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Anders Isaksen
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Click this link to read the original danish review on our site Joypad.dk
http://joypad.dk/index.php/anmeldelser/463-braetspil-anmelde...




In 1959 Allan B. Calhamer designed a game with abit of a different focus on war. This time the focus was on the diplomatic side of war and the negotiations that occur here. The game was called Diplomacy. Even to this day there are Diplomacy Tournaments held and the idea of negotiation and diplomacy has been a core spice in many a great game since, both in the tabletop and the digital space.
Games like Subterfuge, Europa Universalis, Hearts of Iron shine in multiplayer due to the nature of the diplomacy, where you can make alliances and coalitions in secret and conquer worlds by cunning in negotiation.
The diplomatic part of the game Pendragon and the focus on frail alliances was something I praised in my review of that game.
But all these games tackle diplomacy in a very direct manner, in which you talk to your opponents and discussions happen orally.
What if you could simulate diplomacy through card play. What if you could recreate some of the most important negotiations in human history through playing cards?

Welcome to Mark Hermans game Churchill.
In the boardgame Churchill 1 to 3 players are placed in the roles of Churchill, Roosevelt or Stalin and the game simulates their meetings during the second world war, largely, through card play.
Is this even possible? Does it work?
To answer this question let us dig deeper into some of the games design elements.

Right from the design of the board the game thematically puts you right there in the actual story.
On one side of the board you have the table, with each participant sitting at their corner. On the other side you a zoomed-out map of Europe and Asia. On this map is a track on which the allied fronts move, and some key places are marked outside of the track as well.
The zoomed-out nature of the map not only helps to make the core information easily digestible, but it also serves a fantastic catalyst for the theme.


Some might prefer a map more akin to those present in the modern versions of La Conquéte du Monde or Axis and Allies with different troops instead of one front. However, in my opinion, that would destroy the thematic feel.
Imagine being one the three greats, how could they influence the war? Well they could convey overall orders to the front and the decisions that took place during these negotiations where of a more zoomed-out nature. It was up to their generals etc. to do the more direct orders to individual troops.
The very nature of their position at the absolute top of their nations, would lead to their viewpoint of the war being of a more distant nature.
They where not on the front lines when these negotiations occurred.
If we move from the thematic ties and look at the components from a quality point of view you will find that these are all standard excellent GMT components. The cards, the board, the counters, everything is top notch and GMT, have very much positioned themselves among the top publishers when it comes to component quality.
I must mention that, due to lack of Churchill in stock when GMT sent me the game, the board you see on these pictures is from the 1st edition of the game, and the scoring track has changed (to the better) in the new edition. I have played according to the newest rules, so you will find no difference in balance and rules from my review to the current version.
Lastly let me mention one component that did lead to some rather humorous situations in our playthroughs.
In Churchill you can do clandestine operations, and these are marked with a clandestine marker. These markers are flat, plastic discs. A few times during our play, due to the shape and material of these discs, the markers would slip from our fingers and literally fly across the room, leading to some ducking and hiding from the players.
Now it only happened a few times and was more of funny occurrence than frustrating. But I must make clear that Joypad.dk as whole do not encourage, let alone condone, turning these disks into projectiles in order to gain an advantage during gameplay.

Let us return to the gameplay and look at the general flow of the game and what each round consists of. (apart from shooting the other players)
Each round, or conference, is divided into three distinct phases: Agenda, Meeting and Decisions.



At the beginning of the Agenda phase a conference card is flipped over. These dictate certain actions or events that must be implemented and influence the next phases.
These wary and consist of anything from axis troops deployment, different actions the three greats must implement or even if one or more of the three participants only have limited actions during the meeting phase, due to them being away. All three participants where of moderately bad health at this time in history, and even that is reflected in the game.
In fact, at a point in the game Roosevelt will die and you will substitute him with Truman, which also happened in the actual history.
After implementing the various parts of the conference card, each player now draws seven cards and chooses one of these and plays it face down.
These are then the revealed and the player with the highest value card gets to choose an issue and add that to the meeting and advance the given issue up on his own track the number of steps equal to the difference between his value and the value of the lowest played card.
Once this is done, each player chooses two issues and places them in the middle of the table. These are the issues that will be negotiated during the meeting phase.



The Meeting phase is where the biggest part of gameplay happens.
Each player, on their turn, play a staff card from their deck and use that to move one of the issues, that are a part of this conference, towards their own chair. If an issue reaches their chair it automatically one by them.
The amount of spaces it is moved is determined by the value of the staff card, and any additional affect on the card is implemented right away as well.
After a player has played a staff card, first the player on his left and if he chooses not to the next player gets a chance to, debate the given issue.
This is done by playing a staff card from their hand and moving the debated issue towards their own chair.
If a player chooses to debate, he can pass on the next turn. As with any card game, passing can be strong given that you don’t lose your hand as quickly.
You are however not allowed to pass more than once, even if you debate twice in a row.
Once the players have played their cards, the different issues are won by the players on which track or seat they ended. Any issue still in the middle is won by no one.
The participant who won the most issues gains a conference winner counter, which adds some points at the end of the game.



After the meeting phase, we go into the decisions phase where the 3 players now get to implement the various issues, by gaining and spending production on supporting counters for the fronts, advancing the development of the A-bomb etc.
All these implementations happen on the military part of the board.
Once these are implemented the fronts attempt to advance, and should a front enter the capital of either Germany or Japan, the given axis power surrenders.
If both axis powers surrender or we reach the end of the last conference the game ends and a winner is determined.
If this sounds very simple to you, you are correct. The core gameplay of Churchill is very simple and easy to understand and teach, nevertheless actually winning the game and how your decisions affect the state of the game has a ton of depth.
A lot of this depth comes from how a winner is determined, so let’s focus on this now.
You gain points in the game through various means, winning conferences, how many markers on the map, how far advanced your fronts are and so on and so forth.

A very common way to determine a winner in a game is simply whoever has the most victory points by the end of the game.
What Mark Herman chose to do here is quite different though, and key to the success of the overall design of the game.
Once the game ends the winner will be determined in one of three ways:

1)If both axis powers have surrendered unconditionally and the
difference in points between the player with most points and the
player with the least points is 20 or less points, the player with
the most points wins the game

2)If both axis powers have surrendered unconditionally and the
difference in points between the player with most points and the
player with the least points is MORE than 20 points, you compare
the difference between the player with the most points and the two
other players collected total amount of points. If the player with
the highest points has more points than the two others combined,
he wins, otherwise the player with the second most points wins the
game.

3)The final scenario occurs in case one or both axis powers have NOT
surrendered unconditionally. In this case the player with the most
points subtract 5 points from his score, while the player with the
second most points subtracts three points and finally the player
with the least points adds 5 points to his score. Whoever has the
most points after this adjustment of points is the winner.

Now, at first when you look at this you might wonder how on earth this makes any thematic, let alone gameplay sense.
Well thematically it makes a ton of sense. During the actual diplomatic negotiations of the three greats it was not only about winning the war against the axis powers, it was also about making sure that your nations stands strongest in the aftermath once the war dust settles. Especially considering the huge difference in ideology of the three.
The alliance and these negotiations where a fruit of a forced hand more than three nations who liked each other.
If we compare this historic base to the victory scenarios, we can find the thematic ties quiet easily.
In the first scenario the points where within 20 points, so there was a player, or nation, in the lead but not by so much that the other nations felt threatened or worried.
On the other hand, when we look at the second scenario, we suddenly see a nation having a higher point total or strength, and now the difference is big enough that the other nations become worried and they feel forced to form a coalition, to make sure the third nation doesn’t get to dominate and dictate the world after the war.
To further illustrate the gameplay aspect of this scenario, imagine playing a multiplayer session of Hearts of Iron IV. Three of the players (Russia, USA and UK) have decided to form an alliance against the player who plays Germany.
Now during the war, the US player has gained a ton of land, and has built up a huge production, and now controls a vastly stronger force and strategic landmass than the other two.
In this case the two players would form a coalition and push back against the US player so that he cannot simply take them out one by one and win everything on his own.
If we return to Churchill again, and examine the final scoring scenario, we see that in this case the axis powers didn’t surrender unconditionally, now eventually they do give up, but this will be after the game and the world is suffering from a prolonged war. The war has taken a even greater toll on the nations and it has lead to a very chaotic political and military landscape where no one is really the strongest and a nation that maybe everyone had “forgotten” about can seize this opportunity to grow stronger in the following years.
As we can see this method of scoring adds a ton of flavor in hits home the thematic simulation.

At the same time, it also makes the play of the game better. Without this scoring, simply playing your strongest card on whatever issue will hand you the most points, or just going for winning as many issues as possible would be the way to approach the game, and thus making the balance vulnerable to luck of the draw and pretty much decide the game by who gets the strongest cards at the right time.
The whole negotiation part of the game, where players are forced to consider each issue and the overall affect on the balance of the world would get lost if this scoring was handled differently. Yes, you might have two players trying to play together to stop the third player, but this system increases how much they need to pay attention to each other as well. Maybe its best to be the one with the second most points right now or maybe I don’t want the axis to lose to soon, because my nations dominance would benefit from a prolonged war.
This is enhanced by the fact that you can always see the overall points of each player, minus whatever conference winner counters they have, but overall you always have a very good idea about where everyone is placed in comparison to each other.

Personally, I love how open this information is, but if you are someone who wants more of a secret scoring and prefer to not have perfect information, there is a variant in the rules where you add secret agenda markers that can swing the points rather radically.
It is a nice option to have, but not a variant I am ever going to use in my plays.

Another thing that makes these scoring scenarios great is how it affects the two-player game.
When you play the game with one or two players, the remaining participants are bots.
These bots are controlled via flow-charts, akin to the flow-charts we know from the COIN series.
The flow-charts here are very easy and fast to use but are also a lot more simplistic than the ones in the COIN series.
It is rather impressive that Mark Herman has managed to create a bot that works in a card game, and in a two-player game, it works like a charm, because the scoring scenarios make it interesting and players can “abuse” the bots to gain ground on the other player.
Now you do loose the tension of not knowing what is in the hand of the other player, when that is controlled by a bot.
In a two-player game this is not that big of an issue because you still have one human opponent. But the solo play does suffer from it.

The solo game is a very good tool to learning the game, and having all three controlled by the bots, makes for a fun little simulation, but it can feel a bit random due to the simplicity of the flow-chart and playing solo against the bots is simply too easy.
You must hamper yourself significantly to face any real competition from them, but once again it is very fast and simple to use and makes the two-player game very good.
To be fair Mark Herman mentions in the rulebook that the solo game will be somewhat easy to win, but since this is not mentioned on the box it is worth noting for anyone considering a purchase.

There is no doubt this game shines at three players, but even if you only have two it Is a great game.
I would not recommend the game for solo only, but if you have a chance to get two other players and set aside the hours needed the game is a must have.

I mention time because it is a long game. There are three scenarios: Training, Tournament and Campaign.
Both Tournament and Campaign are excellent but do require quite a few hours. A tournament game took us about 4 – 5 hours and a Campaign around 6 – 8.
It never felt like the game was too long or got boring, in fact I vastly preferred the longest game, but you do need this amount of time to play the game.
The training scenario takes about 2 hours to complete but is only good for learning the game. The reason being that it only consists of the final three conferences, in which one or more of the participants are limited in their actions due to historical issues with health. In the long game that fact only adds to the game, but it does make the training scenario feel wonky at best.

In the end I must stress, though, that if you have the time and can get two friends together to play this, it will be a fantastic experience for you. Churchill not only manages to simulate some of the most important diplomatic negotiations in human history, but at the same time stands out as one of the, If not the best three player game of all time.
So, to answer this review main question: Is it possible to simulate military diplomacy with, essentially, a deck of cards? For Mark Herman it is.
Churchill is a unique and gorgeous design that takes a fresh and different look at how we approach diplomacy in games.


+ Easy to learn and play, but with great depth
+ A fantastic three player experience, a player count that is notoriously difficult to design for
+ Manages to simulate the negotiations between Churchill, Stalin and Roosevelt/Truman both thematically flavorful as well as fulfilling from gameplay standpoint
+ Fantastic scoring system

- The solo game is lacking

Verdict: 90































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Ben Bosmans
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A great review of a game by a legendary game designer. Churchill is one of his lesser games though. One pet peeve for me are the 26 different victory points which is a bit confusing AND the way ONE die roll at the end of a VERY long game can decide who wins or not...

I think that mechanic can only be accepted by wargamers, if this is introduced to Euro gamers the game would be executed at dawn.


I fully agree the solo game is lacking. I played Churchill a few times and just buying it for its solo part is really not great.

As an avid solo gamer I might say I have viewed and played a lot of solo mechanics over the last decades.

A good solo game needs a few things to be fun and challenging:

1. Surprise. The way many card based AI games set you as a player on the wrong foot is a must. LotR LCG, AH LCG (in fact any Lovecraft game from FFG has this).

2. No early insight in what is coming up. Surprise is one thing, but when cards are linked to each other they can create an active challenge within a story. The plan has to be secret though and in Churchill (like in a few other games of Mark Herman) you see the FULL hand of the AI in a long range of announced play. This kind of play is good enough to prepare for 2-3-4 player games but it kills most solo fun.

3. VERY SHORT and limited action play by the AI bot. The higher the interaction after EACH step by player and bot prevents the AI of making huge mistakes. Games by John Butterfield have these trics built in (you can do very limited actions with ALL your troops in D-Day at Omaha Beach for example, but the best example for such a pro active emergent bot is of course Conflict of Heroes: Eastern Front – Solo Expansion where EACH single hex move or shot alternates between the player and the bot.

4. A logic based on flow charts or (connected) cards is a huge plus. As this can be seen in the COIN series and adds challenge to the game.

5. Avoid solo games where the AI and its decisions are ONLY based on Die Rolls. The famous B17 syndrome. B17 was great, the 2.375th version not so much. It is fun to have a few of them around but buy the ones with your personal interest or preference.

6. Replayability. Ambush is still an all time legendary solo game, but it suffers from a decent replayability due to its paragraph checks. Again COH with the Eastern Front solo expansion is incredible as a replayable game, since each single move or shot can cause the AI to act in a complete different way according to the 55 solo cards which have their own proper flow chart PER card.

Thanks for the review.


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Anders Isaksen
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Ben_Bos wrote:
A great review of a game by a legendary game designer. Churchill is one of his lesser games though. One pet peeve for me are the 26 different victory points which is a bit confusing AND the way ONE die roll at the end of a VERY long game can decide who wins or not...

I think that mechanic can only be accepted by wargamers, if this is introduced to Euro gamers the game would be executed at dawn.




Are you certain you have played the 2nd edition rules? There is no dice roll during scoring in the latest edition.
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Barry Miller
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Sephakay wrote:
This is enhanced by the fact that you can always see the overall points of each player, minus whatever conference winner counters they have, but overall you always have a very good idea about where everyone is placed in comparison to each other.

A very well-written review! Am always glad to see when people "get" the scoring concept. And about scoring... you talked about how all players always know the score (as I quoted above). Sometimes we play with the variant that you don't score anything till the end of the game! By waiting to the end of the game to calculate the score, it makes for a much more thematic "cooperative struggle" between the players as no one is really sure who's ahead or behind (unless one of the players is a math whiz)!


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Jeffrey Drozek-Fitzwater
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Sephakay wrote:
Ben_Bos wrote:
A great review of a game by a legendary game designer. Churchill is one of his lesser games though. One pet peeve for me are the 26 different victory points which is a bit confusing AND the way ONE die roll at the end of a VERY long game can decide who wins or not...

I think that mechanic can only be accepted by wargamers, if this is introduced to Euro gamers the game would be executed at dawn.




Are you certain you have played the 2nd edition rules? There is no dice roll during scoring in the latest edition.


Whaaaat? When did this happen?
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Barry Miller
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bobcatpoet wrote:
Whaaaat? When did this happen?

Two years ago! Has been a while since you've checked out the Churchill forums, eh?

You can download the 2nd edition rules from the GMT website.

Anyway, one of the reasons for the change was due to the exact sentiment that you espoused about the single die roll. Though I for one was in favor of it, as I agree with the designer's reasoning... if the players let the game get to the point where the final condition was nothing but chaos, then quite frankly the final winner should be decided by a die roll. The players only have themselves to blame for letting the final state of affairs dictate a random outcome. Very thematic!



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Mark Herman
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bgm1961 wrote:

bobcatpoet wrote:
Whaaaat? When did this happen?

Two years ago! Has been a while since you've checked out the Churchill forums, eh?

You can download the 2nd edition rules from the GMT website.

Anyway, one of the reasons for the change was due to the exact sentiment that you espoused about the single die roll. Though I for one was in favor of it, as I agree with the designer's reasoning... if the players let the game get to the point where the final condition was nothing but chaos, then quite frankly the final winner should be decided by a die roll. The players only have themselves to blame for letting the final state of affairs dictate a random outcome. Very thematic!





First off, I would like to thank the reviewer for a very thoughtful essay. Many thanks to you for taking the time to write it.

Now to another point about victory condition 3.

Thanks Barry for stating the obvious better than I have ever done it. All I did in the second printing is I rolled a 5 and applied it to the original rule. The comment that was repeated once again on this thread is that "the game comes down to a die roll," which is all I kept hearing from a vocal minority claiming to be hardcore expert gamers.

The reality as you point out is if you go for Condition 3, the red meat, I do not want to cooperate option and you cannot win by more than 13 points (assumes leader and caboose each roll a 6) then your strategy FAILED. If you play repeat games in your group where the same thing happens multiple times you are collectively pursuing an inferior strategy. The design is trying to tell you something, but only if you are listening, Churchill requires finesse to win. You can win Condition 3 without a die roll, but only if you really outplay your opponents, most do not, then emote.

To avoid listening to this forever, in the second printing I rolled the die and it was a five. Same rule, no die roll. Feel free to play with the die rolls.

Mark
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Anders Isaksen
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MarkHerman wrote:
bgm1961 wrote:

bobcatpoet wrote:
Whaaaat? When did this happen?

Two years ago! Has been a while since you've checked out the Churchill forums, eh?

You can download the 2nd edition rules from the GMT website.

Anyway, one of the reasons for the change was due to the exact sentiment that you espoused about the single die roll. Though I for one was in favor of it, as I agree with the designer's reasoning... if the players let the game get to the point where the final condition was nothing but chaos, then quite frankly the final winner should be decided by a die roll. The players only have themselves to blame for letting the final state of affairs dictate a random outcome. Very thematic!





First off, I would like to thank the reviewer for a very thoughtful essay. Many thanks to you for taking the time to write it.

Now to another point about victory condition 3.

Thanks Barry for stating the obvious better than I have ever done it. All I did in the second printing is I rolled a 5 and applied it to the original rule. The comment that was repeated once again on this thread is that "the game comes down to a die roll," which is all I kept hearing from a vocal minority claiming to be hardcore expert gamers.

The reality as you point out is if you go for Condition 3, the red meat, I do not want to cooperate option and you cannot win by more than 13 points (assumes leader and caboose each roll a 6) then your strategy FAILED. If you play repeat games in your group where the same thing happens multiple times you are collectively pursuing an inferior strategy. The design is trying to tell you something, but only if you are listening, Churchill requires finesse to win. You can win Condition 3 without a die roll, but only if you really outplay your opponents, most do not, then emote.

To avoid listening to this forever, in the second printing I rolled the die and it was a five. Same rule, no die roll. Feel free to play with the die rolls.

Mark


I am glad you enjoyed it.
When I review any game, video game or board game I always exclusively look on the version I am handed, which is why I was actually not aware of the roll of the die rule and much less why it was changed.
Now seeing this and Barry's explanation, I would just like to add that I would not mind the die roll rule, in fact I would probably prefer it aswell.
The chaotic nature of the situation if the axis powers did not surrender unconditionally would fit very well with the die roll. And claiming that a single die roll will decide the game is actually flat out wrong. You are indeed punished for refusing to work together and that fits the game.
I could understand frustrations if the scores where set to 0 and then roll 3 dice each, but that is not the case.
Thanks for clearing all this up, since Ben's reply to my review had me quite confused.
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Jeffrey Drozek-Fitzwater
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MarkHerman wrote:
bgm1961 wrote:

bobcatpoet wrote:
Whaaaat? When did this happen?

Two years ago! Has been a while since you've checked out the Churchill forums, eh?

You can download the 2nd edition rules from the GMT website.

Anyway, one of the reasons for the change was due to the exact sentiment that you espoused about the single die roll. Though I for one was in favor of it, as I agree with the designer's reasoning... if the players let the game get to the point where the final condition was nothing but chaos, then quite frankly the final winner should be decided by a die roll. The players only have themselves to blame for letting the final state of affairs dictate a random outcome. Very thematic!





First off, I would like to thank the reviewer for a very thoughtful essay. Many thanks to you for taking the time to write it.

Now to another point about victory condition 3.

Thanks Barry for stating the obvious better than I have ever done it. All I did in the second printing is I rolled a 5 and applied it to the original rule. The comment that was repeated once again on this thread is that "the game comes down to a die roll," which is all I kept hearing from a vocal minority claiming to be hardcore expert gamers.

The reality as you point out is if you go for Condition 3, the red meat, I do not want to cooperate option and you cannot win by more than 13 points (assumes leader and caboose each roll a 6) then your strategy FAILED. If you play repeat games in your group where the same thing happens multiple times you are collectively pursuing an inferior strategy. The design is trying to tell you something, but only if you are listening, Churchill requires finesse to win. You can win Condition 3 without a die roll, but only if you really outplay your opponents, most do not, then emote.

To avoid listening to this forever, in the second printing I rolled the die and it was a five. Same rule, no die roll. Feel free to play with the die rolls.

Mark


Based on this, I'm gonna stick with the original. I believe in your vision, sir.
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