In Control, each player is a time traveler caught in a rupture in space-time and displaced outside time. Each player must use fuel cells to refuel their own time machine or stop other players from refueling theirs first. Control is a strategy card game for 2-4 players and a round lasts from 5-15 minutes. The game was designed by Mattox Shuler and published by Keymaster Games. Control is currently funded on Kickstarter with 18 days left in the campaign. The game costs $15 with free shipping to the US, but you can back at any level, even for just $1 and receive the print and play files immediately. Estimated delivery is July of 2016.
All players draw cards from the same deck which consists of four copies each of various cards which represent fuel cells. Each player starts with five cards in their hand. Cards have a value on them from one to ten, a special ability, and are colored either bronze or silver. On a player’s turn they may take one action from four options; install a fuel cell, burn a bronze fuel cell, diffuse an opponent’s fuel cell, or draw a card. The goal of the game is to have twenty-one points or more in installed fuel cells. The first option lets you install any fuel cell from your hand to the board. If the fuel cell is silver then the special ability printed on the card takes effect. For example the card Rift is a single point fuel cell that upon installation will either destroy a Nova (ten points) or allow the player to draw a card. Bronze fuel cells do not activate when they are installed, but the second option to burn a bronze fuel cell allows you to discard a bronze card in your hand to activate it’s ability. Singularity is a seven point bronze fuel cell which destroys all bronze fuel cells when it is burned. To complete the third option, diffuse an opponent’s fuel cell, the player discards a fuel cell from their hand that is worth equal or greater points than an installed fuel cell on the opponent’s board. That fuel cell is then placed in the discard. Finally a player may choose to draw a card. Aside from the Rift, this is the only way to increase the player’s hand size. A player may not have more than seven cards in hand at any time.
With two or three players the game is played as a free-for-all battle, whenever a player gets 21 points the game is over with that player being the winner. In a four player game, it is supposed to be played as teams of two, played such that the teams alternate turns. The goal is the same, but if one player gets 21 points, then that team wins.
I’ve gone back and forth in my thinking on Control. When playing it the first times at game night (three player games), I was having fun. As we played more games we all caught on to the strategy and the games ran longer and longer, though we never did hit the end of the deck and trigger the “sudden death” ending. We played around with removing a copy or two of some of the higher value cards (it seemed that the game was always ended by a Nova), and generally we were enjoying ourselves. I went home and was all set to back the game. In reading through the coverage of the game I started wavering in my resolve; first Jan probably wouldn’t like the game, so getting my own copy was probably not necessary, on the other hand, to print-and-play the game I only had to back at $1, but then I would have to spend all that time printing, cutting, and sleeving the game. In the end I decided that it was only $1 so I went for it. I still haven’t played the game with Jan or Karen, but I’ve played several games against myself, and guess what? I always win! Thus far my only real gripe is with the theme of Control. In reality, the game is an abstract. It could literally have any theme pasted on, but I personally feel that the game should have no theme. In fact, I feel that the time travel theme detracts from the game because if you think about it, if there were three scientists all trapped outside of time, don’t you think that they would work together to get everyone home safely rather than sabotage each other to be the only one to make it back? Even the name doesn’t really seem to fit the theme, the scientists aren’t controlling time, they are simply trying to refuel their time machines.
Control is an intriguing game however, and I enjoy the mechanics of it quite a bit which is why I went ahead and backed it. In the rules it gives a strategy tip that with an empty board, any player is just three turns from a possible victory. This is true, but in reality it can be broken down to what should be an actual rule in the game, if a player is at eleven or more points, you must get them below eleven or they will likely win. Another consideration for strategy is this, if you can not win with the next card, do not put yourself above eleven points which per the previous rule, will make you a target. What seemed to happen in our three player games was that each player had to police the next player in turn order. If that player got to eleven or more, they had to be stopped, and if the previous player couldn’t play something to stop them, they would likely win. In my two player games against myself, it felt kind of like a tug-of-war, but once a side pulled ahead, then the other side had no option but to utilize their cards to stop the other player rather than advance themselves. I did find that I had forgotten about one rule which is the ability to diffuse another player’s fuel cell. I tended to give up the game if I didn’t have a bronze card to answer the player who was above eleven points, but in the end there were many times where I could have used the diffuse action to put that player below eleven. My last worry about Control is whether the game is too simple. I’m a gamer, and I strive to find a strategy in any game. Some games have no clear strategy, but I feel like Control has just one strategy. If all players play by the two pieces of strategy that I listed above, then the game simply becomes who can get their points on the table with the other player or players simply unable to respond. At that point it just becomes who gets the luck of the draw. However, the Control is billed as a gateway game, not a deep strategy game, and as such, I suppose it doesn’t have to try and fix that issue.
For me personally the game might lose some of its luster once I have more plays under my belt and once the people I play against are all up to speed on the strategy, but for now I enjoy it. It is a decent abstract card game for a casual or new gaming group.