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Two or three opposing teams of Covert Operatives are trying to steal the plans for a nuclear submarine. Each team must first eliminate the other team in order to steal the plans. Who will you trust? Has your team been infiltrated by a Mole working for the other side? Who should you shoot? Who will pull the trigger first? Act fast to get them... before they get you!
Average Rating: 5 in 1 review
First, a disclaimer: I helped playtest this game, so my perspective isn't exactly unbiased. However, I didn't contribute anything to the design (it didn't need it), so I don't feel too emotionally invested in the final product. For me, Covert Action provides a much-needed alternative to Werewolf - one that's lighter, shorter, less stressful, and (therefore) usually more fun.
Each round you shuffle a small deck of red and blue cards, set aside one face-down card of each color, and then hand out the rest randomly, which establishes the teams for that round. If you get a Sniper card, your goal is to figure out who the Sniper is on the other team, and shoot him or her by pointing and saying "Bang!". Of course, someone over there is trying to do the same thing to you. The round plays out in real-time, with everyone sitting around talking, accusing, giggling, smirking, and taunting until someone gets shot. Then you turn up all the cards and see which team won the round. When your team wins, you draw a random card from the Plans deck, and when you have all four pieces of the plan, you win the game. Although the game is played in teams, they change every round, and your ultimate goal is to win as an individual.
Of course, there are a few wrinkles. Since one card of each color is set aside at the beginning of the round, your team may not have a Sniper. In that case, the job falls onto the shoulders of the Cleaner. If you're the Cleaner, you'll have to try to figure out whether or not there's a Sniper on your team. If there is, your team loses if you take a shot, but if there isn't, you count as the Sniper in every respect - your goal is to shoot the other Sniper (or Cleaner if there is no Sniper), and the other team's goal is to shoot you.
The second wrinkle is that each team may or may not have a Mole. If you're a Mole, your goal is for your team to lose. When the round is over, you'll do the opposite of what your teammates do - if they draw from the Plans deck, then you won't, and if they don't, then you will. If you're a Sniper (or a Cleaner if there is no Sniper), you can also win the round for your team by shooting the Mole on your own team.
There's only one other character type: the Bodyguard. When you're a Bodyguard, your goal is to do whatever you can to protect your own Sniper. Usually this means acting like a Sniper yourself to draw the enemy's fire.
So how does the game play? Although it's clearly in the Werewolf genre, it doesn't feel much like Werewolf. There's quite a bit less arguing, and quite a bit more random chatting and lateral drift. It's less logical and more intuitive. In some ways it reminds me of the old Wink Murder party game we used to play as kids. But ultimately it's not quite like anything else I've played.
New players may feel slightly adrift at first, as there's very little to "do" in the traditional sense. But after a few rounds, strategies will begin to emerge. Moles will begin signaling opposing teams with winks and toe-taps. (If you're a Mole, you want the other team's Sniper to know it, so he or she doesn't shoot you by mistake.) Snipers will, of course, begin watching their own teammates for this kind of signaling. They may also begin winking at the other team themselves, posing as Moles to reduce the chances of being shot. Bodyguards will try making quick-draw motions to see if enemy Snipers react. When I'm a Bodyguard, and I think I know who the other Sniper is, I just openly tell my Sniper (whoever it is) to shoot. But, of course, Moles will begin doing that, too. And nothing beats the moment when two Moles wink at each other, and then both frantically begin yelling "He's your Mole, shoot him, shoot him, shoot him!"
The game is not as deep or as intense as Werewolf, but for me that's one of its great strengths. Werewolf is often too much for me to handle, but I'm always up for a game of Covert Action. Rounds are quick, and you play them one after another, like potato chips. Since the game supports up to 14 players, it's great for parties, yet it also works with as few as four. And there's just something viscerally satisfying about pointing at people and yelling "Bang!" I always have fun when I play, and I always want to play again.