Iron Curtain - Influencing the World, One Cube at a Time
Publisher: Jolly Roger Games
Designer: Asger Harding Granerud, Daniel Skjold Pedersen
Time: 20 min
The Bottom Line
Iron Curtain is an area control, micro game set during the Cold War.
In the Box
There aren’t many components in Iron Curtain. Included are 18 strategy cards, 1 starting region card, 1 influence track, 24 red and 24 blue cubes, 1 yellow influence disc and a rulebook.
As a fan of both area control and historical strategy games, Iron Curtain already checks a lot of blocks for me. As I studied the rule-book and learned how to play, it seems like a small box Twilight Struggle. Does the Iron Curtain stand strong in the wake of other small box games or does it fall in tatters?
How to Play
Iron Curtain plays in roughly ~20 minutes, so the game is simple and intuitive to learn but there are hidden layers of strategy packed in this small box game.
Iron Curtain is played over 2 rounds. In the first round, each player will have 5 cards in their hands but will only play 4. The fifth unused card, called the “aftermath” card, is set aside to be used during final scoring. In the second round, each player is dealt 4 cards and will play all 4. After each player has played all their available strategy cards, there is a final scoring phase.
The game ends immediately if a player reaches the final space of their influence track at any time; this includes during final scoring.
Taking a Turn
Players will alternate playing one strategy card from their hand and following these three steps in order:
- Place the strategy card face-up on the table and expand the active countries. You must play the card orthogonally adjacent to a card of the same color/region. If you cannot, you may place it adjacent to any card already on the table.
- Check for Region Scoring: If the region card you just played is the last of that color/region, region scoring will take place. During region scoring, there are two ways to score.
- Dominating Countries: For each card you dominate, having more influence cubes on a country than your opponent, you gain 1 ideology point. Each time you gain one ideology point, move the yellow influence disc one step closer to your flag on the track.
- Domination Regions: The player who dominates the most cards in the scoring region gains ideology points equal to the region’s bonus value.
- Command and/or Event Action(s)
The primary function of playing strategy cards is to get your influence cubes onto the various countries on the table. There are three focal points on a strategy card: Alignment, command (influence) cube value and event text. If the strategy card you play is of your opponent’s alignment, e.g. you are playing as the U.S. and you play a card aligned with the U.S.S.R., then before you take your action, your opponent may choose to activate the event or not. However, if the card is aligned with you, e.g. you play a U.S. aligned card as the U.S. player, you can freely choose to activate the event or use the card for the command cubes.
Utilizing a strategy card for command cubes are the core of the game. This is the only way for you to gain control of various countries and attempt to dominate regions. There are a few restrictions when placing influence cubes:
- You can only place them on countries that already have your cubes or on cards that are orthogonally adjacent to a country with your cubes.
- You cannot chain influence. i.e. Only influence cubes that were on the board before your command action count. You could not place one cube on card and then hop to the next country.
- You may split the influence cubes among countries as you wish.
Events are stronger but somewhat restricted command actions or somehow break the base game rules. Each strategy card has a unique, asymmetric power. Infiltration is a rule breaking event that allows a player to place cubes on certain countries. It’s important to note that infiltration ignores adjacency rules and the rules of controlling a card.
Controlling a Card
When you control a country, you deter your opponent from maneuvering. If at any time you have 2 more influence cubes than your opponent on a card, you control that card. If your opponent wanted to place influence cubes on a card you control, they must spend two influence cubes to place one. The second cube is “wasted” and sent back to their supply. Once the control is broken, they may place influence as normal on the card.
How to Win
If the influence disc has not reached either end of the ideology track, then the game goes into final scoring. Before scoring regions, you will reveal the two face-down “aftermath” cards from the first round. Count the number of U.S. and U.S.S.R. influence cubes from the Events on these cards. The side with the highest total scores ideology points equal to the difference in cubes.
After scoring aftermath, players will not score each region in this order: Europe, Middle East, Asia, Africa, South America, and Central America. All regions score, even though not all the region cards are on the table. Keep note, this means some regions will score more twice per game, while others will not.
If during final scoring, the influence disc has not reached the U.S. or U.S.S.R. side, the player with the most influence points wins. If there is a tie, the U.S. wins!
Positives and Negatives
- Engaging card play in an area-control, small box game.
- Thematically rich and tense game play.
- Card laying to create the world map is fun and keeps the game fresh after multiple plays. You will have to adjust your strategy as the world takes form.
- Feels like a lightning version of Twilight Struggle, minus a few key mechanics, most notably a space race.
- Clean and intuitive design and iconography on the country cards creates an easy to learn game.
- Random deal of cards can lead to run away leader issues, especially in the first round.
- No way to “burn” a strategy card. You must play a card to the table and triggering your opponent’s event action essentially becomes a “play at the time it hurts you the least” decision.
- While the game provides strategic depth based on the cards available in your hand, at times there is an “obvious” best choice for your turn.
- The rule-book contains grammar errors and the game-play rules could flow more smoothly.
Iron Curtain strikes a good balance between rewarding numerous plays without feeling "samey." Because the cards are randomly dealt, you're unlikely to play the same game twice. However, only having 18 cards in the deck means that eventually, the gameplay may become tiresome depending on how quickly you wear out the game. If both opponents are familiar with the events and effects of each country card, you are in for a quick, strategically “thinky” game of outwitting your opponent but unfortunately, an experienced Iron Curtain player will massacre a new player. There's nothing inherently wrong with that, as there are plenty of games akin to Iron Curtain's strategic barrier, and because the game plays so quickly, players will ask to immediately reset and avenge their honor. Overall, Iron Curtain is a solid, small box strategy game that simulates the macro level 45 years of the Cold War without taking hours of your time.
You will like this game if: you enjoy area-control, hand management, and “tile” laying games. Additionally, if you enjoy political thrillers, suspenseful gameplay and overly large drapes, Iron Curtain is for you!
I give Iron Curtain 3 Mericas out of 5.
A free copy of the game was provided for review.
A quick note on my rating scale:
5: This game is nearly perfect in every way and the Positives far outweigh any Negatives.
4: This game is outstanding and the Positives outweigh the Negatives.
3: This game is fun but feels average and the Positives and Negatives are nearly equal.
2: This game falls below average and the Negatives outweigh the Positives.
1: This game is bad and the Negatives far outweigh any Positives.