Monday, December 28, 2015

Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes

This is a guest post from Jacob Valdez, a regular at Nerd Night and a lifelong tabletop gamer.

Okay, I've got six wires running vertically, and some have lit LEDs and stars.
Huh? Oh, found it....great, a Venn diagram. I'm terrible at those.

Your confidence makes me fear for my life. So what do I do?
Um...okay, it looks like we have to go one wire at a time, and you tell me what color it is, and whether the LED is lit, and also if there's a star there.

Wow. All right, first wire is red and blue striped, unlit LED, with a star.
Sounds coloring...uh, blue coloring...has star. Um...

Come on, 30 seconds left!
Uh...okay, P...Got it -- cut the wire if the bomb has a parallel port!

A what? Lemme rotate this thing. What's a parallel port look li--- BOOM!!

You killed me again!
Sorry, man, I guess I have to work on my Venn diagrams.

No time like the present. I just clicked Retry - 5 minutes on the clock.

That was a roughly verbatim conversation from one of my many deaths in an afternoon of trying to defuse a virtual bomb. I heard about this game when someone posted on the Boardgamegeek Facebook group, asking the name of a game where someone defuses a bomb and the other players tell the first one how to do it. I saw the name of the game in the comments, and within a couple of hours (I had an errand to run), I had purchased Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes, downloaded it, and was jonesing to play.

In this game, one person is the action hero, sitting in a basement somewhere with a bomb counting down and a bunch of wires and buttons, and a voice-only method of communicating with the outside world (we'll assume the camera on their phone is broken).

Everyone else is safe and sound at bomb squad headquarters, with instructions at hand for how to deactivate the different parts, and the life of the action hero in their hands. They can see what to do with all the symbols and buttons and wires, but are not allowed to look at the laptop displaying the bomb itself.

The defuser can manipulate the bomb, look at it from all sides, cut wires, press buttons, be panicked when the lights go out and they can't see the buttons for several seconds, all the while listening tobeep beep beep as the seconds to kaboom tick away. However, they cannot look at the manual. They have to describe everything they see to the Expert(s), and follow their directions to live.

Trust me, you don't want to try and do both anyway - my Expert had to get up right after I clicked Retry on a bomb, and trying to decipher the directions while at the same time manipulating the bomb is not as easy as it sounds -- besides, even if it were easy for you, where's the fun in that? This is a game about your communication and reading comprehension skills, and people who can figure out the different charts and diagrams and relay them to others will absolutely shine at this game.

The directions for each type of module vary in difficulty, but all are just puzzling enough to make you have to ask questions and figure out exactly which set of circumstances applies. A simple set of wires might have anywhere from 3 to 6 of them, in 5 possible different colors, and the number of each color and positioning of them determines which is the correct one to cut. And that's an easy puzzle.

The first bomb gives you plenty of time, and has three of the simpler modules. As you get better at understanding what information about the module is relevant and thus get faster at it, the later bombs ratchet up the difficulty, requiring a lot more consultation of more information, like the Venn diagram above for the complex wires. Other puzzles involve things like a light flashing Morse Code, that you have to translate, then check a chart to tell you what frequency to tune a transmitter to before clicking the button.

All the while, there may be flashing lights, an alarm clock startling you that you have to hit snooze on, losing precious seconds, or needy modules that may activate and reactivate, so you have to keep checking them. This game does everything right to keep the tension high: a beeping timer, flashing lights, harsh buzz if you get something wrong, tense music, and more. Even once you get through all the bombs in the basic game, there's a Free Play mode, which allows you to customize how many modules to defuse, how much time you have, whether or not to have "Needy Modules," and of course, you can turn on Hardcore Mode, in which you die after one mistake, instead of the default three.

So far, I played face to face, and over voice chat, both sessions with 2 players, and both sessions, with me being the defuser. The first time, she didn't want the pressure of being in front of the ticking bomb, and the second, because he didn't have a copy of the game. Meanwhile, I rapidly became addicted and have been pestering all my friends to try defusing bombs with me.

At a party, you can either be fairly orderly, dividing the manual up among a panel of experts, with each person responsible for walking the hero through their specific area of expertise, or you can go for maximum chaos with everyone flipping through the manual and trying to figure it out together, possibly shouting conflicting directions while learning how to play. Expect many many deaths as time runs out, or you cut the wrong thing.

If you have ever wanted to step into the shoes of an action movie star and try to save the day, you absolutely should check this game out. Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes costs about $15 for the bomb simulator, for Windows or Mac standalone, as well as over Steam. The Bomb Defusing manual is free to download at

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