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18 Days Left
A shiny new box of Cuban Missile Crisis arrived the other day, so we unpacked it and set it up for a couple of plays.
This is a very compact, no-frills game that conveys the theme and tension of the historical event it represents very nicely. The box is medium-small - not quite a pure card game, but with a small folding board that keeps it from being a full-size boardgame package.
I would almost call the graphics "minimalist," but I mean that in a good way, as you can see that there is not much to distract you from the essential game info. There is a small board with a few key battleground areas, DEFCON tracks, Prestige track, and Turn track. Also helpful indicators for where to place your hidden Agenda cards and your Aftermath (end-game scoring) cards. You mark everything by placing cubes or round tokens, and the minimal number of colors (red for USSR, blue for USA, black and yellow for the Turn and Prestige tracks) also makes this a game where it's easy to see at a glance what the board situation is.
The cards themselves are of good quality, typical for a boardgame. My Kickstarter package came with a free pack of UltraPro sleeves, so 13 Days has the distinction of being my first sleeved game!
The rulebook is a fairly cheap stapled pamphlet of glossy paper. The rules themselves are quite short, with about half the book taken up by a complete play-through of a game. Also included is a separate booklet with a history of the Cuban missile crisis (one of the Kickstarter stretch goals), including contextual information for each of the event cards.
Everything fits pretty easily in the box, although once you sleeve the cards it takes a bit of packing and you'll probably want to remove a couple of the cardboard insert pieces.
Rules and Play
This is a two-player game, in which one player represents Kennedy, the other Khrushchev (or more abstractly, the USA vs. the USSR) in a short game of "chicken" over Cuba.
Each turn, each player is dealt three Agenda cards, which are public. Each player secretly chooses one of their Agenda cards, so the other player knows you're going for one of three possible goals. You then spend the turn playing Strategy cards to place and/or remove cubes in such a way as to advance your Agenda while denying your opponent his. The Strategy cards mostly provide ways to manipulate board cubes and markers and your hand. There is a great deal of bluffing and feinting; making your Agenda too obvious makes it easy for your opponent to counter it - you'd rather he spend his cubes in the wrong place. There is a lot of second-guessing and calculation, since your Agenda may or may not be directly in conflict with your opponent's, placing cubes on your preferred battleground might push one of your DEFCON tracks too high, and there is a finite number of cubes (17) which you are likely to run into, which might require you to spend a precious Strategy card removing cubes from the board instead of placing them. Having all your cubes on the board also gives your opponent an opportunity to play cards that would normally let you place cubes.
For such a short and relatively simple game, the decision space is large and agonizing. You always have too many options, and frequently none of them are good. You may want to place cubes on a battleground to advance your Agenda, but doing so will advance you on a DEFCON track, and if you end a turn with too many DEFCON tracks elevated, you lose. On the other hand, having a DEFCON track more elevated than your opponent may be your Agenda. Just make sure it doesn't get elevated to DEFCON 1 or you lose! Each card can be used for either Command (place 1-3 Influence tokens), or for its Event, but if it's an opponent's Event card, he gets to trigger the Event. And one of the cards you draw each round goes into the Aftermath pile for final scoring - you want to place your high-value Event cards there to get the end-of-game Prestige bonus, but that means not getting to use that Event. Conversely, you might want to bury a nasty enemy Event card so it doesn't get triggered, but that means giving your opponent extra points towards the Aftermath.
If you like games with agonizing decisions to be made with every play, where you are frequently trying to decide which of all your bad options is least damaging, 13 Days delivers that. On the other hand, this is a terrible game for AP-prone players; trying to think your way through the entire decision tree is actually feasible with the small handful of cards and choices you have each turn, but can become very time-consuming. Do not play with indecisive players or players who cannot handle making a possibly-less-than-optimal move.
Our first two games were very tight. There is little margin for error and never a runaway leader.
In our first game, the USSR seemed to be clearly winning (with Prestige all the way at the "5" level for the Soviets), but then she won her Agenda on a DEFCON track and failed to notice that winning the Agenda would inflate her track +1, moving her into DEFCON 1. Automatic loss. Oops!
Our second game went all the way to the Aftermath. I was the USSR this time, and had a slight lead in Prestige, but the USA had been able to stuff the scoring pile with USA cards, and easily won the Aftermath for a Prestige bonus that tied us. I won by holding the tie-breaker, the Personal Letter (which goes back and forth between players if they choose to use its bonus).
13 Days can obviously be compared with Twilight Struggle. The themes and mechanics are similar, and I think TS players will like 13 Days, as it delivers a similar experience in a fraction of the time. But it's different in some key respects.
13 Days, being shorter and simpler, is a far more brutal game with less margin for error. In Twilight Struggle, you have more opportunities to manipulate your hand, lay traps for your opponent and plan "outs" for yourself. You can also have more time to recover from a bad round. In 13 Days, there are only three turns. You can have a sudden reversal so being way behind one round does not mean you can't win on the next, but you have to seize on short-term opportunities and avoid "sudden death" conditions.
13 Days is tense and thus extremely thematic - rather than covering the entire Cold War with its hot and cold, waxing and waning fortunes, it covers 13 days in October, 1962 where either side can trigger a nuclear war, and neither side wants to back down. Decisions had to be made quickly with imperfect information; the wrong one means you lose.
After two games, this will definitely be one to pull out again when I want to scratch the CDG itch but don't have time for Twilight Struggle or Labyrinth: The War on Terror, 2001 – ?. I would also say it models history while being simple enough to be useful as a teaching tool for children.
Up Front fan | In ancient times cats were worshipped as gods; they have not forgotten this | Combat Commander series fan | The Raven King (game publisher) ... that's me! | Fields of Fire fan
Slywester Janik, awarded the Krzyż Walecznych (Polish Cross of Valour), August 1944
Stellar review. And my copies arrived today!!!! Giddy excited!!!
- Last edited Wed Mar 16, 2016 2:49 am (Total Number of Edits: 1)
- Posted Tue Mar 15, 2016 12:17 pm
Asger Harding Granerud
Early Flamme Rouge prototype
Thanks a bunch for taking the time to write this review! I'm really happy to see that so many of our design goals, also seem to come across the game play