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Ici, c'est la France! The Algerian War of Independence 1954 - 1962» Forums » Reviews

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Wendell
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Ici, c'est la France! The Algerian War of Independence 1954 - 1962 is the first game released by Legion Games, and (as far as I can tell) the first game published by Swedish designer Kim Kanger. I think it is a fine debut for Kanger and Legion. Ici is a wargame, but a wargame with a twist: the conflict it covers (Algeria’s war for independence from France) was an insurgency, not a conventional war. The two sides are France and the FLN - Front de Liberation Nationale. It attracted me because I knew relatively little about the Algerian war of independence, and because of the increased attention being paid to COIN (counter-insurgency) because of the wars now underway in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Components

Ici is an attractive game. The 22"x34" paper map depicts most of Algeria (all but the extreme south, which is Saharan desert) and a little bit of its neighbors Morocco, Tunisia, and West Africa. There are several kinds of terrain - coastal regions, where French troops operate most effectively; mountains and dry mountains, where mechanized French units are less powerful; and the Sahara, with few people and little reason to operate until oil is discovered. The map has seven "wilaya" (the FLN name for the military districts it divided Algeria into for operational purposes), each of which is subdivided into regions. FLN can only move limited forces between wilayas. In addition, there are three major cities (Alger, Oran, Constantine) that are regions unto themselves, and several towns and cities which are separate from the regions, and (along with the major cities) can give the FLN greater mobility and operational points. The non-Saharan regions have symbols to denote how heavily populated they are, ranging from 1 (least) to 3 - the more populated ones are harder for the FLN to control, but the FLN can recruit more forces.



On the map are several tracks and charts - tracks for the size of the French police forces/static garrisons (troop density), French public opinion, the effectiveness of the FLN (lower is better), and the Population Track (0-20 where 20 is pro-French) which shows the attitude of the populace in each of the 25 non-Saharan regions with significant populations (none for the Saharan areas). Here I have a minor gripe - the population track gets a bit crowded, particularly early in the game where nearly all are grouped around the 11/12/13 positions. I ended up pulling some of the markers down into the Sahara and using Post-Its to keep track of the level. Each of the regions will be in one of four political states: (from most to least friendly to France) Support, Activist, Purge, and FLN. There is also a chart showing the attitude of the Pied-Noirs, the ethnic French residents of Algeria, and a Government Crisis Scale which keeps track of how things are going back in Paris.

The 344 attractive 5/8" counters include French regiment-sized units and the units of the FLN - the strong zonal commandos, moudjahidine fighters, and moussebiline irregulars (FLN units collectively are called faileks), and various game markers. They really are attractive - and as advertised, easy to remove from their cardboard frames. Also included are charts describing French and FLN political events, a player aid chart with sequence of play and other info, and a 16-page rulebook that includes designer notes and hints. Oh and four six-sided dice.



Gameplay

Turns in Ici are three months long, beginning with winter 1955 and ending in fall 1962, though the game can end earlier; there is also a scenario that begins in 1959. In each turn, both players must if possible play a political event, each of which can only be played in certain years, and only once per chit. Drawing the event chits is random but before the game each player can select four events to include in his hand. Events will variously affect some or all of: French popular support; Pied-Noirs attitude; and the attitude of Algerians in some or all of the regions. Keep an eye on French popular support. When it reaches zero, there is a referendum, where the odds of winning depend on where each region is on the 0-20 scale of the Population Track. After the first referendum, French popular support resets to 20; if it hits zero a second time, there is another referendum and the game ends.

After playing political events, the FLN player recruits new units, and the French player brings in reinforcements if any, replaces dead units (mandatory), and rebuilds damaged units to full strength. The FLN player then can move his units and conduct "structure attacks." France moves his units, and searches for and attacks faileks. Then the FLN followed by the French player conduct insurgency and counter-insurgency actions respectively. Move the game turn marker, and continue.

Operation points (OP) are used for every action except playing political events. The number available per turn varies; France begins with 10 OP, and gains an additional OP each turn until a maximum of 20 is reached. However, this number is reduced if the FLN has units in Tunisia, Morocco, and/or West Africa. The FLN gets a base of 10 plus 1, 2, or 3 (depending on the population level) for each region that France does not control, minus the FLN level (remember, low FLN level is better), max 20. Movement requires relatively few OP; a failek only expends an OP to enter a French controlled area, and the French only burn OPs when passing THROUGH an FLN-controlled area - and mechanized units don’t even have to pay that.

Combat is pretty simple. The French player spends 2 OP and searches for faileks in the designated region; this is easier in coastal regions, harder in pro-FLN regions. If he finds, French units pair up with whatever faileks were found (not necessarily all of them) and both players roll die, hitting on 5-6. The French units though usually roll two or four dice each AND add the difference in the quality of the unit. Most full-strength French units are quality 3 or 4, while only zonal commandoes are quality 3. French units have two steps and faileks only one, so combat if it happens typically favors the French.



But the FLN, if it successfully checks against its FLN level, can conduct its own structure attacks. From the French perspective these were acts of terrorism. Kanger describes structure attacks as bombings of cafés, farms, and the like "to promote fear, make the country ungovernable, and to increase the antagonism between the Pied-Noirs and the Moslems." The game effect is to make the region more hostile to France - and if it is in one of the three major cities, it will reduce French OP by 1-3.

Remember the regions can be in Support, Activist, Purge, or FLN level. Both players use OP to move regions their way politically (this is a bit abstract but represents propaganda, assassinating pro-French activists, building local cells, infiltrating/purging FLN cells, etc), and the French can resettle Algerians to make it harder for faileks to concentrate in a given region. Which brings up an interesting mechanic - troop density and control of a region. France controls a region if the population level of a region (1, 2, or 3) plus troop density (zero at game start, maximum 4) is at least two times greater than the number of faileks in the region. FLN controls if the number of faileks equals or exceeds population level + troop density. If neither has control, the region is contested, which is usually good enough for the FLN player. Control can change at any time such as when the FLN places a new unit, in the middle of combat, or during FLN movement. French military units do NOT influence control directly. Troop density (which can be raised by various French political events) is an abstract representation of police and local security forces; the units you move around are the ones actively trying to defeat FLN faileks, as opposed to providing security for the populace.

Although French troops alone cannot improve attitudes (in fact, if too successful military action makes the locals more resentful), it is important for the French to chase and defeat faileks - France can only play counterinsurgency actions to make the region more pro-French if it CONTROLS the region. And the FLN can only play insurgency actions if an area is FLN-controlled or contested. Because of turn order, the FLN can move (or recruit) enough faileks to a region to make it contested or FLN-controlled before the French can respond.

At the beginning of the game there are very few French units on the map, and troop density is zero, so it is relatively easy for the FLN to contest/control regions, and therefore to make more areas pro-FLN through insurgency operations. But throughout 1955 and 1956, new French troops come on. At first, this HURTS the French player because bringing in reinforcements (mandatory) costs OP. But once they are on, the French can start trying to strike the FLN in key areas. Then the FLN may begin to emphasize structure attacks to reduce each region on the Population Track, thus making an FLN victory more likely in a referendum.

There are a couple of ways to win. One is for the French to control every non-Saharan region. It can be done - the French achieved this in my one solo play in 1959. The FLN wins as it did historically by driving the French government level to collapse. Either player can win by the second referendum, which will happen on the last turn in 1962 or when French popular support drops to zero for the second time.



Conclusions

Ici, c'est la France! The Algerian War of Independence 1954 - 1962 is a very different creature compared to most wargames. Objectives are not geographic, although control of regions is important. But the action focuses on attempts to influence the population, and combat is abstract and one-sided in favor of the French regulars. That is appropriate for a game on an insurgency such as this. Ici has several elements that reflect modern thought about insurgencies and COIN operations. The real center of gravity is the attitudes of the Algerian people, and secondarily in this case of the significant Pied-Noirs minority. Combat plays a role, but only to the extent that it helps improve security (i.e., prevent FLN structural attacks) to allow France to control a region and conduct COIN actions to make the people of a region more pro-French. Police and security forces (abstractly represented in this game by troop density) are critical. Resettlements if done correctly can make it harder for insurgents to operate by isolating them from the people; this wasn’t successful in Algeria (and IMHO failed badly in Vietnam, where it was not done well), but the Malays and British employed population control with great success during the Malay Insurgency.

I’ve played this once through (I had another solo play where I screwed up a couple of key rules and had to restart) so take this with as many caveats as you like. From this one+ game, I like Ici very much. The rules are simple, but the interactions between them are complex, and I found the FLN and French both faced difficult decisions about what to do next. This is not a short game (Kanger estimates the 1955 scenario to take 8 hours although I think one or two experienced players could do it quicker), but I find it immersive, informative, and entertaining. Thumbs up.

Edits: typos
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Iain K
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Nice review Wifwendell. Just one question. The box lists the game as having a solitaire playability of 7/10. Do you agree and if so how is this achieved relative to mechanisms such as the selection of four events prior to play, insurgent placement etc.

Ici sounds like a very interesting game, but an incomplete knowledge of your opponent's intentions would appear to be a key ingredient. What's your opinion on how well it works solitaire?

Also, can you describe how exactly French forces search for insurgents, is it a die roll and table, what's the mechanism?

Thanks again.
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Wendell
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citizen k wrote:
Nice review Wifwendell. Just one question. The box lists the game as having a solitaire playability of 7/10. Do you agree and if so how is this achieved relative to mechanisms such as the selection of four events prior to play, insurgent placement etc.

Ici sounds like a very interesting game, but an incomplete knowledge of your opponent's intentions would appear to be a key ingredient. What's your opinion on how well it works solitaire?

Also, can you describe how exactly French forces search for insurgents, is it a die roll and table, what's the mechanism?

Thanks again.


I think it works pretty well solo - 7/10 sounds fair. Most of the events are likely to come out during the game - I think there are some events you will likely want to pick to be sure they happen, especially the ones that must be played 1955-57. For example, as France I'd think you want to pick one of the "Reinforce" 1955-57 events at game start to be sure to at least get your troop level from 0 to 1. There are plenty of chances to draw the later ones in time to play them. But the events aren't so earth-shattering that knowing the opponent has event X will significantly change your play.

Searching - you roll dice. # of dice = troop level (0 to 4) + 1 for every 2 French units. For every 5 or 6 you roll, you find a failek. (+1 on die roll in coastal region, -1 in region that is at FLN level). You choose the faileks at random from the ones in the region.

Oh - and faileks' combat strength is hidden, an important point I forgot to make blush !
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Jon
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Thanks for the review, Wendell. Very nice.

I have been curious about this game for a little while now and your description was very helpful for me. Like you, I am curious about conflicts of which I have little or no knowledge (hence my pick up of "Espana 1936"). Now I want to buy a book or two on the Algerian War. It is my understanding that it had a severe impact on France, at least politically and probably socially. Wasn't Sartre writing about it in his "Colonialism and Neocolonialism"? I might just read that first...
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Wendell
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I haven't read Sartre but he may have written about this conflict.

But yes - this conflict among other things caused the collapse of the French Fourth Republic in 1958. I suspect its impact on France was greater than Vietnam's impact on the US. After all, Algeria is much closer to France than Vietnam to the US (or France!). And France considered Algeria to be an integral part of France, not just a colony. France tried to hold on to Algeria even after granting independence to Morocco and Tunisia.

The movie Battle for Algiers, however, has over recent years allegedly become very widely watched in the US military...

Capt_S wrote:
Thanks for the review, Wendell. Very nice.

I have been curious about this game for a little while now and your description was very helpful for me. Like you, I am curious about conflicts of which I have little or no knowledge (hence my pick up of "Espana 1936"). Now I want to buy a book or two on the Algerian War. It is my understanding that it had a severe impact on France, at least politically and probably socially. Wasn't Sartre writing about it in his "Colonialism and Neocolonialism"? I might just read that first...
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I knew I should have pre-ordered this.

Onto the wishlist it goes...
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Raynald Foret
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Very good review.

Quote:
I think it works pretty well solo - 7/10 sounds fair. Most of the events are likely to come out during the game - I think there are some events you will likely want to pick to be sure they happen, especially the ones that must be played 1955-57. For example, as France I'd think you want to pick one of the "Reinforce" 1955-57 events at game start to be sure to at least get your troop level from 0 to 1. There are plenty of chances to draw the later ones in time to play them. But the events aren't so earth-shattering that knowing the opponent has event X will significantly change your play.


That's what I thought when I made my firt solo try. But during my only ftf play (FLN victory in 61), the play of event was more important and I would definitely think longer how to play them in a future game. They are a great part of the game, although the hidden part of the political system is not the most important here.

Ici is definitely a hard game to master and one part of the complexity come from the difficulty to see how the events played will add up on the long term.

Quote:
Oh - and faleks' combat strength is hidden, an important point I forgot to make :blush: !


As far as solo play goes, the hidden strength is less important than the political "fog". The French will easily win most battle anyway, and he will very rarely have to guess what's behind a failek counter.
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M Evan Brooks
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There is really the one classic book on this subject -- Alistair Horne's A Savage War of Peace. It has recently been republished by New York Review Books ($19.95 retail).
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Jon
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evanbrooks wrote:

There is really the one classic book on this subject -- Alistair Horne's A Savage War of Peace. It has recently been republished by New York Review Books ($19.95 retail).


Excellent. Thanks.
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Mark
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Horne's book is tremendous. Its a very readable account of a very confused conflict.
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Jim Ransom
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Thanks Wendell for the fine review. Based on your comments, and some gentle prodding from designer Kim Kanger (who responded to my request for info in a separate thread), I've decided to go get this game. I taught the module on the Algerian Wars in the Strategy & Policy course at the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, so I'm looking forward to what this game can add to my understanding of the conflict.

Also,concur with other posters' comments about



The definitive account of the conflict, and extremely well written.


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M Evan Brooks
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jpr755 wrote:



The definitive account of the conflict, and extremely well written.




I agree, but I am wondering whether or not the French had any other options other than to abandon an integral part of their nation. Algeria was a French department and not a colony.

Even if they had agreed early on as to limited independence (and I don't see how they could have done so), the tendency towards nationalist extremism was already extant.

For a domestic example, what about the reconquista movement?

“Demographically, socially and culturally, the reconquista of the Southwest United States by Mexico is well under way," Harvard University professor Samuel P. Huntington said in 2004. "No other immigrant group in U.S. history has asserted or could assert a historical claim to U.S. territory. Mexicans and Mexican-Americans can and do make that claim."

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Mark
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The reasons France could not retain Algeria are the reasons Mexico cannot reconquista the Southwest (oddly, both were occupied at the same time). Algeria was a colony, no matter what France called it. It was never an equal part of France, it was an unequal trading partner, it's native people were never given equal status and were kept impoverished and exploited. The Mexican natives of the Southwest were culturally integrated, attained equal status, and the Southwest was not colonized, it became equal to the rest of the US, despite injustices along the way. One hundred years before French Algerians were given a 1/10th vote, Mexican-Americans were full citizens.
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John Kantor
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Another game about an unwinnable situation — at least unwinnable given the historical constraints on the French. But the Algerians got exactly what they deserved: 40 years of chaos.
 
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jkantor wrote:
Another game about an unwinnable situation — at least unwinnable given the historical constraints on the French. But the Algerians got exactly what they deserved: 40 years of chaos.

No people deserve 40 years of chaos. Think of the lives needlessly, adversely affected, and the opportunities quashed. For two generations. Americans are freedom junkies, and equality zealots. And, not just for ourselves. The truths we hold self-evident aren't just for the privileged few. No reason to wish for, or be happy with anything less for anyone else.
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