Friday, 28 October 2016

revisiting Tragedy Looper

After trying the Bio-Terrorist Challenge in Pandemic: On The Brink with my colleagues, I thought it would be interesting to teach them Tragedy Looper, which is also a one-vs-many game.

Protagonist players: Benz, Xiao Zhu, Edwin. Observers: Jeixel, Tyle. We started with the first scenario. I was, of course, the evil mastermind. We decided to play 3 loops, which was easier for the protagonists. I had forgotten many details, and more importantly I had forgotten the techniques and tactics. I had to recall and reconstruct them while I played. Since I was rusty, I had to rely on the mastermind strategy guide in the mastermind handbook. One thing that I did remember, and felt again, was the tension of being the mastermind. It was nerve-racking. After playing Tragedy Looper, I felt drained - that kind of feeling when you are suddenly released from a long period of being tensed up. As mastermind, I needed to fully utilise every piece of informational advantage I had over the protagonists. Most of these advantages can only be used once, because once the protagonists learn of your weapon, they will also learn to disarm you. I needed to be prudent with how I used my weapons. I needed to avoid revealing too much, while still making sure I could trigger the tragedy before the current loop ends. Otherwise I would run out of reliable weapons. I had to plan ahead too. Many incidents and character actions could only be triggered if the relevant characters had enough paranoia or intrigue tokens placed on them. I needed to make sure I had enough turns to place the required numbers of tokens.

The strongest masterminds will be able to make good use of not just the main plots, subplots and incidents in a scenario. They will make use of even the main plots and subplots not in the scenario. The protagonists do not know which plots are in, so they need to consider all possibilities. If the mastermind can use this to throw red herrings, he can keep the protagonists off the right trail for longer. I am nowhere near that level yet. I already struggle with juggling in my head the main plot, subplot and incidents that are in the scenario. I need to keep finding ways to trigger the tragedy without getting disrupted by the protagonists. It feels like being hunted. As the protagonists uncover clue after clue, I see my options dwindling and I feel the net closing up.

A funny situation occurred in Scenario 1. In one of the loops, I had carefully planned a series of events that would trigger the tragedy. The protagonists didn't know yet how I was going to do it, but the actions they took got people killed (which was not what I had in mind), and ultimately ruined my plan. I needed the right people at the right place at the right time, so when some of them got killed at inopportune moments, my plans were foiled. I had to scramble to find another way to trigger the tragedy. Bad things happening can actually be good for the protagonists. Also, the best laid plans can be spoilt by the protagonists unintentionally.

Eventually it came down to the last day of the last loop. I had only one last chance to trigger the tragedy. There was only one method remaining to kill the character I needed dead, but in order to do that, I needed two specific characters to meet up. In Tragedy Looper, the mastermind plays his cards first, so the protagonists can always react. Also if both the mastermind and a protagonist have played movement cards on a character, the character often ends up moving in a direction neither party intended. I gambled on the second point, intentionally trying to send one of the key characters in a wrong direction. To my pleasant surprise, the protagonist did indeed play a movement card on him too, and the result was he moved in the true direction I wanted him to go in. I managed to trigger the tragedy once again, and won the game.

Protagonist players: Benz, Jeixel, Tyle. Observer: Eva. After the first game, Xiao Zhu and Edwin didn't seem too keen. Deduction games may not be their thing. However Jeixel and Tyle who had been watching us play looked interested. So Benz suggested they join the table to play the next scenario. The second scenario was a bit more complex. It had 5 days per loop, and we played 4 loops (easier for protagonists). Despite it being longer, we were able to play more quickly because we had a better grasp of the game mechanism.

This time victory was again decided on the final day of the final loop. By then I (mastermind) had almost run out of options. The protagonists knew most of my tricks and how to neutralise them. On that fateful final day, I could only pin my hopes on one particular character, who had the ability to place an intrigue token on another character. Each round (i.e. each day) I only had 3 action cards to play, and the three protagonists also had one each to play. Since I had to play my cards first, they could see where I played them and then play their cards on the same characters to try to foil my plan. Having that particular character was akin to having a fourth action card. The protagonists needed to decide which three among my three action cards and this character's ability to try to neutralise. Eventually they decided the character was too risky to leave be, so they moved him, and negated two of my three action cards. Thankfully, the most critical action I needed to execute was precisely the one they ignored. The game character was but a feint. The protagonists failed to save the day.

Both Scenarios 1 and 2 are introductory scenarios, so the number of characters in play is low. In standard scenarios there are more characters and more plots. I wonder when I'll get to Scenario 10. The base game has 10 scenarios. I think I've only played up to Scenario 3. I don't remember whether I've read the solution to Scenario 4 (which is a good thing - that means I can play it). I have already ordered the expansion. I hope I will eventually get to that. I still have not yet taught my children this game. I hope they will like it. Shee Yun (11) should be able to play it, but I think not Chen Rui (9).

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

boardgaming in photos: Aquaretto, Android: Netrunner

18 Sep 2016. Aquaretto. It's been a while. It occurred to me to bring this out to play with the family because not long ago I introduced Coloretto to my colleagues, and they enjoyed it immensely. Coloretto is an old game. When its core idea was later implemented as a boardgame (Zooloretto), it won the prestigious Spiel des Jahres. Aquaretto is the sister game of Zooloretto. It shares the same core mechanism, but the other supporting mechanisms are different. The setting is a marine park instead of a zoo. There are no fixed-size animal pens. The animal zones can grow in a flexible way, as long as they don't merge.

Family time.

In the foreground, the red marker is placed on top of a stack of 15 animal tiles. This is the game end trigger. When the tile bag runs out, and you start using tiles from this stack, the game enters the final stage.

I have done an expansion at my marine park (lower right direction), adding more space and also allowing a fourth animal specie. Penguins are my fourth specie, but now I have the most of them, more than the other species.

The smaller versions of the animals with halos around them are the babies. Whenever you collect a pair of male and female animals of breeding age (with male and female signs on them), you get a free baby animal.

This is Michelle's marine park. Look at that huge stack of animal tiles which she could not place. At game end she suffered a heavy penalty due to this stack. I was surprised when I found out I won. I didn't have as many animals as Michelle or Shee Yun. The only thing I did better was avoiding penalties.

I wonder whether my colleagues will like Aquaretto too. I should try it with them.

9 Oct 2016. I convinced Shee Yun (11) to try Android: Netrunner with me. She likes Hearthstone, so I said it was something similar, but more complex. I was rusty. I never learned to play it well in the first place. So teaching the game took a bit longer than I expected. I only taught her to play runner (hacker), which I think is more fun and easier for beginners. I played the megacorp. To my surprise, Shee Yun beat me 8:0! I must say I was rather unlucky (or she was lucky), but if my skills were half decent, I wouldn't have lost so badly. In the early game I had no agenda cards. I kept drawing ICE (firewalls) and assets which helped me make money. I worked hard for the money, building a healthy war chest. Money is power. Most strong ICE are costly. Shee Yun was proactive in making runs (hacking into my systems), but there was nothing for her to steal in the early game. Then on one of her turns she played a card which allowed her to view three cards instead of one if she made a successful run against my R&D (draw deck). I had ICE protecting my R&D, but she had the right programs and enough money to get through. Of the three cards she got to view, two of them were agendas! I was down 5:0 just like that.

Later on I finally drew my first agenda card. I had already set up a well-protected and unoccupied remote server by then, ready to carry out my agenda. Before I could do anything, Shee Yun made a run against my HQ (my hand of cards). Again, I did have ICE protecting my HQ, and again, she had the right programs and enough money to get through. I had 5 cards in my hand, which was the hand limit. The very card she picked was my precious agenda. My megacorp went down in flames. It was not my day.

I had thought that having had a taste of Netrunner, Shee Yun would be interested to play again. However the next few times I suggested to play she was not interested. I will try again. Netrunner is a game worth getting into.

Friday, 21 October 2016

Pandemic: On The Brink - Bio-Terrorist Challenge

Pandemic: On The Brink is an expansion set released in 2009. It comes with many modules and components, but the main elements are three new ways to play Pandemic - the Virulent Strain Challenge, the Mutation Challenge, and the Bio-Terrorist Challenge. I played the first two soon after buying this expansion, but never got around to playing the third until recently. Among the three, the Bio-Terrorist Challenge is the most complex and most different. The bio-terrorist is a bad guy (of course) and plays against the rest of the players. This is no longer a cooperative game. Earlier this year I completed Pandemic: Legacy with a group of colleagues. It was great fun and when the campaign ended, we all felt a sense of loss. Later I remembered that I still had not taught them the Pandemic expansion modules. So we arranged to try them out.

23 Sep 2016. Edwin, Benz, Ruby and Xiao Zhu (camera-shy). I started with the Mutation Challenge. In this mode there is a fifth disease - the purple disease.

One thing the expansion does is allow a fifth player. So now Benz didn't have to play cheerleader / coach. He could join us and participate as a player.

Returning to the Pandemic universe was a wonderful feeling. We immediately thought of the characters we had played in Pandemic: Legacy. My friends did initially pick the equivalent characters from Pandemic and Pandemic: On The Brink, but now they were less insistent. They switched around, exploring other roles. Edwin had a new love - the Field Operative. She could collect disease cubes from the board and then use them for discovering cures.

I love these mock petri dishes. I think they add a lot to the atmosphere.

We were all quite comfortable with the Pandemic game mechanisms by now. We could discuss strategy and how to coordinate our actions to create great combo moves. One problem was we all wanted our own characters to be the heroes who saved the day, so we would instruction one another to do this this this and then that, so that our characters could eventually sweep in and pull off one great dramatic sequence of actions. After this happened a few times, we started joking and teasing that we were all like ultra competitive colleagues fighting to show off. I think this is a wonderful thing - a group of friends getting to know a game system well enough to transcend the rules and enter the realm of strategy and living the story.

We played two games of the Mutation Challenge. We were rusty in the first game, since it had been a while since we played our last game of Pandemic: Legacy. We were fire-fighting and didn't focus nor plan well on discovering cures. We lost rather badly. The second game was much better. It was partly because we were lucky with the card draws and the distribution of diseases in the early game. We made good progress towards discovering all cures. However when things started turning bad, they did so with alarming suddenness and speed. This kind of escalation in the Pandemic family of games still amazes me sometimes. At one point we had cured all four normal diseases, and were down to either curing the fifth disease or treating all patients to win the game. We wanted to end the game quickly by treating all patients, but every time we got down to the last few, the disease flared up again. Eventually we switched tact and barely managed to find a cure before time ran out.

This was the point when the four normal diseases had cures, and we were down to having to handle the fifth disease. We had 7 outbreaks (see bottom left), so one more would cause us to lose the game.

30 Sep 2016. This was the Bio-Terrorist Challenge. I was game teacher, so naturally I played the bio-terrorist. For the good guys to win, they need to have cured all four normal diseases, and also either cure the fifth disease (purple), or treat every patient of that disease, i.e. removing all cubes of that disease from the board. For the bio-terrorist to win, firstly, the good guys must lose. Secondly, there must be at least one purple disease cube still on the board. It is possible that nobody wins - the good guys fail due to any one of the lose conditions, and there happens to be no more purple cubes on the board.

The bio-terrorist's pawn is black. He has a different set of actions from the good players. Good and evil take turns. After a good player completes his turn, the bio-terrorist takes a turn. The bio-terrorist is quite the busy person. Every round, he has as many turns as there are good players.

The bio-terrorist pawn is normally not placed on the board. It is placed only when the bio-terrorist is in the same city as another player, i.e. he is sighted by that player. When the bio-terrorist later leaves the city, the pawn is taken off the board. The bio-terrorist records his movements and actions on this piece of paper.

All these purple disease cubes in Asia were spread by me. The orange pawn was the medic, played by Xiao Zhu. The medic is the natural nemesis of the bio-terrorist, because he treats patients very efficiently. As I did my evil work in Asia, I had to be careful not to get caught by Xiao Zhu, who was busy treating patients. A good player may spend an action to capture the bio-terrorist if he finds him. The bio-terrorist discards all his cards. For his next action, he must draw a card, because he needs a card to escape. It is quite easy for the bio-terrorist to escape. The good players cannot keep him locked up for long. However getting caught in itself is costly because the bio-terrorist loses all cards, and it also breaks his tempo.

We can never forget Lagos. This was where Kawasaki died in our game of Pandemic: Legacy.

Playing bio-terrorist is a little unusual. I can't control the four normal diseases much. The most I can do is decide when to draw or play infection cards to meddle with the infection deck. At least for now I don't think this affects the good players all that much. The actions with more direct impact are related to the purple disease. This disease has only 12 cubes, so if I can get them all out onto the board, I would win. Also if I can trigger an outbreak, it counts against the good players' total outbreak count. Overall, I feel the role of the bio-terrorist is to distract. Although he can create direct threats, I think what is most important is slowing down the progress in finding cures for the four normal diseases.

We played two games of the Bio-Terrorist Challenge, and I was the bad guy in both games. So I can only guess at what it feels like playing against the terrorist. My guess is the purple disease will become quite scary, because it has a life of its own now. There is a mastermind behind it. You can't afford to spend too much time and energy on it, lest you neglect the other four diseases, yet you can't ignore it completely. There are a few dilemmas thrown at you. Do you try to eradicate the purple disease early so that you can then work on the normal diseases without any more distractions? Do you choose to find a cure to the purple disease, or do you try to treat all patients?

Edwin, Xiao Zhu and Ruby mulling over the game board.

I came across this photo recently - the box covers of Pandemic: Legacy Season 2! It is expected to be out by mid 2017, and I am very much looking forward to it.

Friday, 14 October 2016

7 Wonders: Duel

Plays: 2Px2.

7 Wonders: Duel was my birthday present this year. When it was first released, the reviews were generally positive. I had a rough idea how the game worked, but did not proactively seek it out to play. I would happily give it a try if I the opportunity arose. I don't often play 2-player-only games nowadays. My wife doesn't play boardgames much now, and when I go for boardgaming sessions, we usually play 3- to 5- player games. However as the award nominations and award wins started coming in for 7 Wonders: Duel, I became very curious and decided to buy a copy.

The Game

Game setup is done like this photo above. The photo was taken when this particular game was at the start of Age 2. A game consists of three Ages. Each Age has its own deck of cards. At the start of every Age, the cards are laid out in a specific pattern (see left side of photo). There is a mix of face-up and face-down cards, and most cards are partially covered by other cards. Cards which are not covered by others are available to be claimed by the players. When a card is claimed, others may become available. When a face-down card is freed up this way, it is turned face-up.

The small game board on the right serves two purposes. The green science tokens are placed here. During the game, whenever you manage to collect a pair of identical science symbols, you get to claim one of these science tokens. This means discovering a new technology. It gives you some benefit. The other purpose of the board is to track the relative military strengths of the players. Whenever you increase your military strength, you push the military marker towards your opponent's side of the board. If you manage to push the marker all the way to the end, you immediately win a military victory.

On the right side, each player has four large cards. These are wonders of the world they can build. Each of them requires certain resources to build, and when built, they give some benefits.

A closer look at some of the wonders of the world - required resources on the left, benefits on the right.

The premise of the game is you are building your own civilisation while competing with your opponent. A turn is very simple. You take a card from the card structure in the middle of the table. Each card is a building. You can choose to construct the card you take, adding it to the play area before you, as long as your nation produces the required resources, or you can afford to buy what you're short of. If you are unable to or choose not to construct the building, you have two other options. You can discard the card to make money. How much you make depends on how many commercial buildings you have in your civilisation. You can also discard the card to complete a wonder of the world. A wonder usually requires more resources to construct than regular buildings, but it also gives more benefits. One big difference with 7 Wonders is wonders only take one turn to complete, not three. However you get to build up to four wonders, not just one.

There are three possible ways for the game to end. The normal end condition is getting to the end of Age 3. You determine victory by scoring points, from your buildings, wonders, military strength and also for money left in hand. The two other game end conditions are both sudden death conditions. I've covered the military victory above. The other instant win condition is the science victory. If you collect 6 different science symbols, you win immediately. This is interesting because it is in conflict with scientific discovery. To make scientific discoveries you want to collect pairs of matching symbols; but for the science victory you are going for different symbols. This pulls you in opposite directions.

Cards from Age 3 are arranged this way. Each Age has a different layout. Face-up cards allow players to plan ahead, while face-down cards maintain some suspense and randomness. At the start of every game, some cards are removed from all three Age decks, so every game will be slightly different. You won't know which cards are missing initially because of the face-down cards.

It is best to arrange your buildings this way. Brown and grey buildings produce resources. Yellow buildings are commercial buildings. Some produce resources. Some provide benefits like buying certain resources at a fixed low price, as opposed to the price being determined by the production level of your opponent. Blue buildings are prestige buildings which give victory points. One building type which I don't have yet is the green ones, the science buildings. Some buildings allow you to build another for free. This is the same type of chaining as in 7 Wonders.

The Play

7 Wonders: Duel plays very briskly. Every turn is simple, and before you realise it the game is coming to an end. Yet you still have the satisfaction of building up your civilisation one step at a time. You try to collect buildings that complement and combine well with one another. This is very much a tableau game like Race for the Galaxy. There are many broad stroke strategies you can pursue, and you can pursue multiple strategies concurrently, with different levels of emphasis, and adjusting your emphasis depending on how the game situation changes. You can work on victory points. You can go military. You can threaten a science victory. You can go for scientific discoveries, which is a different thing from the science victory. You can be an industrious resource producer. You can be a great trader. There is no lack of goals to work towards. However you need to remember to pay attention to what your opponent is doing. This being a two-player-only game means it's a zero sum game.

Sometimes you do need to slow down and think a few turns ahead, especially when there is a card which you want badly. You want to work out a specific sequence of claiming cards to ensure that card is freed up on your turn. Some wonders give you an extra turn, and this can be crucial for securing a card you desperately want. The card drafting mechanism in 7 Wonders has been replaced with this card selection mechanism, and I must say it works well. It is simple and effective.

I have played two games against my wife Michelle. In both game she went for the science victory, while I focused on VP buildings. In the first game she misunderstood the resource and cost requirements for constructing buildings. She thought she couldn't afford to build, when she actually could. Needless to say, her tempo was severely impacted, and I cruised to a comfortable win by VP. In our second game, her science victory proved unstoppable. In hindsight, I should have competed with her from much earlier on. By the time I realised the danger, it was already too late. In that game one of the technologies available was a 7th science symbol. Even if I managed to stop her from collecting the 6th science symbol from buildings, I would not be able to stop her from collecting a pair of matching science symbols and then take the 7th special science symbol to win. I realised that seeing this 7th science symbol in play is already a warning sign - watch out for the science victory! It's also a cue to seriously consider going for a science victory yourself.

Michelle found the game quite enjoyable.

Among the three face-down cards in the second row, the colour of the card in the middle is slightly different. This is not a misprint. That card is a guild card, a special type of card which gives victory points depending on a specific criteria. In earlier versions of 7 Wonders, there was a problem with some Age 3 card backs, which are purple in colour. In the printing industry, purple is a difficult colour to get right.

The Thoughts

My one word review of 7 Wonders: Duel is: pleasant. It's not particularly amazing or groundbreaking, but playing it is soothing, like having a warm drink on a chilly day. It plays smoothly. You are taking baby steps to build something big. You don't have too much to think about on your turn, since there aren't all that many immediate choices. However you still keep in mind the general directions you are heading towards. That said, it is a head-to-head game. Your loss is my win. I am not surprised to read many comments that this game is more confrontational than its predecessor. It is not destructive though. You don't go about burning your opponent's buildings. I think only one or two wonders allow such a thing. Military actions allow you to rob your opponent, but you get to do this at most twice in the whole game. So generally this is still a game of building up, not of tearing down.

One player compiled some statistics, and found that about 50% of games are won by victory points, 25% by science, and 25% by military. That surprises me a little. I had expected both the instant victories to be rarer. I thought these two victory conditions would be mainly tools to distract and to force your opponent's hand, something like the temple connection victory condition in Attika. I am pleased that they are more than that.

Saturday, 8 October 2016


Plays: 3Px1.

The Game

Churchill is designed by Mark Herman (Washington's War, We the People, Fire in the Lake). It is a game about the politicking between Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin during World War 2. Although UK, USA and USSR are allies working together to defeat the Axis powers, they are also manoeuvring and trying to make sure their respective countries emerge as most powerful from the war. It is not only about winning the war. It is about who will be strongest after winning the war. This is refreshing to me. I have not played anything like this before.

This is the prime minister of the United Kingdom, Sir Winston Churchill. This card shows his personal abilities (and weakness) as well as the UK national abilities.

The game board is divided into two halves. The right half is the conference table. This is where the most important part of the game is - meetings! Meetings?! Yes, this is a game about meetings. The left half shows a map of Europe and a map of Asia, with multiple tracks leading to Germany and Japan respectively. The Allies want to advance along these tracks, representing how they fight and eventually defeat the Axis.

The game comes with three scenarios, with different setups and lengths. The full scenario is played over 10 rounds, and starts at the earliest point in history. The medium scenario lasts only 5 rounds. You play from Round 6 onwards. The short scenario lasts 3 rounds, and you start from Round 8. Each round is divided into two parts. The first half is that meeting between Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill. This is the most important part of the game. The second half is mostly executing what has been discussed in the first half. The meeting outcome determines what you can and cannot do in the second half.

Before you go for your meeting with the other two leaders, you draw cards to determine who you will be bringing with you. These guys are your debate team. They have different strengths (the number in the corner) and special abilities (the text).

Now that you have your meeting attendees, you need to determine the meeting agenda. In the game there are a total of 18 possible topics for discussion (those small square markers at the top left corner). At each meeting, usually only 7 of them can be on the agenda. In this photo, three topics have been selected and placed in the play area. Two are at the centre, the neutral position. One is on the UK track, i.e. closer to Churchill than the other two leaders. This means Churchill currently has an advantage on this topic.

Let's look at some examples. One type of topic is called a Directed Offensive. It allows you to direct two armies of a specific ally to a front of your choice. You get to do this if at the end of the meeting you have an advantage on this topic over your counterparts. Another type of topic allows you to exert influence on minor nations, sometimes planting spies in those countries, sometimes swaying the ruling government to support you. Having spies in and having the support of minor nations give you points at game end.

After the agenda is set, you start your meeting. You take turns playing cards to pull topic markers towards your leader. The value of the card played determines how many steps the targeted topic is moved. Some cards have special abilities, e.g. being more effective on a specific topic type. If a marker you want to pull is currently on the track of another leader, you need to pull it towards the centre before you can continue to pull it towards your leader.

The three black pawns indicate global trends. If the global trends topic is discussed during a meeting, you will have the opportunity to move a global trends pawn. Pulling one towards your leader gives you an advantage, and is also worth points at game end. E.g. Stalin can prevent the Western allies from gaining the support of Eastern European nations.

After the meeting adjourns, you proceed to execution, which is mostly done on the maps.

On the European map in the top half, there are three tracks representing the three frontlines leading to Germany. USA and UK attack from the west and south, while USSR attacks from the east. On each track, as long as enough resources are allocated, there will be a possibility of advancing towards Germany. The more resources committed, the higher the likelihood of succeeding. If sufficient resources are allocated, it is even possible to advance more than one step. Each space on the tracks contains some details, e.g. the victory points to be gained if the front reaches that space, or conditions that must be fulfilled in order to advance to that space. The Asian map works in a similar way.

How do you win? This is a little complicated, but this is the gist of the game. There are victory points in the game. You total them up only when the game ends. However having the highest score does not automatically mean you win. It depends on your point differences with the others, and also whether the Allies have managed to defeat both Germany and Japan by Round 10. If the Allies win the war, and if the leading player outscores the trailing player by less than 15 points, the leading player wins the game. If the score difference is more than 21 points, then it is the 2nd placed player who wins instead. The reasoning behind this is one nation has emerged too powerful from World War 2, so other two nations form a new alliance to counterbalance it. The stronger partner in this new alliance becomes the most powerful, and thus wins the game. If the score difference is between 15 and 21, a die is rolled to determine who wins. Due to these winning conditions, you want to outscore your opponents, but not by too much. If you find yourself in second place, then you might want to hurt the 3rd placed player more than you want to rein in the 1st placed player.

If the Allies fail to force both Germany and Japan to surrender by Round 10, WW2 will end in an armistice. A die is rolled. The leading player loses this many points. The 2nd player loses half as many. The 3rd player gains as many points as the die roll. The adjusted score determines who wins. If the raw scores are close, the 3rd placed player may emerge victorious. Due to these different ways the game can end, you need to be constantly watchful of how your opponents and yourself are doing. There is a constant manoeuvring. This is not a game where you simply try to score points whenever possible.

The tracks for the various fronts are white. The green boxes next to the track spaces are minor nations. The semi-transparent disks are spies that have been deployed by one of the three Allied powers. A cylinder indicates that a major Allied power has obtained the support of the minor nation. The big red box is Germany, and the black cubes the German armies. The large blocks are the Allied armies advancing along the tracks. They represent where the fronts are.

This particular round was a little unusual. Due to special events or character abilities, there were 9 topics on the agenda instead of the normal 7.

This bunch of weaklings gave me a tough time. Most of them had a strength of 1. The guy with a star was a random factor. When I played him, I would roll a die to determine his strength.

The Play

Allen played Stalin, Han played Roosevelt. I played Churchill, because I prefer green.

Roosevelt had more resources at his disposal, but also had the most things to worry about - multiple front lines in both Europe and Asia, as well as the atomic bomb development, so Han picked Roosevelt. He had played the game once before.

UK and USA had vested interests in each other. On many of the war tracks, both parties stood to gain points when the front advanced. So Han and I had much reason to collaborate. On the Southern Europe track, I (Churchill) pushed the front to a space which gave points, and then basically stopped. Advancing further would not get me much more points. I was happy to allocate my resources to fully support Han (Roosevelt) on the western front, hoping that the western Allies would beat the Soviets in capturing Berlin.

With the close collaboration between UK and USA, Allen's USSR started falling behind. However as the game progressed, this turned out to be a bad thing for me. I was the only person spending more effort on espionage and influencing minor nations, and because of that, my expected victory points grew and grew. I found myself running too far ahead. If the gap between Allen and I became too large, the game might end with Han (in 2nd place) winning. I experienced first-hand the pain of being too successful. It was a challenge to not do so well!

USA wanted to develop the atomic bomb. It already had the technological foundation, but getting the bomb actually made was not easy. USSR just wanted to steal the technology, which was easier. Han (USA) and Allen (USSR) fought over the atomic bomb action, and Allen won this topic more than Han. Eventually USA did not have the weapon to bomb Japan into submission. It had to defeat Japan by conventional warfare. Japan was defeated before Germany. We had changed history.

In Asia, Han (USA) was the only one putting effort into attacking Japan. I (UK) could launch attacks from the direction of India, but I chose to concentrate my energy on Europe. Allen (USSR) could attack Japan via Manchuria and Korea, but he didn't bother either. Han mostly attacked from the Pacific Ocean (east), and was now right next to the Japanese mainland.

Japan was defeated now, and Han suddenly realised he had forgotten a penalty rule. He had neglected advancing from the Southern Pacific direction, and this gave both Allen and I points. It was too late to do anything about it now.

If you compare this photo and the one above, you can see that the minor nations were previously mostly under American influence, but were now under British influence. This was the result of my (Churchill) persistent political manoeuvring.

Initially in Europe I (UK) strongly supported Han (USA) on the western front. As my victory points grew, I knew I had to change tact. Allen was going to fall too far behind if I stuck to the same position. Throughout most of the game the Western Allies and the Soviet army had been aggressively advancing towards Germany from opposite directions but more or less at the same speed. As both armies approached the final push, I desperately switched my support to Allen, pulling on all brakes on the western front as far as I could. I barely managed to halt the Western Allied army right at the outskirts of Berlin, while the Red Army managed to capture Berlin, precisely in the last round of the game. Allen gained the most points from the fall of Berlin. Both the major Axis powers were defeated. World War 2 ended in complete victory for the Allies.

The tension steadily built up as both the Western Allied army and the Soviet army advanced towards Germany at the same pace. Every round was nail-biting, because if either side fell behind by one step, the race to Berlin could well be lost.

Eventually it was the Soviet army which marched into Berlin first. The Western Allies were only one step too late.

These were our final scores. I (Churchill, green) had 49VP, Allen (Stalin, red) had 39VP, Han (Roosevelt, blue) had 32VP. Although Allen was trailing for most of the game, towards the end he not only caught up but also overtook Han. Also Han's score was hurt by the fact that he had forgotten about the penalty due to the unbalanced advance of US troops in the Pacific. The point difference between Han and I was 17VP, so victory would be determined by a die roll. Had it been 15VP, I would have won immediately. Or if it had been 21VP, then Allen in second place would have won. At 17VP, I needed a die roll of 1 or 2 to win. It was that kind of so-much-hard-work-and-it-comes-down-to-a-die-roll moment. I don't mean it in a bad way. I've always accepted that if the players have played more-or-less equally well, then sometimes the outcome of a game comes down to a bit of luck. I rolled a 2 to win the game.

However that was not the end of the story. We later found out that we had made quite a few mistakes. We forgot to score points for advantages on the global trends. Had we calculated this correctly, I should have scored even higher (which would be bad for me). Also since we played the medium length scenario, which was a tournament scenario, we should have taken into account the tournament rules too. If the end game difference was more than 15VP, the second placed player would win immediately. So Allen was the true victor.

World War 2 ended in Round 10. UK (green) had spread its spies and influence all over the world.

Some minor nations have two spies (semi-transparent discs). You can place a second spy to defend your position in a country. With a second spy, an opponent would need to spend two spy actions instead of one to kick them out. In my case though, the second spies were placed because I needed to minimize scoring points. Had I placed them in other countries, I would be scoring 1VP per new country I spied on.

The Thoughts

One word summarises what I feel about Churchill: unusual. It has an unusual topic. Most World War 2 games are about warfare, but this game is about politics. It's a refreshing look at this period in history. The spirit of the game is encapsulated in its set of victory conditions. It's all about the intricate balance of power between the three world leaders. Part of the game feels like a cooperative game. We generally want to defeat the Axis powers, but not always.

The game mechanisms emerge from the need to represent historical events. This is a story first game. The mechanisms are there to support the story, to tell the story. They are not fanciful or particularly clever, but they work and they do succeed in telling the story. I feel that some of the rules are a direct translation of historical events. E.g. the Western Allies need to have enough warships in the English Channel before they can execute the Normandy landings. It is historical, but some of these "direct translation" rules make me uneasy because a game should not be a reenactment. I can understand that the game needs to be scripted somewhat, so that the story doesn't run too wild. In Churchill you still have the freedom and the ability to change history, but you won't go off on a tangent.

The game mechanisms are not overly complicated, but there are quite many rules and details to remember. This is a complex gamer's game.