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Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Tag Archives: Andean Abyss

Simulations miscellany, 21 August 2013

miscellanySome recent material on peace/conflict/development simulations and gaming that may be of interest to our readers:

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connectionsuk

Registration is still open until August 23 for the Connections UK interdisciplinary wargaming conference to be held at King’s College London on September 3rd and 4th. I’ll be there, as will be several other PAXsims contributors.

Registration for the conference (including lunches and dinner) costs £100, and should be done via KCL.

I’ll also be running and demo and playtest of the Humanitarian Crisis Game that I’m developing for classroom use, based on ideas from the Connections 2012 “Hati HADR Game Lab” (see here and here and here), as well as Gary Milante’s Crisis Response card game (featured on PAXsims here). I could do with a few more volunteers for the game, so if you’ll be attending Connections UK and are interested, let me know.

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McGillHSI

The McGill Humanitarian Studies Initiative as offering a multi-disciplinary program that includes both in-classroom learning (one evening per week, September 10 to December 17) as well as a 3-day Field Simulation (Spring 2014):

The course provides registered medical students, residents, public health students, and other graduate-level students with relevant backgrounds, mid-career professionals and humanitarian workers with the globally recognized competencies relevant to humanitarian work.  The course is created so course participants gained competency-based essentials in humanitarian response practice recognized by Non-governmental Organizations (NGO’s), Canadian universities and government as the standard for professional-level humanitarian training.

You’ll find further details at the HSI website. You can also find a review of the Spring 2013 version of the course by PAXsims contributor June McCabe here.

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The North American Simulation and Gaming Association will be having an online discussion on Twitter (#NASAGAchat) on August 29:

NASAGAlogo

Time: August 27, 2013 from 9pm to 10pm (EDT)
Location: Twitter, Twubs
Organized By: Melissa Peterson

Event Description:

One of the things we discussed last time was the large difference between the design and implementation of in-person games, board games and virtual or video games.

This time we will be delving into that in more detail. What are those differences, what are the pros and cons of each, and how do we decide what the best option is for a particular project?
Join us to learn or provide your expertise!

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digra2013conf

The annual conference of the Digital Games Research Association will be hosted by Georgia Institute of Technology at the Georgian Terrace Hotel in Atlanta on 26-29 August 2013:

THEME: DEFRAGGING GAME STUDIES

This year’s proposed theme is a playful linguistic remix of the terms “frag” and “defrag.” Defragging is the computer term for reducing file fragmentation. Fragging, derived from the military term for killing a superior officer of one’s own unit, has become video game parlance for the temporary killing of another player.

In the early game studies community, a good deal of fragging (in all three senses) took place between various camps, schools of thought and disciplines. This included discussions as to whether or not game studies should split into more discipline-centered communities; however, the overall trend has been to continue to grow our field as an “interdiscipline” that includes humanities, social sciences and psychology, computer science, design studies, and fine arts.

Borrowing from the computer engineering term, the theme for DiGRA 2013 highlights this process of defragmenting, which both embraces and better articulates our diverse methods and perspectives while allowing the game studies research community to remain a coherent and unified whole.

DiGRA 2013 will take place immediately proceeding Dragon*Con, America’s largest multigenre fan convention. For more information, visit:http://www.dragoncon.org/

CONTACT

Questions about the conference?
Contact digra2013@digra.org.

Celia Pearce, John Sharp, Helen Kennedy
DiGRA 2013 Conference Co-Chairs

DiGRA Students have put together some useful research resources:

As our updated version of the Games Research Positions Map (http://digrastudents.org/games-research-positions/) has received so much positive feedback, the new “Games Research Journal Map” has been structured in a similar way. It is completely searchable, sortable (by journal name, discipline, publisher, or frequency of publication), and contains a range of important information about the different academic journals in the field that regularly publish games-centric research (e.g., impact factor, word limits, link to submission guidelines, etc.). Check it out here: http://digrastudents.org/games-research-journals/

We hope that this will soon become a valuable resource for students and academics alike! Please feel free to pass this information along to any other mailing lists/researchers who may be interested in such a resource.

Also, if there is a journal that has been overlooked, or see an error in one of the postings, please let us know via this thread (http://discourse.digrastudents.org/t/journal-research-map/) on the DiGRA Student forums. As the only known list of its kind, we would like to keep it as accurate and comprehensive as possible.

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In a very thoughtful review at BoardGameGeek, game reviewer (and insurgency groupie) extraordinaire Tom Grant has high praise indeed for Andean Abyss:

Volko Ruhnke’s Andean Abyss recently won the Charles S. Roberts award for best post-World War II boardgame. That deceptively simple statement means a lot more than it might seem at first glance. Andean Abyss is one of the most important wargames published in the last decade, a real watershed in the history of the hobby. And it’s a damn good game, too.

We were very positive about the game too, as you’ll see from our earlier review.

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This month in Seattle, the world championships for the fantasy-themed computer game DOTA 2 featured the largest ever prize for a digital game competition, $1.4 million. As noted in the  BBC’s reporting on the competition, it follows an earlier decision by the US government to grant P1 visas to professional gamers, much like internationally renowned athletes or entertainers.

Alas, D&D never paid like that…

Review: Andean Abyss

Andean Abyss: Insurgency and Counterinsurgency in Colombia. GMT Games, 2012. Game designer: Volko Ruhnke. $75.00.

pic1381149_mdAndean Abyss was released last year to much acclaim, and indeed is currently ranked as one of the top forty wargames of all time by members of BoardGameGeek. I recently played a game with a group that included three political science graduate students, one of whom is Colombian, another of whom taught in Colombia on a Fulbright Fellowship, and all of whom specialize in the study of intra-state conflict. Joining us was a professional game designer who develops simulations on money laundering, terrorism, and corruption for financial intelligence and anti-corruption agencies. It was as tough a bunch of critics as I could possibly assemble, given the topic.

The bottom-line verdict up front: everyone loved it. But before we get to that, let’s first look at the game design, and then move on to explore its possible use in an educational setting.

Game Contents and Play

Andean Abyss is a four player game of insurgency and counterinsurgency in Colombia, in which players assume the role of the government, the leftist guerillas of the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC), right-wing paramilitaries of the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC), or the drug cartels. The game can also be played with less than four, and even has a fully-developed solitaire version. In our case there were actually five of us, with two forming a sort of collective revolutionary leadership of the FARC. Since much of the game revolves around plotting, fleeting alliances, and political expediency, the more the merrier.

AAgame

The game includes a 22″ x 34″ mounted game board, 170 wooden markers, a set of cardboard markers, a deck of 76 cards, player aids, and dice. You can find the rules online at the GMT website, and videos describing game play can be found both there and at BoardGameGeek.

The cards are the central mechanism of the game (see below). Each may be played for its event (which often comes in two versions, either helping or harming a player), or to enable an operation to be played. Each card has a symbol for each of the four players across the top. The first player indicated gets to decide first whether they will play the card for its event value, perform an operation (or operations), or pass. Up to two players can act on a given card, and if a player acts in one turn they usually lose their ability to act on the next card. Since two cards are face-up at any one time (the current card, and the next card), it is vital to plan ahead. You won’t win this war by making it up as you go along.

SPQRWallp-FORUM(RBM)ss

Each actor has a slightly different mix of actions they can perform. The government may train forces, patrol, conduct sweep operations, or undertake assaults against previously-identified guerrilla units. The various non-state actors can rally support, march, attack, or terrorize. Each actor also has special activities that they might be able to conduct as well: air lift operations, airstrikes, or drug eradication in the case of the government, and ambush, extortion, kidnapping, assassination, drug cultivation, and drug processing depending on the particular insurgent. One can quibble about the way some of these choices are structured. I wasn’t entirely convinced of the logic of separating the government’s “sweep” operation (which identifies underground insurgents but doesn’t eliminate them) from the “assault” operation (which kills them), since in practice both things generally occur together. Political hearts-and-minds activity by the government (“civic action”) occurs in conjunction with the “train” operation, while it might have been better separated out as a separate operation type. While the FARC can use “terror” to mobilize opposition to the government, it has fewer opportunities to build support through the more positive “agitation” (equivalent to the government’s civic action). However, these quibbles are minor. Overall, the game system works very well.

Operations generally cost resources, so players also need to pay attention to their financing. The government must keep the major highways and oil pipelines free from sabotage, or their income will drop. They may also benefit from US and other aid—especially if they seek to eradicate drug cultivation. The insurgents can variously generate resources from extortion, kidnapping, and drugs.

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Pinky-promising with a drug lord. Not that either of us trusted the other in the slightest!

The victory conditions for each player are very different. The government and FARC each need to maximize their degree of popular support. The AUC needs to weaken the FARC. The cartels need to establish bases and earn money. While the players can wheel and deal as much as they want (and trade resources and drug shipments as they do), in the end only one player wins. The game is scored and reset, government troops return to cities and bases, and a new Colombian administration with slightly different policies might be elected, each time a “propaganda” card comes up in the deck. At this point, a player can win. Otherwise,  the game is ends when the last propaganda card comes up, and the player closest to their victory conditions wins. The cartels might have something of an advantage if the game goes this long—after all, they benefit from keeping the country in chaos.

In our game, the FARC spurned an early deal with the drug cartels, which cost them heavily. Every other player was briefly in a winning position at some point. In the latter part of the game, the government and drug cartel agreed not to target each other, allowing the former to concentrate efforts on regaining control of, and political support in, former FARC-held areas while the latter grew rich on drug proceeds. They planned to double-cross each other, of course–but the final propaganda card came up before the drug lords could be cut down to size, and they ultimately won the game.

Instructional Potential

Our playtest group ran the gamut from a boardgaming neophyte to those with considerable experience. I, however, was the only one who had played Andean Abyss before. Everyone picked it up quickly. The game lasted closer to six hours than the four suggested on the box, although that was in part a function of new players, a two-person team, and the obligatory break for Angela’s pizza. The rules are clearly written, and the playbook does a very good job of walking a player through a few sample turns, summarizing player capabilities and priorities, and explaining the design choices made in the game, That being said, I don’t think this is a game that non-gamer students could simply be told to play as a course assignment. Instead, one would need to either directly facilitate games (which is difficult in all but the smallest classes), use a “train-the-trainer” strategy of recruiting students to help other students play the game, or make it an optional assignment or project for the most highly motivated. Game time is obviously too long for in-classroom use. One could, however, have a single ongoing game through a multiweek course, with multi-student teams representing each actor, and a few moves each day.

The key question, however, is not how easily game play can be adapted to the instructional constraints of audience and available time, but whether the game actually offers useful insight into modern Colombian political history, insurgency, counter-insurgency, and similar topics. Here I think that it is a little less self-explanatory than a previous Volko Ruhnke-designed game, Labyrinth, which focused on the post-9/11 “global war on terror.” Most audiences—outside Colombia, at least—would be unfamiliar with many of the events summarized on the event cards, whether it be “limpieza social” (“social cleansing”) killings, the assassination of special prosecutors María del Rosario Silva Ríos and Carlos Arturo Pinto Bohórquez, or Policía Nacional chief General Rosso José Serrano Caden. I also found that the very clever card mechanism—which I liked a lot—drew so much attention that the insurgency itself was a little overshadowed at times. For that reason, this is a game that would require a lot of briefing and debriefing in an educational setting.

It should be noted that, during our playtest, none of the players had any objection to the general depiction of the Colombian conflict. On the contrary, my money laundering expert was pleased to find he could use narco subs and cross-border drug-processing labs, while the players with the most expertise on Colombia were impressed at the appearance of historical events (“We get FARC zones? Cool!”), even if—as with most card-based games—not all events occurred in historical order or with similar effect.

Concluding Thoughts

Andean Abyss wasn’t designed as an instructional tool to explore counterinsurgency, but rather as a boardgame for conflict simulation hobbyists. As a game, it rocks. It is well-balanced, enjoyable, and features a very elegant card-based system at its heart. The replay value is high too, since the card system guarantees that each game is quite different. I strongly recommend it. Indeed, it is probably my favourite insurgency-themed boardgame of all time, with the possible exception of Freedom in the Galaxy (SPI, 1979).

SPQRWallp-FORUM(RBM)ssThe design is also the first of several in what GMT Games bills as its “COIN Series.” A Distant Plain (an Afghanistan conflict simulation codesigned by PAXsims contributor Brian Train) is currently in production and will be shipping soon, as is Cuba Libre (a game of the 1957-58 Cuban revolution, codesigned by Jeff Grossman). A fourth game in the series focusing on the Vietnam war, Fire in the Lake, is currently in development, codesigned by Mark Herman.

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Update—The Quick Play Version

Volko Rohnke has kindly passed on the quick play scenario for Andean Abyss, previously published in C3I Magazine #26 (2012).

Quick-Play Scenario

by Volko Ruhnke

This setup allows for completion of a game of Andean Abyss in less than half the usual time and is well suited to introduce new players to the COIN Series system. It depicts, roughly, the Pastrana and early Uribe eras, the middle portion of the period of Colombian history covered in the full game.

Deck Preparation: Shuffle the 72 Event cards and deal face down 4 piles of 6 cards each (24 Event cards total). Set the rest aside—they may not be inspected and will not be used. Shuffle a Propaganda card each into the 2nd and 4th piles, then stack the piles into a draw deck, 1st pile on top, 4th pile on the bottom. The remaining 2 Propaganda cards are not used.

Game Board: Set up forces and markers per rule 2.1 (see Rules of Play page 14 and the images on the map). Then modify the set up as follows—

  • Medellín: Add 4 Cartels Guerrillas and 1 Cartels Base.
  • Cali: Place Active Support. Remove the Cartels Guerrilla and Base. Add 4 Police.
  • Bogotá: Add 6 Troops.
  • Santander-Boyacá: Add 1 AUC Base.
  • Arauca-Casanare: Remove Opposition (the space starts Neutral). Add 1 AUC Guerrilla.
  • Meta West: Place a FARC Zone. Add 4 FARC Guerrillas.
  • Huila-Tolima: Place Active Opposition. Add 3 FARC Guerrillas, 2 AUC Guerrillas, and 1 Cartels Base.
  • Vaupés: Add 2 FARC Guerrillas.
  • Edge Track: Adjust Resources to AUC 5, FARC 10, Cartels 20, Government 30; Opposition+Bases to 22; and Total Support to 56. (Leave Aid at 9.)
  • El Presidente: Advance to Pastrana.
  • Propaganda: Skip the Victory Phase (6.1) of the first Propaganda Round—Factions cannot win until the second (last) Propaganda card.

Flip the first card and have at it! Be aware that, with far less time for development of board position than in the full game, different strategies may be needed! – vfr 

One step closer to the Abyss…

Well, here’s good news: GMT is now charging pre-orders of its forthcoming boardgame of insurgency/counter-insurgency in Colombia, Andean Abyss:

Dear Rex Brynen,

We’re writing to let you know that game Andean Abyss is one step closer to being completed and shipped out to you! Please note that today we charged your card for your order of 1 copies for a total of $65.00. As with all P500 games, this charge is made when the game in in our final printing process, so it won’t be long now until the process is complete and we can ship your game.

We will update the completion and ship dates for Andean Abyss on our website, www.gmtgames.com, so please check there regularly if you want status updates. We hope you are as excited as we are to receive the finished product!

Thank you,

GMT Games

This is certainly the most anticipated COIN game of the year. Based on both game designer Volko Ruhnke’s past work in this area (Labyrinth: The War on Terror, 2001-?) and having played a pre-production version, I predict that Andean Abyss is going to be another success for GMT—and perhaps even another Charles S. Roberts Award winner.

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