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Subject: Three out of four ain't bad (A first game with three players) rss

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Timothy Goddard
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I played Divided Republic for the first time last night with my wife and a friend. I was the only one who had played games like 1960 or Twilight Struggle before.

Through early polling cards, Lincoln (my wife) very quickly locked down New York, several other states in the Northeast, and then the Pacific West, and Douglas (the other player) did the same for some states in the Mid-Atlantic—thought not Pennsylvania, which Lincoln controlled but did not lock. I was Breckenridge, and with no polling cards (the entire game!) I spent the early game getting control of the Lower South in particular, then the Upper South, then picking off smaller states in the Middle West and Northeast. In retrospect, I was going for a small-state strategy, though it was more that I didn’t have the ability to compete for the larger states.

It looked like Lincoln was going to run away with things, but she found that once she had locked all those states up, there wasn’t a lot of room to maneuver. My hold on the South was not very strong, but she couldn’t do anything about that, and between the two of us, Douglas and I had made it difficult to do much in the Middle West.

Meanwhile, I did my best to undermine her significant investment in Pennsylvania by boosting the Constitutional Unionists whenever I could (thank you, Cooper Union!), and the three of us all ended up in a battle royale over Ohio and Indiana. As the most experienced player, I was on the receiving end of a number of brutal card plays, in particular from Douglas, and I was spending most of my actions reinforcing areas he had encroached upon.

On the last turn, I was immediately hit with a Coal Shortage, meaning I was stuck in the Lower South watching all my hard work elsewhere disappear--Ohio, Michigan and Virginia all got away. I did what I could to cause trouble, but it looked like I was going to get destroyed.

In the end, indeed, I came out with the 3rd most EVs—Douglas actually ended up with the most, while Lincoln, despite her game-long lead in momentum, was in between (there had been no polling in the last 3 turns or so). My proudest EV-related achievement was making sure John Bell won both Pennsylvania and Delaware.

Ah, but! With no one anywhere near a majority of EVs, my nearly-solid South, with the odd Iowa and Connecticut thrown in, gave me a commanding lead of states, and the House of Representatives gleefully propelled me to office. None of us had really been paying attention to number of states, which worked out great for me, though I suspect it won’t work out as well a second time.

A few immediate thoughts:

The rulebook is pretty brutal. There’s a lot of jargon and gamespeak in there that is unnecessary. Others have noted the problems with PCF/PCR, but there are other examples—calling the die a 1d6, for one, is a little silly, since there’s only one type of die in the box. Many of the rules seem circuitously written, presumably in an attempt at precision, but it ends up simply dense and difficult to parse. (I’m still not exactly sure how strongholds work.) That said, rulebooks are crazy hard to write, so I feel more sympathy than frustration on that count, no matter where I encounter those problems.

The game is very “swingy,” as others have noted. Given the subject matter, though, I think that’s appropriate—and there are enough brutal cards in the deck that it seems to balance out fairly well.

There are fewer choices available to you than in Twilight Struggle. With more players, I can understand the reasoning behind that. Still, it felt like it was missing one mechanic, maybe something along the lines of the “coup attempt” in Twilight Struggle.

Speaking of Twilight Struggle, I miss the mandatory events. I know Alex hates them and very purposefully avoided them, but I liked the balance they brought to the game, or at least the feel of balance. “Sure, I’m getting beat down by cards right now, but I know that somewhere in that deck is a card that, no matter what, will do me some good.” Sometimes you just need that hope to hold onto.

All in all, despite some quibbles, we all enjoyed it a lot. It captured a lot of the feel of a game like Twilight Struggle, but with more players, which is exactly what I was hoping for. It certainly captured the theme brilliantly, and my strong objections to some of the designer’s historical assertions didn’t seem to carry over to the cards or the ruleset at all. Perhaps best of all, it got my wife interested in playing Twilight Struggle at some point, which has been a goal of mine for a while.

I look forward to playing this again in the future, preferably with four players.
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Nomadic Gamer
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I found the rulebook one of the best I've ever read. And since I don't have the game, listing the die as '1d6' is necessary. I find mandatory events far more brutal in 1989/1960 than voluntary ones.
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