Here is Part 1.
And here is how things were when we last talked.
So, onwards with the third campaign! Cartels got straight into Processing more drugs while FARC setup another Base in Panama. AUC was having none of that however taking out FARC Bases in Panama (the guys that had just moved in hadn’t even had time to boil a cup of tea!), neighbouring Choco and Arauca in the east. This put AUC into a dominant position but Government again took the chance it would be another long campaign and decided to focus on removing insurgents from Cities. It therefore dug up the hidden FARC Guerrilla in Cali. Cali's population was a bit too high to allow FARC to hang around there for too long.
FARC built two new Bases in Choco and Arauca but no longer had the manpower to do so in Panama again. AUC took advantage of this by setting up their own Base in Panama taking them to six and their maximum number of Bases, and the same number as FARC. So no longer dominant but close. Perhaps out of sympathy for FARC Labor decided to back them which resulted in a loss of Government Support in the Cities of Cali and Medellin. In a spiteful response, Government took out that lone uncovered FARC Guerrilla in Cali.
However, what turned out to be a very short campaign ended just as quickly as it had started. AUC had done well in a short time replacing one of FARC’s Bases in Panama with one of its own. Cartels production efforts also managed to net them some nice additional cash reserves. Government investment in Cali and Medellin managed to reverse the damage done by Labor’s support of FARC. There was little time left now and so much to do…
Thanks to a hostage negotiation forum for FARC, the people of Putumayo decided to Actively Support them again. Meanwhile, Cartels got right back into the drug production business, Processing two Shipments. Government probably needed to hit AUC early but once again the balance between short-term and long-term raised its ugly head convincing us to let COIN experts take charge thus making future Assaults much cheaper to undertake – although we had stacks of money but you can never have too much! AUC appreciated being left alone as it continued its harassment of FARC by taking out a Base each in Arauca and Choco and a Guerrilla in Putumayo. This gave AUC a dominant position once again but we knew this campaign would go for a little while yet so although concerned, we were not panicking. Just yet anyway.
FARC was able to re-establish those two Bases pretty quickly and, worse for Government, rustled up three more Guerrillas in Bogota making the total there six. Government had been fortunate FARC had decided to reinforce in other Departments first otherwise there would have been a lot more turn up in Bogota! However, Government did finally have the opportunity to fully mobilise its Troops Sweeping Bogota, Atlántico (chasing an AUC Base), Neiva (an AUC Guerrilla) and Huila (lots of AUC). AUC then took out another FARC Base in Panama and returned to their dominant position. All this time of course, AUC was convincing the local populace that maybe being looked after by the Government would not be such a bad thing after all and FARC popularity had plummeted as a result.
Cartels, having been sitting on eight Bases for a while as it Processed lots of drugs, decided to expand once again setting up new southern Bases in Huila and Nariño. Now with ten Bases they, like AUC, were also threatening to dominate the country. The Government finally got around to conducting Assaults in the spaces it had earlier swept, clearing Atlántico, Bogota and Neiva of all FARC and AUC. Sadly, not Cartels though, as they had wisely ducked back Underground when they heard the all the noise. Having consistently wiped out FARC Bases in Panama, AUC built their second Base there and were once again back up to six! Poor FARC who had set up covert Bases in Panama so long ago ended up having them ransacked by AUC who then moved in and took over.
Some US DEA Agents then arrived which just annoyed a whole lot people, particularly in Bogota, Huila and Arauca. Arauca was always probably going back to the FARC anyway and Bogota although now its population Passively Opposed the Government, as long as we kept stacks of Troops and Police there, that could be fixed with investment and other activities. So where this hurt the most was Huila where the locals went from Passive Support to ambivalence. Our concern was that we may not have enough time to get in there and get this Support back.
FARC then sent several Guerrillas off to Guaviare in the south-east to help convince the ambivalent locals that the FARC way was the right way. In Meta East, AUC convinced a FARC and Cartels Guerrilla to defect to their side thus strengthening the AUC hold there.
Since having removed FARC from Bogota, Government felt confident enough to deploy Troops from there to Antioquia to finally try and deal with this AUC dominance, which was still at six Bases to FARC’s four. Government also conducted Sweeps in Huila too in an effort to take back the mountains before time ran out. Government also got to conduct an Airstrike, something it had been itching to do for ages. The lucky target was one of the two AUC Bases in Panama, in an attempt to restore some balance.
FARC were very thankful for that as the two Guerrillas hanging out in Panama decided to set up a Base where AUC had just vacated, bringing them back to five Bases each and a provoking temporary sigh of relief. Annoyingly, all of the uncovered AUC and Cartels Guerrillas ducked back Underground just before Government could get its act together to wipe them out so was forced to go searching for them once again. We were worried however that time may be running out to get a sufficient presence in these mountains and subsequently woo the local populace.
Then, at the worst possible time, four FARC Guerrillas decided to move into Santander, the one mountain Department where Government did have some sway. However, FARC now outnumbered Government there and if this situation remained, it could be catastrophic for us, particularly as we had just realised we now had very little time to act. Therefore we had no choice but to move the Troops from Antioquia into Santander to even things up, at the cost of abandoning our plans in the rest of the mountains - both Antioquia and Huila. And then time did indeed run out.
Thankfully AUC dominance had been removed just in time and Cartels never quite got there. Government investment in Bogota – phew! and Santander – big phew! - managed to restore a large portion of the population’s Support for us, however, both AUC and Cartels ended up in slightly stronger positions. Therefore, the Government’s campaign ended in “COIN failure”, which is defined as “The Government has gained little legitimacy; illegal armed groups abound and rule key territory. Colombia is descending into chaos.” Yep, that about sums it up! Where did things go wrong? It was astonishing how often the insurgents succeeded in restricting Government activity [in game terms, in more than half of Government’s turns, only Limited Operations could be taken]. This really held us back and gave me an excuse for poor planning and execution of my operations
By the way, if you were wondering about FARC, despite convincing a large portion of the country to stay with them, they were not able to make inroads in the Cities or more highly populated mountainous areas, due primarily to the hammering they received from both AUC and Cartels and therefore ended up well behind.
Here is how things ended up.
This game was quite different to many others I have played. It was short, ending at the earliest possible moment, that is, the Propaganda Card was at the top of the final 16 cards. The 2nd campaign was as long as it could possibly be. Also, fewer Events occurred. I normally see more come out. And as noted above, I was 2nd Eligible (and thus restricted to Limited Operations) more than I was 1st Eligible. The draw was just against me. Yet the narrative was there and was pretty entertaining too. I could not take a trick with anything remotely to do with hostages but I was also the beneficiary of significant outside funding. More Resources than I had ever seen! However, that is one of the beauties of the solitaire game. It is very different every time.
On to the preview.
The solitaire game is fun and challenging; certainly a game in itself. One of the beauties of the design is that very little is changed from the base game, except the obvious AI for the three insurgent factions. This is implemented through Non-Player (NP) Faction Sheets, which contain flowcharts that clearly set out the Operations and Special Activities each insurgent faction will take in a given situation. Basically, each NP will, if it does not take an Event, undertake an Operation and Special Activity.
Mr Ruhnke has kept them as simple to follow as possible yet behind every NP action is a level of intelligence that really keeps you on your toes. The process for each NP’s turn does take a little getting used to but in a short period, I found I was breezing through the flowcharts. And what apparent complexity does exist is well worth it as you are given three quite intelligent opponents.
As I said, the game is different every time, much like the base game. NPs take a combination of Events and Operations (and Special Activities) in a varying order. That order always varies. So you might have FARC poised to wipe out your Lines of Communication (LoC) but then it takes an Event possibly leaving you time to disrupt them. Then on the flipside, FARC gets in and wipes out those LoCs so quickly that your head spins. The Events and Operations also combine really well and as I hope you saw above, provide an entertaining narrative.
While the NP Faction Sheets set out what each NP will do in a certain situation, where they will do it is not always a given. This is where the Random Chart comes in. For example, FARC is going to March somewhere but to find out exactly where, you have to roll on the random chart. What I like about this chart is that it is not completely random and will sometimes guide activity to specific hotspots. Another part of the intelligent design of the solitaire game.
One of the things I enjoy most about playing the solitaire game, and the same can be said about the base game too, is that you have to find the balance between furthering your own victory objectives and ensuring the other players do not reach theirs. So I had to push ahead with my own agenda of securing the mountains and getting the population to love me but at the same time keep a very close eye on AUC and Cartels in particular as they neared their victory conditions. The tension created when they had achieved their victory conditions and I did not know when the next Propaganda card was coming was incredible.
Then within that balance is another balance that you have to find, the balance between taking immediate action to deal with a threat or taking an action (or usually an Event) that will help you in the long term. Such was the case in the game above when I really needed to whittle AUC down a bit but a very handy Government Event came up which enabled me to carry out cheap Assaults for the rest of the game. Dealing with these two balances I have found very entertaining.
Another thing the solitaire game teaches you is strategies for future games. For example, I learned very quickly the importance of having a strong presence in cities adjacent to large FARC holdings after FARC Marched in and wiped me out in one game. The solitaire game will not necessarily play the same as the base game, but it still offers up a serious challenge. As you saw above, it just beat the crap out of me!
So in summary, the solitaire game of Andean Abyss is a challenging, fun, very positive gaming experience that is different every time you play it. As I said at the beginning of these posts, some 4000 words ago, it provides a fair dinkum solitaire experience within a multiplayer game, which is something I am always looking for. And it is on this basis I shall be submitting my P500 order and continuing an enjoyable playtesting experience.
Incidentally, on the whole P500 thing, my understanding is that Andean Abyss is one of a number of games vying for limited production slots for an earlier release in, I think, the second quarter of 2012. Presumably, the more orders for it will give it a better chance of grabbing one of those slots. So if you are considering getting the game at some point, I urge you to not delay in ordering (this is of course purely self-serving as the sooner it can get produced, the sooner I can get my copy ).
So thank you kindly for reading. Hope you enjoyed the session report.