Gunpowder Treason Game

These comments copyright 1997 by Steffan O'Sullivan
This page last updated March 12, 1997

Gunpowder Treason, 1987 from Aztral Games, UK, is a strange little game. The only reason I picked it up is because it's the only game I know based on Guy Fawkes. I've always had a fondness for Guy Fawkes - I don't really believe in blowing people up, but if I did, I would indeed pick a similar choice in targets - but possibly in a different country.

At any rate, the game can be played with two, three, or four players, and is better with more. The game consists of a board (with the rules printed right on it), a pawn and four barrels of gunpowder for each player, twelve counterinsurgency agents, and a deck of cards.

The board has Parliament in the center, with the four Guy Fawkes starting in the corners. About a fifth of the squares are white, and the other four fifths equally divided between the four colors of the starting players. White squares are the only squares counterinsurgency agents can be on. The agents only move by action of the cards, and can be sent to various places on the board. The board also has tunnels, passages, and listening posts, which allow long-range movement, but there is some risk of being raided while using them.

The object is to get your four barrels of gunpowder to the Parliament cellar, then to move onto Parliament itself - or be the last person left in the game.

Pawns move one space at a time, to any of the eight adjacent squares. If it's a white square, or one of your own color, don't draw a card - your turn is over. If it's one of the other three colors in the game, draw a card and follow the actions on it. There are many cards, and they range from "Take another move" to "Swap the contents of Blue Gunpowder Store #1 with Red Gunpowder Store #3" to "Counterinsurgency agents raid X" - with X being either Tunnels, Gunpowder Stores, Listening Posts, Cellars or their own HQ: adjacent to Parliament.

You can also head for a tunnel entrance (white space), which will allow you to move to the next tunnel in one move - this is very quick movement compared with the slow one-space-at-a-time pace of normal movement. Listening posts are linked to all other listening posts, so they also allow quick movement. Is it better to plod along, slow but safe, or move quickly but with risk? Thereby hangs the game . . .

The major decisions in this game are when to take risks in pawn placement, and when to draw a card. If you are on a white space when it is raided, you lose the game right then - remove your pawn. If you are adjacent to a raided white space, you go back to start, UNLESS you are on your own color. In that case, you are immune to a raid. You can, through diagonal movement, usually play it safe, by staying on your own color when adjacent to a white square, and drawing cards otherwise, hoping to bust your opponents. But if your opponents are moving rapidly, using tunnels and listening posts, you'll find yourself very far behind before too long. Also, the longer it takes you to move a single barrel to the cellar, the more chance there is of one of your remaining barrels being swapped to another space - farther from home. So there will probably come a time when you have to take a chance - and figuring out the timing is where the real game action is.

I like this game. There is undeniably a fair bit of luck, but most of it is in calculated risk. I've lost the game after having gotten all four barrels into the cellar only to be captured by a raid in the agents' HQ - the last space before Parliament. Yet it wasn't a bad feeling at all - it was, in fact, a sense of real accomplishment, since the winner had only gotten two of his four barrels in place by then! I had been taking a lot of risks and was zooming along, and enjoyed the game immensely.

Still, I can't say it's a game I play very often. I only pull it out every few months, but when I do, I enjoy it. If you can find one cheap, you might consider picking it up. What other game allows you the chance to blow up Parliament?

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