I’m doing a series on German history in the 20th century on my blog this year. In intervals of 10 years, I pick a crucial event and explore it – with the help of precisely one board game. You can find the previous posts here:
We are used to the ever-changing price of oil as one of the central indicators of the economy. Sometimes, the price is high, like in 2008, when a barrel cost over $120. Sometimes it is low (like in 2016 at $33/barrel). And sometimes somewhere in the middle (as it is now around $80/barrel). However, for almost three decades after World War II, permanently cheap energy fueled the post-war economic boom that has not seen its like again. Oil became the lifeblood of the global economy then and accounted for almost half of the global energy consumption in 1972. Initially, much of it came from American oil exports, but as American consumption grew, the country became an oil importer and the Middle Eastern countries picked up the baton as the leading oil exporters. But what would happen if that essential resource suddenly became expensive? The world found out during the oil price shocks of 1973. We’ll have a look at how the crisis came to happen and to be resolved, which short-term impacts it had, and how things turned out differently in the longer run. As always, expect board games!
As some of you know, I’ve been enrolled in university to complete my M.A. program in history for the last few years. It’s been the end of a long journey through academic history which began in 2010 with me as a bright-eyed freshman in my undergrad history classes. During these eight years, I have not only taken classes on everything from late classical Greece to the history of spaceflight. I’ve also interned, gone abroad for studying, worked for election campaigns, and finally taken up a regular day job before I’ve graduated. All of this has taken time, and that’s the reason why I spent a longer time enrolled in university than most. I even took longer for my M.A. than for my B.A. And all of this has given me valuable experience, made me more employable, and helped me grow as a person. I cordially recommend all of you out there who have the chance to look outside your college campus to seize this chance. The more you know outside of a classroom, the better for you, and for the world.
I know that not everybody has these opportunities. I was incredibly privileged. Personally, I’ve always enjoyed good health, and I had a generous student grant from a prestigious foundation to cover my living expenses. I was enrolled in programs that allowed for student engagement with the world off-campus, and I had advisers and supervisors who were flexible and encouraging about projects which might give experience but might also delay graduation. Most importantly, I come from a country where university does not cost more than a symbolic fee, and where students from low-income households even receive assistance in the form of half a grant, half an interest-free loan (of which no more than € 10,000 must be repaid). Without all these privileges, a young person like me – brought up in a single-parent, low-income household without any relatives who’d ever graduated from college when I enrolled – would have never been able to succeed like I did. I am grateful for that. I also regard it as a responsibility. I have been able to fulfil my potential because others and the society in which I live allowed me to. I will personally strive to enable others to fulfil their potential, and work for a society which allows as many people as possible to fulfil theirs.
This post, however, is not about my personal journey. As you know, this blog deals with history, board games, and history in board games. As it so happens, so did my M.A. thesis. I dealt with both my academic and my personal passion – the Cold War in board games. Let me share some insights of the thesis with you. If you’re interested in the why and how and what of the thesis, check out the research interest of the thesis, its methodology, and the sample of board games I used for it. You can also skip directly to my key findings on history-themed board games in general and the Cold War in board games in particular. Continue reading →
30 years ago, the Angolan government and its Cuban allies agreed on a ceasefire with South Africa after 13 years of fighting in Angola. The warring sides had been supported by the two superpowers USSR and USA with funds and weapons. “Ah, I see”, you nod, “a proxy war in the Cold War. Poor puppets of the superpowers!” Not so fast, my young friend. Let me tell you another story from that war. Before that ceasefire, it was a regular occurrence that Cuban soldiers armed with Soviet weapons protected the drilling sites of American oil companies. They protected them from a US-funded guerilla movement (many of which had been trained by Chinese Communist military advisors). Does it still sound like a textbook proxy war to you? – I’d thought not. Come along on this wild ride through decolonization in the Cold War. Our first stop will be Angola as a Portuguese colony. Then we will move on to the violent decolonization of Angola before we look at the Civil War proper. Your conceptions of superpowers in charge of a bipolar world will be shaken. To make up for that (and because I know that you like shiny pieces of cardboard), board games will feature on the way.
Twilight Struggle (Ananda Gupta/Jason Matthews, GMT Games) is a game of tricky hand management. Its chief innovation in the field of card-driven games (CDGs) is that both players draw from a joint deck, and if you play a card with an opponent event, you get to use the operation points (ops) from this card, but the event is triggered nonetheless. You’ll try to solve the puzzle of how to play your cards best every turn, maximizing your gains and minimizing the obstacles from opponent events in your hand. Newcomers to Twilight Struggle often think that a hand full of opponent events is a bad hand. However, if you draw all the Soviet events as the US, chances are that the Soviet hand is full of American events, so it evens out. And you’d rather defuse many of the opponent events on your own terms than allow the other player to unleash them on you.
In addition to that, quite a few events offer a benefit even to the nominally disadvantaged power. As they also get the ops when playing the opponent event, this allows for some kind of ops/event double move – all the fun, none of the regret! These events typically fall in the categories of discarding or manipulating DEFCON. There is one event that just allows you to possibly flip a battleground to your side. Let’s dive right into the cards.