Afghanistan '11 - A Different Take on Strategic War Games
It was late September 2011 and a young Army Specialist was taking his first trip "outside of the wire" in a convoy for the first time. He loaded up his equipment into the Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicle and sat nervously in the staging yard, waiting to roll out. The convoy wasn't long, roughly an hour long trip, but trouble is quick and dynamic. Thankfully this trip went off without a hitch and he found himself with a lot of work to do for the next few weeks on a small combat outpost.
The above story both is and isn't from Afghanistan '11. It took place there, but not in the game -- in my actual Life. In 2011 I was deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in eastern Afghanistan. For 12 months the mountains were my home and the mortars were my reminder that I wasn't exactly welcome there. So for me, Afghanistan '11 (A11) had a lot to live up to.
In A11 you play the role of the commander of U.S. operations. Every decision, every patrol, every mistake is yours and yours alone. The game has 4 tutorial missions and 18 playable campaign missions. This game isn't like your traditional turn-based war strategy game as the game is based on the idea of Counter-Insurgency, also known as COIN, which is based around winning the support of the local population through various methods.
You can build relations with the local population by having regular infantry patrols to the outlying villages. You can also deliver humanitarian supplies and even build water towers for the villages for a boost in popularity. There are a number of factors that have to be taken into account before you do things which touches on the logistics that soldiers are faced with in the actual theater such as running out of rations/fuel/ammunition.
There are also hazards that you have to look out for, such as Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDS) that can cause severe damage and even death to your units, causing a loss of support back at home and less trust from the local population.
H&M and PP
In close to every mission your goal is to make sure that your H&M, hearts and minds rating, is at least over 50. This can be difficult at times as there are so many things that you're going to be juggling. Do you send an infantry unit out on a patrol to a village to try to gain some points or do you send them as security with your supply truck that is desperately needed at one of your Forward Operating Bases (FOB)?
I feel that the H&M system fits really well into this game. This is an actual factor that we had to deal with while I was in Afghanistan -- we wanted the local population to want our help. Villages that like you are willing to share intel, like where IEDs have been planted or where enemy forces are on the map. There are also a number of ways to both gain and lose H&M.
Sure, you took out that poppy field making it harder for the insurgents to fund their campaign but the village didn't like that. They do like it when you neutralize insurgent forces nearby, however. Or when you come with a truck loaded up with humanitarian aid.
Political Points, PP, function in a similar way but it's more concerned with support from the people of the United States. PP is also the driving force of your capabilities in theater, so if you're in the negative you're not going to be able to do much.
You can gain PP by destroying poppy fields, neutralizing insurgents, and disabling IEDs. You can also easily lose PP from units taking damage/being destroyed which can happen at a moment's notice from a well-placed ambush.
The team over at Every Single Soldier did a pretty good job with unit selections and balancing the units. Every unit type plays its part in the greater scheme of things and no one unit feels like it's overpowered. I personally like the fact that they made it so that the special forces units are the ones that train the Afghan National Army units, much like how it's actually been done in the past.
Eventually, the goal is to actually hand over command to the ANA so it's important to juggle having your special forces units train the ANA as well as using them and their special abilities to secure objectives that might prove difficult for other units.
Another interesting realism factor in A11 is the elections system. as you start getting longer into the missions elections will be held which can really significantly impact the game in a number of ways. Villages could be more or less helpful, intel harder to get, and penalties for your actions being more serious. You can use some of your precious PP to help sway the election in favor of a candidate of choice or leave it up to the luck of the draw.
Even the achievement system is based around the Army "Dress Blues" or Class A uniform. There are a few of the awards that are not properly named like the Combat Action Badge being called an Infantry Assault Badge, and some of the other awards not being properly labeled so hopefully, they can get that ironed out in a follow-up patch.
Afghanistan '11 was an interesting game to play from the standpoint of someone who had actually been there and experienced aspects of it firsthand. The graphics are good but not really a big focal point of the game. Where this game's strength lies is the tactical play. You're constantly thinking about your next move. Do you use your chinook to deliver supplies to the FOB or do you risk taking the roads that might have IEDs? Do you try to train one more ANA unit, or have your special forces team take out some poppy fields? Do you build the water tower for the nearby village or use your PP to bring in another unit?
At only 10 hours and the first 3 missions completed there is still so much game left to play. And with a price tag of $29.99, it's an affordable title with lots of replay value. If you're a fan of turn-based strategy and you're looking for something a bit different I would recommend Afghanistan '11. You can find the steam page here and, at the time of writing this review the game is on sale for $26.99.
Note: A copy of this game was provided by the developer for review.