Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Gaming the “Arab Spring”, Part 2

Thousands of Egyptian supportersBelow you will find the second instalment of Corinne Goldberger’s  developer diary for he current “Arab Spring” game project. You’ll find an explanation of the project and the first instalment here.

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I recently posted my initial thoughts on an Arab Spring board game, a game that aims to simulate some of the dynamics, actions and outcomes of recent events in the Middle East. Many hours of thinking, discussing and planning later, I give you my updated notes on the main elements of the game and mechanics of gameplay.

But first, I just wanted to extend my sincere thanks for the very positive feedback I have received thus far. I greatly appreciate the support, and am so excited to have the opportunity to continue sharing my work on this project as it develops.

Main Game Elements 

After deciding who the players would be, the next challenge was identifying the main tools each player would have to work with. Generally there will be two sets of tools: the regime players will work with money pieces and repressive forces, while the opposition players will work with “grievances” and activists.

For the regime players, money will enable them to pursue certain regime policies but not others and provide a mechanism for co-optation of people, sectors and/or groups. Repressive force pieces will be able to be placed in countries in order to represent the extent of the presence of the regime in a given place. Of course, the monarchical regimes player will only be able to place its forces in monarchical countries, and the republican regimes player will only be able to place its forces in republican countries.

The opposition tools are a bit more varied and reliant upon each other. “Grievance” tokens will be placed to represent issues that arise in a given country that have not been responded to or mitigated yet with a regime policy. Grievance tokens will exist in several colours in order to represent different categories of grievances, such as youth grievances, workers’ grievances, and rural grievances. There is no distinction between a grievance placed by the secular opposition player versus the Islamist opposition player.

In contrast, the secular opposition player may only place “secular activist” pieces while the Islamist opposition player can only place “Islamist activist” pieces. Activists are needed to operationalize the grievance tokens – lots of grievances does very little without a critical mass of activists. There will be situations in which secular and Islamist opposition interests align and alliances will occur, but that coordination will need to happen between the actual players of the game as opposed to it being a given of the game.

Basic Gameplay

As mentioned in the previous post, this game will be a card-driven game. The advantage of this is: (1) it simplifies the game rules by having the cards contain what actions they can/must take and what the impacts of those actions are; and (2) that it allows me to include a wide array of events and personalities without adding too many game elements that would complicate and slow down the game, to the detriment of its educational value.

Each player will hold five cards in their hands, and will be able to play up to two cards each turn under regular circumstances. Some cards will allow players to do alternative things, such as immediate-play cards that can be played on a different player’s turn to some effect, or cards that allow you to play an additional card on your turn. Each card will contain some flavour text, explaining what the card does and why, as well as the game effects of said card. Some cards will be regular gameplay cards and will come up relatively frequently, such as cards that allow the regime to repress opposition (place one repressive force token on a country of choice). Other cards will be one-off events or actions, such as a fatwa card that allows the Islamist player to place one Islamist activist in any two countries where there is a majority of Islamist activists.

The regime’s goal in the game is to maintain control over its countries, through repression, patronage, and a variety of policies or actions. Repression and patronage cards will be frequent cards, while other regime policies may come up infrequently and/or only be possible under certain conditions. Rebel players are attempting to overthrow regimes. To do so they must generate and utilize grievances, placed as a result of opposition and regime actions, and mobilize activists. Opposition players overthrow regimes by playing an “Occupy the Square” card successfully, and on the following turn playing an “Overthrow regime” card successfully. Success is affected by the number of activists, grievances, and repressive forces are in play, and determined by rolling some number of dice. Detailed rules and interactions will be coming in my next post.

One other game element I’ll be including is violence levels. Violence levels can increase in a particular country at a given time, due either to particularly ineffective attempts at repression (determined by rolling two 1s when playing a repression card) or to specific cards and actions. Certain cards may not be played in times of violence, such as the Civil Society Building card, while other cards may only be played in times of high violence, like the NATO Intervention card. Violence levels are denoted by violence markers, and at three markers the country has devolved into civil war. When a country is in a civil war, a card is placed on said country to clearly mark it as such, and each turn there is a civil war phase before regular play that involves some direct fighting with a high likelihood of heavy casualties on both sides. Civil wars generally can end if one side concedes or if a side loses all of their activists or repressive forces. Again, more detailed explanations are forthcoming.

Future Plans

My next steps involve finalizing the win/loss conditions for each player, as well as determining the method(s) of scoring points. Another big question to answer is what happens to a country once it is overthrown. I have some ideas, but I am concerned it will add too much time to the length of the game, so they’re still a work-in-progress at the moment.

I am also generating the cards that will be used, and the full (first draft) of the rules. Hopefully I will be able to post those shortly, and our first play-test can occur soon after.

Corinne Goldberger 

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