Junta is a a board game with two different phases of play which has recently been updated and reprinted to make it a better looking than it’s original 1978 offering. It’s offered as a 2-7 player game set in a banana republic which is on the verge of rebellion.
Holy hell, is that a game board or a coffee table?
Now I’m not generally one for talking about first impressions when you receive a game but I have to mention it for Junta. When I first opened the box I found a satisfying amount of punchboard. I find it really therapeutic popping out all of the tokens… I think it’s one of life’s little pleasures and Junta has a nice amount. So, after casting a critical eye over the tokens I put them to one side and then I went to lift the board out of the box…
And it just kept coming! So I grabbed the board out and unfolded it. I won’t print my exact response in case this is being read around small children, instead I’ll treat you to a nice thematic comment to give you an idea. It was “Holy Madre De El Presidente! That board is a monster!”. Since I was so surprised I went to get a tape measure to see how big the board actually was and I have to say that if you have a small play space Junta may not be for you. The board is 22″x33″ which for the record is actually bigger than my coffee table. Next in the box were the cards which make up half of Junta. I believe that the artwork for the “hiding” cards has not been changed and just given a fresh coat of ink, however the artwork for the influence and other cards have felt the benefit of a proper spruce up. They definitely don’t look as 70’s. Lastly I found the dice but generally I am not one of those people that geek out about dice. They tend to be functional and not much else and I have had some pretty shoddy dice supplied before but the dice supplied with Junta are legitimately nice. They have a good weight, they have a great feel and they make Junta look worth the money. Maybe even the President’s pocket money.
Gameplay Part 1: Pocket Money
Junta is neatly divided in to two parts. There’s the initial part where Junta is a tongue in cheek card game which is a bizarre cross between Monopoly and the General Election and then whenever someone gets bored of playing that, they can announce a Coup, at which point Junta changes to a strategy war game.
So First off you need to elect El Presidente at the beginning of Junta. With the right amount of players this is done by nomination and then voting. You are given a hand of 5 cards before the game starts and some of them will have extra votes on them. Once someone has been nominated you keep casting votes either for or against the choice of President until someone is elected. Then if you become the President of the banana republic you get a banana as your token of office (no, really).
Once El Presidente is firmly in office (in my case to prove my presidential ability I donned a Fedora and found a massive cigar. I also started wearing sunglasses indoors for effect. Sadly I do not have pictures of this but imagine the man from Del Monte wearing a groucho marx disguise.) they will distribute the roles of the cabinet as they see fit. There are advantages to each of the positions to be filled including getting a free assassination in the assassination round and having control of the navy or part of the army. For example, the minister of internal security can control the police, the air force commander controls paratroops and can create very powerful airstrikes and the admiral of the navy controls the marines and can fire from gun boats. This is the first point in Junta where tactics and general sneakiness can be employed by the President. It’s easy to play favourites if you think it will benefit you but Junta is a game in which you are extremely likely to be stabbed in the back by someone; who will then steal your title and dance all over your grave.
With the cabinet complete you then get down to the important bit of the first half of Junta’s gameplay… MONEY! El Presidente will draw 8 notes from a shuffled pile of cash (notes come in 1m, 2m and 3m pesos) and then distribute it however they see fit. This is another point where you can just flat out lie to people as the cash is face down before it’s handed out. If you want to try and sway the support of one of your cabinet members you can give them more money than what you tell everyone is in their pile. Once you have suggested the budget to everyone it then has to be voted in to be approved. This is one of the many points where I found it would be way too easy to swing things in your favour when playing with only 3 players by casting all of your voting power on your decision. There is an amount of luck involved in what cards you receive as not all of the cards you’re dealt will have votes on them, and some will have assassins and other bonuses, however each person will have at least one vote from their character.
Next you have to go and hang out for a while and sip some cocktails; maybe buy your duck a new house with a moat. There are five places you can loiter like you own the place and these are: Central Bank, Heaquarters, Home, Mistress and Nightclub. 3 of the 5 locations have no effect and are just used as places to hide when the assassination time rolls around, but the Central Bank and Headquarters have uses later on in the game. The bank can be used in a couple of rounds time to transact with your swiss bank account (apparently they launder better than the Cayman Islands) and the Headquarters can be used to launch a Coup, even if the country is currently politically stable at the time. Once you have chosen your hiding place, then you start barricading the doors and windows and calling your mum to tell her you love her as it’s the assassination round.
Assassination (can make a corpse of you)
There are some nuances to how this round has to go, but to save you dying of boredom I will just give it a quick overview. First, you play an assassin card. The assassin can vary in skill and can also have different ways to be avoided which can spice things up a little. When the assassin card is played you get to name your victim and also where you think they’re hiding. At this point it can either come down to your powers of deduction (Holmes), how well you know the other people you’re playing with (Freud) or flat out guess work (Inspector Clouseau). You can announce as many assassinations as you have cards which adds a nice level of strategy to the play if you want to get rid of some (or more likely all) of your competition. If you happen to be killed then you pass all of your pocket money to the person who killed you. If there’s a position which needs filling then the President calls in his cousin (or puppet if you prefer) to fill the position until the cabinet gets reallocated. For me personally this was by the far the best round. As I was playing as El Presidente as well as half of the others players I mostly managed to avoid a lead sandwich and the mocking which went with it. In true political style, one of my group died with his trousers down at his Mistress’s parlour… 3 times.
If you’re still alive after the assassination round and just so happened to be hiding in the bank then you can siphon your pocket money into your swiss bank account which counts as victory points at the end. You can also take it out if you wish but I have always been somewhat of a hoarder.
Gameplay part 2: Bored? Time for a coup!
There’s nothing quite like a coup to brighten your day.
The coup phase is a welcome distraction after some hard time being President (or being repressed by one). The coup half of Junta takes place in 2 distinct phases which are: MOVEMENT: The Rebel Phase (this is where the person who started the coup or would like to rebel gets to move their troops and fire at “the establishment”), movement of any units you’re in control of from one area to another, transfer of any units that you wish to share with your fellow rebels or presidential colleagues, addition of new units which you get from the cards you had in the previous game and COMBAT:
Whilst there is a specific order in which the combat must be resolved, the crux of it is that if there are more than 2 players units in one area, combat can commence. Each unit has a marker which shows how many attacks it can make. Most infantry can attack with one die, Gunboats can use 3 and Airstrikes can use 6. Every 6 which is rolled on the dice counts as a hit and the player can decide which of his opponents tokens “dies”. You can retreat if you wish but it’s not something I did while playing. “FOR GLORY!”. Once the coup is over, each player decides which side their loyalty lies; be it pro president or pro junta. If 3 of the 5 positions of power (marked in red on the board) is controlled by one side or the other then the coup is over and the play goes back to the Presidential Pocket Money stage described earlier. If the president came out on top of the coup they may send a single rebel player to the firing squad (and keep that player’s stash of cash for themselvges) and if the rebels win they have to elect a new president.
So is Junta Presidential material? Not so much for me…
I was really disappointed with Junta, maybe even more so because I had such high hopes for it.
AEG and Pegasus Spiele have done a great job in bringing Junta up to date and it no longer looks as clunky as the original late 1970’s game, and really has felt the benefit of the facelift it has gotten, but Junta says it’s for 2-7 players. This just isn’t true. On the scale of bending the truth between “No, I haven’t just stolen and subsequently scoffed the last chocolate bar” and “We’re giving you this wooden horse to say sorry and there’s nothing at all wrong with it” this sits somewhere around “No, I’ve not seen my wife and I’ve no idea why we have a new patio”.
Whilst it can be played with 2 to 7 players I think it needs to be played with a minimum of 5. This is almost the sole cause of my disappointment with it. With 2 players you have to play with 5 dummy players so end up with 7 anyway but have to struggle through playing as either 3 or 4 different people. With 3 players the rules stipulate that one of you must be a specific character to even the odds a little. Junta has so much potential and I think given the right amount of players it would be excellent fun and a couple of hours well spent but I found it was a bit of a grind. Maybe I just need more friends. *sob*
However I don’t want to be completely negative about Junta because that would be doing the game a disservice. I think Junta is actually a very good game and I completely understand why it got an update and reprint, but it’s not a game for small groups as it claimed to be. I also found the Coup part of Junta was a lot more fun than the “pocket money” part but this could be because it was actually such a reprieve for me.
So, if you have a large gaming group then Junta would be a fantastic way to spend a couple of hours. If you have less than 5 you’re likely going to end up on the wrong side of your own coup.
If you think Junta could be for you then check it out at your friendly local game shop: http://www.gamesquest.co.uk/new-releases/junta-strategy-board-game
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I am just a regular guy that fell into board gaming. That's why I am no longer allowed in my local Toys R Us. I'm a huge fan of deckbuilding games and games with unusual themes or mechanics. OK, maybe I'm not that regular after all.