Teaching Time: 15 mins
Playing Time: 15-30 mins
Setup Time: 10 mins
Value For Money: Mid
Solo Play Review
The idea of a solo game simulating the complex back and forth exchange of any conversation would always be a tough prospect but there are few that manage to create the feelings underlying such an experience. ... And Then We Held Hands for example genuinely recreates the problems and tensions of the lovers quarrel (or just creates one). When the conversation in question is that between a hostage negotiator and an abductor the task of building a game recreating it becomes almost impossible, and Van Ryder Games have sadly not achieved it.
In Hostage Negotiator the player selects an abductor with a set of demands and actions. The player purchases cards during play which allow them to roll dice to generate effects such as gaining the abductor's trust, releasing hostages, eliminating the abductor, purchasing more or better cards or rolling extra dice. The abductor's trust is here represented by a scoring scale allowing extra dice to be rolled and eventual victory to be obtained.
Game play is dependent at all points on the success or failure of rolling dice, meaning that an experience which one would assume to be characterised by careful and specific interactions is in fact shaped by fairly outlandish fortune. The game has relatively few turns and rolls few dice meaning that turns of extremely good or bad luck outside of any possibly player control are both not unusual and can dominate any remaining play time. There is little attempt to stop the same conversational lines coming up repeatedly throughout play and there is often a sense that you are spouting repeated non-sequiturs. There is also little sense of discovering a specific abductor's wants or needs in relation to particular conversational gambits, everyone reacts the same way to the same suggestions. One of the worst effects of the game's dice based game play is that purchasing a few powerful cards becomes an extremely weak strategy, since a single poor roll can negate the cards effects, wasting an entire turn. This is exacerbated by the fact that the powerful, expensive cards come with much more damaging effects on failure. The net result on the player will be early play through attempts to purchase the expensive, exciting cards replaced by bitter experience dictating play that is instead characterised by grinding towards success with repeated parrot like low level purchases.
The game's components are elegant and of good quality and replay value has been given attention with the inclusion of a range of abductors and a list of specific in game achievements to be aimed for. If the rather random game play and the sense of creeping achievements combined with outlandish swings appeals then this is a neatly presented and attentively designed package in which to obtain it. If your interest is in the subtle back and forth mental jousting match suggested by a game called hostage negotiator or a sense of discovery and progression within a coherent, single narrative then Hostage Negotiator is best avoided.