Standoff at the Nile: The Fashoda Crisis

By the late 19th century, the presence of Europeans in Africa had become familiar – as merchants, missionaries, explorers, colonizers, planters, or conquerors. Yet they were rare enough that the meeting of two groups was still a special event. And one of the most special of those happened 120 years ago at the Nile in what is now South Sudan. The French Major Jean-Baptiste Marchand and the British Major-General Herbert Kitchener had met in the village of Fashoda – each with a small army under their command. While the two officers personally got along well, the rivalry between their governments placed the threat of war over their heads. But why would two major powers squabble over a small Sudanese village? The one-word answer is colonialism, but let’s be more specific. In the end, the Fashoda crisis did not lead to a war and instead paved the way for one of the more unlikely alliances of history. As usual, expect board games on the way!

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Under Siege: The Berlin Blockade and Airlift

If there is one city to tell the history of the 20th century, it is Berlin. In 1900, it was the heart of imperial Germany, then turned itself into the seat of power of the new German republic after World War I (and the place-to-be for the avantgarde of the Roaring 1920s). The Nazis hated the tolerant, left-leaning Berlin and planned to rebuild it into the “World Capital Germania” once they had won the war. Those megalomaniac visions were shattered by the Soviet Army conquering Berlin in the single largest land battle in history at the end of World War II. During the Cold War, the divided Berlin was the focal point of confrontation between East and West. Finally, Berlin was re-united again in 1989/90. This article will tell the story of how the city became divided 70 years ago, why that was the better option (at least for one half of the city), and what that meant for the future of the city and the Cold War. As always, we’ll have a look at how board games represent our historical topic throughout the article, but there’s also a special section exclusively dealing with them.

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A Magic May? (1968, #2)

1968 was a year of upheaval all over the globe. We’ve already seen what was going on in the Americas. This article is going to cover Western Europe. Most countries there have seen their own 1968 protests, but we’ll focus on two dramatic cases here: West Germany and France show the universal and the country-specific aspects of the upheavals well – and both of them are covered well in board games. Wir sind das Volk! (Richard Sivél/Peer Sylvester, Histogame) has all the German history of the Cold War and places a strong focus on social movements and unrest. Mai ’68 – Le jeu (François Nedelec/Duccio Vitale, La Folie Douce) deals specifically with the protests of May 1968 in Paris.

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Clausewitz’ Trinity in 1989 (1989, #7)

Is 1989 a wargame? Countless gamers have engaged in that debate. While 1989 was published by GMT Games, the leading wargame company, it features no armed conflict. There is barely any violence that goes beyond police repression against protesters in the game. Still, it shares some of the classic traits of a wargame: It’s a tense, confrontational game for two players which takes the history covered in it seriously. Maybe we should move away from the term “wargame” for 1989 and rather use “historical conflict simulation”.
Wargame or not, can 1989 by analyzed with the theory of war? This time, the answer is a resounding Yes. This article will conclude the 1989 series by looking at the game through the lens of Clausewitz’s trinity of violent emotion, chance, and reason.

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The Prague Defenestration: How Peace Went Out of the Window

May 23, 1618 was not a good day for Count von Martinitz. Neither was it for Count Slavata, nor for Councillor Fabricius. The three were assailed by an angry mob of the Bohemian Estates[1] and thrown out of a window of Prague Castle. Miraculously, all three of them survived the fall of about 20 meters. European peace, however, did not survive. The Thirty Years’ War which resulted from the attempted lynching ranks high among the bloodiest conflicts in European history. This article will take examine how this relatively small act of violence could trigger such a long and intense war and what made this war different from others before and after. All the while, games about the Thirty Years’ War will be discussed.

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American Protest (1968, #1)

Fifty years ago, protest shook the world. Young people rose against tradition and authority in places as different as Berlin and Beijing. Some of the most dramatic events, however, took place in the Americas. 1968 might be a long time ago, and many people who took part in the uprisings, who helped quell them or who just watched with sympathies for one or the other side are dead by now, and most others have changed markedly since then. One thing, however, has not changed: Mention the upheaval of the 1960s and you’ll spark a debate. Many countries – including the United States – still debate the times and fight to interpret their meaning. But where did that big summer of discontent come from? What happened during the uprisings, and how did they end? This article will try to answer these questions – mostly for the United States, but to a lesser extent (due to my lack of knowledge, not for a lack of historical drama) also for Latin America.

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Dissent in the Police State (1989, #6)

1989 is a strongly asymmetric game – one player represents a group of Communist governments, the other player takes her on with the power of a plethora of different non-state dissidents. Still, both players use the same rules and mechanisms (which makes the rules half as long and the game twice as easy to learn). How come the two sides still feel very different to play? – The answer lies in the theme of the cards. Here the game paints a rich picture of power and protest in a tense moment in history.

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