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Subject: COIN and Algeria, India, Ireland rss

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Michael Noakes
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I'm really curious to see how this--and incoming--COIN games handle potentially, increasingly sensitive topics. Obviously Cuba and Columbia are recent and potentially touchy game subjects for players (and perhaps Afghanistan is too recent--current--to make sense of the emotional attachment). But I wonder if Algeria, Ireland, India... whether these theatres are increasingly likely to confront players with direct emotional connections to the events explored in the game space.

(To avoid sounding too eurocentric, I'm just wondering whether COIN games, as a product, are more likely to end up on the tables of French, British and American players than Cuban or Columbian.)

I can imagine rather tense affairs at the table in which players are distinctly uncomfortable with playing an ideologically uncomfortable part, or watching a hated faction succeed, or watching fraught history played as an event card.

Has anyone felt uncomfortable playing a COIN faction, or feels concerned with the incoming topics? Or does the high level of strategic play (cubes on a map) enforce a certain detachment?

-M.


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David E
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Re: COIN and Algeria, India, Northern Ireland
We have Vietnam and Iraq wargames. There is also the GMT Next War Series series, and games like Putin Strikes: The Coming War for Eastern Europe.

I imagine some people would find the topic too sensitive - I wouldn't suggest playing Secret Hitler with a Holocaust survivor.

Games are entertainment, and entertainment sometimes involves subjects that make people uncomfortable.
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Ivor Bolakov
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Re: COIN and Algeria, India, Northern Ireland
Weloi Avala wrote:
But I wonder if Algeria, Northern Ireland, India... whether these theatres are increasingly likely to confront players with direct emotional connections to the events explored in the game space.


IIRC A Terrible Beauty isn't about Northern Ireland.
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Brian Train
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Re: COIN and Algeria, India, Northern Ireland

Look through the fora on A Distant Plain for quite a few threads on this topic.

When this game was first announced in mid-2012, Volko Ruhnke and I went through an extended discussion thread that sometimes verged on hysteria, it petered out after around 150 posts.
Some thought it would be a regurgitation of neoliberal talking points and spin, others a neoconservative conquest fantasy, others thought it would be all-too-limp condemnation of American imperialism, others... ahh, everyone had an opinion, and sometimes two or three.
And this was all in the absence of any factual information about the game at all.
(Also, because it was Boardgamegeek, about 2/3 of the way through someone posted specifically to tell us all that he had no experience of what we were discussing, no interest in Afghanistan, and no intention to buy the game.
I love this place, sometimes....)

That A Distant Plain also worked on the subjective, emotional level was brought home to me by an online comment made to me by someone who said that he couldn’t enjoy the game because it was “too much like work”.
He had been a Marine in Helmand Province in Afghanistan, and thought the game did much too good a job of capturing the frustration and futility he had felt there.
I knew then that the game had succeeded in this way.
In my reply to him, I said that other, non-military players had found the game not-fun, and they couldn’t figure out what they were supposed to do, so they quit trying.
I said I wanted to think that the direct lesson they learned from this is that wars are not meant to be fun, nor are they susceptible to solution by an hour or two of play…
And the indirect lesson they may have learned is that, as gamers, they had the option of walking away from the table, something the real participants didn’t have.

But this is all about Afghanistan: I am of course interested to see what kind of reception Colonial Twilight might have in France.
I'm guessing it won't be much.
When I first published Algeria: The War of Independence 1954-1962 back in 2000 with the Microgame Design Group, and later with Fiery Dragon Publications, it was the first game on the Algerian War in any language, and stayed that way until Kim Kanger did Ici, c'est la France! The Algerian War of Independence 1954 - 1962 ten years later.
Of 205 owners of the game on BGG, I think there are about seven French ones.
Friend and Francophone Michel Boucher
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even made a French translation of the rules!
I know that doesn't prove much, but in all that time I have seen one review in French of my game: it was complimentary but like most game reviews was limited to the game mechanics and balance, and did not remark at all on the sociopolitical relevance of the game, or to any personal reactions about the conflict.

Brian
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Ivor Bolakov
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Re: COIN and Algeria, India, Northern Ireland
We've already had tears at bedtime over Gandhi.
 
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Brian Train
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Re: COIN and Algeria, India, Northern Ireland
Seems to have settled down now, after only 100 posts.
But there's more where that came from, I'm sure.

Brian
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Todd Carter
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Re: COIN and Algeria, India, Northern Ireland
I do love the COIN games. But, one of the many barriers keeping me from playing them more often is the controversial topics. I can think of two easy examples of this.

When people ask me what my favorite game is, I always say Fire in the Lake. They ask what that's about and I say it's about the Vietnam War. Maybe I just lack tact in these circumstances. But it hardly ever seems to go well from there.

Once when I shared an article about Volko and it was from the time A Distant Plain was the newest COIN game, a friend of mine who fought in Afghanistan said it looked like PTSD the board game.

I still play COIN a lot in convention and online. And the few people I convinced to play them live have really enjoyed them. That's one reason I thought I would have more success with Falling Sky and Liberty or Death: we're more removed from the controversy of those topics. But, it also seems like most people around me have an averse reaction to history before WWII as well. (And games more complicated than Catan and wargames in general...)

I'm going to keep trying, though! And I still look forward to Colonial Twilight. It's two player so I only need to convince one person to play. It's post WWII. And It's a conflict that I don't know anyone who has an emotional attachment to it. Fingers crossed.

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Brian Train
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Re: COIN and Algeria, India, Northern Ireland

I design mostly on modern or contemporary conflicts because of my personal interest in learning more about them, by researching and building models of them; then I publish them (often myself) in the hopes that people will try my model and learn a bit about the world around them (or possibly disagree with me enough to go and do some independent reading and designing of their own!).

I think that if you have something to say about the world you live in, it’s important to come right out and say it, and take the consequences. We took some flak for designing and publishing a game on a war that wasn't over yet, and that the friends and relatives of potential players were still involved in.
But I think we were right, or at least not wrong, to do it because it did at least awake a few people to how complex and murky the war was, in contrast to the more simplified narrative most media were serving up.

It’s apparent that even after decades of militarizing influences at work in American popular culture (or perhaps because of them), there is a generalized unwillingness among the general public to come to grips with the complexity of current conflicts beyond a superficial level.
It’s interesting to note that even after 9/11, with the explosion of books, magazine articles, blogs and websites devoted to counterinsurgency and terrorism, there was no parallel great increase in popular demand for intellectually demanding games on the subject.
Popular interest has been mostly confined to modifications of tactical-scale, first-person shooter computer games that for the most part fail to convey the background and complexity of these conflicts.

That's popular culture, where such games sell in the hundreds of thousands or even millions.
Here in BGG Wargamerland, we engage with history differently, usually above a comic-book level but it's still part of the continual historical revision and socially useful amnesia that forms part of mankind’s romanticization of war.
Wargames do this in a strange Rationalist way: they attempt to portray the species at its most illogical and atavistic, through a rational framework of consistent logical regulations and mathematical modelling and often a prim concern for only what is thought to be “militarily significant”.
Kind of missing the point in my opinion.

Because in the end board games, especially board wargames, are some of our most complex cultural artifacts (see the series of thoughtful posts on this by the excellent writer and BGG user Jeremy Antley: http://www.peasantmuse.com/2010/09/boardgames-as-complex-cul...).
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This makes them a form of art, and as such they are a product of the mind of the artist, who in turn is the sum of his experiences, knowledge and beliefs.
Therefore, like all human creative endeavours, a wargame is not and cannot be a perfectly neutral object.
The designer, through the processes of research, conceptualizing, testing and production of a game, must make a series of choices of what to include in the design, and what to leave out.
But I don't think he should shun controversy just because it's controversial.
This is one reason why the playbooks in the GMT COIN series of games are so thick with Designer’s Notes, explanations of the historical background of each Event Card, and bibliographies: we want to show our work.

Ah, but I've said all this before, one place or another...

Brian
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Todd Carter
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Re: COIN and Algeria, India, Northern Ireland
ltmurnau wrote:

I design mostly on modern or contemporary conflicts because of my personal interest in learning more about them, by researching and building models of them; then I publish them (often myself) in the hopes that people will try my model and learn a bit about the world around them (or possibly disagree with me enough to go and do some independent reading and designing of their own!).

I think that if you have something to say about the world you live in, it’s important to come right out and say it, and take the consequences. We took some flak for designing and publishing a game on a war that wasn't over yet, and that the friends and relatives of potential players were still involved in.
But I think we were right, or at least not wrong, to do it because it did at least awake a few people to how complex and murky the war was, in contrast to the more simplified narrative most media were serving up.

It’s apparent that even after decades of militarizing influences at work in American popular culture (or perhaps because of them), there is a generalized unwillingness among the general public to come to grips with the complexity of current conflicts beyond a superficial level.
It’s interesting to note that even after 9/11, with the explosion of books, magazine articles, blogs and websites devoted to counterinsurgency and terrorism, there was no parallel great increase in popular demand for intellectually demanding games on the subject.
Popular interest has been mostly confined to modifications of tactical-scale, first-person shooter computer games that for the most part fail to convey the background and complexity of these conflicts.

That's popular culture, where such games sell in the hundreds of thousands or even millions.
Here in BGG Wargamerland, we engage with history differently, usually above a comic-book level but it's still part of the continual historical revision and socially useful amnesia that forms part of mankind’s romanticization of war.
Wargames do this in a strange Rationalist way: they attempt to portray the species at its most illogical and atavistic, through a rational framework of consistent logical regulations and mathematical modelling and often a prim concern for only what is thought to be “militarily significant”.
Kind of missing the point in my opinion.

Because in the end board games, especially board wargames, are some of our most complex cultural artifacts (see the series of thoughtful posts on this by the excellent writer and BGG user Jeremy Antley: http://www.peasantmuse.com/2010/09/boardgames-as-complex-cul...).
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This makes them a form of art, and as such they are a product of the mind of the artist, who in turn is the sum of his experiences, knowledge and beliefs.
Therefore, like all human creative endeavours, a wargame is not and cannot be a perfectly neutral object.
The designer, through the processes of research, conceptualizing, testing and production of a game, must make a series of choices of what to include in the design, and what to leave out.
But I don't think he should shun controversy just because it's controversial.
This is one reason why the playbooks in the GMT COIN series of games are so thick with Designer’s Notes, explanations of the historical background of each Event Card, and bibliographies: we want to show our work.

Ah, but I've said all this before, one place or another...

Brian


You just gave me a ton to think about there! I've been trying to figure out what makes wargames unique and more satisfying than most other boardgames I've encountered and your post really hits on a lot of good points. (Even if it is also a critique on the direction of some wargames.)
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Andrew B
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Re: COIN and Algeria, India, Northern Ireland
ltmurnau wrote:
Ah, but I've said all this before, one place or another...


Maybe, but this is the first time I've read about it and it really struck a chord.

I'm currently reading Clausewitz's 'On War', so I'm in the right mindset to agree with everything you've said.
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Michael Noakes
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Re: COIN and Algeria, India, Northern Ireland
I suppose my question was more interest than concern--games, at their best, can be an intriguing thesis for the designer exploring a complex subject or expressing contemporary concerns from the surrounding culture.

(And the best discussions I've seen on BGG have come from such games, whether Labyrinth or Pax Renaissance or others.)

I wouldn't want to push it too far, but it seems there's a small surge in WW2 games more concerned with the surrounding socio-economic context of conflict rather than the actual mass-mobilisation of troops: Triumph and Tragedy, Churchill, the incoming Cataclysm; I'm sure there's many more. It's certainly part of the appeal of GMT games and their hefty designer notes--Conquest of Paradise was a wonderful overview of a slice of history I'd have probably never gotten around to studying. I don't turn to, say, 7 Wonders in the expectation of learning much about the world, no matter how good of a game it might be. And it's good to see "deeper" explorations of complex conflicts beyond C&C concerns and die-roll modifiers.

But the recent LRB review on current French politics and the continued relevance of Algeria--the "shock" of apology or the refusal to call it a war until 1999--sort of reminded my of how... immediate, and difficult, these games can be.

(Obviously, these same potential concerns were there with Fire in the Lake, Abyss or Cuba Libre; but for a range of reasons they didn't strike home for me in the same way.)

COIN is clearly a robust and flexible system. (And easy to see adapted to any number of scenarios beyond the current focus: Star Wars would be too easy (and probably an unfortunate dilution of the brand), but I can imagine a political dominant/subordinate political game, Die Macher meets COIN, coalition party "partners" facing off against the opposition during an election cycle, event cards turning up the typical challenges faced.)

But I don't envy the challenges faced by the designers sifting through the myriad terrible things that take place during a violent conflict and deciding which make the cut and which get left behind, forgot and unrecognised.

Which is all a rambling way to say: I look forward to playing your game!
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Brian Train
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Re: COIN and Algeria, India, Northern Ireland
Gee thanks guys!
blush

I sound off like this sometimes at https://brtrain.wordpress.com/
and I've made a few presentations in this vein which you can see at https://brtrain.wordpress.com/game-links-and-resources/

In general I find it really hard to articulate how I feel about these things, though.

Brian
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Michael Melen
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Re: COIN and Algeria, India, Northern Ireland
I see the COIN games as an interesting offshoot/adjunct of wargaming. Whereas most of the wargames I have played focus on the movement and supply of troops (I'm an old AH gamer), and sometimes on the economics which support the military structure, COIN has strong non-military (or quasi-military) components which help determine victory or defeat. They require hard choices to made by the gamer, and these reflect similar hard choices which were made at the time.

It is fascinating and instructive to me to learn more about the particulars of these conflicts, and why one side prevailed over the other. Viet Nam defeating the US? Algeria gaining independence from France? Britain losing the colonies? Unthinkable, and yet... Understanding the forces and issues better makes these games valuable to me.

These conflicts are also interesting as lessons for the future, and the present. By avoiding study and replay of the Viet Nam conflict, will we make the same mistakes elsewhere? By immersing ourselves in one side, then the other, of the Algerian insurgency can we gain insights which could lead to wiser policies in the Middle East and elsewhere? I was interested to see that members of the U.S. Army War College recently utilized Colonial Twilight: The French-Algerian War, 1954-62 as part of a program studying the Algerian conflict, assisted by the game's designer. Impressive!

I believe that the U.S. needs to be wiser in our foreign policy choices, and if these games can assist in that, I am thankful.
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Re: COIN and Algeria, India, Northern Ireland
mjmelen wrote:
I see the COIN games as an interesting offshoot/adjunct of wargaming. Whereas most of the wargames I have played focus on the movement and supply of troops (I'm an old AH gamer), and sometimes on the economics which support the military structure, COIN has strong non-military (or quasi-military) components which help determine victory or defeat. They require hard choices to made by the gamer, and these reflect similar hard choices which were made at the time.

These conflicts are also interesting as lessons for the future, and the present. By avoiding study and replay of the Viet Nam conflict, will we make the same mistakes elsewhere? By immersing ourselves in one side, then the other, of the Algerian insurgency can we gain insights which could lead to wiser policies in the Middle East and elsewhere? I was interested to see that members of the U.S. Army War College recently utilized Colonial Twilight: The French-Algerian War, 1954-62 as part of a program studying the Algerian conflict, assisted by the game's designer. Impressive!

I believe that the U.S. needs to be wiser in our foreign policy choices, and if these games can assist in that, I am thankful.


Thanks Michael, I am glad to hear that you find these things valuable.
The COIN system is quite flexible I think, and I think will probably contribute to some very good games on power politics one day.
And hard choices? Yes, I'm all about forcing hard choices on players, so it hurts a little to play the game... I can't always pull it off but I try.

Avoiding future mistakes... well, we can but hope.
I will say that it 9/11 had not happened, the US military probably would not have rediscovered France's war in Algeria, and their approach to counterinsurgency (there are some threads elsewhere about that).
And they never would have screened Pontecorvo's film "The Battle of Algiers" in the Pentagon either:



And my game would likely have bumbled along in bucolic obscurity, too.
By the way, I will be going back to the Army War College in a couple of months for a repeat performance.

Brian
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Re: COIN and Algeria, India, Northern Ireland
Board games are not supposed to be always beautiful, or always easy, or always kind. That's what makes them art.
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Ivor Bolakov
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What the fuck.

Edit: Thankfully that hateful screed has since been deleted.
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Brian Train
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OhBollox wrote:
What the fuck.

Edit: Thankfully that hateful screed has since been deleted.


Sorry, I must have missed that.

Brian
 
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