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Labyrinth: The Awakening, 2010 – ?» Forums » Reviews

Subject: [Roger's Reviews] Expanding Labyrinth - Too Soon? rss

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Labyrinth: The Awakening, 2010 - ?
An expansion for Labyrinth: The War on Terror, 2001 – ? designed by Trevor Bender


"We have the chance to show that America values the dignity of the street vendor in Tunisia more than the raw power of the dictator ... America must use all our influence to encourage reform in the region ... we need to speak honestly about the principles that we believe in, with friend and foe alike."
- President Barack Obama, May 19, 2011


Introduction
From my earliest awareness of events in the big wide world growing up, the Middle East has always been a place in conflict and turmoil. The reasons for this are many and complicated.

It's relatively easy to model a military conflict in the area, but much harder to do so on a political level, which is what Volko Ruhnke did in Labyrinth: The War on Terror, 2001 – ? which came out in 2010.

Tom Grant argued in his review that Labyrinth was flawed as a simulation, a view that I happen to agree with. In my own review, I stated in my concluding remarks that the game resolved in a way that did not ring true for me.

I mention this up front in the interests of being forthright and provide some context. My opinion aside, Labyrinth remains very popular, as witnessed by its recent third print run.

Fast forward to now. The situation on the ground has changed quite substantially. This expansion picks up in 2010 with the early seeds of the so-called Arab Spring and beyond.

Components
This expansion, as is common for GMT, comes in a ziploc bag and includes a combo rule and playbook. There are 7 full pages of designer notes about the research that went into the expansion. Before even taking the shrink wrap off the cards, I would strongly recommend reading them.

Image by Mark Evans (drmark64)

In addition to the rules, there are 120 event cards, 20 wooden cylinders, three double sided player aid cards, and a sheet of counters.

Rules and Game Play
The designer called this expansion a second chapter in the ongoing story started in Labyrinth. The expansion adds several new rules and concepts.

First, there's popular action, reflecting the actions of the people becoming more involved in their governance. We saw these events unfold during the so-called Arab Spring. There are some new icons introduced to the cards as well.

Second, there's civil war. These rules are added to reflect the descent into civil war that happened in Libya, Syria, Iraq, and Yemen. In the context of the game of course, this can happen to other countries too.

Third, there is a miscellany of minor tweaks to reflect the updated situation in the Middle East (and surrounding environs - Libya is in Africa after all).

The expansion comes with the following scenarios:
1. Awakening (2010) - following the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi in Tunisia, this scenario is about the triggering of the Arab Spring.

2. Mitt's Turn - An alternate history where Romney or McCain become president instead, modifying the Obama Doctrine card and pushing the US harder to the right in terms of foreign policy and the potential consequences.

3. Arab Spring - a more tailored approach to the first scenario where the draw deck is seeded in a more chronological fashion. If you want to play the game out in a manner more resembling how it actually happened, then this is the option for you. Actual results will vary, of course!

4. Status of Forces Agreement (2011) - December 18, 2011 saw the final withdrawal of US boots on the ground in Iraq. It asks the question - what will the US do?

5. Assad Alone (2012) - This two turn scenario examines the civil war in Syria and if the US player can get Syria into Good Governance they win, if the Jihadist player gets them into Islamic Rule they win, and all else is a draw. Art imitates life...

6. Islamic State of Iraq & the Levant (ISIL) (2014) - Call them ISIS, call them Daesh, call them what you will, there is no denying that the rise of this mercenary state has put the entire region into turmoil and caused tensions to rise globally. The list of international terrorist incidents linked to them is, in a word, alarming.

7. Campaign Game (2001-2015 - start post 9/11 as posited in the original game and link it up to this expansion.

Conclusions
Some years ago, I acquired the back issue of Strategy & Tactics with Berlin '85: The Enemy at the Gates, a game designed in 1980 during the Cold War. The copy I received included a copy of a variant called Operation STOSS based on a post-analysis published in the Nov-Dec 1994 issue of Armor magazine. Turns out the Warsaw Pact's actual capabilities were badly underestimated, and the NATO capabilities similarly overestimated.

In my title, I used the words "Too Soon?", and that is a valid question here. The situation in the Middle East and nearby region is still so very fluid, and it will take years possibly even decades (not to mention many academic papers and historical post-analysis) to decipher the how and why and what. We still don't know everything.

That said, the designer notes and the amount of research put in by the designer is solid and based on the best of what is currently known. If you're a fan of Labyrinth, you should feel confident that this will be a good purchase for you.


Thank you for reading this latest installment of Roger's Reviews. I've been an avid board gamer all my life and a wargamer for over thirty years. I have a strong preference for well designed games that allow players to focus on trying to make good decisions.

Among my favourites I include Twilight Struggle, the Combat Commander Series, the Musket & Pike Battle Series, Julius Caesar, Maria, EastFront, Here I Stand, Napoleon's Triumph, Unhappy King Charles!

You can subscribe to my reviews at this geeklist: [Roger's Reviews] The Complete Collection and I also encourage you to purchase this very stylish microbadge: mb
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Excellent write up.

What I really like here though is your consideration of when is the right time for a game to be released based around conflicts that in some cases haven't even fully played out yet.

I think that is a really interesting philosophical question and one that is generally not relevant to other genres within the wider gaming hobby.

And not only from an information/strategic viewpoint but also from an 'ethical viewpoint'.

Most historical games have some distance from the subject matter to the point that we are comfortable with a game being something of a simulation of the events in question.

Here though, I'm not so sure I feel 'comfortable' playing in a theater where people are still losing their lives.

This is not something I thought I would need to consider in this hobby. It's interesting to say the least.
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Ben Kyo
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I've been wondering about this game. My closest comparison is Twilight Struggle. I consider that to be very far removed from an accurate simulation, and initially it annoyed me with its American-centric view of events and how it seemed to portray ridiculous cold-war era thinking as being in some way "true". In the end I realised that it was in fact simulating a couple of mad old cold-war theorists playing out their fantasies - a simulation of a simulation - and it totally works if you accept that the "domino theory" and all it entails is real to the mad old theorists in question. The coffee stains on the map, and the explanations by the designers certainly helped in this regard. I absolutely adore Twilight Struggle, just to be totally clear on this.

I guess Labyrinth makes some sweeping assumptions about how the world works from a very particular viewpoint, but can those sweeping assumptions be accepted and resolved by assuming roles? If everything is through the lens of a western observer and interpreter of events, I guess you'd be a pair of right-wing war hawks? (just a guess, I know little to nothing about the game), and the two of you are playing out a scenario simulating terrorist threats? I think I'd be a lot less comfortable with that than with the cold war theorists, but it'd be hard to say without playing it.
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Benkyo wrote:

I guess Labyrinth makes some sweeping assumptions about how the world works from a very particular viewpoint, but can those sweeping assumptions be accepted and resolved by assuming roles? If everything is through the lens of a western observer and interpreter of events, I guess you'd be a pair of right-wing war hawks? (just a guess, I know little to nothing about the game), and the two of you are playing out a scenario simulating terrorist threats? I think I'd be a lot less comfortable with that than with the cold war theorists, but it'd be hard to say without playing it.


Aren't Labyrinth and Twilight Struggle perspectives? They offer arguments within a context rather than seeking an objective truth like the scientific method might. It feels like you are applying a layer to the role-playing or performance element of playing the game that I don't think is there.

I like the idea that games are cultural texts - but you could argue they are art when they generate such thoughtful and emotional responses.

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Alex Brown wrote:
Benkyo wrote:

I guess Labyrinth makes some sweeping assumptions about how the world works from a very particular viewpoint, but can those sweeping assumptions be accepted and resolved by assuming roles? If everything is through the lens of a western observer and interpreter of events, I guess you'd be a pair of right-wing war hawks? (just a guess, I know little to nothing about the game), and the two of you are playing out a scenario simulating terrorist threats? I think I'd be a lot less comfortable with that than with the cold war theorists, but it'd be hard to say without playing it.


Aren't Labyrinth and Twilight Struggle perspectives? They offer arguments within a context rather than seeking an objective truth like the scientific method might. It feels like you are applying a layer to the role-playing or performance element of playing the game that I don't think is there.

I like the idea that games are cultural texts - but you could argue they are art when they generate such thoughtful and emotional responses.

I don't know anything about Labyrinth, but yes, I broadly agree that Twilight Struggle is a "perspective". It is a perspective that I wasn't comfortable with on several levels, but since the designers pretty much spelled out that it is designed from the perspective of a cold-war theorist, I found I could play it without thinking that it made an "argument"* for that perspective, but merely presented one for us to play with. I like to think of myself as playing the role, you do not, but I'm not seeing any significant disagreement here.

EDIT:* I know you may not have meant argument in the way I use it here.
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To clarify a bit more:

For Twilight Struggle, the designers could model how cold war theorists thought, while acknowledging that they were essentially wrong, tie that to mechanics, and provide an interesting game to play.

Seems like that would be much harder to achieve with Labyrinth. If the designers made an earnest attempt to model everything as well as they could within the framework of a game, it could be very jarring to play if I disagreed strongly with some of their fundamental assumptions, and moreso if it is not even presented as an exercise played out in a side room of the Pentagon during a coffee break. I'm wondering what their approach was, and how successful people think it is.
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Benkyo wrote:
I'm wondering what their approach was, and how successful people think it is.

Given you haven't played Labyrinth, I suggest the review I referred to in my intro - Flawed simulation of a conflict that's difficult to simulate.

In my opinion, the COIN games that came after, especially A Distant Plain, were much better at compartmentalizing the players and their roles on the political level.
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Benkyo wrote:

For Twilight Struggle, the designers could model how cold war theorists thought, while acknowledging that they were essentially wrong, tie that to mechanics, and provide an interesting game to play.


Even more pervasively, the popularity of Twilight Struggle could be because it suits the popular characterisation given to Cold War decision-makers by a general Western audience. Perhaps Labyrinth is similar in generalising so far as to communicate to a general audience, whereas more informed or interested people will want a more nuanced argument or simulation.

And you're right - that's even before wanting an interesting game to play .
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leroy43 wrote:
Benkyo wrote:
I'm wondering what their approach was, and how successful people think it is.

Given you haven't played Labyrinth, I suggest the review I referred to in my intro - Flawed simulation of a conflict that's difficult to simulate.

In my opinions, the COIN games that came after, especially A Distant Plain, were much better at compartmentalizing the players and their roles on the political level.

Thanks. I should probably have read around more before typing anything. That lengthy critique does go some way to answering my questions, and it seems likely that Labyrinth is not the game I'm looking for. That was always my assumption, of course, but I am genuinely looking for mechanically similar games to TS that are also sufficiently different from TS that I don't sit there thinking "I'd rather be playing TS" all game!
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Ben,

Not everyone agrees with Tom's thread "flawed-simulation-conflict-s-difficult-simulate"
Joelist wrote:
I cannot say I agree with this review.

For one thing, it says next to nothing about the game itself - how it works and so forth.

For another, it is way too wound up in the author's political opinions concerning the game topic. In essence the author is giving the game a lower review because it does not comply with his political and policy opinions about the topic. This reminds me of a review of Victory Games Vietnam where the reviewer did the same thing, basing his evaluation of the game on his opinions about Vietnam instead of the game itself.

Also, there are statements in the review that suggest the game has either not been played by the reviewer or not played suffiently to fully understand the system. One prime example is the claim that the game inherently favors the use of the hard posture. It does not.

Both Hard and Soft postures have strengths and weaknesses. While Hard Posture is needed to execute Regime Change, it also usually is difficult to successfully perform War of Ideas on a consistent basis while in hard posture. This is because the mechanics for Posture Test favor causing Soft Posture, so the US winds up incurring a bad GWOT DRM if they stay in hard too long. Hard also permits some more aggressive cards to be used by the US but those cards are themselves triggers for Jihadist counterplays (like Leak for example). Repeated play has shown me (at least) that going "all hard" results in issues with GWOT and also low Prestige, and the result is War of Ideas goes nowhere.

Soft on the other hand will be much easier to execute War of Ideas from because in all likelihood the GWOT modifier is not in play and also Prestige is more difficult to reduce. On the other hand, Soft Posture (except in a few countries) gives the US player no means of handling ISLAMIST (NOT Islamic) Rule states, and they have to be handled. For one thing, Islamist Rule states are automatic recruit areas, so leaving them alone will result in cells breeding like flies.

I could go on, but the point is that both Hard and Soft have strengths and weaknesses. My thinking on the game to this point is that the US player has to be flexible in their "personal" posture. Sometimes Soft is needed and sometimes Hard. Don't be shy to do Reassessment depending on the game situation.


joel_m_toppen wrote:
Playing the game solitaire only will not give you a very good appreciation of the Jihadist end of the game as the Solitaire AI is necessarily limited. I encourage you to play it against a skilled opponent, then see what you think.

I appreciate your point of view here, but it's hard to take terribly serious when all you've done is play it solitaire.

-Joel


I have found it is a good game and IMO the choices, options and simulation are a reasonable portrayal of possible outcomes for alternative history. Especially considering the amount of abstraction required in any political simulation.

Consider that current events are viewed as successful by all sides Military , Political, Diplomatic and they always have data to prove it or disprove it. There is no answer and and facts are often a casualty to political persuasion and power politics. I can see the bias clearly on here.

Bear in mid that a US Presidential Candidate (Independent)whe asked about Alepo asked what is an Lepo.



I have played this game since the first edition was published and have seen game situations reflected in reality before and after their events.


Playing it on club night a few weeks ago were comments like "We used to play this a lot , a great game, only stopped when we were playing it and events in the game were actually happening on the news (Belgium) and it felt a bit uncomfortable. We will be playing it again though"

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leroy43 wrote:
Benkyo wrote:
I'm wondering what their approach was, and how successful people think it is.

Given you haven't played Labyrinth, I suggest the review I referred to in my intro - Flawed simulation of a conflict that's difficult to simulate.
The review you mention would not be the first one I'd recommend. It's very in depth and it's fair to say that with 14 pages of replies, the review is almost as controversial as the game itself. I'd recommend any of the other reviews, including your own, to get an opinion of the game.

(For my part, I'll quote my own response to the thread: "I'm not a smart man, but I know what a good game is." devil)

This was another good review, Roger. The question you ask "Too Soon?" is a fair one. I have punched the expansion but have not had opportunity to try it yet either FtF or with the new improved Bots.
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as someone living in Turkey and experiencing history (or carnage) in the making, I share your "too soon" comment. any card printed in the expansion may turn out to be otherwise in couple'o months in this middle east chaos. or the map will not be the same map anymore (ie ongoing Mosul siege and following Kurdish state... following Turko-Kurdish war...or Shia-sunni war...etc etc)
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Rodger, thank you for your review of the Labyrinth: Awakening expansion and your question on if the game may have been published “too soon”?

In some ways, I feel I designed it too late, meaning that the message of the Arab Spring street protests of DEC 2010 through JUL 2012 have largely been supplanted by the extreme violence that has followed. When I first approached Volko Ruhnke about using Labyrinth as a launching-point to tell the story of the Arab Spring, it was in the Fall of 2014. As I started designing the event deck, and creating the rules for Awakening, Reaction and Polarization to cover this movement, I realized the story would not be complete unless we included the events of the Civil Wars that followed. Subsequently, the political vacuums created by the Civil Wars lead to the expansion of ISIL and a wave of terrorism across Europe and elsewhere, and this story begged to be included in this expansion as well. These events are largely still playing out and may very well be for several more years now, thus the “?” at the end of the game title. So in a sense, as the expansion designer, I got sucked into the darker side of this conflict; the story that I was not intending to tell when I embarked on this project, but ignoring that side of the narrative would have resulted in an incomplete product if I left it out.

The question must be asked though, because these current events are playing out real time, should we ignore them as a gaming community? I really appreciate the comments that Alex made above about certain games generating a significant emotional response, and thus becoming a form of Art. I tried to craft the event deck and rules in the Awakening expansion to create an emotional response towards the topic covered. I knew there were longevity risks in designing a title that was based on current events, but I felt the story needed to be told, if even near real-time. No doubt there are controversial topics covered in the game expansion, as there are in listening to the news on a given day. But is not the purpose of us learning about these events and talking about them to give us as humanity a chance to understand them better and perhaps discuss potential, lasting solutions for those challenges we face?

For those who have yet to experience playing Labyrinth: Awakening, let me encourage you to do so. The art of the game expansion, if there is any, does not fully manifest itself until one is thrust into the situation where your game position is seemingly crumbling around you, and you need to dig deep into you knowledge of the game rules, the hand of cards before you, and previous experience to piece together a solution. Then after the game is over, you make comparisons to the real world and the dilemmas faced by leaders and nations today and wonder what can be done differently?

Trevor
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Trevor, for what it's worth I'm very happy to have this expansion (which has motivated me to re-visit the base game, something I'm enjoying more than ever).

See you next month at San Diego HistoriCon.
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trevorbender wrote:
The question must be asked though, because these current events are playing out real time, should we ignore them as a gaming community? I really appreciate the comments that Alex made above about certain games generating a significant emotional response, and thus becoming a form of Art.

I actually with you, and certainly speaking for myself, my favourite games do elicit emotional responses (Twilight Struggle is my favourite game for many reasons, and that is one of them).

I'll have a longer response later when I'm back from my afternoon's activities, but wanted to jump in with this quick remark and contribution to the ongoing discussion.
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