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Subject: Cold War: CIA vs. KGB - A Detailed Review rss

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All of my 'Detailed Reviews' aim to offer an in depth look at a game including the theme, mechanics, game play and overall 'feel'. Where possible I will seek to include visual images to give a visual impression as well. Any feedback is always welcome.

Summary

Game Type - Card Game
Play Time : 30-50 minutes
Number of Players: 2
Mechanics - Bluffing, Card Combo, Blackjack
Difficulty - Pick-up & Play (Learn in under 15 minutes)
Components - Excellent
Release - 2007

Designers - Sébastien Gigaudaut & David Rakoto

Cold War: CIA vs. KGB allows 2 players to use a series of Agents in order to influence Global Hotspots and Major Events during the Cold War. This is the second recent title to feature the Cold War theme and one glance at the box size would suggest that this is another light filler game. Whilst I agree that it is a filler, it has a little more meat than one would expect. The time frame certainly goes beyond that of a classic filler and the card combinations are more interesting than they first seem as well. Welcome to the world of Double Agents and Global Meddling.

Cold War uses many terms to describe elements of the game, which I have had to use in writing this review. In order to help you better understand the game and make this review coherent I have included a Glossary of Terms at the bottom of the review. Any words that feature a capital letter in mid sentence should be referenced in the Glossary.

Theme

If you are a Cold War fanatic I suggest you look elsewhere. The theme is really the hook to get the game out of the store and onto your bookcase. Perhaps I am a little harsh as the cards are all thematically titled and the use of agents certainly lends itself to the bluff and double bluff world of the classic spy genre. The objective cards also outline the major influences that helped win those conflicts (these act as tie breakers but more on that later). I pretty much agree with the research that went into these decisions but overall the game uses the theme as support rather than allowing you to live the theme.

Components

I have to give Cold War a big thumbs up here. I can't tell you how many games I own of this box size and weight that feature adequate to poor quality components. I'm really pleased to see that FFG has maintained the high standards seen in their 'coffin' sized productions for Cold War.

The game consists of 47 regular sized cards. These consist of 24 Group Cards, 21 Objective Cards and 2 Score Cards. All of the cards offer a matte finish to help the game stand up to many plays and the artwork is excellent as well. Even the card backs offer interesting. The Objective Cards feature an image of a war room that you could imagine in the HQ of the Kremlin or Pentagon. The image depicts a world map with a solitary figure sitting in front with their back turned to the viewer. It might be a small touch but it adds to the theme and I appreciate the effort taken by the illustrator(s).


Image Courtesy of willk_1230


The back of the Group Cards feature a large assembly of people around a circular table. They are meant to represent the many factions or groups that have influence in world affairs.

The Score Cards are double sided and depict all 5 point incremental values from 5 to 100. These cards are functional but effective.


Image Courtesy of willk_1230


The game also features 12 rectangular Agent Cards roughly one and a half times larger than a regular playing card. Both sides have the same 6 Agents but the photo image is different for each. These cards are graphically designed to look like passports and feature nice touches like travel stamps, clearance levels, signatures and 'passport style' borders and security features. The backs of these cards even feature a print meant to replicate leather used for passports. All very nice.


Image Courtesy of willk_1230


From a design perspective all cards are very crisp and clean. A range of symbols and numbers are used to convey all the information the players need and it is laid out in such a way that clutter is not an issue. After a few plays the rule book can pretty much be dispensed with as the symbols and numbers on the cards dictate the flow of the game. A game like Cold War can easily flop if this aspect wasn't done well, so a big thumbsup for the design team here.

Two glass beads are provided to record each teams score on the score track cards and again they are coloured red and blue to denote the sides. Then 3 poker sized chips are provided to record the result of each conflict. There is one chip for the CIA and KGB and they depict what I assume are the coat of arms for both organisations. The third chip is green and is used to represent Global Balance. All 3 chips help take the game up a notch in the quality stakes as they feature 'chromatic' effects in the background that move and shine when tilted. I may not have described the effect very well so think special effects on high quality Tazo's.


Image Courtesy of HiveGod


The rulebook is pretty well written, spaced out and offers good examples of play. There is still room for a confusion or two but after several plays the intention of the rules become clear.

Overall Cold War delivers good bang for your buck.


Image Courtesy of willk_1230


The Set-Up

Each player selects a side and takes their score card, Objective Chip and Agent Cards. The Group and Objective Decks are separated, shuffled and placed aside and scores are set to zero using the glass beads. The players then determine who will start with the Balance Chip.

The Game Play

The aim of the game is to be the first player to earn 100 points. Points are won by claiming Objectives, which represent the many conflicts of the Cold War.

The battle to win each Objective is played out over 6 Phases. Many of these phases are no longer than 5-10 seconds so the game moves extremely quickly and doesn't bog down for any length of time.

d10-1 Briefing - The top card of the Objective Deck is turned over to reveal the conflict.

d10-2 Planning - Each player selects one of their Agents to influence the impending Objective. Both players have the same 6 agents, with the same abilities, to choose from. The selected Agent is placed face down next to the Objective Card and is referred to as Agent X.

The selection of an Agent allows for the bluffing mechanic as selecting the Master Spy means that the player must aim to lose in order to win.

d10-3 Influence Struggle - This is the meat of the game as each player must use Group Cards to win the current Objective. A detailed outline can be found below.

d10-4 Cease Fire - Once both players have passed in Phase 3 this phase tidies up the results of the Conflict. The player with the highest Influence Total that does not exceed the Stability Rating of the Objective is declared the victor and places their Domination Chip on the Objective Card.

If both players tie on score, the Bias Icons on the Objective Card are used and the player owning the highest valued Group Card with the greatest bias (first icon) is given the victory. If neither player owns a card of the left most bias, the 2nd icon is used etc etc down to the last icon.

Should any player's total exceed the Stability Rating they have caused Civil Unrest. The active Agent X is immediately terminated and the Objective given to the enemy.

d10-5 Debriefing - Each player reveals their Agent and carries out their Agent's Agenda (special power) based on the Domination Chip that sits atop the Objective. These effects are applied in initiative order. Some agents can apply their Agenda regardless of which side won the objective.

d10-6 Detente - This is primarily a record keeping phase. Agents that survived the Conflict must go on leave and cannot be used in the next Conflict. They are placed to one side. The side that wins the Objective takes the card in question and increases their score according to the value on the Objective Card. Any Agents previously on leave are returned to their Headquarters (hand of Agent Cards) ready for future selection.

If neither player has reached 100 points and the Objective Deck has not been exhausted a new round is begun by returning to Phase 1 - Briefing.

The Strategy - Agent Cards

There are several layers of strategic decision making offered by Cold War. The first is in the selection of Agents in the Planning Phase. Let’s take a closer look at the Operatives. Note that each Agent is listed in Initiative Order. The Initiative Order is important as it determines the order in which each Agent implements their Agenda ability, starting with number 1.

d10-1 Master Spy - The Master Spy can only claim an Objective by allowing their opponent to dominate the Objective (they must lose). So this Agent requires the art of bluff in order to be successful. Show your intention to lose too early and your enemy may be onto you. Of course they may have little choice but to win as their own Agent's Agenda may depend on it. The key to the Master Spy is that they have an Initiative of 1, so they will always act first provided they do not cause Civil Unrest. Once a player loses their Master Spy, their options are diminished significantly.

d10-2 Deputy Director - This is the fail safe Agent of both sides. They have no special power except the ability to always return to Headquarters. They can never be Terminated or go on Leave. So if all of your other Agents have met an untimely end you will still have 'Mr. Dependable' to fall back on.

d10-3 Double Agent - This Agent can implement their Agenda ability regardless of which side wins the Objective. They can choose to immediately send an enemy Agent on leave (from their Headquarters) or they can choose to make the enemy reveal their Agent X in the next round before you choose your own Agent X. This ability is even granted if the Double Agent is terminated by the Assassin before going on leave. Both options have their advantages but the 2nd will often force your opponent to select their Deputy Director as this Agent is safe from the clutches of your Assassin.

Should two Double Agents be involved in the same Conflict, only the Double Agent who was successful in dominating (winning) the Objective implements their Agenda.

d10-4 Analyst - The Analyst can implement their Agenda ability regardless of which side dominates the Objective. The Analyst allows a player to look at the top three cards of the Group Deck prior to the next Briefing Phase and replace them in any order. This is most effective when a player also controls the Balance Chip as they can choose to go first or second during the Influence Struggle Phase and therefore get the card(s) of their choice.

Should two Analysts be involved in the same Conflict, only the Analyst who failed to dominate (win) the Objective implements their Agenda.

The rules do not state explicitly that the Analyst gets to implement their Agenda should they be terminated. I play that they do as their skill is meant to be based on reading intelligence reports. I don't see how their termination would stop their actions if they had read the intelligence reports and set plans in motion before dying. This however is an assumption on my part.

d10-5 Assassin - It's as simple as it sounds, this Agent can Terminate the enemy Agent up against them in a conflict, should their side dominate the Conflict. The only Agent they cannot terminate is the Deputy Director. The downside to the Assassin is that they have put all their energy into tracking and Terminating the enemy. Therefore they do not get to claim the Objective and it is placed on the bottom of the Objective Deck instead of being claimed.

d10-6 The Director - If the X-Files taught me one thing it was that the Director of a Government Organisation is powerful and Cold War offers no exception. The Director must dominate a Conflict to activate their Agenda. If successful they can claim the Objective card on the bottom of the Objective Deck in addition to the Objective they have just been involved in. Eliminating this guy from your enemy ranks should be a priority.

Strategy - The Influence Struggle

This is the engine room of the game and for me it is the most interesting. It allows for card combo play in order to win (or lose) Objectives, as your need may be.

The aim of this phase is to get as close to the Stability Rating of an Objective as possible without going over it. This is where the Blackjack mechanic comes in but in all honesty it doesn't feel like you are playing Blackjack. It is probably more of an analogy than a mechanic.

Each player must take turns in selecting from 1 of 3 possible actions. The player in control of the Balance Chip decides who acts first.

d10-1 Recruit - Allows a player to draw a card (Faction) from the Group Deck and add it to their play area. The value of the card is added to the running total of the side and compared to the Stability Rating. New Faction Cards can still be recruited even if their value will make your running total exceed the Stability Rating of an Objective. The only limitation is that a card cannot be Recruited if it would make a side exceed the Population Rating (number of cards allowed in play per side) of an Objective.

d10-2 Mobilise - Allows a player to tap any untapped card in their play area. Mobilising a card allows the card's ability to be used to influence the play in order to win the Objective.

d10-3 Pass - Allows a player to do nothing and is usually only used when a player feels they are in a winning position and wants to see what the enemy will do in response. If 2 players choose to Pass in consecutive turns the Influence Phase comes to an end.

The player with the highest total that does not exceed the Stability Rating is declared the winner and places their Domination Chip on the Objective Card. Ties are resolved by referring to the Bias Icons on the Objective Card. The 4 icons relate to the 4 types of Factions (Group cards). The left most icon symbolises the most important Faction in the domination of that Objective. The player with the highest valued card of that Faction will win the objective. If neither player controls cards of that Faction the next Bias Icon to the right is consulted etc etc.


Image Courtesy of willk_1230


Strategy - The Factions

Finally we need to assess the abilities of each Faction within the Group Deck to see the potential for card combo play. Thankfully all cards of the same type have the same ability. Cards within a particular Faction only differ in their value, which range from 1-6.

d10-1 Military Factions - When Mobilised (tapped) this Faction can eliminate any other Faction card in play. It is often useful to eliminate an enemy Faction before they use their ability or if they feature a value that is allowing their side to beat your total. The Military are also useful in discarding one of your own cards if you have exceeded the Stability Rating of an Objective. Out of 21 Objectives, the Military is the most important Faction (breaks ties) in 5 of them.

Purely for thematic purposes the cards included in this Faction are called; Guerillas, Militia, Mercenaries, Police, Infantry and Generals.

d10-2 Economic Factions - When Mobilised (tapped) they can Mobilise (tap any untapped card) or Ready (untap any tapped card) in play. Use of this Faction allows a side to exhaust the options of the enemy or allow Factions on your side to be re-used in future turns. Out of 21 Objectives, Economic is the most important Faction (breaks ties) in 4 of them.

Purely for thematic purposes the cards included in this Faction are called; Workers, Mafia, Food Companies, Industry, Oil Tycoons and Bankers.

d10-3 Media Factions - When Mobilised (tapped) this Faction allows a player to draw a new card from the Group deck and make a choice. They can Recruit the card by putting it in play, they can return the card to the top of the Group Deck (face down) or they can discard the card. These cards are best used when a player is approaching the Stability Rating and cannot afford to exceed it.

Of course they may be forced into using the ability earlier than desired if the enemy holds a Readied Economic or Military card as either of these cards would render the ability of the Media card useless. Out of 21 Objectives, the Media is the most important Faction (breaks ties) in 6 of them.

Purely for thematic purposes the cards included in this Faction are called; Artists, NGO's, Phone Company, Newspapers, Radio and Television.

d10-4 Political Factions - When Mobilised this Faction allows a player to take a card from their opponent and add it to their cards or vice versa. The status (tapped or untapped) of the card remains the same. Cards in this Faction are the hardest to use however as their ability cannot be used if it results in either side exceeding the Population Rating of Stability Rating of an Objective. As such cards in this faction are most effective when used in conjunction with other cards such as Military cards that can create some 'breathing space' in terms of population and stability levels.

Out of 21 Objectives, Politics is the most important Faction (breaks ties) in 6 of them.

Purely for thematic purposes the cards included in this Faction are called; Students, Trade Unions, Nationalists, Fundamentalists, Opposition and Government.


Image Courtesy of willk_1230


Strategy - The Objectives

There are 2 types of Objectives; Country and Events. Country Objectives account for 15 of the 21 cards in the deck and they offer the greatest points when captured, ranging from 10-20.


Image Courtesy of willk_1230


The Event Objectives are all worth 5 points each but if won they offer an ability. To use an ability the Objective must be discarded and the points they offered are lost (scores must be modified to reflect this). In most cases the ability is more valuable than the 5 points they offer. The abilities are as follows -

d10-1 Olympic Games - Allows a Terminated Agent to return to its Headquarters ready for future action.

d10-2 Nobel Peace Prize - If an Agent causes Civil Unrest they can be sent on Leave instead of being Terminated. This ability allows a player to push their luck in order to win an Objective.

d10-3 Nuclear Escalation - Instead of taking a regular action during the Influence Phase, this card allows all Military Cards to be eliminated from play. Like the card's name this is often used in only the most dire of situations.

d10-4 Space Race - Allows the next 3 cards to be looked at in the Objective Deck and replaced in any order. This ability is very useful when combined with Agent Agendas if they offer you an advantage. One example would be the Analyst that allows a player to look at the top 3 cards of the Group Deck and replace them in any order.

d10-5 Summit Meeting - Allows the identity of an enemy Agent to be revealed. Having control of this Objective will have your enemy constantly worried that they cannot lay any traps with their Agents.

d10-6 Live Benefit - Instead of taking a regular action during the Influence Phase, this card allows the top card of the discard pile to be Recruited.

Winning the Game

As mentioned earlier the game is won when one side reaches 100 points. However it is possible for the game to end when the Objective deck is exhausted. If this occurs and neither side has reached 100 points, the side with the highest score will win.

The Final Word

There is much to like about Cold War: CIA vs. KGB

I really like card combo games and this one allows for some neat twists and tricks to surprise the enemy. The game also rewards a little caution. It is wise to have at least 1 card 'Readied' to help stifle any potential combos of your opponent when they Recruit a new Faction. If all your cards are Mobilised then you are just asking for trouble.

I have been able to wriggle my way out of seemingly impossible positions in the past thanks to some neat card combos.

The game has a 'Push Your Luck' element to it. Often a player will have to decide if they should Recruit one more Faction in order to inch closer to the Stability Rating, at the risk of creating Civil Unrest and losing their Agent. Sometimes an Objective is worth the risk.

The time frame is spot on for a game of this depth. Any longer and it would outstay its welcome. Any shorter and it wouldn't feel satisfying.

The components are great and although the theme may not be deep, the artwork helps it come alive a little.

Except for 1 game I have played where I was little more than a brain dead zombie and played like a doosh, the finishes are usually pretty close. This is always a big plus for any game.

The one limitation of the game that frustrates me is the nature of the 6 Event Objectives.

Each of these features a Population Rating of 1. This means that each side cannot have more than 1 card in play. This makes these Objectives very luck dependent as it is usually a case of whoever pulls the highest valued card wins. Media cards are useless as a 2nd card cannot be drawn (it would exceed the Population Rating). Political cards are useless as a card cannot be taken or given if it exceeds the Population Rating. Economic Cards are pretty much useless as tapping the opponent's card will not change the value of that card. In fact the only cards that may have a bearing on Event Objectives are the Military Cards as they can be used to discard the enemy Faction. But of course this is only necessary if that card is of a higher value than your own.

Why Event Objectives could not have allowed a Population Rating of 2 is beyond me but I suspect it was done to keep the length of the game to a suitable level as these rounds involving these Objectives can be completed in under a minute.

However if you take that one gripe aside, (and it only effects 6 of 21 Objectives after all), this is an excellent Card Game that is very satisfying. It offers a little more depth than many 2-player card games on the market and the finishes are usually pretty close.

This review has been long but don't confuse that with complexity as it will only take 3-5 plays to gain a firm grip on the rules and flow of the game.

Cold War: CIA vs. KGB will see many plays at my gaming table.

Glossary of Terms

Cold War is a game that uses many terms that may seem confusing at first. After 3-5 plays they will seem commonplace and cause little concern. To help you get up to speed though I have included a Glossary of Terms.

Objectives - Are represented by cards and each side aims to Dominate an Objective each round. Each Objective offers a number of points to the side that dominates (wins) it.

Country Objectives - The most common type of Objective. Once owned they simply offer points and have no further purpose.

Event Objectives - Only 6 of these exist and they offer minimal (5) points. They can be discarded to invoke an ability printed on the card.

Conflict - I have used this term to describe the battle over an Objective. This was done simply because the word Conflict helped maintain the meaning of a sentence better than the word Objective in some cases.

Stability Rating - The score that each player is trying to reach by adding the value of all Faction Cards in their play area. Should a side end the Conflict and exceed the Stability Rating, they will have caused Civil Unrest.

Civil Unrest - Occurs when a side exceeds the Stability Rating of an Objective. Doing so causes the Termination of an Agent.

Population Rating - Located on an Objective Card, this rating outlines how many cards can be in play for a single side at any one time. A new Faction can never be Recruited (drawn) if it would make that side exceed the Population Rating.

Bias Icons - Located on the Objective Cards, these icons outline the importance of each Faction Type in resolving a tied score. The furthest icon to the left denotes the most important Faction for the Objective. The player holding the highest valued card in this Faction will win the Objective in the event of a tie.

Factions - One of the 4 types of cards found in the Group Deck.

Recruit - The ability to draw a card in the Influence Phase.

Mobilise - When a card (Faction) is tapped it is Mobilised. Mobilising a Faction allows that card's ability to be used.

Ready - Any card that is untapped is referred to as ready. Economic Cards allow Mobilised cards to be Readied (untapped) for future use.

Pass - The ability to do nothing for a turn. If 2 player's Pass on consecutive turns the Influence Phase will end.

Leave - An Agent that survives a Conflict must go on Leave for a turn, meaning they cannot take part in 2 consecutive Conflicts.

Headquarters - The term used to describe the pile of Agent Cards at a player's disposal. Any Agent not Terminated, in Action or on Leave will be located in a player's Headquarters.

Agent X - The term used to refer to the Agent that has been selected to influence the current Objective.

Terminated - Any Agent that causes Civil Unrest or falls foul of an enemy Assassin is Terminated and removed from the game.

Initiative - The order in which Agent Agenda's are implemented. Each Agent features an Initiative Rating and number 1 acts first, with 6 acting last.

EDIT - Extended the Final Word to add my reasons for liking the game.

EDIT - Updated visual appeal of the review, added release date and designer credits
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Tim Fiscus
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Thanks for this excellent review and gameplay description! I'm about to play this today, and you've given me some good insight into how to teach and play the game. Thumbs way up!
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Tim K.
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Quote:
The rules do not state explicitly that the Analyst gets to implement their Agenda should they be terminated.

I believe they do in that the agents are activated in numerical order, so the Analyst activates before the Assassin.

Quote:
There is much to like about Cold War: CIA vs. KGB

While I appreciate the calories you invested in detailing the rules and such, I wish you could elaborate on this point some more. What specifically do you like about it?

Quote:
...this is an excellent Card Game that is very satisfying.

Why is it excellent and why is it satisfying?
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Mike Siggins
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I am with Tim. I think you have done an in depth description, and conveyed the mechanisms, but the 'feel' isn't coming over. Neither is the 'why', so for me the review isn't strong. You can easily cut down on the rules explanation and up the analysis.

Keen to see your response.
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Tim Royal
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Great, great review. I appreciate the thorough breakdown of the game, and your insights into how the game plays out, incorporating its strengths and weaknesses as you saw them.

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Craig Hebert
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Great review - the best yet by far. You also correctly, to me, identified the one absurd issue with the game, and the logical solution: the one population event cards. I'm sure 45 45 games that are won or lost on one of these will leave both parties thinking its best to go back to Uno or Skipbo. Otherwise, despite the rules being less than perfectly clear on a few issues, its a good little game.
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Craig Hebert
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I couldn't agree with you less. If you are so much more of a "keen observer", why don't you and Tim do your reviews. You are acting as though you are grading him on a class project. Its a review - he covers all the relative notions of the game - its not meant to be anything other than that.

Let me add that as someone who has played this game about 20 times on the French online site, the review is "excellent" and gives you what you need to know to play, extremely well. Further readers of this post, will be well served to take note of the review.

Lastly, the reviewer has also done something that the rules do not - that is - the explanation of the special event cards. These are NOT found in the rules.
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Ok first off thanks to Kafelnikov for the spirited defense. I don't know you personally but I appreciate the sentiment.

Buuuut I can see where EvilTimmy and Sumo are coming from. One risk with writing a long review and finishing at close to midnight is that you can miss seeing the forest for the trees. I'm not worried about how I have outlined the structure and rules of the game but I was probably a little light on the analysis.

I did kinda give my reasons but not all in the one spot and not in any concrete way. So thanks for the pick-up guys.

Why I like the game?

I really like card combo games and this one allows for some neat twists and tricks that the enemy is often not ready for. The game also rewards a little caution. It is wise to have at least 1 card 'Readied' to help stiffle any potential combos of the enemy when they Recruit a new Faction. If all your cards are Mobilised then you are just asking for trouble.

I have been able to wriggle my way out of seemingly impossible positions in the past thanks to a lucky pull and some unusual card combos.

The game has a 'Push Your Luck' element to it. Often a player will have to decide if they should Recruit one more Faction in order to reach that magical Stability Rating but risk the potential for creating Civil Unrest and lose their Agent. Sometimes an Objective is worth the risk.

The time frame is spot on for a game of this depth. Any longer and it would outstay its welcome. Any shorter and it wouldn't feel satisfying.

The components are great and although the theme may not be deep, the artwork helps it come alive a little.

Except for 1 game I have played where I was little more than a brain dead zombie and played like a duush, the finishes are usually pretty close. This is always a big plus for any game.

NB - Changes made to the Review (Final Word) to reflect these thoughts).
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Steve Duff
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Great review, really gave a nice feel for how the game would play.

Psst. It's "douche".
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Diego Mascheroni
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Neil,

Your reviews are incredible !!!

Thanks a lot.
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Thanks Pinhead.

Work has been a killer lately but I have a 5 week break coming up and hope to post another 10+ reviews in that time.
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Cobus van Wyk
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What a great review! I really wish there were reviews like this for every game I was interested in. I might just buy it because of the review!

Great job!

(PS: You must also be an awesome person as all Liverpool supporters are)
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Vryburger wrote:
What a great review! I really wish there were reviews like this for every game I was interested in. I might just buy it because of the review!

Great job!

(PS: You must also be an awesome person as all Liverpool supporters are)


Thanks for the kind words. Be sure to look out for my Review Geeklist with over 400 reviews to choose from.

My Review Geeklist for Easy Reference
 
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