Black Hole Council Review: How to Play Your Friends
Note: Orange Machine Games provided us with a pre-production review copy of Black Hole Council. All imagery depicted is pre-production and will change for final release.
Listen up, councilor. Take a look at your agenda.
That’s right—we need you to settle green planets, tax yellow planets, mine black planets, conquer blue planets, and send red planets into the black hole. We’re putting you in there to negotiate and make all of this happen—but be careful. Don’t let the others on the council know your plans, or they will exploit you for profit.
Black Hole Council is a new 4–8 player negotiation/deduction hybrid game from designer Don Eskridge. His pedigree is clear: The Resistance, The Resistance: Avalon, and Abandon Planet. His games are highly interactive, player-driven, and deceptively straightforward.
Black Hole Council starts you off with hidden goals. This information is precious. Your job is to figure out how to enact your goals on the board, without being too obvious about what you’re up to.
The game consists of rounds and rounds of shouting. Ever thought you’d be yelling, “Swap settle for mine” or “We can’t put red planets in the black hole” over and over again for 2 minutes? After a round of swapping planets and lively negotiation, players will all vote Pass/Fail to determine if the proposed planets’ fates will be carried out. This is familiar fare for fans of The Resistance.
Every two rounds of negotiation, there is a deduction round where everyone guesses other players’ secret goals to score more points. What makes the deduction interesting is that you also score points if another player incorrectly guesses your goals. So not only are you trying to swap the red planet into the mine slot, but you are actively trying to convince other players that this is NOT what you want—and in fact, that you want to mine a completely different planet. This adds clever mind games and meta games to the system, which allows for interactions far beyond the rules of the game.
HOW IT FEELS
Black Hole Council is a fast-paced, frantic affair where the game is barreling toward its conclusion from the very first turn. There is almost no fat on this design. The players will drive the experience of each game—for good or bad. Have an analytical group of gamers? It may be a somewhat quieter affair where the deduction is being calculated every step of the way. Have a social group that loves to argue? You will literally be shouting at each other and frantically trying to get something done before the timer runs out.
WHAT DOESN’T WORK
- The deduction can force a somewhat chilling effect on the negotiation. You can’t be too obvious or too specific. This will make the first rounds/games especially difficult as you warm up to how to properly play without giving too much away.
- The Intrigue cards feel somewhat similar to the “Plot Thickens” expansion for Resistance, adding a bit of player powers and randomness to an otherwise tight design.
Black Hole Council bucks the current boardgaming trend of minimal player interaction. A small ruleset, combined with a game where all actions require approval of the majority, allow you to defeat your opponents rather than the game itself.
Black Hole Council is a unique hybrid that will force you to negotiate, mask your intentions, and “play” your friends in the way that the best boardgames do.
17/20 – Highly Recommended