talking up the genre at the start of the post. Hidden movement games are a blast for me and my group and Specter Ops has kept the love going. Our first game took longer than expected but we are often prone to analysis paralysis. Even so, it was a fun and tense game until the very end. Each player felt like they had something to contribute to the group (thanks to their special powers) and every time we were hot on the trail of the Agent things were taken up a notch. The Agent would be revealed momentarily and if we were lucky we’d land a shot otherwise the Agent would slip away (often due to an equipment card we didn’t see coming). It’s an edge of your seat experience and the feeling is the same no matter what side of the board you’re on.

One other thing I enjoy about Specter Ops is how it handles the player count. This may be a bad thing to some but personally I enjoyed it. Depending on the player count (as you may have noticed earlier in the post) certain aspects of the game change. In a lower player count the Agent gets less equipment and the objectives are known to all. In higher player counts the Agent gets more equipment, their objectives are secret, and both sides may start in different locations. In a five player game (the max) there is even a secret traitor among the Hunters. Before the game starts the Agent hands out role cards (the Agent player knows which cards are which) to the Hunter Players. Three of the cards will say Hunter and the other will say Agent. This makes Specter Ops a very different beast depending on who you have at the table. The negative I could see with this is that if you don’t enjoy one of the “variants” of the game then you’re going to feel restricted in terms of player count.

Another game we play often, Letters from Whitechapel, has offered similar enjoyment to us and yet they are both extremely different. It’s in this difference I’d like to explain why Specter Ops is a joy to play:

Without turning this into a post about Letters from Whitechapel I’ll simply say that Whitechapel is a more distilled deduction game. Players are moving pieces around a board and are saying “are you here?” “no? okay how about here?” and the game continues until general patterns are figured out and one side outsmarts the other. It is not a worse game at all in my opinion. However, where I would compare Letters from Whitechapel to a quiet evening with close friends, a couple glasses of scotch and a battle of wits I would compare Specter Ops to a Summer blockbuster movie with plenty of spectacle, a dramatic twist, and an overall fun and exciting experience.

I highly recommend Specter Ops. If you’re new to the Board Gaming Hobby in general then this may not be a great starter given the hidden movement nature that makes up the core of the game. If you have a few games under your belt and can pick up rules easier then Specter Ops is a great entry point into the genre and depending on how you took my above metaphors you can decide if it works for you and your group or move on to others in the genre. Even if you do decide to try other hidden movement games I think Specter Ops will still stay in most collections. It’s fun and exciting game that’s relatively easy to learn, lets every player feel like a part of the whole and provides a challenge for all who are in the game.

Thanks for reading. See the links below on where to find Specter Ops, rules explanations, and reviews!

-The Secondhand Took

Where to find Specter Ops:

BoardGameGeek

CoolStuff Inc.

Amazon

Plaid Hat Games Website

Watch it Played

Specter Ops Reviews:

Shut Up and Sit Down

The Dice Tower

Board Game Brawl

 

 

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