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Subject: Playing a preliminary copy at WBC rss

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Greg Schmittgens
United States
Wichita
Kansas
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I was fortunate enough to play a preliminary version of Versailles 1919 at this year’s World Boardgaming Championships. Since there is no detailed information yet on how the game plays, I decided to write up my experience, in the hope that even more people will preorder this very good looking and playing game. As such, I’m going to focus on how the game plays. The strategy will come later when the game gets completed and released.

I’ll start out with a couple disclaimers. First, it was a preliminary version of the game. Some mechanics may change; the terminology may continue to evolve. Second, I started the game as just a playing experience. I didn’t take detailed notes. This writeup is just from memory.

Each player represents one of the big four - Woodrow Wilson (United States), David Lloyd George (United Kingdom), Georges Clemenceau (France) and Vittorio Orlando (Italy). Historically, each of these men brought their own agenda to the conference: Wilson wanted to make a lasting peace, embodied by the 14 Points; Lloyd George wanted to maintain the British Empire and retain mastery of the seas; Clemenceau wanted to cripple Germany so she could never again threaten France. In the game, each player chooses a goal from a historical set of options. These goals aren’t secret (the world knew about Wilson’s 14 Points) but the challenge is to keep these goals (yours and your opponents’) in mind as you negotiate the most favorable peace.

Each player then takes his turn. The first phase of each turn is the military phase. The player can choose to mobilize additional military forces, send military forces to global ‘hot spots’ or use the forces to quell unrest. However, any time the player makes a military move (any time he touches a military piece), discontent will rise at home. The people of the world are tired of war; anything military gets a bad reaction back home. The only action that can be taken in this phase without negative backlash is demobilizing troops. When this happens, the people back home get happier. However, the specific result is on a sliding scale. If you’re the first to demobilize, the people will applaud your initiative. If you’re the fifth or eighth or (as can occur) you’re forced to demobilize, the favorable public reaction will decrease. And once you demobilize your military, you can never rebuild it. You’ll be less able to respond to the unrest that will spring up throughout the world.

Next is the issues phase. The issues are the main part of the game. These represent the items which were discussed and resolved during the conference. In the game, they are represented by a large stack of tiles/cards ranging from the fate of Palestine to punishing the German government to women’s suffrage. Each issue has multiple ways in which the issue could be resolved. For instance (definitely from memory), the Palestine issue might be resolved by creating a Palestinian state (the historical Balfour declaration), forming a Pan-Arabic union or maintaining it as a colony. The way an issue is resolved will have different game effects. It may raise the discontent or contentment in a major power’s homeland; it may leave a lasting imprint on the global initiative for self-determination or naval power; it may increase the global reach of an empire. This results in something greater than the usual “This is good for me or it is bad for you” choice. It adds an element of “This is good for you but it is better for me” while accounting for the aforementioned national goal.

The first choice in the issues phase is to reclaim influence points (currently cubes) and/or military strength which has been previously used. Each player has a limited supply of political capital which must be reclaimed from time to time; hopefully not at a crucial moment. And reacquiring military strength is touching the military piece. And I already said that causes problems at home.

The second choice is expending political capital to affect an issue. This can either be an issue currently under consideration or an issue which is on the future agenda. The trick here is any capital expended must exceed the influence placed by any previous player. If France has spent three influence to affect the Palestine issue, the British player must add enough influence to have four on the issue. So, part of the game is placing enough influence to keep the opponents from interfering with your plan.

The final but most important choice is resolving an issue. A player can resolve any issue in the conference room (three will always be present). The first thing that happens when an issue is resolved is for the player with the most influence to decide which of the multiple options will be implemented. All of the influence cubes on the issue are placed in the Used pile and the controlling player takes the Issue (worth VP) and any markers showing the ‘lasting imprint’ I mentioned earlier.

Why would a player resolve an issue controlled by another player? Because the person resolving the issue controls the rest of the process, which affects the future of the peace conference. The next thing that happens is the resolving (not controlling) player chooses which of two revealed events occurs. The events are on the bottom of the cards for the personages who brought various petitions to the conference. (See the image of the Balfour/Keynes/Lenin/Nikola I cards on the game page.) Next, the resolving player chooses which issue in the ‘waiting room’ will be brought in for formal discussion among the Big Four. Then, the resolving player decides which issue will be allowed next in the ‘waiting room’. He does this by either spending influence to readdress an issue which had previously been discarded by the other players or by choosing two random issue cards and picking one of them. Finally, a new personage is drawn and the event at the top of the personage card occurs.

Occasionally, an event or issue will cause Unrest in a region (Europe, Africa, Middle East, etc). If only one player currently controls an issue in the selected region, that issue is placed back on the table and a bidding process ensues to determine if another power would be better suited to finally resolve the issue (claim the issue card and its VP). The bidding process may include military effort (for instance, to address unrest in various African areas) or pure political influence for some non-violent issues. If a player has multiple issues in the region, he must risk the one with the highest VP. If multiple players have issues in a region, the player with the most issues is affected or the issue at risk is determined randomly in case of a tie.

This continues until a card identifying the end of the conference is placed in the waiting room, advanced to the conference room and resolved. Then a final VP tally of issues, ‘lasting imprint’ markers, compliance with the original goal and some other items (such as final discontentment of the countries) is calculated and a winner is declared.

What do I like about this game? Four things. First, clean mechanics. This brief description only gives a hint about how intuitive the phases are implemented. It took about three card plays for the four newbie players to understand how the turn flows. Second, historicity. The issue selection and resolution effects and event personages tell a real story. Third, replayability. As I said, the normal mechanic for issues is ‘draw two, pick one’. This plus the random sequence of issues makes for a different flow each game. And there are many more personages than will be used in any single game. Last and most important, this is a ‘thinky’ game. Good play will require maintaining a complete awareness everything on the board. How each issue affects each player, how each possible event will change the game state, how much military power each power has retained.

I know this just gives a hint about how good Versailles 1919 is going to be. I don’t preorder a lot of games. As I told Mark at WBC, this is one I’m looking forward to preordering.
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Geoffrey Engelstein
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Thanks for putting together this overview Greg! Glad you enjoyed the game.
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Greg Schmittgens
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engelstein wrote:
Thanks for putting together this overview Greg! Glad you enjoyed the game.


Happy to have done it. I'll be hanging around here for a while.
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Sakari Lindhen
Sweden
Göteborg
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Thank you....I have been on the fence about this game, but you made it sound very enticing.
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