Eyeball to Eyeball: The Cuban Missile Crisis

Eyeball to Eyeball: The Cuban Missile Crisis

A Cold War simulation / parlor LARP about the Cuban Missile Crisis.
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Eyeball to Eyeball: The Cuban Missile Crisis, from game designers Ray Kimball and Kimberly A. Redding, is a live-action role-playing game that asks players to live out one of the most dangerous periods of the Cold War. The Cuban Missile Crisis marked the peak of a particularly dangerous phase of the Cold War; a misstep on either side could have led to mutual annihilation. Eyeball to Eyeball takes place simultaneously in the halls of power of Washington DC, Moscow, and Havana, while media and international figures jostle in New York.

This game reinforces understanding of a diplomatic crisis at the height of Cold War hostilities, and is a quick-paced case study of the complex nature of modern governance. Even amid the ideological clashes of Cold War superpowers, smaller nations and non-state actors could and did influence international affairs in surprising ways.

Eyeball to Eyeball has been played in colleges, service academies, high schools, and wargame conventions. Whether you’re looking for a classroom exercise to deepen student understanding of Cold War dynamics; a group development exercise in organizational engagement; or an engaging Cold War simulation/parlor LARP, Eyeball to Eyeball offers a unique opportunity to relive and understand the past.

To learn more about the game's genesis and design, check out designer Ray Kimball and Kimberly Redding’s February 2023 appearance on Liz Davidson's Beyond Solitaire podcast, where they discussed Eyeball to Eyeball:





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  • A 142pp spiral-bound Core Gamebook containing an essay summarizing the historical context of the Cuban Missile Crisis, a set of primary source readings, biographical summaries of each role in the game, and game instructions.
  • A separate Instructors Manual PDF containing step-by-step instructions for running the game, suggested written assignments, and detailed role sheets with individualized goals for each character.  

Core Gamebook for players for Eyeball to Eyeball


Inside contents of Core Gamebook for players


Here are a few advance video previews we posted about Eyeball to Eyeball talking about the packaging and contents of the Core Gamebook.

Advanced Preview 1 - Eyeball to Eyeball

Advanced Preview 2 - Eyeball to Eyeball


Advanced Preview 3 - Eyeball to Eyeball




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Eyeball to Eyeball can be played fully face to face, in a hybrid format, or fully online, using a custom-configured Discord server or a custom-coded website on Mustard Square’s Experiential Simulation System (ExpSim) online platform to help simulate the restrictions of 1960s communication and foreign relations. You do not need Discord or ExSim to play Eyeball to Eyeball, but it does offer enhanced play for those that wish to use it. 

Ray Kimball, one of the designers of the game, has put together a brief primer talking more about ExpSim and Discord use with Eyeball to Eyeball. Check it out below (and a written version is located in our FAQ tab section above).



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Most Eyeball to Eyeball sessions break down into four parts:

Prep
The Game Master (GM) creates a roster of players and assigns each of them a role in the game. The GM distributes the Game Books (which are the same for every player) and the Role Sheets (which are unique to an assigned role). Players read both and ask the GM any necessary questions for play. If the online Experiential Simulation (ExpSim) platform is being used, the GM orients the players to its functions. Players then physically organize themselves into their assigned contingents and locations and brace themselves for crisis!

Chapter 1
When the game clock starts, the Kennedy administration already knows that the USSR & Cuba are working together to fortify the island with conventional (non-nuclear) forces. Likewise, Castro and Khrushchev know that American U-2 surveillance planes are monitoring troop movements in Cuba. Journalists and the entire international community know that more than 200,000 Cuban refugees—including many of the wealthiest, most educated citizens, as well as some 14,000 unaccompanied minors—have fled to US shores since the 1959 revolution. 

When the game begins, players introduce themselves (in character, of course) and their opinion about the other contingent(s) to others in your contingent. They also watch for new information and decisions coming in from the GM or ExSim. Players use that information, the primary sources in the Core Gamebook, and their role sheet to develop policy recommendations. Every player, regardless of stature, can influence the action by: 
  • Bartering information with likely allies.
  • Making well-supported arguments and policy recommendations.
  • Messaging their ambassador (to share or request information).
  • Messaging the Game Master (if contemplating or taking military or other inter-contingent actions not prompted in the ACTIONS tab).
  • Leaking information anonymously to a media or international character.  

Chapter 2
Some game sessions will move immediately into Chapter 2; others will have a short 10-15 minute pause or hold overnight. Regardless, in Chapter 2, players continue managing the crisis while attempting to achieve their goals. The threat of nuclear Armageddon looms throughout Chapter 2 as additional events heighten the tension between the superpowers, with the rest of the world looking on. The Chapter culminates in final decisions by US and Soviet leaders.

Post-Game Debriefing
After the game ends, players have a chance to discuss what happened and why. This is NOT in character; the point is to help everyone understand what factors shaped the outcome and why. Players will have a chance to explain your character’s actions, and to ask questions about other players’ motivations. Most games also discuss what actually happened during the real Cuban Missile Crisis.

For a look at a full Eyeball to Eyeball playtest in action, check out The Reacting Consortium's Facebook live stream of Eyeball to Eyeball from their Annual Institute in early June: https://fb.watch/sQxHoqkGTK/



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You can back this campaign for the following rewards:

Def Con: Digital ($25)
  • Backing at this level gives you optimized PDFs of the Core Gamebook and the Instructor's Manual. You will also receive any applicable digital stretch goals reached during the campaign.

Def Con: Physical ($45)
  • Back at this reward tier to get a physical copy of the Core Gamebook of Eyeball to Eyeball, plus digital copies of the Core Gamebook and Instructor's Manual PDFs. You will also receive any applicable digital and physical stretch goals reached during the campaign.

Def Con: Classroom Set ($285 / $530 / $735 / $878)
  • Back at one of the Classroom Set tiers (10, 20, 30, or 39 copies) to receive that many physical copies of the Core Gamebook of Eyeball to Eyeball, plus digital copies of the Core Gamebook and Instructor's Manual PDFs, and 5 years of access to the game's ExpSim website for online and hybrid play. You will also receive any applicable digital and physical stretch goals reached during the campaign.

Def Con: School Donation Set ($285 / $530 / $735 / $878)
  • If you want to donate copies of Eyeball to Eyeball to a US-based high school, college, or university of your choice, then back at one of the School Donation tiers (10, 20, 30, or 39 copies). We'll forward that many physical copies of the Core Gamebook of Eyeball to Eyeball, plus digital copies of the Core Gamebook and Instructor's Manual PDFs, and 5 years of access for one instructor to the game's ExpSim website for online and hybrid play to your school of choice. They will also receive any applicable digital and physical stretch goals reached during the campaign.
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We have only a few stretch goals for this campaign.  Let's talk about the first couple below.

FUNDING GOAL -- $8,500 - Funding Goal: Let's go!!!

LOCKED -- $10,000 - Game Soundscape: For this stretch goal, world renowned musician Mark Cox has designed a soundscape for Eyeball to Eyeball that we'll give to all backers. The soundscape is a single track that can be looped during game play that can help reflect the mood of the time period the game is set in.


LOCKED -- $13,000 - Experiential Simulation (ExSim) Glow Up: Meeting this stretch goal will allow us to take the amazing graphic design and style set already present in the Core Gamebook and apply it to the Experiential Simulation (ExSim) platform. This will allow for a consistent look and feel of the game in all media and enhance the player experience. Money covers the licensing of intellectual property into the online medium, along with labor costs for both Bold Pocket Press and Mustard Square.

If we reach these goals, we'll drop a couple more stretch goals we have planned. If you want to see them, you know what to do!
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We will be using Backerkit to collect shipping costs closer to fulfillment, send out surveys, and manage fulfillment after the campaign has ended.

For US domestic fulfillment, we will be using a US-based fulfillment partner for warehousing and distribution. We anticipate shipping costs through our fulfillment partner to range between $6-$10 for shipments containing a single game, depending on a backer’s distance from the warehouse. Backing for additional copies of the game and/or add-ons will increase this cost some, but it should be reasonable.

We will be offering worldwide shipping as part of this campaign, also using a European-based fulfillment partner that should be able to use customs-friendly shipping for most European backers. We do not have estimates on international shipping rates at the moment, but our previous crowdfunding campaigns have had rates within the range of our contemporaries. However, if the final shipping cost ends up too much for you, please message us, and we'll cancel your pledge.

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Dr. Ray Kimball, EdD, is the Founder and CEO of 42 Educational Games Coaching and Design, a service that helps higher ed faculty integrate game-based learning into their classrooms.


Dr. Kimberly A. Redding, PhD, is a Professor of History at Carroll University in Waukesha, Wisconsin. Her teaching specialties include modern Germany, Central Europe, and the 20th century world. Her research interests include collective memories of forced relocation.


Bold Pocket Press began from a desire to connect people to the unique mechanics of books and the benefits of journal writing. While our creative work varies, we have a passion for wonderment, particularly as it brings people back to the analog experience. As book designers, we start with a concept and provide a book’s cover, graphic imagery, artist designs, typography, typesetting, size, paper, and more. We use interactive elements appropriate to the book’s content to showcase the important work of its authors. You can find us at: boldpocketpress.com.


Eyeball to Eyeball is being published as part of the Scholarship and Lore: Games for Learning Series of Central Michigan University Press, an academic press committed to innovative, research-based, peer-reviewed, engaging pedagogical games. If you would like to know more about the goals behind the Scholarship and Lore Series, please check out the Press's Vision and Mission Statement or please reach out to:

  • Dr. Tracy S. Davis, Co-Director, Center for Learning through Games and Simulations at Central Michigan University – [email protected].
  • Dr. Jonathan Truitt, Co-Director, Center for Learning through Games and Simulations at Central Michigan University – [email protected].
  • Dr. Andrew D. Devenney, Associate Director, Center for Learning through Games and Simulations at Central Michigan University – [email protected].

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Once we have successfully funded, we will push forward on the following schedule to complete the project. The game is finished and has had advanced prototypes made, but we have built a little slack into this to account for the current and perennial problems with international manufacturing, freight, and shipping:
If you believe that this project is not in compliance with BackerKit’s Community Guidelines or Terms of Service, you can file a report by sending a message via this link: Report this project