Repression: Invader Developer Note #1: Sample Country Sheet

Repression: Invader is perhaps the most ambitious project I have in development. I have a fascination both with science fiction and strategic war-games. In this game, I aim to combine the two in a comprehensive and heavy war-game about defending the Earth against an alien invasion.

Players assume control of either the Invader or one (or several) Major Countries of Earth, including the United States, Russia, and China. The Invader chooses a secret objective card with three victory conditions, some of which are similar to the conditions of the other objectives to disguise their intent. From there, the invasion begins on a hex map depicting the entire Earth, the Moon, and Mars.

Sample country sheet

Each major country has a sheet like the one depicted above. Before and during the invasion, the human player has to balance their country’s population, national will, production, political alliances with minor countries, technological development, and military reserves.

Sample military counters

I also opted to use NATO symbology to convey that this simulation, despite its science fiction basis, is at heart a war-game.  Each country will have its disposal a mix of counters representing a rough approximation of their military capabilities. Additionally, the countries will have an opportunity to mobilize new units as well as enhance them through scientific research.

 

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Hero of the Soviet Union Developer Note #7: The NKVD

In Hero of the Soviet Union, the player experiences the Great Patriotic War in all of its glory, tragedy, and horror. This includes the dreaded People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs (NKVD), the notorious secret police. The NKVD continued, and in many ways intensified, the tradition of violent repression in Russia.

NKVD officers

By the time Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union, the Great Purge had killed an estimated 600,000 people from all parts of society and throughout all levels of Soviet society. The NKVD had a central role in this terror. A victim of the NKVD could expect to be arbitrarily arrested, falsely accused of crimes, tortured, convicted in a sham trial, and executed before any appeal could be made. Any treatment of a Soviet soldier’s experience must therefore include the omnipresent secret police.

The player always faces the threat of arrest based on the soldier’s Suspicion level. This value is determined by a variety of factors, including the soldier’s traits, random events, and performance on the battlefield. If arrested, the player can choose to confess or protest, the results of which are random to reflect the arbitrary nature of the arrest. Additionally, the player may be dispatched to a Gulag (game over), assigned to a penal battalion, given the supreme punishment.

Additionally, the soldier may have a small chance of being part of the special services himself. Given the sensitivity of the NKVD’s historical conduct, the player will not be a part of war crimes, however, the player can expect that their soldier may perform some distasteful activities if a NKVD officer. During each Campaign Segment, the NKVD soldier will have to randomly draw a NKVD card, some of which are shown below.

NKVD test cards

Additionally, during the Battle Segment, the NKVD soldier may have to take part in anti-retreat operations and serve as a barrier force for Soviet units.

The Great Patriotic War exacted a terrible price on the people of the Soviet Union. The NKVD had a substantial part in contributing to that suffering. This game, endeavoring to capture in small way an ordinary person’s experience during that time, includes the NKVD for those reasons.

Revolt of the Wretched: Propaganda Round #2

The Battle of Algiers

The conflict quickly escalated during the second round of play. Although the Government increased its support in a large number of rural provinces, it could not break the FLN’s control in key sectors between Algiers and Constantine.

Though a combination of card events, subversion actions, and direct attacks, the FLN managed to capture Algiers twice, with the Government swiftly counter-attacking to recapture the city. Terror spread across the countryside as action and counter-action devastated towns and villages.

FLN strongholds produce high volumes of guerrillas

The Government struggled to contain the insurgency, exhausting its resources on protecting its position in the cities rather than clearing FLN controlled sectors.

Building the Insurgency Movement

With the Government on the defensive, the FLN focused mostly on building its mass movement. With its bases between Algiers and Constantine, the movement generated a high number of recruits to launch at Government controlled sectors. It also expanded the number of bases across the country. The rapid expansion of the FLN’s infrastructure prompted the Government to play the Mobilization Card, flooding the country with government forces.

Breaking the FLN

The FLN inadvertently created a strategic trap for itself. It spent a considerable amount of resources on recruiting guerrillas, concentrating them in several sectors. It therefore could spare few of its limited resources to maneuver on the battlefield, and its bases become high priority targets for the French Army.

The French Army descended on the FLN bases. The FLN could not escape the attack, and the assault broke the movement’s back, scattering its remaining forces across the countryside. The FLN would find it very difficult to recover while the Government seized the initiative.

Reflections

This round raised several important issues for the counter-insurgent:

(1) first, the Battle for Algiers demonstrated the exhausting nature of counter-insurgency, requiring the Government to recapture the same ground multiple times. Fortunately, the French Army did not suffer very high casualties in these operations; otherwise, serious alarm would have been raised about the ineffectiveness of the Army and the strength of the FLN;

(2) second, Algerian forces proved very unreliable. The FLN used a card event to subvert Algerian forces in Algiers, leading to its surrender to the insurgency. This prompted the Government to push the local national forces to less important sectors, and to reinforce the ones in the cities with higher numbers of French forces;

(3) third, although the Government has considerably more resources than the insurgent, the resources are finite. The FLN offensive forced the Government to focus on the “clear” phase of its strategy, neglecting the “build” phase. That said, the fighting capabilities of the conventional military of a nation-state cannot be matched by the insurgent, resulting in a decisive defeat of concentrated FLN forces in a pitched battle.

The FLN managed to reach Phase Three of insurgency, War of Movement. It had substantial infrastructure (bases) and numerous guerrilla units. It managed to erode Government support in numerous rural provinces, and even rout the French Army on one occasion. However, the massing of Government forces at a decisive point and the decisive time managed to reduce the fighting strength of the FLN, and arguably reverse it back to Phase Two: Guerrilla Warfare.

The lesson it seems is that the Government must at all times seek to maintain the offensive, and conduct aggressive operations wherever possible.

Game Projects UPDATE

Today, I just want to provide a quick update on some of the on-going game projects. Changes were made to the Game Projects to provide a quick overview of the designs currently under consideration and their status. The image below shows some of the working art for the box covers.

As you will see from both the image and the Game Projects page, there are several ideas in the works simultaneously. The first two priorities are Hero of the Soviet Union and Fall of the Kaiserreich, both of which are fairly far along in their rules and components development. The plan is to have a finalized rule-set and ready-for-beta testing physical game of Hero of the Soviet Union by the end of summer.

Stay tuned and feel free to reach out!

 

Hero of the Soviet Union Developer Note #6: Character Creation

In Hero of the Soviet Union, players control a single soldier as they experience the Great Patriotic War. At the start of the game, players will create their own soldier using the tables below. First, the players will have to name their soldier. This step can be skipped if players already have a name in mind, so this table only serves as guide. Russian names consists of a first name, a patronym [derived from the father’s first name] and a surname. People commonly refer to each other by nicknames or first name and patronym; for example, Alexander Ivanovich.

In addition to the soldier’s name, the player also randomly determines the birthplace, background, occupation, and social status. The birthplace has a limited impact on the player’s morale depending on the condition of the city during the campaign. The other traits however determine the player’s base attributes, of which there are four: Merit, Morale, Martial, and Suspicion. For example, a soldier with the Hunter trait will have increased Martial as well as the Sharpshooter special skill. A soldier with the Foreign Language trait however will have increased Suspicion and may face higher chances of arrest by the secret police.

That’s it for today!

Revolt of the Wretched: Propaganda Round #1

In this series, I am using GMT Game’s Colonial Twilight to explore counter-insurgency doctrine and to share my reflections on both theory and practice.

The Revolt Heard Around the World

The National Liberation Front (FLN) entrenched its positions in the Algerian countryside, establishing bases in Tizi Ouzou, just east of the capital Algiers. The concentration of a considerable force of guerillas required the government to redeploy its military forces from its clearing operations on the Western border to the sector.

Pursuant to the clear-hold-build strategy, I’ve tried to maximize the number of bases in the countryside. This gives more flexibility to the government forces as they can train new units  as well as deploy supporting units in sectors with bases. The Development card also allowed me to add two new bases from the Out of Play box.

With multiple bases in the countryside, I was able to increase support in many sectors during the propaganda round (the “build” phase).

The Wretched Strike Back

The disposition of forces at the end of the first propaganda round

But the enemy has a say in the battle too. The build-up of guerilla forces outside Algiers was aided by the Casbah card, which allowed the FLN to deploy four  guerillas in Algiers to challenge government control in the capital. Before the government could respond, FLN agitation reduced support in the city, pushing France away from its objectives.

As you can see on the board, this will necessitate a strong government response. I’ve decided to commit an additional six French military and four French police units. The reduction in commitment points was partially offset by the increase in support, which means that this next round will be used to focus on the “clear” part of the strategy; first in Algiers, then at guerilla bases.

Reflections

One thing that is immediately clear is that “clear-hold-build” is not a sequential continuum where the counter-insurgent moves deliberately from one phase to the next. Instead, the counter-insurgent must be sufficiently flexible to move back and forth between activities as the guerilla movement mobilizes. The capture of Algiers by the FLN is a clear setback for the government, forcing it to reduce its focus on “build” and to immediately resort to “clear”. If the FLN can disperse its forces into government controlled rural provinces before the arrival of French reinforcements, it could force the government on the defensive.

Secondly, the government does not have enough forces (military units and resources) to both clear and build simultaneously. Striking at guerilla forces in Algiers and its neighboring sectors will mean leaving other rural sectors vulnerable to the FLN, and will also mean that FLN strongholds elsewhere will not be threatened. Since the FLN can recruit one guerilla for each population plus bases in a sector, eliminating its stronghold in Tizi Ouzou (where it can recruit four units) simultaneously becomes very costly and the number one priority. As can be seen on the map, the FLN is about to inflict several casualties on the French Army.

Hero of the Soviet Union Developer Note #5: The Soldier Aid (Preview)

Soviet soldiers somewhere on the Eastern Front, 1944

In Hero of the Soviet Union, players assume the role of a single Red Army soldier as they experience the Great Patriotic War. This developer note discusses the purpose of the Soldier Aid card.

Preview of the first draft of the Soldier Aid card

The concept image above depicts the general idea of the Soldier Aid card, which will be used to track the player’s status throughout the campaign. It includes spaces for the soldier’s equipment, rank, additional positions (such as with the Communist Party), and a numbered track to measure each of the four attributes: Merit, Morale, Martial, and Suspicion. Additionally, the numbers will also track the player’s pay and rations (food and vodka).

As the game develops further, the image and organization of the card will change.

Revolt of the Wretched: Reflections of Colonial Twilight Part #1

In 1954, the National Liberation Front (FLN) launched an armed attack on targets across French Algeria in a bid for national independence. The French premier responded with the statement that the Algerian departments are ” irrevocably French” and that there could be “no conceivable secession.” What followed was more than seven years of violence that killed over 150,000 people and displaced another three million people.

Colonial Twilight

Published in 2017 by GMT Games and designed by Brian Train, Colonial Twilight depicts the struggle for Algeria’s future. A two-player game, it simulates the broad contours of the conflict through a card-driven system complemented by the asymmetric capabilities of the opposing forces. One player commands the French with the goal of restoring the population’s support for the government. The second player commands the FLN.

Players draw cards which determine play order and also provide special events. These events can have decisive impacts on the direction of the game if deftly used. Additionally, each faction has actions unique to them. The French, for example, can quickly move and mass military forces, while the FLN can subvert colonial forces by replacing them with guerillas.

Modern Counter-Insurgency Doctrine

The war itself informed much of today’s counter-insurgency doctrine. French military theorist Roger Trinquier wrote extensively, based upon his experiences in both the the First Indochina War and the Algerian War. He suggested three principles for the state to pursue to defeat an insurgency:

o separate the guerilla from the population

o occupy zones where guerillas operated to make it dangerous for them

o deny the guerilla access to population centers

This formed, in part, the basis of American counter-insurgency doctrine published in Field Manual 3-24 Insurgencies and Counterinsurgencies. The American view can be summed up as “clear, hold, build”. The counter-insurgent must clear a zone of insurgent elements, hold that territory against incursions, and then build the population’s support for the state.

The Revolt of the Wretched

In this series, I will attempt to implement a strategy of “clear, hold, build” and see how it fares in Colonial Twilight.

Starting disposition of government and FLN forces

The strategy will focus on securing the major population centers, striking at FLN strongholds in quick operations, and building the population’s support for the government. The image above depicts the starting disposition of the government and FLN forces for the full campaign.

The government has a tenuous hold in the three main cities  while the FLN already has substantial infrastructure in the countryside. I will have to quickly build up France’s military forces to consolidate power in the urban areas before conducting offensive operations to clear new zones of guerillas.  I anticipate expending most of the effort on the central coastal provinces where control of their populations will be decisive for victory.

Vive la France!

Board Game Review Number #6: Raiders of the Deep

In Raiders of the Deep, designed by Ian Cooper and published by Compass Games, the player takes on the role of a German U-Boat commander in World War I. Building upon a tried and true solitaire system, the game submerges the player in an engaging narrative of daring, luck, and excitement.

Reporting for Duty!

Although not the first use of submarines in warfare, World War I saw their first wide-spread, systematic, and effective employment as a strategic weapon. Germany sought to challenge the primacy of the Royal Navy through the use of this weapon, courting both controversy and national pride in their performance.

With Raiders, the player assumes the role of a commander of one of these boats. The game provides for a random system for character creation, including name, origin, and starting assignment, and then unleashes the player on unsuspecting freighters and their escorts. Depending upon the player’s assignment, he has access to wide range of U-Boat types (including mine-layers) as well as patrol zones, from the British Isles, to the Baltic Sea, and to the Mediterranean Sea. During the course of the campaign, the player has to manage his assignments, promotions and awards, crew experience, and mission load-out (i.e. torpedo types).

The status of a Type U-19 after being rammed by an escort

With each patrol, the player moves across several travel boxes that have randomized chances to encounter enemy shipping depending on the location and time of year. In some patrols, the player may not come across any enemy shipping at all. In others, the player may not have enough opportunity to sink all the spotted ships. The game provides detailed tables of the ships and their tonnage that can be targeted, all of which are historical ships lost to German submarines during the war.

Capturing the Prize

Once the player encounters an enemy ship, the decisions made will determine the fate of the boat and its crew. Ships can be alone, in pairs, in a convoy, or escorted. They could be small 200 ton trawlers or large capital ships. The time of day, the range of the attacking U-Boat, and the type of attack will all bear on the success on the mission. Given the relative unreliability of torpedoes at the time, as well as the small number available on most submarines, the player will be strongly encouraged to conduct many surface attacks with deck guns. Capturing ships as prizes in this way, as opposed to sinking them, earns the player more prestige when pursuing awards.

The status of UC-25 after a patrol that included an encounter with a convoy

But danger lurks in every opportunity. What appear to be unassuming freighters could in fact be Q-ships, warships disguised as merchants, waiting to ambush an unsuspecting U-boat commander. Failure to sink a ship in the initial attack could prolong an engagement long enough for escorts to arrive on scene. Once entangled with escorts, players will find it difficult to escape. Ramming attacks, and later depth charges, can inflict serious damage on an fleeing submarine. Additionally, transiting to patrol zones also can endanger a submarine, with mines blasting cruising boats right out of the water.

A Day in the Life

I managed to complete two campaigns. In the first, Lieutenant Hans Schmidt and U-25 (a Type 19 U-boat) managed to sink seven ships for 15,600 tons in seven patrols. The boat was lost with all hands by a mine in September, 1915 somewhere around the British Isles. In the second, Kapitan Hans Kolbe and UC-25 (a mine-laying ship) managed to survive the war, sinking 87 ships (13 with mines and capturing 14 as prizes) for 323,300 tons in 22 patrols. For historical comparison, this would place him 3rd among World War I U-boat aces.

Players track their performance and progress with a patrol log sheet that makes it easy to manage the campaign. The game also adds origin stories and character fates (assuming they survive the war) for flavor, based on historical commanders. The submarine mats also provide easy identification for awards, armament, and the status of the crew, which can make a huge difference.

The patrol log for Hans Kolbe and U-19/UC-25

Some players might be put off by what appear to be a lack of choices for the player. Many things are left to chance. However, the game provides player choice where it matters most: the point of contact with the enemy. This game, above all, is a risk management simulation, where the player must decide how much risk to assume for his boat to capture the ultimate prize. Navigating that risk successfully can make the commander a renowned raider of the deep.