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Labyrinth: The War on Terror, 2001 – ?» Forums » Reviews

Subject: Labyrinth: Gaming the 'Global War on Terror' rss

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What is Labyrinth?

Labyrinth allows the player (in solitaire mode), or players (two player mode) to re-play/simulate/’game’ the Global War on Terror. It is a card-driven game (the style Mark Herman crafted in 1994 with We the People) that most resembles Twilight Struggle (TS), 1989, and even 1960: The Making of the President. But Labyrinth brings a range of new considerations to the table to stand out a little from those three and bring a refreshing new edge to the card-driven mechanics, as outlined below.



The game focuses primarily upon the Middle East, and this is where most of the action is, but the map also covers northern Africa, Europe, the USA, and central to southern Asia, as you can see below on the map:



The enjoyment of the game comes from the tension between the USA (and allies) and the jihadists as they vie for political influence over the nations depicted on the map. At first glance this seems a lot like Twilight Struggle, in practice it plays out entirely different. The struggle for influence over the nations is one of both Alignment and Governance. Alignment is similar to ‘Control’ in TS, the USA wants nations to be an ‘Ally’, the jihadists want nations to be an ‘Adversary’ (of the USA), and there is also a ‘Neutral’ mid position. However, whilst this is an important part of game play, it is not the focus of your efforts, as it is in TS; it is only one part of the process.

For in addition to Alignment, nations also have a degree of Governance quality, ranging from Islamist Rule, to Poor, through Fair, and up to Good. Islamist Rule favours the jihadist player, Good Governance favours the US player. The nature of Governance effectively reflects how ‘easy’ or ‘difficult’ it is for the players to work cooperatively with those nations. The US can easily work with ‘Good’ governed nations, but it is hard to work with Poor governed nations. Conversely the jihadist works well with Islamist Rule nations, and it’s difficult to operate within Good governed nations...in a nutshell. The image below shows some images of the prototype game. You can see in the foreground Gulf States, Pakistan and Afghanistan are all Allies (the Governance token is in the left of the three boxes, above Ally). Gulf States and Pakistan have Fair governance (favouring the USA, but not entirely), whilst Afghanistan has Poor governance. The orange cubes represent troops, which assist the USA in conducting operations such as breaking up cells (in addition to other activities), and the black cylinders are terrorist cells, which assist the jihadist in setting up plots and conducting jihad (in addition to other activities).


Note: this image is only of the prototype, final version is shown in other images

The combination of Alignment and Governance affects a range of issues, like deploying troops (a US action), moving terrorist cells (a jihadist action), and others. But this is quite extensive and I won’t go into detail here. Suffice to say that much of the game revolves around trying to influence these two factors within various nation with the objective of securing the most ‘Resource Rich’ nations. For example, Sudan and Somalia have a resource value of 1, whilst Iraq has a resource value of 3. So controlling Iraq is, generally, more ‘valuable’ than Sudan and Somalia combined (but there are some exceptions to this as there are different ways to win).


How does it feel in general?

Like other card-driven games (CDGs), you have a wide range of options open to you. The USA and jihadist player each has different options available, so there is a big difference in playing each side. The jihadist player is trying to establish plots and create mayhem, the USA player is trying to counter this and establish Good Governance. Typical of CDGs, there is often a lot of back and forth and ‘chasing’ your opponents actions. That is, when one player becomes pro-active in an area, the opponent will often follow and try to minimise the damage or try to reverse the situation. Most of the attention, in the games I’ve played, focus around the Middle East, as this is where the ‘Resource Rich’ nations are, and thus where the game can easily be won or lost.

For both players, the game is a struggle to manage your hand of cards, achieve maximum benefit from your good cards (those with events that help you), whilst minimising the damage caused by your bad cards (those with events that help your opponent). This can be said of many CDGs, particularly TS, 1989, and 1960. But whereas in those games the primary ‘factor’ being managed is ‘Control’ of an area, in Labyrinth players must manage other issues also. The USA must manage their Prestige (how the world sees them), their Posture (Hard or Soft, how they approach the war), the Posture of other nations around the world, and their military forces (if they overstretch, they get less cards per turn, making it harder to conduct the war). The jihadists must similarly manage their funding, whilst trying to damage the US’s war efforts. So the ‘struggle’ between the two players takes place on a number of different and interconnected levels. This sounds complex, as there are a lot of different factors that affect each other, but one gets the hang of it quite easily and gameplay is fairly smooth.

The other factor is the dice rolling. There’s a lot more dice rolling than in TS, 1989, and 1960. As such, there are potentially a lot more frustrations when you get shocking rolls. Now, as there are more dice, you may figure that the luck will ‘even out’ – sure, this is the case. Unfortunately, some dice rolls are far more significant than others. For example, if you’re rolling for a Major Jihad in Iraq in the hope of converting the government to Islamist Rule and thus win the game, those 2-3 dice you roll could potentially win the game for you. If you fail, however, you lose some cells in Iraq and it could set your plans way back. This factor is going to be frustrating for some, and I anticipate it will even turn some off the game after a few plays.




What is the appeal?

The main appeal is the typical CDG tension between two players, the struggle to maximise damage against your opponent whilst minimising the damage your opponent is trying to inflict on you (or inflicted by bad cards in your hand); the struggle over control of nations (similar to TS); but added to this is the complexity of maintaining Prestige, Funding, Troops, Cells, and a range of other ‘factors’ and resources throughout the game. In this sense, these added elements may add something extra to those who like TS, 1989, and 1960, without adding too much difficulty.

In terms of difficulty, I would rate it the same as, if not perhaps a slight step above TS and 1989. It is more difficult than 1960. It is not quite at the same level of difficulty as other complex CDGs like Hannibal: Rome vs Carthage, Paths of Glory, or We the People. The extra factors/‘resources’ that you need to manage may get in the way of those erring on the lighter side of TS. If you were in any way troubled by the relative difficulty of TS, then you may want to stay away from Labyrinth.

It should appeal to many wargamers (particularly CDG fans), and if you love TS, then I imagine you should like the mechanics and basic gameplay of Labyrinth. It could even appeal to Eurogamers, much as TS does.

The main drawback in having the broad appeal of TS may be the theme. It does feel very 'evil' moving terrorist cells around and establishing plots in nations, and I imagine many may be uncomfortable with this.




What decisions do you make?

As with most CDGs, there are a range of options open to each player and this is best covered by the rulebook; the rulebook provides 1-2 pages on the USA actions, and 1-2 pages on the jihadist actions. On my first game I had the jihadist pages open and found it very easy to follow and understand what I could do; from then on I only refer back occasionally for a quick reference. An interesting feature of Labyrinth, as I’ve noted, is that the USA player and the jihadist player have two entirely different sets of actions to select from, creating different gaming experiences.




Practicalities of playing

The game is well designed to facilitate different gaming situations. So you can play one of several different scenarios (basically starting at different stages of the GWOT), and play for different lengths of time (basically, 1, 2 or 3 runs through the common deck). So, if you just want a short game, play with only 1 run through the deck of 120 cards. If you want the full, detailed campaign, run through the deck three times.

There are less nations on the map compared with TS, but there are more tables/charts/tracks to manage. These all work well together to make playing the game, understanding the game, and managing game resources/factors/VPs quite clear and easy. There is some ‘game maintenance’ involved, slightly more than TS, but this may be part of the ‘deeper theme’ appeal for some.


Conclusion

The closest comparison to Labyrinth is TS; there are many similar features, but in practice the two games play very differently, have different mechanics, and have different ‘end-game’ conditions. If you like TS and don’t find it too difficult, than you should enjoy Labyrinth. I think the only thing holding back TS players from liking Labyrinth is the theme, I don’t expect the extra factors/resources to deter many, indeed, I think these extra factors/resources may even be a key lure in bringing TS players into the game in search of more ‘theme’ (if they can get past the nature of this theme).

CDG fans can consider this another quality game in the CDG-collection. It is definitely worth getting and ranks in gameplay/tension quite close to TS. There are no ‘scoring cards’ as in TS, so the tension of not knowing if your opponent is about to play ‘Asia Scoring’ and score a heap of VPs is removed, but I don’t feel this removes too much from the game.

In short, the game is high quality and the theme is deep - but also potentially disturbing. The war continues, people are dying in their thousands, and yet here we are 'gaming' the situation. I'll, respectfully, leave that discussion for elsewhere.

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Played LAB at WAM http://www.wamconvention.com/ this year (Jan 2010) with the designer and a bunch of the real CDW (card driven wargame) sharks. Big thumbs up from that crew and myself. Hats off to Volko for tackling this very topical theme/subject and providing us with an integrated and sophisticated political/military strategic level game; a very difficult game design challenge.

Can't wait to get my copy this week
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Amnese wrote:
In short, the game is high quality and the theme is deep - but also potentially disturbing. The war continues, people are dying in their thousands, and yet here we are 'gaming' the situation. I'll, respectfully, leave that discussion for elsewhere.


Yes, let's leave this discussion elsewhere. It would be a shame if this review gets moved to RSP. Just sayin'.
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Good job Nathan on the review. My concern is the possiblity for new cards in the future.
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sherron wrote:
Good job Nathan on the review. My concern is the possiblity for new cards in the future.
Expansions!
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Dodya wrote:
Amnese wrote:
In short, the game is high quality and the theme is deep - but also potentially disturbing. The war continues, people are dying in their thousands, and yet here we are 'gaming' the situation. I'll, respectfully, leave that discussion for elsewhere.


Yes, let's leave this discussion elsewhere. It would be a shame if this review gets moved to RSP. Just sayin'.


Is there a discussion of this issue elsewhere? I tried to find something on RSP but that forum does not seem to be searchable.
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Hobbes wrote:
Is there a discussion of this issue elsewhere? I tried to find something on RSP but that forum does not seem to be searchable.

Perhaps you'd like to start one?
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Dodya wrote:
Hobbes wrote:
Is there a discussion of this issue elsewhere? I tried to find something on RSP but that forum does not seem to be searchable.

Perhaps you'd like to start one?


Not if there's already one going. Thought I'd check first.
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How does the solo play differ from the 2 player version?
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Hobbes wrote:
Dodya wrote:
Hobbes wrote:
Is there a discussion of this issue elsewhere? I tried to find something on RSP but that forum does not seem to be searchable.

Perhaps you'd like to start one?


Not if there's already one going. Thought I'd check first.

Might not be exactly what you're looking for, but these are close:

N/A

and

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/image/826302/labyrinth-the-war-...
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nedpatrick wrote:
How does the solo play differ from the 2 player version?



It's much lonelier, for a start...


I should clarify I haven't played the solitaire version yet, but the rules are only slightly different. There's a 2 page 'extra section' on how to play the solitaire game. You play as the USA, and basically there are 'flow charts' to follow to determine what the jihadist player does (ie: Event or Ops, where to place stuff, etc).

It all sounds quite good (the charts direct you to the option/area in the best interests of your 'opponent'), but, again, I speak with no experience of playing it.
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Matt Olson
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Excellent review Nathan.
I too am interested in the solo game, so if anyone can chime in, it'd be much appreciated.
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Amnese wrote:
So, if you just want a short game, play with only 1 run through the deck of 120 cards. If you want the full, detailed campaign, run through the deck three times.


How much does the game last with only with only 1 run?
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I played the solo game several times during playtesting, with a copy very close the final version. It stands on its own very well, and made purchasing the game a no-brainer for me. You play as the US, and there is a flow chart that determines what the Jihadist side will do with its cards. Another nice thing is that there is an excellent solo Vassal module for the game on the GMT website, so you can play it very easily with a computer and the game-provided play aids.

My copy hasn't arrived yet, but when it does I plan to take the solo game out for some more spins.

These are great times for solitaire wargamers. I'm now finishing up a very enjoyable play of Operation Jubilee, the solo game on Dieppe in the latest issue of S&T.
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Looks like a fantastsic game. Thanks for the review.

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Great review! I am of the mind that I am not sure if I want to tackle this touchy subject at this time. It looks like a fun game though.
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kalevi1999 wrote:
Amnese wrote:
So, if you just want a short game, play with only 1 run through the deck of 120 cards. If you want the full, detailed campaign, run through the deck three times.

How much does the game last with only with only 1 run?

I've heard one run through the deck lasts about 1.5 to 2 hours, or faster if you are experienced with the game. With each turn being 14 to 18 cards, I think one run through the deck would be about 7-9 turns.
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Amnese wrote:
What is Labyrinth?

The war continues, people are dying in their thousands, and yet here we are 'gaming' the situation. I'll, respectfully, leave that discussion for elsewhere.



My father's parents suffered the Spanish Civil War, they where teenagers and they saw the atrocity of war. They saw neighbours being executed only for his political affinity.

My mother's father was a German prisioner of WWII, the russians destroyed him as a person in a concentration camp and when he finally got free he committed suicide due his post traumatic syndrome.

Does I have to get angry about seeing people playing CC:E or The Spanish Civil War? They are only boardgames, don't take it personal.
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"Does I have to get angry about seeing people playing CC:E or The Spanish Civil War? They are only boardgames, don't take it personal."

Good point. I would guess that many wargamers have personal connections to the conflicts they "game".

I've always thought that people that say some historical conflict subjects are too touchy are clueless. Watch Schindler's List sometime. Does that mean we condone the death camps? Or read a book on the subject; does mean we condone it? Or stop my an art gallery and view some pictures on a rather wide range of historically distrubing subjects.

Wargames are simply another way to express and access content. In some cases they are more engaging than movies/books/pictures/etc - in some cases not. I think most wargamers play wargamers since the subject interests them - and they dig the interaction with another person exploring the subject.

Part of the "issue" is what "game" means. Most people think game, and they think some mindless fun. That's not what most wargamers probably think; engaging fun and learning via pushing counters. The fun comes from the good natured competition. The learning from the insight that a good designer can imprint in their design on the player.

Anyways, if you avoid this wargame due to the subject being "too touchy", you are probably not someone most wargamers would want to push counters around with anyways. Stick to Chutes and Ladders and other harmless tripe. arrrh

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Herr Dr wrote:
I've always thought that people that say some historical conflict subjects are too touchy are clueless. Watch Schindler's List sometime. Does that mean we condone the death camps? Or read a book on the subject; does mean we condone it? Wargames are simply another way to express content. In some cases they are more engaging than movies/books/etc - in some cases not. I think most wargamers play wargamers since the subject interests them - and they dig the interaction with another person exploring the subject.

Part of the "issue" is what "game" means. Most people think game, and they think some mindless fun. That's not what most wargamers probably think; engaging fun and learning. The fun comes from the good natured competition. The learning from the insight that a good designer can imprint in their design.

Anyways, if you avoid this wargame due to the subject being "too touchy", you are probably not someone most wargamers would want to push counters around with anyways. Stick to Chutes and Ladders and other harmless tripe. arrrh


I think that's a bit unfair. Personally, I don't mind playing games set in WWII, but would not enjoy playing a game where my goal was to operate death camps. My apprehension about Labyrinth is that I'm not sure I would enjoy a game where one player's goal is to target civilians. A solo game opposing that would be fine, but having one player's goal be to promote terrorism is not going to be within everyone's comfort zone (which doesn't mean they only play tripe).

That said, I'm reading this thread because I expect the game to be an interesting design generally and am curious about whether the "touchiness" issue would be a problem for me. The discussion of the solo play option is promising.

Cheers.
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Keith Layton
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One could make the argument that the Air War conducted by the Allies against Germany from 1943-1945 targeted civilians, particularly the British missions. Does that mean you would have trouble playing an air war game against Nazi Germany as the Allies? Another example - During the American Civil War, Sherman's March to the Sea during 1864 sure as heck targeted civilians. Would it trouble you to play the Union in such a scenario in an American Civil War game?

I understand your point about not playing a game where you operate death camps. However, I think it would be difficult to find a game where there is a clear cut drawing of distinctions between the targeting of civilians and soldiers, especially any game based on wars of the 20th or 21st centuries. Heck, what about the Thirty Years' War, a war that definitely involved the targeting of civilians? Are any games based on this war out of bounds based on that thinking?

I'm not trying to pique you. I'm honestly looking to engage you in a thought provoking discussion of the matter.

Keith
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I can't think of a historical conflict that doesn't involve targeting civilians; of course, some more extreme than others. Many sides have went with a Roman via Carthage or Allies vs Germany WWII approach; make a desert and call it peace vs the approach the USA has taken in the war vs "the evil doers" (not turn the places into parking lots, but, rather, implant "Jeffersonian democracies"). Will be interesting to see what constitutes "victory" in LAB.

Regarding a game about death camps, I'm sure one probably exists, but, I've never met anyone - or heard of anyone - that has suggested to play a game of it - not sure what the insight would be other than what has been delivered via the silver screen, books, etc.

Something about a wargame that delivers unique insights into the nature of the conflict between the participants. If the war on civilians was important to deciding the matter at hand, it probably should be modeled somehow. In a number of integrated military/political games it is via strategic will. I'll be interested in seeing how it is modeled in LAB.

In the end, it all depends upon on how the designer approaches the subject. My point is its not the theme (of course, there are extremes), but da approach the designer takes to it. On that account, I've got high hopes for LAB.
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Just to be clear, in my earlier post I didn't mean to imply any kind of equivalence between Labyrinth and a game themed around death camps.

The death camp remark was just a hyperbolic example that I raised in response to Herr Doktor's suggestion (which might have been tongue in cheek, I don't know how to read a pirate emoticon) that a person who is uncomfortable with a game featuring atrocities as a play element should stick with chutes and ladders.

I'm actually quite interested in Labyrinth and will be following the reviews closely. Sorry if I derailed discussion of the game.
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Not at all.

Gene Billingsley in part requested a solitaire game for the US side because he wanted to provide an option for players who were not comfortable playing terrorists.

As I've noted elsewhere, my father (I feel) was targeted as a civilian (bombed in Dresden as a refugee there from the east during WWII). But I play WWII games.

My previous design, WILDERNESS WAR, involves targeting civilians as a strategic option (via a Raid mechanic that scores victory points). No one has ever complained about that part of the design (as opposed to its minimalist representation of the anti-civilian actions in Acadia).

But I understand the distinction between gaming a past conflict that is resolved and one that is still underway and costing lives today. Like Gene did when he first proposed the topic, I knew that the latter would not appeal to everyone. Shying away as a player from certain topics that do not appeal is a reasonable reaction.

Much of the enjoyment that I get from games is from learning via a model of something. I also design training games for professional analysts, so I'm particularly interested in topics of current consequence. For me personally, gaming something that is still underway is therefore just that much more interesting. I believe that that is true for some others, but not for all.

Regards, vfr
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Volko wrote:
Shying away as a player from certain topics that do not appeal is a reasonable reaction.


Quite.

For me, the analytical character of boardgames makes for sufficient distance to the horrors inherent in war. The same would not be true for a computer game that'd have me say go on a killing spree against unarmed folk. That'd be sick.

But placing a WMD chit somewhere on a map doesn't provoke similar scruples, at least for me.
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