Review – The Agents

The Agents is a card game for 2-5 players. Designed and published by Saar Shai, it was Kickstarted earlier this year, having an amazingly successful campaign including 5 expansions right out of the gate. It should retail for around 20 bucks.

What’s in the box?

Obviously the Kickstarter versions come with more, including some quantity of the expansions depending on your pledge. The retail version is to come with a 36 card agent deck, a 20 card mission deck, and a 32 card IP (points) deck. Additionally there are 5 “safe house” cards that begin the game in play and 5 reminder cards, helpfully reminding you which player you are (since this is a “everyone gets an even number of turns” game). Assuming the retail version keeps the Kickstarter stretch goal of card stock, these are very high quality poker style cards. Even if it does use a lower quality card stock, the art used on the cards is beautiful (so much so that one of the add-ons was for an art book).

Basics of Play

As noted in the contents section, there are three decks. The third (the IP deck) is simply numbered cards to easily track points. Once someone reaches 40 the game ends, playing out one last round so everyone gets an even number of turns. The other two decks contain missions and agents which the players play on their turns. On your turn you take two actions. For your action you can play an agent, reuse a played agent facing you, purchase new agents or missions, or trade out your missions for better ones. Missions are played out at the end of each turn without costing you an action, and stay out as long as you want. At the end of each turn you score points based on agents and missions.

To play agents, you put them into a “faction” – each player has two factions, and they share them with one other player. So, if Amy, Bob, Carl, and Dave are playing there will be one faction for Amy and Bob, one for Bob and Carl, one for Carl and Dave, and one for Dave and Amy. These factions are started with the safe house cards. Each agent has an ability, and either points if a free agent or a partial arrow. When playing an agent into a faction you play them at one of the ends of the faction and then choose their orientation: the player the text is facing gets to use the ability while the one the arrow/points are facing scores the agent. (free agents are discarded after use) At the end of the turn, agents score points based on whether or not a full arrow is facing you: basically if two neighboring agents have their arrow side in your direction you’ll get some points.

As you can see, the main mechanic of the game is the agent facing and as such most of the agent abilities deal with it in some way from outright changing the orientation to altering the order of the agents, to killing agents so as to turn them off. This dynamic interplay of agent actions vs points, combined with the missions, makes for a fairly compelling game trying to figure out how to best help yourself without helping out your neighbor too much.

Summation

I really enjoyed playing this game. The need to balance powerful abilities with actually getting points leads to tough decisions, though it’s quite fun to give your opponent a bad choice – or sometimes even a choice against a third player. One of the mechanics I liked is that, to purchase new cards, you use your victory points. This gives you another trade-off of short-term vs. long-term thinking. The only thing I didn’t like is that the missions seemed way too powerful with very few options for dealing with them directly. Since they score at end of turn anything you do to try to wreck their plan can be just as easily countered on the player’s turn. With some giving 4 points a turn, keeping a mission active for several turns can lead to a quick victory. Then again, there are plenty of ways to mess with the missions, and if it gets really out of hand two on one should be able to do more to deny than they can do to save.

In all, I would certainly recommend The Agents. It takes a little bit of ramp up time to get your head around the facing aspect, but once you understand that the rest of the game is straightforward and quite a bit of fun. I’d place this on the quick game side: once everyone’s played a few times you should be able to finish in the expected 20-40 minute timeframe.

Two Agents, disavowed.

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