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In 2014 no one knew the name Emerson Matsuuchi. That all changed a year later when Plaid Hat Games released the hidden movement design Specter Ops and minds were blown. This release waded into the waters of genre greats Scotland Yard, Fury of Dracula, and Letters From Whitechapel. Unexpectedly, it bested them all.
Broken Covenant is Specter Ops reasserting itself. This is a standalone expansion that basically takes the game we love and replaces every piece of content with something new. It doesn’t so much push the envelope but rather quietly smooths out wrinkles and provides more toys to play cyber-ninja with.
The story picks up where the OG left off. Having successfully extracted the location of the old Raxxon headquarters, the A.R.K. agent is again on the move. It feels a bit like a greyhound chasing a stuffed bone on a track, but here we are. Maybe this time will be different and we’ll finally glean some incriminating evidence on this malevolent corporation. If not, at least that means we get a third release in the series.
For those unfamiliar with the fantastic original release, one player takes on the role of an infiltrator and everyone else fields a specialized hunter. In this crazy cyberpunk world it means you can be a sleek ninja with electro-katana, or perhaps a werewolf dude who can sniff out the intruder. The gamut of characters on both sides of the fence is astounding, particularly when you mix the two sets together and now have eight hunters and agents to choose from respectively.
The agent takes a turn writing down their movement as they run from space to space and try to remain hidden. The hunters then coordinate on the board to move their minis around and tighten the net. The game is peppered with tense moments of near-discoveries and violent surges as a spotted infiltrator pushes through a line of sentries.
This is why Specter Ops eclipses its peers. It’s streamlined and focused to the point that downtime never creeps in. You’re never safe and you’re never relaxed. After an hour-long session you’ll need to shave the back of your neck because those hairs simply won’t lie back down.
Toss in the asymmetrical character powers and it all comes together. The entire package is totally rad.
Broken Covenant is more of the same, well mostly. There is one significant divergence in this box and it’s the new board. It’s a sleek looking thing just like its predecessor, although it includes a couple of distinctions. First are these slick new spaces an agent can stop on and draw a random piece of gear. These are lovely little additions that provide competition for your priorities.
The second change is the haymaker to the eye. The new board looks fantastic until you drill down and realize some of the spaces are numbered incorrectly; one spot is even missing its coordinates. For the most part this isn’t a huge deal, but it’s certainly disappointing when compared to the historically high level of quality control Plaid Hat has become known for. Fortunately, the publisher has shown a vested interest in fixing this problem by offering sticker sheets through their parts replacement service. You can also get by simply playing the game and and working through the minor space issues as they arise.
In all other respects, this release is top notch. In addition to the new cache spaces to acquire gear on the fly, the other single big extension of the ruleset is improving the five player scenario. At this count one of the hunters is a hidden traitor; it was one of the absolute best ways to play the original game. The only niggle was that the traitor often found themselves with little to do once revealed beyond harass the other hunters. Well, Emerson has cleaned this up by allowing the spy to now accomplish objectives. This is a huge shift in dynamics and really works to make that mode properly robust.
Everything else is gravy. The new hunters are excellent to wield – one even includes a pet dog – and the additional agents are as interesting as ever. There is even a new vehicle for the baddies to drive around the warehouse and smash into things.
If you own both sets it’s all about variety. You can utilize either board, build a custom selection of hunters, decide which vehicle to use, and then choose an agent from the larger group. Specter Ops was already an intensely replayable design due to its reliance on human behavior and manipulating think and double-think, but now we have special abilities for days.
This variety is most beneficial when selecting the team of hunters. That group of 2-4 guards defines much of the pace of play and how the search is conducted. You can tailor your unit to be more deliberate and carefully herd the agent into a slice of the compound, or you can rush in like a bull and topple crates trying to sniff out the interloper. Those groups that have repeatedly played the original release will find their metagame given a jolt and new options opening things up substantially.
That slip-up with the new board is a gut punch, but it doesn’t considerably diminish this design’s brilliance. While the new content isn’t a radical shift and doesn’t push the envelope, it’s an otherwise excellent swathe of material to inject into your espionage operations and certainly hits the mark from a gameplay perspective.
What are your favorite hidden movement games? Let us know in the comments! And be sure to join host Becca Scott on Game the Game every Thursday here on Geek & Sundry to watch the best boardgames played with fantastic guests!
More gaming goodness!
- Tabletop: Wil Wheaton Plays the Fury of Dracula w/ Grant Imahara, Amy Okuda, & Ify Nwadiwe!
- Hidden Movement and Open Hostility in Specter Ops
- Meet Emerson Matsuuchi and his Amazing Games
Image Credits: Charlie Theel
Editor’s note: A sample of the game was provided by the publisher