One Board Family: Pocket Ops Review
You are competing against a rival spymaster to send teams of agents into a secret base to steal the infamous Doomsday Device. Can you out wit and predict your opponents’ moves before they nab the device for themselves?
Pocket Ops is a 2-player game from Grand Gamers Guild and illustrated by Josh Cappel. It’s a game that takes just minutes to pick up because we’ve all played this game before. It’s called Tic-Tac- Toe. Before you say “for real?”, Pocket Ops takes the basic premise of this childhood game and creates something that is tactical and fun for any age player. The game introduces some fun mechanics that keeps players looking for the best move and trying to predict their opponents’ next deployment.
Behind Enemy Lines
Players are competing to create a complete line (horizontally, vertically or diagonally) on a 3-by-3 grid in the middle of the table. At your disposal, you have 7 spy tokens of your color (blue or red) and a single Specialist token that is chosen at the beginning of the match. The Specialists really set this game apart since they can give you a power that your opponent may not have.
On your turn, you choose to either play a spy or a Specialist while your opponent attempts to guess what location you’ll deploy your token on. Each player has a hand of 9 cards that match the grid on the board. If you believe your opponent will deploy their spy on square B (the Barracks), you want to choose that card from your hand and lay it face down in front of you. By guessing the correct location, you block the player from deploying their token and it’s now your turn to deploy.
Blocking a spy from deploying will send the opponents spy back to their supply. Blocking a Specialist token will knock it out of that match and put your opponent at a disadvantage. The game is so easy to teach and the more you play, the more you can develop strategies for faking out your opponent or using a Specialist to win a match. The first player to win a match receives a diamond token and a player’s second win will give them the prized Doomsday Device.
Pocket Sized Fun
Josh Cappel has done a great job of packing some fantastic illustrations into a pocket sized game. Every time I take the game out I’m finding new little details in the cards and on the board. The game is small, takes up very little space on the table and easily fits in your pocket or purse. Because of it’s so easy to learn, games are going to take around 20 to 25 minutes to play the best two out of three games.
Pocket Ops does a great job making sure that every match has a clear winner. At the beginning of the game, the first player gets a cardboard Keycard. If the game ends in a draw, the player with the Keycard loses the match. This is such a small thing, but it really puts the pressure on the holder of the Keycard to finish the game decisively.
Specialist tokens can turn the tide of a game based on the powers they bring to the match. Each player picks two Specialist tokens blindly and chooses only one to bring into the match. Everyone will know what token their opponent has so they can guard against it. The Assassin token can only be played in a room with an enemy spy. If the Assassin isn’t blocked then the opponents spy is removed from the board. The Hacker token is played in an empty room and allows you to play two prediction cards when trying to guess where your opponent is placing their spy. This is a great tool to have when your opponent has multiple locations on the board that would give them a win.
My personal favorite is the Pusher. This token is played in an empty room. If this Specialist isn’t blocked, the player gets to push spies on the board vertically or horizontally, even pushing them off the board. I’ve won multiple games by pushing my own spy into place to complete a line and win the match.
Great for Your Table of Two
We backed Pocket Ops when it hit Kickstarter in 2017 and I’m so glad we did. During the holidays we took this game to Christmas parties and even on our vacation to St. Louis. Our friend’s kids loved the game so much that we ended up buying a copy for their 3 boys. It was so cool to seeing the kids taking turns and really digging into this fun little game. With 5 minutes of instruction and a quick reference of the Specialist tokens, just about anyone can play Pocket Ops.
In my opinion, Pocket Ops is a gem of a 2-player game and ranks up there with games like Santorini and Jaipur. The 8 different Specialists keep the game fresh and the real challenge comes from how tactical your opponent plays.
- Specialists add a lot of strategy to the gameplay
- Very competitive 2-player game
- Small game with a small footprint
- Token quality can be hit or miss