Triple Threat: Churchill (GMT Games)

Three players is an odd number. Well, literally, of course, but also in terms of finding a good game. Some games play well with three, but the purpose-built three player game tends to be a rarer beast, particularly with wargames. One of GMT Games’ latest offerings, Churchill: Big Three Struggle for Peace, by Mark Herman, fits the bill with an intriguing blend of office politics and abstracted grand strategic combat.

Players take the role of one of the three leaders of the Allies during World War II: the eponymous Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Joseph Stalin. While nominally a co-operative game wherein the players allocate resources to various theaters of war against the Axis powers, it’s co-operative only in the sense that while everyone loses together, only one person really wins. And balancing that desire for a non-lose state (surrender of both Axis powers by the end of the game) against an individual win (most victory points without going too far above your opponents) provides the game’s essential tension.

Churchill: European Front

The conference system sits the heart of Churchill’s gameplay. Cards representing cabinet-level assistants are played to debate various agenda items during one of the war’s ten conferences, corresponding to historic meetings of the leaders and their teams during the war. Winning an agenda item through debate, be it resources for combat or political shifts in conquered Europe and Asia, gives you the ability to shape the outcome of the war. But, as long-time gaming buddies Doug Bush and Mike Vogt and I found during our initial playthrough at the first ever WashingCon last month, just because you win the debate doesn’t mean you win the war.

Doug took the Soviet side and painted almost all of Eastern Europe red on the road to taking Berlin, giving him a big VP lead, but because Mike’s Americans and my British failed to muster enough strength to knock Japan out of the war—caused mostly by our attempts to counter Doug’s clandestine machinations—at end game, we wound up with a group loss. The system played smoothly, and we managed to finish the five turn Tournament scenario in about four hours. Dice do play a role (no pun intended), but proper planning (and resource allocation) can overcome almost all luck-dependent situations.

The Churchill box comes filled with bits, mostly of the wooden variety, to justify its price tag. Counters take the form of GMT’s deluxe “rounded” counters, with individual counter die-cutting rather than die-cut strips, and the fifty-odd cards are of typical size and with a nice finish. The mounted map has a good matte finish and works ergonomically for the most part. A note to the sticker-averse, however: some of the wooden blocks do require stickering. Thankfully GMT provides extra stickers and blocks in case your manual dexterity just isn’t what it used to be.

Churchill fits a good niche: a grand strategic World War II game designed for three players that focuses on the conduct of the war more than combat. There’s no real panzer pushing here, just perilous politicking over production. Charts included with the game allow one or more sides to be run via flowchart in the event that you have fewer than three players, but the deal-making (and deal-breaking) at the heart of the game make Churchill best with three. Churchill occupies a prime spot on my very short list of games I’ll bring out when three players are on hand.

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