Monday, March 19, 2012

Review - Confusion: Espionage and Deception in the Cold War






 
 Two-player games have a special place in my home because most of my gaming is done with my wife. We're always on the lookout for games that are either built for 2 or work well for 2. In addition, my wife loves deduction games so when I heard the description of Confusion my ears perked right up. This game had the potential to be a perfect fit for us. Read on to find out our thoughts.

Rules

The basic gameplay is simple. Each side has 13 pieces which each move in a different way. The trick is that you can't see your pieces so you need to try moves which will be validated by your opponent. They will tell you whether the move is legal or not and must answer truthfully. This helps you narrow down which piece is which. You record this information in a portfolio so you can keep track of what you know. The goal is to get one of your pieces to the center of the board, pickup the Top Secret briefcase, and get it to the opponent's back row. Pieces can capture each other so you have to be careful or you could lose them. To make this even more tricky, one piece on each players' side is actually a Double Agent. This is the only piece your opponent can lie about and in fact they can even make the Double Agent stop responding to your commands.

In addition, there are a few variant rules including some ways to handicap the game. This provides even more variety to a game that will never play the same way twice.

The complete rules are available here on Boardgamegeek.com.

The rules are laid out terrifically and the game is very easy to learn from just one readthrough. Final score: 5 points


Components

Stronghold Games has established itself as a leader in quality game components. Everything they've done so far has been of the absolute highest quality and Confusion is no exception. The first thing you'll notice about this game is the weight of the box. This is due largely to weight of each of the pieces. Each piece is actually composed of 2 separate parts, a holder and the insert.

 The most brilliant thing about this is it keeps pieces from getting marked and thereby ruining the deduction aspect. When you start a game each player takes the opponents pieces and randomizes them ensuring that no 2 games will ever be the same. Get a scratch on the A holder? No problem, you'll never be sure which insert is in it. That's a high-class touch that not many companies would do.

Each player gets a portfolio and a dry-erase marker. The portfolios look terrific and the dry-erase function is awesome. This could have been accomplished with pad and a pencil but this again shows the quality of Stronghold Games. Not only are these portfolios awesome to look at but they do a spectacular job at helping you keep your information straight. They were even clever enough to put foam at the edge so when you close it your marks don't get messed up. That's some great thinking.

The board is quite nice looking and is very thick. I love the artwork and think it provides a great backdrop to the drama unfolding on top of it.

Final score: 5 points 




Gameplay

Variety from game to game - One of the most amazing things about this game is that no 2 games will ever be the same. You'll have different pieces in different places. This will cause your movements and choices to be different every time. Another byproduct is that you'll have new interactions with your opponent's pieces due to the new layout every game. It's almost impossible to find yourself in the same situation twice which makes the game infinitely replayable. You'll never be faced with exactly the same situation which means every game will offer new choices. Also, some games will be fast, some will be bloody, and others will be long and tough. That's the beauty of the design in Confusion.

Deduction - Confusion is a deduction game first and foremost. Yes, it's an abstract with similarities to chess, but the deduction is what drives the game. My wife is a huge fan of deduction games and it really works here. One of the interesting things about Confusion is that every move gives you some info. Sometimes you get more and sometimes you don't get much, but you always learn something when trying to move a piece. How you put that information together to work out which piece is which will go a long way in determining the winner of the game.

Choices - Early in Confusion, your choices are limitless. You have so many options and things to explore that it can almost be overwhelming. I find this to be a good thing because it's like digging into a mystery novel. You know something is going to happen, but you get to decide where it starts. As you start to learn a bit about your pieces you'll have the choice to fine tune your knowledge or just go for a broader approach. Either way, you'll have choices on every turn. Nothing feels forced. You get to decide how you go about it.

The Double Agent - This is one of the greatest rules in any game I've ever played. While you're trying to figure out what your pieces do, one of them is actually working against you. When you move the Double Agent, your opponent can tell you anything. They can say one thing one turn and then change their mind the next. This piece is all about misinformation and used correctly it can be devastating. I've seen many instances where one person would have the briefcase and be on the verge of winning only to have their winning move denied by the Double Agent. It really gives you something to think about and puts a huge amount of uncertainty into a game where there's never enough information. I absolutely love this rule and think that it turns a good game into a great one.

Tension - Confusion is a tense game! From the start, you feel a constant pressure to figure out your pieces and then figure out how to use them. As if that wasn't enough, your opponent is actively trying to stop you by getting in your way and taking your pieces. Add in the Double Agent and you've got a game that creates a real sense of urgency and strain. The game may not last long, but it really pulls you in. I love the feeling of terror you get as your opponent marches your way with the briefcase and you're feverishly trying to work out how to stop them. That adds so much to the total package.

Luck and guessing - I've got one gripe about the deduction element and that's about luck. Early in the game, you're basically just taking shots in the dark at which piece is which. I understand that this is necessary to the deduction aspect. Sometimes though, one person will guess right on all their first moves and they'll be moving out for the kill while your pieces are sitting there waiting for you to figure out what they are. This is by no means a deal breaker but it does occasionally cause some frustration and knocks a point or two off the score.

Final Score: 8.5 points.

Overall

Confusion scores an impressive 18.5 points out of 20. The rules and components are fantastic. Frankly, the component quality is so high that it's almost worth an extra point. I'm giving -1 point for the luck/guessing deal and -.5 because while I love this game I'm not as fond of deduction as my wife is. For her this game is a perfect 20 because those 2 little things that bother me don't bother her at all.  I love the game, but not quite enough to mark it as perfect although it's really close.

On the "How much do I want to play" scale Confusion rates a 8 out of 10.  It's a game I want to play a good deal when I've got time for some 2-player games.  Again, I don't love deduction so I'm not always in the mood but when I am I eagerly grab it.

Conclusion

If you're looking for a 2-player game with nearly infinite replayability then you can't go wrong with Confusion unless you really dislike deduction. If you like deduction as much as my wife then it will be an even bigger hit. It's got so much variety that you could play this game thousands of times and never play the same game twice.  The tension is palpable and really draws you in to the game.  In my mind this goes very high in my list of 2-player only games of all time for those reasons plus the quality of the components.  When we publish our Top 10 2-player only games, you can bet that Confusion will have a prominent spot in that list.

It's worth noting that Confusion has won 2 pretty prestigious awards.  It was chosen as MTV Geek's Game of the Year for 2011 and also as Game Magazine's  Best Abstract Game 2012.  No, that's not a typo, it's how they do the award.

Disclaimer:  I do some booth work for Stronghold Games at conventions but I do not receive review copies of their games.

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