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Subject: Churchill Metagame Balance rss

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Mark Herman
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Well Churchill has been out almost 3 months now and my thanks to all those who supported this design. As I head off to GMT West I wanted to begin a discussion around what I am seeing in the Churchill metagame or how is the games balance, themes, and victory conditions sorting out now that thousands of plays have been logged around the world.

I think there are several metagame narratives that I have seen play out since the games release. These narratives are related and they get said different ways, but here is how I have heard them.

1. Condition 3 (No Axis surrender) should be treated as a loss by the players.
2. Perception that the UK is the advantaged side through its control of the agenda segment and forcing a political scramble for points regularly leading to condition 3 (no Axis surrender) outcomes.
3. The Soviets cannot avoid being stalemated militarily because the British prevent the Second Front through their ability to neuter conditional issues.
4. The UK cannot differentiate its score militarily from the US, so they should actively avoid winning the war.
5. In a related manner the best way to win the game is ignore the war and play for a political victory, which by the way is a UK advantage, see 2 above.

My next comment is that ‘No Axis Surrender’ was well within the historical outcomes. I am not sure how well known this fact is, but after Hitler committed suicide (yeah!), Donitz approached the Western forces with a deal. The deal was the Germans would declare an armistice on the Western front and the German army would fight a rear guard battle with the Eastern (Soviet) front to allow German citizens to escape into Western controlled territory. Eisenhower said no, unconditional surrender or the war would continue, which led to immediate German surrender.

In the Pacific, Okinawa had changed the US calculus. The US high command now under Truman were very conflicted on how to end the war in the Pacific, which Trinity solved. If the A-bomb had been behind schedule, which was possible, it might have been Operation Downfall (Allied front enters Japan) or some form of a negotiated settlement, which the Japanese hoped could be brokered by the Soviets.

In fact Stalin had to be bribed to declare war on Japan and Marshall in his papers felt that Roosevelt had offered too much to get Soviet participation. If Roosevelt wasn’t dying and at his full power would he have cut a better or different deal? In reality, even with Hiroshima and Nagasaki coupled with the Soviet invasion of Manchuria, through back channels the US fell off of its unconditional surrender stance allowing that the Emperor would stay. This was agreed to because MacArthur’s input was that it would facilitate Japanese disarmament and US rule over Japan. If the Soviets do not make it into Manchuria it signifies a different narrative of a conditional Japanese surrender without the A-bomb being used.

None of this happened, but this is what a Condition 3, no Axis surrender victory, represents. Its not that they did not surrender, but that they surrendered conditionally. This would have altered how the immediate post war world would have evolved and why not defeating the Axis is NOT a player defeat just another path to the Berlin crisis of 1948 or whatever would have substituted for it.

Before I delve into my thinking on game balance I would like to quote from a blog post from the Falls Church gaming group.

“I took a short trip to New York for work and had the opportunity to join the Fun City gamers for a session. JR will blog the full report, I am sure, but I cannot resist mentioning the absolutely epic session of Churchill we played with designer Mark Herman. The score was an impossibly close 43-43-43 at the end with Mark taking the tie break. Mark's clever foiling of my usual strategy as the British forced me to revise my idea that the Brits' agenda advantage creates balance issues.”

I use this as preamble as its an important element of the narratives that I saw in play testing and made the necessary changes that good strategy can regularly overcome. I use this third party quote as a means to say this is not theory, but battle tested tactics.

Churchill is a game of metaphorically fighting for your post war agenda. The arena is the conference table and the issues that get chosen are the tools and the character of the political conflict. The British are given what I believe to be their historical advantage in planning. As I wrote in my first strategy primer before the game was on the market, players would feel that this characteristic and its impact on items 2, 3, and 4 would appear over powered. I wrote this knowing the evolution that the play testers went through and my expectation that this would be the case when the game hit the market.

While I am no seer those are precisely the narratives that I have seen. However, now that the game has been out for almost 3 months I am now seeing newer narratives from those who have played more than a few times. Those newer narratives are beginning to see the possibilities and how Churchill is really a three way competitive game where cooperation is coerced not given.

I have written the tactical pieces out in my previous primer, here are the links:

https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/1402755/d-day-churchill-str...


https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/1415400/strategy-primer-2-d...

https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/1418990/asymmetric-strategy...

https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/1432592/churchill-strategie...

https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/1432876/how-win-contested-s...


I do cover these and other thoughts in my upcoming Clio’s Corner in the next issue of c3i.

So, what are your thoughts?

Ground rules, you can disagree with me or anyone, but please keep it civil, no name calling, don't repeat the same point over and over, and keep it fact based. Let's see if we cannot move our collective thinking forward.

Mark
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Mike Szarka
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I'm too inexperienced at the game to add anything other than a question: How can a three-player game of this sort ever be "unbalanced"? The three-player dynamic seems to me to be inherently self-correcting.
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mcszarka wrote:
I'm too inexperienced at the game to add anything other than a question: How can a three-player game of this sort ever be "unbalanced"? The three-player dynamic seems to me to be inherently self-correcting.


I think the initial struggle is that the three sides are unequal in terms of what they do well.

If everyone chases a single path to victory, one of the sides will win more times than not. The challenge, then, is to figure out what the side you are playing does well then leverage that to manipulate the game toward your strengths.
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Mike Szarka
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FuManchu wrote:
mcszarka wrote:
I'm too inexperienced at the game to add anything other than a question: How can a three-player game of this sort ever be "unbalanced"? The three-player dynamic seems to me to be inherently self-correcting.


I think the initial struggle is that the three sides are unequal in terms of what they do well.

If everyone chases a single path to victory, one of the sides will win more times than not. The challenge, then, is to figure out what the side you are playing does well then leverage that to manipulate the game toward your strengths.


Um, I would think not, because if everybody decides that, say, Churchill is stronger, then a reasonably intelligent Stalin and Roosevelt will work together to frustrate the Brit, to just the right degree. You can't consider a three-player game in the absence of this dynamic - unless you are trying to analyze the game as it would be played by bad players.
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mcszarka wrote:
I'm too inexperienced at the game to add anything other than a question: How can a three-player game of this sort ever be "unbalanced"? The three-player dynamic seems to me to be inherently self-correcting.

A 3-player game could certainly be "unbalanced" in principle, if one position was inherently stronger than the other two combined, so that even if those 2 ally against the 1, they are not strong enough together to stop the 1 very strong position. (Trivial stupid example just to illustrate: one faction starts with 100 combat units and can build 100 more every turn; each of the other 2 starts with only 1 combat unit and can never build more...)

To be clear, I'm definitely not claiming that the specific game Churchill has that problem! I'm just noting that it's possible for a 3-player game to be "imbalanced" such that one position has an insurmountable advantage regardless of what the other 2 players do.

Naturally one hopes that any published game would be competently designed/playtested and thus not have this problem.
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jamuki (Jueguetistorias)
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I have updated the statistics and I will keep them updated, to help discussing the narrative.

I have not played, because I do not feel I am going to get enough games ought to it (nobody to play with), but I would it. I am eagerly waiting the debate and the next game in the series, whose theme I love even more than this one.
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Seems to me if the UK are determined to prevent a 2nd front in the West, the Soviets should focus on two things: Declaration of war on Japan and advancing themselves on the A-bomb track (after securing the Arctic convoy). Stalin cannot be stopped if he wants the A-Bomb issue and that's 12 points when fully realized. So if they invade Japan before the US can advance to Iwo Jima and the Philippines and if they can fully advance on the A-bomb track, that is 26 VPs to the Soviets vs. 3 for the UK and 0 for the US. Quite a nice lead in VPs to post to the Soviets before trying to win on Pol/Mil alone.

If the West front stays immobile, the Soviets can achieve invasion of Japan fairly quickly, as breakthroughs are possible. The US must slog one island at a time, so cannot advance as quickly. Additionally, the US must advance both fronts or else give up an additional 5 points to both of his opponents. Once Japan is invaded, the Pacific stops militarily advancing. That leaves the Soviets time to fight for Global and Pol/Mil points. There are four Pol/Mil tokens in the game. It is a good move to put a 2nd one on the table if one is already there. Then either a player will have to fight to win both and forego decisions about the progress of the war, or be content to split Pol/Mil and gain only a marginal edge.

Even if the US gets to Okinawa and Kyushu, the Soviets still have a 16 VP lead over the UK (19 point lead over US) before factoring in Pol/Mil, global and conference win points.

If you're the US and the West Theater won't open, you are left with fighting tooth and nail for Pol/Mil, global issues and conference round wins -- all things that the UK is basing their winning strategy on.

So I think the play for the Soviets is to ensure DWoJ is on the table when Second Front is also on the table. Then fight for the issues the UK and US care about.
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mcszarka wrote:
Um, I would think not, because if everybody decides that, say, Churchill is stronger, then a reasonably intelligent Stalin and Roosevelt will work together to frustrate the Brit, to just the right degree. You can't consider a three-player game in the absence of this dynamic - unless you are trying to analyze the game as it would be played by bad players.


Yes, but your initial question raised how could a three player game be perceived as unbalanced.

I replied that the perception can form when the three sides are unbalanced in terms of the methods of victory, and the players involved do not have the experience necessary to distinguish where those imbalances lie.

There is a path of least resistance in Churchill (the game) to VPs. It just so happens that path plays to Churchill's (the player) strength.

So, that is how a perception of imbalance can form. I'm not arguing that it is correct ... merely pointing out the anatomy of how it started to begin with.
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I find Churchill much easier to play than a COIN Series game largely because of its three factions versus four, but also because of a clearer intimacy with its subject.

To me, on opening the box, Churchill offered a narrative clearly recognizable—and as a result I’ve never had trouble standing in the shoes of its protagonists or understanding the history that its Front Tracks portray, its political system of clandestine and nascent governance, its national characteristics, its personalities, its processes of conferencing and debates, nor its issues up for grab.

It’s why I consider the game a classic.

On the other hand in say, A Distant Plain or Fire in the Lake, I have had problems working out the modus of the various factions. Who were the Warlords? Why does the NVA differ from the VC in terms of winning?

With all these games, however, Churchill included—yes I do find it hard setting a winning strategy during play because many variables intercede and there’s always that factor of luck threatening in Churchill by way of winning die rolls.

My way around this with Churchill though, has been to enter the game fully in the mindset of the era and of the personalities on the board.

I therefore play as a contemporary, firmly entrenched in the unknown of 1943-45: that is, not with the benefit of hindsight at all.

Given this “reality” whenever I take on the role of say, Churchill himself, my goals are Rule Britannia plus bringing the Hun/Emperor to his knees. As Roosevelt, I’m trying to assuage a belligerent Stalin while bringing an end to British colonialism—and bringing the Hun/Emperor to his knees. As Stalin—well I’m just totally nuts and prepared to do anything to bring the Hun/Emperor to his knees (please the capitalists and beat them later—we already beat the crap out of the Japs once) and piss the others off (whom I look down at—that drunkard and his feeble capitalist pal) at the same time, but whatever, I must always look strong.

Solo it works fine, and I’ve lost to myself more than I’ve won. But the raison dêtre for playing—and how to approach play is clear. Therefore, had I the chance to play head-to-head, I’d also be looking for a bunch of folks willing to take their conference chairs with the same mindset as me.

Churchill is a fantastic “role-playing wargame” unique in this regard, and fully successful in its goals. Its lessons are open to those willing to look for them.

But you see, I am willing to accept Victory Conditions 1 and 2 as plausible history, and Victory Condition 3 as an enigma for the free world. Should any game develop into a VC3 eventuality, I simply say this: “We all must do better next time.” And a couple of minutes later the board is set for another go. Que sera.
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Adam Parker wrote:
we already beat the crap out of the Japs once


Would you care to elaborate what Stalin refers to?
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https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battles_of_Khalkhin_Gol
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Now that the comparison to the COIN series has been made ---in particular the Herman/Ruhnke co-design Fire in the Lake, of which I'm a big fan--- and the topic is balance in asymmetric game design, I cannot help but to jump in even though I'm yet to play Churchill.

My experience playing Fire in the Lake, and before that Cuba Libre, is that these asymmetric designs tend to work the best ---you get epic games, that is--- when the players are roughly equally competent in playing the game. Interesting to note here is that a certain imbalance often comes in, not via the most experienced player playing his faction and its abilities too well (putting 100 new troops on the board each turn, to use Russ's example above), but when one or the other different faction is not hitting the brake at key junctures.

In other words, I'd argue, in an asymmetric design, balance/imbalance often is a matter of the player actions more than of the powers endowed to each faction by the designer. (In addition, I must say, in each of the COIN designs to date, there is I think a key faction who bear the burden of maintaining balance a little more than others ---the US in Fire in the Lake, for example, and the Govt in Cuba Libre.)

So, to relate these musings back to Churchill, would you more experienced Churchill players agree that balance/imbalance in that game too is predominantly something arising from the players themselves rather than the powers of the different sides as such?
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masil wrote:

Now that the comparison to the COIN series has been made ---in particular the Herman/Ruhnke co-design Fire in the Lake, of which I'm a big fan--- and the topic is balance in asymmetric game design, I cannot help but to jump in even though I'm yet to play Churchill.

My experience playing Fire in the Lake, and before that Cuba Libre, is that these asymmetric designs tend to work the best ---you get epic games, that is--- when the players are roughly equally competent in playing the game. Interesting to note here is that a certain imbalance often comes in, not via the most experienced player playing his faction and its abilities too well (putting 100 new troops on the board each turn, to use Russ's example above), but when one or the other different faction is not hitting the brake at key junctures.

In other words, I'd argue, in an asymmetric design, balance/imbalance often is a matter of the player actions more than of the powers endowed to each faction by the designer. (In addition, I must say, in each of the COIN designs to date, there is I think a key faction who bear the burden of maintaining balance a little more than others ---the US in Fire in the Lake, for example, and the Govt in Cuba Libre.)

So, to relate these musings back to Churchill, would you more experienced Churchill players agree that balance/imbalance in that game too is predominantly something arising from the players themselves rather than the powers of the different sides as such?


I'd for sure never have a newbie play the Russians in this game. The Stalin player will feel very alone and picked on, even if the West isn't intentionally going after him. I still find it a challenge playing Stalin--few resources, isolated, many things to do and not enough manpower to do it all.
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This game is easy to learn, but the challenge comes from recognizing not only what you should do from turn to turn, but recognizing the balance of the game, who is winning or close to winning, recognizing what other players are doing when they are going for a particular set of issues, and knowing how to counteract their plans.
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mcszarka wrote:
I'm too inexperienced at the game to add anything other than a question: How can a three-player game of this sort ever be "unbalanced"? The three-player dynamic seems to me to be inherently self-correcting.

This is one step away from claiming all multiplayer free-for-all games are always balanced.

It may be a semantics problem. The general consensus is that if once side needs to be ganged up on to get their odds back down to the same as everyone else's, then the game is considered unbalanced (of one type).

But then, there's also the possibility that one side can always win, regardless, which is a worse type of unbalanced.
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I never actually thought of this before but if one side is harder to play optimally is a game unbalanced? So optimal play on both (or all sides) is balanced , equal wins across large sample, ?
I think the answer would be yes but as I said I'd never considered it specifically.
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zurn wrote:
mcszarka wrote:
I'm too inexperienced at the game to add anything other than a question: How can a three-player game of this sort ever be "unbalanced"? The three-player dynamic seems to me to be inherently self-correcting.

This is one step away from claiming all multiplayer free-for-all games are always balanced.

It may be a semantics problem. The general consensus is that if once side needs to be ganged up on to get their odds back down to the same as everyone else's, then the game is considered unbalanced (of one type).

But then, there's also the possibility that one side can always win, regardless, which is a worse type of unbalanced.


Well, Russ pointed out that in the extreme, it is theoretically possible to design a multi-player game where one person couldn't win, which is correct but a trivial observation. In a four-player game the dynamics are way more complex than a three-player game. In a three-player game you will always have one perceived front-runner and two other players who should, logically, gang up on him (at least to a degree). What makes Churchill more subtle however is the pseudo-"fourth player" represented by the Axis. And, I may speculate, this additional complexity is what causes more Condition 3 results with inexperienced players. As a different example, in the game Triumph & Tragedy, the Axis is clearly stronger than either of the Allies, at least at the outset. Does that mean the game could be considered unbalanced? Asymmetrical, yes, but probably not unbalanced. But Churchill is more complex because of the independent war effort.

I'm going to a con next weekend where I hope to get in a couple of games of Churchill and a couple of games of Triumph & Tragedy. It's a golden age of three-player wargames! If I have any more observations after that I will chime in again.
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cfinchjr2 wrote:
I never actually thought of this before but if one side is harder to play optimally is a game unbalanced? So optimal play on both (or all sides) is balanced , equal wins across large sample, ?
I think the answer would be yes but as I said I'd never considered it specifically.

I'm not sure which of your 2 seemingly opposite questions you're answering "yes".

FWIW I would say that the more meaningful notion of "balance" (fairness) is in terms of competent experienced players, not in terms of players who have trouble playing one side well.

If beginners find one side harder, they often declare a game "unfair/unbalanced/broken"/etc, but in reality they just haven't discovered how to play the "losing" side effectively. (This happens pretty often in forum threads of many different asymmetrical games...)

The game may well be "unbalanced" in the relative/conditional sense that new/inexperienced players find one side wins much more often in their newbie games... but that just naturally goes with the territory with very asymmetrical games.

If it's a good game, players will keep playing, and the perceived "imbalance" will naturally disappear for them as they explore the game more deeply and become more familiar with its strategy.
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General 3 player games:

What complicates this discussion is the fact that there are 3 victory conditions.

If a 3 player game has a single victory condition then as long as the 2 weaker sides can gang up on the stronger side, then the game will balance itself. It is self correcting. Two players gang up on the leader. Such a game will self correct and often be decided on the last turn. If one player falls behind by a lot then they will essentially be in the unpleasant position of being a king maker through action or inaction.

The basic strategy to win such a game is to make a sudden large surge near the end of the game. That surge must be beyond the ability of the "take that" mechanisms by the other two players to correct the imbalance within the little time remaining in the game.

If Churchill only had the "condition 3" win condition:


If Churchill only had the "condition 3" victory condition, then the game would reduce to the above. Some players would like that, as it shift the strategy to something familiar. The general opinion is that the player playing Churchill has the best position and Stalin the worst for a game that is straight victory.

But this sort of game should be self correcting also. If Churchill takes a lead, Stalin and Roosevelt can make an agreement not to take issues from each others track. They can agree to remove only Churchill's clandestine markers from the map. Etc. This continues until the balance is redressed.

But Mark Herman added die rolls to the condition 3 which complicates things. It gives an advantage to finishing in second place by one point and even more of an advantage to finishing in 3rd by only 2 or 3 points. This turns the game into something like those short distance bicycle races were both riders are trying to be behind, because it is an advantage to be in the air draft of the leader (until one rider makes a sudden sprint for the finish line). But is such a game balanced ?

Churchill is the best at winning a conference. So let us say that the three players go into the 10th conference tied and aiming at a condition 3 win. So all three are aiming either to sprint ahead or to be in 3rd place by a little. Let us fast forward to the last play of the game which is likely to belong to Churchill:

1. If Churchill is behind by a few points then he maneuvers to make just enough to be in third.
2. If Churchill is ahead by 3 or 4 points then he can sprint by winning the conference or some big issue and win.
3. If Churchill is ahead by a lot then he wins.
4. Churchill won't be behind by a lot because both of the others are trying to be in third place.
5. The best chance for Stalin and Roosevelt is to keep Churchill 1 or 2 points in the lead going into the last move (which may be hard to do).

Conclusion:

In a pure condition 3 game, I think that the player playing Churchill has a big advantage. A normal 3 player game is self correcting. But by adding the die rolls to help the player in 3rd place and hurt the player in 1st place, the game would favor whoever plays last (which is likely to be Churchill).

If a group wants to play with only condition 3, then play without the die rolls. If you play without the die rolls, the game should be self correcting as long as Roosevelt and Stalin keep Churchill many points behind going into Churchill's (the player) last move. But shame on the three of you for not trying to unconditionally defeat the axis.

BUT there is also condition 1 and condition 2.

I must pause to go have breakfast, then I will come back and try my luck at analyzing condition 1 and 2.


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I have not had my breakfast yet but I thought about the flaws in my above analysis of a pure "condition 3" game.

1. Roosevelt and Stalin can maneuver so that there are no high value issues left for Churchill on the last conference decision. The global issue must unavailable to Churchill or be on Churchill's track already. Churchill must have no chance to win the conference or must already be guaranteed to win it. The advantage of the last move is that you can go for 3rd place by a little or 1st place by a lot. This option is what gives the advantage to the Churchill player in a pure "condition 3 " game.

2. Another option is for Stalin and Roosevelt to gang up on Churchill and keep him way behind on points. The game then reverts to self balancing since Churchill no longer has the option of making few points on his turn. He has to go for maximum points. Let's say that on the last turn of the conference Churchill can make a 10 point decision (ie: global issues from leader) so Roosevelt and Stalin must try to maneuver Churchill to be 17 points behind going into the last decision of the conference. (Being in 3rd place gets a 3,5 point advantage on average from the die roll, being in first place gets a 3,5 point disadvantage on average from the die roll). Being 17 points behind, Churchill has no option but to maximize his points thus negating his advantage. So the game becomes self correcting.

3. But the biggest flaw in my argument is that there are many decisions left to make after the end of the 10th conference. Which front to advance? Whether to fund research into the atomic bomb? Whether to fund your POL-MIL chits? Which Global issue to advance? How to use your POL-MIL chit ?(with the player with the most operations being at a bit of a disadvantage)

Maybe the game is self correcting after all. But maybe not. Very complicated. Not sure.

But I still feel that the Churchill faction has an advantage in a pure "condition 3" game.

Now I am finally off to breakfast.
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Churchill has perhaps the most complex victory conditions to analyze of any game that I have played.

Condition 3 recap:

The "condition 3" victory intuitively seems to me to favor the "Churchill" faction. Most 3 player games are self correcting but not if one player can shift the game in their favor the last turn. Normally in a self correcting game, the other two players anticipate this and make sure that the side that plays last is behind by enough to compensate for the anticipated gains of the last move.

But in Churchill this possibility is broken because there are two maximums. You maximize your chances of winning by being either 7 points behind the winner or more than 7 points ahead of the 3rd place player (this is because of the die rolls to determine the winner in a condition 3 game). This gives the player going last (which is often the Churchill faction) two targets. The counter seems to be to keep the Churchill player (7 points + Churchill's anticipated last move points) behind going into the last move.

Condition 1 and 2:

If a "condition 3" victory is unbalanced in favor of the Churchill faction (and it might not be if Stalin and Roosevelt gang up massively on the Churchill faction) then the option for Roosevelt and Stalin is to beat the axis.

Imagine that the game had only condition 1 and condition 3 wins. If the axis is defeated then the player with the most points wins.

Question 1: Can Roosevelt and Stalin beat the axis powers without help from Churchill? My opinion is yes and without any difficulty

Question 2: Can Roosevelt and Stalin beat the axis powers if Churchill actively tries to hinder them? My opinion is yes but with good play.(unless the dice Gods frown upon their endeavor.)

Question 3: Can Roosevelt and Stalin beat the axis powers without Churchill having the most points at the end of the game? This is the big question. If Roosevelt and Stalin are spending their time on offensives then Churchill will be winning global issues and POL-MIL more often. Can Stalin equal those points with points from the map? Maybe... if he gets to Germany first and does a lot of spying on the atomic bomb. Can Roosevelt equal Churchill's points with points from the map? Maybe... If the Japan surrenders by atomic bomb.

But Roosevelt does not want Stalin to get to Germany first and Stalin may not want to declare war on Japan. So I think that again we have a situation that favors the Churchill faction. In our games when we saw Stalin get to Germany first it was by surprise breakthrough.

Condition 2: This was a brilliant addition to the victory conditions. It forces the Churchill faction to slow down. I won my last two games playing Roosevelt. From the start of the game I was aiming for a condition 2 victory. In both games I concentrated on winning the war. I allowed Churchill to make tons of points. I kept the Russians and USA low on points with the USA in third place. This encouraged the Russians into continuing their own condition 2 strategy. Then at the last minute the USA passes the USSR to finish in second place in points.

A pure condition 2 game:
If the only victory condition was condition 2 then the game would be balanced. Everyone would fight to have the 2nd most points. The advantage of last move that Churchill has could be countered by making sure Churchill entered the end game ahead by a lot or behind by a lot (by the amount required so that the final score is close to a tie after the final Churchill move). Therefore it is self correcting.

Conclusion:
With all 3 victory conditions active then the strategy becomes really complex. I think that Churchill has an advantage in a condition 3 game. So Roosevelt and Stalin should always try to defeat the axis thus eliminating that ending. I don't think that Churchill can stop them doing this. This assumes that Roosevelt and Stalin don't waste their time trying to keep up with Churchill on points. Stalin and Roosevelt should aim at a condition 2 win not a condition 1 win.

The game will thus end up bouncing between a condition 1 and 2 end. Churchill will win on condition 1, Stalin and Roosevelt on condition 2. The Churchill player should accept this from the beginning of the game and help beat the axis. Churchill should aim to lead by 10 to 15 points but not more.

The game with all 3 conditions should be self correcting. A third of the games with a Churchill condition 1 win, a third of the games with a Roosevelt condition 2 win and a third of the games with a Stalin condition 3 win.

But the game is a lot more complex than that. Anyone can win with any situation.


edit: by the way, I have had my breakfast now and it was good. (a bowl of "cream of wheat")
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Ron A
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rubberchicken wrote:
General 3 player games:

If a 3 player game has a single victory condition then as long as the 2 weaker sides can gang up on the stronger side, then the game will balance itself. It is self correcting. Two players gang up on the leader. Such a game will self correct and often be decided on the last turn.


The huge assumption you are making is that all 3 players are rational actors. It's one thing to talk about self correcting on a forum, another thing completely in the real world. I've only played one game of Churchill, but I've played over 140 games of Diplomacy and multi player dynamics are rarely 'self correcting.'

Some players do not have the skill to recognize who is in the lead, or more honestly, they do not recognize who is a credible threat to win. Therefore, instead of playing stop the leader, they pursue other strategies. This happens frequently in COIN games as well.

In Churchill, it can be very difficult to understand who is in the lead, and by how much they need to be stopped. Counting factors/VPs has always been used by wargamers, but Churchill is not an easy game to make exact calculations.

The other, far worse, problem is that even when players can see the needed action, they will not engage in the required behavior. Interpersonal dynamics have torpedoed more than their fair share of plans. Player A might recognize that Player B is the leader and needs to be stopped, but they will not blow up their chance at winning to attack B, just so Player C can jump in a take the victory for themselves. While having all rational actors at a gaming table is a beautiful thing, is it by no means a certain or probable occurrence.

...and hallelujah! to that. Patton and Montgomery weren't rational actors. Neither was MacArthur. Real Stalin declared war on Japan, while Game Stalin in the same situation would never do so, knowing it would be an easy 5 VP for Game Truman when he nukes Japan the next turn.

I don't pretend to have the answers. A great multiplayer gamer (speaking abstractly far beyond Churchill) will have to have superior and equal grasp of the victory conditions AND the dynamics with his opponents. I'd like to think that Mark was at least hinting at this when he specifically put 'metagame' in the thread title.
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I would say that rational play includes mistakes, miscalculation, and sub-game analysis, and that once one has achieved expertise along the learning curve, there will be decision making we could characterize as conditionally optimal based on backwards induction, assessment of your opponents, and plausible self-correcting outcomes.

Thus with Churchill due to complexity at the end-state Mark has simulated reality by working into place uncertainty to aid in diminished reliance on gamey (i.e., meta-level) decisions that would be dissatisfying veneer overlaid on the player roles.

Sure, some who are lost to leader status will go forward with some blindness, which is realistic. I would argue this is also rational play due to information costs, and players act on awareness that others exhibit such behavior.

The point of technical analysis is to uncover optimal decision psths; then one adjusts based on conditions thst arise in real play. Such a model leads one to behavioral analysis thst accounts for irrational action.

(Reminds me about catching potential terrorists in Britain via use of "separating equilibria" in insurance markets).
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SBGrad wrote:
rubberchicken wrote:
General 3 player games:

If a 3 player game has a single victory condition then as long as the 2 weaker sides can gang up on the stronger side, then the game will balance itself. It is self correcting. Two players gang up on the leader. Such a game will self correct and often be decided on the last turn.


The huge assumption you are making is that all 3 players are rational actors. It's one thing to talk about self correcting on a forum, another thing completely in the real world. I've only played one game of Churchill, but I've played over 140 games of Diplomacy and multi player dynamics are rarely 'self correcting.'



Good point. I was assuming perfect play by great players. My intention is to evaluate whether the game itself is balanced with good play between rational players trying to win. Of course your point is well taken, that players are not all skilled and rational. It could very well be that the game is unbalanced among ordinary irrational players. Mark Herman has mentioned a few times that the game may not seem balanced if the players are trying to maximize their points and not trying to win. Of course those playing "think" that they are trying to win by maximizing their points.

And there is a group think effect here in that if everyone is trying to maximize their points that may be the best thing to do. It may very well turn out that if the other two players are in the mind set of maximizing points and actively preventing the conquest of the axis, then the third player has no chance of conquering the axis by themselves.

There is a lot of depth and complexity in the victory conditions. Not easy to figure out.
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rubberchicken wrote:
Churchill has perhaps the most complex victory conditions to analyze of any game that I have played.



I don't think Churchill is susceptible to analysis in the same way other games are. Too much is dependent on the game-state and what other players are doing to really create a road map to maximize VP acquisition or to definitively say which VC you are playing for. Your best laid plan for a condition-1 victory can be be foiled by one player not playing well and creating a big 1st-to-3rd gap, regardless of what you're doing.

Rather than come up with a preferred path to victory or play style that can be thought up before each game, I think players have to be really flexible and be aware of the implication of a lot of moving pieces to keep control of the game.
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