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Subject: Gauging interest in a COIN game with a science fiction theme rss

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Bart de Groot
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I am sceptical of a sci-fi COIN. Because I think like Francisco "COIN" means a historical (or at least alternative history) topic to me, and sci-fi would be complete fiction not fitting in. But if you rephrase it and say you got a sci-fi game, which uses a COIN(-like) mechanic, that would at least be better. Such a game might work, but would have to prove itself before I bought it. Personally I am also more interested in the soon-to-arrive 2p COIN rather than a 5p COIN, but since you say you want it to work with fewer players it doesn't need to be a turn-off.
 
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Worth noting: the upcoming The Expanse Board Game has some similarities with COIN in that there is a shared deck of actions and different costs/eligibility by faction and an area control play style. It's not out yet but it might be worth checking out as something COIN-like that plays well. (I got to playtest it at a con with non-licensed components and card text and was pretty impressed -- also seems to share some DNA with Twilight Struggle, but plays four.)
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bdegroot wrote:
I am sceptical of a sci-fi COIN. Because I think like Francisco "COIN" means a historical (or at least alternative history) topic to me, and sci-fi would be complete fiction not fitting in. But if you rephrase it and say you got a sci-fi game, which uses a COIN(-like) mechanic, that would at least be better. Such a game might work, but would have to prove itself before I bought it. Personally I am also more interested in the soon-to-arrive 2p COIN rather than a 5p COIN, but since you say you want it to work with fewer players it doesn't need to be a turn-off.
I disagree, in that all COIN means to me is "counter insurgency operations", nothing more and nothing less, and this can be applied just as well to a fictional setting as a historical one. The key will be how deep and immersive the back story is that the OP can create. Can they build a universe that I care enough about to game it for four or five hours? FFG certainly did this with Twilight Imperium, so it can be done.
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Gregg L

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I think sci-fi (or any fantasy setting) would work only if it was a known quantity (like star wars, bablylon 5, etc..). I think a totally new universe would boring because you have no point of reference for the factions. When I play A Distant Plain I understand what the Taliban want, what the warlords want, etc.. because I have a familiarity with their real world counterparts.

I think it's asking a lot of a player to fill in the gaps of the backstory or you need a really good writer to do so (and patient players that are willing to read it all).

 
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lordpolish wrote:
I think sci-fi (or any fantasy setting) would work only if it was a known quantity (like star wars, bablylon 5, etc..). I think a totally new universe would boring because you have no point of reference for the factions. When I play A Distant Plain I understand what the Taliban want, what the warlords want, etc.. because I have a familiarity with their real world counterparts.
And yet when I play ADP, I only know what the Warlords want because the victory conditions and the cards clue me into it. I am not familiar with the Afghan drug trade or methodology at all. Everything I know about it comes from the game and its provided background info. This is even more true with Falling Sky. I had never heard of any faction or leader from that game aside from Rome and Caesar. In a sense, for me, the game might as well be about a conflict that Volko and Andrew made up since I know nothing about the historical events and have neither the time nor the inclination to read history books on it. Again, while I admit that the lack of history books to read would turn-off some players, I don't think a game about a fictional topic is inherently boring. I mean, the vast majority of themed board games are about fictional topics (Netrunner, Robinson Crusoe, Sentinels of the Multiverse, Magic, Mysterium, Cry Havoc, Eldritch Horror, Eclipse, Scythe, Time Stories, etc.)

lordpolish wrote:
I think it's asking a lot of a player to fill in the gaps of the backstory or you need a really good writer to do so (and patient players that are willing to read it all).
I don't mean that a game offers no explanation of its story at all. But plenty of fiction starts in medias res, from Star Wars, to Twilight Imperium, to classic works like The Iliad. I think some background is necessary and a lot of flavor. But consumers of fictional entertainment are constantly asked to fill in gaps. Heck, every other COIN implicitly asks players to weave how a given series of cards fits together to tell a story.
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desertfox2004 wrote:
bdegroot wrote:
I am sceptical of a sci-fi COIN. Because I think like Francisco "COIN" means a historical (or at least alternative history) topic to me, and sci-fi would be complete fiction not fitting in. But if you rephrase it and say you got a sci-fi game, which uses a COIN(-like) mechanic, that would at least be better. Such a game might work, but would have to prove itself before I bought it. Personally I am also more interested in the soon-to-arrive 2p COIN rather than a 5p COIN, but since you say you want it to work with fewer players it doesn't need to be a turn-off.
I disagree, in that all COIN means to me is "counter insurgency operations", nothing more and nothing less, and this can be applied just as well to a fictional setting as a historical one. The key will be how deep and immersive the back story is that the OP can create. Can they build a universe that I care enough about to game it for four or five hours? FFG certainly did this with Twilight Imperium, so it can be done.
I agree with you in principle, but I still think of COIN games as being very plausible simulations. Each one feels meticulously researched to reflect the conflict at hand. If you jump the COIN system to a sci-fi setting, you risk losing that realism. Would COIN operations look the same if your theater was the solar system? Maybe. Would they look the same if your theater was the galaxy. I dunno.

This is not to say that a sci-fi COIN would be instantly bad, but like any COIN game, it would need to be extremely well thought out, and without the benefit of actual historical records, that becomes more difficult.

As an example of the kinds of issues I'm thinking of, how do you handle the map? COIN games up to this point have relied on concepts of adjacency and limited movement. Once you move to space, I think these ideas start to fall apart. To be fair, basically every sci-fi board (and video) game ignores this problem. But I think they do so at the expense of realism. Not a problem for a game like Twilight Imperium, but I think its a rather significant problem for a COIN game. What's the point of using the system if you aren't truly simulating a counter-insurgency?


To the OP, I too have been toying around with the idea of a COIN game in space. I don't know if we were thinking along quite the same scale, but I'd be happy to share some of my thoughts and ideas so far. Let me know.
 
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Brian Train
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eagleeye42 wrote:


I agree with you in principle, but I still think of COIN games as being very plausible simulations. Each one feels meticulously researched to reflect the conflict at hand. If you jump the COIN system to a sci-fi setting, you risk losing that realism. Would COIN operations look the same if your theater was the solar system? Maybe. Would they look the same if your theater was the galaxy. I dunno.
1. Thank you for that. We spent a lot of time doing research for these games, and I am glad you think it wasn't superfluous.

2. An interesting look at "counterinsurgency in space" is Freedom in the Galaxy, which is actually a pretty good game when viewed from that angle (and it *just* misses infringement of a licensed property! Bet you could not get away with that in 2017...)

Brian
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Rex Stites
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Scottland wrote:

While I see where you are coming from, I could also suggest that games like Twilight Imperium, Android: Netrunner, and Eclipse all rely on worlds built from scratch.
The question is not whether a sci-fi/fantasy game can build a world from scratch but whether the COIN system can do so.

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In many cases, these games also are pretty abstract.
Twilight Imperium clearly is not. I have not played it, but from what I understand it has multiple races, multiple different unit types, a tech tree, a political system where players vote on laws, and the list goes on and on. It succeeds at building a world because of the extreme detail.

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In the case of Netrunner particularly, the game relies completely on the cards to give life to its world, and I see no reason why a COIN game could not do the same.
The problem with the COIN series from a narrative perspective is not the cards; it's the abstract representation of forces and combat, among other things. Each player has a handful of cubes, cylinders, and discs on the board that abstractly represent a multitude of different things. In exploring counterinsurgency technique at the level portrayed, it doesn't matter whether a particular little round disc on the map represents a military base, weapons cache, or a level of political administration. But those distinctions do matter when you're trying to build an immersive narrative-based game. And probably doubly so for a sci-fi based game. Those sorts of details are the foundation upon which your sci-fi world will be built upon. But they're abstracted away in a COIN game.

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Would the need to "fill in gaps" with one's imagination appeal to everyone? Of course not. However, I think there are people who would actually prefer to do so.
There's filling in gaps and there's asking the players to do the work of creating the universe. My experience with the COIN series is that it would be the latter.

I think if you have a game that generates a story, many players would be willing to fill in details of the story themselves (creating back stories, etc.) This is something that RPG players would probably enjoy. But the game itself has to move the players through a story arc. I think that story arc is missing from most COIN games (and why some wargamers find them dry and uninteresting). Without the skeleton of a story to be told, there's no impetus for players to fill in the gaps (or gaping holes).


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Certainly, several people have posted here to that effect. And, really, the theme appealing to some and turning off others is no different than any other COIN game in that regard: I know many people--including me--do not start with the recommended Cuba Libre because they have no interest whatsoever in the Cuban Revolution.
I would differentiate between theme and subject. The COIN series games to date have had subjects. Because they have a subject, they appeal to people who are interested in a) that particular historical subject matter or b) counterinsurgency in general. The appeal is because they want to learn about that subject. This appeals to wargamers.

The games appeal to people independent of subject matter because they are good games. This appeals to heavy Eurogamers.

Who the games do not seem to appeal to are Ameritrash gamers and gamers interested in narrative experiences.

If you go to a sci-fi based game, you're excluding those that are interested in learning about what the game can teach about the subject, because the game is purely fictional. (Of course, if you have something to say about a particular war specifically or counterinsurgency in general, but would like to do so through metaphor and allusion by using sci-fi, see Bloodtree Rebellion, then that's something entirely different). The question of "theme" is irrelevant to the second grouping. So that leaves the third group. Of the "Big 3" of boardgame categorization, this is the group that has been most indifferent about the COIN series. And I would argue that it's not the subject matter of the current games that has caused the indifference, but rather the lack of "story."

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Additionally, playing a sci-fi COIN game whose history was built from scratch would be similar to playing any COIN game whose theme is entirely unknown to the players (Colonial Twilight's theme, as an example, is not something I know anything about). Sure, in CT's case I can go look up the history, but I can also enjoy the game without doing so and learn a little about the conflict through the cards and the event background blurbs in the playbook.
The two are still fundamentally different. I knew nothing about the Colombian insurgency before playing Andean Abyss--or counterinsurgency, for that matter. I learned a great deal about both, not from reading other material, but from playing the game.

That's simply not possible with a sci-fi theme. Because of that, you need a fundamentally different "hook" to draw players in because that is the hook for a substantial number of players within the wargaming community.
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rstites25 wrote:

Who the games do not seem to appeal to are Ameritrash gamers and gamers interested in narrative experiences.
As someone who owns and plays a lot of Ameritrash games, I can't say I agree. From what I can see, the main issue is whether people want to play games about real life or not.
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On the main subject, I am persuadable on the subject of a COIN game with a science fiction theme, whether licensed or original, but I am sceptical of a 5 player COIN game because of the way the Sequence of Play works. If you can be locked out of play for more than two turns because you're repeatedly at 3rd place or later in the initiative order, then I'm not interested.
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Amaranth wrote:
On the main subject, I am persuadable on the subject of a COIN game with a science fiction theme, whether licensed or original, but I am sceptical of a 5 player COIN game because of the way the Sequence of Play works. If you can be locked out of play for more than two turns because you're repeatedly at 3rd place or later in the initiative order, then I'm not interested.
Nope, won't work that way at all. I agree that such a method would be terrible. A bad run of cards could feasibly lock someone out an entire campaign.

Long story short, as I mentioned to Brian Train, one of the factions plays by slightly different rules so as to keep the cards and sequence of play working almost exactly the same as in previous COIN games.
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OP - I'm not going to dismiss the concept of a 5 player COIN game out of hand before knowing more information so I say go for it! Also, regarding theme, GMT has a very light science fiction universe with Jim Krohn's Space Empire and Talon games. So they may have art assets already for use with your game (assuming you used GMT as a publisher) and maybe Mr. Krohn and GMT would be willing to allow this game to be loosely based in the Space Empires/Talon "universe"? This is all purely my speculation but maybe they would be happy to expand upon that? I certainly am not speaking for anyone - I'm just throwing out ideas!
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eagleeye42 wrote:
To the OP, I too have been toying around with the idea of a COIN game in space. I don't know if we were thinking along quite the same scale, but I'd be happy to share some of my thoughts and ideas so far. Let me know.
Open to it. Feel free to send me a PM.
 
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Definitely interested!
 
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Amaranth wrote:
rstites25 wrote:

Who the games do not seem to appeal to are Ameritrash gamers and gamers interested in narrative experiences.
As someone who owns and plays a lot of Ameritrash games, I can't say I agree. From what I can see, the main issue is whether people want to play games about real life or not.
I enjoy Ameritrash games. I enjoy COIN games. That does not mean COIN games appeal to Ameritrash gamers. For the most part, most gamers like and play multiple genres. Because one person likes games from genre X and genre Y does not mean that a game system designed from genre X's philosophy will fly if it tries to crossover into genre Y.

Many wargamers want a game to do similar things to what many Ameritrash gamers want. Namely, a game that tells a story. The primary difference between the two groups in this regard is the subject of the story. Having been involved in discussions about the COIN series in many different forums since the inception of the series, the COIN series seems to fall flat with those wargamers who are looking to get a narrative experience out of a wargame. The games are often criticized as too dry and abstract for them to get any enjoyment out of them.

Despite the lack of a narrative story, the COIN series has a lot of aspects that make them successful. 1) They model a type of warfare that is severely under-gamed in the wargaming hobby, providing insights into conflicts that traditional wargame models struggle with. 2) They provide a good, heavy game experience, with lots of interesting player decisions and opaque strategies.

For those interested in the 1st category, owning multiple titles depends on the interest in the subjects of the game. For those interested in the 2nd category, owning a single title is probably all they need. The proviso here being that if the game changes enough mechanically to add a new aspect to the game, they may want multiple titles.

The question then becomes what impact a shift to a sci-fi theme, not based on reality, has. You lose gamers interested in the first category because there's nothing to be learned from such a game. You don't lose gamers from the second category per se, but these are the types of gamers who are more content owning one or two titles (the proposed 5th faction may be intriguing to people in this category, but that's completely independent of theme).

So who would be really interested in a sci-fi theme? Those looking for a game that tells a story. But as I've said, that's not the COIN series' strong suit. You're fighting an uphill battle, and the problem is compounded by having to take a system not suited for storytelling and requiring that it also build its world from scratch.

A much more interesting idea would be to take some of the COIN series' basic concepts and build something totally different and original that is built from the ground up to tell a sci-fi story rather than trying to square-peg-round-hole a story into the COIN system.
 
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I disagree that COIN doesn't tell a story. Anything with to and fro, winners & losers, has a story of sorts, and I've had some epic stories in previous COIN games.

My concern would be that some of the enjoyment for me in COIN comes from the historical references in the cards. If these were fictional events, I wonder would it have the same appeal. Perhaps not unless the fictional entities and events were more tightly integrated with each other and developed in a plausible way. This would take some work.
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I think a scifi coin would need to separate story from setting. The system isn't very good at telling a narrative - but it's fantastic for immersion in a setting. You need to have an interesting setting, and present it through the game. This is very doable. Netrunner was mentioned as a pure game setting. This setting is presented exhaustively through the cards in the card game (ffg has published several other games and novels, but you do not need any of this to get a good feel for the world of Android). There's no narrative, but you get to know the characters, the places, the culture of the world.

COIN has four ways to show the setting, the cards, the map, the special activities and the victory conditions. You need to present the setting in these four dimensions, and your setting needs to have interesting elements to show off in these areas. (There's also room for an extra dimension or two in rules like the trail, the el presidente track or the Pakistan track).
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Scottland wrote:
What I mean is that GMT wouldn't go for using licensed material due to the cost of obtaining use of the license.
I dunno, how much would it cost to license Traveller for a COIN game? Dozens of source books providing backstory and history already written; large fanbase that buys and plays games, what more could you ask for?
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SBGrad wrote:
Scottland wrote:
What I mean is that GMT wouldn't go for using licensed material due to the cost of obtaining use of the license.
I dunno, how much would it cost to license Traveller for a COIN game? Dozens of source books providing backstory and history already written; large fanbase that buys and plays games, what more could you ask for?
Agree that would probably work well. Traveller had its roots in board wargaming.
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achates wrote:
SBGrad wrote:
Scottland wrote:
What I mean is that GMT wouldn't go for using licensed material due to the cost of obtaining use of the license.
I dunno, how much would it cost to license Traveller for a COIN game? Dozens of source books providing backstory and history already written; large fanbase that buys and plays games, what more could you ask for?
Agree that would probably work well. Traveller had its roots in board wargaming.
That's a cool idea. There is more than enough backstory and history in that game's universe. I'm not an expert on the Traveller "official" universe but I wonder if there is any novel or situation dealing with perhaps a single planet (or a single system or region of space) that involves the Empire, Zhodani, and perhaps a couple of smaller "local" regional or planetary powers, perhaps a local government and a rebel group.

So you'd have the local government trying to fight the rebels but the Zhodani would be backing the rebels (but really want control of the planet - through the rebellion - for their own interests). Meanwhile, the Empire is maybe trying to prevent getting drawn in too much but is mostly backing the local government. There would always be room for a fifth faction (pirates/bandits/smugglers) just trying to take advantage of the situation and extending the lawlessness out as much as possible to continue their profiteering.

Maybe the Empire and/or Zhodani isn't a full fledged power. Or maybe they are and there are some systems (i.e. board game areas) that only they can place pieces on if the situation escalated enough so that the Empire and the Zhodani started directly going after each other.

Or, it wouldn't have to be Traveller at all. Traveller's beauty in this kind of setup is how generic its official universe actually is. If it were good and a deal cut with Traveller's rights holders it could get good name recognition from such a major product but still not be so confined to that universe as to prevent making a COIN-like game off of it.

And for everyone who is getting distracted by this being a "COIN" game - it wouldn't have to be. The system is good enough that it could be modified and used with other settings (even fictional ones) and it wouldn't even need to retain membership as being a true "COIN" game in that same series.

Anyway, just my 2 (well, maybe 1) cents.
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scifiantihero wrote:
I mean... what coin game has bombed?
Presumably, most of the ones that never saw the light of day.

Cracky wrote:
Star Wars would work well for four. Sith, Jedi, Empire & Rebellion.

But that ain't gonna happen...
Well that's how we got Freedom in the Galaxy ... imitating Star Wars without a license.
 
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aesthetocyst wrote:
Well that's how we got Freedom in the Galaxy ... imitating Star Wars without a license.
True, though Brian Train has been pretty adamant that modern-day interpretations of IP law would likely mean a lawsuit if that game were produced nowadays.
 
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Brian Train
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Hey, don't pin this on me, I think there are lawyers who would be happy to make a fuss about it!

Back in 1977 entertainment wasn't near so litigious (and Star Wars wasn't worth billions).

Brian
 
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ltmurnau wrote:
Hey, don't pin this on me, I think there are lawyers who would be happy to make a fuss about it!

Back in 1977 entertainment wasn't near so litigious (and Star Wars wasn't worth billions).

Brian
Was simply saying that you have been pointing out that something like Freedom in the Galaxy couldn't get published in this day and age. Consequently, anything that could be seen as strongly based on a pre-existing IP not owned by GMT wouldn't fly.
 
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People are overdoing the extent to which Freedom in the Galaxy aped Star Wars. A few of the character names were obvious references but dial those back slightly and it would still be perfectly fine today. Most of the things in it were stock sci-fi tropes dating back decades - tropes which Star Wars self-avowedly drew on.
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