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8 banana republics and heaps of bribe money form the background for the satirical game of power in the world.
Government and Opposition, Military and Financiers and of course the Guerillas are the participants in Putsch. The players try to control these groups in order to further their positions. In each new round the political groups are just waiting for you to trim your sails to the wind -- of course only with appropriate "donations".
Revenue is transferred, foreign governments are taken over, and of course a revolt won't be long in coming.
Make sure to keep an eye on all the cards, because the action of a group can have extensive consequences -- and suddenly, the military which you had planned to use in a glorious revolution suddenly has completely different orders.
At the end, whoever holds the strings to the most "puppets", wins the struggle for power under the hot Caribbean sun.
Neatly cloaked in the guise of a board game is a game with no board, but it is one that has all the look and feel of a well-seasoned board game. Putsch is a game featuring cards, bidding, money, and many interactive elements. Instinctively, this combination of contents should please me and I'm really pleased it lived up to its billing. The cards have been styled in the form of a Third World republic and they look like the cards in Banana Republic from Doris and Frank with a colourful cartoon feel. At first sight the game appears to have some of the interactive elements of Avalon Hill's Guerrilla, but Putsch isn't as detailed as that excellent game. In Guerrilla, the faction that you support is secret, may be deduced and you may change sides. Putsch has up to eight countries to vie for (depending on the number of players), with each country having five groups all represented in card form. Players change sides supporting different Government posts and countries many times during the game and how you manipulate your position with these determines the outcome of the game. The posts are:
I'll explain these in more detail later. Each pack of cards has at least two of each card in the deck, but card counters will quickly know when a card is safe for a while.
To begin, each player starts with a hand of cards that are displayed face-up in front of the owning player with the critical rule in the game that all cards must be unique. The set up provides each player with a Government card to begin with, which is important because this card provides the most victory points, income and crucially control of a country. Players now use the pad provided with the game to record their bids for a fresh set of cards that are available to all players. These new cards may include cards currently in play, even Governments, since this represents wresting control from another player as factions are bought off. Bids are made in secret and it is even possible for you to fail to secure any card with the two bids you have, which is bad news as all bids, successful or not are lost. Creative players will make cunning bids to optimise their chance of getting cards. (Players may also use the blunt instrument of "I've got the most money" and so will get the cards I want.)
The winning bidders claim their cards and any ones that were previously held are replaced by the new ones. It is possible to re-bid for a card you already have of course and merely the threat of losing a key card can make you do so.
Players are dealt a card which shows their position in the turn order. The higher positions receive lower income, but of course, if they have the right combination of cards, they can prevent other players from using their actions.
Players now play in player order (determined from the bidding procedure) the countries in which they control the Government. [If you can get hold of a copy of D.P.Long's excellent summary, it will help you play the game enormously. It's available at http://www.neonate.org/ for anyone who has access to the Net.]. There is a set sequence of actions to be followed by the players that control the cards in each Government. The start player will decide which of the Governments that he controls will start. If there are none, the next player goes. The default for many factions is that they proceed if no one controls that card because it is not out.
For example, having chosen a start country, say the Pineapple Republic of Del Monte, the Financier, if he is present, decides whether all interested parties in Del Monte can claim income. This is significant because money is used in bidding and fighting, where there is a major dispute. If he decides that income is receivable, all players get the money stated on their cards, no matter who controls them. This is between 10,000 and 30,000. Just before you collect your money, the Guerrilla may use his action to block this. He doesn't get as much money, and if most of the money is going in one direction, may say why not? This uses his action for the turn, so he may decline to block the income distribution in order to use one of the actions he can play later in the turn which does more damage.
The Government now needs to consider its action. It has a choice, and this will depend on what cards are around in other people's hands. If the Army is out, then you'd better watch out, because the Army player can launch a coup and take over the Government from the existing player. This is made easier with the active support of the Guerrilla -- another one of the Guerrilla's options.
On the other hand if the Government can secure the support of the Opposition, then the Army player can be forced to act for the Government and attack a hostile country, probably a Government who has yet to play. This becomes the action for the Army, but not the Opposition and so the Army player is neutralised for another turn. It rather depends what cards are out and who holds them. In this case the Guerrilla is not allowed to block an action that has the support of the Opposition and Government.
Alternatively, the Government may decide that he was rather too liberal with the income distribution and intercept the income bound for another player. Once an action has been used for a player, an action chip is placed on the card and it cannot be used until the next round. Chips are removed at the end of the round. Armies may save up their action, as it can be useful to defend a Government card from future attack.
The Opposition, Army then Guerrilla complete their turns in sequence (assuming they are out), each time pondering what is the best thing to do with their action. Most groups have some choice, but this doesn't take too much time to complete. The next player then starts with another Government and the process continues. Victory points are scored at the end of the round after all Governments have had a turn, when each card in possession of player at this time scores the points marked on the cards (1-3), with a bonus of 5 if you have 5 or more points from one country. This rule forces players to act (attack) against others and equally makes them want to salvage as many points from one country as possible. The cumulative scores are added each round until one player gets to 100 points.
First of all, the game is really good. All the systems operate well and for those who like multi-player games where interaction is the key, they will be in seventh heaven. Like most games involving decisions, each decision is not difficult to make, and you are not surrounded by a host of options the impact of which are impossible to fathom. For those players who liked games to be well themed, (personally I'm not bothered too much) this is and you can imagine yourself manipulating Governments or Opposition or playing the Guerrilla as they undermine the machinery of Government. (No really, I don't normally worry about themes!) Failing that, you can also persuade people to act in certain ways by bribing them with money, though whether this has any affect depends on your group of players.
So far in games that I have played, the use of money for fights has been limited. This is because most cards are immediately taken by the play of a new card and fights are restricted to army vs. army conflicts where one side won't back down. An army normally has a choice of targets outside its own country, so choosing another army that hasn't played its action isn't necessary, but it is good fun when you are one of the neutrals looking on!
A note to all English speakers who fear a purchase will be spoilt if you don't know German. The only German words are on the cards. It really is pretty simple stuff to see what's going on. The German words are translated in the English rules, there is only one word on each card and there are only five of these, so you don't need any German at all to understand the meaning of the cards. If an English version is produced, it really wouldn't add much at all. The game crept into Essen at the last minute, but it might be one of the best games of 1998.