It might seem like we’ve recently had a sleu of Labyrinth content, and that’s because it’s a game that is just that good. If you’re new to the game, you can take a look at this overview from a week ago to get a little bit more acquainted. It can seem like there’s a lot to this game so we decided to create these strategy aids in order to help newer players ease into it a little more. Grant’s United States strategy guide can be read here, whilst this article will be dedicated to the Jihadist tactics, a very different beast.
We’ve played this game (relatively speaking) a good number of times, which is something of a feat, just based on how little time we have to play vs. how many games we have on the docket. Not only do we have a very tense and titanic struggle in each game, but this is one that I find myself thinking about, pondering, and yearning to play more often than not. Subject matter aside, this game presents such a unique set of chellenges to each player, both in order to accomplish their victory conditions, but also to stem the opposing tide. I’ve often discussed this with Grant, but I look for games that provide me with a great intellectual challenge, ‘How do I make this game do what I need it to, in order to best my opponent?’ Labyrinth is exactly that. You can’t just plod along and play passively in this game, nor can you turtle and hope for the best. Your old FFA Ameritrash tactics don’t work here. Labyrinth is cerebral in it’s mechanics and this is a game I am more than happy to lose, because even in the act of losing I will more often than not have had a fantastic time, and also learned a lot about mistakes that were made.
So, what have I learned in playing the Jihadists that I can pass on to you? Let’s get started:
Move, move, move!
Whilst a large portion of the game is about trying to establish Islamic Calliphates in countries, you will find it extremely challenging if you play the game in a static fashion. Your game pieces function similarly to insurgent pieces from the COIN games, they are hidden and need to be flushed out before they can be removed. Anytime you move, even within the same region, your cells go underground again, ready to strike at a moment’s notice. You have to embrace mobile warfare, get in to perform jihads, lay terror plots, and then get out again before the US can catch up to you. When the heavy handed US war machine comes crashing down you have to scatter. Always remember, run away, to fight another day! You have the movement advantage. Your pieces can move to any adjacent spaces without rolling, or can roll and move across the entire world. The US simply cannot move in this fashion, they cannot catch you everywhere, so spread out, spread the US thin and create what I call ‘constant chaos’. Any respite is a benefit to the US and allows them to stabilize things with a chance to take a breath, so try and keep them off kilter at all times and gasping for air.
Terror plots are an entirley unique mechanism for the Jihadists, and they exist for a specific reason. Use them! The US player will spend significant time and resources trying to cut your funding and thus your hand limit as well as available cells. Your funding will also drop consistently over time. Plots will combat this by increasing your funding level, but on top of that they can hurt the US prestige, also a great bonus, and they help to destabilize regions the US has worked extremely hard to curry favour with. To disrupt and reveal plots, the US has to spend 3 OPs point cards, an extremely steep price. So the more you can lay the more likely it is that they’ll go off, and if none of them do then that’s excellent also, because that means the US burned so many cards getting rid of them, and cannot perform the functions that they want to. Plots help you to keep the game on your terms, and that’s how you have to think as the Jihadist. You dictate the pace and terms of the conflict, and if you lose that initiative and start playing on US terms you’ll start to feel very constrained in what you’re able to do.
You don’t have any win conditions revolving around non-Muslim countries, so it can seem a little wasteful commiting resources for operations in Europe and the rest of the non-Muslim world. Do not fall into this trap. You’ll have to be a little more careful with your cells and OPs in Schengen countries, but using them effectively can swing the tide of the game very quickly. Having plots go off in European countries helps to raise funds, but it also has the opportunity to affect global politics. When you have terror plots in Europe they will re-roll their Global War on Terror (GWOT) posture, if you can get the rest of the world to be of the opposing ‘posture’ to the US, you will buy yourself more time to gather resources and perform major jihads. When the US, for example, has a Hard stance, and the rest of the world has a Soft (read: tepid, cautious, or passive) stance toward the war on terror then the US will have a penalty to any War of Ideas rolls. Anything you can do to make those rolls as hard and expensive as possible means they’ll on average take more turns to convert a country to a Good alignment. As such you will have more turns to try and get multiple Islamic Rule countries on the board, which will really force the US into positions they don’t want to be in.
Event Cards to get around Mechanical Constraints
Most of the cards in the game allow you to perform actions that break the rules of the game. Playing as the Jihadists, I have found that the events on the cards are much harder to turn down, and are often much easier to implement. As the US, many of the cards have stipulations and conditions that must be met before they can be played, but the majority of the Jihadist cards aren’t as constraining. When your funding is low, and you cannot recruit anymore cells from the track, you will often have cards that allow you to place cells from the track, bypassing the recruitment aspect and therefore ignoring the funding limitations. Look for them. The same goes for things like the Martyrdom Operation attack cards, which allow you to sacrifice a cell on the board to replace it with 2, yes 2, Terror Plots. The freedom this gives you to place 2 plots in a Good aligned country (normally a difficult task with a 1/36 chance of success to place both) is significant, and in turn puts a massive amount of pressure on the US to waste their turn and 6 OPs points just to mop them both up. So you either gain a ton a funding and can affect the GWOT track/destabilize a country, or you get to flush US resources down the drain. The US player gets nothing for cleaning up plots, so put them down at any and all opportunities.
Weapons of Mass Destruction can be used to end the game in a Jihadist auto-victory. I have performed this feat once, in our most recent play actually, and it’s not very easy to do (as you can imagine). The stars aligned for me to be able to do that, I had a great combination of cards that allowed me to fly “Clean Operatives” to Europe and then travel them to the US later and then used the aforementioned Martyrdom Operation to place 2 WMD plots in The United States. Grant cleaned up one but didn’t have the OPs points to clean up the second, so I won that way. Normally however it’s both difficult and slow to be able to do that, so WMDs should be employed cannily throughout the game because they’re a very valuable, but very scarce ‘resource’. You should do everything in your power to try and aquire the WMD plots, capturing the ones in Russia, and Central Asia is kind of a coin-flip because you roll a die from an event card that you may never see in order to get just one counter. Even then that’s only if the CTR events haven’t been played that block the attempts. Pakistan, however, is a different beast. If you can ever get Pakistan to Islamic rule, you immediately gain control of the Pakistani Arsenal, and gain three WMD Plot markers. This comes with it’s own set of challenges, but again, a shrewd player can make a lot of things happen and keep the US player distracted in other parts of the board whilst you swoop in for a major jihad for example. Usually I like to bluff my WMDs a lot in this game. I play regular Plots in places where it would seem obvious to play a WMD marker, the US then commits a ton of resources to clearing them out, just to find that it’s a 1 or 2 strength plot, and you still have your ace-in-the-hole so to speak. As with all aspects of this game, the WMDs should be used sparingly, and many bluffs, feints and deceptions should be employed in order to confuse the enemy for when you finally do use them.
Your funding will drop by one every hand. At first it wont seem as bad, but then there are a good number of events, etc. that will cut your funding even lower. You need that funding to keep cells out on the board, the fewer cells you have the harder it will be to be effective. So make sure to keep a constant eye on the Funding Track. When ever you get the opportunity drop a Plot, or play a card in order to keep it boosted. You can always attempt to establish the Somali Pirates to help swell the coffers, but that’s easier said than done in my opinion. I tried to focus on that in our last game and I wasn’t effective in doing so.
Get the US into Overstretch
Overstretch is where the US has troops commited to the board from all three of their troop boxes. When the US is in overstretch they have fewer strategy cards, and there’s a good number of card effects that say “if the US is in overstretch, then..”. Whenever you have the card advantage you should aim to do devious things with your final, and therefore at least partially, uncounterable hand; like placing Plots where there are Troops, or mustering cells to stage a major jihad or moving freely in Europe, etc. So how do you get the US into Overstretch? Great question. I’ve never been able to do it, but I’ve been close. If you ever find yourself with multiple Islamic Rule countries, especially in key strategic positions, or with large resource numbers you know the US player is thinking about it. Once they commit 6 troops to a regime change those troops can often get bogged down in trying to convert it to a Good aligned country. Remember that in order for a Regime Change to end, the US has to get that country to Good alignment so do everything you can to keep them there including spend cells to perform jihads and place Plots there in order to destabilize the area (in doing so it keep the Troops locked in). Meanwhile, you should atempt to create more Islamic Rule countries in order to force a second strong deployment, causing overstretch. You can use 1 or two cells in each spot to run in and out and keep undoing their War of Ideas in the country, all the while destabilizing and converting more and more countries, whilst the US sits in a quagmire. You might even be able to force them to switch posture, which is always a great thing, because it’s very expensive and can inflict severe GWOT penalties. They will try to ovoid overstretch, or use it when they want to in strong positions, but if you can get them to play at your tempo in a reactionary fashion, then you’re on the right path.
Adjacent Resource Countries
Finally, you should look to take strong resource producing countries. If you can get a couple of big ones adjacent to each other it puts you extremely close to victory and again, puts all the pressure on the US to deploy more Troops out of desperation, which will lock them in and in so doing open up the rest of the map for your playground. Failing this you should look to try and convert lots of the lesser valued resource countries that are the satelites on the map. If you can get the US bogged down defending The Gulf States, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, etc. it then is easy to pick up Indonesia, Lybia and Somalia at the ‘extremities’ of the map. This kind of goes back to the first point, where mobility and constantly shifting your focus and converting many places all over the map keeps the US on the back foot, which is your goal in all areas of the game.
Hopefully this was at least somewhat helpful to newer players, because the Jihadist player basically ‘is’ the game. You are the simulation that the US is trying to qwell. If you play poorly, you’ll find yourself getting mopped up quickly. I also understand that there can be a lot of swingy randomness from testing countries, War of Ideas, etc., that don’t fall in your favour, but you have to be proactive in your efforts to win and remember to always keep up the pressure. Take a look at this video that has a review and an AAR of sorts to kind of see what some of this looks like.
If you want some more advice there’s actually a section in the rulebook/playbook that discusses the ways in which you can lower US prestige, or affect the GWOT table, etc., so I would give that a look over as well. Anyways, I hope you enjoy your games of Labyrinth as much as we do, and as the Jihadist player you need to construct the Labyrinth that the US has to navigate, so make it good, and always twisting and turning!