Thursday, 27 December 2012

1955: The War of Espionage

Plays: 2Px1.

The Game

This is a 2-player-only card game about the cold war. There are six countries in play, each with a natural tendency towards democracy or communism. One player is the democrat, the other the communist. You compete to influence the countries, and in order to win, you need to influence three countries sufficiently to lock them down in your form of government; or you need to lock your opponent's home country in your form of government.

The gameboard has six tracks of different lengths for the six countries. A country's tendency marker reaching one end of the track means the country is locked down in democracy or communism. Throughout the game, the players play cards to do a tug-of-war on these six tracks, pulling the markers towards their end of the track. Each card specifies a country, a value, and a special ability. When you play a card, you either use the country and value, or you use the special ability. The country of a card doesn't completely restrict you to play the card on that particular country. Any card can be played on your home country (you pick your home country at the start of the game) and on the country where your spy is present. This spy is a pawn that you can move at the end of your turn. She (female spies are more appealing...) gives some flexibility to your card play, and may also let you play two cards instead of one. She is usually used to set up your next turn. However, moving her to a country will alert your opponent about a possible aggressive move there next turn. Maybe you want to send her somewhere else to mislead your opponent.

I lay the board this way, because I think it's easier to visualise the tug-of war. USA, UK and France have a natural tendency towards democracy, and I (democrat player) have picked France (with the shortest track) to be my home country. USSR, Hungary and Poland have a natural tendency towards communism. However it is possible for the democrat player to pick these countries as his home country. I'm not sure it's a good idea, but it is legal.

The pawns are the spies. On the sides of the board are slots for technology cards. Once obtained, these techs give ongoing benefits, e.g. increased hand size.

Normal cards have a colour - blue for democracy and red for communism. When playing a card on a country different from that shown on the card, the card is less effective if the country colour differs from the card. Here I have three UK cards, so it's probably a good idea to make some big moves in UK.

Card special abilities vary greatly. They do things like expelling your opponent's spy and sending her home, or freezing a country's marker temporarily.

You have two actions on your turn, and sometimes you can play more than one card per action. This means it is quite possible to make deep thrusts if you line up your cards well. You always draw back to your full hand size at the end of your turn (as opposed to drawing a fixed number of cards), so you usually want to fully utilise your hand. However sometimes you want to save some cards for one big coherent attack on a later turn.

When a marker reaches the end of a track, it is locked down and cannot be moved anymore. You need to lock three countries at your side to win the game. You get an instant win if you lock down your opponent's home country. This is usually hard to do because your opponent has more flexibility in influencing his home country than other countries. The different track lengths are interesting. When you pick a home country, do you want to pick one with a short track, so that it is easier for you to lock your own country? However it also means taking the risk of your opponent quickly locking your home country.

The Play

I played this with Ben. It was his game, which he bought because he thought this would be like a simplified Twilight Struggle. I taught him to play. There were not many rules, but he found the various situations confusing, e.g. when you can play which cards on which countries, and what the bonuses or penalties are depending on the spy location and card colour. The rules summary I did was quite short, but I realised those few combinations of situations can indeed be quite confusing. Maybe I need to devise a better way to teach the game.

The basic strategy seems to be about optimising your card plays. You have two actions, and you want to maximise the number of steps you move the markers towards your end. To be efficient, you need to use your spy, and manage your hand of cards. On top of this layer, there is the question of which countries to fight for. Sometimes when your opponent is close to locking down a country, you may want to use your cards in a less efficient manner in order to pull that country back towards you. There is some bluffing and double-guessing. Does the movement of the spy indicate the next target? After one big move in one country, does your opponent still have cards to do a follow-up big move? Sometimes you need to decide whether to sacrifice one country in order to focus on another one. Threatening your opponent's home country is always a viable tactic to get him to pay attention.

In my game with Ben, he picked a country with a long track as his home country, which was safer but required more effort for him to lock down. I went the opposite direction, picking a home country with the shortest track, because I wanted to quickly lock it down. In the early game we made big strides in capturing some countries. We didn't try very hard to negate each other's progress. Towards late game, as some countries got locked down, we started having much more back-and-forth on the same tracks. It was a tug-of-war which, in net, never shifted much despite the relentless pulling in one direction and then the other. Ben found that quite annoying, and eventually decided to let me win because he had been teetering on the verge of defeat for quite some time. I guess it was a relief for him.

I have secured Hungary, and am about to secure France, my home country, too.

The mercenary cards on the left are not democrat- or communist-specific. They do not count towards the card limit per action so you can always attach them to any card you play.

The Thoughts

Well, 1955 is definitely not Twilight Struggle The Card Game. There is overlap in theme and backdrop, and in a way Twilight Struggle is actually a tug-of-war. However the execution is very very different. 1955 has a lot of hand management and making combos with your cards, because you want to be as efficient as possible in your card play. However it doesn't really tell a story. It just has a generic spy theme. There is some long term strategy, but a lot depends on what cards you draw, so you have to stay flexible and make the most of your cards. The cards have a big variety of special abilities, so it is interesting to try to make good use of them, and sometimes it is tough to decide how you want to use a card - special ability or country and value.

There is some bluffing and double-guessing. Strategy is mostly short to medium term. You can save some cards for a big move a few turns ahead, but cards come and go quickly. You can never be sure the next cards you draw will be suitable for maintaining the pressure on the same country you have been focusing on. Overall 1955 is just a so-so game for me, because the game seems to boil down to effective card play, and the special abilities feel quite generic.

No comments: