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Mark Herman's Wargaming Blog
Tuesday, 29 March 2016
What is Victory, or when does the race not go to the swiftest?
Topic: Churchill Design

One of the my recent design choices that has caused quite a stir amongst some gamers is the notion that having the most victory points in Churchill only confers victory sometimes. The two most frequent comments that I hear are if the Axis do not surrender the game is decided by a die roll or the guy in second won. 


The purpose of this blog post which I believe I will expand in my next Clio's corner is what is victory in a game of alliance politics? 


Churchill is about my 65th published game design, give or take a couple. I look at each game as I send it on its way into the world like a parent who only wants what's best for the new born. Each design is imbued with its structure that will be tested in the market and opinion is rendered. Churchill has been a success from all of my usual metrics. It has sold so well that it is not available at the time of this writing and it has begun to garner awards for excellence, most recently it won the Golden Geek for "Best Wargame for 2015", despite the fact that the first four words I wrote for box copy say that, "Churchill is not a wargame". I guess few if any have turned over the box as I cannot imagine how I could have been clearer about my view on this design.


What I have found more interesting is that the game has generated a fair amount of "Nerd Rage", a term that I have heard that perfectly describes the tempest in a teapot that is the gaming hobby when someone touches a third rail issue. For those who are not familiar with the term the third rail is the high voltage rail that powers the New York subway and to proverbially touch the third rail is to get burned. I intentionally touched the third rail in Churchill to create a design that was both cooperative and competitive. From the gamer feedback, most have not only gotten what I was going for, but have embraced it. Then there are those who ran the spectrum from its boring to outright rage that a game would propose victory conditions where the person with the most points does not always win.


For those who are not familiar with the game it is a game about fighting a war as an alliance. The game's victory points offers historic incentives  that reflect the national agendas at work during the war. There are three conditions that determine the winner.


-If the Axis Surrender and the difference in score between the leader and the player in last place is 15 points or less, the player with the most points wins.

 -The condition 2 variant of this condition is if the Axis Surrender, but the score is greater than 15 points (plus variable die roll), then the player with the second highest total of victory points wins. 

-The last condition, three, is if the Axis do not unconditionally surrender, then the players in first and second take a VP loss due to a 1d6 die roll whereas the player in last place has their score increased by a 1d6 with the highest modified score the winner. 


The two main points about the victory conditions that I hear and no amount of logic or explanation can resolve are first, why does the person with the second highest number of points win and not the side with the most points (condition 2: Axis Surrender, Broken Alliance)? Second, why did I play for three hours and the winner was decided by a die roll? I will now take these questions on so I can record what I have said before and to have a place to point folks when I get asked the question the next time.


These victory conditions stand in stark contrast to the accepted industry norm of the person with the most points wins. I have written enough words in the rules to explain the logic, so I will not repeat what I have already put in print, but I would like to answer the questions and how I see what is written differently. In regards to the first question around why does the person in second win sometimes I would offer that this is a simplistic way to look at what is being depicted. It is an artifact of math to say that the person with the most points does not win. The person with the second highest individual score  is really in first place as they are the leader of an alliance. The player in the mathematical first place has broken the alliance and has set their nation up for a two on one post war world where they are the weaker faction. The mathematical proof is if you add up the scores of the second and third place players they almost always exceed the individual score of the player with the most points. Hence, the stronger player, the one in second place wins in the post war world. Not sure why that is so hard to understand, but there it is again.


The situation where the Axis do not surrender unconditionally whereby a die is used to modify the final scores is also a Chimera. This is the lane for the crowd that wants to win by having the most victory points. If you go your own way you have opted out of the historical alliance. In this winner take all version of World War II, you are willing to sign a conditional surrender with one or both Axis powers in a bid for global hegemony in the post war world. In condition 3, if you have a lead of 13 or more points, you win, full stop, as no combination of two dice can produce more than a 12 point change in score. When I see people complain that the game was decided by a die roll what it really says is, "my strategy failed to achieve the required level of victory to win". Now if you play more than two games where this is the outcome and you cannot figure out why you have not won the game I refer you to Einstein's definition of insanity. Just for the record I supplied in the published game an alternate method for determining victory that does not require die roll, but somehow this also is lost on the confused.


So, there it is in a nutshell. That said, as the game is moving toward a reprint I have begun testing the game with a slightly modified set of victory conditions to hopefully improve the enjoyment of folks who just cannot get past the idea of using dice in a final victory determination and refuse to use the supplied tournament scoring that takes the dice out of the equation.


Alliance Victory: (Revised Condition 1 Victory) If the Axis surrender and the score differential between first and last place is 20 or less victory points, the player with the most victory points wins.


Broken Alliance: (Revised Condition 2 Victory) If the Axis have surrendered and the score differential between first and last place is more than 20 victory points you compare the score of the player with the highest score against the combined score of the players in 2nd and 3rd place. If the score of the player in first place EXCEEDS, not equals the combined score of the 2nd and 3rd place scores, the player with the highest score wins. If the first place score DOES NOT EXCEED this combined score the player with the second highest score wins. In case of a tie, then the final tie breaker procedure is used to determine the winner.


Global Hegemon, Axis Conditional Surrender: (Revised Condition 3 Victory) If the Axis have not surrendered then the player in first place subtracts 5 VPs, the player in second place subtracts 3 VPs, and the player in last place adds 5 VPs. After adjustments the player with the most VPs wins. In case of a tie for first, both players subtract 5 VPs and the player in last place adds 5 VPs. If there is a tie for last, then the player in first subtracts 5 VPs and the players tied for 2nd and 3rd add 5VPs. If the adjusted scores, very likely, result in a tie, then the final tie breaker procedure is used to determine the winner.


This takes all die rolls out of the final equation, but has the downside that they can be precisely calculable. I will leave the originals in a designer note who liked it the way it was, but hopefully this will let folks enjoy the game more after a long session. It is likely that these will find their way into the reprint and the reprint rulebook as always will be available to everyone via a free download.


Well that is all for now... back to Pericles.


Mark Herman


Baxter Building

Posted by markherman at 12:48 PM EDT
Updated: Tuesday, 29 March 2016 4:33 PM EDT
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Tuesday, 29 March 2016 - 7:34 PM EDT

Name: "Steven Davis"

I like your victory conditions as initially described and designed . Perhaps it is how they are communicated? 

Grand alliance victory - axis defeated, 3 powers stay together 

Broken alliance victory - axis defeated... Aspiring hegemon succeeds or fails against former allies

Alliance defeat /separate peace - axis survives, alliance totally fails

(perhaps reversing order of presentation by starting with defeat ?) 

 Awaiting my copy from the reprint  :(

And Pericles.


I've been mulling a game about the 1850s leading up to the American Civil War and I think your core design could be an interesting approach, would you mind if I worked on it?

 A beautiful game. Thank you. 






Wednesday, 8 March 2017 - 3:28 AM EST

Name: "grand strategy wargames"
Home Page:

Thanks for this post. I agree with you. Grand strategy wargames are my favorite.

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