Monday, November 7, 2011

Confusion: Espionage and Deception in the Cold War

Confusion: Espionage and Deception in the Cold War is Stronghold Games' 2011 2-player abstract strategy game. As is Stronghold's way, Confusion: Espionage and Deception in the Cold War is a rerelease of the 1992 abstract strategy game Confusion, with upgraded components and a sleek new design. In Confusion, players try to get the top-secret briefcase from the center of the playing board to the opponent's first row. The trick is, you don't know how your pieces move, and must deduce the information through trial and error. So, will you be left you scratching your chin wanting more, or will you just be mind-numbingly confused?

Confusion comes with 26 playing pieces in two different colors, 1 briefcase-piece, 6 variant tokens, 1 game board, a rule book, 2 player books and 3 dry-erase pens. All of the physical pieces used in the game are colored bakelite, giving them a solid, sturdy feel to them. They're also ingeniously created. Each player gets 13 pieces in their color. Each piece has a recession in the center for a smaller piece to slide in. There are 13 pieces that depict the movement unique to that piece, and at the beginning of the game you randomly assign the movement pieces to your opponents pieces, which face away from your opponent. The pieces slide in snugly and comfortably, so you don't have to worry about them popping out mid-game.


The game itself is fairly simple. After you have placed all of the movement pieces in your opponent's playing pieces facing you, you can begin.  On your turn you only do one thing: attempt to move a piece. The other player will then look at the piece and tell you whether or not you can move in the desired way. You cannot see how your piece is allowed to move, but your opponent can. After your opponent tells you yes or no on your movement, you take your dry erase pen and your player book, and you can (hopefully) eliminate some of the possible movement types. Eventually, you will start deducting which pieces can move in which ways and you can begin formulating a strategy. 

To win, you must get take the briefcase from the center of the board to the opponent's first row. If you ever move into a space that is occupied by an opposing player's piece, you capture that piece a la Checkers. Careful planning, mental fortitude and a bit of luck will decide the victor.


Confusion truly is a great game, but it's not without its flaws. The rulebook needs some work, in my opinion. The rules are 6 pages from  introduction to variants. It's nice that it is so succinct and short but it is, at times, vague and confusing. For example, some movement pieces have a lock symbol on them. The rulebook explains this rather poorly, saying that pieces with this symbol "are not always able to return to their previous square next turn depending on what movement you select for them", and that the symbol is for reference only. Inquiry on this reveals that the lock symbol merely means that, because of the nature of the movement type, sometimes the piece cannot move back into its previous position. For example, if a piece can move x number of spaces straight forwards and diagonal backwards, then if it moves diagonal it cannot return to the previous space because it can only move straight forward. Why put a special symbol on the piece for something so obvious?

Additionally, the rulebook's explanation of how to win is one sentence long on the first page under the description of gameplay and contents. I may be alone on this, but I would expect to find how to win the game after the rules on how to play the game, or at least within the actual rules of the game. 

To add to the confusion, the only diagram in the rulebook is for the initial piece placement during set up and there are no examples to site. The board is an 11x11 grid, with the first and last columns being considerably darker and containing a nuclear symbol. This is only used in a variant, but is so pronounced that it creates questions during gameplay. The explanation is found on the last page of the rulebook in the variants section. Again, I may be alone on this, but I don't look for explanations of the anatomy of the board in the variants sections.

All of that may seem nit-picky, but it's because this game reeks of quality. Everything about this game - from the art, to the components, to the gameplay - shows just how much work was put in to creating the best possible game that Stronghold could, but it has these minor oversights that nag at me. The flaws are not enough to detract from your enjoyment of the game, and are purely superficial. All in all, Confusion: Espionage and Deception in the Cold War stands as an amazingly well-produced 2-player game with near limitless replayability.

For more information on Confusion: Espionage and Deception in the Cold War, check out its entry on BoardGameGeek, and for information on where to purchase this great game and others, check out Stronghold Games' website.

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