So I just recently bought GMT's Labyrinth: The War On Terror and played a few solo games. This is my first card-driven strategy game and I'm really enjoying it. The events are interesting and I find myself gaining new perspectives on modern geopolitics. A few people on BGG have written some fairly scathing reviews about the realism of the game and although the game does really simplify many aspects of the GWOT, I think I've learned something new while playing the game, so in that respect, it's been really worth my time.


So what have I learned? First of all, it's much easier to destabilize governments than it is to build them up and give them stability. The game simulates this idea by giving the US player only 1 roll per card to try and prop up that besieged regime, while the terrorists can use several dice in their rolls to worsen governance or posture. When I think about America and NATO's huge efforts to stabilize Afghanistan (regime change) and the sudden withdrawal of Spanish troops from Iraq after the Madrid terrorist attacks (non-Muslim country posture), these seem to be loosely simulated by the game designers and it really gave me a sense of chills to see events like this unfold on my game board.


There are some things that the game does not simulate, such as US public opinion (outside of the random result of the American Election card for Soft or Hard posture), which would play a huge aspect in determining U.S. strategy. I don't think the game should have tried to simulate such an aspect of the GWOT, mainly because it would have diluted the game's strategic elements by adding in political aspects, which would have bogged things down considerably. Still, it would be interesting to think about how to center a game around the twin aspects of domestic politics and geopolitics in the GWOT.


Having said all that, most of the negative reviews about Labyrinth seem to focus on what the game is not, rather than what the game actually is. I think Volko Ruhnke and Joel Toppen should be applauded for even attempting to model such a complex conflict, which is interesting, informative, tense, and yes, very fun. I absolutely recommend giving the game a try if the subject matter even slightly interests you.




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Comment by Rex Brynen on December 20, 2010 at 5:00pm

I agree with Eric—it's a very enjoyable game, and I think Volko and Joel have done a remarkably good job of capturing some of the strategic challenges involved on the US side in a playable and engaging way (and in a game that, in a 1-deck game, can be played in well under 2 hours)

It is perhaps less of a "wave top" view as the jihadist player, if only because there isn't really a jihadist "side" in real life, but rather an interlinked but disparate array of radical Islamist groups with varying goals and methods. Short of having the US player play against a dozen or more opponents simultaneously, however, there's not much they could have done about that.

Comment by Eric Walters on December 14, 2010 at 11:39am

As a Marine Corps veteran of both the GWOT and the Cold War, I look at LABYRINTH and TWILIGHT STRUGGLE games as enjoyable "wave top" views of the ideological conflicts both portray.  Am not looking for deep insight, just a pleasant diversion and/or medium to try out my "let's try this strategy" whims, leading to alternate historical outcomes.  Works just fine by me.  I rather enjoy being the "bad guys" in both games, so I have no issues there.  These are GAMES after all (I think I'm quoting Joe Steadman here in his YouTube video review of LABYRINTH).  

Lest anyone think I'm being too cavalier, I have lost close friends and colleagues in both conflicts (yes, even the Cold War), but I can comprehend the difference between simulation and reality (with a tip of the hat to Jean Baudrilliard's SIMULACRA AND SIMULATION) and not let my perceptions of the former interfere with my interpretations of the latter...

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