Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Daily Archives: 06/03/2014

Gaming the “Arab Spring,” Part 3

Below is the third instalment of Corinne Goldberger’s developer diary for her current “Arab Spring” game project. You’ll find an explanation of the project and the other instalments here and here.

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If there is one thing I have learned about game design thus far it is that every element of a game needs to be extremely carefully thought out and reasoned. Making sure that the effects of a given action retain fidelity to what has occurred (or might have occurred) in the Arab Spring gets increasingly difficult as mechanics begin to interact with each other and multiple players.

Demotix 24th June 2012

So, with the basics of the game now laid out, I wanted to take some time to explain some of the nuance of the more complex mechanics of the game and the decision-making process behind them.


Repressive force is one of the main tools of the regime players. Though regimes can be overthrown, there is a strongly imbalanced power-dynamic (at least at the outset of the game, and before major protests) between regimes and opposition that is largely due to a regime’s capacity and will to repress.

In this game, regimes place individual repressive force pieces (represented by a tank) in their countries through cardplay. A repressive force on the ground does not automatically mean there is violence, reflecting a phase of generally peaceful protests in that country. To actively repress – that is, to try to remove activists – a regime player must play a “Repression” “, a card that will appear frequently throughout the regime deck.

When a regime plays a “Repression” card, the following takes place:

  1. The regime rolls the same number of dice as they have repression pieces in that country. For example, if they have five repressive force pieces in the country they want to repress in, they will roll five dice.
  2. For every 5 or 6 the regime player rolls, one activist is removed in that country as a result of successful repression.
  3. If the regime player rolls a 1, they must add one grievance, as a result of unsuccessful targeting of protesters.
  4. If the regime player rolls two 1’s, they must add one grievance and the violence level of the country increases by one. (Violence levels explained below.)

At this point the repressive phase is over for the time being. There is a chance that upon play-testing this I change the numbers required to repress effectively, if it seems to be successful infrequently enough that it disincentivizes the regime player from doing it.

“Occupying the Square” and Revolutions

The main goal of the opposition players is to overthrow as many of the regimes as possible. To do so they must generate (utilize) grievances and mobilize activists. Grievances and activists break down into different sectors that represent different sectors of society and their respective issues. Currently the sectors are Youth, Workers, and Rural grievances and activists.

Once an opposition player has an “Occupy the Sqare” card, they may choose to attempt to occupy the square (like Tahrir Square in Egypt, or the Pearl Roundabout in Bahrain) to generate mass protests in the capital. The play goes as follows:

1. The opposition player rolls the same number of dice as they have total grievance pieces, less the number of repression pieces in play. For example, if there are seven (7) total grievances and three (3) repressive forces, the opposition player rolls four (4). The opposition player must have the corresponding activist type to count a given sector of grievances. So if it is the Islamist player trying to occupy the square, there must be at least one Islamist student activist to include student grievances in the number of dice to be rolled. The two opposition players may ally and combine their activists if previously agreed to.

Example 1: There is one (1) Islamist student activist, two (2) Islamist worker activists, and one (1) Islamist farmer activist. There are three (3) student grievances, two (2) worker grievances, and two (2) rural grievances. There are three (3) repression pieces in play. The total number of dice rolled by the Islamist player would be four (4), as calculated by [(3+2+2)-3].

Example 2: If during the repressive phase the regime manages to remove the Islamist student activist, those grievances would not count, and as such the number of dice they could roll would only be 1 [(2+2)-1]. Therefore it is in the best interest of the opposition player to wait until they have a substantial number of grievances and activists to attempt to take over the square.

2. If the opposition player rolls a 6, they are successful in creating mass protests with a protest camp in the square.

3. If they are successful, the opposition player adds two activists to the country where they are occupying the square, and may also add an activist to any two adjacent countries, representing the regional anti-regime momentum gained and the demonstration effects on surrounding countries.

Once the square has been occupied, the opposition players may attempt to overthrow the regime on the following turn with a “Revolution!” card. This follows the same process as above in terms of dice rolls and success conditions. If they are successful, the player may add two activists to any two adjacent countries.

Violence Levels

Violence levels will be a fairly simple component to the game. The level of violence can increase in a particular country at a given time, either due to incompetent and/or unsuccessful attempts at repression by the regime (if two 1’s are rolled when repressing, as explained above) or as a result of particular cards. When the violence level increases, one violence marker will be placed on the country. When there are three violence markers, the country enters into a civil war. Certain cards will not be able to be played in times of high violence (more than one violence marker), such as “Civil Society Building”, while other cards may only be played in times of violence or civil war, such as “NATO Intervention.”

If a civil war breaks out, a card containing the rules for civil war is placed on the country in question, denoting which countries are at war. If there is a country in a civil war, each turn there is a civil war phase before regular gameplay in which direct fighting occurs. If there are multiple countries in civil wars, the civil war phase happens country by country.

  1. Regime rolls as many dice as they have repression pieces (tanks). Each 5 or 6 they roll an opposition player loses an activist.
  2. The opposition players with activists in said country roll as many dice as they have activists. For each 6 they roll the opposition loses a repression piece (tank).
  3. The victim of the attack decides what piece to remove. So for example, the opposition player can decide which sector(s) their activist(s) is/are removed from.

 Civil war ends when either side concedes or a side loses all of its activists or repressive forces. There may also be cards that de-escalate violence or end a civil war in some way. I expect civil war to be a relatively rare occurrence, but with a very high cost to all parties involved. 

Win Conditions

The game ends when a certain number of turns have passed (exact number to be determined). The goal of the game for all players is to end the game with the most number of victory points. The main way points are scored is by control of countries. Larger and more politically important countries, such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia, will be worth six victory points each, countries of medium importance are worth four victory points each, while smaller and less significant countries will be worth two victory points each. Regime players will start with many victory points and will  lose some number of them over the course of the game, whereas opposition players will start with no victory points but gain them over the course of the game. A victory point can also be gained from a few particular actions and cards, such as being the main opposition (most number of activists) responsible for overthrowing a regime.

Beyond this there are a few overriding win and lose conditions:

  • Monarchies: The monarchical regimes player will win if none of the monarchies were overthrown over the course of the game. However they will lose, regardless of victory points, if more than one monarchy is overthrown at the end of the game. This is meant to create a real sense of concern for this player in protecting even the small monarchies that are minimally valuable in terms of points, reflecting the very real concern of the Middle Eastern monarchies for all of the other monarchies.
  • Republics: The republican regimes player will win if two or fewer regimes are overthrown at the end of the game. There is no overriding loss condition for the republics, reflecting the lack of solidarity between the republics as a categorical grouping.
  • Opposition:  If any five countries are overthrown at the end of the game, the opposition wins. The opposition player who controls the most number of regimes wins, and the other opposition player comes second as long as the second opposition player is in control of at least one of the overthrown countries. This would represent a very significant and perhaps lasting political change across the region.

 Plans for the Future

A play-test! A board is in the works (many thanks to Tom Fisher for designing the board for me!), pieces have been ordered, cards are being developed, and a complete rule sheet is also not far off. Things are moving along well, and I could not be more excited to see how the game plays out.

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