Sway The Jury and Argue for Justice in Unforgiven: The Lincoln Assassination Trial | Casual Game Revolution

Sway The Jury and Argue for Justice in Unforgiven: The Lincoln Assassination Trial

 Unforgiven: The Lincoln Assassination Trial

Step into history in this two-player board game based on the real-life trial of Mary Surratt, the woman accused of conspiracy in Abraham Lincoln's assassination.

Published by Green Feet Games, Unforgiven: The Lincoln Assassination Trial plays in roughly 25 minutes.


One player represents the defense and one the prosecution. Each game is divided into three phases. At the start of each phase, each player drafts one of the five trial dice. The dice are rolled before they are placed on the board, and the result is kept when drafted. If a player drafts the die closest to him, it’s free; otherwise, he must place one sway token on each space he skips over. If a player drafts a die from a space that has sway tokens on it, he also gains that sway.

At the start of each phase, the cards from that phase are spread out in a display on the table, in an overlapping pattern. Some cards are placed face-up and some face-down. On a player’s turn, he must choose a card from the display. The card must be face-up and not have any other cards covering it. If, after taking a card, a face-down card beneath it is no longer covered, then that card is turned face-up.

After selecting a card, a player may pay its cost to add it to his argument, discard it to gain two sway tokens, discard it to persuade one of the three jurors that are on the board, or discard it to pay the cost to persuade one of the two jurors in his hand.

When adding a card to his argument, a player triggers any one-time effects listed on the card, and then permanently gains any resources shown on it. For example, if a card gives him one eyewitness resource, that eyewitness resource can be used on future turns to pay for more cards.

The jurors in hand have their cost printed on them. When they’re persuaded, the player triggers their ability and then turns them to the side to show they have been persuaded. The jurors on the board start the game in the center of three separate tracks. To move a juror forward on its track, a player must pay the next price listed on the track space. There are also three alternative prices randomly determined at the start of the game, which can each be paid once per game, to move any one juror one space on its track. If a player gets the juror to his end of a track, he has persuaded him: he triggers the juror’s ability and then places him in front of his side of the board on his side.

Rather than resources, some cards have the gallows symbol, which moves the justice marker one space towards guilty or not guilty (depending on the player who drafted the card) on its tracker. If a player moves the justice marker to the fourth space on his side of the track, he gains a new juror into his hand. If a player manages to bring the marker back across the middle of the track, he gains another trial die.

On a player’s turn he can also spend three sway to take another trial die, and one sway to reroll one of his trial dice. Depending on what they are showing, trial dice can be spent as resources or to move the justice marker, or can be worth points at the end of the game. They can also be discarded to earn sway, or if a player has three of them, they can be spent to earn an extra turn or to object. When objecting a player can cancel his opponent’s action.

A player wins the game if he manages to convince four jurors or moves the justice marker to his end of its tracker. If no one has won the game after three phases, players count up any trial points awarded to them on their cards and dice, and the player with the most points wins.

Unforgiven: The Lincoln Assassination Trial Components


Unforgiven: The Lincoln Assassination Trial is one of those games that proves that board games don’t need to have tons of rules, play for several hours, or be composed of lots of components, to be excellently strategic. This one is tense and close, with a lot of back-and-forth interaction and vying for control.

The multiple paths for victory ensure that you’re constantly having to check what your opponent is up to, and you also need to make your choices carefully. If you focus too much on one path to victory, and your opponent blocks it, you can end up on the backfoot for victory points or allowing the other player to run away with one of the other win conditions.

There’s so much push and pull in the game between the two players, and it does a beautiful job of capturing its theme of a trial, as you fight for the jury and public opinion, and build up steam as you collect more and more cards, gaining more resources, and acquiring cards that combo into a nice set of victory points at the end of the game.

I did personally have some mixed feelings about the theme, however. Historically, the event took place long enough ago that I certainly didn’t think it was inappropriate or in poor taste, but I still found it a bit of a depressing theme, from the woman who in real life was executed to the assassination that led to the trial. It’s a weighty theme, and the game strives to do it justice historically and emotionally, trying to give it context and nuance. But it still felt heavier than I typically enjoy for gaming, partly because the designers did it so much justice.

Aesthetically, we liked the look of the game with historical photographs and drawings and each card a unique piece of history, complete with flavor text explaining its context. The box is also quite nice-looking, made to look like a book. Some of the iconography on the cards, however, was quite confusing, and we spent a lot of time at the start of the game double-checking the rulebook to understand what cards did. That did drop off though by the time we were into the third phase, and the rulebook does do a good job of explaining the individual cards.

Unforgiven: The Lincoln Assassination Trial is a great two-player board game that feels enjoyably close. And, let’s be honest: it’s just plain fun to shout ‘Objection!’ in the middle of a game.

Pros: Very thematic, good two-player game with lots of interaction, multiple paths to victory, it's fun to object

Cons: Some of the iconography is vague, some players may find the theme emotionally difficult

Disclosure: we received a complimentary review copy of this game.

Michael C.
Michael C.'s picture

I backed this on Kickstarter immediatelly.  I grew up in Clinton, MD which is where the Surratt House that JWB stopped at after the assassination is located.  The town used to be called Surrattsville but the name was changed after the noteriety of the trial.

Chris James's picture
Site Admin
Member Since: 04/27/2012

Interesting, thank you for sharing! Since this theme is meaningful to your town history, I am curious about your thoughts on the game?