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Fishing for Terrrorists
Reviewed by Matthew Pook, © 2007

Format: Game
By:   Geoff Bottone, Colleen Skadl, & Cliff Bohm
Genre:   card game variant with contemporary theme
Review Date:   February 15, 2007
RevSF Rating:   5/10 (What Is This?)

It is no surprise that the prevalent threat of terrorism has not become the subject for a game, given the sensitivity of the subject matter. But new publisher SlugFest Games have bravely (or foolishly) taken the bull by the horns and kicked aside any demurring sensibilities for their first title, Fishing for Terrorists.

Players become the heads of the various government agencies assigned to protect the security of the homeland. Through the application of cunning, connections, wire taps, and covert ops, your agency must hunt down and capture those individuals that threaten the very nation's way of life.

The energy arrayed before you include the "Apathetic Atheists," "the Certified Members of the Lunatic Fringe," "Deadly Agents Of Unspeakable Evil," "Fanatical Bombers of Inrekistan," and the "Militant Satanic Gamers," plus others. At stake? Not just the aforementioned safety of your country, but the opportunity to gain a presidential commendation and a bigger slice of the budgetary pie.

Designed for two to six players, Fishing for Terrorists consists of a 72 card deck, a simple sheet of rules, and three separate reference cards that list the ten target terrorist groups. All of this comes in a box wrapped in patriotic colours, and whilst the box is colour, the cards are in black and white. But this does not distract from the look of the cards, which are divided into two types. The first are the terrorist cards, each depicting a dangerous individual from one of the ten organisations that each has four members. The remaining 32 cards are turn cards, which affect other cards in play. All of the cards have a nicely done illustration by Danny Williams and the terrorist cards also have a flavoursome quote from the individual depicted.

Play is simple. The reference cards are kept separate, the other cards shuffled, and everyone receives a hand of two cards. On his turn a player can do up to three things. First he goes "Fishing for Terrorists" and begins an investigation. Turning to another player he asks, "George, as head of the DEA, what do you know about the Gun Toting Maniacs?" If George happens to have a member of said organisation in his hand, he must hand over the suspect.

If not, George can reply: "Dick, right now the DEA is too busy conducting its own investigation to help. Perhaps you would try the Terrorist Yellow Pages?" Dick can then draw another two cards.

Once an investigation has been completed, the player can play a Turn card and if he has one, these can set captured terrorists free ("Jail Break" or "Human Rights Protest"); let a player conduct another turn ("Extensive Field Work"), or draw another two cards ("Pork Barrel Spending"). Finally, if the player has one or more matching pairs of terrorists in his hand he can capture them. The pair is then placed down in front of him. Such pairs are subject to the effects of the turn cards, but if a player can put down all four terrorists from a group, he has effectively captured the group and closed the case. These terrorists remain the jurisdiction of that player and they cannot be affected by Turn cards. The player's turn is then over.

Besides the turn cards, there are also Anytime cards, Sometimes cards, and NOW! cards. The first can be played at any time, such as "Tapping the Phone Lines," which lets a player look at another's hand. The second are more like Turn cards, but are played in certain situations, such as "We'll Take It from Here!" which lets another player grab or take control of a captured pair of terrorists. The third type of cards have to be played as soon as they are drawn, for example: "Government Shakeup!" forces everyone to pass their hand to the left; "Congressional Hearings" force all players to discard their hands back into the deck and then have them redraw; and "The President's Making Us Work Together" forces everyone to take a random card from the player to their right.

A game ends when the draw deck has been exhausted. Points are scored for each pair of terrorists captured, but deducted for each single terrorist still held in the hand. The player with the highest score is the winner.

It is obvious from even the title that this game is a variant of the ordinary card game, Fish or Go Fish. Which would ordinarily make Fishing for Terrorists of little interest to the average gamer, but a number of elements designed into the game could change their mind. The first are the bells and whistles of the Turn, Sometimes, Anytime, and Now! cards which add a much greater degree of interaction. The second is the streak of sly satire that runs through the game, poking fun not at individuals, but organisations and bureaucracies.

That said, some may find the satire inappropriate, and the game is probably more suited to a more mature audience than is suggested. Third, there is room for a little roleplaying or tabletalk in taking control of an organisation involved in the War Against Terrorism.

Overall the feeling with Fishing for Terrorists is that you have seen it all, or nearly all before. And that is certainly the case, but the design surprises you in how much can be built upon such simple foundations. Which makes Fishing for Terrorists easy to both learn and master with tweaks enough and a contemporary subject to make it interesting.

Matthew Pook, Revolution SF’s Games Editor, has relegated control of his own Homeland Security to Moogie and Miw. It may not be secure, but the budget on cat pouches, cat biscuits, cat litter, and catnip is more acceptable.

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