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.