You can now play the board games the CIA uses to train its agents, for free

28 March 2018
Screen-Shot-2018-03-28-at-11.14.52-19042.png Kingpin: The Hunt for El Chapo
Files for Pandemic-inspired Collection Deck and Kingpin: The Hunt for El Chapo released through Freedom of Information Act

A lot of tabletop games make you feel like a spy in a fictional world, but how many allow you to actually train like a secret agent for real?

As we discovered last year, at least three: Collection, Collection Deck and Kingpin: The Hunt for El Chapo, the homemade board games created by US intelligence agency CIA to help its officers get up to scratch with their responsibilities before heading out into the field.

The games sounded utterly fascinating, not least due to their parallels to widely-available hits such as Pandemic and Magic: The Gathering, albeit with more serious tones than duelling wizards.

The reveal was a tantalising glimpse into the methods used to try and make training to be an agent more engaging, which have apparently included using tabletop games for close to a decade.

The only real shame was that the only way to play the games outside of getting a rare demonstration in person was to join the CIA – not exactly the easiest option, no matter how committed to trying new games you are.

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Luckily, in steps Doug Palmer, a US tech expert, who had the smart sense to request a copy of the games directly from the CIA last summer using a Freedom of Information Act request.

The CIA finally obliged this month, releasing the files for Collection and Kingpin. (Palmer’s requests for Collection Deck and another training game, Afghanistan Sustainability: COIN Dynamics, are yet to be responded to.)

The files include both rules and materials that can be printed off and played, although the low quality and confusing rules (after all, these aren’t games designed to have a wide audience) means that you’ll have to put some work in to enjoy them to their full.

Even so, it’s a bit of a thrill to look at pages stamped with ‘CLASSIFIED’ and crossed-out ‘TOP SECRET’ labels – at the very least, they might make for great props for your next roleplaying campaign.

Plus, the games include a collection of handwritten notes about how they were made and how they are used in training (including some intriguing redacted text), making it an intriguing look into both the world of real-life intelligence agents and game design – how many games can you say that about?


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