Monday, 26 June 2017

Cuba Libre: one of our racing drivers is missing

Continuing on with my solo play of GMT's Cuba Libre. If you want to follow the progress of this campaign from the beginning, I suggest you start here. I should also point out that if you are playing this game solo, your objective is to stop the other factions from winning by the time the final propaganda card appears. You can't win any other way.

General Cantillo and los amigos.
Turn 11. Eulogio Cantillo. He was a general in the Cuban army during the period of the revolutionary war in Cuba and played an active role in counter-insurgency operations. He remained as head of the Cuban military after Batista fled Cuba in January 1959. He was later tried and imprisoned by the Castro regime before later retiring to Miami, where he died in 1978. It is the 26 July to move first, and they take the event, letting them free march their cells from Pinar to Habana, and flip them to underground status. This reflects Cantillo's willingness to negotiate with Castro. The Directorio follows - they spend 2 resources to build new cells in Havana and Las Villas. They are now out of cash, but control Las Villas.

Turn 12. Echeverria - near miss on dictator's life. Jose Antonio Echeverria was a student leader in Cuba and a founder of the Directorio Revolucionario Estudantil. He famously hijacked the National Radio Station in 1957 during peak time to broadcast a three minute speech against the Batista regime. He escaped the radio station unscathed, but was killed shortly afterwards when he attacked a police patrol. This is one of these cards that have two options: as it is my turn, I use the option that lets me remove two Directorio units from Havana. This is too good an event card not to use, as it cuts down the level of revolutionary activity in my core power base. The Syndicate follows - they activate a mob in Habana to add a terror counter there. They then use Bribe as their follow up action, removing another Directorio piece in Havana, and taking the cash horde it was guarding back into mob control.

Turn 13. Santo Trafficante Jr. He was a major mob boss and a dominant figure in organised crime in Florida and Cuba in the 1950s. He was kicked out of Cuba by Castro, and subsequently accused of being involved in CIA plots to assassinate Castro and President Kennedy. The Directorio takes the event, which cuts the Syndicate's resources to 1. They join the Directorio in the near-penniless state. 26 July then initiates a kidnap operation on the Syndicate's casino in Habana with one of its cells. The Syndicate is now broke, and 26 July has an active cell in Habana.
Enough's enough, says Signor Trafficante.

Turn 14. Batista flees. Back to me - I don't really want that event, as it is going to do bad things to the Cuban army. I instead launch assaults in Sierra Maestre and Pinar. This time I take out a Syndicate unit in Pinar and take its cash. This is a cynical money grab. I also shut down a communist base in Sierra Maestre, which completes military operations there. As a follow up, I carry out reprisals in Sierra Maestre which gives the region a terror marker and shifts opposition from active to passive. However, I can't stop Syndicate from taking the event - Batista flees and my remaining resources drops to zero. Two brigades disappear from Pinar, so I lose control there. However, the US alliance moves back to Firm, which is good, and US aid goes up to 17. I then have to pull troops back to the cities, which I duly do. However, I also realise I can swap in police units from the cities into the provinces the army is leaving, so drop two police into Sierra Maestre and two into Pinar. That lets me keep control in both.

Turn 15. Fangio. In 1958 communist rebels kidnapped Argentine motor racing driver Juan Manuel Fangio just before the Cuban Grand Prix. The move was more a publicity stunt than anything else, designed to demonstrate how Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista was losing his grip. Fangio was only held for a few hours. The race was won by the UK's Stirling Moss in a Ferrari 335 S, in case you wondered! July 26 takes this event, and moves Havana from neutral to passive opposition. The Directorio follows, but has no resources, so passes. This is actually quite crucial, as by passing they pick up +1 resource, but also they are eligible for turn 16, thus potentially changing the order of play.

Propaganda. The second propaganda phase of the game. With no support in Havana, my total support drops to 5/19. I need 19 to win. The Directorio is on 3/10, the Syndicate is 2/7 with no money, so well off a win. However, 26 July is 14/16. They are close despite only having a small number of units on the board. Directorio has been doing a lot of the hard work for them.

Sadly I had to clear up the game at this stage, but it helped me to learn the rules and get a grip on the COIN system. I still believe Cuba Libre is an excellent entry point into the COIN system. Readers will also be interested to know that you can pre-order Invierno Cubano, which expands Cuba Libre to the counter-revolution of 1959-1965. I myself have learned an enormous amount about the Cuban revolution from playing the game, and many of the systems are shared with the Afghanistan version, A Distant Plain. Look out for a potential game of that on this blog over the summer.

A few tactical observations: as the government player, control of Havana is critical. It counts for 6 population resources, while no other city or province offers more than 2. If you let the enemy start to get a grip there, things can go badly wrong for you, very quickly. Protect Havana at all costs, and prioritise operations there. Secondly, don't let the fact that you're kicking communist butt lull you into a false sense of security: even if July 26 have relatively few counters on the board, they score simply by having provinces in opposition. This is not the same as Directorio, which needs to control provinces and build bases. Having Havana in passive opposition following the Fangio kidnap gave them 6 points - they need 16 to win. If Havana ever goes to active opposition, the likelihood is a July 26 win.


  1. Love these kind of games which enrich you with historical events of the time. Giving you an extra layer of knowledge and understanding. This game sounds great. For political as well as gaming reasons!

    1. Yes, I knew very little about the Cuban revolution before I started playing this. China and Vietnam are my strong areas. I studied the revolution in China during year 2 at uni. But I am now reading Che's account - although as ever with some of these after the event memiors, one wonders how much he leaves out.

  2. I think you'll be able to trust his diary more than one written by a UK politician for publication. He is a fascinating man

    1. Probably, but he is obviously leaving names out to protect reputations of people who went on to be big wheels in the revolutionary government, when they stumbled in the early days. He's happy to name the out and out traitors to the cause, however.