- Designer: Steffen Benndorf
- Publisher: NSV
- Players: 2-5
- Age: 8+
- Time: 20 mins
- Played with review copy provided by NSV
Contact is a game that is not necessarily in my comfort zone. I’m always skeptical of games with “limited communication” – sometimes I find the restriction too artificial, and it ends up frustrating me. To balance that out, I generally like Benndorf games, so this one was worth trying no matter what. Which side will win out here?
In Contact, you follow a signal while knowing neither exactly where it comes from, nor who sends it out. This signal wants to lead you to a certain planet, but instead of space coordinates, you receive only a strange sequence of flight instructions for your spaceship. Can you identify the right target planet from this signal? And what will you find when you get there?
In this unique game, you start by placing the Earth marker in the center of the table, topped with a wooden rocket. You then randomly place eighteen face down planet chips (lettered A to R) on the table anywhere in about a 16 in x 16 in area (twice the box width). There is a deck of planet cards, one for each planet which is shuffled. There is also a deck of 12 signal cards which is also shuffled and put on the table. The team gets a supply of six fuel barrels which they can use when their guesses are incorrect. One player is nominated to be the Source. All the other players will be collectively referred to as The Crew. While players have different roles, they are all playing together on the same team.
To start the game, the players must choose a level of difficulty – anywhere from 1 to 6. The matching number of cards is taken from the planet deck and the corresponding planet tokens on the table are flipped up. These initial cards are set aside into what is now called the target deck. The game will now be played in a series of 12 rounds; the players will win if they can correctly guess the target planet in all 12 rounds before they run out of fuel.
To start each round, a signal card is flipped up, this represents the award for guessing the target planet right on the first guess. Then, the top planet card is revealed, and the corresponding planet chip is flipped over on the table. The drawn planet card is added to the target deck and this deck is shuffled. Then the Source player draws one out at random; this is the target for this round.
The Source is responsible for sending out a signal from a planet that only he knows the identity of. The Source is trying to get the Crew to reach the planet from where the signal is being sent from. Remember that the different planets were randomly scattered on the table. The Source player now maps out a route, going from planet to planet in straight lines until he reaches the target planet. There is no limit to the number of planets that are visited along the route. You may use any of the nineteen chips (whether flipped up or down) as stopovers, but you can only end your trip at a face up planet tile. You cannot skip a planet as you travel, if your chosen straight line encounters a planet, you must tap your fingers to acknowledge this.
However, the catch here is that the Source may not use words to communicate this to the players. Instead, he uses only his hands. He places his hand flat on the table. When everyone is paying attention, he then lifts his fingers off the table to signify that he his flying the rocket to the next planet. If he makes a stopover, he taps his fingers audibly on the table to signify this. If the route continues, the Source picks his fingers up again to show that he is on the move, and again taps at the end of the segment. This continues until the flight is complete and he has traveled to the Source planet. While this transmission is occurring, it is important for the player to maintain the same speed of his imaginary journey. Thus, if a very short time elapses between taps, then maybe the actual distance between planets on the table is one-half of an inch. However, if it takes three or four seconds between taps, then maybe the rocket traveled across the 16 inch distance of the playing surface… Its up to the source to keep the metronome running in his head, and as long as he keeps this a constant ratio, the Crew should have a decent time figuring out where the rocket ship is going.
So, when the Source draws the target card, he is given some time to look at the map to plan his route. It is recommended that the Crew go do something else (or at least not look at the Source) so that they don’t get inadvertent clues from following where the Source is looking. When ready, the Source signals that he is ready to transmit. Once the route has been transmitted, the Crew member who is to the left of the Source gets to guess first. If any player is unsure or wants more clues, the Source can be asked to transmit the path up to twice more. The Source can use the same path OR he can choose any other valid path. Of course, as he is not allowed to use any words, the Crew will have to figure out on their own that this is a new path to the same target.
Whenever the transmission(s) are done, the first player to the left gets to guess. He does so by pointing at the planet that he believes to be the target. There is no discussion or verbalization here. If the guess is are right, the rocket moves to the Source planet… the current signal card is kept as a reward if it is still on the table (i.e. this is the first guess), and the player to the left of the Source becomes the next Source. If the guess is wrong, the signal card is discarded (if still out) and a fuel barrel is discarded. If this is the sixth and final fuel barrel, the team loses. Then the next player clockwise gets a chance to guess. This continues until either the target is identified correctly or the team runs out of barrels.
If you survive all 12 rounds, the team wins! You can grade your score by counting up the points on the collected signal cards (you will have at least 7!), and the better result will be closer to a perfect score of 42.
Once you have mastered this version, you can move up to the professional version where you have all the planets cards in the target deck from the start AND you add five asteroids to the table to force more frequent stopovers…
My thoughts on the game
Well, despite my initial trepidation at the idea of the game, this one is an interesting challenge. Sure, the players can’t talk with each other, but there is a neat puzzle here trying to convert the audio signal of the taps into the spatial path on the board. At lower difficulty levels, you only have a few possible options each turn to choose from, and while it is difficult, it is still a manageable problem. When you have 5 or 6 extra planets to consider each turn, it is quite a feat to get it right!
I find that I often try to continually replay the clue(s) in my head so that I can work out the path mentally. The rules allow the Source to transmit up to three times each turn, and sometimes I find the repetition to be helpful to lock the sound of the path in. However, if the Source changes it up and gives a different valid path, that can sometimes help the Crew figure things out, but can sometimes also confuse them if they can’t accurately remember the first path!
Like many games with limited communication, I think that groups will come up with their own conventions given repeated plays. In a recent play, we played twice, and without discussing it beforehand, we all gravitated to trips of 3 or 4 stops – In order to give the other players enough timing clues to figure out the destination – even if that meant convoluted trips around the table.
I would have liked the game to have had a bit more communication. I found it more frustrating to be third or fourth in guessing order, and knowing that I knew the correct destination, and then being able to do nothing but watch my teammates guess the wrong planets. For me, the game would be more interesting if the team had a chance to argue over the meaning of the signal, rather than silently willing the teammate to guess correctly.
The one thing I don’t understand is the extra “stuff” included in the game. There is a sealed envelope inside the game which is meant to be opened when your team discovers all 12 planets in the deck. You open the envelope and find a scoring certificate that matches your score, write your names on it, put a sticker on it, and forever be proud of your achievement. If your score isn’t available, fine the next lowest score that is available and use that instead. I mean, that’s cool – and the postcards are neat. But, why call them “top secret” and put them in a sealed envelope? I guess I completely missed the need nor “coolness” of these cards. They seemed completely extraneous.
I’ll admit that this isn’t the sort of game I’d normally request, but I would be happy to play it if others requested it. I’ll likely pass this off to the Benndorf fan-boy in the OG though, as I’d much rather play Qwixx or Anubixx.
Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers
James Nathan: Geez, I just don’t know about this one. If I didn’t know better, this is one of those gaming experiences where during the second player’s turn, I would’ve casually asked for the rules and quickly skimmed for what we were doing wrong because, uh, this seems like an exercise in guessing. Not a game, not an activity, just guessing. How can this be the intended experience? I’m at a loss. I agree with Dale’s sentiment about the virtue of more communication among the team. Surely if…IF…there’s an activity here or even a game, it’s to be found in the team’s discussion of what the signal could mean. That discussion is the whole thing, and it happens silently in the players’ minds. (Also why are half the components the superfluous postcards?) Figuring out the thought process behind giving this game’s production the green light is a more interesting puzzle than the game.
Anna (guest writer) – I played this with Dale and it was a lot of fun. I liked the puzzle in trying to figure out where the rocketship had moved to. I have never played anything like this before, and I hope to become better at it with more plays.
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it!
- I like it. Anna
- Neutral. Dale
- Not for me… James Nathan