Sand, Sand, everywhere and not a drop to drink. Curse this solitary wandering in the sandy expanses of the Middle East. Why did I ever think I would be an instrumental force at thwarting Jihadist activity?… Labyrinth The Awakening by GMT games…and I suspect many places such as Afghanistan are rather more rocky than duney…but how else do I paint a stereotypical mental image?
For an immersive read, press play for ambient background
I shall begin by announcing that I have never played labyrinth….”What?” I hear you enunciate in no uncertain terms, “How the ‘eckey-thump can you justify commenting on a game you’ve not even been bothered to play?… you charlatan!”
Too true but I was a mad, impulsive fool and dug my short arms into my very deep pockets and forked out for the base game and The Awakening together…and I have to admit I am sooooooooo glad I did too! What a transformation from what, I am sure, was a perfectly good original game to…well…I get a little ahead of myself.
To the pre-amble. Quick!
There is little for me to say before I amble so this should be a mercifully short pre-amble. Labyrinth is a bit of a Giant in many circles but from a geometry point of view, this is the circle
o and this is me way over here -> .
I shall no doubt do significant toe treading in the following ramble…but I enjoy the game so wont apologise for my ineptitude.
So What’s All the Fuss About?
A question I asked myself before taking the plunge, especially as it is not a solo game. A potentially touchy themed topic, really. War on terror? Are we saving the world by mass murdering pretend baddies? No! the setting is very real. Events that follow are all real and not even the names have been changed to protect the whatsamajig?!…you know the saying, I’m sure. Are we allowed to hate Islamist fundamentalists, we ask ourselves…where does it all stand on the politically correct world stage? I dunno! But…
…This has little to do with war, in my limited war gaming experienced, and in the traditional sense of the term. This is a very cleaver area control/worker placement game…now hear me out before you yell ‘Tosh! And Pish!’. We are not playing a shoot ‘em up here. We are looking, by means of subtle politics, world influence and the occasional thin, low carb slice of brute force. There is a small, nay, minuscule finite number of pieces for both sides, with which world stability or instability is sought after. Careful positioning of these meagre resources can mitigate the dastardly effects of an opponent or, in turn perform one’s own set of dastardly deeds.
Jihadist groups are plotting to bring countries under Islamist rule, tumble stable regimes with fair governance into civil War, sneak by security at western airports by wearing poor disguises to gain entry into the West…and the US its self, has to make good with their own agenda having to maintain a global stability (and resisting resorting to the gung-ho shoot first ask questions later methodology…in this game of tactics on a global scale is not an option)
Immersion or Subversion?
I find myself drawn into an almost narrative/story telling mode of play (mostly inside my head, it has to be said…but do find that myself & I frequently discuss tactics aloud). This game, although set in a real life setting, is perhaps more about how each side can maintain, sustain and nasty tea stain damage limitation, spread their slim resources ridiculously thinly across the world like a fairly large pack of butter…the world is quite a bit bigger than you would expect when trying to spread butter. My analogy needs work.
The subject matter is perfect for one of the great COIN games, although an entity on its own, it really does create a bathtub full of global tension to submerge one’s self into… but as the game is somewhat abstracted in play mechanics, locational representation etc, it is the tactical nature at the heart of the game that really becomes the immersive factor (and could have all manner of themes…). Now this is by no means a pasted over theme. Oh goshly gosh, no! Each action, each game piece, each location all have their unique way of contributing to the holistic game experience…I’m just saying that it is such a good system that it could be adapted to other similar world/historic scenario!
At its heart this is another cleaver card driven game. A shared deck of factual events cards are pulled/drawn by both Bot and real live player and utilised by both sides. The cards themselves are tricky little customers. Some are favourable to the US, some to the Jihadist plotters while others really don’t give a monkeys scrote and can be beneficial to both sides. Not so tricky you think? Well tricky is as tricky does…stop me if I get too technical for you. All your potential actions cost Operation points which are derived from the event cards but, and here is where the cards get their tricky, trickiness from…now we have a major dilemma on our hands…or to be more precise, in our hand
Do we do fantastic acts of good throughout the world by, let’s say for argument’s sake, discard a card to turn Pakistan to a Fair Ally, quash an uprising in a Civil War country, foil a potential Major Jihad in France (could that ever happen?) by using a card for its Ops points (whilst being forced to play the cards Event which will undoubtedly benefit the opponent) or do we play one for even higher Op points but at the expense of a pretty decent Event that may equally have benefited us ? There are so many difficult, planet wide decisions to make each and every turn that any down time is always absorbed into planning or trying to second guess the opponent. This is not a game of analysis paralysis but will make your brain hurt trying to make optimal choices when so much is inevitably going to go bad.
Many of the actions available are somewhat abstracted like War of Ideas, Reassessing posture towards terror, Changing governance which all tend to boil down to dice rolls with several modifiers as dictated by the situation. This element does rely quite heavily on luck re: dice chucking…but forward planning, tactical positioning of game pieces and good preparation can give you those all important modifiers to assist mitigating the luck element…basically don’t chuck the dice if you need a six and there’s nowt to help you…that’s my piece of advice.
Wood, Chits and Cardboard Bits:
There is an absolute shed load of ‘stuff’ in the game once Awakening is mixed with the base game. Quality wooden tokens
(numerous with printing on them to identify active/hidden status). A shed load of tokens, markers and chits to assist with book-keeping, reminders of die modifiers at certain locations, reminders of countries in Civil War or under Islamist rule…
…the list goes on. A quality finished, sturdy, well illustrated game-board hosts the combatants and the rule books, playbook, event instructions, tables and help sheets are all well printed sturdy items that make life just that little bit more tolerable in hostile environments.
Meeples and Standees:
Labyrinth Game designer- Volko Ruhnk
Art direction- Roger B MacGowan
The Awakening designer- Trevor Bender
I didn’t even get to the part about soloability…good grief what am I like? There was a Bot in the Labyrinth game, with its own set of action flow charts that produced a fully automated opponent allowing the soloist to be the all-powerful US thwarting the Jihadist Bot (I say this tongue in cheek because the reality is the bot is a devilishly cunning opponent and dashed difficult to beat)
The Awakening did one better. Not only did it improve fluidity of the Jihadist Bot, to ease players operation of their opponent, but it also introduced us to a new US Bot. Now we, the ever alone solo player, can chose to war on terror or be the orchestrating instrument of said terror.
Though first and foremost a head to head two player game, the introduction of the Bots makes this a very accessible solo gaming experience allowing a realistic face to face confrontation…and the conversation is not half bad as a solo game too.
Me Myself and I:
The Bots really do offer a challenging opponent and provide a deeply rewarding solo game. I will say, however, that even with the revamped Bot flow charts, I did find myself having to make numerous referrals back to the rule book to ensure I was applying the bots actions correctly. This did slow the first couple of games down a little as I was familiarising myself with both my actions and those of my sneaky opponent. So this may be something to consider before taking the plunge …but this process was not unpleasant and made no impact on my enjoyment. I just thought I’d put it out there that the Bots do take some time to get accustomed to.
I’m rather glad I don’t feature on the global political stage. I’m pants at formulating strategies to thwart the growing terror threat. Yay! I have several countries that are in Good Governance …then Whollop! I pull a hand full of Jihadist events and suddenly the middle-East is overrun and I’m scurrying back to the west, well and truly squished into the ground…and that sand gets everywhere, I can tell you!
I don’t love this game for its them, or the manufacturing standard or even the way the game plays mechanically but for the holistic feel. All those elements come together to provide me with such a mind bending tactical arena that time just flashes by.
Yay or nay?
This is a resounding Yay. For a solo player I felt some trepidation at first, never having played this form of game and unsure I would enjoy the theme but after half an hour of engrossed fisticuffs with Jihadist sleeper cells throughout the world, I was hooked. I am by no means an expert and have hardly scratched the surface of the potential strategies that may result in victory but each time this hits my table I know I’m in for a challenge of global proportions…about the size I like to see on my plate when ordering cream cakes.
This definitely gets a BSoMT 1d8 die roll of (8)…at least that, if not just a tad more!
I haven’t even touched on the new faction…well, not a new faction but a set of Militia pieces that can, under certain circumstances enter play to aid the US forces. There are tweaks and additional counters in Awakening that add subtle changes to the way in which the game plays. I will talk about the Labyrinth bots in more detail for the Connoisseur of all things solo over in Bots & Wotnots -Let Sleeping Bots Lie and how they work as a solo enhancing mechanic…and there are innumerable reviews out there going into the game in more detail than I have for head to head play but from a soloist perspective, I recommend you GET IT NOW! (Although for me here in the UK it was a pricey investment…there is a REALLY big dollop of gamey goodness for the money)
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Something For the Weekend, Sir?
Volko Ruhnk: https://twitter.com/Volko26
GMT Games Twitter: https://twitter.com/gmtgames
GMT Games Website: http://www.gmtgames.com/p-528-labyrinth-the-awakening-2010-.aspx
Roger MacGowan twitter:
playthrough by The Pensky File:
[Playthrough by Late Night gamer:
Review by The Players Aid: