This weekend, I finally got a real deep dive into designer Brian Train’s installment in the COIN-series entitled Colonial Twilight: The French-Algerian War, 1954-62 (GMT Games, 2017). This is not the first COIN game I have played; I also own (and have played) Harold Buchanan’s highly thematic Liberty or Death: The American Insurrection (GMT Games, 2016). As much as I love Liberty or Death, I found Colonial Twilight a much easier game to digest and get into playing quickly.
All Sides Count
One reason Colonial Twilight is easier to absorb stems in part because it is a two-player game, unlike Liberty or Death which is a two-sided but four-way affair. The four factions in Liberty or Death are highly thematic, but that deep theme comes at the cost of additional rules overhead. Colonial Twilight, being a two-sided affair, is by nature more streamlined.
Rules and Theme
That said, I found the rule book for Colonial Twilight even more thematically connected than the already highly thematic rules for Liberty or Death. For some reason, I was able to very quickly grok the Colonial Twilight rules whereas it always takes a slow refresher for me to assimilate Liberty or Death when I pull it out.
I also have to say that the Initiative Track in Colonial Twilight was a key factor in developing my understanding of the COIN series. This new track opened my eyes to the real beauty of the COIN system. The simple graphical representation is actually the same initiative track found in other COIN games but the layout and shading instantly lets me see the relationship of Events, Operations, and Limited Operations. It just makes so much more intuitive sense to me than the Sequence of Play in Liberty or Death.
I will admit that the hardest part of playing Colonial Twilight is the history and geography. I have great trust in Mr. Train that he has captured many of the key events of the era and every play of the game is educational. It is also challenging because, unlike Liberty or Death where I often “know” what the event is relating, in Colonial Twilight it is much murkier. Sure, the text of the card tells you the effect, but what it “means” is found in the Playbook. Fortunately, the streamlined two-player/faction situation and rules means the “brain burn” is balanced between play and “understanding” the unfolding events.
The Real COIN Payoff
The best side-effect of learning and enjoying Colonial Twilight is that I have a better understanding of the COIN-series writ large. Through Colonial Twilight, I now see (and understand) the core game mechanics of COIN better than I did before. It’s not that it simplified COIN, it’s just streamlined to the core essentials and the rules are matched to theme so well. For example, the Government Operations in Colonial Twilight of Train, Garrison, Sweep, or Assault is actually not that different than the British Commands of Muster, Garrison, March, or Battle in Liberty or Death. I have to smile ruefully when I see that the FLN Operations of Rally, March, Attack, and Terror is not that different from the Patriots Rally, March, Battle, or Rabble-Rousing in Liberty or Death. After playing Colonial Twilight, I have an itch to get Liberty or Death to the table well ahead of my traditional 4th of July gaming event. That said, I think I am going to get a few more games of Colonial Twilight in to better explore the topic of the game and learn COIN better.
I realize I am very late to the COIN party; Andean Abyss (COIN #1) is already seven years old. I also missed out on the GMT Games P500 COIN-fest reprint in late 2018. Not every COIN title appeals to me, but I would have not tried Colonial Twilight except for it being a Brian Train title so I apparently cannot depend solely on the subject as the measure of my interest. That said, I get the feeling that Fire in the Lake: Insurgency in Vietnam (GMT Games, 2014+) may be acquired in the near future….