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Blackout Hong Kong (2018) - publ. eggertspiele

This is one new board game that quite frankly annoys me. It was unexpectedly announced as a new release shortly before the Essen Spiel Festival in October 2018, but very little information was made available at first, with the exception of a PDF rule book that was originally posted exclusively in German.

A poorly localised translation was published in English a few days later, but even German writers complained that they couldn’t deliver proper previews or video playthroughs of the new game because the publishers chose not to distribute prototype or pre-release versions of the game to them. Even those who did have privileged access to prototype versions of the game said they were being prevented from using them in videos by NDA gagging clauses.

Apparently the manufacturers were afraid that videos based on prototype versions with inferior components would cause reputational damage to the game and degrade its high profile launch at Essen. The net result was that the launch of this new game from a very highly rated German designer Alexander Pfister (Great Western Trail, Mombasa, Isle of Skye) turned into a damp squib that landed with a dull thud and a “so what ?” shrug from many reviewers.

One of the things that really annoys me is the absence of any real effort to implement the purported theme of this game. The entire concept is supposed to be based around the idea that the former colony of Hong Kong and the New Territories in China has suffered a catastrophic power failure, and that you as players are involved in trying to provide emergency relief to the victims of the blackout. But apart from two small labels on the board in Chinese characters saying 香港 or Hong Kong, there is absolutely nothing else to back this up.

The dark map with its arbitrary network of white lines and token spots could just as easily be Acapulco, Timbuctoo or Zanzibar. Nothing on the map, or any of the playing cards or any other part of the paraphenalia of the game really anchors it to Hong Kong, or indeed any part of the larger asian culture area. As somone who can read Chinese and Japanese characters and who actively enjoys Chinese themed games I find this very annoying. Why bother even referencing Hong Kong if you have no intention of following up this theme in detail ?

Why bother anchoring the game to any real life location if you simply intend to treat the mapping function of the game as a content-free blank cipher with no distinguishing features beyond its omnipresent blackness ? It feels like a very lazy design philosophy. Perhaps the designer felt that tying the game too closely to any one location would limit its market, or maybe they wanted to leave scope for expansions and follow ups like ‘Blackout California’, or ‘Blackout Europe’.

(Personally I detest that type of drip-feed design implementation. Get it right and nail it at the first time of asking please, because I’’m not going to waste my time and money waiting for the fourth or fifth iteration).

The PDF rule-book for Blackout Hong Kong indicates that the game can be played either as a 1 - 4 player single game, or in a multi-episode campaign format. The problem here is that both of the proposed formats are fundamentally at odds with the original concept of the chosen scenario. If the players are supposed to be responding to a catastrophic electrical blackout in Hong Kong and rendering humanitarian aid to the victims, then why on earth would they not be doing so within a co-operative game format ?

Surely the players should be playing co-operatively with each other against the disaster as a common enemy (as in a game like Pandemic) rather than playing competitively against each other and racing around a Victory Point track ? Conceptually the game doesn’t make any sense.

The intricate and over complex playing mechanics of the game do not help its cause. There is a tendency in most modern board games for moves to take place in phases. Typically you have a preparation/dice throwing phase, a token movement phase, a combat/auction resolution phase, and finally some sort of administration/clear-up phase where game mechanisms are reset. It is not unusual to have up to four phases of play at each turn, which is already tending to become somewhat cumbersome, but Blackout Hong Kong has no fewer than *eight* phases to work through - and that is absurd.

Other features of the game could also have done with some editing too. Why for example have confusingly similar looking ‘Contingency Cards’ and ‘Emergency Cards’ which seem to do quite similar things but have very different implementations within the playing rules ? Likewise, why have a dedicated deck for ’Special Volunteers’ cards that is used only for the initial ‘Objectives’ drafting set-up, and which looks almost identical to the ‘Volunteers’ cards found in each players personal planning deck ? Furthemore, why unhelpfully sequester two of your most important personal player cards including that of your ‘Team-leader’ in the ‘Hospital’ section of your player board right from the outset of the game? Once again it all seems to make little sense.

Precis -

Play-through -

Last edited by toucana on November 1st, 2018, 9:35 am, edited 3 times in total.
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