When I first got into boardgames, I remembered seeing this game near the top of the charts, behind Puerto Rico and Agricola. But it was a two-player game with a theme that didn’t seem too interesting, so I passed it over. Then it hit #1 on BGG and remained there for almost five years before being replaced by Pandemic: Legacy. Well about a year into its run at the top, I decided that I needed to see what the fuss was all about. I ended up playing this multiple times over a couple nights, eventually with the correct rules, and walked away amazed. This has been my #1 game ever since and it will take a special game to bump it from that spot.
One player takes control of the United States while the other plays as the USSR. The winner is the player who either has the most victory points at the end of the game, reaches 20 victory points first, avoids nuclear war, or meets the objectives on certain cards. Gameplay is driven by cards - each player is given a hand at the start of ten rounds and will take turns playing these cards. Cards can be either a scoring event, a neutral event, or a US or USSR event.
The game is played on a map of world with each player trying to influence the most countries to gain victory points when the scoring events are played. As for the non-scoring events, you can play them either for the Operations points, which allow you to modify influence, or for the event. If it is your own country’s event or a neutral event, it is usually beneficial to you. However, if you have your opponent’s event, you probably are going to want to play it for the Operations points, but the kicker is that you need to still play the event, which will likely affect you negatively. Because you generally must play every card in your hand eventually, the key becomes hand management and figuring out when to play negative events so that they have minimal impact.
This stress-inducing gameplay of making hard decisions and worst decisions seems to resonate with my inner gamer. However, not only is the gameplay fantastic but the game oozes theme. The card deck is split into “Early”, “Mid”, and “Late” War, with the latter decks being added to the former in later rounds. If you have a basic understanding of the Cold War, you will appreciate how much focus there is on Europe early on, but as war progresses, the different cards will start making you focus on different areas around the world. You will need to manage putting out fires worldwide so that you can keep the victory point race close with keeping an eye on Europe and the other large scoring areas. Trying to contain or spread communism feels very thematic and if you are not a history buff, this game may even teach you a few things.
The fact that it is a two-player game is both a blessing and a curse. On the negative side, it limits the number of plays that I get in because when I do have time to play boardgames, I tend to play with larger groups which means that this game isn’t an option. However, I now tend to find the gameplay of two-player games much tighter because of this limitation and in this particular case, the storyline of the Cold War shines through and progresses organically. With the new app release and the metagame that arises from becoming more familiar with the different events, this game has stayed fresh at the top of the heap and likely will continue to do so for some time.
I just thought it would be fun to start reviewing boardgames to keep me in the loop since I don't get to play them as much as I would like.
See my Top 50 here:
See my Top 50 want to play games here: