Friday, June 9, 2017

Quick Review - Pocket Ops - Kickstarter Preview

Pocket Ops
Designer: Brandon Beran
Publisher: Grand Gamers Guild
2p | 15-30m | 8+
Quick Review - Pocket Ops - Kickstarter Preview

So, how would you like to play a game of tic-tac-toe?  Not really?  Then how about a two player game of espionage where you use deduction and bluffing to strategically send spies to take control of key areas of an evil mastermind's base and steal a secret doomsday device and save the world?  Yeah, I thought that would sound much better.

Pocket Ops is a two player game that takes tic-tac-toe and turns it into a real game with strategy, choice, and a chance at getting something other than a draw.  It's on Kickstarter right now for only $14, including shipping, so check it out now, or read on to learn more.

Pocket Op is basically tic-tac-toe with a twist.  It is still played on a 3x3 grid and the object is to secure three cells in a row before your opponent.  That's where the games depart ways, however.  In Pocket Ops each player represents a different faction of spies, trying to infiltrate an evil mastermind's secret lair and steal the doomsday device and its power crystal.  You must acquire both a crystal and the device before your opponent to win.
Pocket Ops was born from tic-tac-toe, but it's grown into much more!
Pocket Ops is played in up to three rounds and the first player to win two rounds is the winner.  In each round players will take turns placing an agent in one of the nine cells on the board, just like in tic-tac-toe.  However before placing an agent the defending player will attempt to guess where the agent will be placed.  If the defender was correct the agent I blocked and does not get placed.  This one little change takes tic-tac-toe and turns it into a game with actual strategy, deduction, and of course, bluffing.

Setup of the game is super simple.  Simply place the board, give each player a set of agent tokens and a set of cards, an place the doomsday device and power crystals to the side.  Decide on a first player and you're ready for the first round.
Simple components and quick setup are great for a quick game like Pocket Ops.
In addition to the even standard agents, there are also several special agents that have unique abilities.  How many and which special agents are included will depend on stretch goals and funding, but my prototype came with five special agents (all five have already been unlocked, but I don't know if there will be more).  I'll go over each one in a bit, but to start each round you'll add one special agent to your set of agents.  You'll mix all your special agents, select two randomly, then choose one of the two to use this round.

Taking turns, each player will place an agent onto one of the open spaces in the complex, but before he does the other player will have the opportunity to guess where the agent will be placed.  Each player has a set of nine cards, each corresponding to one o the rooms in the complex.  The guessing player will choose one of the cards to play face down. Then the active player will place the agent.  Then the guesser will reveal the selected card and if it was correct the active player cannot place the agent.  If the guess was wrong the agent can be placed, and if it was  special agent the special ability is triggered.
Sorry for the blurry picture, this was taken on a camping trip.  Pocket Ops is great to take anywhere!
Pocket Ops is significantly better than tic-tac-toe just with the deduction, bluffing, and blocking mechanics, but the special agent abilities really add a lot, too.  Each of the five that came with my prototype have great, unique abilities that really add some interest to the game.  The Assassin can actually be placed on an occupied space, and will kill the agent it encroached on, if paced successfully.  The Sniper will take out an opponent in an adjacent location.  The Pusher will push every agent in a line, pushing any agents on the board off it.  The Grappler will swap places with an adjacent opponent.  The Hacker will let you play two cards on your next guess to block your opponent.
The icons may change, but from left to right these are the Assassin, Pusher, Sniper, Grappler, and Hacker.
Pocket Ops plays for the best out of three rounds.  All you need to do to win a round is get three agents in a row.  In the event of a draw the second player wins.  On first win you will collect the power crystal token and on the second win you'll collect the doomsday device.  Whoever collects the doomsday device first is the winner!

Final Thoughts:
Pocket Ops is definitely an improvement over tic-tac-toe, with the only exception being that you can't play it on a fogged up window in the winter.  That's a small trade off though.  It's small size means that you can take it just about anywhere.  It'll come in a box that's 10cm x 10cm x 3.5 cm (or about 4"x4"x1.375" for those of us who don't do metric).  This is just a bit bigger than what I think I'd be comfortable with in a pocket, but it'll fit nicely in any smaller bag or purse (or a larger cargo pocket), so you'll be able to bring it to places like restaurants easily.  It plays quickly, is easy to teach, has a great theme, looks good, and just generally hits all the right marks.

All that said, it is still just tic-tac-toe, so I'm not sure how much replay value it has.  For me it was a novelty, and it's something I'll probably pull out occasionally when I know I'll need something fast for two players, but it's not really something I'll be pulling off the shelf often.  Pocket Ops really does turn into a game of wits and it's very easy to find yourself in the role of Vizzini (the Sicilian from The Princess Bride), second guessing every single possible move and just hoping that you aren't the one to perish from iocane powder.
It was the perfect game to play while waiting for the Cubscouts to finish the station they were doing at our Cub-O-Ree.
While the bluffing and deduction was infinitely more interesting than tic-tac-toe, I still found that the game ended in draws nearly as often as a win.  About 40% of the time when we played it was a draw.  This is because the second player doesn't need to actually win the game to garner a win.  Just like in tic-tac-toe, it's easier to force a draw than it is to snag a win, so the second player is at an advantage.  Every game I played came down to the third round except for one, and every game I played had at least one draw, and sometimes two.

I think there are ways to alleviate this though, but it might extend the game a bit.  The obvious way is to make a draw a tie and have it not count.  But that could cause the game to greatly overstay its welcome.  Another solution might be to allow power crystals to be won on a draw, but have the actual doomsday device require a legitimate win to acquire.  Another possible solution, and the one I think I'll try to play with next time this hits the table, would be for a draw to go to the player with the most agents on the board.  This wouldn't eliminate draws completely, since it's possible to have each player with four agents, but it would cut draws significantly and make it so player two has to actually play for a win or at least to block player one.  This seems like an obvious solution, and is the first thing that everyone I played with suggested, but there is a chance it might make it too easy for player one to win without getting three in a row.  At any rate, these issues are pretty minor for what is meant to be a pretty casual, fast two player game.
Blue's turn.  I think he'll go for H, but maybe he'll go for G,
or really throw me for a loop and go for C.  G would be the best move
since it'll block my chance at winning with A-D-G, but H gives him
two places to pick next turn, too...  Aaargh!!!
One other thing that I really like about Pocket Ops is the artwork.  For such a small game it really pushes the theme and flavor.  Each of the nine rooms of the evil mastermind's lair is identified with a letter, A through I, and each room has a name that starts with that letter.  From the Armory to Innovation, Foundry to the Hangar, each room has both a thematic name and unique artwork depicting each room.  With stretch goals each of the cards will have unique artwork to depict the rooms as well.  The artwork is really top notch.
The mastermind's lair is awesome.  I want a Germ Lab behind my Databanks!

If you're looking for a quick, accessible two player game that incorporates some bluffing and deduction, Pocket Ops is a good fit.  It's easy to teach, small enough to take just about anywhere, fun, and at only $14 won't break the bank.  You can find Pocket Ops on Kickstarter through June 26th.  It's already funded and working its way through stretch goals, so check it out today!

Preliminary Rating: 6/10

This review is of a prototype game.  Components and rules are not final and are subject to change.

Want another opinion?  Pocket Ops was also reviewed by Dane on the Everything Board Games Network!  Check out his review here!

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GJJG Game Reviews are independent, unpaid reviews of games I, George Jaros, have played with my family and friends. Some of these games I own, some are owned by friends, some are borrowed, and some are print and play versions of games. Where applicable I will indicate if games have been played with kids or adults or a mix (Family Play). I won't go into extensive detail about how to play the game (there are plenty of other sources for that information and I'll occasionally link to those other sources), but I will give my impressions of the game and how my friends and family reacted to the game. Quick Reviews will only get a single rating of 1-10 (low-high) based on my first impressions of the game during my first few times playing. Hopefully I'll get more chances to play the game and will be able to give it a full review soon.

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