There are, by my count, three games dealing with province-level counterinsurgency using Kandahar as its subject. Whether there are any Kandahar games wherein counterinsurgency is just an aspect of local life is doubtful, but worth considering. Which is to say, all three of these games seem to overlay theory upon geography. Okay, that’s what self-respecting theory should be able to do, but just as an exercise it would be interesting to take ethnographic specifics — examine endemic conflicts to see how they interact with extra regional conflict. I’m not going to do that here — file it away under BIG IDEAS — I just want to record my first impressions of Brian Train’s “Kandahar.” I won’t rise to the level of a review; I’m already preparing a review on another of Train’s recent offerings, Third Lebanon War. Enough is enough and I have my own cats to whip.
So you’ve got four boxes which at once depict space, time, and mode of operation without being too explicit. Hex-grid precision should be anathema to pol-mil designs. In fact, a hex grid is evidence against a game’s pertinence to pol-mil. BOX4 is workable and pertinent. It’s also visually unappealing. But, holy cow, BOX4 does great work supporting game decisions and timing. Which forces to risk in operation? Which to use for surveillance? For security? (Jeez I wish we had more specificity about the real human terrain, there.)
Movement is better integrated than it was in Algeria. Of course, the physical space in Kandahar is reduced so that seems fair. The support point system is more flexible than Algeria’s Political Support Level which is ahistorically brittle and far too severe. ISAF is always there with its money and firepower and velcro and CAS and bullshit. Train doesn’t fall into a 1:1 representational trap. ISAF units represent the main effort of whichever unspecified brigade has been assigned the battlespace. Joseph Miranda’s expensive game BCT: Kandahar probably models this a little more finely (but probably not in traditionally broken-out units, either). In this game, ISAF units are bright points to be danced around or attacked according to your secret mission victory conditions (awesome). As mine in the learning game was “Jihad” I had a hell of a lot of fun attacking isolated cadres, even thought the combat elements are infinite bullet sponges. You earn points for manning up and messing with them. Sure, you’ll lose half your force, but you can patch yourself up with all the heavy dosh forwarded from the Gulf.
I’m nearing five hundred words and I haven’t mentioned the chrome. It’s excellent. And subtle. I officially declare I’m stealing the intelligence routines for one of my own designs. (I came up with something similar on my own, but Train’s is more expedient. No. I swear.) Intelligence here isn’t just b.s. smeared across the game’s chassis. It is a contest in itself well worth winning. The game is deep and wide and worth digging into, maybe too deep for some Sundays, but not mine.