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

Subject: The Next Level In Political Card-Driven Games rss

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Jesse Dean
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For the sake of disclosure, I would like to note that I playtested the game a little bit at the tail end of the playtesting process.
Labyrinth: The War on Terror, GMT’s latest card-driven game by Volko Ruhnke, allows players to fight out the conflict between the United States and extremist Islam, with one player taking the role of the United States and the other playing the side of the Islamic extremists. The game has multiple play options, with both solo and two player rules available, the ability to play one, two, or three decks, and several scenario options.

I am not a typical war gamer, in that I am mostly interested in the political conflict between powers more than the actual battles themselves. That is why my favorite war games tend to be ones like Hannibal, Successors, and Twilight Struggle where the political aspects of the game are most important, and the battles, if any, are mere extensions of this political conflict. Labyrinth is very much in this same vein, with the ultimate goal of this game not a military victory, the United States is assumed to be able to win any sort of conventional military conflict, but winning the hearts and minds of the Muslim people of Northern Africa, the Middle East, and Southern Asia.

What separates Labyrinth from the more battle-focused Hannibal and Successors, and even the more influence-focused Twilight Struggle, is the asymmetry of the forces represented. While different sides have slightly different advantages and capabilities in those games, Labyrinth presents truly asymmetrical sides. What they are trying to accomplish, how they can spend their operations points, and even what they need to accomplish to win. I appreciate this greatly, as it seems that there are very few games where different players have truly asymmetrical positions, instead most games simply have players given slightly different special abilities and identical goals.

Mechanics
The major battleground in Labyrinth: The War on Terror is the governance of Muslim countries throughout the world. Each of these countries is represented primarily in two alterable dimensions, Governance and Stance towards the US, one mostly static dimension, resources, and a number of modifying factors that influence how that country relate to certain cards. Non-Muslim countries also matter, and each one of these has a posture on the War on Terror, either Hard or Soft. The postures of these non-Muslim nations in comparison to the US influences its ability to influence Muslim nations with War of Ideas rolls. Iran exists as a special case that is not able to be influenced by the US but can serve as a wild-card against or in favor of the Jihadists.



The US’s posture is also set to either Hard or Soft, with the initial posture based on the selected scenario, and changes possible through either card play or US action. This stance affects both the US player’s capabilities as well as the effects of certain cards; the US player is able to more effectively influence non-Muslim country’s posture if they are Soft and is only able to launch a Regime Change if they are Hard. Additionally, at the end of a turn if the US’s stance is not in line with that of the rest of the world, the US loses prestige, which also affects its ability to influence the governance of Muslim nations.

On any given turn, a series of action phases are played, where each player, starting with the Jihadist player, uses two cards from their hand, the US player follows and does the same and play continues until both player’s have played all of their cards or the US player has 1 card in hand. If that is the case, than that player may choose to play it, hold it for the next round, or discard it. Then a new turn begins.

The amount of cards that a player draws at the start of a turn depends on their resources. For the United States, resources depend on how many troops are deployed. As more troops are sent into various countries, they receive fewer cards for play. The Jihadists instead rely on funding to determine how many cards they can draw per turn. Jihadist funding automatically declines every turn, and they need to either launch plots or play funding enhancement cards in order to keep their ability to draw cards high.

So what do you do with these cards? Well, the answer to that question depends on whether you are the Jihadist player or you are the US player. Both players have the option to play cards into their reserves, which essentially improves the operations value of a later card. Beyond that, the options are rather different.

If you are the Jihadist player, your operations attempts all require you to roll dice, with one die being rolled for every operation value of the card. The difficulty depends on the governance of the country, with better governance decreasing the odds of success. With the exception of Recruit, all of these actions require the presence of cells in the country.

1) Recruit – You recruit new sleeper cells in a country.
2) Travel – You move cells to another country; adjacent countries do not require a roll, failed rolls eliminate the cells.
3) Jihad – Targets Governance in the country, with the possible effects depending on the troop: cell ratio in the country. Normally each successful roll reduces the Governance in the country by 1 level. If Governance is already poor and the number of cells exceed the number of troops by 5, then two successes on a roll reduce Governance from poor to Islamist Rule.
4) Plot – leaves a plot token on a location, the US player must remove the token or one of several bad effects can occur. Regardless of where it is, funding is immediately increased; If in a non-Muslim country it effects the country’s posture; If in a Muslim country it effects its Governance; If the country has troops, the US loses prestige; If it is a WMD plot in the US, then the Jihadist player wins immediately.

If you are the US player your operations attempts require the use of a card with required values being inversely proportional to the value of the country’s Governance, with good Governance countries only requiring a 1 card and poor Governance countries requiring a 3. The US player has the following options:

1) War of Ideas – Improve the Governance of a Muslim nation or alter the posture of a non-Muslim nation, with difficulty based on the US’s current posture (for non-Muslim nations) or based on the target Governance level (for Muslim nations);
2) Deploy – Moves troops either from existing countries or from the US’s Troops box into an allied country or from either of those locations back into the Troop box; If the US is Hard it can send 5 Troops into a Jihadist country in order to launch a Regime Change; this shifts the country to a Poor Ally, and sets up a number of conditions that indicate this country is currently undergoing a Regime Change
3) Disrupt – Makes active one or two sleeper cells, or eliminates one or two active cells based on the characteristics of the target country
4) Alert – Allows the US player to remove plot markers
5) Reassessment – Allows the US player to change its posture

The interplay between these two set of action options as each player pursues their particular win condition, and the cards that influence them are what makes the game.

There are multiple plays to win for each player. For the Jihadists, having 6 resources under Islamist Rule provides an instant victory, as does having 15 countries under Poor or Islamist rule while the US has 1 prestige, or successfully launching a WMD Plot in the US. The US can win instantly if it gets 12 resources under good Governance, 15 countries have good or fair Governance, or if it eliminates all cells from the board. Additionally, if no one has won by the time a deck has run out, then the US player wins if more than twice as many resources are under good Governance as are under Islamist Rule.

The Cards

Like Twilight Struggle, the cards in Labyrinth: The War on Terror have big, game-changing effects that players must learn how to mitigate or play around in order to succeed. On an individual level, these cards aren’t any more complicated than the ones you will find in Twilight Struggle, but because Labyrinth is more strategically complex than Twilight Struggle they affect a greater number of different strategic dimensions.



Some of my favorite cards are a handful representing major Jihadists. Each one of them has two effects: if played by the Jihadist player, it represents that particular Jihadists influence; if played by the US player it represents their capture, with each effect being reasonably powerful and rather flavorful.

Like Twilight Struggle, Labyrinth: The War on Terror card events activate if they contain an event of an opposing player. For the Jihadist player, this can be ignored one per round by using a card for the Plots action. The US player can only ignore this by using the optional discard rule if they are down to one card at the end of the turn.

The Solo Game

The designer and developer spent a lot of time working to make the game’s “AI” works well, resulting in a tense and exciting solo game, that exceeds that found in any other game that I have played. I am not usually one who likes to play games solo, but the solo game for Labyrinth is good enough that I will probably get quite a few plays out of it before I get tired of it.

Analysis and Opinion
I think that GMT has done an excellent job of realizing the possibilities inherent in this design. They kept some of the best tension-inducing ideas of Twilight Struggle, combined them with a very topical and relevant theme, and added on a number of new innovations that allow this to serve as a worthy next level game for Twilight Struggle fans that are looking for something a little bit more complex and in-depth.

The game is incredibly, incredibly tense. Each move feels vitally important for both the US and Jihadist player and a feeling of impending doom hangs over each and every combination of actions as you see your best-laid plans crumble in the face of a clever stratagem from your opponent. In fact, with all of the different dimensions to manage, I find it even more tense then Twilight Struggle, particularly if I am playing the US and the Jihadists get a hold of a WMD or if I am the Jihadists and I see Muslim countries start to achieve good Governance one by one…

While the game is very tense and captivating, there are a few things that fans of Twilight Struggle may find to be inferior about this game. One of the things that I enjoyed most about Twilight Struggle is that a great deal of the game was not just about hand management, but also deck management. Using your opponent’s one times events, so that they would have one less safe card after a reshuffle, or preserving your own for the opposite reason were interesting decisions that you will not have in Labyrinth unless you are playing a much longer multi-deck game. Additionally, there is a lot more dice-rolling in Labyrinth then there is in Twilight Struggle, and while it does not bother me overly much, those whom found the amount of dice in Twilight Struggle to already be bothersome should probably avoid this game. Third, as noted previously, Labyrinth is rather strategically complex. The rules are not particularly burdensome (16 pages for the single player game), the game itself is strategically complex. If games like Twilight Struggle and Through the Ages are already at the outer ends of your difficulty then Labyrinth will probably be too much.

If none of those items are a problem for you, and you do not mind the theme, then I can’t recommend this game more. It was one of my most anticipated games of 2010 and it has failed to disappoint me. It is a fun, challenging game that I expect to be playing for years to come.
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Ricky Gray
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Brilliantly done, Jesse. Thumbs way up!

Quote:
2) Travel: You move sleeper cells to another country; adjacent countries do not require a roll, failed rolls eliminate the cells.


Actually, they can be Sleeper or Active. If Active, they will become Sleeper after traveling.

Ricky
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Jesse Dean
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Ah, yeah, missed that. (I got it right when I played! blush) Let me fix it.
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Mike Owens
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Well done, well done!

Which side has the steeper learning curve? I would expect the Jihadists, partly because the Solitaire game gives players more "reps" as the US player. Is that the case?
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Jesse Dean
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Actually, I think the US has a steeper learning curve.

This is mostly becuase they have more dimensions to manage then the Jihadists do in order to advance their position. They need to decide when to switch between Hard and Soft postures, have to manage world opinion in their favor, need to keep track of prestige, and also need to make sure that the Jihadists do not grab any WMDs and sneak them into the US.

The Jihadists mostly just have to worry about funding, and keeping the US off-balance.

I think the solo game will be a good training exercise for the US, but in some ways they need it.
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Wade Broadhead
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I trust your reviews of CDGs. My friend has this one on order and we will be giving it a go as soon as it arrives. You know me I wouldn't want to play a CDG with any complexity
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davide pessach
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Damn...I'm so looking forward to this...
I will play solo on Wigdor software till me box arrives
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Will Mellor
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Sounds very interesting. Good to see a solo option too incase no players can be found.
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Charles F.
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I second the view that the US learning curve is greater. And my present hunch is that the game has a slight Jihadist bent, albeit not the the extent that it ought to hurt anyone's enjoyment of the game.

Complexity... Easily learnt game. The rules are not difficult to internalise and the playaids serve as excellent reference material. It's only just slightly more complex than TS. Anyone who plays TS, will find LAB within his complexity-budget, I believe.

Dice... TS has exceptionally little dice-rolling by wargame standards. And LAB isn't particularly dice-intensive, albeit a step up from TS. And the US doesn't roll any dice, other than for Regime Change and the odd card event.

I'd be rather astonished if anyone were to fault LAB for the quite moderate dice-rolling involved. Besides, how much dice-rolling goes on a game hardly makes for a valid criterion to assess a game's quality (as opposed to individual preference).
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John Echeverria
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While much of the dice rolling is fairly inconsequential(cell traveling and recruitment come to mind), I am concerned about the swinginess of US prestige rolls and Jihadist plot rolls. The prestige rolls are particularly troublesome because (correct me if I'm wrong) the US player can't influence the result. A regime change can be awesome or horrible for US prestige depending solely on the roll of some dice (though the effect is moderated to an extent by taking the lower Result of two dice).
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Volko Ruhnke
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If you mean by "can't influence the result" that the US side can't work to raise Presige, that's incorrect. The US side can put a priority on raising Prestige via diplomacy (War of Ideas in non-Muslim countries), military action (Disrupt with Troops), and several events.

It is correct that Regime Change operations are iffy affairs, by the game's design. When to risk them and when not is a big decision point for the US side.

- vfr
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UA Darth
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Dice rolling.. blech...
 
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Wendell
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shadow9d9 wrote:
Dice rolling.. blech...


So how would YOU handle it?
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D L
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wifwendell wrote:
shadow9d9 wrote:
Dice rolling.. blech...


So how would YOU handle it?

Rock, paper, scissors? Just kidding.
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Adrian Hague
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wifwendell wrote:
shadow9d9 wrote:
Dice rolling.. blech...


So how would YOU handle it?


Deck of cards containing an even distribution of die roll outcomes.

That way the distribution curve of results is maintained within games (as opposed to across games, as is the case with dice).
 
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Wendell
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AdrianPHague wrote:
wifwendell wrote:
shadow9d9 wrote:
Dice rolling.. blech...


So how would YOU handle it?


Deck of cards containing an even distribution of die roll outcomes.

That way the distribution curve of results is maintained within games (as opposed to across games, as is the case with dice).


And the farther into the deck you get, the greater you can predict the likely outcome of the next combat. How is that better?

"General, we drew '1' on each of the last 3 combats, so we know that the next result will be better because there are only three '1's in the deck. Attack!"
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Mike Owens
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I seem to remember a chit pool with all possible 2D6 outcomes was an optional rule used in Breakout Normandy (in fact, it was used during the Series Replay in the General).

If you wanted to, you could make your own pool and draw from it instead of using dice -- maybe using dominoes, blank chits, or slips of paper.
 
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Jesse Dean
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wifwendell wrote:

And the farther into the deck you get, the greater you can predict the likely outcome of the next combat. How is that better?

"General, we drew '1' on each of the last 3 combats, so we know that the next result will be better because there are only three '1's in the deck. Attack!"



It depends on what your goal is for the game. If you want greater thematic realism, than it is probably worse. I can think of plenty of situations where it would be better though.
 
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