Friday, March 25, 2011

Why Am I So Excited About A Game Called "Resistance: Road To Liberation"? (Kickstarter.com)

Three reasons, actually.

First, Resistance: Road To Liberation is a tabletop role playing game.  Yes, yes, like Dungeons and Dragons and Traveler and a whole bunch of other games.  

The difference here is that the game intends to be historically accurate and based, initially, on the various resistance movements of WWII.  

I have had a chance to speak with the designer, however, and he indicated that his intent is to move beyond WWII and to develop rules and scenarios appropriate to the current spate of revolutionary and resistance movements going on in the Middle East and elsewhere.

Role playing has a long history as an intelligence analysis technique.  Dick Heuer and Randy Pherson devote a chapter to it in their recent book, Structured Analytic Techniques For Intelligence Analysis, where they indicate that "role playing is particularly useful for understanding the outcomes of a conflict situation."  Research by Kesten Green at the Victoria University of Wellington  indicates that analysts who role play are over twice as accurate in their estimates as those who use unaided judgment. 

Analytic role playing is typically very unstructured and informal, however.  To get more realistic results, it would seem necessary to realistically constrain the "players".  Taken to its extreme (See, for example, The Marine Corps' Infantry Immersion Simulator which is, in some sense, just role playing on steroids),  it is highly effective but also extremely expensive and time consuming.

It seems to me then that a lightweight role playing game that captured many of the essential constraints without overly burdening the players in either time or money would be a useful tool for exploring resistance movements.  It might also be a lot more engaging than listening to another briefing or reading another report.

The second reason I am excited about Resistance is that it is using Kickstarter.com as a way to fund the game.  Kickstarter has only been around for a very short time but it has already become a major way to fund creative projects.  While most of the projects are small (Resistance is looking for only $4000 in funding to get up and running, for example), some Kickstarter projects have raised over a million dollars. 

On the other hand, Kickstarter also has a fairly brutal kill switch.  If a project doesn't meet the minimum funding level, Kickstarter cancels the donations (which don't get distributed until the minimum is met) and the creator gets nothing at all.

Microfinancing isn't new (Kiva is my personal favorite example) but microfinancing has been traditionally associated only with developing countries.  As an intelligence analyst, anytime I see a new financing model gaining acceptance outside its traditional sphere, I sit up and take notice.  

Don't get me wrong, both Kiva and Kickstarter are excellent organizations and completely above board.  However, any business model that can be used for good can also be used for ill (can anyone say "JihadStarter"?).  Donating $15 or $20 to a worthwhile project on Kiva or Kickstarter is not only a good thing, it is also a cheap education in how these kind of internet based microfinancing sites work.

And the third reason?  The designer is my son, Charlie Wheaton.

OK, OK.  I hear you.  In the interest of full disclosure, yes, I am damn proud of him.  How many of us have wanted to make a living doing something we are passionate about?  How many of us had a plan for turning that dream into reality at age 20?  Yep, "damn proud" about sums it up...

More than that, though, is my interest in what he is doing with the role playing game genre and its possibilities for intelligence analysis.  I have played Resistance and it is a good game that is very different than most role playing games and not just in terms of subject matter.  

He has deliberately kept the rule set streamlined to give the maximum leeway to the players.  He has created a system where groups advance in skills and abilities as well as individuals.  He intends to publish the final version on Kindle as well as in hardback.  The list goes on...

Charlie has been actively designing games for the last three years and, while he has not had any commercial success, he has learned a good bit about design by both studying it and actually getting his hands dirty.  If he can get the money and successfully implement all of his ideas (and, in particular the ones revolving around more modern conflicts), I think we may all have a new tool for analysis and training.

Charlie distributed free copies of the beta version of Resistance at the Origins Game Fair (one of the world's largest) two years ago.  He made a point of giving copies to soldiers that were there.  The feedback he received was universally positive but everyone indicated that it needed more work on the details -- more scenarios, more options for weaponry and tactics and more possibilities in terms of resistance movements.  With the money he gets from Kickstarter (assuming he makes his minimum), he hopes to do all that.

So, if you want to throw a few bucks his way, you can do that here.  He has some neat "premiums" for various levels of contribution but Kickstarter also gives you the option to just donate some money to the cause.  

Likewise, if you know anyone who might be interested don't hesitate to forward them this link or the link to the Kickstarter page.
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5 comments:

Brian Train said...

Very interesting. I am reminded of James Dunnigan's Complete Wargames Handbook, where he discusses designing wargames for the military, and asserts that many commercially available, so-called "hobbyist" manual wargames can yield a +/-5 percent solution. That ought to be quite close enough for the modest money involved, considering the USAF alone spends over six billion dollars a year in training alone.

http://www.hyw.com/books/wargameshandbook/9-wargam.htm

Two of the challenges, aside from getting people to pay enough attention to the thing to play it, are 1) getting enough background knowledge about the situation to make it a passably realistic world for the players to move in and 2) inventive "red teaming" that doesn't consist of just setting up obstacles for the players to overcome.

A good way to think about this is the "matrix game" method developed by Chris Engle.

http://www.hamsterpress.net/engle_matrix_games

I have participated in some of these games, along with professional military people and consultants to the military who use them for training. The method does away with a lot of the dice rolling and quantifying of barely quantifiable things, replacing it with discussion among the players who all arrive at an understanding of what's involved. I recommend it.

Good luck to your son.

Brian Train

Daniel B said...

Just watched his video about it. This looks really cool! I look forward to seeing where Charlie goes with this. He should bring it to game nights. I'd definitely be interested in giving it a try.

lewis said...

Is there any chance you could pull Resistance out of the archives on Scribd? I would like to have a pdf of it, but if I am going to throw money toward this project I would like it to be directly to it and not to Scribd.

Kristan J. Wheaton said...

Lewis,

First, thanks for your interest in Resistance!

If you go to the Kickstarter site (by clicking on the link in the text or on the widget in the upper right hand corner of my blog) it will allow you to donate money directly to the project.

The link to the Scribd document is a link to an early version of the game. The intent behind this project is to get enough money to turn that early version on Scribd into a full-fledged game. The link to the early version is just to give potential donors a better sense of where the game currently is in the development process. The version on Scribd is actually free to download.

None of the money you donate through Kickstarter will go to Scribd.

Kris

lewis said...

That is what I thought as well, but when I tried to download from Scribd, it wanted money, unless I was misunderstanding the process. Something about it being archived. I need to get over to kickstarter and sign up or do what it needs to become a part of the whole plan. I wish I knew more people who would still be interested in something like this.