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Subject: Low Intensity Conflict in Colombia rss

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Peter Bogdasarian
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Crisis Games: Colombia is a 2-3 player game pitting the Government, Rebel and Cartel factions against one another for control of Colombia.

Components:

Adequate. The map reminds me of Angola from the Ragnar Brothers in its plain approach to showing the terrain. It would have been much improved by being about 25% larger as many areas are cramped in play and it can be difficult to see the region names (which are important for writing orders).

The counters are 1/2" plain silhouettes with the to-hit number on the front. They are serviceable but not attractive.

Gameplay:

Much of CG:C will be familiar territory for anyone who has ever played Axis & Allies or the like. Factions accumulate units, seize territory and fight battles with a lot of die rolling. Each side has an automatic victory condition and another game end victory condition to be evaluated at the end of turn 10. It is possible for everyone to fail to achieve their victory conditions, resulting in an overall draw.

The three wrinkles:

The first place CG:C breaks from other games of this style is in its use of simultaneous written orders. Players write a three moves each and then execute all of them at once (with the Government given a limited ability to pin the enemy). This process is fairly painless and keeps things moving along.

The second innovation is a distinction between field and irregular units. Field units are what one would expect - infantry, armor, heavy weapons - and behave just like the units from all the other games. They fight to the death in combat, can move around the map and are otherwise aggressive pieces.

Irregular units, once placed, do not move. The Rebels & Cartel can place their irregulars anywhere, the Government can only establish a police presence in the regions it controls. Irregulars attack once per turn and can only be attacked by other irregulars and the Government's elite (airmobile) units.

Control of an area is based on having field units present - however, if there are no field units, then the side with more irregular units takes control. This allows the Rebel and Cartel forces to undermine a region over time.

The final wrinkle are the four types of Government field forces. The infantry and armor units are powerful, but road bound - there many locations on the map they cannot move to at all. The marines are powerful but limited to the coastal regions. Four air units may be placed after movement is complete to give additional support to Government troops in jeopardy. Finally, there are the airmobile elite units which hit hard, move anywhere and may attack irregulars, but are fragile when operating without support.

What works:

The game provides a tense experience. The Government player can stomp on hostile conventional forces, but the irregulars slowly eat away at its perimeter and destabilize its board position. If the Government wants to satisfy its automatic victory condition, it must pull its better forces away from holding the cities and put them to work taking the cocoa fields.

Where it slips:

Units (from either side) are not very mobile, which takes much of the drama out of the simultaneous movement. Other than the Marines & Elites, all units move only between adjacent areas, which cuts down on the surprise factor.

Building on the above comment, things develop slowly. It is difficult for a player to rapidly change his board position, which makes an already attrition heavy game even more incremental in how it plays out. The first couple turns of any new game will go slowly as Cartel & Rebels try to improve their recruitment to the point where they can field anything even remotely resembling a military.

The variants:

The three player game breaks the Cartel and Rebel forces out among the players (and gives each of these players 2 orders). They are ostensibly allied and players will no doubt coordinate their efforts against the government, but a perusal of the victory conditions may lead players to discover a few rifts in this approach. The long term Cartel objective is to control cocaine producing regions, rather than overthrow the Government (though it can win by taking Bogota), and it may benefit from directing its efforts towards this goal rather than supporting the Rebels too fully.

In our game, the Cartel threw its full weight behind the rebels, which meant it underdefended its cocaine fields and Medellin - the Government seized these and won an automatic victory.

There is also a deck of event cards (printed perforated heavy paper) if players want to add some random events to the game. These can include the rebels getting their hands on SAMs, peace overtures to hostile forces and even the US president visiting the country with several battalions of American forces as his escorts!

Who would want it:

I think CG:C would appeal most to someone who regularly finds themselves needing a 3-player game in the conflict/expansion paradigm. It plays fairly quickly at 60-120 minutes and has only 3 pages or so of rules, which makes it easy to jump into.
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Scott Muldoon (silentdibs)
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I saw this played at the Strat a couple months ago and was very intrigued. Your review is an excellent summary.
 
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Garry Haggerty
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Quote:
...the Government can only establish a police presence in the regions it controls.


The Government can place Police units in areas it controls or occupies (unlike its field units).

This has a significant effect on play.
 
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Peter Bogdasarian
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G Haggerty wrote:
Quote:
...the Government can only establish a police presence in the regions it controls.


The Government can place Police units in areas it controls or occupies (unlike its field units).

This has a significant effect on play.


Ah, thanks. I was writing this from memory - we played it right at the time.
 
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Andres F. Pabon L.
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This one sounds cool. If only it didn't depict my country as a sort of no-holes-barred all-things-allowed permanent-war-state region... cry
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Peter Bogdasarian
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bacusgod wrote:
This one sounds cool. If only it didn't depict my country as a sort of no-holes-barred all-things-allowed permanent-war-state region... cry


Well, to be fair, the US received the same treatment in Shattered States from the company which made CG:C (not to mention titles like Dixie or Crisis 2020 ).
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Karsten Engelmann
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First,

thanks to Dani Val for pointing this review out to me.

Second, and before I move on to discuss the review, Andres, when the game was designed, in the late 1980's it did look like your country was going under. Every day a newspaper article talked a building being bombed, a judge killed. It was a close run thing. But today, the FARC is almost a thing of the past. In fact, the biggest problem Colombia has is the desire of United States and European citizens to consume drugs, and the fact that those governments criminalize them.

Okay, onto the response to the review.

The first thing to know about the game was the game was intended to be the first in a series of games on modern, current style subjects. Our goal was to produce a series of games that were quick to learn, and timely. We discontinued after our first game, as graduate school was taking too much of a toll on me.

We picked the topic, as I mentioned to Andres above, because that was what was in the news. The system is actually an advancement off of Flying Buffalo's Dien Bien Phu - designed by Guy Hail. (if you have not played this game, I would highly recommend it! You will notice similarities in the system). Most of the 'innovations' Peter mentions were really first thought of by Hail. (on this note, I have never had an original though in my life. When I asked my wife to marry me, it was only after she had put the idea in my head weeks earlier kiss )

So, Hail had already in Dien Bien Phu had simultaneous orders. I cant remember, but there were no 'irregular' units. This was an idea my wife came up with based on the US experience in 'Nam - that conventional forces could control an area, but that you really needed governmental services to 'convert' an area (note, this is EXACTLY what Petraeus finally implemented in Iraq. When I was over there in 2003 and 2004 GEN Sanchez WANTED to go this route, but we did not have enough troops, and the Iraqi government was not up to speed yet).

Now we changed the combat system from an odds-based in Dien Bien Phu to die rolling. Which worked out well. It gave us the ability to have more powerful government units on the conventional side, but the conventional forces could not eliminate the irregulars on the Cartel / FARC side...only the elites and 'police' units.

Regarding mobility. The government units are restricted to the road network, that is where their logistics are based. The rebels dont have the motorized transportation, so, even IF they did operations at a distance, they would not be able to resupply. The major combat between the Colombian govt and the FARB, BTW, was in the border between the Amazonian jungle region and the central highlands - neither side could really dislodge the other.

So, to respond to 'where the game slips'

I would argue that the mobility IS vital to the game system. Also, whilst it is true that the first couple of turns the movement is restricted, once the FARC get a foothold in the northern cities, mama-bar-the-door! Also, more than once I have seen the Cartel march into Bogota for the win - or other critical cities that are not protected by ground troops. And, on the first turn of the game, the Cartel has to decide how they want to approach the battle...and it is a real guessing game with the government forces.

I agree with the second comment. The game develops slowly. What is the real kicker is which of the terrorists will get lucky, and what holes open in the government line. My recommendation is the Cartel and FARC preserve their strength until such an opening occurs. We did this because that was the positions of forces at the time. And it was unclear how the conflict would develop.

Of the variants, we discovered over time that the best way to play them is to divide them into two piles - one pro-government one pro-rebel. Each player picks a card each turn, so you get an event that help each side out.

Regarding the comments on the components. The map is small, but that was to fit into the folio design we had come up with. Whilst the map uses icons similar to Angola, I object to the comparison - I really like how this map looks. Angola is a hideous orange-yellow map. As for the counters, I guess each to their own. They were a big improvement over the Rise and Fall ones

In the end, a good and appreciated review. Our goal was to have a simple, fast to play game (in response to what I saw as increasingly complex games of the late 1980's) that gave people one or two important take-aways. In this game is was counterinsurgency. I think a lot can be learned from this game - especially how an insurgency can get hold and expand if the only way you try to tackle it is with military forces, and not an across the government approach.

Finally, do folks out there think there is a market for a Desk Top Publishing effort that each quarter comes out with a current topic issue (for example, a game on Iraq, or the spread of Avian flu, or drug running, or coups in Africa, or stability in Darfur, etc?). I am keenly interested in doing this, but if I cant sell, say 100 copies DTP, I would really not find it worth my time.
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Peter Bogdasarian
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Hi Karsten,

thanks for the response. I've actually played Dien Bien Phu, as well as Guy Hail's earlier Indochina War game - both of them have some interesting concepts for modelling Low Intensity Conflict and are worth a look from those interested in this sort of thing.

DBP did have irregulars but they worked quite a bit differently - they are eliminated by a large scale enemy presence after normal combat is complete. I really like what you did here with the irregular system and think it's probably the neatest part of the system.

Glad you enjoyed the review. As for the physical components, I understand they are a product of their time - like I said, they are adequate to the task but could be improved

 
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Daniel Val
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karstenengelmann wrote:
First,

thanks to Dani Val for pointing this review out to me.


Not at all Karsten! My pleasure


karstenengelmann wrote:
Finally, do folks out there think there is a market for a Desk Top Publishing effort that each quarter comes out with a current topic issue (for example, a game on Iraq, or the spread of Avian flu, or drug running, or coups in Africa, or stability in Darfur, etc?). I am keenly interested in doing this, but if I cant sell, say 100 copies DTP, I would really not find it worth my time.


Definitely, I would!

And I'm still waiting for you-know-what-prototype-of-yours to be realeased.
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