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Charles Simon
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Ashley
Pennsylvania
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My biases first: I am a big fan of theme in games and do not mind reaching through piles of chits if the theme and game play is good enough. While I do favor confrontation, chits, bits and polished pieces of AT games, there are still a large number of Euros that I'll build my farm on or attend auctions at and be quite content at the end of my experience. Also, Twilight Struggle is one of my all-time favorite board games, though it sadly does not get as much play as I would like. Also, at the time of the 9/11 attacks, I lived in the Philadelphia area, so the proximity of the attacks was significant in the way it was portrayed on our media, though fortunately, I have not had any direct losses due to the attacks. Also, I am an anti-war, Green Party, hard-core liberal quasi-wonk, though my family is rather conservative and not just by using me as a barometer.



The Overview:


The box cover. Subdued artwork that really says a lot. Photo by Paolo Robino.



Contents of the box. Photo by Riptcord.



Labyrinth: The War on Terror is a modern strategy wargame that also covers a vast political game as well. The game is playable as either a two-player game or solitaire. In the two-player game, one player controls the United States while the other controls less defined Islamist Jihadists in a very asymmetrical conflict. In the solitaire game, the player controls the United States against the Jihadists, which are controlled by an AI flowchart.

The game is for 1-2 players. The two player game takes about 90 minutes to play through the deck one time once players are familiar with the decks. However, the game's length can be modified to play through the deck one, two or three times. Each subsequent play through the deck adds about 60 minutes to the play time. All of this can be cut short by one side reaching one of their "auto-win" conditions. I find that the solitaire game takes a little longer, but that is shortening up as the flowchart becomes more and more familiar to me.

The game set-up allows players to choose one of four different starting set-ups, each representing a different era in the US's war on terror. What will probably be the most common set-up is "Let's Roll", which is set post-9/11 with the world's views less set as they watch to see what the US's response to the attacks will be. However, other set-ups include a post-Operation Enduring Freedom scenario and a post-Operation Iraqi Freedom scenario, in which the world's views on terrorism are a bit more firmly set. There is also an alternate history set-up in which Al Gore won the 2000 election and the set-up is the same as the "Let's Roll" set-up, but with the US taking a different starting stance on Global Terrorism.

Usually I try to get into the rules with greater depth, but I'm going to be a little more general with the rules descriptions.

The map is set-up with both Muslim countries and non-Muslim countries being important in the game. Muslim countries can be set in one of three alignments from the US's perspective. They can be Allied, Neutral or Adversaries. The US can only deploy Troops into Allied countries, so if they wish to attack or counter Jihadist Cells in that location, they need to be allied with them first. Muslim countries also have their Governance set, again from the US perspective, they can be Good, Fair or Poor. These settings, more or less, describe the stability of the country's governing and their ability to combat terrorism on their own. So, even if a country is Adversarial to the US, it is still in their interest for them to have a Good level of Governance, since it deters terrorism. Non-Muslim countries are tested throughout the game for their stance on terrorism: it can be either Soft or Hard. If the majority of the world's views on terrorism oppose that of the United States, then the US incurs a penalty whenever they try to influence other governments.

Play is card-driven, and players can either use their hand of cards to either enact the event on it or use the cards "Ops" value to take actions. Some cards have Events that benefit the US, some the Jihadists and others that are neutral and could be either beneficial or baneful to either. If you play a card for the Ops and the card has an Event for the opposing side, it is triggered and is resolved anyhow. Each card has an Ops Value of 1-3, and by using that card the player can take an action.

Now, here is one of the genius points of the game for creating balanced asymmetry; the Governance level of each Muslim country is assigned a value. Good is a value of 1, Fair is a value of 2 and Poor is a value of 3. For the US player to take an action in a country, they need to play a card of a value worth at least that of the Governance level; so to take an action in a Good Governance country, the US must play a card worth at least 1 Op, but to play one in a Poor Governance country, they must play one worth 3 Ops. This makes it easier for the US to operate in countries with a Good Governance. For the Jihadist player to take an action in a country, they may spend any value Ops card for their action. That lets them take a number of actions equal to their value. For example, a 1 Op card lets them try to recruit one Cell and a 3 Op card lets them try to recruit up to 3 Cells. However, the actions of the Jihadist are not guaranteed. For every action they take in a country, they need to roll a six-sided die. If the number rolled is equal to or less than the Governance level of the target country, the action is successful. If it is over the Governance level, it is failed and the Ops point is still spent. This means that it is harder for the Jihadist to succeed in countries with a Good level (needing to roll a 1 on the die), but a bit easier to operate in countries with a Governance of Poor (needing a 3 or less).

There is also another Governance level, which is Islamist Rule. Countries under Islamist Rule always are considered Adversaries to the US. Ops spent by the Jihadist in a country under Islamist Rule always succeed without having to roll the die. The US cannot take any actions in countries under Islamist Rule other than a Regime Change, which is essentially sending in a large number of US Troops to put in a US sympathetic government. However, this can be a risky tactic for the US, since it tends to bog down troops and often the conflict there until the US can get a strong government in place, bogs down US resources and actions.

There are three ways that the US can get an instant win during the course of a game, which are roughly an economic victory, a political victory or a military victory. Each Muslim country has a Resource value of 1-3, which loosely represents the values of the country, from culture to oil reserves. For the "economic win", the US gets an instant win if there are 12 or more Resources in Muslim countries that have a Good Governance level. For the "political win", the US gets an instant win if at least 15 Muslim countries are either Fair or Good Governance; this represents that the region has stabilized enough to effectively impair the Jihadists operations. The "military victory" allows for an instant win if at any point in the game, there are 0 Jihadist Cells on the board.

The Jihadists also have 3 victory conditions. Their "economic win" requires them to have at least 6 Resources in countries under Islamist Rule, and at least 2 of those countries must be adjacent. The "political win" for the Jihadist occurs if the US Prestige is at 1 and at least 15 Muslim countries are either of Poor Governance or under Islamist Rule, essentially showing that the region is so destabilized while the view of the US is so poor worldwide, that the US become ineffectual in the region. Instead of a direct military victory for the Jihadists, they get an instant win if they are able to resolve a WMD Terror Plot inside of the US.

Comparison to Twilight Struggle: The game has a number of similarities to Twilight Struggle. The most obvious is the Op Cards with each side's events on them, and playing a card with the opponent's event on it triggers the event. However, in Labyrinth, the card play is not directly alternating. Instead of taking turns playing cards, the Jihadist will play 2 cards, then the US will play 2 cards and the alternating works in this fashion. This allows for a few nice card combinations to take place. Plus, it allows you to play a card with your opponent's event on it, then immediately play another card to try to "damage control" the event before your opponent gets to go. This means that drawing a hand full of your opponents cards is still bad, but not necessarily as devastating as it can sometimes be in TS. Personally, I think that this strengthens the card-driven mechanic of the game greatly.

The region map created with point-to-point connections also holds a strong TS feel to it. However, unlike in TS, you are not using the map to illustrate a domino theory of ideas, but using the map to show where US Troops and Jihadist Cells physically are. Jihadists can move a cell to an adjacent country without having to roll to see if they succeed, but they can also try to move their cells to any country with their action (but need to roll against the country's Governance to see if they succeed). This actually abstracts the map much less than in
Twilight Struggle, whose map has always been a very physical geographic representation for cultural influence. For example, I would have thought that if the UK fell under heavy Soviet influence, it would spread out differently than just to Canada, Norway, France and Benelux. However, the map in Labyrinth seems to work better in the sense that it is used to track physical troop location instead of just cultural influence and bias.



The Theme:

There is always a potential problem when real-world events are turned into games. Besides offending some (and there are plenty of boardgamers who love to get offended), the historical accuracy is always something up for debate, especially because any game will infuse a level of "what if", because otherwise, there is no game: it would be an exact repeat of history.

That being said, 9/11 is still fresh. Ground Zero is both a tourist destination and a mourning location. Firehouses in NYC still have shrines to members lost. Terror alerts and our government's ability to protect us from jihadists are still a part of our daily politics, while cultural center locations and burning of Qurans is still in our headlines for weeks on end. This is sensitive subject. And perhaps it takes a level of separation from the events even consider playing a "game" about it, let alone having "fun" while playing it, especially if you are playing the side of the Jihadists, trying to obtain WMDs to deploy as a terror plot in the United States. However, I have to say, that I am impressed and glad that there are people out there willing to try to make those games and also that there are people out there willing to play them.

What also impresses me about the game design is the lack of bias. I'm not saying that the United States and the Jihadists are both viewed through an equal moral lens in this game. They aren't. However, the lack of bias is in the politics of the US game. One can take a neo-con response to the Jihadists in the game and find the strengths and weaknesses of the strategy. One can also take a softer "left-wing" response to the Jihadists in the game and find a number of strengths and weaknesses in it.

The game isn't saying military is right and diplomacy is wrong. Nor is it saying that diplomacy is right and military is wrong. Instead, the game captures a great sense of the strengths and failings of both approaches.

The game also tells a great narrative, but I think that the narrative is better felt by the US player. The Jihadist tends to act on opportunity, which is, I suppose, a fair enough narrative there. But as the world turns soft on terrorism, a US with the hard stance may find diplomacy failing and their world image deteriorating. Will the US try to salvage their face in the world? Or will they forego the political game and press on, despite being despised by the world? The events play out very well to create this narrative, but mostly the US Prestige and the world's view on terror do the best job in creating this story.

Comparison to Twilight Struggle: Part of this may be my age. The space race was won before I was born. I was just getting into politics as the narrative of Twilight Struggle is coming to an end. So the events, while known from history and reading, are not as personal to me. When I play TS, it feels less like a narrative that I am setting up with the game and more like a deep strategy game. Perhaps part of this is because of the domino theory influence that is being represented instead of physical troops and units, but at the same time, I think that some events in TS feel more like card play than narrative building plays. A lot of this may be because I did not live through the events.

Because of this, I feel the narrative of
Labyrinth more. It is easier for me to imagine the events going on and their political ramifications on the world view and the US's reaction to it. That being said, however, I think that Twilight Struggle, even with less of a narrative, is more consistent with it. I feel the world theatre equaling when playing the US or the USSR. In Labyrinth, I feel the narrative much more as the US player than the Jihadist player. This may simply be because of my biases from living in the US though.



Learning the Game:

The game is written in typical wargame fashion of Rule 4.6.3.2 referring you to Rule 6.2.5. There is nothing wrong with that, but for some people, it is harder to comprehend rules written this way. However, the rules are actually extremely well-covered. There are a lot of rules questions on BGG, but if you look at them, most of the answers are just referring people to look up Rule X.Y.Z for the answer. So everything is there, but it seems like people have problems digesting all of it.

I can understand that, especially in the solitaire game. The flowchart is daunting and I'm still not always 100% that I've followed every action correctly. However, that is also because the flowchart AI in the solitaire game is surprisingly complex and effective, which makes for better solitaire play once a player understands it.

The only rules issues that I have really come from the placement of some of them. Perhaps I am not enough of a wargamer, but even with the laid out rules, I have trouble finding some stuff when needed. What to do at the end of the Turn, for example, seems unintuitively placed before the descriptions of what you actually do on your turn.

But these are minor quibbles. As I noted, everything is in there. I just don't like how some of it is laid out and placed.

Comparison to Twilight Struggle: Even though I played Twilight Struggle much earlier in my gaming career and had much less war game experience at the time, I found that to be the easier game to learn. At its core, Labyrinth is actually a simple game when it comes to mechanics, but the asymmetrical set up of the sides makes it a little more difficult to learn. In TS, I could play the US and immediately be ready to play the USSR in my next game. However, learning to playing the US does not really prepare you to play the Jihadists in Labyrinth. This isn't a big knock against it, however, since the asymmetry is fascinating and really makes the game play interesting. But it simply doubles what you need to comprehend to get the game.



The Components:


The map board for the game. Photo by Riptcord.



Counter sheet (front side) for the game. Photo by Owsley.



Close up of some of the components, including the US Troops (wooden cubes) and Jihadist Cells (black cylinders; Crescent side up is active, Crescent down is Sleeper). Photo by oi_you_nutter.



Flow chart for the Jihadist in solo-play. Photo by Riptcord.



Game end board. Photo by Volko.



The components of the game are excellent, especially for a GMT game. That isn't to say that GMT games usually have terrible components, but often they are not of this quality. The cards are also of a great stock and are thick and should not wear easily. Honestly, I have no complaints with the components at all. There is even a second book that gives a detailed walk-through for both the two-player game and the solitaire game, which is excellent and incredibly useful for learning the game.

Comparison to Twilight Struggle: The quality of the components of the game are on par with the Deluxe edition of Twilight Struggle rather than the earlier printings.



Playing the Game:

Despite what are a few little hidden rules in the rules, once the game is understood and clicks, there is no longer a need to grab the rulebook in most games. For me, this happened in my second two-player game. The solitaire game still takes a bit more work, simply because of the flow chart, but even for that I am grabbing it less and less, knowing when to do certain actions.

I think playing the solitaire game first, however, was a problem for me. It actually made me feel a little less enthusiastic for the two-player game. The single player game seems to be mostly putting out metaphoric fires started by the Jihadist AI. It didn't feel like I had a berth of options to choose from, just one or two obvious ones.

However, that becomes much less the case in the two-player game. Options seem to free up and different strategies emerge. When teaching the game, I've always had the new player take the role of the US, since it seems to be the more straight-forward as far as apparent strategies for a new player. Plus, the Jihadist plays two cards first, so a new US player can afford to be more reactionary at first as they learn the game.

Comparison to Twilight Struggle: Despite the fact that there are three different victory conditions for each side, I still feel that Twilight Struggle seems to lay out a wider variety of options from turn to turn. I still feel so much more free to attack different strategies in TS. Labyrinth still has a lot of options, but often I just feel a little more tight than in TS. This may be because I've played so much TS that I know the game better at this point. However, I will say that Labyrinth tends to have less "see-saw" effect than TS. In TS, I may lay 2 Influence in Italy, only to then have my opponent follow up and lay 2 Influence in Italy, and this can go on all game. In Labyrinth, it seems easier to just move onto a different country where things are easier to succeed in or cost less Ops to stage actions in.



Scalability:

The game is playable either as a two-player game or through a solitaire game with the Jihadists being controlled through a flowchart AI. There really isn't much to say about scalability. I prefer the two-player game, but I will play the solitaire game from time to time. The AI is challenging enough, and even though the events it trigger may not always be the best play from a strategic point, it still creates a viable and realistic narrative.

Comparison to Twilight Struggle: Twilight Struggle only supports two-players. However, there is much less discomfort in playing either the US or USSR in Twilight Struggle, while the 2-player in Labyrinth may cause some uncomfortability in playing Jihadists for some players.



Does the Wife Like It?:

The most important category. I play games without her, but she's an integral part of my core gaming group and my most frequent game partner. The more she likes a game, the more likely I'll see it in our rotation (without having to first build up my gaming capital by playing a bunch of games she prefers first). That being said, she doesn't care for the game. It's completely not her style. She had indulged me a two-player learning game and then our next game I called early simply because I knew that she was not enjoying herself and was frustrated with the play. And, as I learned from playing Labyrinth, sometimes it is the best position to change your posture and withdraw early in hopes of salvaging diplomacy options for later in the evening.

Comparison to Twilight Struggle: My wife had a very tepid feeling towards Twilight Struggle. She would play it with me on occasion to humor me when I had gone too long in between plays against my standard TS-partner. However, after playing Labyrinth, she told me that she would much rather play Twilight Struggle. So, if nothing else, the game has bolstered her opinion of TS.



The Pros:

*The game creates a realistic and interesting narrative through the eyes of the US and their reactions to the world's posture.
*Asymmetrical game play is both balanced and creates for a very interesting and unique feel in play.
*The Governance level mechanic and how it effects play for both the US and Jihadists is really genius in creating a narrative for either side to operate in.
*Multiple victory paths that allow plays break from the "see-saw" Influence contests that may occur in Twilight Struggle.
*Politically neutral (as far as liberal or conservative bias is concerned).
*A challenging topic that really deserves accolades for not being fearful in its approach to the topic.
*Excellent components.
*Allows for solitaire play, which is still challenging and interesting.
*Innovates some of the card-driven mechanics, such as playing 2 consecutive cards, which allows for players to soften the worst of their opponents events (thus weakening the problem of bad card draws).



The Cons:

*Rule layout is a little unintuitive to sort through in some places.
*A number of small game effects that can come into play that are very easily missed or forgotten in early plays.
*Solitaire play complicates game play, which is a shame since it is how most games will probably be played their first time through (though it is still worth learning).
*While the game is politically neutral, it tells a narrative from the US perspective. For some people, that may turn them off to the game as the premise of the game "justifies" the US reaction to 9/11 by only allowing certain actions in the game. For example, pulling out of the Middle East and cutting off funding to Israel is not a game option. I think that those purchasing the game, however, will be of the mindset that the available actions are fine, especially in a "game setting".
*The US perspective of the game makes the narrative favor story-telling from the US side. I don't feel the narrative nearly as strongly playing the Jihadists.
*Some people will not be comfortable playing as Jihadists, considering the real-life counterparts to the actions that are represented in the game (such as performing terror plots, especially if they control WMDs).
*Despite the strengths of the game and its approach on everything, some will simply feel too close to subject matter to be comfortable with the game.



Overall:

Labyrinth is not just a great game, but it is also an important game. It can easily be played simply as a strategy game, but considering how strong the narrative can be, it can also be used as a teaching game. The game does a great job of showing how sending in US Troops to enforce a "regime change" can bog down US resources and limit their actions in the rest of the world. It also does a great job of showing how remaining too soft risks a spread of radicalized influence throughout the Muslim world with little options to fully combat it. I'm glad to see a subject like this tackled by a game that takes it seriously. The mechanics are well thought out and really provide an excellent example of asymmetrical balance that is very challenging and never loses its narrative or feeling.

The obvious question is: Will Labyrinth be the game to take over Twilight Struggle's lofty mantle for strategy gamers? I don't know. It improves on a lot of TS's mechanics and set up and also tells a stronger narrative. However, the game doesn't have quite the flexibility that TS has. Labyrinth is not a flash in the pan, and it will definitely be a strong contender against TS and will probably win over a number of players who believe that the mechanics have been improved. But at the same time, it will probably suffer from a theme that some may feel is still "too soon" to be comfortable and those who will balk at having to play Jihadists.

My own view is that mechanically, this game is superior to Twilight Struggle. However, TS provides more flexibility in strategy. I think at the end of the day, after the newness of Labyrinth wears off, I'll still grab TS just slightly more than Labyrinth. However, if you add in solitaire plays of Labyrinth, they'll probably come up closer to even.



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UA Darth
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From what I remember reading, Labyrinth has much more die rolls and more luck due to this. It is for this reason that I have stayed away. Do you agree or disagree?
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Charles Simon
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It is mitigated luck, for the most part.

Whenever the US wishes to influence a country to strengthen its Governance level (ideally to make it Good), they play the Ops card and roll a six-sided die. They succeed on a 5-6. There are minimal modifiers, but the main on is that the final switch from Fair to Good Governance is at a -1 penalty.

Whenever a non-Muslim country is tested to see its Posture against terrorism, a six-sided die is rolled. On a 1-4, it is Soft. On a 5-6, it is Hard.

A few actions will result in the US potentially gaining or losing world Prestige. On a 1-4, it goes down. On a 5-6, it goes up.

Those are primarily the only rolls the US will make during a game. The Prestige one only occurs after specific actions or card events. The others only when trying to influence or test a country.

For the Jihadists, there is more rolling. Their actions can test a country as above. But unless all of their actions take place in a country under Islamist Rule, they need to roll for each action to see if it succeeds. They roll against the country they are acting in's Governance. So, if they are taking Ops in a Good Governance country, they need to roll a 1 to succeed. If it is in a Fair Governance country, they need to roll a 1 or a 2 to succeed, and in a Poor Governance country, they need to roll a 1-3.

So, yes, for the Jihadists, there is substantially more die-rolling. However, the US gets 1 action per card (the Ops value only determines where they can play it). The Jihadists get a number of actions equal to the Op value of the card played. So their "roll to succeed" mechanic is mitigated by having more actions per card.

Personally, I like the mechanic because it makes things more difficult to pull off for the Jihadist in Good countries and easier in Poor, but still maintaining that the Jihadist actions are more unstable and less reliable than the US money and troop powerhouse.

I am not put off by the die rolls myself, but this is personal preference. I think poor rolling hurts the Jihadists much more than a poor rolling game as the US. However, the die rolls tend to be for illustrating the unreliable nature of the Jihadist actions. I think that for the US game, the die rolls are not really much of a factor though.

The only comparison point for Twilight Struggle is that either side can have their plans devastated by poor Realignment or Coup rolls. In Labyrinth, at least, the die rolls only really factor in strongly for the Jihadist game, which really is a design to specifically illustrate the volatile nature of their plans and actions and their chances to succeed in well governed or well policed countries as opposed to nations struggling with their own internal power.
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Mick Weitz
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This is a good reveiw. Bravo sir.

Good Gaming~! Mick
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Marco Poutré
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Very brilliant and comprehensive review.

thinwhiteduke wrote:
And, as I learned from playing Labyrinth, sometimes it is the best position to change your posture and withdraw early in hopes of salvaging diplomacy options for later in the evening.




-Marcon
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Steve Hope
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With the exception of Major Jihads (admittedly a fairly important part of the game) I found the die rolling in Labyrinth less of an irritant from an imbalanced luck perspective than the die rolls in TS. I feel like TS offers more all-or-none rolls, while most of Labyrinth's rolls are kind of small potatoes. Major Jihads are very important and fairly luck-dependent, but if you've planned cautiously you should at least get a few bites at the apple before the US can take advantage of bad luck.
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Steve Herron
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Excellent review Charles.
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Jeremy Antley
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stephenhope wrote:
I feel like TS offers more all-or-none rolls, while most of Labyrinth's rolls are kind of small potatoes.


I completely agree. Many times I've invested a 3 Ops card in a coup attempt only to roll a 1 or 2, doing little to improve my position or knock out my opponents presence. If a player in TS has a few bad coup rolls it can really hurt their chances to win as the other player essentially receives a free card play to spread influence or trigger a nasty event, not to mention the lowering of the defcon if the target was a battleground state.

With Labyrinth, the Jihadist player is somewhat protected by bad rolls thanks in part to the ability to choose multiple targets for one operation type and the two-card action phase. For the US player bad rolls can be more problematic, as they must choose one target and in some cases, like trying to shift World GWOT, a string of failures can let the Jihadist spread their position and increase their capacity to inflict maximum damage. Again, the two-card action phase mitigates the danger of failed rolls, a situation unlike TS where two sequential bad rolls can quickly lead to your opponent gaining the upper hand.
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Marco Poutré
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Jobermallow wrote:
stephenhope wrote:
I feel like TS offers more all-or-none rolls, while most of Labyrinth's rolls are kind of small potatoes.


I completely agree. Many times I've invested a 3 Ops card in a coup attempt only to roll a 1 or 2, doing little to improve my position or knock out my opponents presence. If a player in TS has a few bad coup rolls it can really hurt their chances to win as the other player essentially receives a free card play to spread influence or trigger a nasty event, not to mention the lowering of the defcon if the target was a battleground state.

With Labyrinth, the Jihadist player is somewhat protected by bad rolls thanks in part to the ability to choose multiple targets for one operation type and the two-card action phase. For the US player bad rolls can be more problematic, as they must choose one target and in some cases, like trying to shift World GWOT, a string of failures can let the Jihadist spread their position and increase their capacity to inflict maximum damage. Again, the two-card action phase mitigates the danger of failed rolls, a situation unlike TS where two sequential bad rolls can quickly lead to your opponent gaining the upper hand.


Same here. When you go down the luck path, you have two choices : Use none of it or use lots. Using a few will lead to some critical "I have to take over Italy with that coup!" rolls. Using a lot will sooner or later even things out, despite all the complaints you hear from your ill-fated opponent.

That being said, I love Twilight Struggle but just wanted to point out that more dice rolls isn't necessarily a bad thing.

-Marcon
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Colin Hunter
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Firstly while in principle the idea that more dice rolls generates more random results is wrong, I do think that the luck from dice plays a larger part in outcomes from Labyrinth than it does TS. While several above point out that rolling low an a coup is bad, it almost never makes much difference to the games' outcome, largely because a massive importance of coups is lowering defcon and gain military, non of which have to do with the dice at all. The influence thing is important or course, but in my experience it isn't decisive in the actual game. I'm still learning labyrinth so I'm still coming to grips with it, but my feeling is that the luck plays a bigger part, despite the fact that on its surface it would seem less important. I think this stems more from the importance of when the luck occurs as opposed to high variance. TS has relatively a high variance of result (that chance of rolling low on a coup is relatively high), where as the chance of complete failure as a jihadist on a high ops action is relatively low, by comparison, my argument is though that the luck in L:tWoT is more important, therefore failing such an action or doing poorly has more of a result than TS.

Does the game have more luck overall? I'm not really sure, I think for example in TS that the cards are much more important than the dice rolling to the luck element, getting low ops hands early really hurts. By contrast, I'm still making my mind up about L:tWoT, I'd be interested in other people's opinions here.

Good Review.
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Cole Wehrle
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A very strong, thoughtful review. You've certainly raised my curiosity about this title.
 
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Marcon wrote:
... just wanted to point out that more dice rolls isn't necessarily a bad thing.

That is certainly true, and shadow9d9 has had it explained to him on various threads, but to no avail.
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Sphere wrote:
Marcon wrote:
... just wanted to point out that more dice rolls isn't necessarily a bad thing.

That is certainly true, and shadow9d9 has had it explained to him on various threads, but to no avail.


This line of thinking assumes that explaining an opinion to someone else will make them agree with your opinion. It is still just an opinion.

As it is, TS has more luck than 90+% of my games. For the time being, I still like it. I am sensitive to luck, and like to know how many ways there are to mitigate it and how important each individual die roll is.
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shadow9d9 wrote:
Sphere wrote:
Marcon wrote:
... just wanted to point out that more dice rolls isn't necessarily a bad thing.

That is certainly true, and shadow9d9 has had it explained to him on various threads, but to no avail.


This line of thinking assumes that explaining an opinion to someone else will make them agree with your opinion. It is still just an opinion.

As it is, TS has more luck than 90+% of my games. For the time being, I still like it. I am sensitive to luck, and like to know how many ways there are to mitigate it and how important each individual die roll is.
I think you tend to see the number of occurences of luck as being associated with how much luck is in a game (at least from what I've seen from your forum posts on the subject). The test surely is how decisive that luck is in the game, as to whether a game has too much luck or not. All the luck mitigation in the world makes little difference if that one element of luck is decisive in most games that are played, by contrast having lots of dice rolls only matters if again it is decisive. My feeling is that Labyrinth is slightly higher on the scale of luck than TS, but it is just a gut feeling the only way to tell is to play both a lot and decide then. Having said that you may feel that the occurences are more important, but I'd postulate that the net effect of luck is far more important than the net occurences of it. Luck mitigation is all well and good, but compare 1960 with TS. 1960 despite having clever luck mitigation, is a far more luck dependent game than TS, because of the lack of significant deck cycling, the importance of support checks and the general importance of events and strategic reserve. Anyway, obviously as you you say each person is going to be different here.
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For me at least, the increase of dice (especially for the Jihadist) isn't nearly so bothersome because it is part of a greater narrative. Sure, a string of bad luck on die rolls could cripple the effectiveness of a Jihadist player, however, the rolls represent the volatile actions being taken place and the ability of the country's governments to uncover and halt the actions.

The die rolls in Twilight Struggle seem more random for the sake of creating tension through probability.

In Labyrinth, they are part of a greater story. It illustrates the difficulties that jihadists have operating in more organized and structured countries with stronger governments and internal police operations. These actions shouldn't be a sure thing, so the die rolls make sense to me and are, in my opinion, implemented in an ingenious way.

The US can also be hampered by poor die rolls, however, by trying to wage a War of Ideas (which is the systematic influencing and increasing the strength of other countries governments). The narrative is weaker for these die rolls though and it is more for the sake of creating tension through probability, similar to the effect that coups and realignment rolls have in Twilight Struggle. It is my thought that if you can tolerate the rolls in that game, you should have no problem with their similar application in this one. The Jihadist rolls, do add luck to the game, but it is specifically designed to represent something and I think it does it very well.
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thinwhiteduke wrote:
For me at least, the increase of dice (especially for the Jihadist) isn't nearly so bothersome because it is part of a greater narrative. Sure, a string of bad luck on die rolls could cripple the effectiveness of a Jihadist player, however, the rolls represent the volatile actions being taken place and the ability of the country's governments to uncover and halt the actions.

The die rolls in Twilight Struggle seem more random for the sake of creating tension through probability.

In Labyrinth, they are part of a greater story. It illustrates the difficulties that jihadists have operating in more organized and structured countries with stronger governments and internal police operations. These actions shouldn't be a sure thing, so the die rolls make sense to me and are, in my opinion, implemented in an ingenious way.

The US can also be hampered by poor die rolls, however, by trying to wage a War of Ideas (which is the systematic influencing and increasing the strength of other countries governments). The narrative is weaker for these die rolls though and it is more for the sake of creating tension through probability, similar to the effect that coups and realignment rolls have in Twilight Struggle. It is my thought that if you can tolerate the rolls in that game, you should have no problem with their similar application in this one. The Jihadist rolls, do add luck to the game, but it is specifically designed to represent something and I think it does it very well.
I actually think you have a very legitimate point here, that the coup and realignment die rolls in TS are rather clunky, while I think they do represent the uncertainty of such actions (which seems reasonable to me), they perhaps don't have quite the sense of narative or drama. I'd agree with you the sense of narative with the dice rolls in L:tWoT is less abstract, although I'd say the design as a whole is less abstract. My argument though is that while the die rolls when viewed individually in TS seem quite random (in terms of variance they are), the net effect of the die rolls, on the outcome of the game, is minimal, where as the net effect of them in L:tWoT may well be greater (although again this my gut). I think many people don't fully get that about the die rolls in TS, the net effect of them is pretty inconsequential, the cards are a slightly different story.
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thinwhiteduke wrote:
For me at least, the increase of dice (especially for the Jihadist) isn't nearly so bothersome because it is part of a greater narrative. Sure, a string of bad luck on die rolls could cripple the effectiveness of a Jihadist player, however, the rolls represent the volatile actions being taken place and the ability of the country's governments to uncover and halt the actions.

The die rolls in Twilight Struggle seem more random for the sake of creating tension through probability.

In Labyrinth, they are part of a greater story. It illustrates the difficulties that jihadists have operating in more organized and structured countries with stronger governments and internal police operations. These actions shouldn't be a sure thing, so the die rolls make sense to me and are, in my opinion, implemented in an ingenious way.

The US can also be hampered by poor die rolls, however, by trying to wage a War of Ideas (which is the systematic influencing and increasing the strength of other countries governments). The narrative is weaker for these die rolls though and it is more for the sake of creating tension through probability, similar to the effect that coups and realignment rolls have in Twilight Struggle. It is my thought that if you can tolerate the rolls in that game, you should have no problem with their similar application in this one. The Jihadist rolls, do add luck to the game, but it is specifically designed to represent something and I think it does it very well.


While I can appreciate your perspective, I play games for the game, not for a narrative. That is just my personal preference.
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ibn_ul_khattab wrote:
I actually think you have a very legitimate point here, that the coup and realignment die rolls in TS are rather clunky, while I think they do represent the uncertainty of such actions (which seems reasonable to me), they perhaps don't have quite the sense of narative or drama. I'd agree with you the sense of narative with the dice rolls in L:tWoT is less abstract, although I'd say the design as a whole is less abstract. My argument though is that while the die rolls when viewed individually in TS seem quite random (in terms of variance they are), the net effect of the die rolls, on the outcome of the game, is minimal, where as the net effect of them in L:tWoT may well be greater (although again this my gut). I think many people don't fully get that about the die rolls in TS, the net effect of them is pretty inconsequential, the cards are a slightly different story.


Actually, I agree with your point as well. I think that the individual die rolls often seem more dramatic in TS though, since it often doesn't just result in a failure, but a backfire as you add your opponent's Influence for a real bad roll. But overall, TS isn't won or lost by die rolls (usually).

However, while I enjoy the narrative of the die rolls in Labyrinth because of their importance to the narrative being set up, I do think that either side in this game is more vulnerable to winning or losing a game by consistent good or bad die rolls. The individual rolls seem less dramatic, but overall, they are more important.

That being said, I still do not mind them specifically because of the narrative fashion in which they are used. Though, ultimately, it may be a result of why despite my claims that I do think that Labyrinth is an improvement on many of Twilight Struggle's mechanics, I feel that in the long run, TS will still be the one grabbed from the shelf more often, even if only by a slight amount.
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Quote:
as you add your opponent's Influence for a real bad roll
Actually you generally only remove your own, but still the point is a valid one.

Let me ask you another question related to theme on this one. Why do you think the designer decided to take such a USA centered view? I mean given the subject and the sensitivity of it, why not go the extra mile on that one and present a more nuanced game in that regard?
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ibn_ul_khattab wrote:

Let me ask you another question related to theme on this one. Why do you think the designer decided to take such a USA centered view? I mean given the subject and the sensitivity of it, why not go the extra mile on that one and present a more nuanced game in that regard?


Ultimately, that's for the designer to answer. But writing the review made me think a little more about the positions of the game. However, the game is about the "war on terror", so it really is focused on the struggle of the US, bolstered and hindered by its allies and world view.

This means that taking a more neutral view and allow more "options" (such as pulling out of the Middle East, cutting off aid the Israel, etc.) you move further into hypothetical events. As it stands now, the Event cards are mainly based off of real situations (with a few exceptions, which are not stretched from real history). The game would be very difficult to maintain event cards with such a wide range of possible options. So, I think the focus had to be on what really happened to make the game more workable in that regard.

So, with the game focusing on real-world history and events, the narrative options become tighter, which is fine, but it gives the game that you have. Now, with the individual game set up, terms, etc., you could either focus it from the US perspective, the Jihadist perspective, or try to be completely neutral in posture and terminology.

My assumption is that the designer, like most everyone in the US, saw these events through the spectrum of the US. It makes it easier, especially to use such terminology.

I doubt that marketability was really a factor, but if it was, a US sympathetic game would be more marketable than a Jihadist sympathetic one. Even for non-US gamers who did not approve of the US's methodology in response, it is still a more sympathetic role than that of the Jihadist, whose in-game actions include setting off terror plots.

I also don't think that there is a reason to be completely unbiased in presentation, just in game balance. In fact, I'm very impressed with the subject matter risk that was taken in the game design. It does not water down the Jihadist's methods and includes the use of terror plots, while other war games that I have played seem to lightly wash away elements of the SS and their role in WWII.

But the "war on terror" is a US created term and "war". It seems right that the game is really played through the eyes of the US.
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ibn_ul_khattab wrote:


Let me ask you another question related to theme on this one. Why do you think the designer decided to take such a USA centered view? I mean given the subject and the sensitivity of it, why not go the extra mile on that one and present a more nuanced game in that regard?


Unless Volko has a double life of sorts, it's hard to get into a religious extremist mindset. Of course, I know the Dungeon Lords designer doesn't have Imps living in his basement and Jason Matthews is not an ex-KGB agent either.

I believe both sides are abstracted pretty much to the same level. U.S. "War of Ideas" could be anything from propaganda to diplomatic negotations while Jihadist "Plots" are most likely sizable acts of terror. Without getting into the details, these mechanics serve the game well and let the players fill in the blanks (Or not if they don't feel like it).

Trust me, the point of view depends a lot on which side you are playing. Two or three games in a row playing the Jihadists will really make you feel like you want to bring the world to its knees while the big-bad Americans are constantly in the way.

-Marcon
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Great review, Charles, and I agree with your assessment that the dice rolls make some thematic sense in this game.

I just played two games today and we had this same discussion. My partner is a huge TS fan but doesn't really care for LAB because of the luck involved. I countered that it's thematic... how often have we heard the horror story that the terrorists need to be lucky "just once"?

I'm a huge fan of LAB and it has quickly become one of my favorite games.

Brian
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thinwhiteduke wrote:
For me at least, the increase of dice (especially for the Jihadist) isn't nearly so bothersome because it is part of a greater narrative. Sure, a string of bad luck on die rolls could cripple the effectiveness of a Jihadist player, however, the rolls represent the volatile actions being taken place and the ability of the country's governments to uncover and halt the actions.

The die rolls in Twilight Struggle seem more random for the sake of creating tension through probability.

In Labyrinth, they are part of a greater story. It illustrates the difficulties that jihadists have operating in more organized and structured countries with stronger governments and internal police operations. These actions shouldn't be a sure thing, so the die rolls make sense to me and are, in my opinion, implemented in an ingenious way.

The US can also be hampered by poor die rolls, however, by trying to wage a War of Ideas (which is the systematic influencing and increasing the strength of other countries governments). The narrative is weaker for these die rolls though and it is more for the sake of creating tension through probability, similar to the effect that coups and realignment rolls have in Twilight Struggle. It is my thought that if you can tolerate the rolls in that game, you should have no problem with their similar application in this one. The Jihadist rolls, do add luck to the game, but it is specifically designed to represent something and I think it does it very well.


Great review thanks.

I see what your saying about the luck and how its there more for a reason than for randomness sake but for those of us that pretty much hate dice, it doesn't matter! (I think this is what shadow is getting at). See for those of us that can BARELY tolerate the dice in TS, we are more than curious about just how the dice work in this game and so far the discussion has been excellent.

I think you may have seesawed a little on which game has more luck, or more importantly, which game is more effected by luck.

Maybe you could reclarify, one more time for us dice haters!

TIA

Edit - WHOAH, wait, hang on, did you say played in 90 minutes? That certainly changes things a bit in the comparisons for me, I can tolerate more luck in 90 minutes than I can in 3 or 4 hours...please confirm!

Sidenote 1 - While I love TS, I am still waiting for someone to come up with a really good fix (will do it myself one day eventually...). I've seen a few and I think a combination of a few of them might come out okay. Anyway, to those that this will likely offend, yes TS does not NEED fixing, its just for those of us that PREFER NOT to have the dice smash down our good plans, we would like a more luckless approach to the Coups and Realigns is all. The plus one (or minus one dont remember now) to your next roll after failing is sort of going in the right direction. If someone thinks there is a really good one, please geekmail me a link, thanks!

Sidenote 2 - For those that what a carddriven game with NO dice, see "The Eagle and the Star". Only played about a half a game but LOVED it!
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jayjonbeach wrote:
I think you may have seesawed a little on which game has more luck, or more importantly, which game is more effected by luck.

Maybe you could reclarify, one more time for us dice haters!


Ultimately, I think that it is more likely that a game of LAB could be won or lost by bad die rolls. The die rolls have more of an impact on how the game is played and won or lost. However, the point that I was trying to make about them is that they fit the game better in LAB. It is thematic and makes more sense, feeling more natural in this game than TS.

TS, some of the die rolling feels more like artificially crafted tension to add an element of probability. But, ultimately, the effects of it tend to be less effective on overall gameplay.

So, yeah, there are qualifiers in it.

There is more luck in LAB, but it feels like you are trying to succeed at something and it feels more natural to the gameplay, so it is almost less noticeable.

There is less luck in TS, but the die rolls tend to be isolated and stand out a bit more. Even though the result of the die roll is often less consequential than that of die rolls in LAB, the rolls stand out and seem like a bigger deal.



Quote:
Edit - WHOAH, wait, hang on, did you say played in 90 minutes? That certainly changes things a bit in the comparisons for me, I can tolerate more luck in 90 minutes than I can in 3 or 4 hours...please confirm!


Yes, with card familiarity, our one deck games run about 90 minutes to 120 minutes (at max, though our games have been much closer to the 90-100 minute range). However, that is with one deck being played. Playing this way does increase the "luck factor" of the game somewhat because you are not going through the deck multiple times (where, in theory, strong cards that were in your opponent's hand the first round, have a chance to end in your hand this shuffle).

The game says that one Deck is the "standard play", and that two decks is "tournament final" and three decks is for "campaign play". After our first couple of teaching and learning games, we went to a 2 deck game, which adds roughly another 60 minutes to the game if no one hits an earlier win condition. So a two deck game for us runs about 150 minutes.

However, we also have ended more of our games by one side reaching an auto-win, so we haven't always made it to the end deck. This may just be from our inexperience with strategies and decks (or possibly die-roll luck factor). My thoughts is that more of our games will carry to the end of the second deck after we've played another half-dozen games or so.



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Sidenote 2 - For those that what a carddriven game with NO dice, see "The Eagle and the Star". Only played about a half a game but LOVED it!


Noted and wishlisted.
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