Review of: Rebel Inc. Ndemic Creations, 2018. USD$1.99 on iTunes App Store (coming soon to Android)
Rebel Inc. is a nifty little insurgency and stabilization simulator, set in a fictionalized version of Afghanistan. Playing as a provincial governor, one must balance kinetic military operations with a variety of aid, development, administrative, and political initiatives. If all goes well and the insurgents are stalemated they will eventually enter into peace talks. If those talks are then successful and the country is stabilized, the player wins. If the government’s reputation falls too low, however, external commitment wavers and stabilization ultimately fails.
The game starts with the most important thing in any stabilization operation: choosing an inspiring name.
There is much that can go wrong. To start with, the insurgents—much like the real thing—are elusive and cunning. Attacking them may have little lasting effect, unless proper cordon-and search operations are used to prevent them from melting away into surrounding districts. Military outposts, local militias, police, and checkpoints may slow their spread. UAVs (drones) are very useful for collecting intelligence, while air strikes are a powerful tool that can backfire if heavy civilian casualties result. Foreign troops are most effective, but their commitment is not unlimited and they might also annoy the local population. Local forces take longer to train and deploy, but are essential in the long term.
Aid projects first require stakeholder consultations, and basic projects tend to unlock other, more complex ones in the same sector. Improving transportation infrastructure may assist in speeding the roll-out of new projects. Rule of law initiatives and democratic reforms can be useful too. However, aid projects are limited by available resources. Try to implement too much, too fast and inflation will increase—and with it the price of future projects. Increased spending also creates growing opportunities for corruption, which in turn can weaken political support. Anti-corruption measures are essential to avoid a vicious cycle of an increasingly corrupt and failing state.
Civilian projects include basic health, education, and water/sanitation projects, transportation and other infrastructure, and and various economic initiatives.
The government can invest in aid facilitation, administration, information, political and legal reforms, and policing, among others.
Different maps present different challenges. There are also several different possible governors, each with different strengths and weaknesses. The Warlord’s militia may seem a cheap and easy way to go after the insurgents, for example—but they often demand more money or start abusing the local population.
While there are a number of things one could quibble about regarding the representation of insurgency here, Rebel Inc. is a surprisingly sophisticated treatment, superior to many commercial board games and even better than some of the stabilization training software I have seen in government use. The interface is clean, the controls are intuitive, and players are provided with substantial feedback on how they are doing and why. Plus it currently has an impressive 4.8/5 rating on iTunes, only costs $1.99, and can be played on your phone! What’s not to like? Indeed, I’m impressed enough that I’ll be assigning it in my Peacebuilding class next year.