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Neal Durando
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An adaptation, minus some throat-clearing, of my April review of Kandahar:

Max and I could have knocked it out faster. I won’t write about the cut-and-thrust of game play. A deeper current needs wading into. After some correspondence with Brian where we chatted over the wheels-within-wheels nature of the current Afghan War, how to design processes, and the complexities of real-world COIN campaign design, I believe Kandahar is the darkest of all the counterinsurgency designs I’ve seen.

“How do you win?” Max asked. “On joue jusqu’à l’épuissement,” I explained. We play until we quit playing, would be another way of putting it. This game, unlike Train’s other Box4 designs, depicts warfare in an unhappy corner that has known serious conflict for more than thirty years now, where the culture is as broken as the irrigation system the Soviets destroyed, where conflict has become the culture. In that it reminds me of Ben Madison’s courageous Liberia: Descent into Hell.

Of Brian’s designs with which I’m familiar all attempt a similar level of honesty. They are deeply skeptical of ideology and other power fantasies. Their mechanisms give you plenty of rope with which to hang yourself. Glorious blitzkriegs, chevauchées, razzias, and shit-hammerings are rare and never engaged without careful calculation of the downsides. If he had designed OGRE, there would be the possibility of co-opting the cybertank by surrendering power stations along with a good wash and detail. I still say his Algeriais way too hard on the French, although I’ve been able to win playing both sides.

These are, in their way, anti-games. They resist commercialization in the best way by raising the bar for their audience while keeping their author impoverished and angry. And they queer up the taste of a Saturday afternoon. I’m not sure if I share Train’s (and everyone else’s) evident pessimism about counterinsurgency. The undergraduate anthropologist and graduate cartographer in me want someone to say it ain’t necessarily so. But I have heard the frustration expressed in professional quarters for going on ten years now. After a certain point, social network analysis diagrams, or DIME models, or whatever science-po construct you prefer all begin to look like Gordian knots to audiences where everyone carries with them a brigade’s worth of swords in addition to levels of impatience and frustration which can only be calculated by the f*ckton.

To me, Train is of the camp that holds COIN is war as we would like it to be, not as it is. There is nothing of the revolutionary struggle in Kandahar. (My skepticism of revolutionaries very likely outstrips Brian’s.) Anyway, hold on to the concept of war as we would like it to be, for it clears away so much fog in the wargame world.



My original review, with subsequent comments about game play, is available at:
http://defling.com/blog/?cat=14
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Brian Train
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Quote:
These are, in their way, anti-games. They resist commercialization in the best way by raising the bar for their audience while keeping their author impoverished and angry.


I have stolen this for my by-line on Consimworld!

As someone who keeps trying to make sense of what's going on by trying to build sensible models of bits of the action, I do wish COIN would work better as an explanation of this kind of conflict.
I feel it does explain some aspects of it, from time to time, in some circumstances, but I fear there is no Grand Unified Theory of How to Make Peasants Rational.

(See the excellent Adam Curtis 2012 film "How to Kill A Rational Peasant, where he goes into the story of counterinsurgency and many other things: http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/adamcurtis/entries/93073500-9459-... (there is also a scene in this movie from a 1969 film of two analysts playing a board game in Vietnam, which appears to be an early version of Insurgency - I think one of them is Blake Smith, the designer.)

At least none where you can apply its methods like a cookbook, git 'er done and get out of there.
You can apply all the science-po you like, but a successful counterinsurgency (and there have been some) needs more - and less - than that.

What I often strive for in my game designs is to strike a mental chord or instil a mindset, to try to convey some of the sense of futility and trappedness the real participants may have felt.
Hence this aspect of the game, where the players represent regional commanders - they are middle management, not the CEOs.
Sometimes this works, as some people have remarked to me about their emotional reception of A Distant Plain.

Brian
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Neal Durando
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ltmurnau wrote:

As someone who keeps trying to make sense of what's going on by trying to build sensible models of bits of the action, I do wish COIN would work better as an explanation of this kind of conflict.
I feel it does explain some aspects of it, from time to time, in some circumstances, but I fear there is no Grand Unified Theory of How to Make Peasants Rational.


I know how to make peasants rational. But you won't like the answer. I don't think there is a way around the Big Pile of Skulls theory. Nothing brings closure to uncertainty like abject terror. Not saying that what _should_ be done, but I think the humanism at the base of COIN or OOTW or SASO is just thinking about armed conflict as we wish it might be. Trinquier seems closer to the target than Galula. I would love it were the Galula strain able to rescue that humanism but there doesn't seem to be much evidence to support that hope.

Anyway, Kandahar is a great game. I think, too, that this is the right level to lend insight into COIN operations. Bigger models seem to make the insurgents more strategic than they are. That is I think they may wrongly ascribe an echelon of interest that doesn't necessarily apply to their motives. This is an error similar to seeing everything through force-on-force eyes which are only capable of seeing asymmetric mirages.

The addition of the intelligence mechanic is really gratifying. I would love to see some ethnographic representation of the human terrain in the Box4 system. Maybe an Al Anbar game with tribal affiliations? I'm sure certain is a high hurdle for wargames research. But there I go again, wishing wargames be something other than what they are.
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Perhaps it's a matter of time and perspective.
The Big Pile of Skulls will almost always work, at least in the short term, but I feel it more often than not just sets things up for the next round.
Trinquier and Aussaresses may have won the Battle of Algiers, but they did not win the Battle of Algeria.
Other ways are possible - in my Copious Spare Time I need to do something on the Hukbalahap Rebellion, and learn more about Magsaysay.
Edward Lansdale gave him a hand, then moved over to Indochina where things went off the rails... so I think on the whole solutions are very particular to situations, and it's futile looking for the be-all and end-all cookbook solution.
(There seems to be plenty of that kind of cautionary language in FM 3-24, but its readers probably skipped those bits.)
And, in the end, most of the governments of the world still have civilian leadership, and have not completely discarded their mantle of humanism and participatory politics.
Let's check back on this in a few years - maybe we won't have literal great piles of bones in public squares, but that snarky social media post just earned Mr. Dissident a small rocket launched from one of hte ubiquitous drones through his front door.
Or maybe not.
There's some anxiety and terror for you.

I am so glad that you like this game.
The operational level, the campaign planning, is where the interesting things happen.
This is why I took the Box4 system down a notch, from the whole-country approach of Shining Path: The Struggle for Peru, Algeria: The War of Independence 1954-1962 and Andartes, and made the players mid-level commanders who have a lot of leeway in their AOs but still have superiors with inscrutable motives to satisfy, that is if they want to remain commanders.
It's also the approach I took with the District Commander series, which I swear I will just put out there in DTP form one day via BTR Games just to have it out there.

The intelligence system is also present in EOKA, my game on the Cyprus Emergency which I just made available - BGG entry coming soon, whenever the admins get around to it.
That game also pays a bit more attention to the ethnography, but not on the map - it's a very small AO and the populations were thoroughly mixed.
But I agree, more could always be done.
It's just a question of how big you want to make the Pile of Blown-out Player Skulls... but when your sales are in double digit territory and in no danger of reaching a third digit, you can do what you like.

Brian
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Neal Durando
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So long as the stakes are small, bring on the skulls!

Aussaures and Trinquier, and the French, did indeed did so win the war. It took DeGaulle's intervention to lose it. I think HR McMaster in Iraq never needed FM3-24. Nor did CPT Patriquin. As you know the former was the clearer, kinetic communicator.

A window into the Malayan Emergency at the same echelon would be very interesting, but I would vote for El Salvador as being the more interesting, if bloody, counterinsurgency.
 
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