The COIN Series is a very popular series that has had some good longevity and growing interest even after 10+ years on the scene. The system deals with counterinsurgency across many different conflicts, historical periods and even different methodologies to model revolution and counter revolution. There are currently 10 published volumes with an additional 5 that have been announced and are in different stages of design and development. 2 of those volumes have added expansions (Falling Sky with Ariovistus and Fire in the Lake with Fall of Saigon and Sovereign of Discord) and there are other expansions for more popular volumes on the horizon. In 2023, we should see at least 2 of those announced volumes be released in People Power and Red Dust Rebellion.
The system is well respected and recently has even been gaining some ground in the traditional board gaming world with coverage from several large outlets including Watch It Played and Rodney Smith, who has at least 2-3 games of COIN going at any one time, amongst several others. The system is a gateway between the traditional board gaming world and that of historical simulations. It uses colorful wooden bits to represent forces on the board including troops, police, underground cells, bases, castles, casinos, weapon caches and plunder. The game uses area movement and at its heart is an area control/area influence style wargame where each faction has their own unique asymmetric victory conditions and menu of actions. About 2 years ago, a new format was announced for the COIN Series with the Multi-Pack. These Multi-Packs are quadrigames that focus on four similar style counterinsurgency efforts in various parts of the world that have a thematic connection. The first announced Multi-Pack was The British Way: Counterinsurgency at the End of Empire which deals with the British and their efforts to put down revolution across their colonial empire over the period of the late 1940’s through the early 1960’s. Included in this volume are games covering Palestine, Malaya, Cyprus and Kenya and each has their own board, their own unique set of rules and their own individual thesis about the effort. These British counterinsurgency campaigns take place during the process of decolonization immediately following World War II and include campaigns against larger insurgencies that sought to contest territory and topple colonial rule through armed conflict such as in Kenya and Malaya, but also smaller and more clandestine armed groups that sought to wear down British prestige to force a withdrawal as in Cyprus and Palestine. Recently, we received an advance copy of The British Way and have played 1 game of Palestine and I wanted to share my first impression thoughts on the changes to the system and its accessibility.
I say this tongue in cheek but these little games feel like “Baby COIN”. They feel this way for a few reasons. One being their focus on just 2-players and the other in their size and clever use of the same pieces and counters across all four of the games. The British Way is everything that I have come to expect from the COIN Series with asymmetry, great events, tough choices, moral dilemmas in carrying out your more less than palatable Sabotage and Terror Actions and difficult to achieve victory conditions. The only thing that is missing really is the dynamic between multiple factions controlled by multiple players. This is where COIN shines in my opinion. The inter-factional dynamics keep the game tense and players on the edge of their seats as they sweat the next Event Card to be revealed or whether their ally will follow through with their commitments. The negotiation between factions is always one of the highlights for me as you try to work with your frenemy to ask for help, or at worst to not intercede before you can do what it is that you are trying to pull off. These smaller games are made for just 2-players and this aspect is missing.
The size of the games included is also diminutive. The game boards for each game in the Multi-Pack are all 17″ x 22″ so the same size as the board found in Cuba Libre. The reason for this is that all of these conflicts were fought over fairly small geographic areas compared to other larger games in the series. The smaller footprints are intentional and ensure that the two factions presented are forced to interact and compete over the small numbers of spaces rather than being able to easily avoid each other by building up in their own sections of the board. For example, the Palestine board has just 9 playable spaces, with 3 of those being cities where a lot of the action takes place. There are also 4 different sections of Railways that are also playable spaces that are used mostly by the Irgun insurgency as they occupy them to perform Sabotage to weaken the British Political Will. The British Troops and Police cubes will ultimately move onto those Railways to cleanup the damage done by the insurgents but they will spend most of their time in the cities protecting them from Sabotage and Terror. So, with just 13 total spaces, Palestine is officially tied with Cuba Libre for the fewest spaces in a COIN Series game.
One other aspect that makes the game feel like “Baby COIN” is the relative lack of pieces for either side in the game. As you can see from the British and Irgun Available Forces Boxes, the British have 6 Police Cubes and 12 Troop Cubes for a total of 18 pieces at their disposal while the Irgun have 15 Cells (cylinders) and 5 Arms Caches (discs) for a total of 20 pieces. This means there are never a ton of pieces on the board. Especially with the Irgun and their complex relationship with Haganah, who is the paramilitary armed wing of the Jewish Agency, and the British attempting to arrest and detain insurgents in Prison, they will more than likely have just 11 pieces available during the mid-second Campaign and the third Campaign, but more on this later.
I really like the size and scope of these games and enjoyed our playthrough of Palestine. We have lots to explore and plan to play all four of the games in due time but I think that it is safe to say at this point that this Multi-Pack, while diminutive as compared with the other volumes and some might say a bit cute, offers strategic depth, complex actions and a very interesting challenge for both sides involved. “Baby COIN” is just a nickname that I have given this offering as a term of endearment and would stack this one up against any of the volumes in the COIN Series as a good game.
What is Different?
I know that the question that you are all wanting to have answered is “what is different about this Multi-Pack as compared to other COIN Series games?” and I think that is a very fair question. I will attempt to answer that question in this section and give you at least a taste of what is different. Remember, as I have already explained, this was our first exposure to the game and we only were able to play Palestine so the answer will be from that perspective. I fully expect that we will uncover more unique aspects and elements as we explore the rest of the games included in the Multi-Pack.
One of the biggest changes involves the Initiative Track and how it works with just 2 players. If you are unaware, Brian Train designed Colonial Twilight, which was the first 2-player COIN Series game and for that design he created a modified Initiative Track. As you can see from the picture below, the Initiative Track was designed specifically for 2-players and as such has incorporated a very unique method into its function. Each new round, the FLN (insurgent player – black marker) will start as the 1st Eligible, meaning that they will get the first choice of the actions they will take, until that is they take an action that causes them to lose the Initiative. First off, you will notice that the various spaces are color coded with the 1st and 2nd Eligible boxes. The light tan spaces are similar to the 1st Eligible box, while the darker gray spaces are aligned with the 2nd Eligible box. As long as the Initiative holding player takes a light tan colored action (such as a Limited Op, Pass or Event), they will be 1st Eligible in the next round.
This 2-player Initiative Track concept has not been totally abandoned but just overhauled slightly. After both players have selected and executed their actions, each of the Eligibility cylinders will be moved from the spaces back to the 1st or 2nd Eligible faction. The Eligibility cylinder that is located closest to the left of the Initiative Track will become 1st Eligible, and the other cylinder 2nd Eligible. This was a calculated decision on the designers part to make this Initiative Track matter in the largest way possible. The player that decides to choose the Limited Operation will be guaranteed to be the 1st Eligible on the next card. Also, choosing the full boat, or the Operation & Special Activity guarantees 2nd Eligibility on the next card. I think that the largest change here is that players can choose a box and then decide to voluntarily Pass. In the past, there was a specific Pass Box. This is a great change in my opinion and this is the only way to block Events in the game and makes this Initiative Track very intriguing and I cannot wait to see more in our future plays. It is important to mention here that on a related note, in The British Way only one card is ever showing so you cannot see the next card when taking actions as you could in other volumes in the series. This is a related change to the Initiative Track but really creates a different experience that I enjoyed significantly.
The Victory Conditions have been changed as well to work off of the concept of an overall Political Will Track. There are games in the Multi-Pack that still use the concept of Control, Support and Opposition but they are are funneled into the Political Will Track. Being COIN veterans, as we were setting the game up and noticed there were no Control, Support or Opposition boxes on the map, we were confused as to what our Victory Conditions were. We checked the player aids and they all referred to how to effect the Political Will for both sides, with the Irgun trying to decrease it through Sabotage of Railways, Cities and Sectors and placing Terror in Cities and the British just trying to undo what damage had been done to increase (or rather prevent decrease) Political Will. This took a moment to grasp but once we did, it seemed really new and fresh and made for a simplified path to victory that was easier to grasp.
Ultimately the purpose of the change in these Victory Conditions and the use of the concept of Political Will is that each side has their own motivations here as to what they wish to obtain from the conflict. The insurgent factions are trying to drain British Political Will to apply pressure to the government to give up the fight and eventually leave on terms that the insurgents desire. The British want to demonstrate success against the insurgency in order to increase their Political Will and the support of the local populace and even those back home to ensure an honorable and planned exit from their colonies. These competing ideologies lend their to be two different styles of Political Will Tracks found in the games. In Kenya and Malaya, which we have yet to play, there is a more symmetric track with each side having the goal of pulling Political Will toward their side to achieve a minor or major victory. While in Cyprus and Palestine, the insurgents are tasked with simply wearing down the British Political Will to zero. If they cannot be successful in getting it to zero, then the British will win at the end of the game.
All of the games have the same deck structure. There are three campaigns in each game that consist of 6 Event Cards and 1 Propaganda Card, shuffled in with the bottom 2 Event Cards of each campaign. This means that the game length will be 16 and 18 Event Cards. Due to the fact that each side will always get a turn to activate and take actions, this means that a full game of Palestine, or any of the four games, is roughly equivalent to playing a 36 card multiplayer scenario. This change seems to put a premium on each of your actions though and really makes decisions a lot more important and tighter as you must have a plan and not waste time in executing it.
This is a key difference in The British Way and is divergent from the rest of the COIN Series. Unless otherwise instructed, forces may only be placed from or replaced with those pieces that are located in the Available Boxes.
It is vitally important to remember this…factions while executing an Operation, Special Activity or the text from an Event Card that provides them with the opportunity to place their own forces out on the board, may not take them from elsewhere on the map if the called for force type is not in the Available Box. Unlike other games in the COIN Series, even including two of the games from this Multi-Pack Malaya and Kenya as you can in fact remove pieces from the map when there are none in Available, if there are no pieces in a Faction’s Available Boxes they may not be taken from those on the map to place elsewhere. This is a huge change and really makes it important to protect and maintain your pieces on the board. I found that I had to think twice about doing some of the Irgun Operations and Special Activities as it exposed them to being removed from the board and placed into the Prison Box.
It feels like these changes have sped the game up and made the game seem a bit more visceral as there really is very little wasted time. Players are also right on top of each other from the get-go and it becomes a fight from the moment it starts. The smaller footprints of the boards, and their more simple Operations and Special Activities, make the games in the Multi-Pack a perfect jumping off point for new fans of the COIN Series.
Events Seem More Punishing
I am not prepared to do a thorough review of the Event Cards found in the decks but as we played through Palestine, we observed that the Events were really super charged. Maybe that is because of the way they came up or maybe it is because of the lesser amount of pieces available but some of the Events really take your breath away. There are types of Events that allow multiple Operations in the same turn, or even allow Operations to be done without some pre-requisites but the ones that seemed to hurt the worst were the ones that simply removed pieces from the board. I can tell you as the Irgun, I had to work really hard to get some of my pieces onto Railways, into Cities or even to have Weapon Caches placed on the board and a few times Alexander took Events that simply removed several from the board. It was very painful but is a great part of the COIN Series and players have to anticipate and even do what they can to minimize those negative effects. As mentioned previously, moving onto the Event Box and not taking the Event but Passing is the only way to avoid the negative effects of a particularly nasty Event Card. This doesn’t feel great to do, as you are using one of your scarce and important turns, but sometimes you will just have to bite the bullet and do it or suffer the consequences.
Capabilities also were something that we debated as to whether they were important or not due to the relative shortness of the game. If you remember, certain Event Cards provide either side with the opportunity to have a Capability. A Capability is a lasting effect that provides a benefit to various Operations or Special Activities when taken while holding the Capability. They also might even limit what the opposing faction can do with their actions. We have always had a motto in COIN about Capabilities. Take them early in the game, so that your investment of a turn has time to pay off in the long run. In The British Way, with just 16-18 turns, it is very hard to waste a turn taking a Capability Event. We didn’t take any in our play but thought long and hard about it as there are several that are very good. It is all about timing and when the Capability Event Cards come out that will be the deciding factor as to whether you take them or not. But, this is a decision that you cannot take likely but must weigh the benefit against the cost. Great part of this one as it added some additional tough decision points.
Irgun Insurgency has to Focus on the Haganah Track
The two clandestine terrorist organizations, EOKA in Cyprus and Irgun in Palestine, go about their business of insurgency very differently from existing insurgent factions in the other COIN Series games. This is mainly due to the concept of trying to reduce British Political Will to zero as their Victory Condition. They are different because they are forced to be due to several reasons including the lack of a glut of Available Pieces in the game but also because they are simply trying to perform Sabotage and Terror attacks on Railways and in Cities to drain this Political Will. Their launching of Terror attacks becomes problematic due to their compatriot terror organization in Haganah. In Palestine, there were three main Jewish insurgent groups combating British rule, including the Haganah, Irgun, and Lehi. Haganah, the largest group, switched between cooperation and conflict with Britain and the two smaller terrorist groups. They are represented by the Haganah Track in the game as well as through the effects of certain Events. The player faction called the Irgun is actually a combination of Irgun and the far smaller Lehi. Due to this being just a 2-player game, and for simplicities sake, the designer made the decision to merge these efforts and call them Irgun.
So why did I bring this up? Well, one of the most important aspects of the game is the Haganah Track. This Track represents the relationship and current status between Haganah and the Irgun and British. At the start of the game, it begins in the 4 space named Coordinate of the Track which means that the two insurgent organizations are on the same page and working together to overthrow British rule. While in this position, the Irgun receive the special benefit of getting to add an additional space to any Operation or Limited Operation. This can be really important to the Irgun at the start of the game as they need to get as many of their forces onto the board as possible, move them around onto Railways and into Cities so they can take Sabotage Operations and Terror Special Activities. This benefit means they can do these actions in one additional space on the board. At no cost. Just put out an additional Cell into an additional space beyond the normal limit of 3 spaces. Travel from an additional origin space beyond the normal limit of 3 spaces. Perform Sabotage in an additional space beyond the normal limit of 3 spaces. Just one more space makes such a huge difference. And this benefit is granted by the position of the Haganah Track. You will also notice at the bottom of space 4 and 3 (Coordinate and Support) that there are red spaces matching the Irgun Cells and Arm Caches. If the Track is at the 4 space on the Track, the Irgun have access to all 15 of their Cells and 5 of their Arms Caches. But if it drops to 3, they lose access to to 2 Cells and 1 Arms Cache and if it drops below 3, they lose and additional 3 Cells. This is just brutal and really will limit the Irgun’s ability to do their task of dropping Political Will.
This makes this Track a target for the British and they will do anything they can to take an Event that will enable them to lower that Track or do their Negotiate Special Activity, which requires the roll of a d6 and a result higher than the current status of the Track. There are about a half dozen Events that decrease it but also when a Terror attack is successful and a 6 is rolled, the Haganah Track will decrease by 1 space. While they are your allies in the fight, Haganah prefer to not do such huge and destructive Terror attacks and when you do that your relationship begins to grow apart and they tend to work more with the British.
You will also notice that at 1, the British will gain 1 Intel Chit when they take Negotiate and also at the end of the Propaganda round and these chits are devastating for Irgun. The British can use them to uncover hidden Cells when they take the Search Operation and remove them from the board. This really makes your life even that much harder as Irgun as you not only don’t have access to your full complement of pieces but the British can get rid of even your most clandestine and hidden elements. This Track is really brutal but was a really interesting addition to the system.
A central theme of Palestine is the role played by the larger more moderate resistance organization, Haganah, during the Jewish insurgency. Haganah begins the game allied to Irgun (the player faction) as part of the United Resistance Movement after WWII, but historically ultimately broke with Irgun over their use of brutal terror attacks that resulted in high civilian casualties, as occurred at the King David Hotel Bombing. This addition to the game was very well done and really creates the feeling of a game within the game. And I like having to worry about multiple things in these games because it increases my engagement, tasks my intellect and creates a lot of tension. Great work with the Haganah Track.
I hope you have enjoyed my quick look at our experience with Palestine in the very unique and innovative implementation of the COIN Series in The British Way. I really like this focus on 4 smaller and thematically linked conflicts and look forward to what other Multi-Packs are announced and come out over the next few years. You probably already know but a few weeks ago, Multi-Pack II was announced called The Guerilla Generation and takes a look at 4 Central/South American insurgencies near the end of the Cold War in El Salvador, Nicaragua, Peru and Uruguay.
If you are interested in The British Way: Counterinsurgency at the End of Empire, you can still order a copy from the GMT Games website at the following link: https://www.gmtgames.com/p-945-the-british-way-counterinsurgency-at-the-end-of-empire.aspx
The detail you go into these reviews and play thru and all you do is amazing you have the time to do so much.
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Thanks Bill. I actually don’t have the time but have to manufacture it by being efficient. I do a lot of sitting in a car waiting for children from school and practices and I fill that time with writing. Also do a kit if this late at night when everyone else is sleeping.
You do Gods work for the game world
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Wow, I’ll echo Bill that this was a great morning read and incredibly thorough in highlighting all the changes. I can’t think of a better summary for helping people decided whether or not The British Way is for them.
One small rules thing I will clarify: In Kenya and Malaya, you can in fact remove pieces from the map when there are none in Available. The note in the rulebook (1.4.1) looks similar to the Palestine/Cyprus one prohibiting it so can be easily overlooked! I think one thing to keep in mind as everyone plays through the pack is that a rule might be different for another game so is always worth checking your first play. To help highlight the differences between the games, we’ve included a summary of differences on the back of the Campaign booklet (though that has not been uploaded to GMT’s site yet).
Thanks for all the thoughtful coverage!
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Thanks for that clarification. I will amend the text. I guess we missed that.
Great extensive (p)review of this quadri COIN game. More than enough depth to tease the players 🤓!
The only negative about this series is the fact they will lack a solo Bot. Jason Carr mentioned this already in his posts.
I can understand this was due to the extra work load needed to develop 4 seperate Bots for each small game in the box.
Since I am a solo player for this kind of thematic games it is a pity as the British subject seems very interesting.
Keep up the excellent reporting.
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I get it. The game is small and fast enough that you can end up laying both factions 2 handed. I know it is not a dedicated Bot the but the game is just that good. I would hate to see you miss out.