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Subject: A Tense Game of Negotiation and Revolution - [Ding & Dent] rss

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Raf Cordero
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Bolingbrook
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90 miles off the coast of Key West sits an enigmatic little island. To some Americans, talk of Cuba conjures up images of white sands, mojitos, and classic American cars cruising through idyllic Spanish-Colonial streets. To others it’s a reminder of the Cold War, of a time we sat on the brink of nuclear war. And finally, to a small group of people it is still a reminder of revolution, of conflict, and of flight. Never mind that it’s not actually possible, the first time I posted a picture of Cuba Libre a Cuban friend responded “Do me a favor and kill Che and Castro for me”. Though Cuba Libre is the 2nd volume in the series, it’s actually the fourth I’ve played.

Games don’t exist in a vacuum. The conflict represented by the game of Cuba Libre, like all the COIN games, is a very real one. The game itself doesn’t make a political statement, though arguably portraying and educating on the conflict is itself a political statement. Instead, COIN’s excellent portrayal of the complex socio-political issues of insurgent warfare arrives in Havana streamlined and aggressive.

And boy is it aggressive. Batista’s government is in an excellent position early in the game. The Government player starts dramatically close to winning, though in a precarious position. Each faction measures points differently; the Student Led Directorio wants control while the Government wants popular support. The value of a space to a faction depends on its population. Cuba Libre has relatively low point thresholds for victory and the city of Havana is worth 6 whopping points per level of support. That means Havana alone gets Batista two thirds of the way to victory. Because it only takes a single insurgent to ruin Batista’s day, negotiations will begin in earnest.



The Directorio, a student led revolution,
#feelstheburn in Havana


The compact nature of both the map and the point spread means that the game can shift quickly. More so than any of the other COIN titles, offers and deals will fly fast and heavy across the table. Stuck with only 6 insurgents to defend her Casinos, the Syndicate player will be offering stacks of cash to anyone and everyone willing to parlay. That cash is worth valuable resources or can be traded in to double up on operations, creating the opportunity for powerful turns. In exchange she’ll demand protection (or extortion) by threatening to bribe or even “disappear” enemy units. Alliances will shift, form, breakdown, and reform, over the course of a tight game.

Early in the game, the target is clear. Everyone needs to prevent Batista from running away with a quick victory. As the cards tick by, keeping steady time through the game, Castro begins to make his presence known. The insurgents of 26July can pop up dangerously quickly and suddenly Batista is desperate to deal in the face of a looming rebel threat. Not only does this make for strange bedfellows but it provides a great narrative arc to the game. All but three players will be hoping to change the course of history, but everyone will be reacting to a unique twist on the rebellion each time.



Guerrillas mass in the East

As an entry point to the COIN series, Cuba Libre may just be the best option. It’s still a heavy game that can clock in at a few hours but the smaller map and streamlined operations keep the learning curve from being Fire in the Lake steep. The three insurgent factions play similarly; their goals are different but there is a lot of overlap in their operations, which makes teaching easy. The narrowed scope also prevents some unfortunate surprises. I’ve seen players frustrated in a game of A Distant Plain when they don’t realize how strong the coalition Surge can be. There isn’t anything quite as sneakily dramatic. Plays in Havana will cause large swings in position but it’s upfront and visible to everyone, not buried in the player aid.

Unfortunately, that strong swing can create its own frustrations. While it provides a sharp edge to any negotiation and makes for dramatic plays, it can mean that winning is as much a product of timing as anything else. It isn’t terribly difficult to close a Casino and the Syndicate needs 8 of them open to win. With only 6 guerrillas, mounting a defense is tricky. With a single guerilla any faction can sap 6 points from the Government in Havana and similarly they can steal control with a single train and jump back up 6 points if they have the resources. There are answers to all of these issues, but it takes a deep understanding of the game to figure it out.

To be very clear, Cuba Libre is a streamlined COIN but it is not a simple game. The decisions are as rich and varied as the other titles, and the negotiations are just as tense if not more so. Playing Volume 2 after playing the other excellent titles does not feel like a step backward. Each game in the series stands in its own space, worthy of play and attention. Given the quick play of Cuba Libre, I have no doubt it will demand repeated plays.


Muddle mint, sugar, and a fantastic gaming experience in a glass. Top with white rum and sparkling water.


________
This review was originally posted on Ding & Dent! A list of my reviews that you can subscribe to can be found here.
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Volko Ruhnke
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Thank you Raf for the eloquent reviews -- this one and others!

Best regards, Volko
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Raf Cordero
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Bolingbrook
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Volko wrote:
Thank you Raf for the eloquent reviews -- this one and others!

Best regards, Volko


You're very welcome. Happy to write the reviews, as I have yet to play a COIN game I didn't love.
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Steven Newman
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Eugene
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Hey, man. I've been getting into boardgames over the last year, and have kept hearing about COIN games repeatedly on the boardgaming subreddit. I finally did my research, and learned what type of games they are. Instantly, Falling Sky caught my eye. I've always loved Rome: Total War, and loved The Conquest of Gaul, by Julius Caesar. After reading up on it, and the other COIN titles, it came down to Cuba Libre, and Falling Sky. As much as I love the theme of Falling Sky, your review really sold me on Cuba Libre, especially as my entry point into the series. I guess that's a really long way to say thank you, but thank you! Have you tried Falling Sky? Is it a large step up in complexity? Anyways, thanks again!
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Rohan G
Australia
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Robeauxcop wrote:
After reading up on it, and the other COIN titles, it came down to Cuba Libre, and Falling Sky. As much as I love the theme of Falling Sky, your review really sold me on Cuba Libre, especially as my entry point into the series.


I too am new to COIN. Last night I went through the playbook for Falling Sky. And I have Cuba Libre coming in the post. Sometimes you just have to have both when you can't decide!
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Raf Cordero
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Bolingbrook
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Robeauxcop wrote:
Hey, man. I've been getting into boardgames over the last year, and have kept hearing about COIN games repeatedly on the boardgaming subreddit. I finally did my research, and learned what type of games they are. Instantly, Falling Sky caught my eye. I've always loved Rome: Total War, and loved The Conquest of Gaul, by Julius Caesar. After reading up on it, and the other COIN titles, it came down to Cuba Libre, and Falling Sky. As much as I love the theme of Falling Sky, your review really sold me on Cuba Libre, especially as my entry point into the series. I guess that's a really long way to say thank you, but thank you! Have you tried Falling Sky? Is it a large step up in complexity? Anyways, thanks again!


You're very welcome! Glad you liked the review and I'm glad you're checking out the series. I have not played Falling Sky yet. It is a step up, but from my understanding it is still less complex than Fire in the Lake. FiTL is many player's intro COIN so I wouldn't think it would be too bad jumping into FS. It may be better to look at it from the perspective of your player group. It's a bit difficult for me to get COINs to the table but CL is definitely the easiest one.
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Steven Newman
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Eugene
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Gravox wrote:


I too am new to COIN. Last night I went through the playbook for Falling Sky. And I have Cuba Libre coming in the post. Sometimes you just have to have both when you can't decide!


I really like the way you think! Now let's see whether my wife also likes the way you think!
 
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Mart van de Wege
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Den Haag
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captainraffi wrote:
The game itself doesn’t make a political statement, though arguably portraying and educating on the conflict is itself a political statement.


I disagree. It does make a minor political statement: by naming the mechanic 26 July uses to shift popular opinion 'Terror'. In my opinion this is a mild right-wing bias. Not enough to distinguish it from mainstream Western thought though.

If you would only switch the names of the Terror action and the Propaganda round Agitation action for the 26 July Movement, the game result would be the same, but then the bias would shift left. And I hung around enough hard-core Marxist-Leninists to know that this their preferred reading of history.

But as I said, this is hardly a surprising bias. I think most people would hardly notice it, and even if I read it as a mild expression of bias, I don't care about it. Given the history it's entirely defensible.
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Steffen Beck
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I really don't get this constant point about Fire being über-complex. If learning Cuba Libre is like jumping into a four-foot pool, learning Fire is jumping into a five-foot pool.
 
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Nathan Lee
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I think FitL provides a wider range of choices due to the larger map, and also the diversity of units - it can certainly feel overwhelming on your first turn ever of FitL!
 
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