Articles Reviews What if chess was played with unknown pieces? - Confusion: Espionage and Deception in the Cold War

What if chess was played with unknown pieces? - Confusion: Espionage and Deception in the Cold War stormseeker75 Hot
Written by stormseeker75     April 24, 2012    
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Two-player games have a special place in my home because most of my gaming is done with my wife. We're always on the lookout for games that are either built for 2 or work well for 2. In addition, my wife loves deduction games so when I heard the description of Confusion: Espionage and Deception in the Cold War my ears perked right up. This game had the potential to be a perfect fit for us.


The basic gameplay is simple. Each player has 13 pieces which each move in a different way. The trick is that you can only see the back side of your peices, and can not see which one is which. You must attempt moves which will then be validated by your opponent who must truthfully tell you whether the move is legal or not. This helps you narrow down which piece is which. You record this information in a portfolio so you can keep track of what you know. The goal is to get one of your pieces to the center of the board, pickup the Top Secret briefcase, and get it to the opponent's back row. Pieces can capture each other, so you have to be careful or you could lose them. To make this even more tricky, one piece on each players' side is actually a Double Agent. This is the only piece your opponent can lie about and in fact they can even make the Double Agent stop responding to your commands.

In addition, there are a few variant rules including some ways to handicap the game. This provides even more variety to Confusion: Espionage and Deception in the Cold War.

The complete rules are available here. The rules are laid out terrifically and the game is very easy to learn from just one readthrough.


Stronghold Games has established itself as a leader in quality game components. Everything they've done so far has been of the absolute highest quality. Confusion: Espionage and Deception in the Cold War is no exception.

The first thing you'll notice about this game is the weight of the box. This is due largely to the weight of each of the pieces which are composed of two separate parts, a holder and an insert. The most brilliant thing about the two-part playing pieces is that it prevents them from getting marked which would ruin the deduction aspect of the game. When you start a game each player randomizes their opponent's pieces ensuring that no two games will ever be the same. Get a scratch on a holder? No problem, you'll never be sure which insert is in it. That's a high-class touch that not many companies would provide.

In addition to their 13 peices, each player gets a portfolio and a dry-erase marker. Not only do these portfolios look terrific, but they also do a spectacular job at helping you keep your information straight. This could have been accomplished with a pad and pencil but this again shows the quality of Stronghold Games. They were even clever enough to put foam at the edge so when you close the portfolio your marks don't get messed up. That's some great thinking.

The board is quite nice looking and is very thick. I love the artwork and think it provides a great backdrop to the drama unfolding on top of it.


One of the most amazing things about this game is that no two games will ever be the same. You'll have different pieces in different places. This will cause your movements and choices to be different every time. Another byproduct is that you'll have new interactions with your opponent's pieces due to the new layout every game. It's almost impossible to find yourself in the same situation twice which makes the game infinitely replayable. You'll never be faced with exactly the same situation which means every game will offer new choices. Also, some games will be fast, some will be bloody, and others will be long and tough. That's the beauty of the design in Confusion: Espionage and Deception in the Cold War.

Confusion is a deduction game first and foremost. Yes, it's an abstract with similarities to chess, but the deduction is what drives the game. My wife is a huge fan of deduction games and it really works here. One of the interesting things about Confusion: Espionage and Deception in the Cold War is that every move gives you some information. Sometimes you get more and sometimes you don't get much, but you always learn something when trying to move a piece. How you put that information together to work out which piece is which will go a long way in determining the winner of the game.

Early in the game, your choices are limitless. You have so many options and things to explore that it can almost be overwhelming. I find this to be a good thing because it's like digging into a mystery novel. You know something is going to happen, but you get to decide where it starts. As you start to learn a bit about your pieces you'll have the choice to fine tune your knowledge or just go for a broader approach. Either way, you'll have choices on every turn. Nothing feels forced. You get to decide how you go about it.

The Double Agent is one of the greatest rules in any game I've ever played. While you're trying to figure out what your pieces do, one of them is actually working against you. When you move the Double Agent, your opponent can tell you anything. They can say one thing one turn and then change their mind the next. This piece is all about misinformation and if used correctly can be devastating. I've seen many instances where one person would have the briefcase and be on the verge of winning only to have their winning move denied by the Double Agent. It really gives you something to think about and puts a huge amount of uncertainty into a game where there's never enough information. I absolutely love this rule and think that it turns a good game into a great one.

Confusion: Espionage and Deception in the Cold War is a tense game! From the start, you feel a constant pressure to figure out your pieces and then figure out how to use them. As if that wasn't enough, your opponent is actively trying to stop you by getting in your way and taking your pieces. Add in the Double Agent and you've got a game that creates a real sense of urgency and strain. The game may not last long, but it really pulls you in. I love the feeling of terror you get as your opponent marches your way with the briefcase and you're feverishly trying to work out how to stop them. That adds so much to the total package.

I've got one gripe about the deduction element and that's about luck. Early in the game, you're basically just taking shots in the dark at which piece is which. I understand that this is necessary to the deduction aspect. Sometimes though, one person will guess right on all their first moves and they'll be moving out for the kill while your pieces are sitting there waiting for you to figure out what they are. This is by no means a deal breaker but it does occasionally cause some frustration and knocks a point or two off the score.


If you're looking for a 2-player game with nearly infinite replayability then you can't go wrong with Confusion: Espionage and Deception in the Cold War, unless you really dislike deduction. If you like deduction as much as my wife does, then it will be an even bigger hit. The tension is palpable and really draws you in to the game. For these reasons, plus the high quality of the components, Confusion: Espionage and Deception in the Cold War goes very high in my list of favorite 2-player only games.

It's worth noting that Confusion: Espionage and Deception in the Cold War has won 2 pretty prestigious awards. It was chosen as MTV Geek's Game of the Year for 2011 and also as Game Magazine's Best Abstract Game 2012. No, that's not a typo, it's how they do the award.

Disclaimer: I do some booth work for Stronghold Games at conventions but I do not receive review copies of their games.

This review was originally posted at The Boardgame Reviewer. Come check out the site and follow us on Twitter @bgamereviewer to get updates on new reviews and blog entries.

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Comments (6)
  • avatarEvilOne  - Nice review!


    Thanks for the very thorough (and very positive) review! We appreciate it greatly!

    I teach this game in under 5 minutes, and then after watching/coaching 2 turns, people just get it and they are off to the races (or the espionage, as the case may be). While the game appears to be confusing to begin with (hence the name, duh :)), it is actually amazingly approachable.

    Thanks again!

    Best regards,
    Stephen M. Buonocore
    Stronghold Games LLC

  • avatarThirstyMan

    I always get nervous when there is a gushing review written by a mate of the owner of the game company. Call me cynical but there we go....

    I realise you don't get a free copy but, lets be fair, you are not exactly unbiased about Stronghold Games. I mean you are actually a salesman for the company, which puts you a different league from a reviewer getting a free copy.

  • avatarubarose

    @ Andy

    The downside of this game is that it's an abstract deductive reasoning game which to me equates to a headache in a box. However, the game is considered a "classic" and has many fans. You may want to check out MooFranks review, which is less gushing in tone, although equally positive.

  • avatarstormseeker75

    Fair enough, Andy. I totally respect where you're coming from. I would think anyone that knows me would know that I wouldn't give such a glowing review of something I didn't really like, even if it was to benefit a friend. If I didn't like it so much, I wouldn't review it at all. In this case, Confusion really is a terrific game and I wanted to share my enthusiasm. I hope you at least enjoyed the writing, even if you have your doubts about the authenticity of my love for the game.

  • avatarSaMoKo

    My only complaint is that base game favors the aggressor way too much. If you're plotting an attack with a few pieces you know the ~general~ properties of, you know exactly where to hit to make it hurt.

    Two things that alleviate this are figuring out what pieces of yours can move sideways or on a backwards diagonal. Plopping these pieces in key locations can work for a bit of a defense, but again, your opponent will know exactly where you're weakest (which can at least give you some ideas about your pieces). I don't give a damn about what else these pieces can do as long as they can move sideways.

    The second is using those three special ability chips that come with the game. Fuck them being beginner crutches. Those chips strengthen the ability to form up a defense, which forces a more intricate attack plan and a better game. I think it should be the standard way to play.

  • avatarstormseeker75

    Thanks, SaMoKo. I've yet to play with the tokens but maybe I'll have to try it out and see what comes of it.

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