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.