Author Topic: Feedback and Q&A Follow-up for A Distant Plain Designers' Interview  (Read 12175 times)

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Online bayonetbrant

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Hey folks!
Following up the interview with Brian Train and Volko Ruhnke about their upcoming Afghanistan game A Distant Plain, the designers have agreed to hang out here for about a week or so to answer your questions.
Please offer your feedback below, and fire away with your questions for them!
(interview part 1 and part 2).

Thanks to the guys for a great and informative interview.  And thanks in advance for agreeing to hang out with us for a bit while we fire questions at them, too  :)
« Last Edit: August 29, 2012, 04:56:12 AM by bayonetbrant »
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Offline LongBlade

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Re: Feedback on Designers' Interview for A Distant Plain
« Reply #1 on: August 29, 2012, 11:40:06 AM »
I have a few questions. I'll post each separately so that they can be quote replied so folks can follow each individually.

How did you guys take the raw data and turn it into something in the game? There must have been a flood of information and much of it not exactly written to be digestible in gaming format. For instance, what did the UN's report on refugees tell you and how did you use it?

Offline LongBlade

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Re: Re: Feedback on Designers' Interview for A Distant Plain
« Reply #2 on: August 29, 2012, 11:41:08 AM »
What kinds of hypothetical events did you use that have not (yet) happened historically, but could have? How did you determine what to use and what not to use?

stevenaustin6

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Re: Feedback and Q&A Follow-up for A Distant Plain Designers' Interview
« Reply #3 on: August 29, 2012, 01:18:28 PM »
I work (through the next 2 months) in the intelligence directorate at COMUSNAVCENT.  Any chance we could get a playtest set in the hands of the regional analysis shop here in Bahrain?  (Those analysts who track the conflicts and emergent events throughout the CENTCOM AOR.)  We have an FPO address, so the shipping/postage would be at plain old US domestic rate.

Offline btrain

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Re: Feedback and Q&A Follow-up for A Distant Plain Designers' Interview
« Reply #4 on: August 29, 2012, 02:30:33 PM »
Playtests are being done through VASSAL modules.
Contact the developer, Mike Bertucelli, at proimages@me.com and he will fix you up!

Thanks and good luck in Bahrain!

Brian
« Last Edit: August 29, 2012, 03:11:12 PM by btrain »

Offline btrain

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Re: Feedback on Designers' Interview for A Distant Plain
« Reply #5 on: August 29, 2012, 02:38:01 PM »
Yes, there is a tremendous amount of material out there and most of it is, frankly, not that useful or easily translateable into a game format. You would think that even order of battle information might be readily useful but it isn't, because in game terms what shows on a board is a measure of capability, not plain numbers.

So it may be all very well to read that the Afghan National Police had an overall strength of 85,000 at some point in time, but that's just a number - you have to dig deeper and see how many of those 85,000 are actually potentially useful at their jobs (not that many, as it turns out). Looking further, you see that the ANA may have large and increasing numbers every year, but also has an annual desertion rate that has been fairly constant at around 25%. So you have to build that into the game as well (we did).

One mechanism in the game is the return of refugees from abroad. Though a complete census of Afghanistan has not been done in over 30 years, it is known that over 6 million people have left the country, and many of them have returned. The Government player has the option of placing Population Returnees markers in certain provinces; thus he is able to change the "human terrain" slightly through governing benignly. I consulted UNHCR material for statistics representing the Commission's best guesses as to how many refugees had settled, and where.

These are just a couple of examples.

Brian

I have a few questions. I'll post each separately so that they can be quote replied so folks can follow each individually.

How did you guys take the raw data and turn it into something in the game? There must have been a flood of information and much of it not exactly written to be digestible in gaming format. For instance, what did the UN's report on refugees tell you and how did you use it?
« Last Edit: August 29, 2012, 03:07:22 PM by btrain »

Offline btrain

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Re: Re: Feedback on Designers' Interview for A Distant Plain
« Reply #6 on: August 29, 2012, 02:49:37 PM »
Putting together the Event Deck took a fair amount of effort, and most of the events in the deck have actually happened or reflect real capabilities and incidents. But there are a few not-yet-events in the deck, as it is now (the effects of cards, and even the cards themselves, may change during playtesting):

US-Taliban talks (haven't occurred, as far as we know) - slows one side or the other down until the Propaganda round

Power Shuffle - greater attachment of Warlord troops to Police, or vice versa

Green Cards/Brain Drain - exodus of guerrilla or government talent to take courses at the University of Phoenix

Dostum - the warlord returns from exile, as he did in 2009, but takes a greater role in the government

Coup d'etat in Kabul - Karzai is deposed and there is a realignment of support, including some confusion, desertion and redeployemnt among Government forces.



What kinds of hypothetical events did you use that have not (yet) happened historically, but could have? How did you determine what to use and what not to use?
« Last Edit: August 29, 2012, 03:00:24 PM by btrain »

Volko

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Re: Feedback and Q&A Follow-up for A Distant Plain Designers' Interview
« Reply #7 on: August 29, 2012, 06:29:58 PM »
Quote
US-Taliban talks (haven't occurred, as far as we know) - slows one side or the other down until the Propaganda round ...

Sometimes life even pre-imitates art...

http://thecable.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2012/05/01/obama_official_direct_us_taliban_talks_ongoing

Brian did a great job answering so far, and of course beat me here!

StevenA--If you and your regional analysts there are able to give ADP a go on Vassal, I'd love to get impressions.  Thanks!

Volko
« Last Edit: August 29, 2012, 06:33:19 PM by Volko »

stevenaustin6

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Re: Feedback and Q&A Follow-up for A Distant Plain Designers' Interview
« Reply #8 on: August 29, 2012, 07:38:43 PM »
VASSAL isn't going to fly from inside the workspaces, due to heavy restrictions on what can be installed on even UNCLAS machines (i.e. I'm quite certain that VASSAL will not be on the authorized software list).

However, we also have a couple of hard working NGA representatives just down the hall, with access to large format, high-quality printers.  Perhaps I could use the VASSAL materials to fabricate a hard copy playtest set?  E.g. have the NGA guys print a large map?  Is the developer the person to talk to about the map and countersheet files?

Volko

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Re: Feedback and Q&A Follow-up for A Distant Plain Designers' Interview
« Reply #9 on: August 29, 2012, 08:10:49 PM »
Hi Steven.   MikeB's playtest site has all the files needed to assemble a physical set, including cards and markers as well as the map, both tiled and full sheet.  You would need to come up with some kind of bits for forces:  we use 9mm cubes, 10mm cylinders, and 15mm discs, but Andean Abyss playtesters got creative with chits, plastic bits, and whatnot.  But as mentioned in the interview some testers have already assembled sets so they don't have to rely on Vassal.

Let me know if you need help getting in touch with Mike to get on the Playtest group.  I'm at volkojill@cox.net.

Regards, Volko

saslett

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Re: Feedback and Q&A Follow-up for A Distant Plain Designers' Interview
« Reply #10 on: August 29, 2012, 08:11:58 PM »
"Green Cards/Brain Drain - exodus of guerrilla or government talent to take courses at the University of Phoenix"

This event card really struck me as surreal.  Does University of Phoenix even have a presence in Afghanistan?  Why would taking college classes result in an "exodus" of guerrilla(?) and government talent?  Why would these groups en masse decide to take courses at an American university?  In what?  Is this some sort of not-so-subtle dig at the University of Phoenix?  I'm confused.  Is there a particular reason this event is what it is?

Why not replace this event with something more plausible like: "Brain Drain: growing Afghan private sector lures away government / guerrilla talent" or "Green Cards: coalition-employed Afghanis flock to take advantage of U.S. green card program"

Anyway, like everyone on this board, I'm greatly looking forward to the game and have already preordered my copy.  This particular event just struck me as really weird. 

Good luck with the designing and play testing!

Offline LongBlade

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Re: Feedback and Q&A Follow-up for A Distant Plain Designers' Interview
« Reply #11 on: August 29, 2012, 09:18:44 PM »
"Green Cards/Brain Drain - exodus of guerrilla or government talent to take courses at the University of Phoenix"

I chalked that up to a good sense of humor. But the good news is that my guess isn't necessary; we have the developers here :)

Offline LongBlade

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Re: Feedback and Q&A Follow-up for A Distant Plain Designers' Interview
« Reply #12 on: August 29, 2012, 09:26:11 PM »
In re-reading your interview, I was struck by your comment:

Quote
Now, if someone out there were to be in the forecasting business, would they gain anything useful from the (much simplified) model of the Afghan insurgency that is in the game?

(emphasis added)

In wargaming there is always a tradeoff between realism and playability - even fun.

How did you arrive at this balance?

Are you satisfied that you've accurately encapsulated the essence of the conflict?

Why did you draw the lines where you did (money, too much detail to be interesting, etc.)?

What would you add to make a more "realistic" game if you the above constraint(s) weren't there?

Offline btrain

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Re: Feedback and Q&A Follow-up for A Distant Plain Designers' Interview
« Reply #13 on: August 30, 2012, 10:30:41 AM »
"Green Cards/Brain Drain - exodus of guerrilla or government talent to take courses at the University of Phoenix"

I chalked that up to a good sense of humor. But the good news is that my guess isn't necessary; we have the developers here :)

Jesus H., the literal mind will have me yet.
Yes, I have a good sense of humour, or so my wife tells me.
Your substitute text accomplishes the same purpose.

Online bayonetbrant

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Re: Feedback and Q&A Follow-up for A Distant Plain Designers' Interview
« Reply #14 on: August 30, 2012, 11:02:31 AM »
"Green Cards/Brain Drain - exodus of guerrilla or government talent to take courses at the University of Phoenix"

This event card really struck me as surreal.  Does University of Phoenix even have a presence in Afghanistan?  Why would taking college classes result in an "exodus" of guerrilla(?) and government talent? 

I think the joke was that the US grants a lot of green card exemptions to Afghan intelligentsia to come to school in the US, so everyone leaves the country to head to the US for school.  They're not taking courses in Afghanistan - they're leaving for the US (hence, the exodus).

The chuckle in there about UofP is that their key admission criteria is "can you pay for it?"
The key to surviving this site is to not say something which ends up as someone's tag line - Steelgrave

"their citizens (all of them counted as such) glorified their mythology of 'rights'...and lost track of their duties. No nation, so constituted, can endure." Robert Heinlein, Starship Troopers