Unknown was a successful cooperative Kickstarter tabletop game in 2014 by Rob and Dave Games. It’s a tile-laying exploration game where 1-6 players work together to try to survive in a post-apocalyptic world. The goal is to complete your Mission Objective (and Minor Objective depending on the game type you’re playing) before your food supply has been depleted and all survivors perish.
Each player assumes a role (e.g. Soldier, Doctor, Runner, Investigator, etc.) who each have unique abilities that they can contribute to the survival of the group. There are 16 different missions from which to choose, as well as 5 tasks that you can opt to complete as well. Depending on the number of players and difficulty rating that is chosen, X number of food cubes, enemy tiles, mission tiles, and hazard tiles are selected to begin the game. The enemy, mission, and hazard tiles are mixed into the 50 starting tiles to create the draw pile.
The rule book is 40 pages long, but it isn’t required to read cover-to-cover. You can begin with the Quick Start section and use the player reference cards as you play to clarify any questions that arise during game play. Each player receives a double-sided player reference card that explains the majority of the game play, hazards, and enemies.
For a quick start, the first recommended Mission Objective is “Scout.” In Scout, your objective is to explore all of the game tiles and have all of the players return back to the base. There are recommended player types, enemies, and hazards to use in this mission objective in order for everyone to learn the core mechanics and possibilities. You do not have to complete any task cards in this game variant and are solely focused on surviving and exploring the entire tile deck.
There are more advanced variants, different levels of difficulty settings for each variant, different setups for different numbers of players, etc. to make sure the game can adjust for any group. For a 2-player game, you can choose to have each player assume the roles of 2 people or only play as 1 person each, but start with armor and an additional action.
Once the objective, task, enemies, etc. are chosen and set up, the initial starting tiles are placed in a plus sign shape with the Base in the center. Each player selects a meeple color of their choice, places one on their player card, and then places the other on the base tile.
Ammo can be collected and used to shoot enemies. 2 ammo tokens are required for a range attack unless you’re the Soldier, who only requires 1 ammo token. 2 Medicine tokens can be used to heal players, unless you’re the doctor who only requires 1 token. Scrap can be used to build barriers, construct armor, or even used in conjunction with a food token to set a trap for enemies.
Food can be consumed for additional Action Points, or dropped off at the Base. After each round, 1 food token is removed from the supply (i.e. the imaginary survivors that live at the base consume a food token). If all food tokens are consumed, everyone dies of starvation and the game is over. You’ll want to collect and time drop offs of food tokens at the base carefully to make sure the survivors don’t deplete the food supply.
On their turn, players can choose to explore, which consists of drawing a tile from the pile and placing it in an adjacent location in respect to the tile they’re currently on. However, the tiles can never make a 2 x 2 square. In the case of the “Scout” mission, your goal is to explore every tile from the draw deck.
Enemies and hazards are waiting in the draw pile, which can hurt, block, and incapacitate your player. Each enemy causes the players to retreat X number of tiles when it spawns and will advanced towards the players or base. You can fight enemies with close-quarter combat (being on the same tile as the enemy), with a range attack (using 2 ammo tokens to shoot in line-of-sight up to 2 spaces away), by trapping (combining a food and scrap token to create a yellow disk trap), or by blocking them with a barrier (using scrap to create a black cube barrier). However, fighting an enemy in close-quarter combat reduces both your health points by 1.
Many enemies only require 1 hit to kill them, so it can be beneficial to use close-quarter combat if you’re at full health. Once you’ve taken a hit, your player is injured, which is represented by a meeple on its side. This will reduce your action points by 1 until you’re healed. If you take another hit, you’re incapacitated and cannot to take any actions on your turn until healed. Incapacitated players are represented by meeples lying down and when healed once, will return to the injured stated. If healed again, they’ll be at full health and able to utilize all of their action points.
Hazards come in the form of floods, broken bridges, fires, blocked paths and the like. Some hazards simply prevent you from being able to pass by, but others like Blaze catch surrounding tiles on fire, which are represented with red disk tokens. Floods will knock players back and also destroy any goods in its path making them unable to be collected.
Once your Mission Objective and Tasks are completed, you’ve won the game. If you find yourself consistently having a rough time completing the objectives, you can change the difficulty by adding more food cubes, reducing enemies, or by reducing hazards. On the other hand, if you find the objectives are a bit too easy for your group, you can always increase the difficulty to your liking.
The ability to change the difficulty settings and the aspect of being able to accommodate 1 to 6 people really makes the game accessible to a wide-range of players. The core mechanics are easy to understand, but the levels of strategy that unfold make it challenging enough to keep beginners and hobbyists alike interested. With the right group of people, Unknown can be a very suspenseful cooperative game where you’re trying to not only survive, but complete objectives and tasks.
The quality of the components is nice and the box has some weight to it. One interesting detail of the game packaging is that you actually keep the cardboard punch out surrounding pieces underneath the game box insert. This keeps the insert raised so your cards and pieces don’t tumble out when stored on its side. The custom monster meeples make it very easy to tell which enemy is on the board and really add to the game play. There’s quite a bit of game in the box, so you’ll never play the same game twice and there’s something for every level of experience.
Overall, Unknown is a hidden gem, that pardon the pun, is relatively Unknown on the market. Personally, I feel like it plays better than a game like Pandemic since the “board” is ever-changing and unique. If someone mentions that they enjoy games like Pandemic, then I highly recommend giving Unknown a play-through. This has quickly become one of our favorite cooperative games to bring to the table and is easily introduced to new players. I’m glad to have discovered it and am able to introduce it to more hobbyists and newcomers who love survival cooperative tabletop games.