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.
Seventy years ago, the Cold War had just begun. World War II had just ended. But how did the Cold War begin, and what did it have to do with World War II? Was it a natural consequence, inevitable even? We’ll explore some of these questions through the lens of a major event that linked World War II and Cold War: The Marshall Plan.
Today, the Marshall Plan is often forgotten or simply remembered as a foreign aid scheme (mostly when its memory is invoked for new programs like a “Global Marshall Plan”). We will, however, not only look at what the Marshall Plan was and which effect it had for rebuilding the European economy, but also at its implications for US influence in Europe, and how and why American and Soviet treatment of Europe differed so sharply. We’ll use two board games to have a closer look at these things: Twilight Struggle (Ananda Gupta/Jason Matthews, GMT Games) and Wir sind das Volk! including the 2+2 expansion (Richard Sivél/Peer Sylvester, Histogame).
Different games have a different dramaturgy. Chess is most exciting in its midgame peak of creativity, sandwiched between the more cautiously calculating opening and endgame moves. Twilight Struggle often works like a pendulum – the USSR makes a strong push in the beginning before the tide turns and the Soviets are forced to defend their gains against the American late-war onslaught. Some games are a dramaturgic melange of multiple interdependent processes – like Here I Stand which mixes the unpredictability of military campaigns with the race for ever scarcer New World exploration and conquest opportunities and the pendulum of the reformation and counter-reformation. All of these tell a story about their source material: Chess tells you that a battle can be planned for, but that you will still encounter things you have not seen before when the fighting is thickest. Twilight Struggle evokes the memory of the expanding Soviet power of the 1950s and 1960s before the West reined supreme again. Here I Stand makes you realize how many different things were going on at the same time in the early 16th century, how all of them were different and yet they were connected.
So, what is the dramaturgy of 1989? Which story about the Eastern European revolutions does it tell? In early 1989, the countries in the region were firmly Communist. By the end of the year, drastic transformations had taken place in all of them. So, 1989 tells the story of how the wave of history swept away the Communist governments. We’ll see which mechanisms the game uses for that and how they play out during a game. Continue reading
My dear readers,
normally you’d get a regular blog post on this Sunday. This is not such a post.
I’ve taken up some additional responsibilites at work while still finishing my M.A. thesis. Unsurprisingly, all of this takes time, and I haven’t figured out yet how to steal some hours from the past to which my studies are dedicated. So, sacrifices must be made.
Therefore, I’ll only post biweekly until further notice. Next Sunday, you’ll find a fresh new blog post ready to amuse and educate you. Thank you all for reading!
130 years ago, the German Empire was ruled by three emperors (kaisers) in quick succession. The old emperor, William I, died at age 91. His son Frederick (III) was already suffering from laryngeal cancer and died after only 99 days as emperor. He was succeeded by his son William (II), the best-known German emperor who would continue to rule until monarchy was abolished in Germany at the end of World War I. The three men stand for three distinctly different visions for their country. Let’s look at each of them in turn – William I, Frederick III, and William II.
We instinctively turn towards the spatial dimension in our understanding of history. We write the histories of places, cities, countries, and sometimes even bigger regions like the Mediterranean Sea. Often, this acknowledgement of the spatial is a mere sorting mechanism – what belongs in my history, and what must go out? History can be understood more comprehensively, however, if the spatial dimension is fully embraced, understood in context, and applied to all sorts of historical inquiry. We know that Russia is vast, but what does that mean for Russian history?
1989 is spatial without remaining in the mere geographical. It offers a rich blend of the topological and social qualities of the space in its rules, map and gameplay. We’ll have a look at the mechanisms that allow for that as well as at some specifics on the map and how they influence the game.
On this day 75 years ago, Joseph Goebbels, the Third Reich’s Minister for Propaganda, gave his most famous speech. In the midst of World War II, he was speaking to a select crowd of supporters. At the climax of the speech, Goebbels asked, “Do you want total war?” The question – and the crowd’s frenetic response in the affirmative – were broadcast many times and remain infamous until this day.
But what is a total war? This article will look at the characteristics of a total war, the use of the term from the 18th to the 20th century, and Goebbels’ speech about it. Finally, there will be a brief section about board and video games that make use of the term.