We Shall Overcome is an abstract simulation of American political conflict from 1961 until 1972. Players represent one of the major political factions active during this time and attempt to achieve its political goals and thus win the game. WSO is played on three Round Sheets which are divided into boxes representing certain political issues and campaigns.

The factions are the Democratic Left, Traditional Democrats, Populist Democrats, Traditional Republicans, and Conservative Republicans.

Each issue has two boxes, one labeled For, the other Against. Players will contest issues in these boxes. In addition, each faction has an election box for conducting political campaigns.


The class is divided into groups. Each group has a moderator who runs the game and keeps records for that group. Each remaining student chooses a faction in any mutually agreeable fashion. If players cannot agree on party allocation, then the moderator will assign them to the players.


We Shall Overcome consists of three Rounds. Each Round is divided into three Phases.
A Round proceeds as follows:

Phase 1: Negotiation
Time is allocated for negotiation among the players.

Phase 2: PSF Deployment

Each player receives 15 Political Strength Factors (PSFs) per Round.

The first player, as specified in the Round instructions, puts three PSFs in any issue or electoral boxes on the Round Sheet.

The remaining players deploy three PSFs, following the order given in the Round Sheet's Order of Play. The first player then deploys another three PSFs, and the remaining players do the same in the proper order. This process continues until all the PSFs received in that Round have been placed on the Round Sheet.

Phase 3: Totaling Points

Total the number of PSFs in each issue box. Players then check these numbers against their objectives to see how many points they have won. This ends the Round. Record points won in the Round on the Scoresheet.

The players then continue to the next Round. When all three Rounds have been completed, the game is over. The players total their points from all three Rounds and see who has won the game.


Political Strength Factors (PSFs) represent a faction's leadership, ideas, finances, political strength, and its willingness to use these. PSFs are similar to the pieces in Risk and checkers.

Your goal is to win issues and elections. You do this by deploying PSFs. Each Round you receive 15 PSFs. You then put 3 PSFs in any issue or election boxes whenever it is your turn. You may divide PSFs as desired.

To deploy PSFs, tell the moderator where you want to put them. The moderator will then record your deployments in an issue or election box on each Round Sheet according to your instructions.

You must deploy all PSFs received in a Round during that Round. You cannot move PSFs after deployment, save them for another Round, or give them to another player.

Each player has objectives in each Round. These include winning issues (ideological battles) or elections. To contest an issue, place your PSFs in either the For or Against box for that issue on the Round Sheet. You get points at the end of the Round if your side wins that issue (has more PSFs in its box than the other side has in its box). If the For and Against sides are tied, no one gets any points for that issue.

For example, take the Civil Rights: Education boxes in Round I. If the For box has the most PSFs in it, then the Democratic Left gets 4 Points, the Traditional Republicans get 3 Points, and the Traditional Democrats get 2 Points. The Populist Democrats and Conservative Republicans get zero Points for that issue. If the Against Box has more PSFs in it, then the Populist Democrats get 5 Points, and the Conservative Republicans get 2 Points, and the other 3 factions get none. If the number of PSFs in the For and Against boxes are equal, then no one gets any Points.

To contest an election, put your PSFs in the election box next to your faction's name. You may not put your PSFs in another faction's election box.

Always check your objectives for each Round so you can deploy your PSFs wisely.


You cannot win We Shall Overcome unless you negotiate with the other players. Some players will share your objectives so have them do your work for you. Others will oppose your objectives so cooperate with others to stop them.

Whoever makes the best deals usually wins. However, trust no one! Lies, betrayals, threats, broken deals, and bluffs are all allowed and encouraged. Always remember: you and your opponents are politicians. If you have any bad qualities as a human being, this would be a good time to use them.


A game of We Shall Overcome lasts three Rounds. Record points earned in each Round on the Scoresheet. After the last Round, players total the points earned in each Round. The player with the most points at the end of the game wins.


The factions in the game represent political activists and their supporters. Points earned represent numbers of uncommitted voters moving to your side.

The Democratic Left included intellectuals, media types, radicals, extreme liberals, and minorities. It was the driving force behind the civil rights and antiwar movements.

Traditional Democrats were a coalition of labor unions, Northern ethnics and catholics, moderate southerners, and city machines. Its primary goals included maintaining political power and increasing social spending. It was sympathetic to many of the Left's goals, but never really trusted them.

Populist Democrats were mostly Southern Democrats and the more conservative Northern ethnics. They favored social spending in many areas, but opposed civil rights legislation.

Traditional Republicans consisted of Nelson Rockefeller and Richard Nixon supporters, attracting suburban, moderate, Eastern, Midwestern, Yankee, Lutheran, and southern mountain voters. It favored social spending as long as the budget was balanced and supported the cold war, but grew disillusioned with Vietnam.

Conservative Republicans abandoned Robert Taft's isolationism and turned to a more interventionist outlook under Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan. They took over the Republican Party in 1964 and lost heavily in November, but this began the movement of Southern and ethnic Democrats into the party. This paid off in Reagan's 1980 and 1984 election victories.


The 1960s generated much social spending starting with John F. Kennedy's poverty program, and continuing through Lyndon Johnson's Great Society. Nixon decided to maintain spending levels, but also insisted on fiscal responsibility.

Cold War disputes with the Soviet Union dominated headlines until Vietnam became the critical issue. Despite much publicity, the antiwar position did not receive majority support from the public until 1970-1971.

The Civil Rights Struggle cost the Democratic Party its dominance in the south, and represented an unusual case of a party sacrificing votes for principle. Victories came in education, public accommodations, and voting rights.

In the late 1960s, the movement became more proactive, spreading to the north, and demanding open housing, affirmative action, and school busing, bringing serious opposition from blue collar whites who bore the brunt of these efforts. Nixon tried to force quotas onto unions and encouraged southern black voter registration in order to split Leftist and Traditional Democrats, and to drive conservative Democrats into the Republican Party.

The Counterculture (i.e., sex, drugs, and rock and roll) annoyed everyone over the age of thirty and made cross-generational alliances difficult at times.


LBJ coasted to an easy 1964 nomination, although segregationist George Wallace's forays into the Indiana, Maryland, and Wisconsin primaries caused a minor scare. Goldwater defeated Rockefeller and William Scranton after a bitter nomination struggle, and a divided Republican Party lost badly in November. Still, political realignment began in this race.

In 1968, Nixon swept aside a hapless George Romney even before the New Hampshire primary and held off late Rockefeller and Reagan charges to win the Republican nomination. Antiwar candidate Eugene McCarthy nearly beat LBJ in New Hampshire, benefiting in part from confusion with anticommunist Joe McCarthy. Robert Kennedy then jumped into the race, helping to scare LBJ out. Hubert Humphrey entered the contest and won the nomination without winning a single primary. Street fighting at the Chicago convention split the Democrats enough to help Nixon eke out a narrow victory over Humphrey and Wallace (American Independent Party).

George McGovern defeated several strong rivals, including Humphrey, Henry Jackson, Wallace, John Lindsay and Edmund Muskie to win the 1972 Democratic nomination. A bungling campaign and a radical image left him buried in a Nixon landslide.


We Shall Overcome is based on European Union, a political simulation designed for European History courses. It can be found here.

We Shall Overcome is designed by Peter L. de Rosa, and is Copyright, 2002. All rights reserved. Reproduction allowed for nonprofit educational use as long as this copyright notice is included.

Support for development of this game came from MSCA-Bridgewater, and Bridgewater State College.


1947: Jackie Robinson integrated major league baseball
1948: Democrats adopted Civil Rights plank and split party
1948: President Truman integrated military
1954: Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas
1955-56: Montgomery Bus Boycott
1957: Little Rock Central High School; Civil Rights Act
1960: Greensboro Lunch Counter sit-ins. Civil Rights Act; Kennedy elected narrowly over Nixon
1961: Freedom Riders; D.C. presidential voting rights granted in 23rd Amendment
1962: University of Mississippi
1963: University of Alabama. Birmingham- Bull Connor. Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing. Medgar Evers assassinated. March on Washington; Free Speech Movement at the University of California-Berkeley; JFK assassination 1964: Mississippi's Long Hot Summer. 3 Civil Rights workers killed. Civil Rights Bill passed. 24th Amendment outlawed poll tax; Gulf of Tonkin Resolution; LBJ defeated Goldwater; race riots in north.
1965: Selma marches. Voting Rights Act passed; Watts riot
1967: Interracial marriage bans struck down by Supreme Court; 100+ race riots
1968: Tet Offensive in Vietnam. McCarthy and RFK drove LBJ out of race. Martin Luther King and RFK assassinated. Humphrey defeated McCarthy at Chicago Convention. 'Battle of Chicago' split Democratic Party. Nixon defeated Romney, Rockefeller and Reagan to take Republican nomination, and then Humphrey and Wallace (American Independent Party) for the Presidency.
1969: Woodstock Nation; First Moon Landing
1970: Cambodia. Kent State. Jackson State
1971: 26th Amendment set voting age at 18
1972: Watergate Burglary. Attempted assassination of Wallace. Antiwar candidate McGovern defeated Humphrey, Wallace, Muskie, Jackson and Lindsay to win the Democratic nomination, but lost to Nixon; Congress passed D.C. Representation and Equal Rights amendments, but neither were ratified by the states.


Taylor Branch, Parting the Waters and Pillar of Fire, Todd Gitlin, The Sixties, Michael Harrington, The Other America, Stanley Karnow, Vietnam: A History, Kevin Phillips, The Emerging Republican Majority, Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail '72, Theodore H. White, The Making of the President series, all cast light on this era.

Round I Sheet
Round II Sheet
Round III Sheet



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