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Raf Cordero
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A Distant Plain » Forums » Reviews
A Distant Plain Blew My Mind
Hi everyone - this is going to be my first review. Lot's of awesome geeks post great reviews that include descriptions of the components, rule summaries, etc, so I'm hoping to try something a little different and post about my experiences and review based on how the game makes me feel while playing it. Please let me know what you think. Constructive criticism is very welcome! - A list of my reviews that you can subscribe to can be found here!

*****

A Distant Plain, the latest in Volko Runhe’s COIN (counterinsurgency) series, had been on my radar for a little while before Shut Up & Sit Down and this Washington Post article convinced me to give it a shot. I’d never played a wargame, and am still a relative boardgaming noob, but I was excited to jump in and confident that I could work my way through the rules and figure out the game. It turns out I was correct, and it also turns out that ADP was going to blow my mind.

As I mentioned, I’m relatively new to boardgaming. Until just over a year ago, the most complex game I’d ever played was Stratego or Chess. That changed when I heard about Android: Netrunner and picked up a core set. A:NR consumed my thoughts as I focused on deckbuilding, game play, and as I played I found myself focusing very intently on each action I took. I’d never thought so much about a game as I played it. A few months later, I played Android and again my gaming world expanded. I know a lot of people don’t care for the game, but I found it an incredible narrative experience and changed what I thought about board games and the experience a board game could provide. By the time I finished my first game of A Distant Plain, I began looking inward and thinking about how I thought about things.

The reason A Distant Plain had been on my radar was because of the modern day Afghanistan setting and what a complex situation it is. I knew from reading about it that Runhe’s design really emphasizes the interplay between the primary factions involved in the conflict. I was excited to play an asymmetrical game where everyone had different victory conditions and a sort of tense cooperation was required. After reading through the instruction manual for a few times I began playing the game by myself, controlling each faction in turn. My intent was to learn each faction so I could teach it to some friends, but the game immediately hooked me and I got lost in the conflict. My 1 hour learning game turned into a 4 hour game in my basement; each turn becoming a tense decision as I weighed all my options, trying to balance a long term strategy with immediate needs. The game play was tight, every decision felt like it had meaning, and yet the game felt imbalanced. Try as I might I simply could not get the Taliban going. They were struggling in last place, losing troops left and right, and I could never make a dent in the coalition or government troops. And THAT is when A Distant Plain blew my mind.

After yet another turn where 6 activated Taliban troops were lost after only removing two Government cubes, I stopped and took a moment to look at the board. The Taliban soldiers were all consolidated in a couple provinces going toe to toe against the COIN factions. I realized that I was subconsciously taking a very Western, and especially US, centric view of the conflict. I had unwittingly turned the conflict into an us vs them, COIN vs Taliban war of open conflict and that is not what is actually going on over there. All of a sudden it clicked: engaging in open war against the COIN factions was asking to get destroyed and that’s exactly what happening. All of a sudden my game play changed; I began spreading my insurgents out, destroying LOCs and engaging in terror and sharia in order to build opposition and I watched my victory counter creep higher and higher. Now, by the time I realized this it was too late; the Government ended up winning this game BUT I learned a valuable lesson.

The more I play, the more I realize how great board games can be as a medium. It feels like with each passing game my horizons are being broaded in ways I didn’t expect.
Netrunner really made me start thinking about the game I was playing.
Android made me really think about games.
A Distant Plain made me think.
For that, not only does it get a 10/10 for me, but it has made me adjust the scores of other games I THOUGHT were that high.
***
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Ron
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ASL ... yes, this is my Desert Island Game. If I have to give up all my 3000+ games and only allowed to keep one, this would be it. This bloody game stood the test of time. Around for more than 25 years - simply the best.
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From a gamer who is currently playing Cuba Libre (COIN 2) for the first time by Forum & VASSAL:

Thanks for this analysis - now I have to buy that game too meeple
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Marc Guenette
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My game of 2013
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Brian Train
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So glad you enjoyed this Raf, and even happier that it made you really think!

Brian
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Jim F
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Great to see a design that rewards good play. Thanks for the AAR. I haven't dipped my toe into the COIN series but I must admit Distant Plain is definitely tempting me.
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Darrell Hanning
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Pretty cool ephiany, huh, Raf?

Just don't expect everyone around you to suddenly get it, like you did.
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Raf Cordero
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Thank you for the kind words everyone!

And Brian thanks for helping make this game!
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Salim Khoury
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I believe ADP and (most likely) by extension the entire COIN series is very special. Euro gamers willing to try them will most likely love them, such amazing design and tension, through a very compelling theme. It's a shame more people don't give them the chance, these should be top 100 games.
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Marco Arnaudo
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my game of 2014. Oh, and thanks for the insightful review!!!
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Miguel Pacheco
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This game is quickly becoming very intriguing to me - what is the rules complexity like compared to Twilight Struggle?
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Salim Khoury
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ilpalazo wrote:
This game is quickly becoming very intriguing to me - what is the rules complexity like compared to Twilight Struggle?


It doesn't matter.
 
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Warren Smith
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I'm always on the look out for reviews that share a feeling of how a game plays. This is an excellent piece you've written! Thanks and looking forward to your future reviews.
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Justin F
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ilpalazo wrote:
This game is quickly becoming very intriguing to me - what is the rules complexity like compared to Twilight Struggle?


Much more complex. But also much more rewarding. Like TS, every time you play will get a glimpse of a deeper layer of the game you can use on following playthroughs. It keeps on giving in that regard. If you take the time to learn it and understand its nuances, you will likely end up enjoying it just as much (albeit differently) as Twilight Struggle.

It's also my Game of the Year for 2013. In general, the COIN series has gotten me into historical wargaming in a way I never thought possible.
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Abdiel Xordium
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captainraffi wrote:
Netrunner really made me start thinking about the game I was playing.
Android made me really think about games.
A Distant Plain made me think

It's one of the big failures of modern game design that very few games actually try to make you think in this way. It's a very difficult thing to make a good game that also has something to say.

War games are one the the few types of games that attempt to make any kind of a statement. You are lucky to have found them so early into the hobby. I've played board games for decades but avoided war games for the most part. It wasn't until playing Twilight Struggle that I had this kind of epiphany.

Recently there's been a small trickle of non-war games that attempt to do more that be a pleasant playing experience. But most of them aren't satisfying as games.

After reading your review it impresses me that A Distant Plain is able to say what it has to say via game mechanisms and faction interaction rather than pasting the theme over a traditional "dudes on a map" system.
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Roger Hobden
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I have played Andean Abyss many times and I think it is a great game. I look forward to play A Distant Plain soon.
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Holman
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Great review. Thanks for posting!

One of the virtues of this series is that it really does aspire to model how a complex political situation plays out. Of course it's still a game, but it's a game that prompts the player to make real-world connections.


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Dan
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You get a thumbsup for moving quickly to wargames* from Euro/Ameritrash. Welcome!

*or, at least, a game about a conflict from a wargame-producing (primarily) game company.
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Mike Stevens
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Great review sir. You have now put A Distant Plain on my radar. I just saw the movie Lone Survivor the other day and I was wondering if there were any good games about the current day conflict in Afghanistan. Is the game a CDG like Twilight Struggle? Have you had a chance to teach the game to any of your friends yet. If so, how did it go and did they enjoy the game?
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Omahavice wrote:
Great review sir. You have now put A Distant Plain on my radar. I just saw the movie Lone Survivor the other day and I was wondering if there were any good games about the current day conflict in Afghanistan. Is the game a CDG like Twilight Struggle? Have you had a chance to teach the game to any of your friends yet. If so, how did it go and did they enjoy the game?


It has cards, but it's not a CDG. Players don't hold a hand - instead, they play off of a common deck. Everybody sees the top two cards (current and next) so you can plan. But (unless somebody passes) only two players can play off of a card.
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Dave Gray
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Our gaming group is small... Really small think mostly two here. Occasionally (very) our wives play but mostly not.

So it stood to reason that we would tackle Twilight Struggle. We have only played once, and loved it - absolutely fantastic game. My counterpart has a passion and love for history so it was a big, big hit for him. I liked it as much but in another way, I was more looking at the strategy and mechanics, which I too love and can't wait to play more.

The COIN series got me thinking as I know they so highly regarded. Joel Eddy put then in his top games of 2013 - more compulsion. But I note that these games generally require 4 players. Yes, I know you can play less but there is some weird upkeep and additional scripts etc - that's not us at all. In fact it drives us nuts because we know it's not the way the game is designed to be played.

So the essence of my comment and reply is are there any games that are war games, have COIN like or same systems as COIN or Twilight Struggle AND (the biggie) are 2 player? I'm really chasing something that has that rich thematic feel with historical relevance, very clever mechanics such as mentioned but are successful two player - this is essential.

Any suggestions would be really appreciated.
 
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Justin F
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The_Rooster wrote:
So the essence of my comment and reply is are there any games that are war games, have COIN like or same systems as COIN or Twilight Struggle AND (the biggie) are 2 player? I'm really chasing something that has that rich thematic feel with historical relevance, very clever mechanics such as mentioned but are successful two player - this is essential.

Any suggestions would be really appreciated.


Labyrinth: The War on Terror. It's a blend of TS and COIN (no coincidence that it comes from the same designer). It's more complex than TS, but has the same basic card play mechanics and struggle for geographical dominance, and it's simpler than COIN, but has the same kind of resource management and multiple victory conditions.

There's also 1989, which is basically Twilight Struggle contained to only Eastern Europe.

Also, just FYI, you can play the COIN games two-player without AI bots (each player controls two factions and must meet both faction's victory conditions to win, or come closest with both if the end game is reached). While I think the two-player two-faction games of COIN are somewhat more dense and less focused than the four-player variety, they're still excellent played that way (though they do require a good understanding of the systems in order to not feel overwhelmed). I just finished a two-player game of ADP tonight, actually. It was pretty close down right down to the wire (ended up losing in the end as the Government and Taliban tag team).
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Dave Gray
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Thanks for the reply Justin.

Ironically I was looking at Labyrinth: The War on Terror in the last hour after I wrote my comment. To be more accurate trying to find a decent video review!

I never noticed the designer - but now that makes sense and so it might be an excellent fit after we have our heads fully round Twilight Struggle.

I her you on play COIN games 2 player - 2 factions each. That said we are pretty new to "war games" and I think that might be a bit much for us to have a go at right now. As it is we hesitated at TW - but it turns out unnecessarily as the mechanics are not really as complex as we were anticipating. We have a strong Euro background Which helped I think. Rule wise we have played kore complex.

Thanks again I really appreciate the time you took to reply. Oh, and sorry for the loss!!
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Raf Cordero
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The_Rooster wrote:

I her you on play COIN games 2 player - 2 factions each. That said we are pretty new to "war games" and I think that might be a bit much for us to have a go at right now.


Hi Dave,

I'd never played a wargame, card driven or otherwise, before I started trying to tackle A Distant Plain. It is complex, there is no way to get around that, but the rules and player aids really help clarify it. If even I was able to manage playing all 4 factions then you should be able to do 2 player if you're patient! Having a Euro background will definitely help you here.
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Raf Cordero
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I want to take a minute to thank everyone for commenting and for the nice words about my review! This site is really awesome and it was actually pretty nerve wracking to write up a review and hit submit.

oeolycus wrote:
You get a thumbsup for moving quickly to wargames* from Euro/Ameritrash. Welcome!

*or, at least, a game about a conflict from a wargame-producing (primarily) game company.


I have the Secret Santa program to thank for this! My target was primarily a wargamer, and it was a segment of the hobby I was pretty ignorant about. Reading about all the games on his wishlist made me want to check them out! I picked up Twilight Struggle with ADP and am looking forward to getting that out on to the table, and my FLGS was able to track down a copy of Field Commander: Rommel which is what my SS target recommended me to start with. I have a lot of gaming to do!
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Marc Guenette
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Roger Hogden, we will have 3 simultaneous game of COIN at the next Stack in the morning. All in print games will be played, 4 new players of the system. We might play Fire in the Lake afterwards, let me know if interested...

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