11:59 is a real time, dice rolling microgame that pitches two players against each other as nuclear powers in an arms race that could end the civilised world. All is not lost however, because despite the presence of physical components that represent bunkers and even intercontinental nuclear missiles, it’s also possible for diplomacy to win the day. Get ready to launch, this is our 11:59 review!
Whilst I always try to make sure that I cover a game in comprehensive detail, spinning out what happens in 11:59 beyond a few paragraphs is going to be a challenge thanks to the sheer simplicity of the game. Simply put, players will set themselves up a two tier bunker with their two VIP’s “in it” and place the diplomacy pearls and third bunker piece to the side. They will then take the dice in their chosen colour and place their nuclear warhead on it’s side – meaning that it is not primed.
What follows this is frantic dice rolling of the most ridiculous order. The two players must simply hammer out dice rolls as fast as they can, looking for doubles or sevens as frequently as possible. Rolling a double allows the player to prime their warhead (by standing it up) or to remove one of the bunker pieces from their opponents bunker by laying their primed nuke back on its side. If the opponent has no bunker pieces remaining, then a VIP meeple can be “killed” instead. A double also allows a player to remove one of their opponents diplomacy pearls, forcing it back to the table.
Rolling a seven allows the player to take a diplomacy pearl, or if they already have one, to spend a pearl on adding another tier to their bunker. Whilst killing the opponents VIP’s is considered more valuable in the “campaign” mode that 11:59 features, it’s also possible to win through diplomacy by collecting five pearls. Thanks to the interplay between spending pearls on fortifications or holding on to them to force a win, there are some surprisingly nuanced decisions to be found in 11:59.
This is reflected in the options available for rolling the different kinds of outcome. If your nuke isn’t primed when you roll a double, for example, you could still affect your opponents plan by taking a diplomacy gem – especially if you think that they will reach five and force the game to end. This can also be useful if you’ve already removed their bunker pieces. Wouldn’t it be better to prime your own warhead and then hope for another double so that you can kill a VIP? Wait too long in making a decision whilst your opponent rolls and you might lose the edge altogether.
In all honesty, I think I’ve explained before that I don’t generally like real time games. That dislike compounds more and more as the game in question introduces more and more complex rules and features. And that, in the style of any classic mid-statement turnaround, is exactly why I do like 11:59. I mean, for starters it comes in a tin that is the size of a pack of chewing gum and it features a single, two sided card for an instruction manual. How complex could it be?
Well, as you’ll have noted by now, it’s not complex at all to play, but it does force the player to think fast and make decisions. Indecisiveness will literally lose you the game in 11:59 and whilst you might make a suboptimal choice from time to time, any action related to the seven or double that you’ve rolled is still going to do something that advances your position. Because the luck of the dice tends to favour no one on average, 11:59 often ends up as a game of very, very fine margins indeed.
11:59 costs a few quid and takes up literally no space. It’s a great way to begin a games night whilst still waiting for the full compliment, or to kill time between other games. It only supports two players, but it’s so quick to get through a game that it doesn’t really matter if others are left watching. It may come as no surprise that it’s also a great travel game, but because it usually results in a lot of noise (and cursing) I’d suggest that it should be used with caution in public places like trains, for example.
In short, 11:59 is one of the first microgames that I’ve played, but if it is representative of the genre, then I’d love to play more of them. Lots of fun, nice and quick, with great looking components, this is definitely one to consider adding to your collection.