Common Sense Review
Updated August 2014

Cuba's Days: The Cuban Missile Crisis

Make historic decisions in this absorbing choose-your-own adventure
Common Sense Rating 4
  • In Cuba's Days, users relive the complex series of decisions President Kennedy faced in October 1962.
  • Each decision point features up to four choices for Kennedy's next step, and each choice leads to a different outcome.
  • The Doomsday Clock ticks forward and back at the end of each "day," illustrating the user's overall progress.
  • Users' actions can result in eighteen possible endings; each is revealed with a fictional newspaper headline.
  • The Trophy Room keeps track of the endings the user has reached. Those that aren't yet revealed display clues.
This choose-your-own-adventure approach to history is consistently absorbing. Fictional newspaper headlines offer often shocking feedback.
Lengthy text might frustrate weaker readers. Some might find the high-scores list unnecessarily political.
Bottom Line
Offers a captivating way to retrace and reflect on steps taken during a major historical event.
Patricia Monticello Kievlan
Common Sense Reviewer
Foundation/Non-Profit Member
Common Sense Rating 4
Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return? 3

Background music gets a little repetitive and gameplay can be text-heavy, but kids will find it rewarding to try to find the best possible path to peace.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer? 4

With 18 possible endings and lots of decision points in between, Cuba's Days does a terrific job of bringing the Cuban Missile Crisis to life. The high-score list seems a little arbitrary and unhelpfully partisan.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students? 4

Navigation is straightforward, if very reading intensive. The Trophy Room and homepage offer thoughtful hints for achieving higher scores.

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How Can Teachers Use It?

Teachers can have kids use posterboard or a digital mind-mapping tool to map the ways their decisions lead to different outcomes. They might also have kids study the actual decisions President Kennedy made during the crisis and try to reconstruct the real story. Then students can compare and contrast real-life outcomes with the outcomes they reach in the game. Students might also investigate the lives and histories of the characters in the game -- like the Soviet foreign minister, or some of President Kennedy's advisors, such as Kenneth O’Donnell and Secretary of State Robert Kennedy.

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What's It Like?

Cuba’s Days opens with a newspaper front page: Tension is rising as Cuban leader Fidel Castro seems increasingly cozy with the USSR. The game opens in the Oval Office at the White House, where users read a dialogue between President John F. Kennedy and Kenneth O’Donnell, one of his closest advisers. In the screens that follow, O’Donnell offers exposition about the recent detection of Soviet missiles in Cuba, and the user, role-playing President Kennedy, must choose how to respond. At the end of each “day,” users see J. Robert Oppenheimer’s Doomsday Clock, which ticks toward midnight if the user’s choices have escalated tensions and ticks backwards if the latest steps have moved the world toward peace. 

Subsequent dialogues include vignettes that illustrate real-life situations, like the downing of a U.S. aircraft over Cuba, President Kennedy’s meeting with the Russian ambassador, and his televised speech to the nation. Within each of these real-life moments, the user gets to choose Kennedy’s next words (in the television broadcast, he can choose to exaggerate the Soviet threat or plainly state it) or his next steps (like choosing to inform the press immediately or wait a day). 

Users’ choices lead to up to 18 unique outcomes, which range from total success for the U.S. to the ominous headline “No World for Tomorrow” (after choosing an immediate military response). Users track their successes in the Trophy Room, where they can review the imagined newspaper clippings for each outcome. They can also click question-marked images to view clues that reveal how to reach each of the game’s possible endings.

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Is It Good For Learning?

More than 50 years later, the Kennedy era can seem like ancient history to today’s students. Cuba’s Days does a good job of orienting a modern audience to the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Cold War’s high stakes. The immediacy of consequences in the app is great: The ticking Doomsday Clock and the ominous news clippings give instant feedback about the user’s progress toward maintaining peace. It’s conveniently easy to start over and play again and again, making this a useful tool for students who want to make multiple attempts at taking the right path. It’s also exciting to see how a single choice can so greatly impact the outcome.

One sour note in the app is the high-score list, where users’ choices are rated from “More outstanding than Lincoln” to “Just like W. Bush.” The U.S. presidents listed and their descriptors (like “federative” and “efficient”) offer less helpful, less rich feedback than the user’s points total (the highest score possible is 100) and the illustrated end-of-game newspaper stories. Some users might be turned off by this partisan and unnecessary feature.

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