Churchill is a three-player political game from American publisher, GMT Games. Each player represents one of the three major allied countries involved in the Second World War - America (led by Roosevelt or Truman), the Soviet Union (led by Stalin) or the United Kingdom (led by Churchill).
The game is not a traditional war game, as such, in that it is not so much concerned with the military tactics of the period, more the political maneuverings and machinations of the ‘big three’. The players work together and co-operate to some degree, but ultimately only one faction can win. The player who best steers and guides his faction to a strong post-war position will gain ultimate victory.
At its core, the game’s overriding goal is to conquer, militarily, the two Axis powers, Germany and Japan. This brings about peace in Asia and Europe, and results in the game ending. Conquering the two Axis powers gives Victory Points or VP’s to the conquering power. VP’s can be gained throughout the game through a myriad of avenues, including establishing clandestine networks and political alignment in neutral countries or colonies. These represent the respective factions spy networks in an area, and their political clout and influence in a region.
VP’s are also awarded for progression on the Manhattan Project track, where the atomic bomb is developed, and enacting global policy by winning the ‘global’ issue. Most importantly, VP’s are awarded for being the winner of each of the 10 conferences which are at the heart of the game. The faction who wins the most issues per conference gains this accolade.
The game board is divided into two parts. The right hand side of the board represents the world map, and is depicted with military ‘fronts’ which all ultimately lead to the Axis capitals. There are also neutral countries depicted on this board, representing the smaller countries which can be influenced by the ‘big three’.
The left hand side of the board displays the conference table, which depicts the issues being debated and won by the big three. This track is numbered one to seven, with a row for each of the factions. Advancing an issue to the seventh space, the picture of your respective leader, guarantees that an issue is claimed or seized by your faction.
The game is made up of three phases, the Conference Phase, War Phase and a final Post-Mortem Phase. During the Conference Phase, players bring to bear their staff cards (ministers and advisors) and their leaders to win issues, placed on the conference board. The Conference Phase also starts by drawing a conference card, one of the historical 10 conferences which Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin historically attended, and then enact the events depicted on the card.
Each player proceeds to draw seven cards, from their 21 card deck of staff cards, this is their hand for the turn. Each staff card has a strength or weakness, you may find a minister who was particularly effective at clandestine operations, increasing his usefulness in the game on Pol-Mil issues, or you may find a minister who is particularly adept at the Production issues. Seven issues in total are placed onto the conference board, and players take turns influencing each issue, using the numerical values found on their staff cards. This progresses the issue towards their side of the table – issues can be debated, or countered by the two opposing factions. A four value minister could be countered by a two value minister, resulting in an issue only being progressed two spaces, rather than the full four spaces. Knowing when to counter/debate is a key part of the Churchill game.
During the war phase, production is allocated to strengthen the front's militarily. Production is also used to trigger Pol-Mil issues you have won, giving you clandestine networks and political power to be placed on the map. Each of the issues you have won is placed on the map, giving you military or political power. Fronts are advanced using a 10-sided dice, and a single roll is made to advance each front. The further the front progresses, the closer it gets to the respective Axis capital. Offensive Support can be added to each front, increasing the likelihood of advancing. A front can also advance two spaces in one turn, with enough support being added. Japan and Germany also send their forces, depicted by cubes, to counter your military effectiveness.
The Post-Mortem phase includes a general clearing up phase, and then the game concludes if it is the end of the 10th conference, both Germany & Japan have surrendered, or the game continues with a new conference.
Thoughts on Churchill
The game's strength is in its political maneuverings. The three factions have to co-operate to some degree, but only one of the ‘big three’ can ultimately win. The game’s unique final scoring mechanism also means that if you let one player fall behind too far in terms of victory points, it can be the second place player who wins instead of the leading player.
The historical context of Churchill really shines through. Each of the 10 conferences depicted has a unique effect on the game, and represents an actual conference attended by the ‘big three’. It is also superb how each of the staff cards represents an actual minister and each personage is unique and has its own flavour.
The military aspect of Churchill is highly abstracted, the advancement of a front is based solely on a single D10 dice roll, and some may find this liberating or restraining. You do not utilise specific units, or tactics on each of the fronts, there is no depiction of specific troops (aircraft, ships or ground troops) instead, it is simplified to one slowly moving front.
Victory points are gained through a myriad of game processes, and you can achieve victory through a number of strategies. All of the three factions also have their own leader card, which has a powerful ‘once per conference’ ability. Each of the three factions also has their own unique power. For example, Soviet advisors are particularly adept at debating, adding one to their numerical value each time they debate.
Churchill shines with its historicity, and ability to paint and weave a new picture of how the war could be won, by imagining “What if’s?” Will the British pursue Churchill’s Mediterranean strategy, pushing up into Austria and Germany through the opening of the Italian front? Will the Americans lag behind the Soviets in the race to develop a nuclear bomb? Will the Soviets gain valuable knowledge on the Manhattan Project through their spy rings? Will Britain be able to keep a hold of its colonies in the wake of the war?
The game comes with instructions and flow charts to use Bot players. Bot players are AI controlled players that you can utilise when playing solo or with only two players. It is my personal preference, however, to play with the full complement of three human players. The bots can often be troublesome to control and confusing at times.
In conclusion, Churchill is a superb game depicting the balance of power between the ‘big three’. Historically, all three sides had to co-operate – lend lease was sent to the Soviet power for example, throughout the war, though Churchill was well aware that once the war was over, we would soon become rivals.