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Red Outpost

Red Outpost explores worker placement and area control with a unique twist in this combination of communist utopia on a distant planet.

Currently on Kickstarter, Red Outpost is the latest game from Imperial Publishing, part of the Sleeve Kings and Mayday Games family.

Gameplay

Red Outpost is a 2-4 player game where everyone will share the same workers from a pool of six. Like most worker placement games, players will leverage each worker to carry out actions across a board with 12 spots where resources can be gathered or found, tribute is paid, and spirits are lifted.

What makes Red Outpost unique is not only the shared pool of workers, but how each player chooses to use workers and the cost to their morale. The six workers available (Bureaucrat, Commissar, Farmer, Fisherman, Miner, and Shepherd) have specific spots on the board where they will provide a benefit without a hit to morale. If players use a worker in a spot where they may not be best used (for example, the Bureaucrat at the Mine), the worker may lose morale, which can affect victory points earned at the end of the round. 

Red Outpost is played over the course of two rounds, with each round containing 5 phases representing various parts of the day. In the morning and evening phases, specific action spots will be off-limits for all workers, as will any spots that already contain a worker. During the last phase (evening), players can only move a worker to the Barracks. In the first and last phases, players may only move one worker. In the other phases, players will move all the workers, which may result in some players getting more turns. However, the first player marker is switched every phase so every player will end up getting the same number of turns by the end of the game. 

Managing workers' morale is key, so it's important to plan actions as far ahead as possible. All workers begin in the Barracks at the start of the round, and any unused workers during the morning phase will earn one tick on their respective morale tracks. How workers are used and where they are placed to carry out actions can affect these morale tracks, including causing negative morale. There are spots, such as the Beer House, that can raise a worker’s morale by choosing to move them there but no other benefits will be gained.

As players take turns choosing a worker, they will place one of their colored disks, which act as influence, on the worker’s picture on the board. At the end of the round, the player with the most influence on a worker will gain victory points equal to the worker’s morale (in case of a tie, all players will gain or lose the corresponding victory points). 

The path to earning victory points is not just tied to morale. By utilizing the right workers in the ideal order, players are able to earn crystals. Crystals can then be taken to the Palace of the Soviets and spent as tribute. The player with the most crystals given to the Palace of the Soviets at the end of the game will earn 4 victory points, the second most will earn 2 victory points, and so on. Resources gained can also earn victory points. When resources are gathered, they do not go to individual players but rather to the Storehouse. As wool, fish, coal, and wheat are earned, they begin to fill the storehouse. The player who adds the third resource of the same type (for example, the third fish if two were already in the storehouse) will take one of the resources and cover the left-most open spot on the tracker of that resource type and earn an immediate victory point bonus. As more resources of one type fill up the respective tracker, more victory points are earned. 

After the end of the second round, victory points are counted from the Palace of the Soviet tributes as well as 1 victory point for every two crystals they have remaining and added to the running totals of each player on the victory track. The player with the most points is the winner.

Red Outpost components

Photo provided by Imperial Publishing Inc.

Review

The first thing to jump out concerning Red Outpost is the shared worker pool and the morale trackers. Managing these will be key, as they represent the lion’s share of victory points earned during the course of the game. Knowing when to use a worker and how to maximize their morale, not to mention gaining a majority of influence with the worker, will determine how well a player does at the end of each round. However, it will be hard to gain maximum victory points because other players will be sure to take a high morale worker and use them in spaces that will cost morale if they cannot share a majority of influence. 

This would seem to minimize the impact of gaining victory points from other areas, but that isn’t the case. Red Outpost is a tightly scored game, and leveraging the other areas of victory point accrual is how players can begin to separate themselves from the pack. Knowing when to visit the Storehouse to sacrifice a good for a crystal and to prevent someone else from gaining a third resource of one type, or when to go fishing to get that third fish to earn points on the resource track, is just as important as managing morale. 

It’s at this point that Red Outpost also exposes the ugly side of its utopian vision: it is a game with a lot of take-that baked into its vision. It’s this underbelly that also pairs well with its theming. The idea that the USSR was not in a race to the moon but secretly navigating to a distant planet to inhabit it and bring about a utopian vision of communism is great. Yet, the spacecraft crash-landed and despite having no more contact with the motherland, the outpost’s inhabitants are trying their best to stick to their principles while also sometimes sticking the metaphorical knife into each other’s backs. 

More to the point, Red Outpost plays into this duality throughout the game. There are special location and worker cards that add a bit of depth to the game, as well as leaning hard into the push-and-pull of the makeshift society of the game’s namesake. If it becomes clear that a player is gaining a distinct advantage due to having a particular worker’s special card, the other players may find ways to sabotage that advantage at the detriment of their own plans. The game wants you to see red as it has you become a Red. Players find themselves immersed in the sloganeering of "From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs," and sometimes a player’s best ability is to be the door slamming in another player’s face.

However, Red Outpost is not a mean-spirited game. There are ample opportunities for players to hunker down into their own action plan despite the continuous upheaval. Again, this plays into the game’s theme of an outpost on a distant planet having to survive but also wanting to climb the ladder to be the best leader in the cut-off community. There’s a power vacuum and each player is racing to fill it. 

The game plays quickly but offers a lot to do in its short span. Red Outpost is also situated neatly as a game that fans of casual worker placement games can also find the jumping off point into more Euro-style games where planning ahead is crucial. Despite being intimidating at first, trying to remember what workers work best at specific action spots on the board, as well as the benefits and drawbacks of each spot depending on the phase or workers available, will have players leaning on the rulebook in initial plays. However, once the game is understood (usually after one playthrough) players will be wanting to play Red Outpost again. 

Pros: Unique take on worker placement and area control mechanics

Cons: Take-that mechanism is prevalent and could be a deterrent to conscious-minded gamers

Disclosure: this preview is based on our evaluation of an unpublished prototype of the game, which is subject to change prior to publication. We received a complimentary copy of this game.