This weekend I prepped A Distant Plain, a tabletop game about counterinsurgency in Afghanistan, for an upcoming collaborative play session. I’d discovered the game from a profile of its creator, Volko Ruhnke, in the Washington Post right around the time the Harrisburg University Library got it in stock.
We did a playtest session, and I was deeply impressed by the clarity of the game mechanics, despite the complexity of the simulation. In that first session we barely scratched the surface of the game’s potential for encouraging serious thinking about the challenges of counterinsurgency and the history of the post-2001 conflict in Afghanistan. I came away determined to explore the game as a collaborative teaching tool for current events and international relations courses. (I’ve set up this blog specifically so I don’t lose insights from those sessions, as I did here)
I also want to practice running games out of the library with remote players/collaborators/instructors. After the first week of the term we’ll be running our first distributed session, with players in Seattle; Phoenix; and Lancaster, UK. Once we get the bugs out of a system, I hope to involve subject matter experts and students, as a more immersive learning environment than the guest lecture.
Several drawbacks to my experience this weekend: I don’t have a table big enough to accommodate the game board and surrounding stuff. Trying to play on the floor, even without my Research Assistant, Counterinsurgency (Rodentia), was uncomfortable and annoying. For solo play, being able to move around the board easily and constantly is important.
While there are rules for solo play, in which the player plays the two counterinsurgency factions (Coalition and Government) with NPC rules for the other two factions (Taliban and Warlords), given my suboptimal playing environment, I couldn’t sustain a game. I just played enough to feel reasonably confident I’ll be able to GM the remote session, given a group of (more than me) experienced gamers.
- I need to get a card table or equivalent for playtesting at home, or steal back my office’s conference table for playtesting at work (which would have the advantage of no small predators looking to participate).
- We’ll need at least an hour before the remote session for setup of the game board, let alone setup and testing of our videoconferencing.
- After one or more sessions with my colleagues, it’ll be essential to run one or more games with students who are less experienced with games and less knowledgeable about the Afghanistan conflict, to judge its utility as a teaching tool in an undergraduate elective course.