Players: 1 to unlimited Ages: 14+ (TBC) Game time: 30 - 60 minutes per session
In the world of Luddite, the employers have little appetite for squishy humans who need to eat and sleep, have a limited supply of energy, unionise, and want to be paid for their efforts. Feeble fleshbags don't make you the most money. Not when you can employ a NED automaton; a bionic dog-like creature capable of performing almost any task they are assigned. Vast swathes of the human population have been plunged into unemployment, with little to no prospect of ever working again. As a Luddite you are called to act as digital saboteur, taking revenge on the AI systems that stole everything from you by hacking into the dangerous systems of the Near-Earth Dynamic Systems.
Spoiler warning: Skip over this if you don't want any spoilers, as the following eludes to the story from one of the comics.
You are deep in the Saitama Slums of Yurushi City, 175 years after the unspeakable war, and have been hit by the news that "Congratulations you have been made redundant from your position". Those words reverberate in your mind, playing over and over again. The streets are full of protestors brandishing signs: "Emotion is intelligence", "Niven Employ Drone Slaves" and "Work is human right", desperate to get their jobs back. You're in the same predicament as them, but joining the picket line feels useless. There has to be another way... right? Your 'kom' device flashes up asking you to come smash the NEDs. You know the NEDs' weaknesses and you're one of the best coders ever seen. Are you up for the hack? Are you ready to bring those NEDs down once and for all? To destroy these infernal machines and help restore a human workforce? You've never felt so ready, and the fear of getting caught pales in comparison to your desire to help your fellow humans.
Set in the dark, sci-fi, dystopian future of the Solar 175 universe, Luddite is a campaign-led roll and write game designed by Joseph Adams and Madeleine Adams, with stunning artwork from Adam Beachey. During each game, you hack into an individual NED's neural network, doing your best to inflict as much damage as possible, and racing to escape before the clock runs out and the NED's counter measures leap into action. Here at DOALG we love the folks at Cogito Ergo Meeple (https://cogitoergomeeple.com), so the hubby and I absolutely couldn't resist picking up a sample of Luddite Chapter One: Do not go gentle into that good night (convention edition) at this year's UK Games Expo . Now before I tell you what I thought, let's dive into how the game works!
**The Kickstarter is live NOW, and is already fully funded. So if this sounds like a game for you, check it out before 05/08/2023 to avoid missing out**
At the start of a game, each player uses the same NED neural network map (if playing it as a campaign the map will be indicated by the designated symbol in your location in the story). In the full version, the maps are found in spiral bound hack logs, which you write on with drywipe pens so that they can be used unlimited times. As we had a sample version and I was reluctant to write on the sheet we were given with our UKGE purchase, we used low ink prints from the Cogito Ergo Meeple website.
To start, each player places their NEETLE at the entrance space of the NED. We improvised by me using a purple meeple from one of the Nikita of Atikin Games' lovely tins, and George using a Warhammer 40k khorne berserker. In the final version, players have a metal NEETLE coin.
The aim of the game is to get your NEETLE to the exit space of the NED's neural map, and deal the NED enough damage to destroy it. Each turn, three communal hacking dice are rolled in the centre of the table, visible to all players, and players use each of these dice to perform a variety of actions to help attack the NED and gain damage points.
The hubby and I played solo but at the same time, using our own set of hacking dice. I scored 95 compared to his 122. If you play cooperatively, the average (mean) score of all players must be above the amount indicated on the difficulty level, and in competitive multiplayer the player who dealt the most damage wins (there ae tiebreakers) .
Each turn, one of the three die must be applied to The Clock module, which represents the time you have remaining before he NED's countermeasures kick in. Once the last box of the Clock module has been checked off, the game is over. Using a smaller number on it gives you more time, whilst a 4, 5 or a 6 lets you deal that same number of damage to the NED at game end.
The other two die are the allocated to either nodes on the NED map or to one of the nodes as follows:
Switches are used to move your NEETLE around (each node requires switches to have a particular configuration). This module also allows you to use your hacking dice to gain bonuses .
The Hack module is where you unlock critical function codes to deal a large amount of damage to the NED. You do this by crossing off all the boxes in the vertical or horizontal line leading to that specific code icon, using a hacking die of the corresponding number. To input the code and deal the damage you have to get your NEETLE to the corresponding critical function node of the NED module.
The NED module
To move through the module, you must use a hacking die. You can move horizontally or vertically across nodes any number of spaces up to the number indicated on the die. You can only move into a node if the switch configuration on the Switches module corresponds correctly to that on the node. If it is a dice lock node it must have been unlocked by a die (this could be on that turn or a previous turn). The other nodes include cache nodes that allow you to gain resources (once) and critical function nodes allow you to deal damage at the end.
As you play, you also gain resources; credits can be used to gain extra hacking dice, multitools help you manipulate hacking dice and energy can help you move more easily and cross of boxes in the hack module.
To win, you have to get to the exit point on the NED module. With the clock dynamic, this creates a push-your-luck style tension as you work out just how far into the NEDs systems you dare to venture in the hope of more damage before you run out of time, fail to escape and deal zero damage.
If you are successful in your hacking endeavours and are at the exit, once the final box in the Clock module is checked off, you move to the Damage Phase and add up your damage points using the damage section of the neural network map. Your score is the total across all of the modules, plus any excess resources (one point per energy, one per multitool and two per credit). This can be set at three difficulty levels: easy 50 points, medium 60, and hard 70.
As always, with a sample copy we can't fully comment on the production quality. However, the sample comic book we picked up at UKGE has high quality, thick glossy paper with a great print quality, so I have high hopes. The environmental commitment section on the Kickstarter also fills me with confidence. Cogito Ergo Meeple pledge to use quality durable materials to ensure replayability, as well as sustainable materials, environmentally friendly factories and sustainable distribution. In addition, the Luddite game itself will present scenarios that raise questions related to morality and sustainability.
And just look at the artwork...
It's great that Cogito Ergo Meeple are offering a low cost a print and play version and a digital version, as well as the physical copy. I like that the Kickstarter campaign doesn't have multiple addons (just the option to add an extra player pack) or component upgrades or stretch goals. The Kickstarter exclusive copy comes with four limited edition comic books, a custom metal bookmark, art prints, a custom printed envelope and stickers. If you missed out on Solar 175 you will also be able to add it to your pledge (see our review of that game here: www.doalg.co.uk/post/solar175).
My Thoughts - Luddite
This was my first ever play of a roll and write game, I guess I've avoided them as dice gods hate me (particularly if I play Warhammer 40k or Machi Koro...). This was one of the few occasions where it can be a good thing to role a one. So guess what happened towards the end? Yes, you've guessed it, I kept rolling high (maybe I need two dice jails?). I scraped through to the exit with the help of resources, and I really felt the tension as the clock ran down.
A dark dystopian future theme will always catch my attention, and I felt that the game and comic chapter really immersed you in the Solar 175 universe. George E Ohh and I loved the Luddite sample so much that we have backed the Kickstarter, and can't wait to dive into the campaign element, as we feel that this will be where it will really comes to life, with the different maps and changing mechanics.
Solo is great and the multiplayer version has an interesting dynamic with the communal dice pool, as you each get to use them how you like. Depending on your group, you might instead operate a group think approach by all using the dice in the same way. Whilst (as far as I'm aware) you don't all lose if one person doesn't escape, it will of course drag your average down, meaning you could still lose.
The rulebook was fairly easy to understand. However, there were some things that were a little unclear. For example, we questioned does it matter if the die that you designate to the clock module on your final turn is more than the number of boxes remaining (and if it doesn't can you deliberately overshoot it to deal more damage). We also didn't know whether passing through a node would give you the benefit of that node or whether only the one you finish on counts. This could make a huge difference when it comes to balancing the clock and the damage. It was also unclear by extension as to can you use resource effects mid movement if both nodes you pass through have contradictory configuration requirements. Depending on what the official ruling is for this, it could make a huge difference between win and lose and how difficult the game is to play. When we played we ruled it with the more generous interpretation and I think I would have lost playing with a stricter interpretation.
Those who are more maths astute and have good ongoing memory will find it easier to keep a mental tally of the damage as they play to know if they are likely to succeed. Those who struggle may want to keep a running total either on the board itself or on a separate sheet. Perhaps in the digital version it'll keep a running total for you.
I thought that it was ingenious combining role and write with a campaign story. I love that you can play individual games or take part in an extensive campaign following the story from the graphic novels. It's also great that games can be played solo or theoretically with an unlimited number of players.
The incredible artwork of Luddite, created by the talented Adam Beachey, is stunning and compelling. The art is very detailed and consistent in style throughout, and the story by Joseph Adams draws you right in. Reading through the comic book before playing really enhances your game experience and helps you get into character. It certainly helped me to channel my inner Hardison!
If Luddite was just a simple role and write game by itself, with just the one neural map to play, I would probably rate it a four or a five, as whilst fun and challenging to play, the replayability would be a tiny bit limited. However, when you add in the layers of stunning artwork, the campaign element, and just as much gameplay for a solo player as there is for theoretically unlimited players, it truly is a masterpiece. 6/6
Your resident Word-nerd Sueyzanne
To back the game on Kickstarter by 05/08/2023 visit: www.kickstarter.com/projects/cogitoergomeeple/luddite
You can test out the game for free and read the rulebook (warning some spoilers) visit https://cogitoergomeeple.com/?page_id=3810
If you enjoyed this review of Luddite then please check out out other board game reviews here (www.doalg.co.uk/reviews). Also, if you'd like to know more about our rating system check that out too here (www.doalg.co.uk/post/understand-our-reviews).