Have you had a look at the new board game about the Peace of Westphalia?
I’d be curious to know how well it models the dynamics of the treaty.
I figured I would have to deal with this one sooner or later. I will preface my response by saying that I am a long-time board gamer and aspiring designer, so I have strong opinions on the subject — this is not a peripheral matter for me. Also, I should say that I have not actually played the game, although I have had the rules explained to me in some detail.
There are two aspects to any historical game: the history, and the game. For “Westphalia,” the history is broadly correct. The designer picked the right powers and the right issues. It makes sense to have a “liberties” track (instead of recording specific liberties) and a “tolerance” track for religious issues. As a game, I love the way the Dutch benefit from trading with others. It doesn’t have anything to do with history (trade patterns are determined by supply and demand, not rulers deciding whether to benefit another country), but it is a neat game mechanism that at least emphasizes the fact that the Dutch depended on trade.
As history, my biggest concern is that it is focussed on debt. Debt was undoubtedly a problem in the 1640’s (and virtually every other period of history, for that matter). However, no one cared about spending above their means as long as they could get away with it. Periodically, nations had to “declare bankruptcy,” which meant not usually repudiating debt, but restructuring it in a way favourable to the government (for example, converting short-term, high-interest loans into long-term, low-interest loans). This happened, and a country was squeezed for a bit because lenders were hesitant to entrust them with more money, and then things gradually went back to normal. No one measured success or failure based on the size of debt.
As a game, I can only refer to what I have heard from others. One interesting aspect of it as a game is that each player can achieve his victory conditions independently. This means that multiple players can share the victory. Ironically, if all six players “win,” there is a rule to determine which one of them is the actual winner. So, 5 of the 6 can win together, but all 6 cannot win. It is a matter of preference whether you like shared victories (I do not), but the major issue is that some sides have an easier time achieving their victory conditions than others, and they have no incentive not to do so.
I will leave that more as a question than an answer, since I have not yet been able to play. It looks to me like the game sort of covers the issues relevant to the peace, but whether players make decisions based on historical motivations, I’m not sure.
Twenty-five years ago, I designed a simple card game on the Congress of Westphalia. It is more thematic than historical. Everyone I have playtested it with has enjoyed it, but publishers have not been interested. It is available on The Game Crafter. I haven’t listed on this site previously because I’m not confident enough to encourage people to spend money on it, but if you’re curious, it’s an alternative. (It is also playable with 2 or 4 as well as 6. I have struggled to create a role for a mediator, which didn’t work well for that game but I still hope to make work in a different one.)
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