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Head Games

Last week marked the one year anniversary of the maddest I ever got at Workman. (In a game.) (Actually ever.) I laugh about it now, but I wasn’t laughing at the time. Turns out, it was all just a big misunderstanding, and when it was over, I was really impressed at the psychological head-game that was a five-player game of Specter Ops.

This week marked the one year anniversary of the second time we played Specter Ops. Last year at that time, I was prepared for the psychological head-game, and as such, was not nearly as emotionally trigger happy as the week before. That time, when it was over, I was really unimpressed with the soul-less, two-hour, space-counting exercise that was a five-player game of Specter Ops.

So when Leon announced that he wanted to play Specter Ops this week, I was fairly excited. This would be the rubber-match. Do I like Specter Ops? Do I hate it? I was looking forward to finding out.

Specter Ops box

Leon was the agent. (He’s always the agent.) Steve, Workman, and I were hunters, along with Leon’s wife Derenda. Five players meant we got to play with a traitor in our midst. (Actually, five players meant we got to play period, as I don’t think we would play SO with less than five. I can’t imagine how it plays without a traitor.) Steve was the Beast (best hunter?), Workman the Gun (male or female?), Derenda the Prophet (over-rated?), and I was the Puppet (boring).

The Hunters

The hunters. Smell the distrust.

Leon getting it done

Leon, getting it done.

Leon was goooooddddd. He was really good. He stayed hidden for a VERY long time. Which made for a very good game for him, and a very frustrating game for the hunters. So frustrating in fact, that I pretty much checked out about an hour in (if that long). I’m not good at deduction generally, and I’m particularly not good at the kind of deduction needed to figure out “in four spaces, he could be here….or here……or here……”. Steve and Workman were all over that part, and I just sat back and let them figure it out. And my character was boring. I operated a pulse sensor and remote-drove the car. I didn’t even have to move much. Bo-ring.

The Puppet

Did I mention I was boring?

The only part of our game that intrigued me was the psychology of figuring out who the traitor was. Some people are very good traitors, some people are not. In SO, you don’t really have to be a good traitor, you just let the agent lie to you and keep helping the team. Until you don’t.

I knew the traitor wasn’t me. (I’m not lying.) And I was pretty sure it wasn’t Derenda, mostly because it was her first play and I didn’t think Leon would lay that on her for her first game. If I was in a pinch, and I needed a traitor, I would totally pick Workman as he is the best traitor in the history of traitordom. But doesn’t that make him the obvious choice? And as such, make you NOT pick him? That left Steve. I had my eye on him.

Both he and Workman were very good at explaining (factually) why the other was the traitor. And sometimes explaining why me or Derenda was the traitor. (I rechecked my card several times during the game, they were that good.) There were many moments where it seemed like we all knew for sure “oh, it has to be you!” and then everything was explained away and we carried on, paranoid and insecure.

And then Workman became emphatically excited that he had proven the traitor to be Steve. Emphatically. Excited. He jumped up on his Love Sac (it’s a thing, don’t ask) and kind of danced? Workman. Danced. Kind of. He displayed this unbridled enthusiasm again a bit later when Steve again was “outed” for crimes against the team, and this time I asked “Why are you so happy?” “Because I’ve been exonerated! I’m not the traitor!!”

Here’s some trivia: Workman has no soul. I’ve never seen him that happy. I suspected it was a ruse.

But Workman doesn’t slip up like that, so I was back to second-guessing myself and everyone else fairly quickly. It was exhausting.

After about two-hours and an early-exit from Derenda (#momlife), Leon asked that the traitor reveal. And it was Workman. Of course. I would have hated him but I didn’t have the energy. And then in the ballsiest requested retcon in the history of gaming, Workman asked if he could take back his reveal. (He wanted to move first, and then reveal). Ummm, sure? I was dead inside, what did I care.

So Workman retconned, moved, revealed again, went dark, and me and Steve and holo-Derenda trudged on. We managed to corner Leon near the right side exit door and both me and Steve got a shot at him. We both rolled ones. I was too demoralized to even swear. Leon escaped pretty quickly (he had all the objectives he needed and only needed to get out). Workman only needed to escape and that was the game. The hunters fairly effectively blocked off the exits, but there were three of us and four exits and Workman is shrewd and I was tired, and it was kind of miserable. We waited for a few turns, taking no actions other than me pulsing to keep his general direction known, but then he stopped moving enough spaces for the pulse to work. It was not fun, Steve and I both agreed that it could go on like this for a while and we conceded. #notmyfinestgamingmoment

And thus ended the two-and-a-half hour rubber match. Leon and Workman played really well, and deserved more enthusiastic opponents. I feel bad, now that I’ve had time to reflect on it. Maybe I’ll bake some cookies or something to make it up to them.

Edit: I went back and edited my original draft to remove all of the double spaces after periods. Workman and I are square. I still owe Leon. He doesn’t care about spacing.

So what’s the final verdict?

First off, let me start with the things I very much like about SO. I love the board. It’s big, and colorful, and, well, interesting. Where the hell are we? There are roads, we have a car, and yet, there are exit doors? See what I mean? Interesting.

Game in action

Lots of big pretty colors on the big pretty board. Pointing figures also. Lots of them as well.

Speaking of the car, I love the car. (And I’m not a car person). But I love that you have this little car token on the board, and when you get in the car, you move your figure off the board to the big car thingy. (This whole process is not necessary at all, the game would be fine without it, but still, car.)

And ultimately, I love the idea of the game itself. I love the hidden movement aspect, and I LOVE that, with a traitor, the game becomes a meta-game of two-lies-and-a-truth where the hunters are trying to figure out where the agent is, based on information that they know is imperfect, but they just don’t know which part of the information is imperfect.

But the very thing that I like the most creates the part of the game I just don’t like: the seemingly never-ending cat and mouse game of counting squares and asking “”can I see you?” “can I see you now?” when you just can’t find the agent. I think if I was better at it, I might like it more. But there are a lot of games that I’m not good at that I love to play (I’m looking at you Terra Mystica).

I felt the same way about Letters from Whitechapel, which I hated. It gave me the same feel. But oddly enough, I LOVE Fury of Dracula. (And I can’t get anyone to play it with me. So sad. Workman would play, but two-player Dracula? Seems not ideal.) But as much as I love it, it suffers from the same slow-burn start that can lose players if they can’t make any headway. It’s almost like these games need a way to ramp-up such that you get dropped into the game about 30 minutes in. Lose the part where you waste time not knowing anything and start when you know a few things? Probably makes no sense and probably not do-able, it just makes me sad that such potentially great games can be so awful, simply because of the nature of how they have to be played.

So in conclusion, I am not a fan of Specter OPS. It is not one that I will request. But I would play it again with the Fun Group. I’ll play anything with the Fun Group.

After SO, we played Love Letter. I think. I was really sleepy at that point. And crampy (which explains a few things). I seem to recall having not only the dreaded Baron/Baron combo, but the King/Princess combo as well. I had quite the evening. But it was fun, as always. Leon won. He had quite the evening as well.

Thanks for reading. And thanks for the kind comments. Your encouragement means more than you know.

Happy gaming!