Narcos, as a title, is taken from the hit Netflix TV series. Narcos, originally on Kickstarter, is about Pablo Escobar and his run from his enemies in Colombia. Note; this is an 18+ rated game due to the nature of the product - cocaine/coke as you wish to call it.
Narcos - The Game
The run and hide mechanic in this game, known as hidden movement by many, has been a hit and a popular choice in gamers collections and at tables. Others in the genre, perhaps to familiarise yourself with the premise would be Letter’s from Whitechapel (about Jack the Ripper), the Spiel des Jahres, game of the year for 1983, Scotland Yard (self-explanatory); Fury of Dracula (self-explanatory) and Spector Ops, from the Century: Spice Road designer Emerson Matsuuchi (where baddies team up to try and catch the goody, they’re not bullies, the goody is a secret agent!).
In Narcos (slightly unlike the other games) the aim to avoid capture twice (Scotland Yard is once as is Whitechapel, Spector Ops is multiple, but you lose health when they attack where you are. Another game similar in concept is Captain Sonar, where you don’t need to specifically find them but you need to be within one space to launch something explosive to damage their hull.
One player opts to be Pablo, with other players taking on various other roles; the army, rival cartels, the DEA as examples. I went for the DEA. Each player (team they are representing) have different abilities (like the previously mentioned games), and these abilities include moving further, activating more options and searching through the “strength” of their combined forces.
For Pablo to win he needs to complete three objectives.
Pablo will choose somewhere to hide. The slight unique twist in this hidden movement game is the fact the one against many players has six minions that he can deploy (to an extent equalising the balance – they’re weaker but with one focused mind it can be more potent). These henchmen can help him, plus act as a hindrance and a distraction to the good guys.
Pablo made his fortune through drugs and his network in Colombia means he is happy being in the forests as much as the cities. He can instruct coca farms to produce and white (plastic) sugar cubes can appear on the board. Whilst the team need to locate Pablo, we also need to consider confiscating the contraband as Pablo can get (millions of) dollars from them when the round ends (one way to help him win).
This is the unique draw to the game; the mere mention of cubes may have led some to ask if it is like Pandemic. Pandemic, one of the best co-op board games, does have this in common and the decisions are as thought out. Cubes aren’t everything, a few appeared but it wasn’t dozens, I feel it would be interesting to explore the cube production more in this game.
Players can use a common ‘tactical unit’ to enquire and ask Pablo about his whereabouts (let’s assume we’re not breaking the fourth wall and we’re asking defected locals, who loved his charitable donations). The unit area is where you can place a marker and find out which sector he is in (like Captain Sonar) or how far away he is, whether is in an Urban or Jungle location, etc. Pablo can move long distances though the various airports on the board; however, he cannot cross the path of someone hunting him (each player controls two miniatures, a colour for each team).
The group tactical radio is a finite resource, you have to think when you wish to risk using it. Similar to Zombicide, one player has to do all of their actions (before another player and whoever wished to go next can go) before one of Pablo’s henchmen moves (or does something in another way – Pablo only moves at the beginning of the round, it’s up to Pablo if and when he wishes to deploy any of his henchman, worth getting out as they slow the allies from taking turns and going places).
For reference: The henchman all have different abilities and different strengths (to defeat). These strengths are hidden; Pablo assigns strength to each henchman before Pablo first moves. The strength-o-meter for the good guys is down to a draw stack with values principally valued two to four. One of the DEA abilities is to search further to fund a higher valued strength. The strength is also used for locating him via the unit as well.
In summary; if Pablo is not found once every player has been a new round starts and Pablo moves (somewhere).
Thoughts on Narcos
One thing this made us realise is that the longevity of the game (play duration) could technically be endless? Noch mal! also has this potential, but I think it’s the best roll and write out there (Ganz Schon Clever strategies are too narrow, there is one). Having said that, we narrowed it down to one of three locations in the first round and a mathematician in our midst gave us the stat as to why the 33% chance of him being at one location was the one which should target – whereby we use up a special action on the tactical toolbox which means he has to reveal if there (remember, these special actions, can only be used once per round – on in the case of the characters like the DEA abilities to search deeper, once per game).
It was near the end of round two where we luckily caught him. He was close to completing his second mission and was able to complete the third immediately at the start of round three…starting at an airport.
In the course of the game you need to stay focused on recalling where he could or couldn’t be, with markers (which we borrowed from the box) we mocked out and eliminated possibilities, so you don’t have to risk a lean-in stoop. With numerous characters, both good and bad, there is the option to play it many times uniquely (having said that I don’t know it, based on abilities, whether certain henchmen are better suited earlier one, it looks like you can freely choose and might depend what aids objectives).
The components in Narcos are decent; the shades on the colours suggest they implore to be painted. Very nice miniatures and I think “fans of figures" won’t be disappointed. The interaction with players I felt is stronger than others in the genre as the players' abilities are slightly weaker than say Spector Ops (where you are a fighter looking to inflict damage) but the shared goal/resource of the Tactical Radio/Unit/Tool/Lunchbox means players think carefully about the order of playing - the first and last players might be a slam dunk, but who to play second and third is where the discussion is most vital.