Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Sivél Disobedience

Tuesday - and after a long absence I was finally able to attend (host, even). The call went out; and was roundly ignored.  Sam, Andrew and Ian were putting on an evening of Evil Genius animated films in Southville, and a few other GNN-ers were attending the screening. Others were ill, and others still were left off the email list altogether.

So Martin and I (Joe) got to play games to the tune of "Just the Two of Us". Martin had been itching to get Wir Sind Das Folk! to the table since a friend brought it back from Essen for him, and I was cautiously happy to oblige (having failed to round up the four players needed to break out the most un-GNN-esque Sons of Anarchy - for which I have high hopes).
WSDV is a political game exploring the relationship between East and West Germany from the fifties through to the eighties. If East Germany can survive all four decades with communism intact they win, otherwise the West prevails. Either side can win sooner by forcing levels of unrest into outright revolution.

It comes in a delightfully small box, and has well thought out graphic design - the same designer Richard Sivél (hence the post title) was responsible for Maria, an equally elegant and even prettier game about the Austrian war of the accession.
Andrew, Adam and I played Maria a couple of times a few years ago, but it proved just a little too complex for our feeble minds, and was reluctantly traded away.

Complexity is certainly evident in WSDV - my heart sank a little when, after 25 minutes of rules explanation, Martin said "This is where things get complicated...". But after something like 40 mins we were ready to play, Martin as West Germany - me as the East.

The game is asymmetric to a degree, and bears similarities to Twilight Struggle, though you are not fighting over territories so much as fomenting unrest in each other's provinces by making life unbearable for each other by comparison. 

In basic terms, you build up factories and infrastructure in your regions, which allow you to raise the standard of living and thereby quell unrest. If one of you raises living standards above that of your opponent, unrest will begin to foment.
However, you have to balance the standard of living within your own country, otherwise you'll sow the seeds of disquiet at home.

Each of the four decades is a round in which decade-specific cards are available for both sides to play. At the end of the decade, a checklist of states is compared, including East German flight, Western currency, prestige, living standards etc. The consequences of these trickle down to the map, degrading infrastructure, fomenting unrest and generally messing with your shit. If at the end of this either player has four mass-protest tokens on the board they lose, otherwise you push on into the next decade, broken but un-bowed.

the '70s in full swing

It was Martin's second game, my first, and there was scant room in my brain for strategising. I just planned to cling on. Martin missed an early opportunity to do some serious damage to me (and I wouldn't let him take his go again), and I managed to struggle through the decades relatively unscathed. I denied his West German's the invention of colour tv, which send to annoy the hell out of them, but as the third decade drew to a close, Martin announced that he now realised what he should have been doing.

some West German mass-protest up close

He belatedly tried to put this plan in to action during the final round, and nearly did it, but just didm;t quite have the head of steam needed to topple the East, and I won the day.

It was a very interesting game - far more opaque than Twilight Struggle but with a few more plays I'm sure the rules would crystallise and it would become the pure battle of wits we all want from a game. We both thought that the extensive use of icons somewhat diluted the historic resonance of the events, but it made it very clear what one stood to gain or lose from the use of a particular card.

Martin noted that I had done none of my special actions, sending in the Russian tanks or building the wall for example - I had effectively ignored the trappings of communism and won by treating the East Germans to a fairly capitalist existence (whilst denying the West their colour TV). That seemed possibly a little odd - there seemed to be little imperative for the East to operate within their ideology. But we may have played something wrong, or I may just be missing the finer points of the asymmetry. I'm going to read up on the rules now, ready for the next bout. 

We just had time for a quick game of Aton, in which the whisky got the better of me and I let Martin dominate the second scoring round for a neat on-the-nose 40 point win.


  1. Reflecting on the game afterwards, I realised you'd actually built the fabled socialist utopia. Your people couldn't afford quite as decadent a lifestyle as mine, but they were equal, and their political ethos (represented by the socialists) stopped them from getting too upset. As a result, you didn't have to repress them or build a wall to kelp them in - they liked it there!

    What I realised too late was that you were propping this system up with shady Western currency deals. In the final decade your people saw through that and got pretty pissed off - the socialist dream was a lie! But if I'd hit you with some currency events or seeded more unrest, things would have got much worse much earlier.

    I love this game!

  2. It was the mid-eighties invention of Wham! that did for them.

    But you're right, you kept out of my face enough to allow me to build a reasonably stable state, so I didn't need to put the iron fist in the velvet glove, so to speak . . .

  3. Sounds like you could play this, Twilight Struggle and 1960 all in one evening and recreate the whole cold war. Poor show for not building the wall, though, Joe.

    Meanwhile, at the film screening, I had the presence of mind to bring Love Letter. This meant that the only leaderboard action of the evening was on the other side of town from GNN central.

    Ian won, and I could've come joint second, if only I weren't so honest. I had a guard and I guessed that Sam had the preistess (we were using the Japanese cards) but in the hubbub of the bar, he thought I said "princess" and outed himself by mistake. That would've made it 2-1-1, but I pointed out his mistake and we played the round again. In Sam's first turn, he put down a guard and asked if I had a princess. I did. So much for honesty. But Ian picked Sam off later with a guard of his own, so it ended

    Ian 3
    Sam 1
    Andrew 0

  4. Actually I meant to ask you last night Martin, how do you think Volk compares to 1989, Dawn of Freedom? I've only played them both once, and would say I enjoyed Volk more, but perhaps that's just because the mechanics of 1989 are so similar to Twilight Struggle, but the additional bits made it feel less elegant.

    1. I've only played 1989 once. I liked it but couldn't imagine a situation where I wouldn't rather just play TS. Volk is different and shorter enough that that's less of an issue. I did a session report of last night's game too, on my BGG blog.

    2. Where is your blog, Martin?