The Snallygaster Situation is a cooperative game about saving your friend, and your town, from a monster.
You play the game on a board depicting the town of Lakeview. The board is divided into Districts with named buildings and several different symbols. Two Fed cars circle its roads.
Players decide who will play the Lost Kid (and the Monster), the rest play as normal kids.
At the start of the game, the Lost Kid draws five cards from their special deck. Place Search tokens on the locations mentioned on the cards, and form three discard piles. They then draw one more card, which tells them where they, the Lost Kid, are hidden.
Meanwhile, the other kids draw a Ride card (their bike, roller skates, etc.) and an Item, and take four Wheel tokens.
Finally, you pick one of the four monsters and complete their individual setup. This may include special cards, tokens, standees, tracks etc. Monsters also come with Goal cards, and a couple of paragraphs of the story for the players to read aloud.
The Lost Kid takes the first turn. From then on, turns progress with two kids' turns, then the Lost Kid, then two kids again and so on, regardless of whether you have two or five players.
On the Lost Kid's turn, they first play a Lost Kid card from their hand into one of the discard piles. This card has several functions:
It determines how the Monster moves and/or attacks.
It shows a location for a new Search token.
And it may hint at the Lost Kid's location. Many cards contain street names or symbols. By using the three discard piles, the Lost Kid can cover irrelevant clues or keep cards with important information visible.
Once the card is resolved, the Lost Kid moves the Feds' cars to the next intersection and draws up.
On the kids' turns, they flip a Wheel token and move its distance and direction. Then, if they reach a building with a Search token, or where they think the Lost Kid is hidden, they can Search. Search tokens let you draw Search cards, which will often give you tokens needed to defeat the Monster.
The kids win by completing all of the Goals related to the Monster. Finding the Lost Kid is one of these. Other possible goals include visiting certain locations and gathering certain tokens or Items.
When the Lost Kid is found, they gain a supernatural power and can start helping the other Kids complete goals.
You lose if the game's Doom Track reaches eleven. The Doom Track can increase for a number of reasons. Like the Feds driving past a kid or completing their round, or the Monster attacking a kid.
Experience And Replayability
My immediate thoughts about The Snallygaster Situation is that it is super immersive. It has lore and flavour. It is very fun to play, and really hard to win.
Very many things cause the Doom Track to move up, a lot of them largely out of the players' control. For example, certain Search cards have effects that may increase Doom. And some Monsters have powers that, unless the Lost Kid's player draws the exact right cards, may increase Doom every Monster turn.
I really enjoyed playing as the Lost Kid. It's interesting and fun to try to balance playing cards. Make the Monster do the least damage, while also giving the kids useful clues about your location. The latter task is rather controlled by luck, however, as you may simply not draw cards with good clues for several turns. And sometimes you will have no choice but to let the Monster move to and attack a kid.
Another aspect where randomness makes the game hard is when trying to gather tokens to complete Goals. Some Goals require symbols to be found in a specific order, which players cannot influence when drawing Search cards. This means that some Searches are not very helpful and, as mentioned above, may even increase Doom in the process.
Fun To Lose
All this said, even if I have yet to beat the game, I still think The Snallygaster Situation is an enjoyable time. I enjoy reading the monster lore and the bit of story in the Monster's introduction and Goal cards, as well as the short encounters on the Search cards.
The randomness of drawing cards, while making the game harder to win, does make it more replayable as well. I was worried that we would only be able to play each monster once because we would know the lore, but that is not the case.
I also want to point out that the four monsters truly are different game experiences. They each have markedly different Goals, threats, and necessary playstyles, which is great.
The Snallygaster Situation is a game you can enjoy even if you do not win. The ride towards the end is fun. Strategising and trying to control what you can, between what the kids and the Lost Kid are able to do, is interesting. And, of course, the game is not unbeatable, and the high difficulty level may be a welcome challenge for the right group of players.
A final note about player numbers. While the game is listed as being for 2-5 players, the play experience with two players is not optimal. The player playing the kids has to play as two characters, which can be confusing to keep track of. Most importantly, they are alone making decisions on what to do about the Monster and how to interpret the clues given by the Lost Kid. Until the Lost Kid is found, you are really missing the ability to interact and discuss. Which (in my opinion) is a big part of what is fun about cooperative games.
Art And Components
The art in The Snallygaster Situation is beautiful. It was created by Scott O'Gara and Heather Vaughan, the latter of whom also illustrated the Kids on Bikes RPG. The board game has the same nostalgic 1980s vibe.
All components are made of smooth, thick cardboard of good quality and with clear printing. That is, except the Feds' cars, which are made of hard, well-modelled plastic.
Special mention goes to the card back art which makes decks look like old school copybooks. A very charming way to help immersion in the '80s style childhood setting.
Similar Game Suggestions
If you like the sound of a board game with retro-aesthetic where you play as children trying to solve a mystery, The Initiative might be up your street. It is more about code-breaking than monster hunting, but there are similar token gathering goals and enemies who hunt you.
If the setting is less important, but you want more games where you can play as children trying to save their town from the onslaught of monsters, Zombie Teenz Evolution is an excellent example.
Both of these games also have strong narrative aspects. If you like or are interested in The Snallygaster Situation, they might also appeal to you.
The Snallygaster Situation is a fun and very challenging game with a strong theme, a variety of scenarios, and interesting asymmetrical player roles.
If you do not mind losing, or you enjoy taking on high levels of difficulty, you will have an excellent time trying to save your town from the monsters.