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Mark Herman's Wargaming Blog
Monday, 10 August 2015
Post Publication Musings on Churchill
Topic: Churchill Design

Well Churchill has finally hit the market and I am very pleased with the production values and the initial reception. Only time will tell if this one becomes a cross over design, but I could not be happier with how it came out.


I was at the World Boardgaming Championships (WBC) in its farewell to Lancaster PA and I never saw less than four ongoing games of Churchill being played in open gaming. A new phenomena for me was in most cases there were at least one if not two females playing in each session (three person game). This is the one game that I have done out of over sixty that my wife will play, so it hopefully will be a more accessible game to the most important part of the human race.


For those who have not followed my earlier blog posts I wanted folks to experience a different narrative of World War II. Don’t get me wrong I am a sucker for Third Reich and the multitude of big picture strategy games on the war, but I have been there done that and I have over 50 games in that category. Churchill’s genesis was based on his World War II memoirs and his big picture perspective. I wanted to sit in the big chair and win a global war not drive tank divisions across Europe. 


I used the periodic Allied conferences as the main mechanism for players to metaphorically debate issues and decide the strategy for prosecuting the war. The winner of the game is the player who can work cooperatively to defeat the Axis, while prosecuting their national agenda to gain leverage in the Cold War that follows. The primary mechanic in the game is you are dealt a hand of staff cards. Each staff card is a named personage who was directly involved in the discussions leading up to a conference or who actually participated in a conference. Each conference has three segments: agenda nomination, meeting discussion, and decision implementation. 


Each conference opens with the play of the conference card where historical events and agenda items offer some shape to the discussions that follow. A player may find that he has to use some amount of production in a particular theater of war or an Axis offensive such as Kursk is initiated. Each session plays with one variant of three for every conference to keep the events fresh.


Agenda nomination is where the players put a subset of the available issue categories on the map board conference table. The British have an advantage based on their imperial staff structure for determining the order of play. The winner of the agenda segment also gains a bonus on the first issue picked.


The heart of the game is the meeting segment where players in turn use one staff card to advance an issue. Advancing an issue has you move it toward your side of the table. What is being simulated is the personage used has made a compelling argument for how that issue should be resolved. the strength of the argument made (strength of the card) is how far it moves toward your side of the table. Each staff card also has an attribute which is their historical area of specialization, so if you play a staff card on an issue that they are an expert on you get a bonus to their strength.


Once you have played all of your staff cards the player whose staff dominated the conference (won the most issues) gains some victory points and then you implement all of the issues at the conference. Issues directly impact the war which comprises support for partisans, governments in exiles and the military fronts whose inexorable advance wins the war. If you can add and subtract the number two you will have no problem with the military mechanic for how fronts advance on the Axis. Prior to each advance the Axis reserves deploy and try to retard the Allied military advance. Once the Axis surrender or the Potsdam conference is completed the game is over and the winner is determined.


Churchill uses a different sort of victory determination. Unlike the majority of multiplayer games the person with the most points only wins if its close. If you build up more than a 15 point lead over last place the player in second place wins the game (known as condition 2). Condition one is the Axis surrender with the score differential to 15 or less points is victory for the player with the most points. As already mentioned if the Axis surrender and the score differential is more than 15 points (sans some die rolling) the player in second place wins (condition 2). And if the Axis do not surrender by Potsdam (condition 3), then the player with the most points wins with several die roll adjustments to determine the final winner. The antidote for a would be global hegemony (conditions 3) is for the other two players to force Axis surrender and have that player lose in condition 2. The point is the end game calculations and card play should ensure an infinite level of re-playability.


But what I was going for was a different narrative of the war. What follows is a narrative of a specific situation that was written in response to the question, why would I ever make a double move. I find that when a new game is released amongst the initial interest and such, people want to understand their options and interesting strategy threads begin. This one was around the strategy for when to debate an issue during a conference. To answer the question I had to relate some of the richness of a specific  situation which I think is instructive on how the game plays and what considerations you may be faced with during a session.


Question: Why would I ever want to make a double move, it makes no sense as it is no different than advancing an issue on my turn?


Answer: If you are looking for a rule of thumb in the situation it does not exist. If you are saying that it never makes sense then there are more examples of how this impacts the game than those presented that are beyond the mechanical examples cited above in this thread. Factors such as what staff cards are available, or is there a staff bonus for the debate that overrides the loss of a card, or you want to block the guy to your left from debating (he has no leader) or your leader cannot advance only debate an issue, etc.


I will offer one example, but all examples of double moves are based on specifics that go beyond the mechanical dimensions mentioned in this thread. So, here is one story that I once experienced, but if you want to say that this is rare, well there are many rare situations that add up to it happens once every couple of games. I will say that it usually occurs at the close of a conference when players are down to their last couple of cards. It is in the design to create that extra bit of uncertainty and hopefully excitement.


For example, let's say the US won the agenda segment and let's say that Churchill/Stalin are inactive (previously used). Let's say its Potsdam and the US (Truman no A-bomb) wants to freeze the political situation, but Churchill and Stalin each have captured a Pol-Mil issue with none remaining. 


Now we pick up the action where Churchill has one card (already played second to last card), Stalin has two cards remaining and the US has two cards. Stalin plays Budonny (five when Stalin is inactive) on the Global issue (US 3 space), US debates to keep it on the 3 space, then plays Truman to ensure capturing the issue (cannot be debated). 


Why did he debate and not wait? Well Budonny would move it to the Soviet two space and the US is holding one strong and one very weak card. The US on its next play could have moved it back to the US three space. However, the US is afraid Truman without the A-bomb might be a four not a seven and if the British or the Soviets play on the Global issue with their last cards the US may not have enough juice to win this issue. 


For example a British 4 play on Global followed by a debating Molotov would put the issue out of reach with a 4 strength Truman (its a 2 to 5 and I never roll dice well when it matters by the way). Since winning the Global issue is essential for a US win this double move sequence auto captures the Global issue. In addition when I did this, with all three leaders now inactive, I knew that I would win the conference on a tie using my Arsenal of Democracy national characteristic, so I did not need to go last. The US characteristic is a nuanced but powerful capability.


The US then used the Global issue to create the UN blocking either player from removing any US political alignment markers as they now have insufficient resources from the already won Pol-Mil issues to do so.


The main point is there were two different outcomes based on a number of unique factors and how you could use a double move to lock down the one you wanted.


That is a lot of detail, but there are lots of unique situations like this. Another is you are also assuming that you always want to play efficiently, so a double move might allow you to run out of cards or change who goes last to allow another player to win the conference. 


It is just not a simple this makes no sense and I would never want to do it so why is it in the game. The reason is it is another tool in the Churchill tool box that I intentionally put there.


If you have not read the rules or played the game the above sequence may not make that much sense, but all of those interactions are based on 5 pages of rules. Churchill uses a few simple concepts and rules, but can still generate a very complex narrative with decisions to match.


I will leave it there for now, but more to follow as the Churchill saga continues.


Mark Herman

Baxter Building

10 August 2015

Posted by markherman at 3:47 PM EDT
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