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Tabletop Co-Op: Red November
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Tabletop Co-Op: Red November

Gnomes on a submarine, what could go wrong?

This month, we're taking a bit of a different spin for Tabletop Co-Op. Typically, I don't think of this series of articles as reviews. There is no scoring system of any kind, and generally speaking, I try to concentrate on the mechanics, theme, and cooperative nature of the mechanics without too much critique one way or the other. But for Red November, I can't help but look at it from a more critical angle. I wanted to like this game, but I didn't. Why?

On the surface, Red November would appear to be a game I would enjoy. It was co-created by one of my favorite designers, Bruno Faidutti (Citadels, Mission: Red Planet). The production values are incredible, with sturdy components and an attractive design, as you'd expect from a Fantasy Flight game. Though you might not surmise it from the title, the game is about a group of gnomes, stuck inside a malfunctioning submarine, and all the various calamity and hilarity that ensues. Best of all, it's cooperative, a feature which practically guarantees I will love it.


But there's something about Red November that doesn't quite work for me. While we were playing, it didn't feel compelling, or exciting, at all. One of the pitfalls of co-op board games is it is very easy for one player, typically the one who has the most experience, to dominate the game by telling the others what to do. I try not to be "that guy", but after just a few turns, my co-op buddies had all but given up, fiddling on their phones or wandering over to the girls' table to see what they were playing. With some encouragement from me, we got through the game, but immediately discussed why it didn't work for us.

Perhaps the greatest flaw is the time-bidding action system. Instead of each gnome taking a turn and performing some beneficial action, as in typical co-op games like Pandemic, the turns take place in chronological order. This bears some explanation: to do things like put out a fire, or pump water from a flooded section, a gnome must decide how much game time (a pool of 60 minutes) to spend on the task. Roll a ten sided die, and compare it to the minutes you "bid" on the task to determine success. You can bid ten minutes to guarantee a job regardless of the roll, or spend less time and take your chances.