Card #30

ADP card 30

30. Urban Specialists


Ineffective: Taliban Terror in Kabul requires Activation of 2 Underground Guerrillas.
Effective: Taliban Terror in Kabul costs 0 Resources and does not Activate the Guerrilla.

Insurgents need to go where the people are, and a lot of them are in the main urban center of Kabul. The Taliban have been ingenious in using technically skilled fighters to collect intelligence, plan assassinations, and conduct spectacular high-visibility attacks on government buildings. (Moreau; Giustozzi p. 70)



A Distant Plain, 5-10-15 Years On…


Recently on Consimworld someone suggested that I should do some kind of update kit for A Distant Plain, to cover the years since the end of the game’s scenarios in 2013 (coinciding with the NATO withdrawal from combat operations, and the physical release of the game in summer 2013).

People tell me it should be easy… you know, a couple of dozen new event cards and you’re done… right? Just like the people who thought there should be a simple 1979-89 conversion kit, for the Soviet-Afghan War (I hope I don’t have to explain to anyone why this one doesn’t fly).

Hmmm…but what particular events could there be after the  that could not be reflected in the cards we already have? I can’t think of any, because it’s been mostly a story of gradually declining Government control of the country matched with steady state or increasing strength of the two insurgent factions… even things that could still happen now, like peace talks, were reflected by a card in the existing deck.

Off the top of my head, a post-2013 version of ADP would effectively resemble a three-player game… the Coalition would have mostly withdrawn its troops and bases, leaving just some training units – and continuing to pay the bills for the Afghan army and police, the cost of which is double or triple the country’s current Gross Domestic Product. There are two COIN system games that are being worked on right now that feature three-player mechanisms, so that could be adapted possibly. More details are coming out on All Bridges Burning, Vesa Arponen’s very clever 3-faction game on the Finnish Civil War of 1918, which offers some mechanics worth thinking about.

Maybe the simplest thing to do would be to play a short game this way, as a three-player game of say 3 or 4 Propaganda Rounds, with an edited deck of event cards that have been prepared by removing cards that are specific to the Coalition, e.g. #1 1 ISR, #2 and #3 Predators and Reapers, #7 Find Fix Finish.. even then you would probably have to discuss the effect of some cards to reflect the mostly missing Coalition (although it’s not quite missing, a card like #9 Special Forces could still work because there are still substantial special operations troops there).  You’d have to review the deck carefully, but it could be done, I suppose. People are certainly welcome to try.

In the end though, I’m not sure what you would be proving, because the war has simply ground on in the last four or five years… no one seems closer to “winning”, in any sense of the word. Here is a recent article on the state of affairs in Afghanistan, and the tiny expensive/ laborious circles everyone is describing around each other.


Spielenexperiment II: turning 2 into 4

Katie Aidley with CT from twitterfeed

Katie Aidley with CT rulebook. (photo: Katie Aidley, Twitterfeed)

So, Colonial Twilight has been out for a few months now, some reviews have appeared (Armchair General , Space-Biff! , No Fun Allowed , The Players Aid , Katie’s Game Corner) and the comments on have been piling up , for whatever they might be worth.

They have been mostly very positive, but once in a while someone has said that a COIN system game with two factions does not have the depth, complexity, and interaction (which I think is euphemism for “backstabbery, bickering and scheming”) that a four-faction game does… like in A Distant Plain or Fire in the Lake.

I won’t deny that “2 < 4”, even for very large values of “2”. I’ve also done my best to explain why the “2”, when others thought it should be 3, 4, 5 or more. But I was thinking the other day: what if you had four people who wanted to play Colonial Twilight and there was only one copy? Or even less likely, you had a group of four who wanted to explore some of those divided aims, treacheries and further asymmetries within those two monolithic factions?

So here are my proposed rule changes to accommodate four people in a match of Colonial Twilight: preliminary, untested, result of solitary musings but mostly thought through (I think). Likely immediate results will be overall lengthening of game time and extensive bickering, followed by a longer-term resolution not to have anything to do with that Train fellow anymore….


(10 January 2018)


  • Each of the two factions is played by a team of two players (if you have three, subdivide Government). The players have different responsibilities (geographical and functional) within the team.
  • During each campaign, one of the two players in each faction will be the Leading player, determined at the beginning of each Propaganda Round by who is leading in terms of Victory Points (VP). These VP have different sources, depending on player and faction. The Leading player will make some, but not all, decisions for the team during the campaign.
  • The ultimate winner among the four players is the Leading player of the team that won the game, at the moment the game ends.


  • The FLN is divided into Interior and Exterior players (that is, controlling the FLN forces inside and outside of Algeria, respectively).
  • The Government is divided into Intervention Force and Sector Force players (the first represents the professional and more kinetic-minded parts of the French Army and their political backers (both French and pied-noir); the second represents the conscript sector troops, police, civil administration and parts of the civilian government in Paris).


  • This variant can be played in the Medium and Short Scenarios only. Set up pieces and markers normally, but when building the Event Deck players should remove Event Cards #49 (Factional Plot) and #58 (Army in Waiting) from the Event Deck before play, as these cards would unfairly affect the Exterior player.
  • At the start of the Medium Scenario, the Interior and Intervention players are the Leading players for their teams. At the start of the Short Scenario, the Exterior and Sector players are the Leading players.

Actions during Campaigns


  • The Leading player for the FLN faction will decide what option on the Initiative Track to take, and which Operation (and possibly Special Activity) will be executed  (this holds whether the faction is First or Second Eligible). Each player within the faction will carry out Operations and Special Activities as required, alternately and within the areas over which they have responsibility:
    • Internal: all spaces within Algeria
    • External: Morocco, Tunisia and the France Track
    • Leading player: Event Card, Pass
  • Players will select spaces for conduct of the Operation alternately, one at a time and Leading player’s choice who goes first (if the Leading player chose a Limited Operation, only one Operation is executed by one player in one space, but it does not have to be the Leading player). If a Special Activity is involved, both players must conduct that Special Activity at the time the Leading Player chooses (i.e. before, during or after the Operation).
  • (See below for a suggested option that adds some logistical concerns for the FLN.)

Example: The FLN is 1st Eligible. The Leading player for the faction is the Internal player. He decides to do an Operation + Special Activity: in this case, Rally + Extort. The Internal player begins by selecting Tizi Ouzu (-1 Resource), then the External player selects Morocco (-1 Resource), then the Internal player selects Mostaganem (-1 Resource), then the External player selects the France Track marker (-1 Resource). That’s 4 Resources expended so far and the stock is getting low, so the Internal player chooses to Extort at this time. She selects Tlemcen (+1 Resource), then the External player selects Tunisia (+1 Resource), then the Internal player selects Tizi Ouzu and Bordj Bou Arreridj (since there are no more spaces where the External player can Extort; +2 Resources). The Internal player finishes by selecting Tlemcen, where the FLN happens to have Control, to Agitate one level, for -1 Resource. Finally she places the FLN cylinder in the “Execute Op + Special Activity” space on the Initiative Track.


  • The Leading player for the Government faction will decide what option on the Initiative Track to take, and which Operation (and possibly Special Activity) will be executed  (this holds whether the faction is First or Second Eligible). The other player decides where and how the Operation (and possibly Special Activity) is executed, if it is their responsibility (it would be nice if the Leading player agreed, but it is not necessary). Responsibilities are as follows:
    • Intervention Forces: Sweep, Assault, Troop Lift
    • Sector Forces: Train, Garrison, Deploy, Neutralize
    • Leading Player: Event Card, Pass
  • If a Special Activity is involved, the responsible player must conduct that Special Activity at the time the Leading Player chooses (i.e. before, during or after the Operation).

Example: The Government is 1st Eligible. The Leading player for the faction is the Intervention Forces player. He thinks it’s time for some strategic movement of pieces around the country and decides to do an Operation + Special Activity: in this case, Garrison + Troop Lift. Because the Sector Forces player is responsible for the Garrison Operation she executes the Garrison, moving 5 Police cubes around, Activating 2 Guerrillas in Souk Ahras and expending 2 Resources (the Intervention Forces player would have preferred her to Activate a Guerrilla in Tlemcen, but too bad, she’s setting up for a Neutralize in Souk Ahras). The Intervention Forces player is responsible for Troop Lift and so redistributes French Troops among 3 spaces. He could have done the Troop Lift before or after the Garrison was executed.

Actions during Propaganda Rounds

  • Victory Phase: If Victory Check ends the game, the Leading player of the winning faction during the immediately preceding campaign is the ultimate winner.
  • Resources and Commitment Phase: The Leading player for the Government faction decides which French pieces will be moved between Available and Out of Play.
  • Support Phase: The Leading player for each faction decides which spaces will be Pacified or Agitated, and by how many levels. At the end of the Support Phase judge who will be the new Leading player for the following campaign. See below for how the players score Victory Points (VP); the new Leading player is the one with more VP. If the two players tie, there is no change in Leading player. If this is the final Propaganda Round, the ultimate winner is the one who would be the Leading player of the winning faction, if another campaign were about to be run.

FLN Victory Points:

  • Internal player:
    • + Total Oppose
    • +2 for each French cube in the Casualties Box
    • +3 for each Government Base in the Casualties Box
  • External player:
    • + Resource number from box on the France Track
    • + total number of Guerrillas and Bases in Morocco and Tunisia

Government Victory Points:

  • Intervention Forces player:
    • + the number of Guerrillas that were removed in Assaults this campaign (keep a total of this during the campaign; the player gets credit for these “kills” even if Police were part of the Assaulting force (e.g. an Assault in a City or Border Sector, or if the Challe Plan card was in effect)
    • +2 for each Base that was removed in Assaults during this campaign (keep a total of this during the campaign; player gets credit even if Police were involved, as above)
  • Sector Forces player:
    • + the number of Guerrillas that were removed in Neutralizes this campaign (keep a total of this during the campaign)
    • +2 for each Base that was removed in Neutralizes during this campaign (keep a total of this during the campaign)
    • + Total Support

Example: It is the Support Phase of the first Propaganda Round of the Short Scenario. During the campaign the Intervention Forces player has removed 8 Guerrillas and 1 Base in Assaults. His VP total is therefore (8+2 =) 10. The Sector Forces player has removed 4 Guerrillas and Total Support is 7. Her VP total is therefore (4+7 =) 11. The Sector Forces player will be the Leading player in the next campaign.

  • Redeployment Phase: The Intervention Forces player redeploys Troop cubes as desired and permitted. The Sector Forces player redeploys Police cubes as desired and permitted. The Internal player may redeploy Guerrillas within Wilayas with friendly Bases, but the External player may not move Guerrillas between Morocco and Tunisia.

Event Cards

The Leading player for each faction will be the one to select and execute the text on the Event Card. However, no player ever gets Victory Points as a result of executing any of this text (e.g. removing pieces): Victory Points are calculated only in the Support Phase.

Pivotal Event Cards

If any player has control over play of a Pivotal Event Card, and wishes and is able to play it (see 2.3.2: pre-conditions are met, and 1st Eligible has not yet chosen an option), that action pre-empts anything any other player was about to do.

FLN: the Internal player has control over the play of the OAS card, and is the only FLN player who can execute the OAS-related Capability the card confers.

Government: In both scenarios, the Intervention Forces player has control over the play of the Coup d’etat card (edit: see additional suggestion below). If the FLN has played the OAS card, the Intervention Forces player is the only Government player who can execute the OAS-related Capability the card confers. In the Medium Scenario, the Sector Forces player has control over the Recall de Gaulle card.


By reading through this simple variant, you can see the divisions within the different organizations. The FLN within and without Algeria had divided aims – the units within the country needed to win the people over to their side and continue resisting the French on the ground, while the FLN sitting in the sanctuaries of the Tunisian and Moroccan camps were concerned with preserving an army and government in waiting, to assume power quickly when the French finally left. Meanwhile, the different elements in the French Army, the pieds-noirs and the civilian government had rival methods in mind to deal with the insurgency.

But neither player can give themselves over completely to actions that will benefit only them; they must use all the methods and resources at their disposal in order to win the game.

Let me know if you try this!

Below is a link to the variant rules for you to print out, if you like. Edits and options have been incorporated.


14 January 2018: After posting these rules, I had a thought, based on the suggestion of “Fred J”, a user on

  • If the Intervention Forces player plays the Coup d’etat Pivotal Event and wins the die roll, they become the Leading Player for the rest of the campaign. If they lose, no change.
  • In the Propaganda Round, judge the VP and assign the Leading player for the next campaign normally (no change if the two are tied).

This way, the Intervention Forces player has the option during a campaign to “grab the steering wheel” and throw things his way (and maybe grab a bunch of Commitment and Resources too, as well as getting rid of De Gaulle if he was in play – which will make things less easy for the Sector Forces player).

Try this and let me know how it goes… I think I might add this rule to this ongoing experiment permanently. [ETA: has been added to document]

16 January 2018: Meanwhile, my only other concern for this is that the FLN Exterior player might not have much to do (in the game), so it’s a bit less fun for them. Therefore, this variant might make a better three-player game than a four-player – that is, with two Government players and one FLN player.

But adding a bit of extra complexity and historical detail might not go amiss, depending on the crowd. Historically, the Army of National Liberation (the military arm of the FLN) forces inside Algeria were very dependent on resources reaching them from the logistical depots in Morocco and Tunisia, from weapons to shoes and rations. The FLN members in the depots were constantly busy keeping the internal effort supplied as well as possible across the French border defences, but in the COIN system as in most wargames, logistics and supply does not cross over into exciting game mechanics. So try this optional addition:

  • At the end of each Reset Phase, just before the new campaign begins, the External player divides the FLN’s available Resources into two pools, “internal” and “external”. The number of external resources is equal to the lesser of either the number of FLN Resources currently available, or the sum of the Resource number from the current box on the France Track and the number of Bases in Morocco and Tunisia. These are assumed to be resources stockpiled in Morocco and Tunisia and are under the control of the External player. The remaining Resources, if any, are under the control of the Internal player.
  • Players may keep track of these two pools by any mutually agreeable method: scrap paper, two markers on the Edge Track, glass beads or other tokens, small coins, etc..
  • During campaigns, each FLN player must pay for the Operations they conduct from the pool of Resources under their control.
  • Any Resources added through the Extort Special Activity are added to the pool of Resources controlled by the player whose piece conducted the Extort. Your knife, your pie….
  • Any gains or losses in FLN Resources due to Event Cards (e.g. #15 Jean-Paul Sartre, or #25 Purge) are enjoyed or suffered by the External player. Exception: Resources lost by the use of the OAS Capability by either faction are taken from the Internal player’s pool.
  • The External player may transfer Resources from their pool to the Internal player’s pool (but not vice versa). In game terms, this is done under a March Operation, and it costs 1 Resource (to a “virtual” destination not depicted on the map). The External player may transfer as many Resources as desired, up to the total number in their pool, but each time the player does this, they must remove a number of Guerrillas equal to the current Border Zone Status number from their Guerrillas in Morocco and/or Tunisia and place them directly in Available. If they do not have sufficient Guerrillas to do this, they cannot transfer Resources.


  • At the beginning of the new campaign, there are 9 FLN Resources available. The Resource number in the current box in the France Track is +2 and there are 4 Bases in Morocco and Tunisia. Therefore, the campaign starts with (2+4 =) 6 Resources under control of the External player, and (9-6 =) 3 Resources under control of the Internal player.
  • Later during the campaign, the External player (reluctantly) decides to transfer Resources to the Internal player’s pool. The Border Zone Status number is 2. The player also happens to be the Leading player at the moment, so they choose a Limited Operation – March on the Initiative Track. The player “Marches” 5 Resources (all they have available) into the Internal player’s pool, spending an additional 1 Resource to do so, and removes 2 of their Guerrillas (in this case 1 from Morocco and 1 from Tunisia, but both could have come from one Country) to Available.

[ETA: this has been added to the document]


The Player’s Aid: Best 3 Games with… Designer Brian Train!


Oh my. I really did not expect this.

Grant Kleinheinz has written a really nice post about three of my designs he’s had the most fun with:

  • Winter Thunder
  • Binh Dinh ’69
  • Colonial Twilight

I’m touched by this, and happy that he’s enjoyed my work enough to write such nice things about it. Thank you Grant!

Go have a look….

Obligatory end-of-year review


So, that was 2017.

This year I published these games, or got them down the slipway:


It was also a busy time for conferences, events and conventions.

  • April: we went to San Diego for the Popular Cultural Association conference where I made a presentation on “News Paper Games”, about journalism in analog game form. Next year’s conference is in Indianapolis so no way am I going there, but I think I am about done presenting my ideas in this kind of academic venue… not much left to say.
  • May: I went back to the Army War College to screen The Battle of Algiers for them, and do some guided play of Colonial Twilight with the guys of the Strategic Simulations Division. Also sat in on a very good panel with Peter Perla and Jim Lacey. Then I went up to Ottawa for the Cangames convention, where I played some more Colonial Twilight and met up with Rex Brynen, who was running a zombie game. I also learned The Grizzled from Michel Boucher, and had dinner at his place… I did not know of course that this would be the last time I would see him.
  • June: Consimworld Expo at Tempe AZ. Hm, I seem not to have written anything about that. Well, it was the usual good time among the hardest-core gamers, and nice as always to meet with publishers and discuss future projects. Lianne and I went to the local art museum and saw a neat exhibition on Frida Kahlo. Unfortunately Tom Russell hurt his back so Hollandspiele could not make the 800 mile drive to get there, but I’ll see them next year.
  • September: Back to Kings College London for the 2017 Connections-UK conference, boy that was fun! Also had a couple of extra days to look about in London, so that was great too.
  • November: BottosCon, like always, and it was a great weekend, like always, though I see I have not written anything about it either. I think I like the new hotel.


Near-meaningless digest of site statistics:

  • I seem to be cruising at between 1.4 to 2.1 thousand views per month, definitely higher than the preceding two years. Not surprisingly, the five most curious countries were: US, Canada, the UK, France and Australia. One guy clicked in from Jersey (the Channel Island, not the toxic waste dump).
  • Besides the then-current post, popular pages or posts included the BTR Games and Free Games pages, and the post about how to use the “horseshoe” in Colonial Twilight to play any four-player COIN system game with two players (this was also published in issue #31 of C3i magazine).
  • Even less surprisingly, the most clicked-on documents were the rules, corrected tutorial and playbook for Colonial Twilight, followed by the free PnP files for Ukrainian Crisis, Third Lebanon War and Caudillo. The page for all my presentations and other material got a lot of visits, but very few people downloaded the files. Oh well.

Now on to 2018, and further dumpster fires. Things I am pretty sure will get done in the coming year include:

  • Nights of Fire on Kickstarter in February, might be produced in time for Essen but we’ll see
  • Tupamaro will come out in 1Q as well, in folio format from One Small Step
  • Strike for Berlin will be in the next issue of Yaah! magazine (#11, March (?) 2018)
  • Chile ’73, folio game on the coup that put Pinochet in power (Tiny Battle Publishing)
  • A quad of mini-games on border wars, using a development of the Little War system (most likely Compass Games)
  • Finish off design work on Thunder Out of China (China 1937-41, COIN system, 4 players, different emphases)
  • And there will likely be other stuff besides…
  • …so get to work, ya bastich!