In an unknown and uncertain future Raxxon, a huge corporation, has amassed power and control over the ordinary citizens, a secret faction known only as A.R.K. has risen to challenge those who wish to dominate the world.
Do you choose to side with the rebellion or work on behalf of Raxxon?
Specter Ops - Shadow of Babel, to use it’s full title, is a hidden movement game from Plaid Hat Games for two to five players, with one choosing to play as an lone Agent using stealth and select abilities and the other player's choosing specially enhanced Hunters.
As an Agent you get to choose in secret from one of four different charters who each posses a unique gift, you also select three to five item cards (depending on how many players) that have a one time use during the game. Each Agent also has a specific item card only they can use.
Once this has happened the Agent player will roll a D6 to determine the placement of objectives on the amazingly detailed game board, which represents a Raxxon facility. Finally the Agent player will also have a handy map, which is a smaller copy of the game board in-which to record movement, health and the items they have available.
Depending on how many other players are in the game, one of two things happens for those choosing the Hunters. If there’s only two players in the game, the second player will choose any two Hunters who will be identifiable to all players as the corresponding minis will be placed ‘inside’ (a separate placement board) the Hunter's car, a car token gets placed on a specific point on the board and this carries the Hunters on sections of the board that are designed as roads.
However Specter Ops becomes far more interesting in a five player setting as now once the four Hunters have been chosen, the Agent player gets to secretly decide which other player will in fact be aiding them, so effectively a traitor role unknown to three of the Hunters.
The Agent begins at a set location known to the Hunters and then decides which objective to attempt to achieve first. The player has 40 turns to successfully unlock three out of four objective points and then make a run for one of the exits in order to win the game.
However if the Hunters manage to trace your movements and attack you until your health is depleted they will win instead. Alternatively if the Agent hasn’t managed to escape with the objectives completed they lose and Hunters win.
The Hunters begin in their car but can spread out or stick together, and the car itself can act as an tracker for the Hunters. Being able to quickly scan between the board and the map is a vital skill for the Agent and you won't use your mini often unless caught.
Hunters knowing which Agent they are dealing with can give them a slight advantage though don’t forget, those item cards if used at the right moment can get you out a tight spot.
Specter Ops has a fantastic design and presentation, especially if you love Sci-Fi settings/themes. This has a very cyberpunk dystopian future vibe to it, the minis are all nicely detailed and distinctive and the rules and mechanics are all simple enough for anyone unfamiliar with this style of game to play without any real problems. I would however recommend first time players to be assigned a Hunter role.
The gameplay is intense, it's full of deception and strategy and no two games will ever play exactly the same. Often who wins and loses will be down to the last few moves in a well-played game.
Choosing the right Agent for your preferred style can make all the difference, be it the tough tank who can soak up damage or a tricky spider who likes to set traps. Likewise, playing the right combination of Hunters can make life hell for the Agent to stay clear of trouble, however I feel it does balance out well overall and it’s the ultimate game of cat and mouse that never gets boring at any stage.
Closing thoughts on Specter Ops
Overall I’m a huge fan of this type of game and in particular I love the style and setting, as well as the art direction! Specter Ops can feel fast paced and some players may struggle to know the best move to make and this can result in some downtime or direction from other players, though as an Agent this isn’t possible and could result in early loses as a beginner.
Specter Ops definitely benefits greatly from a learning curve and by having more players.