A couple of years ago a friend of mine introduced me to a TV show called Homeland. Let me tell you, that was a wild ride. I’ve never watched a more addictive show in all my life. We binge watched the first two seasons in about 5 days and still wanted more. If you’ve never seen it before, do so. It’s fantastic.
Today we are going to look at Homeland: The Game. Designers Sean Sweigart and Aaron Dill decide to take this show about hidden loyalties, terrorists, and political agendas and bring it to our tabletops. Published by Gale Force 9, who is no strangers to licensed games (Firefly, Spartacus), I really hope they can work their magic this time again. Homeland could either be another great licensed game from Gale Force 9 or a quick way to cash in on some very popular IP. Let’s find out which it is.
Homeland: The Game is a semi-cooperative, hidden loyalty game for 3-6 players that takes about 90 minutes to play. Homeland plays best with 4-5 players.
In Homeland, each player will be secretly assigned one of three potential roles. These roles will not only dictate how you win the game, but also guide your style of play. Will you be the Loyal Agent who wants to stop all the terrorists attacks and gain the glory for it? Perhaps you’ll be a political opportunist who wants to use the threat of terror to advance his own career. Or maybe you are the terrorist mole who just wants to watch the world burn.
During the game, players will be taking the lead on cases, playing intel cards into potential terrorist plots, recruiting assets, agents, and soldiers, all while trying to advance their own agendas. The game can end in a variety of ways depending on how well the players work together… or not.
Gale Force 9 is no slouch when it comes to the components in their games and Homeland is no different. Most notably, the game comes with over 200 cards for various decks, all illustrated with a thematic design or containing imagery from the TV show.
Overall the graphics and photos in Homeland are successfully done in a way where it pulls shots from the show, but doesn’t go too overboard with trying to jam it in your face.
The game board itself is somewhat large and takes a good amount of space on your table. However the board also serves as the tracking mechanism for the game and works well in that aspect.
In addition to the cards, the game comes with a number of tokens used to track players progress, reputation and political clout. Finally, there are two sets of plastic minis to represent US Soldiers and CIA Agents. Overall, this was another success from a publisher who clearly puts a lot of effort into their offerings.
How to Play:
Homeland is fairly easy to learn once you understand the basic concepts of the game.
Each player in the game will be assigned a role at the start of the game. The roles come in three flavors:
• Loyal Agent: Win by stopping as many terrorist plots as possible.
• Political Opportunist: Win by stopping some terrorist plots and letting some though.
• Terrorist Mole: Win by successfully allowing terrorists attacks to happen.
The cards are dealt out to players secretly and there is always one more card than players so there is always a chance there won’t even be a terrorist mole in the game.
The Game is divided into a number of rounds, each of which has 2 phases:
1. Pass the first player token
2. Analyze Imminent Threats: The game board has a series of rows, at this point, you analyze each threat in the top most row. More on that in a bit.
3. Advance Threats: Move every current threat on the board up one row
4. Reveal New Threats: You add one new threat to the game board per player.
Threats are handled in a familiar (if you have ever played Battlestar Galactica) system. Each threat has a complexity and sophistication number in red. That’s the target number the players need to beat with blue numbers. Intel cards that were secretly played into a threat during the game are analyzed now. Every blue card adds to the player’s total. Red cards are added to the terrorists. Whichever score is higher, wins.
If the threat is neutralized, the case lead gains reputation tokens and tokens the agency track. If the threat is successful, all players gain political influence tokens and tokens will be added to the terrorist track.
Starting with the first player and going clockwise, turns are as follows:
- Claim a case: Choose one of the treats on the board and place your case lead card on it.
- Play 2 Intel Cards: You must play 2 intel cards to cases on the board. The only restriction is that the first card played must be to another player’s case.
- Discard Intel Cards for Tokens
- Recruit a soldier, agent or asset: Soldiers and agents are free, assets cost you three tokens.
- Deploy Soldiers: Soldiers let you peak at the intel cards played to a case.
- Deploy Agents: Agents let you look at the hidden plot card of the threat. They also add 1 blue number when analyzing the threat.
- Use Assets: Many assets (in addition to being worth victory points) have a special ability that can be used. Some can also launch drone strikes, which will remove any threat from the board with 2 soldiers on it.
Rounds go in this manner until either the terrorist track is full or the agency one is. If the terrorist track fills up first, the terrorist mole player wins. If there is no mole, then all the players lose.
If the agency track fills up first, then each player has a chance to secretly guess who the terrorist mole is. A correct guess gains you 6vp (and also eliminates that player from VP scoring) and an incorrect guess costs the player 3 points. After that, each player totals up their Victory Points from their asset cards and their tokens. The player with the most, wins.
While it may feel like there is a lot going on in Homeland based on the rules overview, it’s actually not too bad. In general, if you’ve every played a hidden loyalty game, then you won’t have too much trouble picking up Homeland. The mechanics are familiar, yet still unique in their own right.
As far as hidden loyalty games go, I think it’s a really good one. We’ve already established how each of the three different roles approach the game, but one thing I really like is how none are completely straight forward. Gale Force 9 did a really great job in making this a truly semi-cooperative game.
Take the loyal Agent for example. At first glance, you want to stop all the terrorist plots. Easy enough. But you also have to keep your career path in mind. Not only do you want to stop those pesky terrorists, but because this is a semi-cooperative game, you want the glory too. That other agent that’s holding all those reputation markers, wouldn’t it be nice to take him down a peg or two? So maybe instead of dumping that red card for tokens, you slide it into one of his cases. All of a sudden, BAM!, his case goes south and the fallout (the penalty for failing to stop a threat) punishes him for it. It’s these kinds of decisions that will be going through your mind in Homeland.
And because you don’t know who has what role, you will be scrutinizing EVERY action the other players take. Why did he just dump a blue card? Is it because he’s a terrorist or maybe he just really wanted those tokens. Why did she just play into my case? Was it a red card, or maybe one of the crazy gold cards that don’t add any points but have really swingy effects. Who can I trust?
Because of all this hidden information, when it comes time to analyze the threats, Homeland can be really tense. As you reveal the complexity of the plot and see what you are up against, the player who is the case lead will sometimes cry out in frustration. Believe me, you can’t stop all the plots in Homeland.
Once of the cool things about the mechanics is how there are variety of ways to find out hidden information. You can send soldiers to any of the plots to peek at all the intel cards there. If someone has been playing heavily into a plot, you can get an idea of which side they are on. However, doing so forces you to add another random intel card to the plot when you are done. It’s a clever mechanic that stops the players from every being too sure of anything in Homeland.
Another nice thing about Homeland is that you don’t have to be a fan of the show to enjoy the game. The game is fairly self-contained and while fans will get a bit of joy in grabbing the Brody or Saul card, players who are unfamiliar with them won’t be at any kind of disadvantage. Also, if you are a fan of the show, no worries about spoilers. All the characters are here, both ones who are still on the show and other’s that may not have made it through a season alive.
If there is one, glaring rough spot with Homeland it’s how fiddly it can be to play. I’m talking about the piles of cards. Each case starts with 2 plot cards and a random intel card. Eventually a player will place their case lead card on top of all that. Intel cards are then added to the pile, but under the case lead card. As more cards are added, the piles can become a jumbled mess and a bit unwieldy. The hardest part is trying to smoothly slip a card into the middle of the stacks. I hope some enterprising person with a 3D printer creates little mini card holders to make this process easier. Because right now it can be a bit of a pain. Especially when you have to slide all these piles around during the terrorist’s turn.
Finally, lets talk about player scaling. Homeland plays well from anywhere in its 3-6 range. However I think the sweet spot is probably with 4-5 players. With 3 players, it’s a little too easy for the terrorist to run amok as there aren’t enough loyal agents to have an easy time counteracting him. That said, if they work together and play smart, it absolutely can be done. It just feels like the terrorist has a bit of an advantage. When you get into the higher player ranges, things balance out a bit smoother, but the downtime can be a bit longer. Overall though, I’ve enjoyed the game with all player counts.
I was a bit skeptical when I first saw Homeland on the shelf at my local game store. This just looked like a game that was destined to be a cheap licensed tie-in. I had no idea how they could make a fun and engaging game based on this beloved show.
Once I saw Gale Force 9 on the box, I should have known I had nothing to worry about. They take licenses and do some great things with them. Homeland is easy to learn, has some really engaging game play, and does a great job making the game tense and exciting.
While I wish the cards weren’t so fiddly to use, I can’t really think of a better way to do it. The game’s 90 minute play time feels about right and I think Homeland makes a great option if you are looking for a hidden loyalty game that’s both easy to learn and doesn’t take 3 hours to play. Whether you are addicted to the TV show like me (and you should be) or never even seen a minute of it, this ended up being a great game that can really appeal to just about anyone.
Final Score: 4 Stars – A solid hidden loyalty game that does justice to the show it’s named after. Fans and non-fans alike can have fun with this game.
• Card piles can be really fiddly
• Needs 4+ for optimal play