Hostage Negotiator, from Van Ryder Games, is, simply, the only solitaire game that I play regularly. It is a really fun combination of deck building and dice rolling, all played against a merciless hostage taker and their unreasonable demands (for the full review of the base game, check out Rob’s article here). Hostage Negotiator is a tough, occasionally merciless game, and the experience you have is directly related to which of the abductors you are squaring off against. In its first series of expansion packs, Van Ryder Games has added not only more abductors to manage, but each one comes with some unique, thematic mechanics that add a bit of distinct flavor depending on which you are facing.
While Rob is usually our Forever Alone gamer, Hostage Negotiator is one of my favorite little games, so I thought I would take a stab at reviewing the 2nd and 4th abductor pack expansions (Rob reviewed 1& 3 here). In these two expansions, we get 3 new abductors who are in serious need of some hot Negotiating action. Let’s check them out!
Pack #2 – The Pedersen Twins
Here’s how Van Ryder managed to squeeze 3 abductors into 2 expansion packs. The Pedersen twins are double the bad news – having taken over a Port Authority office after having one of their smuggling contacts sell out to the Feds, Rolph and Dolph (I am not making that up) have got a handful of office workers hostage as they try to figure out who snitched on them and try to get out without being arrested.
The most unique feature of this scenario are the brothers themselves – instead of a generic ‘2nd In Command’, Rolph acts as point-man for the terrorists, while Dolph steps in only when something, ahem, happens to Rolph ::coughsnipercough::. Rolph is definitely the more reasonable of the two – once he gets taken out, Dolph simply executes the remaining hostages, ditches the plan, and tries to make good on an escape attempt. So you’d better be ready to take them both out when you go for one of them – and easier said than done.
Another interesting addition to regular gameplay are ‘Decide’ cards, which get added along with the twins’ unique Terror and Demand cards. When certain Terror effects activate, you will pull a specific pair of Decide cards and pick which one gets resolved. They act as pivotal moments in the game’s narrative, and which way you play it will vary depending on how much you want to (or are able to) risk.
Andrew: I particularly like this expansion because it adds more difficult choices to the game. Hostage Negotiator is at its best when it is being merciless, but by making the player choose between two crappy options adds a delicious, self-inflicted twist. The dice often make you feel like a victim, whereas the Decide cards make you feel like an accomplice to your own stress. I love it!
Pack #4 – Gonzalo Herrera
Gonzalo Herrera is a cartel kingpin on the run. But he’s not just hopping a plane and hoping to sneak out of the country – hold on to your Keanu impressions because he’s got a bus full of bystanders and he’s heading for the border, and it’s up to you to mange to stop the bus, extract the hostages, and neutralize Herrera before he escapes.
When Herrera is the abductor, a completely new Location mechanic gets added to the game. When Herrera’s bus is moving (which will be most of the time), you will flip over the top card of the Location deck and apply its effects. These all add complications to your attempts at negotiation, imposing a variety of penalties unique to that location. None of them are game-breaking, each one is slightly different and, depending on the board situation when they come into play, can range in impact from annoying to OH COME ON.
Another little gameplay change in this scenario is the bus itself. As long as it is moving, Herrera cannot be neutralized. In order to deal with this complication, this expansion introduces 2 Tactics cards which can be added to your hand after the Conversation phase of your turn. These Tactics are key to stopping the bus and getting Herrera under control. Failing to do so will result in not just dead hostages, but an escaped criminal as well.
Andrew: This scenario is lots of fun because of the variable nature of the Location deck. It’s only a small deck of cards, but you will likely only encounter one or two per session, so it still feels like there is plenty of variety. Thematically, my favorite is the City location, which actually adds hostages – he’s actually stopping to pick up more passengers!
I think that Abductor Packs 2 &4 are awesome additions to the already tight experience that is Hostage Negotiator. The unique rules that each one introduces do a really great job of adding something unique while respecting the core of the game, which works really well on its own. While neither of these packs reinvents the game, they bring enough variety that they dramatically extend the playability of the core game. And at the price, there’s just no reason for any Hostage Negotiator fan to not just grab all of them!
(Thanks to Van Ryder Games for sending us the Abductor Packs for review. Never one to be held hostage, our opinions were completely our own!)