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Subject: Beyond the Amu Darya: Afghanistan 1979-89 rss

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Jesse Edelstein
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I've been thinking a lot lately about making a little expansion/conversion for ADP, set in the Soviet-Afghan War period. I have read a few books on the conflict (Afgantsy is good, so is Lester Grau's stuff) and I think the COIN system would be suitable for a game on the subject. So far I have not developed this idea much; I have a long list of card ideas and how they would influence the board but they have yet to be tested.

Here are a couple previous threads on the topic, which go over some of the basic issues this game raises:
Any chance of back-Dating the game ???
A Distant Russian Plain?

Here is the basic overview of my idea for the game:

Factions: The three playable factions would be Soviets, Sunni Resistance, and uh, "Minority Resistance" covering the Shia mujahideen (i.e., the Tehran Eight) as well as the mainly Tajik forces of Ahmed Shah Massoud and other national minorities in Afghanistan. The Sunni faction gets the Peshawar Seven factions, which are mainly Pashtun based as far as I can tell. The Islamabad track could be repurposed for how much support Pakistan gives their Sunni mujahideen allies.

There is also a minor faction, the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan. It seems to me that the DRA didn't do much on its own, but it could make an interesting bot faction that isn't trying to win like the Germans in Falling Sky. The Soviets would have limited control to make DRA troops Sweep or Assault with them, but if these battle vignettes are any indication the DRA troops should be not so effective.

Why not 4 player factions, when the mujahideen were historically so divided? I can imagine splitting off Shura-e Nazar from the MR player (man, I need a better name for that) or making a distinction between traditionalist and fundamentalist Sunni factions. But I don't think that a small faction (say, covering a couple provinces in the Panjshir Valley area) would really have enough to do. Cuba Libre works great with 3 insurgent factions, but they all play distinct roles and can each make a real difference in the board state. I don't think there would be enough distinction with 3 insurgents in the Soviet era.

Abilities/SAs: I haven't worked out everything the factions ought to be able to do, but I think that from a player's perspective, this might feel more like Fire in the Lake in Afghanistan. I think it would also make sense to import the Reprisal (government terror) special activity from Cuba Libre. Soviet airpower was not exactly focused on precision in those days, so an Air Strike representing heavy bombing would make sense. Maybe a Belgae-like ability that allows some control of the DRA, and so on.

One interesting aspect of the war is that practically no one liked the DRA or its leaders, besides some of the PDPA core. The Coalition may have a hard time keeping Support up, but historically the DRA never successfully did the equivalent of Civic Actions: that is, they never managed to turn a region to long-term support of the regime. I can see using something to replace the standard COIN support system. One possibility is to use that space for a counter showing which group, of many mujahideen factions, the space is loyal to. But there are a lot of possibilities here.

1979 vs 2003: Admittedly, this one's a biggie. The Afghan population has grown quite a bit since 1989, while it actually fell significantly in the Soviet period due to the flight of some 5 million refugees. I plan to handle this by having some provinces and Kabul start with +1 Pop counters that can be lost if a Terror or Reprisal occurs in the space. Of course this does not entirely address the issue that the relative populations of Afghan provinces have changed significantly since late 1979. I would welcome thoughts on how to deal with this, or sources with historical population figures.

Another sticking point is the LoCs and their values. The 2 LoCs north of Kabul should be very tempting targets with higher value than 1, representing the importance of the northern route to the war effort and valuable natural gas in the Balkh area. It would make sense to reduce the Pakistan-bound LoCs to 1 or even 0, because the communist government was not dependent on trade with Pakistan, even if it was the conduit for cheap Asian goods in Afghan markets.

Victory: Well, the Soviets sure didn't get support for the government, but they did withdraw in good order and the country didn't immediately collapse -- the DRA held its own for another couple years before succumbing like everyone predicted. I'm not sure we can treat the Soviets' historical performance as a total victory, but they did okay. Out of the insurgents, Massoud came out on top in the 1992 peace, but the Pashtun fundamentalists had a strong finish as well, ending up powerful enough to threaten the government for years to come.

I guess my point is that COIN games always see victory in a realistic, even cynical light. If the Indian bot wins in Liberty or Death, the message you get is a sober one:

Quote:
Proclamation Line confirmed! With the colonies brought under firm control by the combined efforts of British and Indians, King George and his Parliament guarantees the rights of the native nations of America in the territories west of the Proclamation Line of 1763. While skirmishes and raids will continue, the frontier will remain stationary in the Appalachians for several decades before population pressure starts to force it westward again.


I mean, there's no way the Native Americans could "win" the overall struggle for North America in the long run, but the game makes the assumption that victory is possible, at least for now. As Oerjan points out in one of the linked threads, we are going to have to go with a probably counterfactual assumption, that the war could really be won by the Soviets. Soviets would probably therefore want COIN Control + Available Troops to be maximized, while the insurgents would both count bases, but the Sunni victory would also add in Soviet casualties while the Shia/Minority faction want all non-Pashtun territory (10 provinces) to be outside of COIN or Sunni control.


Anyway, this has been a long and ranty post written late at night. What I am looking for is input of almost any kind. Would this be playable? Fun even? Does it seem feasible if I can develop a good set of events? How would you look at the problems I talked about? Even if you think this is a bad idea, I'd be very interested to hear why.
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Cezary Domalski
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I think, that in second linked thread there was pointed out strong arguments against that "conversion" or new title and I too don't think that COIN could model Soviet-Afghan war in a proper way.
More viable may be a model used by Kim Kanger in Tonkin or Ici c'est la France games, which deals more with military side of both conflicts.
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Brian Train
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I've said my piece in the two threads you referred to.
I really think there are other systems that would handle the factionalism, asymmetric methods, and particular and changing victory conditions better than the COIN system.

In that earlier thread I mentioned Joe Miranda's game Holy War: Afghanistan; after 25 years, it's still pretty good if kind of clunky - he just released a solo game Invasion Afghanistan: The Soviet-Afghan War that goes in a slightly different direction.

But you are welcome to try.

Brian
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Jesse Edelstein
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clownPL wrote:
I think, that in second linked thread there was pointed out strong arguments against that "conversion" or new title and I too don't think that COIN could model Soviet-Afghan war in a proper way.
More viable may be a model used by Kim Kanger in Tonkin or Ici c'est la France games, which deals more with military side of both conflicts.


I will have to check those out. Just skimming the rules to Ici, I like the mix of political, insurgency, and military options. I would miss the abstraction provided by the COIN system, though.
 
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Jesse Edelstein
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ltmurnau wrote:

I've said my piece in the two threads you referred to.
I really think there are other systems that would handle the factionalism, asymmetric methods, and particular and changing victory conditions better than the COIN system.

In that earlier thread I mentioned Joe Miranda's game Holy War: Afghanistan; after 25 years, it's still pretty good if kind of clunky - he just released a solo game Invasion Afghanistan: The Soviet-Afghan War that goes in a slightly different direction.

But you are welcome to try.

Brian


I appreciate the response, Brian. You would almost certainly know better than me, but I might pig-headedly hack something together anyway.

I had a question about something you mentioned in both of those threads -- the Ring Road highway that connects Afghanistan's main cities. The limited sources I've found suggest that the main highways were largely completed in the 1960s. Is this erroneous?

Also, I did track down a copy of Holy War based on your recommendation. I haven't had a chance to play 2-player but it's a compelling design. I feel the focus and playstyle of COIN system games is quite different from hex-and-counter style games, of course. Whenever I play COINs I'm really into the multiplayer diplomacy aspect and the overall abstraction that makes them less tactical but more strategic than other wargames. I would hope that my design borrowing from ADP could incorporate some of these fun aspects, which give COINs a lot of depth.
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Brian Train
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As I said, you're welcome to try and make it work!
But personally, I wouldn't do it that way.

In recommending Holy War, I did not mean to imply that a hex-and-counter, still less that particular hex-and-counter, approach would be the be-all and end-all for gaming that war.
Just that it's the closest approach to it yet, which doesn't say much because there are very few games on the entire 1979-89 war.

I have developed systems myself, in my other insurgency games, that could be adapted for such a situation that mix political, insurgency and military aspects and aren't hexmap treatments.
There are lots of things you could steal from COIN, or other systems too... that's how designers work!

The Ring Road: Yes, parts of it were built in the 1960s, most importantly the opening of the Salang Tunnel in the mid-60s.
Parts of it have been cleared and graded, but have never been paved.
And the road has never been maintained properly: it fell apart completely during the 1979-89 war, and the billions spent to repair and extend it during the recent war haven't made a lasting impact.
What is shown on the Distant Plain Map is what existed about the time of the beginning of the long scenario, 2003-05.

Brian
 
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