Thursday, January 9, 2014

Spy games


We're always on the lookout for good two-player games. We're also big fans of the British television series Danger Man (known in the US as Secret Agent) and The Sandbaggers, both about spying during the cold war era. So Cold War: CIA vs. KGB was a natural for us.

There are three parts to the game: the Objectives deck, the Groups deck, and each player's stack of Spies. Each turn an Objective is turned over and  played to the center of the table. Objectives are a mix of countries such as Afghanistan, Cuba or Korea, and situations such as Nuclear Escalation or the Space Race, and each is worth a certain amount of points.

Players each secretly choose one of their six spies to use for the turn. Spies have different abilities: the Assassin kills the opposing agent instead of winning the objective (thus reducing your opponent's options on future turns), the Director claims an extra Objective card if his player wins the round, and the Deputy Director can never be killed.

Having each chosen their spy for the round, players then take turns either drawing from the Groups deck, activating an ability on a Group, or passing. Each group belongs to a faction (either military, political, economic, or media) and is worth a certain amount of influence. Each card has its own special ability that can be used once during the round, depending on what faction it belongs to: military groups can destroy other cards, political groups can move other cards between players, economic groups allow a card's ability to be used again, and media groups will let a player peek at the top card of the Groups deck.

The goal is to play as many Group cards as it takes to get influence as close to the Objective's stability rating as possible, without going over. Each Objective has a limit to the number of Group cards that can be played, and a huge part of the game's strategy is this balance between the number of Group cards and their influence values. If your influence goes over the Objective's stability, your opponent wins the Objective and your spy dies.

Players play subsequent rounds until one player wins be reaching 100 points. Spies can't be used two turns in a row, so another important strategic decision for each player is what spy to play, and when. Playing the Analyst lets you peek at the top cards of the Groups deck before the next round starts, and the Master Spy reverses the winner of the round, as long as your influence doesn't go over the Objective's stability.

There are a lot of decisions to make over the course of the game, and there is a fair amount of tension as players draw and use the Group cards, both of which do a great job of reflecting the nature of the post-WWII cold war.

Rating: 4 (out of 5) A deceptively simple and engaging game with a low price tag.


Date played: December 21, 2013

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