Churchill is a house favourite here at The Players’ Aid. It’s just one of those games that scratches an itch that no other game does in the same way. So when Versailles 1919 was announced, my first thought was how excited I was for the next game in the Great Statesman series. Alas, that was not the case. Versailles 1919 shares some themes and ideas with Churchill and Pericles, like negotiation, politics, intrigue and deception, but is a different game system and execution altogether.
Already on GMT’s P500 and over the threshold, this game is still in pre-production with artwork being hashed out and some kinks in the game being finessed. Grant and I were lucky enough to sit down with Mark Herman, and Maurice Fitzgerald from Moe’s Game Table and crack out a full four player game at WBC this year. So here’s some things you can expect from Versailles 1919:
As you can imagine, the game revolves around the struggles of the Entente powers post WWI to bring a lasting peace to the world. In a four player game, the active factions represented are Great Britain, the United States, France, and Italy. The game can be adjusted to two or three powers with Italy becoming an inactive faction and the players taking turns acting as the third active faction, but like all of these games, max players provides the optimal negotiating experience.
Versailles 1919 has a few moving parts to it that will take you a few moments to come to grips with as there’s an agenda of issues which will be ‘debated’, as players are trying to get the issues settled in their favour. These issues are an abstraction of issues that were discussed as major parts of the Treaty of Versailles and include many conflicts, border disputes, economic situations and colonial affairs that spanned the globe at the time. The issues will score victory points both directly and indirectly and include a printed VP cost but also have a series of icons on them that are used for set collection points and often affect the national contentment track. The national contentment track signifies how happy the people back home are with their ‘cut’ of the treaty. A fascinating balancing act showed itself in trying to keep the people at home happy, whilst still imposing your worldview in global affairs. Using your military might may secure you a valuable issue, but upset the people at home, who will then clamour for demilitarization, at which point you will lose military capital that can affect you later in the game with other issues.
On top of all of that there are foreign delegate cards that represent real historical figures that attended the conference. Mostly these cards give one time bonuses to the person that ‘settles’ an issue in someone’s favour. The game is played by players placing coloured wooden cubes atop the issue cards when it is their turn showing their level of interest and commitment to settling that issue. The next player may want to increase their bid and put more cubes of their colour on that issue instead. Any player may opt to forgo ‘bidding’ and instead settle one of the two issues on the table. They do this by picking up the issue and giving it to the player who has the most cubes on it. This is then put in their victory display or tableau. Most of the political cubes on the card are exhausted and will need to be recovered later, so management of the influence economy cubes becomes very important and a key to the game. You can take your turn to recover a certain amount of your exhausted cubes, but that is it, you get to do nothing else and this can be very bad at certain times or when you really have an issue available to you that you would do well by winning. Tough choices for sure and that is one of the things that makes this game great.
The person who settled the issue gets to use the ability of the delegate in the room, and then chooses one of the three pending issues to bring to the table, and then allows one of the two next delegates into the room. In this way the player who settles the issue has a lot of power, they get to shape the conversation and influence the flow of the game. There were plenty of times I would settle an issue and give it to another play in order to trigger the delegate abilities and to shape the conversation by bringing ‘my’ issues to the table. Obviously settling your own issues is ideal, because you get control, victory points immediately and can try to future proof the next few turns with favourable issues. But there’s always room for power moves as other leaders bankrupt their political capital for issues they so desperately need.
I have to stop here, because the game isn’t even out yet. Mark said it’s over 90% finished, and it felt that way, there was just some tweaking with the scoring and numbers he was working on. All of the icons on the issues score points based on a political ideal card that might say X amount of points for each Global symbol you posses, or Y amount of points for every Italian colonial icon on the whole board, etc. Again, a whole other added layer of strategy, but Mark was unhappy with how the scoring went down. It was fascinating to see him scribbling everything down in a little playtest note book as we played through the game, it’s obvious he cares and wants the game to be the best it can be.
I hate to compare Versailles to Churchill, because they are almost nothing alike, but the theme of negotiating around a table with allies, that have vastly different goals and interests, is something I cannot get enough of. This is not a war game but more a game with a military and historic theme. It was actually surprisingly filled with euro based mechanics, but that made the game play very easy to pick up. The strategic mastery of this game however is a different beast. There’s so many levels of nuance and subtlety that you’ll need to be successful, that playing with four players and trying to employ your silver tongue may make this one of the most exciting games on the slate for next year. This game lived up to my immense expectations. I’d like to once again shout out my thanks to Moe and Mark for making this game such a fun time at WBC, they were all a blast to play with and were true gents.