Cold War: CIA vs. KGB
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Cold War: CIA vs KGB is a card game that places two players in control of the world’s greatest superpowers in an age of fear. In a covert clash of ideology, politics, guerilla warfare, and dirty tricks, each player must establish the dominance and superiority of his country’s worldview while bringing about his own vision of the future.
The revised edition features streamlined rules and more compact components, so pulling the strings of world politics has never been more convenient.
- 59 cards
- Three tokens
- Two score markers
- One rulebook
Average Rating: 4 in 1 review
I've always thought that the Cold War would make an excellent theme for a game; and Twilight Struggle has proven that, skyrocketing in online ratings, with much critical acclaim. So when I was going through games that were to be released in 2007, Cold War: CIA vs. KGB (Fantasy Flight Games, 2007 - David Rakoto and Sebastien Gigaudaut) was high on my want list. My hopes were pretty big based on theme alone, and I hadn't read much about the game; so I was a little surprised, and perhaps saddened, when I got the game and found it was a small card game.
Yet despite this, Cold War is rapidly becoming a favorite two-player card game of mine. It mimics the basic mechanics of Blackjack and allows players quite a few options once they realize how the different aspects of the game work together. The theme of the Cold War is even realized, although in a more vague way, throughout the game; and it's a refreshing change of pace, after playing several clunky card games. Cold War is a game of outguessing and outmaneuvering your opponent and occasionally pushing your luck - I like it!
One player is the Russians; the other is the Americans, although the sides are completely symmetrical. Each player receives six numbered spies, each with a special ability as well as a domination token. Players shuffle two decks - a twenty-one objective card deck and a twenty-four group card deck. Finally, players set their score to "0" on a score card, and the first game turn is ready.
During the "Briefing" phase of a turn, the top card from the objective deck is turned over. Six of the cards are "event" cards, worth five victory points; the others are nation cards, worth ten to twenty victory points. This card represents what the two superpowers are fighting over the round. The player with the lower score receives a balance token to show that they go first. The "Planning" phase then follows, with players choosing one of their six agents to send to this battlefield, placing them face down in front of them.
The "Influence Struggle" then begins, with players attempting to win the card. Each card has a "Stability" number, which is the number players are attempting to match without going over it, and a "Population" number, which shows how many cards each side may have in play. Starting with the player with the balance token, each player either recruits (draws) a card, placing it face up in front of them, or activates (taps) a card, using its special power, or simply passes. When both players pass in a row, the phase ends. When drawing cards, players are getting groups of four different types numbered from "1" to "6". A player is trying to get as close as possible to the Stability number without going over; if they do go over, they immediately lose the objective.
Each of the four types of cards has a special power that can be activated during the phase.
- Military cards allow a player to destroy (discard) another card in play from either player.
- Political cards allow a player to choose another group and switch sides with them, although they must obey the Population number and may not make the other player go over the Stability number.
- Economic cards allow a player to choose another group and activate or deactivate it.
- Media cards allow a player to draw the top group from the deck and either play it, discard it, or return it.
At the end of the round, the player who has the highest total sum without going over places their domination token on the objective. In case of a tie, each objective card shows how it is broken using the four groups. The "Debriefing" phase then begins, with players revealing their agent. Each agent has a special ability on them that is activated depending on what domination token is on the target. The abilities are activated in initiative order (lower number going first). The agents are:
- (Master Spy) - causes the loser to win the objective!
- (Deputy Director) - can't be killed or go on leave.
- (Double Agent) - sends one opponent's agent on leave OR allows the player to look at the identity of the opponent's agent in the next turn.
- (Analyst) - in the next round, the player may look at the top three Group cards and place them in any order they wish.
- (Assassin) - kills the opponent's agent but places the objective on the bottom of the deck.
- (Director) - claims the objective from the bottom of the deck as well as the one being fought over.
The agent used is then "sent on leave" (except # 2) and cannot be used in the next round. Dead agents are removed from the game, and players who go over the Stability number also have their agent killed. The player who won the objective takes it and scores the points on it. The Event objectives that are won by a player also give that player a special ability that they can use on future objectives. The group deck is reshuffled, and the next round is ready to begin. The game continues until one player reaches 100 points, at which point they win the game!
Some comments on the game…
- Components: There are only a few components included with the
game, but they are top notch. The objective and group cards are
printed with a linen finish, which is useful since they are shuffled
many times during a game. Each of the group cards is distinguished by
a different color and symbol; and the objective cards clearly state
their numbers. All the artwork is mostly famous pictures from the
era, and each group card helps add to the theme: Mafia, Television,
Mercenaries, Nationalists, etc. The agent cards are oversized cards
that look like a passport on their front - again with the information
clearly shown on them. The domination markers are hefty poker chips
that players end up playing with more than the game; and the only
component that seems out of place is the glass bead that marks the
score - and even that works fairly well. Everything fits easily into
a long, small box, with more artwork from that time frame on it. Cold
War is a good-looking game.
- Rules: The fifteen-page rulebook shows full color illustrations
of the components and takes time to explain each phase of the game.
Even more helpful, many examples are included; and I had no problem
whatsoever quickly grasping how the game works. Teaching the game is
fairly simple, although some new players who aren't used to the
"tapping" mechanic from Magic the Gathering may not quite understand
the concept here. But once players completely understand the
interaction of the agents and the abilities of the groups, everything
flows pretty easily.
- Blackjack: "Hit me!" The concept of Blackjack, in which players
draw cards, attempting to beat the dealer by being closest to
twenty-one without going over, is one that obviously has some
fascination - due to its prominence in the casinos. But I haven't
found many regular games that can capture the feel of that, while Cold
War does an excellent job. What I enjoy most about Cold War is that
it's not all simply about drawing cards, but players can manipulate
those cards in such a way as to help themselves win. There are many
simple ways to do this. Your opponent matching the number exactly? -
kill one of his cards with an army card; he likely won't be able to
draw the same number card again. Or one can send a small number card
over to the opponent, filling up one of their slots but making it
difficult for them to have the higher total. Even more importantly,
with only twenty-four groups in the deck, even players who can't count
cards will have a striking chance to remember which have been played
and which haven't.
- Spy vs. Spy: Even though I enjoy the Blackjack mechanic of the
game, it's also bucket loads of fun to attempt to guess which spy the
other player put down. Players always have their # 2 spy - the
unkillable man; but since he doesn't really give any bonus benefits,
he's often used when a player has nothing else. Players can use the #
1 spy for an easy victory, as they attempt to lose which really gives
them the objective. However, if the opponent sees you trying to lose,
they will also attempt to lose, which may foil your plans. But
perhaps you were only pretending to lose! The possibilities are
endless, although I tell you that the # 1 spy can be quite annoying;
and if all else fails, they can be assassinated. That, dear readers,
is one of the most satisfying things I've ever felt in a game.
- Luck: In a game in which players draw cards, there is certainly
going to be an element of luck. I've played games in which an
opponent killed a "6" group I had; only for me to draw another "6" on
my next turn. The luck element seems to be most prominent on the
event objective cards, as they allow a player to draw only one card.
However, if the player has used their # 4 agent on a previous turn,
they can get a look at the group cards coming up, giving them a huge
advantage. Yes, there is a good deal of luck in Cold War; but I'm
convinced that a canny player can get around most of it to do well.
- Theme and Fun Factor: The artwork helps bring the theme across;
but even the mechanics help bring the theme across, as both players
can really get into the roleplaying of their spies and argue about who
is controlling Korea or Turkey. Yes, the abstract nature of the card
game will occasionally break through, but the overarching theme works
- and works well. I had the most fun using my cards to mess up the
opponent and help myself; and it's nice that most games last only
around thirty minutes. Killing the opponents powerful # 6 card, or
using a group to steal a "6" group to give you the exact stability
number are very satisfying moves, and that's almost what Cold War is -
a series of cutthroat, entertaining plays.
I may have been a bit disappointed when I initially saw Cold War, but color me pleased at this point; I'm glad to have a light card game with some bite to it. It brings the experience of Blackjack to the table in an easy going way, but allows tactical play with the group cards, and sneaky play with the agent cards. Tension is quick, but evident, and play will seesaw back and forth until the end of the game. Those looking for a card game with theme and some tactical play will love Cold War: CIA vs. KGB.
"Real men play board games"