If you’ve never played the party game Werewolf (read Dave’s account of a Werewolf game) or Mafia, then the card game Covert Action will be something entirely new to you. This may not be a good thing, because it is clearly inspired by these classics and players benefit from an understand of how this type of game can play out. In Werewolf a group of players (typically more then 8 ) gather in a circle, two players (usually) are secretly and randomly assigned as werewolves, another player the seer, and the remaining all as villagers. Play progresses through a series of days, with players closing their eyes and making noise at night-time as the werewolves decide on one player to kill, the seer then has a chance to discover if one player per night is a werewolf or not, and during the day all players are free to discuss as they decide on one person to lynch in hopes of catching the werewolves.
While Werewolf is a very fun party game, there are several glaring flaws that put some people off. First because one player is killed each night by the baddies, and another each day by the enraged mob, some players are commited for a half an hour while others are only in for a few minutes (or less). Second, villagers really have no power as an individual, meaning the majority of players can’t really do much except as a large group, and game after game of bad luck could mean playing a villager far too often. The game really only functions effectively with more then eight players, and every game requires one person to not play the entire time as they perform the tasks of moderator (making sure people close their eyes at night, informing the seer who is/is not a baddie).
Covert Action, designed by Jacob Davenport, attempts to fix all of these problems, and it succeeds rather well at all of them. Funagain Games describes the game as:
Two or three opposing teams of Covert Operatives are trying to steal the plans for a nuclear submarine. Each team must first eliminate the other team in order to steal the plans. Who will you trust? Has your team been infiltrated by a Mole working for the other side? Who should you shoot? Who will pull the trigger first? Act fast to get them… before they get you!
The game supports an impressive range of 4 to 14 players, working on either 2 or 3 seperate teams (Red vs. Blue vs. Green) to be the first team to shoot. One of the interesting mechanics comes into play as the role cards are shuffled and dealt out randomly each round, meaning players are on different teams quite often and rarely with the same people. That’s okay though, because there is usually a mole on your team anyway so someone that you think a friend may really be an enemy. Each team may consist of the following roles:
Sniper – Your objective is to shoot the sniper of another team, or the mole that has infiltrated your own.
Bodyguards – Your objective is to take the bullet for your sniper (getting yourself shot instead of the Sniper).
Mole – Your team card might be Red, but you’re far from it. Your objective is to tip the other teams off as to who (you think) your team’s sniper is.
Cleaner – In most rounds the Cleaner acts exactly the same as a bodyguard, unless your team does not have a Sniper on it then you have to fill those shoes and become the Sniper. (read below)
Sounds easy, right? The fun arises with the fact that all you can see of everyone else’s card is what team they are (or aren’t) on. You might think that because you’re the mole you have an easier job, but don’t be too obvious or your team’s sniper might catch it and shoot you dead. Gameplay consists of a series of rounds where each round the cards are shuffled and dealt out face down to each player, typically there is one more card per team then there are players, so in any given round there may not even be a Sniper or a Mole on your team (see Cleaner above). Once cards are dealt out the game is on, and the round ends only when one player points a finger (gun style) at another player and says “Bang!” Then everyone flips up their cards and you see if a Sniper has shot true. Teams score by having their Sniper (or Cleaner) shoot a valid target, if the victim was a Body Guard, a Cleaner on the same team as a Sniper, or the Mole on a different team then the assassination has failed and the other teams get points.
New or inexperienced players can be easily intimidated by this game once the cards are dealt, with not solid structure to how things go the table may be silent or everyone might be yelling at other players for being traitorous dogs. While the lack of structure is odd and frightening at first, it really lends to the elegance of the game as players are naturally free to improvise as they wish. My wife loves to literally announce what she is (or if a Sniper she shoots within a few seconds), and honestly the tactic works quite well. We all get a little annoyed, but we also have no clue when she’ll stop doing it and actually fake us out (it hasn’t happened yet). The surprising part is that some players may catch subconcious tells right away and despite making an impulsive shot, it could often be the best move and win the round.
Perhaps the tricky part of this game is that it wants to present itself as a simple, easy to follow party game when it often plays out as a very deep and instensely mental play of bluffing and guessing. Possibly the trickiest role is that of the Cleaner, who has to simultaneously figure out if there is a Sniper on his own team and who the opposing Snipers are. In turn the Sniper’s job gets harder as they must act quickly lest a Cleaner on their team act impulsively and ruin the whole thing. If you’re a fan of Werewolf then you without a doubt need to give Covert Action a try, it is more complex and intricate than its predecessor which probably prevents it from becoming as much of a classic, but for the love of god you can finally sit down with 10 of your friends and know that you won’t be sitting around while they all play within 2 minutes of starting the game.
A clever game of cat and also cat, Covert Action is beautifully presented and published by R&R Games and clocks in at the quite affordable price of $5.99