Labyrinth: The War on Terror: 2001 - ?, boardgame strategy

November 1, 2020

Labyrinth: The War on Terror, 2001 - ? is an incredibly complex 2 player boardgame that features the United States versus Islamist militants locked in a fight to establish their respective ideological supremacy. It is essentially a card driven game with asymmetric actions for each side but with common victory conditions.

On the face of it the rules are not more complex than those of Twilight Struggle, but the asymmetry of player actions makes it a bit tricky to figure out what is going on initially. While there exist a fair number of player aids, I decided to create my own for the base game as an exercise in being able to fit in the most information possible in 2 pages.

In general, it is easier to play as the Jihadist as they control the game and have a more events and more importantly, a lot more playable events, i.e. events without a host of conditions. Moreover, while the Jihadist player requires to roll for every action, they are allowed to distribute points over multiple locations which the US player cannot.

In contrast to the Jihadist player, the US player is generally in more of a reactive position where they are trying to mitigate their opponents moves and attempt to improve Governance whenever they get a chance.

Jihadist player strategy

A big part of being a card driven game implies the ability to have cards to play. The more cards one has, the higher the chances of getting better cards and being able to take more actions. To that effect, the number of cards that the Jihadist player gets is controlled by the Funding level. While the funding level can be manipulated by events and actions such as successful plots, the basic method by which it moves is according to the number of cells on the board. Thus, one of the key objectives for the Jihadist player should be to try and get as many cells as possible on the board. Moreover, the next goal should be to spread out as quickly as possible so that the US player cannot target one location and benefit from sending the cells back.

A secondary but related goal for the Jihadist player should be to reduce the ability of the US player to conduct successful War of Ideas (WoI) operations. To this effect, keeping US Prestige low and/or World Posture the opposite of US Posture is ideal. Given that it is easier for Non-Muslim countries to end up with a Soft Posture (die result: 1-4), it is useful to try and spread cells into such countries. Keeping World Posture Soft means that the US needs to also be Soft which will hamper their ability to take down Islamist Regimes (US Posture needs to be Hard in order to deploy to an Islamist Regime country). Prestige can be manipulated via events or by plots, however, it should be noted that rolling for Prestige can also end up increasing it. Finally, note that having at least 1 Islamist Regime country will ensure that US Prestige drops 1 level at the end of a round so that approach provides more guarantees.

A third strategic goal is to acquire WMDs. A successful WMD plot in the US is an automatic victory and with cards that enable automatic travel and the laying of 2 plots in exchange for a single cell, the Jihadist player can plan for and setup an extremely powerful combo. To obtain WMDs, one needs to either focus on Pakistan and/or the caucasus. Thus, getting cells in these regions right away should be a priority.

US player strategy

Similar to the Jihadist player, the US player is dependent upon the cards in their hand to be able to achieve their goals. The number of cards they get however, is determined by the Troops Track. It is therefore critical that the US player does not let their Troops go into Overstretch as this will severely limit their ability to react to the opponent. Moreover, note that there are a few events that have further negative consequences if the Troops are in Overstretch.

While the US player is likely to react to the opponent, if given the opportunity, they should focus on keeping their Prestige high by improving governance in Islamic Regime countries and securing WMDs. To this effect, they should ideally prevent cells hanging about in either Pakistan and or the Caucasus.

US player strategy (vs bot)

The original game comes with a 1-player setup with rules on how to play the Jihadist player as a bot. The bot picks cards out of its hand at random and ignores US events using those cards for OPs. Moreover, netural cards also got into the bots reserves which are then used at the next possible opportunity. The bot essentially does what the above Jihadist strategy recommends to do, however, the bot is hampered by the fact that if there is a playable event on a card, it plays the event. Thus, while the bot is fairly powerful, it sometimes cannot go for the kill due to its rules.

As the US player, I have found that one of the best paths to success is to get Pakistan into a Good Ally as soon as possible and at the end of the first round deploy troops into Afghanistan to switch the regime from Islamist rule to Poor/Fair Ally. Having a Good Ally adjacent will later help a lot in converting Afghanistan into Good so that the troops can be let go and most importantly, it secures the WMD arsenal. If the bot gets unlucky with some dice rolls, the US player might even be able to get some breathing room to focus on converting the Gulf States to Good Ally as well as improving Governance other adjacent countries.

Jihadist player strategy (vs bot)

An expansion called Labyrinth: The Awakening, 2010 - ? introduced a streamlined bot and also a US bot which I have not had the chance to play with as yet. Expect this section to be updated once I do :).


Further expansions have introduced new cards and more concepts but I have not had the chance to play with them as yet. I will update this article as soon as I am able to!

  • Strategy Advice on Playing as the Jihadists: Move, Establish Terror Plots, head into Europe/Schengen countries to change World Posture, Events to get around restrictions, Increase Funding, Focus on adjacent countries.
  • Strategy Advice on Playing as the US: Keep an eye out for specific Event cards, keep Prestige high, Balance GWOT relations, Establish a cluster of Fair/Good countries in oil states, Reduce Funding, Avoid Overstretch and Protect WMD stashes.