A few years ago, we hosted a 3-part series on an upcoming game called The Troubles: Shadow War in Northern Ireland 1964-1998 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 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 one of our designer interviews and he was more than willing to answer our questions. The game is not yet published was just recently announced on pre-order over at the Compass Games website: if you are interested you can review the game on the pre-order page at the following link: https://www.compassgames.com/product/the-troubles-shadow-war-in-northern-ireland-pay-later/

Grant: First off Hugh please tell us a little about yourself. What are your hobbies? What’s your day job?

Hugh: I live in Port Glasgow, on the banks of the River Clyde, and I am happily married with two children. I am a Secondary English Teacher at a school nearby – twenty minutes uphill on my mountain bike (which I am to undertake at least three days a week). I am part of a profession that I feel completely privileged (and fortunate) to be part of; but I wouldn’t necessarily say that I was your ‘typical’ teacher (if there is one).

Primary School (age 5 – 11) was wonderful, and this is where my love of reading (and libraries) was nurtured from a very early age. (My daughter and I are re-reading the Three Investigators series, which were not only well-crafted pieces of junior fiction, but they deliver the necessary nostalgia upon which I really thrive: one should be constantly in touch with their formative years).

However, I hated secondary school; I just wasn’t very good at it, so I often truanted. I did achieve good qualifications.

But not enough to go straight to university; no one in our family – close or extended – had ever had that opportunity; nor did we know of anyone in our community who had done so.

Upon leaving school, I undertook many menial jobs – as well as having spells of unemployment, which did continue later on in life – before saving the necessary funds to attend the local college.

And that is where it all began. My absolute LOVE for learning – and good people like Stephen McCabe, a young lecturer who was actually interested in you as an individual as well as a student. I gained my HND in Computing (yes, I know – a complete opposite field to the one I am now in) then spent a year in Aberdeen (beautiful city: cold, but drier than the West Coast of Scotland) as a Student Software Engineer working on subsea control and data acquisition systems, learning C/C++, Assembler. This four-year degree system offered you a Third Year which was ‘on the job’, like a mini-apprenticeship.

After graduating with a BSc in Software Engineering, I spent some more years between Glasgow and Aberdeen as an increasingly well-paid Software Engineer; and during this period, I undertook a Postgraduate Diploma in Computing, and a BA (Hons.) In English Literature – the bug had certainly bit.

After some time in the early 2000’s I was a volunteer tutor at the ‘Big Plus’, a local literacy programme to support adults in this and Numeracy. I also learned that even the highly-qualified can be made redundant and experience difficult periods of unemployment. (I view every experience as a learning experience: for me, I was lucky enough to knowledge and skills which eventually lifted out of what can be a Kafka-esque scenario of inescapable unemployment, and often poverty. And as a teacher, I try and imbue a desire and resilience in my students that I had to forge in myself, and which I still rely on.)

It was during this point I realised that I enjoyed supporting others by using the skills that I possessed – English (the I.T. was helpful too) – so I decided to become an English Teacher, and I have been ever since 2005. (I studied to more Postgraduate Diplomas, and earned a Master’s Degree in E-Learning from Edinburgh University, which has since been internationally peer-reviewed and published as a *real* academic paper).

It was in 2015 where I chanced upon this ‘world of cardboard’; in 2019 I came into contact with Volko Ruhnke. And the rest, as they say, is (literally) history.

Grant: What motivated you to break into game design? What have you enjoyed most about the experience thus far?

Hugh: I can honestly say that it was serendipitous the moment I decided to approach the design that ultimately became The Troubles.

My Master’s Degree utilised a digital simulation called Mars Colony Challenger (MCC) to examine how tools such as it could increase student engagement and thus enhance their creative writing. Successful as it was – albeit it was a small empirical study – the key element emerging directly (and indirectly during the literature review) was the efficacy of story – narrative – in any game: whether it meant that students were better engage in the associated learning activity, or whether the story helped them to retain subject knowledge (e.g. Science) for longer.

And it wasn’t just pre-defined stories: it was the co-created and emergent narratives created by the students themselves, in both their spoken as well as their written activities.

I began to look at a range of games after an academic conference in Glasgow, 2015. Before this time, board games to me were ‘Scrabble’ and ‘Monopoly’. I had used Silent Hunter II prior to MCC, and noted the immense possibilities for teachers across the curriculum to use such an application.

So I began with Paths of Glory, Advanced Squad Leader (ASL), A Distant Plain… I love the technical depth of ASL, and the historical modules especially: the maps, the accompanying historical notes, etc. For me, it is the attempt at historical detail, the narrative context.

I would begin communicating with the wonderful Volko Ruhnke very soon after, I had discovered A Distant Plain; the card-driven element of the COIN system was, for me, quintessential.

What have enjoyed most? I enjoy the challenge, the process; the moments where I learn something new or solve a niggling issue. When I received my Master’s parchment amid the pomp of ceremony, I could not help feel a sense of anti-climax. And I could not (and cannot) afford to finance a PhD or Doctoral Studies that would help me develop game studies as a practising classroom teacher, which I think would be a unique position to be in. So in a way, this design and development work was the informal continuation of my educational research.

Grant: What designers have influenced your style?

Hugh: As I have said, I am very much new to this amazing world, which is replete with so many talented and kind individuals across the globe. Volko Ruhnke and Jason Carr were very supportive of my efforts during the earlier stages. But my ‘style’ is very much based upon the rich literary experiences that I have had since I was pre-school; for me I am constantly thinking about the various possible emergent narrative(s) that would be co-constructed by the players, as they survey the map, reveal a Narrative Event Card, etc. The design was influenced by early feedback from Padraic Burke’s playtesting and his sustained commentary; immensely supportive (and patient!)

Grant: What do you find most challenging about the design process? What do you feel you do really well?

Hugh: Challenging? The numbers. Back in 1995, in a little hut at the end of my family home, I ‘learned by rote’ the propositional and predicate calculus needed to gain the ’B’ in the Formal Methods part of my final Computing Science degree course. I have never been good at basic math; I would like to think my forte was English. But I could say that, like everything in life – and something that I endeavour to instil in my own students – you can succeed if you are unafraid of making mistakes, learning from them, and trying again – resilience!

Grant: What is your upcoming game The Troubles: Shadow War in Northern Ireland about?

Hugh: It is an historical simulation of the period of conflict that gripped Northern Ireland from the 1960’s until the late 1990’s.

The Troubles is a 1- to 6-player board game depicting Paramilitary and Security Force conflict foregrounded by political affairs in Northern Ireland. Each player takes the role of a Faction seeking to guide Northern Irish affairs to a status of Peace: the British Forces (including the UDR), the Royal Ulster Constabulary (the RUC was the Government security force), the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA), the Loyalist Paramilitaries (LOY), the Nationalist (NAT) politicians or the Unionist (UNI) politicians.

Using military, political, and economic actions and exploiting various events, players build and manoeuvre forces to influence or control the electorate, or otherwise achieve their Faction’s aims. A deck of cards regulates turn order, events, victory checks, and other processes. The rules can run non-player Factions, enabling solitaire, 2-player, or multi-player games.

Grant: What is your overall design goal with the game? Why have you felt compelled to design this simulation?

Hugh: The overall design goal is to inform its owners and participants of the lesser known events which constitute the conflict in Northern Ireland, and that the seeds of the Troubles go back even farther than 1964 – hundreds of years farther.

I have been compelled to design this simulation because I think that it has an important story to tell; it is a significant part of the West’s history. I did not go looking for this subject; it found me.

Once The Troubles is complete, I should have gained a better understanding of the process so that I can use these skills and knowledge to undertake similar or smaller scale developments in my daily practice, and which can be targeted towards specific curricular areas other than English and Literacy. I hope to be positioned such as to be able to scale this particular design to fit certain student age groups and help to mediate on similar projects that have a sound educational aim.

Grant: What would you say to someone that thinks this is a topic that shouldn’t be made into a playable game?

Hugh: I would ask, What topics of history are permissible? And why?

Northern Ireland had a Civil Rights Movement that drew inspiration from the U.S. Selma Marches. Four decades of political, ideological, economical and sectarian conflict led to the British Army’s longest deployment in its history. It involved nations as disparate as Iran and the USA. It certainly factored in the election of Britain’s first female Prime Minister. It witnessed Internment, curfew, hunger strikes. It saw a sovereign state, Great Britain, face the European Courts of Human Rights on charges of torture. It saw the deaths of three and a half thousand individuals. The British Government is still facing allegations of collusion with terrorist organisations. And it saw Peace brought through international co-operation.

All of these incidents are well-documented, but do passive mediums – films, books, academic papers – allow their participants to simply “pay lip service” or to adopt a veneer of both the knowledge and moral understanding of a context?

Do we risk reductionism when confronting the conflict in Northern Ireland?

Boardgames and table-top simulations allow people to actively engage with a subject matter, not only intellectually but also morally.  Don’t they provide participants with rich, engaging, and challenging opportunities for reflexive learning?

I can comfortably say that I have undertaken this entire project with complete objectivity and the right intentions; that my educational pedigree gives the whole design and implementation the imprimatur it warrants.

By tackling the Troubles, this particular project has the opportunity to become a vanguard for other similar periods of history to be examined, and perhaps better understood, through the medium of table-top simulation.

Here is a recent conflict, which over time, will fade from memory, as will ideas and events as they coalesce into an accepted, popularised narrative. It should not be ignored because it evokes strong feelings, divides opinion or makes us feel uncomfortable.

Isn’t that what the critical study of History is meant to teach us – make us feel?

Grant: What was your initial inspiration for the system in the game? Why did you feel that was most appropriate for your story?

Hugh: Someone once said, If you want to be a great guitarist, don’t listen to other guitarists. Apocryphal as it may be, I’ll be completely honest in saying that between 2015 and 2019 I looked at only a couple of games and genres: I don’t have that much time in my life for gaming.

Luckily, I did stumble upon GMT’s COIN Series.

Something about Northern Ireland, I thought, deserved its place astride Vietnam and Afghanistan. Why? It was a period of conflict that saw the British Army deployed for its longest time in its military history, on British streets, covering four decades, with completely Western foes. And it was an event that, as it is to many, is really only known for the abhorrent headlines.

Grant: How would you explain how a multi faction game plays out before the players?

Hugh: The Troubles is a 1- to 6-player asymmetric area control simulation depicting Political, Paramilitary and Security Force conflict in Northern Ireland. Each player takes the role of a Faction seeking to guide Northern Irish affairs to a status of Peace: the British Forces (including the UDR), the Royal Ulster Constabulary (the RUC was the Government security force), the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA), the Loyalist Paramilitaries (LOY), the Nationalist (NAT) politicians or the Unionist (UNI) politicians.

Northern Ireland is partitioned into the Six Counties, which are further subdivided politically and ideologically into Westminster Parliamentary Seats: each County Seat represents a Member of Parliament in the British Government. The NAT and UNI are engaged in control of each of these seats through political manoeuvres; initially, there are 12 but this number is increased to 17 in 1983, and then 18 in 1997.

Using military, political, and economic actions and exploiting various events, players build and manoeuvre forces to influence or control the electorate, or otherwise achieve their Faction’s aims. A deck of Narrative Event Cards regulates turn order, events, victory checks, and other processes, as well as weaving the rich narrative backdrop against which the action takes place; a collection of playable Random Event Chits enable players to introduce the randomness attached to many of the activities of the conflict.

Where it departs from the recognisable, is that it presents a political war inextricably-linked with the martial conflict being played out on the streets and countryside of Northern Ireland, with international support and consequences. It is not purely a battle for area control in an area of the United Kingdom so small that one can traverse from one end to the other in only a couple of hours.

With six factions, it was necessary to split turn-taking into a Two-phased Sequence of Play, during which Factions can pay to jump ahead in the queue of the Faction directly in front of them.

The Special Forces feature allows for more specialised but minimal activity, which – again – aims to replicate the extent to which the IRA and LOY were stretching the resources and efficacy of ordinary soldiers, especially in light of Britain’s relationship with the Republic of Ireland.

Additional randomness is facilitated through the Random Event Chit system.

The ‘fog of war’ created through the ‘SITUATION’ track affects the General Election results. I did not wish for players to simply calculate the entire result of any forthcoming election phase; this would allow for the surprises that often result during elections, demonstrating that external factors such as ‘UK Terror Threat’ and ‘UK Prestige’ have on an electorate.

Grant: What is at the heart of the game and how is the narrative of the 30 years long war told?

Hugh: The story of the Troubles is told politically, militarily, socially, economically and geo-politically. And all through a beautifully-detailed map (all credit to Dohmnall Hegarty – who understood the importance of the symbolism and iconography which had been weaponised by both sides of the sectarian divide), 259 Narrative Event Cards, finely-detailed Political, Militarily and Paramilitary Operations and Special Activities.

And let’s not forget the additional randomness facilitated by the Random Event Chits (many thanks should be extended to Anthony Stanonis).

What will also be revealed are the varying capabilities of each side, mimicking the development of the technologies and working practices of the various organisations.

Grant: What are the different playable factions and what is their motivation in the game?

Hugh: The UNIionist political faction represents the majority of Unionist (Protestant) citizens, and wants to maintain the monopoly of rule that it had in Northern Ireland since its formation in 1922/23. In the first scenario of The Troubles, it has control of all 12 of the Parliamentary County Seats in Westminster.

Here is a link to Part I in a series of posts hosted on The Players’ Aid Blog about the Unionist faction: https://theplayersaid.com/2021/02/12/the-troubles-shadow-war-in-ireland-1964-1998-from-compass-games-meet-the-factions-part-i-the-unionists/

The LOYalist paramilitary faction wishes to remain part of the United Kingdom and will undertake an armed campaign against any other Faction (yes, there will be a Capability that enables the two Political Factions to be targeted) to ensure that the status quo remains.

The IRA is a paramilitary faction with the key aims of: establishing a United Ireland (Home Rule); the removal of British Forces from the entire isle.

Here is a link to Part III covering the Paramilitary factions (Loyalist and IRA): https://theplayersaid.com/2021/04/21/the-troubles-shadow-war-in-northern-ireland-1964-1998-from-compass-games-meet-the-factions-part-iii-the-paramilitaries/

The NATionalist political faction represents the minority of Nationalist (Catholic) citizens, and seeks – at the very least – proportional/Power-Sharing status in Northern Irish politics.

Here is a link to Part II in the series covering the Nationalist faction: https://theplayersaid.com/2021/03/09/the-troubles-shadow-war-in-ireland-1964-1998-from-compass-games-meet-the-factions-part-ii-the-nationalist-parties/

The RUC (Royal Ulster Constabulary) are the security service/police force of Northern Ireland and are used in order to eradicate the paramilitary presence.

The BF (British Forces), initially deployed as an expeditionary force in Northern Ireland, as they were in many of Britain’s colony and territories, are a back-up force for the RUC. They serve the same function as the RUC, but as time progresses – especially when Ulsterisation is in effect – they realise that their presence is jeopardising any progress towards the peace process, and that the UDR should be the main supporting force of the RUC.

Here is a link to Part IV covering the Security forces (RUC and BF): https://www.google.com/amp/s/theplayersaid.com/2021/05/13/the-troubles-shadow-war-in-northern-ireland-1964-1998-from-compass-games-meet-the-factions-part-iv-the-security-forces/amp/

Grant: What opportunities for collaboration and collusion are there between the different factions?

Hugh: There are mechanisms ‘baked in’ to the design that allows players to collaborate; there are Event Cards that enable additional elements of interoperability.

The paramilitary factions exert indirect control and place constraints on the RUC and BF factions, forcing them to target map spaces that have gone from Civil Order to Civil Disorder, in order to exert RUC-BF Control. This forces both of these Factions into a reactionary force as opposed to one that is pro-active.

And the RUC-BF Control Total does have an effect on the Victory Conditions, as this form of ‘police state’ is antithetical to a democratic nation.

Grant: Which are most closely aligned in their goals and methods and which are diametrically opposed?

Hugh: The paramilitaries and the security forces are clearly the most diametrically opposed factions in The Troubles. The NAT and UNI are in opposition, however should Power-Sharing be achieved or arranged then the NAT and UNI share the responsibility for overall government in the North.

The IRA and NAT are closely-related through their primary desire of achieving a United Ireland, but differ in their means. This shared understanding is demonstrated through the option for Factions to conduct the Radicalise and Politicise Operations.

The UNI and LOY factions are ideologically and politically related, however as history has shown the LOY had a considerable affect on – as did its own MPs – destroying aims taken by Unionist Governments that were deemed as being too sympathetic to the Nationalist community; and there is a mechanism within the game which models this inter-party schism.

The BF and RUC are perhaps the two most closely-related Factions, the latter being the default organisation employed to enforce the policing and security operations in Northern Ireland. The UNI government rely on the joint efforts of the BF and RUC; the NAT will only align themselves if/when they achieve Power-Sharing. This demonstrates the evolving nature of the Victory Conditions.

The BF and RUC were historically accused by the Nationalists and the IRA of complicity with the LOY various Loyalist paramilitaries; this mechanism is formally represented through the Collusion feature; the use of IRA informers is also modelled.

Grant: How difficult was it to get these factions correct? How much amalgamation did you have to concede in order to make this framework function?

Hugh: The main amalgamation efforts were made to the paramilitary and political factions (I was able to add the ‘B Specials’ and the UDR ‘sub’ forces of the RUC and BF respectively.) There were a number of Nationalist political factions – often, independent candidates as opposed to main parties such as the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), Sinn Fein, etc. There were a number of Unionist factions, particularly circa the time of the Sunningdale Agreement, where a number of MPs – most notable the Reverence Ian Paisley – split from the ruling Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) to form significantly successful oppositional Unionist parties. NAT and UNI embody all of these political elements, although the ability to have internal dissention – alternate Unionist or Nationalist parties – is modelled.

There were a number of Loyalist paramilitaries – the UVF, UDA, UFF – and these have been embodied in the LOY faction; the IRA faction embodies both the Original and Provisional organisations, as well as an INLA which was in existence.

Grant: There sure are a lot of cards. What role do they play in the game?

Hugh: There are 259, split into ‘epochs’ of which there are eight. What one must remember is that this is a four-decade-long narrative, in which there are six factions acting upon a fairly broad geo-political scale. Someone once said, supportively, that the Narrative Event Card deck cannot simply be a “Top Ten of the Troubles”. This would be a denigration to the memory of everyone affected; to tackle such an importantly sensitive subject matter one has to concede to certain pre-requisites.

I love the learning involved in what is effectively research, and writing up the supporting text that comes with each card often provided me with yet another detail that I knew nothing of, but which was integral to the story, sometimes far-reaching.

For instance, there were two General Elections in 1974 (with the second election in October sowing the seeds for the installation of Margaret Thatcher in 1979!) and it was at this time when the Sunningdale Agreement was implemented: this was an attempt by British, Irish and Northern Irish governments to establish a form of power-sharing government that would be more representative of the communities that it represented. It collapsed a few months later after a sustained campaign of terror by Loyalist paramilitaries.

The eventual peace arrangement, the Good Friday Agreement, has been described as ‘Sunningdale for slow learners’. Originally, there were a couple of Event Cards for the time period between the 1974 February election and the October election; but after reading further about Sunnigdale (and this is what I hope some players will do) it presented itself as requiring further cards so as to allow players to consider the opportunities for peace, circumventing the need for a further 24 years of violence and fatalities.

Grant: What is the process like to create these cards and then somewhat balancing them while retaining the historical feel and context?

Hugh: This is the most interesting aspect: the Narrative Event Card, how it will benefit or hinder faction(s), but also its longer-term impact via the International tracker, which is utilised to affect General Election results, Aid amounts, etc.

Placing the Faction logos at the top of each Narrative Event Card helped to give an immediate visual feedback to me as the designer, but it will also serve the players too with regards to each signalling a card’s positive (or otherwise!) influence on a particular Faction(s).

Grant: Can you show us the player mats and explain how each factions may differs?

Hugh: Here are the Player Mats. Beautiful, aren’t they? (Dohmnall!)

There are obvious differences between the paramilitary factions and the security factions – the BF have unlimited resources, and the RUC benefit from a similar arrangement when Direct Rule is imposed; the NAT do lag behind the UNI with respect to political influence power.

Grant: What are the differing victory conditions for the factions? How hard was this to create and how difficult was it to maintain a playable simulation?

Hugh: The UNI faction want to maintain the majority of political power, but need the RUC and BF to achieve their victory conditions. The NAT aims to achieve Power-Sharing or a majority rule in Norther Ireland.

The RUC and BF simply aim to remove the IRA and LOY, ensuring that each County Seat in Northern Ireland returns to a state of ‘Civil Order’.

The IRA and the LOY aim to inflict sufficient Economic Damage that will force the British Government to instruct Direct Rule in Northern Ireland.  What is interesting is that should Direct Rule be triggered, neither the RUC or BF and both political factions can achieve their Victory Conditions: Northern Ireland has failed to provide the necessary security and policing for its citizens in the face of the domestic terror inflicted by both the IRA and the LOY.

The IRA want to remove the BF forces and bases from the map.

But the IRA and LOY also want to achieve Peace.

The main difficulties are that most of the victory conditions are predicated by those of other factions; and as time progresses, the victory conditions change – e.g. when the ‘Armalite & Ballot Box’ Capability is enabled, the IRA’s victory condition changes to include a political element, and cannot win through an economic war alone.

Grant: What type of experience does this game create for the players?

Hugh: It should not be an enjoyable one. But I can guarantee that it will be an richly-intriguing experiencing every visit to the table; one which I hope will encourage players and owners to read about this conflict – as I did!

I hope that what this does is to force players to consider their own moral decisions and those of the factions that they represent when they undertake albeit simulated actions, some of which will be in an urban setting. For example, Imprisonment and Internment are Special Activities that may be prioritised over (armed) Engagements with their paramilitary opponents; this conflict differs from other in that there are civilian costs to consider.

It will be interesting to discover the many possible ahistorical outcomes that will result from conducting games where the Narrative Event Cards are shuffled, and not played in chronological order; although I do envisage that – with the number of factions available –even multiple replays in chronological order will produce is sufficient randomness to generate interesting experiences.

Grant: How much of the game is focused on teaching the reasons for the conflict versus explaining the situation?

Hugh: The period that was ‘the Troubles’ is widely regarded as commencing in the late 1960s, when violence was escalating and the ‘Battle of the Bogside’ was followed by the deployment of British Troops in that same August of 1969. But the seeds of division were sown earlier in the island’s history – as far back as the 17th Century.

However, I intended to capture earlier events that I think – and other authors and academics have posited similar theories – were pivotal moments to what would become a conflict spanning thirty years.

With any narrative, there is always an exposition – a beginning. I, like most, began in 1969, but quickly found myself going back farther. There was the formation of the modern version of the Ulster Volunteer Force in 1966. I learned about their sustained bombing campaign of utilities plants around Belfast. But why? The IRA had ‘retired’ their Border Campaign by 1962, so they were not the target. Who was? Their Unionist brethren in the monopoly Government.

For a long time the ‘The Hand of Friendship’ was the first Narrative Event Card. Here’s an excerpt from the accompanying historical background:

This card relates to the activities conducted by Terence O’Neill and Jack Lynch in an aid to the strengthening of relations between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, as the former understood that his economic reforms required the inclusion of the disenfranchised Nationalist community. This was the first meeting between the two heads of state since 1925, shortly after Northern Ireland was partitioned into the Six Counties: Antrim, Armagh, Down, Fermanagh, Derry/Londonderry and Tyrone. Terence O’Neill’s apparent concessions were as threatening to the Union with Great Britain and would ultimately lead to his recognition in response to a sustained paramilitary campaign by the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF).

Eventually it was replaced by ‘The Campaign for Social Justice’, which, to me, marks the key moment of the narrative of The Troubles.this was the beginning of the Nationalist minority’s challenge to the 50-plus years of Unionist dominance and discrimination.

Both of these cards provide the two fronts that the Loyalists feared would lead to a United Ireland and a split with United Kingdom: a weak Unionist Government, and an educated Nationalist (Catholic) movement.

I should also note that key theme that players should experience is the sheer dominance that the Unionist party (and even the splinter parties) had in the politics of Northern Ireland; this is mirrored by the infinite and limitless Resources held by the combined BF and RUC Factions.

Grant: How are Electorates handled and how do Election Cards effect the turns?

Hugh: The map is divided into 12 Parliamentary Seats – or County Seats. Each Seat has an Electoral Value of 1 to 5 (based on the population of adults entitled to vote).

The total Electoral Value across the Map is 25, and therefore victory is not guaranteed just by the number of Seats controlled; Majority Rule may be achieved by securing >50% the of Electoral Value Total.

Each County Seat has a NAT ‘0’ and a UNI ‘0’. These fields are the Electoral Influence fields and will contain the value ‘0’ or a counter bearing one value from 1 to 7. This value is known as the Electoral Influence and when players begin from an established scenario set-up, they are using historically-accurate values that have been scaled for the purposes of the game.

The NAT and UNI are assigned cubes and discs. Each cube is worth 1 Political Influence; discs are worth 2.

In order to reduce the footprint of faction pieces, when setting up, instead of placing a cube(s) onto the map, they are moved from the Available Political Influence to the Political Influence are of the Player Board; the faction increments each County Seat’s Political Influence space accordingly.  

As the NAT or UNI Faction place cubes from their Available Political Influence onto the map, the Electoral Influence field in the targeted County is incremented; when cubes are removed from a County Seat, the Political Influence value for that seat is decremented and the cube is returned to the Player Board’s Available Influence area.

Grant: How much of the action is paramilitary versus outright battles?

Hugh: I would say that there is a fair balance between political and physical battles.

The paramilitary actions are carried out through Narrative Event Cards, the Random Event Chit system, and Operations and Special Activities. This was never to be simply a ‘war of attrition’. Economic targets are perhaps as equally important to the IRA than the BF or RUC factions’ materiel.

I would say that the Political Factions have been the most difficult to model, but also the most important and interesting.  The Political thread that weaves through this title will, I hope, be the most surprising and rewarding; I think that it should also reveal to players how complex the situation really was and what were the many factors influencing decisions at the time – as they themselves will be faced with tough choices too.

Grant: What lessons have you learned from this design process?

Hugh: Don’t send out physical prototypes TOO early. However, as with any experience, there’s always a learning opportunity. Calandale’s brief review of what he received, generated some debate in the ‘Comments’ section of the video which enabled some dialogue that was useful. And have a muse; I had two, actually: Howard Avis and Padraig Burke. Two phenomenally intelligent individuals.

It is also important to find a gifted and kind designer like Vez Arponen who will prepare the VASSAL module for you, which not only facilitates international play-test, the graphical features allow the preparation of play-throughs, screen-shots for inclusion in the accompanying documentation.

Grant: What are you most pleased with about the design and your approach to the subject?

Hugh: Dohmnall Hegarty has remained on board, after all the wonderful work that he has put in. The look and feel – the overall aesthetic is…just right. I keep going on about it, but the Narrative is the most important aspect. Yes I am pleased with some tweaks, quirks implemented in the mechanics. And what I have learned: this was one of my key aims – What can I learn about the subject? What can I learn about game design?

Of particular note was the design involved in developing both Political Factions. I really like the ability to model internal Opposition (as was the case for considerable years within the Ulster Unionist Party) and the splinter parties that often evolved from dissent. This provides the UNI Faction with a political war on two fronts, not just with the NAT faction.

But, overall, I am pleased with the kind support from everyone within the community (especially The Player’s Aid).

Grant: What other projects are you working on at this time?

Hugh: A prequel is in the very early stages of design; the working title is ‘1912: Hope or History’ and will cover the period in British-Irish Politics between 1885 and 1922.

Staying with History, I’d like to return to a previous curriculum development, which I touched on earlier, and adapting the materials that I produced in conjunction with the use of ‘Silent Hunter II’, looking at using the old ‘Submarine’ and ‘Wolfpack’ games as well as the newer ‘Uboot’, ‘The Hunters’ / ‘The Hunted’… And as an avid fan of science fiction and all things relating to space exploration, ‘Stellarium’, ‘High Frontier’, ‘Space Corp’ – all of these are in the frame as possible candidates to support some learning experience that would suit a curricular area in Science.

I want to spend some time learning ‘Go’ and ‘Mahjong’ so that I can play them with my 6 year-old daughter, who is showing an interest in gaming through ‘The Climbers’, ‘Jenga’ and ‘Elementos’.

Thanks for your time in answering our questions as well as for your courage to take on this project and tell the story that needed to be told. I believe that you have approached this subject with honesty and with eyes wide open to be able to see all sides and tell their narrative through the game. I am very excited to see this published and to get it to my table to play and explore. Thanks for your time in sharing this game as it has developed over the past few years.

If you are interested in The Troubles: Shadow War in Northern Ireland 1964-1998 you can pre-order a copy for $85.00 from the Compass Games website at the following link: https://www.compassgames.com/product/the-troubles-shadow-war-in-northern-ireland-pay-later/?sfw=pass1627851070

-Grant