Last week, members of our board gaming group decided to ditch the cardboard for a night and delve into something a little more technologically advanced. After (remarkably) still being on speaking terms following a vicious game of Subterfuge, we decided to repair any lingering animosity with something co-operative; Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes (Steel Crate Games).
In KTaNE players are a bomb defusal team, solving a series of puzzle modules within a set time period. Each module has a set of instructions in a manual that describes how to defuse them. Players look at the bomb, refer to the manual and disarm the bomb.
Sounds easy, right?
Well, no. The real genius behind KTaNE is that only one player can see the bomb on the screen, and they don’t have access to the manual. This leaves them to describe what they can see, whilst their friends quickly try and figure out how to solve each puzzle. Very much like the opening scene in The Hurt Locker but with less sand, and more alarm clocks (that damn alarm clock!).
Like all of the best co-operative games, the mechanics of the game are secondary to the interactions and experiences that you will have with your friends. This is where the real enjoyment and sense of accomplishment comes from.
“Like all of the best co-operative games, the mechanics of the game are secondary to the interactions and experiences that you will have with your friends.”
The difficulty of the game will also depend on the way that you interact with your fellow gamers. You’ll learn fairly quickly that all shouting at once will hinder the process, and that some people will be far better at certain modules. Failure to see the benefit of devision of labour will result in far fewer successes, whereas an organised, focussed team will hear the dreaded ‘boom’ far less frequently.
In truth, although KTaNE was a deviation from our usual tabletop experiences, it is probably the closest that a PC game has come to replicating the social experience of a board game. In recent years, co-operative board games have become more and more prevalent, with some true classics like Pandemic, Ghost Stories and Flash Point: Fire Rescue being released. KTaNE feels like it scratches the same itch though a different medium, giving players the tools to have fun but relying on the players to generate the true tension and excitement.
My only mild reservations with the game is that it could potentially suffer from the same issues that its cardboard counterparts suffer from; replayability and Quarterbacking.
The replayability of the game will undoubtedly suffer if you play the game multiple times with the same people. As players become familiar with each module, the game could become predictable (and potentially – whisper – too easy). However, this could easily be rectified by the addition of new modules and manuals, and it will likely take quite a few plays before it becomes stale.
Quarterbacking (one player telling everyone else what to do) is definitely not a problem with the game, merely a potential problem that exists within any co-operative game and, in all honesty, any social group. One easy solution is to not play with anyone who has these tendencies. Another is to hand them the bomb and keep them as far away from the manual as possible.
Luckily, we had no Quarterbacks on board for our two hour game, and we had a blast (several blasts, actually).
For those who wish to watch four grown men struggle with memory, numbers and colours (plus, in my case, struggling to join a Skype call), the links to our session videos are below. Before you click though, I must recommend playing this game without seeing any of the modules or reading the manual. Going in blind will really ramp up the hilarity, tension and enjoyment.
I honestly can’t recommend KTaNE enough. Give it a go.
Gameplay video – Part 1
Gameplay video – Part 2