WBG Score: 7.5
Player Count: 2
Published by: Pandasaurus Games
Designed by: Brendan Hansen
This is a free review copy. See our review policy here
Unrest is many things. It is not, however, a game about the constant state my wife and I found ourselves in after our kids were born. There’s yet to be a game made about that. Unrest, it turns out, is actually about a ruling Empire that has to fight against the constant disturbances and uprising of a rebellious faction or factions who feel that they are being unfairly treated and don’t like the rules. I dunno, maybe this is a game about parenting after all!
How to stir unrest.
Pick which player is playing the Rebellion and which is the Empire. Place out the five district tiles. The order doesn’t matter unless you’re playing with the Capitol variant, in which case place the Capitol tile in the middle. The rebel player takes five cards from their deck and the empire player takes the four power tokens. These are beautifully weighty poker chips that you’ll want to keep playing with so maybe don’t hand these out until you’ve been over the rules. Take the Revolution mission card and then three other random missions and place them face up.
The rebellion player chooses two adjacent districts they want to target this round and places the area of interest token between them. They then choose three cards they want to play and place them one face up and two face down by the token. The cards come in four different “suits” and each suit is numbered from 2-6. There’s also going to be four misdirection cards. Then it’s the Empire's turn. The Empire player will play two of their four tokens. The Surveil token will reveal one of the face down rebel cards. The Destroy token discards one of the three cards keeping it in its current position (face up or down). The Reroute will place a rebel card into any district and the Blockade card will stop the rebel player placing cards in the chosen district for that round. The two played tokens are not available to be used on the next empire turn. It’s only when all four tokens have been played that they all refresh.
After this the rebel player will then place the remaining cards into the two districts. They can all go into one or they can be split. They must stay in their current position.
What’s the point of all of this? To liberate districts. If the rebel player liberates three then they win. However if the empire player can stop this from happening until the deck runs out then they’ll win.
Districts are won by the rebel player satisfying one of missions. There are four missions and you can satisfy any of them in a district to control it. You can use the same mission multiple times. For example, to complete the Revolution mission the numbers on the cards in that district have to total at least 21. For another mission you could have at least one card of each suit. You’ve also got misdirection cards in the deck, these have to be placed face down and, as the card says, are a good misdirection tactic.
Rise of the Rebellion.
So, you want to bring down a big “evil” empire huh? Well you need a plan and you need to out think your opponents. Well good news because that’s exactly what playing as the Rebellion will entail, and playing as the rebellion is where you’ll find the meatier decisions in the game. Each time you come to choose your cards you’ll have a slew of things to consider. You’ll need to decide which districts you want to play in, which missions are out on the table and more importantly, which cards you want to play and how you’re going to place them. Each of them is going to inform how devious you’re going to be in your attempt to liberate districts. You’ll always be able to see which actions the empire has available to them and It’s a lot of fun plotting how you're going to manipulate the cards you play to try and either use their actions to your advantage, or avoid getting stung too harshly by them. Working out how to bluff and even tease your opponent with your exposed card is a great feeling, especially setting up a cleverly planned out bluff, watching them agonise over it and then fall for it. It’s a thing of malevolent beauty.
How easy your victory will be depends a lot on which missions will be out. The ever present Revolution mission while simple, can be a big ask but it’s good to have one that is ever achievable. But I really like the variety you get each game from the different missions. It keeps what could have been a repetitive game, on its toes.
A Reactionary Tale
If you're playing as the Empire then prepare to be playing a completely reactionary game with potentially limited things you can do. But it’s also about deduction and calling your opponents bluff. I'll admit that’s the start of the game your turns can feel like they have no real direction and you’ll most likely play the same two tokens first every time you play. As the game goes on though and more information starts to drip feed though you start to get a feel for what they're planning and so your turns, while still reactionary, start to get more tactical and more important. It starts to evolve into a nice deductionary puzzle. As the cards build up in different areas, randomly rerouting a card to another district could be a touch of brilliance……or you could be playing right into your opponent's hands and putting that card just where they want it. It makes paying attention to what you know is already out on the table all the more important.
I do think it’d be nice to have an alternative win condition for the Empire though. Just running out the deck feels a little anticlimactic, especially compared to the nail biting finish of the rebellion. Again, maybe that's another thematic touch. Perhaps crushing rebels as a grand Empire doesn’t evoke those whoop whoop moments the way that rebel victories do. Perhaps it is a case of “another rebellion trodden down, now, everyone get back to work.” Don’t get me wrong, I still have fun playing as the Empire and games have certainly come down to the last turn genuinely not knowing if the rebellion will be able to pull off one final push for liberation. But it’s one of those games in which one side (the rebellion) will kinda know if the game can be won or lost before they play their cards for the last round. In a scenario when they know they can’t win then it can make the game fall a little flat.
Unrest is one that we’re going to be adding to our two player “playlist.” It’s simple to jump into, gives you enough of a strategic hit, some nice back and forth and is quick enough to rack up a second time and swap roles. It very much gives me “the battle of wits” in the princess bride vibes and I’m absolutely here for it.
Right I’m off to try and get another game in. Let’s hope I don’t fall victim to one of the classic blunders.