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Vienna Connection Review

Vienna Connection Review

Vienna Connection Review

Welcome to our review of Vienna Connection a Detective System Game designed by Portal Games. If you are looking for specific details about how the game plays, check out the Watch It Played How to Play Video. Want to know what we think of the game – keep reading below.

The Game – Vienna Connection

It’s 1977 and the Allied nations of the world are locked in a cold war with the Soviets. Subterfuge, espionage and good old fashioned code breaking are the order of the day.

In Vienna Connection, you and your fellow players work for the CIA and are members of their SAD team (unfortunate name… but cool job! Stands for Special Activities Division.) You are spies on a mission… we won’t spoil it here, but trust us it’s a tale of twists and turns! As with all of Portal’s Detective System Games, you won’t even see the whole story because your decisions matter and the route you take effects how the game plays out.

What do you get in the box?

Frankly, you get a lot in the Vienna Connection box! For the newbies here, this game is all about the story. So you get a lot to read! And we love it! There is a deck of cards and each card has a part of the story plus some “leads” you can choose to follow. The card material are of a very high quality and are full color print on both sides.

Along with the cards, there is also a folder full of top secret documents. If you have experience with Detective: A Modern Crime Board Game, or one of the other Detective System Games, you will be familiar with the Antares Database, an online system to access files relevant to your case. Well, this is 1977 and there is no internet! So to keep things period authentic you have paperwork! Here the designers have provided the players with a stack of 100 pieces of paper each with a file number on it. This is information you receive in the game.

We think this is a great concept and we love the tactile nature of the papers spread across the gaming table. There has also been a lot of thought on these papers because they look like real, used files, with coffee stains, cigarette burns, hand written notes and damaged paper.

As well as a top secret folder of files, each mission has their own envelope in the box that you only open when you start the mission. This helps keeps the story hidden until it’s time to play. In the envelope, there is a mission introduction with your first few leads and the backstory of this mission. Portal Games has really done their research here (and throughout the game), this story is fiction but it takes place during real events of the Cold War. There are wifi symbols scattered through the narrative that are actually people or events that you can look up. If you are a fan of Modern European History, you’ll feel right at home!

In your mission envelope you will find multiple covert operations cards. These look great with old photos on them showing you the locations of the operations you can choose to conduct during the game. There are also three Local Agent cards in each mission envelope in the box. They only serve one purpose in the game, to assign you some addition wooden tokens that you may spend during the game. While they add some nice flavor to the game, they seem fairly superfluous and the same could have been achieved by a few lines in the mission setup.

As far as the in box storage, Vienna Connection is pretty good. Everything fits in nicely and it is obvious that the team a Portal put thought into how the game gets packed away. I guess with that much paper, it probably is good to think about storage.

The website

Vienna Connection uses the Antares Database website (you’ll need to setup a free account). It uses it in a very different way from other Detective Games from Portal.

There is no fingerprint code entries, nor are there any files to look up. In this game, everything is in paper except for audio recordings which are of high quality and in the native language of the characters. You get transcripts in your files and English subtitles when you play the recording. The audio itself is in Russian and German, depending on the situation in the game and this really adds to how immersive the game feels. The audio files really allow you to hear the stressed inflections in character’s voices and have static and background noise that really adds to the feel. Especially nice is the visual of a reel to reel tape recorder that plays with the recording.

The other purpose of the website is to enter in puzzle fragments. At first, it seems kind of a random mechanic of the game. The characters don’t actually pick up puzzle fragments, but it is actually a clever way for the game to keep track of your progress. The fragments you have entered will contribute to the final report and signify what the team was able to uncover in the mission.

Each mission is not independent, so must be completed in order. During the final report you will be told to record certain things in the mission log. During future missions, you get told “If the team wrote down…[something]” do [action] (we aren’t going to spoil anything here!!).

The final purpose of the website, that we chose not to use, is the Skip the Cipher. Basically, if you don’t want to or can’t break a code, you can enter in the card you are on and be told the answer. We think this is a great thing to have for the game as it allows you to continue to move forward instead of being stumped by a code breaking aspect of the game. We were lucky as one of us was great a the number ciphers and the other was great at the word ciphers which really helped.


Both Campaign and Mission setup were very easy for Vienna Connection. Everything comes in a envelope for the mission. Simply empty the envelope, have the deck of lead cards and top secret files nearby and you are ready to get going!

Game Play

In Vienna Connection you are spy, you need to stay undercover and follow the clues to solve the mystery, sounds so easy when you write it out like that!

Following leads and taking exposure

So one of the most strategically interesting parts of the game is that each mission only allows you to take a certain amount of “exposure” to the oppositional government agencies. Basically, you can only follow so many leads before you must end the mission. This creates a “Risk vs Reward” situation which is quite amazing.

As a team, you don’t get to see all the lead cards in a mission. However the team doesn’t need to see all the cards, there are multiple ways to complete each mission. At the start of each mission, you get leads to follow in different zones (White, Blue, Yellow and Red). If you choose to follow a lead, you pull out the numbered card from the deck which has between 0 and 2 “exposure” on it. You mark off that many in the zone on your team mission sheet… if you run out of spaces in a given color (for example you only have one space in the blue zone left and you need to take another 2), then you must mark off the “man in black” section. Once you have filled all the “man in black” spaces the mission comes to an end (even if you still have other spaces free). This means you need to choose your leads carefully, spread them out across the possible choices (colors). If you are lucky, you may come across a card that gives you ways to reduce the exposure by spending resources so you can keep the game going.

In one case, we had solved the mission one or two spaces before we had lost all our exposure and needed to complete the Final Report. In this case continued to follow other leads to use all our exposure. There is no real benefit to filing the Final Report early, so doing this may have unlocked other story points.

Using the app was a lot of fun, as mentioned before, it is an integral part of the game, although, less so than in the other Detective Games. I kept trying to follow leads so we could listen to more audio clues… I felt those were really well done and nicely edited together.

Overall Impressions

We really liked the period authenticity of Vienna Connection. The flipping through a stack of papers really helps you get the feel of the world before the internet. We also loved the way the story is based in reality. Some of the characters are real people from history or and some of the events really happened during the Cold War. At the end we looked at each other around the table and said “How the heck do you put a game like this together?” There was so much detail and complexity in everything – a huge compliment to the designers!

This is not a short game to play. Each mission is 2-3 hours and to get the full story you need to play all 4 missions. So that makes it a box of 4 game nights of fun!

You also need to be organized and have a good memory when you play this game. You will be following clues that are date based that don’t come out in order, minor things that get mentioned in passing suddenly become important later and you have to trace back where you heard that before. It’s not a great game if you aren’t organized.

What we love

  • Period authenticity, you could feel like you are really in a CIA safe house reading faxes!
  • Story based in reality, this is fiction but these things could really have happened!
  • Story and narrative has tones of twists and turns that will keep you engaged all the way through

What could be Better

  • The Local Agents didn’t really form part of the story. Adding that could have made them feel more useful and interesting.
  • Having some tools to help you track clues and events would be helpful. The Mission Log is very limited and the Antares Database doesn’t help at all (it does in other Detective games).