Connecting two sources directly to President Nixon was proving challenging, in spite of the efforts of reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein.
Just when a connection looked solid, a potential source clammed up. Evidence couldn’t be secured. And Nixon was building momentum heading toward the end of his term.
Would John Dean turn? How about Rose Mary Woods? And what exactly was Bob Haldeman doing that was making evidence disappear?
So it went during my first playing the new board game, Watergate.
Yes, there’s now a board game based on the Watergate investigation. And it’s surprisingly fun.
Launched by Capstone Games in September at Gen Con, the largest tabletop gaming convention in North America (attracting 70,000 players), The two-player game pits Richard Nixon against the editor of an unnamed newspaper (duh).
If you play as the editor, your goal is to link two sources, through chains of evidence, to the President. If you play as Nixon, your goal is to block those efforts until you’ve reached the end of your term.
Historical board games are nothing new. Hobbyists have been playing military strategy games for generations. More recently, such epic games as Through the Ages and tighter-focused ones including 13 Days: The Cuban Missile Crisis have allowed players to see how the world would turn out if they were in charge.
There also have been a few journalism-based games as well, including Extra! Extra!, in which players compete to build the front page of their newspaper, mixing copy and photos of various shapes, assigning reporters, balancing budgets with advertising, etc.
But this is the first game I know of that pits press against Pres. And it’s surprisingly strategic while staying anchored thematically.
Each player is given a unique deck of cards featuring people or events from the Watergate drama. Each card, when played, offers the option of moving evidence, initiative, or momentum markers on a research track or, instead, playing an event (such as recruiting an informant or acquiring additional evidence). Use the event, though, and the card might be removed from the game, limiting future options.
Once all cards for that round are played, the acquired evidence tokens are placed, ideally (for the editor) creating a path from the source to Nixon on the evidence board (which looks more like something on a serial killer’s wall than anything I’ve seen in a newsroom, but let’s give that a pass). For Nixon, evidence tokens are turned over, potentially blocking the route from informant to the White House.
A full game takes between a half hour and an hour, with next to no player downtime. First play requires getting used to the mechanics of game play, but Watergate is surprisingly uncomplicated compared to many of its peers in the gaming world. Don’t be intimidated by the 23-page rule book. Everything from page 10 on is just historical background information on both the journalists and the politicians.
Strategy tip if playing as Nixon: Try to block access points to the President early.
Strategy tip if playing as the editor: Prioritize lining up informants before working too much about evidence.