UNFORGIVEN: THE LINCOLN ASSASSINATION TRIAL

Reviewed by Herb Levy

UNFORGIVEN: THE LINCOLN ASSASSINATION TRIAL (Green Feet Games, 2 players, ages 13 and up, 25 minutes; $34.99)

 

It’s been said that the last casualty of the American Civil War was the President of the United States: Abraham Lincoln. As the victim of a conspiracy led by John Wilkes Booth to decapitate the government of the United States, Lincoln was the sole fatality. In the aftermath, Booth was tracked down and killed with the other conspirators caught and put on trial. These conspirators met at the boarding house run by Mary Surratt and she, too, was arrested as a member of the conspiracy. In this new game designed by Tom Butler, Mary Surratt (as in real life) is on trial for her life for her role in this conspiracy. Will she be found innocent? Or, as evidence mounts, be found guilty and be Unforgiven?

Unforgiven: The Lincoln Assassination Trial comes in a box that looks like a well worn, vintage volume devoted to legal issues. There is truth in advertising here as the game puts players in the roles of the prosecutor or defender, each trying to earn a favorable decision either by convincing 4 of the military jurors (this was a military and not a civilian trial), bringing the “scales of justice” all the way down on their side of the “reasonable doubt” track or, if neither of those events occur, winning the decision by amassing the most Trial Points (TPs). 

The game board is set up between the two players with the Justice Marker (the aforementioned scales) placed at 0 on the “reasonable doubt” track. The 9 juror tiles are shuffled and each player receives 3. One is chosen (placed face up in that player’s area) with the remaining 2 passed to their opponent. One of those is now picked (so each player has 2 jurors in his/her area) with the remaining juror placed in a “Deadlocked” space next to the reasonable doubt track. (These jurors remain out of play until the Justice Marker moves next to them. When that happens, they join their respective sides and are now eligible to be “convinced”.) The Remaining three jurors are randomly put on the three center tracks. The trial takes place over three phases (indicated by the three decks of cards used: Trial I, Trial II and Trial III). Three Trial III cards are randomly placed (so only their costs are showing) next to the center tracks as “alternative” means of influencing jurors. (More on that later.)

14 dice are in the game but these six-siders carry no numbers. Rather, they show various icons representing different types of evidence and appeals as well as a “Gallows” (which will move the scales of justice one way or another) and Wild. The prosecutor rolls 3 dice, the defender rolls 2 and these are placed on any space on the dice track until all five spaces are filled. The defender then rolls another die, placing that one on the 0 space of the reasonable doubt track.  Each player takes 5 “sway” (the currency of the game). Finally, cards used in the phase are laid out in an interlaced display, part face up, part face down, so that some cards are partially covered. Now, as part of “trial preparation”, each player selects one die from the array. (The die closest to that player is free but dice farther away cost more and more sway.) New dice are rolled to replace the ones taken and the game can begin.

Cards come in different suits (colors) to indicate the type of evidence and the icons they will provide. An “ear” is Hearsay evidence, an “eye” eyewitness testimony, a “gun” physical evidence. A “heart” appeals to emotions, a “head” appeals to logic and a “shield” symbolizes an appeal to national interest. Other icons also appear such as “Gallows” or “Sway” (granting the player more of the game’s currency). Virtually all show a cost requiring specific icons and/or the spending of sway but sometimes no cost at all! (Only cards face up and uncovered by any other card are eligible to be taken. As cards get chosen, more cards will become exposed with face down cards flipped over and revealed.) A player MUST take one fully uncovered card from the display but has four choices as to what to do with it. 

  1. Draft the card and add it to your display provided you have the right icons and/or amount of sway. 
  2. Discard the card and receive 2 sway. 
  3. Discard the card to convince one of the jurors on the board. These tracks require Logic, Emotion or National Interest icons in ever increasing amounts to move those jurors closer to your side. By having (or turning in) the specified icons, these jurors (in a tug-of-war with your opponent) will join your side bringing you that much closer to winning the trial. 
  4. Discard the card to convince one of the jurors in your display. As with jurors on the tracks, jurors in your display require certain icons and/or sway to be convinced. Once convinced, they are turned horizontally to indicate that they are firmly in your camp.  All jurors, once convinced, offer various benefits. These benefits (more sway, more cards, more dice etc.) are available immediately.

The power of dice gathered is not to be underappreciated. Should you manage to move the scales of justice back past 0, you pick up that center die as a reward. You can always spend 3 sway on a turn to pick up the die closest to you and allocate additional sway, placing one per additional space next to the dice, to claim a die farther away. (This sway can be retrieved on a future turn is you decide to go for the die or dice that is next to the sway.) Not only can dice take the place of icons but they can also be used in other ways such as discarding one or more to gain more sway, handing in 3 of them to take an extra turn, even using any 3 dice to make an “Objection” and cancel your opponent’s action, take the card he/she has chosen for yourself and advance an undecided jurors towards you too!! This is an extremely powerful move that can completely swing the outcome of the game away from your opponent! (Of course, your opponent can stymie you by giving up 3 of his/her own dice to object to your objection! The moral here: keep track of the dice your competitor has!)

Once all cards from a phase have been chosen, that phase ends. Dice are rerolled and replaced on the board and the normal trial preparation is done. Play continues until either someone has convinced 4 jurors or managed to get the scaled of justice all the way down its track to their side. If neither has happened by the time all of the cards from Phase III have been taken, then Trial Points (based on cards and dice held at the end of the game) are totalled. The player with the most TPs has won the verdict!

Component quality is first rate all around, from the atmospheric box to thick juror tiles to easily readable dice and card stock. Despite the bronze, silver, gold framing on the cards (for Phases I, II and III), cards can still get mixed up; a different background for each phase might have been a better choice – but I’ll leave that to the graphic artists out there. The rule book is fairly thorough although there are some gaps. (What do you do with unclaimed sway placed next to dice when you re-roll dice for the next phase? We leave the sway where it is!)

Butler has done a considerable amount of research here. Virtually every card shares historical facts and contemporary photos pertinent to the events of the time allowing players to become immersed in the event! At the time, spirits ran high regarding the trail and, true to its source, the game is remarkably tense as well. The game builds from phase to phase with players adding to their “arguments”. You’ll start to make your case in Phase I by collecting icons. During Phase II and III. your argument will strengthen while you attempt to convince jurors and swing the scales of justice your way. In the many games we’ve played, convincing jurors seems to be the dominant way to victory. (In the expansion, one of the jurors allows you to “turn” a juror immediately from one side to the other!) The tug of war for unaligned jurors is handled brilliantly as jurors who move closer to you become harder for your opponent to turn back simulating a juror “leaning” your way. Unless you feel the game will end deadlocked with the victory determined by Trial Points (as can sometimes happen), it’s best to use the red cards (which generate the majority of those Trial Points) for other purposes (convincing jurors, for example) while using other colors to bolster your argument and/or reasonable doubt track position.

In our world of today, bogus conspiracy theories abound. But this conspiracy was real with results both shocking and devastating to a country trying to heal as the ravages of war were coming to a close. The trial of Mary Surratt was an attempt to get justice for the slain President and the country. Unforgiven: The Lincoln Assassination Trial handles the subject matter intelligently in a game that is both challenging and completely engaging. For anyone with an interest in American history, this is a first rate game. For anyone, who enjoys first rate games, this is a must buy. Miss out on Unforgiven and you will not forgive yourself! Highly recommended! – – – – Herb Levy


Have feedback? We’d love to hear from you.

 

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