Transcript of our podcast from 13 December 2009

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Ici c'est la France

by Moritz Eggert

Since rambling a while ago on this show about the relatively conservative wargamer crowd that doesn't want to move away from established formats like hex and counter and CRT's a lot has happened that nearly resembles some kind of wargame revolution. In fact I would go so far to say that actually some recent wargames have been more innovative then most recent Eurogames, which seem to be stuck in victory point track abstract mechanics action optimization majority achievement land forever.

This new breed of wargames goes a long way to create a more immersive and complete kind of narrative that also includes political circumstances and not only the battles itself. In fact this is a trend that has basically been started by card-driven wargames like "We the People", but now designers are experimenting with different ways of making politics and historic events count in a game.

Recently I was talking about "Where there is Discord", the solitaire game about the Falkland War, a game daring to bring this very unpopular war on the table and still making it an engaging game. A similar case is Swedish new designer Kim Kanger's game "Ici, C'est la France", a game on one of the most dark periods in post-WWII history, the French-Algerian War of Independence.

As has been noted, the Algerian War was in many ways France's Vietnam - a hugely unpopular war that created lots of tensions in a region that France seemed determined to keep as a French governed colony against all odds. The Algerian War didn't have any glorious battles and was devoid of heroic acts - in fact it was an ugly and dirty war of insurgence and counter-insurgence that in many ways was similar to the current situation in countries like Afghanistan. One can fight the resistance, but never destroy it.

"Ici, C'est La France" means "This Here is France!", and is Khyber Pass Games' game about the Algerian War for 2 players. The game itself consists of a standard foldout map, good quality counters, rules and dice - a solid production value for a small publisher but nothing like a Fantasy Flight Game of course. But this is not where the game shines - it is the new mechanics that make it interesting.

Recreating a war without any major land battles that was mostly about Anti- or Pro French favour in different regions and ugly small scale battles is a task that Kim Kanger has proven to worthy of. Like in "Where there is discord" the political track plays a huge role in the game and both players have to play a completely different strategy to succeed. The French player has to be everywhere to keep the many insurgences in check, but this costs a lot of Operation Points, the action currency of the game. His armies are much stronger than the Algerian Independence Fighters who move around in hidden unit strengths simulating a fog of war. But the Insurgents from the Front de Liberation Nationale, short "FLN", can be everywhere and nowhere at the same time, being difficult to catch, and they don't necessarily have to physically dominate a region to bring it to their side, as successful French military actions against the insurgence can make the Algerians hate the French even more.

The heart of the game are the political chits. Each player draws a number of chits each turn - these chits have very different effects and players have to plan well ahead when to best use them. Like event cards in a card driven game these chits simulate various historical events and can be a decisive factor for success.

One of the more advanced features of the game is the state of a region - it has an insurgency level, which is the official attitude of the people, a population level, the inner mind of the people, and a state of military control, FLN or France. Negotiating this web of different power states is the most tricky part of the game which most players will need a while getting used to. There is no tactical front in this game; relatively little manoeuvring of armies on a map, instead everything is very fluid. Combat is handled by rolling small buckets of dice for hits and using combat chits to influence the outcome.

Even though "Ici - C'est la France" is not a complicated game with a long rules tome it needs some time to get used to and it is most certainly not a game for the casual gamer. A full game can run up to 8 hours or more, even though there are shorter scenarios. But Kim Kanger has done a great job to merge very different elements, and for the more serious gamer with an eclectic interest in different time periods this game is a real discovery. I personally knew little about the Algerian War beforehand, but the excellent historical notes combined with engaging game play without CRT's and hexes have made me understand this conflict much more, probably more than if I had read a book about it.

For the curious and adventurous gamers who like to look at games left and right of the beaten track this is absolutely recommended!

"Ici - c'est la nouvelle vague dans les wargames".

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