First Time Into The Maze: Beginner Strategy in Labyrinth: Awakening

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The Awakening expansion to Labyrinth was released in September, 2016, and added event cards and rules to cover the period 2010 through 2015.  It has been exciting for me as the designer to see player comments on-line as they explore the rules and test the Bots.  Many players commented that their goal in this exploration phase is to grasp the mechanics of the expansion while experiencing for the first time the effects of the near-current events included in the deck; in this exercise, game strategy is of secondary importance.  With approximately 50 Awakening games under my belt during design and play test, I decided write a brief article on strategic considerations as a primer for new players to consider as they advance their level of play.

Stay Soft or Go Hard: Deciding US Posture in Labyrinth: Awakening

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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).

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Labyrinth II Book Ends

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Labyrinth-II-TabIn my previous InsideGMT post, I compared the expansion Labyrinth II: The Awakening, 2010 – ? with Twilight Struggle, and gave some examples of play to shed light on the similarities between both games.

In this post, I will describe some of the challenges in designing a simulation on a very recent and still evolving topic, and give additional examples of play based on ongoing events.

I first discussed the idea of designing an Arab Spring simulation based on his Labyrinth game to Volko Ruhnke at the GMT Weekend at the Warehouse (Hanford CA), 16 – 19 October 2014.  We agreed that it made sense to have the starting point (the first book end) of the Labyrinth II expansion commence with the beginning of the Arab Spring in late 2010, as this was also roughly the same point that the events in Labyrinth tailed off from the historical record.  I actually do have a few pre-Arab Spring events in the expansion deck that cover the gap from where Labyrinth officially ends and Labyrinth II officially begins, most notably the Maersk Alabama affair, as shown so well in the Tom Hanks “Captain Phillips” movie, and the popular reaction to the Iranian Elections of 2009, which some actually consider as the popular movement that inspired the Arab Spring that followed in the other countries.

I have had a much more difficult time deciding where to end the game expansion.  The Arab Spring officially began on December 17, 2010, when Tunisian street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi committed an act of self-immolation to protest harsh treatment by local authorities.  His sacrifice brought down the Tunisian government a month later and sparked a popular movement to be known as the Arab Spring (or Awakening) that spread across the Muslim world, toppling 6 governments and igniting 4 Civil Wars…and establishing a democratic government in Tunisia.  The popular street protests of the Arab Spring had run their course by June 2012, or about 19 total months, and this would be a logical second book end for the expansion, except that the street protests in some cases evolved into more violent forms of political expression and seamlessly transitioned into Civil Wars in Libya, Syria and elsewhere.  In this broader sense, the events that naturally flowed from the Arab Spring protests have not run their course and will likely not do so for several more years, perhaps decades.


A few early version Sample Playtest Cards for Labyrinth II. Development and editing continues.

Comparing Labyrinth II with Twilight Struggle

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Labyrinth-II-TabMany consider Labyrinth a transition game from Twilight Struggle to the COIN series that followed.  In several ways, the Labyrinth II: The Awakening 2010-? expansion takes us back to its Twilight Struggle roots.  This article will highlight the similarities between the Labyrinth II expansion and TS.

When I first introduced the idea of designing an Arab Spring simulation based on his Labyrinth game, Volko and I both agreed that there needed to be markers that would represent the peoples of the various Muslim countries as they “took to the streets” so to speak to demand better governance, and we needed to represent the various reactionary elements to these movements.  The concept that came from this conversation was to have event cards place Awakening and Reaction makers into the country holding boxes.  The Awakening markers would grant a positive die roll modifier to War of Idea rolls and a contradictory modifier to Jihad rolls.  Reaction modifiers would do just the opposite, with the net effect that one marker of each type in a country would cancel out each other’s modifiers, but would not cause either marker to be removed, as their presence there could influence other events.

This dynamic is similar to the way influence markers are played in Twilight Struggle, though in that game the influence makers are numerical markers showing the current value, while in Labyrinth II they are stacked on top of each showing relative strengths in sort of a “bar chart” fashion.  The picture below shows the US play of the Tahrir Square event in Egypt to capitalize on a single Awakening marker it already had there, followed up with the expansion of that initial play with a Popular Support card.  Both card plays show spillover into Libya, which previously did not have any markers.

labII pic 1

At this moment, the US players has a net +3 modifier for WOI and Jihad rolls in Egypt, and a +2 in Libya…a very strong position!