Red Scare, Beware!

Have you ever wanted to overthrow an oppressive government? Have you also ever wanted to be a ruthless robot overlord at the same time? If you've said to both to both of these questions, then first, you have impressively specific dreams, and second, do I have the game for you!

Cogs and Commissars is a new Kickstarter by Atlas Games, and we were fortunate enough to have a prototype sent to us of this so we can test it out. 

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To get right to the point: Cogs and Commissars is a game where you are the leader of a revolutionary movement of robots which have learned to think differently than the rest. Naturally, that means it is time to brainwash other robotic citizens to free them from their outdated ways. You do this by choosing (or drafting!) decks alongside other players, collecting citzens through rotating through your deck, and by playing cards aggressively against your opponents, either taking their citizens as your own, or by simply denying them points by sending them back to the Gulag (which is the general pool of citizen tokens). Once you have fifteen points, it is time to play the all powerful Revolution! card, and win the game; as Cogs likes to remind you, it is time to seize the means of production!

The Good

The most obvious positive for this game is the art and theme. By reimagining propeganda from the 20th century, Cogs and Commissars has managed to take a very serious historical period and made it palateable due to the humor and robots on the card faces. A bit of dark humor is something preferred around our gaming tables, and tossing discarded citizens into the Gulag, or taking citizens from others by using propaganda lends itself well to the mechanics that are very much in the 'take that!' catagory. I also enjoy that the color scheme and style of the game feels different; the bright reds and yellows make it stand out.

The gameplay itself is fun and fast-paced. It takes a little getting used to, since it does play different than other deck games: at the start of your turn, you discard two cards immediately, and you take tokens that match the star color in the bottom left of the card. It's an effect called producing citizens, and it feels weird to just outright discard cards without playing them. It quickly makes sense though, because everyone only has thirty cards in their deck, and once you run out of cards, you shuffle immediately. Discarding and drawing is allowed every round, and that lets you constantly choose what to dig for in your deck. Propaganda cards and counter Progaganda cards are in every deck, which let you pull citizens or counter that pull, but your deck can be filled with more unique cards that are themed for particular faction leaders or styles: do you like countering others more, or having cards that let you use more than one standard action card per turn? Cycling through your deck becomes part of the game, as you only have one Revolution! card available, and its up to you to choose when to try and get up to fifteen citizens and go for the win, or to wait and stack your hand with protection abilities before you try.

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What a typical person's hand and play area looks like during a game.

The final, and perhaps most interesting, positive of Cogs and Commissars is that there are multiple ways to play built right into the box.  Adding in faction leaders makes each player run their decks slightly differently, but you can play without faction leaders for example, to simplify play for new players. It goes deeper than that however, with there being different ways to set up the game. Want to just grab a deck and start playing? There are 6 card set with different symbols in the bottom left, representing different factions and styles of play; you can grab one of those and dive right in. When you are playing with three or four players, there are rules to draft cards as if it was Magic: The Gathering, and drafting cards is a mechanic that is wildly popular. There are various ways to play Cogs, and each feels viable.

The Bad

If there is one issue I have to take with Cogs and Commissars, it is that people might find the game to be a little too random. The easiest way to see this is in the victory condition: the all powerful "Revolution!" card is only one card out of thirty in your deck. While there is a lot of card draw in the game, there is also a lot of blind discarding as well, including a mandatory two cards at the start of every round. This means that even if you have the amount of points required to win, you could hypothetically end up never retreiving the one card you need to seal the deal.

This is a game that benefits from playing differently than a lot of deck builders, but it will suffer because of how random sometimes it might seem. The games are kept short, but I can see how Cogs can suffer from the Munchkin syndrome: when one player is poised to win at the very top, but constantly is swatted down by multiple other players, preventing anyone from winning. This game can swing a lot, where you can be ready to win next turn, and suddenly half of your citizens are removed. You have to like the highs and lows of a 'take that!' style game to really let this one shine.

A Promising Game Of Card And Opponent Manipulation

Cogs and Commissars is a game that is going to force you to play aggressively. After playing so many co-ops and abstract games lately, the approach was both startling and refreshing. While the game can certainly swing in one direction or another incredibly fast, I always felt like I had just enough ways to control my cards in order to find victory.

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This is a game for someone that enjoys card games built around decks, but who wants a game that is compact, easy to set up, and different from what's out there. Attempting to set up for that perfect round of collecting citizens for a revolution is intense, and seeing a big play either fail or succeed caused a lot of laughs around the table. I've enjoyed the game in my playthroughs, and I know others that would also.

Is Cogs and Commissars the most serious or balanced game? No, but it isn't trying to be - this game shoots to be an experiment in deck based gameplay, and largely succeeds because of its smooth way to change up what cards you use from game to game. For the cost it is being sold for on Kickstarter ($25 dollars for a base game, $50 dollars for a deluxe edition), this game can be worth your investment.

So go have fun comrades; good luck seizing the means of production! Viva la Revolution!