Hostage Negotiator – Abductor Pack 1 & 3 Review

robsm If you haven’t read our review of Hostage Negotiator – from designer A.J. Porfirio and publisher Van Ryder Games – you can check that out here. Maybe also consider buying it because it’s a great solitaire game. Anyway, that’s not what you’re here to read about, right? I’m supposed to be telling you about two of the game’s expansions, referred to as Abductor Packs.

The short version is that they add even more antagonists/scenarios to an already rather robust solo game. Some may feel more essential than others, but each pack is so affordable you won’t regret simply grabbing all of them.

Here we go again.
Here we go again.

First, a brief refresher: Hostage Negotiator puts you in the aviators and five-o-clock shadow of a hostage negotiator (naturally) for an unspecified police department. Someone has taken hostages and it’s your job to rescue as many of them as possible, as well as either capture or neutralize their captor. In practice this means coping with a deck full of almost always terrible events, relying on luck and probability to aid dice rolls, and attempting to use different conversation cards with all sorts of abilities to their great effect. It’s all very easy to manage in practice, but it’s in no way easy to come out on top. And it’s a lot of fun! At least in as much as it can be fun to feel panic creep in as time starts to run out and the captor begins to lose patience.

The Abductor Packs each add a new possible abductor for you to tangle with, along with a new mechanic that will make rescues trickier. Pretty much anything other than abductor-specific demands can be mixed with the regular game and the other expansions, though the setup rules for some of them and the reliance on certain Terror cards will make combining everything rather tricky. Still, the option is there and it’s very much appreciated. Nothing like making an already tough game even tougher, right?

Abductor Pack #1 – Connor Ogden

The Internal Influence cards are a pretty cool addition.
The Internal Influence cards are a pretty cool addition.

Connor E. Ogden was the CEO of a very wealthy company. Not so much anymore, though. He more or less lost everything, then held the board of directors at gunpoint when they tried to oust him. And in addition to being seriously on edge, he’s also quite a bit antsy.

Ogden begins with a whole nine hostages (that’s kind of a lot), and his lack of patience means you can only play a total of four conversation cards on him per turn (until you meet one of his demands, anyway). Aside from the card limit he doesn’t feel much different than the other abductors, but he does come with a unique mechanic: Internal Influence conversation cards.

Internal Influence cards are this pack’s main selling point, and are used just like any other non-default conversation card, but what’s interesting is that they represent a single hostage on the inside who’s somehow managed to find a way to communicate with you. They can help sneak other hostages out, add more cards to the Terror Deck to give you more time, or give you discounts (of a sort) when meeting demands. They’re all quite handy in different situations, and each comes with the risk of all these cards being permanently removed from the game as a result of failure. In other words, Ogden realizes that the hostage has been helping you and cuts off communication.

While Ogden himself doesn’t feel like a huge departure from the base game abductors, I do really like the Internal Influence cards. They’re a simple – and very limited – resource but I think they make for a pretty cool thematic addition. What they can do, and what happens if they fail, makes a lot of sense in the context of a hostage situation. And there’s something that’s just neat (in a scary way) about possibly losing several cards for good if you fail a roll.

Abductor Pack #3 – Lieutenant Jackson

The Stockholm Syndrome tracker, not so much.
The Stockholm Syndrome tracker, not so much.

Lieutenant Jackson is a much less cut-and-dry case than Ogden. He’s been set up – framed for murdering the police chief – and he’s desperate to clear his name. He’s a good cop at heart, but everyone has their breaking point.

Jackson is pretty tricky for three big reasons. First, he can’t be eliminated, which means the only way to win is to free all the hostages and convince him to give up. Second, you lose immediately if even a single hostage is killed. Third, the hostages have begun to develop Stockholm Syndrome.

While I can appreciate the frustrating challenge of his first two quirks, I’m not entirely sold on the Stockholm Syndrome mechanic. I mean I get it, and I think it’s an interesting idea that borrows from what can happen during actual hostage situations to add to a board game, but the way it’s implemented feels underwhelming. You’re given a card that acts as a tracker, and the more calm the Lieutenant is the easier it will be for him to win over a hostage when particular Terror cards appear. If five hostages end up on the tracker, you lose. And of course it’s a lot more difficult to rescue hostages who sympathize with their abductor.

This just doesn’t feel as thematic to me as pretty much everything else in the game does. It feels more like I’m putting hostages in a timeout or a penalty box. I really wish there was more to it. Something like different negative effects kicking in when the tracker hits certain levels or something like that – anything that makes it feel like the hostages being swayed actually affects things rather than simply making it more difficult to rescue them.

Also the cards in this pack feel oily, for some reason. I checked the other three packs I have and none of them have this problem, but I’m not sure if it’s a widespread problem or even if it’s exclusive to Abductor Pack #3. The slippery, filmy coating started to wear off the more I used the cards, thankfully.

I really like the idea of Jackson’s scenario – it’s a great opportunity to try and recreate that Samuel L Jackson/Kevin Spacey movie – but the Stockholm Syndrome mechanic just feels underutilized. Though I do like how hostages are easier to sway the calmer (and thus closer to a resolution) things get. That’s really neat.

The Verdict

Still, more Hostage Negotiator is never a bad thing.
Still, more Hostage Negotiator is never a bad thing.

I’ll always have a fondness for Hostage Negotiator’s brutal intensity, regardless of whether I’m playing the base game or using an expansion. Even if some of those expansions fail to live up to expectations. In this case, both abductor packs have their own strengths and weaknesses. Ogden as an abductor doesn’t feel all that special, but the added mechanic for Internal Influence is really cool and adds more tense, thematic fun to the base game. On the other hand, Jackson makes for a much more interesting antagonist, but his Stockholm Syndrome mechanic really could have been pushed a bit further.

Ultimately I’d recommend getting as many of these expansions as you can anyway, since there are currently only four available and they’re all quite inexpensive. I wouldn’t say that they’re “essential” add-ons, because the base game itself is so good, but they definitely add an appreciable amount of variety. Really you can’t go wrong either way. Unless you mess up and get all the hostages killed, anyway.

(Thanks to Van Ryder Games for supplying us with the Abductor Packs for review.  Their generosity didn’t influence our opinions. Plus Rob bought his own.)

 

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