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Subject: How to model the Lebanese Civil War 1975-1990? rss

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Nate Merchant
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Since my wife is from Lebanon, I was trying to explain this conflict to my son, and I wished I had had access to a game like Fire in the Lake or Twilight Struggle in order to illustrate the depressing litany of skirmishes, massacres, and assassinations.

Would a COIN system work best, given all the disparate sides, or something different? Or perhaps it would work as more of an area-control game, with Event cards being used to place influence and/or cubes? Given the enormous complexity of the subject matter, the Events and rules would have to be pretty streamlined in order for players to make heads or tails of the conflict (which I still cannot). But what a great challenge for an intrepid designer!
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Mark
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I would be interested to see how this conflict would portrayed in game form. I think COIN might work.
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Scott Muldoon (silentdibs)
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I wonder if Battle for Baghdad might have something of value to scrounge.
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Nate Merchant
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LeroyJS wrote:
I would be interested to see how this conflict would portrayed in game form. I think COIN might work.


I do, too. I'm not a COIN convert, but I admire (as well as own) FitL and I'm very curious about Pendragon, Colonial Twilight, and Cuba Libre. It was while reading the rules for Colonial Twilight that I started thinking of the civil war in Lebanon.
 
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Nate Merchant
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sdiberar wrote:
I wonder if Battle for Baghdad might have something of value to scrounge.


Looks neat! I'll look it up.
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Andrew N
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Flashpoint: Golan has some scenarios covering the conflict. It's a good model of 20th Century operational warfare, but not much politics. There is potential for UM enforced ceasefires, and Superpower or Arab League intervention, but that's about it.

Similarly, there is Millennium Wars Advanced: The Lebanon Scenarios, but I haven't played it.
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Jim F
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There's a very detailed and lengthy series on the wars in Lebanon, available on youtube, called 'The War of Lebanon'. It includes lots of footage and interviews with the (surviving) main players. I can recommend it if you have a deep interest in this subject.
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Charles Vasey
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Natus wrote:
Since my wife is from Lebanon, I was trying to explain this conflict to my son, and I wished I had had access to a game like Fire in the Lake or Twilight Struggle in order to illustrate the depressing litany of skirmishes, massacres, and assassinations.

Would a COIN system work best, given all the disparate sides, or something different? Or perhaps it would work as more of an area-control game, with Event cards being used to place influence and/or cubes? Given the enormous complexity of the subject matter, the Events and rules would have to be pretty streamlined in order for players to make heads or tails of the conflict (which I still cannot). But what a great challenge for an intrepid designer!


A lot depends on how much "movement" there was in the fighting. Where an area is heavily cantonal apart from a few dramatic collapses/captures the action is found outwith the map. Apart from Israeli invasions things may look a bit quiet over 15 years.


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Jeff Gringer
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I've always thought the COIN engine could manage this conflict as well as anything, thought it would have to be localized for these particularities, and you'd also want to carefully pick the timeframe to figure out how to accommodate the outside powers that intervened.

Just spitballing, but to do the standard four faction COIN, you could maybe do it in sectarian factions: Sunni, Shia, Christian, and Druze. But then I'd have a hard time figuring how the Druze could 'win'. For outside entities, maybe along the lines of the Germanic tribes in Falling Sky, you'd have the Israelis, Syrians, and, briefly, western powers including the USMC. And how would you model the largely Christian, but non-interventionist Lebanese army?

Another possibility would be something akin to the old SPI Russian Civil War, where each player would have pieces of the different factions. I think that would model the web of alliances and understandings among the different formations well. But then it would be tricky to marry with the customary COIN card driven play. For instance, would you have everyone able to move their own Christian formations when the faction came up? Or relegate it to strictly faction-centric moves coming up on the cards, so, for instance, player 1 could move his/her pieces? But then would they be in lock step, with the respective Sunni/Shia/Christian/Druze shooting, or moving in unison? That doesn't seem right...

One question would be whether to include the Palestinians as Sunni, or some separate entity? How about factionialization among the sects, for instance rivalry among the Shia between Amal and Hizbullah. I believe there were similar rivalries among the Christian militias, which was the case at the end when Aoun battled Geagea, and the split became more a division between pro- and anti-Syrian forces.

I would also imagine you would need to keep a separate, expanded map of Beirut, which loomed so large over the rest of the country. At a minimum you'd want East and West Beirut, the airport and south/Shia neighborhoods. Plus the Palestinian camps.

Needless to say it would present a lot of design challenges, but if done right could be a great contest, and very illuminating.
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Beirut '82

I had this at some point.

Looks wife friendly.
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brant G
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ask Brian Train about modding this one?

https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/150427/next-war-lebanon
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Jeff Gringer
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I think this is a very different animal from the initial discussion of the Lebanese Civil War.

bayonetbrant wrote:
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Brian Train
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Yes it certainly is (Brant, you knew I'd show up here sooner or later).

I have spent some time discussing this in the past with a Lebanese wargamer, and I've thought about it a lot.
It is something I would like to tackle one day, but right now I have not enough time and too many projects on the go.

We've had some great ideas already.
Charles suggested doing away with the map, or at least a physical map, and he's right that there would be few overt geographical changes during the period depicted.
Amplifying on that, the system would need to be able to allow for the stop-and-start of conflict... it was not 15 years of unrelenting violence.
The game system would need to be scalable, and admit of a lot of asymmetry in goals and methods... so I am not sure the COIN system would be suitable unless you were prepared to accept a lot of abstraction of many small groups into four general factions or tendencies.
Jeff suggested that everyone has a piece or pieces of a very smashed pie, like Russian Civil War.
I think the mechanics of Battle for Baghdad, which are derived from those of Dune, also offer something to look at.

Off the top of my head I would think of some kind of card-assisted board game, more card than board with a not-very-representational map, with a large number of abstracty but low-powered cards to move cubes around and break rules, as factions and alliances come and go during specific phases of the 15 year conflict.
I think one of the problems of Battle for Baghdad is that there were some quite highly powered cards in there, and were quite specific in their texts so it made people scratch their heads when trying to fill in the narrative... like how did the NGOs get their hands on a WMD?

Anyway, just my preliminary thoughts.

Brian
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michael connor
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I think you could probably mod something like Nicaragua. You've got the factions, demographic groups, government and interventionist forces. Perhaps also a game like Brian's own Caudillo could be considered. The game would be mainly political with lots of factions and external agencies waiting to jump in.
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Brian Train
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Nicaragua might work, at that.

Caudillo has no map, although perhaps that doesn't matter much... but the thrust of the game is for players to cooperate somewhat in dealing with the crises that are continually coming at them, while trying to build their own power bases. Victory is based strictly on numerical scores (modified somewhat by your personal character's agenda).
It could work but would need a lot of modification.

A while back I did a six-handed game on the Chinese Cultural Revolution called Redguard that might be more adaptable, it's also mapless.

Funnily enough, I just this moment came across my notes from my discussions on that very topic, back in 2013.
Wasn't even looking for them, just for an old clipboard!

First, though, we agreed a reasonable time frame for the game would be 1975-82.
The Israeli invasion kind of kicks over the table and the game ought to end at that point.

We (that is, me and Rami Sader - he is not on BGG but some others reading this might know him) thought of four tendencies for a four-cornered contest (COIN system or not, but 4 is a good number to aim for as it can be harder to get more players together).

Phalange - sponsored by Israel, Chrisitan Maronite - concentrated Beirut and the North, government power and dominant in Lebanon at first.

Palestinans - Sunni - settled in camps - need presence to allow operations against Israel

Syrians - Shia - concentrated in Bekaa Valley and the North, aiming to dominate or influence Lebanese affairs.

"Pan-Arabist" - e.g. Egyptian proxies? Lebanese Sunni? Druzes? a counterweight to Israeli influence, concentrated in west Beirut. Seeks a Lebanon free of domination or outside influence.

We thought about a Dune/Battle for Baghdad system variation:
- asymmetric victory conditions
- limited player-specific special powers
- limited number of cards
- limited number of military resources
- something to reflect the fractured structure of the Lebanese Army (some units are Sunni, some are Shia, some are sympathetic to Syria)

Anyway, that's as far as we got that day.

Brian
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Lance McMillan
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I think Brian's right, that "mapless" (or at least a very abstract/minimal map) might be the best way to go. Lebanon strikes me as much more of a political than military struggle, and even when it "goes hot" the military aspects of the action are in many ways far less important than what's happening behind the scenes.

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Jeff Gringer
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The Druze are concentrated in the Chouff mountains above Beirut.

Sunni are centered in West Beirut, may have been the Pan-Arabists in the day. Also in Tripoli in the north, where they face off with pro-Syrian Alawites.

Maybe do a hand-building game akin to Kingmaker. You could have a Walid Joumblatt face off against a Gemayel, Nabih Berry, and Arafat. You piece together different militias, resources, allies, etc. Can also assassinate others.

ltmurnau wrote:
First, though, we agreed a reasonable time frame for the game would be 1975-82.
The Israeli invasion kind of kicks over the table and the game ought to end at that point.

We (that is, me and Rami Sader - he is not on BGG but some others reading this might know him) thought of four tendencies for a four-cornered contest (COIN system or not, but 4 is a good number to aim for as it can be harder to get more players together).

Phalange - sponsored by Israel, Chrisitan Maronite - concentrated Beirut and the North, government power and dominant in Lebanon at first.

Palestinans - Sunni - settled in camps - need presence to allow operations against Israel

Syrians - Shia - concentrated in Bekaa Valley and the North, aiming to dominate or influence Lebanese affairs.

"Pan-Arabist" - e.g. Egyptian proxies? Lebanese Sunni? Druzes? a counterweight to Israeli influence, concentrated in west Beirut. Seeks a Lebanon free of domination or outside influence.

We thought about a Dune/Battle for Baghdad system variation:
- asymmetric victory conditions
- limited player-specific special powers
- limited number of cards
- limited number of military resources
- something to reflect the fractured structure of the Lebanese Army (some units are Sunni, some are Shia, some are sympathetic to Syria)

Anyway, that's as far as we got that day.

Brian
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Brian Train
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Yeah, or some kind of meld required to do a particular thing - I've seen that elsewhere (and not just Peter Rabbit Rummy).

Lance, glad you agree - military or physical incursions/adjustments would just mean certain cards are temporarily or permanently unplayable.

Brian
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Bill Eldard
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ltmurnau wrote:
The game system would need to be scalable, and admit of a lot of asymmetry in goals and methods... so I am not sure the COIN system would be suitable unless you were prepared to accept a lot of abstraction of many small groups into four general factions or tendencies.

Having been temporarily attached to the 24th Marine Amphibious Unit (24 MAU) in Beirut, 1983, I can tell you that the shear volume of actors and motivations was difficult to sort at any given time.

Among the armed domestic political factions (as I recall) were:

- the Phalange (Maronite Christians; controlling the Presidency).
- the Sunnis (the dominant Muslim denomination politically and economically)
- the Shi'ites (with increasing numbers owed to a higher birth rate, they wanted more political power within the government)
- the Druze (religious minority sect)
- the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) -- controlled by the Maronites; often cooperated with the Phalange militia. The LAF was building a fourth brigade in '83 to expand control outsider of Beirut.
- the Internal Security Force (ISF) - though armed and uniformed similarly to the LAF, they were a separate armed group of the Lebanese government, and more politically-connected to the government.
- The Army of South Lebanon (ASL) - a Lebanese militia supplied by the Israelis to secure southern Lebanon.
- The Palestinians (numerous refugee camps in country, including the Sabra & Shatila camps in Beirut proper.) With the IDF outside of Beirut, the US Marines landed to evacuate the Palestinian fighters to Tunisia. After they departed, Maronite militiamen massacred Palestinians in the camps.
- Hezbollah (Radical Shia group backed by Iran). Relatively unknown until 1983, they began to emerge as a new anti-Israeli force in southern Lebanon.
- Assorted minor Marxist and Nasserite factions backed by other Arab states. There were more politically-driven groups than radical Islamic groups at that time, until the arrival of Hezbollah, and they appeared to be diminishing in the early '80s.

Among the foreign political groups present in Lebanon at some point during the civil war were:

- the Syrians (Assad has his eyes on annexing Lebanon into Syria). The Syrian Army intervened in the war and occupied the Bekaa Valley and east.
- the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) which occupied parts of Lebanon as far north as metropolitan Beirut. The IDF incursion of '82 had reached the outskirts of Beirut when major powers intervened.
- the Multinational Force (MNF) - comprised of military units of from the US, France, Italy, and UK, it secured western Beirut as far south as the international airport. Originally a neutral peacekeeping force, the French and American contingents are eventually drawn into the conflict as belligerents. The US and France maintained naval forces offshore as well. France had historic ties to Lebanon as far back as its League of Nations mandate.

Further complicating all this was the fact that the alignment of groups occasionally changed with the circumstances.

Obviously, each faction can't be represented by a player. But can the number of players be limited to four?
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Nate Merchant
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ltmurnau wrote:

"Pan-Arabist" - e.g. Egyptian proxies? Lebanese Sunni? Druzes? a counterweight to Israeli influence, concentrated in west Beirut. Seeks a Lebanon free of domination or outside influence.


The Fremen from Dune, as it were.

Unfortunately, if the game stops at 1982, many events that characterized the war would be lost: the Israeli invasion itself, Gemayel's assassination, Sabra and Shatila, the bombings of the U.S. barracks and embassy, the Israeli withdrawal and the partition of the south, etc. But the involvement of the Israelis and western troops did throw a spanner in the works.

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Nate Merchant
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Eldard wrote:

Obviously, each faction can't be represented by a player. But can the number of players be limited to four?


What powers would the four represent? Could it conceivably be two?
 
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Bill Eldard
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Natus wrote:
Eldard wrote:

Obviously, each faction can't be represented by a player. But can the number of players be limited to four?


What powers would the four represent? Could it conceivably be two?

I think reducing it to two players oversimplifies the actual environment. As I listed, there were so many actors and shifting, situationally-convenient alignments that selecting four, five, six or more players is difficult.

Perhaps if we start with the fact that it was a civil war which drew in foreign actors, and go from there, we could come up with an interesting array of actors.

At a rudimentary level, there were two major (and in a general sense) forces afoot:

#1 - Maintain the status quo

#2 - Change the power structure/balance in Lebanon (This would require a major change to its constitution)

Given these, we might roughly assign actors to either #1 or #2. Here's my stab at it . . .

#1 -- Phalange, Israelis, MNF, ASL, and possibly Lebanese Sunnis

#2 -- Lebanese Shia, Hezbollah, Syrians, Druze, Palestinians (PLO), minor factions, and possibly Lebanese Sunnis.

But the goals of the players within Group #2 are quite disparate. Like any good COIN game situation, it invites changing alliances as circumstances dictate. For instance, there were times when Walid Jumblatt and the Druze were relying on the Syrian occupiers for their own survival. The Sunnis might cooperate with the Phalange, but not with the IDF. But can we pick three actors from the lot? Four? Do we need two actors from Group #1? Three?

I don't know, but with that civil war in the rear view mirror, there's certainly enough information about long term goals to mine.
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Brian Train
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Natus wrote:

Unfortunately, if the game stops at 1982, many events that characterized the war would be lost: the Israeli invasion itself, Gemayel's assassination, Sabra and Shatila, the bombings of the U.S. barracks and embassy, the Israeli withdrawal and the partition of the south, etc. But the involvement of the Israelis and western troops did throw a spanner in the works.



That's why Rami and I wanted to draw the line at 1982: after then, it becomes a different game.

Brian
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Samy
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Having some connection to Lebanon as well, I've thought a lot about a potential game as well. Of course the COIN series prompted me to putting in some serious thought into it, but I wasn't necessarily thinking of the COIN game model for this. I jotted down tons of brainstorming notes several years ago, including a set of themes for what to model in the game (mostly pasted here without much cleaning up, apologies):


Themes

Legitimate -> Criminal (financing methods, from 'legitimate' to looting the ports)
Foreign interests/support, drawn in
Domestic/popular support
Army breakup, divided
Inter-sectarian tensions
Intra-sectarian tensions, exploiting divisions
Government control
Clearing the countryside of popular support?
Peace pressure
War as told through rise and fall of various sectarian/militia leaders
Government vs Feudal power
Left vs right? Repression, police state? Class struggle? lower class ally with secular socialists as well
Tension -> Massacres -> War


Obviously there's a lot of ways to go at this. In terms of factions, I was just as uncertain as most of you are who to pick. I think for various phases of the war you would have different primary and secondary factions, primary being controlled by players, and secondary being neutrals that can be used by players.


Faction notes

Sunni (and Arab nation supporters),
Shiite, (Hezbollah), (Amal),
Christian, (Gov't),
(Druze/PSP),
Syria/(ADF)/(PLA), (Iran),
Israel,
Palestinians, (PLO),
(USA), (USSR), (UK/France), (UN), (Lebanese Army), (Sunni Islamists and anti-Baathist Muslim Brotherhood)
- Druze: PSP and SSNP under Jumblatt (Mtn war)
- specific factions might be able to gain power/sympathy from normally opposing sects (perhaps due to harsh tactics, losing)


I imagined factions having internal dissension/challengers being an aspect of play, such as the Shiite cause starting out being Amal-lead but the Hizbollah taking over through intra-Shiite struggles. I'm not sure what exactly that would mean for a Shiite player, maybe that his positions could suddenly change, or simply that some of his own forces could be used against him.

Collecting all the various phases of the war, I think possible primary factions would be Christian, Sunni, Shiite, Syria, and Israel. But then it really depends how you do it.

I'm not sure you'd play the whole war in one go, the factions might have to change too much. Assuming you try to do the whole war as one scenario, maybe you do it through the lens of Lebanese factions only? Or perhaps Christian, Muslim, Syria, Israel, with Israel and Syria needing something to do, some sub-game system or other, to influence when not directly engaged militarily.

I jotted down three main phases of the war:

Early - Pro/Anti government
Mid - Militia wars, Army and Gov disintegrate, IDF invasion
Late - Christian power grab, Hezbollah, Syrian domination


Some ideas I fancied were a loyalty matrix for the Lebanese army, which if abused causes it to disintegrate, but if managed could end up more active than it was historically. Also a tension matrix between the factions would would complicate coexistence/occupation and affect recruitment, possibly even relate to victory conditions. I wanted to see the consequences of igniting sectarian divides in mixed areas. Or maybe even an upside to calming sectarian tensions.

Cards representing some of the more forceful personalities or rich families in the period could be used to influence factions, for better or for worse. There would be some assassination cards. Cards representing the various sub-factions could have stats that become your primary stats when starting with that sub faction or switching over to another.

Syria and Israel would have budget and support constraints from their own domestic politics, affected by the war.

It's been a while since I put some serious thought into this; I'd picked up a bunch of research material, but haven't gotten through nearly enough of it yet, and have been distracted by life of course (including other projects).
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Brian Train
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Some great ideas Samy!

I wish I had the time to follow up.
Well, it's history now so not so much of a rush to get it done....

Brian
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