Colonial Twilight

Beginner’s Wargames = Low Complexity Wargames?

This is definitely an oversimplification. I’m sure that every once in a while even advanced players who usually spend their time huddled around giant game tables, like to indulge themselves for a couple of hours in some conflict simulation that’s a little less of a brain burner.

But is the opposite true as well? Are there wargames on the market that do not fit the stereotypical bill of low complexity and yet can still be considered as gateway wargames?

In this column I’d like to introduce games that I think are suitable for beginners but have enough depth that even non-beginners won’t get bored too quickly.

Disclaimer: This post is not a review. Plenty of excellent reviews have been already written elsewhere.

The Game

Colonial Twilight, designed by Brian Train, is the 7th entry in GMT Games’ COIN series. It simulates the Algerian War 1954-62. This probably lesser known conflict meant the end of France as a Colonial Power. In the game one player takes over the French side, while the second player is in charge of the insurgence side, the National Liberation Front (Front de Libération Nationale, FLN).

The engine of the game is deck of event cards. Each turn one card is revealed. Cards show historic events and the players can then choose to either ‘interact’ with that card or use one of their faction ‘abilities’. The scenario length is determined by the number of cards used in the deck. The short scenario can be played in about two hours. A mounted map, wooden pieces and high-quality player aids come with every COIN game. A rules booklet and a Playbook do not only explain the rules and give an example of play, but also give a historic background of the events used on the cards.

The game is ‘solo-able’. A flow-diagram (COIN bot) takes over the FNL when playing solo.

French soldiers taking photos during the Souk Ahras battle of 1958 (image source).

Why is it Suitable Beginners?

In the last few months I have taught COIN games to several groups of people. None of the players was a wargamer or even played boardgames on a regular basis. Usually the first game we played, played a little bumpy, but everyone caught the COIN bug during their second game. And as much as I would like to credit my teaching skills for that, it’s actually the game system.

The COIN series is a nice example of a conflict simulations that show that the boundaries between wargames and non-wargames is rather fluid. Game elements like Area Control and Resource Management are key to COIN games. Whereas actual battles or fights play only a smaller role (if any). If you have played a modern eurogame, COIN should at least look familiar. To be absolutely clear, COIN games are not eurogames!

So what about Colonial Twilight? Everything I said about COIN games is also true for Colonial Twilight. But while all other COIN games come with four factions (N.B. COIN games with three and six factions are about to be released or in development at the point of this writing), Colonial Twilight has only two. That makes it way more approachable than say Fire in the Lake. The rules are very close to the standard COIN core rules. Other games in the COIN series, like Pendragon or Fire in the Lake, add additional layers of complexity to the rules and might be more discouraging for beginners.

There is no such thing as a free lunch!

Nevertheless the rules still require some attention. This is not a game you open, read the rules and play. But it also won’t takes weeks of rules studies to get the game to the table. The games comes with a very good rules booklet. As mentioned before there is a Playbook in the box. It contains a detailed example of play. And I highly recommend that your first play should just be a ‘play-along’ of that example.

Lastly, the game doesn’t require the player to be expert tactician. Battles, fights or attacks are abstracted. The player is rather required to learn how to use their abilities to their advantage. It’s quite fun to discover the inner workings of a faction’s abilities. Like a giant clockwork everything is connected to everything. Turning a cogwheel here will have a (delayed) outcome somewhere else. This and the random cards make for a challenging entertainment. Each turn means making meaningful decisions.

Speaking of making decisions, it’s true that you shouldn’t be afraid of making decisions throughout the game. However, Analysis Paralysis is only an issue if you try to plan the perfect move. Accept that there is no perfect move: the card mechanism will sooner or later every long-term plan.

So, yes, even if you are not a passionate wargamer, but you like puzzles, or you like eurogames, or you are interested in history and/or geography, Colonial Twilight might be the gateway wargame for you.

I love the color scheme that chosee for Colonial Twilight.

Interesting Rules/Mechanics/Procedures

What attracts me to COIN games is their asymmetry. Each competing faction has a different set of abilities as well as different winning conditions. And of course this is also the case in Colonial Twilight. Exploring the strengths and weaknesses of the own and the opponent’s faction is quite thrilling. And it will take more than just a few games to master a faction.

I also like that the player order matters and that the order changes. The starting player in each turn ‘has the initiative’ and thus has a slight advantage when choosing what to do. But sometimes the most powerful move is just blocking the opponent from doing something beneficial for them, even if that means losing the initiative in the next turn.

The six historical Leaders of the FLN (image source).

Will it Keep me Entertained for a Long Time?

There’s a lot of gameplay in the box. Different scenarios of various length paired with the random events give you hours of gameplay. Now if you are planning to play this game solo and you want to use the bot, your options are limited. For one the bot can only play the side of the National Libration Front. Also, the bot is not ‘optimized’ for each provided scenario. But with a human opponent it will take quite some time before the game becomes stale.

I might not play Colonial Twilight as regularly as I used to. But I still come back to it every once in a while when I’m looking for a challenging game that can be played in just a few hours.

Why Didn’t You Recommend xyz?

I do believe that Cuba Libre is another contender for being a good entry point into the COIN series and wargaming in general. It also uses the bare COIN rules and the simulated conflict (Cuban Revolution) might be more interesting for some. But new players have to deal with four instead of two factions. It’s this additional complexity why I think Colonial Twilight is slightly more approachable for beginners.

Abraços,
Gringo

Update

Brian Train points out that the tutorial scenario in the playbook contains some errors. Players should download and use the living playbook and rules.

Changelog

  • 2020-02-26 added links to the living playbook and rules