One thought on “Affective Networks at Play: Catan, COIN, and The Quiet Year”

  1. Thank you for this excellent article Cole!

    I co-designed A Distant Plain with Volko Ruhnke (not that you could know that from the WaPo article: Jason Albert spent a lot of time talking to me when he was writing the article, but it all ended up on his editor’s floor). I’ve designed many games on modern insurgencies and irregular warfare (and I’m particularly pleased that we are publishing together with Hollandspiele, looking forward to your Opium Wars game).

    Volko and I also co-wrote a chapter in “Zones of Control”, a recent anthology of writing on wargaming edited by Matt Kirschenbaum and Pat Harrigan. It’s called “Chess, Go and Vietnam” and goes into the ethical and technical challenges of designing games on insurgencies. I think you would find it interesting.

    (bits are available for view on Google Books too)

    I’m currently working on Colonial Twilight, a COIN system game on the 1954-62 Algerian War, a war as cruel and ugly as any other modern insurgency. Yet the structural difference is that it is for 2 players, not 4 as all the other COIN system games have been – which makes it easier for players to get immersed into, and I think gives them just as wide a set of systems for exploration of the conflict, but the relations between players are more straightforward. It will be interesting to see how it’s received.

    Speaking of immersion and affect, one of the best (if a bit backhanded) comments I ever got about A Distant Plain was from a player who said, “I stated in my post that I found the game too much like work. You should probably take that as a compliment as I was a Marine in Helmand. I believe you have found a good balance of high level operational art and the imperatives that drive each faction. For me, it did much too good a job of capturing the frustration and futility I felt there. While I couldn’t enjoy it as a game, I think it is a great training aid for anyone trying to understand, at a very high level, what drives decisions in that country. As for anyone talking about the Taliban as good or evil, that just proves they have no understanding at all of what is actually happening there.”

    I wanted to mention one other thing about the ambiguity of the cards in COIN system games that you noted: most cards have two sets of text on them, one which is often favourable to the counterinsurgent side and the other favourable to the insurgents. Each card represents a minor fork in the road where historical events and aspects happen, or they don’t, so the narrative is considerably different each time the game is played (Also, the cards are all researched: the playbook for each COIN system game gives rationalizations, and in the case of Andean Abyss and A Distant Plain, footnotes and a bibliography.)

    Finally, thank you for bringing Quiet Year to my attention. I wasn’t aware that anything like this had been designed; very interesting!

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