- Designers: Dan Keltner and David Short
- Publisher: Tasty Minstrel Games
- Players: 2-6
- Ages: 13+
- Time: 30 minutes
Bomb Squad is a new entry in the suddenly very crowded market of cooperative games. As this genre continues to grow, new games have to bring something new to the table to help them stand out from the rest. Bomb Squad integrates two known concepts, neither actually new to cooperative games, but as far as I can tell, never used together in a game: unknown hand contents (a la Hanabi) and a realtime component.
As the story goes, your team has been called to navigate a building to rescue hostages inside as well as defuse bombs that the dastardly terrorists have left behind. For reasons unknown to me, you have a handful of Command cards, but you don’t seem to know what those cards are. What you do know is that every 10 minutes (in real time), a bomb will go off, so you can’t dilly dally around waiting to figure out what you’ve got in your hand!
There are a number of missions in the box – a rules booklet includes 12 different ones – that you look thru and choose one to play. The set up will tell you how many bombs are in the building as well as which room tiles are used to set up the game. The bombs will blow up at specified times. You could try to remember all this stuff, or you can download a free app to your phone which will run the timer for you automatically as well as play background music, etc.
There are a number of different robot tiles available to use (you start with 2 double sided tiles), and the scenario setup will recommend a specific one to use – but the players are welcome to choose any robot they like; each has slightly different rules that go with it. Each robot has a main battery component as well as a reserve battery tank. In general, you use the Main battery for actions. However, if the main battery is empty, you can then use up Reserve battery units to complete your task.
The board is set up using the tiles specified in the mission, and the hostages, bombs and doors are placed in their appropriate places. You can make any mission more difficult by using the EPIC settings – this generally involves putting even more things into the board. You can also choose to add on specific roles to each player (there are a bunch of cards in the game that each give a specific role and a special ability that comes with that role).
Each player then gets a hand of instruction cards from the deck. These cards have three different levels (colors), and they tell your robot to move, open a door, rescue a hostage, or disarm a bomb. When you get your cards, you hold them away from you so that you cannot see what is on the cards – only your teammates get to know what cards you have!
The timer is started, and the game begins. The game ends in a number of ways: 1) if all the bombs are defused, 2) if a bomb detonates and blows everyone up, or 3) the robot’s Reserve Battery runs out of units.
On any given turn, the active player gets to take a single action and then play moves clockwise. There are four options as to what to do on your turn:
- A) Give Intel – you provide one of your teammates with information about his hand. You are allowed to tell them about either Color or Action type. You choose one of the 3 colors or one of the three types of Actions, and point out ALL matching cards of that type to another player. It is often helpful to use your finger to touch the cards so that there is no confusion. An example would be: “This card and this card are both yellow”. You must tell the truth when you do this and you must not exclude any cards of matching type.
- B) Program an Instruction card – on the control frame on the board, there are seven activation spaces. You could choose to play one of your cards down in the first available slot from the left. You draw a new card to replenish your hand. If you have filled the final slot in the instruction row, the robot will automatically activate. (This will be explained later as you can choose to voluntarily activate the robot as well).
- C) Discard a card – you can discard a card, and when doing so, say what color and type you think it is. Then discard the card face up onto the discard pile. For each of the two attributes you are able to correctly name, your robot’s Main battery is increased by one unit. Note that you can never refill the reserve battery. Then, draw a card to bring your hand back up to full size.
- D) Activate the Robot – you can choose to activate the robot on your turn (though it will automatically activate if there are a full set of instructions down on the table). Turn over all the order cards and then arrange them in any order. Your teammates can, of course, give you their opinions on what to do – but in the end, the player who has activated the robot has final say. Don’t talk too much – because the timer is always ticking away! As a special rule, if there are 5 or fewer cards in the order, you may optionally discard ONE of the cards. If there are 6 or more, you must use all the cards that you have! There is a battery power cost based on the number of order cards that you use – and in addition, you will lose two additional battery units for each order card which you are unable to perform with your robot.
Once you have re-arranged the cards, you simply do them from left to right. You must be orthogonally adjacent to a door to open it, to a bomb to disarm it, or to a hostage to rescue it. Note that the color of the card must match the object that you act on. You must use a Yellow rescue hostage card to rescue a yellow hostage token. You must use a Red open door card to open a red door – though note that you can only open a particular colored door IF and only IF you have already saved a hostage of that color. When you move, you move in a straight line, and you may not cross any dark lines on the board nor can you cross over any tokens. You must be able to make the full allotment of movements or else the action fails, no moves happen, and you lose 2 battery points.
The game continues around the board with each player taking one of the four action options. With the phone app, you will be alerted when you have reached one of the time thresholds for a bomb detonation. If that particular bomb is still on the board when you reach the time, the game is over as that bomb explodes, the building blows up and everyone is dead. However, if you’ve already defused that particular bomb, you just keep going. Again, the game ends if: 1) if all the bombs are defused, 2) if a bomb detonates and blows everyone up, or 3) the robot’s Reserve Battery runs out of units.
Once the game is over, you can then use the scoring rubric in the mission rules to see how you managed to do. Generally, you score points for each hostage saved and each bomb defused. There are penalty points taken away for each reserve battery unit used. You can then compare your score to the chart on the mission rules to see where you fall in the five-point scale of success.
My thoughts on the game
Right off the bat, I’ll say that my favorite thing about the game is probably the time pressure from the fixed time limit of the game. First, it really cuts down on the feature of co-ops that I hate the most – the incessant arguing back and forth about what we could do, what we should do, what someone else should do, etc. You can talk all you want, but in the end, someone’s gotta choose quickly or we’re all just going to lose anyways. Second, it puts a finite end to the game, and as much as co-ops are growing on me, I’m still generally not in the mood to slog at one for 120 minutes or more. This one clearly cannot overstay its welcome!
The game is really frenetic because of the time pressure, and at some point in each game, it seems like there comes a point when someone just makes a move to keep things rolling along. This usually involves placing a card down in the instruction row before you’re 100% sure that you know what it is! I do like how the takes the (admittedly intriguing and SdJ worthy) mechanic of identifying the cards in your hand but incorporates that into a larger game where you actually then have to do something with those cards, not just at stack them in order.
As we learn the game, I think sometimes we lose a lot of time trying to give the optimal clue – and I think there are times that speed is more important. We also lose a lot of time in planning out some of the robot runs. We have tried a strategy where we activate the robot more often, but we get someone planning out moves so that when their turn comes, they choose to activate and they already have a good plan in place. Due to our haste in putting cards down, we also like to activate the robot at 5 cards or less – knowing that this isn’t the most efficient use of battery power per action card played, but it does give us the flexibility of discarding a card which often saves us 2 battery units and then makes the play just as efficient as a 7 card run…
The rulebook gives you all of the rules, but I must say that it has a really annoying and frustrating habit of referring to sections on different pages – BUT THERE ARE NO PAGE NUMBERS on the pages! After a few frustrated flips thru the book, I ended up drawing in my own page numbers – but that’s not something I should have to do with a professionally printed rulebook. Admittedly, it’s easily fixed, but still annoying.
The components otherwise are really well done. The cards have held up well so far through early play, and the tiles are nice thick stock. TMG has also a wonderful job of adding in extra tokens to allow for self-made scenarios (though I’m sure that they’re already planning ahead for bonus convention/web based extra scenarios!)
The game seems pretty replayable at this point – you get 12 missions in the book, each can be upgraded to an EPIC level of difficulty, and each can be made somewhat different in gameplay based on the roles that you choose to use (or go without role cards entirely). Furthermore, since each mission comes with a scoring rubric and a possible perfect score, you can even simply replay a scenario again to try to improve your score. Given that each game takes a short and fixed amount of time, I can see that happening for sure.
Though co-op games are really never the first thing to be suggested in my group, the combination of short playing time, interesting mechanisms and variable difficulty levels will likely get this to the table more than other games in the genre.
Until your next appointment,
The Gaming Doctor