Churchill

edited January 2016 in Board Game Reviews
There is a relatively new push in the wargame world these days. At first, we saw Euro designers such as Reiner Knizia and Martin Wallace create games that are essentially Euros with a heavy historical theme. Lately, we have seen more wargame designers incorporating Euro style mechanics and traditional Euro style pieces into their wargames, thus creating a hybrid Euro/wargame.

The most notable examples of these have been GMT's COIN (Counterinsurgency) series. Games in this series are more Euro than traditional hex and counter wargames. They have proven to be very popular with wargamers and non-wargamers alike. Wargame players like the heavily themed historical nature of the games and non-wargamers like the game play. As Mark has often said, a good game is a good game, regardless of theme. The COIN series is cleverly designed with a great deal of player interaction. Each side has different victory conditions so this balances out the unbalanced nature of the military or political situation as exists in history. And with nicely designed wooden bits instead of stacks of small cardboard counters and a relatively short and well illustrated full color rulebook, the games seem more accessible to those who might otherwise put off by the more hardcore historical games. And the games in the series are fully playable with 1 to 4 players as the non-players are handled with an effective non-player robot flow chart, another plus for the more solo minded wargamer.

Veteran wargame designer Mark Herman is one of the best in the business, in my opinion. He created two of my all time favorite wargames - Pacific War (Victory Games, 1985) and Empire of the Sun (GMT, 2005). In addition, he invented the card driven wargame concept with his innovative We the People design. Notable card driven wargames include Paths of Glory and Twilight Struggle, although the latter comes very close to not being a wargame. Card driven wargames, while still much more wargame than Euro arguably paved the way for hybrid games such as the COIN series.

Herman's latest published design is Churchill (GMT, 2015). This is a 3 sided game, playable by 1-3 players, with robot flowcharts directing the non-player action. The design uses the 10 conferences held by the Allies during the course of WW2 to drive the action with the three sides being the US, UK and USSR. Players represent Roosevelt (and later Truman), Churchill and Stalin. Each of the 10 conferences (or 5 or 3 for shorter games) is based on an actual historical meeting that took place. Each conference is represented by one of three cards. Each game will thus be potentially different as each of the three options for each conference contains slightly different conditions.

Each player has a deck of 21 cards representing his staff, the ministers and advisors who attend the conference and help drive the action on the 7 issues debated during each. These are randomly dealt for each conference. Each player then leads with one card. The highest card played wins the leader and that player gets to choose the first and last two issues that the conference will debate. Each of the other players gets to choose two issues as well. Issues can be related to control of offensives or production, the creation of the second front, the atomic bomb or global issues such colonial control and the freedom of European nations. Once the 7 issues are determined, the lead player starts by playing a staff card to advance an issue toward his side of the 3 sided matrix. The opposing players can trump his play with their own cards, but each player only gets 7 cards to play each conference so playing a trump has a cost. Each staff card has different attributes that may be more effective on certain issues so each conference becomes like a 3 way chess match. Each player can also substitute his alter ego leader card for one of his staff, giving a huge once per conference advantage to sway an important issue at the cost of possible tie breakers at the end of the conference.

After each conference is over, the winner of the conference (most issues on his side of the matrix) gets victory points. Then the issues are resolved. This can mean various things on the board which is a simplified version of the European and Pacific Theaters. The Allied armies attempt to close in on Germany and Japan. Production and military options aid in this. Also at play are political status markers that assist in shaping the post-war political landscape. The Allies must work together to defeat Germany and Japan while at the same time working separately to advance their own agendas.

The goal of the game is score the most victory points, but not too many. There are penalties if the gap between the player scores is too large or if the Axis powers are not defeated.

This is a fun and engaging game. The narrative is very plausible. There is enough history to appeal to one interested in the period, yet it is not so deep that it requires extensive knowledge of the period. It is far more a Euro than a wargame. In fact, I would be hard pressed to call it a wargame at all. I can't think of a game that it closely resembles as Churchill is actually pretty unique. But it is definitely not like Herman's earlier games which are more for the serious wargamer.

I was initially very excited about the release of the game, and then less so when I actually got it and saw what it was. However, after playing it, I am impressed. It was fun and I immediately wanted to play it again. I give it a 4 out of 5 rating.
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Comments

  • I had an opportunity to recently play a full three player game of Churchill. I had played in a two player game before before together with the game's robot player as Stalin. I had played solo once before that. One of the players was new to the game, never even having seen it prior to sitting down to play Stalin. I played Roosevelt and another experienced player played Churchill.

    We had never played the campaign scenario so we were excited to see how things were in the beginning of the game. Interestingly, the USA and UK both seemed to be fighting with each other in the first conference, allowing the USSR to win. The next few conferences saw me winning more than the UK and the USSR was shut out. The USSR decided early to push the A-bomb issue, causing me to counter more than I really wanted to. So Churchill was able to advance his Global issues and take US production to fund his Political/Military issues.

    The war was not going particularly well by mid-game. By conference 6 or so, the UK and I realized this so we conceded the VP's that the USSR had earned in the A-Bomb track and started going after Theater leadership (to get the extra Offensive support markers) and strategic materials issues. The USSR decided (too late it turned out) to go after Pol/Mil issues and US production. I led the effort to gain a second front in late 1943 and after one failure, was able to get ashore in France. The Soviets finally had some major successes on the East Front so it was a race to Germany.

    The UK and I loaded up on the offensive support and made a big push and got into Germany first with the Soviets on the outside looking in. Now quite unhappy, Uncle Joe finally allowed the declaration of War on Japan to float (more accurately he was forced to accept it). With the Central Pacific literally stalled and no chance of the A-Bomb seeing the light of day, and with the German surrender, the main western effort was placed in the Southwest Pacific front. On conference 9, Japan was conquered and the game ended.

    We had been sort of keeping track of some of the VP's although we really had no idea where we stood. The USSR was doing much better early on but their Pol/Mil efforts were too little, too late and they lost valuable VP's in their sphere. I was able to win 6 of the 9 conferences and stole a late Pol/Mil issue that gave me a slew of VP's at the end. The UK had been playing the Pol/Mil game all along as well as making great military strides in the Med front.

    The final score was my USA at 70, the UK at 66 and the USSR lagging well behind at 24. One of the more controversial aspects of Churchill is the Victory Condition rule. If the leader is more than 15 VP's ahead of last place, the second place player wins the game. So this one became such a Condition 2 game and the second place UK won the game.

    Our new player took to Churchill pretty quickly, although it is not really his cup of tea. He is more a hex and counter gamer from way back. The UK player played a very good game and maintained good balance. I thought I played pretty well even though my focus was more on the military aspects of the war than on the political aspects. This is something I will keep in mind next time. My assessment around conference 7 was that the UK was off to a huge lead and that the USSR was going to score big points as it appeared they'd get into Germany first, and possibly maximize their A-bomb points and secure the influence in Eastern Europe. As it turns out, the UK did have a large number of VP's but none of the USSR things happened. But when I thought they were going to happen I made something of a full military and political effort to gain ground and political influence. I scored a number of points for myself and more for the UK, leaving the USSR in the dust. I probably should have dragged my feet a bit and gone after the Central Pacific and Atomic Research more aggressively.

    It was a very fun and engaging game. We all agreed that the narrative was solid and that Mark Herman has developed a fine game on this topic, capturing the essence of the times as well as the personalities of the nations and their leaders. With a lunch break included, we played about 5-1/2 hours. I in particular was prone to hemming and hawing. We also engaged in a lot of table talk about the history and the events portrayed in the game. It was a tremendous experience and really illustrated the reason why I play these things - I learned about the history while spending time with a good game. It really didn't matter who won or by how much. It was time well spent.

    This is not a wargame in the traditional sense. It plays more like a Euro with a strong historical theme. I think that some of the Game Night regulars would enjoy this game. Unfortunately, it only accommodates three players and while the entire campaign game is long, there are shorter versions of the game. After playing a full campaign game I would now rate this game at least an 8 of 10.
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