For what seems like forever, there is a game at the top end of the BGG rankings (which I admit I don't pay much attention to given its flaws, but I digress) called Twilight Struggle. It was a heavy "tug-o-war" card driven game between 2 players focusing on the Cold War. It involved gaining control and influence over various territories on a map board constantly fighting each other off for control and playing cards based on specific historical events. It was a good design, but too long and sterile for me.
Then recently I got to review a little micro-game version called Twilight Squabble (which you'll get to read when the website I wrote it for as a guest blogger eventually publishes it!). This was effectively supposed to be a 10-15 minute quick version of Twilight Struggle bringing it down to literally a few cards and two small tracks, but retaining the same back and forth style of play. Spoiler alert, I thought it did a good job overall, but probably abstracted too much, going from one extreme to the other. What I ideally want is something in the middle.
13 Days is the potential answer published Jolly Roger Games who astute readers will recognise also published Founding Fathers, which surprised me as to how good it was and made #16 in my Top 100. That's a solid foundation to start with so already I'm hopeful. Based on the Cuban Missile Crisis as a sub-set of the Cold War, this looks to be that sweet spot in the middle between the two previous Twilight games. Does it manage to fit in?
Designer: Asger Harding Granerud, Daniel Skjold Pedersen
Publisher: Jolly Roger Games
Time: 30-45 min
Nothing Jolly About Firing Nuclear Weapons
From the Jolly Roger website:
13 Days is a card-driven boardgame where action takes place because of cards played which are based on key events and items from the Cuban Missile Crisis. Card-driven games feature a lot of interaction between the players so there is not a lot of waiting on the other player. The most acclaimed is 'Twilight Struggle' (by A.Gupta and J.Matthews). Jolly Roger has done one previously called 'Founding Fathers' (by J.Matthews and C.Leonhard), but within this type of game, there's usually some complexity. 13 Days fits a different niche. It plays fast and its simple, making it an ideal filler game rich with history, or as a game that will entertain new gamers who may have no idea about the Cuban Missile Crisis at all.
From Board Game Geek:
Experience the dense Cold War suspense and scratch that Twilight Struggle itch in only 45 minutes.
13 Days: The Cuban Missile Crisis is a nail-biting, theme saturated two-player strategy game about the Cuban Missile Crisis. Your fate is determined by how well you deal with the inherent dilemmas of the game, and the conflict.
1) Will you push to gain prestige at the risk of escalating the crisis to global nuclear war?
2) How do you best manage your hand of cards to further your own plans while depriving your opponent of options?
Work out these dilemmas in order to emerge as victor of the Cuban Missile Crisis after thirteen suspenseful days.
13 Days: The Cuban Missile Crisis is a meaty filler utilizing the card-driven game mechanics. Rich with history, yet accessible to gamers with no prior knowledge of the crisis. 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.
Clean And Crisp, But On A Budget
Components wise, you're not talking a great deal here. It's almost entirely a small board with a bunch of cards and the aesthetics are much like you got from Twilight Struggle in that they are rather bland, but these types of games aren't going for a glossy exterior and I'll take this board over Twilight Struggle's busy version any day. Even Founding Fathers isn't exactly something you would mount on the wall. You do get some stock photos of the events in question though which helps to teach the historical theme it's based on. Though my word, the card stock is pretty flimsy so I recommend pulling some sleeves out for this one. However what does make this odd is the high RRP price tag of £34.99, that does seem a bit steep for what you get in the box.
That negative aside, the graphic design works here. It's very clean and easy to interpret after barely skimming the rulebook. It doesn't get bogged down in complicated text boxes when explaining card abilities and you've no wish for a reference card with the tiny and obvious iconography present. Grab the rule book, have a quick read of the history so you know what on earth is going on (unless you're someone who actually knows anything about history unlike me) and then get to learning the rules, which despite some fiddly parts on how strategy cards work, don't take long to sift through.
Considering All Your Options
You don't necessarily have a lot of decisions to make, but each one will be important and on top of that you'll need to be second guessing your opponent's moves as each player can directly affect the other fairly drastically. But removing and placing cubes on territories isn't all you have to think about.
Firstly there is the DEFCON tracks which monitor political, military and world opinion. Being higher than your opponent on these tracks can yield some rewards depending on your agendas, but there's a huge risk in doing so as having only one of these tracks in DEFCON 1 (or two in DEFCON 2) will trigger the end of the game and that player automatically loses. I always love when you get variable end-game triggers that aren't easy to predict as so many games fall victim to the classic "last turn snatch & grab" mentality where you feel there's not much else you can do so you just grab for the sake of it. It also acts as a nice way for a losing player to potentially pull a sneaky victory in so you can't ignore it.
And then we also have the Aftermath cards. Whichever strategy card you don't use in the round gets put underneath the board as the Aftermath, which is essentially an additional element of scoring at the end of the game where whoever has the greatest influence on the cards within earns extra points. Now these are hidden from view so you don't know whether a player is actually gunning for those points or has simply ignored them to focus on other paths. After all, if you're using high influence cards for the Aftermath, you're likely not using them on the board itself.
Easy To Operate, But Remain Alert!
This all sounds identical to Twilight Struggle but even though they are similar, 13 Days is its own game and can be treated as separate by many. If you thought Twilight Struggle was a bit of a mind-bender to sit through however, you'll be pleased to know that 13 Days is far more accessible even to potentially a casual player. I'm not going to call this a gateway game by any stretch, there's too much strategy to think about for a new gamer, but this could be a solid upgrade afterwards especially if you're interested in the setting.
One big reason for the lower barrier to entry which I highly approve of is the flags you place out based on what agendas you drew. These highlight to your opponent three potential areas where you may be trying to score points. Now of course you might be ignoring all of them and have some other crazy plan in motion, but for the most part you're going for one of these agendas and having those flags out means your brain doesn't crash from an infinite loop when considering what your opponent is planning. If you removed them, then suddenly the possibilities become overwhelming, so they do a great job of condensing it down without making each turn obvious and linear, a great design choice if I may say so.
It's sometimes tricky to establish whether luck, bluffing or skill won you the game, but scores can be very tight and downtime is kept to a minimum as you need to thinking all the time about your next move and what the opponent is doing. There's no excuse for someone to be tweeting on their phone while playing this game (except for me, I'm a blogger I'm allowed to!) If you want extra reassurance on that, then know that some strategy cards played will give the opponent the option to use its event if it relates to their superpower, so wake up Mr President, do you want to trigger this event before I take control of Cuba?
As for the replay value, that's fairly strong here as well, however it may become a little one-sided for a player who's played this tonnes of times versus a newcomer as you'll likely have at least a basic knowledge of the cards and what they do giving you an advantage. But consider if you're playing this with your spouse or best friend constantly and both of you know the cards inside and out, that's a strategic death match right there!
Verdict on 13 Days
Now of course, I have the historical knowledge of a boiled potato so know that all I can say about the theme of 13 Days is that it's represented well in the mechanics and that there is plenty of written narrative information within the rulebook to explain the cards and setting in more detail, much like you got in Twilight Struggle, albeit with less pages to sift through so it's easier on the brain.
In terms of game mechanics however, which is more my field of "expertise" 13 Days is actually a fun tug-o-war affair that takes what made Twilight Struggle popular, but condensing it down into less than an hour with multiple options to consider each turn, plenty of mind games, multiple scoring avenues and a potential auto-lose condition.
The rules have some mild fiddliness and it may be a little bland in appearance, but then so was Twilight Struggle and look how that fared. 13 Days is a solid two player experience that engages you enough to not feel overwhelmed, but allowing for strategic depth. I've now mentioned three games based on the Cold War, heavy, micro and mid-range. If I'm going to pick one, it's 13 Days without a doubt being the most balanced experience of the lot. You want the ultimate "oh no he didn't comment"? I believe for me 13 Days kills Twilight Struggle.
If you are interested in this game you can find a copy at your friendly local gaming store - http://www.findyourgamestore.co.uk/
YOU WILL LIKE 13 DAYS IF:
You want a lighter and shorter version of Twilight Struggle.
You enjoy classic "back and forth" style game play with one opponent.
You have a keen interest in the Cuban Missile Crisis and wish to learn more.
YOU WILL NOT LIKE 13 DAYS IF:
You prefer the heavier nature and more expansive historical breadth of Twilight Struggle.
You have no interest in the setting it's based on.
You wished it was more visually appealing.
Thank you for a fine review.
However, there is one point:
Firstly there is the DEFCON tracks which monitor political, military and world opinion. Being higher than your opponent on these tracks can yield some rewards depending on your agendas, but there's a huge risk in doing so as having only one of these tracks in DEFCON 1 (or two in DEFCON 2) will trigger the end of the game and that player automatically loses.
A player only loses the game either having one of these tracks in DEFCON 1 or all three (not two of them) in DEFCON 2.