35 years ago, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union was about to commence its XXVIIth party congress. Party congresses were rare events, held regularly only every five years. They thus marked an important occasion for the Soviet leadership to talk about past successes and lay out future plans. The XXVIIth party congress was the first one headed by the new general secretary of the Communist Party, Mikhail Gorbachev. He set out an ambitious reform agenda. For the next years, the Soviet Union – and the world – would talk about glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring). This post is going to cover three questions: What did those terms mean? Which consequences did the policies that Gorbachev set in motion have? And, a question that is especially important to board gamers, who are used to assess events and policies by their strategic value: Were those policies beneficial?Continue reading
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 anytime 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
The ancient history professor Alexander Demandt has enumerated 210 theories why the Western Roman Empire had fallen that had been proposed in the 1500 years since the Empire’s collapse. They ranged from the abolition of the gods to vulgarization and everything in between – fighting multi-front wars, excesses, lead poisoning, decline of the “Nordic character” of the Romans, female empowerment, you name it. While the Roman Empire is gone for a bit longer than the Soviet Empire, the number of explanations for the sudden end of the Cold War and the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe are almost as manifold as those for the fall of Rome. That speaks of the surprise that the collapse of Communism was, and never was this process faster or more dramatic than in the year 1989. This article will look at the first group of explanations for the collapse of Communism and how they are represented in the board game 1989 (GMT Games, Ted Torgerson/Jason Matthews), kicking off a series on how history, politics and culture intertwine in 1989.