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PJ Killian
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ARTICLE 27: THE UN SECURITY COUNCIL GAME
A game for 5-6 (OK, OK, 3-6, if you insist) players
by Dan Baden


1. IT'S TIME FOR OVERSHARING

This is, I trust, what the overly therapeutic amongst us would call a Safe Space to talk about what ginormous dorks we were in our spotty youths, no? Yes. Good. Well then.

I have golden memories of Model UN in high school.

Model UN, for the uninitiated, is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. The young and hormone-addled of various sponsoring high schools doff their usual gear (the baggy and flannel, in my case, as befits the early '90s immediate aftermath of The Year Punk Broke[1]) don ill-fitting pantsuits and/or swirlie-inducing blazers and troop off for a long weekend at some college campus pretending to be the Permanent Representative of, say, "Chad", and authorizing earnest resolutions about Palestine and North Korea, whipping votes, giving speeches, etc., etc. It's a chimera of adolescence where righteous future international relations dorks rub elbows with giggly future sorority sisters who are looking for a bullet point on their Big Ten college app and a couple of days out of class with zine-stained suburban Subcommandante Marcoses who may or may not be intimately familiar with nuclear non-proliferation but probably know how to score some primo doob and spent a surprising amount of the school day across the street at The Log smoking Camel Filters and drawing circle-A anarchy sigils on things. Also, at some point in the weekend, there is a dance featuring a bar-mitzvah quality DJ encouraging this congerie, ill-fitting pantsuits and all, to Make Some Noise as he throws on "It Takes Two" by Rob Base Featuring DJ EZ Rock[2]. This is your opportunity to see if the close working relationship you established with the delegate from "Canada" when you co-wrote that resolution about overfishing on the Grand Banks extends to a willingness to French kiss behind the Mr. Pibb machine in the back there[3]. At some point in this process, you in theory learn about the UN and stuff.

So yeah. Good times.

All of this is by way of conveying why it is your author was so intrigued by the very premise of Article 27.

2. THE VERY PREMISE OF ARTICLE 27

Players are representatives of the Permanent Members of the UN Security Council in a hypothetical near future where Germany is a sixth permanent member of the Council -- for the record, the real-life existing membership is the US, UK, France, Russia and China -- a.k.a., the countries that won World War II. And also France[4].

Not to mention an alternate reality where people actually give a good goddamn what the UN Security Council does, to the extent that they are willing if not eager to bribe the hell out of their fellow Council members to vote their way.

On the sliding scale of cynical-to-idealistic, this falls solidly, then, on the cynical side. Which is OK because on the sliding scale of serious-to-silly, Article 27 definitely brings the silly.

You start with a little bit of money (which in the game is called "political influence" or some such nonsense, but it's pretty much money. You get more money by passing resolutions that favor your country, by taking bribes from your fellow players, and by the number of resolutions that match your country's Hidden Agenda that are passed, about which see below.

3. WHAT YOU GET FOR YOUR HARD-EARNED SACAJAWEAS

Six player boards, with screens that hide Important Secret Stuff. Lots and lots of sturdy cardboard tokens. Some wooden discs in five decorator colors, some labels to stick on the wooden discs[5], a sand timer, and a wooden gavel[6]. You can reasonably snark on Article 27 for being more expensive and bulky than strictly necessary for a game that is a peer of The Resistance complexity/playtime-wise, but you cannot fault them for giving you your money's worth in terms of components. Also, this game comes with a gavel.

4. HOW THE GAME WORKS IN A NUTSHELL

At the start of each game, each player draws one of six Hidden Agenda tokens, which match the symbols on the wooden discs. The more proposals pass that feature a player's Hidden Agenda, the bigger the reward at the end of the game. Each player gets a small stack of money.

The game works on a strict rotation system, where each player/country gets one shot at being Secretary-General and thus gets to be the person who wields the gavel. Before each round, players draw five colored tokens and secretly place them in the five spots behind their screens, labeled +5, +2, +1, -2 and -4. This determines that country's agenda for the given round. Their country has a positive incentive to pass proposals in the positive numbered spaces, and to avoid proposals including the colors in the negative spaces. The Secretary General then takes five wooden discs, one of each of the five colors, each marked with Hidden Agenda symbols, and places them on the visible part of their player board. If he puts them in the part of the board with a green check mark, he is including that color as part of his proposal; likewise, if he puts them in the part of the board with the red X, he is not including them in the proposal. Also, a $5 chip is placed in the center. This is a reward for the Secretary-General if his proposal passes. The proposal (yes/no on each of the five colors) is always voted on as a whole.

At this point, the S-G bangs the gavel, flips the sand timer, and the frenzied negotiation begins, as players attempt to convince the S-G to change his mind about the proposal and/or convince their fellow voters to threaten to abstain or veto a proposal they hate because it doesn't have enough of their preferred colors or their Hidden Agenda symbols in it. This convincing can be merely verbal but good players of Article 27 tend to consider a fat stack of cash to be a stronger message than any words can convey. The negotiation period continues until the sand timer runs out or the S-G brings down the gavel and calls the vote.

Players have two voting tokens, a green check mark for yes and a red x for no. They put their preferred token in a closed fist (or no token if they intend to abstain) and reveal simultaneously. As in the real Security Council, a "no" vote from any of the players is a veto that kills the whole proposal. If there is no veto, a majority of the voters (4 of the 6 players) is required for the proposal to pass. If the proposal fails, no one gets any money and anyone who vetoes pays $5. (This suggests a strategy; a proposal that is heavily slanted against you can be easily killed if you're willing to sacrifice to do so, but a better way might be to try and build a coalition of people willing to abstain -- or, even better, finding someone else to veto it for you.) If the proposal passes, players recieve money for the colors included in the proposal[7]. In addition, the S-G collects that $5 token if the proposal passes. The S-G then passes the gavel to the next player, and the next round begins. Once all players have had a turn as S-G[8], the game is over, players recieve a bonus based on how many tokens containing their Hidden Agenda have passed, and the player with the most money wins. The whole shebang wraps up in about 40 minutes.

5. A BRIEF NOTE ABOUT PLAYER COUNT

All of this explanation has been implicitly assuming a six player game. This is intentional. I would play this with 5 in a pinch, but it seems that this game gets increasingly less interesting the fewer players are involved. Just my humble opinion.

6. WOT I THINK

I think this is a fun, lightweight, extremely silly game that combines loud, fast-paced negotiation and a bit of social deduction, sort of a mix between Pit and The Resistance. It plays quick and is a perfect warm-up or cool-down game for a group waiting to settle down to the serious business of the evening. It would work quite neatly as a party game for a sufficiently dorky party[9]. While it's light, it's not without its strategic elements, and the player with a knack for calculating their fellow player's incentives on the fly while disguising her own will do quite a bit better than the player who goes in blithely. I think it's a refreshing change of pace from the world of lightly-interactive Euros where everyone twiddles bits on their own boards without reference to other people's actions and is an ideal choice for a group that wants something with lots of direct conflict and temporary alliances but a light-hearted and non-violent theme. I also think that bro, this game comes with a gavel in the box.


---


[1] Get off my lawn, whippersnappers, music today = noise, etc.
[2] Whether something like this could reduce some of the sclerosis in the real-life UN is left as an exercise for the reader; if any of you are friends with Ban Ki-Moon on Facebook, let him know I have an iPod, some speakers, and a free weekend coming up. Worse approaches to fixing the Middle East can be tried. Hell, they are being tried.
[3] SPOILER ALERT: no.
[4] Hey-O![4a]
[4a] The author wishes to emphasize that the above is a joke and does not want his French readers to pelt him with baguettes or blow Gauloises smoke in his face or subject him to mime or whatever French people do to people who make cheap jokes at their expense[4b].
[4b] Man, this is just getting recursively offensive, isn't it? Sorry, France. Getting bagged on by Americans comes with the territory. You'll just have to take some small measure of comfort in your abundant delicious food, your delightful cities, your first-rate wine, and your mostly functional health-care system.
[5] This is the one beef your faithful reviewer (and many others besides) have with this otherwise solid production--the transparent labels with a white icon, when stuck on a yellow disc, produce naught but confusion and death in a game where being able to clearly see information quickly (cf. the sand timer) is of the essence.
[6] Allow me to amplify this signal: bro, this game comes with a gavel in the box. If there was a Hall of Fame for unnecessary yet awesome board game accessories, this would be Greg Maddux -- a recent entrant but an obvious choice without which the entire exercise is futile. To extend this analogy, the bell in Pit and Trouble's Pop-O-Matic Bubble are Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb, respectively.
[7] (E.g., if the proposal was only green and blue and I had a green token in the +5 and +1 positions behind my screen and a blue token in the -2 spot, I would recieve $5+$1-$2=$4 for this round.)
[8] Far be it from the makers of Article 27 to deny anyone the joy of wielding the gavel. Again, I emphasize: bro, this game comes with a gavel in the box.
[9] Data point in favor of the above assertion: the game never specifically or explicitly calls for this but every fiber of its cardboard being seems to encourage the affectation of Boris-and-Natasha quality accents and the use of shoe-banging for emphasis, etc., etc.
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Stephen Buonocore
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This is one of the best, most entertaining reviews I have ever read. Thank you so much for this! Well, well done!

bro, this game comes with a gavel in the box.

Yes. Yes, it does...

Thanks,
Stephen M. Buonocore
Stronghold Games LLC
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