Playtesting a New Wargame

My playtest copy of Colonial Twilight

I have been a wargamer for a long time - since I was in grade school. One of the things that has been interesting in recent years, as I have started to go to wargame conventions, is that I have met many of the people who create wargames: designers, developers and publishers. The wargaming hobby is really quite small.

My first chance to actually participate in the creation of a wargame came at BottosCon in 2014. I got to do a playtest of Wellington's War from Pacific Rim Publishing. It was close to being ready to submit to print, but Jeff Tibbets at Pacific Rim wanted to do a few more test games. I spent a whole day playing (and losing to) Dave Lifford. But it was a lot of fun. I like the peninula campaign in the Napoleonic Wars. Jeff watched the whole game, and sure enough we came up with at least one situation that wasn't covered in the rules (and a particularly weird one at that) - do the Lines of Torres Vedras work both ways? What if the British/Portuguese are attacking the French? (NOTE: If you understand anything about that question, you know your Napoleonics.) It was a fun afternoon of wargaming, and Jeff was generous enough to give me a free copy of Wellington's War for playing that day.

Closeup detail - it really is a nice map for a playtest copy

At BottosCon last fall, another opportunity came up. I was talking to Brian Train, a designer who specializes in games on insurgency warfare, about his new game, Colonial Twilight. I have played a couple of Brian's games. At BottosCon the previous year I played Third Lebanon War (hey, I beat Ralph, WOOT!!!), about a hypothetical third invasion of Lebanon by Israel. I have also played Shining Path, on the Communist insurgency in Peru. I found that game very interesting, especially after our trip to Peru two years ago when Sandy and I met people who remembered the war. And I have played many games of A Distant Plain, on the US vs Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan. Because of my sons involvement I found that game to be particularly intriguing. Tim did one tour and Mickey did two tours in Afghanistan,

Colonial Twilight is on the Algerian War of Independence and uses the COIN (COunter INsurgency) system. I have played several COIN games: Andean Abyss (Columbian Drug wars in the 1990's), A Distant Plain (Afghanistan) and Fire in the Lake (Vietnam). It's a very clever system for modelling asymetric warfare. All of the COIN games done so far are multiplayer, and have a clever way of handling allies, who aren't really going for the same thing. For example, in A Distant Plain, the US and the Afghan government are both fighting the Taliban. But their victory conditions are different, and conflicting. So it makes for an interesting game.

I put a lot of effort into my playtest copy

What was new about Colonial Twilight was that it is a two player game. That's a first for the COIN system. Brian came up with a way of translating the system from four players to two players. But a big change like that needs lots of playtesting (beta testing if you are a software person) and he was looking for people to participate. At BottosCon I told him that I was very interested.

In February Brian contacted me again and I officially joined the playtest group. Within the group we have access to the game that is under development. There is a VASSAL module for it, so that we can play online or by email. There were also files that we could use to print our own copy of the game (since it isn't published yet) for face-to-face play.

I was excited about this. I went to OfficeMax and got a 24x36 inch print out of the map. It's a beautiful map by Mark Simonitch, much nicer than most games have at this stage. I printed the cards on heavy card stock. I even designed my own artwork (such as it is) for the backs of the cards and then laminated all the cards. I printed the labels for the counters and applied stickers to blank wargame counters. Last but not least, I raided three of the COIN games that I own for the wooden pieces that represent the units in the game. Voila! I actually had a very nice playtest copy of Colonial Twilight.

I did my own artwork for the backs of the cards

So I have been playtesting away. I played a face to face game with Jeff Reed. I won as the government. I have finished two play by email games with Paul van Etten (alias PAVE) and we split. So far, we have each won as the FLN rebels. We are about half way through our third game, and I am hoping that I might pull off a win as the government this time. I'll know in another week or so.

I'm also going to take my playtest copy to GMT weekend in three weeks. I'm hoping that I can get in a couple of games there.

So far I am enjoying the playtest experience. The next thing I want to tackle is developing VASSAL modules for games. I think that I will have no trouble keeping myself busy in retirement.