One of the standout two-player games from 2019 was Capstone Games’ Watergate, designed by Matthias Cramer (Glen More, Rococo). If you are at all interested in American history or current events you really need to get this game. Like, no fooling, order it now.
Not only is it a cracking good card-driven game in the tradition of Twilight Struggle--but learnable and playable in under an hour--but half the rule booklet is made up notes on the individual cards, which provides a wonderful capsule-history of the events that led up to the only time--so far--that an American president has resigned from office.
One player plays Nixon, trying to quash the story of the “third-rate burglary” and his other “dirty tricks” and keep his political momentum going until 1976. The other player is the Washington Post, working to uncover the facts via evidence tiles drawn randomly from a bag and then literally trying to connect Nixon with a sequence of tiles from the centre of the board to two of seven possible informants at the edges.
Each round consists of back-and-forth card-play, with the side having the initiative getting to play both first and last. The board is split into two areas: a track which works like a tug-of-war for evidence tiles and the Initiative and Momentum tokens, and a faux bulletin board where evidence tiles will be placed to link Nixon at the centre to his informants at the edges. You and your opponent have unique decks with cards that can be played either for their value to move tiles or tokens or for their event, which is usually more powerful but not always useful in that moment.
At the beginning of each round tiles and tokens start in the middle of the track. If you can move a tile all the way to your side, you get to place it immediately on the evidence board. The Post player plays it face-up to make linkages; the Nixon player flips it face-down as a blocker. Whoever captures the Initiative token similarly gets it for next round. Momentum markers are the timekeepers of the game: the Post gets powerful one-time boosts by winning them, but if Nixon gets five it’s game over. At the end of a round, any tokens or tiles left on the track are awarded to whoever’s side they’re on. Then new evidence is drawn, tokens are reset, and
There are a few more complications but essentially that is the game, and it is tense and chock-full of tantalizing decisions. Both players have to balance the fight for Momentum with making the evidence link up (or not). Initiative is not as crucial but being able to go both first and last is really helpful to turn things around.
Watergate (the game) would probably not seem as consequential to me if I didn’t know or care about Watergate (the story). But that is true for any history-based game; it’s hard for me to separate the two. In my opinion, Watergate is not just a great game but a super way to acquire a baseline knowledge of this watershed moment in American politics which continues to influence events today. Click here to order your copy of Watergate.