There's a sense of tension and hesitation in any Hidden Movement game. Whether you're trying to track someone down or search for something hidden on the board, the strategies, approaches, and logic scenarios that you play over in your own mind will always astound you. But what if... everyone was hidden? Anomaly, a game of hidden cat and mouse set on a spacecraft, pushes the idea of a Hidden Movement game to its limits -- but is it just as fun?
How Do You Play Anomaly?
Anomaly is a game where up to three crew members of a ship are being stalked through their spaceship by an entity only known as the Anomaly. Within the box, you'll find the large-scale game board that you'll be navigating around and for each character a mini-board, screen to hide behind, player standee, and tracking cards. There's also a large assortment of transparent pieces that can be placed on the board to track where you believe another character might be.
These screens are a fantastic part of the game that they not only serve the purpose of obscuring where your character is on your own personal board, but the back is filled with details about what the Anomaly can do, what the Students can do, and what evolutions the Anomaly might choose to take. When a player says "I activate Stun Bludgeon" there's no need to read out the ability or clumsily hand around the rules for all players to be caught up. The information is always in front of you.
The game is played in a series of rounds. At the beginning of each Round, each student player has a full hand of cards and the Anomaly has three actions that they can take. The turns alternate between the Anomaly and the Students, but on each Student Turn they can only take a single action between them. If you're a Student whose relatively safe and doesn't have much in terms of cards that could reveal the position of the Anomaly then it might be that you don't do much that round. Even though the players that the Anomaly is against fluctuates between 1 to 3 Students it still feels like a two-player game. Once the Anomaly is out of ability tokens and the Student reaches a certain card amount a new round kicks in creating radioactive sections on the board and restocks all player actions.
The cards the players draw can be used to simply discard and move your character, or scan in your region. The cards all have abilities that they can use too. You can place down a number of items like radars or traps, deal damage to zones when you think you have the Anomaly in your sights, or even bait the Anomaly towards a specific zone. Using a card in this manner allows the players a step towards victory, but instead of being discarded the card will be handed over to the Anomaly for them to use the Anomaly ability on it.
There's a lot of pressure placed on using these cards as it could then be used against you or one of the party members. The most powerful cards for the Anomaly to obtain are those that allow it to evolve and gain permanent new abilities.
As each player remains hidden on the board, the feeling of being the hunter or being the hunted is constantly in flux. Even in moments where the Anomaly or a Student is revealed on the board when attempting an attack or being revealed by a sensor, there's still hesitation in whether you want to take an attack at them or take the time that they know they're vulnerable to stock up. My first round of the game ended with the Anomaly hiding in the same space as two other revealed characters. The kinds of tension that this game brings is exhilarating.
The game is over when either the Anomaly or the Student's combined health is dropped to zero. No player is left behind as everyone gets to play through the completion of the game.
What are our final thoughts on Anomaly?
Anomaly is a fantastic twist on the Hidden Movement genre. The way that all players are hidden or come in and out of hiding as the game progresses leads to a frantic game of cat and mouse. You'll always be looking for those opportunities to take the lead, but you also want to make sure that you aren't leaving yourself too exposed. The Student's teamwork is incredibly important as players work out what priorities they have and execute while knowing that the Anomaly may be listening and scheming.
Should I buy Anomaly?
If you're a fan of Hidden Movement this is definitely a must, if you like games where you can really throw a wrench into one another plan then that's also a big positive for Anomaly. The tension that remains through this game, whether it be as the Anomaly skulking through the halls trying to pinpoint their prey, or as Students doing everything in their power to draw the Anomaly into the light, is such an incredible feeling.
Someone who doesn't have as much fun needing to work as a team, or sharing the limelight might find moments of this game a bit frustrating on the other hand. This game is also not a relaxing experience, if you just want to kick back and play a relaxed board game then Anomaly will need to wait for its time.
The copy of Anomaly used in the creation of this review was provided by the publisher.