Office-al #Wargame #Wednesday – Ambassador office gaming with Flashpoint: South China Sea by @HBuchanan2 from @gmtgames #fscsgame

Yeah, I know I wrote that Harold Buchanan’s Flashpoint: South China Sea (GMT Games, 2022) is a good game but not a great tool for learning about the issues of the day. Still, it’s a short-play game that at least looks the theme. I had hemmed and hawed about taking the game to the office for some “office-al” gaming. Putting my reservations about the game aside, I took it in.

Small

Thankfully, the footprint for Flashpoint: South China Sea is fairly small so I was able to set aside a part of my desk to set up the game. In the course of a week I “played” three solo games during lunch and walked several colleagues through a few turns on the other days. With a bit of some rules familiarity, I was able to easily complete the tree campaign turn game within a lunch hour.

Simple

I have said from the beginning that Flashpoint: South China Sea is a well-designed game. I am not particularly a card driven game (CDG) fanatic but I must admit that the game engine hums along nicely in this game. Not only does the game play well, but it actually is quite easy to teach.

Strategy – Don’t Let the Pooh Win

With less than a dozen games of Flashpoint: South China Sea under my “belt and road,” far be it from me to offer advice on gameplay strategy or call a game unbalanced. That said, I note that all three of my solo plays ended in a PRC victory. Of the three games, twice I played the U.S. side against the Chinese Bot. Those games were relatively close with the PRC side winning by +2 the first game and +6 the second game. The third solo game I played the PRC against the U.S. Bot. I enjoyed this game because I ended up at +10!

A placard of Winnie the Pooh representing Xi Jinping is held by pro-democracy supporters during a rally outside of Chineses Liaison Office on 24 May, 2020, in Hong Kong, China.
 (Antony Kwan/Getty Images)

Show Off

While my assessment that Flashpoint: South China Sea actually offers little insight into the very real and serious political, economic, and military issues surrounding the region remains unchanged, I must admit the game looks good on the table. I had more than a few folk just walk into my office to see the game. I was often able to explain what the game was and how it played. If nothing else, the nice table presence and refined rules made it easier for “non-gamers” to see themselves playing. Maybe that is the real “role” of Flashpoint: South China Sea—to be a good-will boardgame ambassador and entice new players into hobby gaming.


Feature image by RMN

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#WargameWednesday – Battling the “office-al” bureaucracy with Gettysburg (@markherman54, @RBMStudio1, 2018) [mentions @role4initiative]

This week my “office-al” game was Mark Herman’s Gettysburg (C3i Magazine Nr. 32, 2018). I chose this game partially because of the small footprint (a single 11″x17″ mapsheet) and low counter density. I also chose the game because one of my coworkers is deep into the Battle of Gettysburg as he had several ancestors at the battle.

Seeing that this is a Wargame Wednesday entry you can tell my play of Gettysburg went quickly. The game itself ended in a Union victory. Going into the last turn things looked bleak for the Union but the return of two Blown corps helped stiffen the Union lines and (barely) preserve a win.

More importantly, I got to show off Gettysburg to my coworker. He is NOT a gamer by any measure of the imagination. I stepped him through some of the game mechanisms and he was interested enough to seek out his own copy. No, I didn’t lend him mine because he has a history of “holding onto” loaned books.

I guess this “office-al” gaming is getting serious; I now keep my set of 15 Opaque Dark Grey with Lt Blue Numbers dice from Role4Initiative in the office “just in case.”

My “office-al” #boardgame play of NO MOTHERLAND WITHOUT: NORTH KOREA IN CRISIS AND WAR by @Bublublock fm @compassgamesllc

Recently, I tested the tolerance of my bosses and took my copy of No Motherland Without: North Korea in Crisis and Cold War by designer Dan Bullock from Compass Games to the office. My job is tangentially related to the game topic, so I figured I could come up with a good cover story to explain why I had it laid out on my desk. During the week I played the solitaire scenario during my lunch times. By the end of the week the game was finished and I had rediscovered the interesting insights No Motherland Without delivers while also showing my office the power of “serious gaming.”

No Motherland Without contents (courtesy Armchair Dragoons)

No Motherland Without…another player

While No Motherland Without is technically a two-player game with one side playing North Korea and the other the West, designer Dan Bullock also includes a solitaire scenario. Here, the player plays the North Korean regime and the “solo bot” plays the West. Technically, I’m not sure you can actually call it a “bot” as the solitaire scenario rules lay out some exceptions and a decision flowchart for how to execute the West card play. Fortunately, the rules changes for the solitaire version are not too numerous and are both easy to learn and implement. All told my play of a complete 7-turn solitaire game took about two hours of lunch times.

The solitaire decision flowchart in No Motherland Without very clearly focuses the West on three priorities; place Outages to hinder infrastructure building, placement and movement of Defector Routes and Defectors, and Investment of Action Points for future use. It is a good guide to strategy for West players.

In my solo game of No Motherland Without the single most important event was not a Missile Test (though there were two—both successful) but the event “Thailand Tightens Its Borders.” This card is an Enduring Event meaning it goes on the three-card track and stays in play until three other Enduring Events are played and it gets “pushed” into the discard pile. The game effect is the removal the Defector Routes in Thailand and a prohibition for the West to use Activities to rebuild the route. This forces defectors to use the route through Mongolia which, although shorter than the Thailand route, has a 2-in-3 chance of the defector dying in the desert. In my game “Thailand Tightens Its Borders” came out early in the fifth turn and didn’t get pushed off the Enduring Events track until the last turn. This meant all defector attempts in turns 5-7 had to use the risky Mongolia route (in the last turn by rule all defectors must use the Mongolia route). By the end of the game a majority of the Final Turn (Kim Jong Un-era) generation was dead. Although the West had supported many defectors, through the Enduring Event card North Korea was able to gain favorable treatment from Thailand and it was enough to stem the flow of defectors—and the accumulation of Victory Points–to ensure a North Korean victory even without a final successful Missile Test to raise Prestige.

Scoring the Infrastructure…in People

Last March I wrote an article for Armchair Dragoons where I discussed the “humanity” of No Motherland Without. In that article I explored the dichotomy of building infrastructure and defectors in the game. I concluded by saying:

If one had any thoughts that No Motherland Without may provide some background as to why Korea has been an intractable problem for as long as it has this game offers no real policy insight. That said, No Motherland Without sets itself apart by showing the interrelation of many historical events from a very human perspective as the plight of defectors is prominently showcased. It’s an important perspective, just not very mainstream.

After my recent solo play of No Motherland Without I reconsidered my statement. The core conflict of the game, North Korea building infrastructure versus the West supporting defectors, is a policy statement. While North Korea gets plenty of worldwide attention for its missile and nuclear programs, it still must build a society for its people. On the other side, though support for defectors is usually the realm of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) rather than governments, it still can be a government policy (like is was in South Korea for a long time). This last year-plus of COVID, with it’s closed borders, has limited the flow of defectors. At the same time, North Korea, like many other countries, is trying to build better infrastructure for its populace (look at all the apartment building projects). Although they seemingly are disconnected now, once borders reopen we will see how “happy” the North Korean people are if Kim Jong Un can complete all those buildings, or if they will become his 21st century Ryugyong Hotel that sat unfinished for decades.

Serious Gaming

During the week my play of No Motherland Without got some attention in the office. At one end of the response spectrum, and by far the largest in number, were those who scoffed at somebody “playing a game” at the office. I responded to these folks by pointing out the history lessons in the game and the interesting perspective of the designer. Generally they seemed to accept my points, but often visibly remained doubtful. This group was also the ones to most often try to compare No Motherland Without to Risk or Monopoly (sigh).

A second smaller group of coworkers was able to look past the “game” of No Motherland Without and see the learning value. Some of these folks would casually flip through the cards and then look at the historical notes. While they learned, several were quick to point out that the randomness of the cards meant events could occur out of historical order, thereby making the game “incorrect.” To that criticism I responded by pointing out it was not the specific events but the situation in many cases that the cards capture, and while the events may happen “out of order” they still capture the essence of the flow of history vice a specific timeline. This group had a few gamers amongst its members, but it quickly became apparent that their preferred gaming was online and not very complex; indeed, more than one marveled at the “obvious” complexity of No Motherland Without.

One last, very small, group of my coworkers understood what No Motherland Without was trying to communicate. For one of them, when I explained the core conflict of infrastructure versus defectors you could see the “eureka” moment as they blinked and said, “Of course!.” With these few I had very serious conversations as to how an Event Card could be played or how the different Activities paid for in Action Points could be spent. One coworker wanted to take the game to their office to play and show their coworkers the insights from the game. Another who is well connected to several NGOs and the North Korean defector community really was interested in the game, although they pointed out that the ability to only play North Korea in the solo game may be “upsetting” to some. This small group was able to see the “serious gaming” potential of No Motherland Without as the designer’s core message is shown through game play.

Next – A Revolutionary Game…of waiting

Overall, I feel my “office-al” gaming was a success. I was planning to take designer Dan Bullock’s latest game, 1979: Revolution in Iran (The Dietz Foundation, 2021), into the office next and play that one. Belatedly I realized it does not have a solo mode! During the Kickstarter campaign Dan was asked about a solo module stretch goal to which he responded:

No Motherland Without features a solitaire scenario in addition to the two-player game. The solitaire scenario only allows you to play the role of the DPRK, but the West opponent is easy to control and challenging. Unfortunately, the event card draft makes 1979 difficult to adapt a solo bot. I tested a short solo scenario leading up to the Islamic Revolution, but ultimately scrapped it because it didn’t feel robust enough.

BGG Forum “Solo Request”

So, Dan, do y’all think you could share that scenario and let us see how it works? Maybe somebody out there can make it work better, or develop something else that does. Please? I need another title to play during lunch in the office…

1979: Revolution in Iran (The Dietz Foundation, 2021)

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