Review: Confusion – Espionage and Deception in the Cold War

The Soviets are about to steal the Top Secret data. Time is running out!

Confusion is a two player board game that is actually a 2011 reprint of a game that was originally only published in Germany in the 1990′s. In this new form, a Cold War theme has been added that really fits with how the game is played. It isn’t perfect, and you could probably remake this same game under a number of different themes and make it work, but it wouldn’t change the fact that it is fun to play.

The gameplay of confusion is sort of like a combination of chess mixed with with Stratego. You can see how your enemy’s pieces can move, and she can see yours, but neither of you can see how your own pieces move. On a given turn, you have to ask your opponent if your piece can move in a way that you desire. If the answer is yes, you move. If the answer is no, your turn ends. You capture pieces similar to chess, taking them out of play once you move onto their square. The goal is to capture the Top Secret Briefcase in the center of the board and move it forward to your opponent’s back row.

What really makes the game replayable and fun is the fact that each of the game pieces is comprised of two parts: an outer shell with a letter designation and a movement insert.  The movement inserts are randomly placed in each of your pieces by your opponent at the start of the match, and set up facing away from you.

The strategic element comes into play as you learn about how your pieces can and cannot move, using the process of elimination and your dry erase Intel folder to narrow down the possibilities. For example, if I ask if I can move piece X forward 2 spaces and am told that I cannot, then I know I can cross out every piece illustrated on the X row inside my folder that displays such a move. You can spend turns finding out exactly what each piece does, but it is dangerous to spend too long on any given piece. Your enemy is on the move as well, and momentum can change very quickly.

To complicate matters, each side has a double agent which is marked with a question mark on it’s movement side. For this piece, and this piece only, you are permitted to spread misinformation and lie to your opponent about how it can move. If he asks to move this piece diagonal two spaces on one turn, perhaps you’ll let him so that he’ll be lured in with false confidence that you can exploit later at a crucial moment – say, for instance, when he tries to move diagonal two spaces again in order to capture a vital piece. If the enemy player suspects he knows the identity of his double agent, he can spend his turn removing it from play. The catch is, he cannot look at the piece to confirm his suspicions. There is a lot of fun to be had in getting your opponent to pull his own normal, and perfectly viable, pieces off the board as a result of his paranoia.

The average game seems to last in the range of 15 minutes or so, but this can probably vary a great deal if someone gets lucky early on with how a piece moves while his opponent is still trying to figure his pieces out. It is refreshing to have a game in our collection that is a fast play, and can be enjoyed multiple times in a single sitting.

From a production quality standpoint, Confusion is top notch. Nothing about this game feels cheap or flimsy. The game board is colorful and sturdy. The dry erase Intel folders are of good quality, as are the included markers and erasers. What really stands out, however, are the playing pieces. They’re solid, with a pleasing weight, and have a texture not unlike dominoes. Overall I get the sense that the entire game can hold up to years of repeated use.

Confusion: Espionage And Deception in the Cold War is a game I’m glad to own, and it can be found on or at your local game store.

I bought mine at Labyrinth Game Shop, the ONLY place in Washington, DC where we buy our RPGs, board games and puzzles!