Modular Game Design: EU v. Russia, Part II

As promised, today the students had a last game of EU v. Russia, which one of the them joyously re-baptized “Pride and Presidents.” Two games ran simultaneously (A and B, 6 students and 7 students), and took just about the whole 50-minute period, although I did have to start timing Russia A, who had adopted a stalling tactic.


Both games were close, but Russia squeaked by for the win in each case. That makes Russia undefeated in the eight games we’ve played over four sessions. Although some games have come down to a single victory point’s difference in the final score, Russia’s clear in-game advantage is something I’ve been working to balance out – to an extent – for several weeks.

As William pointed out to me in a conversation about Russia’s winning streak, there is an element of reality being reflected here: despite the EU’s superiority in industrialization, economy, and population, Russia still manages to throw its weight around largely unimpeded. So Russia’s advantage in the game isn’t necessarily a bug that needs to be fixed.

As I mentioned in Part I of this post, war-mongering has consequences, and if war breaks out in a NATO country, both sides lose the game. When we first started playing, this did not in the slightest deter students from declaring war in almost every single high-stakes country (I’m looking at you, Poland); one game day, World War III broke out three times in fifteen minutes. It wasn’t until I imposed an out-of-game penalty (a short paper on the topic of war in Europe) that students began negotiating seriously when war seemed imminent. I enjoyed watching them use the threat of the additional assignment to manipulate the opposition during the game, and it seemed true to the spirit of the nuclear deterrent, which only works if each side is convinced the other is crazy enough to detonate. War stopped breaking out in NATO territory immediately, and games were played to completion. That said, I still feel that this need for the out-of-game consequences indicates a design shortcoming that needs to be addressed in the next iteration.

The stakes clearly felt higher for the players today, though, because World War III was back on the table after several calm and relatively peaceful games. Both sides immediately backed down, of course (and I let them, since this was our last playthrough), but the threats that had successfully averted disaster in the past had become ineffective, and in both games A and B the losing side seemed only too willing to throw the entire game rather than concede defeat. In game A, that side was Russia, who had been drawing a series of unfavorable event cards and was facing a much more organized EU team. Yet in spite of Russia A’s seeming lack of strategy and EU A’s advantages, Russia A won the game 33 points to 30 – once the brush with war, and the approaching end of class, pushed EU A to give up Poland without a fight, overconfident in what looked like a commanding lead. The game was tense, frustrating for Russia and, upon calculating the final score and coming up short, for the EU as well. But both sides lingered in the classroom after time ran out, looking to make sense of their experience. The EU had been so confident, and so lucky; they had so many resources; why had they lost? Was the game just broken for them?

EU A's tokens (blue circles) dominate the map
EU A’s tokens (blue circles) dominate the map

I remain convinced that, with the right strategy and without too much bad luck, the EU can win this game. In a few weeks, I hope to run it with players who have more experience with war games and their strategies; results of that experiment will be, of course, forthcoming in a future post.

Interested in using EU v. Russia in your classroom? Contact me to request a copy!

Photos in this post are my copyright 2015.

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