Introducing Colonial Twilight: The French-Algerian War, 1954-62

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Colonial Twilight is Volume 7 in the COIN series of games from GMT. It will be the first game in the series designed for two players. That alone has attracted much attention from fans of the series; in fact, it’s probably responsible for more attention than the subject matter of the game itself, the struggle of the nationalist Front de Liberation Nationale (FLN) against the French colonial authorities.

On the last day of the Consimworld Expo in Tempe AZ in May 2014, Mark Simonitch sat down with me and asked if I would be interested in designing a COIN system game on the Algerian War. As I was the guy who had designed the first game to be published on that war (Algeria: The War of Independence 1954-62, first published in 2000), and considering the influence of that game on Volko when he designed Andean Abyss, and my co-design of A Distant Plain with Volko, I of course said yes! By fall I had roughed in the design and was doing my own playtests; by the end of the year I was working with Jordan Kehrer, an experienced and very able developer. Jordan helped me to see vital concepts from another vantage point, and was always willing to throw ideas back and forth; I’ve been very pleased to work with him.

By spring 2015 we had the game in approximately its present state, and at the Consimworld Expo in June we showed our work to Gene…. And lo, Gene saw that it was good, and put it up for P500 the following month. The game took about 43 days to reach its trigger point, and as of this writing pre-orders stand at 939.

We’re still in playtesting and the artists are starting to work their magic, but it’s possible this game will be in players’ hands by the end of 2016 or early 2017. While everyone is waiting, I thought it would be helpful to talk about the design a bit.

What’s Different

Here are some of the main differences between this game and the others in the series.

The most obvious difference is that it is for two players: the counterinsurgent Government (representing both the government in Paris and the Algerian colonial authorities) and the insurgent Front de Liberation Nationale (FLN). Many people have asked me why only two factions, noting the numerous political and ideological conflicts the pieds-noirs (Algerian non-Arab colonists) and elements of the French Army leadership had with the French civilian government, but in the end it was Paris that called the shots. Similarly, the FLN was not the only organization interested in armed revolt against the French. But in the end, I believe that the capabilities, numbers and aspirations of these other elements were not active, durable or significant enough to make workable third and fourth factions. However, many of the related incidents and cumulative effects were incorporated into Event Cards, or indirectly represented in game mechanics like the France Track (which reflects the attitudes of the French civilian population and government, and the influence of the FLN among the hundreds of thousands of Algerian expatriates in France).

How did we make the Sequence of Play work with only two players? Well, the sequence of play is still largely the same; like the other games in the series, you still always have two factions executing operations or events in a turn, except now it’s always the same two, who are 1st and 2nd Eligible. The Initiative Track (during testing it was variously called the Horseshoe, the Pentagon, or Home Plate) is a way to retain the flexible turn order of the 4-player iterations of the COIN system, and some of the gamesmanship involved in choosing what to do in a turn.

Initiative Track

In each turn, the new Event Card is revealed and the 1st Eligible has a choice of any space on the Track. After executing his choice, he places his cylinder on the appropriate space, and the 2nd Eligible player may choose from any space adjacent to the 1st Eligible player’s cylinder. So, for example, if the 1st Eligible player executes the Event Card, the 2nd Eligible can choose between Op + Special or Pass. Sharp-eyed players will notice that the relations of the choices to each other are essentially the same as in the flowchart-like diagram on the Sequence of Play player aid supplied in the other games: I just came up with a different way to visualize it.

Less sharp-eyed players will notice the two shaded spaces on the Track. If a player is 1st Eligible and chooses either one of these, he becomes 2nd Eligible in the following turn. So, if a player wants to retain the initiative and remain 1st eligible, he is required to act in smaller bites: an Event Card here, a LimOp there… while he is building up for a burst of activity that pays off in a set of operations and Specials in multiple spaces. This concept is somewhat similar to “sente” in the game of Go: one player makes a series of moves to which the other player reacts, up to the point where the first player becomes overextended or finishes a desired sequence… whereupon the other player gains sente, and so it continues to pass back and forth during the game.

Another important mechanical difference is removing the “look one card ahead in the Event Deck” option, as with two players it promoted overly gamey behavior. Playtesters have reported that this adds tremendously to the tension and uncertainty.

Pictures of the playtest maps have been posted on Boardgamegeek, Consimworld and other places. Players will notice there are no Lines of Communication or Economic Centres marked on it. The reason is simple: Algeria’s economy was a basket case, kept running by two things: French purchases and subsidies of wine, fruit, and grain produced there; and the cheap labour provided by about 400,000 Algerian men in metropolitan France, who worked in factories, lived in slums and sent their wages home to their families. Large deposits of oil and gas were found in the Sahara Desert in the 1950s, but this industry was not developed significantly during the war. Hence, there is nothing of great value for the FLN to sabotage.

Colonial Twilight Playtest Map

Colonial Twilight Playtest Map

There is only one degree of Support or Opposition in the game, not the two-layer Passive and Active states found in system games other than A Distant Plain. On the one hand, the only segment of the Algerian population that was fervently in favour of Algeria remaining part of France was the pieds-noirs, a small minority; there was also native support for continued French rule, or at least continued guidance by France, but it was dispersed and only moderate. Meanwhile, among the Muslim majority population, most people were for some form of independence from France but the FLN’s methods and practices were not universally endorsed; in this case Support could be considered more like an opposition to the FLN-imposed Oppose.

Similarly, the use of Terror in this game is also different from other games. The FLN player may use it as an Operation to eliminate Support for the Government, but cannot use it to build up Opposition – they must themselves clear away Terror before building their own effort through Agitation. In my view, and the view of many writers on the subject, terrorism works well to intimidate people into silence and inaction, but not to spur them into supporting the instigator of the terror.

Victory Conditions

The Government victory is based on Support among the population on the map in Algeria itself, and a sufficiently high Commitment level. Unlike the Indochinese and African colonies, Algeria was legally a department of France and contained a large number of French nationals, so losing this territory meant a great deal more to French prestige. In the game, the Commitment Level is largely a reflection of the political “elbow room” the home government in Paris is willing to extend towards continuing the conflict. It is tempered by many non-military factors but is largely a wish to shed minimal French blood to retain this part of their diminishing empire (though they are not as sensitive to casualties as the Coalition in A Distant Plain, or the US in Fire in the Lake), while ensuring its administration is as stable and legitimate (or at least accepted) as possible. There is also the wish, in the inevitable post-colonial period, for the newly independent Algeria to be as amenable to French influence as its other African possessions proved to be. Hence the two non-material conditions of victory for the Government.

The FLN victory is based on Opposition among the population and having enough Bases. These are typical Insurgent objectives, similar to the Taliban in A Distant Plain and the Viet Cong in Fire in the Lake: the FLN wishes to have a large and functioning “shadow government” against the day that Algeria is given independence.

That’s All For Now

In future blog posts I will write about the pieces and force structures in the game, the specific menus of Operations and Special Activities for each faction, and other goodies about this fascinating war. I hope everyone is looking forward to its release as much as I am!


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12 thoughts on “Introducing Colonial Twilight: The French-Algerian War, 1954-62

  1. I’m just getting into the COIN series (and more complex games in general) having just tried Liberty or Death and awaiting my first own COIN game Cuba Libre with the next reprint run.

    This title is looking very interesting because it’s two-player and I was wondering when is the deadline for ordering the game? I want to test Cuba Libre and get a little more comfortable with the COIN system before ordering yet another game, but with Colonial Twilight having “made the cut” I was wondering when I have to order to be guaranteed a copy?

    Amazing work on making awesome games btw

    • Thank you Martyn!
      Colonial Twilight might be out by the end of 2016 or perhaps early 2017, depending on a number of factors that can’t be pinned down right now, least of all by me.
      As I posted, there are 939 pre-orders for the game (943 today, I just checked! Thanks guys.) so it will be produced, it’s just a question of when.
      The pre-order price of $52.00 will hold for a while yet, but sooner is better.
      I hope you will enjoy the COIN series.

  2. I had a thought, after I wrote this.

    Can any or all of the currently published 4-faction COIN system games be satisfactorily played with 2 players, using this mechanic?

    Using A Distant Plain as an example, the rules give a suggestion for when you have only 2 human players and don’t want to use the ‘bots. Players take 2 Factions each, with normal 1st and 2nd Eligibility determined by what they do on the Initiative Track; but which Faction they control that gets to do something is determined by the leftmost faction order on the Event Card drawn.

    So, let’s say You are playing Coalition and Government, and He is Taliban and Warlords. (ho hum). The card drawn is “Operation Iraqi Freedom”, which has a faction order of Taliban – Coalition – Government – Warlords. According to the Initiative Track, You are 1st Eligible and can pick any space on it you like, but the action is done by the Coalition (as it is leftmost in the faction order). He is 2nd Eligible, so his choice is determined by what you did, and he will carry out his action with the Taliban (leftmost in the faction order).

    Be sure to use the No Reveal Option as detailed in 2.2; looking one card ahead in the 2-player iteration ruins the game. And for victory conditions, they are unchanged: use directions in 1.5.

    I’d be interested to hear from anyone who tries this out, to see if it changes much from the existing method.

    • “I’d be interested to hear from anyone who tries this out, to see if it changes much from the existing method.”

      Same here! Thanks in advance …


      • Brian and Volko,

        I just finished two games of A Distant Plain using the two player rules and the binary initiative mechanic described above. In neither game was play-balance compromised. Two obvious changes to play style did occur.

        1) It became much more difficult to set-up back-to back initiatives with your allied faction to allow for a one-two punch in Operations, mostly because the next card “on-deck” was not displayed. Any occurrences of this were random, but presented significant opportunities for that side, in particular the COIN side.

        2) There was less “cash flow” in the game as there was less of an incentive to Pass. In the multiplayer version of the game, when your allied faction is second in order, one might Pass to give them first crack at the event. Or if you were second on the current event, and no one else was eligible, then one might Pass to then go first on the next card. Without seeing the next card, there were fewer incentives to pass by design.

        One dynamic that I did observe, and very much liked, was that the new binary initiative mechanic made ADP a very nice two-player game and with no need to look-up the bots to fill in the extra players. I really liked the quick back-and-forth turns; you are guaranteed a play on every set of initiatives! For those COIN game fans who feel their four player games may take more time than they like between turns, this new binary initiative system will keep your head in the game!


        • Thank you so much for your comments about your experience Trevor!
          Certainly showing only one card at a time will change how people play a COIN system game – this has been an option for the 4-player games from the beginning, but no one ever seems to do it because of that second-order effects thinking you mention. But I wonder if it would be all that different if people did do this.
          I’m glad you liked the binary initiative mechanic.

          • One other item I failed to mention, which may also be driven by the “face-down” card on deck dynamic, is that the first Eligible player is highly incentivized to take the event, if it is any way worth it, as this will allow his side to remain first eligible on the next card play. This will preserve over succeeding turns the opportunity to deny the next event to the opposite side in case one of those event turns out to be a game changer.

          • Well, if First Eligible takes the Event, then Second takes an OP + SA, just as in the other COIN system games… and if you keep doing that, taking four or five random Events against four or five deliberate Op + SAs will tell against the First Eligible player.

            I did notice that in the first few games of Colonial Twilight players would often just take the Event, time after time, until they realized the above point, and started to weigh the use of the Event against what they could do otherwise.