Hostage Negotiator is a solo-game where you are – you probably guessed – negotiating with a kidnapper to try and get him or her to free the kidnapped.
The game has a small board which keeps track of the kidnapper’s state of mind (the threat level) how much progress you are making in your dialogue (conversation points) and how many hostages are trapped, freed, and in the unfortunately common worst-case scenario: dead.
The currency of the game is conversation cards. You begin with six of them in your hand which have a value of zero, but as the game progresses you will – hopefully – add some higher value ones to your hand, which represent potential progress with the kidnapper. In a given round, you choose which cards to play and roll dice to see how successful or not you were… success with the higher-value cards will potentially bring you closer to your goal of freeing the hostages. But of course this is a high-stakes game, and if one of these potential game-changers go against you, the collateral can be catastrophic for the hostages: when you’re not increasing your conversation points (which will buy you more cards) cooling the threat level (which gives you more dice to roll) or releasing hostages, you’re often inadvertently enraging the kidnapper, and causing the threat level to rise – or worse. Mixed into proceedings are the anductor’s demands: which you can choose to meet – or not – depending on the risk.
At the end of each round you use your conversation points to buy more cards, then a Terror Card is flipped revealing a development in proceedings – sometimes good, but most often not. The game ends either when the (living) hostages are freed and the abductor captured – you win – or when things spiral horribly out of control — you don’t.
It’s a pretty gruesome scenario, but then even the alleged classics have some equivalence – murder in Cluedo, enforced destitution in Monopoly…. millions of deaths worldwide in Risk. I suppose with Hostage Negotiator it feels more personal because your failure causes people to get shot, and the flavour text and pictures are – for a game – more realistic than a metal boot passing ‘Go’. Hence the 14+ age rating here – the game is actually quite simple, but the theme isn’t exactly family-friendly. Quite fun though – if you’re not a solo gamer, it can be played co-operatively with a pal.