The “AR7 Play” refers to any US play on the final Action Round of the turn (AR6 on Turns 1-3, AR7 thereafter) intended to overload the USSR’s first Action Round in the next turn. The AR7 play is the cornerstone of advanced American strategy and one of the main ways to seize initiative from the USSR.
The key to the AR7 play lies in DEFCON. At the beginning of most turns, DEFCON will rise to 3, and so each turn the USSR would like to coup a battleground on AR1 in order to drop DEFCON to 2 and block the US from battleground coups. The AR7 play therefore attempts to create a crisis for the USSR that cannot be addressed until AR1 of the next turn. By timing this crisis to arrive simultaneously with the USSR’s DEFCON obligation, the US hopes to overload the USSR’s AR1, and force the USSR into one of two unpalatable choices: either address the AR7 crisis (and give the US the battleground coup) or drop DEFCON (and allow the US to capitalize on its AR7 play).
There are three types of AR7 plays: breaking USSR control, playing into a non-battleground, and managing bad USSR events.
1. Breaking USSR control of a country
This is the most common AR7 play. You place influence into a USSR-controlled country (let’s say Pakistan), enough to break control. On AR1 of next turn, the USSR must either restore its control of Pakistan (allowing you to coup a battleground) or coup a battleground (allowing you to play a high Ops card into Pakistan to flip the country to capitalism). Either way, you end up sacrificing very little to gain something significant.
Ideally, you want to break control of a country that is not coupable at DEFCON 3. For instance, if you broke USSR control of Nigeria, the USSR could just coup Nigeria on AR1 and kill both birds with one stone.
However, it may still be worthwhile to break control of a Mid War battleground if you have an obviously desirable battleground coup target. For instance, if you hold South Africa, Angola, Botswana, and Zaire to the USSR’s Algeria, Nigeria, and Zimbabwe (and therefore have African domination), the USSR is almost certainly going to coup Zaire on AR1 to gain Domination. However, if you use your final AR play on Algeria, then the USSR is no longer able to flip Domination with a single play. Regardless of which country he coups, you’ll be able to maintain the 3-2 battleground split.
The most flexible way of making this AR7 play is with Operations, but there are many events that accomplish something similar: John Paul II Elected Pope, Panama Canal Returned, OAS Founded, etc. These are all events that benefit from being played on the last Action Round of a turn because they are otherwise easy to respond to.
Breaking control on the final AR is most effective when it disrupts the scoring situation in the region — for example, turning USSR Domination into Presence or US Presence into Domination. It presents a much more critical crisis for the USSR, and in addition, the US is able to threaten headlining the scoring card (which may in turn force a suboptimal USSR headline in response).
2. Playing into non-battleground countries
Sometimes you’ll find yourself needing a cheap non-battleground country. Simply playing into it may just invite a back-and-forth coup war. The AR7 play gives you an opportunity at at least one uninterrupted turn in that country, to exploit as necessary.
Colombia is a common example, since it is a cheap non-battleground that allows access to the lucrative South America region. But a US player that plays into Colombia, intending to move onto Venezuela, will soon find himself couped out by the USSR. Worst case scenario, a strong USSR coup might mean this play actually lets the USSR into South America unopposed.
The better approach is to place an influence into Colombia as an AR7 play. On the next turn, the USSR now faces a dilemma: coup a battleground country to drop DEFCON (thereby allowing the US to play into Venezuela), or coup Colombia to deny Venezuela access (thereby allowing the US to coup a battleground country).
However, it is important to note that if the USSR goes ahead and coups Colombia, the US now faces the same dilemma. In other words, if the US is going to allow the USSR into South America, it needs strong compensation (a lucrative coup target, or saving an important US battleground from being couped) or little downside (for example, if the USSR is already in South America via De-Stalinization).
Another common approach is the use of non-battleground countries as realignment boosts. Once Fidel takes over Cuba, most good USSR players will respond to US control of Nicaragua (relevant because of its Cuba realignment modifier) by couping the US out of the country. But no USSR player is going to coup Nicaragua on AR1, and so therefore an AR7 play into Nicaragua usually assures at least one turn’s worth of realignment against Fidel at +1.
Finally, you may want a cheap non-battleground to threaten a quick Domination. If you meet all other conditions for South America domination, but just need a non-battleground country, consider controlling Colombia with your AR7 play. This creates headaches for the USSR: if he coups a battleground elsewhere, and you happen to have South America scoring, you’ll be able to score the Domination without the USSR contesting it by couping Colombia back and forth.
3. Disposing of bad USSR events
The last type of AR7 play is when you have a strong USSR event that you have no choice but to trigger. For instance, De Gaulle while under Purge or Muslim Revolution both open up the board for the USSR and create opportunities for the USSR’s Ops. If you had played them during the turn, then the USSR would be able to use his Ops in the next Action Round to take advantage. By playing such events as an AR7 play, however, you force that decision onto their AR1. This doesn’t gain you anything, but it does help mitigate the effects. Before, if you played a Red Scared De Gaulle, you would lose France. Now, either you don’t lose France, or you do lose it but get a battleground coup as compensation.
Vietnam Revolts and Brezhnev Doctrine also sort of fit in here, since playing them on AR7 minimizes their impact, but those are a special case.
Between the final AR and the first AR of the next turn comes the headline phase. It is easy here for the AR7 play to fail. The USSR can headline a direct counter to your play: maybe Decolonization (or other influence-dropping cards) wipes out all hopes you had of Africa domination. Quagmire takes away your AR1 and gives the USSR two AR’s in a row. Socialist Governments can remove the influence put in by the AR7 play. A card like We Will Bury You drops DEFCON in the headline phase and earns VPs to boot, allowing the USSR to address your AR7 play on AR1. In fact, any headline that discharges the USSR’s DEFCON obligation (Junta, Cuban Missile Crisis) nullifies the point of the AR7 play.
The US can even interfere with its own plan. Suppose you headline Grain Sales to Soviets, take a card from the USSR, and use it to coup. Well, that’s good, but now you’ve nullified your own AR7 play. Not that you shouldn’t still headline Grain Sales (probably the best card in the game for the US), but you may want to consider holding it to next turn’s headline where it won’t interfere with your AR7 play. Worst of all would be headlining something like Cuban Missile Crisis, needlessly dropping DEFCON and freely taking the dilemma off of the USSR’s hands.
On the other hand, the US headline can accentuate and compound the AR7 crisis. Truman Doctrine is the best example of this: an AR7 play into France, breaking USSR control, is normally not that effective, because if the USSR ignores it and coups, you ordinarily don’t have enough Ops to flip France in a single play. But a Truman Doctrine headline that eliminates USSR influence in France makes your AR7 play much stronger and much less ignorable. It is a variant on the typical USSR headline-AR1 combo.
USSR counters on AR1
Outside of headline counters (described above), there are a few other counters to this tactic. Duck & Cover is the canonical example: it trades 3VP for the ability to lower DEFCON while placing influence. It is the all-around best response by the USSR. As an alternative, Junta might be able to accomplish something similar, and ABM Treaty in your hand at least lets you coup back whatever the US coups.
However, if the USSR is unable to respond in the headline, it will usually just be forced to choose between responding to the AR7 play and lowering DEFCON. It is of course impossible to give an all-around answer as to how to respond to all AR7 plays; generally, however, it is my experience that forgoing the battleground coup is the safer approach, but depending on where the US will coup you and what scoring cards are yet to come, you may simply have to take your chances on the coup instead.
Turn 10 is a special case, as it is the very last play of the game. The US AR7 play on Turn 10 is far more devious: it involves manipulating Final Scoring thanks to your last play advantage. For example, most USSR players are lazy about Middle East domination and rely solely on Syria for their non-battleground. A Turn 10 AR7 play into Syria, breaking USSR control, can therefore cost the USSR Middle East domination.
The Voice of America is the absolute best way of accomplishing this: a choice removal of several important influence can deny Domination, grant yourself Domination, or even deny the USSR Presence in multiple regions at once. Barring that, a high-Ops card held until AR7 can accomplish much the same thing if you are able to break USSR control of a few key countries. Suppose the USSR controls Mexico / Cuba / Nicaragua, and you control Panama / Costa Rica. With a 4 Ops, you can break the USSR control of both Mexico and Cuba, flipping Domination and earning you a total of 8VP!
Other events that can help include any event that gives you a lot of influence (Ussuri River Skirmish, Colonial Rearguards, OAS Founded) or North Sea Oil.
As USSR, the best way to defend against the Turn 10 AR7 play is to end the game before Final Scoring. Barring that, Turn 10 is usually a very defensive turn for you, as you have no choice but to shore up all your important battlegrounds / non-battlegrounds. Quagmire, if you are fortunate enough to draw it on Turn 10, is a great AR7 play by forcing the US player to waste their AR7 discarding to Quagmire instead of accomplishing something useful.