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Posted on Jun 1, 2021 in Boardgames, Front Page Features

Touring the Crystal Palace: Unboxing “2 Minutes 2 Midnight.”

Touring the Crystal Palace: Unboxing “2 Minutes 2 Midnight.”

Ray Garbee

Ron Perlman’s narration in the Fallout game series usually opens and closes with the phrase “War never changes”. But in the latter half of the twentieth century, we saw that war did change. The invention of the atomic bomb and the end of World War Two ushered in an era in which some weapons had become so destructive that it was impossible to rationalize their mass use, except as a form of deterrent.

Plague Island Games current project 2 Minutes to Midnight explores this period of history in the form of a game in which atomic weapons were still sought after and stockpiled, while the United States and Soviet Union compete for dominance using means that fell short of all out global thermonuclear war.  Starting in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, in a devastated global landscape, the players strive to expand their influence and rebuild nations shattered by war. Their ultimate goal is to create a global community in which they are recognized as the dominant socio-political economic philosophy. In other words – everybody wants to rule the world.

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Prototype box art

Designed by Stuart Tonge, 2 Minutes to Midnight has two players assume the roles leading either the forces of United States or the Soviet Union in a struggle for global dominance. Your chief weapons are economic coercion, covert espionage and not too subtle hammer of military force.  You’ll deploy these tools across a card-driven game turn that mixes your actions between the actions of nations and actors around the world.

We received a playtesting prototype for review. In this episode, we’ll crack the seal on the box and review the components of the game. In a future episode, we’ll explore the games mechanics and assess the results of our experience playing the game. But for now, let’s dim the lights and start the briefing…

The playtesting prototype of 2 Minutes to Midnight arrived via post. For a playtesting copy it’s very well done. The prototype ships in a sample of how the final box will appear. The box art is in full color with relevant text in place.

Inside the box we find the following components:

  • Game Board – The primary playing area
  • Technological advancement sideboard
  • Assorted wooden cubes and disks
  • Plastic Tokens
  • Rules
  • QRS x 2
  • Scenario set up charts
  • Counters
  • Cards

The game board is a 34” x 22” space containing a representation of the world and a player mat for both the United States and Soviet Union. The world is represented as an area movement system with countries (or groups of countries) represented by a box. Areas have adjacency shown through a network of connecting lines.  The map brings to mind Sir Halford Mackinder’s “Heartland theory” showing the centrality of the USSR in relation to Europe, the Middle East and Asia. Of course, by 1945 technology had in many ways reduced the “tyranny of distance”, but geography still mattered in terms of both spatial relationships and the cultural groups inhabiting those states. 

The gameboard is derived from a Mercator projection map of the world, centered on Europe.

Each area on the map is rated for a handful of characteristics – economic worth (depicted by factory symbols), oil resources/production, general political alignment and political stability.

Factories are printed on the map and represent the total possible economic worth an area may possess. Depending on the scenario, these symbols may be covered with counters that indicate a status of destruction (from war) or trade counters that need to be removed (through investment and development) before they can start generating usable worth. 

Oil production is depicted by a barrel symbol printed in the space. These are critical in the middle to later game as the United States dependence on foreign oil resources grow more crucial.

The general political alignment of a region is depicted through the background color. There are three choices – democracy, communist and authoritarian rule (a catch all for everything not in the first two). Related to that is political stability – a representation of how resilient the population is to unrest before the people revolt against the local government.

In addition to the game board, you have a Technological Advancement sideboard. This is a number of tracks that depict the technological standing of the two superpowers, as well as the relative balance in naval, conventional forces and strategic weapons. The technology tracks recap most of the major technologies developed in the latter half of the twentieth century as well as including a couple of options that never quite made it off the drawing board. The set of 45 translucent plastic disks are used on the various tracks to indicate the status of the US and Soviet Union, as well as tracking administrative status like the current game turn. 

The playing pieces are sets of wooden cubes and disks. These are used to mark political influence and alignment (using the cubes) or the imposition of a government type that differs from an area’s “default” value derived from its color code.

Cubes and disks in action. In this case Syria has a communist government (the red disk) and Soviet influence (the cube).
The cover of the rule book.

The rulebook is a 40-page, soft cover paperback with saddle-stitch binding. The booklet is printed on a heavyweight, semi-gloss paper designed to hold up to repeated use. Forty pages may seem like a lot, but don’t be intimidated. The font is a large, easy on the eyes size with generous margins. The core rules are twenty-five pages, with the remainder split between solitaire rules, scenario set up notes and a walk through of the first turn of the game to explain the flow of play and demonstrate how events and actions work. The rules recommend walking through the example of play and my experience found it very helpful in grasping how a game turn would flow. It’s a solid document designed to stand up to repeated use.

QRS cards

Next we come to the Quick Reference Sheets (QRS) – these are a set of two, double-sided pages (four pages total) printed on heavyweight card stock. The QRS do a great job of summarizing the actions you can perform and provide an explanation of how each action is performed. In many cases references to the specific rule are included on the QRS. Each player gets a set of the QRS, which will help facilitate resolving questions and speed play along.

In addition to the QRS, the game comes with a chart to aid in the setting up each scenario. These are graphic representations of what units and counters are set up on the board and how to set the various tracks on the game board and technology mat.

The artwork on the counters is clean and uncluttered. It’s a bit retro, but effectively evokes the theme of the game. They convey information regarding units, unrest, investments and the status from events that were resolved from card play. In the playtest copy, these were thick, sharp cut counters that were easy to read.

Which brings us to the last major component of the game – the cards. The cards fall into two broad categories, money cards and event cards. Both sets of cards are done in an easy-to-read font.

Money cards allow a player to implement an array of actions that range from deploying spies, suppressing unrest, deploying strategic weapons, foreign aid investments, research and development for that insatiable military-industrial complex, all the while trying to keep your population happy and your country supporting your objectives. Easy Peasy.

The cards depict general initiatives (like NASA and Civil Rights) or one time events like the Berlin Wall.

Event cards are the history book of the game. Cards are labeled with a turn number defining when they enter play as well as end state defining if the card returns in the following turns, or is removed from play. Event resolution is often done via a die roll and then consulting the results on the card, but you’ll also have opportunities to decide how to implement the effects. The cards catalog historical events and are often used to impart a sense of agency to the people of the smaller nation states. Here is where you’ll find events that range from CIA intervention in Guatemala, Decolonization of Africa through Indian independence, the civil rights movement and of course, events including the Indo-china civil war against French and later US occupation, the Algerian revolt and the Iran-Iraq war. Just shuffling through the cards had me humming Billy Joel’s “We didn’t Start the Fire”.

Some events are influenced by the players R&D technology decisions and progress. Workplace safety pays!

A quick play through of the game showed a lot of history is packed into the game along with enough objectives and action to make each player decision meaningful. It’s an attractive game on the tabletop. We’re excited to put the parts into motion and see how it plays!

Did we like the game? Stay tuned for part two!

Would you like to know more? Follow the 2 Minutes to Midnight project on Kickstarter.

Ray Garbee has been a gamer for the past four decades. Ray’s interests include the Anglo-Sikh Wars through the conflicts of the 20th Century and beyond, but his passion remains American Civil War naval gaming. His past works include Iron Thunder, Anaconda, Anaconda: Capital Navies and articles in a number of hobby magazines.

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