Thursday, 4 August 2016

13 Days the Cuban Missile Crisis boardgame by Ultra Pro and Jolly Roger Games

I love the "Atomic Age" and its history, this of course encompassed the Cold War.  At no other point in history was the Cold War so close to going hot as the Cuban Missile Crisis.  Now there is a game where you can play through those decisions, and see if you can come out on top, or if you start Armageddon.
Written by  Asger Harding Granerud and Daniel Skjold Pedersen this should help with that interest.

What do they say about the game?

Experience tense Cold War suspense in only 45 minutes.
13 Days: The Cuban Missile Crisis is a nail-biting, theme saturated two-player strategy game about the Cuban Missile Crisis. Your fate is determined by how well you deal with the inherent dilemmas of the game, and the conflict.
1) Will you push to gain prestige at the risk of escalating the crisis to global nuclear war?
2) How do you best manage your hand of cards to further your own plans while depriving your opponent of options?
Work out these dilemmas in order to emerge as victor of the Cuban Missile Crisis after thirteen suspenseful days.

13 Days: The Cuban Missile Crisis is a meaty filler utilizing the card-driven game mechanics. Rich with history, yet accessible to gamers with no prior knowledge of the crisis. It is targeted specifically at catering to two groups of gamers: the enthusiasts that just don't have the time they used to and the curious newcomers that are scared off by the heavy commitment and long play times of the classics in the genre.

The Cuban Missile Crisis,  was a 13-day (October 16–28, 1962) confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union concerning Soviet ballistic missile deployment in Cuba. Along with being televised worldwide, it was the closest the Cold War came to escalating into a full-scale nuclear war.

In response to the failed Bay of Pigs Invasion of 1961, and the presence of American Jupiter ballistic missiles in Italy and Turkey, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev decided to agree to Cuba's request to place nuclear missiles in Cuba to deter future harassment of Cuba. An agreement was reached during a secret meeting between Khrushchev and Fidel Castro in July and construction on a number of missile launch facilities started later that summer.
An election was under way in the United States. The White House had denied charges that it was ignoring dangerous Soviet missiles 90 miles from Florida. These missile preparations were confirmed when an Air Force U-2 spy plane produced clear photographic evidence of medium-range (SS-4) and intermediate-range (R-14) ballistic missile facilities. The United States established a military blockade to prevent further missiles from entering Cuba. It announced that they would not permit offensive weapons to be delivered to Cuba and demanded that the weapons already in Cuba be dismantled and returned to the USSR.

After a long period of tense negotiations, an agreement was reached between Kennedy and Khrushchev. Publicly, the Soviets would dismantle their offensive weapons in Cuba and return them to the Soviet Union, subject to United Nations verification, in exchange for a U.S. public declaration and agreement never to invade Cuba without direct provocation. Secretly, the United States also agreed that it would dismantle all U.S.-built Jupiter MRBMs, which were deployed in Turkey and Italy against the Soviet Union but were not known to the public.
When all offensive missiles and Ilyushin Il-28 light bombers had been withdrawn from Cuba, the blockade was formally ended on November 20, 1962. The negotiations between the United States and the Soviet Union pointed out the necessity of a quick, clear, and direct communication line between Washington and Moscow. As a result, the Moscow–Washington hotline was established. A series of agreements sharply reduced U.S.–Soviet tensions during the following years.

 This is a beautiful box, look at the earlier picture, its dripping with theme in the form of photgraphs from the era and event.  It plays 2 players only, ages 10 and up, which is a difficult one, i think olivia could grasp the mechanics, but the cards can be wordy though she is only 7.  Plus there is the Theme, the Cuban Missile crisis does not exactly get a lot of coverage this side of the Atlantic, even though i find it, the cold war and the Atomic Age extremely interesting.  You will be pleased to know however you do not need a deep understanding of the event, in fact you do not really need any, the mechanics in the game are so solid you can play it that way with no worries about history, thought its always nice to know more.

so whats inside this lovely box??........

Well you get some goodies, a bag of wooden tokens, some card ones that need punching out, a ncie folded board, and two booklets.
 The board is nice, not too large and very simple to read and make sense of, it has the scoring track at the top, and the different zones you will via for control of.  The Defcon tracker is on the right hand side.  There is a nice little turn guide reminder at the top as well.  Its very clearly laid out, and will not take up much space on your table which is a nice change.  The different colours relate to different types of battlegrounds, orange being military, purple being world opinion, and green being political.  Its down to you to dominate some of these fields, each giving you different scoring at the end of the round.

The game ends when one player gets 5 prestige, though its not that easy as the scoring system is sliding so things can pull it back all the time.  The game also ends when nuclear war happens, and this is done by the DEFCON tracker.  If at any time you have 3 of your defcon markers in the Defcon two position at the end of your turn (you can adjust the markers in your turn with the right cards) then nuclear war is declared, same as if just one of your markers ends in DEFCON 1.  The player who initiated the nuclear war loses, though in reality of course everyone would have lost.
 One of the booklets that comes with the game is a background on the Cuban Missile Crisis, which is a ncie read if you are not familiar with it, it also gives you a breakdown of all the cards in the game, and what their name and pictures relate to historically, not required, but a lovely touch, and for a history fan like me a real bonus.
 The main rulebook is not very long, and is simple to digest, with plenty of pictures to show you how things work its well laid out and a pleasure to read.  Its set out logically so finding things if you need them is not a chore.
 You get a single personal letter card.  This starts with the American player, and can swap through the game depending on actions you take, or if you use it to power up a strategy card.  It is used as a Tiebreaker at the end of the game.  Agenda Cards are drawn each turn, and set your.. well agenda for the turn, your target so as to say.  Strategy cards are drawn in a hand of 5 each turn, with 4 being played and one placed in the the Aftermath section of the board.

 The Agenda cards dictate what you will be aiming for each points to score prestige points.  These all relate to one of the important historical battlegrounds on the board.  for Example, controlling (having more influence cubes in a battleground then your opponent) Berlin will give you one prestige equal to the difference in cubes, so if you have a whole load there you will get some high points for it.  These are in battlefields, perhaps not literally, but where a show of force is used, sabre rattling.  the Political sphere, where descisions where made, and the public opinion sphere.

At the start of each turn 3 cards are dealt from the Agenda deck to each player.  Then they decide the one they want to focus on and discard the other two.  Though you must place your flag (the little tokens that came in the box) on ALL the agendas you received that turn, so your opponent will have an idea where you may go, but then its all down to bluffing and maneuvering from then which is a mechanic i really enjoy.  It forces yo to think about how and when to play your cards, bluff, or not, plenty of options.
The strategy cards come in three flavours..... UN cards which are neutral.  With these you can either use it to put up to the amount of cubes shown in one battleground, OR you can do the action on the card.  UN cards can be done either way.  There are also cards for the US, and USSR which have some other restrictions on them that we will come to.  Scramble for example, i can either place up to 3 cubes in one battleground, or place 1 in 3 different battlegrounds.  This is handy as each time you play more then 1 cube at once on a location you must increase the relevant DEFCON track by that number, so if you place 3 cubes in a military battleground you must increase the military DEFCON marker by 2, as the first cube is always free.  Combined with all DEFCON markers moving up one space at each time things can get tough quickly, as you need to avoid that nuclear war.  I love the period photos on the cards, with a little it of text as background, though do not forget you get more cards background in the accompanying booklet.
There are specific US cards in the deck, these work the same way as the UN cards, you can play the command cubes, OR the effect, not both.  What happens you may ask if you are the USSR player and get american cards in your hand? well.... you can only use the command cubes, not the action, BUT..... you must show it to your opponent who can then use the action before or after you place cubes.  It can be pretty harsh sometimes, but feels right thematically, as not everything went right from either side during this time.  You can see on Public protests about removing cubes... why would you want to do that?? well there are good reasons! firstly, you are limited to the amount of cubes you have, once these are all out, thats it, unless you remove some back to your pool.  This can be done by actions like this card, OR... by using the cubes on the side, and removing up to that many.  for each cube you remove beyond the first you DECREASE the DEFCON track, so there will be times when you are in trouble with all 3 markers in DEFCON 2 that you will need to drop one  at least out of there to avoid nuclear war.  It also allows you to "fake" a push in an area, then recall your cubes to push elsewhere.  The influence cubes are not reset at the end of each turn so you need a way to manage them, and this does it.
The USSR gets its set of cards mixed in, again these work in that if the US player plays one they can only use the cubes, not the action.  With these cards being shuffled up, and a random 5 dealt each turn, it makes things a challenge on when to play them a well, do you give your opponent an early free action? or not.  Out of the 5 cards dealt each of the 3 rounds only 4 are played.  What happens to the 5th... well they get placed face down in the aftermath section.  on the board you have the turn counter for the 3 rounds, then the A for the aftermath.  At this point all the cards under the aftermath section, which should be a minium of 6, (some actions can put another one there) are sorted out.  UN cards are discarded, then the amount of cubes on the USSR cards added up, and the same for the USA one.  Who ever has the most influence gets 1 prestige point, which can swing things again.
The game always starts with an influence for the USA in Turkey and Italy, and 1 for the USSR in Berlin and Cuba.

Early in turn 1, the USA has drawn all 3 Cuba cards as agenda so the USSR knows something is going on in one of the Cuba battlegrounds, but cant be sure which one.  Cuba is of course such an important part of the game, that the Atlantic and two Cuba battlegrounds are linked so scoring on them works on the amount of them you dominate.  The USSR has the United Nations, Berlin and the military DEFCON track.  The DEFCON tracks are dominated by scoring higher on it, as in being closer to nuclear war, so its brinksmanship that wins the day there, though of course yo then have to try to bring it back down, and scoring is done on the difference between you and your opponent.

Things are getting pretty heated here around Cuba, its possible the USA has gone for the Atlantic by loading it up and the USSR player is trying to counter it, but all the time there is a single cube left on the Cuba political track so that could still be the target... how do you react? or just concentrate on your own Agenda.

An example here as things are getting tense of the USSR scoring an agenda, they get the difference in influence points, so for Turkey they get one prestige and would move the score tracker at the top one to the right.

THis game does not take up much space as you can see, so is perfect for popping round a friends house for a "quick game" and in this case it honestly is a quick game, once you know what you are doing you can potential get through games in half an hour or less.  The scoring track sliding means that its very difficult for you to be totally out of the game, as things can change with agendas, and early pushes that then become late game domination.  It is only played over 3 rounds, but that doesn't feel like its not enough, it gives youa  great feeling of dictating play, through the moving of your influence cubes.  To me they had become different things, as i moved an Armour brigade into Berlin, or put out newspaper reports on how much i was doing to avoid war and its clearly the evil other guy who wants a fight, sending subs to the Atlantic,  i felt IN the game, like i was looking at a map on the wall in my presidential office.  I loved it, its a tough balancing act to keep pushing where you need to , and not over inflate the DEFCON track, but that really adds to the appeal of the game.

Its excellent, im a big fan of this game, and highly recommend it, even if you do not know about the subject matter, the mechanics of the game will draw you in, and you may find yourself wanting to know more then!

If i had to find a downside, it would be the cards, they are very thin and im not sure how much repeated play they will stand up to, certainly with sliding them under the board at points and regular shuffling, so i decided to sleeve mine after the first play.

It may be a small box, but its a big game inside. It has an RRP of £34.99 and will provide many many hours of fun, so head on over to your local game store and grab a copy, if they don not have it, ask them to get one! you will love it, and if you are a history nerd and fan of the Atomic age like me, you may also want to cuddle it a bit.