Agents of Smersh - Review

Agents of Smersh - Review

Agents of Smersh - Review

Welcome to our review of Everything Epic’s Agents of Smersh! We recently backed the “Epic Edition” on Kickstarter. This game is a brand new edition with several updates to how the game gets played.

Have you ever wanted to play James Bond and race around the world, saving humanity from some evil? Well, here’s your chance! This game is for 1-4 players, ages 14 and up, and takes about 90 minutes. Let’s get into how this game plays!

Game Overview – Agents of Smersh

In Agents of Smersh, you take on the role of a UN Spy Agent trying to take down the notorious Dr. Lobo. In the Epic Edition of this game, Dr. Lobo has four henchmen of different difficulties. The players choose one to face for the game they are about to play, and each changes how you defeat Dr. Lobo. 

The goal is to race around the world and perform encounters (narrative stories with skills tests) to gain enough intel to face one of Dr. Lobo’s henchmen and ultimately face Dr. Lobo himself.

Game Components

We were spoiled with our components as we backed this game on Kickstarter and got the Agents of Smersh Golden Gun foil Epic edition. So everything was just that little bit better. 

The game comes with card decks for each geographical region of the world. I like the art style on the back of the cards, which was to show a satellite map of each world region in a color that matches that region on the board. The reverse of these cards was great too. The layout is like a text conversation between you and HQ. 

The base game comes with eight possible spies to play. Our Epic edition added more than 12 additional spies you can play. For each agent, there is a double-sided character sheet and a cardboard standee (or two). The character sheet is the standout of these two items. The character sheet provides a backstory of the character and a full body illustration, along with a section of the sheet that details, basic skills, resolve, and health. This entire character sheet fits into a cardboard holder (four provided), which closes over the character sheet. This board is high-quality cardboard, and the top is cut with spaces to reveal the character illustration and stats. It acts like a holder for the tracking tokens as you play and is a beautiful addition to the game’s components. 
image courtesy of Kickstarter 

The game comes with three additional decks – one for gadgets you may gain, one for secret missions, and one for Statuses. Each of these highly designed cards keeps in the theme of the story. I particularly like the statuses because it looks like the person is getting scanned by some machine.

I would be remiss if I mentioned the dice in the game. The core edition comes with one gold-colored encounter die and six skill test dice made of plastic. The epic edition we got also contained full metal versions of these dice, which both looked cool and had some added weight when you rolled for a skill test.

The last components are the Encounter book and the Epic showdown book. The encounter book is a spiral-bound 300-plus page book used to determine which specific narrative story to read during a particular encounter. We’ll explain how this works in the gameplay section, but it is a massive book and easily adds the most weight out of all the components in the box. The book is well documented, with each numbered section color-coded and each page within the section marked at the top and bottom of each page, to make it easy to find the story you need to read.

The Epic Showdown book is similar to albeit a much thinner book than its counterpart, the Encounter book. This spiral-bound book has excellent illustrations for each henchman and their backstory, along with a Dr. Lobo section with a new image of Dr. Lobo that fits that specific story.

Overall the components are impressive. You can see the effort and care that went into the production. Our version also came with a neoprene version of the board, which looked fantastic.

Game Setup

Unlike some other “large games” we’ve played recently (I’m looking at you, Nemesis!), Agents of Smersh is relatively easy to set up. After laying out the board, the players shuffle and place the cards from each deck on their respective spaces. Then each player selects a spy, takes their character sheet and player token, and places it on one region’s HQ. After adding the time track and the Dr. Lobo token to the board, you are ready to play. 

Game Play

Before we get into what’s new in Agents of Smersh Epic Edition, let’s back up and explain the core game and what it entails. Each spy has a narrative backstory, five basic skills, a Health track, and a Resolve track. These are all elegantly presented on the Character Sheet. All characters have the same five basic skills – SpycraftPersuasionDeceptionAthletics, and Hand-to-Hand that have varying starting skill levels. The amount of each skill determines the number of skill dice a player rolls when testing that skill during the game. The goal in Agents of Smersh is really about succeeding at skill tests.

image from Kickstarter

The game board is a map of the world with cities identified on it and paths drawn between those cities. If you’ve ever played Pandemic, this will all feel familiar. Each space is within one of 6 regions or the ocean. Whenever a player ends their turn in either a city or an ocean space, another player draws a card from the corresponding region’s card deck and reads it to the player. This card determines an “encounter” in the game. If you’ve played Eldritch Horror, this is the same mechanic that board game uses.

The Cards

Printed on the card is some flavor text designed to be a conversation between the player and HQ. The card is how the players determine which story they get in that location. The first part of the conversation reveals keywords that guide a player on the narrative they will get. It also has a preprinted number next to this text, representing the section in the encounter book from which this encounter will come. 

courtesy of Brieger Creative

The second part of the card offers six to seven numbered choices for how the player should proceed, and the third part explains that the player will roll the die. Once a player selects an option and rolls the dice, this will give the player three numbers. The first number is the section of the encounter book that the reading player turns to, the second is the page within that section, and the third number is the paragraph that gets read. This paragraph is the story that the player has encountered. 

These cards are great in principle. The issue we had is that the second part of the cards, where a player makes a choice, only related to the ultimate encounter sometimes and made it hard to decide which option to select. Ultimately each story tested a different skill, and it would have been nice if we could have been more deliberate with our choices to help our situation.

Encounter Book

After figuring out the three numbers, the reading player reads that section in the encounter book. Within these stories are often skill tests. The Encounter book will display a Basic skill, and the player rolls the number of skill dice for the value of that skill on their player board. For every gun they roll, they score one success. If a player rolls a triangle, that is considered a failure, and for every lightning bolt they roll, they may reduce their resolve track by one to turn it into a success. 

courtesy of Brieger Creative

Most encounters only require a single success. However, some will need more, and this is denoted with “[number] .” Finally, if a player has gained a specific advanced skill, certain encounters can be automatically passed. These can range from lock picking to vehicle use to seduction, amongst others. 

The reward for successfully completing an encounter can range from gaining an intel token to earning an advanced skill or healing injuries. On top of the bonus earned from the encounter text, this new game version allows players to gain a location-based reward. Most cities will enable players to increase Basic skills or select advanced an Advance skill. 

If you fail a test, the player will often incur a negative result like an injury or a loss of a Basic skill. Also, the Dr. Lobo token moves one space down the time track. After every round, the time track marker advances up one position. Whenever the time track marker passes the Dr. Lobo marker, the players must now encounter Dr. Lobo.

Encountering Henchmen

In this edition of Agents of Smersh, the players have an additional encounter book for the Henchmen and Dr. Lobo. To encounter the henchman is not required, but if the players can defeat them before facing Dr. Lobo, they will gain an advantage in that final encounter. 

To start a henchman’s narrative, the players can spend the required intel they’ve collected at the end of any round. The number of players in the game determines how much intel is needed to start this encounter. The players can begin the encounter after they have enough intel. The advantage of that is within those henchmen, and Dr. Lobo encounters, the intel can be spent as “resolve” to flip skill test rolls to successes. 

Epic Showdown

The Epic Showdown book is new and works like a “choose your adventure” story. Each henchman has a backstory and narrative with multiple paths through it. Some of those paths are determined by the success or failure of skills tests, while others are decision-based. As you move through the story, you gain revolver tokens. When you reach the last story section, the book will ask you to count your revolver tokens and tell you which ending to read. If you succeed, the henchman is defeated and will not appear in the Dr. Lobo story. Otherwise, the henchman will need to be defeated later. 

After facing the henchman and regardless of whether you defeat them or not, the players return to the main board and continue the game. If you successfully beat the henchman, you will also know where on the board you can face Dr. Lobo. As a group, you can decide if you want to head directly to that location or if you want to wait and collect more intel. Gathering more intel means you have more “resolves” available in the final encounter. Whether you start the final encounter early or wait until the time track passes, the Dr. Lobo token is up to your group. Sometimes there are advantages to starting that early.

The final encounter with Dr. Lobo is the same as the henchmen encounters. Which henchmen you face determines which of the four Dr. Lobo scenarios you face. These scenarios do get progressively more challenging. They are not a campaign per se, but the story does lend to this as the two stories we’ve played finish with “Dr. Lobo is defeated…for now”.

Overall Impressions

Ok – So, what did we think of Agents of Smersh? It is a beautiful game to look at, with a lot of great-looking components. Now, as for how the game plays, it’s fun, but it’s lacking something. I can’t put my finger on it. It has an engaging story, and I understand that creating an encounter book with all that content is a huge lift. The individual encounters are great. Our biggest concern with the game is that the connection between moving around the board, selecting a region card, and an encounter seemed weaker. 

The only actual use for intel is to act as additional “resolve” and to allow you to get into an epic showdown. You are also running around the world trying to build up your skill set. Building up your skill set would be great if you could focus on one area, but honestly, you can’t tell what advanced skill you will get or what you will need to face a specific encounter. That makes it challenging to stay focused as you add on additional skills. The new edition of the game does have locations where you can add an advanced skill if you complete an encounter successfully, but you have to get there to do that, and if you have to gain intel, that intel could be in a very different location. The addition of characters like Dia, who has two game markers (because they are twin spies), does allow you to move around the board and cover more ground. 

Don’t get us wrong, we absolutely enjoyed this game and are playing the final two scenarios to see how the overall story turns out. We’re huge fans of “narrative-based” games, and this ticks that box. It’s hugely impressive with the volume of content in the game, and if you are a fan of thematic games, this is a beautiful addition to your catalog. While we do not have this game in our store, we are hoping to bring in a couple copies in the near future. In the meantime, please take a look at some of our other Storytelling Games