Spies Like Us: A Confusion Review

When I left for Origins In June, Monkey238 doled out a dossier filled with details of two missions: have fun and don’t spend a lot of money. I chose to accept the missions; one proved a resounding success, the other was failed miserably as I walked through the door with twice as many games as I had brought along. All was soon forgiven, however, when she spotted Confusion: Espionage and Deception in the Cold War. As it turns out, nothing can make this monkey’s attention turn from overspending to oh-let’s-play like the promise of some quality detente. But with the most excellent Cold War: CIA vs KGB and the masterpiece Twilight Struggle already in our games closet, was there really room for yet another game set during the golden age of spies? After delving deep into Confusion, the short answer to that question is an enthusiastic yes!

The rules for Confusion: Espionage and Deception in the Cold War are, thankfully, shorter than the title, and very easy to understand. Each player controls 13 spies that are set up on a gridded gameboard. Players take turns moving one spy at a time around the board; the object is to position a spy on the Top Secret Briefcase in the middle of the board and then move that briefcase to the first row of the opponent’s side of the board. And that’s it! The game is that simple. Well, almost.

Modern mind control - "You will buy Stronghold Games..."

The mechanics of Confusion get a little more, err, confusing with the spy pieces. Each of a player’s spies move in a different and unique way; most can only move a number of spaces in a certain direction diagonally or orthogonally, while one lucky piece can move one space in any direction. The catch and the key mechanism in the game is that neither player knows how their spies can move – player’s spies are oriented with the directional indicator facing the opponent, and those indicators are secretly assigned to a spy before each game. When a player wishes to move one of their spies, they must move that spy and then wait for their opponent to confirm if the move was legal according the spy’s markings. Needless to say, this can mess with some heads. Players do their best to keep track of approved moves and plot deductions with a dry erase marker in their giant spy notebooks, the insides of which look like some sort of MK-Ultra mind experiment.

Double Agent - oh, the fun we will have together.

The brain-burning deduction and cat and mouse aspects of Confusion make for one fun mindfreak, but things get even more entertaining because of the double agents. Yes, just when you have maneuvered a couple of spies to the briefcase and you feel that victory is in your grasp, one of your spies may be working for the other side. You see, each player has 12 regular spies with movement markings on the reverse, but there is one sneaky bastard wearing a question mark. When a player moves a spy that has a question mark, their opponent can decide if the move is legal or not. Keeping a double agent “undercover” for most of the game can take some intense concentration and good memory, but nothing is more satisfying than watching your opponent’s smug grin turn to a grimace when their briefcase-toting superspy can no longer move as they are accustomed.

Overall, Confusion: Espionage and Deception in the Cold War lives up to its reputation as a fairly intense, hardcore deduction extravaganza. Despite its short learning curve, the gameplay is long on execution and big on brainpower. This game is not for twitchy types; if adrenaline-fueled simultaneous play is your idea of a perfect game experience, then Confusion is not your game. But for those diligent directors who have the patience and prudence to settle deep into the masterful art of misdirection and deduction, the choice of whether to add this title to your Cold War collection is most definitely not confusing.

Gameplay/ReplayComponents & ThemeFun
Designer Robert Abbot’s masterful mechanics provide a smooth, easy-to-digest and engrossing gameplay experience. Replay for Confusion is near-limitless; the variability in game piece movement, combined with the fact that each spy’s movement is determined randomly at the start of each game ensures that no two games will ever play alike. As with most abstract strategy games, gameplay is still limited by the scope of the gameboard and simplicity of the base mechanics, and this may well turn off a few gamers who are looking for something that can accommodate 18 expansions. However, Stronghold Games has done a commendable job in changing that traditional narrow scope with the addition of five unique and intriguing variants in the rulebook.As mentioned in the interview with Stephen Buonocore in the last State of Games podcast, the production of Confusion was delayed because of the difficulty in finely crafting the plastics in the game. It was definitely worth the wait. The spy pieces are beautiful, with a hefty and pleasant hand weight that ensures that they don’t topple over in the middle of the game, giving away valuable information. The gameboard and spy notebooks are all top quality, with engaging graphics that fit the theme. Speaking of theme, for a game that began its life as a blank abstract, the Cold War setting melds perfectly with the mechanics.As with its other Cold War-based gaming brethren, Confusion is not exactly a party game. There will be very little hooting and even less hollering during the proceedings. In fact, other than the occasional muttered expletive or hushed “yessss” when a player believes they have the upper hand, gamers may find themselves playing in total, awed silence while their brains churn on stimuli. For many data heads, this will seem like nirvana, but most gamers would not classify this as “fun” in the traditional sense. What Confusion does bring to the table, though, is the exhilaration of seeing the puzzle pieces slide into place, and the satisfaction of one-upping a fellow spy; it is these experiences in playing Confusion that can truly make espionage entertaining.
Overall score: 16 out of 18 - Spies, lies and little reason why not to own this strategy classic.

Confusion: Espionage and Deception in the Cold War is a game for 2 master spies, ages 12 and up, by Richard Abbot for Stronghold Games. Confusion is currently only available online through Stronghold Games, but will be available at online retailers and at your favorite local game store in mid-August. If you’d like to pick up a copy earlier, Confusion will be available at GenCon and at the World Boardgaming Championships in Lancaster, PA from August 5-7.

Related posts:

  1. The State of Games, Episode 12 – The One About Stronghold Games
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  3. Unearthing Treasure: A Pergamon Review
  4. I’ve Been Drinking on the Railroad – A TransEuropa Review
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6 Responses to “Spies Like Us: A Confusion Review”
  1. Frank says:

    Sounds like great stuff, and a lot of fun to play. I love the smell of brain-burn in the morning!

  2. dicehateme says:

    It’s awesome fun! And yeah, the smell of brain-burn in the morning – smells like… victory. 🙂

  3. Can’t wait to get a copy of this sometime. Great review as always. Ever since I first read about this it seemed like a very intellectual Stratego with you not being able to know the ” RANK” of your pieces!

  4. Paul Owen says:

    I very nearly bought this at WBC this year but couldn’t pull the trigger because I’d already blown my budget. So I talked my buddy Keith F. into buying it instead.

    Stephen Buonocore of Stronghold Games said at WBC that the game is expected out in September of this year.

  5. dicehateme says:

    Paul – Thanks for dropping by! You and Keith will enjoy the game – it’s intense, but fun. I wish we had had more time so we could have gamed together. I’m glad you got to try VivaJava, though. And we really do want to try out your game sometime, as well. We’ll be in touch!

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