Turns out Ben Gerber knows how to design a board game after all. A pretty good one, too. 

Swamped is a compact little semi-cooperative game, kind of in the middling-filler category. I despise the term “semi-cooperative” but it’s also one of my favorite categories: everyone needs to work to achieve a baseline “not losing” state, but beyond that everyone has their own victory conditions. It’s what Republic of Rome does; it’s what Archipelago does. This game is in the same category.

The players (2-4) get secret roles, which tell them what their personal victory conditions are. They’re all related to the team acquiring sets of plants growing in a swamp: mushrooms or flowers or whatever. There are uh..7-or-so total roles, and they sometimes look similar to one another, so even after you know all the roles there’s still some uncertainty as to what folks are chasing. In this way the game feels an awful lot like Archipelago. 

Swamped is also susceptible to Archipelago’s problems. If you’re feeling certain you’re not winning, there’s literally no motivation at all to not sink the boat and ensure an everyone-loses state: if I can’t win, why should I help you win? It’s the great unsolved problem of this sort of game, but I think it’s not really a problem unless you’re neck-deep in heavy play. I feel like the roles probably provide enough variety and uncertainty that this nonsense won’t show up at least for a while.

We played a single 3-player game and it took the full 30 minutes, the game’s high-end estimate. I think a 4p could run long for what the game provides. But hey, it’s $15 and a surprisingly compact little box. It’s definitely going into my pile of convention fillers.

A side note and nod to deep geekiness: After a play of this game, I immediately started retheming it! Swamps and crocs, okay, accessible to the general public I guess. But what I can’t stop imagining is that tiny brown ship as … a Rogue Trader vessel. The various treasures are different planet types, with “exploitable worlds” being the baseline nobody-loses thing you have to get. But but but your secret roles might be uh Adeptus Mechanicus (bonus points for landing on ruined worlds) and the priest dudes (bonus points for landing on worlds full of benighted converts) and space marines (Xeno worlds!) and so on. The croc is, I dunno… a Chaos fleet hot on your tail or something. The more exploitable worlds you colonize and stabilize, the harder the Chaos fleet pursues you. Dunno.

Crocs and swamps are okay too.


13 thoughts on “Swamped”

  1. Good review! I need to bust out my copy the next time I get together with friends at the coffee shop.

    Question related to coopetitive games: has anyone actually experienced the “I’m not winning, so I’m tankin’ this shtick” player during one of these games? I mean, in games that don’t have a traitor (a la Archipelago) option? 

    That seems to be the absolute pinnacle of poor-loser: “I can’t have fun unless I win in totality, so everyone has to lose.” Why continue playing games with that person at all? That would irk me to the point of calling them on their bullshit and uninviting them to future game events.

  2. Adam Day Wellllll… I don’t feel comfortable painting those players with such a broad moral brush. And not just because this is something that I might do.

    IMO the threat of sinking the game is a legitimate tool in your arsenal if the game is well designed. I haven’t played enough Swamped to know if it is. Archipelago is robust enough to handle it, as long as everyone super-tuned-in to the pitfalls of handing a probable loser too much leverage. That said, it’s so very hard to play well that I think most players think the game can’t handle it. So it happens and folks feel like it’s the game’s fault.

    But, like, if you’re in a position where you can threaten to sink the game in order to secure concessions, and those concessions don’t in turn guarantee someone else’s loss, then you know, game on. IMO. But if you’ve put the other guy in a no-win situation — let me win or we all lose — that’s pretty shitty.

    It’s a problem of the design space that hasn’t been especially well addressed yet. But I blame the design, not the player! Everyone loses is a rational choice if that choice is what’s made available to you.

  3. Yeah I don’t think it’s poor sportsmanship or a problem. In a well designed game its a feature.

    If making sure all of you lose is a thing that is within my power then you are all motivated to not stomp me so hard that I choose to do that. You are motivated to leave me with enough hope that I might pull off a win that keeps me vested in trying. It’s the old Europe Balance of Power paradigm where “going to war” is the lose condition for everyone.

    I built an element of this into Blood Red Sands actually. Since one way to earn points is to just fight people you are motivated to get into fights. But not so many fights that you take so much damage you can’t achieve your goal and get those points. But the player who takes the most damage get a big boost for next game.

    So if ever the other players have made it absolutely impossible for me to claim my goal (I.e. win) I always have the nuclear option. Fight everyone until I’ve taken so much damage I can’t fight any more. Score those points for fighting, get the big bonus next game.

    So everyone is motivated to keep me “in the game” enough to not do that.

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