The CIA made a Magic: The Gathering style card game for training agents and we played it

Last year during SXSW, the CIA revealed that it designs elaborate board games to train and evaluate its employees and analysts. After receiving an application for the Freedom of Information Act, the CIA sent censored information about three different games that it uses with the apprentices, and thanks to Diegetic Games, an adapted version of one of them will soon be available to the public.

CIA: Collect it All is based on a set of cards described in the documents as "Collection Deck," designed by senior CIA analyst David Clopper. His style of play is based more or less on Magic: The Gathering and demonstrates how different intelligence tactics can be used to face political, economic and military crises, and how the system often ruins everything. If you want a copy of your own, there is a campaign funded by Kickstarter that ends on Tuesday and charges $ 29 for a set of physical cards or $ 10 for a version to print and play.

Developed by Tech d irt and Diegetic Games, CIA: Collect It All fills the redacted parts of the game documentation with original content. While the developers plan to modify the game and add new sets of rules before the release, they showed The Verge an exclusive printable prototype of the changes they have made since the presentation in SXSW. After playing with friends, I discovered that it is a fascinating look at the way the CIA trains its agents, although sometimes it does not reach the pure entertainment value that other fast-fire card games can offer.




A sample of Crisis cards.
Image: Techdirt Diegetic Games

The game revolves around the treatment of ripped-up headlines, especially in countries and territories that have tense relations with the United States, such as Iran, Korea, North, China and Russia. Playing as a CIA analyst, you could face an attack by Al-Shabaab in Kenya. At other times, you will have to discover how to deal with a Russian cryptocurrency program, or if India is launching a missile project. There are ten crises on the table at once, and you and the other players have to choose which one you want to tackle first. Each crisis can take from one to three intelligence cards to solve, and you earn the number of points listed when you can avoid a crisis. The first person to win ten points ends the game.

The techniques at your disposal are: geospatial intelligence, human intelligence (spies), measurement and signature intelligence, open source intelligence and signal intelligence. Once you select a strategy, the other players act as "the system" and try to throw obstacles in your way using "Reality Check" cards with problems like "internal politics" or "bureaucracy". There are ways to reject them, if you do not exaggerate your hand. Much of the strategy of the game revolves around where and how to deploy your limited resources; You need to use many techniques to get the most points (and defraud the "system"), but if you run out of cards, you will be vulnerable to other players who have strategically saved theirs until the end.

That's why the winner of the multiple rounds I played was not me or two friends who had carefully studied the instructions of the game, but my boyfriend, who apparently had wandered through the game, paid little attention. Due to his uncommitted style of play, we underestimated him and, after the most aggressive players exhausted all his cards fighting each other, he silently picked up the points. One could argue that this is the behavior of a perfect agent, without calling too much attention and working methodically and slowly to carry out the mission under everyone's nose.




A sample of Reality Check cards.
Image: Techdirt, Diegetic Games

Still, that could be giving the game too much credit (and him). Compared to other card games like Love Letter or even poker, CIA: Collect it All does not seem to have much repetition value, at least in the current prototype. The gameplay can become repetitive because, although each crisis and technique can have a different accompanying text, the basic way they work in the game is the same: a crisis letter requires certain technical cards, and you play them or not.

There is a wealth of fascinating information about different methods of intelligence gathering on technical cards, something Clopper described as useful for the agents who trained with him. "People would come up to me after [de[a session] and tell me: David, I learned something I did not know existed before, I think we can use this in a real intelligence problem that I'm tracking," said Clopper Ars Technica after SXSW.

But the average agent that does not belong to the CIA does not need to read the cards to be able to play, my game-winning boyfriend did not, so a big part of building the world and telling stories that the developers put in the game is easy lost or ignored. If you do take the time to read everything and immerse yourself in the global events to which you refer, you will get a lot of information about the internal workings of the CIA, even if it does not necessarily have an impact on the game.




A sample of technical letters.
Image: Techdirt and Diegetic Games

On Reddit AMA, some users asked Techdirt & # 39; s CEO and founder Mike Masnick about the possible ethical concerns of making a version commercial of a game that was designed primarily by another person. Masnick replied that he had thought a lot, but felt that concerns were mitigated by "the nature of the game, the public interest in the game, the lack of commercial interest on the part of the developer (and the fact that it was developed with public resources), and the fact that, otherwise, there was little chance that the public would play it. "

Masnick says The Verge that the game to be sent in November could get more cards, new rules, including an "alternative narrative rule set," and a clearer set of instructions. "I want to emphasize that these are early versions," he says. While the November date is tentative as it is a kickstarter, it plans to make the final version of Collect All an even more compelling look at the secret work of the CIA, and one that can be played at home.