Wir Sind Das Volk!
This is a highly strategic economic game that recreates the history of Germany post-WWII beginning in 1949, when the country was divided into East and West. One player will control East Germany while the other controls West, and each will struggle to help their system flourish - or at least to remain intact.
After my first game, here is an explanation of how the game plays as well as my first impressions. If you're familiar with the game already, feel free to skip my explanation as usual.
The purpose of this section isn't to explain all the rules of the game, but rather to give an idea of how it flows and the potential significance of the different actions that can be taken. Some details will be left out, but I'm hoping to give you a taste of the game rather than a lesson.
In Wir Sind Das Volk! you control one side of the divided Germany and during the game will attempt to strengthen your own economy while forcing the other player to collapse. To do this, it is necessary to manage the unrest in your provinces, build infrastructure and factories for income and improve the living standards for your people.
During each of the four decades, players will alternate taking actions by selecting either a card in their hand or one of the face-up cards that were laid out at the beginning of the decade. Cards can be used to take any one of four possible actions: removing unrest, building in your provinces, improving the standard of living in your provinces or executing the depicted event. Additionally, there is one card for each decade that can only be selected by East Germany, and can only be used as an event.
By selecting a card and choosing to remove unrest, you can remove a single unrest cube from one of your provinces. Both players start with three unrest cubes in each of their provinces, and managing unrest is vital to avoid collapse. For every four unrest cubes in a province, a mass protest marker is placed there. The immediate effect of protests is being unable to build in that province until the unrest is reduced and the protest(s) resolved. However, if a player has four or more mass protests occurring in their provinces at the end of the decade, they lose immediately. This option may not always be the most efficient for reducing unrest, but it is always available.
Building in provinces
This action lets you build any combination of factories and infrastructure in your provinces - the number in the top left of the card you choose is the number of things you can build.
Factories are placed on cities and increase the economy of the province they are placed in. Infrastructure is used to build connections between existing factories, and increases the value of the connected factories.
For example, using the card shown, the East Germany (red) can build one thing - either a factory or an infrastructure - and chooses to build an infrastructure to begin creating the connection between the Bitterfeld and Berlin factories.
Improving living standard
With a growing economy comes income, and the growing demands of your people. Taking this action allows you to improve the standard of living in up to 3 provinces that have grown sufficiently. A province is worth the sum of the value of its factories, and for every three it is worth it can hold a living standard token.
The number in the top left of the card you choose can be used as a temporary boost to the value of your provinces, in order to place living standard sooner and in weaker provinces.
For example, West Germany selects a card with a value of 1 and chooses to improve living standard. It can boost one of its provinces by 1 point if it needs to. As in the picture shown below, it can place one living standard counter in Niedersachsen as the economy there is valued at 3. It can place another in the province below, as the economy there is valued at 2 plus the 1 boost from the card. The adjacent province is only worth 2 and there are no more temporary points available, so West cannot place the third living standard.
Living standard removes unrest when it is placed, but it can generate unrest at the end of the decade if it is not managed well. If it is spread too unevenly amongst a player's provinces or if it is lower than in the provinces of the other player, unrest will be created. East Germany also has to manage funding for its living standard, facing the need to dismantle parts of its economy if it cannot pay the costs.
Executing the event
Each card has a picture on its top half and a number of symbols on its bottom half. Each player can choose to execute the symbols on a card, if the picture is in their colour (red for East and yellow for West) or if it is in both colours. West cannot execute a red card, and vice versa. If executing a dual card, which will offer advantages to both players, the player executing it may ignore a single symbol that would benefit their opponent.
Card events can cause a variety of things to happen: they can grant building points or force dismantling, they can place, remove or move unrest counters, they can add or remove living standard counters, they can grant police power to East which helps remove unrest each decade at the cost of a dwindling economy, and they can cause shifts in the tracks shown below.
The further left the counters on those tracks are, the more beneficial for West. The further right, the more beneficial for East. The top track is prestige, which provides a once-per-decade attack. The middle is currency, that East needs to pay for living standard. The bottom is socialists, which determines how many socialists will be made available at the end of the decade for East to use during the next, or how many East will lose from the board.
Socialists that are available during a decade are moved onto the board if and when East Germany suffers from a mass protest - each socialist removes one unrest cube, (hopefully) quelling the protest and restoring calm.
For example, the card depicted can only be used by East Germany, and will cause the player to firstly build either a factory or infrastructure, to secondly gain an unrest cube and to thirdly move the marker on the socialist track two spaces to the right.
End of decade
Each decade ends after two rounds of actions, and this is where both economies are evaluated and checked for collapse or win conditions. Here East must pay the costs of maintaining its economy and standard of living. The standard of living of East and West are also compared both internally and against each other, and provinces with a lower living standard gain unrest.
East loses if it is required to pay for something by dismantling and has nothing left to dismantle.
Socialists are also either made available or removed from the board, depending on who holds the advantage on the track. At this point, East wins if all socialists are placed on the board, and West wins if all socialists are removed.
Either player loses if they have four or more mass protests in their provinces at the end of these evaluation steps.
However, if neither player has collapsed by the end of the fourth decade or if both collapse simultaneously, East wins by default.
My first impression
After just one game, Wir Sind Das Volk! has me hooked. I felt like it perfectly captured the push-pull dynamic that I love about two player games. Even better, it made what could have easily been a bland economic game into one that is thematically engaging while remaining focused on strategy and planning.
I really liked how the gameplay focuses on managing a number of interdependent factors, all of which are important in the long term. You need to keep an eye on all three of the tracks, the unrest in each of your provinces, the strength of your economy and your living standard. You need to anticipate vulnerabilities and shore up your weaknesses before your opponent can exploit them, while looking out for similar weaknesses in your opponent that you can take advantage of. If you neglect any one of these factors, you offer your opponent the opportunity to widen the gap between you. However, pushing too far ahead on some of them will also create disadvantages, such as increasing your living standard too early. The gameplay encourages not only selecting cards and actions that benefit you, but also keeping an eye out for cards that would offer too great an advantage to an opponent and using them before they get a chance to. You always face the choice of whether you should select a card advantageous for yourself or selecting a card that provides less benefits but that prevents your opponent from attacking you or greatly strengthening their own position. Choosing whether to play offensively or defensively changes from round to round, depending on who the face-up cards benefit more and who needs to focus on preventing damage rather than growing themselves.
I also really enjoyed the dynamics created by the asymmetric abilities and victory conditions, as it forces East and West Germany to adopt slightly different tactics. Both sides have to manage unrest to avoid collapse, but while West must do this through a strong economy and high living standard, East has the option of using police power and socialism. East has the disadvantages of having extra costs, such as a dwindling economy created by people fleeing to West and the need to pay for living standard, but it has the advantages of the special card it can use each decade and the default win condition if it is still standing at the end of the game. As East Germany, all you need to focus on is your own survival - if you can at least hold your economy together until the end of the fourth decade, you win no matter how dismal it is. As West Germany, however, you need to play aggressively, as your only way of winning is to force East to collapse one way or another. Each side has its own strengths and weaknesses which create different ways of playing while keeping the game balanced.
The presentation and artwork of the game is very well done. The box is in greyscale, and the board and cards are in grey and dulled shades of red and yellow. The subdued art style conveys an appropriate sense of austerity that fits well with the history that the game draws on. Apart from being thematically fitting, the minimalism of the art also makes the symbols on the board and cards easier to understand - the symbols are simple and the board is uncluttered, making for smoother gameplay. (Bonus: once you've learned the rules, the components are also language independent)
The final thing that really impressed me about Wir Sind Das Volk is the way the design integrated so much history into every aspect of it, from its title, to the different abilities of each side, to the mass protest slogans, to the different victory conditions. Each card in each decade has a date and name referring to an actual historical event during that time period, including some that belong only to East such as building the Berlin Wall. The rulebook contains two pages at the end of design notes explaining how each element of the game was inspired by the actual dynamics between the two sides of the divided Germany. The theme is not simply pasted on but is consciously integrated into the workings of the game, and Wir Sind Das Volk! greatly benefits from this careful consideration of history.
My first play of the game was only slightly tricky because of the little rules and details that are difficult to remember. They were left out in the gameplay section because understanding them isn't necessary to grasp the flavour of the game, but they meant we often had to stop and look up the rules or forgot certain steps. For the end of decade phase, some of the evaluation steps are unintuitive and I had to have the rulebook open to step through each of them. However, I imagine that these problems would disappear after another play or two, especially now that I'm familiar with the main mechanics of the game. Having a lot of rules to remember and occasionally look up didn't lessen my enjoyment of the game but it did slow it down, so just be warned that your first playthrough will likely be a bit longer than the 2.5 hour play time stated on the box.
Also, Wir Sind Das Volk! is inspired and shaped by its theme but it is not a thematic game. Its focus is on managing an economy, and it is a strategic Eurogame at its heart. If you dislike economic games, Wir Sind Das Volk is unlikely to be the game for you.
Overall, I highly enjoyed Wir Sind Das Volk! and after one play it's on its way to being my top 2 player game. The gameplay was highly engaging and there are many options you have to consider when choosing an action. The need to keep an eye out for your opponent's strengths and weaknesses while also protecting yourself from potential vulnerabilities made careful planning vital, and the asymmetric priorities of East and West created interesting dynamics. Having played as West Germany (and won) I would like to play as East and explore the different strategies from that perspective, as well as seeing how balanced the sides are against each other. My first impression is overwhelmingly positive and I can't wait to play again!