Book Review: ‘The Pentagon’s Urban COIN Wargame (1966)’

It is well known that I’m a sucker for anything with COIN when it comes to games and books (and academic endeavours too) so when this book was released by John Curry’s History of Wargames Project clicky I ordered it straight away and similarly when I arrived I read it straight away…

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The book is a reprint for the archives of what is to all intents and purposes a megagame. The game that the Pentagon created was meant as a training tool to better understand urban insurgencies and to generate insights in those who may have to deal with them in the future.

The game has three sets of players: Government, insurgents and general population, the latter being split by socio- economic class. Initially the insurgents are hidden within the general population and are unknown to the Government, in a similar manner the Government has players hidden within the general population that are unknown to either the general population or the insurgents.

Play is split into 24hr long cycles with a day/night phase in which players have to do assigned task in certain parts of the city (such as go to work to get paid) or to keep up appearances if they are undercover. The game ends when certain victory conditions have been met; interestingly the general population can ‘win’ by increasing their personal wealth and backing the winning side on the final turn. The final turn not being announced in advance.

 

Being a serious military game there was a lot of record keeping built in. Players were expected to keep an accurate record of their locations visited within a turn, so it could be analysed later.

 

Although I’ve designed/ run a couple of games now and played/ controlled in many others I wouldn’t say that I’m an expert, but a few things do jump out at me. The insurgency is rather generic: given the era that the game came from it is assumed that the insurgencies is a communist one (the historical examples that are cited the majority are) or at least a war of national liberation that is using communist ideology to achieve that. Whilst more background would help player engagement and immersion with the setting and roleplaying opportunities it would also frame the responses of the government especially with how to approach ‘carrot’ rather than ‘stick’ responses to insurgent demands. It was interesting to see that there was a role for the press within the game; although this was referred to tangentially rather than explicitly.  The control forms seem like a lot of work to do and whilst they track the location of the player it doesn’t record the most important aspect: that of the social interactions of that player. It would be through such interactions that opinions would be formed and alliances made, especially for those players making up the general population.

 

One thing that really intrigued me was a comment in the introduction that a copy of these rules was found in Paddy Griffths’ own archive; for it was he who started megagaming as a recreational hobby (and then taken forward by Jim Wallman). Is the game the genesis of the modern hobby as we know it? Time and some more archive work may yet tell us….

I am tempted to try and get a game organised to try this out with a few players- I think 20 players would be a manageable number to recruit and test the game out properly.

 

Cheers,

 

Pete.

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11 comments on “Book Review: ‘The Pentagon’s Urban COIN Wargame (1966)’

  1. Definitely an aspect of the gaming hobby that I know very little about. Nice see it covered, and to see that it is also being played…

    • Pete S/ SP says:

      Thanks- I find the ‘professional’ side of gaming fascinating, especially how they work within the limitation of the different formats of games.

      Cheers,

      Pete.

  2. That looks interesting 👍

  3. I know nothing about such things but I like coins, or paper money will do too

  4. Faust says:

    Very cool. Government games are interesting, and also scary. Guess that’s what happens when its people j-o-b to think about these things. My thoughts tend to be focused on keeping my own microcosm somewhat sane.

    I wonder if you could do a ‘guess the roles’ form at different checkpoints? Maybe that would help with tracking the societal interactions. Would certainly be interesting data. I could imagine something like looking at everyone’s results, and seeing at the 30 minute mark lots of people thought Pete was an insurgent. But later at the 60 minute mark, something must have happened, as popular opinion pegged Pete as a Secret Agent Man!

  5. Sapper Joe says:

    I just bought the Kindle version. I am looking forward to reading it.

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