1955: The War of Espionage Review

1955 War of Espionage in play

Today's review is of a Kickstarted game called 1955: The War of Espionage.

In 1955, each player is taking on the role of a spy, and the goal is to successfully seduce ("secure control") of three of the six countries in the game. Alternatively, you can also win if you can seduce your opponent's home country. To start the game, each player gets five cards in hand and gets to pick a home country (though, obviously, they can't both be of the same affiliation - the Cold War was not fought between two different Communist countries; or by two Capitalist countries). Now, each turn, a player can "play a card" (which might consist of several cards) twice, then redraws, and (optionally) moves his spy. You can only "play a card" (for influence) in three places - your home base, your spy's location, and the country pictured on the card. Your opponent can also defend if his spy is present, or if you attack his home base. When playing a card that pictures the country you are influencing and your spy is there, you get bonuses (which include playing extra cards and it still only counting as one). Most cards can also be played for a "Special Action" - these can increase your hand size, move your spy outside of his normal movement action, draw extra cards, etc. Players continue alternating turns until one player successfully seduces three countries or his opponent's home country. (Sure, the box shows a picture of two male spies, and I'm using the term "seduce", which implies female spies - but, those pictures are just trying to mislead you!)

The first thing that I like about 1955 is the critical role of your spy. "He" is your main conduit for influencing the board - in fact, he's the thing that changes this game from a boring game where you simply play whatever you draw (and have no decisions to make) to actually playing with strategy. You can place him in order to stack several cards in an influence action that you are planning for your next turn, or you can place him in an effort to thwart your opponent's influence. However, if you defend with too many cards, then on your own turn you will be limited in your actions (which is a nice balance). If you are close to securing a country, it might be important to place your spy there so that you have more options of what you can play. Conversely, if you have a lot of cards that match a certain country, you might place your spy in that country in order to combine those cards for maximum effect.

1955 game card
Deporting can be important
The next thing that I like about 1955 is that you can defend - and yet the defense isn't overpowering. If defending were too appealing, or too powerful, then the game would be very dull. ("I will influence the USA." "I'll block." "Ok, I'll influence Poland." "No, I'll counter." etc.) However, the fact that you can defend means that you're not completely at your opponent's mercy about whether a country moves. However, defending is limited - you can only defend in your home country and where your spy is. And, there are some special cards that allow your opponent to move your spy to your home country. So, the only place that you are guaranteed to have an opportunity to defend is your home country - but if you don't have the right cards to defend with, even this can fail.  Yet, stopping your opponent from securing his third country can be the difference between winning and losing the game!

My third pro, which I mentioned briefly before, is that I like the balancing elements of this game. For example, when you defend against a powerful influence action, you will probably have to spend a lot of cards from your hand. This causes your options to be very limited on your own turn (since you don't draw until the end of it). Another balancing element is that some of the special actions can help setup a powerful attack (like moving your opponent's spy out of your way) - but these are balanced by costing one of your two "card plays" for the turn. And, then you can't use the card for influence.

1955 game mercenary card
Good strategy - draw Mercs
With all that I've said about 1955, there are still a couple of parts of the game that I'm not a huge fan of. First, the game can be heavily influenced by draw. In the games that I've played, this hasn't been a huge factor, but if one player is regularly drawing the 4-influence cards (which also have better special actions) and the other player is drawing mostly 2-influence cards, then the person with better cards will have a major advantage. What I've seen more in my games is that if one player draws a lot of Mercenaries (these can be added to any influence action, regardless of where your spy is), then they could have a serious advantage.

My other con for 1955 is that towards the end of the game, many of your cards can be essentially worthless influence-wise (and may not have useful Special Actions). This happens more if you are forced to defend. Here's what happens - towards the end of the game, you and your opponent will probably have some countries seduced (secured). You cannot play a card in these countries for influence. Fortunately, you can still play cards that show those countries on the country that your spy is in and on your home country. However, if you have a blue home country, and your spy was defending in a different blue country, then all of the cards that you would have played to defend would have been blue. Which means the cards left in your hand are red. Playing a card of the opposite color of the country you're influencing (because your spy is there or it's your home country) makes your card have one less influence. So, playing a 2-influence card is only worth one influence. And, the special action may not be helpful. So, essentially, you wind up wasting your turn. This is part of the balance I talked about earlier, but is still a bit of a nuisance when it happens.

The last thing that I will mention before I conclude the review is something that I was a bit surprised by, but wasn't really a pro or a con.  I was surprised by how little we used Special Actions in this game.  This may have been influenced by our style of play more than the game itself (I'm not convinced of that), but it seemed like we only played a Special Action every few turns.  Now, this isn't to say that Special Actions aren't important - the ones that we played were often very powerful, but I think I was just expecting to play them more often.  One of the games we played, I even said "Ok, I'm going to try to use Special Actions as often as I think they're appropriate, so that I get a good feel for them."  Sure enough, even that game we spent most of the time playing cards for influence rather than Special Actions.

Overall, I give 1955 an 8.5/10. As I said before, it is a Kickstarter game. However, the game has a high enough production value and a good enough design that I didn't even realize this until I saw something online about it (after I had played it). This is what I hope for from Kickstarter games - that they are games first, and how they get funded is an afterthought.  (To be fair, 1955 isn't the only game like this - Alien Frontiers, Eminent Domain, and Glory to Rome: Black Box I think also easily fit this criteria.)

If you are looking for quality 2-player games, you might also like Summoner Wars, Mr. Jack and (the admittedly much bigger) BattleLore.

I would like to thank Ape Games for providing me with a review copy of 1955: The War of Espionage.

1 comment:

  1. Good review, thanks. I have an unplayed copy of Twilight Struggle I still need to learn and play, so I'll go there first. But, if this one plays more quickly, it may be more my style.