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Struggle with Insurgency in Somalia, Command the US 29th Infantry Division, and Battle in the Balkans

by Candice Harris

GMT‘s COIN Series continues to expand and evolve with Yann de Villeneuve‘s A Fading Star: Insurgency and Piracy in Somalia, which is a newer addition to GMT’s P500 pre-order system, and sounds very intriguing. A Fading Star sets 1-4 players in Africa for a more modern look at insurgency struggles as detailed below by the publisher:

A Fading Star: Insurgency and Piracy in Somalia is Volume XV of the COIN Series originally designed by Volko Ruhnke. The year is 2007. We reach the climax of the several decades of civil war that have ravaged Somalia since the fall of dictator Siad Barre in 1991. An African Union coalition, assisted by the Ethiopian army, enters Mogadishu to support a nascent but corrupt Transitional Federal Government. They face a relentless and violent insurgency waged by Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen, an Islamic group seeking both to expel the “invaders” and to transcend the traditional clan-based government structure of Somalia. In the middle of this power vacuum, minor clans and warlords organize themselves to administrate otherwise ungoverned regions, while others engage in large-scale piracy operations, painting their acts as a fight against foreign trawlers pillaging Somali fishing resources.

Prototype box cover


—-• An updated take on contemporary aspects of insurgency and peacebuilding. The Al-Shabaab insurgent enjoys intelligence supremacy that allows them to conduct deadly out-of-turn ambushes, while facing a slightly less pronounced asymmetrical disadvantage than insurgent factions in previous volumes (due to the comparative weakness of the Transitional Federal Government). On the other hand, the African Union Mission’s logistical, kinetic, and peacebuilding capacities will evolve as contributing countries join or leave the coalition throughout the game.

—-• Intense urban warfare is depicted in more detail through the struggle for control of the capital city Mogadishu. Controlling a majority of districts will provide the ruling faction with further legitimacy and enhanced capabilities. However, limited operational effectiveness, mobility restrictions, and the looming threat from a major Al-Shabaab offensive will greatly slow the COIN factions’ progress toward stabilizing the city.

—-• A new ‘Clan Struggle’ interphase draws out some of the conflict’s unique uncertainties. All sides bid to forge new alliances with local clans, bringing new blood to the battlefield, while the African Union must deal with the consequences of delayed reinforcements or unilateral withdrawals by member countries, and the Pirate warlords collect lucrative tolls from roads and ports that they control.

—-• A unique piracy subsystem debunks the Somali pirate mythos and explores how piracy stakeholders’ interests actually intersected with other local actors during the golden age of Indian Ocean hostage-taking.

Each turn eligible players will select from a faction-specific menu of Operations and Special Activities in an order determined by the current Event card, or choose to trigger the Event text. Typical Operations include Sweep, Assault, March, and Attack, with more unique Operations and Special Activities reflecting the specific nature of this conflict and the factions involved. Regular play is periodically interrupted by Propaganda rounds, during which early victory is possible and some upkeep is conducted; and by Clan Struggle rounds (unique to this game), during which all players have the opportunity to bid for the loyalty of an unaligned regional clan. If nobody achieves an early victory then the winner will be determined by comparing victory thresholds in the final Propaganda round. Each faction has unique victory conditions relating to their aims and objectives during this period of history.

Faction descriptions:

—-• Al-Shabaab wages a deadly Islamist insurgency against the African Union ‘occupiers’ and their dependent Transitional Federal Government allies. A clear edge in media warfare provides them with significant recruiting capacities that will help them build a Somali caliphate transcending the customary clan system.

—-• Ugandan and Burundian troops serving in the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) aim to enforce peace, build support for the Transitional Federal Government, and train the weak federal army. Neighboring Ethiopia and Kenya may also enter the scene to stabilize their respective borders while interfering in Somali politics.

—-• An abysmally weak Transitional Federal Government seeks to survive in a besieged Mogadishu while reaching out into the rest of the country to advance the federalization process. Unprecedented embezzlement capacities and partnerships with like-minded clans may offer the consecutive administrations an opportunity to survive the conflict unharmed and more prosperous than ever, and a new kind of militia unit emphasizes the opportunistic nature of the Somali clans’ agendas.

—-• Pirates, minor clans, and unaligned warlords pursue their enrichment projects by raiding the high seas or setting up roadblocks across unruly parts of the country. They’ll settle for a “customary” Somalia, neither rooted in sharia law nor totally anchored to the liberal world order.

• Another GMT P500 game to check out is Fighting Formations: US 29th Infantry Division, which is a tactical World War II game for 2 players designed by the late Chad Jensen, and developed by John Foley and Kai Jensen. US 29th Infantry Division is the second volume in GMT’s Fighting Formation Series after Fighting Formations: Grossdeutschland Motorized Infantry Division, which was released in 2011.

Being a fan of Chad Jensen’s prior releases, Combat Commander and Dominant Species/Dominant Species: Marine, and after reading the publisher’s detailed description below, I’m very curious to explore this system.

Fighting Formations is intended to be an ongoing series of wargames covering WWII tactical combined-arms combat at the platoon and squad levels. Each game in the series will feature a distinct combat unit, highlighting battles in which that unit participated as well as its particular order of battle and fighting characteristics. In this second volume of Fighting Formations, we feature the US 29th Infantry Division—“Blue and Gray”—as it fought from just after D-Day in June of 1944 to the end of the year.

GAME FLOW: In each scenario, one player will take command of elements of the featured unit while the other assumes control of the opposing forces. These two players will alternate giving orders, activating their units on the map for various military functions. Players attempt to achieve victory by moving their combat units across the game map to attack their opponent’s units and to achieve as many scenario objectives as possible. The degree to which a player succeeds or fails is measured by a scenario’s specific victory conditions—be it the destruction of enemy units, the taking of vital mapboard objectives, or the exiting of friendly units off the opponent’s map edge.

P500 box cover

ORDERS & INITIATIVE: Each game turn is divided into ten orders, with each player performing a variable number of these orders. In each turn, the sequence of play is fluid—with orders being given by the active player and reactions being taken by both players—depending upon the relative initiative level at any given moment. Fighting Formations is also not the typical Igo-Yougo fare with a strict sequence of play. Instead, the base game engine is an impulse-type back and forth mechanic whereby the various Orders carry with them a certain cost in Initiative. The game has a “pool” of 40 Initiative that is “spent” to give orders and then to activate units for those orders. At the end of every order, the player with the most Initiative is able to give the next order. In response, the opponent can also spend Initiative to conduct both Opportunity Fire (at moving units) or Reactive Fire (at firing units).

ASSETS: The game has Asset cards—including smoke, artillery, air support, man-portable support weapons and demolitions—but is not card-driven. Each Asset will either take the place of a standard order or provide the player with some form of reactionary capability during an order.

SPECIAL RULES: FF:29 is a stand-alone game in the Fighting Formations game series. While utilizing the basic rules, FF:29’s playbook includes specific terrain, fortification, and unit special action rules in order to more accurately portray tactical warfare as experienced by the participants in France, Holland, and Germany during this time period.

SCALE: The scale of the game is 75 meters per hex with turns representing about 5 minutes of real time.

UNITS: Units represent infantry squads, guns with their inherent crews, and individual vehicles. Platoons are also employed. Leaders are abstractly represented by Command markers, each one coordinating the actions of friendly units within a scenario-defined radius.

The Doomsday Project: Episode 2 – The Battle for the Balkans is a Q1 2023 release from Adam Starkweather and Compass Games, which is at the tail end of its rapid Kickstarter campaign (KS link), targeted to deliver next month (March 2023). The Battle for the Balkans can be played with 1-4 players and introduces political rules to this unique series focused on hypothetical wars. It is a follow-up to The Doomsday Project: Episode 1 – The Battle for Germany, which was released in 2021.

Here’s a a very brief description of the series and what you can expect from Episode 2:

The Doomsday Project is a subseries of the Operational Scale System featuring wars that never happened. There will be games on the Persian Gulf, the Balkans, the far north, the Far East, the strategic naval war, and of course, a game of total nuclear war. Episode Two, The Battle for the Balkans game, as you will see in all additional games in The Doomsday Project, will add another facet to the mechanics of the system. Sophisticated political rules will make their appearance. Players will have to contend with heads of state and their positives and negatives in play. Rules to retrofit these rules into the Germany game will be provided as well.

• For the solo players, and those who enjoy nautical World War II games, Die Seehunde from designer Simon Kohlruss is another 2023 release to check out from Compass Games. Die Seehunde looks and sounds super cool, and plays in 30-45 minutes.

Here’s a high-level overview of how it works from the designer:

Die Seehunde is a solitaire nautical wargame set in the last months of World War 2. You, the player, will be in command of a two crew midget submarine Type XXVIIB called “Seehund” (Seal; plural “Seehunde, die”) or simply “Hund” (Hound) by its crews. Equipped with two G7e Torpedoes, the Seehund was designed as a short range commerce raider for deployment in the North Sea.

The game play is divided into two games, which are connected to each other. You will start with the Strategic Game, which is played on a geographic map of the British Channel and it surrounding coasts. Here you will be at risk of encountering different events and challenges while searching for convoys to attack. Once you find a convoy, the Strategic Game pauses, and you switch to the Tactical Game, which is played on a large map, which is centered around the encountered convoy. You will try to maneuver as close a possible to identify the individual vessels

and pick the biggest fish. For torpedo simulation, the game uses a simplified mechanism, which allows you to attack from any angle and any range with minimal restrictions. Once there is no more to achieve against this convoy, you will try to escape the scene by grounding your submarine on the seafloor and hoping for the best.

After your escape, play will continue with the Strategic Game, where you can now choose to continue your journey, or head back to the home harbor of IJmuiden. Once you reach harbor, the game comes to a happy ending. But don’t be fooled, as there is only one happy end, and a dozen ways to die in the cold waters of the North Sea.


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