“Copper and Cows” by Pickles
Offside review by Nick Luft
I have played earlier versions of this game. I was a table umpire in the original megagame, “Wind that Swept Mexico” (2004), and recently I took part in a play-test, at the 2016 CLWG Conference.
Pickles’ newest offering, at the Games Weekend, April 2017, was an improvement on the first megagame that he characterised as being rather “rules heavy”.
The game we played stretched over two maps, each one representing a Mexican province, in 1913. On each map there were 3 players. Each player had a very simple brief detailing their viewpoint on several of the major issues of the day. Also next to this list were the advantages your player would get if they managed to be in party that had accepted at least one of your strongly held policies and did not espouse any policies you were opposed to. For example my player was some sort of workers’ champion (communist) and wanted nationalisation of the major industries; if I was in a party that supported this I was able to call strikes and prevent any funds being extracted and also increase my support in the area. To make this interesting I had slight variants of this power in four one-off uses. Of course I did not tell anyone this, I just threatened to use it, though I was willing to use one of them once.
Political support also equated to military strength. Normally the way to increase support was to pay your current support plus one to advance to the next level. So if you had a strength of three you had to pay 4 gold to advance to a support level of four.
Actions. To advance support or perform any other game action cost 1 gold, plus 1 for every level of fatigue you had. For example a player with a fatigue of one had to pay 2 gold to perform a new action. At the end of the turn all fatigue levels were reset to zero. Game actions were attack, move, reorganise, train your combat forces, earn gold via work, or illegal work. One action that did not fatigue you, but just cost gold, was to buy munitions.
Income was based on controlling industries, either cattle ranching, oil drilling or copper mines. You could either raid them and just get a quick pay off, or you could take control. If you controlled them and had access to either a port or rail link to the USA then your income increased. For example cows went from 2 gold to 4 gold, copper and oil from 3 to 5 gold. Income was collected at the start of each turn before actions.
Combat was really simple. An attack was announced, the route to attack checked, the base munitions cost was paid and a tactical card was played. The tactical card gave you points bonus, from 1 to 5 and also a special character. You just checked the special characters against those of the opposition and certain combinations gave a quick win, but most combinations had no effect. The stronger card you had the lower the chance of it being beaten in a quick win. If no quick win occurred there was a straight points v points comparison with about five tactical modifiers. The largest score won, a draw gave the defender a win. Each combat cost each side one support level and a dice roll determined which further benefit the winner gained, usually in terms of loot and / or munitions.
In our little thin province on the Pacific Coast I quickly noted that the richest player on the board in the north was a Roman Catholic, Centrist aristocrat who hated nationalisation. I was happy with a strong central government, was indifferent about the priests, but was a fervent supporter of distributing the means of production amongst the workers via nationalisation. The guy to my south wanted land reform, on which I was indifferent, knowing of course that a true workers’ paradise would only begin amongst an organised urban workers collective, the peasants would have to wait. But he was Ok with my desire to nationalise industry, he hated catholics and so we were able to form a Peasants and Workers Party with both our main policy planks in the constitution.
We quickly set about grabbing / liberating local industry and land and soon had two power blocks linked by rail. We then agreed to go and defeat the evil catholic aristocrat to the north. We started by grabbing one of his ports to slow down his income stream and then set about attacking his industrial bases. Knocking the away the props of the parasitic capitalist system.
The game worked well, using mechanisms that were simple and worked rather like a modern boardgame.
The megagame aspect of the game came from the political alliances and negotiations. At the start of the game we had to link up in parties and were strengthened by this. However, I could imagine tensions might arise later in the game when I tried to form links to other socialist nationalists who might be totally opposed to land reform.
I liked Pickles’ game approach to politics the day. There were five levels of support on an issue. You were strongly for it, you were for it, you were indifferent, you were against it, or you were strongly against it. I saw 6 different issues – there might have been more. The kicker were the benefits you might get if you formed into a party that met and promoted your main policies. Compromise on too many issues and you would not be able to use your special power cards. This worked well in the game and we had no issues with it in the debrief.
One aspect of the game we discussed was the inevitable defeat of the one player by two player alliance, mostly through sheer attrition. Pickles answer to this was that most provinces would have five players and this would bring less unstable 2 v 1 situations. He also mentioned that a player or players should be able to call on any national party structure for support, thus helping to balance things, and also giving that typical megagame problem communicating and coordinating across tables (provinces).
We also suggested that a player should be able to entrench or fortify their positions giving them a better chance to survive against repeated attritional attacks.
So in all a good game test, with lots of simple and workable rules and devices. A game that appeals to my preference for a more “structured” approach in megagames.
I did feel a little sorry for Marc – as Andy and I gleefully discussed dissecting his position, knowing he had very little he could do about it.But as Pickles said, that was because of the poor scenario he had set up for the game test.