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Although the photo is of the 3rd Printing box (only the edition changes, the box remains the same) this feature is about the 4th Printing, which is identical to the 3rd Printing, except that all known errata is corrected.

The third and fourth printing box sizes have been changed so that players who own the Labyrinth: The Awakening expansion will be able to store it in the main Labyrinth game box.
To make it to a FOURTH printing a game has to be more than just popular, it also has to have what is known as the 'X' Factor, that something which is hard to put a finger on and yet raises the game above others in the same/similar genre.

This is a 1 or 2 player game that is low on complexity, high on solo playability and even higher on historical realism. Bin Laden, Terrorism and the Two Towers is still very current in people's minds, it's still very close to home, so to take on the rôle of the Jihadi Terrorist Factions in a game and try to win is a mite uncomfortable, which is rather weird because we are always happy to take control of Germany, Japan or Italy (or all three) against Allied forces without batting an eyelid. For the one-player version the USA take on the Jihadis via the rules, but there are no rules to allow a player control of the Terrorists. There is a feeling of accomplishment and achievement when playing solo or 2-player in a variety of other wargames, like, for instance, 

if the South beats the North in the US Civil War 

 or if Napoleon wins at Waterloo

but can you claim the same sense of satisfaction if you steer Terrorists to victory? 

 

Right from the start it is clear that this game is going to conclude in a most similar manner to the real life war on terror; no one actually wins and the Middle-East continue in uncertainty. Yes there are winning conditions, many of them in fact, so that players have to try to remember the 'ifs' and 'thens' and the 'if-thens' etc. The war on terror is never really won!  Sadly, the Middle-East in reality, is filled with lovely places and wonderfully friendly people, the true number of folk there that actually hate the West are few and far between. 

The game revolves around the different countries involved; Muslims, non-Muslims and Iran which, for the purpose of this game, is 'special'. There are four scenarios on the back page of the Rules Booklet. One is an Alternative History ("You Can Call Me Al")  whilst the other three are all post 911; the first beginning the day after, on September 12th 2001, when it is time for the USA to respond to Al Qaeda's devastating attack, as I said it's an unusual position for a player to be in, having to quantify and defend the perpetrators of bringing down the Towers.

The Playbook is where to begin unless you have previously played one of the earlier editions. It is a walkthrough tutorial of how to play the 2-player game so if this is your first time or you are trying to explain the game to a new player ensure you have the board laid out on a table and the other components close by. The deck is shuffled after any necessary cards are removed, then players are dealt a hand of cards the size of which is determined by the Troops & Funding tracks of the current scenario. The game lasts 1 Deck (standard), 2 Decks (tournament) or 3 Decks (campaign) depending on how long the players wish to play for, though of course this should be decided prior to beginning play - only the 'Mission Accomplished?' scenario recommends an actual game length and even then it is 2 or 3 decks, thus not specifically specific!

LABYRINTH is card driven with the cards being Jihadist or USA associated or unassociated. As players draw cards from the same deck it is obvious that the players will at times draw cards associated with the opposition. The Operations Value (the number in the top left corner) comes into play if the card player is not of the faction associated with the card or is the aforementioned faction but has decided not to action the event and instead selects a type of Operation using their faction reference card. There are certain situations where a player may actually activate an opponent's event depending on the situation, it is also often just as favourable to use the Operations Value than the event, though if you can link events - playing an event that affects or is affected by another event already in play. To be able to use them as you'd like to some cards require certain conditions to be in place, or they may have demands on them, such as Lapsing, Mark or Remove which come into effect after the card's event (not the Operation's Value) has been activated. Lapsing means that the card's effect only lasts until the end of the turn; a card with 'Mark' is lingering (not lapsing) and it's effect can be in place for a while. Cards with 'Remove' are taken out of the game permanently which (unless we have misread the rules) means that the card is back in the box so it will not be shuffled into the discards when a deck is exhausted during a 2 or 3 deck game (this how we play it).

 

Play is sort of cat and mouse, bat & ball strategy play. One player makes a move by playing a card, using the event or selecting an Operation then the other player attempts to foil, negate, prevent or constrain (as best as possible) that strategy with one of their own, while at the same time creating their own offensive. Being a cards and dice game there is a lot of randomness and this is possibly the biggest, probably only, real drawback to LABYRINTH.  All, well maybe not all but certainly a lot, of your scheming, planning and ruthless actions can be kyboshed if the dice roll against you.

LABYRINTH is subtitled "The War on Terror" and that places it in the genre of tabletop war games. However it isn't a war game, well not in the manner of boots on the ground, planes in the air, stacks of counters on hexes or even numerical odds deciding the offence versus defence results. It's a unique situation for a war if truth be told (and it mostly never is). It's not a 'hot' war with bullets and missiles flying and it's not a cold war concerning spies and their like, it's sort of inbetween those.

It's all about shifting the alliances and governments, locating and removing terrorist cells, gaining prestige and turning other powers and governments to the way of the West (at least in its thinking) and changing Regime's and Leaders in Middle-Eastern countries to keep a peaceful balance while operating on their soil against known terrorists, virtually all put into place by strategic card play and decided by, if you have played your cards right, modified to your advantage dice rolls, or luck! 

Of course it isn't all luck and dice rolls, though these are quite high on any list made to describe this game's mechanics.

The rules in the booklets are set out in the usual wargame's style [main header/section header/rules/rules amendments] so after playing through the tutorial, which I seriously do advise, you should have little trouble playing a game, we didn't anyway. The scenarios provided couldn't have been any more brief; one paragraph for each, the longest taking just 6 lines in a 6cm x 3cm column, followed by the lists of Markers required and Countries involved. Once a scenario has been chosen the game is setup as on page 2 (and onward), the same setup is for each scenario, only the Markers, Countries and perhaps some card removal (from the game) being different. This means that the winning conditions for each scenario are basically the same also.

 

Throughout the rules and game mechanics you will find no mention 'combat' at least in as much as it being a specific header with sub-headings or simply just a sub-heading. There are many mentions of Troops and Units and these do have the war power of the US or Jihadi forces, but instead of having a host of counters on a map board you have a board inundated with a variety of boxes, charts and tracks. Weapon Power, Diplomatic Pressure, Disrutpion, Terror Cells, Alignments etc are all instruments designed to keep the peace or prolong / instigate terrorist actions.

At the end of each game, I played each scenario once with friends and I also played the solo game twice, the second time with a friend by my side (so the pair of us were actually the USA and we made decisions together before taking them to the game - bringing them to the table I believe he called it) which is a way I can truly recommend; play with a friend but against the game as you would solo, it makes for some interesting differences.

I realise it is a game as are all war games, and of course I understand it is about recent history, as such it is maybe a good tool to explain some of the differences between the West and the Jihadi East to older children but I did feel 'uncomfortable' as the Terrorists and much preferred the USA even though I didn't (don't) agree with every action available to them (that they took). I was in Egypt recently when a bomb went off and although it didn't affect me personally (we were 400-500 yeards away from it, which is about as close as I would ever want to be) it has played around in my inner conscience and playing the terorists in LABYRINTH gives me the same kind of nightmarish feelings. Having said that, as an historic exploration into the War on Terror, the game does exactly what it sets out to do: I.E.D. Inform, Educate and Direct.

© Chris Baylis 2011-2015