Advent Reviews: Article 27

Article 27 is a game about the UN Security Council. I bought it on a whim last year – I’m interested in the whole international systems thing, but the name and theme of the game sounded like it might be a heavy, dusty game. It turned out to be pretty much the opposite.’

What is this game?

In Article 27, you play one of the permanent members of the UN Security Council. Now, the name of the game refers to the part of the UN code that says that a resolution must have a majority for it in order to pass, and that it cannot pass if any of the permanent members vote against it. This means that permanent members vote “no” by abstaining, while a “no” vote is a veto. Knowing this, it should come as no surprise that the game is all about negotiating a resolution, and trying to get people to vote for your proposition, or at least not to veto it.

During the game, the players take turns being the Secretary General. In a 4-6 player game, each player will be Secretary General once, in a 3 player game, each player will be Secretary General twice. The Secretary General has five minutes to try to put together a resolution that will be able to pass – that is, a majority must get enough out of it to vote for it, while no one can dislike it enough to veto it.

So, what do players get out of a resolution? Three things: Players will receive or lose points for which of five issues are part of a resolution. At the beginning of the round, each player will draw five tokens from a bag, placing them on fields that mark out the points the player will gain if that issue is passed this turn: +5, +3, +1, -2, -4. You can draw several tokens with the same issue. This means that you could theoretically have five identical tokens, though you will most often, you will get a variety of tokens with one or two copies. You might still get both plus and minus points for the same issue though.

There are a few more points available. The Secretary General gets five points if they can pass a resolution. Also, each player has a hidden agenda that they want passed throughout the game. Each issue token will carry one of these hidden agenda tokens, meaning that you might have an interest in passing an issue, even if it doesn’t get you any points.

Finally, there are bribes. Players can use their points to bribe each other to do certain things: Put a certain issue in the resolution, vote for a resolution,  even veto a resolution (which is a way of splitting the cost of vetoing). Bribes are offered by putting coins together with a token representing your country on the other player’s playing board. This board has spaces for all the different kinds of bribes you are likely to be making throughout the game. Then, after voting, players get any bribes they honoured, while they return any they didn’t live up to.

The game continues until all players have been Secretary General, then you score the secret agendas, and count your points.

How many would I play this with?

The more the better. I would say that five is probably optimal, but six is great too. Three is ok, but you don’t really get enough negotiation around the table. You need a few more players to spice it up.

What do I think of the game?

I really like this game. It’s a real “me” type of game: hidden agendas, negotiation, silly voices – what’s not to like? The game is pretty simple, but I feel there is plenty to negotiate. The artwork is very silly, but in a way that evokes roleplaying your country.

In general, the component quality is really good. The boards and the tokens are great, the sand timer is good, and the gavel that the Secretary General has is frankly just amazing. There is a problem with the contrast on the yellow tokens – you simply cannot see which secret agenda is on a token. I’m frankly a little surprised why they haven’t caught that and given the yellow tokens a black outline. For a high quality game, that’s a stupid mistake to make.

The game can be very cut-throat. Very often, the louder, more insistent player will gain more than the quieter players. This can lead to some surprising votes, when one player suddenly decides to veto or vote against a resolution.

And the game is not at all fair. You depend a lot on the way the tokens come up on the board – if you’re unlucky, there won’t be anything that will really give you points in a given round. This doesn’t bother me so much – to me, the game is about getting the best deals I can – but I can certainly see it as a drawback to many players.

All in all, Article 27 is a bit of a different game, and one I’m really fond of. It’s also a rather light game, and I would feel fairly comfortable introducing new players to it. And if someone doesn’t like it? Well, the game takes a maximum of five minutes per player, plus a bit of bookkeeping – so it’s not the biggest waste of time if someone turns out not to like it.

A few interesting things to note

  • That the designers added Germany as a sixth “permanent member”. This bothers me a bit, as it is highly unlikely that another European country would become a permanent member of the Security Council. It’s much more likely that any additional permanent members would be a BRICS country, or at least an African/Asian country, rather than a European country.
  • How you will most often not use all five minutes – but the consciousness of the time constraint will make you move the negotiating process along.
  • How the addition of a leader of the negotiating really moves it along. In some negotiation games where there is no leader, people can sit on their hands a little bit at the beginning, waiting for somebody else to make the first move. Here, the Secretary General will start out with a suggestion, moving the thing along.
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