In February-March 2013 the US Marine Corps held its annual “Title 10” wargame, Expeditionary Warrior 2013. The game explored a future crisis in 2035 in the fictional country of “Karta,” at a time when geopolitical changes have limited US access to bases and China is more powerful and assertive:
EW13 utilized a fictional scenario set in 2035 Southeast Asia that presented operational challenges for a distributed joint force conducting engagement across the U.S. Pacific Command (USPACOM) area of responsibility. The scenario revolves around the fictional U.S. ally Karta, made up of the real nations of Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei. When the King of Karta dies unexpectedly, a power struggle ensues between the rightful heir – the oldest prince who is a U.S. friend – and his younger brother, an anti- American traditionalist. When the younger prince takes action to stage a coup, the modern Kartan Armed Forces splinter into camps that pledge their allegiances to the rightful heir or rebel prince, or stay neutral. With a regional conflict brewing astride the strategic Strait of Malacca, a U.S.-led coalition seeks to protect the new king and coalition interests.
A world significantly different than today provides a plausible future beyond the next few budget cycles to stimulate imaginative thinking about FMO. Planners used a “Move 0,” executed in December 2012, two months prior to the Main Event, to establish the strategic assumptions and steady state force laydown within the EW13 scenario. The wargame created a different geopolitical reality that realigned U.S. force posture in the Asia-Pacific region and created operational stressors to the coalition responding to the crisis in Karta. These changes included:
- A newly unified Korea no longer hosting significant U.S. permanent basing on its soil, forcing changes to U.S. force posture and basing away from Northeast Asia to Southeast Asia.
- The People’s Republic of China (PRC) unifying with Taiwan after peacefully resolving decades-long tensions. At the same time, the PRC asserts itself in the region due to territorial disputes with other countries.
- A new Status of Forces Agreement between Japan and the United States prompting a reduction in the military footprint on the island nation. This also prompts U.S. forces to redefine the nature and size of its bases and enabling sites within the region.
The unclassified report on the wargame was published in June. The game was conducted in parallel with three different blue cells, led respectively by US Marine (A), US Navy (B), and Australian (C) officers. Each played the game rather differently. Cell A emphasized direct kinetic operations. Cell B stressed the importance of (shipborne) naval operations. Cell C focussed on information and cyber operations to deescalate the situation, and even when they had recourse to kinetic strikes emphasized “the need to communicate messages that articulated strength and a willingness to provide a ‘way out’ for the Kartan rebel forces.”
The report tends to highlight the findings of the wargame with regard to military capabilities, platforms, command and control, logistics and sustainment, and so forth. However, the very different approaches taken by the three cells—and the apparently greater emphasis of the Australian-led team on conflict deescalation—may be an equally interesting finding.
Cuba Libre. GMT Games, 2013. Game designers: Jeff Grossman and Volko Ruhnke. $69.00.
Recently there was yet another insurgency in the office, as a group of us got together to refight the Cuban revolution—but with rather less violence, and better pizza, than the real thing. Cuba Libre is another title in the GMT Games series which has also given us Andean Abyss (Colombia) and A Distant Plain (Afghanistan). All games in the series use the same basic game system, but with modifications to adapt each to the era and struggle being represented.
In the case of Cuba Libre, up to four players are involved: the Cuban government, the leftist July 26 Movement revolutionaries led by Fidel Castro, the anti-communist Revolutionary Directorate, and the criminal syndicate. The map is significantly smaller than others in the COIN series. Moreover, the geography of Cuba means that essentially all strategic movement is along an east-west axis, with most provinces bordering only two others. By contrast, in Andean Abyss or A Distant Plain, most provinces border at least four, and players usually have myriad movement options. The effect of this is to render the geography of insurgency and counterinsurgency far more important in Cuba Libre, where players may seek to develop blocking positions to slow the expansion of rivals. Somewhat against my initial expectation, I soon found that I rather enjoyed this aspect of the game.
In general, pretty much all of the positive things we’ve said about other games in this series apply to Cuba Libre. One of our playtest group (who, as the communist opposition, eventually won the game) commented:
It was interesting to watch how lower numbers of possible guerrillas and bases changed strategies and how the geography really affected game play. It was challenging but to try to work with limited reinforcements and attempt to find a feasible way to increase government opposition without additional bases (for my victory condition). Without a speedy way to move my guerillas to opposite sides of the island, I found myself trapped deep in the mountains and unable to reinforce my western front. As a result, we struggled to spread the virtues of communism in many areas. In the end, we often had to quickly give the local population a terrifying reminder of the dangers of capitalism before we were attacked. The cards were great and especially painted a vivid picture of the terrible Batista government and their inability to keep our race car drivers safe! Each time we have played the COIN series, I am struck by how well the mechanics work. Despite a misunderstanding regarding how one card worked, the faction order system, ended up preventing me from dominating the game.… In the end however, the immortal words rang true. “¡Hasta la victoria siempre!”