Grogheads Reviews Shining Path: The Struggle for Peru
Review by Vance Strickland, 21 March 2015
Stop us if you’ve heard this one before: “Brian Train designs an asymmetric warfare game!” Vance gives us the low-down on how it plays.
Shining Path is the common name of the Communist Party of Peru, one of several communist groups in the country. At the beginning of 1980, they began a guerrilla insurgency against what they saw as the corrupt bourgeois government. They are still fighting, to bring a Maoist “New Democracy” to the people of Peru, to this day.
Brian Train has been designing games since the early 1990’s and has covered a very wide array conflicts. These range from more mainstream conflicts like Summer Lightning: The Invasion of Poland 1939, from Lock ‘n Load Publishing, to asymmetric warfare like A Distant Plain, from GMT. Most of his designs focus on lesser known conflicts and rarely-gamed ones.
This game is a look at the struggle between Shining Path and the government for the hearts and minds of the people of Peru. In it you control either the Shining Path forces or the government in the form of army, police and politicians.
The version reviewed here is the new edition published by One Small Step, the first of their Folio Series games. It currently sells for $22.95 USD.
The game comes in a folder card pouch that contains all the bits required to play except a die, that most gamers have lying around anyway. (Ed note – we had an unboxing feature a few weeks ago)
You get 140 colourful ½” counters. These represent the forces of the police and army for the government and the Shining Path communist rebels. Also included are plenty of markers for the various record keeping point tracks.
A stylized map of Peru is where the two sides will wrestle for the hearts and minds of the general populous.
The rulebook is only 8 pages long. Two pages are the various missions that the factions can perform each turn and one page is Advanced (Optional) rules. So it’s a pretty quick read.
Last is a two sided reference card covered with charts and info required to play the game.
How’s it Look?
The 17”x22” map in this edition is very nice. It’s printed on glossy heavy stock paper. The colours and layout make it easy to see the different regions. The map has Peru broken into various regions and each region is one of three types, Urban, Rural and Agricultural. Within each region are placement areas for the units when they are performing different actions. It’s a bit minimalist but functions well.
Also on the map is a large points track. All the record keeping takes place here and it can get a bit crowded with the markers for the various point level you need to keep track of.
The counters are fine. They are double sided and colour coded for each factions and function. At ½” inch they are small but you never have stacks of them so they function well on the small footprint map.
The rulebook is black and white except for one graphic describing the various counters. The rules are well laid out and the font size is easy on eyes that need glasses.
The player reference chart is also black and white. It’s jam packed with info and tables, so much so that the font size is rather small. Two reference cards with large printing would have been nice.
How’s it Play?
Each turn is broken down into 4 phases, Build/Train, Deployment, Operations and Turn Interphase. A turn is a variable amount of time, from several weeks to several months dependant on the amount of activity that takes place during it. The game has no set turn limit and play continues until one side’s Political Support Level has dropped to 0 at which point they lose.
Administrative Points (AP) are the main “currency” of the game and are used for everything from building units to controlling movement to financing operations. You gain AP from controlling areas of the country or from the economy and the results of some operations. You can lose AP from the results of operations and from the depreciation of un-used points.
During the Build/Train phase the Sendero Luminoso – “Shining Path” – player goes first and can build new Cadre units. These are the “worker” troops of the movement. He can also build ‘Front” units which are like the operations cells of the movement. You can only build Cadres in a location where a Front is located and you can only build a Front by converting a cadre. So it become imperative to move the Cadres out into areas where there are no Fronts so you can build new bases of operations, because Fronts can’t change areas.
The Government player then has the option to build new Army and or Police units. These units come in to sub-types, mobile and static. Static Army units represent locally trained militias, called Rondas, that have the possibility of deserting at the end of a turn. But they are half the cost of mobile Army or mobile or static Police units.
The Government player can also train his mobile units up to better quality. New units start as Recruits, who can be trained to Line units who can be further trained to Elite. Elite units add bonuses to the Cordon and Search mission.
The next phase is Deployment where the players move units into position to be able to carry out missions and in the case of Government troops to thwart Sendero missions. The Government player moves first here giving the Sendero player some idea of where it might be easier to conduct his missions.
Then comes the Operations Phase. This is where each side will attempt to complete missions that will gain them Political Status or AP’s or cause the other player to lose Political Status or AP’s. These missions are carried out one at a time, with the Sendero player determining who conducts the next mission. This continues until both players pass in succession.
The possible Sendero missions include Propaganda, Riots, Robbery, Intimidation and Movement. Propaganda and Riot are aimed at gaining Sendero popularity and damaging the economy, which is where the Government receives it’s AP’s. Robbery is a method of collecting AP’s and Intimidation can cost the government AP’s and cause crises or a coup d’etat.
The Government can conduct missions such as Civic Affairs Programs used to raise the Government’s Political Status, or Intelligence missions to root out underground Sendero units. There is also Cordon and Search missions that attempt to destroy Sendero units that are out in the open or were found with Intelligence missions. React missions allow the Government to immediately attempt to destroy Sendro units that just attempted a mission.
The last phase of a turn, Turn Interphase, is where each side determines what areas of Peru they control, how many AP’s they earned for next turn, what their current Political Status is. Units are reset ad redeployed and the state of the Peruvian economy is determined. Then the next turn in the struggle begins.
There are also a set of Advanced rules that bring in other aspects of the conflict. Cocaine trafficking, US Intervention, Foreign Aid, Purges, and a second guerrilla group, the MRTA, all add new dimensions to an already complex situation.
Yeah, but is it Worth it?
While the game has only about 6 real pages of rules, it is still a fairly complex game to get a grasp on. It is very different than most straight up wargames out there. It’s akin to a smaller scale version of GMT ‘s popular COIN series. The interplay of the Administrative Points and how each side uses and gains them takes a few plays to become fully familiar with. Each player has slightly different tools and methods with which to combat the other and that too takes some getting comfortable with.
Once a few games are played however there opens up a wide range of possible play styles and strategies. This should lead to great re-playability as there many different ways to try and achieve the goal of driving the opponent out of the Political spotlight.
There is the possibility of “analysis paralysis” setting in because of the various interconnected missions each side has. If that can be avoided then the game will move at a nice steady pace where it should be playable in under 3 hours.
The game is also very solitaire friendly as there are no hidden units or information. Again it does become easy to get trapped in over thinking every action but the more familiar the player is with the game the less this should be a problem.
The subject matter is different enough to make the players go out and read up on the conflict to see how things really turned out… and are still going on. This is a great way to enter the world of asymmetric warfare/political conflict gaming and at an affordable price.
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