Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Deconstructing Kandahar

In the discussion that followed our review of Brian Train’s wargame Algeria last July, Brian mentioned that he had developed an (as-yet-unpublished) game on the contemporary counter-insurgency campaign in southern Afghanistan. Kandahar builds on some of the game mechanics he has used in Algeria and a few other small games he has designed (Tupamaro, Shining Path, Somalia), but with multiple players and considerably more complexity.

That discussion, in turn, led to a couple of recent class assignments based around student playtesting of Kandahar.

  • Four students in my undergraduate class on peacebuilding at McGill University (POLI 450) opted to write a team research paper on the simulation of insurgency and counter-insurgency. The group played a number of insurgency-themed games (Algeria, Liberia: Descent into Hell, Battle for Baghdad, Labyrinth, and Kandahar), and then wrote a lengthy review essay on the challenges of modelling these sorts of political and military processes.
  • Glenn Gibson, who had previously taken the graduate version of my peacebuilding course (POLI 650), used Kandahar as part of the focus for her Honours thesis. This was a two-part assignment: she wrote a long paper assessing actual Canadian counterinsurgency efforts in and around Kandahar since 2006, and she also wrote a shorter playtest review of Brian’s game.

Glenn has kindly agreed to allow me to post her review of Kandahar here. As an added bonus. Brian has then written up a response to Glenn’s evaluation, which you can read here. Taken together they offer interesting insight into the challenges, trade-offs, and approaches that can be taken to simulating as something as complex as COIN efforts in southern Afghanstan within the context of a playable game.

Overall, I was pleased with the outcome of both experiments. The team research paper approach had the advantage that it guaranteed a pool of players to play each of the games, including Kandahar. Glenn’s solo assignment, on the other hand, allowed her to delve into the history and dynamics of ISAF and Canadian operations in considerable detail, and then use that to inform her analysis of the game.

If any readers have an suitable simulation in development that they would like to see undergo evaluation by a future student playtest group, drop me a line and we’ll see if something can be worked out.

One response to “Deconstructing Kandahar

  1. Brian 13/05/2011 at 11:03 pm

    I was very grateful that Rex gave this game a chance and tested it out with his students. Glenn wrote a very careful and astute analysis and I was grateful for the chance to read and respond to it. Thanks so much!

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