Overview: The year is 1955. You are the head of covert operations, tasked with defending your home country while winning the support of the world’s population. Of course, it won’t be easy. The opposing Faction has their own spies in place, spreading propaganda and their tainted views in the hopes of undermining your work.
That’s the setting of 1955: The War of Espionage, a 2-player board game from Living Worlds Games. Unfortunately, you can’t buy the game yet: it exists only as review copies so far, printed out on a color laser printer and pasted on cardboard. But you could help bring it into existence by pledging some funds through Kickstarter, and reserve a copy for yourself. (Pledge at the $500 level and you can even get your likeness on one of the Propaganda cards, in 1950s propaganda style.) The Kickstarter campaign ends on January 5th, so there’s not too much time left to help them raise about $3,000 more to meet their goal.
Living Worlds Games sent me a review copy to try out, so keep reading to see why you should chip in a few bucks to help make 1955: The War of Espionage a reality.
[UPDATE: 1955: The War of Espionage hit its Kickstarter goal, and is now available for purchase.]
Players: 2 players
Ages: 13 and up (though experienced younger players may be able to pick it up)
Playing Time: Approximately 30 minutes
Rating: A tricky balancing act between exerting your influence and blocking your opponent; nicely designed, quick to play; a few confusing rules.
Who Will Like It? If you like the theme of the Cold War but you’re not quite ready to sink a few hours into Twilight Struggle, this is a shorter, simpler game that lets you play a world superpower. With the streamlined game comes a little more abstraction and perhaps less of the history and accuracy, but it’s a nice 2-player contest.
The struggle of the Cold War is represented here by six countries, three from each faction. Each player has a Spy they can move from country to country, and the cards are things like Revolution, Military Transport, Pilfer Accounts and Paid Informant. The artwork on the cards and the board are done in a style that reflects old propaganda posters and helps set the tone of the game.
Since the copy I played was a review copy and not a final production copy, I won’t rate the quality of the components. However, the artwork is nicely done and looks sharp. The game will come with a 2-sided game board (one side is for a shorter game), a deck of 54 cards, two Spy pawns, and six control markers, one for each country.
Each player gets a hand of five cards, chooses a Home Country (which is marked by the colored control marker) and then places their Spy in their Home Country. You start off with an advantage in your Home Country, represented by advancing the marker one space. The goal of the game is to secure control of three countries or gain control of your opponent’s Home Country.
On each turn, you make two plays, refill your hand and then move your Spy if desired. Most of the cards can be used in two ways: for their influence level which allows you to move the control markers, or for their Special Action. To play a card for Influence, it must be played in your Home Country, where your Spy currently is or in the country marked on the card itself. If you have multiple cards matching your Spy’s current location, you can combine them as one play. In addition, you can always combine as many Mercenary cards as you wish. Then you add up all the Influence points, and move the control marker away from you for that country. Your opponent may try to block your action if their Spy is present or in their Home Country, by playing a number of cards equal to or greater than the Influence level you played.
All of the non-Mercenary cards also have Special Actions, which allow you to send the opponent’s Spy back to their Home Country, move your Spy during your turn, Blockade a country to prevent its marker from being moved for a turn and many others. There are also cards which allow you to counter a Special Action.
When a control marker reaches one end of the path, that country has been secured and can no longer be influenced—except with a Revolution card. Once a player has three countries secured (or if a player loses control of their Home Country), the game ends.
The full set of rules (still in draft form) may be downloaded here.
The mechanics of the game are fairly simple, but encourage a lot of balance in developing a strategy. For instance, the three countries of each faction have paths of different lengths: picking the U.S. or U.S.S.R. (those with the longest paths) for a Home Country means that your opponent needs to work much harder to take it, but it also means that your extra influence is worth less. A country with a shorter path may be trickier to defend, but would also be quicker to secure yourself.
The location of your Spy becomes very important, particularly looking at your new hand of cards before you move so you know where you can exert the most influence. However, you also need your Spy to defend countries—often you need to move to wherever the opponent’s Spy is to be sure you have a chance to block their actions. And even then, it’s sometimes hard to decide: do you play your cards to defend against an opponent’s attack, or do you wait and save the cards for your own turn? Since nearly every card can be used for influence or a Special Action, you always have to decide which will be more effective, pushing a control marker or gaining other benefits.
I really enjoyed the give-and-take aspect of the game, and it allowed for deeper strategy than I’d expected from my first read-through of the rules. However, some of the rules are hard to remember, particularly the rules for when you can combine cards. For an attack, you can only combine cards that have the same country flag as your Spy’s current location (plus Mercenaries). For defense, you can combine any cards you want, but only in your Home Country or your Spy’s location. In some cases, the color of card (red or blue) matters—if you use it on an opposite color country then it’s worth one point less. Probably this will be easier to remember with the planned reference cards, but I found myself consulting the rulebook often.
I love the illustrations on the game, too; some of the cards lack illustrations and I hope that those will be filled in when the final game is produced. The layout of the card can is a little busy, though—there is some redundant information which could have been omitted to make them a little more streamlined.
Overall, 1955: The War of Espionage is a promising game and I hope to see it printed. If you’re intrigued by the game, chip in a few bucks on Kickstarter and help make it happen! For those of you who haven’t used Kickstarter before, if the goal isn’t reached by the deadline, you get your pledge back so you don’t have to worry about donating to a project which doesn’t come to fruition.
For more info, check out the project video below, and visit the Kickstarter page.
Wired: Nicely balanced gameplay; excellent propaganda-inspired graphics.
Tired: Some hard-to-remember complications in the rules; redundant info on the cards.