A Few First Impressions [Colonial Twilight: The French Algerian War, 1954 – 62] from GMT Games

The French Algerian war and the COIN system are, let’s face it, a match made in heaven.

Now, I’m not saying that the French Algerian war is a topic I knew huge amounts about initially or even that I was interested in Colonial Twilight because of its theme at first, but since discovering that GMT were coming out with a two player COIN game, the theme has certainly become a very big topic of interest. 

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This two player games sees the insurgents Front de Liberation Nationale (FLN) building   enormous popular support for it’s cause and organizing to assume power when Algeria finally gains it’s independence. The Government, representing both the colonial authorities and France’s military leadership, must engage the nationalist insurgency decisively while striving to preserve the support and commitment of the civilian government and society.

Basically, the FLN want their independence and are going to fight to get it. 

Gameplay

First of all, here are the rules: Colonial Twilight Rules

I’m going to give you an overview and talk a bit about a few things that really stood out to me. 

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Initiative track

The initiative track is the first thing. Once set up has been done, the First Eligible player can play the their turn, they can play the Event card that is currently showing, conduct an operation with or without a special activity, or pass.

The game is played over a series of rounds but the rounds are very much dependent on the initiative track. Event cards are drawn until there is a Propaganda phase, which I will talk a little bit more about later. 

Once the first player has completed their actions, they will place their eligibility cylinder in the appropriate box on the Initiative Track and now it’s the second player’s turn.

There’s a catch though. If I’m the second player, can I just place my cylinder anywhere?  NO, of course not. I must take an action that is adjacent to the first player’s action. That might seem like a minor thing, but it really isn’t. It definitely controls the game to a certain point.

The initiative track in Colonial twilight is genius. It makes decision making in the game so much easier but at the same time, every decision made is still crucial and not to be taken lightly.

Then you have the other actions you can take, Limited Operations which basically means you can take an action, but only in one place (limited) and Operation.

In the latest game of Colonial Twilight that I played, it felt like the first half of the game was definitely in my favour. Being the second eligible player for quite a while actually meant I had a bit of time to just get on with what I wanted to without too much hassle from the FLN. The FLN might have had access to the Event cards but I had access to perform an Executive Op & Special activity. That’s two actions, and those Special Activities are indeed, pretty special. 

 

Player Aids

I love these players aids for a few reasons. I found the rulebook quite difficult to manage for some reason, I haven’t figured out why yet. I know that isn’t helpful, but it’s the truth. I have read a lot of COIN rulebooks, and hundreds of rulebooks that are not of the COIN variety but something just didn’t stick for me with this one, after a few more plays I’m  hoping that this will change.

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Luckily, the player aid was so helpful that we could almost play the game with the support of that, and the odd look in the rulebook just to clarify something. 

I know the player aids and flow charts in wargames can seem a bit daunting at first but once you’ve got the hang of it, they are really helpful and Colonial Twilight has is right. The player aids are simple, functional and it’s made very clear what your actions are. 

Theme

A two player COIN game is genius, and what an incredible theme to start off with. It almost feels like a cat and mouse chase constantly during the game.

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If you’re the FLN, the aim of the game is to basically build as many bases as you can, setting up camp in the mountains, crossing borders and from experience, the FLN are not easy to wipe out. You have to find them, they will be underground, and activate them before you can even think about removing them. Not only must you build bases, you must protect those bases too. Luckily, what the FLN lack in volume of troops and resources, they make up for in creativity and sheer motivation, slowly building up support, training forces and hanging onto their bases for dear life. The FLN are determined, and will do whatever it takes to prevent the French from a victory. The Government however, are big and bold, with copious amounts of powerful resources. As well as using Algerian troops and police to their advantage, they are built to come in and sweep out the FLN, and they sure do.

Brian Train has the theme SPOT ON. I know I said earlier, that the theme didn’t interest me initially and that is true, but the more research I did, the more I started to appreciate the design of the game and what Brian Train has done here. Cleverly taking the COIN system and translating it into something more accessible, in my opinion.

A lot of people have asked me, is it easier than other COIN games due to it being a two player and the answer is no. Gameplay isn’t easier, but it is shorter, of course and a little less complicated, a little less cluttered. 

How is it accessible then? 

For one, it’s shorter playing time.

I have offered to teach people I play games with COIN games a lot and one of the issues that comes up is the length of the game, being able to condense that definitely makes it less intimidating for people and that is something I approve of. I’m not saying that there is anything wrong with liking long or short games or whatever but it’s nice to have the option of something shorter. 

Also, from a purely selfish aspect. It’s great to only have to deal with one bot, rather than three. I love playing games in solitaire mode, it’s therapy for me but sometimes it can feel a little bit like hard work. I’m not saying that I don’t like that because I do, it’s part of the challenge for me, the brain burning challenge, but occasionally I want something quick still that still has that COIN depth and goodness, Colonial Twilight delivers that, one hundred percent.

I find it easier getting two player games to the table, too. Liberty or Death is another COIN game, probably my favourite but getting that to the table is a nightmare, getting four people to commit to a time and place to play it is just impossible sometimes. Of course, not everybody has that problem and I occasionally don’t but Colonial Twilight feels like something I can get to the table a lot more and for that, I am thankful.

Does it replace four player COIN games? Of course not and it doesn’t need to, because they are still great but it is incredible to have another option available and I’m excited to keep playing as I’m almost certain this will get a lot of table time.

 

Event Cards

Another thing I love about Colonial Twilight, the Event Cards, and believe me, they are not for the easily frustrated. 

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They are pretty cut throat at times and it definitely can sway the game a little bit. Some Event Cards are so tempting that your opponent will have no other choice than to play them, leaving you to your two actions like I mentioned before. Let’s just say though, those event cards can be pretty brutal at times and it definitely shakes the game up a lot. 

 

Final Thoughts

Colonial Twilight was a big hit for me, those harsh event cards, the tug of war game play and the suited theme. 

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I went into my initial game of Colonial Twilight with the excitement of being able to play a two player COIN game and I came out of my initial game with the excitement of wanting to know more about The French Algerian war, wanting to discover the history behind this  graceful design and explore the different strategies I can play through out the game. 

Like other COIN games, it’s going to take a considerable amount of plays to really get a feel for exactly what I’m doing but from what I’ve seen and experienced already, I think it’s going to be a staple in my board game collection. 

 

Thank you for reading, please let me know in the comments if you have had the chance to play Colonial Twilight and what you thought of it.

Adobe Spark

 

 

 

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4 comments

  1. One of the best things about war games and others of these type of games is that they get you to want to learn more about the subject & theme that the game is about. GMT games do this for me more then most because the design & components are so well integrated and designers like Mark Herman, Volko Ruhnke as well as many others are so good at immersing players into these historical situations & events.

    Another fine article that helps to sell the above points as well as showing just how much fun these games are as well. I love your writing style and your enthusiasm which is so evident in everything you write or tweet about this great hobby we all love!

    Merry Christmas Katie and I look forward to more of your words & reviews in 2018!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for your lovely review. I’m so happy you enjoyed this!

    “The French Algerian war and the COIN system are, let’s face it, a match made in heaven.”

    You’re exactly right, for an extended reason.
    Back in 2000 I published a game called “Algeria: the War of Independence 1954-62” through the Microgame Design Group, a DTP-format (you had to mount and cut the counters yourself) game publishing outfit that was was the first game ever published, in any language, on the war.
    (There is a persistent amnesia and denial by the French about that war and its effect on their politics, culture and society ever since, more thorough and profound than the American failure to come to terms with the Vietnam experience; over the years I have had a very few reactions from individual French gamers on this game and Colonial Twilight, but almost no reviews.)
    It used a development of a system I had worked out for insurgencies: other games in the family (to use the term quite loosely, as there are considerable differences between the designs) include my designs Tupamaro (Uruguay 1968-72), Shining Path (Peru 1980-95), Andartes (Greece 1947-49) and Kandahar (Afghanistan 2009-11).
    In 2007-08 a teaching colleague of Volko Ruhnke discovered the game, and together we worked out a simpler version of it for him to use in his classes.
    Volko saw the game and it gave him some ideas for what would become the COIN system; I helped playtest his game Andean Abyss in 2010 and I could see he was on to something, then the game came out the following year and I saw he had name-checked me in his designer’s notes!
    So in a sense I’ve kind of come full circle, working on the third game ever published on the war, using a system partly inspired by the first.

    Colonial Twilight features a few things ported over from “Algeria”, to reflect the special nature of the conflict: the Neutralization special activity, the Border Zones, and the Coup d’etat and OAS Pivotal Event cards are implementations of mechanics in that earlier game.

    I hope you enjoy future plays of this game!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I love the COIN system and have all the games in the series … apart from ‘Colonial Twilight’. For some reason the theme just didn’t grab me. However, having read your review my interest has definitely been piqued and I am going to take the plunge and purchase it

    Great review!

    Mark

    Liked by 1 person

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