Monday, 3 October 2011

Labyrinth: The War on Terror

Plays: 2Px1.

The Game

This is one game that Han has deposited at my place for quite some time. It's a 2-player only game, but we usually have three. Allen couldn't make it to one of our recent sessions, so we brought out Labyrinth.

Labyrinth is about the ongoing war on terror, a topic rarely seen in games. One player plays USA, the other Muslim extremists. There are rules for solo gaming, with the player controlling USA. This is a card-driven game (CDG), where players play cards as events or to do stuff on the board. There are a few ways for both sides to win. Generally USA wants Muslim countries to have good governance, and the jihadist wants them to have poor governance, even Islamist rule. The jihadist also wins by nuking USA (OK, technically it's called resolving a Weapon of Mass Destruction plot in USA). USA can also win by eliminating all terrorist cells.

The things that both sides can do are very different. USA can try to ally with Muslim countries and then try to improve their governance by fighting the war of ideas. It can deploy troops to destroy terrorist cells, even to overthrow Islamist governments. The jihadist can recruit cells, attempt to have cells travel, attempt plots, start jihads to worsen governance and even establish Islamist rule.

The game board. The green countries are the Muslim countries that USA and the jihadists are trying to influence. The government type of these countries can change during the game. Blue and yellow countries are those with good and fair governance respectively. Do you agree?

The cards. Some have USA events, some have jihadist events, some have neutral events.

Every non-Muslim country has a posture, hard or soft, in the fight against the jihadists, with a tendency towards soft. USA's posture and whether it aligns with the world posture impacts many events and actions. This is something USA must manage. USA also needs to manage its prestige. High prestige makes convincing others easier. Prestige can be lost when USA forcefully overthrows a government, and also when bad things happen in a country despite the US troops present. This is another aspect USA must manage. A third thing to manage is troops on the board. The more there are, the fewer cards USA will draw. So it's important to use troops efficiently.

The jihadist needs to manage funding level, mostly by trying to resolve plots in rich countries, thus gaining supporters. Every turn funding will drop, so the jihadist needs to be diligent. Funding determines the number of cells that can be recruited.

USA seems to have more things to worry about. However some of the USA actions are deterministic, as opposed to the jihadist actions, most of which depend on die rolls. An unlucky jihadist may waste many cards for nothing.

The game has a thick deck of cards. Players agree beforehand whether to play through it once, twice or three times. If no instant win is achieved by then, the tiebreaker is that USA win only if the resources controlled by Muslim countries with good governance is more than double of that controlled by Islamist rule countries.

The Play

Han and I set aside 4 hours for our first game. Having played Twilight Struggle, I thought we'd be able to play through two runs of the deck. Han was more conservative, and he was right. We only did one run. Despite also being a CDG, the mechanisms in this game are very different and we had to refer to the rules many times.

We played the scenario which starts right after 911. One of the first things I did as USA was to overthrow the Taliban government in Afghanistan. It was the only Islamist rule country, and such countries damage US prestige. I encouraged some good governance in the middle east. However, once I overthrew the Taliban, my prestige dropped to rock bottom due to poor die rolls. I had to spend a lot of effort to bring it back up, so that I could continue my war of ideas effectively.

In the early game I quickly overthrew the Islamist government (i.e. the Taliban) in Afghanistan, but sending 6 troops.

For Han, life was tough as the jihadist. Many things depended on die rolls, so it was hard to get things done. He tried to get as many countries tested as possible. Being tested is the concept where a Muslim country's governance or a non-Muslim country's posture is randomly decided when it is first involved in the war on terror, e.g. when cells travel there. There is a 66% chance to get soft posture (my USA posture was hard) or poor governance, so Han made use of that. Many of the Muslim countries were found to have poor governance. Overall world posture fluctuated but eventually leaned towards hard, helped by event cards.

I played a lot of whack-a-mole with Han. Wherever he recruited cells, I sent in troops to stamp them out. They were hard to fully eliminate though. I kept doing this because having a hard posture meant I gained prestige whenever I disrupted cells.

I planned to work towards high prestige, and then work on getting a few resource-rich countries to good governance to win instantly, or at least by tiebreaker. Unfortunately one critical card played by Han ruined my plans. One formerly good-governance country (which would have made improving governance of its neighbours easier) dropped to poor governance, and set me back severely. Han had also been meticulously planning major jihads. At first I thwarted some by sending troops, but later I focused my effort on improving governance in middle-east instead. Eventually a major jihad in Central Asia succeeded, creating an Islamist state. It later spread to Afghanistan. Time ran out for me (i.e. deck exhausted). I was too far away from reaching enough good-governance resources, and it was too late to try to overthrow both the Islamist regimes, especially when my troops were tied up in Iraq after the WMD incident. Han the jihadist won the game.

The Gulf States used to have good governance, and I had hoped to use that as a launch pad for my campaigning for good governance in the Middle East. Unfortunately one critical card play by Han made the governance poor, ruining my plans.

Han tried to initiate a major jihad in Somalia, which needed terrorist cells to be more than US troops by five. I sent troops here to stop him.

Central Asia was an ally. The governance marker, although Poor, was on the leftmost space. Now Han triggered a major jihad, attempting to overthrow the government. All the terrorist cells were turned face-up to show the moon and star, which meant they were now active.

The major jihad succeeded, making Central Asia an Islamist rule region and also an enemy of USA.

After the success in Central Asia, the jihadists moved to Afghanistan. There was no risk in traveling since it was only next door. In other situations, there was a risk of the cells being caught and eliminated when trying to travel.

Afghanistan was now under Islamist rule too. In Iraq, I had just invaded and overthrown the government, using WMD as the pretext (or due to suspected WMD, depending on your view), so I had many troops stationed there.

Game end.

These tracks are for tracking how close both sides are to the instant win conditions. Yellow for USA, green for jihadist, purple for solo play.

The Thoughts

This is quite a detailed game portraying the war on terror. The rules are unusual and take time to get used to. Like Twilight Struggle, using your opponent's card for ops points triggers his event. However, many events depend on certain conditions, so you are not as frequently forced to trigger your opponent's events.

The game is a constant struggle for both sides. It is simply hard to get things done. You need to plan and focus on following through to get things done. You need patience and perseverance. I think the game portrays the difficulties faced by USA and by the jihadists well. It is interesting to see recent world events in a game. Note that the perspective of the game is mostly from that of the western world. Some may not fully agree with that world view.

I like how asymmetrical the two sides are. I also like seeing real-life events unfolding in the game. The game is a little complex, so it's not for everyone. It takes some effort and time investment to learn and to play. There is much dice-rolling, so be prepared for the luck factor. I didn't feel it was too severe.

I recently became an affiliate of Noble Knight Games. Let's see how this works out. Here's a link to their product page, but at the moment they are out of stock.


Anonymous said...

If this was accurate, no one wins!

Anonymous said...

How did the US get troops into Somalia? The U.S. can only deploy troops to allied countries unless it's going for regime change in an Islamist ruled country

Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

I'm afraid I can't recall by now how the US deployed troops into Somalia. It has been quite some time since this particular game. Possibly we had made a mistake, since it was a first game for both of us.