You’ve got one job: protect the VIP. Get them where they need to go.
But today, the streets are crowded, and you’re not the only one out there with a gun. The assassins will stop at nothing to take down the VIP, and they’ll be doing their best to blend in with the crowd. Can you handle the mission? Will you protect the VIP and take out the Assassins, or will innocent bystanders and decoy bots get caught… in the Crossfire.
How It Plays
Not to be confused with the action-packed disc-shooting game from the 1970’s (and yes there’s a new version in stores), or that other card game about futuristic agents and operatives, this Crossfire is a hidden role game set in the Specter Ops universe about agents and assassins and protecting a VIP.
Roles are dealt at the start of a round, but it’s not a straightforward deal. First everyone is given a role card (and a chance to look at it). Then everyone pass that card to the left and looks at their new role. Next, every 3rd player shuffles their role cards with their neighbors’ on either side, and deals them back out again – and finally, everyone has their final role.
Players then have 3 minutes to discuss, accuse, and make claims about theirs and others identities. When the time runs out, everyone points their finger in the form of a hand-gun at another player. At that point, you find out who is dead… and who wins the game.
The central role is the VIP. The two main teams – assassins and agents – have goals centering around the VIP. Assassins want to kill the VIP and agents want to protect him/her. The VIP needs to stay alive to win.
An innocent bystander needs only to survive, regardless of whether the assassins or the agents win the game. There is also a Decoy who wins if he gets shot. Depending on the player count, you may also add in a Red Decoy who wants to get shot but also wins with the Assassins, or a Blue Decoy who wants to get shot but also wins with the Agents. In a slight twist, only Agents and Assassins have guns; decoys, bystanders, and the VIP all point their fingers but don’t actually do any damage to their target.
These are the basic roles, but once you’ve had your fill of the standard game you can add in alternate special roles. The Enforcer has two guns so can shoot two different people. The Bodyguard, instead of killing his target actually protects his target from 1 other hit. The Peacekeeper does the same, but has a goal to keep all bystanders alive. The Protestor and Supporter are both technically bystanders, but are allied with the Assassins and Agents respectively. Finally, the Bomber wins and everyone else loses, unless someone shoots him.
There’s one more variant, called Sniper mode. In Sniper Mode, one player is the Sniper, which is a known role at the start of the game. The same 3-minute discussion round occurs, but this time when the round ends the Sniper has multiple shots to try and take out the assassins. After handing out his/her shots, if any assassins are still alive they get a chance to shoot the VIP.
Don’t Cross the Streams
We live in an era of boardgaming renaissance, where every genre and style of board game has dozens of quality entries. This means you can find something that matches your taste pretty well, but it also means new games need something that makes them shine, or be doomed to fade into obscurity.
Social, hidden-role games in particular seem to have exploded over the last few years. Where once we only had The Resistance, we now have dozens of short, simple games involving bluffing and trying to outfox the other players through subterfuge. Coup, the One Night Ultimate series, various versions of the Resistance, Two Rooms and a Boom, Cash & Guns… the list goes on.
Crossfire plays a bit like One Night Ultimate Werewolf meets Cash & Guns (One Night Ultimate Secret Agent?), making a solid attempt at capturing the urgency and immediacy of a One Night game with the fun and excitement of pointing fake guns at your friends. It kinda succeeds, but there are just a few areas of the game where the shine is missing which prevents this game from standing out among the crowd.
There are a lot of interesting ideas present, at least conceptually. It’s interesting that you get to see a few role cards and know which subset of players might have ended up with those cards. It’s interesting that there are different roles that win in different ways, and that you don’t necessarily have to live to win. An agent can try to act like the VIP and hope the assassins target her instead of the real thing.
It’s even kind of clever that there are innocent bystanders who just don’t want to get hurt.
The thematic concept of trying to “take out” the bad guys before they can get to your VIP is cool, even if it is essentially mechanically similar to accusing a werewolf in similar games.
I’ve found, though, that many of these interesting concepts don’t necessarily net out to the most fun gameplay. There are two things, I believe, that interfere with the overall cohesiveness of the game. One is that only about half the players have a [perceived]direct, active impact in the final outcome of the game. Two is that most of the roles lack a clear goal.
In talking about the direct impact on the final outcome, I understand that most of the gameplay lies in the discussion you have during the 3 minute timer, utilizing the little information you have to make judgements and accusations. However, only the roles with guns get to actually execute any decisions made during that time. As the Bystander or the Decoy I can try and argue that Steve and Janine are the assassins, but I can’t actually point a loaded gun at them. In Cash & Guns, you at least get to choose when your gun will be deadly. In One Night Ultimate Werewolf, everyone has a vote to try and target the werewolf. Not having the ability to impact the game’s outcome in a direct way lessens my motivation to participate in the discussion.
That leads directly into problem number two, which is at least partially caused by problem number one. Any role that lacks a gun also lacks a clear directive of what to accomplish in the game. I don’t mean the rules are fuzzy; each role has their victory condition quite spelled out. But as far as how that plays out in the game, as far as what the player with that role is supposed to do, there’s something missing.
Let’s take the Bystander for a moment. It’s clear how the Bystander wins: just don’t get shot. However, there is no one who has an active interest in trying to shoot the Bystander. That means no one is seeking the bystander out, which means by default the Bystander will win the game. So, during gameplay, the Bystander effectively has no motivation to act. They have no reason to figure out who the assassins are, and any attempt to draw out the VIP will make them look more suspicious as an assassin. I guess the Bystander’s existence provides opportunity for assassins (and maybe decoys) to claim they are the bystander… but that doesn’t help the bystander themself know what to do.
The assassins have their own problem. Their goal is to kill the VIP, but since they are the only ones who want to know who the VIP is, they are strongly motivated not to talk about it. However, neither is anyone else. The VIP has no reason to out themselves, no secret information to give away, so… what are the assassins supposed to do? Claim to be the VIP or the Bystander, I guess?
The only role that has a clear goal is the Agent role, who needs to find the Assassins and can actually openly talk about it. Incidentally, it’s the most fun to play as an agent – you can openly make accusations, you know what you’re looking for, you’re under a lot of time pressure, and you get to shoot someone when the time runs out. Just be careful not to work too hard at deducing player roles and give away the identity of the VIP.
I think that while passing around role cards at the start of each round is an interesting idea, it was a poor choice in this game. It tilts the balance of the game in too many bizarre directions. And I don’t mean bizarre as in “this is unexpected and fun!” but bizarre as in effects the difficulty of the game in unfortunate ways. Why? Because rather than giving the more vulnerable roles the better information, it just sort of spews random information out there. Every time someone sees a card that isn’t there, it narrows down the possibilities. It’s usually pretty easy to verify someone’s claims, or at least narrow the possibility of any given card to 3 specific people. At the same time, it leaves each individual player without the feeling that they have any valuable information. You also only have one round to work with, which makes roles like the Decoy extremely difficult to play. It’s really easy to claim the wrong role that is easily narrowed to a position across the table, and there’s a lot less room for the he-said, she-said social play that goes on in most hidden role games.
So once again we’re back to the idea that this game gets a little muddled with half the players not exactly sure what they need to do. The VIP doesn’t have valuable information to impart to the agents without getting detected. The Bystander doesn’t have to worry that someone is gunning for him. The Decoy has the somehow impossible task of looking like someone who really doesn’t want to get shot. And only a few players have guns.
The most fun we had was in the game where we used the Bomber special role. (There are about 8 special roles you can swap in to the mix). The Bomber wins exclusively if he doesn’t get shot. This is the only role that causes everyone else to lose. Those 3 minutes were shear panic for everyone – including the decoys and bystanders – as we all knew we had to figure out the bomber. The assassins and agents both had to decide if it was worth targeting the bomber over targeting the VIP or assassins, or if they were willing to risk that everyone else might not target the bomber either. It was kinda crazy, kinda thrilling, and it didn’t really solve the other problems of the game.
I’ll admit that on it’s own, without comparison to other similar games, Crossfire can be fun and interesting. There’s certainly plenty of tension, you get a little bit of information to work with, and the overall goal of the game is clear no matter what your role is. I’m not saying that Crossfire is bland and uninspired, or broken, or even un-fun. It’s just that surrounded by so many other stellar, exciting games it feels a lot more muddled and it’s harder for players to get into the bluffing.
I really wanted to love Crossfire. It’s a cool concept, and I love the idea of agents hunting assassins hunting a VIP. Unfortunately the other roles mixed in the game don’t make for satisfying experiences, and who wants to play a game where half the people aren’t really having any fun? With so many other options out there for quick social games with hidden roles and pointing figures, I just can’t recommend Crossfire above anything else. It’s not a terrible game. It’s just not great.
iSlaytheDragon would like to thank Plaid Hat Games for providing a review copy of Crossfire.