Thursday, 24 November 2016

A first taste of the people

'Wird Sind Das Volk' was the rallying cry of the protests that heralded the collapse of the Iron Curtain and the German Democratic Republic. In 1990 it was amalgamated into the Federal Republic of Germany, until then widely known as Western Germany.

The game by the same name tackles the economic and political struggle between the two Germanies and it does so exceedingly well. Using the card driven mechanisms popularised by Hannibal, Paths of Glory and Twilight Struggle, the game is mostly a struggle between an embattled communist economy and a capitalist powerhouse. Once the contrast between western luxuries and eastern austerity becomes too big, the DDR will collapse in protest.

But there are twists. The West is not without its own problems and protests will erupt there too.

As in a good card driven game, players fret about which card to play and how to use it. Each turn a player picks a card and decides whether to use it for the event or the economic points. The former will pull several levers at once (the inflow of foreign currency to the DDR, international prestige, socialist party cadres, protests, economic boom and bust), and the economic points can be spent on building infrastructure, increasing the standard of living or removing protesters.

And the fun part in a card driven game based on the recent past is thinking whether you can remember the historical events on the cards.

I like how some of the cards are a double edged sword, pushing you up one track and down another. Sometimes it's better to pick the card that can harm you if picked by your opponent, sometimes you have the luxury of choosing between several favourable cards. But luckily the best short term option is pretty clear in most cases, preventing too much analysis paralysis.

In my maiden game, last Tuesday, I left a weak spot that was exploited mercilessly by my opponent. Had I immediately understood the gravity of the situation I might have saved it, but I didn't see how. That left me on the back foot that left the DDR able to comfortably weather the storms of the 1980s, even if the Wall did fall.

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