Chile ’73. Tiny Battle Publishing, 2018. Game designer: Brian Train. USD$20.00 (print-and-play edition $10.00)
Brian Train has long had a thing for a good military coup d’état—not so much carrying them out (as far as we know), but rather reading about them, playing them, and designing games about them. Indeed, he likes coups so much that he wrote a piece on the game design challenges involved several years ago for PAXsims.
His latest game, Chile ’73, is on exactly that subject. This low complexity game is playable in around one hour, by two to four (or more) players.
Coup d’etats are a messy business. Far from carefully orchestrated military precision, when various factions of a populace overthrow a government (especially when they did so before the age of internet), operations are strung together in secrecy, with limited communication between even likeminded factions. Veteran game designer Brian Train’s brand new thriller of a game, Chile ’73, brings the secrecy, the suspense, and then the all-out battle of the coup to your game table. In the first portion of the game, two to four players plot secretly to carry out their own plans to gain or maintain rule of Chile, plotting and scrambling to position their forces to best advantage. Once the coup begins, the entire game shifts to open warfare. Loyalties are revealed, and players battle to the finish.
Civilian and paramilitary units face off against military ground forces, aided by tactical air units and transport aircraft. Do you have what it takes to elevate your cause to supremacy?
The game first involves a pre-coup phase (during which players try to bring various military, paramilitary, and civilian assets under their control) of several turns, and then a coup phase (when loyalists and opposition battle to control key locations around the city). During the pre-coup period, players aren’t entirely sure who is who (that is, whether others represent military, police, or civilian leaders), what their agenda is (seeking soft power, hard power, or a coalition), who is on which side, and what the loyalties of most units are. Each may recruit new assets, investigate the loyalties of other units, neutralize a rival player’s influence over a unit, block a rival player’s action, or move units. During the coup phase, units may move and fight. Some locations on the map yield particular bonuses or other game effects.
Picture via BGG (Beck Snyder), because we were too busy plotting to take one.
The rules are straight-forward and clear, and game-play is smooth and elegant. There is a great deal of fun to be had in plotting, building shaky alliances, and trying to work out what others are up to—especially with more than two players. Indeed, we were having so much fun that I forgot to take pictures, and instead we all watched President Salvador Allende be quickly overthrown as military units moved against him.
Chile ’73 is not intended as a high-fidelity simulation of the bloody events of September 1973. Although played on a zonal map of Santiago with units drawn from those that were present in real life, there’s no attempt to simulate the actual leaders and factions that shaped events. In this sense it might be thought of more as a Chile-themed coup game. I’m not sure I would ever use it to teach about Latin American history. It is, however, a terrific design with very different pre- and post-phase phases, and it does get at the uncertainties and strategic considerations characteristics of successful and unsuccessful military takeovers.
Indeed, I would quite happy to see it as the first of a series. Turkey ’16, anyone?