Here is Part 3 in our look at a COIN Series inspired multi-faction treatment of the Northern Ireland Conflict known as The Troubles from a new designer Hugh O’Donnell. We appreciate his efforts in designing this thought provoking and raw conflict simulation and in his effort to give us a quick look inside the design as it has progressed.

In case you missed Part 1, you can read that here:

Here is a link to Part 2:


I now have a couple of printed maps from various iterations that should be playable; enough components, faction guides, Event Cards – and compelling box art! I plan to assemble another 4 or 5 of these ‘prototypes’ and pop them off to those who really matter; I hope to conduct my own first public play test at Paisley’s finest, ComicCrazy.

The Troubles Components
Making prototype copies of the game for playtesting.

This does feel familiar – the process, the expectation – to the production of a piece of academic work and the subsequent assessment of my endeavours.

And I would not be happy otherwise.

I did consider re-producing the 200 Event Cards to a quality standard – they exist as pages of a Word document, and I do have a single deck of cards – but I imagine that the content is likely to change sufficiently that it would be pointless.

Are you really going to have 200 cards? Well, considering that this conflict spanned four decades, received international attention – and funding – as well as resulting in 3,000 direct deaths – possibly 30,000 indirectly – perhaps I may.

So, smaller base counters? Perhaps it is time for the use of tweezers (hoping to secure the Advanced Squad Leader audience). I’m sure that the graphic designer(s) will optimise the map-board (i.e. work their magic) so there’s really no point in constraining myself in a discipline in which I have zero competency.

From a development stand-point, I cannot reiterate how important Google Keep is; how powerful PowerPoint can be.  But Excel has been invaluable in holding Scenario set-up numbers across the various board locations, as well as allowing conditional formulas to trigger Victory Conditions.

Obviously play-testing will help with the product’s balance, its mechanics; with dynamic Victory Conditions – if one hopes to simulate the changing political and ideological aims of a number of parties over a considerable time period – this is and will perhaps prove to be significantly challenging.

And there’s the rub: What will victory mean for either side?

Here is the dilemma with which I am now faced, and one which will present itself to its ‘players’.

Individual deaths, those of the formative months and years – should they be included?  Would it be right to omit them? Is it as morally equivalent to mark a single fatality with a white pawn as it is to do so for multiple murders? Do all Factions lose when a certain amount of innocent civilians are incurred? And how many should be too many? Wasn’t a single fatality one too many?

Should the game end when the Casualty box is full? Should it end when there is a single casualty?

It does not boil down to something as simple as Mechanics or Balance.

There was no analogue in the real world: both paramilitaries ruthlessly killed each other, members of the combined security services, and innocent civilians. British troops were deployed and remained on Northern Irish soil for 30 years and were viewed through the lens of post-colonialism.

‘The Troubles, COIN Series XX’ will – hopefully – encourage Talk, generate debate.

But it will engender Collaboration.

And it should deliver Peace.

The Troubles Board

Thank you for your considerable effort Hugh in thinking through this terrible conflict and attempting to bring it forward as a playable simulation of the horrors of this type of war in a very elegant and thoughtful manner. I can tell that you have sat up nights thinking about how to portray the more nasty and raw parts of the conflict, and whether you should even proceed with the design at all, but I for one am grateful that you so endeavor as the only way that we will learn from our mistakes and tragedies such as those that have plagued “The Troubles” is to discuss them, and look for the root causes and try to understand why we as humans deal with disagreement the way that we do.

I know that this game is still early in development and playtesting is just now starting, but I am looking forward to it as it will be one that is very different than other COIN Series games that I have played. Keep your eyes on this one and I hope that Hugh is able to sign this with a publisher soon so I can then get into the details of the design with him on a designer interview.