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Preview: The Agents

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The Agents is a card game currently on Kickstarter with an interesting mechanism, what the designer calls “double-edged cards.” The game smashed its funding goal early on and is currently over $200,000, with four more days in its campaign. I had a chance to try the game. Is it for you?

Check out my impressions below!

[Note: all components are prototype components and do not reflect the final product (though the art, I believe, will be the same). Also, please forgive the slight blurriness. That’s not an Instagram filter; I think my camera is on its way out.]

How It Works

The Agents is a card game for two to five players. Players control agents and missions and are trying to collect intelligence points. The first player to 40 points wins.

At the start of the game, each player receives three agent cards and one mission card. There is one “faction” of agents in between each set of players where players will play agents. Players may perform two actions on every turn (even the same action):

  • Play an agent card
  • Activate an already played agent card
  • Spend points to draw agent or mission cards
  • Discard a mission to draw a new one

Here’s the twist: each agent card is double-edged, one edge showing points and the other edge a “command.” The command is an ability that usually helps to manipulate the game; the points are what it takes to win. When playing an agent, a player must choose how to orient the agent, either taking the points or the command, but giving the other to the opponent. Faction agents are shared between the player and a neighboring opponent, but there are also free agents, which can be played between any two players.

Mission cards grant points when their condition is fulfilled.

In addition to agent cards, players may play and rearrange mission cards as free actions on their turns. Mission cards generate points for the player as long as certain conditions are met.

At the end of the turn, the player scores points for agents and missions and play passes to the left. The first player to 40 points wins.

James Bond, or Johnny English?

The Agents is one of the coolest concepts I’ve seen on Kickstarter, and it delivers on this awesome concept–with a few caveats.

Cards that can be multiple things just may be my favorite mechanic. Glory to Rome, Innovation, even Race for the Galaxy–if I have to decide how to use a card beyond timing my play, I will probably like the game. The Agents takes the cards-as-multiple-things mechanic in a fascinating new direction. In these other games, the primary decision when using a card is how will this card benefit me. In The Agents, there is the new consideration of “I’m going to benefit two players here: how do I get the bigger benefit?” I love this, because not only do I decide this on my turn, but I get other benefits as the game progresses as other players affect me as well. This is so cool, and while there aren’t many cards in the base game, there don’t need to be: there are plenty of things to consider with what you get. In fact, this game has one of the greatest decisions-to-contents ratios I’ve seen. I love this, because I can slip it in my backpack and have a meaty game to play at a moment’s notice.

Faction agents–the heart of the game. Depending on who they face,
they grant points or (often powerful) commands.

There is the added decision of when and what cards to draw. Drawing cards costs points (which is what players are trying to collect), yet players need cards to win. Drawing from the discard pile costs more points, but you know what you’re getting. Is it worth it? I like this consideration as well.

For all its decisions, The Agents is still remarkably quick to play. With new players the game took us around 45 minutes (with rules explanation); I suspect we could get it down to half an hour with more experience, although this game will get longer as more players jump in.

The pictures you see throughout this review are of the prototype copy I received, but you almost wouldn’t know it. In fact, this is probably the most polished prototype I’ve received for review. The artwork is great for its style (which isn’t necessarily my style, but it fits), and the game feels polished for the most part. Some players won’t like that points are scored on cards, but this isn’t a big deal to me. I prefer chits, but cards are easier to transport with the game and not a big deal at all.

There are a few areas where I think The Agents could be improved. First of all, how free agents can be played is unclear from the rules. Or rather, it’s clear from the rules, but when you see the free agent cards, it’s unclear how they should be played within those rules. There were many times as I and my friends played where we had to stop and parse what a free agent card meant, how it could be played between two players, and so on. I can find a way to make all of these free agent situations work, but some more hand-holding in the rules would be nice, just so I know for sure how the cards work. (This could easily be done: the command of each agent is reproduced in the rulebook, and there is currently flavor text beneath the command. More helpful game examples would go a long way here, I think.)

Free agents. Some more detail on them in the rulebook would have been helpful.

The way missions can be played and rearranged without requiring actions also seems a bit overpowered, especially with the higher-point missions. It seems strange that missions that can almost always be fulfilled dependent on where they’re placed (e.g., “This is the longest of your factions”) can be shuffled without penalty. But when I consider the alternative–that playing missions costs an action–I’m not sure this is a solution. This is probably okay as it is, but it’s something to watch out for.

I should mention that this game may not be appropriate for younger players. The artwork is on the gritty side, and cards like “The Temptress” may raise more questions than you want to answer. Agents are also killed, and there is some violence depicted on the cards. It’s very mild and shouldn’t be a problem for adults, but again, kids may be disturbed by it.

You gotta hand it to the designer. In addition to the game, I received this crumpled up letter with my prototype–a really neat way to introduce the game to me. The designer clearly cares about the details as well as the big picture, which I appreciate.

Regardless of these caveats, I’m still excited about The Agents. It’s a fast, fun, and tense game, and the double-edged card mechanism feels fresh. I’m not sure the final size for the box, but the contents of it are easy to transport anywhere–even in a pocket. It’s a very good game anyway, but when you consider how many applications it has by virtue of its small size, The Agents could become the go-everywhere card game for strategy game hobbyists. It’s a very cool card game that delivers on its big premise in a small package. I recommend checking it out.

If you’re interested in backing The Agents on Kickstarter, here’s the link. The base game is $18, and the game now comes with plastic cards, which is very cool. There are also numerous expansions available for additional pledges. (Note: I did not try any of the expansions.)

iSlaytheDragon would like to thank Saar Shai for providing us with a prototype of The Agents.

I'll try anything once, but my favorite games are generally middleweight Euros.

Discussion2 Comments

  1. Pingback: The Agents Reviews | Thought Process

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