The COIN Series are extremely popular games, both with wargamers, and ever increasingly with Eurogamers. With more titles in the series like Colonial Twilight, Gandhi, and Pendragon coming out, I thought I’d take a look at my favorites so far. Each of those new titles have reached P500 status: Gandhi has ~1,000 orders whilst Colonial Twilight has ~1,400 and Pendragon has >2,000, so the series doesn’t seem to be stopping any time soon. Anyways, on to the list; my top 3 COIN games.
3) Liberty or Death: The American Insurrection
Liberty or Death covers the American War of Independence, which is a conflict that I have no real connection to. That might sound odd being an Englishman, but they never taught the Revolutionary War in UK schools, mostly to try and not breed animosity between two nations that have become strong allies since. So playing this for the first time, I wasn’t enamored by the theme in the same way I would have been had it been a different conflict. That apathy was quickly dispelled though, as the mechanics of the game took off and launched us into a highly detailed, yet not overly complex, game system that was rich with historical representation. We discovered that this was a wargame that was very attritional in nature. You’d levy two huge armies against one another and inflict only a few losses. The interplay between ‘allies’ and the beauty of the components (read: map) meant that this game was engaging on a level that I hadn’t really experienced before. This was the first wargame I’ve played where the map could have hung in a frame on a wall and not looked out of place. This game is Washington’s War on steroids. Don’t forget the War in the South scenario from C3i as well, as it’s a more focused, and much shorter, 2-player only scenario with no bots.
2) Cuba Libre: Castro’s Insurgency, 1957-1958
Cuba Libre is my second favorite COIN game for a number of reasons, but the primary one is playability. The picture above shows the entire board. That’s it. The game board is half the size of a standard GMT game, and there’s only around 12 locations on the map. This means a few things for players. To start with, there’s fewer tactical decisions to be made, which is a good thing. You spend a lot less time with AP and actually get to playing quicker. Turns move faster because there’s less to pour over. With the reduced work load this game is ideal for introducing players to the COIN series and war games in general. Much to my joy, the reduction in possible decisions to have to make doesn’t make this game any easier to win, per se. What it means is that the decision making is more focused, but is also much more crucial. You don’t get to mess it up. That one battle for Havana that you need to engage in can make or break you depending on how you conduct it. This game is truly a knife fight in a phone box. You’ll be all over each other before you know it, and that’s fantastic. The card deck is smaller and the games are shorter, something that’s a breath of fresh air in the war gaming world.
1) Fire in the Lake: Insurgency in Vietnam
Fire in the Lake is my favorite COIN game. It sits on my Top 10 games list at number 4, and although that list needs some revisiting, I doubt Fire in the Lake will be displaced any time soon. When Grant bought this game, I was fully on board. You don’t have to ask me twice to play a Vietnam game. I don’t know what it is, but I grew up watching Vietnam films (in the UK of all places) and I am fascinated by this conflict. Knowing it was a COIN game and it was designed by Mark Herman were just icing on the cake. In Grant’s AAR of our 1st full play through, you’ll see I did terribly at this game, but I couldn’t care less. It’s so much fun to play, it’s so full of educational opportunities, and it’s so bloody that playing the game is more fun than the outcome. Where Liberty or Death was attritional, Fire in the Lake is savage. The NVA and VC will throw wave after wave of forces at the US and ARVN trying to inflict losses early and often. The communist forces will take heavy casualties, but like an army of ants, you wont be able to stamp them all out. This game comes with my highest recommendations because it’s very meaty, includes more strategic decision making than you could ever hope for, and more so than other COIN games, highlights the infighting between the different factions. You’ll want to play this 4-player to get the best experience as the ARVN and US try to balance their funding or the NVA slowly take over VC strong holds in the South. Keep your wits about you in the jungle, and don’t get caught in Cambodia!
So, those are my favorite COIN games. The only other one I haven’t played is Andean Abyss, the original title in the series. Mostly because there’s a lack of connection with the theme for me, but one day I’ll play it. I’m most excited for Gandhi coming soon, because of the implementation of COIN into a conflict, that feels very different from others in the series. What’s your favorite COIN game and why?