20 May 2021
It would be a scandal to miss this
Themes in board games broadly can fall into two extremes. On one side, theme is a simple window dressing, on the other, the theme is inseparable from the gameplay. A game with a strong theme that is rooted in its gameplay that at the same time can be also viewed through a completely abstract lens seems an impossibility. Yet, here is Watergate, a game that does both things flawlessly.
A two-player game about the scandal of U.S. President Richard Nixon and his administration, sees players take opposing sides: the editor of The Washington Post, trying to connect the evidence and informants together, while the Nixon administration tries to survive until the end of the presidential term to win the game.
very timely parallel to recent events. Yet, Watergate can still be that much-needed escapism. No historical knowledge is required and no ideological lines are drawn in the sand. The two sides have different goals and playstyles, but that is to the benefit of the gameplay rather than some external agenda. Yet, if you are interested in the historical context, this board game becomes a great source. The rulebook dedicates its back pages to the story of the scandal, explaining in great detail the roles of key figures and main events. If you want to learn more, you can.
Watergate is an incredibly tight tug of war. Both players will be playing cards from their hand to move evidence, momentum and initiative tokens onto their side of the track. If at the end of the round, the evidence ends up on the editor’s side, they can place it on the board trying to link informants to the Nixon photograph in the middle. Whereas, if Nixon gets the evidence, they can use it to block paths instead. Nixon needs momentum tokens to win the game, while the editor can use the same tokens to activate powerful abilities but also prolong the game time to gather the needed evidence. The initiative token gives its holder an extra action, a clear advantage for the round.
The cards can be used to move one of the tokens along the track or for their written actions, that are usually powerful one-off abilities so must be played carefully. After a couple of games, players will learn the abilities on each other’s card and will start making decisions based on the powerful abilities they know their opponent can still play in the future and try to negate them.
In Watergate, every move, every component is important and nothing is wasted. It is tense gameplay, with both opponents going head-to-head the whole time. Watergate can be viewed as only an abstract asymmetrical strategy game if one wants it to be. The theme, however, adds so much visual flavour to its components and artwork, as well as knowledge of its historical background, if one is seeking it. Regardless of how you choose to engage with Watergate, it is one not to be missed. ∗
A rare gem of a two-player game, Watergate is accessible and quick to play, with tug of war gameplay that brings gripping tension with every round.
If you want gameplay similar in strategy to Twilight Struggle, but would like it in a game that does not take hours to playthrough, then Watergate is a perfect alternative.
Designer: Matthias Cramer
Publisher: Capstone Games
Time: 30-60 minutes
WHATS IN THE BOX
- 1 Game board
- 9 Momentum tokens
- 1 Initiative token
- 1 Bag
- 1 Nixon administration momentum card
- 20 Nixon administration player cards
- 1 Initiative card
- 36 Evidence tokens
- 1 Editor momentum card
- 20 Editor player cards
- 7 Picture tiles
- 1 End of round overview card
This article originally appeared in issue 47 of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.
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