Quick Glance: Dark.net (WizKids)
Game Type: Cyberpunk
Number of Players: 2-4
Mechanics: Dice Rolling, Tile Placement,Action Selection
Introduction/Overview: Dark.net is set in a slightly dystopian future where only 4 mega-corporations control everything (Way different than the 6 that really control it). You live on the edge, trying to gain information that will take down the mega-corps. Who will have the best reputation in this underworld?
Gameplay: A turn in Dark.net has three phases: Transmission, Action, and Trace. Transmission Phase is very simple, and reminds me of several other games (Catan, Machi Koro, Space Base). You roll two 6-sided dice, and if any of the network tiles you control match that number, you get a cube of the tile’s color. If you roll a 7, then you roll the “Corporate Attack” Die. Each player then has to destroy a network extension of that color (they can be fixed later).
Next is Action Phase. There are 8 different actions you can take. You only get to do two of them in any given turn. First off, you can buy or sell cubes with the various fences on the board. Next, you can buy new Network Tiles to broaden your network. The next two actions are buying and installing Network Boosters and Informants which act like multipliers on the network tiles you place them on. Each player has a different cube cost for these, so it’s kind of nice that not everyone will be fighting over just one kind of cube. You can also make a contact, which helps you in cases of losing network tiles due to corporate attacks. You can also set a virus into an opponent’s network. Finally, if none of those other options strike your fancy, you can just take 1 credit...this is the only action you can do twice in a turn.
None of these actions are difficult. It is a nice puzzle to figure out how to most effectively use them to get credits, as money is pretty tight most of the time.
Finally, there is Trace Phase. During your action phase, if you did any action that relates to one of the four fences (buying / selling cubes, adding network tiles, making a contact) you add a trace marker to that fence, and take the “retaliation die”. During the trace phase, you roll the retaliation dice you have collected. If you roll a number lower than the number of traces on the fence, they suffer retaliation. First, you remove the number of cubes from the fence equal to what you rolled. Next, you draw a response card which changes the rules for buying and selling with that fence. The game ends once you have to draw a response card and can’t.
Points are scored at the end of the game based on various things, such as how many Network Boosters and Informants you built, how many unused contacts you have made, and how many credits you have...among a few other things. High score wins!
Rulebook: I think the rulebook does a pretty good job of laying out the game. While there are 8 different actions a player can take on their turn, none of them are terribly difficult to understand. The hardest part may be remembering which actions cause you to add traces to the various fences and which ones don’t.
Theme: I like the cyberpunk theme well enough, but it doesn’t really come through in much of the game. A few components have circuitry drawn on them, and I guess the fence characters do have a stylized look, but that’s where it ends. Informants are plain meeples, Network Boosters are just big cubes, and the dice are just basic 6-siders. It’s a shame the theme doesn’t come through in the game play a little bit more.
Set-Up/Takedown: There is a fair amount of set-up to do before diving into Dark.net. I would guess 7-10 minutes to get everything sorted out and the appropriate starting resources figured out. I definitely recommend bagging the game up to help expedite set-up and teardown.
Components: All of the cardboard boards are nice and thick. Player boards are stuffed with information, but they are extremely well laid out. As I stated before, most of the rest of the components are generic. I would have enjoyed seeing them push the cyberpunk theme a little further. Even something simple like translucent cubes or meeples would have gone a long way on this front.
One thing does bug me a fair bit. The icon for money in this game (“credits”) is a capital D with a line through it. Why it’s a D is never explained. Anyway, that D looks almost exactly like the number 0...which is often displayed with a line through it to differentiate it from a capital O. This rears its head when you’re spending money and you don’t quite know if it’s 1 or 10 credits you should pay. Since the symbol means nothing to the game, I wish they would have chosen a different symbol.
Solo-Play: No solo play is available in Dark.net
Final Thoughts: Dark.net has some interesting ideas, but it’s hamstrung a bit by the same things that hamstrung most of the other games that have used the “roll dice / get stuff” mechanic. Namely, if you don’t roll the numbers that match your stuff, it is extremely hard to do anything. As a 45 minute game, as listed on the box, Dark.net is a good time. If it starts to stretch to that 75-90 minute mark (which it has done nearly every time I’ve tried it) then it loses a lot of its momentum.
If you have a group that enjoys Catan or Machi Koro, and can handle a little bit of take that, then I can recommend Dark.net for your group. It will feel somewhat familiar to start, but give you many more options as you get deeper into the game. It is a solid game that is a step up the ladder of complexity. If you don’t care much for Catan or Machi Koro, this one may not work for you either. I like it better than both of those games, but not dramatically so.