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.
After the jump, where we stand after the first 30 turns
Tom: There’s a snowballing effect in Afghanistan ’11 based on hearts-and-minds. The likelihood of Taliban missions being spawned is partly determined by the overall hearts-and-minds score. A village that dips below 40 starts flying a white flag with the shahada written in black lettering. This indicates that tougher Taliban units can spawn from the nearest cave. Normally, the Taliban have to hoof it over from the east side of the map. Now they’re coming from inside the house, as it were.
Similarly, the likelihood of a village calling out enemy units so you can go whomp them is partly determined by that village’s hearts-and-minds score. A village with a score over 60 starts flying an American flag. They’re on your side, more or less. They’re more likely to say, “So we saw an opium field over there. Here, let me mark it on your map.” The American flag is like an exclamation point over an NPC’s head.
Afghanistan ’11 gets easier as you do better. It gets harder as you do worse. And in the end, that breakpoint below 40 and above 60 makes all the difference. A hearts-and-minds score below 40 is a decisive defeat. A hearts-and-minds score above 60 is a decisive win.
All this is to say I’m glad I’m not in Bruce’s epaulets at this point.
Bruce: Tom and I have been writing together for something like 16 years. During that time, if there is one thing that hasn’t changed, it’s that Tom is more interested in how things affect him personally than how they affect America. Instead of saying, “hey, it looks like the American military effort is under threat, let me see if there is anything I can do to help a brother out,” Tom puts on his beret and philosophizes about victory conditions. He’s like the guys that naysaid The Surge until it worked, and then were like “oh yeah we were for that all the time.”
Tom: Bruce has mistaken me for someone who didn’t follow Iraq closely enough to know the surge was showboating and the Anbar Awakening did all the work. However, since Bruce has written it as “The Surge”, perhaps he’s talking about the game that comes out next week. Which I haven’t naysayed since I played it! It’s a pretty cool attempt to get a little Dark Souls in your sci-fi.
Bruce: In short, it looks like this war is mine to win or lose but probably win. Which suits me just fine.
Tom: My least favorite part of Afghanistan ’11 is playing “Where’s the Buffalo?” I just had it a moment ago. Where did I put it? Is that it? No, that’s a Husky. I could have sworn I left it here, but now I can’t find it. Geryk, have you seen my Buffalo?
Bruce: I’d make fun of Tom, but I actually bought another Buffalo when I couldn’t figure out where I had put my other one. Two. My other two. Buffali [sp?] are so useful for fixing things and building things that like Depeche Mode, I just can’t get enough.
Tom: I had two Buffali on the very first turn. Now I’m rocking three. Which just means there are more of them to lose track of. My kingdom for a comprehensive unit list where I can just jump to the one I want!
Tom: A village tells me about a militia a short helicopter ride from my FOB in the corridor along the north of the map. Some locally trained Afghani soldiers hop into the helicopter, disembark, and promptly lose a battle with 38% odds of success. Not unexpected. But the great thing about militia is that even when they win, they disperse. So while my wounded ANA soldiers are flying back to HQ for a little time off (i.e. one turn), to be followed by medals for everyone because ANA units level up every time they fight, I put my feet up on the desk and enjoy this intel report:
The bad news is that expensive Apache is just gathering dust.
Bruce: Another thing I don’t do is sit around making fun of how unlikely my Afghan allies are to win battles. “Hey, losers, did you lose yet?!” That’s Tom sitting in the Special Forces compound in the movie Lone Survivor. I’m busy building my brothers up, rather than knocking them down.
Tom: One of the important gameplay mechanics in Afghanistan ’11 is training your ANA beyond recruiting them. Boot camp isn’t enough. They need real world experience if they’re going to hold back the Taliban offensive at the end of the game. We’ll see how well Bruce has “built up his brothers” at that point. You don’t earn chevrons by letting the Americans do all the fighting.
Bruce: I’m also training up a heck of a lot of ASV armored transports for my brothers, because people in our government like Sen. Tom W. Chick (D-Ark.) won’t sell them MRAPs.
Tom: (D-Ark.)? Man, I haven’t seen that in a long time. Although there is currently a Tom C. in the Senate representing Arkansas!
Tom: I’ve just connected the last village in the area to the roadway. I feel like I should stick a Golden Spike in the ground somewhere.
Bruce: Tom is likely referring to the Trans-Caspian Railway, built by the Russians in the 19th century to further their influence in Central Asia. The thing is, the Trans-Caspian never extended into Afghanistan. This is the kind of fact-checking I have to do with Tom all the time, or we’d be the historical laughingstocks of Computer Gaming World.
Tom: I’ve also got waterworks in all the villages but one. I’m about ready to start building schools, libraries, and Starbucks.
Tom: Look, it sucks that a helicopter got shot down and all, but if the end result is that it makes Special Forces units more expensive, it couldn’t have happened at a better time. I’m loaded up on the guys and have no intention of buying any more. Right now, they’re all teaching classes. Infantry 101 out in the forward bases, with AP classes at the HQ for pilots, drivers, and dudes to aim big-ass artillery guns. As soon as school is out, my Special Forces are going home. Speaking of going home, HQ says goodbye to Batman Company and Iron Man Company.
Bruce: Speaking of Special Forces, I sent some down south to build another FOB near Spin Wam. Its official designation is Delta Base, but all the SpecOps operators call it “Spin Whammy.” One reason is that if any bad guys try to attack the village, they can call in howitzer fire from the main base. And anyone left alive after that gets a nice mortar bombardment. It’s enough to make a Talib’s head spin!
Bruce: The villagers near Magat pointed out some “strange weeds” growing on a hillside nearby. My troops dropped in for a look, and took home a thousand political points. Thanks, Magatians!
I don’t know how many poppy fields I’ve taken out at this point, but it really feels like my effort is being sustained mostly by poppy clearing operations. Every time I run low of PP, there’s another field of harvestable contraband. Ploughman, take my herb! You know how they say Big Pharma doesn’t want to make drugs that cure disease because then they’d go out of business? Well…
Tom: Johan Nagel says he’s going to add the MOAB to Afghanistan ’11. He says it will “be a high PP cost and a reduction in ALL villages’ H&M score, with the benefit of suppressing any Militia/Taliban cave in the blast radius for 8 turns…10-15 turn cool down”. Thoughts?
Bruce: Moab? Oh, man, that’s sweet! I went mountain biking there once and it was just gorgeous, plus we just shredded the trails like they were nuthin’! But I didn’t know there were Taliban in Utah…
Tom: Seems to me there’s a reason a MOAB has never been deployed when there was an actual adult in the White House. And I’m guessing that reason had something to do with that adult not being insecure about his dick size. If this game was called Afghanistan ’17, I’d understand the inclusion of a MOAB. But adding one now strikes me a bit crass. More marketing than military doctrine. Or maybe the crassness is the point. Because I can’t imagine it’s ever worth a global hearts-and-minds penalty just to shut down some caves. Maybe that’s what Nagel is getting at, in which case, well played.
Bruce: French New Criticism doesn’t recognize authorial intent, so I’m afraid this MOAB just has to be what you make of it.
The score so far
Tom’s hearts-and-minds: 64
Bruce’s hearts-and-minds: 50
Next week: turn 40