Review: Afghanistan ’1115 Nov 2017 3
Review: Afghanistan ’11
Released 24 Oct 2017
Afghanistan ’11 is the follow-up to Vietnam ‘65, a well-received wargame that approached the subject matter from an entirely different angle. The game adheres to the same basic rule set as its predecessor but still manages to introduce some fresh ideas of its own.
As the US Commander, it is your job to win over the hearts and minds of the local citizens by visiting villages, delivering aid, defeating insurgents, and expanding and securing the road network. Visiting a village not only shows your support but is also a useful intelligence gathering exercise. You may get a lead on the location of a Taliban hideout, or booby-trapped stretch of road. However, keeping the locals sympathetic to your cause is far from easy. They will soon begin to lose confidence in the occupying forces if allied units suffer serious losses or run out of supplies. Voices of dissent will also increase if the local militia feel intimidated by the enemy or the village has its water supplies cut off.
To further complicate matters you also have to strive to maintain public support back home. Actions in Afghanistan ’11 cost political points, which are a measure of Washington’s confidence in your abilities. You can improve your standing by stabilising regions and training local troops, with the long-term goal being to hand over control to the Afghanistan National Army (ANA). Conversely, an over-reliance on expensive reinforcements and high casualties will cause your support to dwindle.
Units cost ever-increasing amounts of political points to recruit, with helicopters being especially expensive. Consequently, you will be operating with a strictly limited number of units at your disposal. Soldiers can be either basic infantry units or Special Forces squads; these are especially useful as they can train locals to fight in the Afghanistan National Army. Other vital units are the Husky which is great at clearing roads of improvised explosive devices and the Buffalo which is used for constructing roads and bases. Most of the remaining units are a mix of helicopters and road vehicles that are used to transport goods and supplies.
Expanding your area of control requires the construction of forward operating bases (FOB). These not only serve as a stronghold but are also a good stop off point to heal the injured and repair vehicles. At its heart, Afghanistan ’11 is a game of military logistics, so you will spend most of your time maintaining a reliable road network and shuttling supplies. Unlike Vietnam ’65, your communication network relies very much on ground-based units rather than the prohibitively expensive helicopters. Halfway through a wargame review and I still haven’t mentioned combat. Truth be told, you will not be engaging in a significant number of face-to-face battles. The harsh environment and nature of the enemy mean that most often the best option is to send up a drone to track an enemy unit and then order an airstrike. The start menu confronts you with a rather creepy disembodied uniform. This, as well as recording your achievements in the form of medals and decorations, also serves as a reminder of the faceless and impersonal nature of modern warfare.
New to Afghanistan ’11 are political elections, which occur every 15 turns or so. Each candidate will have a manifesto of policies that will either help or hinder US efforts. With this in mind, you can influence the result by investing political points in a particular party. Also new is a campaign with 18 scenarios, including four tutorials. Each level is introduced with some historical background information that, together with regular news events, really helps to set the scene. The campaign gives the game a real sense of purpose, but the versatile skirmish mode has also made its way over from Vietnam ’65. Here, you have fifty turns to recruit and train units for the Afghanistan army. At this point, the US troops return home and it is up to the Afghanistan units to maintain a stable situation for a further ten turns. If you managed to uphold a high hearts and minds rating then your mission is deemed a success. With a challenging AI across four difficulty levels, Afghanistan ’11 certainly offers plenty of longevity.
New players are likely to find that the learning curve is steeper than the Hindu Kush, and the liberal scattering of acronyms that the tutorials throw at you doesn’t help. However, in general, the training levels are well designed, and although a little overwhelming at first sight, they do a great job of gradually introducing the game’s concepts. One glaring omission is the lack of a manual - there is no way that you are going to remember all of the information that the tutorials throw at you and with no in-game help text, it is even more essential. The manual can be found online, but such an omission is baffling. The game has a few bugs too - tutorials can be impossible to complete if you make the wrong move and scenarios sometimes continue even after you have lost all of your units. On occasions the game crashed or sometimes froze when attempting to reload. None of these break the game, but they do suggest that the game needed more playtesting.
I realise that the desert landscape gives graphic designers little scope to stretch their pallets, but there is no escaping the fact that the game looks rather dull. Furthermore, the use of camouflage is a little too effective, which means that identifying individual units can be a pain. The icons are clear and responsive, but it is too easy to click the unit renaming option by mistake. In terms of audio, there is a suitably middle-eastern soundtrack and a smattering of whirling helicopter blades and static radio communications.
You will have gathered that there is a lot more to Afghanistan ’11 than just plonking your troops on a map and engaging the enemy. Indeed, you will spend more time building roads, supplying villages and clearing mines than fighting. You may even question if the game can be classed as an actual wargame. Yes, you fight battles but the vast majority of these are concerned with winning hearts and minds, not only of the locals but also back home.
You quickly realise that you are being thrown into a David and Goliath situation, and if you are not careful then the end result will be the same. You may have vastly superior equipment on hand but when the enemy briefly emerges from secret caves to plant bombs, or make fleeting excursions across the Pakistan border to stage an ambush, you feel anything but in control. Keeping track of everything is both absorbing and challenging and it is easy to see a potential winning situation rapidly descend into chaos.
Not many games leave you feeling like you have had a genuine insight into the subject matter, but Afghanistan ’11 left me feeling informed without patronising or preaching. Obviously, the approach to the whole issue is simplified and the solutions idealised, yet I still came away feeling I had a better understanding of the Afghanistan situation.