New Game Weekend: Cuba Libre

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The GMT COIN series of games have fast become favorites at Metropolitan Wargamers in Brooklyn, NY. The series focuses on 20th-century insurgencies including Andean Abyss in modern Columbia, A Distant Plain in Afghanistan and the Viet Nam War-themed Fire In The Lake to be released in 2014. Future planned games will focus on conflict in Angola and Iraq. This past weekend I got a chance to play the second in the series, Cuba Libre, set in the Cuban Revolution period of 1957-1958.

The game plays up to four players, each taking on the role of either Fidel Castro’s 26th of July Movement leftists guerrillas, Cuban President Fulgencio Batista’s Government troops and police,  anti-Batista/anti-Communist student Directorio forces or the corrupt Syndicate of casino-owners led by American gangster Meyer Lansky. Using traits unique to each faction, the game plays through a fast-shifting series of diplomatic, economic and militaristic actions toward victory conditions unique to each group.

CCNapRussiansCutnerGMT’s Cuba Libre game board

Like other COIN games, Cuba Libre is compromised of a relatively simple map, abstract wooden play pieces, cardboard markers and a stack of 48 event cards. The map features the island of Cuba split into mountain, jungle and grassland areas, cities and three economic centers for the production of sugar cane, tobacco and coal. Each area carries a population point value from a high of 6 in the capital of Havana down to 1 in the smaller cities and rural areas. The factions begin with unique set-up conditions with Government troops and police primarily clustered in the cities, July 26th guerrillas in their hidden mountain camps, Directorio forces hiding in Havana and Syndicate casinos in the vacation destinations at the western end of the island.

Cities and territories are controlled when one faction’s pieces outnumber the sum of all others in the space. Each space also exists in one of five states of political stability from the pro-government Active Support to Neutral to the rebellious Active Opposition. The game’s shifting control of space and political conditions plays to specific victory conditions.

clcardsSample cards from Cuba Libre

Much of the game’s action is driven by Cuban Revolution-themed event cards which determine the turn order in each round and possible special outcomes. Each card is neatly illustrated with a period photograph, some short historic flavor text and events which may help or harm one or more factions. Players make choices in activating the event card each round or opting for a combination of Operations or Special Activities, again unique to each faction. For example, July 26th rebels can choose from Operations like March, Attack or Terror and Activities like Infiltrate or Kidnap. Government forces may play Operations like Sweep, Train or Garrison and Activities like Air Strike or Reprisal.

IMG_2863Cuba Libre at Metropolitan Wargamers

There is a ton going on in Cuba Libre, and the game’s flow can quickly turn. In my first game, the Syndicate player quickly moved toward victory conditions by building multiple casinos. My son, playing as the Government, made side deals on different turns with the Directorio and Syndicate players. My July 26th forces managed to throw much of the board into open rebellion but I could never amass enough of my guerillas where I really needed them. Cutting the game a bit short in the end, we scored it as a Government victory.

Learning how to leverage the strengths of a particular faction makes for a lot of replay value in Cuba Libre. The mix of simple components, plenty of space for strategic options and actual history baked in is what makes this and the other COIN Series games from GMT among the best being produced today.

castro¡Viva la Revolución!

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New Game Weekend: 1775 Rebellion

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Late this past week, the Washington Post ran a lengthy article on game designer and CIA analyst Volke Ruhnke. Ruhnke’s games are popular at Metropolitan Wargamers, including his COIN (Counterinsurgnecy) series from GMT Games, including the two 2013 releases of  Cubra Libre (Cuba) and A Distant Plain (Afghanistan). The basic mechanics of these games and other historicals like them involve simple map game boards, wooden blocks placed in area control of spaces and detailed cards driving player actions.

While Ruhke’s games from GMT focus on 20th-century insurgencies in Southeast Asia, the Middle East and Central and South America, Academy Games has been producing games for a couple years framed in similar mechanics but focused on US history with their Birth of America series. Thus far, the series consists of  1812: The Invasion of Canada, published two years ago  to conicide with the 200th-anniversary of the War of 1812, and 1775: Rebellion, an American Revolution game. Next up for Academy Games is an Underground Railroad-themed game called Freedom which was successfully funded on Kickstarter last year.

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Back of the box for 1775: Rebellion showing game contents

This past weekend I had an opportunity to play 1775 for the first time, and if you’ve got a passion for board games and American history like me, you need to give this one a try yourself.

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Game set up for 1775: Rebellion

The board presents a map of ther thirteen original American colonies, plus Quebec and Nova Scotia to the north, at the dawn of the War of Independence. Two to four players begin the game as American Regulars, Colonial Militia, British Redcoat Regulars and English Loyalists deployed throughout the colonies. On the western frontier are unaligned Native Americans, and throughout the game opportunities arise for Hessian and French forces to join the conflict. All forces in the game are indicated through simple color-coded cubes with American Colonists in blue and white, British in red and yellow, Native Americans in green, French in purple and Hessians in orange.

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Sample movement cards from 1775: Rebellion

The action of the game is propelled by movement and event cards. Each player draws three cards to their hand and may play one movement and up to two event cards during their turn. Movement cards indicate one or more allied army’s movement from one to three spaces in a turn. Native American, Hessian and French forces cannot move until another force moves to their space and joins in alliance with them. Moving forces cannot move through enemy-occupied areas, and movement to a space containing enemy forces results in a battle.

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Sample event cards from 1775: Rebellion

Event cards depict historic personalities such as generals or statesmen and other occurences from the Revolutionary period like Paul Revere’s Ride, signing of the Declaration of Independence or the creation of the American flag by Betsy Ross. Each event card allows for things like additional forces to arrive or extra movement.

 

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Turn 1 with the Americans moving on British-occupied Boston

Combat is resolved with dice color-coded to each force. Dice faces show hits, blank sides and flee indicators. Defending forces roll first in a combat. Hits destroy an enemy unit, returning it to the reinforcement pool. A blank result allows the option for a unit to retreat to a neighboring allied-controlled space. A flee roll removes a unit to the flee space to be replaced at the beginning of that player’s next turm. Dice for each force are weighted differently, so British Redcoats don’t hit as often but never flee while Hessians hit more frequently but flee more readily.

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Truce cards from 1775: Rebelllion

The game proceeds in random turn order each round with players deploying reinfocements into occupied cities and retrieving fled units. The object of the game is to control the most colonies before the game ends after turn three with the play of two truce cards on each side. Colonies are only controlled when every space in the colony is controlled by allied forces.

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Turn 3 with the American truce card played and British advancing from the north

In our four-player game this past weekend, my team’s Colonists initially attempted to oust the British from Boston but were repelled. The British advanced from Canada into northern New York, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Connecticut. The Colonists picked up Native American allies in Western Pennsylvania and took control of the colony while a stalemate resulted in New England. With a mass of British-allied reinforcements to the north, the Colonists recieved French reinforcements in turn three and quickly took control of two colonies to the south. Colonists quickly played their second truce card and ended the game with more colonies in our control.

Although our intro game was a quick one, I’m very much looking forward to trying 1775: Rebellion again using different paths to victory. The game’s rules are short and the components simple, but there’s a lot of strategic heft to the game. For adults, or even smart kids, with a thing for early American history, I can’t recommend 1775: Rebellion enough.