Thursday, November 04, 2004

We are All Bulldogs on the Pantleg of Opportunity

"All hail to the thief
But I'm not!
Don't question my
Authority or put me
In the dock
Go & tell the king that
The sky is falling in
When it's not
Maybe not."
from the album "Hail to the Thief"

As jackbooted blackshirts goose-stepped their way through the streets of Wellington, New Zealand, for the second time in the night, I decided it was time to reflect on the timely political commentary that doubled as a game in the form of Ideology: The War of Ideas.

Ideology, a first-time effort from designer Andrew Park and published by Z-Man Games, is a very compact game, both in terms of a well-written and bug-free ruleset as well as its physical box size. Once out of the box, however, the game both literally and metaphorically expands dramatically.

Ideology represents the 20th century conflicts between clashing “ideals” – Capitalism, Communism, Fascism, Imperialism and Islamic Fundamentalism. Each of the ideologies, controlled by 2-5 players, competes to obtain 12 points of global influence by bringing various regions under their sway.

Using military, economic and culture influence, drawn at the start of every turn during the resource phase, players may influence uncontrolled regions during the foreign influence phase, or initiate conflicts to eliminate enemy influence during the conflict phase. During the trade phase (just before foreign influence and conflict), players may discard influence card up to the number of regions controlled by the ideology. After trade comes development, wherein the players improve their holdings and develop advancements. After the dust has settled, a diplomacy phase follows, in which a very elegant method of determining political stance (peace, neutral, war) can have dramatic effects on the following turn. Finally, during the assessment phase, nations are increased in development and players check to see if anyone has fulfilled the end-game condition of 12 global influence points. If not, turn order is determined for the next turn and play continues.

The game seems initially complex, but gameplay is smooth and interactive. Ideology also often manages to mirror historical conflicts and situations (with the exception of the Fascist takeover of Hobbit-land above) with startling familiarity.

In two game sessions, the Soviet-Afghan war, a mini-WWII and the rise of dictatorships in South American made their appearance. Not to be confined to history, however, the games also saw Canada become completely Communist, a brief Islamic revolution in Japan, and a fascist invasion of Cuba.

In our first session, with Adolf Easy, Commie Shemp, Mullah Hapi and King Kozure competing, we failed to recognize the threat of the Red Menace’s iron curtain ability, and reacted too late to Mother Russia clasping most of Asia to its ample steel bosom. Communism reigned supreme in this world, comrade.

In the second, with our lessons squarely learned, somehow Shemp and Easy drew identical ideologies to the previous game, but with President Kozure and Emperor Hapi now making an appearance. The game was much more strategic this time, with an all-out “kill the leader” tactics much in vogue. Despite constant attacks and a very weary-looking Adolf Easy weathering union riots in Germany, the Fascists marched to victory. Shemp made frequent use of the totalitarianism special ability to stomp on the head of fledgling Capitalism in Canada. Capitalism, under the shaky leadership of President Kozure, managed only a dismal last-place finish, with Hapi and Shemp taking third and second respectively.

Overall, I quite enjoyed the game. Mechanics were tight but not confining, pacing was good without a lot of downtime, and the theme was well explored. My only quibble might be with the thin cardstock of some of the counters. I initially had a problem with the small size of the influence and advancement cards, but after actually playing the game, I realized that any larger and you would need a ping-pong table to play. As it was, even on Shemp’s medium-small dining room table, we had a tight fit. A minor drawback to a game debut which, in my opinion, is one of the strongest so far in my collection.

To kick off the evening, in honour of our theme, “Hail to the Thief”, we played a round of Taboo with US election-themed words. Chimpanzee, Pantleg, Pie, United Nations, Moral Majority, Fallujah, Al Gore, George W. Bush and other similarly loaded words, people and phrases made their way into the lexicon. A lot of fun that certainly put us in the mood for Ideology.


  1. Interesting.
    Not much to say about "Hail to the Thief" Taboo except that it was good for a laugh. Or was it the rantings about the re-elected president and bacon flavoured beer?

    Ideology was a good game. The concept is certainly interesting! Game play had many steps, but was pretty smooth in practice (other than my tendency to mix up their order). Lots of tough choices, probably quite a few effective strategies, not too much luck. My main complaint would be that for all the vast ideological differences, the various roles felt more or less the same. The system was fun, but the ideological differences seemed bland. Many felt too minor (starting improvements and minor abilities). There were exceptions: The Iron Curtain's ability to stomp out insurgents and the Capitalists inability to declare war made for some interesting dynamics. I guess I would have liked to see more examples such as these, giving each ideology distinctly different characters, and therefore different tactics. This is something that I admire in Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation... The good and bad have vastly different powers and even goals, but the game meshes very well. Similarly, the "improvements" up for purchase felt a bit generic.
    I took it simply as a game of world domination. I felt on a few occasions that something didn't seem "Right". For example, in the second game I found myslef with an enormous lead, but one point short of the win. With 3 players against me, and 11 cards in my hand (my last 11 cards), I felt like we were at a stalemate for several rounds. They would attack, I would fend off. In time, they discovered that my weakness was "Cultural" and they somewhat decimated me with well coordinated attacks. Thing is, this actually put many "Cultural" cards back into my deck and allowed me to quickly bounce back for the win! Shemp had similar issues. I normally am a fan of constrained resources, but in this case it seems that for a 12 point game, more cards are in order.
    It also seemed that more often than not, defending was less effective than waiting and attacking back.

    On the plus side, the fact that negotiating peace or war has an effect on your available actions was very interesting. Also, the inclusion of the nukes was well done (I initially didn't like it, as they seemed expensice and underpowered as a weapon... but Shemp correctly pointed out that their use is more for intimidation and power, just as in real life). Finally, it's very satisfying to continue the long and proud tradition of Fascism in New Zealand.

    Rating 6.5

  2. You mentioned in an email today that you had some thoughts on "The perfect game" which would be good discussion fodder...

  3. Ideology: The War of Ideas.

    Really liked this one, and can't believe I missed rating it. Was a long time ago now, but I'll give that sucker an 8.