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13 DAYS THE CUBAN MISSILE CRISIS FROM ULTRA PRO via JOLLY ROGER GAMES I would love to be able to write this review without...

Review: 13 Days The Cuban Missile Crisis Review: 13 Days The Cuban Missile Crisis

Review: 13 Days The Cuban Missile Crisis

Review: 13 Days The Cuban Missile Crisis




I would love to be able to write this review without referring to Twilight Struggle, but as the designers themselves heralded it as Twilight Struggle [hereafter TS] in 45 minutes that's not going to be likely.

There are plenty of other reasons too.  Victory determined by who has gained most Prestige at game end, a Defcon track and the possibility of a player losing by triggering nuclear war; playing a hand of cards each turn and each card playable for either its events or placing influence; an abstract board to represent the areas to be influenced.  The Cuban Missile Crisis - one card in TS : a whole game in 13 Days. Nuff said - mini-TS or TS-lite?  Thankfully, it's better and worse than that.

To start with, it has a much smaller footprint.  The board is a mere 11 x 16 inches and though a map of the world hides mutedly in the background, the superimposed, large, rectangular boxes where the fight for influence takes place transforms the experience into a much more abstract form, especially  as three of the boxes aren't countries, but Television, United Nations and Alliances.  Calling these battlegrounds [however metaphorically true that might be] stretches my ability to sink myself into the atmosphere.

To be honest, atmosphere is what I think the board lacks and in that respect is much inferior to TS, but, like most CDGs, the cards are the main creators of the ambience.  In this case, a deck of 39 Strategy cards, 13 Agenda cards and one card titled Personal Letter [in effect the classic Advantage card which gives a bonus of one cube, when played alongside a Strategy card] which the US player possesses at the beginning of the game.  The Strategy cards are the key ones being illustrated with photos taken from the period, some of which I distinctly remember from T.V. news broadcasts and newspapers of the time, such as the meeting between JFK and Kruschev and most disturbing of all the shot of the ship carrying the said "Cuban Missiles".

By comparison the Agenda cards are disappointingly bland with either icons from the Defcon track or representations of faded map pictures.  Overall the quality of all the cards is adequate, but of a distinct thinness that does need sleeving, especially if, as a quick-playing game, it does get many plays.

The rest of the contents are a set of 17 small wooden cubes for each player in their respective colours of blue and red to mark influence in the battlegrounds, six wooden discs to chart Defcon status,  a yellow disc to mark the score on the  Prestige Track and a black disc to mark the turn and finally six small cardboard flag counters to be used each turn to indicate each player's Agendas drawn.

The rules are a small booklet of 9 pages for the rules themselves and 12 pages of a complete play through of a whole game.  That can be achieved as the game lasts a mere 3 Rounds with 4 card plays in each Round.  Yes, that's it; 12 Strategy cards are played by each side in the game.  In this respect, it is TS very, very, very lite!  But, more about those Strategy cards later.

Below is a picture of the board set up at the beginning of the game.

It shows the playing board with the 9 Battlegrounds: 3 Political [green], 3 Military [orange] and 3 World Opinion [purple] and the Defcon track [seen in greater detail below].

Unlike TS, the Defcon track has three columns to indicate how placing influence in the battlegrounds affects the respective Political, Military and World Opinion status.

The bottom of the Defcon track is printed with the starting positions of each players 3 coloured discs and if the resolution was good enough you'd see that they all start in the Defcon 3 zone.  Things have already hotted up before the 13 Days start.  If any single disc is still in the Defcon 1 zone in Phase 7 : Check Nuclear War that player loses, but what's worse a player can also lose, if all three of his/her discs are in the Defcon 2 zone in Phase 7 : Check Nuclear War.  This is a game that is very easy to lose, as each Round all discs move up one square on the table and every time you place cubes in one of the Battlegrounds on the map the relevant marker on the Defcon track moves up the number of cubes placed minus 1.  So, place three influence and you shoot up two squares on the appropriate track..

For me this is one of the best and well crafted mechanisms in the game.  It places you on the horns of a huge dilemma.  A major way to gain Prestige to win the game is from tallying the difference between the number of each player's cubes in a Battleground or the difference between the number of spaces of each player's discs on the Defcon track.  You have to place cubes in order to gain winning Prestige, but at the same time you are pushing yourself up the Defcon track towards potential defeat!  Lovely twist.

However, there is another twist that relates to the three Agenda cards [yellow-backed] each player draws at the beginning of each Turn.

just two of the Agenda cards

First the player uses his/her flags to mark on the board the  areas the three Agendas relate to, but only one of those three will be secretly chosen by each player and only the chosen ones will score Prestige points.  Again this feature of the game is a major one; it signals where a player's interests may be focused for this turn and allows for some degree of bluffing to try to misdirect your opponent from your target agenda.  Also, it is perfectly possible that your opponent ends the Round having been the more successful in fulfilling the conditions of the Agenda card and so gains the Prestige points instead of you.  Best of all you have to take that decision before you know what five Strategy cards you will be using to implement your choice.

This may not be to everyone's liking.  I can imagine some gamers, especially those who prefer absolute control to the vagaries of fate, would have preferred to make their choice of which Agenda card to be their chosen goal after seeing what cards they had to work with.  For myself, I love having to craft a plan out of what the draw has dealt me and in that respect 13 Days seems closest here to what I enjoy in TS.

three of the leading protagonists in the drama of history

First of all, in the deck of 39 strategy cards, each player has 13 in his colour and there are 13 United Nations cards.  With so few cards played, every single one is crucial and many of the dilemmas familiar in TS will be yours in 13 Days.  Each card has an Event and the number of cubes you can place or remove. These work in identical fashion to the War cards in TS.  If you play a card that is of your own colour, you have the choice of playing the Event or placing or removing from one Battleground on the map up to the number of influence cubes shown on the card.  If it is a United Nations card, you have exactly the same choice.  But if the card has your opponent's Event on it, your opponent has the choice of playing the Event [notice he/she can decline to play the Event] and then you place or remove up to the number of Influence cubes.

If you have been doing your maths, five Strategy cards drawn each turn and four played, what happens to the fifth card each turn?   This is the last of the important, innovative elements in the design.  That last card is placed face down in the Aftermath Location at the bottom of the board and provides the final whammy at game end.  The six cards are a final additional Prestige scoring - if the card is a Russian red one,  the number of cubes on it are added to the Russian player's score, if a blue  American card the number of cubes on it are added to the American player's Prestige, if a United Nations card nobody gets any Prestige points. 

You're probably thinking why on earth would a player not put a card of his colour in the Aftermath pile.  Well, it's a bit like the Space Race in TS, perhaps you had a card with an opponent's Event that at a critical point you just did not dare to play.  What can you do with it?   Bury it in the Aftermath pile and cross your fingers.

Obviously the decisions are more limited because, if you do not choose to play the card for its Event, there are only two things you can do either [1] add your cubes to a Battleground  or [2] remove them from a Battleground and there will be many occasions when you must simply take that negative choice of taking them away.  Why? Because it is the only way you can move one of your Defcon markers down the track and away from possible defeat!  However, you will find the action allowed by many of the Events to be especially useful, as they often modify basic rules in advantageous ways.

Before giving you my conclusions on this game, I need to mention the last item in the game box, namely the historical booklet which provides a concise  picture of the Cuban Missile Crisis and the significance of Berlin, Italy and Turkey which explains why all three are battlegrounds in the game, as well as a good explanation of the history behind all the Strategy cards.  For such a small game, this is an elegant addition and one I much appreciated.

So, fewer choices, fewer cards, fewer Rounds than TS, but always, always difficult, critical decisions and enjoyable absorbing play.  It may be a fairly quick game to play, but it is no filler, as I first thought it might be before I played the game.  Every game has been tense with all our attention focused unremittingly on the situation on the board.  Every card play is like a subtle fencing match with genuine opportunities for misdirecting your opponent

I have no hesitation in urging you get this in your collection.  It is an excellent design and exciting gaming experience that I know I shall play over and over again.

To find your nearest retailer in the UK or Europe who stocks 13 Days please click HERE

RRP £34.99