Iron Curtain Cover

Iron Curtain by Jolly Roger Games Review

Publisher: Jolly Roger Games

Game Designer: Asger Harding Granerud, Daniel Skjold Pedersen

Players: 2

Playing Time: 20-30 minutes


An iron curtain has descended across the continent

“From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic an “iron curtain” has descended across the continent. Behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of Central and Eastern Europe. Warsaw, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade, Bucharest and Sofia; all these famous cities and the populations around them lie in what I must call the Soviet sphere, and all are subject, in one form or another, not only to Soviet influence but to a very high and in some cases increasing measure of control from Moscow.” – Sir Winston Churchill March 5, 1946

Condensed control

Thanks to the highly popular and long-lived masterpiece Twilight Struggle from GMT Games, the Cold War has been a hot topic for gamers to relive on their tabletops for more than a decade now. Designers Asger Harding Granerud and Daniel Skjold Pedersen have made their mark delving into this bit of history with a few games of their own these past two years. First, exploring the Cuban Missile Crisis in 13 Days, a title as tense as it is concise, before compressing that down even further with 13 Minutes. Now they’re taking a stab at a micro-macro view of the Cold War with Iron Curtain.

Unlike 13 Minutes, which uses a straight-up tug of war mechanism for control and scoring, Iron Curtain is purely about area-control. Handled by way of card and cube placement, from a hand of five cards over two rounds. This fast-playing game captures the heady feel of the aforementioned Twilight Struggle, without the weighty card and influence management, in about 20 minutes.

Iron Curtain Cards

The goal of the game is to be the first to reach your maximum influence of eight points within two rounds of play. Failing that, the highest score wins. Players begin with a hand of five cards, and a single influence cube on the Europe start card, the hub from which the spokes of the regional cards will emanate. There are six different regions; Europe, Middle East, Asia, Africa, South and Central America.

During the first turn, players will only play four cards from their hand of five, holding the last one over for the scoring phase at the end of the game. The cards represent regions of the world, and each has both a command value and event. The command value indicates how many cubes that you may place in regions you already have influence in, and those adjacent. Events allow movement or removal of cubes, award ideology points, and in the case of the Iran card, moving one card and its influence cubes to another location.

Iron Curtain Hand
Play cards smartly from your hand

Once all cards of a region are placed, that region is scored immediately. Control of countries in a region is determined by having two more influence cubes than your opponent. Just as in Twilight Struggle, you must pay one extra influence to place a single cube into a country in which your opponent has control.

When a country card is played, it must be placed adjacent to another country of the same region, and then either its command point value or the event is used. To be able to place influence in that country, you must have influence adjacent. If you can manipulate influence well enough, you can box your opponent out from placing their own influence on a card just played. But you’ll need to be careful, because when you play a card that has an opponent’s national event on it, it happens first, if applicable. So, all of your carefully laid plans could be for naught, if that event card lets them infiltrate cubes onto an area that you thoughtfully blocked.

What will prevail, Communism or Democracy?
Will Communism or Democracy prevail?

If the event cannot be fulfilled, because a country or opponent’s influence is not on the table, then it’s a wash. Events can be mitigated with proper timing, so be sure to read the card events thoroughly for maximum effect. Played at the wrong time, you will forfeit a cards benefit. Likewise, playing them at the right time lets you adjust influence already out there. If you’ve overextended yourself, events can allow you to to infiltrate cubes from cards you can’t win, to others that you can. Don’t just look at the command point values! Pay close attention to events, and use them to manage your influence, it is a finite commodity.

As with most card games, events break the rules of the game, making for some interesting situations each time. This makes your card choices tough, so always mull over the consequences before you play a card from your hand.

That’s it, that’s all there is to it. Easy peasy, Cold War breezy, in just 20 minutes or less!

Never ending Cold War

The Cold War is a fascinating bit of history, and makes for great game fodder. Iron Curtain does a superb job of capturing the essence of the period, while remaining a quick-playing and engaging area-control game that will appeal to non-wargamers as much as grognards. Fans of Twilight Struggle will feel right at home, and love that they can knock a game out, with both a familiar theme and feel, in less than 20 minutes.

The cards are nicely balanced, but rely on smart use by the player for maximum effect. While it is a simple game, it is still very strategic, with a changing board each time. Read through events on the cards, and plan ahead on when to spring them on your opponent, or use to your advantage. There’s a lot more than just connecting cards and spreading cubes here.

If you’re looking to snare a friend into the wonderful world of wargames, this is a sneaky way to whet their appetite. Once again, Asger and Daniel have used their winning formula to craft a great little filler that should be in your collection!

If you’re going to be at BGG Con this week, be sure to seek them out, and play the game with them. Tell them Moe sent you!


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Note: A copy of this game was provided to me for this review.

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