Review of Afghanistan ’11

I don’t play computer games. Ever, or at least not for a long time. The last one I played was half of Imperialism, the original one from SSI published in 1997.

But I happened across a review of this one and it looks interesting, in that its action seems to approximate a simpler manual wargame, except with a lot more drudgery that the computer mostly handles. It is also an updating of an earlier Vietnam game by the same designer, ’65.

The interesting part is the final two paragraphs, on doctrine:

More fundamentally though, Afghanistan ‘11 is based on some good faith assumptions about COIN that the doctrine itself probably doesn’t deserve. The U.S. strategy of “build infrastructure, visit villages until bad guys go away” is modelled as completely workable in Nagel’s games, despite the fact that the two major American wars that have relied heavily on this strategy are anything but resounding successes. Since David Galula published the first comprehensive explanation of COIN, Counterinsurgency Warfare and Practice (1964), the concept has not been meaningfully adapted nor successfully brought to bear in either major war where it’s formed the centrepiece of American strategy. Afghanistan ‘11 doesn’t interrogate COIN theory, but rather is content to assume that it just works, so long as commanders using it are clever enough.

Then again, what would a strategy game that does critique COIN doctrine even look like? The fact that Afghanistan ‘11 refuses to dig into the question doesn’t detract from its effectiveness as a military strategy game. With relatively few moving pieces, this game evokes a side of modern warfare that’s rarely seen in games due to the difficulties in modeling something as conceptually squishy as “hearts and minds.” The elegance of its design make it engaging and fun from the word go, and the game’s new features fill out the already solid foundation laid down by ‘65.

Emphasis mine. And yes, you won’t find the answer in a computer game, at least not this one.

Oh well, baby (digital) steps….


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

5 Responses to Review of Afghanistan ’11

  1. defling says:

    I’m surprised at such a narrow perspective. The board wargamers I know are all generally aware of what’s going on with the digital COTS side. I’m mildly disappointed that the converse, at least in this instance, doesn’t seem to be true.

    • brtrain says:

      I’m not surprised, and getting no less disappointed than you.
      So much more could be done, but isn’t.
      Then again, if it had cost James Dunnigan half a million dollars every time he developed a manual wargame, he probably never would have started:

      • defling says:

        Ah, the arrival of expensive committees will surely make games great again. That is the curve of suckage in video games. Although, I think more teamwork, earlier in the design process probably makes manual games better.

      • brtrain says:

        It’s partly expensive committees, but it’s also simple labour costs in coding the ferschlugginer thing. In the hypothetical half-million dollar Dunnigan wargame, Redmond Simonsen would be paid $495,000 for making up the map and counters and typesetting the rules, and everything else would have to be covered by the remaining 5 grand. It’s like big-budget movies, where they will spend $76 M to make sure the heroine’s hair floats convincingly in zero-gee and the screenwriter gets $46 and a box of doughnuts, one of them with a bite out of it already….

  2. Pingback: Afghanistan ’11, minus one outlet | brtrain

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