Some experiences are hard to imagine as microgames. The COIN Series, for instance. The most recent volume, Pendragon, can run for up to five hours, and that’s provided everybody understands the rules. Distilling the essence of something so dense into nine cards and a few dice has all the madness of compressing an entire brewery into a single squirt of breath spray.
Yet that’s precisely what Laurie Phillips did for his entry into the 2018 9-Card Nanogame Print and Play Design Contest. And all because of a killer history pun.
I’ve heard some people mention COIN Fatigue. Not me. For a long time, my attitude was that if the powers-that-be at GMT Games desired to produce a hundred of these things, I’d be there. Each new volume is like a component-dense map pack for some popular train game, sans the trains and plus some deeply clever card play and action manipulation and politicking.
Okay, nothing like a train game.
Then I played the latest volume in the series, Marc Gouyon-Rety’s Pendragon: The Fall of Roman Britain. And despite everything it gets right — and it’s a lot — it dawned on me that I was beginning to feel tired. Though it’s possible that my fatigue may have been philosophical. So let’s engage in some therapy!
Whether it’s tackling the Vietnam War, the Cuban Revolution, narco-terrorism in Colombia, or the shenanigans Julius Caesar pulled before attracting Shakespeare’s fancy, the COIN Series has never shied away from a hard topic. If anything, the French-Algerian War of 1954 to 1962 is a perfect fit for the series’ asymmetric take on insurgency warfare, casting players as either the French colonial government or the Front de Libération Nationale. Even better that it should be Brian Train’s second contribution after the quagmire simulator that was A Distant Plain.
But the stickiness of its setting isn’t why COIN’s seventh volume comes as such a surprise. Rather, it’s because Colonial Twilight is the first entry to feature fewer than four sides — and for all its familiarity, the result is a game that breaks exciting new ground for the series.
Volko Ruhnke’s COIN Series represents one of the best board game systems ever designed. But don’t take my word for it — wait, no, that’s exactly what I’d like you to do. Head over to the Review Corner, where I’ve outlined every volume in existence thus far, pick out whichever one sounds most compelling to you, and dive in. Whether they’re featuring the war for control of post-Escobar Colombia, the Cuban or American Revolutions, or even the military campaigns of a little-known dude named Julius Caesar in Gaul, these are some of the best simulations of complicated conflicts on the market.
One of my favorite books on the topic of the Vietnam War is Frances FitzGerald’s Fire in the Lake: The Vietnamese and the Americans in Vietnam. In it, FitzGerald posits that the United States didn’t lose the war out of failed military achievement or lack of determination, but rather owing to the incompatibility of American and Vietnamese cultures and values. The Vietnamese had weathered a literal millennium as part of Imperial China before regaining their sovereignty — after that, how long could any power expect to remain in Vietnam?
The board game version of Fire in the Lake, the fourth entry in Volko Ruhnke’s lauded COIN Series, has its own answer: about three to five hours, give or take.
It should already be apparent that I’m a huge fan of Volko Ruhnke’s COIN Series. It even led to the formation of my gaming group’s “COIN Collecting Club,” which is our way of code-talking that we’re going to play COIN games all Saturday afternoon. See, the real genius lies in the fact that certain people at our regular game night think it’s a club for the collecting of metal currency, when really we’re betraying each other and occasionally getting pissed about it.
To those certain people, who I’m aware read this site: I apologize. It couldn’t be helped. We just really didn’t want to play with you more than once a week.
Anyway, the COIN Series has already taken us on a tour of drug-war ’90s Colombia and Revolutionary Cuba, and today we’re talking about its headiest subject matter yet: the still-ongoing war in Afghanistan.
As you may remember, I’ve been working my way through Volko Ruhnke’s COIN Series (COIN for “counterinsurgency,” though my little group goes by the “Coin Collector Club” to sound barely less nerdy), beginning with the first volume, Andean Abyss. I liked it quite a lot, but felt it was a tricky entry point to a series that’s known for its complex asymmetrical conflicts.
As though on cue, the second volume of the series bursts through the door, dressed in an army jumpsuit, drab olive field cap, and underwear over the top of the pants. It’s Cuba Libre, here to save the day!
Space-Biff! has been quieter than usual over the past couple weeks. Apologies. Couldn’t be helped. After all, I’ve been devoting most of my board gaming attention to figuring out Volko Ruhnke’s formidable COIN Series, which, if you haven’t heard of these behemoths, are all about insurgency and counterinsurgency — guerrilla warfare, hearts and minds, that sort of thing — and they’re endlessly and utterly compelling. The first volume, for instance, is called Andean Abyss, a four-way conflict over the jungles, mountains, and cities of Colombia, and it’s possibly one of the most thrilling, deep, and disheartening board games I’ve ever experienced.