A Distant Plain

Northern Afghanistan descends into chaos as the Warlords keep forgetting to stay quiet!

I was given a copy of A Distant Plain for my birthday last year, having asked for something a little more political and of a chunkier length than many of the board games I already owned. The problem was, the time required to play even the short version seemed daunting and finding people willing to give it a go was proving problematic. Thankfully this weekend a few friends were willing to give it a try, and whilst they were less than enamored with it, I’m pretty convinced that it is the game I was looking for. Afterwards I went home and had a look at things again and I think I understand it more now.

It needs four players.
Four players is key to the experience, as if one player takes on two roles they end up just preventing others from winning rather than moving towards victory themselves. Whilst the Coalition and the Government have very similar goals (relying on support to produce a big hit of their points), the Taliban and the Warlords don’t really overlap and should be working against each other as much as the others. Looking at things afterwards I realised that the Warlords shouldn’t be attacking at all, but keeping a low profile, building bases and turning that into cash – I think on a second run through I’d approach them completely differently.

Everyone should read the crib sheet beforehand.
The game helpfully provides a crib sheet that details the actions each faction can take. Before you play the game everyone should read this to understand what the other factions can do. Each faction has access to broadly the same four actions (Recruit, Search, Move and Attack), but it’s the second list of Special Activities that makes them tick. Being able to play a Special Activity opens up the game and gets you closer to victory.

The Warlords should be quiet and avoid conflict.
The Warlords win by having a largely uncontrolled country and a mass of money from opium growing. I now realise that the key to their strategy is building bases and letting the Coalition and Government fight the Taliban rendering the country uncontrolled whilst they turn crops into money. Their most important activity is “Traffic”, it allows them to make money from bases and doesn’t care where they are. The Government and Taliban should actively encourage a Warlord base in their controlled areas as they siphon off some of the profits in the form of resources and patronage. If the Warlords aren’t attacking and aren’t preventing either side from controlling then they should be a tolerated presence/ Once they have the resources and a bumper of cash they can then try to destabilise the country and become more aggressive in the end game.

The Government is all about Patronage.
Let the Coalition gain control of the country, you should be siphoning of the aid into Patronage. The “Govern” activity is key here, if the Coalition is gaining control of population (their primary way of scoring) then you should be able to gain ten or more Patronage each time you act. Remember that even if the Taliban begin to take over, provided you maintain Kabul and another Province worth at least two population then you should be gaining five – ten Patronage each time you carry out the “Govern” action.

The Coalition should prepare to be fighting everyone.
Ignore the Warlords, if they’re playing right they’ll never be looking to get into a fight. Allow them to build up their Resources to whatever level they want, but keep an eye on the Uncontrolled Population and only act against them when this gets close to their goal. Prevent the Taliban from building bases inside Afghanistan so that they are forced to operate when possible from Pakistan, and remember to use the Governments forces to do the dirty work. The “Surge” activity is the only one you have that allows you to get closer to victory without aiding the others and can be used to bribe the Warlord player by diverting money to them instead of the Government – use it to ensure that the Warlords maintain a light touch.

The Taliban should focus their activities.
The Taliban has the lowest numerical victory condition of all the forces, but gaining control of a province is difficult for them as unlike the Coalition / Government they can’t rely on another faction to help them keep control. They should be largely ignoring the Warlords until they are the last block in a province (remembering that where the Warlords can score by cultivating opium, they’ll also gain free recruits) and remove Coalition > Government Troops > Government Police in that order. Targeting high value provinces on the Pakistan border is key to victory (and bagging Kabul would be the icing on the cake), and of all the factions I think they benefit the most from using the Event Cards, especially when it allows them to maintain operations in Pakistan.

I’m certainly looking forward to giving it another run through, and it’s been recommended that I try the Government as they seemed to be possibly the most frustrating element to play (although I think the Taliban possibly have the hardest goal, the Warlords the easiest). I just need to find some people willing to give it a try.

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