Labyrinth: the War on Terror – Early Access on Steam – First Look

With all of us hopefully staying indoors for a large part of our day for the foreseeable future, digital boardgaming apps (as well as online gaming, but that’s not what this post is about) are becoming more and more important in our lives.

This brings me to last week’s release of Labyrinth: the War on Terror on Steam Early Access. If you follow this blog, you saw my excitement when this was announced.

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Labyrinth: the War on Terror is by GMT Games and released in app form by Playdek, one of the masters of boardgame apps in my opinion. They certainly have asynchronous multiplayer down to an art form.

The game was designed by Volko Ruhnke and came out in 2010.

What is Labyrinth: the War on Terror?

Let’s take a look, and then talk about the app.

Labyrinth: the War on Terror pits the United States against the Jihadist extremists who are trying to export their radical ideology all over the world.

Let me just quote the rulebook on this part:

“The US side seeks to improve governance in Muslim countries so that Jihadism is cut off at its roots, or at least to eliminate the extremist fighters that pose the immediate threat. The Jihadist side seeks to reestablish the Islamic Caliphate of old or to damage the US so severely that it withdraws from the Muslim world.”

So with that established how does the game work?

The game is a card-driven-game like Twilight Struggle where you have a deck of cards. The cards have either Jihadist events, US events, or neutral events (in this case, “neutral” is usually “if Jihadist plays, do this; if US plays, do this” but sometimes it has an event that affects both sides).

One of the major differences between the two games is that you play two cards on your turn instead of just one. Also, the number of cards you get to draw each round varies depending on the situation on the board so there could be an imbalance there from turn to turn (in which case, to echo Edward at Heavy Cardboard, “play better.”)

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Like in most card-driven games, you can play a card for either the event or the operations points, though if the event is your opponent’s, it will happen either before or after (your choice) you use the points.

In Labyrinth, though, it’s more likely that conditions of the event aren’t on the board so playing your opponent’s card may not be an issue (Quagmire above could be safely played by the US player if the US had High Prestige).

So what are you trying to do?

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Here’s a picture of the map. It contains a mix of Muslim countries and other countries/regions that will be affected by the Global War on Terror. Muslim countries have a number of resources assigned to them (in the top left corner).

The Jihadists are trying to do one of the following:

  1. turn countries totaling 6 resources into Islamist Rule countries that include at least 2 adjacent countries (meaning they’ve joined the Jihadist side)
  2. Bring US Prestige down to 1 and at least 15 Muslim countries have “Poor” or Islamist Rule governments
  3. A Weapon of Mass Destruction plot is resolved inside the United States without being countered.

The US is trying to do one of the following:

  1. Make it so Muslim countries with a total resources of 12 or more have “Good” governance
  2. at least 15 of the 18 Muslim countries have at least “Fair” governance
  3. the Jihadist player has no cells on the map.

Thus, the victory conditions can be quite fluid!

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Each side, starting with the Jihadists, plays two action cards for whatever they want. Then, if the Jihadist player placed any plots on the board with their cards, those plots are resolved (the US only has their own 2-card turn to counter the plots before they happen).

Plots can weaken governance in a country, add to Jihadist funding, and perhaps affect US Prestige (or end the game if it’s a WMD plot in the US, but thankfully you have to earn those plots).

Thus, much like its predecessor Twilight Struggle, the game can be a tug-of-war between the two players.

I’m not going to go into too much more detail on how the game works, but I hope that gives you a sense of the intense nature of the game.

So the app is in Early Access on Steam.

How is it faring so far?

Pretty damned good, actually.

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When it first came out, there were a few issues that were kind of annoying.

Online games didn’t have a way to easily go from one game to another if you were in more than one. Many times when you played a card it would just continue to the next card/player rather than asking you to commit to your action (the great Twilight Struggle app, also by Playdek, does that very well)

An update that just dropped on Wednesday fixed all of that.

The gameplay is butter smooth (once you “get” the game, which I haven’t really figured out yet…but I will persevere!!!!).

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The tutorial is quite good and detailed, and there is an online rulebook within the game that greatly helps too.

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Jihadist Funding dictates how many card that player gets, and US Troop deployment determines how many cards they draw

The screen real estate is effectively used with all of the required tracks being accessible and you have the ability to scroll around the screen.

One minor niggle is that when you need to select a country, it has to be fairly close to the center of the screen (or at least not just visible on the edge) in order to select it. I’ve had a number of times I was trying to select, for example, Indonesia (a country near the bottom right of the board) and I had to actually scroll the map to make it more “central” on my screen before the game would let me select it.

Another minor issue, and it’s really minor, is that when you play a card, it goes to the right side of the screen.

Nothing wrong with that, but if you played it to place a plot or two, the card usually covers up the Available Plots box, making you have to scroll the screen to get to the plots.

It’s very minor, but if that’s something that could be fixed, that would be great.

The banner at the top of the screen does a good job of highlighting what you need to do. It shows you the number of countries/resources you need to meet your victory conditions and also how far along you are already.

It also highlights the other tracks too, giving you US Prestige (and the effect it has on the game) as well as Global War on Terror relations with other countries and that effect.

It’s all very intuitive.

The online multiplayer also has a fairly prominent Chat button so you can chat with your opponent (much more prominent than Ascension, where I often miss that I have a comment to read)

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Yes, even online my dice rolls suck

I also love how the game shows you the results of your actions on the left side of the screen, with a countdown clock so you can either dismiss it right away, or maybe pause it if you really want to look at it more closely.

Right now, there is no AI in the game. Instead, the game uses the solo play system in the main game, which means you are automatically the US side and the Jihadist player will just be turning over cards to play. That means that if it plays a US card, it won’t trigger.

I hope they implement an AI soon, because I found that version counter-intuitive to learning how the game itself plays with an opponent.

Sure, you have to watch out when you play Jihadist cards, but the push and pull isn’t as good in the solo mode to really learn the game, in my opinion.

Others may disagree, but I hope we get an AI quickly.

The update on Wednesday had a lot of card fixes. Unfortunately, I don’t know the game well enough to know how many cards still have issues, so take this with a grain of salt. There may be no more issues, or there could be a bunch. I can say that when I have played, I haven’t seen a card act differently than I was expecting.

All in all, I’d say that the Labyrinth: the War on Terror app is already looking very good and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it in wide release soon.

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Other than a few minor issues I have with it, it’s already in my steady rotation of online games and I can’t wait to play it some more.

Because I really need the practice. I still don’t get this game.

But I will!

That is a vow.

Labyrinth: the War on Terror is currently available on Steam Early Access for $14.49 CDN (not sure what that is in US$, but maybe $11.99 or something? Just a guess)

Playdek has said that it will be coming to mobile devices eventually.

When that happens, it will be a day 1 buy for me, even though I already have it on Steam.

(Now watch, they release it tomorrow, like Dire Wolf Digital did with Sagrada)

What do you think? Have you tried this?

Do you want to?

Let me know in the comments.

7 Comments on “Labyrinth: the War on Terror – Early Access on Steam – First Look

  1. Well, I’ve been eagerly waiting for this release, since it was announced as a future release, because it is one of my favourite GMT games. I’ve bought it and I’ve played a few games but I need more from the design team…
    Twilight Struggle is the benchmark for me and Labyrinth needs some more work to meet it.

    What do I mean?
    – The Bot plays too fast! So fast, that many times I need to read the log to figure out what happened.
    – I can’t read the cards’ text. I have to click on everyone, bring it up and then, I can read the text.
    – I can’t rewind my plays. In case I make a mistake, once I confirm it, there’s no turning back.
    – I have to move the map to pick a country at the edge of the screen – as you said.
    – I have to click carefully on the cells I pick because it doesn’t pick the obvious targets – the revealed ones.
    – The animations are too fast, even at the slow setting.
    – It needs more visual polishing; the cards’ visual analysis is not that good compared to the TS.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the detailed comment, Stefano!

      I agree Twilight Struggle is the kind of app they should be aiming for with this one.

      About your points:

      1) I haven’t played the bot much after my first attempts at learning the game, but good point about the speed.

      2) I think that’s the same as Twilight Struggle. You can’t read the cards without bringing them up in that one.

      3) I don’t think Twilight Struggle has any kind of undo either once you commit your decision. I do think that Labyrinth occasionally has places where it should ask you to commit where it doesn’t, though. Still needs a bit of work.

      4) Glad we agree!

      5) You do have to watch which cells you click on! I haven’t had a problem with that yet, but I can see that sometimes being a problem.

      6) Yeah, I do wish you could really slow down the animation settings a bit. The cards do come out pretty fast and if it’s not something where the result box comes up, it can be a problem.

      7) It’s definitely a bit rougher feeling than TS. I don’t know if that’s intentional (it’s more of a gritty game than TS) or if it’s something they could clean up.

      Thanks for stopping by! I hope you do so again.

      Liked by 1 person

      • On second thoughts, you are right about Nr. 2. I didn’t remember that because I haven’t played TS digital for a long time.
        About Nr. 5, after having talked to another guy, I realised there is one case in which the revealed cells are not the obvious choice – 2 active and 1 sleeper need 2 dirsupt actions, not 3 in case you pick first the active.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. See, that’s something I would have to learn by playing more. For now, I’m still kind of learning the nuances of the game.

    Like

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