"If everybody is thinking alike, then somebody isn't thinking."
One-Minute Che Guevara -- el Comandante está muerto
Next month will mark the 50th anniversary of the death of Ernesto "Che" Guevara during the 1967 guerilla campaign in Bolivia. One-Minute Che Guevara is a microgame that depicts these events with a small map and a limited number of counters. This is a free "Print & Play" solitaire challenge and the entire campaign can be played in a minute or two. However, the game offers a player many of the political and military choices available to Guevara in 1967.
Guevara was sent to the Bolivian wilderness because his presence in Cuba was a political inconvenience to the Castro regime. The so-called Ejército de Liberación Nacional (army of national liberation) led by Guevara consisted of a few dozen ragged, hungry guerillas suffering from a variety of health problems. The citizens of Bolivia did not embrace the goals of the ELN and provided supplies to Guevara with reluctance. Quite often the peasants in the region where Guevara operated became informers. The game reflects this narrative and it is difficult for Guevara to leave Bolivia with anything to show for the sacrifices endured by his compañeros. Speaking frankly, in the historical scenario it is difficult for Che to leave Bolivia while he is still breathing.
I decided to step into Guevara's shoes (actually, the poorly supplied guerillas were practically barefoot when Che was captured) and carry the banner of socialism into the mountains of Bolivia. Here is the situation at the beginning of the game:
Guevara is operating in the Santa Cruz region of Bolivia. He had originally planned to campaign in the Los Yungas region of northern Bolivia, a fertile area that was closer to Guevara's urban network in La Paz. Che and his guerillas had even studied Quechua, the language of the local inhabitants. However, the Bolivian Communist Party did not approve of Guevara's anti-Moscow rhetoric. Guevara was forced to change the ELN base of operations to the rugged mountains of southwestern Bolivia. An optional rule allows Guevara to begin the game in the Los Yungas area and gain extra support.
The three score tracks represent propaganda points, supply points, and evasion points. The first portion of the game is the political phase. Those green Bolivian army units are not active until the second part of the game, the military phase.
Random event cards are used to create a narrative during the political phase. This is the Urban Network Compromised event that lowers the ELN supply level by two points and lowers the evasion level by one point. The loss of this network is a heavy blow. Tamara Bunke was a clandestine operative from East Germany. She ran the ELN's urban network in La Paz and was in charge of logistics, finance, documents, and weapons. Her position was compromised after she failed to follow basic security procedures. Bunke joined the guerillas in the mountains and used her nom de guerre Tania; she was killed in an ambush.
The player has the option to respond to an unfavorable event card by playing one of three different command cards at Guevara's disposal. I decide to use Armed Propaganda (essentially a show of force among the villagers) to spread the ELN message and gather supplies. The propaganda level is increased by two and the supply level is increased by one.
This is the situation after the first cards have been played. My supplies are low but my propaganda level is an impressive four points. I plan to achieve a propaganda triumph in Bolivia... if I survive.
The next event is the Ambush card. This eliminates one of my military units and lowers my propaganda by two points. The victory by a Bolivian patrol at the Vado de Yeso river crossing was a tremendous public relations coup for the government. The mangled ELN corpses were filmed by the military.
I decide not to play a command card. Guevara is only allowed to use two of the three command cards during the game. The ELN hasn't suffered enough damage (since I still have propaganda points on the scoreboard) for the "revolution" to collapse quickly. I think the risk is acceptable.
This is the situation after the second round of card play. My "army" has suffered heavy losses and my supplies are nearly exhausted. My ability to evade government patrols is dwindling. Some of the event cards are favorable to the ELN; I hope one of these will appear soon.
The next event is Increased U.S. Involvement. Military advisors from the United States helped to train the Bolivian army unit that defeated Guevara. CIA agents also participated in the pursuit and his capture. My supply level and evasion level are both reduced by one point. The resentment generated among the population by this U.S. intervention raises my propaganda level by one point.
It is time to play the Operation Purchase command card. This was the actual name of a mission conducted to obtain supplies. The price of these "purchases" was often dictated by the ELN at the point of a gun. Not a good propaganda technique. I gain two supply points and one evasion point.
This is the situation after the third round. I believe the ELN is in decent shape with enough supplies to finish the campaign and an adequate number of propaganda points. Everything depends on the next event card because my command card allowance is depleted.
The event card is a medical crisis. Perhaps the most serious health emergency occurred when the asthma medicine needed desperately by Guevara was captured by a Bolivian patrol. Guevara had struggled with the disease his entire life and this campaign in the mountains only aggravated his condition. I lose one supply point and one evasion point.
It is impossible for me to play a command card. The communist revolution is in the hands of fate.
This is the situation after the final round of card play. I have no evasion points so the option to flee Bolivia has vanished. I have one supply point so it will be possible for me to fight a battle with the army and then withdraw from Bolivia... if my luck holds. Guevara had nothing but misfortune in 1967; perhaps I can change the course of history.
The military phase is about to begin.
The action shifts to the separate battle board. In most cases Guevara would have a choice between engaging in battle or attempting to flee the country. With no evasion points available I must fight my way out of Bolivia. I position the Che token and the Vanguard unit near the more accessible exit from the valley. The portion of my force that was eliminated in the ambush will not be available to provide support. Please note that a company from the 2nd Ranger Battalion of the Bolivian army is always positioned at each end of the ravine during the military phase.
Now I must roll a six-sided die and consult the 2nd Ranger Battalion Response chart. A result of 2 means that the OH-23 helicopter will be available to detect any evasion maneuver by the guerillas. Since I'm not attempting to escape the helicopter has no effect on this battle. However, if an unlucky die roll had called for Captain Prado to deploy mortars and infantry reinforcements my chances would have been significantly reduced. This was a fortunate development for Guevara and the ELN.
One final toss of the die will determine the outcome of the battle. I need to roll less than or equal to my supply level, which is a pitiful one point. A three! Che Guevara will never leave Bolivia alive and I have lost the game.
El comandante está muerto... the commander is dead. Guevara has achieved martyrdom with three propaganda points remaining; this is close to the historical result in 1967. The game ends in disaster but the legacy of Che Guevara will live on in popular culture.
Thanks for taking a few minutes to read this lengthy article.