Skinning the Cat

Last week at Ye Club I ran a “big” Force on Force Afghanistan game, full of ideas from a variety of locations. I’d got a bit bored of some of the book scenarios which can be a bit samey, and inspired by reports of experimental envelope-pushing nonsense in the excellent Miniature Wargames magazine I concocted an elaborate scenario of four factions on two sides but with somewhat clashing objectives, for four to six players. It is worth noting at this point that when writing games, although I have had some stonking successes (the biggest and longest airsoft game in Ireland is in its third year now under the command of another, and sold out its 175 tickets in four days), the most common and universal complaint, which is perfectly valid, is that they’re overcomplicated. Like the preceding sentences.

So, we have a British Army patrol having tabbed to a Taliban stronghold village on a hearts-and-minds mission of IED defusery and elder talkery, with the press in tow and a stated ethos of not killing everyone and letting Allah sort them out because they’re just misguided local boys who need to see there’s a better way. The local Taliban are having none of it, and head to their weapons caches outside of town, break out the big stuff, and launch an attack. Just as things are kicking off, enter one Special Boat Service team in a hotwired jingle truck with a warlord prisoner, pursued at high speed by the warlord’s men in a scene ripped more-or-less directly from Act of Valo(u)r. One player for each faction, and on the day some doubling up with two Local Taliban and three British Army for a total of seven players (!) plus me arbitrating. No faction could talk tactics with its allied faction without the mini-me miniature going over to another to talk shop in 20mm, and victory points objectives were in some cases directly opposed (British Army losing points for wiping out the locals, SBS gaining points for the same).

On the plus side, the factions played with individual flavour; the British Army had a good number of units and a somewhat defensive position, SBS were elite badasses on the run, local Taliban benefited from some very sneaky play and quantity over quality, and the warlord’s dudes were a cut above. Force on Force’s major strength of the Fog of War random event cards once again proved to be loads of fun, cutting the British Jackal 2 gun truck off from the main strength by plonking an IED on the road, the Taliban mortar blowing up its own dicker, the British Apache helicopter blowing up its own lads and being sent home, and a surprise visit from a team from the Al Qaeda Shadow Army. The two Local Taliban players in particular had lots of fun deliberating plans of attack, to good effect. And on a 6′ x 4′ table, it was crammed with scenery and I could easily have filled twice that, to my surprise; looks like the collection is coming together.

Downside stuff is that, as usual, it was too complicated. Maybe I was wishy-washy about the role-playing style element of it where each player didn’t know what the situation was, and who the guys in the brightly-coloured truck are – I think they just felt like it had been omitted and it felt like an incomplete understanding of the rules. I think I should have either gone for full disclosure on what’s happening and who everybody is and what they want, so everybody can follow the story, and have used rules to enforce the in-character ignorance (nobody can shoot at the car chase because they don’t know what’s going on!), or I should have gone the whole role-playing hog and run it like a proper game-master, having made the players aware to expect that kind of behaviour. The chaps in my club aren’t well-rounded gaming Renaissance men like my humble self, so twiddling with role-playing style stuff is not treading familiar ground with most of them (or such is my impression) so I shouldn’t assume anything. Also, the players of the smaller (but powerful) factions just had little to do, due to having fewer units to push about, leading to a lot of sitting around for them. And of course any power balance the game might have had was more-or-less pure coincidence, because it was based on my miniature collection and victory points values were primarily to promote appropriate behaviour, so numbers were pretty arbitrary. The size of the game and general lack of familiarity with the rules amongst the players meant it moved slowly and didn’t last as many turns as it should have, due to hometime rolling around before the Chinook did. Bloody solid set of rules though, Force on Force proves itself again.

As to events of the game, the very first thing the SBS managed to do was roll a natural 1 on their d12 for driving and crash their truck into a hill still a good distance shy of vaguely-friendly lines. One team plodded away with the high-value prisoner while the other played rearguard to fairly devastating effect, although as the warlord’s men flooded the table as the game wore on they were taken down by weight of numbers and captured for torture or possible rescue mission sequel.

The local Taliban took heavy casualties, but I reassured them that that’s what they’re supposed to do, and when the reinforcements popped up in the right hot-spots, their presence in a central building in the village was a major thorn in the British arse. While the two Taliban players put their heads together and benefited from brain-synergy, the three British Army lads seemed to suffer from committee paralysis and made inefficient use of their resources, with a lot of units standing about covering areas that weren’t under any threat. Once the Shadow Army unit popped up in the hotel, British casualties in the village started to become serious.

The day went to the Afghan players, and to the warlord’s army specifically, due to the capture of four SBS chaps, but to read too much into that is to give me far too much credit for declaring a sensible victory points system which I most certainly did not.

I still love the idea behind the game, and the car chase rules (partially ripped off from the X-Wing system) seem like they would have been a gas if the SBS knew one end of a gearstick from the other. I think if I were to run it again I’d ditch the role-playing elements, provide complete information so everybody knows the whole story and can appreciate and enjoy the significance of everything that happens, and stick to two players on each side, sharing both the big unit and the smaller more elite one so nobody’s left with nothing to do for too long.

For completion, in case anybody’s interested, I’m including here the original files from the game. Like I’ve said, there’s some stuff I’d change, but as an archive of a flawed attempt, here’s what we worked with.

Skinning the Cat referee document

British Army

Local Taliban

Special Boat Service

Warlord’s Army