Topic: Design Diary
Design Diary Entry: Churchill
Well I must say that I am thoroughly enjoying being a full time game designer again. I can now do in one day what it took me a month of Sundays to do. So, what have I been focusing my time on? Churchill...
I am very happy to say that the new version of Churchill is completed and I am very happy with the result. My metric for when a game is ready for prime time is when I am addicted to it and I have now crossed that line. While I was a big fan of the first version I felt that it was a good game but not good enough. So, what is the redsigned Churchill about?
Like many of you I really enjoy playing strategic World War II games. After designing Empire of the Sun I wanted to do a WWII game on Europe, but when I surveyed the landscape I noticed that while the range and perspectives represented in the designs were very diverse they all focused on the same narrative. Of course that narrative is the historical one, but it generally works out to the following. Germany invades Poland, there are lots of political rules to accommodate the Soviet-German pact with conditional rules for how the various minor countries enter the war leading up to Germany's invasion of the Soviet Union. From a game point of view as the Germans you either knock out Britain or the Soviet Union for the win, or failing that try to beat the historical clock. All great history and wargame fun, but the same story told through different lenses. Not a bad thing to be sure, but I was looking for a new view.
The game that had not been done was how the war ended and led to the east-west confrontation now known as the Cold War. What I became fascinated by was when did the Allies realize that the war was won and their focus on what came next begin? As I noodled how I would do such a game I saw a really interesting set of documentaries on one of the history channels. I forget how many parts it was in, but it explored the bilateral relationships between Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin. The most interesting episode was the one describing the relationship between Churchill and Roosevelt. I knew they had disagreements on strategy and policy, but it appeared that as the war headed toward its conclusion those disagreements became more pronounced. This was the missing piece of my intellectual design puzzle.
As I read more on the conferences and negotiations between the Allies the war broadly broke into four pieces. The first was what I will call England stands alone. In this phase of the war the Germans do their blitzkrieg thing that I suspect is the subject of more games than any other topic. Then there is the invasion of the Soviet Union, Americas entry into the war, followed by the road to Berlin. What I realized was that sometime after 1942 it became evident to the Allies that they were not going to lose the war. While there was a great deal of struggle and pain to come, the political dimensions of the peace to follow began to impact military operations. This is where my Churchill design begins...
Churchill is NOT a wargame, but a political conflict of cooperation and competition. While the game focuses on 10 of the historical conferences from 1943 till the end of the war these and much of this design should not be taken literally. Before and after each conference small groups of advisors and senior officials moved between the Allied capitals making the deals that drove the post war peace. Each conference sees one of a group of issues nominated for inclusion in the conference. The issues categories are: Theater leadership changes, directed offensives, production priorities, clandestine operations, political activity, and strategic warfare (A-bomb). Each of the historical conference cards independently puts some number of issues such as directed offensives or production priorities metaphorically put on the table, while the players nominate an additional 7 issues.
The game display for this is a circular conference table that the three players sit around behind their 'seat'. Each player has a staff deck of named personages, such as Secretary Stimson and Anthony Eden that are randomly drawn to make your conference hand. A pre-conference round of cards gives leverage to the winner who then moves an issue toward their side of the table equal to the value of the card played. Play then proceeds with the conference where each player in turn plays a card on one of the issues in the center of the conference table moving it the value of the card toward his side of the table. Each card is an historical personage and they often have bonuses if played on a particular category of issue. Contesting an issue has you move an issue away from an Ally toward your own. At all times each player has his Head of State card (Roosevelt, Churchill, or Stalin) that can weigh in on any issue once per conference by discarding another card. Each use of your personage has a bonus and a potential penalty. Each time Roosevelt is used he may die and be replaced by Harry Truman. Churchill can have a heart attack and miss the next conference, while Stalin's paranoia may cause a mini-purge and reduce his sides effectiveness for the remainder of the conference. The net result of the conference play is players will 'win' various' issues with the player who won the most issues gaining leverage in one of the bilateral global issues (UK versus USSR global issue is Free Europe versus Spheres of Influence).
The game then moves into a post conference phase where players implement the issues that they now control. These actions impact three basic game functions: clandestine operations, political activity, and military offensives. Clandestine operations has players try to establish political networks in conquered counties and colonies. Using a very simple mechanic of place a network or remove an opponents network the historical ferment that occurred in Yugoslavia, France and across the world is simply simulated. A country or colony can only have one dominant side's network at any given time and during political activity players can emplace friendly governments in exile that can be subsequently undermined and replaced if the supporting networks are later neutralized by one of your allies.
Once this has all been sorted out the military portion of the game keeps the score. There is a separate display that abstractly represents the major theaters of war, Western, Eastern, Mediterranean, Arctic (Murmansk convoys and Scandinavia), CBI, SW Pacific, Central Pacific, and Far East. Each of these tracks has a Allied front for which I am looking for some kind of 3D tank piece that advance toward Germany, Italy, and Japan. Using a very simple combat mechanic each front tries to advance with Axis reserves deploying to oppose the various fronts. A successful offensive advances the front one space, although with overwhelming superiority a two space breakthrough is possible. Naval operations are simply handled by requiring a defined level of support to advance into an amphibious entry space such as France (D-Day). When a front enters Germany, Italy or Japan they surrender shutting down military operations although clandestine and political activity continue until the end of the game. In the background is the development of the A-bomb and Soviet efforts to steal its secrets. If the A-bomb is available Japan can be forced to surrender sans a direct invasion.
If at the end of Potsdam conference Germany, Italy, and Japan have not surrendered the Allies as represented by the players collectively lose the game. If the Axis have been defeated then tthe winner is the player with the most Cold War points portioned out for governments and networks aligned to your side, global issues, and a list of conditional situations. For example colonies with no network or political authority give Churchill points for keeping colonialism alive or which fronts caused axis surrender.
As I stated this is not a wargame, but a three player excursion into power politics. The game takes around 3 hours to finish, but I will be including a short and medium scenario. All scenarios end with Potsdam, but you will be able to start later in the war if you only have 1 or 2 hours to play. In addition the game can be played with 3 or 2 players plus solitaire. I am very excited about the new Churchill and large scale playtesting will commence by the end of the month. More to follow...