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Game review: Churchill and Triumph & Tragedy offer WWII adventures

These two games offer perspectives and adventure during World War II.


Churchill: Big Three Struggle For Peace is a recent game from GMT Games set in World War II. Unlike most World War II games, however, Churchill is not exactly a war game, though there are elements of a war game within it. One to three players take on the roles of Winston Churchill, Josef Stalin and Franklin Delano Roosevelt as they meet in a series of conferences throughout the war. The game board is divided into two sections — one that details the three men's conference table, and one that details the European and Pacific theaters of war.

Each round, players draw a conference card that may influence how the round plays out. Each player draws seven staff cards representing actual historical diplomats, generals and statesmen like Harry Hopkins, Anthony Eden and Boris Shaposhnikov. Players debate issues like the atom bomb, the D-Day invasion, industrial resources, military commitments and clandestine/political control over occupied countries.

The conference table features three tracks labeled one to six from the center to each leader's chair. Players' staff cards have numbers and abilities that can move issues closer to their chair, but after players play a staff card to move an issue, the other players have a chance to debate — playing their own card to counter. Once all of the cards are played, issues on leaders' tracks resolve in their favor.

The game then shifts to the military side of the board, as players must attempt to advance their armies along tracks toward Germany and Japan. How events played out during the conference phase can determine how the war goes against the Axis powers.

Victory points are awarded for a variety of achievements and events based on a player's performance in the conferences and on the military board. After 10 rounds (or fewer, depending on scenario), players add up points. But the player with the most points doesn't win the game if he or she is too far ahead of the others. Conditions can make the player with the second most points the winner.

Churchill is a brilliant historical game that is quite unusual. The way players debate issues with cards during the conference phase is very similar to the way players battle in Twilight Struggle, GMT Games' classic Cold War game. Players must wisely decide which issues to pursue and when to debate an opponent. Temporary alliances between players can pop up, only to be dashed by a controversial issue. The way players must constantly keep an eye on both the conferences and the war requires a delicate balance and makes for some tough decisions as well. The point spread victory condition is also very unusual and refreshing, and really adds to the theme of the game.

Churchill can be a long game, however, and there is something of a learning curve here. Still, Churchill provides an amazingly fun, new and involving World War II game experience.

Ages: 12 and up

Time: 1-4 hours

Cost: $89 (though it can be found in the $55-$75 range through other online retailers)


Triumph & Tragedy

Triumph & Tragedy: European Balance of Power, also from GMT Games, is another World War II-era game. One to three players guide the forces of Western capitalism (Britain, France, USA), fascism (Germany, Italy), and communism (USSR) as they compete for dominance between 1936 and 1945.

Since the game begins in 1936, none of the players start out at war with each other, and most of the minor nations of Europe are neutral. Each round, turn order and direction are randomly determined, and any nations still at peace receive rewards. Next, players may spend the lower number on their population and industry tracks (and once at war, their resource track as well), in order to increase the power of their units (blocks that rotate to show their strength), add new units to the board, or purchase cards.

During the Government phase, players may play investment cards to engage in espionage, technology or infrastructure, or may play action cards to influence neutral nations toward their governments. Finally, action cards may be played to move military units to friendly territories or invade enemy nations. Players then must make sure that their units are in supply by tracing a line from their position back to friendly territory. The Soviet player may then take one additional “winter” turn.

Players win points in a variety of ways, and can win an economic victory by having 25 victory points at the start of a year, a military victory by controlling two enemy capitals, an atomic victory by successfully building an atomic bomb and having an air unit within range of an enemy capital, or economic hegemony by having the most victory points by the end of 1945.

Triumph & Tragedy is a wonderful game that uses history as a jumping off point, but allows for players to deviate significantly from historical fact. The Western player may invade the USSR, the Fascists may attempt a diplomatic rather than a military strategy, and it is possible that World War II never occurs and all the players attempt to win the game peacefully. The diplomatic battles that occur in this game are just as engaging as the military conflict, and players must always wisely use their resources to not fall behind their enemies.

There are some problems with the production of Triumph & Tragedy, however. First of all, it boasts a paper board. This game's beautiful map of Europe really deserved a mounted board. Also, though the block units are really fun, the quality of the chit tokens are not as sturdy as they could be, leading to them easily sliding around. These are minor complaints in what is generally a very fun and educational game. Still, for its price point some nicer components would have been appreciated.

Ages: 12 and up

Time: 1-4 hours

Cost: $89 (Though it can be found in the $55-$75 range through other online retailers)

Cody K. Carlson holds a master's in history from the University of Utah and has taught at Salt Lake Community College. An avid player of board games, he blogs at Email: