Anyone who has watched enough sci-fi movies will know that the robot revolution is only a matter of time. Some think that the end will be violent and overt, as depicted by Terminator, whilst others still struggle to believe that we’re not living in The Matrix. Both camps are wrong however, because in fact we’ve all missed threat post by robotic communists. This, friends, is Cogs and Commissars.
Cogs and Commissars is a competitive “take that” focused card game that features both pre-constructed decks as well as constructed (player defined) decks and drafting options. Each game takes about thirty minutes once the game begins, but deck building or drafting can take quite a lot longer. As a first observation, I’d say that most people should simply play with the pre-constructed decks as they are absolutely fine.
Whether you choose to use those decks or not, you’ll also have the choice of several leader cards that have amusing names that riff on both the communist and robot themes. Artificial Stalinteligence, Computin or Simulenin as well as my personal favourite, Gorobotchev, to name but a few. The rules state that a leader card is not mandatory, but frankly, the game is no more complex when they are used and it certainly adds a touch of personality.
On that note, Cogs and Commissars is an intentionally comical game that continually uses its theme to introduce elements of humour through puns, ridiculous visuals and so on. This, I think, is intended to soften the take that gameplay a little bit, since confrontation is so fundamental to the turn by turn play that it might feel a bit tense were the game built on a more serious theme.
The object of Cogs and Commissars is to obtain support from the population to attempt a revolution, which is achieved by successfully playing a specific card. Population is made up from three different kinds of token (prolitariat, bourgeoise and commissars) worth one, three and five points respectively. For clarity, if you do reach twenty population, your revolution card cannot be countered.
If only Cogs and Commissars was that simple though, eh? Clearly, as a take that game, your opponents will be working hard to undermine your plans. They’ll do this by playing cards in response to yours (cancelling or countering your actions) and by engineering their own plans to fruition. Cogs and Commissars even goes as far as allowing players to steal each other’s population at a rate that I would say is a lot higher than average, even for similar games.
Cogs and Commissars is fast paced and simple to play. Each turn begins with the players flipping over two cards from their draw deck and taking the citizen tokens shown on the bottom left. They may then discard and redraw any number of cards up to their hand limit of seven. After this, the players may use any propaganda cards that they have to draw further population tokens, as stated.
The meat of Cogs and Commissars happens in the fourth and final phase of the round, when the players use their action cards. These cards will be used to steal population from the other players, draw yet more from the pool, mess with each other’s hands or turns and so on. Some cards, marked with the blitz (lightning) symbol can be used during other players turns, and indeed, they frequently will be in order to counter one card or another.
To boil it down, Cogs and Commissars is a fast and frantic game in which the players essentially trade blows whilst working towards the objective of reaching either fifteen or twenty population. At fifteen, they may choose to use one of their precious few revolution cards and risk being countered or they can attempt to hold on and gain the additional population needed. The challenge there, of course, is that even reaching fifteen population paints a big red target on your back.
Cogs and Commissars is a small box game that packs quite a bit in components wise. Everything is presented as either cards or tokens, but the quality of both is high and whilst the artwork is frequently repeated, it is bang on theme and in my opinion, really nicely done. The manual is more like a pamphlet, but it features all of the relevant information and delivers it clearly and cleanly.
Whilst I don’t think that Cogs and Commissars is likely to make any top ten lists this year, my opinion is that it dares to be different in a way that makes me admire it. Firstly, the idea of such a directly confrontational game makes it quite niche, but when you layer this onto the rather obscure (but quite funny) theme, you further reduce the audience.
Going ahead and publishing Cogs and Commissars must have been quite a risk for Atlas Games, but I am glad they did. It’s portable, relatively brief and very eye catching, which makes it perfect for playing before a games night, over a few beers or when travelling. If that sounds like your cup of, erm, vodka, then you should dive right in.