Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games
Designers: Bruno Faidutti and Jef Gontier
Play Time: 1-2 hours
Grade: A –
The captain’s quarters are flooded, there’s a fire in the engine room, and one of your crew is stuck in a room flooded with high water. You also have about 10 minutes before your sub is crushed but an angry giant squid. This is just a small portion of the problems you have on your sub that could be overheating, losing oxygen, or about to be crushed by and sunk to the briny deep. Welcome to Red November comrade, where how well you work with your crew determines if you all live or die.
One wouldn’t know what to expect from this game by simply looking at the box. You wouldn’t even expect that it’s a board game due to its small size. The board itself folds out to about three quarters of the size of a sheet of paper and has 10 rooms in it, submarine damage tracks, the time track, and the outside of the ship that has the angry giant squid. You’re represented on the board by a little plastic gnome and a small plastic marker the same color of your gnome that goes on the time track.
The object of the game is for all of the players to make it to the end of the time track so they can be rescued from their derelict sub. The time track is made of 60 minutes and is littered with event and item markers. Where you start on the time track depends on how many players there are (more players starts you later on the time track). As the active player takes his actions such as opening doors, fixing problems on the sub, or collecting items, more stuff goes wrong with the ship as they pass event markers on the time track and draw event cards.
I will admit that the statement about you all living or dying is not entirely true. There is one small rule that if a gnome gets within 10 minutes of rescue, has an item called the aqualung, and feels everybody will not survive, they may abandon ship and leave the other gnomes to their doom. If everybody else dies in the ship then the only winner is the one who left. On the other side of the coin, if any of the other players survive then the player who abandoned ship loses.
I have a few issues with the game however. The instructions are a little unclear about certain actions and exactly how a player can die. There are a couple of cards that have an item legend and time amounts for actions, but for your first few games, you’ll be constantly flipping through the rulebook to find out if certain moves are legal or how much time they take. While how small the box and game as a whole is convenient to fit even in my girlfriends various purses, it does not lend itself well to playability and set up. It could certainly benefit from an increase in size at least with the event cards which are almost too small to shuffle. Finally, the game feels as if it is set up ultimately for the players to fail with the more gnomes you have playing.
All of that aside, the game is a perfect example of a co-operative board game. For all gnomes to survive, players must work together in deciding what order to deal with the problems on the sub, how much time to spend on those problems, and management of items. It’s frantic in a way you wouldn’t expect a board game to be while being exceptionally fun. This was my favorite game that I got to play at Gencon 2008 and I recommend it to be on any gaming group’s shelf and rotation.