16 July 2021
Corey Konieczka’s first game from his new studio was always going to be extremely interesting. Blending together a handful of fairly advanced mechanics, and then making them accessible would always be the challenge. And it’s been done near perfectly for a true family game.
The Initiative is a mixed bag in the best possible way. There’s a loose story of some kids finding a game, Jumanji style, told through a really cleverly put together comic book. This comic book is also your campaign journal where you’ll be recording each mission’s success and failure as you go. Panels in the comic ask you to proceed in different ways depending on what you can solve, and even offer their own little challenges – usually centring around the characters’ teenage angst.
Ultimately, the story itself about a group of friends who learn a lot about one another through playing board games (while also getting tangled up in some ‘spy stuff’). And we can’t think of a much better message than that for a game of this exact weight and feeling.
The meat of the game is a hunt for clues on the board where players work together to get into certain rooms and flip over case files. These case files will show a symbol, which you can then reveal on the mission console – a plastic holder for mission cards which has two rows of doors which can be opened revealing part of the code you need to break to complete the mission. These puzzles can be surprisingly hard, but they lend a weighty sense of an obstacle to overcome after the very light play of the board.
To actually do anything on the board? You basically play a version of The Mind where you play your hand of cards on to the action slots for movement, picking up items, conducting intel, or clearing a pile, by playing a card of a higher value. Naturally you can’t communicate exactly what you have in your hand. It’s a clever application of a fun system that, crucially, doesn’t feel like a mini-game between the brain-twisting puzzles and code cracking.
And then there’s the legacy element, which we won’t go into too much, but there’s more rules that get applied as you carry on through the game. Eventually you’ll meet some enemies that interrupt the way you move and play cards on the board, and will need to be taken down with a certain suit of cards with a particular value. Once the campaign is finished, there’s some bonus missions to approach if you just fancied more to work on. We personally felt satisfied with the campaign as a one and done, ready to pass on to a different friendship group to play next.
This game, in less capable hands, would feel like a confusing mess of mini games, thinly tied together with some sub-Stranger Things storyline. Here however we have the deft weaving together of systems, story, and campaign into an incredibly polished whole. The closest thing to a complaint is that for more seasoned gamers, the learning curve is so gentle you might wonder if anything is going to happen. Stick with it, or play it with a multi-generational group, and you’ll get the most out of it. An outstanding addition to nearly anyone’s collection.
Christopher John Eggett
A slow ramp up into cryptology that will bring everyone into the fold. Perfectly pitched as a family-weight hobby game filled with ‘punching the air in joy’ moments.
If you liked the crunchier challenges of Detective, but wanted to bring younger players in to the code crunching club, then The Initiative is a solid board based answer.
Designer: Corey Konieczka
Publisher: Unexpected Games
What’s in the box?
- Double-sided game board
- Comic book
- 5 Action cards
- 4 Character cards
- 41 Mission cards
- 40 Resource cards
- 30 Secret cards
- 8 Standees
- 59 Tokens
This feature originally appeared in Issue 57 of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.
Sometimes we may include links to online retailers, from which we might receive a commission if you make a purchase. Affiliate links do not influence editorial coverage and will only be used when covering relevant products