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Labyrinth: The War on Terror, 2001 – ?» Forums » Reviews

Subject: Flawed simulation of a conflict that's difficult to simulate rss

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Steven
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superflypete wrote:
No dismissal. I said "Nice lecture, though, on the politics of the "War On Terror."

I also said that it should not have been called a "review" because, in fact, it wasn't.
I think you have an overly narrow definition of what a "review" is. This is a review because it provides a critical take on the game itself. Maybe it doesn't end up saying whether the game is fun to play. But not all reviews have to adopt that method of evaluation: certainly outside of BGG there are plenty of book reviews, music reviews, and even video game reviews that don't just say "thumbs up" or "thumbs down."
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wolvendancer wrote:
alex352 wrote:
seanmac wrote:
..., and I think it's reasonable to expect that the audience for this game is expecting it to tell them something about the War on Terror that they didn't already know.

Honest question: really?

Yes, really. You've just discovered one of the differences between the 'board game' crowd and the 'wargame/conflict-sim' crowd. Wargamers expect to be educated by their games, at least a little, and are always a little disappointed when it doesn't happen.

Well, I can all but hope that my students rather turn to books than HRC to learn something about the Second Punic War. But to each his own I guess.
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alex352 wrote:

Well, I can all but hope that my students rather turn to books than HRC to learn something about the Second Punic War. But to each his own I guess.

This is a false dichotomy, despite the smiley face. Wargamers are, generally, readers - there are more book recommendation threads this month in the BGG Wargames forum than, I suspect, in the entire histories of the abstract/strategy/themed/etc forums.

Wargames are, in part, simulations, and all historical (or modern) simulations, like all history books, are arguments in favor of one version of history or another. How persuasively this case is argued makes a good bit of difference in how much I enjoy a game, and I suspect other wargamers are the same.

When someone posts, 'It's just a game!' or 'You expect to learn something from a game?', I can guess with 99% certainty that the person posting is not a wargamer. It's not a value judgement - we all game for different reasons. It's just a subcultural difference, that's all.
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If you want to "simulate" war, join the military. If you want to learn history, read a book. If you want to play games, play games.

I never understood people who want to "simulate" wars. To me it is just a tad bit sick.
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shadow9d9 wrote:
If you want to "simulate" war, join the military. If you want to learn history, read a book. If you want to play games, play games.

I never understood people who want to "simulate" wars. To me it is just a tad bit sick.
And what do we do if our desire is to completely over simplify everything?
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Christopher Donovan
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What I want to know is - where is Central/South America in Labyrinth? Why is there no representation of the porous US-Mexican border? Seems like the easiest way to get into the US undetected.
 
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shadow9d9 wrote:
If you want to "simulate" war, join the military. If you want to learn history, read a book. If you want to play games, play games.

I never understood people who want to "simulate" wars. To me it is just a tad bit sick.

Different strokes and all that.

But you seem confused. Just because a game's model is a reasonable representation of some aspect of reality does not imply that its players are simulating war. For example, they might be studying it.

Much better that than the "it's only a game" brigade, those who want flavour not substance, who as I've said before are dancing in the graveyard.

As for you, does your highly-principled anti-war position also lead you to avoid war movies, military history or toy guns for children?
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superflypete wrote:



You be the judge. All I am saying is that when I go looking for a review, I'm less interested in the historical accuracy than to determine if the product is a viable product I'd want to play.

If you insist. Yes, your view of what a review should do is too narrow.

Your collection is full of historical heavyweights like Dungeons and Dragons, Arkham Horror and the Scooby Doo Gold Rush Game. It's probably a good thing you're not interested in historical accuracy.
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Brendan McHugh
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This has been a fascinating discussion.

My two cents:

I agree with the OP.

Yes, Labyrinth poorly simulates reality.

. . . but . . .

Yes, I find it quite enjoyable.

. . . and finally . . .

Yes, it does bother me a little that I am "gaming" the GWOT.

I am only human, after all.
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Arcueid wrote:

You and your bully Scotty Dave who picks a fight with anyone disagrees with your post.

Cool your jets, Kasper, it's all been pretty mild stuff - till now.
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Colin Hunter
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Arcueid wrote:
Kingdaddy wrote:
Wargame design is hard. Really hard. I have tons of respect for published designers, which I am not.

How can you write this after completely ripping apart the game for having several mechanics of the game labeled as wrong in bold font and caps? First and foremost, this is a game that focuses on gameplay, not simulation (go check GMT's website for the product description or am I interested in the wrong game? er simulation...).
Do you see no value in looking at a subject from a different perspective? Tom has offered a thoughtful and intelligent criticism from a completely different standpoint than we often see on this site. You as the reader get to make up your own mind. If you don't care about such things, than this shouldn't worry you. I won't put me off playing the game further.
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By your logic, if a published designer is smarter than you, then wouldn't that make him right in his portrayal of the mechanics in this game?
Tom says this to acknowledge the hard work that goes into the game and I suspect to not unappreciative of people's work. I'd guess that Tom is more of an expert on the subject matter than Volko, but I could be wrong.
Quote:

You and your bully Scotty Dave who picks a fight with anyone disagrees with your post.
I think both have been pretty respectful, in fact given the strength of opinion expressed by the OP initially, discussion here has been pretty tame and civil.
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Scotty Dave wrote:
superflypete wrote:



You be the judge. All I am saying is that when I go looking for a review, I'm less interested in the historical accuracy than to determine if the product is a viable product I'd want to play.

If you insist. Yes, your view of what a review should do is too narrow.

Your collection is full of historical heavyweights like Dungeons and Dragons, Arkham Horror and the Scooby Doo Gold Rush Game. It's probably a good thing you're not interested in historical accuracy.

I have to side with the approach the OP takes, in that wargamers, for better or worse, demand more than that a game simply be a "good game". Because of the historical simulation aspect which draws wargamers to their boardgame genre of choice, it's not enough that a game simply play "well" (have interesting choices, slick mechanics, tense gameplay, etc.). The game must also bear a close relationship to its subject matter. Now, as many (including myself in other threads) have pointed out, even the most detailed wargames can not truly hope to accurately simulate the events they seek to protray. However, at the least, it is hoped for (indeed, expected) that a wargame will be based on realistic estimates of the situation, and produce results which "make sense" based on the best information available regarding the given conflict being modeled.

I think that "back in the day", this requirement for wargames to deliver a certain measure of historical accuracy was unquestioned, because most people who initially got into wargaming did so from a background of having an interest in history, especially military history. For these original wargamers, these new games were seen as an extension of their interest in history. In contrast, I think today, we are seeing an increasing migration of people into wargaming who are coming from a background of being boardgame players first. For these people, they look to wargames as a new kind of game to play (as an aside, I think this excellent website has had a lot to do with this shift), and are interested mostly in the gameplay, with the history providing at most an interesting theme. As a result, I think we are seeing more and more new wargamers concerning themselves primarily with finding a "good game", moreso than looking for a "good simulation", thus leading to some of the comments in this thread.

Me, I fall into the camp of the old guard - for me to invest my energy into playing a consim, I have to feel that the game is a reasonable simulation of its subject matter. For that reason, the OP's review is valuable to me.
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shadow9d9 wrote:

I never understood people who want to "simulate" wars. To me it is just a tad bit sick.

I feel the same way about games simulating bureaucratic monotonous drudge-work, bland faceless drones of one standard colour or another being ordered to deliver an endless supply of cubes to nondescript locations, never a pause in the work, never an ounce of joy, as their player-overlords collect more and more money and notoriety. Surely people who indulge in these fantasies are fascists-in-training, honing their skills so that they may exploit more effectively later in life, or worse yet they are petit-fascists, indulging in fantasies of exploitation that they are too craven to pursue in their daily lives. Middle-management porn.

Those railroad gamers are even worse- naked predatory greed on display there. And those Ameritrashers... don't get me started. A Giant Penguin with cybernetically-installed ICBMs? Have you no shame, Ameritrashers?

Or maybe gamers are just gamers, people looking to have a little fun. Regardless, we probably shouldn't clutter an already long thread with our prejudices, eh?
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Michael D. Kelley
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Fascinating discussion here, with a few forays into thuggishness

I own the game, and have thoroughly enjoyed both of my plays so far. But I am firmly in the camp of "light to moderate" war games, and am not looking for much of a simulation in my games.

To illustrate my feelings, a story:
I was telling my stepfather about the game. He has never been a gamer, hasn't played games with me, but is an avid fan of history and reads more books in a year than I've owned in a lifetime.
He instantly wanted to know what he could do in the game. "Can I abandon the middle east?" "No" I said. "Can I cut funding to Israel until they stop settlement construction?" "Um... no."
I had to explain to him that achieving that level of freedom and flexibility in a game would make it very huge, very long, and probably very dull.

This game is one presentation of a very propogandized issue (by both sides). It is a GAME that is very fun, with great tension, and its content makes me want to read more about the issues it indirectly addresses.

But I am not expecting the game itself to teach me much about the GWOT. I see it as one depiction of current events, with some flaws in its perspective. Twilight Struggle's portrayal of the Cold War is reliant on a "domino theory" that I do not believe in or agree with. Yet the game can be a fun and tense affair if you buy into this view of history for a little while.

My 2 cents. The game is a great ride, by the way, and LOADS faster than the other great CDG's out there. So give it a shot, if you can get past the possibility of some diminished simulation.
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Volko Ruhnke
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Deep discussion. I'm honored by all the interest.

LABYRINTH is by necessity an oversimplification, and I would never propose it (or any boardgame) as predictive. But it does seek to evoke a specific era and conflict, so if someone who cares about that aspect feels too many "pokes" in reality's eye, that will affect enjoyment.

Naturally, there are some differences in worldview at play here between designer and reviewer. The core one may be the question of whether jihadism is just terrorism or is a transnational insurgency.

To correct the record above, LABYRINTH does not use the term "terrorists" for the little black pieces or the anti-US side. ("The War on Terror" was not my original subtitle for the game, by I'm OK with it as effectively evoking the era.)

The black pieces and the anti-US side in the game are "jihadists". A (very simple) counterinsurgency model is used in the game because the game views jihadism (with al-Qaeda as an important standard-bearer) as a transnational insurgency that (like many insurgencies) uses terror as a tactic to achieve its goals, which include changes in governance. And yes, I do see important linkages between AQ core, AQAP, AQI, et. al., though the game design in several respects provides the anti-jihadist side greater unity of command than the jihadist.

Just one example from gameplay: The jihadists can attempt "terror" operations for various purposes (not just to undermine governance). They also can attempt "jihad" -- the game term for guerrilla operations -- again for various purposes but mainly to weaken and ultimately overturn a government.

In real life, terror and insurgency typically overlap. They do in the case of jihadism as well. Terror and guerrilla warfare are each tactics that insurgents use or eschew at various times.

For a scholar's discussion of AQ as a transnational insurgency, a good read is Bard O'Neill's "Insurgency and Terrorism--From Revolution to Apocalyse". There are others, of course.

Thanks again for the thread. Really engrossing.

Regards, Volko
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Volko wrote:


LABYRINTH is by necessity an oversimplification, and I would never propose it (or any boardgame) as predictive. But it does seek to evoke a specific era and conflict, so if someone who cares about that aspect feels too many "pokes" in reality's eye, that will affect enjoyment.

There is a no doubt interesting discussion to be had on where "evoke" stops and "model" starts, but the 100th post in a different thread may not be the best place for it.

One thing I think should be said in Volko's and the game's defence. I have not yet seen much analysis of how the game's admitted oversimplifications might lead players to do absurd things from a "reality" point of view. And as we all know, the valid way to test a model is to look at its outputs, not its inputs.
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Sean McCormick
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alex352 wrote:
seanmac wrote:
..., and I think it's reasonable to expect that the audience for this game is expecting it to tell them something about the War on Terror that they didn't already know.

Honest question: really? If I play a game that carries a historical theme the most I expect is that it attracts my interest to the historical background. I am very cautious to expect to learn from a game, to be honest. That's what the books are for. The reason why I enjoy historical boardgames is that I enjoy discovering how the designer picked up (some/major) aspects of the background scenario and integrated them into a coherent system of game mechanics.
What do other think?

Are you primarily a Euro player or a wargamer? If you are talking about Euros and their use of theme, then sure, your expectation for learning about the subject in depth should be low. But as a wargamer--and someone with a history background--I generally think that a well-designed game is at the very least equal to if not superior to a book. Books can tell you what happened, but they distort history by essentially railroading it along that line, when in fact there were inevitably multiple decision points that could have altered events in small and large ways. Simulations put you in the position of your historical counterpart and force you to consider not just the historical choices, but all the alternatives as well, and to constantly be reassessing what is going on and what you should do about it. Military historians have a tendency to turn into smug armchair generals, criticizing this or that maneuver as being suboptimal, but a game provides a much more forceful and immediate appreciation for why leaders and generals made the decisions that they did, even if they were wrong.

When I'm playing a good game, I'm generally also reading about the subject matter. When I'm reading about subject matter that interests me, I'm generally looking for a good game to go with it. It's a highly symbiotic process of learning.
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Sean McCormick
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DJ Kuul A wrote:
seanmac wrote:
It says to you that you shouldn't buy the game if you expect it to be a credible simulation. (Funny, I thought that was what most wargamers were striving for.) To take your Space Hulk comparison, SH is a hell of a game--but if you buy it expecting to be able to accurately simulate Operation Barbarossa with it, you'll probably come away disappointed. The line between simulation value and playability oscillates depending on the intent of the design and the audience for the design, and I think it's reasonable to expect that the audience for this game is expecting it to tell them something about the War on Terror that they didn't already know.

I think you may be confusing level of detail with simulation value. The game abstracts things more and differently than the OP would have liked it to, but that isn't a comment on its validity in terms of what it's trying to show.

What exactly should we be expecting this game to tell us about the War on Terror?

Not at all--I'm firmly in the camp that abhors the conflation of detail with simulation value. ASL is not a good simulation, and is certainly not a superior take on tactical combat than Combat Commander or Lock n' Load or what have you. Fields of Fire, in contrast, is a good simulation. The question isn't whether or not a design throws in detail or not, but rather that it forces the player to make decisions that are appropriate to his role and that provide him with as realistic a set of constraints on his information and control as possible.
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Colin Hunter
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I mean, the holy grail of Wargaming is at the WBC
Holy grail of wargaming is surely Consim World Expo. Carry on....
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Zerosum wrote:
What I want to know is - where is Central/South America in Labyrinth? Why is there no representation of the porous US-Mexican border? Seems like the easiest way to get into the US undetected.

Based solely on what I know, I'm not sure that it is.

It seems to me that in order to cross that border undetected, there would have to be some sort of collaboration between Jihadists and the drug cartels who control the border. I can't think of any possible way that the cartels would see it as being in their interests to aid the jihadists since it would greatly increase US scrutiny on the cartel's operations and make doing business more difficult to them.

Ultimately the cartels are a business, they're not going to aid anyone if doing so will effect their ability to continue to run their business.
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Fernando Darlington
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I liked the game a lot and I'm enjoying it. It still has a lot of flavor in it without being a "simulation" and I think Volko has done a great work. Personally I consider it an evolution of Twilight Struggle (another game with flavour rather than a "simulation").

That said, there can be a "working" simulation some time in the future, and as a game will also have its problems, shortcoming and will also lack of other perceived important details which will generate its own discussions and/or will be seen again differently depending on the political views.

I like and support this game and its approach even at the peril of not receiving a "true wargamer" seal of approval from someone at the Internet.
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seanmac wrote:
alex352 wrote:
seanmac wrote:
..., and I think it's reasonable to expect that the audience for this game is expecting it to tell them something about the War on Terror that they didn't already know.

Honest question: really? If I play a game that carries a historical theme the most I expect is that it attracts my interest to the historical background. I am very cautious to expect to learn from a game, to be honest. That's what the books are for. The reason why I enjoy historical boardgames is that I enjoy discovering how the designer picked up (some/major) aspects of the background scenario and integrated them into a coherent system of game mechanics.
What do other think?

Are you primarily a Euro player or a wargamer? If you are talking about Euros and their use of theme, then sure, your expectation for learning about the subject in depth should be low. But as a wargamer--and someone with a history background--I generally think that a well-designed game is at the very least equal to if not superior to a book. Books can tell you what happened, but they distort history by essentially railroading it along that line, when in fact there were inevitably multiple decision points that could have altered events in small and large ways. Simulations put you in the position of your historical counterpart and force you to consider not just the historical choices, but all the alternatives as well, and to constantly be reassessing what is going on and what you should do about it. Military historians have a tendency to turn into smug armchair generals, criticizing this or that maneuver as being suboptimal, but a game provides a much more forceful and immediate appreciation for why leaders and generals made the decisions that they did, even if they were wrong.

When I'm playing a good game, I'm generally also reading about the subject matter. When I'm reading about subject matter that interests me, I'm generally looking for a good game to go with it. It's a highly symbiotic process of learning.

Here I absolutely disagree. No game, regardless of how complex it is and hot thick the rulebook, can ever really put you in the position of people who acted in the historical event. A good book will be much more capable of pointing out at what point what factor resulted in a given decision. Games use artificial mechanisms to make you believe you are re-experiencing the event. But they only can do so based on what the designer knew about history. So even the decisions he decides to put before you are heavily influenced by history, historical research and thus books and their sources. You can only "learn" from games stuff you already knew from other sources. Let me go back to the Hannibal example: what can a person learn from the game who knows nothing about the 2. Punic War (apart from the Names of the Generals maybe)? He might take away from it that Hannibal best had stayed in Gallia Transalpina and time would have played in his favor.... really?

Your last paragraph gets my affirmation, though.

Am I derailing the thread? Probably, so my apologies and I won't follow up on this any further.
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alex352 wrote:
Here I absolutely disagree. No game, regardless of how complex it is and hot thick the rulebook, can ever really put you in the position of people who acted in the historical event. A good book will be much more capable of pointing out at what point what factor resulted in a given decision. Games use artificial mechanisms to make you believe you are re-experiencing the event. But they only can do so based on what the designer knew about history. So even the decisions he decides to put before you are heavily influenced by history, historical research and thus books and their sources. You can only "learn" from games stuff you already knew from other sources. Let me go back to the Hannibal example: what can a person learn from the game who knows nothing about the 2. Punic War (apart from the Names of the Generals maybe)? He might take away from it that Hannibal best had stayed in Gallia Transalpina and time would have played in his favor.... really?

Your last paragraph gets my affirmation, though.

Am I derailing the thread? Probably, so my apologies and I won't follow up on this any further.

Just an FYI, there's a lot of historical research that may not be a game per se, but depend on an effort to re-create or simulate an event. For example, military historians often "walk the battlefield" to get a better sense of what might have actually happened. See, for example, Peter Green's excellent book on the Greco-Persian Wars, which he sprinkles liberally with observations from visiting the critical locations like Marathon.

Sometimes, this effort isn't literally walking the battlefield. You can sandbox a battle in other ways. At a certain point, what you're doing isn't too far away from a wargame. Why did the Roman flanks collapse as quickly as they did at Cannae? How many troops would Alexander have needed to maintain an effective siege of Tyre? What defeated the French at Agincourt, the longbow on its own, or the exhausting slog through the mud that the French knights took to reach the British lines? The answers often depend on a simulation. One historian, Philip Sabin, takes this to the point of explicitly wargaming battles.

And, of course, the practitioners of war simulate potential battles all the time. Wargames are essential parts of military planning and officer training.
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alex352 wrote:
Here I absolutely disagree. No game, regardless of how complex it is and hot thick the rulebook, can ever really put you in the position of people who acted in the historical event.

Is anyone really claiming that? A good historical wargame will (in addition to providing an interesting, fun, and competitive game) offer such insights into the event as the designer thought to highlight. For the People, for example, does an excellent job of showing, among other things, the Union's naval superiority and its importance in the ACW.

You could also read a book on the same subject and learn the same things and more. But the book would be a different experience.
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Fernando Darlington
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Kingdaddy wrote:

Just an FYI, there's a lot of historical research that may not be a game per se, but depend on an effort to re-create or simulate an event. For example, military historians often "walk the battlefield" to get a better sense of what might have actually happened. See, for example, Peter Green's excellent book on the Greco-Persian Wars, which he sprinkles liberally with observations from visiting the critical locations like Marathon.

Sometimes, this effort isn't literally walking the battlefield. You can sandbox a battle in other ways. At a certain point, what you're doing isn't too far away from a wargame. Why did the Roman flanks collapse as quickly as they did at Cannae? How many troops would Alexander have needed to maintain an effective siege of Tyre? What defeated the French at Agincourt, the longbow on its own, or the exhausting slog through the mud that the French knights took to reach the British lines? The answers often depend on a simulation. One historian, Philip Sabin, takes this to the point of explicitly wargaming battles.

And, of course, the practitioners of war simulate potential battles all the time. Wargames are essential parts of military planning and officer training.

I'd say a recreation is not a wargame. I've know of several historians who are also wargamers (mainly tabletop wargamers) or even design their rulesets but these games are based on their view of events and being an historian does not guarantee a good game not even a simulation. Sometimes the games follows the history, many other times don't.

Maybe a geeklist would be better for this question; Which games can be considered simulations and why?. And you'll find a lot of different views in the responses.

In any case I think all these latest discussions are like discussing the gender of the angels, so going back to the start: Yes, you made very good points on why this game is not a simulation, mainly the view that the Jihaddist player is a whole power instead of many small parties each with their own different agendas. The reality of that is that you can't have a simulation with a global situation with a unique Jihaddist power controlling all terrorist/insurgency cells in the world, only local theatres but never a global wargame (or simulation).
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