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Playing It Wrong: GMT Games' Churchill

posted Oct 25, 2015, 1:36 AM by Douglas Sun

I don’t mean ti give short shrift to the GMT Games Weekend just past. Hanging out at the warehouse with all the usual suspects is always great fun, even with the weird and oppressive humidity that made blocking the room fans the rudest of all possible faux-pas. And this time, we got value added in the form of top game designers Mark Herman and Volko Ruhnke, and my old friend from the Strategicon auctions, Rory “Hawkeye” Aylward, all of whom made the long trek from the East Coast. I’m glad that I got to spend time with all of them, and I can’t remember when GMT Games Weekend has been more intensely enjoyable for me than it was last weekend.


But I don’t have time at the moment to do justice to it all, so I’ll concentrate on one little thing that connects to the name of this blog, and might also be of some general interest:


I always enjoy meeting other game designers and playing their games with them. Sometimes it gives me unique insights into a game that interests me, and sometimes I learn something about game design in general. Sometimes it’s just sucking up to people who are more accomplished than I am. Playing Churchill (which is no longer available directly from GMT Games; all copies have been pushed out into the distribution channels) with Mark Herman combined a little of all three for me, and on top of it all, I realized that I had, in fact, been playing the game a little bit wrong.


The way I had understood it, the Directed Offensives in Churchill have to be placed on a war progress track where the forces engaged match the faction specified on the marker. USSR Directed Offensive had to be placed either on the Eastern Front or on the Manchuria track, etc. I understood them to be political tools, a way to slow down another Ally who might be making a little too much war progress for your own good. For instance, if you wanted to slow down the USSR’s progress on the Eastern Front, you could propose and win the USSR Directed Offensive, place it on the Manchuria track (let’s say that the USSR has yet to declare war on Japan) and essentially force the Soviets to waste 2 production that turn. Or you could win the UK Directed Offensive to divert resources to the backwater of the CBI track when the UK player clearly trying to push up the Italy track.


I was surprised, therefore, when Mark, playing as the Soviets, won both the US and UK Directed Offensives in the conference debate and placed them both on the Eastern Front to gain 2 American and 2 British production/Offensive Support for his big push against the Germans. In other words, you could use the Directed Offensives out of spite, as I had assumed, but the flag on the marker tells you whose resources are being diverted by the player who won that issue in conference, not who will be told where to attack. It’s about hogging resources, not just political jiujitsu.


Never having read the rules — all I really know about how Churchill works comes from how Mark Yoshikawa explained it to me — but I think one should regard the designer’s reading of the rules for one of his own recent designs to be authoritative. So it seems that I have, indeed, played a half-dozen or so games of Churchill wrong.


Also worth noting: Gene Billingsley spent much of the weekend sitting in a corner, in front of a big fan, working on and discussing his design-in-progress, a solitaire political game called Mr. President. Sounds like he’s going to try to have it ready for publication in early Q4 next year, in time for both the election and the holiday shopping season. I sat in with Gene for a while, and it looks like he has found a reasonable way to quantify political capital and the bandwidth of one person’s attention, which is an important hurdle in designing a political game. I don’t know if a solitaire game can become a breakout hit like Twilight Struggle, but It seems to be shaping up well, and I’m sure I’ll hear more about it when I go back for the next GMT Weekend in April.

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