Oh, the twisted stories to come.

And so the cards are on the table…

The exact origin of playing cards is a subject of debate among scholars, but there is clear historical evidence that they began to appear in Europe in the late 1300s and early 1400s.3 The first reference to the card game in world history dates no later than the 9th Century, when Princess Tongchang played the “leaf game” in 868 with members of the Wei clan. The Song Dynasty scholar Ouyang Xiu asserted that playing cards and card games existed at least since the mid-Tang Dynasty and associated their invention with the simultaneous development of using sheets or pages instead of paper rolls as a writing medium.4 Playing cards are believed to have originated in China and then spread to India and Persia. From Persia they are believed to have spread to Egypt during the era of Mamluk control, and from there into Europe through both the Italian and Iberian peninsulas during the second half of the 14th century.02 The modern 52-card deck has been established for over 150 years, and the U.S. Playing Card Company (USPC) was formed in 1867 and has become one of the largest playing card and poker chip manufacturers in the world.

To make one’s plans, intentions, ideas, or resources known to others, especially those previously hidden or kept secret. (A variant of “show one’s hand”; both phrases refer to displaying the cards one has in one’s hand during a card game.)

Did you know that…

Last year during SXSW, the CIA revealed it designs elaborate tabletop games to train and test its employees and analysts. After receiving a Freedom of Information Act request, the CIA sent out censored information on three different games it uses with trainees — 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 off a card game described in the documents as “Collection Deck,” which was designed by CIA Senior Collection Analyst David Clopper. Its play style is roughly based on Magic: The Gathering, and demonstrates how different intelligence tactics can be used to address political, economic, and military crises — and how the system often manages to screw it all up. If you want a copy of your own, there’s a funded Kickstarter campaign for it that ends on Tuesday that charges $29 for a set of physical cards or $10 for a print-and-play version.

Developed by Techdirt and Diegetic Games, CIA: Collect It All fills in the redacted portions of the game documentation with original content. While the developers plan to tweak the game and add new rulesets before release, they showed The Verge an exclusive printable prototype of the changes they’ve made since the showing at SXSW. After playing the game with friends, I found it to be a fascinating look at a way the CIA trains its agents, even though it sometimes fell short of the pure entertainment value other rapid-fire card games can offer.

The game revolves around addressing ripped-from-the-headlines political issues, especially in countries and territories that have fraught relationships with America, like Iran, North Korea, China, and Russia. Playing as a CIA analyst, you might face an Al-Shabaab attack in Kenya. Other times you might have to figure out how to deal with a Russian cryptocurrency program or India launching a missile project. There are 10 crises on the table at a time, and you and the other players have to choose which one you’d like to address first. Each crisis can take one to three intelligence technique cards to solve, and you earn the number of points listed when you successfully avert a crisis. The first person to win 10 points ends the game.

The techniques at your disposal are: geospatial intelligence, human intelligence (spies), measurement and signature intelligence, open-sourced intelligence, and signals intelligence. Once you select a strategy, the other players act as “the system” and try to throw roadblocks in your way using “Reality Check” cards with problems like “internal politics” or “red tape.” There are ways to rebuff them — if you don’t overplay your hand. Much of the game’s strategy revolves around where and how to deploy your limited resources; you need to use lots of techniques to get the most points (and fend off “the system”), but if you run out of cards, you’ll be vulnerable to other players who have strategically saved theirs until the end.

But the average non-CIA agent doesn’t need to read the cards in order to play so a lot of the world-building and storytelling that developers put into the game is easily lost or ignored. If you do take the time to read everything and immerse yourself in the world events they reference, you’ll gain a lot of insight into the inner workings of the CIA, even if it doesn’t necessarily have an impact on the game.

2 responses to “And so the cards are on the table…”

  1. 👏🙂👍

  2. 🧐👏👏👏