Hostage Negotiator is the first strictly one player game I’ve bought (although I never play Onirim with more). While the main draw of gaming is generally social interaction and competition, there is room for games that are challenging and fun to play when I can’t get a group together.
The goal of Hostage Negotiator is to save hostages and capture or eliminate their abductor. Each round you play cards to increase your conversation level (which lets you perform certain actions and/or purchase more powerful cards), attempt rescues, and try to keep the abductor calm and the threat level low.
Almost every card involves a “threat check.” You roll a number of dice based on the current threat level (and modifiers) and resolve things based on the number of successes rolled. The custom dice are numbered as well as having helpful game symbols on them. 5s and 6s are always successes, and 4s can generally be changed to a success by discarding two cards. 1-3 are fails.
After you’ve played all you can (or choose to) you can buy cards for future “conversations” (rounds). Then a terror card, which represents a key moment between “conversations” and generally escalates the danger is played. If you haven’t satisfied a win or loss condition and the terror deck hasn’t run out you start a new round.
You win when there are no more hostages being held, you’ve rescued at least half of them, and the abductor is captured or eliminated. You lose when over half the hostages are killed, the abductor escapes, or the round after the last terror card is revealed.
So with die rolls as a central mechanic there is a lot of luck involved, but I feel there really has to be in a one player game to keep things variable and interesting. Hostage Negotiator provides numerous ways to mitigate and manipulate your odds, which is a nice compromise and is where a good deal of the strategy and depth comes from. There is definitely a feel of time pressure as the rounds dwindle and the abductor gets closer and closer to getting away.
The game comes with three different abductors, each with their own demands and temperament, which encourage different play styles. Terror cards, escape demands, and abductor specific demands are randomly selected for each game. The cards available to the player don’t change, but they are varied and balanced well to give rise to numerous options and strategies. The rulebook even suggests some “career goals” which are decent self-challenges to try as you get better at the base game. This all combines to keep the game fresh. I’ve played over 20 games at this point and none of them have felt the same.
Which leads to another point: while engaging and deep Hostage Negotiator still lives up to its box advertised 15-30 minutes of play time (sometimes less), making it great to have on hand for small amounts of free time.
And while I haven’t tried any of them yet, there are four expansion packs (so far) which add new abductors, a perfect way to continue to increase the game’s appeal and longevity.
What started as a curiosity play quickly ended up sucking me in and resulting in a couple of hours passed and a continual compulsion for “one more game.” While I don’t think anything will ever take the place of gaming with an actual human opponent (or teammate), Hostage Negotiator is a fantastic single player experience and an easy recommendation.