GMT goes SPI

https://www.gmtgames.com/p-945-the-british-way-counterinsurgency-at-the-end-of-empire.aspx

Four-on-the-floor, that is… as in Quadrigame!

A while ago I had a talk with Stephen Rangazas, who has come up with an interesting way of distilling much of the 2-player COIN system experience down to a few cards and a small number of pieces… and he has put four examples of such in one box, called:

The British Way: Counterinsurgency at the End of Empire is the first of several COIN multipacks, containing four separate games exploring a series of thematically related insurgencies. Between 1945 and 1960, the British fought four major “emergencies,” as they referred to their counterinsurgency campaigns, each trying to manage their retreat from empire. The four games in this pack focus on exploring British counterinsurgent responses to a variety of different opponents, including communist insurgents in Malaya, militant nationalists in Kenya, and smaller and more clandestine terrorist organizations in Palestine and Cyprus. The games adjust the core COIN mechanics to provide a compelling new way of handling two-player conflicts, while also streamlining several mechanics to quicken gameplay. The British Way offers an approachable introduction to the COIN series for new players, while presenting experienced players with four mechanically distinct games to explore and compare.
 

Highlights:
  • Four full games in one box: Explore four different conflicts set during the twilight of the British Empire in the 1940s and 1950s. Each game uses a unique ruleset building on the same general mechanical structure, ensuring that they are easy to pick up while still offering a distinctive experience.
  • A new adaptation of the classic COIN system: Improved two-player sequence of play and a versatile Political Will track for determining victory. 
  • Unique mechanisms reflecting the British approach to each conflict: New Villages in Malaya, the ‘Pipeline’ in Kenya, Curfews in Cyprus, and Mass Detention in Palestine.
  • Small board footprint with quick-but-deep gameplay: Each game plays in under 90 minutes and takes place on a single 17×22” board.
  • An “End of Empire” Campaign: A campaign scenario allowing players to play the four games in a linked series with a cumulative scoring system, random ‘external’ events relating to British decolonization, and new mechanics to integrate each game into the campaign.

Prototype maps for Kenya and Malaya

Malaya
The British Emergency in Malaya (1948-1960) is viewed by some as the classic case of a successful counterinsurgency campaign, fought against an insurgency led by the Malayan Communist Party. The Malayan Emergency significantly influenced counterinsurgency theory and would become a model case, later appealed to by commanders in conflicts ranging from Vietnam to the present. The British Way: Malaya is the perfect introduction for players new to the COIN series, offering a shorter two-player game experience that will give players some familiarity with Government and Insurgent factions in other modern COIN volumes, such as Cuba Libre or A Distant Plain. For experienced players, it also serves as a good introduction to the new core mechanics in The British Way by offering Factions and Operations that will be familiar from previous COIN volumes but with several new systems, such as the Political Will track, streamlined Sequence of Play, and a shifting British Commander Capability.

Prototype event cards for Malaya


Kenya
The British Emergency in Kenya (1952-1960), fought against the Mau Mau insurgents, dramatically departed from the strategy modeled in many of the modern COIN volumes, with a heavy focus on coercion rather than winning ‘hearts and minds.’ In game terms, this means a shift away from building ‘Support’ towards new mechanics modeling various forms of repression used by the British in Kenya. However, their use of repression can have political consequences back in Britain, represented as a potential penalty to Political Will—as one British official noted, “If we sin, we must sin quietly.” The British player must balance this core tradeoff, while the Mau Mau player must mobilize the Kikuyu population and expand their revolt to survive the overwhelming British response. The British Way: Kenya depicts a dramatically asymmetrical conflict where an extremely poorly equipped insurgency must utilize clever (and in some cases brutal) tactics to try and ride out an overwhelmingly powerful, often unconstrained, and increasingly criticized counterinsurgency campaign.

Prototype event cards for Kenya

Cyprus and Palestine: New Counter-Terrorism Mechanics
The next two conflicts in the pack depart more significantly from core COIN concepts because Britain’s two opponents in Cyprus and Palestine operated as smaller clandestine terrorist cells rather than the larger insurgencies depicted in Malaya and Kenya. Instead, new “counter-terrorism” tactics are modeled, such as Curfews, Intelligence, Arms Caches, and a more detailed Sabotage and Terror system. These two games offer a fresh approach to a different kind of conflict and provide an even quicker play experience for two-player COIN duels.

Prototype maps for Palestine and Cyprus

The British Emergency in Cyprus (1955-1959) was conducted under the shadow of international opinion and increasing pressure from the international community to respect human rights. As the British player tries to balance locking down the population while managing international pressure, the EOKA player will launch sabotage attacks in towns across the island while building their organization in the mountains. The British Way: Cyprus is probably the simplest of the four games in the pack, although the new counter-terrorism mechanics it introduces are significantly different from anything that has appeared in previous COIN volumes.

Prototype event cards for Cyprus

Likewise, during the Palestine campaign (1945-1947), the British player will be faced with the Jewish resistance groups Irgun and Lehi launching sabotage and terrorist attacks across Mandatory Palestine, while risking criticism from the US and other international observers if their response is too heavy-handed. The British Way: Palestine further develops the new counter-terrorism mechanics introduced in Cyprus, while also including unique game systems to model the British use of the blunt tool of Mass Detention, the shifting cooperation of Haganah (the Jewish Agency’s armed wing), and high-profile terrorist attacks such as the King David Hotel bombing.

Prototype event cards for Palestine

A Note on “The British Way” of Counterinsurgency:
“that nauseating phrase I think I invented” – General Sir Gerald Templer on the term ‘Hearts and Minds’
The historical simulations included in The British Way are designed to depict the full array of strategies used by the British during these conflicts, ranging from the more benevolent provision of material benefits through pacification programs to the horrific measures used to gain control over the local population. Many myths have arisen about an ‘enlightened’ British approach to counterinsurgency that emphasized the use of minimum force and focused on winning the population’s “hearts and minds,” compared with the supposedly more violent approaches taken by the United States in Vietnam or by France in Algeria. However, new scholarship on these conflicts has confirmed the brutality of the methods commonly used by the British in their counterinsurgency campaigns. As summarized by the historian Hew Strachan, these conflicts were often decided by “the firm smack of government,” not the popular winning of hearts and minds. This multipack is intended to help synthesize and present these crucial developments in our understanding of British counterinsurgency, even if that means the simulations depicted are at times more thought-provoking than fun. The designer’s main goal is that players find these games informative about what happened during each conflict and why, and that the gameplay leaves them wanting to learn more. Each game will come with a detailed Background booklet describing the events depicted and listing additional sources, while the combined Playbook will include comparative essays discussing British counterinsurgency across the four games and how it is depicted in conflict simulations.

Game components
  • Two double-sided 17×22” mounted game boards
  • 4 Game Event Decks and 1 Campaign Event Deck
  • 54 Wooden Pieces
  • 8 Pawns
  • One full-color counter sheet
  • Eleven double-sided player aids
  • Two 6-sided dice
  • 4 Combined Rule/Background Booklets
  • 1 Combined Playbook/Campaign Guide
Number of players: 2
GAME DESIGN: Stephen Rangazas
DEVELOPER: Joe Dewhurst 

 

You better believe I signed up for this!

I believe I am customer #303, snicker….

A word about that “hearts and minds” aspect, though… I have been extremely busy lately and have not been able to finish work on a post I was making in response to “The Hearts-and-Minds Myth: How America Gets Counterinsurgency Wrong”, an article that appeared last week in Foreign Policy magazine by Jacqueline Hazelton, who teaches at the Naval War College. She also wrote Bullets Not Ballots: Success in Counterinsurgency Warfare which has been poked my way more than once recently. 

I don’t understand the binary, all-or-nothing thinking that goes into commentary on these things… it’s not a stark choice between “pyramid of skulls” or “armed social work”, it never is. If you never punish or pursue the insurgents, you will not win. But if you never do anything to address “why?”, the concerns of the insurgents or the populations they spring from (because no one ever does this for fun), you will not win either. 

But I am looking forward to these sporty little fellas. Happy to see a second game on Cyprus, too!

A tale of two surges

battle-of-algiers

https://mwi.usma.edu/it-was-the-best-of-coin-it-was-the-worst-of-coin-a-tale-of-two-surges/

Over at the Modern War Institute, an interesting short article by LCOL Michael Nelson comparing the respective surges in Iraq and Afghanistan, outlining how local conditions, history and prospects will trump or at least modify general principles of counterinsurgency doctrine (assuming your army even has such a doctrine).

As often happens, the lead and final paragraphs are the most significant and I quote them here… but the whole article is worth a read:

….. Scholars and practitioners alike are familiar with the axiom that one should avoid fighting the last war. It should go without saying, then, that one should also avoid trying to fight two distinct, concurrent wars as though they are the same conflict. While there are guiding principles for counterinsurgency, there is simply no one-size-fits-all template for success.

However, heavily relying on methods from a different conflict is roughly what the United States tried to do in Afghanistan in 2009 with the attempt to replicate the apparent successes of the surge in Iraq. The fatal flaw in this plan was predicated on a misunderstanding of the circumstances and the environment that had created the conditions for reduced violence in Iraq. Perhaps most disappointingly, these plans for Afghanistan were made and implemented by some of the same leaders who earned praise for having turned the Iraq War around when it was at its most bleak.

……

All warfare is political, and all warfare shifts on human decisions made in complex circumstances. But this is doubly true of counterinsurgent warfare. It is a complicated endeavor that requires deft understanding of the motivations and goals of multiple actors. America’s mistake, in two theaters, was in trying to reduce one of the more complex forms of conflict into something simple, uniform, and replicable without regard to the environment. While the United States should not shy away from studying, determining principles of, developing doctrine for, and preparing to conduct counterinsurgency, we must remember that these guidelines are only as good as the means by which they are adapted to the fight at hand.

These words are especially poignant to me as a designer of games on insurgencies in many different countries at different historical periods.

I have published some 11 games using three general “system” mechanical approaches: the “4 box” system (Shining Path, Algeria, Andartes, EOKA, Kandahar), the GMT COIN system (A Distant Plain, Colonial Twilight) and the District Commander system (Maracas, Binh Dinh, Kandahar, ZNO). Each game was adapted to reflect the particular historical, geographical, political and military conditions of the conflict, within the general “grammar” of the game system.

But I have a further set of eight historical insurgency-related games that use mechanics unique or near-unique to their design: Binh Dinh ’69, Chile ’73, Green Beret, Nights of Fire, Operation Whirlwind, Somalia, Tupamaro, Ukrainian Crisis. 

I haven’t yet designed anything on the Iraqi insurgency, but when that day comes, I will do my best to assure it will not be a cookie-cutter effort.

Punched, punched

Out today, the second number of Punched, a free online zine on wargames edited by James Buckley of Cardboard Emperors!

https://www.cardboardemperors.co.uk/punched-2#coin

This one is a special issue with lots of content on COIN everything:

  • James Buckley discusses the four keys to the success of the COIN engine
  • Jason Carr talks about COIN’s success, discusses some mechanics, and considers the future of the series
  • Volko Ruhnke discusses how insurgencies are modelled in the COIN series, and what Control and Oppose/Support mean
  • Fred Serval writes about the seething mass of fan-made COIN games churning around on the GMT COIN Discord server; it’s frightening to poke your head in there. Of special interest is an upcoming quad of short games by Stephen Ranganzas using cut-down COIN system mechanics to explore “the British Way” of counterinsurgency: Palestine, Malaya, Kenya and Cyprus.
  • Also, a really nice review of Brief Border Wars!

It’s free, it’s there, it’s waiting for you at the above link!

Oh, and would I ever love to attend this con in July – Camden is so neat (setting aside the tourist-trappy stuff). But maybe next year.

Camden

Team play of COIN system games

O’er the hills and far away….

The estimable Brant Guillory of Armchair Dragoons and other manifestations has published a guide to the team play of GMT COIN system games that he and his group have put on at Origins!

It’s brilliant, go check it out.

The hidden intelligence part is reflected in having teams of two players for each faction – one diplomatic and one military – but the diplomatic player cannot see the map and the military player cannot see the card, nor are they privy to the negotiations the diplomat has hammered out with the other players. This makes this method very good for games where there is a lot of argle-bargle, and Brant usually does this method with A Distant Plain (an even better wrinkle with this one is that the Warlords faction is played by two, but they take both roles, on alternate turns!).

Very clever, indeed.

Hidden COINs

original image: Greg Groesch for Washington Post story, 2016

Many of my Constant Readuhs will know of my fondness for games with limited information for one or both sides, and my disdain for games that make a point of giving both sides complete information when lack of same was critical to the historical situation the game claims to represent.

I’ll freely admit that many of my games have this exact fault. I rationalize that it’s for ease and speed of play when the players may have enough new stuff to struggle with already, that Chaos may rear its head and wreck the perfect plans people make with their undue dollops of information, that most wargames are played solitaire anyway (maybe even truer of my games too!), that players hate the loss of control and certainty and don’t particularly care how unrealistic that is, and so on… But I keep making such games, and write optional rules for other games where fog of war can be introduced.

But hoo boy, would I like to make it a big part of everything I design. If you’ve ever played an umpired or double-blind game, board or miniatures, you quickly get the feelings of angst and caution you should be feeling when playing these things… every bend in the road is an ambush, every house is boobytrapped.

And so, from the time that I first started in on the GMT COIN system (playtesting of Andean Abyss, then work on A Distant Plain and later Colonial Twilight), it didn’t bother me much that these games were perfect-information exercises, as the multi-faction nature of the games gave people enough to tussle with. But more than a few people have commented about how this does let the game down in the realism department, where insurgency situations are concerned.

I can’t shake the feeling that an umpired game of say, A Distant Plain would be something to see (or not see, or not be sure you’ve seen!) indeed. It wouldn’t be hard to arrange with multiple copies and a willing Director, would take a long time to play most likely but it would be an eye-opener for the players… who would also have to be willing, because this kind of thing strains the patience of most players who like their complete information and control of things, though that situation is far from reality. 

I’ve never had the time or opportunity to try this. Anyone is welcome to give it a spin. Has anyone tried it, or heard of someone trying it? What do you think?

On Youtube: Heavy Cardboard plays Colonial Twilight

On the Tube of You, Edward from “Heavy Cardboard” (on the 6th anniversary of his show!) plays a COIN system game for the first time: Colonial Twilight. He does something a little different: he plays the short scenario and takes the role of Government, introducing and teaching the game as he goes, while the Peanut Gallery (everyone watching: including Volko Ruhnke himself for a while!) discusses and suggests the FLN moves. What a great idea to learn the game collectively!

He didn’t promise to play the game well, and you know what, I don’t play games particularly well either; never have. But the play and the learning of it is the thing, for me.

Thanks Edward! I appreciate it.

(note: the stream goes for about 7 hours since it’s his first COIN game, and he introduces everything about the game first… so feel free to skip ahead to the game itself. The main commenter in the Peanut Galley, Laura Guy, very ably played the FLN!)

“Affective Networks at Play” by Cole Wehrle

pic1733403_md

http://analoggamestudies.org/2016/05/affective-networks-at-play-catan-coin-and-the-quiet-year

This is a brilliant article written for the Journal of Analog Game Studies in 2016, by the even more brilliant Cole Wehrle.

From his introduction:

In this article, I want to consider the affective possibilities and consequences of contemporary board games. I begin with a discussion of Klaus Teuber’s Die Siedler von Catan (1995). Teuber’s design is something of a foundational text of the contemporary board game design. Using Catan as a lodestone, I want to draw on the vocabulary of affect studies in order to reorient how we talk about games, in hopes of better understanding why Catan proved to be such a phenomenon. From there, I will consider a recent trend in the subfield of historic wargames, where convention has been upended by the COIN (COunter INsurgency) game system by Volko Ruhnke. Rather than focus solely on military affairs, Ruhnke’s games reproduce the political tensions surrounding armed conflict and ask the players to inhabit positions of moral compromise in the interest of historical simulation. I end with brief discussion of Avery Mcdaldno’s storytelling game The Quiet Year. The Quiet Year pushes on the limits of the game as an engine of affect and asks hard questions about the power of affect and the formal limits of games to understand our knotty feelings.

I’ve made reference to this article many times in discussions, but for some reason I’ve never posted a reference to it here. I have now fixed that.

Go, and read it!

COIN series games: how it’s done

Volko Ruhnke recently did an online lecture for the Georgetown University Wargame Society on “How to design a COIN series game”. It’s available on Youtube.

Volko is an excellent teacher and speaker; I recommend it to you if you are interested in how these things are put together. If you are interested in making your own design, this will also give you an idea of just how much work one of these things involves, or should involve; good games rarely come easy.

 

Crepuscule d’Empire?

Image result for "colonel mathieu" gif

Saw this on the Book of Face today:

PIXIE et ASYNCRON ont l’immense plaisir d’annoncer qu’un accord avec l’éditeur américain GMT a été conclu en vue de localiser et d’éditer des jeux en français qui proviennent du catalogue de GMT et, en particulier, d’offrir à la communauté francophone, le nec plus ultra de ce qui se fait matière de jeu d’histoire asymétrique : la réputée série COIN.

Pour inaugurer cette collaboration, nous avons choisi comme premier jeu, Falling Sky (vol VI) et son extension Ariovistus. Cet opus traite de la Guerre des Gaules et de César contre les chefs gaulois, dont le célèbre Vercingétorix. L’extension Ariovistus est le prequel de Falling Sky, le début de la conquête romaine de la Gaule, qui permet de jouer la faction germanique.

Well, isn’t that something!

Makes sense they would start with Falling Sky. Everyone loves Asterix.

But I wonder if/when they will get around to Colonial Twilight. Not everyone likes Colonel Mathieu.

On s’engage, et puis on voit….

Oooppp, here is something that did not appear on the other notices, I saw this on Strategikon… (translated):

A subscription will be launched in early April on the Ulule platform in order to finance the production of the French edition of the game. If this subscription is successful, other titles will then also be located.

“The game” in this case is Falling Sky.  Ulule is a French crowdfunding platform, not sure how or if it is different from the others, though they do have a manifesto.

https://www.ulule.com/

Meanwhile, I thought that I had done this already, but here are some French-language rules for Colonial Twilight done by Sebastien Vassort:

Colonial Twilight Règles FR V.0.1

And a link to a French-language translation of the Event Cards, done by Vincent Tulasne:

http://www.ludistratege.fr/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/Traduction-cartes-V1.pdf

Click to access Traduction-cartes-V1.pdf

Colonial Twilight as a gateway game

 

GMT_CT_MAP_071616

Over at “gringogamer”, Carsten writes about the value of using Colonial Twilight as a starter or gateway game to get people into the COIN system.

https://gringogamer.space/2020/02/13/complex-gateway-wargames-colonial-twilight