Few people fully realize just how close the world came to the brink of nuclear war in October 1962. It was in the midst of the Cold War when a U.S. Spy plane flew over Cuba and returned with evidence that Russia was constructing a missile base on the small island nation. This set off 13 days of intense political maneuvering, military mobilization, and heated debate. JFK ordered an embargo of Cuba and a blockade of ships prepared to turn away any Russian vessels trying to get through. This was the setting of The Cuban Missile Crisis.
13 Days is the intense new two-player political strategy game by Daniel Skjold Pedersen and Asger Sams Granerud and published by Ultra Pro. It throws each player onto a side of the crisis trying to control different territories on a world map and complete political agendas. 13 Days comes with a very informative supplement detailing the social and political climate of the world at the time of the crisis and the major players. We learn that in 1962 Russian ships backed down and returned home, avoiding what could’ve been global disaster. JFK famously said that Khrushchev ‘blinked.’ This game allows players to relive those historical moments with the possibility of a different outcome.
In 13 Days players control their forces as either President Kennedy or Premier Khrushchev. They will battle over three rounds in an effort to garner Prestige. The world map is divided into nine different locations grouped into Political, Military, and World Opinion. These are the battlegrounds where the fate of the world will be decided. The threat of nuclear war is ever present and players must keep a careful eye on the Defcon track as well. This track shows how close the world is coming to the brink of war. It’s also divided into the three categories of Politics, Military and World Opinion. If ever the rhetoric gets too intense and a player ends a round with one of their markers in Defcon 1 of one of the categories or with two markers in Defcon 2 the game ends immediately with nuclear war. History will remember that nation as being the one who’s sabre rattling pushed the world into war.
The three rounds are broken up into different phases. It begins with all of the markers on the Defcon track being increased one space. Next, players will draw three Agenda cards. Here is where the real bluffing and cat and mouse aspect of the game comes into play. The Agenda cards refer to either the battleground locations on the board or one of the different categories on the Defcon track. Players mark on the board which Agendas they got by placing their flags out on either the location or the Defcon category. However they will only select one of the Agendas to actually keep. This means that neither player will know for sure what their opponent’s goal is for the round. They will have to try and anticipate it from their game play. Only the kept Agendas will be scored at the end of the round.
Next the players will be dealt out five Strategy cards and the player with the lowest Prestige will decide who plays first (usually playing last is a better idea, but there are some situations where that is not the case). Playing out the Strategy cards is the real meat of 13 Days. There are 39 Strategy cards in the game, 13 that are aligned to each nation and 13 that are aligned to the United Nations. Each card has a Command action associated with it that will allow the player to add or remove cubes to a single battleground on the board. Each of the battlegrounds is tied to the Defcon track and so adding cubes to say a Military battleground will increase your token on the Military Defcon track. Likewise, removing cubes from a battleground will reduce your token on the related Defcon track.
Strategy cards also have events associated with them that usually tweak the normal rules of the game. When you play a card aligned to your own nation you have a choice to use it for the Command action or use the event. However if you play a card aligned to your opponent, it can only be played for the Command action. Not only that, before you’re able to add or remove cubes your opponent has the option of triggering the event. After players have played four of their five cards they will place the remaining one under the board in the Aftermath section. This will be assessed at the end of the game.
Dominating one of the World Opinion locations on the board comes with a bonus at the end of the round. Once those are awarded, it’s time to assess the Agendas. Players reveal the cards they kept and will receive Prestige for dominating the location or Defcon category. The Prestige track is like a tug of war. There is only one scoring marking that is pulled towards your nation as you gain Prestige and wrestled back by your opponent when they score. The most Prestige any nation can have at a time is five. Any further points are wasted.
At the end of the round players check to see if nuclear war has been triggered. If not, play proceeds to the next round. After three rounds the game comes to an end. Players check the Aftermath section and the one with the most cards stashed there gains an extra two Prestige.
I’ve heard 13 Days compared favourable with Twilight Struggle and I’d have to agree. Thematically they’re similar and the card based game play is reminiscent as well. I think 13 Days will definitely appeal to fans of Twilight Struggle who are looking to play out the Cold War in a little under an hour. Like any good historical game, the designers go to great lengths to include a lot of knowledge. The Strategy cards are dripping with theme and information. Reading the supplement it’s actually really scary to know just how close the world came to being destroyed over the course of these 13 days. It was a dangerous time and thankfully diplomacy worked in this instance.