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Kandahar» Forums » Reviews

Subject: Kandahar: The dark, cynical, bitter sibling of GMT's COIN series rss

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James Sterrett
United States
Kansas City [Platte City]
Missouri
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Brian Train's Kandahar is the dark, cynical, bitter sibling of GMT's COIN games - and that is a compliment.

When you play Volko Ruhnke's COIN series games - and note it's a series I enjoy and admire - counterinsurgency is presented as fundamentally rational and winnable. (See http://defling.com/blog/?p=85 for more in this vein; I merely expand on the thoughts Neal Durando and Brian Train wrote there.)

Kandahar puts one player in control of the Taliban, and one in control of the Afghan forces, in the eponymous province. The game continues until one player or the other is relieved of command by his superiors, at which point you compare victory point totals and determine a winner - or, as frequently, who lost least. It's entirely possible the the non-player Criminal faction will win the game. [Optionally, the Criminals can be a third player. Equally, by the end, many of us may be unable to determine the difference between "criminals" and the two standard player factions.]

Players control three types of forces: combat units, that fight the enemy (the government has both army and police variants); cadres, that engage in non-kinetic missions with enemy forces and the local population; and auxiliaries that enable unit construction.

The rules are not complex, and after a turn or two the game tends to roll along smoothly in mechanical terms. In terms of strategy, it may be another matter. There aren't enough resources, in Support Points or Morale, to keep up continual confrontations - but you probably need to tangle with somebody in order to earn the victory points that enable you to earn more support points.

Worse, your mission is one of six, drawn at random. If you don't like it, you can try to replace it, but it's extremely rare that you get to *choose* a new mission, and the random new mission may turn out to be the same one, again.

And many of the actions you either need to take, or want to take, turn out to be harmful. You need more Support Points, which you can extort 1d6 of from the local population, but each time you do drops your morale by 1 point. You can spend 4 support points for 1d6 of morale.

As the Taliban, you may get points for attacking those pesky, heavily armed ISAF (Western military) forces. Helpfully, they are indestructible, so you can attack them again and again. Better still, hits on ISAF keep them from operating in a turn, which keeps them from helping out the Afghan forces. Unfortunately, ISAF units have an unfortunate tendency to destroy the forces attacking them (costing you 1 morale point per unit, and those combat units cost 1 support point and 1 morale to build.) How often can you afford to attack? How often can you afford *not* to?

As the Afghans, you soon realize that you want ISAF to do everything for you. They operate for free, their casualties get replaced automagically so their counters never die, and they kick ass in combat. The only trouble is that there aren't enough of them - and they tend to go off and do their own thing periodically from random events.

I mentioned these and a number of other factors to a co-worker (and fellow gamer) who served in Afghanistan; he was not sure the game was quite cynical enough to be accurate, but more so than A Distant Plain.

You can make a case that A Distant Plain is a better game, but Kandahar feels like a better simulation, and if you are interested in the topic, it is well worth giving it playtime.
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Brian Train
Canada
Victoria
British Columbia
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Thanks James!
You have seen to the bottom of my rotten soul.

"not cynical enough to be accurate" - well, I did try; perhaps my soul is not rotten enough!

Brian
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Jeff Gringer
United States
Alexandria
Virginia
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But you never have quite enough of everything in A Distant Plain either. Which is one of the beauties of the game.
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Brian Train
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(cartoon by Gahan Wilson)
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