Board Game Review – Countdown: Special Ops

cdsoIt is a sad phenomenon of the human race that whenever someone has a good idea, there are a rush of people who run out to copy them. Not sure what I mean? Search for ‘potato salad’ on Kickstarter. One dude raises 55 grand with a joke project where he promises to make potato salad, and suddenly there are dozens of projects all offering a brilliant twist on another guy’s hilarious idea.

I can’t say with any authority, but it looks to me like that’s what Countdown: Special Ops is trying to do. It’s like the special forces version of Flash Point: Fire Rescue. Choose your different guys with special abilities and then, instead of putting out fires and saving civilians, you shoot terrorists and save civilians. Hell, Countdown even has that colon in the middle of the title.

But just because a game is a copycat doesn’t mean it can’t be fun. Look at Dominion – the game spawned a veritable flood of me-too titles, and created its own genre of tabletop game, and I like a lot of the offpsring better than the grandaddy.  So is Countdown: Special Ops a fun copy of Flash Point?

Not really, no.

Countdown: Special Ops comes with a whole bunch of different scenarios, and lots of different ways to play. So far, we’re on the right track. You start a mission, choose your team, and use their special abilities in tandem to work your way through your enemies. Each mission has a map built of cards laid out in a grid, and the cards tell you if you found a bomb or hostage or a psycho with a hand cannon. You defuse the bombs, save the hostages, and smoke the bad guys. There are even rules to get your super-cops more experience as you play, so that the scout gets better at sneaking past enemies, the medic gets better at healing her friends, and the shooter gets better at putting small pieces of lead in people who bother him.

At this point, this actually looks pretty good. And in all fairness, Countdown: Special Ops is a solid game with a huge amount of replayability, due largely to the enormous variety of missions, difficulties, and play modes (including one where you’ve got a traitor trying to make you fail). The game isn’t boring, either – you’ll have to figure out how to maximize your abilities and work together to defeat the various nefarious bad guys before the timer goes off and everyone gets away.

The real problem – at least, the biggest problem – is that it feels so damned cheap. The art is uninspired and cliched. At least the bad guys aren’t all Middle Eastern, but the girls are all generic super-models and the bombs look like they were assembled by Wile E. Coyote. The scout looks like that guy who dresses up as Tron. The other components are no better – your character tokens are wooden discs that you can only identify after you put stickers on them, the cards are thin and cheap, and the rules may have been laid out in Microsoft Word.

Speaking of rules, the rules for Countdown: Special Ops are very difficult to read. These people needed an editor, very badly, and it would have been nice if that editor spoke English as a first language, because the translation is laughably bad. I had trouble figuring out the actual rules for the game, especially because in some places, the rules actually contradicted themselves. They show a picture of a stack of cards with a ‘3’ on top of them, and then right underneath that, they say, ‘put 2 cards there.’ And then they say to put three cards there. Seriously, that happened.

The real shame here is that with quality components, a skilled translator and a publisher who would have thrown every piece of generic art out the window and hired someone who cost a couple bucks, Countdown: Special Ops might have been a contender. The game itself is an interesting pseudo-puzzle, where you’re using your abilities to defeat obstacles and then sometimes using dice to kill things. There’s a campaign mode where you get better over the course of several games, until you’re practically Seal Team Six and you have to go put bullets in Osama Bin Ladin and steal his porn.

Unfortunately, the sloppy presentation and cheap production in Countdown: Special Ops makes you feel like you’re playing an unfinished prototype. It might be a prototype of a game simply brimming with potential, but you won’t ever know because it’s freaking hard to play this game. I wanted to like the game, and I can’t say that we didn’t enjoy parts of it, but I can tell you with no hesitation that the horrid production values take what might have been an awesome experience and turn it into an unfortunate mess of confusion.

If I had my way, the publishers of Countdown: Special Ops would stage a Kickstarter campaign to raise the funds to do this game properly. Hire better artists, include miniatures, and for God’s sake get an editor who can make the rules pass for legible, and this game could be pretty darn cool. With the right amount of production, it might even be as fun as Flash Point, though that’s a hell of a stretch because I really do like that game. It’s still kind of a me-too potato salad, but it could have been a really good potato salad.


1-6 players

A nice blend of action and problem-solving
Tons of variety
Lots of replay value

Really bland art and poor layout
Painfully cheap components
Rules so poorly translated that it actually makes it harder to play

If you feel like wading through a miserable translation and horrible layout, there’s a decent game hiding inside Countdown: Special Ops. You can get a copy here:


One Response to “Board Game Review – Countdown: Special Ops”

  1. Mark D. says:

    Matt, I love an honest review. Conceptually, the game still sounds interesting to me. It sounds like the type of game that can be easily fixed, so I may pick up a copy anyway. But thanks for the heads-up; at least there won’t be any surprises. Thanks! (I posted a link to your review on