I like social deduction games. When a new one comes out, I’m always eager to try it out and see what new twist the designer(s) have added to the genre. Two Rooms and a Boom from Tuesday Knight Games, designed by Alan Gerding & Sean McCoy is significantly different than most other social deduction games, so much so that it can take a few games to “get” what’s happening and to realize what strategies are available.
The game plays from 6-30 people, though because of an in-room leader voting mechanism (each of the two rooms is better with an odd number), it works best at 10, 14, 18, 22, 26 and 30.
In terms of game length, it’s claimed on BGG to be 15 minutes, not including setup and the time between rounds (the rounds total out at 15 minutes, but they often go past that). Add in pulling people together and explaining new roles, and expect to play each game in about 30 minutes.
This review covers the print and play version of the game that is available online, and not the upcoming “real” version that will be published by Tuesday Knight Games.
Two Rooms and a Boom has an intriguing premise: The Blue team, led by the president, is trying to avoid the Red team’s Bomber, whose goal is to blow up the president. One player on the Blue team is the President, and one player on the Red team is the Bomber. The Blue team wins if the Bomber is not in the same room as the President at the end of the game, and Red team wins if he is.
To start, everyone is handed a card, which is kept secret from the other players. This card indicates your team color and if you have a special role on that team (like the President or the Bomber). The players are divided randomly into two rooms (which can be physical rooms or just areas that are far enough apart that they can’t hear each other), and the game begins. A timer (I’ve found a large iPad screen in each room to be better than stopwatches, which are recommended by the rules) is used to control the length of each of the 5 rounds, which get successively shorter over time.
There can be a moderator, but really the person is an organizer, setting up the cards, handing them out, separating the players into teams and making sure that everyone follows the round structure correctly. Most importantly that moderator/organizer can play.
In each room, players may say anything they want to other players, including asking them to “co-reveal” (show each other their cards) or “color reveal” (show each other their team color). In this way each player starts to build up information about his own team and the opposing team. Because it is unlikely that the President or Bomber will co-reveal to anyone not on their team, players who refuse a co-reveal are deemed suspicious.
Once time for that round is up, the leaders meet between the rooms and transfer their hostages (it’s always the same number from each room, though the number decreases in subsequent rounds), and the next round begins.
After the fifth round (where only one hostage is exchanged), the game ends. The location of the President and the Bomber is revealed, and if they are both in the same room, Red wins. If they are in different rooms, Blue wins.
Currently the game is available only via Print and Play at http://tworoomsandaboom.com/download/ , though a Kickstarter campaign is set to start very soon. The rules are frighteningly long until you realize that the bulk of them details the dozens of special roles available in the game. In terms of the way the rules are set up…well, it’s a little daunting, and probably very difficult for new players to grok. I’m hoping it gets a huge rewrite/reorg and layout change prior to the published game, or those new players are going to have a lot of trouble figuring out what to do.
Speaking of rules, there are several “words to know” that are listed…among them obvious things like “Allegiance” (though “team” should be sufficient), “dead” (no really, it’s in the list), and less obvious things like “shy” (you aren’t allowed to show your card/color to anyone) and my favorite, the “privacy promise.” A Privacy Promise is not what your local high school is promoting to prevent gossip about who’s making out with who, but instead is about showing your card to someone else and only that person, without anyone else looking. Many of these specialized terms could be removed to make the game more digestible (how about “co-reveal your card in private” or even “private”?) as right now they add to that overwhelming feeling you often get when reading rules that are too full of new ideas and terminology.
The cards are fairly basic, but mostly clear, though they consist of clip art/images. The game is totally playable with them, but the cards are definitely not pretty in their current state. Sean McCoy, one of the two designers of the game, has said that the published version will have significantly better artwork. I like the game logo, and I’m hoping that its “flat” style will be represented on the final cards.
In summary, the print and play version will work in its basic form, but it isn’t going to work for a published game. I’m looking forward to seeing the final version on Kickstarter.
Here’s an area where Two Rooms and a Boom shines. There are dozens of special roles for each team, and a large number of “neutral” (gray) roles that add even more variety. The first set of special roles introduces the Blue team Doctor, who has to co-reveal with the President (in order to give him his meds) and the Red team Engineer, who has to co-reveal with the Bomber to fix his bomb, or their respective teams can’t win.
After playing with some of the special roles, you’ll find yourself not wanting to play the original basic game anymore…that’s okay as long as you don’t have new players joining who can get easily overwhelmed by the sheer number of roles available.
Just adding one or two special roles to subsequent plays keeps the game fresh and interesting, and eventually your group will focus on the set(s) that they find the most interesting.
I found the special roles to be a little hit or miss. The thematic (with the original theme, see below) ones like the President’s Daughter (which should be the Vice President, thematically, but I digress) were the most engaging, while some of the far reaching ones like the Angel and Devil (shouldn’t it be “demon” to match the Angel?) didn’t grab me so much.
There are two camps of people when it comes to the theme. The first camp is “Hey, it’s a game, it’s fun and silly and different.” The second camp is “Wait, you have two teams represented by red (republican?) and blue (democrat) with a “democrat” president that is being blown up by a “republican” bomber?”
I’m closer to the first than the second, but at the same time, playing “kill the president” seems like a really bad idea. I’d be more comfortable with killing “el presidento” or maybe instead of a Bomber, the red team would have a guy who takes away the President’s teleprompter. But as the Tuesday Knight guys say, it’s just a game, and there are movies and tv shows about the president/white house being blown up all the time (though the popularity of such is now unclear with the recent box office failures of Olympus Has Fallen and White House Down).
That’s one thing. Once you get to the weirder roles, like the “shy guy” and the monster set, the theme kind of goes out the window.
How is Two Rooms and a Boom like werewolf and/or Resistance?
While there are several deduction games available, the one everyone compares new ones to is werewolf. And the thing is, Two Rooms and a Boom really isn’t like werewolf at all. Outside of the hidden role cards, the games are very very different. While Two Rooms and a Boom might appeal to some werewolf players, the addition of a timer and fixed round structure makes it feel very different. Add to that the fact that people are standing and not sitting, and they can move amongst other players easily, and you’ve got yourself an entirely new kind of social deduction game.
Resistance is another really popular social deduction game, and while it has two teams that are closer in size than werewolf, that’s where the similarities to Two Rooms and a Boom end as well. Resistance is a slightly gamified version of werewolf. Two Rooms and a Boom is, in many ways, less gamified. There are still deductions to be made, but there’s a lot more forced social interaction (if you want to win) in Two Rooms and a Boom. The layers in Resistance are deeper than those in Two Rooms and a Boom (in the basic game, certainly…once you add the special roles that starts to change).
So, will Werewolf/Resistance players like Two Rooms and a Boom? I think most of them will, but it depends on what it is you like about those two games, and will definitely vary from person to person. I actually think that telling people that Two Rooms and a Boom is similar to either game does it a disservice, because it immediately conjures up notions of what this game should be, and it’s so different than those two that it really stands alone on its own merits.
A better question might be, if you hate werewolf and/or Resistance, will you like Two Rooms and a Boom? And that depends on why you hate the other game(s). If you hate Werewolf because you don’t like elimination or the requirement that it has a non-playing moderator, Two Rooms and a Boom doesn’t have either. If you hate Resistance because there’s no way to determine who is on which team for certain until the end of the game, Two Rooms and a Boom will give you actionable, solid intel about other players. If you hate those games because you don’t like lying, hidden information, or the very concept of social deduction games, well then you’re out of luck here too.
Two Rooms and Boom can be great fun, but leave your preconceived ideas at the door, as the differences are greater than the similarities to other social deduction games. While the current set of rules and components are just adequate, talking with the Tuesday Knight guys has me believing that they’ll be much much better with the Kickstarter release (and you’ll be able to tell right away on there if they are anyway). And the reality is that the majority of people will learn the rules “live” from friends, and not read them in a manual.
For large numbers of people, it’s engaging, relatively fast, and fun in a different way than most any other party game. If you’re a werewolf or Resistance player, give Two Rooms and a Boom a shot. And by a shot I mean several plays where most of them include some of the special roles (just one play of the basic game is great to learn the mechanics, but you probably won’t fall in love with it after a single play).
Personally, I’m eagerly awaiting the Kickstarter release of the game, and I’m sure it’ll be a oft-played alternative to other late night gaming activities.
Thoughts from Other Opinionated Gamers
Dale – “ If you hate those games because you don’t like lying, hidden information, or the very concept of social deduction games, well then you’re out of luck here too.” Word. But, I’m sure that others will enjoy it… based on the genre, this is clearly not for me.
Ben McJunkin (3 plays) – At a broad level, I am not a fan of party games. With rare exception, I don’t see the appeal in trying to include some rigid rule-based activity into an otherwise relaxed social atmosphere. Likewise, I don’t see the point in purporting to play a game when most of the people at the table are not actively competing (and don’t seem to care much if they win or lose).
That said, I think Two Rooms and a Boom is a fair addition to the social deduction party game genre. As Ted aptly notes, the game allows players to get up, walk around, switch groups, and otherwise mingle in a way that most games don’t allow. It contributes to the sense of a “party.” I also think the rules are fairly intelligible, which is a must for any situation that is likely to involve large numbers of (possibly intoxicated) people. The game’s largest weakness is as a “game.” Perhaps it is merely my lack of experience with these types of social games, but I found the strategy to be too ephemeral, and the rules too open-ended. Unlike Resistance, which forces players to act in a particular ways that convey information to every other player, Two Rooms and a Boom allows players too much freedom for the deduction elements to have much meaning. Most of the game, I found myself more-or-less randomly deciding whether to engage in reveals (and, then, usually only with people I liked socially). It didn’t feel much like I was “playing” so much as I was “participating.” Perhaps this is what non-gamers look for in such games, but it was not to my taste.
I also felt that some of the special roles were less interesting than others. The game we played with Zombies still sticks out in my mind as a particularly un-fun experience. I would rather play a game with a handful of well-balanced, well-designed options than to have an abundance of variety, but no assurance of consistent entertainment from game-to-game. Based on all of the above, I am merely “neutral” on the game.