#101 – Code Triage [Preview]

Box 2

Base price: $49
1 – 4 players.
Play time: 1 – 2 hours.
BGG Link
Check it out on Kickstarter! (Will update when the Kickstarter is live.)

Full disclosure: A preview copy of Code Triage was provided by Brando Gameworks. Some art and rules may change between my preview and the final release of the game, but I’ve previewed it in its current state. I’ve updated this with a few rules changes already.

So far I’ve covered a bunch of different games, thematically, so I’m always trying to look for more. There’s been theme parks, smoothie-making competitions, the concept of evolution, penguin slapping, and even an Ocean’s Eleven-style heist game. Surprisingly, I haven’t played any hospitals. Thankfully, that’s where Code Triage comes in. In it, you and up to three friends play as overworked, underpaid hospital employees during a frantic shift. Can you save everyone? No, but can you at least make sure the hospital doesn’t get shut down?

Contents

Setup

So there’s a board:

Board

Set it out, as you’d suspect. Give each player a player mat and the cubes in that color, randomly:

Hospital Staff

Then, there are three decks:

Decks

Shuffle them and place them on their various locations. There’s some … mature content on the leftmost deck, so if you’d prefer not to play with that (I prefer not to), then you might want to remove it straight away.

You’ll also find some heart tokens and the ambulance dice:

Heart Tokens

Set those aside — you’ll almost certainly need them. Lastly, add the various pawns to their spaces on the board, and you’ll want to set the game clock marker on a starting space:

  • For a long game (Full Time): Start at 7:00AM.
  • For a medium game (Part Time): Start at 11:00 AM.
  • For a shorter, but still about medium game (Contingent): Start at 1:00 PM.

Once you’ve done all that, you should be about ready to start! You can make the game more or less difficult by adding more starting patients:

  • First game: Start with 3 patients.
  • Easier game: Start with 4 patients.
  • Harder game: Start with 5 patients.
  • Hardest game: Start with 5 patients and play with no collaboration (so I guess, silently? Good luck with that for two hours).

Setup

Gameplay

This part’s actually pretty straightforward. The game is played over several rounds, each round comprised of eight phases. The game ends once you’ve either lost or completed all the rounds (including the round at 7:00PM).

You lose if any of the three following conditions occur:

  • Three patients die. This is a hospital, after all.
  • You need to add a patient to the hospital, but there are no open rooms. Privacy is very important.
  • Your score is negative. More on that one later, but try not to let patients die or leave the hospital against medical advice (AMA).

You win if none of those things happen to you.

Let’s go through each of the phases and I’ll explain what happens: (Note in the first round you skip the first two phases.)

Check for Incoming Ambulance (Skip for First Round)

This is a hospital, so people are going to be coming in via the Ambulance. Roll the two dice, and if the Ambulance symbol is showing, add that many patients to the hospital by flipping them off the top of the Patient deck and flipping rooms off the Room Assignment deck, and then adding their health in heart tokens to them. This can be anywhere between 0 – 3 new patients per round. Remember, if you run out of open rooms and you can’t place a patient, you lose.

Add a New Patient

Again, since it’s a hospital, people are going to be coming in pretty frequently. Every round, you’re going to flip the top cards of the Patient deck and the Room Assignment deck, and add the incoming patient to that room. You should also add their heart tokens to them to represent their health. As with before, if you run out of open rooms and you can’t place a patient, you lose.

New Event

Flip the top card of the Event deck and resolve it. Usually it’s something bad-ish (a yellow event), or something good-ish (a green event). Some events only apply to specific patients, so you’ll want to use the Filled Room Assignment cards to determine which patient receives the random effect. Other cards may cause players to sit out a round, to move more quickly or slowly, etc. It’s very Betrayal at House on the Hill-esque.

Player Actions

So, every player gets four actions, and you must complete all of your actions before the next player gets to take their turn, starting with the Nurse and moving in clockwise order. Here are the various actions you can perform:

  • Move. You can move up to 10 spaces (or fewer, if you enter a patient’s room) with one Move action. If you’re in a patient’s room, it just kinda all counts as one space so try not to overthink it. You can move as many times as you want in a turn, in or out of patients’ rooms. There is one caveat: each room has a maximum staff occupancy of 2 people. If there are currently two staff members in that room, a third cannot enter. Why? Well, don’t burden yourself with questions like that. (EDIT: The Maximum Occupancy Rule has since been removed.)
  • Treat. So if you look at a specific Patient Card, you’ll notice that there are symbols matching some (or all) of the symbols on the player cards. You see, only those players can help treat this patient by moving into their room and spending a Treat action to add one cube of their color to a space with their symbol on it. Any player can treat any patient, provided their symbol is uncovered on the patient’s card, by spending an action and covering one of their symbols with one of their cubes. As with other things, there is a caveat: The Radiology Tech cannot treat a patient with another staff member in the room. They don’t want to irradiate one of their coworkers! It’s fine if they’re just in the room; they just can’t perform their Treat action if another player is in the room with them. (EDIT: This has since been changed. The Radiology Tech now moves the other player(s) to outside the room).
  • Comfort. People aren’t doing well and you’re understaffed, and sometimes taking the time to tell someone, “Hey, everything’s going to be okay” can make a huge difference, even if it’s a lie. As an action, you can comfort a patient to add another life point back to their health, but you can’t give them more health than their max (just like BANG! The Dice Game). The other caveat? Each patient may only be comforted once per round. If you tell someone it’s going to be okay too many times, they start to get suspicious. (EDIT: This has also been changed. You can now comfort anyone as much as you want as many times as you want. Shhhh, you’re the doctor, now.)

Once you’ve done all that, you’re basically done with the round.

Patient Discharge

If any patient has been completely Treated (there are no empty icon spots on their card), you can discharge them! You did a good job. Remove them from their room and place them on the Discharged Pile; they’ll earn you a point when the game ends. Also, take their Room Assignment card and put it on the bottom of the Room Assignment deck. You might want to keep track of those.

Reduce Patient Health

Now, remove a heart token from every Patient still in the Hospital. This isn’t great.

If any patients are out of hearts, they will leave the hospital. Check their Risk to see which pile they go to — if they are AMA risk (not a red card), remove them from their room and place them on the AMA Pile; they’ll cost you two points when the game ends, since they left against medical advice. If they are a death risk (red card), they pass away. Put their card on the Expired Pile; they’ll cost you three points when the game ends. If this is the third patient to die, you loseTry to avoid that.

Either way, take their Room Assignment card and put it on the bottom of the Room Assignment deck.

Reset Action Cubes

Slide everyone’s Action Cubes back to the “not used” side.

Once you’ve done all this, you’re ready to start again!

Advance Game Clock

Move the game clock token one 30-minute period forward. If you are already on 7:00, the game ends. So, once that happens, you haven’t lost yet, so nice work! It’s time to calculate your score.

Your score is:

(# Discharged Patients) – 2 * (# AMA Patients) – 3 * (# Expired Patients)

If that number is not negative (>= 0), you win!

Player Count Differences

There’s no real difference, just that one player will have to play with more than one character. This is similar to Pandemic or Burgle Bros. in that you can really always play at 4 players if you want (but unlike those games, you have to always play at 4 characters in this one).

Strategy

There are a variety of ways to run your hospital well. Let me outline a few.

  • Know the cards and who needs to treat whom. The Nurse has to Treat every patient. Try to keep her moving.
  • Know the math. Because of that, you are essentially capped at treating two patients per round (that’s not strictly true, but in practice it might as well be), so if you’re getting a lot of bad ambulance rolls, you’re probably done.
  • In the same vein, prioritize patients. You do not want to lose, so try to prioritize death risk patients over AMA patients. It sucks, but it’s kind of a part of life. Also, generally speaking, death risk patients tend to have less health, so they might pass away quickly, especially with some events…
  • Keep track of the Room Assignment cards. After the initial shuffle, they will never be randomized again; they’ll just follow whatever pattern you created, so keep track of it. You can also put them on the bottom of the deck to try and cluster new patients, when possible.
  • If you have extra actions, Comfort or Move towards the center. You want to try and maximize the number of rooms you can hit with one Move action, so if you have nothing to do on a turn (and that can happen if you haven’t rolled an Ambulance in a while), you should try to set yourself up for success in case you do roll an Ambulance.
  • Try not to finish your turn in a room where the Radiology Tech needs to go if they take their turn before you. It’ll make it hard for them to perform their action, as they have to wait for all staff to be out of the room.
  • In general, try to be careful about finishing your turn in a room. It makes your life complicated if you suddenly need to get into a room and there are already two staff members in there. (EDIT: Since the Maximum Occupancy Rule is no longer in effect, this doesn’t really apply, anymore.)
  • Keep an eye on the clock. For some reason, you don’t really have to help people who are going to die after your shift ends — that’s someone else’s problem. Focus on people who are going to count against you for points.

Pros, Mehs, and Cons

Pros

  • Neat theme. Haven’t tried a lot in the hospital management space. The theme especially works well with several of the event cards (Code Blue making a patient a death risk or certain events that require characters to make a second trip to a patient).
  • I appreciate the ability to make the game longer or shorter depending on your preference. Helps make the game appeal to more people, which is always a good thing, in my opinion. I just also like games that have a more modular feel, to them.
  • When it hits the sweet spot for stress, it feels solid. You can get overwhelmed quickly, which is less fun, but if you’re right in the spot of “oh man we’re getting a LOT of patients” but not totally screwed, it can be a solid whirlwind.
  • I like the asymmetry of treating people. Certain staff just aren’t needed for certain patients, and I think that’s solid. It means that people will have very different games each time they play because they’ll just be moving around in different ways.

Mehs

  • Feels like a missed opportunity for a bit more character diversity. The gender balance is solid, but I would have liked to see a few more types of people represented in the staff, if possible. It’d be nice to do what Ice Cool did and use the back side of the character board for an alternate character interpretation. Maybe a stretch goal?
  • There are some “Mature Content” cards included that don’t really do it for me. I feel like this is a heavy enough concept for a game without needing to delve into suicide, but that’s me. I generally just removed them whenever I played.
  • The action cubes just end up confusing me. In Pandemic / Burgle Bros., for instance, I just count off my actions. While it’s good to potentially provide players with a way to keep track of the game, I more often than not just ignore them and just count off four actions on my turn.

Cons

  • Super vulnerable to quarterbacking. I think this is a common issue for most cooperative games that lack hidden information, but this game seems to specifically tilt towards being played via committee, since you always play with all four characters. This generally makes it feel, for me, like there’s an “optimal” strategy that can be computed, and I worry that that will incentivize players to try and take control of the game if they believe their way is best.
  • The movement frustrates me. I know I’m complaining about literally counting to 10, but if you move twice per turn for 12 rounds (the shortest game mode), you’re actually moving your pawn ~240 times, which you will likely make a few mistakes with. It can just feel a bit tedious.
  • I’m not a big fan of the Patient Expired event. An event that instantly kills one of your death risk patients can actually make the game unwinnable if you’ve got two dead already, which is a bummer, and the longer the game you’re playing, the more likely it becomes that you draw it. Imagine playing a multi-hour game and getting randomly screwed. It’s frustrating.
  • Some of the other events are frustrating in a four-player game. Getting your character knocked out for a round is kind of irritating for messing with your plan alone, not to mention that you have to sit out and you don’t even get to play.
  • Feels very random. I feel like it’s not the worst thing (and it sounds like there’s some tweaking that might still happen), but currently you have a ~50% chance of getting only one new patient in a given and ~17% chance of getting two, three, or four new patients, each. It seems like getting three extra new patients (four total) should be slightly turned down so it’s less common. If you’re consistently getting more than 2 patients a turn, you just. can’t. win. This might be a bit more fixed with dice cards, sort of like why you don’t want to roll dice in a game like Pandemic. There’s randomness, but it’s fixed randomness, like the Room Assignments. This also means that if you have a slow game (very few ambulance rolls), that the game feels very slow — you’re not getting enough patients in to actually feel the stressful parts of the game (which are where it shines, both thematically and in gameplay).

Overall: 5.5 / 10

In Progress

Overall, Code Triage isn’t a bad game, but I’m not sure I feel any particular inclination to get it to the table with any frequency. I do (for better or worse) compare games when I’m trying to figure out what to play (especially if they sit in similar places, like co-ops or two-player-only games), and I find that I’d probably go for a different cooperative game over Code Triage unless someone specifically asked me to play it. I think that some of the things I find frustrating are things that other people might like, like the randomness, but other things are more just mechanical things about the game that frustrate me, like the rules around movement or what Event cards are in the deck. Generally speaking, I think it’s a neat addition to the gaming space with a novel theme, but it seems like it would need to be tweaked in a few ways for me to really want to get it to the table again. If someone asked me to play it, I just would need to operate with the understanding that this has a chance of going pretty aggressively south pretty quickly, if we get some bad rolls. That said, I could see this being pretty exciting for kids / people new to modern gaming, as when it hits its sweet spot, it’s a solid cooperative. I just worry that in the state I’ve played it, it needs a few more adjustments to hit that sweet spot reliably.

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