In Labyrinth, US players generally try to keep their government in the Hard category in order to more efficiently prosecute the Global War on Terror (GWOT). Regime Change Operations are only permissible when the US has a Hard posture, and Disrupt Operations performed against Jihadist Cells in the US are more effective if the US is Hard. Events that could make the US become Soft, such as US Election, Leak or Safer Now, where frequently seen as a distraction requiring the US player to play two 3-value Cards to perform a Reassessment to switch back.
The complimentary strategy to the US staying Hard is a worldwide War of Ideas (WOI) campaign to convince Allies to join the cause and adopt a Hard posture too. US player’s typically find this to be an efficient use of 1 cards as most European countries are Good governance thus only require a 1 card to dice for their posture, and frequently a 1 card cannot be used by itself for Disrupt operations as most Muslim countries are Fair or Poor requiring a greater expenditure of OPS (2 or 3 respectively).
The Labyrinth: Awakening expansion to Labyrinth requires greater consideration in deciding upon US Posture; no longer is it nearly a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for the US to stay Hard. The expansion begins with the Arab Spring in December 2010. The United States is still engaged in both Iraq and Afghanistan, though the former is winding down. President Obama has a different agenda for the Middle East than his predecessors and the Awakening expansion reflects this by assigning the US a Soft posture at the beginning. Not so with America’s Allies. France and Britain are leading the response to international events in ways that we have not seen since the Suez Crises of 1956, and they both begin the game as Hard, thus the US starts with a GWOT penalty of -2 (starting position below).
Previous styles of play would suggest a quick Reassessment to make the US posture match European opinions, but other options on the first turn deserve consideration as well. For example, the Withdraw operation can only be performed when the US is Soft. With fully 6 Troops engaged in Afghanistan at the beginning, and with little to gain from a long term commitment there, the US player may consider cutting losses in Afghanistan and doubling down in Iraq or in other more lucrative countries. The risk is small for the US player as Islamist Rule in Afghanistan is not near as threatening of a win as it is in Iraq. If Iraq goes IR, it can spread to either of its 3 resource adjacent countries in Saudi Arabia or the Gulf States and its game over. Not so with Afghanistan, which requires at least two other adjacent countries to go IR before an auto victory can be declared (starting position shown below).
Other strategic options present themselves as well, such as bringing enough US Troops home so the US is in the Low Intensity box on the Troops Track, thus drawing 9 cards per turn. Depending on the make-up of the first turn hand, this may be a fruitful strategy, especially if it looks like the Arab Spring is off to a good start. The first half of the deck is seeded with the majority of Arab Spring related event. These cards allow for the placement of Awakening markers which have a positive influence on future War of Idea rolls, and may trigger Polarization, a sort of end-of-turn scoring where countries can slowly change posture towards Good or Islamist Rule depending on the balance of Awakening and Reaction markers present (new turn sequence and Polarization formula below).
Similarly, some of the events in the Awakening expansion, such as US Consulate Attacked and Hagel can switch the US Posture. Keeping track of these cards may give one an edge early on. Additionally, the US player may want to use its 1 cards to convince Europe to turn Soft, as in the opposite of the SOP described above. This global go-Soft approach is benefited by the fact that the odds of a country going Soft are 67% for each WOI roll made (1-4 on a six sided die), whereas staying Hard is only a 33% chance (5-6 on a six sided die). Some Posture changing Awakening events shown below.
These changes do not necessarily mean the US player will want to stay Soft the entire game. If the Arab Spring fizzles from the start, or Civil Wars begin earlier than expected and the Jihadist player has been able to create strategic Islamist Rule countries, the US player may want to become Hard in order to launch Regime Change operations before the Jihadist player earns 6 Resources and 2 adjacent countries and wins the game.
In play tests of Awakening I have seen US players win with both predominantly Hard and predominantly Soft strategies. A key to good game play is to know when to switch between the postures based on the cards in hand and the geo strategic situation. Awareness of which event cards in the deck can trigger these changes is also helpful in deciding when to make the switch or using them to help engineer the change more efficiently than performing a Reassessment operation.
The complexity of international politics has increased over the last five years and the Awakening expansion reflects this. The US has to decide what level of war footing it wants while pursuing other paths towards victory. The ultimate strategy chosen will often dictate the Posture desired by the US player. A benchmark of good play will be knowing when to Stay Soft and when to Go Hard.
This is my third post on the Awakening expansion, and as an update, we are now north of 1200 pre-orders. We have completed our final round of playtesting and the rules and event cards are all set, with a publication date planned for early-mid 2016.