It’s quite clear Afghanistan ’11 isn’t your standard wargame or strategy game. Do you consider it to be unique and different from the other wargames out there? Why?
What makes v65 and A11 unique is that at the core of the game is the Hearts & Minds mechanic coupled and interlinked with the political support system. You can't model modern day COIN wars using conventional wargaming methodology, it simply doesn't fit.
In Afghanistan '11 everything you do has a direct bearing on the local populations view of your efforts and the support your are receiving from the folks back home , which is the ultimate measure as the end game for COIN wars is political after all.
What were the challenges you had to face when you started designing Afghanistan ’11?
As with Vietnam '65, by far the biggest challenges was deciding what to leave out. The COIN model is evolving and there are so many more facets and nuances that we would like to include, for example deeper dialougue with local population, desertions, heat mapping for insurgent AI and more.
Another challenge was to ensure it does the conflict justice and make it relevant and at the same time have cognisance that this is a current and ongoing conflict and needs to be respectful to all those involved in the fight against terror.
The previous title, Vietnam ’65, was highly successful. How have you built upon it? What new features does Afghanistan ’11 introduce?
We leant so much from Vietnam '65 and have not only put all that good learning into Afghanistan '11 but also expanded the game to include elements that are essential to have in order to properly model COIN wars.
Apart from visually enhancing A'11 with full 3D terrain and the addition of a campign mode, we have added multiple new layers into the model. The most important of these are the eventual handover of security operations to the local army, the introduction of game changing elections and the underlying opium trade with its direct effects on the conflict.
Afghanistan offers an entirely different geography compared to Vietnam. How is that reflected in game? What challenges does it offer?
Afghanistan is a country of mountains and deserts, with a little bit green, so contrasted to Vietnam it really is entirely different. We had to introduce 3D modelling into Afghanistan '11 due to the mountains being such an iconic part of the region.
In Afghanistan '11 the mountains play a central role in the decision making especially as the focus from airmobile in Vietnam '65 has shifted to ground vehicles in Afghanistan '11. The player has to now navigate around these giant obstacles which not only limit their tactical deployment but also funnel them into narrow channels perfect for ambushes and IED placement.
One of the new features is the Elections system. How does it work? Could you give us more details?
In Afghanistan '11, elections are periodically announced (usually two to three times in a standard 60 turn game) and the player chooses a candidate to back, then clock starts to tick. Following the announcement, a base case is set with the current Hearts & Minds score of the local population and every event for the following five turns is logged and fed into an algorythm that weighs the events and tallies them until the election point is reached. On the fifth turn following the announcement the result is calculated by adding the base case to the net output from the weighted calculations in the tally, thus determining the result. So, in essence, when an election is announced the player needs to ramp up infrastructure build whilst minimizing any losses and at the same time face a Taliban offensive which is aimed at negatively influencing the election result.
The results of the election have far reching effects so the five turn run up to elections is particularly (and by design) tense.
The war in Afghanistan is still ongoing and is, under many aspects, a controversial topic. What moved you to choose it as subject for a strategy game?
All war is controversial by nature, Afghanistan even more so as its a very current and ongoing conflict. I have always had a very deep interest in COIN wars, having served in the South African Bush war in the 80's, and after publishing Vietnam '65 the move to Afghanistan was almost natural. I have followed the Afghanistan war closely and the model employed in Vietnam '65 was a natural fit for the conflict and a perfect opportunity to evolve the COIN model. I fully understand the sensitivity of the subject and am seriously respectful in my interpretation, but I believe there is a story to be told here and that is what I am trying to capture and do justice to.