Rescue the hostages and take down the abductor, if the dice will allow it!
Android & iOS
# of Players
Van Ryder Games
Hostage Negotiator is the solo card drafting, dice rolling game from Peter Kossits. The game places players in the middle of a tense hostage situation against one of a few different abductors. Players must earn the abductor’s trust through successful dice rolls and use that trust to purchase better cards which can help rescue hostages or take out the abductor. Should enough hostages be saved, the player wins the game, this usually takes under ten minutes.
Each turn in Hostage Negotiator plays out as a conversation between you and the abductor. You play cards which act as talking points that attempt to gain trust (conversation points), calm the abductor down (lower the threat level), or free hostages. Each card you play has three levels of success, ranging from a spectacular success to a horrible failure. Which level you achieve is determined by dice roll. The dice have two success sides, three failure sides, and a side which is a failure but allows you to convert it to a success by discarding two cards. Some cards allow you to improve your chances of success, but in the end if the dice don't fall your way, you will be in trouble. You will most often be rolling two dice, but if the threat level gets too high, you lose a die and hostages start getting killed. If you keep the threat level low you gain an extra die and might be able to save hostages.
After a conversation ends, which can occur by choice or as a result of a poor talking point outcome, players use the conversation points they earned to purchase new cards from a common pool available in every game. The cards range in price and strength of their potential outcomes. Any card a player uses gets returned to the buying area the following turn. The cool effect of this is that if you have a great conversation and earn enough points to grab a potentially powerful card, you only get to use it once unless you buy it again later. This ensures decks don't build up to an overpowered state and makes each turn tense and meaningful, rather than simply waiting for powerful cards to show up again as you might if this were a more traditional deck builder. Also, your conversation points reset each turn, so you can't stockpile to buy the expensive cards, this makes careful planning of card purchases a necessity.
After the purchase phase, the abductor draws a card from their terror deck which is usually, but not always, a negative effect for the negotiator, such as raising threat level or killing hostages. This completes a turn and the next conversation begins with whatever cards you didn't use last turn in addition to those you recently purchased. Play continues until you win or lose the game. A victory is only achieved if you have resolved all hostages, saving at least half of them, and you have eliminated or captured the abductor. You immediately lose a game if more than half of the hostages have been killed, the abductor escapes, or if you've run out of terror cards from the terror deck. At the end of the terror deck is a special Pivotal Event terror card which triggers the start of the Final Conversation which has slightly different rules and if this conversation ends without winning, the game ends in defeat as your time has run out.
The theme here is absolutely fantastic. It is definitely an adult themed game, with a terrorist, a lunatic teacher taking kids hostage, or a desperate man taking over a hospital, not to mention the piles of dead hostages. It isn't common to get such heavy adult themes in these apps we review, and it is certainly expected given the name of the game, but we wanted to point it out just in case there was any doubt. The more important part is how well everything in the game plays together to really hammer home the theme. You can play a card called "A Bold Lie" which has a big reward if you succeed but also a significant setback it if fails, i.e. the abductor doesn't believe you. It's a great example of the risk taking necessary in the game and presents a tense scenario true to the theme. My personal favorite are the cards which, upon failure, end up with the conversation ending. You try to lie to the abductor, they don't buy it, and hang up the phone.
I really enjoy Hostage Negotiator. The reliance on dice rolls might be off putting to some, but the games are short enough, usually easily under ten minutes, that I don't mind the occasional game where the dice never fall my way and I'm handed a crushing defeat. I love the mechanics of being forced to re-buy a card each time you want to use it, it keeps the game tight and tense which adds in to how wonderfully the whole package plays off of the theme.
Barrier to Entry
Hostage Negotiator contains an in-game tutorial which offers both a coverage of the rules as well as strategy advice. You can play with the strategy advice outside of the tutorial if you choose. Having the option to get some tips is a great feature that really helps new players get an idea of some options on how to play the game, this inevitably speeds up the learning time.
The tutorial is a bit dense, as it contains a ton text. It really does a great job of getting the rules across to new players, but seeing so many loaded conversation boxes is certainly a different approach than many other apps aim for. As a nice touch, if you should lose a tutorial game before actually hitting all aspects of the tutorial, you can choose on your next game to only get the tutorial parts for the areas you haven’t covered already. All of this adds up to a really impressive set of teaching tools, even if those walls of text are a bit much on the eyes initially.
Start of a game
Getting some help from the tutorial
Look and Feel
Cutting straight to the point; Hostage Negotiator looks dated. It lacks the visual flare that the higher profile ports are getting these days and you should be able to clearly see that from our screenshots. Specifically, the buttons all around look like stock system buttons and the gameplay screen looks flat. Other card game apps make attempts to give the game some depth so it doesn’t feel like you are playing a 2D card game, or at least playing a flashy one. The dice are fairly generic and the rolls don’t look great, occasionally ending up stopped between sides but the game chooses which side to use. Whether any of this matters is entirely up to the user. Nothing about the visuals hold back the gameplay at all, so how big of a difference this makes will very much be a personal choice to players. It’s not entirely a down note on the visuals, the game does do a good job of providing all relevant information to players. The current game status is obvious and if you need to get a closer look, card zoom is easy and works well.
Outside of the visuals, there are a few areas which are annoying or buggy. On the achievement screen, which is a scroll panel of icons, you can’t scroll by grabbing the giant icons, you have to grab the small scroll bar on the side. The game doesn’t respond to Android’s back button which can leave you stranded at the abductor selection screen unless you go through with starting a game. There is a scoring panel which pops up between turns, except when it doesn't which happens occasionally as it appears to get stuck offscreen.
On the control side, things work fine. You can drag-and-drop or click and confirm for your actions and I haven't experienced any issues.
Hostage Negotiator is a solo game, there are no multiplayer modes, online leaderboards, or anything along those lines.
Hostage Negotiator is a single player game, so everything discussed falls under “single player.” There are four different abductors to play against which each add rule twists. Arkayne Massua is the easiest abductor as he has no special rules associated with his game. Donna Scarborough is the next abductor who will instantly kill or free a hostage with certain dice rolls, she's a true wildcard. Edward Quinn has a very unique loss condition which makes for a much different challenge. Connor E. Ogden is locked initially, and gets unlocked after defeating each of the first three abductors without assistance. As he's an unlockable character, we'll let you discover his unique game conditions.
Hostage Negotiator has a text rating it will assign you after a game, such as “average” or “shaky.” The rating is also kept over time both on a per-abductor and overall basis. Along with the rating you can see your stats against individual abductors and overall, including win/loss totals and number of hostages saved/killed.
Choose your abductor
Conversation cards for purchase
A standalone expansion, Crime Wave, was released for the physical game in 2017. It is essentially "more of the same" as the base game and is generally highly regarded. None of the content from that expansion is available in this app. Unlocking Connor E. Ogden also unlocks an expansion pack of cards which can be added to games against any abductor once unlocked. This adds new terror and conversation cards.
The app has 30 achievements you can go after, ranging from the standard “win 10 games” to some highly specific requirements for each abductor. Achievements are always nice to see as they give players something to chase through repeated plays.
The Wrap Up
Hostage Negotiator is a game that I've really enjoyed. I could take or leave the subject matter, a hostage situation game isn't something that jumps out to me, but I am really impressed at how well the entire game plays into that theme. You have a handful of conversations with an abductor, taking chances on making promises, conceding demands, rescuing hostages, or even attempting to kill the abductor. Sometimes these actions work out, often times they fail and you have to pick up the pieces. Even if you keep the abductor calm, over time they get impatient and you build to a final showdown if you haven't resolved the situation before then. It is exactly how movies and TV shows have told me hostage situations go.
The hurdles here are the reliance on dice which will undoubtedly turn some people off and the dated visuals in the app. Both of these are entirely up to the individual as to how important they are in deciding whether or not to lay down a few bucks for this app. Neither are game-breakers for me as they don't get in the way of letting the game shine, but it must be recognized as these issues will be important to some.
If you don't mind the dated visuals and a game determined by dice rolls, Hostage Negotiator is highly recommended as a quick-playing, tense solo game.