This review focuses on the differences between Crime Wave and the original Hostage Negotiator. For a more focused description of the game’s basic mechanics please refer to the Hostage Negotiator review.
Following the compact, but intense, Hostage Negotiator, Van Ryder Games' A.J. Porfirio developed and released three new abductors into the world. Tensions are high in the little box; critical mass has been reached and the terror expands in an omnidirectional Crime Wave.
Crime Wave Expansion
Hostage Negotiator: Crime Wave is not an ordinary expansion. In fact, besides the actual dimensions of the box it barely expands on the original at all. It is fundamentally a remix of the base game. A standalone director’s cut, rather than deleted scenes. However, rather than supersede the original, this expansion makes room for integration with it, figuratively and literally.
The box, so significantly larger than the base game as to be able to house it in its entirety, seems a little empty. Besides the component parts, which are craftily reworked from the original Hostage Negotiator, there is a lot of space. But this space speaks volumes.
The game board, cards and pieces duplicate the function of those of the base set, but each has been adapted. The board is more than twice the size and its functionality has been increased commensurately. With designated slots for discards, the terror deck and demand cards and more graphical consistency with the box design the new board delivers a streamlined experience. The hostage pieces have been given limited detail and variety. The least possible variety, but it is variety, nonetheless. The chunkier, more rounded dice have the curious effect of adding a fraction more suspense to the game. They roll longer than their forebears and sometimes waiting for the result can be cruelly suspenseful.
The only new pieces in this set are the petite but versatile alert tokens. Some of the mechanical tricks in this set depend upon certain conditions being met on the various tracks or for adjustments to be made at certain phases. These pieces are to remind the player to trigger the new mechanics when these conditions have been met. They are non-essential, but they are certainly appreciated.
There may be a gripe here. For owners of both this and the base set there is now a redundancy of pieces. Could this expansion not have also been achieved as a card pack? Are the voids left in the box little more than a taunt to those who don’t have the original set? The former is a legitimate issue and may be barrier to anyone making Hostage Negotiator: Crime Wave their first purchase in the series. The latter, however, fails to account for Van Ryder Games commitment to expanding this title. Nor does it acknowledge the new characters, mechanical tweaks and potential for customisation in the box.
Three new kidnappers are included, and each one brings unique challenges, dynamics and mechanics to the game. It is remarkable how much variety and character can be evoked by the base engine. A cornered drunk driver’s hand comprises of only growing array of escape demands to represent their desire to flee and the increasing opportunities to do so. A wily young gang leader toys with the negotiator by booby trapping their major demand deck.
The most prominent new member of the cast, however, is the negotiator. Goatee and sunglasses are replaced with tied back hair and lip-gloss. This negotiator adds more than cosmetic variety. The cards have markedly different effects which can alter the complexion of any given game.
It’s interesting to compare the two conversation card decks. In broad strokes each deck is comparable and balanced, but there are nuanced differences. For example, the 'Minor Extraction' card from the base set with the expansion's 'Hostage Escorts', both cost the same. Both success outcomes are the same, however, the price of failure on the prior is the death of a hostage. On the latter, another hostage is added to the pool. A subtle difference but one that could significantly affect the outcome of the game. On the whole, Crime Wave’s negotiator seems a little more hedged. Like the new dice, their edges seem a little more rounded.
The expansion also has its own terror and pivotal event cards. These, in the same satisfying way, add variety to a game already bristling with variables. So far, the game hits all of the same thematic and mechanical beats as the original. But where it breaks new ground is in the integration of both sets.
On the reverse of the play board the player will find instructions to combine the conversation and the terror decks of both the original and the Crime Wave set. Given that both are designed to be standalone this may seem like a pointless exercise. But after the player has been through a few games with both negotiators they will begin to see certain advantages, compromises and mitigations unique to each.
Is there an optimal cocktail? This reviewer doesn’t have the statistical prowess or patience to give a definitive judgement but there is certainly value in this feature. With a game so driven by the randomness of the dice roll, any agency accrued by the player through legitimate deck finagling feels like a victory against the vicissitudes of the threat rolls.
Final Thoughts on Crime Wave
Hostage Negotiator: Crime Wave delivers exactly the same experience as the original Hostage Negotiator, but with its characters, components and unique decks it also enriches every aspect of the base.
Initially I was worried that it didn’t have its own Arkayne Massua, a bog standard, no frills bad guy to establish the norm. But this game has no norm. It is a mixing desk designed to engineer myriad adversaries and situations. And Van Ryder Games has and continues to live up to this creation by releasing a whole film franchise worth of abductor packs and this box sets up house to accept these and the coming array of villains.