Published by: Self-Published by Designer Mike Lee
# of Players: 2 to 4
On Kickstarter till November 5th 2015
Kickstarter link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1594927076/secret-directive
Secret Directive takes a lot of mechanics and tries to fit them in one game. The goal to winning Secret Directive is to get to 10 on any one of the four development tracks. The four tracks each specialize in one of the different intelligence types. The economy track increases the income your agency will receive. The military track increases the number of spies you have available each round. Advancing on the science track will allow you access to higher tier cards when researching. Finally you can develop your culture to help capture enemy spies in your nation. While progressing on these tracks you will be forced to stop at certain spots. This is done to help balance the various tracks and how fast one can travel on them.
At the start of the game players will start with 3 spies each and a starting deck of 10 cards made up of two administration action cards and two of each intelligence type. Besides the development track each nation will have its own board where information cards will be played and enemy spies are placed on capture tracks. Also a pool of cards will be available to all player to research. These cards are divided into three tiers and the top two tiers require advancement on the science track.
The third action you can perform is to play an action card. The card will tell you if you need a spy at home or abroad. Completing an action card abroad requires the use of that spy in the nation's capture track. Complete the actions listed then put the card in your discard pile. You can collect income which will be spent to play special action cards called secret directive. You may spend an action researching. This action allows you to draw two cards from the research area in any of the tiers that you have access too. You will then choose one of the drawn cards or a face up card to keep and trash the rest. The card you decided to keep goes into your discard pile for use in later rounds. The last action allows you to draw one of those secret directive cards. You will always have 2 or more secret directive cards available at the end of the round. There is no limit to the amount of secret directives you control. Once all spies have been used and flipped over you move onto the clean up and end of round phase of the game.
Finally you will roll a die for any spies on your nation's capture track. The number of rolls is determined by your location on the culture development track. You start the game at 0 meaning you will not roll any dice for spies in your country. If you are able to roll, you will need to roll a number equal to or lower than the number spot the enemy spy is located on. If you are successful in your roll you will capture the spy and place that token in your jail. That spy's nation can immediately pay 1 coin to that nation to free the spy and place the token in their rehab area. If the nation elects to not pay immediately they will then be forced to wait till this point next round to pay to free him. After all of this has been resolved players will draw 5 new cards and the first player token will move to the person on the left and start a new round.
Secret Directive combines some of my favorite game mechanics which include deck-building, worker placement, card drafting and tech trees. Sadly I did not enjoy this game. The game claims that it can be played in 45 minutes. I can see a one sided two or three player game lasting that long, but each time I played this my game times were around 2 hours. By the later rounds even though we were going the same pace it felt like the game was dragging on. A positive point for Secret Directive is that your never out of the game. I have seen plays where a player is one spot away from winning only to get knocked back several times to allow someone else to win. Attacking players is a must in this game but at times it feels so unnecessary because once you have a spy in that nation you are going to use it against that player. Even after that player has been knocked down the spy is still there and basically forces the player to use him against that other player. This beating down after the person is already been knocked down can come off as too aggressive and may piss off friends. While science starts off slow it does get a huge advantage with the tier 2 and 3 research cards. These cards range from useful to extremely over powered in my opinion. For example the sabotage card allows the player to attack another nation that he has a spy in and move them down 2 spots on the development track of your choice. That is a fifth of your main goal being eliminated by one card. That might be fine if the card was trashed afterwards but instead it is placed in your discard pile to use again later! It will take one or two rounds for that player to make up that progress and by then you probably have redrawn that card into your hand to knock him down again. The assassinate card allows you kill a spy and place them in a beach area till the clean up phase where they will then go to rehab. This is eliminating one of three to five spies that player has for two turns. This card is also placed in your discard pile to be used again in a later round.
Other parts of Secret Directive I did enjoy was the ability to play information cards on other people's nations which allowed you to shrink your deck while making theirs more cluttered. The art reminds me of 70s spy movies which I actually enjoyed. Since this was review copy before final production has been decided I do not know what the final components will look like. Some advice to the designer would be to make the player colors stand apart from each other more and make the icons on the spy icons different for each nation so color blind players may be able to tell the nations apart.
In summary Secret Directive just did not hold my attention for the length of the game and was too aggressive from my tastes. I feel the action cards are what hurt this game the most. They can be way over powered and can make the game last 2 more rounds each time they are played.
+ 70's spy film look
+ deck-building with card drafting to eliminate unwanted cards
+ interesting concept of mixing worker placement, card drafting, tech tree, and deck-building into one game
- Tier 2 and 3 cards feel unbalanced and over powered
- too much "take that" aggression that can lead to feeling picked on
- complicated to teach
- Designer claims 45 minutes to play, I averaged around 2 hours per play. The science cards can extend a game way past its intended time