Tears in the Rain--A Review of Rogue Agent

The future is a violent and dangerous place, and Rain City is the worst of the worst. You're an Agent, tasked with keeping the place safe by capturing criminals, preventing assassinations, and defusing bombs. You'll have plenty of resources and informants at your disposal. Is it as exciting as the promise of the premise? Let's find out.  

 


Title - Rogue Agent

Designer - David Ausloos

Publisher - Stronghold Games

Number of players - 2-4 for Basic Mode' 3-4 for Android

Ages - 12 and up (This seems about right.)

Play time - 90 Minutes (This seems about right.)

Category/Genre - Dice-rolling, action-point allowance, hidden roles

Review copy provided by Stronghold Games.

Pros:

  • Cool, underutilized theme.
  • The Bomb-diffusion mini game is pretty cool.

Cons:

  • Overly complex.
  • Dice rolls govern practically everything.
  • Few points and a short game mean the penalty for failure is severe.

Good for...

  • Family? Maybe! This doesn't really strike me as a "family game"--at least for my family of younger kids. It's probably too gritty, but maybe for older kids.

  • Youth Group? No! Too many moving parts for such a casual group.

  • Gamers? Yes! If your group doesn't mind dice-rolling, and likes games where theme trumps gameplay, this might work for you.

  • Nongamers? No! Too many moving parts to break this out with newbies.

Rating:

* Firestone: 3

This is NOT a good game. It's bloated, luck-dependant, and full of odd design choices. My game group is a diverse lot, and not one person I played with even remotely liked it. And the one interesting and fun part (the bomb diffusion) is ruined by having a dice roll sometimes determine that, too.



The Components

13 Location tiles (6 precincts and 7 standard Locations)

46 Criminal cards

4 Agent miniatures

1 Police Squad miniature

1 Bomb Sheet

1 Influence tracker

25 Credits

16 dice (9 special and 7 regular)

25 Agent tracker markers

5 Clock tokens

4 Agent trackers

20 Event tokens (4 Bomb, 4 Assassin, 12 Criminals)

1 cloth bag

28 Informants

12 Identity tokens

4 Influence markers

4 Investigate tokens

 

The Setup

Place the Headquarters tile in the center of the table. Shuffle the six Precinct tiles, place one of them orthogonally adjacent to the HQ tile, and then place the last two tiles diagonally down from the right and left Precinct tiles. Then fill in the gaps with the remaining City tiles until the final setup is three rows: two, three, and three. 

Everyone grabs the Agent, informants, and Influence markers in their colors--plus four dollars. Everyone starts in HQ, and with the Agent tracker markers on the starting space.

The Gameplay

The game is played in a series of rounds, and each round consists of three phases: The Time Phase, The Action Phase, and the City Phase.

The Time Phase is where you add new threats to the board. The current first player draws as many tokens from the bag as there are players in the game, and then rolls the dice. The pips represent various places on the board, and the player chooses which of the rolled places to put tokens. If the token is a Bomb, the player rolls another die, and that represents how many turns before the bomb explodes. If the token is a Criminal, the player draws a Criminal card and places it facedown under another token matching the Criminal token on the board. 

During the Action phase you can take actions from a long list of them. 

RainCity.JPG

Cruise--This lets an agent move up to two spaces away. If you've upgraded your engine, you can move up to three spaces away. The first Cruise action is free, and each additional action costs a fuel. 

You might have to "fight" thugs on a precinct space. Fighting here only consists of canceling out thugs with informants, shields, and ammo.

Investigate--If there's a Criminal in your location, you can spend two evidence points to look at a facedown Criminal card. You can't share the info with other players. 

Justice--There are seven (!) different Justice actions, and you can perform up to two of them per turn.

1) Attack a criminal: Choose a criminal in your location, If the card is facedown, reveal it. Most Criminals have one or more reveal effects. Some are triggered if the Criminal had been Investigated, and others if it hasn't been Investigated. 

After you've resolved the effects, you grab some dice (and possibly extra dice depending on upgrades), and roll. Starburst symbols are hits, and X symbols are misses. No, wait. For some reason X symbols are boosts. Boosts count as two hits. Anyway, you'll possibly end up with some hits. If you're attacking an Assassin token and roll two hits against it, it goes back to the bag and you get two VPs. If you miss against an Assassin you will either suffer no consequences if the location is shielded, or lose two stamina if it's non-shielded. AND, you lose one fewer stamina points for each of your informants in a location.

If you attack a Criminal, you have to meet or exceed the Criminal's health. You haven't captured it yet; it's just subdued. So you flip it from the Rampant side (which is grey for some reason) to the Subdued side (which is red for some reason). The player gains one VP. If you miss, you resolve the retaliation effect on the card. 

Confused yet? That's just one of the Justice actions. 

2) Arrest a criminal: If you're at a location with a Subdued Criminal, you can place it under arrest, which just means the Criminal is in your custody. 

3) Intercept a criminal: If you're in a location with another agent with a Criminal in custody, you can try to steal the Criminal. For each fuel you spend, you get one green die--up to three of them. Why fuel when you're already on the location? I have no idea. The defending agent gets to buy any remaining green dice the same way. This time you're looking for cruiser symbols on the dice. Cruisers from the defender cancel a cruiser from the aggressor. If there are any unblocked cruisers, you can steal a Criminal. 

4) Turn in a Criminal: Go to the HQ location, return the Criminal token to the bag, put the Criminal card in front of you for end-game scoring. Then take credits (money) based on the reward on the Criminal card. 

5) Search a location: Locations show various dice colors. You'll grab the appropriate dice and roll them; then you can reroll any or all dice once. Any symbols showing allow you to move that upgrade/resource up on the agent tracker. Hearts heal you. Credits get you money. Blast symbols mean you encountered a thug and have to "fight" them again. Boost symbols let you cancel a blast or double another die result. 

6) Buy commodities: Instead of rolling for resources/upgrades, you can buy them. You'll get fewer resources, but won't have to fight any thugs. 

7) Defuse a bomb: This is one of the most confusing parts of the game, but also the most interesting. You'll be rolling dice to figure out if you diffuse the bomb, or if it blows up in your face. 

Recruitment--The last thing you can do is Recruit. You pay two dollars to place one Informant in a vacant spot at your Agent's location.

After all of this, the City Phase happens. That's where Criminals and Assassins start moving around the city, and Bombs might start blowing up. There are various convoluted checks to see if you're attacked, what happens with a bomb, how much your Agent is hurt, depending on a variety of factors. 

Afterward, you start this process all over again. 

The game ends after the City phase of the 6th round. You get influence for various things during the game, one influence per informant still in the city at the end, and then you sort the Criminals you brought in into piles from the same syndicate. You get bonus points for having Criminals from the same syndicate. 

Android Mode

So Android mode is sort of the "advanced" version of the game--and it only supports 3-4 players.

In Android mode, one of the players is likely an Android (possibly two players in a 4-player game). You shuffle Identity tokens and each player takes three of them. If you have two or more tokens with an android, then you might become one later in the game. Until a player is exposed as an Android, he or she plays as a regular Agent. 

Players might be forced to reveal Identity tokens, and if your second Android token is revealed, you're now an Android. The things that make you reveal an Identity token are:

  • If a player loses his or her last stamina.
  • The Retaliation Effect of certain Criminals will force this. 
  • Players can spend four Evidence to scan another player. 
  • The police squad figure forces people on or adjacent to the figure to reveal. This can add some interesting second-guessing, as you wonder why THAT guy is avoiding coming near the Police Squad. Is he an Android, or does he really just want to go to that particular tile? 

Once a player (or players in a 4-player game) is revealed to be an Android, they're now actively trying to sabotage the game. They can attack Agents, and Locations, and just cause massive problems--which gives the player influence points. 

This version plays through 8 rounds rather than 6.  

The Verdict

I've not had a great relationship with designer David Ausloos' games. Some people in my game group played Dark, Darker, Darkest, and no one had anything good to say about it. We played Panic Station a few times, and it was just too fragile and silly. Lots of potential, but potential that was too easily messed up by the nonsensical gameplay. 

But I truly went into Rogue Agent with an open mind. I was hoping Panic Station's potential might be manifested here in a good game. Unfortunately, I found some of the same problems in Rogue Agent. 

These might seem like nitpicky complaints, but when the small issues start to pile up, soon you have a mountain. 

  • Player Aids: This game has SO many moving parts; I can think of few games that needed player aids as badly as Rogue Agent, but they aren't there. Sure, I can go online and print out a player aid they've since created. But I shouldn't have to. 
  • Credits: Nowhere in the rule book does it say what the two denominations are. I have a sticky note on my rulebook that reads, "Blue = 1; Red = 5." How were these basic things not caught by playtesters?
  • Criminal Colors: The red side of the Criminal tokens is subdued. The grey side is rampant. That's so nonintuitive... 
  • X's On the Dice: In practically every other game out there, an X means a miss. Here, it means Boost, so you get more stuff. There are lots of different symbols to choose from for a Boost; choose one of those.

The biggest problem for me is that so much of the game comes down to a roll of the dice. There are ways to buff out your guys, but in the end it's all dice rolls, so you can easily fail. Then you watch people with no upgrades waltz up to a Criminal and just mop up--again, thanks to die rolls. I have no idea how that's fun.

Rogue Agent is a game that really wants to immerse you in its promise--a deep, thematic cyberpunk mashup of Blade Runner, Mad Max, and Dredd. But it never drew me in. Every Agent is the same--you don't even have different characters with slightly different traits. If you want to draw me in, give me some personality. Give me a back story. And give me a special power! But alas, we all start out the same, and then add boring things to our character, like gasoline, and...sunglasses?

And where was the story arc? We were doing the exact same things over and over, and fighting Criminals who varied somewhat, but not enough to make them memorable, until X number of rounds and the game's over. And no, that X doesn't mean Boost. Who would use an X to represent a Boost? 

If you think this is your sort of game, here's my advice: Only play the Android version. When I got my review copy, Stephen at Stronghold Games assured me that the game really shines in the Android mode, and while I'm not sure I agree that it shines, it is far, far more interesting than the basic game. There are at least some decisions to make, and second-guessing people's motives for everything they're doing. I like that sort of thing A LOT. But when it's connected to boring gameplay, I'd rather play something that takes that fun core and ditches the bloat. That's also why I'll ALWAYS play The Resistance over Battlestar Galactica. 

 One of these Criminals is terrorizing the city, and the other is knocked out and on the way to jail. Guess which is which. WRONG!

One of these Criminals is terrorizing the city, and the other is knocked out and on the way to jail. Guess which is which. WRONG!

But it's not all bad. I like the gritty darkness of cyberpunk, and I love that they tried that theme here. Beyond that the bomb mini-game is good. It's the best part of the game, and I'd love to see more games try to use these sort of clever mini-games in their design, when it makes sense. It does here. Of course, that's ruined by sometimes having to make a final stabilization die roll that determines if the bomb still blows up even after you diffuse it. I get the thematic sense in having that happen, but in a gameplay sense, if it's going to come down to a die roll anyway, JUST HAVE ME ROLL ONE DIE AND BE DONE. 

I suppose I'm prepared to say that I just don't enjoy David Ausloos' designs. He's ambitious, but he tries to throw too many things into the mix. And he wants me to hand-wave away too many thematic decisions that just don't make sense. I would like to try a game where he picks one solid mechanic and builds a game around that. Maybe. 

This Rogue Agent needs to be Retired. Call in Deckard...

Thanks for reading! So do you agree with my assessment? Think I might be an Android? Let us know in the comments. And check back tomorrow when I review Voluspa, another game from Stronghold Games--but this time I (spoiler alert) really like it! 

UPDATE: I just heard from Stronghold that they're releasing Missions for Rogue Agent. The designer, and one of Stronghold's developers, have been working on addressing some complaints--namely that there's too much randomness with the dice, and that the game is too tight timewise. They're about to release the first mission, called Shadow Watch, which reduces the negative effects of dice-rolling and changes the end-game condition from a certain number of turns to a certain number of Criminals arrested. There are more Missions on the way, and they'll be available for free on BoardGameGeek. Keep an eye out for them. I really appreciate Stronghold's commitment to making their games better, and listening to their fans. Yay Stronghold!