Emerson Matsuuchi has really come into his own in the last 4 years. A name practically unheard of before and now all of a sudden it’s plastered on several games, both current and upcoming that either have already become or have the potential to be Spiel Des Jahres winners. One of his first games however that not a lot of people have experience with was Specter Ops, a solid placeholder amidst all the other hidden movement games available. Fans had wanted a sequel for many years and now we have Broken Covenant.
Except this isn’t simply a sequel, it’s standalone, meaning you don’t even have to touch the original game if you don’t want to. Is that a good thing however? Would we have preferred a cheaper “proper” expansion or is this a good way to get new players into the game?
Designer: Emerson Matsuuchi
Publisher: Plaid Hat Games
Time: 60-150 Minutes
Specter Ops: Broken Covenant is a standalone game set in the Specter Ops universe that puts two to five players in the middle of a war that’s fought in the shadows.
Corporate secrets linger within the corridors of Raxxon’s abandoned headquarters and, even though the base is empty, it is not forgotten. In this tense cat-and-mouse showdown, a lone A.R.K. agent stalks the shadows of the facility, attempting to complete secret objectives while hunters from Raxxon’s Experimental Security Division try to pinpoint their location and destroy them. On one side, the agent must use all their skills and equipment to succeed. On the other, the hunters rely on teamwork and superhuman skills to locate their prey. No matter who you play, you must use strategy, deduction, and stealth to win.
A LITTLE RECAP FOR YOU
For those unfamiliar with the entertaining original release, one player takes on the role of an Agent and everyone else fields a specialized Hunter – each character having their own assymetrical power. It’s an all vs one affair where the agent is trying to sneak into the base and reach several objective points before high-tailing it out of there. The Hunters job is to locate the Agent and blow him away (quite literally) before he can do this or if necessary, push out the game length to 40 turns. Typically though it tends to end either in Agent Victory or Agent Death.
Broken Covenant supposedly picks up where the previous one left off, but let’s face it, even though there’s a good amount of theme represented in the Cyberpunk world portrayed here, you don’t really give one “Iota” about the storyline. Guy sneaks into base, tries not to get killed. Think Metal Gear Solid or Shadowrun and you’ve pretty much got it.
The agent takes a turn writing down their movement as they run from space to space on a giant grid board and try to remain hidden from line of sight. The hunters then discuss their plans with each other before moving their individual miniatures on the board to tighten the net. Staying hidden is easier said than done as even just brushing a Hunter’s line of sight will alert them to your whereabouts and from that point, it’s about as tense and stressful as you can get (but in a very good way). The streamlined mechanics coupled with the “potential” shorter play time is why Specter Ops beats out all the others in this genre for me.
Broken Covenant is essentially Specter Ops 1.5. There’s a revised rulebook with some additions and clarifications (though I wouldn’t say it’s perfect as you do still get some FAQ worthy queries at times), but other than that it’s got the same content as the original, just different. You have a board, some agents/hunters, a giant sketch pad, item cards and many tokens. Just like in the other version.
So what Broken Covenant does is either adds to the overall variety of content or provides an entry point into the game depending on your perspective. For new players, this is a good thing as finding a copy of the original isn’t always easy. For those already playing cyber-ninja, this comes at a bit of a high price point for an expansion especially when you consider that there isn’t a ton of components in the box. If you have both sets you can fit all the content in one box without a problem.
The only other part with a bit of distinction is the board itself. You now have cache locations which allow the Hunter to grab a piece of gear while on the move. Although you do effectively shine a giant “!” in the air when you do so if the Hunters are being reasonably competent. It’s a neat addition and you might not even use a single one in your game, but it provides options during play.
However I cannot forgive the one issue with this board. It’s not a deal breaker for me, but I still think it’s insane that it’s occured. If you inspect the board carefully, you’ll notice several glaring errors with numbering and even one ommission. You can bet they will correct this in reprints down the line, but come on Plaid Hat, some basic quality control over the most important component in the box would have avoided this. It’s like marching to battle in Warhammer 40K with a Space Marine army and your General is represented by an Ork, you just can’t afford to miss these kinds of details. Fortunately, Plaid Hat is offering to fix this problem by offering sticker sheets through their parts replacement service. Or you can just deal with them as you play, as I said, they are a bit glaring, but common sense will mean you can easily play with them and thus they aren’t a deal breaker.
ANYTHING NEW THAT WORKED?
The other single big extension of the ruleset is improving the five player scenario, which in the previous version was pretty dull considering the potential. At this count one of the hunters is a hidden traitor and secretly on the agent side.
All sounds well and good except for two big issues. Firstly playing at 5 players means you’re in this game for a good 2+ hours, probably longer and that’s just too much for a hidden movement game. Secondly the traitor often found themselves with little to do once revealed beyond harass the other hunters once they revealed themselves – a bit like the traitor in Shadows Over Camelot. Now however the traitor can accomplish objectives which gives them something else to do. But unfortunately it’s still a very long game with 5 so even though the mode is fun and improved, I’d rather play a shorter game.
VERDICT ON BROKEN COVENANT
Broken Covenant isn’t really bringing anything new to the table, but it is refining the system and allowing new players to come in fresh with certainly the best of the two boxes available. In terms of new content, you’re just getting revised rules and some small board additions (both good and bad!)
If you’re fresh to the system, it’s a highly entertaining hidden movement game that can outstay its welcome sometimes with too many players, but for the most part will finish quicker than most other contenders in the genre. There’s a lot of tension for the agent and some great team-work and deduction elements from the hunters making for a great cyberpunk experience.
For those not so fresh, this is all just gravy with your roast dinner. The new hunters are excellent to wield and the items are all fun to incorporate into your game. At the end of the day it’s all about variety. You can utilize either board or card, pick from more items and choose from more characters. You don’t need both sets, but more than likely you’re going to choose this over the previous.
BROKEN RATING – 8
YOU WILL LIKE BROKEN COVENANT IF:
You love the original and want more of the good stuff for variety purposes.
You’re a new player into the system and don’t want to have to buy both sets to get started.
You enjoy tense, hidden movement games.
YOU WILL NOT LIKE BROKEN COVENANT IF:
You’re looking for any major new changes or additions to the base game.
You’re not willing to fork out the expense for what is essentially more of the same.
You don’t want your hidden movement games to run long and your group is typically 4-5 players.
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I'm known as The Broken Meeple, a blog, podcast and YouTube channel devoted to board and card games. I live in Portsmouth, UK, working as a Chartered Tax Advisor and I enjoy playing games of many genres and varieties with as many people as possible.