Ah, Junta. I'm more than a little surprised to see that no one has reviewed this yet. So, without further ado...
A dictatorship, comprising the seven wealthiest families (that's you, and six people who will be your friends for about another 2-3 hours), has seized control of the lovable and fictional Latin American country of 'La Republica De Los Bananas'. Their goal? Bankrupt the poor country, while amassing the largest personal fortune in their Swiss bank accounts, with the occasional assassination, coup, or student demonstration along the way.
Junta is like Diplomacy, without the sophistication, and with silly accents.
The game begins with each person casting a single vote for the President-for-life. The President then assigns the six cabinet positions: three generals, air force commander, navy commander, and the coveted 'Minister of Internal Security'. The President then draws eight money cards face-down from the money deck. This represents the foreign aid money, which is then distributed amongst the six cabinet positions in a budget.
And here is the first opportunity for dishonesty in the game. The President doesn't reveal the amount of the foreign aid money to the others. They simply have to take his word that 'it has been a very bad year for us, my friends'. They do, however, get to vote on whether to accept the budget or not. So it makes sense for the President to pay off the powerful players to secure their votes (each player can hold cards which give them the influence of different groups in the country). Lastly, the Minister of Internal Security can force the budget through if he wants.
After this, players decide where they're going to be for that turn. The most common destination is the bank, where money can be deposited into the Swiss bank account.
Then players declare any assassination attempts they want to make. Usually, a special card is required, but the Minister can make a free assassination attempt per turn. If you successfully kill someone, you get all their money, they lose all their influence, and then next turn they come back as one of their relatives. It should be noted that invariably the old head of the family was a diabolical schemer, loyal only to himself. But his brother-in-law (or nephew, or son) is undyingly devoted to the president, and asks only for a good cabinet position to prove his loyalty.
At some point around about now, a coup may break out, especially if enough of the players feel they aren't getting a good enough break (and, usually, they aren't). The coup is fought as a mini wargame for control of five key sectors of the capital city. Anyone controlling these sectors can vote for either the rebels, or the loyalists. Usually at the end of one of these coups, someone goes to the chopping block.
The game ends when the pile of money runs out. After that, the Swiss bank accounts are totalled up, and the winner declared.
Junta is a great game, but it can cause some heated exchanges. It demands a certain level of backstabbing, but doesn't reward the bearing of grudges at all. It isn't easy to do this, because most people will assume that you are out for revenge and so they won't trust you, and so you can't trust them, etc. However, this is all part of Junta's charm, in my opinion.
It has its weaknesses. One is the small number of special cards. The deck will be recycled once or twice, so the same cards come up over and over. This is a drawback , but not a serious one. The other thing I don't like are the coups.
The coup wargame seems awkwardly jammed in to the game, and can take a *really* long time to play out. This has the effect of deterring future coup attempts, which means that if you end up president right after the first coup, you're likely to stay there for a while. If your group (like mine) has trouble finishing the coups quickly, you might need to find an alternate way of settling them. I'm currently toying with an idea, which I'll polish a little, then post as an article.
Junta is probably a little hard to find now. There was a limited rerelease of about 3000 copies in 2003 ( I think they found them in a warehouse somewhere). The games had obviously been sitting around for a while, because the board is hopelessly warped in my copy. However, if you can find it, its worth picking up, especially if your game group likes games that are a little longer than the average German game, and have lots of opportunites for laughs, yells, and death threats.
I'm only half kidding.
Kudos on scoring this review. I also can't believe the late date of the review--I must've played this game 30 times in high school. Always a blast. It was one of those games where everybody always (enviously) asks, "Where the heck did you find this?" I'd tell them the truth--saw it on the game shelf, read the back of the box, and instantly knew it sounded like a brilliant game and tons of fun. If there was an old lady in the aisle between me and the cash register, I would've run right over her.
I never noticed the lack of cards hurting the game, but come to think of it, it could use some more. This is the kind of game where it would be easy to come up with a slew of homemade cards, though.
I agree the coup phase is a little clunky, though not absolutely terrible. We usually got through them pretty quick, though, esp. since the rules say they can only go so many rounds of shooting. However, in our group the awkwardness of the coup phase did nothing to restrain them from breaking out. If a disgruntled faction thought they could pull it off, they'd do it. I can't imagine a tyrant who's alienating everybody being safe in his position just b/c nobody wants to deal with a coup.
We had that thing, too, where it would be tough to trust someone you shafted (or got killed) earlier b/c they might be gunning for revenge. Most of our group, esp. after familiar with the game, kind of held that to a minimum if possible. It's always interesting though to see a couple players who were at each other's throats for the last few years reconcile b/c in the coup aftermath one needs the other as a crucial keystone in a new ruling coaltion. Many a grudge I've forgiven b/c I was given the secret police job and a 3-spot in the year's budget.
I remember a classic game in which one guy and I were at odds the whole game. One of things where one slight led to another and it turned into a vendetta. He as El P and I repeatedly fomented coups and confidence votes against him. Every single time he'd survive the coup (sometimes barely) and manage to come out on top as El P again. Only once was another guy El P and he only lasted a year or two and then my archenemy took power again. Even though he ended up not winning, it was forever known as his "reign of terror" in game reminiscing sessions.
I think one of the attractions of this game is that all kinds of political machinations come into play differently each game. Like the example above, which was very unusual for our group but you never know what can happen. There's an inherent restriction on metagaming effects b/c players can accumulate powerful voting cards that force new allegiances. In our group there were no common El Ps, you never knew would start off the regime and who would rise and fall.
Was George Orwell an Optimist?
Randy Weston - The Spirits of Our Ancestors
Junta is a must have in a complete gamers collection!
Your necroing of this review led me to give it a couple of thumbs - we didn't have thumbs back in those days. While I love the game, I can't agree at all with your sentiment; there are a great many players on this board who would loathe Junta for various reasons.