Another side of the COIN

I ran my game of being an Afghan farmer “The Other Side of the COIN” at the Chestnut Lodge Wargames Group’s (CLWG) annual conference yesterday afternoon. This was its second outing, you can see my onside report from the first run here.

Since the last outing the game has developed further to address some of the comments that the players made then. In particular I had a set of individual objective cards to drive some behaviours and give the players something to focus on that was essentially different each time the game gets played (and also makes the farmers all slightly different from each other, there is a danger that they all do the same thing). The other advantage of the cards is that it stops a purely economic rationality setting in immediately and just converting to grow poppy (because the income levels from this are a couple of orders of magnitude higher that any other sort of crops – the real reason that the Afghans grow so much opium).

Another development was the introduction of a set of cards to represent improvements or capabilities that the farmers can invest in. for example, securing a fuel supply, or building schools etc. These were supposed to form a pyramid of improvement, in that each of the items was allocated a level, and to buy a level 2 improvement then you need to support that with two level 1 improvements. Some of the improvements had pre-requisites, but apart from that it was simply building your pyramid that counted. Each improvement had some icons on the bottom that told you what sort of improvement it was, whether it benefited the whole community or just an individual. It also told you whether or not it promoted the Islamic lifestyle and/or used fuel. The individual briefings, and the farming mechanics, remained completely unchanged from the previous run of the game. I also didn’t get an opportunity to properly document some of the changes.

The improvements were all documented on the cards I produced, and there was a price list to make it easier to know what was available. In this run of the game the valley was a lot more peaceful. We played through two years of farming and in that time two of the four played farmers decided to grow opium, one on a small scale (a couple of fields) and the other as his major crop. In addition there was a bumper crop on the first summer.  This injected quite a lot of money into the game, and so resulted in some significant improvements in the town, a new well and a Madrassawere established as well as regular fuel & medical supplies and a specialist seed supply.  A shortage of time and players meant that there wasn’t any external tension to make different decisions about things, and the local cleric focussed on good works (establishing the water supply and madrassa from the funds raised).

Lessons learnt from this session:

  • the amount of money needs some careful calculation and appropriate denomination notes produced to make it easy to count out the correct sums;
  • the farming mechanisms need to be significantly streamlined to make them work faster, and the task allocation piece removed (or at least built into other mechanisms unobtrusively) as it wasn’t a real constraint on activity;
  • I need longer than two hours to run the game, at least double that, and I also need more players, at least seven, with clearer briefing for the police and the taliban as well as an external agent to foment trouble (or be the catalyst for it);
  • the mechanisms need to be properly collected into a well signposted reference document, ideally quite short. There also needs to be a revision of the play aid for farmers to put all the key mechanics on it.
  • I need a mechanism (or at least a trigger) for involving external authority in the area should there be a widespread growth of poppy. So some research on the eradication programmes and their timings would be useful.

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About Author:

James has a keen interest in military history, backed with experience as a TA reservist and a 17th century re-enactor. He has designed and run several face to face social games and is the editor of MilMud, the journal of the CLWG game design group. He is currently working on a book on the aftermath of the Glorious Revolution.

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