Introducing 13 Days: The Cuban Missile Crisis
Until it was recently surpassed by Pandemic Legacy, Twilight Struggle has enjoyed a long run of dominance at the very top of the BGG charts. It's a brilliant game that is rightly regarded as one of the very best modern board games. For those unfamiliar with it, in Twilight Struggle two players compete against each other as the US and the USSR, in a bid for world domination and influence during the Cold War era. The game is primarily driven by cards featuring key historical events that characterized the Cold War, which was much like a tense political and military international cat-and-mouse game. Throughout the Cold War period, the subtle conflict between the Americans and Soviets ebbed and flowed like a game of global chess performed on the world's biggest stage, and Twilight Struggle captures this atmosphere beautifully.
The cards feature events as well as action points that can be used by players to increase their influence in various countries, thus trying to control and dominate specific geopolitical regions in order to score the points needed to win the game. The genius of the game lies in the fact that when you play cards that feature events benefiting your opponent, these events will trigger even though you choose to use the card for action points, whereas an event card favourable to yourself requires you to choose between triggering the event or using the action points. This creates an enormous amount of tension, mirroring some of the feelings of the historical period that is the backdrop of the game.
While few gaming experiences can equal a tense game of Twilight Struggle with an evenly matched opponent, it is not a game for the faint of heart. It typically requires at least three hours to play a single game, and there is definite learning curve, meaning that it's not always easy to find the time or a fellow gamer or friend willing to take on the challenge with you. Asger Sams Granerud and Daniel Skjold Pedersen are also big fans of Twilight Struggle, but recognize the practical challenge faced by serious gamers in finding the opponents and the time to play a Twilight Struggle type game with, and the practical challenges faced by casual gamers in starting with something that has the scope and size of Twilight Struggle. So they decided to meet an apparent need by creating a game that would scratch the Twilight Struggle itch, but plays in about 45 minutes. In their own words (see their designer diary), "How can we imitate the core experience of Twillight Struggle in a readily accessible package, lasting less than an hour? " Well they've now made that game, and it's called 13 Days: The Cuban Missile Crisis.
Here's how one of the two designers, Daniel, describes it in an interview: "13 Days offers 45 minutes of suspenseful play for 2 players who take the role of one of the two superpowers during the Cold War. By cunning strategy and some bluffing your goal is to exit the Cuban Missile Crisis as the greatest superpower. But be careful, because you may end up losing the game by starting a global nuclear war." Asger adds this: "13 Days is both a first step into the world of card-driven games and a meaty filler for fans of that genre who are looking for a shorter and more streamlined game they will be able to play (and replay) any given evening." Unlike Twilight Struggle, it doesn't cover the entire Cold War period, but merely one key event that lasted 13 tense days, namely the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, and the shorter game length reflects this focus. After much anticipation, now that "13 Days: The Cuban Missile Crisis" has finally been released, let's see if it lives up to expectations!
Let's start by taking a look at the game box. It's about 3/4 of the size of a Twilight Struggle game box (both the footprint and the depth), and the historical flavour and theme is immediately obvious from the stylish cover design. The number 13 is going to come up a lot in this game, and you notice it immediately on the cover, both in the title and in the number of photos that make up the historical collage.
The back of the box tells us more about the events that began on October 14, 1962 leading up to the Cuban Missile Crisis, and also shows some of the components inside.
So what do we get with the game? Here's the complete list:
● 1 gameboard
● 13 Agenda cards
● 39 Strategy cards
● 1 Personal Letter card
● 34 influence cubes
● 6 DEFCON markers
● 6 flag counters
● 1 prestige marker
● 1 round marker
● 1 historical booklet
● 1 rules booklet
First of all there's the map, which is 11" x 17" in size, nicely mounted and of good quality. The artist for the game was Jacob Walker, and he's opted to go with a graphic design that features muted pastel colours that suit the 1960s era. The board is also quite compact, folding into quarters for easy storage in the gamebox.
Let's give you a quick run-down on the key parts of the map: At the top is a prestige track which is used for scoring points, while at the bottom left is a round track to mark the three rounds which make up a complete game. There are nine battlegrounds in three colours - green (political), orange (military), and purple (world opinion) - and this is where you'll be placing influence cubes in an effort to gain dominance for earning points. The second way to earn points is on the DEFCON track, which is on the lower right of the board, and features tracks in three colours corresponding to the three above-mentioned battleground types, representing the three main arenas in which you're competing.
There are 13 Agenda cards, which are linked either to a specific battleground or to a specific DEFCON track for scoring points. Each round both players will secretly select one Agenda card each, and that card will determine where scoring happens at the end of the round.
There are 39 Strategy cards, 13 with events that favour the USSR, 13 favouring the US, and 13 that are neutral. Something about the number 13 isn't there?! These cards can be considered the "bread-and-butter" part of the game, and players will play them in turn to manipulate the influence in the battlegrounds and manipulate their relative positions on the DEFCON tracks, which you'll need to do in order to try to gain the dominance necessary for earning the points awarded by the Agenda cards.
There are two main parts to each Strategy card:
● Command: Along the left hand side of each card is pictured 1-3 cubes, which indicates the number of influence cubes that you can place or remove if you play these cards for Command. In Twilight Struggle language, Command = Operations.
● Event: The text on each card indicates an event associated with one of the two superpowers, or is neutral and can be used by either player. People familiar with Twilight Struggle will immediately recognize how this works: if you play a card with an Event associated with your opponent's superpower, your opponent gets to play the Event if desired and then you play the card for Command value; if you play a card with an Event that is neutral or associated with your own superpower, you can choose whether to play the Event or take the Command value.
This single card is somewhat similar to the "China card" in Twilight Struggle. It can be played along with a Strategy card to increase its Command value by 1, and then is given to your opponent for his use in the same way. In 13 Days, the Personal Letter also serves as a tie-breaker in the event that scores are tied at game end.
Each round players will mark three battlegrounds or DEFCON tracks to indicate the three that are being contested and will potentially score as a result of the three Agenda cards they drew that round.
There are 17 wooden influence cubes for each player, in the red and blue colours corresponding to the USSR and US, and you'll place these in the battlegrounds, trying to gain dominance over your opponent. This is deliberately designed as a hard limit, because it will force you to manage your resources carefully, and create additional tension.
Each player needs three circular disks in their colour for the DEFCON track. Six are provided for each player (i.e. three more than what each needs), so that you can use these instead of the Flag counters if you wish.
Prestige marker & Round marker
The yellow disk is used to keep track of points on the Prestige track, while the black disc is used to keep track of the three rounds that make up the game.
History booklet: While strictly speaking it's not a game component as such, I really appreciate the fact that the game comes with a 16 page booklet providing historical information about the game's setting. It provides a brief history of the Cuban Missile Crisis, along with some relevant details about some of the cities featured on the scoring cards, and for each of the Strategy cards in the game there's a brief paragraph with historical notes explaining what these events were about. It's a wonderful touch that helps immerse one in the game and appreciate the story that it is about, and it is well written.
Instructions: The rule book consists of 24 pages, and is nicely laid out with pictures and diagrams. The actual explanation of gameplay only takes up 7 pages, and since it's a relatively small booklet, that tells you that the game itself is not hard to learn. What I really appreciated is the second half of the rulebook, which has 11 full pages giving a complete play-through of an entire game. This is very helpful to assist new players in figuring how the flow of play works. The rulebook of the final published game isn't available online just yet (hopefully soon), but an almost final draft can be downloaded from the publisher's official web page here.
At the start of a game, the Agenda and Strategy decks are shuffled separately and placed beside the board, and the US player gets the Personal Letter card. Each player gets 17 influence cubes in their colour (US/Kennedy = blue ; USSR/Khrushchev = red), and places two on the board as marked ( US in Turkey and Italy, USSR in Berlin & Cuba military), and three DEFCON markers for each player are placed on the indicated starting places of those tracks. The round marker is placed on 1, while the prestige marker is placed on zero on the prestige track. Let's play!
Flow of Play
First let's give a general overview of the game. The game consists of three rounds, in which each player will play four Strategy cards. At the end of each round scoring happens with an Agenda card that each player has secretly selected at the start of the round. The two main ways an Agenda card will award points is for dominating a particular battleground on the board, or by dominating a particular DEFCON track. After three rounds, there's a final Aftermath phase which awards two points, and at that point the winner is the player with the most prestige. You can lose the game by triggering nuclear war at the end of any round in which all your markers are at DEFCON 2 or if one marker is at DEFCON 1.
The flow of play in an individual round is marked on the gameboard as consisting of the following eight steps:
1. Escalate DEFCON tracks
At the start of every round, including the first round, all the DEFCON markers are escalated one space on the three DEFCON tracks.
2. Draw Agendas
Each player gets three random cards from the Agenda deck, reveals them, and places their three flag counters on the board in the places corresponding to their three Agenda cards. These contested areas will either be one of the battlegrounds marked with a coloured box, or one of the three DEFCON tracks.
They then secretly choose one of their three agendas and place it under their side of the board. The chosen card for each player will be revealed at the end of the round, and the corresponding battleground/DEFCON track will at that time (Step 6) be resolved with prestige points going to the player with the most influence cubes there or with the most advanced marker on the DEFCON track. So your opponent's flags effectively tell you the three possible areas that will score for your opponent's Agenda card, while your flags tell your opponent the three possible areas that will score for your Agenda card.
3. Strategy cards & Initiative
Initiative: Each player now draws five random Strategy cards, and will get to play four of them this round, one at a time, in turns, with the fifth one being discarded into the Aftermath pile. Each card corresponds to half a day of the crisis (each player will play 12 over the course of the game, with the Aftermath phase of the game at the end effectively marking Day 13 and the end of the crisis and the game). The player with least prestige (the USSR if tied) decides which player goes first that round.
Playing cards: Playing the Strategy cards is the tactical heart of the game, because while the Agenda cards determine the strategic goal you are aiming for in a round, the Strategy cards are what determines placing of the individual influence cubes and adjustments on the DEFCON track. The Strategy cards can be played in one of two ways, with a mechanic similar to Twilight Struggle:
1. Command value: The command value is the number of cubes pictured on the left of the card. When using a Strategy card in this way, you can either add or remove up to that many cubes of your colour in one single battleground on the board (each can hold a maximum of 5 cubes of your colour). If you add/remove two or more cubes, this will also affect your marker on the DEFCON track corresponding to that battleground type (military, political, or world opinion); adding cubes escalates your DEFCON marker by one space less than the number of cubes placed; removing cubes deflates your DEFCON marker by one space less than the number of cubes removed. You can play the Personal Letter card along with a Strategy card used for Command, in order to add/remove one extra influence cube than what is listed on the card; the Personal Letter is then given to your opponent to use.
2. Event: Strategy cards can also be played for the Event listed on them instead of for Command. However cards that correspond to your opponent can only be played for Command, and before doing so you must give the card to your opponent and they can play the Event if they wish! So this means that if you are playing the US side, a USSR card is going to be painful for you, because you must let your opponent trigger the event if they wish (which will usually be favourable for them), and you can only use this card for its Command value. This mechanic will be familiar from Twilight Struggle, and really helps ramp up the tension and angst in your choices!
4. Save card for Aftermath
At this point you'll have each played four of your five Strategy cards; the fifth and remaining card from each player is placed under the game board as an Aftermath stack, which will be resolved at game end. This is a good way to ditch cards with powerful events that you don't want to resolve in favour of your opponent. But on the other hand at the end of the game all the cards in this deck are counted, and the player that has the most influence cubes on cards corresponding to their superpower will win two prestige, so you don't want to help your opponent too much this way either! Again - more angst!
5. World Opinion bonus
At this point the player with most influence in each of the three world opinion battlegrounds gets a bonus effect:
● Television: escalate/deflate one of your DEFCCON tracks by one
● United Nations: receive the Personal Letter
● Alliances: draw a new Strategy card and discard it or add it to the Aftermath stack
6. Resolve Agendas
Now it's time to face the music and score those Agendas. Both players reveal and simultaneously resolve their secretly chosen Agenda cards. The main thing these will do is award points for the player dominating the corresponding Battleground or DEFCON track, the amount of prestige awarded corresponding to the difference in influence between the two players in that Battleground or the difference between them on that DEFCON track (sometimes with a +1 bonus). Note that some Agenda cards will also cause DEFCON markers in DEFCON 2 on the corresponding track to be advanced.
In the example above, the US player will get 1 prestige for dominating the Turkey battleground (it has four influence to the USSR's three), while the USSR player will get 2 prestige for dominating the World Opinion track (it is one step ahead of the US, but the agenda card indicates that it also gets one bonus). After they are resolved, these two agendas are permanently discarded, while the remaining ones are shuffled together ahead of the next round.
7. Check for nuclear war
A player has triggered nuclear war and an instant loss if any of their DEFCON markers are in the DEFCON 1 area, or if all three of their DEFCON markers are in the DEFCON 2 area. Note that you only check for nuclear war at this point, so if a DEFCON marker does go into DEFCON 1 earlier in a round, a player may still find a way to deflate it.
8. Advance round marker
This ends the round, and the round marker is advanced.
After three rounds, there is one final step that happens, namely the Aftermath. The Strategy cards in the Aftermath stack are revealed, and the influence cubes of the US and USSR cards are counted - whoever gets the most earns 2 extra prestige. This can be critical, and in some instances will decide the game!
At this point the player with the most prestige is the winner, with the tiebreaker being the player who has the Personal Letter. Note that unlike Twilight Struggle, during the game getting 5 prestige is simply a hard limit, and not an automatic win. In the picture below, which shows the board state of a completed game, players were tied so the player with the Personal Letter was the winner.
What do I think?
So what are some things I love about this game?
The mechanics: Since the core mechanics of this game are largely derived from Twilight Struggle, the game engine has a solid and proven design. The card driven mechanic works well, especially in that cards have a dual function of being used for command or for an event. The designers have taken what's good about Twilight Struggle, and simplified things to make a much shorter and simpler game, and have accomplished this quite nicely. But 13 Days is not just a Twilight Struggle "lite", since enough of the mechanics have been changed and there are some new ones that help give this game its own identity. Choosing secret agendas at the start of each round which are resolved for point scoring at the end of each round is a great idea, as is the concept of two main areas of focus (dominating a battleground or a DEFCON track). Having the prestige capped at 5 points ensures that you can't have a premature win; and I have seen games in which a player was leading by five, only to lose in the final round. If you want to appreciate all the careful thought that went into the different elements in designing the game's mechanics, and ensuring they were closely tied to theme and solid game-play, read the extensive and excellent Designer Diary. An enormous amount of careful development went into making this game, and it really shows; the end result is that 13 Days is mechanically sound, and has a very elegant and clever system that gives players the game space for a well fought contest that is both thematic and fun.
The tension: The design of the game is terrific in that it just forces players to fight constant tension, not just with each other, but even with the game itself. There are several elements about the game that contribute to this feel:
1. The Agenda cards, which mean that you know one of three potential areas your opponent is trying to dominate, but you don't know exactly which one;
2. The Strategy cards, which can have events that actually help your opponent more than they help you and yet you can't avoid playing them;
3. The Aftermath deck, which is the one way to discard Strategy cards that might help your opponent, but in doing so could give him point-scoring cards at game end;
4. The DEFCON tracks, which require you to get to the brink of war in order to dominate, without going too far;
5. The influence cubes, which you want to place on the board to dominate battlegrounds, but are limited in supply, and can push you to war.
Each round some of the tension is released when the secret agendas are revealed and resolved, but then it starts all over again as new agendas are chosen. And everything seems to be fighting against you: the DEFCON tracks, your opponent, your limited cube supply (typically in the final round you'll find yourself running short, so it becomes an additional thing to think about in Round 2), and often even the cards in your hand. But not only is there a tug-of-war involved in trading moves with your opponent to win a potential area, but you'll also find your own goals conflicting at times, and that makes for juicy decisions. For example, here's an example of such conflicting objectives: you want to have an inflated DEFCON so that you can win the Agendas corresponding to them, but you don't want it to be so high that you can't place any more cubes in battlegrounds corresponding to it, or so that you risk causing nuclear war and losing the game. And another: you want to ditch events favourable to your opponent into the Aftermath stack to prevent them triggering, but you don't want to put too many of his cards there to make it easy for him to get two prestige at game end. It's precisely the tension and angst that all this generates which makes the game so much fun!
The decisions: Are there really many decisions given the condensed nature of this game? Absolutely, and most of them are packed with tension. First of all, you have to choose one of three secret Agendas. Then you'll have to decide which of your four Strategy cards from your hand of five you'll play (and which one you'll discard to the Aftermath pile). Then you'll have to decide in which order will you use these Strategy cards, and how best to use them, e.g. for command or as events, to add cubes or remove them, and to focus on battlegrounds or DEFCON. Sometimes winning a World Opinion bonus at the end of a round will give you an additional decision to make. Perhaps the most important decision of all is deciding where to add or remove influence, and how much. Often you'll want to do far more than you actually can, making for constantly tough nail-biting decisions! See this blogpost from the designer if you're interested in reading more about the decisions involved in the game.
The bluffing: I love games with bluffing, and the way the Agenda cards work really gives some scope for this. At the start of the round you're letting your opponent know one of three areas that you are potentially going to target, but you can then invest resources into an area that doesn't at all correspond to the Agenda you have chosen, just to trick your opponent. And your opponent could be doing the same! Don't you just love this?! This also has implications for replayability; because of its smaller scope, 13 Days won't have the replayability or diverse strategies of a larger game like Twilight Struggle, but because a huge part of the game is about playing your opponent, this will really help give the game legs.
The theme: I've always been fascinated by the Cold War era, and the Cuban Missile Crisis in particular, having studied it in an upper school history course. Card driven games like 13 Days and Twilight Struggle don't just have a pasted on theme, because the mechanics are closely tied to the historical narrative. In 13 Days this is partly accomplished by the round structure, where each card played represents half a day of the crisis, concluding with the aftermath produced on Day 13. Each card also reflects a historical event that was part of the crisis, and the effects of that card usually tie in with this somehow. I appreciate the names of the cards, the historical pictures, and the flavour text, all of which enhance the immersion in this theme. Even the layout of the world map on the board has been very carefully thought out, e.g. the Atlantic military battleground represents the naval blockade, whereas the Turkey and Italy military battlegrounds reflect US missile sites that later played an important part in the negotiations. Including a historical booklet which explains the background of the crisis and the history behind the individual cards and places is a terrific move, and I really enjoyed reading this; it's well written and a fine addition to the game.
The accessibility: The actual rules for gameplay consist of less than half a dozen pages in the rulebook, and are very easy to explain. The good news is that this is neither a fiddly game nor a complex one. This means that it's quite a realistic proposition to show the game to a complete newbie, and be up and playing in less than 15 minutes. It may take a play or two to learn how to play well, but the overall mechanisms of the game are not that difficult, and the rules are quite straight forward, in terms of what you are trying to do and how to go about it. This is a real strength of 13 Days, and should put the game in reach of most gamers. A few rules questions that have come up already, but these are covered in a short FAQ that is available here on BGG. Having a complete playthrough in the rulebook is also very useful to help understand how the game works.
The game time: Obviously there won't be as `meat' in a one hour game of 13 Days compared with a longer game that lasts 3 hours or more, but I love the fact that an entire game of 13 Days can be played in well under an hour. Over the course of the game, you are basically just playing 3 Agenda cards and 12 Strategy cards each. Set-up and clean-up is also not very difficult, since you don't have to fiddle with organizing all kinds of different numbered counters. Using cubes keeps things speedy and simple: just distribute the cubes and shuffle the cards, and you're pretty much ready to go. For a game that lasts under an hour, it offers a lot of decisions and fun, and this quick game time should really add to the appeal and reach of this game.
The components: Overall the components are quite well done, although there is one unfortunate mistake on the DEFCON Agenda cards, as noted here. The cards aren't of super high quality cardstock, but my copy of the game came with some Ultra Pro card sleeves that took care of that. I did have to reverse the box insert so that the sleeved cards could fit, but that was an easy fix (see picture here). The graphic design of the cards is very functional and aesthetically pleasing, and will be quite familiar if you're coming from games like Twilight Struggle. The board is well constructed, and although the choice of colours may not be to everyone's taste (personally I'm not a huge fan of the triadic colour scheme of orange/green/purple), the different parts of the board are very clearly marked and laid out, so it's well designed for game-play purposes, and I think it looks quite good too.
The size: The game has a surprisingly small footprint on the table, which also means that you won't need a huge amount of space to play it. With a relatively small box, it is also quite portable. All this means that it is small enough to bring to a restaurant or coffee shop, where you could spend an hour playing the game, without requiring an inordinate amount of room or time to do so.
The number 13: It's everywhere in this game! The number in the title, the number of photos on the box cover, the number of turns in the game, the number of Agenda cards, the number of Strategy cards of each faction. It's like poetry really - no wonder designer Daniel jokingly says this: "If your winning streak ever reaches 13, thirteen magic unicorns will jump out of the game board and secure world peace forever."
How does it compare with Twilight Struggle?
The obvious point of comparison for 13 Days is with Twilight Struggle, which is one of the benchmarks of modern gaming. From the above, some of the points of comparison between the two games will already be obvious, but I felt a separate section was warranted in order to flesh out some of the differences and similarities.
Turning a hit game like Twilight Struggle into a shorter game has been attempted before with similar game by Twilight Struggle's designer Jason Matthews, namely 1960: The Making of the President. Elements of it were distilled into Campaign Manager 2008, which was billed as a shorter card game version of 1960. While it had great potential, Campaign Manager 2008 is considered by many to be an exercise in mediocrity. Even though it had its fans and defenders, it proved to be somewhat of a flop, and many even consider it "broken" due to the deck-recursion issue (described here and here).
Fortunately 13 Days doesn't make these kinds of mistakes, and employs a game system that is more true to the original game that inspired it (e.g. it doesn't dispense with a basic map), even if it will never match a full Twilight Struggle experience. So what does it have in common with Twilight Struggle, and where does it depart from this proven formula?
Twilight Struggle is the obvious inspiration for 13 Days, and in many respects one is a microcosm of the other. It's somewhat surprising that no acknowledgement or credit to Twilight Struggle is given in the actual rulebook or game box, given that 13 Days owes an enormous debt to Twilight Struggle in terms of design, and largely borrows from it. But is it really "Twilight Struggle in 45 minutes"? Obviously a condensed time-frame comes at the cost of something, and a quicker game like 13 Days can't possibly capture the ebbs and flows of tension of a longer game, or the geographic struggles for dominance on a much larger map. But despite that obvious difference, there are also some obvious similarities:
● Mechanics: The idea of scoring cards is very similar, although in 13 Days they do work slightly differently. But the main mechanic of how the Strategy cards work is common to both games, in that players have a choice between using them for command value (operations) or for the event, and where cards corresponding to your opponent's superpower give him opportunity to trigger the event when you play them for command. Both games are card driven and effectively rely on a very similar game system as the engine, in terms of placing influence on a map, as well as a scoring system in which bluffing plays a key role.
● Game-play feel: Just like Twilight Struggle, there is an inherent tension throughout a game of 13 Days, where you are forced to make concessions to your opponent even though you don't want to, such as in triggering card events that favour him, and even in discarding cards to the Aftermath. There's also incredible tension with the DEFCON track - you want yours to be more escalated that your opponent for certain Agendas, but you can't afford to be escalated too far! In that respect, 13 Days shares a similar feel and atmosphere with Twilight Struggle.
● Historical flavour: Although the sense of narrative isn't as strong in 13 Days as it is in Twilight Struggle, both games are strongly driven by the historical setting of the theme, and having cards that are based on historical events really enhances this. Like Twilight Struggle, 13 Days feels quite thematic, and does a good job of evoking some of the tension of the crisis.
Despite the similarities, it would be a mistake to think that 13 Days is just a shorter Twilight Struggle, and doesn't have its own identity. They can't be placed side by side in the way that 1989: Dawn of Freedom and Twilight Struggle can, where Ted Torgerson's 1989 is very similar to Twilight Struggle, but is played in a slightly different geo-political arena and has a slightly different setting. Instead, 13 Days deliberately seeks to distil the core elements of Twilight Struggle and turn it into a much shorter game that is distinctly different and yet retains the essence of what makes it fun. So what would a Twilight Struggle player notice is different about 13 Days, aside from the obvious thematic difference that it only covers one event (Cuban Missile Crisis) rather than the entire Cold War? Here are some differences:
● Scoring: Scoring happens each round, as determined by each player secretly picking one of three Agenda cards known to their opponent. The Agenda cards are somewhat of combination between a Headline card and Scoring card in Twilight Struggle, but an additional difference is that at the start of a round you indicate publicly the three scoring cards you drew, so both players have an idea which part of the board will score that round. Another big difference is that scoring happens not just from dominating battlegrounds, but also from dominating one of three DEFCON tracks.
● DEFCON: There are three DEFCON tracks instead of one, and they play a much bigger part in the game. Wrestling over these (and staying away from the brink of nuclear war while staying ahead of your opponent) is just as important as fighting on the battlegrounds, in order to score points. The battlegrounds also impact the DEFCON tracks in a fascinating way, so these conflicts are interconnected.
● Mechanics: Several elements from Twilight Struggle make no appearance here, such as Coups and Realignments, in fact there's no dice rolling in 13 Days whatsoever. All the focus is on placing cubes, and it can sometimes be just as important to remove your cubes (which is legal to do, in order to deflate a DEFCON track) as to add them. When playing a Strategy card, you only have two simple options: play for Command by adding/removing influence cubes, or trigger the Event. So it is a much more streamlined system where the focus is on adding cubes to the board, meaning that your options on a turn are much simpler and less diverse than in Twilight Struggle. Inevitably this comes at a cost: the events are typically more generic (often they are just about adding/removing cubes) and don't feature the same tactical/strategic diversity of options available in Twilight Struggle.
● Scope: The board is much smaller, so there is less of a geographical feel to the game. And since you're fighting on the DEFCON tracks as well as on the battlegrounds, quite a bit of the contest happens off the map. It's also very tight: typically there are six potential battlegrounds/DEFCON tracks you are both fighting for in a round, but you only get four actions (more if your opponent triggers one of your events) towards changing the landscape of the board before the agendas are resolved. In some ways 13 Days is less forgiving than Twilight Struggle, because each decision is critical and could cost you the game, similar to how how a risky pass in an NFL game could result in an interception that decides the outcome. Because of the narrower scope and design, I also think that 13 Days is less asymmetrical than Twilight Struggle; it feels quite balanced (Twilight Struggle is known to favour the Soviets slightly), but switching sides doesn't feel as dramatically different as it does in Twilight Struggle.
● Length: 13 Days only has three rounds, with four cards out of five cards played by each player in each round. It adds something new at the end (each round players will add their remaining card to an Aftermath stack that is resolved for points at the conclusion), but this is very brief. The result is that it plays in only 45 minutes rather than 3 hours. In short, 13 Days is a much quicker game, but also a more tactical one, that doesn't feature the same depth, strategy or epic scope and narrative that is possible with Twilight Struggle.
In the end, 13 Days achieves exactly what it sets out to do, which in designer Asger's words is this: "It is targeted specifically at catering to two groups of gamers: the enthusiasts that just don't have the time they used to and the curious newcomers that are scared off by the heavy commitment and long play times of the classics in the genre." Designer Daniel says: "13 Days aims to hit the sweetspot of a game that is both (1) an introductory game to the card driven genre like Twilight Struggle, and (2) an almost filler-esque game for fans of the genre that crave for a shorter yet suspenseful gaming experience since they cannot commit to a game for 3-4 hours very often (I know because I am one of them)." It accomplishes that by being exactly the game that it intends to be, which is the best that you could expect Twilight Struggle to be if it was only a game that lasted 45 minutes.
To sum up, you could say that the unique identity of 13 Days in relation to Twilight Struggle is both its weakness as well as its strength:
● The weakness of 13 Days: it's a light version of Twilight Struggle. Because it's shorter and on a smaller scale, it can't produce the depth and epic feel of the much longer game that Twilight Struggle can.
● The strength of 13 Days: it's a light version of Twilight Struggle. It condenses much of what makes Twilight Struggle fun, and offers a similar experience on a smaller scale.
For 13 Days to surpass some of the weaknesses of Twilight Struggles (e.g. complexity, long play time), it inevitably must fall short in other ways and embrace some weaknesses of its own. That is not to say that either of them are deficient games, but simply that they meet different needs. So don't come in with too high expectations, and especially don't come in to a game of 13 Days expecting Twilight Struggle, otherwise you'll only risk being disappointed, by somewhat unfairly accusing it of not being Twilight Struggle. Despite the obvious points of comparison, it is its own game and meets a different need.
What do others think?
Since the game has only just released, there's not a lot in the way of criticism that has appeared yet, and by and large comments are overwhelmingly positive. Of those who did have some mixed feelings, some noted that the boiled down nature of the game means it doesn't have as much flavour as larger and longer games, and that it lacks the amplitude and scale of Twilight Struggle. I expect that even the designers would agree with this, because it's an inevitable result of this game being 13 Days and not Twilight Struggle. Those with a preference for more complex and lengthier games and who have both the time and opponents to play them will undoubtedly stick with Twilight Struggle, although 13 Days could perhaps tempt them as a meaty filler. Some others wondered about the long term variety. Only time will tell how 13 Days will stand up in that regard, although the changing cards and hidden information built into the game should help give it some good mileage, even if it proves not to have the same kind of replayability as the more complex game that inspired it.
Overall the majority of reactions so far have been very complimentary, applauding the game for its ability to produce a tense and thematic game given its limited scope and playing time. Here's what some of them have to say:
"Definitely a lighter version of Twilight Struggle. Some of the historical flavour in a shorter game with easier rules." - Lindsay Scholle
"Twilight Struggle in 45 Minutes." - PzVIE
"Little brother of Twilight Struggle. It certainly plays faster, but lacks the amplitude and scale of TS. If you take that in mind, it's an enjoyable game with some challenging choices." - Aigars Grēniņš
"Quick-playing game with a great theme and a lot of tension." - Snooze Fest
"Tense and deep for its playtime, this one's a keeper. It most certainly is Twilight Struggle in 40 minutes, which is a whole lot of good and also of course some bad." - Charlie Theel
"A near-perfect Twilight Struggle lite." - Walt Mulder
"A clever little game of cat and mouse/bluffing, pretty much like the actual "13 Days." Multiple paths to victory and the bluffing aspect should keep the game fresh." - Rob Winslow
"Excellent 2-player. Twilight Struggle light." - Hans Christian Kirketerp
"Such a nailbiting game from a very small package." - Russell Alphey
"A nice mini-version of Twilight Struggle, but it's short and brutal and requires painful decisions with every card played." - David E
"Dude. What an awesome little game." - Steve Oksienik (Cardboard Insanity)
"I very much enjoy the way the secret agendas, card play, and area control all come together in a tense, tight package." - Scott Preston
"A fun, easy and interesting little brother game to Twilight Struggle and 1989: Dawn of Freedom." - Marius van der Merwe
"Very unforgiving, deep game that plays out in less than an hour." - Ed Stat
"So much tension and evil in such a little box. The comparisons to Twilight Struggle are obvious (and justified)." - Seth Ben-Ezra
"Great game with big similarities both in theme and mechanics to Twilight Struggle. This one plays much quicker, less than an hour, for both good and bad." - Jonathan Weidow
"GREAT game. Tension on every card play, and you have to think ahead." - Ron A
"This is two player El Grande with a tense theme that rolls up your nerves into a ball and squeezes them for good measure." - Charlie Theel
The more elaborate comments of two users in particular are especially worth reading:
Jimmy Okolica: "Twilight Struggle in 45 minutes is a great description of it. It's like 2 bullies standing toe-to-toe in a playground at lunch. Both want to make the other guy throw the first punch while making sure all the other kids know they're the toughest. That's the game. Whoever throws the first punch (triggers nuclear war) loses. But meanwhile, you've got to dance on that edge to get the prestige of the onlookers. Great balancing act and a great game."
David Janik-Jones: "This game is brilliant. If you scoff at the idea of playing "Twilight Struggle in 45 minutes" (which is a very accurate way to describe this game) you'll be missing out on an soon to be classic and just simply a superb game. Tense, direct, elegant, simple and hugely fun. I'd recommend this game to almost any gamer and rate it an immediate must-buy for anyone who likes games like Twilight Struggle. Utterly brilliant."
So is 13 Days: The Cuban Missile Crisis for you, and who will enjoy this game?
● If you love Twilight Struggle, then 13 Days isn't going to replace it. But it's not intending to do that either. It simply meets a different need. You don't always have the time or the opponent to play Twilight Struggle, and that's where 13 Days comes in, and as such it has a place alongside Twilight Struggle.
● if you don't love Twilight Struggle, there's a real chance you might enjoy 13 Days. It's less complex to learn, and much easier and quicker to play.
This means that 13 Days is a game that potentially will have a real appeal for a lot of different gamers out there. Even if it won't have the same depth or replayability as Twilight Struggle, each game will be different because you are playing your opponent as much as you are playing the game itself, and because the agenda and strategy cards that determine the direction of the game will be different each time. This should prevent it from feeling stale/samey too quickly, or from following a scripted ending, by ensuring that each game plays out differently.
The designers of this game set themselves an incredibly challenging assignment by wanting to create a game that captures the essence of Twilight Struggle, and they've made no secret of this agenda. And now that the game has arrived, it's time to resolve that agenda, and I'd say: mission accomplished, prestige awarded. Well done Asger Sams Granerud and Daniel Skjold Pedersen, you've created a wonderful game that is full of historical flavour, tense decisions, and fun game-play, and I can't wait to play again!
The complete list of Ender's pictorial reviews: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/37596
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- Last edited Wed Apr 13, 2016 4:39 am (Total Number of Edits: 7)
- Posted Tue Apr 12, 2016 2:51 am
Thanks for the thorough review, even if slightly repetitive at times. Definitely put this game on my wish-list.
A couple of typos: college -> collage; battlegrand -> battleground.
Shawnee on Delaware
Excellent review as always. Thanks!
Thanks for the thorough review, even if slightly repetitive at times. Definitely put this game on my wish-list.
A couple of typos: college -> collage; battlegrand -> battleground.
Thanks for that, corrections made.
I realize that sections of the review have some overlap, but since people sometimes skip to the part that interests them, hopefully it helps more than it hinders.
- Last edited Wed Apr 13, 2016 12:48 am (Total Number of Edits: 1)
- Posted Wed Apr 13, 2016 12:46 am
Asger Harding Granerud
Early Flamme Rouge prototype
What an absolute fantastic review! Such great care and meticulousness to look for the finer details, and evaluate the game on its own premises!
Much appreciated, and always a joy to read your reviews!
I'm not a man now, Sergeant. I'm a soldier in command of men. If you ever meet me when I'm just a man, you may have to use a little charity.
WHEN ANGELS WEPT: A What-If History of the Cuban Missile Crisis, Item #: 3669769 Total Price: $5.95 from http://www.hamiltonbook.com/ . a very good read on this topic
I agree with the most parts of your review.
And I think that the authors did a very good job in taking the core mechanisms of a card-driven game like Twilight Struggle and innovate them to accomplish a shorter playing time while maintaining a high level of tension for every action/decision you take.
Especially the interweaving of adding/removing cubes to battlegrounds with escalating/deflating the corresponding DEFCON tracks is brilliant in facing you with a lot of dilemmas about deciding your actions. And this isn't only true for command actions, but for many events, too.
I'm a Twilight Struggle owner and this game wasn't even on my radar. But it is now! Thanks Ender for another thoughtful and incredibly thorough review.
Edit: I can't find it anywhere. Is it for sale yet?
- Last edited Fri Apr 15, 2016 8:55 pm (Total Number of Edits: 1)
- Posted Fri Apr 15, 2016 8:48 pm
It is in Europe at least.
Bury St Edmunds
Great review, as always.
Straight onto my wishlist!
Outstanding review, as ever. I'm hoping to have the opportunity to play this soon, as I doubt that my gaming partner will ever want to play TS, and even 1960: The Making of the President didn't do it for her. Third time lucky, maybe?
I know this is an imperfect analogy, because there's a single deck and there's no opening card draft - but once the game gets rolling, this game feels a lot more "Campaign Manager 2008" than it does "Twilight Struggle."
Which isn't an entirely bad thing. I like Campaign Manager quite a bit - and this one has ways of forcing tension via DEFCON, but the resource management and competing for your opponent's known goals (and trying to discern their priorities) feels like CM2008.
This game is very good - but stylewise I feel like Twilight Struggle isn't the best comparison.
Great and very thorough review. Thank you so much!
I'll play the Klingons
I'll play the Klingons
The theme and playing time appeal to me and the reviews draw me in but I'm hesitating on picking this up because in my one partial game of TS (yes, I know that's not much of a trial) and full game of CM, I just couldn't get into the theme very much...they just felt like moving blocks around. Odd considering I have actually played many more games of abstracts than any themed game so I shouldn't mind. I always want theme but have ended up playing a lot of abstracts where I appreciate the mechanics. Still, I might give this a try because it does appeal to me so maybe the 3rd time is the charm.
Picked this up based on your fantastic review - and I haven't been disappointed. Thanks for consistently putting together quality reviews!