Tom vs Bruce: Afghanistan ’11, turn zero

Tom Chick and Bruce Geryk have started a game of Afghanistan ’11 using the same seed (8B52H7SA1K1W, if you’d like to join us). Every week, they’ll post an update for ten turns of gameplay. Ideally, they’ll each get through all 60 turns of a game, at which point they’ll determine a winner by comparing hearts-and-minds score. The winner of a tie will be determined by alphabetical order. Using last names, of course. More likely, whoever lasts longer wins. Following is their pre-game briefing, otherwise known as “turn zero”.

After the jump, Operation Enduring Rivalry begins

Tom: This is the little slice of Afghanistan we’re charged with securing.

(SPOILER ALERT: It’s a screenshot from my 11th turn, so don’t look at the parts representing my progress. Or lack thereof.)

We looked at a few maps before settling on this one, which might be cheating, but we’re cheating equally, so that’s cool. I like how the highway cuts straight through the middle of the map like a highway should. The centrally located headquarters is freeway close to everywhere else. All ten villages can be connected to the road network, although Magat might be a little tricky. I’m already eyeing a few places for a forward operating base. This should be easy. Assuming I make all my intel rolls, don’t stumble across any IEDs, win every combat encounter, and don’t suffer many waterworks failures. That last one is not a euphemism for crying when you lose a unit because you thought you tried to save money that should have been spent on a Husky. Waterworks break down in this game a lot. A Buffalo’s work is never done.

Bruce: As usual, Tom subverts the dominant paradigm by doing something no field commander could ever do in real life, which in this case is to decide in advance what Afghanistan looks like. It’s the kind of changing the rules to gain an unfair advantage that I’ve come to expect from Tom, although in this case it benefits me as well, so I should probably just shut up and enjoy it. I think this makes Tom kind of like my own Mitch McConnell.

Anyway, I read a bunch of words by Tom about how good this game is. You should read them, too. Fortunately, unlike most of the time, Tom isn’t wrong about this, so I’m not going to filibuster his opinion or anything. But I want to point out one thing that Tom pointed out first but didn’t use the right name or put it in the proper historical context, so he gets zero points for it. And that is how units take losses.

A long time ago, when games were superimpositions of integers onto cardboard polygons, technology hadn’t yet figured out how to print on two sides of a piece of cardboard. So units could be one of two things: there, or not there. This bothered super-picky historical recreationists, who couldn’t think of a way to explain how the 41st Panzer Corps could be suddenly gone if it had been there just a second ago. So they invented technology to print numbers of the back of the cardboard squares as well, and made those numbers smaller than the numbers on the front. Now, if a “unit” took “losses,” it could be “flipped over” and thus be “reduced.” And thus the idea of step losses was born.

Since cardboard chits only have two sides, that should have been that. Unfortunately, super-picky historical recreationists got a bit carried away and figured out that if you just made more chits, you could have more sides. Which eventually led to games like Anzio, where each unit was a series of incrementally weaker other chits that you had to pull out of the box and replace each time a unit “took a hit.” After all, characters in Dungeons & Dragons had “hit points,” right? Taking this to its logical conclusion, computer wargame designers decided that if a computer could track losses down to the individual soldier, then it should track losses down to the individual soldier. And then computer wargame designers stopped making any decent wargames, and so that problem kind of fell off the map.

Johan Nagel, even though his company is called Every Single Soldier, didn’t fall into this trap. Instead, he wisely decided units could be either unhurt, or hurt. Or gone. But the idea that Johan decided to forgo “hit points” in favor of step losses is one of the things that makes Afghanistan ’11 so good. The “wounded state” has consequences for your political support that you need to address. And that’s it. Do you need more granularity in your losses? Not in this design. So it’s not there.

And that’s how boardgames saved the world, the end.

Tom: Although we’re using the same seed number to generate a map, we don’t get the same starting presidents. That’s random every time you start a game. I’m working with a handsomely brooding young fellow named Arkaan Nanif. He’s no grampa like Hamid Karzai! Just look at him:

Dude totally listens to Coldplay. His official motto — “We stand for the average Afghanistan citizen” — probably sounds catchier in one of the country’s two official languages. But it’s his politics that are relevant to me. He takes anti-Western positions on defense and infrastructure, but pro-Western positions on fundamentalism and corruption. In other words, to my detriment, he adds to the training time of local units and he makes it more expensive for me to move units around. But he reduces the likelihood of Taliban spawning and he gives me a resource bonus every turn. So goes the official policy of the Nanif Administration.

I love that anti-corruption resource bonus in a president. But I suspect it’s going to be offset by movement being more expensive for me. Why can’t I have an anti-corruption politician who believes in filling potholes, painting road signs, and broadband penetration? As for taking longer to train local units, that just ties up my special forces a bit longer than normal. No big deal. That inconvenience is more than offset by the fact that I’ll (hopefully) have fewer Taliban on the map. So hurray for President Nanif! He’s our man! Not that we had a choice.

Bruce: Because I’m so pro-neocon, I’m going to share a secret piece of classified intel that you have to promise to tell nobody, ok? Great, thanks. And here it is: if you start a game, and then don’t take a turn, and then start it again, you may not get the same president. For reals! I know what you’re saying right now: uh, Gen. Flynn, how is this any different from any other game where if you start it but don’t save and then start again, you have a different game? See, that’s the thing I’m going to tell you, although if anyone asks I don’t think this technically qualifies as talking so Imma not say anything, and that’s the fact that because we are using the same map seed, Tom could be loading and reloading until he gets a president he likes since the map will stay the same! There is only one dependent variable. Ok, enough jibber-jabber – I’ve gotta go save Afghanistan from you peop- uh, I mean the Taliban.

What’s that? Who is the president of Afghanistan in my game? Uh, hang on no, no, OMG that guy is so pro-Islam so yeah my president is THIS GUY (although we gotta talk to him about that name):

Look at him. Does he look like he’s gonna do a bunch of Sharia? You better betcher ass no chance, sir. Some day a real rain’ll come and wash all the scum off the streets. All hail freedom.

Tom: Hmm, Arkaan Nanif looks a lot like Muslim Hamed. Seems the devs of Afghanistan ’11 blew their budget on game design at the expense of male model photography.

Next: the first ten turns

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