SPIR608 Political Simulations and Gaming/2011/Week 4

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Friday 11th February

  • Week 4 Discussion
Andy Tompkins and Andrew Sheerin
TerrorBull Games, 2006
Satirical game of the War on Terror
Wikiversity Image credit:

Assembled heads of state in Munich, 29 September 1938
Avalon Hill, 1971
Based on A. J. P. Taylor's view of the origins of World War II
Wikiversity Image credit: Deutsches Bundesarchiv

Is the design of the game's mechanics (board, pieces, cards, etc.) fit for purpose?

There is too much information and too many pieces in The War on Terror. Also there are too many decisions for each player to make in each turn which is a bit boring for those waiting for their go. The board looks very good, but the rules are hard to learn. By letting the losers turn terrorist, The War on Terror does solve the long end game problem in Risk when there only two players left throwing lots of dice with nothing for the others to do.

OK, its mechanics were quite complicated to grasp, but the rules are short and accessible. The Origins of World War II is a fun game.

Is the game enjoyable and sociable to play?

Yes, The War on Terror was a laugh, very tongue in check, if not very serious. It was great being the terrorist side or the empire of evil, especially having to wear the black balaclava. The main problem was The War on Terror takes too long to get going. Also some people can take an attack on their empire's territories too personally!

The Origins of World War II was very sociable except when the two Russian players were discussing their tactics in Russian without the other players being able to understand them...

What techniques does the game use to model its chosen subject?

It was good the way The War on Terror enables each country to buy terrorists which can then be used by any player in the game. The rules and mechanics of The War on Terror are so complicated that it was often hard to see what was going on. The game would worked much better if it was more straightforward and streamlined.

Once the players realised its strength in The Origins of World War II, everyone tends to gang up on Germany which makes it difficult to win as the Nazis.

How does the game combine abstraction and realism in its workings?

The War on Terror is quite abstract in its game play.

The players of The Origins of World War II compete by using Political Factors which are never clearly defined in the rules. Do they represent the ideological, economic and military power of the rival states?

How accurately does the game simulate the decision-making processes faced by the real-life protagonists of its chosen subject?

The War on Terror isn't supposed to be a realistic simulation of the US government's War on Terror. The game is a satire of its ideological idiocies. However, the use of blackmail by the terrorist side is realistic as Al Qaeda raises money from the Gulf states in this way. The War on Terror is good at showing how the imposition of security controls and the politics of fear are interlinked. It is too easy to become a terrorist in the game. The economic importance of oil in The War on Terror is more satirical than realistic. In 2011, this makes the game seem a bit dated. The value of the continents and the costs of crossing seas are unrealistic which betrays the game's origins as a remix of Risk. Although fun, the balaclava of evil and the spinner break up the realism of the game.

The Origins of World War II is more of a historical study than an entertainment game. The game's mechanics are constrained by rules designed to simulate the events of 1933-39. In the 2nd game, the way that Russia took over Eastern Europe was very realistic. However, The Origins of World War II has some major flaws as a simulation of the geopolitical crisis of the late-1930s. Italy is not an active player. There is no Spain on the game board yet the Spanish Civil War was one of the key events leading up to the Second World War. The whole Mediterranean region is missing. The American player doesn't have to worry about the rise of Japan. It would be interesting to play this game in conjunction with Pacific Origins which extends the simulation to include East Asia. The Origins of World War II should really be called the origins of the Second World War in Northern Europe.

What political lessons can people learn by playing the game?

Given that it's an anti-Bush game, it's ironic that the most important lesson of The War on Terror is never negotiate with terrorists! If you pay them off, they will come back next round to attack you with even stronger forces. In The War on Terror, players turn terrorist through a lack of money even though Saudi terrorists like Bin Laden are very rich. This game questions the American ideology of the War on Terror rather than what's happening in the world today. The game is correct when it teaches its player that if you fund terrorist groups like Al Qaeda then they might act against you. Timing is all important in The War on Terror, and you mustn't be too hasty in formulating your strategy. Today's War on Terror is more complicated than the Second World War: you don't know who your allies are from one move to the next. The game teaches its players that your enemy's enemy is your friend.

In the 1st game, people were learning how the rules worked by moving sequentially - and Germany won easily. The Origins of World War II was much better the next time when it was played with simultaneous moves. With the players now understanding the rules, it was very difficult for Germany to win, but it still came second. The Origins of World War II is historically accurate as Britain adopted a policy of appeasement in the 2nd game. The British player's biggest mistake was failing to secure an understanding with the USA which meant that he lost lots of points in the final turn of the game when the American player tried to break up the European alliance system - this was the 1956 Suez crisis twenty years before it happened! The Origins of World War II pushes A.J.P. Taylor's view that the Second World War was an inter-imperialist conflict rather than Mihaly Vajda's more convincing argument in Fascism as a Mass Movement that the Nazi regime needed a European war to stay in power in Germany. Once you realise that the game is inspired by Taylor's book, the strategic logic of The Origins of World War II is much easier to understand. Having only six turns in the game is a very good idea as it concentrates the players' focus on their geopolitical strategy. If played repeatedly, then the subtleties of the game would be revealed.

How would you improve the structure and mechanics of the game?

Simplify, simplify, simplify: there should less or no event cards, especially as some of them don't make sense. The War on Terror takes too long to learn for a beginner. The game would be improved by having different levels of complexity in its rules. Perhaps it was also be a good idea to make its mechanisms more of a zero-sum game so that one side's gain is more obviously someone else's loss.

The Origins of World War II would be improved as a game if the sides were more equal at the beginning, but this would have the disadvantage of sacrificing some of this simulation's historical realism. By adding more countries like Italy as active players would ensure that Germany doesn't have too much of an early advantage which always forces the other countries to ally together against the Nazis. A couple of extra turns in the game would give more opportunity for switching your country's strategy half-way through. Having some way of reversing one country's control over a region would be a good idea to stop the outcome of the game being decided in its first few moves. Event cards could be added to the game to include absent political aspects. Better written rules would be easier to understand. The Russian players did enjoy having blank Political Factors which could be put down on the board to fool their opponents!

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