Anomaly by Starling Games
Players:2 to 4
Playtime:45 to 60 minutes
Perfect for:People who enjoy hidden movement and location deduction games.
Anomaly is an asynchronous game of stealth and elusion. Set upon a remote space station, one player controls the anomaly, with a goal of sneaking around from room to room, only emerging to eat fuel cells or to attack the students. The students are controlled by the opposing players, who want to track down and eliminate the alien by coordinating their movements and attacks strategically. For more on the theme, here’s a description from the publisher, Starling Games:
Left for dead, three young students fight for their lives against an unknown entity. The creature, if that is what it is, seems to learn and evolve to counter their every move. They must hunt it down and destroy it, before it finds them first.
To begin Anomaly one player elects to be the mysterious alien, while two to three players team up as the students. Each person is given a small replica of the game board and a shield screen. Used in tandem, this allows everyone to track their own movement in secret. The circular board has twelve rooms, and each room has a unique set of three symbols. These symbols will give players clues as to where everyone is as gameplay proceeds. At the start of the game, each student reveals one symbol that corresponds to their current location which means the anomaly can deduce everyone is one of four possible places.
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On the students’ turn, they can spend action cards to do things like move, track, or attack by using or discarding cards. When they move, they reveal a new symbol corresponding to their new location, so the creature can now piece together students’ path and placement. Students track by asking the anomaly if it is in a location matching one of the symbols they revealed (again, where corresponding to where they were or are). And finally, students can attack or take other actions by playing cards however once they do, they go to the creature’s deck granting that player new abilities to survive.
The person controlling the anomaly plays a little bit differently. They are granted three action points that they can spend on movement or eating, and additional bonus action if they so choose (the cards acquired from the students). Eating involves gobbling up a fuel tank (known locations on the board) or nibbling on a student. Attacking by either party assumes that they know where their opponent is, but attacks can miss if one player has successfully evaded the other. The creature can also choose to temporarily pass, meaning it can be strategic when revealing what it is doing as to not give itself away too early. The game ends when the health tracker signals that either the students or the alien have perished.
What works in Anomaly is the suspense emanating from the core mechanic. There is definitely a cat and mouse element that shines through well as the creature attempts to sneak around. Another fun rule is that the students can discuss strategy but must do so out loud so that the alien can listen in on everything to their advantage. The asynchronous nature also keeps tension high, as it much harder to predict your opponent when your abilities and actions differ so much from theirs. Also, credit must be given to the component design—the board and pieces to track movement are both colorful and clever.
Players should note that Anomaly requires some patience in terms of making moves thoughtfully and may require a few playthroughs before people are comfortable and consistent with strategy. An egregious error, especially on the part of the creature, can be rather catastrophic. Anomaly players should expect to need a practice run or two before the game naturally balances out.
Anomaly is a very fun, if not slightly intense, game of hidden movement. For players to fully grasp the strategy including how to best leverage abilities and action, a few games will likely be necessary, but after that point Anomaly becomes a fairly quick and reliable good time.
Recommended if you like: Mr. Jack, Scotland Yard
Final Grade: A-
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