As the Covid 19 lockdown caused me to lose my regular tabletop war games opponent I haven't had much chance recently to play the wonderful GMT games I have. My wife is a great games player but she has no interest in war games, she preferes building, resource, management style games that last 45-90 minutes, so I have had no opposition. I was hoping this was about to change but it seems lockdown is coming again before we can get together again on a regular basis. Therefore I am revisiting some of the great GMT games reviewed on GGO in the past.
CHURCHILL: The BIG THREE STRUGGLE for PEACE (second printing)
A P500 GMT Game * Mark Herman * 1-5 Hours
Artists: Charles Kibler. Rodger B McGowan. Mark Simonitch
Articles on Churchill in InsideGMT:
Churchill Strategy and Tactics Tips, by Mark Herman
Churchill Strategy Primer #2: Defeating the Axis, by Mark Herman
Post-Publication Musings on Churchill, by Mark Herman
Churchill Strategy Primer #3: Asymmetric Staff Abilities, by Mark Herman
MacArthur did not return... (Labor Day Churchill Playthrough), by Mark Herman
WORLD WAR II enthusiast game players will see this title on the shelves and be drawn to it because of its immediate implications, the Big Three, Churchill, Stalin and Roosevelt. The title then proclaims “the struggle for peace” rather than offering new combat scenarios or possibilities for numerous separate famous battles.
When you open the box, which is actually quite heavy, you will see four slim decks of cards, 1 small zip-loc pf plastic counters, a larger bag of assorted wooden shapes and colours,, A small sheet of 29 stickers (for applying to certain of the wooden shapes prior to playing your first game), 1 sheet of sturdy card counters, six d6 dice, 1 booklet of rules, 3 reference sheets that house the specific “bots” for each of the Big Three as well as a sequence of play and VP schedule play aid and finally a four-fold, very large, heavy card playing board, 2cm deep when folded. So lots of stuff then!
CHURCHILL is for 1-3 players, hence the “Bots”, and allows each player to take on the role of one of the Allied Leaders. As I just mentioned the players are all on the same side this makes CHURCHILL a cooperative game, but it is also a competitive game, and so the author has dubbed this a coopetition, as you both compete and cooperate with your fellow participants.
Rather than played in rounds or phases CHURCHILL is played over a series of scenario conferences; three for the Training conference, Five for the Tournament and Ten for the Campaign, always ending when the Axis (Germany & Japan) surrenders, or the last (always the 10th) conference scenario has been played through. CHURCHILL is, in fact, most probably and almost certainly, unlike any other tabletop war game you have played. The closest I, personally, can think of, off the top of my head, is DIPLOMACY.
So if for your war game you want hundreds of detailed counters being manoeuvred across a bordered map of the World then stop reading this review now; this game isn’t for you. To be completely honest, if I hadn’t received this game for review I would have been one of the readers stopping at this point. I never was a DIPLOMACY fan and I am not overly keen on cooperative games in general.
The scenarios are found from page 18 of the 36 page rules booklet and to get to them you have a lot of detailed, descriptive sections that formulate the basics for the overall game. These begin by giving a brief introduction and even briefer overview before describing the areas of the game board and the influence each of the main display segments, the Conference and the Military divisions, have on the decision making of the players. I found this rather disconcerting as I am used to reading the rules and setting games up accordingly, referencing the rules for the various scenarios as we play.
The idea here is that you read the rules and take in the possibilities, understand the various cards and tracks, and most importantly understand the working of the Conference display of the board, for this is where the results of your decisions are seen and measured.
The Big Three sit around the conference table with their personal aides and staff. Players have Agenda markers, Naval Markers and Offensive support markers, all of which give visual aid on the board. They also have their own set of mnemonic markers which appear to have been added into the counter mix for use as memory aids, reminders if you will, although they are mentioned but not actually defined in the rules. Like the rules setter, we also use these markers to literally mark positions of specific tokens when we are considering an action that will move them.
I keep mentioning tracks and so I better explain a few of them. On the Conference Table half of the board there is a track for the Issues at hand. Players each select one or more Issues and play cards to progress them towards the Leader’s position at the table. On the other half, the Military section, the tracks lead off to Germany and Japan; the debates and card playing concerning these Issues are the crux of the game.
The aforementioned wheeling and dealing then comes into effect as you place Naval and Military support around the world in the necessary locations. These, in turn, give you stability, influence, control, political input and most importantly, VPs.
The Leader’s cards have special abilities and characteristics that represent their personalities. Players select the Leader they wish to play and if there are less than three players they utilise the Bots on the reference sheets for the missing Leader(s). These Bots are quite similar for each Statesman but have specific individual differences. Mainly you follow a sort of script for the non-player Bots, rolling dice and taking the associated action depending on the current game segment; it is all very clearly defined on these sheets.
CHURCHILL is in many ways a game of Political campaigning, using whatever is at your means to guide the Axis forward whilst cajoling and debating (and brow-beating) the other players into seeing and acting on your way of thinking. It is different from Diplomacy where you can make deals and then renege on them because deals struck in CHURCHILL are deals not to be broken; you are all on the same team with the same aim and thus you cannot put anything at risk by reneging on a done-deal even if it is ultimately to your disadvantage – you should have thought it through before making it. As decisions and actions go your way you get to choose Issues from those currently available and move them slowly along the tracks.
The instructions on how to play the scenarios takes up one page that is almost completely bullet pointed for ease and speed. Then each scenario takes up another full page, half of which is taken up by a photo of the board in setup phase. The scenarios are followed by a Secret Agenda variant and the solitaire rules; the former being an official variant to introduce a bluffing element to the game, particularly affecting the scoring, and the latter detailing how to use the Bots, explaining that because they are completely visible at all times their logic and decision making can be manipulated by a clever player, even to the point of using the Bots to help you defeat another human player in a 2-player plus one Bot game. This last part I took from the rules booklet and haven’t actually experienced personally, nor have any of our games to date ended with a Bot victory; luck or skill perhaps?
Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin regularly met to discuss and debate how the war was going and what was the next best step ... for them personally. Each of them had their own personal agendas, either a political move that would gain them National favour or a deal with a foreign power or manufacturer of some kind etc. The traits and abilities on the personal cards along with other clandestine and/or partisan issues help each player make decisions towards the ultimate goal, winning the war, and getting one-up on the other Leaders.
Although it isn’t suggested in the first pages of the rules new players should read all pages up to #25 and begin their first game there with example of play Training scenario using the cards and tokens/markers as required and literally walk through the game doing as the example says and understanding the rules you have read as they are brought into play. This is the best way to learn how to play CHURCHILL if you do not have a player with you who already knows the game.
The question (or complaint) I heard most from my friends and fellow players was “Is it a war game” ? For me personally the simple answer is no it isn’t a war game although technically I suppose it is because it’s a game and it’s about war. It is so much more in many ways than the average counters, maps and dice type of war game, I mean, come on, you actually get to argue as Roosevelt, rant like Stalin or puff on your (imaginary) cigar and stick two fingers up at your opponents (this of course works better if your opponents aren’t Bots).