Fairway’s Scorecard: Bomb Squad

scorecard-bomb-squad

What do you get when you combine Robot Turtles, Hanabi and a timer? Bomb Squad 💣 by Tasty Minstrel Games. Bomb Squad is real-time, cooperative game for two to six players. Players are members of an elite, bomb-defusing, hostage-saving team. Using just their robot, they race against the clock in order to save the day and defeat the terrorists.  Find out whether Fairway is Jack Bauer or not.

💣 Initial Impressions

  • This game can be hard, incredibly hard.
  • The components are nice: modular boards, customizable robots, unique character profiles, etc.
  • Lots of interesting and complex scenarios.
  • The learning curve is low. The game is quick learn or to play, but difficult to master. It is an intriguing mix of Robot Turtles and Hanabi blended with real time pressure.

💣 The game play

Bomb Squad is a real-time, cooperative game. Players work together to program a robot to complete one of a series of mission objectives before the clock runs out. It usually involves rescuing hostages and defusing bombs. To understand this game, I liken it to Robot Turtles and Hanabi, except you don’t want these explosives to go off.

First, the primary object of the game is to move a robot around the modular board to perform a series of actions. Like Robot Turtles, players control the robot by playing a sequence of cards. Each card has special function: move, rescue hostage, open door, defuse bomb, etc. Some cards only work for some actions: yellow cards only work on yellow hostages, bombs and doors, for example. All of the players are programming the same robot.

Second, the way the cards are held and played is essentially Hanabi. Players don’t know their own cards–they hold their own cards so that the “programmed action” faces the other players.  The other players then have a limited amount of ways to communicate what another player is holding. Like Hanabi, they’re forced to give hints to player holding the cards such as “these are your red cards,” “these are your movement cards,” etc.  The player holding them, then plays them into the robot sequence face down or discards the card to charge the robot’s battery. In other words, the player never actually sees what card he or she just played. 

When a sequence of commands has been set out, another player can choose to execute the program. He or she is given the opportunity to re-arrange the cards, or, for a price, ignore a set of cards. Once executed, the player moves the robot around the board, performs the various actions, and lowers the robot’s battery power.

Players repeat this process until time expires or they complete the objectives.

There are other complications that increase the difficulty. Robots have limited battery power. Different scenarios use different obstacles: doors, security cameras and pressure plates. These are introduced with each new scenario to increase the difficulty.

The game also provides players different profiles.  These profiles are things like programmer and security expert. Each profile gives the individual player a unique ability and, hopefully, one that aids in completing the mission.

💣 On the green

This game fills an interesting genre: real-time, cooperative game. While the theme of a terrorist organization hiding bombs and taking hostages in a suburban office building might be off-putting for some, it doesn’t do it in a way that compromises the interesting game play.

The game play mechanisms also solve one of the most infuriating aspects of cooperative games. If you’ve ever played Forbidden Island or The Captain Is Dead (or most any other cooperative game), you’ve probably run into the player who has “solved” the game. This player then gives the other players orders about what to do. There is just no good way to do that in Bomb Squad. The visible map and limited communication and hand information means that everyone “knows” what to do, but no one “knows” enough to tell anyone else what to do.

Bomb Squad has great components. It is physically heavy and includes great cardboard parts:

  • Modular map pieces makes for many bomb-defusing scenarios. They’re made of nice, thick, interlocking cardboard.
  • The game pieces themselves (e.g., bombs, cameras, and hostages) are made from the same thick cardboard. It’s used for the map, the robot boards, and the chits for map markers.
  • The game even includes two customizable robot panels. My son promptly created his own robots–no, he did not ask permission.

The game comes packaged with a number of increasingly difficult scenarios. Just like you’d want, the game’s packaged scenarios include different map arrangements, different profiles, and increasing levels of difficulty. I’m not sure if it was just me, but getting beyond the first few levels will take more than a few plays.

The real-time aspect makes for some tense player decisions as the clock winds down. This mix of heart-pounding desperation and strategy add to the overall theme of the game.

There’s no shortage of difficult missions in the game, which can last from 20 to 90 minutes. The nice thing: you know just how long it will be when you start and can plan accordingly.

Appropriately so, Bomb Squad is hard. Or, at least, it was hard for me and my team members. Keeping track of your cards and your team members’ cards, including which have been played, is a task. Doing it repeatedly across large chunks of time is trying. For this game to work thematically, I think it needs to be this. The decision about whether to operate the robot often felt like asking me to cut the magenta wire.

💣 Where it comes up short

Bomb Squad is fascinating game but its primary mechanism could create a replay issue for some.

Will the programming mechanism hold a player’s interest? The Hanabi-style, limited-communication and hidden-hand mechanism is the biggest part of the game. Unlike Hanabi’s relatively short plays, Bomb Squad’s longer missions are quite a commitment of time and mental resources. I can envision some players tiring quickly of this mechanism. It’s also mentally exhausting which makes running multiple missions in a sitting difficult. This fatigue is certainly consistent with the theme, though.

How much table talk is allowed?  There’s a limited communication mechanism in the game concerning cards. However, it seems counter-intuitive if you’re otherwise chatting with other players about the grand strategy. The rules don’t say what, if any, table talk is permitted. If none is permitted, then this might result in long stretches of nervous silence.

Social Interaction.  The length of some of the missions and the required focus will hurt gamers who enjoy the social interaction.  While players are working together, there’s little time to break. This will be okay for some groups, but I imagine it’ll limit its replay-ability in others.

Smaller player counts.  We played Bomb Squad with two, three and four players. In the two player games, it seemed that there was a higher likelihood that neither player would have the right cards to move or operate the robot, resulting in lots of discard actions. It was definitely playable, but a times more frustrating than the higher player counts.

💣 In the hole

Bomb Squad is a solid pick for gamers looking for something a little bit different. The variety and difficulty of the missions means that there’s a lot of game packed into the box. Bomb Squad provides a unique, heart-pounding game play experience. 

Bomb squad is in the hole for a par.

Fairway remains well-under par!

Note: Fairway was sent a free copy of Bomb Squad by TMG for a honest review.

 

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