Michael Off The Shelf Board Game Reviews
Confusion: Espionage And Deception In The Cold War - By Stronghold Games
From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the continent.
Winston Churchill, March 5, 1946
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Confusion: Espionage And Deception In The Cold War (hereafter referred to as simply Confusion) is an evolution of Stratego. It marries the simple mechanics of Stratego, with the piece specific movement and enemy piece taking powers of Chess, and adds in the promotion mechanics of Checkers. It mixes all these interesting mechanics with a blind movement mechanic. Blind Movement?? You ask? Yes Blind Movement, and strangely it works rather well.
What's In The Box
As we peel back the layers, we see that this is a box full of some fantastic gaming components. For an MSRP of $59.95 you are getting some fantastic high quality game components (something that Stronghold in my mind is gaining a reputation for). While the box insert isn't the greatest in the world (Days of Wonder and lately AEG seem to be fighting it out for that crown and title), the box insert is more than adequate enough to keep the pieces in the box. Lets break the components down shall we?
First the game board, the thickness itself isn't unique (yet it is sturdy and will stand the rigors of play), but the artwork quality is fantastic and really does add to the theme of the game. I realize that some may grouse continuously that this game is merely an abstract with a theme tacked on, I disagree and actually enjoy the theme. The board itself is a fantastic full color board split into an 11x11 grid. One half has a map and flag representation of the USA, while the other half has the same representation for the USSR. The picture is actually wrapped around the edge of the board so that it should not fray and peel off.
The theme continues with the two Spy Dossiers. Each player gets a Spy Dossier with which to track the potential moves of each teams spies (more on this later). Stronghold opted for a high quality dry erase board instead of disposable notepads for each player to use. This is a fantastic thematic addition to the game and reduces future costs/waste. The dry erase boards work well, are full color, made of some thick cardboard and even have a rubber/foam stopper strip along one edge.
Three dry erase markers are included with the game. A two player game that comes with 3 markers, nice touch! Pretty standard stuff here but a very nice touch. Also included in the box are 5 plastic bags for storing game pieces. I have yet to use them honestly, but they are of the standard ziploc quality.
Confusion comes with 6 cardboard tokens that are only used with the optional rules. They are of a good quality, about the size and thickness of an American Quarter, with a full color flag for the respective country on the front and a simple image on the back with a gameplay mechanic.
The briefcase token is made out of the same acrylic/plastic as the pawns for the game. It has an engraved image of the briefcase on each side (engraving is superior to painted on since it will not rub out/wear out as quickly). It is about an inch squared in size and as thick as a dinner plate.
We save the best for last! The pawns for Confusion are extremely nice. They have the quality feel of a good set of Domino's. They are about the same height as a Domino but two to three times the thickness.
Stacked up with a size comparison to an American Quarter you can see that these are indeed decent sized game pieces. Anyone who was bothered by very small wooden tokens used in Through the Ages: A Story of Civilization, will be happen to know that these are some hefty pawns. They are designed to fit a movement piece into the larger piece (more on this later) and it all fits very well. The acrylic material used to manufacture the pawns feels durable and again all the images are engraved into the pawns so they should last longer then your standard painted on images.
Components And Presentation Verdict:10/10 - Absolutely fantastic quality for the price. This is one of those games where you know where your gaming dollars went. Sure I would jump for joy if the insert was form fitted so each individual piece had a slot to sit in, but that's just being greedy.
How Does It Play?
Rulebook and Turn Summary.
Confusion comes with a full color high quality rulebook. The rules themselves, ignoring set up and optional rules, fit easily on two pages.
The basic premise of Confusion is that you are either the USA or USSR during the Cold War. A time where information about the other side was a powerful commodity and either side was willing to use spies and deception to learn what they could about the other side.
Each player starts with 13 pawns. Your objective is to be the first person to grab the Top Secret briefcase and deliver it to the far side of the gameboard. The first player to do so wins. The Confusion and Deception in the title comes from the fact that no two pawns have the same movement powers, and you do not know what movement powers your own pawns have. Only through deduction can you learn what movement powers your pawns have and use those abilities to cross the gameboard. This fits the theme of the Cold War where spies were so deep undercover no one knew exactly who was where and up to exactly what at any given time. Additionally double agents were a real threat to the respective governments!
Game Set Up
1. Place your opponent’s Movement Pieces (which show how a piece moves) face down and shuffle them.
2. Select a Spy Piece and insert a random Movement Piece into the cutout area.
3. Place each of your opponent’s pieces into its respective starting position on your opponent’s side of the board (like Chess each piece has it's own specific starting point). Don't let your opponent see their own pawns movement paths. Your opponent should be doing the same.
4. Place the Top Secret Briefcase in the center of the board on the marked square. Each player gets the Notebook belonging to their country and a dry erase marker.
On your turn choose a pawn and attempt to move it. Your opponent will then tell you if the move is a legal move that pawn can take or not. This is where the open Dossiers come in handy.
Sherlock Holmes was quoted as saying "When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?". This is very true in this part of the game. Through a process of elimination and judicious use of the Spy Dossiers you will eventually deduce what moves are legal for your respective pieces.
Like chess, pieces in Confusion capture opponents pawns that they land on, but you cannot jump over another pawn. Like Checkers, certain (only 4 per team) pawns promote to effectively having the movement powers of a double space moving Chess "King" if they can successfully cross the game board.
Of course this would all be too simple, so to this we add a monkey wrench the Double Agent. Each player has one double agent and normally (unless through deduction) do not know which piece is the double agent (it changes randomly each time you play). Your opponent chooses how your double agent moves and doesn't have to be honest in the least bit. So one turn your pawn might move forward 2 spaces easily, then the following turn your opponent will tell you "No, sorry that piece cannot move like that". The strategy then comes in that you want to keep the double agent a secret as long as possible since once a player knows which pawn is the double agent they will (rightfully so) not use that piece anymore (and have the right as a free action to remove that pawn from the game). The ultimate in deception would be to convince your opponent to let their own double agent pick up the briefcase, let it make its way towards the end of the board, and then one space away say "Oops nope that piece cannot move anymore!".
There are some additional rules (handing the briefcase off to other spies for example) and a few nice optional rules included in the rulebook, but they are fairly simple and straightforward.
A sample game might look something like this:
Player A points at their H pawn with the radio on it and asks if it can move forward 2 spaces. The opponent see's that H has a question mark on it meaning it is the double agent. The opponent also knows that if H moves forward 2 squares it will be able to pick up the briefcase. The opponent smiles and nods his head saying "Yes that is a legal move". Player A moves the pawn forward two spaces and picks up the briefcase. It is now the opponents turn.
Simplicity Of The Rules: Verdict 9.75/10 - The rules are very simple to learn for anyone who has played Chess or Stratego. The most difficult thing possibly being memorizing the initial pawn set up. But if you can memorize a Chess board, this wont be much more challenging.
Daddy Why's This Guy Got A Sword In His Belly?
As a father of 2 future board gamers, a large concern of mine is how secure am I in letting my eldest son play and or rummage through a game box. Granted, BGG and board games themselves very clearly tell you a minimum age, they don't tell you exactly why that minimum age was chosen. My hope is to arbitrarily tell you why I think this age range was chosen for this game and then hopefully give a few ideas I might have for a game to make it easier on the young ones. Finally I will close with what seems to be the "sweet spot" for number of players and if the game has solo rules I'll comment on those too.
Confusion is the 2 player game of espionage during the Cold War. The pieces and pawns are very sanitized for the most part. Depending on your viewpoint though I will mention that 2 pawns picture handguns, 2 picture semi auto rifles, and finally 2 pawns have a picture of a knife. Honestly though these look more like GI Joe action figure representations of those instruments versus a highly detailed representation of those items. There are no violent images in the rulebook, only a picture of a "Agent" pointing a firearm off into the distance. Overall it's a fairly generalized representation of the games theme. The game lists ages 12+ and I think this is less theme and more strategy and mechanics of the game. I do believe a fairly bright 9 or 10 year old could play this game, but 11-12 just might be a good average. It does require some abstract thinking to play and the whole game hinges on player honesty. One playing lying about another players pawns potential movement pretty much ruins the game, even if done accidentally.
Family Friendliness Verdict:A very clean game with a strong bit of mental gymnastics through deduction and reasoning.
Confusion conceivably could play in 45 minutes or so, and for the most part it does until you play with someone prone to Analysis Paralysis. Then turns can drag on and on. "Put down the darn Dossier and just pick a darn pawn!". This is no different then Chess though and honestly if it got too out of hand a Chess timer could come in handy. It goes without saying that since Confusion is a 2 player only game, it plays best with 2 players.
* Fantastic quality of components
* Randomizing of game pieces adds to replay value
* Included optional rules
* Great 2 player game
* Underneath the theme it is basically a good Abstract game
* It is only a 2 player game
* An Analysis Paralysis player can bog the game down
* Underneath the theme it is basically just an Abstract game
But Is It Fun?
Yes, it is fun for people who enjoy Abstract Games like Quoridor or Chess. If you don't like abstract games though your enjoyment might be diminished some. The rules are very simple to learn and teach, and I really like the blind movement mechanics. It adds a subtle layer to a game that would have simply been Chess and Stratego rethemed without it. If I had one complaint about the game it is that it is only a 2 player game. I love 2 player games, but sadly they do not hit the table enough for me (not that I am complaining mind you, my game groups are 4-5 people routinely limiting 2 player game table time until my sons are older).
Overall Final Game Verdict: 8.75/10 - So the real question is "Would I recommend this game to someone else?" The answer is, if you like 2 player games, enjoy abstracts, and really enjoy a thinking game then I wholeheartedly say "Yes". I would only caution against playing with people with AP or people who do not like abstracts, but that goes for most games doesn't it?
I will not rest until Biblios is in the Top 100. - Steve Oksienik
Well I been watchin' while you been coughin, I've been drinking life while you've been nauseous, and so I drink to health while you kill yourself and I got just one thing that I can offer... Go on and save yourself and take it out on me
Great review, my friend. We love this game for all the reasons you stated.
One of my favorite aspects of this game is that games can take anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour, depending on how the game plays out.
This is a great review, and you covered all aspects of the game nicely. I already had this on my list (my wife and I are exploring the abstract genre) and now I know I made a good pick. Must-buy for me, now.
Michael Off The Shelf Board Game Reviews
Thank you for the Geek Gold!