Labyrinth, The War on Terror: The Shortcomings of Carrying a Long Stick

I have seen this board game a lot of times in the numerous gaming conventions I attend. But given my limited time and physical space, I always refrained from buying it.

When Labyrinth came out in a digital version and fully vested with a computer opponent, I jumped into it.

The pedigree of the board game is very well known. An award-winning title by designer and intelligence analyst Volko Ruhnke, Labyrinth is a game about the global war on terror at the strategic level. Sometimes criticized for featuring -or not- certain aspects of the struggle (I don’t know, we used to call these things abstractions), it presents the player with choices that have real life counterparts. All if you keep in mind the emphasis on the strategic level that Labyrinth has.

And now, my struggle against extremism and terrorism. This is the main map, which is showing sleeper cells in Afghanistan (black blocks) and US troops in the Gulf States and Saudi Arabia (brown blocks). Aligned at the bottom of the screen (highlighted green) are the cards I was given for this turn.

The gameplay is straightforward thanks to a clear interface and a clean way to show the options you have available. The game rules are of course handled by the computer. I can’t imagine myself learning these rules or playing without the aid of the computer.

In a rare turn of events, the extremists flood Afghanistan only (they would usually go for several countries from the get go) and start operating without impediment until I invade the country and start fighting them. Note the black blocks now turned up showing the star and the crescent, they are now active cells.

The cards serve two purposes: to provide operation points and to trigger events. The title and description of the cards are just for flavor, which can be disconcerting for the beginners like me. There is a fine and fascinating balance when playing a card. You need to play it, that’s a given, but you get to choose what operations to carry out. But by playing a card you can also activate an opponent event, which many times is detrimental to your interests. Note in the screenshot above how the majority of cards have a star and crescent logo on the top: this means that the terrorists get to do something specified in the card.

War in Afghanistan is underway. The problem: it goes so slowly that I can feel that the terrorists will pop out elsewhere. Like the real war on terror, the mobility of terrorist cells is high. Damn globalism.

The mobility of terrorist cells is limited by the target country’s governance, and the player has the option of influencing that. Again, there are limited resources (cards), and the US side will find himself working hard to achieve a good balance.

This card came in handy when the terrorists showed themselves in Pakistan.
The computer controlled terrorist side saw an opening in Pakistan and Iraq. Devoid of operational capacity, I could not even move troops to the new two hotspots. I got a very bad deck of cards for this turn.

And it all went downhill from there. It was a sour loss for me, I really thought I could stomp the terrorists in Afghanistan. But it was a diversion, or at least it looked like one. Game over: I lost because the terrorist side got a win on the resources aspect of the game. No troop level could have helped me. My long stick was my demise.

Clean graphics and a very functional interface. Great game overall.