Churchill, Stalin and Roosevelt in a room together. What’s the worst that could happen?
Churchill: Big Three Struggle for Peace is a game of political conflict, cooperation and competition. The players in the game take on the roles of Churchill, Roosevelt, or Stalin as they maneuver against each other over the course of different Conferences that determine who will lead the Allied forces, where those forces will be deployed, and how the Axis will be defeated. The player whose forces collectively have greater control over the surrendered Axis powers will win the peace and the game.
From first glance at the board and how much stuff was in the box, I was pretty overwhelmed and imagined the game being a lot more complicated, but the idea of Churchill is really straight forward – three players each taking turns discussing different issues relating to World War 2 and how the war should be prosecuted, as well as planning for the post-war world. Sounds so complicated and of course the game is difficult to master but, actually being able pick up the rules and play the game was pretty simple. That’s coming from somebody that’s played a lot of GMT games, but also as somebody that has played a lot of a euro games.
The game is divided into ten rounds, or conferences just like the real-life conferences and after playing the game for the first time, I started doing a bit of research into the conferences and if you’re like me and don’t know an awful lot about these kinds of things because you’re still learning and discovering then you’ll probably find it pretty interesting. Here’s a link to some of them! List of Allied World War II conferences
I’ve played the Training Scenario a couple of times, which is only three conferences but this enabled me to get a clear idea of how the game was going to play and how to use the bots effectively. The conferences included in the training scenario begin with Conference 8: Tolstoy and end with Conference 10: Terminal.
Design Note from Mark Herman that can be found in the rulebook: Across all of the conferences there were a number of global issues that spoke directly to the structure of the post-war world and were debated and discussed from the dark days of Axis expansion right up through the final Conference. Churchill’s ‘naughty document’ was an agreement between Churchill and Stalin to create de facto spheres to influence in Europe that infuriated the Americans and undermined the post-war peace.
Once all the actions have been implemented on the conference card (pictured below) each player then deals seven cards from either the US, UK or USSR staff cards depending which leader they choose. You’ll do this for all three if you’re using bots of course. Then the players choose a single card to try and ‘win the agenda.’ The highest scoring card wins and then chooses a single issue to place on the board. There are lots of different issues including A-bomb research, production allocations, Global issues and so on.
Once the single issue has been placed on the board, the other players then place two further issues each onto the board. There will always be 7 issues on the table. Playing clockwise, players use a card to advance an issue towards their side of the table, whilst the other two may ‘debate’ this to move that issue a little closer to their side of the table. Cards have a value of 1-7, with the leaders being the highest value and representing their stature. The higher the card used, which may be affected by special abilities, the further the issue moves. Nice and easy. Once everyone has exhausted their deck, the game moves into the post-conference where the winner of that meeting is decided which is basically decided based on the number of issues that they won.
That’s the Conference Display in a kind of nutshell for you.
Then the game moves on to the Military Display or the post-conference phase as some may call it, where leaders implement the issues that they now control. These actions impact three game functions: clandestine operations, political activity, and military offensives. Clandestine operations see players try to establish political networks in conquered countries and colonies. Using a very simple mechanic of placing a network or removing an opponent’s 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.
After that, we all go home and have a nice cup of tea….
Once this has all been done, the military portion of the game keeps the score. There’s 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 an Allied front and using a very simple combat mechanic, each front tries to advance with Axis reserves deploying to oppose the various fronts. 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 continues 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.
Moving on to a little bit about solitaire play of the game and my experiences of it, first of all let me say that most of my experiences of this game have been playing with bots. I have played one, maybe two three player games but that’s it, and I’ve got to say I feel like the solitaire game has definitely given me an advantage when playing. Now, don’t get me wrong, I have only played a few games solitaire so far but I feel like I have learned a lot about the game and strategy by playing it this way.
What have I learned? Well, I’ve been able to quickly delve deep into the minds of each leader, discovering their motives and personalities as they really do, struggle for peace, quickly and efficiently. There’s no time to hesitate, only time to dig in and try to really understand the motives of each leader and what they are trying to do throughout the game.
Of course, that human interaction and being able to play against OR with each other is great and really makes a game enjoyable but it is essential to have the mindset of the country and leader that you are playing, and I found that I got a grasp of each leader a lot more quickly playing all three at a time, than I would playing only one leader a game.
Yes, you have the wonderful bots to help you along the way but like in any game, to play a good game and enjoy the experience, I have to fully immerse myself in the experience, and that can be challenging when you’re playing everybody around the table, and that is where the true complexity of the game comes in. Formulating a strategy for each leader can be tough but rewarding and this added tension to the game, as well as really making it feel like I was sat at that big round table discussing these actual issues, and making crucial decisions that could indeed affect the world.
The bots themselves are very easy to follow and very straight forward, which is definitely a bonus when playing Churchill, it can sometimes feel like there is a lot going on when you’re playing solo because you’re moving around more pieces, dealing with more cards and making a lot more decisions, so being able to quickly reference a clear, concise flowchart is amazing and a massive bonus.
This isn’t the whole flow chart but just an example to show you how straightforward it really is. I’ll be honest, before my first solo game, I hadn’t even looked at the flowchart before actually playing and still managed to get along with the game just fine. Although I do recommend doing so as it might just help things flow a little better right from the very start.
Churchill almost feels like a bidding game, bidding on issues and shaping the way the post-war world affairs will go. Again, very interesting when it’s all going on inside your own brain and a really nice use of this kind of mechanic.
I do really respect Mark Herman for what he’s done here, he’s managed to take a game idea that in my opinion could be seen as complex and turn it into a tense yet enjoyable and elegant game. I know elegant is a word used often in these types of games but it really is, the way the game flows perfectly, not too fast nor too slow, something about it just feels right, like a series of actions and tough decisions all rolled perfectly into one.
Now as Herman states, this is not a wargame but it definitely has a wargame feel, I don’t know if it’s the counters or the cubes or the combat or the theme but something about it is war like which I enjoy because it feels familiar yet different at the same time and I love how abstract the game can be.
I can honestly say that I have not played a game like this before, Churchill almost feels like a group of games, or a series of mini games rolled into one. You’ve got the conferences, the politics, the combat and resources. So many decisions to make but they don’t seem overwhelming in the slightest.
In reading some of the strategy articles, I am only just beginning to see the true potential that this game has and I’m really excited for more, from the potential deaths of Roosevelt and other key staff, Churchill’s looming heart attack, and Stalin’s ingrained paranoia, there is so much more to explore and I can’t wait for my next game.
Thank you for reading, I’d love to hear in the comments if you’ve played the game and what you think of it.