Games on COIN

This post is prompted by an excellent post by the guys at On Violence. You should read Capturing Australia! COIN is Boring Pt.3 to which this was my belated comment.

McCormick model of insurgency
McCormick model of insurgency (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My apologies for coming late to this one, I’ve been on leave for a couple of weeks now and being spending time with the family.

I’ve been interested in designing a counter insurgency game since the mid 1990s. The original trigger for my interest were the decolonisation conflicts of the British Empire. This wasn’t a board game, nor a computer game. The group I belong to designs face to face games for multiple participants, a bit like the sort of command post exercises those of us who’ve done some military or civil contingencies time would recognise.

I never ran the decolonisation game that prompted this, it needed 20 players, which was too many for the free venues and too few to make it economic in the hired halls. However there were a number of spin-off games, including a look at the Palestine/Israel insurgency in 1945-48; Malaya in the 1950s and Aden in the early 60s.

By the time I’d looked at those traditional insurgencies we got into the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. My most recent attempt, which sort of almost counts as a board game (it has a map, which is really only for flavour) looked at the experience from the point of view of the Afghan farmers, and the drivers that took them to insurgency (or not as the case happens). I ran it twice, both times with someone who served in Afghanistan as one of the players.

I come at all this as a hobbyist. I make the games I’d like to play but cannot find commercially. The same is true of the people that I play with, we form a community of game design activists. (Chestnut Lodge Wargames Group, mainly in the UK). Over the years I’ve played games as both an insurgent and a counter-insurgent. They hold a lot of game play and interest. However a lot of it defies easy mechanisms that you can write down on a few pages than just about anyone can understand.

Part of this is that insurgencies aren’t all the same. What works in dealing with one group might only make things work with another. You need to get inside the culture and methods of the insurgents to defeat them. Or at least that is how I read it. Sometimes it will be unpalatable for modern players to play those games, either because of a close connection with someone hurt by the insurgency, or because current moral standards differ from those of the period or culture concerned.

That said, I think it is possible to write good games about insurgency. They just need to be specifically tailored to the insurgency in question and the players appropriately briefed in advance. You also need players that will roleplay it a little rather than just play to mechanisms.


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Trawling the Archives

I’ve been looking through some of my early writing on my computer, most of which was written for publication in Chestnut Lodge‘s club magazine, known affectionately as MilMud (a contraction of Military Muddling). I found several articles from the mid 90s which I have cut and pasted into the blog with dates when they were originally written or the file modified date if that isn’t clear. I was pleasantly surprised to find that Libre Office can open WordPerfect 5.1 files with no problems.

  • 1995 CLWG Games Weekend – Saturday. This was my first ever CLWG event and my first offside report.
  • 1995 CLWG Games Weekend – Sunday. The second part of this report.
  • A Young Officer’s Guide to Fighting in Built Up Areas (FIBUA). I wrote this as a spoof of a training manual extract. At the time I was very uch into military humour.
  • Design Session for ‘Lion Comes Home‘ onside report. This was the start of my fascination with counter insurgency, back in 1995. I wanted to do a game about the post-war decolonisation, and I did lots of work on it and ran many test versions of parts of it. However the whole game never appeared because it was too big for a club game and I didn’t want to commit to running a megagame.
  • Onside Report on C3I. This marks another of my obsessions, in trying to accurately model morale of people in combat. Almost everything I read (and a few recent conversations with veterans) suggest that most people in combat aren’t remotely effective, and even those that are aren’t as good as they would be in training. Despite the tone of the article I never further developed or used C3I because it was too fiddly for a good game.
  • Milmud article on Revolutionary Warfare. An article I wrote for the CLWG club magazine on one of the spin off games from my idea for Lion Comes Home. This was in January 2003.

There are still more articles in my archives that I intend to add to my blog, so that this becomes a better record of the development of various ideas. Unless I write fresh material as a result, I’m always going to slot them in to where they would have appeared had I had a blog at the time.


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Book Review – Biggles in Spain by W.E. Johns

Biggles in SpainBiggles in Spain by W.E. Johns

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I picked this up for a pound in a charity shop in Caterham. I was surprised to find that it stood up well to the passing of time. It was written towards the end of the Spanish Civil War, during which it is set, and first published in 1939.

It still reads as a good story. A bit boys own in places, but it is Biggles and that’s exactly what Biggles stories are supposed to be. There is a good feel for the history, which is partly through being practically contemporaneous with the events it described. Well worth reading.

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