Game Buzz: Watergate

On June 17, 1972, five men broke into the headquarters of the Democratic National Convention at the Watergate Office Complex in Washington, DC. Two years later, on August 9, 1974, President Richard Nixon became the first person to resign his post due to cover-ups related to that burglary. It was the biggest political scandal in the history of the United States, and now it has been made into a game called

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

Watergate is a two-player game designed by Matthias Cramer, published by Frosted Games and Capstone Games. It should be released wide soon (if it hasn’t been already). In the game, one player represents the Nixon administration trying to avoid a scandal, and the other is an editor at the Washington Post trying to connect the dots to implicate the president’s role.

Each role has a deck of 21 cards, one of which is a Momentum card that is separated from the rest. The Initiative card is placed so it points to the Editor, and the Initiative and Momentum tokens are placed on the research track, located on the side of the board. There are 30 evidence tokens that are put into a bag, and 7 picture tiles that are put together to form the potential informant supply.

image by BGG user bartlantz (cat not included)

Watergate is a round-based game, which each round consisting of three phases: the Initial Phase, the Card Phase, and the Evaluation Phase.

INITIAL PHASE: Draw a hand of cards from your draw deck based on Initiative. The player who has Initiative pointed at them (the Editor at the start of the game) gets five cards, the other player gets four. Then Nixon draws three evidence tokens from the bag, looks at them, and places them face down on the 0 space of the research track. Nixon can look at these face down tokens at any time.

CARD PHASE: Beginning with the player with Initiative, players take turns playing one card from their hand. You can either choose to play the card for its value, or for its action. If you choose value, you will move the Initiative marker, the Momentum marker, or an evidence token of the proper color towards you on the research track. Whatever you choose moves a number of spaces equal to the value on the card. If the Editor wants to move an evidence token but doesn’t know if one of them is the right color, they ask Nixon if one of them matches. If so, Nixon flips one over and the Editor moves that. If not, they can move something else. Whenever a token moves off the zero space, it is revealed.

If a token ever moves to or past the 5 space on the research track, the player whose side it is claims it. Claiming the Initiative token means you’ll turn the Initiative card towards you, and you’ll go first/get more cards next turn. Claiming a Momentum token means you can put it on your Momentum card. Claiming an Evidence token means you can place it out on the map. The Editor places it face up, trying to connect Informers to Nixon. Nixon places it face down, trying to block paths from the Editor.

If you choose the action part of a card, you resolve what it says. If the action was an event, the card is removed from the game. If it was a Conspirator (for Nixon) or Journalist (for the Editor), it is placed in the appropriate player’s discard pile.

EVALUATION PHASE: This is basically the clean up phase. Any evidence that is on the 0 space of the research track goes back to the bag. If they haven’t already been claimed, the Initiative and Momentum tokens are awarded to whoever they’re closest to. Initiative switches to the other player if it’s on zero, and Momentum is only claimed is if it’s not on zero. Evidence tokens are also awarded to the players they’re closest to.

The game continues until someone has won. Nixon wins for gaining five momentum, or if the momentum tokens run out. The Editor wins by connecting two informants to Nixon.

image by BGG user bartlantz

The Watergate era was a dark time in American history. I still find it odd the subjects people want to make games about sometimes, but for history buffs, this is a gold mine of history. I can see this being used to teach some of what happened. There’s of course a good amount of abstraction going on, but the events and people are based on the real players in the actual scandal.

As purely a game experience, this has got major tug-of-war elements, which is a mechanism I like. It’s not too complicated to explain, but as with many games that utilize multi-use cards, the question of when and how to play them looks like it adds some complexity. It looks like an interesting game, and I’m curious to try it out.

Thanks for reading!

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