The Cold War has always been an interesting topic for me. As a child of the 70s and 80s, I grew up during the height of it, when TV-movies like The Day After and World War III (damn, David Soul could act) made us wonder if nuclear annihilation was going to be coming soon.
(Of course, we didn’t have any incidents that literally made us as close to nuclear war as the Cuban Missile Crisis in the 60s, but that didn’t stop the fear)
Many games have been made simulating the Cold War and various aspects of it, most notably the GMT Games favourite Twilight Struggle. That game was the first time I knew of a card-driven game where cards had faction-specific events, and if you played your opponent’s event card, they chose whether to implement the event or not.
So when I heard that Jolly Roger Games and Ultra Pro were coming out with a quick 20-minute Cold War game called Iron Curtain, and that they were offering review copies in exchange for honest reviews, I knew I had to jump on it.
I’m glad I did.
Iron Curtain is a 2-player game designed by Asger Harding Granerud and Daniel Skjold Pedersen with art by Jessica R. Eyler and David Prieto.
The game has 18 country cards along with a starting Europe card, a score track, and red/blue influence cubes that represent the Soviets and the US and their influence over various countries. It’s a very compact game, which is why I question why the box is so big.
But I digress.
In the game, the Europe starter card is placed on the table. Then, each player will be playing country cards next to the cards that are out. They must be played adjacent to a card from the same region if possible, but otherwise may be placed anywhere that’s adjacent to another card.
Each country card has either a Soviet flag or a US flag. If you play a card with your opponent’s event on it, they get to choose whether to do the event or not. You can only use the cube option.
However, if you play your own card, you can choose whether to do the event or the cube option. You can’t do both.
The cubes will allow you to “Command” that number of influence cubes around the world, as long as you already have cubes on that card or on a card that’s adjacent to it.
Some events will allow you to “infiltrate” influence cubes into a country. To do that, you do not have to have any cubes adjacent to that country.
When you play a card, before you do the events/cube actions, you need to check and see if a region scores.
If the card you played is the last one in that region (the Middle East, for example, has 2 cards), then you stop everything and score that region immediately.
Players get one point for each country in the region that they “dominate” (i.e. have the majority of influence cubes on it). Then, whoever dominates the most countries in that region gets the region bonus. For the Middle East in the picture above, that would be 2 points (the yellow “+2” on each Middle East card).
Scoring in Iron Curtain is much like scoring in Twilight Struggle, in that it’s a sliding scale. It starts out at zero and you move the marker toward the flag of the player who scores the points.
That’s basically it, though there are a couple of minor points I’ve left out (this isn’t a “How to Play” video).
How do you win?
As soon as one player hits 8 points, the game immediately ends.
If the game doesn’t end that way at the end of the two rounds, final scoring happens. First, the two cards that are left face-down at the end of the first round (yes, that’s one detail I left out, see the rules for more information) are scored, then each region is scored in the order shown on the score card.
If either side hits 8 points during that scoring, then the game ends immediately as well.
If final scoring doesn’t have anybody hit 8 points, though, then whoever has the scoring marker on their side wins!
Is Iron Curtain the fall of the Berlin Wall or a minor skirmish in some backwater country?
I have to say that I did greatly enjoy Iron Curtain. It packs quite a bit of strategy into a small, 20-minute box. The card play is simple but the decisions on what cards to play are agonizing, especially when your hand is full of your opponent’s events.
Sure, there are some no-brainer decisions.
If a card says that the USSR can infiltrate cubes into Cuba but Cuba’s not out yet, then the US player had better put it out there before Cuba does come out, for example. That way, the event doesn’t happen.
But even then, you’re deciding where to put your influence to dominate cards, trying to keep your opponent at bay.
It really is thought-provoking.
I was a bit worried that there are 10 US events and only 8 Soviet ones, but in my two plays so far, that didn’t appear to be an issue. Yes, the US won both times, but one was a decisive US victory and one was a US victory squeaked out on the last scoring region that put the US at +1.
And in the solo game I played just to try to nail the rules down, the Soviets dominated (maybe because I’m a Communist at heart?)
Anyway, I don’t think that is a problem.
Which brings me to the scoring, which I was also a bit concerned about but I found to be very interesting and a lot of fun.
The second game I played, where the US (not me) squeaked a 1 point victory out, the score fluctuated wildly during the game.
I actually was one point away from getting 8 points going into the final scoring. Then the US player scored the Aftermath and the first couple of regions and the score raced toward a US automatic victory. Then my regions scored and it went back to a narrow Soviet victory for me.
The final region, the US player won and with the region bonus ended up +1 on the score track, winning the game.
(I will neither confirm nor deny that there was a Happy Dance by my opponent)
I love the wild fluctuations and how the automatic victory condition can put a stop to that. I don’t think I would like the scores going so wildly if there wasn’t a chance to just end the game right there.
The component quality is pretty good. The cards are nice, though I think I will probably eventually sleeve them. They only get shuffled once a game, which is nice. The wooden cubes are hard to mess up, but they are nice and solid.
I love the aesthetic of the score track, with “zero” being yellow and then turning shades of blue or red as you move toward the respective sides.
In addition to my box complaint above regarding how much space this game really needs, however, I have to also complain that the box doesn’t actually fit the rule book, which is insane in my opinion.
How hard is it to cut the rulebook to fit into the box?
In actuality, Iron Curtain does pay a suitable amount of homage to Twilight Struggle, which is interesting since they come from totally different companies/designers. I’ve always loved the “other player event cards” aspect of games like Twilight Struggle and this game takes great advantage of that.
Sometimes it’s really hard to decide what card to play just because of that.
Is the game too much luck-based? Maybe a little, but no more so than any other card-driven game (wow, it’s kind of hard to talk about this game without the Twilight Struggle comparisons). You are at the mercy of the cards you draw, but when you play them and how, and then how you decide where your influence cubes are going to go, ultimately will determine the outcome of the game.
Pedersen and Granerud are also the designers of the meaty filler games 13 Minutes: the Cuban Missile Crisis and 13 Days: the Cuban Missile Crisis (I’m sensing a theme here). Both come highly recommended and if Iron Curtain is any indication of how they design these quick yet thoughtful games on Cold War topics, I may have to check those out as well.
Ultimately, I highly recommend Iron Curtain for those interested in a filler game that has some great decision-making and strategy. Some luck, especially in the card draws, but I don’t think it’s enough to make it bad for those who don’t like a lot of luck.
Give this one a try if you have 20 minutes.
This review was written after playing 2 games
A copy of Iron Curtain was provided by Jolly Roger Games in exchange for an honest review