HOMELAND the Boardgame, based on the very popular television programme, is designed by Sean Sweigart & Aaron Dill
It is published by GaleForce Nine with (c)20th Century Fox. It is designed as a semi-cooperative game for 3-6 experienced games players aged at least 14. Knowledge of the television series isn't totally necessary but if you aren't a fan of the show you may not understand all the twists and nuances, but you will still find that this is an intriguing challenge to your gaming skills.
There are 16 pages of rules, and although some of these pages are examples and photo-illustrations as well as card descriptions, there is a lot to read and take in. There is no use going into this game with half-knowledge of the rules, you really need to be sharp and ready with your wits about you when you begin to play. The game screams "Stay Alert", "Be Vigilant" and "Trust No One" and that it is full of deception, paranoia and espionage, so part of the game is to make sure you are the deceiver, and not the deceived or the paranoid.
The players are all CIA analysts (in TV terms this means they are operatives) and each has their own (hidden) agenda, a personal way of accumulating extra Victory Points, but they must also join in with some teamwork as because if the game (in the shape of the Terrorist faction) isn't defeated then nobody but the bad guys win. At times you will be made privy to secret information which you can keep to yourself and use accordingly or you can use what you know to gain trust and assistance with one or more of the other players, this really isn't a family game; in fact it's quite the opposite as it can stretch friendships to the limit.
There are five different levels of threats aimed at the USA and it is your job to prevent these threats becoming a reality. These levels of threat are: Low, Guarded, Elevated, Severe and Imminent. The thing about threats is that they aren't taken too seriously until they are serious, thus the higher up the ladder the Threat travels the quicker and more likely it is to be contained and resolved. There are two Progress tracks on the board edges where the levels of Terrorist and CIA Activity are noted. If either track marker reaches the top then the game ends; it is up to the Agents/Operatives/Analysts/Players (whatever you like to be called, it's you) to ensure the Terrorist marker doesn't reach its goal. Terrorist threats move on the board as a stack of different cards with an Organisation card. If the Organisation card is face-up the players know which group is behind the plot (another card describes the plot details), otherwise they (the players) have more to discover about it Threats are made up of an Organisation Card. a Plot card and a collection of Intel and Case Lead cards.
Now if you know the television series you will also know that not everything or everyone is always exactly what or who they first appear to be. The Agendas are always dealt out to the players at the beginning of the game and it is quite possible that one of the players will be a CIA mole, actually a terrorist working towards a completely different goal than everyone else. Naturally this spy has to work with the other players without their knowledge of his/her true objective until the final moment when all is revealed. The fun thing about HOMELAND though is that because all players have their own agendas (in most cases to advance their own careers) some moves and actions can seem to be terrorist acts. The Agendas may also throw up a Political Opportunist which means the player who luckily, or unluckily, draws this card has to work towards the success of some Terrorist plots whilst trying desperately to foil others. The Political Opportunist gains points for Terrorist successes but loses like everybody else if the terrorists actually win. It's a nice but nasty balanced character to play. Having the Terrorist Mole and the Political Opportunist cards in the deck of Agendas (meaning they may or may not come into play) is a great game plot that keeps all players on edge and questioning other player's motives for every action they take. It also means players must play the hand they are dealt, they cannot choose to be their favourite character. Loyal Agents get VPs from Assets and for collecting Rep Tokens; Political Opportunists gain VPs from Clout Tokens as well as thei Assets and the Terrorist also counts any Assets and gains 2 VPs for each successful strike (actually it's tokens on the terrorist score track but it sounded better to say "strike".)
When a threat is imminent it is analysed. The cards involved are revealed and they are sorted into Red, Blue and possibly Gold before being compared. Threats are dealt with by the Agents playing cards which set their Blue numbers against the Threat's Red number, but Gold Intel cards are resolved before the final comparison of Red versus Blue - the CIA want toe Blue side to win or at least equal the Red threat to neutralise it. Gameplay is, at least at first, slow and deliberate as the Players are always required to make and take decisions after weighing the pros and cons of each situation on the board. Of course there are times when the cards you hold limit what you can do, but then you need to do the best you can and try to be better prepared for the next Threat.
So many times have I been introduced to games based on TV series only to find just a rehash of another mechanic with the names on the cards changed to fit the characters and locations of the show. So I was more than happy with the way Gale Force Nine have managed to capture the intensity of the television show along with the back-stabbing and double-dealing. If ever there was a game where you played with one eye on your own Agenda and three eyes on everyone else's then this is it.
So the game looks good, plays well and has the feel of the TV show, but are there any negative points? I hear you ask - go on I know you want to ask it. The answer is yes, but only one that comes to miond and even that is a sort of positive negative. What I am mentioning is that the cards, like all the components, are so well manufactured, so that they do not to stick in the pack when shuffled, that unfortunately they tend to slip and slide when placed in Threat piles, and especially when those piles are moved on the board as they gain in threat and purpose. I will also mention at this point that I haven't played the game with a full compliment of 6 players, just in 3s and 4s, and it is worth pointing out that the game with 4 players is much more interesting, and more likely to throw a mixture of character types into play, than a game with 3 players, which can be very messy if the Agenda cards dish out one of each type of character, but that only happened once to us and we recognised game that there was something going awry. We stopped, analysed our characters and decided a restart was in order. Although it isn't the perfect solution we suggest that if you have only three players remove the Political Opportunist character from the deck. It does sort of imbalance the game but not, in our minds, as much as having one of each character type pretending to work together but so obviously not.
Our overall thoughts are that HOMELAND is one of the better, if not the best, television show based game in recent years.