My Favorite Card: Trevor Bender on Labyrinth: The Awakening’s “Obama Doctrine”

This post is from Trevor Bender. Bender is the designer of four published games or game expansions, including the Labyrinth: The Awakening and Labyrinth: The Forever War expansions for GMT Games’ Labyrinth: The Global War on Terror. He is also the author of more than 20 articles for industry and gaming magazines. 

Below, as part of a COI “My Favorite Card” series, Bender talks what went into the design of one particularly memorable card from Labyrinth: The Awakening.

GMT Games' "Labyrinth: The Awakening." (Photo by Scott Mansfield.)

GMT Games’ “Labyrinth: The Awakening.” (Photo by Scott Mansfield.)

There are certain cards that stand out in a designer’s mind as having significance beyond the impact of that event in game terms. “Obama Doctrine,” Card #143 from Labyrinth: The Awakening, is just such a card for me.

In the process of designing Awakening, it occurred to me that the US player represents the western allied command structure, which is largely the President of the United States.  So having a card that expressed Obama’s Doctrine made sense for a current events game focused on the next phase of the global war on terror.

Yet, just because a player represents POTUS does not mean that one has to make or be overly restricted by the same choices as the Commander-in-Chief at that time. Rather, they should be allowed to choose from the predominant options available to the CIC back then.

The challenge for a game designer is that event cards typically only have one effect. But the Obama Doctrine had a multitude of diplomatic channels; how could that be represented? So I researched the Obama Doctrine to see if it would give me some clues on how to proceed.

To be sure, President Barack Obama had been less engaged in foreign policy than his predecessors. He was inclined to influence around the edges rather than to take bold stands, and his doctrine of “collaboration, multilateralism & strategic patience” reflected this.

A Labyrinth: The Awakening Obama Doctrine card.

A Labyrinth: The Awakening Obama Doctrine card.

Nevertheless, the doctrine had proven consistent across the two terms of his administration. And it netted steady progress in the war on terror without the commitment of major US ground forces. In fact, the extraordinary commitment of UAVs to achieve US objectives from the air became one of its hallmarks.

So, I needed an event card that could represent multiple options, and thus the idea of the Laundry List card was born; a first in the CDG genera of games. In effect, the players is given many options to chose from when playing a Laundry List card, but may only choose two of them, and the choices must be different from each other (Awakening rule 11.3.11).

In game terms, a player is generally incentivized to use the Obama Doctrine event to retrieve from the discard pile one of the other event cards listed and add it to their hand. This extends the length of the US player turn.

The next best choice is likely adding an Awakening marker to a Muslim country. But there may be game situations where increasing US Prestige or decreasing Jihadist funding or switching the Posture of a Schengen Country makes more sense. All of those options represent tinkering around the foreign policy edges, so to speak, which was one of my design intents.

The artwork on the card is important as well. Originally I had a portrait of Obama with his head held high and looking very presidential. But it was not of suitable quality, and Charlie Kibler swapped it out for this pic from a State of the Union address, showing the triumvirate of 21st Century Democratic decision makers on the podium.

I love the plethora of options this event card affords, and suspect you will enjoy puzzling over these choices in your games as you create your own unique doctrine!

Trevor Bender.

Trevor Bender.

Trevor Bender is a consultant in aerospace and defense and a hobby game designer.  He has published over 20 articles in industry and gaming magazines, and has designed four games or game expansions, including Labyrinth: The Awakening (more on it on GMT Games’ site here). His Battle for Kursk, published in C3iNr34, won the Charles S. Roberts Award for the best magazine game of 2020. 

Trevor enjoys writing about counterfactual history, and has designed a half-dozen scenarios that change a variable in history allowing for the testing of the consequences of that change through multiple plays of military simulation games on that topic. His Disaster at D-Day, a counterfactual on Normandy ’44 by GMT, is one of the more popular there.  He is currently working on an alternative Campaign scenario for The Russian Campaign 5th Edition (TRC) that will be published in C3iNr37, which will test how the Russian Front (and by extension the war) would have been different if the Germans had not fought the Battle of Britain nor sent forces to North Africa, but instead employed those assets in the East.

In addition to gaming, Trevor actively serves in the Boy Scouts of America, where he is the Council Commissioner in San Diego. He is also a Regional Vice President for the Armed Forces Communication and Electronic Association (AFCEA). He enjoys swimming, cycling, camping and reading military history.   Trevor is married to Sally Bender and has four children and three grandchildren.

[Header photo of the Labyrinth: The Awakening board from @cmoipap on BoardGameGeek.]