A few months ago, we hosted a 3-part series on an upcoming COIN Series inspired game called The Troubles which deals with the struggle in Northern Ireland. Through that process I came to appreciate the designer Hugh O’Donnell’s take on this difficult conflict and really felt he was going about dealing with the nature of this bloody war as tactfully as possible as well as simultaneously providing some enlightenment and understanding about some of the issues.

Here are links to those three posts:

Part 1 – Uncomfortable questions about a game on this subject

Part 2 – Look at the map and the process behind it’s creation and genesis of events

Part 3 – Design progress to date and what “victory” looks like?

After those posts were received well, we asked Hugh if he would be interested in doing a series of Event Card spoilers for the game. The game is not yet published and has just started playtesting so there is a long road yet to travel but we thought an early look would be a good thing.

*Please keep in mind that the artwork and layout of these cards is not yet finalized and is only for playtest purposes at this point. Also, as this game is still in development, card details may still change prior to publication.

The Troubles - SAS - Peter Cleary Card #108#108 SAS – Peter Cleary

7 January 1976. Harold Wilson, on behalf of the British Government, publicly announced that events in Northern Ireland predicated the introduction of new measures and that he would be deploying the SAS.

The Special Air Service (SAS) are an elite military body founded in 1941 during the Second World War and are highly-renowned soldiers that undertake counter-terrorism, hostage rescue and other – and often covert – specialist activities.

Ostensibly, Wilson was deploying these special forces for reconnaissance and intelligence gathering: the violence was becoming more sectarian, with ‘tit for tat’ killings no more brutally evident than in the Reavey-O’Dowd Killings, and the Kingsmills Incident (featured as Event Cards).

South Armagh, a fiercely Republican area and known colloquially as ‘Bandit Country’, borders the Republic of Ireland and thus facilitates easy evasive practices and operational activities by the IRA. In addition to presenting a populace where winning ‘hearts and minds’ was improbable, it also provided a thin tissue upon which the combined armed security forces of Britain and Northern Ireland tread, where at any moment the sovereignty of The Republic of Ireland would be besmirched.

This fragile Anglo-Irish relationship is represented as one of many mechanical features within ‘The Troubles’ and will invariably oscillate between degrees of support and opposition as it did during the thirty years of strife. And in 1976, three such events involving the SAS jeopardised the political relationship that was instrumental in the mid-1980s in ploughing the furrows that would eventually see the early shoots of hope and peace.  I will focus on the second incident: the first person to be killed by the SAS in Northern Ireland since Wilson’s address.

Peter Cleary (26) was a Staff Officer with the 1st Batallion of the South Armagh Provisional IRA and was on the run, over the border in the Republic of Ireland when he was arrested by a number of SAS. While awaiting helicopters to arrive from Bessbrook and transport Cleary for questioning, it is alleged that he was fatally shot three times whilst trying to escape his guard; this is disputed by witnesses who stated that the 26 year old was subjected to physical assault before simply being shot.

What this incident entails for The Troubles is the introduction of mechanics to simulate covert and intelligence-oriented activities that were essential in preventing further bloodshed and winning the war on terror. As well as these operational elements, it should also model the political pressures that were manifest through the use of clandestine and covert forces and measures, which ultimately jeopardise peaceful collaboration by threatening to respect another nation’s sovereignty.

It is planned to introduce three octagon pieces into the game: one tan to represent the SAS (British Forces); one blue to represent Northern Ireland’s Special Branch; and a green Republic of Ireland’s Garda Special Branch, which was essential in stemming the flow of IRA operatives across its borders, fearing the cataclysms of the North spilling into the Republic.

In the case of Peter Cleary, the SAS waited until he had secretly returned to Armagh before arresting him at his girlfriend’s house. Such prudence was lacking in the other two incidents, which were not only politically embarrassing for Her Majesty’s Government, but they culminated in criminal trials and jeopardised the participation of one of the key member states in brokering peace in Northern Ireland.

The Troubles Peter Cleary
Peter Cleary picture taken on an unknown date.

You can catch up on the series to date by following these links:

#34 Provisional IRA Formed

#63 Four Square Laundry/MRF

#24 RTÉ Television Centre Attack

#122 Brighton Hotel Bombing

As always thank you Hugh for this great insight into the history behind the game and the salient issues. One of things that draws me to these COIN Series games is the learning of something about history and this game is going to shed some really interesting light on the subject for many who do not know much about the details.

-Grant