Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Review: Chile ’73

Chile ’73. Tiny Battle Publishing, 2018. Game designer: Brian Train. USD$20.00 (print-and-play edition $10.00)

pic4026703.jpgBrian 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?

2 responses to “Review: Chile ’73

  1. Jim 16/05/2018 at 3:23 pm

    I think this sounds not only interesting but intriguing as well. I have long been a fan of insurrections (Mexico 1910, Russian Civil War, Spanish Civil war, etc)… I’d love to know more about this game.

  2. brtrain 01/05/2018 at 6:50 pm

    Thank you Rex, and I am glad you and the students enjoyed themselves!

    Referring back to the coup-games piece I wrote for Paxsims, I said that one of the first games I ever designed was Power Play, in 1991. It was very small and fast – 50 counters and under an hour to play, to cover both the planning and execution phases of a coup in an imaginary country.
    A few years ago I revised this to become a multiplayer, hidden-agenda and information game, retitled Palace Coup.
    But again, the problem was that it was a generic exercise in an imaginary country, and even giving the factions and units funny names didn’t make it much more appealing beyond the small group of people (which includes me) who find games in imaginary countries interesting.
    So, Chile 73 is a historically-themed adaptation of Palace Coup… and certainly, the basic system is there to be used to handle many actual and potential situations: (to focus things a bit)

    This game system won’t work for every situation, of course.
    A well-executed coup would be noiseless, bloodless or nearly so, and over before the citizenry had finished its morning coffee.
    That wouldn’t make much of a game, which is why we try to make something interesting of the pre-coup phase.
    And a failed coup has a risk of turning into a sustained conflict, which is how the Spanish Civil War got started, for example.

    Shall I make more of these?
    I think I might!

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