60 years ago, the Republic of the Congo – one of the largest newly independent countries in Africa – was embroiled in a bitter struggle. Four domestic factions claimed either their right to rule the country or to secede from it. The struggle was completed by the international agents ensnared it ranging from the old colonial power Belgium over the superpowers to the United Nations who wanted to preserve their business interests, score points in the Cold War, or redefine their international role. We need to look at the Congo’s colonial past before we can understand the Congo Crisis and, following this, its bloody legacy. As always, board games will guide our way.Continue reading
We’ve made it! We’ve reached the very top. These are the games the Board Game Geek users deemed the best war games out there (at least they did so in August last year, when I took the snapshot of the top 60 that has been the basis for this series). You know the drill from the first, second, third, fourth, and fifth part – I give a few thoughts on each of the games, and then you add yours in the comments. Let’s go straight at it!Continue reading
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
Sixty years ago, a whopping 17 former African colonies became independent nations. In commemoration, I’m doing a miniseries on decolonization on this blog. So far, you can read an overview over decolonization and a closer look at decolonization processes within a colony. Today, we’ll deal with decolonization in the international context of the Cold War. All too often, it is assumed that the anticolonial movements and newly independent states were mere pawns in the games of the superpowers. However, they had quite some agency of their own. As you rightly expect, we’ll look at how different board games deal with the complex relationship between the Cold War and decolonization. Continue reading
Eighty years ago, the fate of the world hung in the balance as Britain stood alone against Nazi Germany. It is the legacy of one man that Britain fought on: Winston Churchill. This post will retrace his life from his early days through his deeds in war (World War I and World War II) and peace (the inter-war period and his later years). Unsurprisingly, a man of the historical importance of Churchill has inspired quite a few board games which will be our companions on the way.
Some years ago, I was just about to finish my undergrad studies in history. I had taken an advanced class on decolonization and was writing my B.A. thesis on the decolonization crisis in Angola. As I was already quite keen on board games back then, I was wondering – was there any board game about decolonization? So, as the 21st century goes, I typed „decolonization board game“ into a search engine. What I found was not exactly an entire board game – just a single card of that title from Twilight Struggle (Ananda Gupta/Jason Matthews, GMT Games), a game of whose existence I had been heretofore only vaguely aware. Twilight Struggle fascinated me. I’d never seen a game which went so deep and meaningful into history. Also, it was about the Cold War, my main research interest. And so an idea ripened within me. Two years later, I began working on my M.A. thesis on the Cold War in board games.
World War II ended 75 years ago. 1945 was thus a massive watershed year in history. The biggest war that had ever been fought came to a close, and a new world order was forged. I’ll explore the end of World War II in a three-part miniseries. As war is an instrument of politics to achieve a better peace, I’ll kick the series off with this post on the conferences at which the great powers discussed the winning of the war against the Axis as well as the peace and the new world order which would follow. Several such conferences were held from 1943 on, but this post will only focus on the last two – the Yalta Conference in February 1945, three months before the end of the fighting in Europe, and the Potsdam Conference in July 1945, two months after the end of the fighting. 1945 was the end of World War II, but was it also the beginning of the Cold War? We’ll look into that question as well. As usual, board games will feature! Continue reading
I do Top Threes in various categories as my end-of-year posts. So far, I have done this year:
And here, finally, is the pinnacle of Top Three posts for the end of the year – historical board games! That’s what you’ve come for. So, without further ado, here are the three history-themed board games with which I had the most fun I this year:
Ah, the Cold War. By now, a firm trend in historical board gaming. Every five minutes there is a new release full of Soviets and Americans and espionage and nuclear threats. But you know who liked Cold War board games before it was cool? – Yep, that hipster was me. I just went overboard and decided to dedicate the rest of my (short) academic life to those games. My original inspiration for that was a quaint little game which I found very interesting from both a gaming and a history perspective. And so I come full circle. The game which first prompted me to think about board games in an academic way now makes the last installment of my Games about the Cold War series – a worthy capstone. Its name is Twilight Struggle (Ananda Gupta/Jason Matthews, GMT Games). Maybe you have heard of it.
Okay, enough of the irony. Of course you have heard of Twilight Struggle! Everybody has. The game, the myth, the legend! Twilight Struggle had such a massive impact on the development of board games and especially on those about the Cold War that it cannot just be analyzed by itself. Instead, after a short intro on what Twilight Struggle is, I want to share some thoughts on Twilight Struggle‘s paradigm shifts in Cold War board game design and its legacy.
- The Berlin Crisis (1959)
- The Ecology Movement (1979)
- The Kosovo War (1999)
- The Division of Germany (1949)
- The Naval Arms Race (1909)
- World War II (1939)
Today, we go back to 1969, when Willy Brandt took office as chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany, and the policy of détente across the Iron Curtain he implemented then. Here, the „German question“ of reunification merged with superpower détente into détente between West Germany and the Soviet Union as well as her allies in Eastern Europe. And when it comes to matters of détente and confrontation, our accompanying game can be no other than the famed Twilight Struggle (Ananda Gupta/Jason Matthews, GMT Games). If you are interested in Brandt’s life beyond détente, check out one of my very first blog posts on exactly that matter. Continue reading