Ever wanted to kill a guy?
Assassin Nation is a game for 2-6 players that puts you in the role of a lifetime. Or, at least, the end of a lifetime. You are a hitman, though I don’t know whether or not you have a bar code on the back of your neck. It is your job to take out a set of 18 targets, making money along the way.
This would be easy if the other players around the table weren’t also assassins, trying to take out these folks, as well. Bonuses are awarded for removing people from your specific hit list, for taking people out in a very specific way, or for finally removing a target that has been elusive from other attempts.
Players begin a turn with a handful of cards of different types. Some show the different types of weapons that you can use to complete the job, ranging from as simple as rope to as ridiculous as an RPG. Other cards can provide bonuses to make your assassination attempts or frustrate the attempts of your opponents.
After obtaining cards, each player secretly takes aim at one of the targets on their individual assassin sheet. Players also put down weapon and adjustment cards, as well as a ‘contract’ card that explains the way in which the target will be eliminated. Each of these cards has a brief description, such as ‘make it look like an accident’ or ‘public execution’, as well as a list of bonuses and penalties. Use a weapon that fits the description and fulfills those bonuses, and you’ll make extra money on your hit. Use a different weapon, and you may be losing money.
Play moves clockwise from the designated first player for that round, unless a target has been selected by more than one player. In that case, the order is determined by a time listed at the top of the weapon card, essentially designating who showed up earlier to give it a literal shot.
A player’s assassination attempt is played out through the rolling of a die or two. The player must roll a value determined by the weapon and adjusted by the bonus cards (both positive and negative) and by the target itself. Roll what you need, and that target is eliminated. Fail, and other players get a chance. Play continues until all persons have been assassinated, and the player with the most money wins!
On the Hit List
If you can’t tell from the description, Assassin Nation does a great job with fitting all its elements into the theme. The weapons cards, bonuses, secret target selection, and ‘method’ cards all make sense within the context of trying to pull off an assassination. Each player is also given a hit list, a selection of 6 different targets that will get gain you extra money at the end of the game if you are the one to take them out. Even the chance that goes along with the dice rolling seems to fit right in. All the pieces work together to create an incredibly immersive experience.
The rules are pretty straightforward, and play moves relatively quickly after a few turns. While the luck of the card draw does have some impact on the game, you can diminish that by using the money you’ve collected to buy extra cards that may lead to better results. You may choose to take it easy one round when you feel another player may beat you to the punch, hoping that you’ll have dibs on a target in the next round.
Some of the bonus cards also lead to some great strategic moments. You’ll find yourself laughing maniacally as one of your opponents finally takes out a target after trying for three or four turns, only for you to play a ‘They Survived’ card that keeps them from being killed that round.
One element that I have yet to mention is found on the last page of the rule book, in which players are encouraged to make up stories for each of their assassination attempts. While we didn’t play with this rule for about the first third of our playthrough, I can’t imagine a game without it now. We were in stitches as my wife frantically elocuted about the mob boss that she was trying to kill for 4 turns, sharing her frustrations as he escaped poison and multiple stabbings in an Italian restaurant and even a rocket-propelled grenade as he lay in bed in the wee hours of the morning. With the right group of friends, you may occasionally forget the rest of the game as you try to come with your next creative story.
With all of the elements of the game working so well together, there are still a few minor distractions that seem out of place. The game always plays with 18 targets, and in our three player game, I felt that this was a few too many. I think that the removal of one target from each level would have gotten rid of the dragging feeling that creeped up at the end of the game. The calculation of what you need to roll for the dice is also a bit confusing, being listed from greatest to least, with bonuses that ‘add’ actually subtracting. There’s also one component that I don’t think is super necessary – the debt tokens. We never needed them – we just threw money back into the bank instead. But these are all fairly minor details in the grand scheme of things and don’t do much to distract from the game.
Beyond the Table
Assassin Nation may not sound like the type of game that we normally review. Weapons and murders and everything don’t quite fit with other content that we have covered. However, I think you can make this game what you want it to be. With the addition of the stories behind our hits, we were laughing to the point of tears, and walked away from the table with some in-game jokes that we will probably refer to for years to come. And that, to be honest, was a surprise to me.
When I first contacted the game’s creator, Chris Thorne, I wasn’t sure what we would be getting. But this is a game with great components, a solid and pervasive theme, and rules variations that will have your creative storytellers and your strategic manipulators both enjoying themselves. It may be the most excited I’ve been about a prototype game in the short time I’ve been reviewing them. It’s not perfect, but what prototype is?
With some minor tweaks, I think this could become a board game staple. I hope that Chris is able to find a publisher that gives this game a chance and lets the world have the fun that we have had with Assassin Nation.