A bit in The Guardian about political board games

Thanks to Rodger MacGowan for the nice C3i banner.

Thanks to Rodger MacGowan for the nice C3i banner.


Games referenced: Labyrinth, Train by Brenda Romero, and A Distant Plain. As you might expect though, the article is illustrated with a stock photo of Risk. The writer, Matt Thrower (“MattDP” on Boardgamegeek), had a long interview with Volko Ruhnke and while I am certain that Volko mentioned it, there is nothing in the article to indicate that ADP was a co-design, still less one with me. The writer also indicated in the comments that he had a lengthy discussion with Volko where he vigorously defended the bipolar political model in Labyrinth, but there was no room for it in the article. Sigh, so it goes… little room for those who think and speak in paragraphs, and so much is left on the cutting room floor by tin-eared editors who think it’s all variations on Risk.

James Kemp (http://www.themself.org/) pops in to the comments to mention megagames, the ones that he and Jim Wallman (http://www.jimwallman.org.uk/) have run are very good examples. The comments also contain this absolute gem by one “Winston Smith”:

“Any 5 year old can create a board game, but the same can not be said of Crusader Kings II, one of the most genius strategy games of all time. I’ve played thousands of board games, and none of them come close to CKII. You have to be a moron, or have some secret agenda to think board games will ever hold up as anything other than a novelty in 20 years. “

About brtrain
This blog is mostly devoted to posts, work and resources on "serious" conflict simulation games.

6 Responses to A bit in The Guardian about political board games

  1. It’s probably about as good as mainstream media coverage gets, though as you say the stock photo of Risk doesn’t help. Neither, I think, does the juxtaposition of what you and Volko do with Brenda Romero, whose Train project is, to my mind, more akin to performance art than conflict simulation.
    Interesting that at the same time you were writing this, more or less, Richard Clarke of UK-based Too Fat Lardies was musing on his forum about his experiences of debuting his miniature rules for combat in contemporary Afghanistan, Fighting Season. At that level of granularity, you’re not going to learn anything really beyond the perspective of a platoon or company commander, but the same ethical questions (is it acceptable to game a contemporary conflict) were raised by at least one bystander. However, as Clarke noted, many British Army veterans saw the rules in action and thought they were a valid training tool.

    • brtrain says:

      Oh yes, “Train” is more art than game; it gets tagged as such because it has the structure of one.
      It also plays with the idea of “complicity” as much as it does with “challenge”, exploiting the socially-instilled urge to follow directions, organize things, accomplish goals, etc. never mind what the goal is.
      After all, the designer is a video game designer, and knows a lot about sucking people into experiences effectively – but she is an artist too, which means once you’ve been sucked in she punches you in the gut.
      That’s good art; good games do that too.

    • brtrain says:

      Oh and yes, I agree with you and Richard Clarke about the tactical rulesets and board games that have come out on recent insurgencies: you don’t get a lot of insight beyond that of a small unit commander because the games/scenarios focus on the 5% of the time the unit is in contact, not the other 95% where it is trying to do the important COIN stuff (as well as keep it together until the next contact).
      And yet, insurgencies are strategic struggles that are played out at the tactical level: there are few if any Dien Bien Phus, but all those little raids, ambushes, patrols, riots and IEDs do add up to something – abstracting all this is the design challenge.
      (And it’s even harder at the operational, in-between level, which is what I’ve been struggling with in games like Kandahar and the District Commander series.)

      • Jan Spoor says:

        The only thing that I’d suggest about tactical games is that (IMO) a tactical game set in a COIN situation should include some of the political concerns that even a small-unit commander in that setting is going to have to take into account. “Good” tactical COIN games will help the player see why those considerations are important, even when they conflict with the classic tactical readout of a situation. “Bad” tactical COIN games will just treat any “political” concern as essentially a random, meaningless, even stupid limitation created by self-hating higher command to handicap the small-unit commander.

  2. Pingback: Little Navies - Military Muddling

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