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Phantom Doctrine by Creative Forge, the folks behind Hard West, is the game you’d get if you took XCOM, removed all of the alien and sci-fi bits, replaced them with 1980’s era espionage between the major world powers, and sprinkled in a heaping helping of detective work. The game is set in 1983 during an alternate history version of the Cold War, and places the player at the head of The Cabal, the world’s most generically named secret organization, fighting a covert-ops war against a mysterious global conspiracy hellbent on pitting the world’s major powers against one another.

Before PAX West I had no idea the game even existed, and now it’s one of only a few games that I need in my life. If you are familiar with the way that combat plays out in the XCOM games, then you are already familiar with the way most things work in the turn based tactics phase of Phantom Doctrine, although the game has some exciting mechanics that fit the theme perfectly. Rather than simply going into a mission blind, and creeping your way forward slowly hoping you spot the enemies before they spot you, Phantom Doctrine gives you the option of sending in agents ahead of time to act as undercover moles, spotters, snipers etc. If you know that you’ll be undertaking a  mission in a particular city, you can plan ahead, and give yourself a number of advantages ahead of time. Phantom Doctrine also gives you some new options during combat, like the ability to breach and clear a room with multiple agents simultaneously, and the ability to fine tune your agents’ targets and lines of sight when they enter overwatch. You can see the tactical combat in the video below.

Being able to plan ahead is neat, but it’s the elements of Phantom Doctrine’s strategic phase that really set it apart from other games of this type. In Phantom Doctrine, you have to puzzle out the story by piecing together tidbits of information gathered during play. Those little nuggets of info are represented by pictures, or scraps of paper that you pin to a digital corkboard while attempting to connect them together with bits of string. It’s a touch of camp lifted straight out of a detective movie, but it fits the theme perfectly.

Phantom Doctrine Investigate

It will be up to you to piece the information together.

On top of the need to puzzle out the story, you have the option of capturing enemy agents instead of simply killing  everyone you come across. Once you have the agents in custody, you have a plethora of options for what to do with them. You can kill them outright, weaken them, brainwash them, pump them for information, or even attempt to convert them into double agents. You need to be on your toes though, because the enemy in Phantom Doctrine can do the same to your agents. If you leave someone behind during a mission, or they fall in combat, there is a chance that they will die, but there is also a chance that the enemy will capture them, and the enemy has all of the same tools for interrogation and brainwashing that you have, meaning you can never quite be sure if an agent has been compromised if they manage to make it back to you on their own after being wounded or left behind.

Phantom Doctrine Strategy Map

The global strategic map.

While you seek to uncover the mystery behind your enemies, they will be doing the same. If your safehouse is discovered, you may be forced to relocation your base of operations, and when things get tough you may need to stoop into morally grey to black activities to succeed, whether that means employing known criminals, undertaking body engineering on your agents, or injecting them with various chemicals in order to give them a slight edge.

If you are up for some tactical espionage action, keep an eye out for the game to hit PC and consoles in 2018.


Travis Williams

Tabletop Editor

Maestro of cardboard and plastic.