Monday, May 08, 2006

A Force More Powerful

Well, it's the worst kept secret ever, mostly because it wasn't a secret. Here's what happened.

A couple of weeks ago, I heard an NPR story about a game called A Force More Powerful that focused on non-violent resistance strategies. It was developed by the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict. It was an interesting story (which you can listen to here: NPR), and what I thought was particularly interesting was that the game's creator was "a leader of Serbian student protests that helped to bring down dictator Slobodan Milosevic in 2000."

That's a pretty cool pedigree.

So I totally forgot about it two days later. Then, not long after that, Adam LaMosca wrote a terrific article about the game over at Gamers With Jobs. Here's a link to that: Adam at GWJ. After reading that article, I ordered the game, because it appeared that A Force More Powerful was a legitimate geopolitical simulator, not a half-ass, limited game created by people who didn't understand them.

Geopolitical simulators are one of the most exotic, complex categories of games existing today, and 99% of them suck. They just suck. Generally, their complexity destroys the ability of the developers to finish the game. They're released, they have (literally) hundreds of bugs, a few patches get released, and the game's never actually finished. Hell, I've seen sequels of games-- that never got finished--never get finished.

The learning curve in these games is also incredibly difficult, because you have so much control, and so many things are happening, that it's a race to learn enough to keep playing before your interest burns out.

I guess that was a digression. Big surprise.

Anyway, so I got the game and read the manual and it was just sensational. The game really is an attempt to make a fully-featured geopolitical simulator, and in a gaming sense, nonviolence makes a terrific game mechanic. It forces you use strategies that you normally wouldn't consider. It forces you to be patient. Above all, it forces you to think.

When I made the post last week, I'd just finished reading the manual, and I was completely fired up about playing. I'd also completely forgotten about where I'd seen the game mentioned--I had it stuck in my mind that I'd seen something over at Game Tunnel. So when I wanted to drop a hint, I thought the manual length would be impressive, and since almost no one had the game, it wouldn't be a giveaway.

Except--Adam had already mentioned the length of the manual in his article.

Let me just say this about myself: duh.

So much for the secret.

Do I know yet if the game lives up to what appears to be gigantic promise? No. This is a very complex game, and I think it could easily require ten to fifteen hours of play to evaluate it with any kind of fairness. That's a good sign, though. Most geopolitical games are either so ponderous or so broken that I know they're dead within two hours of starting. I knew within an hour that Republic: The Revolution had gone horribly wrong, even though it was one of the single best concepts I've ever seen for a game.

Here's what I know so far: the game requires planning and thought. It's not slapdash in any sense of the word.The design is extremely thorough, and it's not sparse, either--there are many nice touches, like famous quotes about resistance being displayed while scenarios are loaded.

I hoping to play this game for quite a while before we left for L.A., but there's just no time. So I'll leave you with this description and write another post after I'd had a significant amount of time to play.

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