You say „board game fair“, I say “SPIEL” at Essen. It’s the Mecca for the tabletop gaming faithful. Four days of playing, trying, and buying. 160,000+ visitors. I’ve been there the last two years for two days each and found it an intensive board game experience. Unfortunately, time constraints (not to mention that going to such an event is exhausting, albeit in a good way) prevent me from going this year, but that can’t stop me from writing a short list of the history-themed board games that look most interesting to me. Maybe some of you who can attend find a new gem! And maybe I’ll get to try these games out some other time as well. The games are sorted by location at the fairgrounds.
Hall 4, booth D-124: Pax Emancipation (Phil Eklund, Sierra Madre Games)
1-3 players, 60-120min, MSRP: € 40.00
Phil Eklund’s games have two distinct features: They very explicitly model how the world works (according to Eklund), and they allow for sandboxy play and very varied outcomes. Pax Emancipation is no exception. The players tackle – cooperatively, cooperative-competitively (beginning with a cooperative phase and then going into a competitive one should no player have personally failed before) or solitaire the immense task of making slavery illegal. The game uses a very broad definition of a slave (“a person under initiatory force or involuntary bondage to serve the interests of another”), so at its beginning in 1776, almost everyone in the world is enslaved (usually under various forms of serfdom). The players take the roles of the British evangelicals, philanthropists, and Parliament on their mission to free them.
Hall 5, booth D-114: 1918: Death on the Rails (Aigar Alaveer/Martti Lauri, 2D6.EE)
2 players, 60-120min, MSRP: € 55.00
Ever played a wargame in which armored trains featured? – No? Thought so. That might be because there’s nary a war in which they mattered a lot. One of the rare exceptions, however, is the Estonian War of Independence fought from 1918 to 1920 between the budding nation of Estonia and the Red Army. Not only is the topic a refreshing change from all the war games themed around World War II, the American Civil War, or the Napoleonic Wars, the designers have also made the game very accessible: Each of the six scenarios can be played within one or two hours, and the rulebook is a lean twelve pages (only four of which are actual rules with the remainder being scenario instructions and historical commentary). All of this should make 1918: Death on the Rails a fast-paced, action-filled block war game.
Hall 5, booth E-110: Lincoln (Martin Wallace, PSC Games)
2 players, 90-120min, MSRP: € 45.00
No matter my curiosity for undergamed historical subjects, I also do enjoy revisiting a classic theme – like Martin Wallace’s take on the American Civil War. The game revolves around a mechanism opposed to deck-building – instead your actions destroy your deck of cards, which gets ever thinner. There were some doubts about the balance of the game during development, but from the statements PSC Games and Wallace have issued in the meantime, that seems to be fixed. Which leaves us to wonder if the main mechanism is an adequate representation of the historical situation. It sounds fitting for the Confederacy whose limited resources put a limit on their war performance the longer the war was going on. For the Union, on the other hand, it seems counter-intuitive at first glance – the Union took some time to convert its superior population and manufacturing into a military advantage, and Union political leadership held a soft stance in the first years of the war to win the hearts and minds of the Southerners before they changed into an all-out attack on the South.
Hall 5, booth E-110: Quartermaster General: The Cold War (Ian Brody, PSC Games)
3-6 players, 90-120min, MSRP: € 60.00
Cold War board games always pique my interest – not only because I have recently finished my M.A. thesis on them. This one seems to do everything different from the usual script: Instead of being a bipolar two-player game, it allows for up to six players falling into three camps (Western, Soviet, Non-Aligned). War between the camps is frequent, and it can escalate into a full-blown exchange of weapons of mass destruction. So, if you ever wondered what happens after players hit the big red button, this is a game you might want to try out. Careful with those nukes, though – they do not only hurt the target player, but also penalize whomever used them, so the uninvolved third player might be the biggest beneficiary of your daredevil strikes.
Which games are you looking forward to the most? Let me know in the comments!