This is Part III of a 3 Part series of interviews with Brian Train regarding his newest game design in the COIN Series Colonial Twilight: The French-Algerian War, 1954-62 which is currently on P500 on the GMT Games website (http://www.gmtgames.com/p-548-colonial-twilight-the-french-algerian-war-1954-62.aspx). You can read Part I & Part II here. Now back to the interview…
Grant: How has Colonial Twilight changed through the play test process? Can you give any specific examples?
Brian: I think the most significant change to the game was creating the Initiative Track, as I have described above. Other changes to the game have been more or less tweaks, limiting the effects of one mechanism or another, and a late-development change was a slight reduction in the number of Government pieces.
Another change was the title of the game, which was the subject of a thread on Boardgamegeek. Someone began by wondering why the game was to be called Colonial Twilight when in their opinion it really should have been A Savage War of Peace, the title of the best-known English-language history of the war by Alistair Horne. In fact, that was the very first title I rejected. I thought not only would it have been the single most predictable title out there, I had a personal objection to the phrase “the savage wars of peace” which is from a Rudyard Kipling poem I find quite objectionable, “The White Man’s Burden”. I thought this would be grossly unfair to all the NON-white people who literally paid with their lives and limbs during and after the war…the great majority of casualties were ordinary Algerians caught in the middle. (I also note that in 2015, someone went ahead and designed a solo print-and-play mini-game on Algeria with that title anyway, so the niche has been filled.)
I had an interesting exchange about this early on with my Francophone friend and COIN aficionado Michel Boucher. He suggested La Guerre Sale or “the dirty war”, or La Guerre Sans Nom or “the war without a name”, as it is not really called anything in France. But to Algerians it does have a name, “The Algerian War of Independence” or the “Algerian Revolution” (Berber: Tagrawla Tadzayrit; Arabic: الثورة الجزائرية Al-thawra Al-Jazaa’iriyya, thanks wikipedia).
So while I liked it, “The War With No Name” still seemed ethnocentric.
I started nosing around for poetry, and found mention of a pied noir poet called Jean Senac.
He wrote an essay in 1957 called <<Le Soleil sous les armes: Eléments d’une poésie de la résistance algérienne>>. The Sun Under Arms: to me that evoked the sun, the heat of Africa, the implied ubiquitous violence. Jean Senac was actually a protege of Albert Camus too, until they parted ways over the conduct of the Algerian War (Camus, born in Algeria, wanted a peaceful accommodation, Senac was for armed revolt – but then the left-wing intellectuals in France ostracized Camus too (oh yes, there is a Jean-Paul Sartre Event Card in this game too!)).
I liked that one, but in the end my chosen working title was Denouement. This is a French word which is also known to everyone who has taken a high school English course, as it refers to the post-climax unravelling of a plot. In French it has a more literal meaning of “undoing” of many things, like untying a knot or fraying of a rope, the parting of ways and threads. It seemed like a good image for the last act in the dismemberment of the French empire.
However, there appears to be a firm law of wargame marketing, and that is that titles shall be in a language immediately comprehensible to Americans, who consume the great majority of games. This means English, and once in a great while Spanish or German might get a pass. I thought Auflosung: Franzosische-Algerien Unabhangigkeitskrieg 1954-62 was kind of clumsy, so after a brief discussion with GMT we adopted my English-language alternate of Colonial Twilight…which still gives some of the same image, and was the title of a very good article on the War written by John Prados in Panzerfaust/Campaign magazine #73, the May-June 1976 issue.
Grant: Is the game nearing final design? What is the schedule for release?
Brian: The one thing we are working on right now is the bot or bots that will allow solitaire play. Everything else is pretty well done. GMT has announced recently that they will be slowing their production of games somewhat during 2016, so as to give their organization time to adopt and become proficient at new systems and infrastructure to handle their swift growth as a business. I think this is a good problem for them to have, but it does mean that the game probably won’t appear until early or mid-2017.
Grant: Are you happy with the design? Are there parts you still feel need attention to be final?
Brian: I’m quite happy with it! Once the bot bit is done that will be the last part.
Grant: I love A Distant Plain and feel you did a fantastic job with its design. Which do you like better, ADP or CT? Why?
Brian: Thanks, I am glad you like A Distant Plain. I sometimes joke that one’s wargame designs are like children – some disappoint less than others – but I like both of these equally, for different reasons.
It was great working with Volko Ruhnke, we see eye to eye on a lot of things and it was really interesting giving full play to ideas. Especially ideas to be used in a game about a war that was still underway at the time, which was very important to me.
But it was also great to work on another important and (in America) overlooked insurgency, one that was concluded over 50 years ago. And the challenge of resolving the “two-body problem” was the capper.
Grant: What has changed in your design process for the COIN system since ADP? Any changed thoughts on insurgency, support or opposition?
Brian: One important change was that I was working with a developer. I don’t do that very often. In this case it was someone assigned by GMT, Jordan Kehrer. Jordan worked on A Distant Plain and Liberty or Death, so he certainly knew what he was doing with respect to the game system.
I had the game mostly done by the time Jordan and I started working together. Jordan is also a whiz at making VASSAL modules, so when we started in on development, he had one ready really quickly and we played it remotely in real time, talking through Skype. This was the first time I had used VASSAL for anything, and it worked out really well! I owe Jordan a lot for this, including sleep – I live in British Columbia, on the West Coast, and Jordan is three time zones ahead of me – so he gave up many decent bedtime hours so that we could play for a decent interval and get the rhythm of play.
Jordan was also very quick to identify problems, and always had solutions in hand. Even better, he has an ability to identify things that I didn’t or couldn’t detect as problems, and we resolved these as well. And most importantly, with his help we were able to work out the final twists on the sequence of play and use of Pivotal Events, which is what gives this game its salient difference from others in the system. It was great to work with him on this project.
As for any changed thoughts on insurgency, I don’t think so. I have explained already some of my notions that aren’t quite in sync with the other COIN system games – e.g. the role of Terror and how, in the case of the colonial situation in Algeria, Support for the Government is not necessarily support for the French regime but is more like an opposition to the Oppose that the FLN offers.
I have included in the designer’s notes an extended section on David Galula’s ideas and principles for “population-centric COIN” which he developed in Algeria, how they were used again in the writing of US Army Field Manual 3-24 Counterinsurgency in 2005-06, and how they are reflected in the game.
Grant: We know you are a prolific game designer and have been doing this for many years. What other games do you currently have in design? Can you tell us details about any of them?
Brian: Hoo boy, I always seem to have at least five or six things on the cook. Right now I am either working on, testing, or preparing to release with someone or other, the following:
- Caudillo: multiplayer (2-5) card game on power vacuum in imaginary Latin American country, featuring tension between building individual power bases and cooperating to resolve crises before the chaos swallows everyone up.
- Chile ’73: multiplayer (2-5) small-format game on the September 11 coup that toppled Allende.
- Civil Power: tactical generic game on riot making and breaking. Many wacky scenarios. Graphic and mechanical revision of one of the first games I ever designed.
- District Commander Kandahar 2009 and/or Binh Dinh 1969: two installments of the “District Commander” system I’ve developed for operational counterinsurgency games, featuring diceless resolution and asymmetric menus. I’m having trouble getting people interested in this, though I think it is something quite different.
- EOKA, the Cyprus Emergency 1955-59: the first game on this interesting anti-colonialist insurgency.
- Red Horde 1920: substantially changed version of Konarmiya, my game on the 1920 Russo-Polish War (previously published by Microgame Design Group/ Fiery Dragon).
- The Little War: 2-player, card-driven minigame on the March 1939 border war between Hungary and Slovakia (what, you never heard of this one?)
- Thunder Out of China: 4-player COIN system game on China 1937-41 (Japanese, Communists, KMT Central Army, KMT Warlords). Roughed in mechanically, but I have not had time to work on it lately besides half filling out the Event Deck.
Hmm, that was eight. 2016 is also proving to be a productive year for finished-off and revised things. By the end of this year the following will have appeared:
- Algeria: The War of Independence 1954-62 (One Small Step Games): Graphically and mechanically revised version of the first game on the war, folio format.
- Binh Dinh 1969 (One Small Step Games): Operational level counterinsurgency in that province of Vietnam, folio format.
- Finnish Civil War (Compass Games): In issue #84 of Paper Wars magazine. On the brief but quite nasty civil war of 1918.
- The Scheldt Campaign (Hollandspiel): Graphic update of operational level game on the First Canadian Army’s campaign to clear the Scheldt Estuary, October – November 1944.
- Tupamaro (One Small Step Games): Graphic update of mini-game on urban guerrillas in Uruguay, 1968-72. One of the first games I designed.
- Ukrainian Crisis: Going to have a formal publication of this with someone, since Victory Point Games will not be doing it. Still available on my website for free print-and-play.
- War Plan Crimson (Tiny Battle Publishing): Graphically (and slightly mechanically) revised version of alt-history game in which a fascist USA invades Canada in the late 1930s.
And finally, Colonial Twilight in 2017.
Grant: Your are a busy man! When did you finally feel you were a game designer? How much have you learned over the process of designing your games? Is design easier for you now?
Brian: I’ve been playing wargames since 1979 or so, when I was 15 and my favourite uncle sent me Tactics II for Christmas. I don’t think my parents ever forgave him! But from the very beginning, I wanted to play games different from the ones that were available to me. I designed my first game, a basic one on the Pusan Perimeter (Korea 1950) in 1982, and over the succeeding years I tinkered and made variants for my favourites.
But it wasn’t until the early 90s that I started to design in earnest: small games that were on unusual topics, the sort of thing I wanted to play – my first two were Civil Power and Power Play (a mini-game about a coup d’etat in a generic country). Kerry Anderson and I started the Microgame Design Group in about 1995, and after we had published my games Arriba Espana (Spanish Civil War), Land of the Free (a 3-player game about extremist politics and violence in Depression-era USA), and Shining Path (guerrillas in Peru 1980-95) I felt as if I had started to make the kind of things I wanted to see in the world, and surprisingly, other people wanted to see it too.
I’ve learned a lot over the years, and I’m very aware that there is still much to learn. I think I have gained a bit of discipline over my writing, and don’t commit quite as many graphical gaffes as I used to, but I still have to pay attention to these things. I always liked to experiment, and I still do – I am closing in on 50 published designs now, and a good half of them use systems that I had never used before or since. It’s a wonderful creative outlet.
Many thanks for the chance to talk about these games! To get news of what I am working on, please check out my game design blog at http://brtrain.wordpress.com
Thank you for that great interview Brian on Colonial Twilight as well as many of your other thoughts on game design. I look forward to the release of Colonial Twilight and the many hours of gaming enjoyment that it is sure to provide.