13 Minutes distills the tense stand-off between the USA and Russia into a 13 minute – give or take – long card game where each player represents one of the super-powers.
The game consists of a deck of cards and a set of influence cubes for each player – red for the USSR, blue for the USA. One card is randomly placed face-up in the middle of the table, representing Cuba. The central area is considered the neutral zone, whereas the area in front of you is considered to be your territory. Each player is then dealt two cards, and the game begins with both players bidding influence cubes to decide turn order.
Each round of the game is simple: players play one card from their hand before replenishing. The cards represent ‘battlegrounds’ and both players are striving for superiority there. Outside of a few neutral cards, they are also clearly red (USSR) or blue (USA) and when a card is played – regardless of who played it – the player controlling that superpower gets to activate the action on it; either adding, or shuffling influence cubes around on the cards.
Then whoever played the cards gets to add influence cubes to a card of their choice based on how many are pictured at the top of the card they played. Whenever cubes get added – even if you have less than your opponent in total – the card slides across the table toward you, either from the opposition to the neutral zone, or from the neutral zone to your own territory. (If you add cubes to a card in your own territory it doesn’t move)
This continues until each player has just one card left, at which point players receive a point for each territory they control (most influence cubes) and if their is a tie, the card being in their territory breaks the tie in their favour. The Cuba card scores two points. The last card in each hand is compared and if the def-con colour (the radiation symbol) matches, these cards are added to your territory. If you have three matching colours in your territory – nuclear war! This is bad.
Assuming no nuclear war, most points wins.
Despite the flavour on the cards, this felt very abstract to me – adding cubes and shuffling cards around. To be fair I haven’t played it enough to completely immerse myself in it, but considering the way the cards come to you it doesn’t feel like the experience would change a great deal. After 2 or 3 plays I wasn’t exactly itching to try it again either. It reminded me of King of Siam – there too, you are moving cubes around a map to maximise your influence – but unlike 13 Minutes, you know what cards everyone has left at any given point, giving you both more control and more intrigue, as the luck of the draw was totally eliminated. This game felt like a lottery in comparison.