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Ahh, Churchill. The unicorn game that was so hard to bring to the table is now one of my most-played recent games. Short story: I missed out on Churchill at Gencon 2015 and actually the entire first printing. I backed the P500, got my reprint copy in early 2017, and then every time I tried to get it to the table for the next 8 months someone had to cancel. Finally we took off of work and played at a cigar shop.
Churchill is a “coopetition” game: you need to work with the other players to achieve the goal, but still maintain an edge over them in the scoring. The board is divided into two parts. The Conference table where each player nominates issues to be debated, with each issue having variable importance to each player based on what they are trying to accomplish. The actual debate is advanced trick taking: use your hand of cards effectively and you might win the conference as well as the issues that are important to you. The other side of the board is the War side, here players spend their stuff and any stuff they might have taken from other players in the Conference section of the game. Finally, the game has a procedural, flowchart driven resolution phase where Axis forces are assigned, dice are rolled, and the players see if they advance the war on Germany and Japan.
Churchill requires a unique mindset in gaming because of the coopetition. If you strictly work to beat your opponents you are unlikely to enjoy the game, especially if you succeed and win by a large enough margin that you lose. This is one of those games that requires all the players at the table to at least be competent in order for the game to “work” and gets much better as players are more experienced. If one or more of the players is playing poorly, the game degenerates really quickly and the state of the game becomes really difficult to judge. The end game scoring is kind of obtuse but I don’t really see a different way to do it both mechanically and thematically that would be better.
The best part of Churchill is that it provides a unique, fluid set of decisions to make. During the course of a single game, any of the issues could go from completely unimportant to critical. This kind of fluid value makes the game incredibly interesting and is one of those special game characteristics that really makes a game shine. Churchill, played well by everyone involved, is the kind of game that creates the gaming stories you tell over dinner with other nerdy friends.
If you enjoy games that feature objectives that change in value over time, creating difficult decisions for your opponents, and can wrap your brain around working with your opponents but making sure you maintain just the slightest edge over them then Churchill is something to try. If you dislike complex scoring mechanisms, downtime while the procedural resolution takes place, or games where crushing your enemies isn’t an option then Churchill is probably a game for you to skip.
I rate games in certain categories from low (1) to high (10). These ratings allow you to make your own determination on whether this is a game for you. I also avoid gameplay overview, I suggest checking out some of the professional reviewers for those.
Theme: 10/10 - You are just a cosplay, cigar, and whiskey away from being a WW2 political leader.
Complexity: 7/10 - The actual mechanics aren’t really that difficult, but the way the Axis forces are assigned and the murky victory point conditions and values make the game difficult to play if you don’t understand how they work.
Stress: */10 - The stress of this game is variable, and a lot of that relies on your opponents. Excellent opponents will make this more stressful because they will make you make hard choices, terrible opponents will make the outcome of the game so opaque that it is hard to strategize.
Components: 7/10 - Heavy cardboard chits, the same stiff quality GMT cards, nice wooden blocks and pawns. Above average components, this is a well-produced game.
Pace: 4/10 - This is probably the biggest knock against Churchill for me, as there is some downtime while the procedural nature of the war board takes over every turn. An Analysis-Paralysis prone player can also slow the game to a crawl.
Accessibility: 3/10 - Churchill is so unique that it isn’t very accessible, but while I give it a low score here keep in mind that this uniqueness is a large part of why I like it.
The other element to my reviews is through breaking down the types of gamers I've encountered and making a statement based on their point of view. Unlike my other reviews, every gamer type here really needs a *: this only applies if the negatives from the first part of the review aren’t a big deal.
The Tactical Gamer: This is me, and I prefer games that give me the ability to outplay my opponent through clever maneuvering and variable objectives. Churchill is an amazing tactical experience, each conference brings about interesting, new decisions and each individual issue can have varying value to me depending on the game state. Tactical gamers should generally enjoy Churchill and suggest playing it.
The Race Runner: This person tends to prefer games where you are making constant forward progress, utilizing each turn to it's maximum effectiveness. Churchill is a hearty hard pass for these people. If you run the race too well you lose, and purposefully slowing down isn’t in the cards for most race runners. Probably will avoid playing and never suggest.
The Theme Junky: A gamer who prizes theme and prefers games where the complexity of the mechanics doesn't break their immersion. Strong theme makes Churchill an ideal choice for the theme junky, and it’ll be a rare theme chaser that turns down Churchill and would also suggest it frequently.
The Strategist: Strategists tend to like to develop a big metagame strategy early in the game and then work to execute it as well as possible. Grand strategy is definitely possible in Churchill, but your opponents might not let it happen. As long as the Strategist is okay with pivoting their strategy in the middle of a game they should enjoy it though. I’d expect Strategists to play Churchill and occasionally suggest it.
The Casual Gamer: Casual gamers prefer games that aren't complex and have enough variability to make them feel competitive even if they lack knowledge of the game in comparison to other people. Nope.
The Social Gamer: Social gamers prefer games that are easy to teach, highly replayable, and naturally generate interaction with other people. As a general rule, Social Gamers will play anything that people want to, and there is a decent amount of room for talk within the game but the length of time and the low accessibility of the game means Social Gamers likely won’t own or suggest Churchill.
I have a GeekList where I go a little more in-depth on the Gamer Types:
And when, exactly, are we playing Churchill again?
There are parts of this review I disagree with, Justin; but your "type of gamer" analysis was flawless! The Race Runner (or engine builder, in euro terms) would indeed hate this game!
I hate engine-builders 90% of the time; guess that's reason #463 why I love Churchill sooooo very, very much!
Thanks for reading it!
I try to structure my reviews to be useful references when a person is trying to decide if they should purchase a game. The more I like a game, the harder it is to reduce my bias to find elements that not everyone would enjoy so I definitely could see how some people might disagree with parts of my review.
Churchill certainly isn't for those engine-builder types, a game mechanic that I also don't typically enjoy.
Love your "types of gamers" section!