We have been covering the design and development of a multi-faction treatment of the Northern Ireland Conflict called The Troubles: Shadow War in Northern Ireland 1964-1998 for nearly 2 years now as we have hosted a few different items from designer Hugh O’Donnell on the blog including a 3-part series of introductory posts explain the game and its historical background. We have also hosted several Event Card Spoilers showing some of the many cards continued in the game. The game is an asymmetric treatment where multiple factions work toward victory in a simulation of events, both historical and political, that promulgated this 30 years struggle.

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?

The designer has worked hard to make this a learning experience where players will attempt to understand the motivations behind the various actors in the drama and how they each go about reaching their stated goals. While this is a game, it is more than that and should be viewed as a teaching tool that will help us all better understand the why’s and wherefore’s involved. In this new series of posts, Hugh will go into each of the playable factions and their role in the struggle.

The Factions

Amalgamating the various splinter groups affiliated with the paramilitary groups, and the numerous political organisations, 8 specific organisations are represented by 6 Player Factions.

There appear to be three distinct strands: two paramilitary forces, two security/police forces, and two political forces. However, and historically, the divisions blur to the point that to this day there remain accusations and counter-accusations relating to collusion and conspiracies even within the British State.

What sets this apart from other similar titles is the fluidity of the Victory Conditions and the opportunities for collaboration and collusion which provide historic and ahistorical situations and outcomes.

The UNI Player

From the partitioning of Northern Ireland in 1922, the Unionist Party had occupied the 12 Westminster Parliamentary Seats, gaining a complete monopoly in 1964. (Compare this to 2020 where there is an almost equal split of the new 18 Seat arrangement.)

The Ulster Unionist Party was led by Sir Terence O’Neill until he was forced to resign in 1969 after a sustained bombing campaign orchestrated by the Ulster Volunteer Force, and a series of high-profile resignations from his cabinet, both viewed O’Neill’s conciliatory stance towards the Nationalist community and the Republic of Ireland as a slide towards a United Ireland. And we also had the charismatic Dr. Ian Paisley, leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, one of a number of fragmented Unionist parties.

However, for simplicity, the UNI is simply an amalgamation of these conflicting views on Unionism.

Figure 1: UNI Player Mat

In 1964, the power of the Unionist Party (UNI) can be measured not only by the fact that it held all 12 County Seats, but also by the gulf between it and the Nationalist Party (NAT) across the majority of the Electoral Ratios.

Figure 2: UNI Political Dominance in North, South and East Belfast

It has a close relationship with the RUC – its policing ‘arm’, fending off its LOY and IRA opposition – as it desires to hold its political monopoly, holding back an ever-present spectre Direct Rule, which becomes ever more a possibility when it calls for assistance from wider afield – the British Forces.

However, the dual fulcrum of Opposition and Civil Disorder can see its power removed and Direct Rule imposed by London. Power-Sharing may appease the NAT Faction – and only the IRA when its ideology changes – but it may anger the LOY, who can affect the grassroots Support / Opposition of its supposedly Unionist brotherhood; the Support/Opposition mechanism facilitates this Unionist schism.

Figure 3: UNI and NAT Seats at Westminster circa 1971

Above all, the Unionists want Civil Order…and complete control. Each County Seat has a counter that indicates with political party holds that Seat in the Westminster Parliament; this is also reflected in the Westminster space as a Green or Orange Pawn. The County Seat will also indicate Support or Opposition (this mechanism will also support modelling internal divisions, which certainly presented themselves during the early to late 1970s).

Figure 4: UNI and NAT Political Play

The margin of the result of the previous election is indicated by two numeric values – the Electoral Influence. During Scenario setup, when an Electoral Influence value is set for each County Seat, the corresponding value is placed in the Electoral Influence Played (shown as ‘Electoral Ratio Influence’ temporarily) section of the Player Card; this is to minimize the ‘clutter’ on the board. Where an Electoral Influence is >= 2, one Base only is placed.

Available Influence relates to political ability not yet invested/spent across the political map.

During Political Operations and Special Activities, cubes and Bases are added to County Seats. These will have an immediate effect on the County’s Electoral Influence value. Whenever a cube or base is removed, the Electoral Influence for the County it was removed from is adjusted accordingly and the cube(s) or base(s) it placed in the Available Influence. In any turn, place Electoral Influence up to the sum of its Bases there plus the space’s Electorate value (the numeric value encircled on each County Seat area).

Political Factions may transfer Political Influence between County Seats when there is insufficient Available Influence. Moving Political Influence has the effect of reducing one County Seat’s Electoral Influence and by one or more values, and then taking the corresponding cubes from the Electoral Influence area of the Player Board and placing it on the destination Seat.

Thanks for this great insight into the UNI Faction. Hugh will be working on similar style articles on the other factions in the game over the next few weeks in a run up to the Kickstarter campaign launch soon but more on that later.