Type: Card Driven Game (CDG) 

Time to play: 180-300 minutes (Teaching: 20 minutes)

Best played with: 3 Player (1-3 Players)

So you have decided to drop in to yet another game set in World War II; but wait this time it’s far less about the war and all about the negotiations between somewhat allied leaders. In Churchill you play the US, UK and USSR as they battle for control of the agenda at ten conferences in the run up to the end of the war. Alongside these conferences your armies will have to force their way through the historic battle grounds with your success at the conference table determining the speed of the advance.

For me, this is still an early review, I like to benchmark my review roughly around the number of games played or hours spent. Long enough to really get to grips with a game, but not so long that the experience of it as a new player has worn off – there’s always something interesting in remembering your first impressions of a game when you try to concentrate all your thoughts into a write up.

In particular with Churchill, here is a game that as it game out of the box I was intrigued by the action on the right had side of the board. The various sprawling theatres through which the allies advance. It would be easy to get sucked into the mechanics of that half of the board first and think that the conference table is just there to set the framing for the round. This, however, is the first thing you realize when you play the game – it’s all about the conference.

The conference is played out through an agenda phase – winning the initiative and setting the discussion topics – and then a combative debate. The agenda phase is a simple single card play right at the start of the round, and seems so simple but it will set up everything you can do. Simply put, winning (or losing) the initiative will change your whole tactic for that conference. If you win, you will likely play last – for conditional issues that you want to end in the centre of the table this is a must. If you win by a large margin, you might also be able to sneak a topic off the table very early in the conference which can help you win the conference and get a central issue.

So there’s this important moment early in each round to seize the initiative, but if you haven’t played it before then you might wonder what you are even debating? Well, the debates are important because they are the way that you can steal production from other players (to develop armies / navies), they allow you to gain influence through political and military activity, and they allow you to force your opponents to dedicate resource to certain fronts. Your influence through negotiation can ruin an opponents turn or let you press home the advantage in one of the two theatres. Add to that issues around letting Russia into the war, the US invasion of Normandy and the A Bomb – there is quite a lot to debate!

The debating mechanic is also very interesting. In your turn you pick an issue, play a card and gain the cards point value in movement for that issue. Advance it all the way to yourself and you move it off the table and out of the debate for other players. Advance it along your track and you will win it if it’s there at the end. Be careful though because other players can move it back, both in their turns and immediately as a reaction to your move. Taking agenda issues that are heavily contested can be a viscous tug of war between cards with various point values and effects. Oh yes, each card also has effects – some to the debate and some to map!

So what else effects the debate? Well there’s a conference card at the start of each round that might just through a few curveballs. Perhaps it will add two – three issues to the table, or even give production to one of the players. Subtle changes like this will mean other players are vying for production this round or that so many issues are down you can hope to sneak through an important decision for you without spending too much.

The art of prioritization and planning has never been more prominent in a game. Once you get to the end of this debate you move to the map. Allocating your influence and your military production. Lastly you see if you break through the axis fronts and push towards the end of the war.

Now, unfortunately this is an area where the game may find a weakness for some players. Extremely thematic and tense, the game uses a small number of dice roles each round to determine success. In the main the probabilities of this seem fair, but the frustration of a surprise Japanese Naval attack on the US, the early UK breakthrough in Italy, or the actual defeat of the large German Eastern front materially impacts the way the game will play out.

The dice will offer some players an upper hand in each game. It’s manageable by the other players at the conference table but with points coming from political and military influence as well as progress on the fronts, it’s safe to say that a few dice rolls in your favour or against will have a big impact on your “story” for the game.

As I say, that just means the other players need to manage that at the conference table, and if they choose to let you run away with the lead then the end game scoring might come back to haunt you. Another twist in this game is that a runaway leader (who probably got a few lucky rolls) is going to be punished by the end game if the two players behind attack each other. A breakdown at the conference table, but a unilateral military effort from one power, will leave the second placed player deemed to have negotiated his way through the war more successfully and hence the winner of the game. Failure in the war will reward the player at the back of the back – clearly working with an axis agenda. An interesting late game twist for players who realise they might be in the lead, but they need to help the player in last!

Last notes,

  • If you like a complex, evolving game where players control the balance between each other – this is poised for success
  • If you can’t endure longer games that still have very important dice rolls, then this output luck may be a bit much
  • If you win, try again and see with a new leader (and asymmetric power!)