Red November

From: Fantasy Flight Games
Reviewed by: Sitting Duck

One element that helped Dragonlance stand out from the plethora of fantasy settings that were on the RPG market back in the Eighties was the tinker gnomes. Their Rube Goldberg-style gadgetry introduced some weird science in a genre which traditionally featured pre-industrial societies. It is this interpretation of gnomes which permeates Red November.

From the website:
“Though your comrade is drunk and passed out, he’s not in any danger. But you are! Trapped in the Engine Room you must fix the pressure before the entire submarine blows up and you with it.”

Red November is a game of calculated risks. With Murphy’s Law having struck with a vengeance, it can be tricky to figure out which crisis should be dealt with first. Things like blocked hatches and flooded chambers don’t directly harm the submarine. Yet left unattended, they can restrict mobility, forcing your gnomes to take lengthier routes. The three disaster tracks are a more immediate concern because if any one of them reaches its critical point, the Red November sinks to its doom. Yet the advancement of each track is erratic, so you may be willing to take a chance on not dealing with it immediately. Then there are the Timed Events, which by their very nature cannot be ignored. Whatever action is taken, time is consumed, which is both good and bad. The more time spent on a repair, the more likely it is to be successful. Plus when the end of the time track along the game board’s edge is reached by all of the surviving gnomes, a rescue team arrives to save the crew, thus winning the game. Yet after performing an action, a number of event cards are drawn based how much time has passed. If time is injudiciously used, the crew of the Red November can find themselves quickly overwhelmed.

Event cards are used to determine what goes wrong on the Red November. The bulk of the cards consist of a fairly even spread of the various malfunctions which can occur, including the dreaded Timed Events. Not all is doom and gloom, as there are a few respite cards mixed in to give your beleaguered gnomes a breather.

Item cards provide a wide variety of tools, the majority of which provide a one-time bonus to a specific task. Aside from free draws that occur along certain points on the time track, the only way to gain more is by going to the Equipment Stores. The latter is a calculated risk as well, as not only does drawing item cards use up time, the Stores are located on the opposite end of the submarine from where the bulk of the repair work occurs. More often than not, this can make it an unappealing option.

Of all the item cards, Grog is the most versatile. Not only does it provide a flat bonus to any action, using it gives the player’s gnome the Dutch courage needed to enter chambers that are on fire without the need to carry a fire extinguisher. However, as you might imagine, something this useful is a double-edged sword. Using Grog increases intoxication, which is kept track of on the hilariously illustrated Gnome cards. The higher the gnome’s intoxication, the greater chance he’ll pass out in a stupor at the end of his action, needlessly using up valuable minutes. Therefore, it is not something to be employed lightly.

From the back of the box:
“Great Kraken, please spare the November! We beg of you, don’t eat us!”

One aspect that can be grating is how the player turn order is handled. After each player has had their first turn, the next turn goes to the player whose marker has made the least progress on the time track. It can potentially result in a player who used up a lot of minutes in his previous turn having to sit around twiddling his thumbs. Such a situation can be especially vexing if there is a large number of players. This may be a deal breaker for some gamers, as the mechanic is so ingrained within the gameplay that it cannot simply be houseruled away.

For those who enjoy a Sisyphean challenge, Red November may be what they’re looking for. However, it is best played with a small number of players to reduce the potential aggravation that may result from the non-standard turn order procedure.

Rating: 14

Product Summary

Red November
From: Fantasy Flight Games
Type of Game: Board Game
Game Design by: Bruno Faidutti and Jef Gontier
Developed by: Matt Anderson
Cover Art by: Christophe Madura
Additional Art by: Christophe Madura and Frank Walls
Game Components Included: 1 rulebook, 1 game board, 8 Gnome Sailor figures, 9 Time Keepers, 8 Gnome cards, 56 Event cards, 54 Item cards, 3 Disaster Track markers, 10 Flood tokens, 10 Fire tokens, 15 Blocked Hatch tokens, 4 Destruction tokens, and 1 ten-sided die.
Retail Price: $29.95 (US)
Number of Players: 1-8
Player Ages: 13+
Play Time: 1-2 hours


Reviewed by: Sitting Duck