Amidst the craziness of Strategicon, LA, a 4 day marathon of open gaming (of which I could only handle 3 before absolute burnout) one game stood out as a breath of fresh air. That game was Confusion. The day had a cold war theme without me even realizing it. Not only was my first game of the day Twilight Struggle (also my first play ever...review to come after a few more) but it was followed up with this practically unknown (to me) gem, Confusion. I had heard about Confusion on various podcasts and overlooked Drakkenstrike's CBiHD because come on...it's just an abstract. Everyone is pushing this theme thing to the max and I couldn't help but roll my eyes. The reason I kept my eye on it, though, was not because of what confusion was or the praise it was getting, but simply because I love the stronghold production of Survive. Survive wasn't anywhere near my radar and the Stronghold reprint made me not only notice this game, but fall in love with it. The perfect game that walks the line between gamer and non-gamer. But I digress, for this review isn't of Survive. It's of Confusion, their newest hotness.
So back to my story: It's day 2 of the con. I'm fresh off 4 hours of sleep (a very short night for me) and back into the throes of it. My first game of the day is Twilight Struggle, and like I said, it was my first play. Needless to say, if I wasn't completely wiped out before it started, I was by the time the person who was teaching me had to call it (about 4 hours in and just at the end of the mid war). He had to go play in a Agricola tournament, and while I very much enjoyed my first delve into the cold war, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't the slightest bit happy it was over. From there I milled around a bit until it was an acceptable time to start drinking...about 3ish...when I stumbled into a good friend of mine and told him I simply needed a break from the tons of people, the bright lights and the deafening noise of the main gaming hall. I suggested we head to the bar. He suggested we check Confusion out of the game library and take it with us. And that my friends, was how my most relaxing and enjoyable experience of the con began.
We're more of "figure it out as we go" people but he had a basic understanding of the rules and I had heard the game described on various podcasts so we cracked the box open, ordered a couple Sierra Nevada's on draft and got to gaming.
How it works:
The game is very simple. There's almost two phases to the gameplay, but we'll get to that....
First setup, both players take their opponents pieces and "construct" them by playing a smaller insert piece into the larger shell of the piece. The smaller insert piece displays all the possible movements of the piece. The piece is then placed on the board with the side displaying the possible movement towards the player who does not control the spy (pawn). This information is kept secret from the player who owns the spy. Once all the pieces are constructed, they are placed out on the board, a little black briefcase is placed in the middle and you're ready to go.
Now for the fun, players take turns attempting to make moves with their pieces. The main goal is to make it to the center of the board, pick up the briefcase, and make it to the opposite sides baseline. Each successful or unsuccessful movement gives you a little more information about how that piece can move and thus, which piece it is. Players use a dry erase chart (included) to track which pieces are which. Deduction! But very straightforward deduction, so it's simple (and fun!).
The second phase of the game, not officially but it certainly felt like a second whole aspect not found during the "deduction phase", is basically like a game of chess. But not a plain old boring game of chess, like a game of chess where you only know how some of your pieces can move and your opponent only knows how some of his pieces can move. Strategy!
Finally, there's the twist. One of the pieces on each side is a double agent who your opponent actually controls. Suspicion! Again, super fun.
So what did I think...
This was easily the most elegant game I played over the course of my 3 days there. The rules are simple enough that we figured them out while setting up the board. The strategy was deep enough to make me want to play over and over.
No, not really, just kidding. I mean, the theme does fit, but it's not like you'll play the game and think to yourself, "wow, this game is soooooo thematic!". I mean, the whole, "these are spys so I don't really know what they're up to" thing fits, but doesn't add too much.
Gorgeous high quality components
Simply gorgeous. The board is beautiful. The spies have a satisfying heft. They have fun pictures embossed on them. The dry erase chart for tracking what you know is beautifully done. All around top notch job.
Deduction that feels good
You know when you play code 777 and you're like, "maybe I'm just dumb because I'm not learning anything from these questions..."? This isn't like that. Instead, you ask for a move, you piece either can or can't make the move and you cross out the appropriate pieces on your dossier. It's glorious. You instantly feel brilliant.
Depth of strategy
Like I said, only a portion of the game is the deduction part. After you figure a little bit out, it's a deep strategy game.
This game was perfect. Exactly what I was looking for when I needed a break from the intensity of the con. It fit perfectly on a small circular bar table, leaving just enough room for our two pint glasses and a dish of beer nuts. The deduction was like a race leading giving the winner a slight advantage in the strategy portion of the game. A perfect blend of the two. Finally the twist that the double agent provides keeps the player guessing. Overall I cannot gush enough about this one and cannot wait for it to hit shelves. I want to thank the kind gents at Stronghold for providing a copy to Strategicon.
This is really succinct. Thanks for making it easier for me to want to buy this. I just gotta find the right price, as I suspect the high production values equates to a high RRP.
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This is my favorite bar game now. A new Jones category if you will!