Colonial Twilight: Pieces and Force Structure

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What are the forces in the game and what is their structure?

Colonial Twilight has a total of 91 wooden pieces representing the various forces available to both sides. They are divided into the following types:

Government (total 46 pieces)

  • 21 French Police (light blue cubes)
  • 9 French Troops (dark blue cubes)
  • 6 Government Bases (light blue disks)
  • 7 Algerian Police (light green cubes)
  • 3 Algerian Troops (dark green cubes)

FLN (total 45 pieces)

  • 30 Guerrillas (black octagonal cylinders)
  • 15 Bases (black disks)

The following gives some more background on what each force type is meant to represent from history, and how it works in the game.

Government Forces

French Troops and Police

France sent hundreds of thousands of soldiers from metropolitan France to serve in Algeria: nearly half a million of them were there in 1958-59, the peak period. The great majority of these were conscripts and mobilized reservists who served two-year hitches dispersed in small outposts across the countryside in a tactic called quadrillage (after the grid-square pattern printed on military maps). In many cases they were not particularly well trained, equipped or led, and it often happened that cavalry, artillery or even logistical units would be used as improvised infantry to secure and patrol an area (this was also a feature of the American occupation of Iraq). These “sector troops” spent most of their time patrolling their immediate areas, providing local security and observation, and waiting for something to happen – when it did, it would be a quick contact more often than not initiated by the FLN, or they would be used as a blocking force in a “hammer and anvil” operation using the intervention forces.

These intervention forces were the highly trained and effective regiments of the Foreign Legion, parachute troops and naval infantry – perhaps 10% or less of the total number of French soldiers involved, but who did the majority of the fighting.

Colonial Twilight Near-Final Game Map

Colonial Twilight Near-Final Game Map

Historically, the French Army named Algeria as the 10th Military Region, divided into several zones:

  • Oran Corps Zone (on the game map, corresponding to Wilaya V, except Laghouat)
  • Algiers Corps Zone (Wilaya IV, Wilaya VI, Tizi Ouzou in Wilaya III, and Laghouat in Wilaya V)
  • Constantine Corps Zone (Wilaya I, Wilaya II, and Bougie and Bordj Bou Arreridj in Wilaya III)
  • The Sahara Inter-army Command (the Sahara desert was an area that had always been under military administration; it begins along the bottom tier of spaces on the game map and continues another foot or so off the bottom of the map)

Each Corps zone was more of an administrative entity than a military one: each one was in turn divided into a varying number of operational zones (North Oran, West Oran, Central Oran, etc.) that corresponded more or less to divisional areas of responsibility – the number of zones rose as more divisions were transferred in from France, or were created in Algeria. The immediate area of Algiers and the Sahara command were special cases with no specific divisional responsibility. The number of divisions in Algeria peaked in 1960-61, with 15 of the Army’s total of 18 divisions deployed there: 8 infantry (9, 12, 13, 14, 19, 20, 21, 29); 2 motorized infantry (2, 4); 1 light mechanized (7); 1 armored (5); 1 mountain infantry (27); and 2 parachute (10, 25). Each division had its own assigned subunits but its precise type or composition did not matter; in practice the subunits were often sent to other zones or swapped, so a division responsible for a given area could provide command and support to any number of smaller units, depending on what operations were going on in the area. Finally, there was a General Reserve of two divisions (the 10th and 25th Parachute) that included most of the airborne and airmobile intervention forces, which were regularly dispatched anywhere in the country.


Challe Plan and Moghazni Event Cards from Colonial Twilight.

In game terms, most French forces – the sector troops – are represented by large numbers of Police cubes: these are immobile except in Garrison operations or the Deploy special activity. There are smaller numbers of Troop cubes (representing the elite intervention units) that carry out mobile Sweeps and Assaults, and are airportable through the Troop Lift special activity. As in other COIN system games, Troops and Police need to work together for maximum efficiency: Police provide extra detection in Sweeps, and both Troops and Police must be present in a space to carry out the Neutralization special activity, or to Pacify spaces during the Support Phase of the Propaganda Round.

Government Bases

Like in other games in the COIN system, these represent training and logistical facilities and centres of civil administration. Outside of a City, the Government player must have a Base in a space in order to place Algerian cubes or Pacify (build Support in) in a Train operation. Bases also permit French pieces to arrive from the Available box (that is, arriving from France) and are a place for Troops to return to in the Redeploy Phase of a Propaganda Round.

Algerian Troops and Police

Fearful of desertions and treachery, the French Army deliberately kept its contingent of Algerian forces small – at peak strength (1959) about 175,000 members, or slightly over one percent of the Algerian population. It’s important to note that despite the attitude of the Army, the number of non-European Algerians in French service exceeded the number of actual FLN combatants at all times during the War, until its very end when there were massive desertions to avoid reprisals. These soldiers were divided into five types of units:

  • regular Tirailleur, Zouave, Chasseur and Spahi regiments (about 60,000 professionals and conscripts at peak);
  • harkis, auxiliary forces who were often attached to units of sector troops (about 60,000 of these at peak);
  • moghazni, or village militia organized by Section Administrative Specialisees officers (SAS, a “hearts and minds” civil affairs initiative operated by the Army) (about 20,000);
  • commandos de chasse, small (platoon to company-size) units often composed of volunteers and “turned” insurgent troops, who acted as scouts and trackers and usually worked with the intervention units (about 10,000);
  • about another 25,000 in other local self-defence units (Groupes Auto-Defense) and mobile security groups (Groupes Mobiles de Protection Rurale, later called Groupes Mobile de Securite).

In most cases the officer cadres were white, either French or colons (Europeans born in Algeria, also called pieds-noirs). Over time, as units were reorganized or regrouped, the ethnic proportions of the other ranks would vary (Muslim volunteers, Muslim conscripts, colons, and French volunteers) in a process called “integration”.

In game terms, this translates to a small number of Algerian Troops, and a somewhat larger number of Algerian Police. These are placed on the map by Train operations, and they are also vulnerable to FLN Subvert operations. Not shown by separate cubes in the game are the harkis or the commandos de chasse, as these were usually attached to French units in small groups.


FLN Forces

The insurgent movement is called Front de Liberation Nationale (National Liberation Front) or FLN for convenience in the game, but it actually consisted of a mainly political component, the FLN, and a military component, the ALN or Armee de Liberation National (National Liberation Army). The movement was divided into a set of regional commands called Wilayas, and each regional commander was responsible for both sides of the house: propaganda, mobilizing and taxing the civilian population as well as recruiting, training and commanding the local ALN units (to confuse things, Algiers and the area near the border in Souk Ahras were special autonomous zones with their own commanders, but for simplicity this is not reflected in the game). This approach was perhaps the most sensible one considering the FLN’s general lack of communications and control, especially since the senior leadership was based outside of the country (first in Cairo, later in Tunis). However, it led to a great deal of jealousy, paranoia and friction within the insurgent movement, and this is reflected in the game in several ways: for example, Guerrillas can do multiple Marches within the same Wilaya, but must stop if they cross a Wilaya or international border, and in the Redeploy Phase of the Propaganda Round, Guerrillas may move to spaces with Bases, but only within their current Wilaya. The French were often able to exploit this distrust through psychological warfare operations, and this is shown in several Event Cards.


Coup d’Etat and Propaganda! Event Cards from Colonial Twilight

The FLN has (or will gain) external sanctuaries in Morocco and Tunisia. This gives him two almost untouchable spaces in which to Rally Guerrillas and build Bases, but he must infiltrate Guerrillas across the border for them to be of any direct military use to him. Meanwhile, as in history, the Government player will (or should) work on the Border Zone status to interfere with this infiltration and reduce the number of Resources the FLN has available to use inside Algeria.


Like most insurgent armies, the ALN was composed of several “tiers” of members: the full-time fighters or moudjahedine; the part-time guerrillas or moussebiline; and the auxiliaries or fedayeen, men for whom there were no weapons but who served as runners, spies and porters until they proved themselves able or trustworthy enough for training into the higher tiers. In 1958-59 the ALN reached its peak strength of over 100,000: about 15,000 moudjahedine in or crossing to or from Morocco or Tunisia, with another 15,000 inside Algeria; and at least 30,000 moussebiline and 40,000 fedayeen inside Algeria. After the success of the Challe Plan in 1959 the numbers of members inside Algeria dropped while those in the sanctuaries rose.

 General Strike and Suave Qui Peut Event Cards from Colonial Twilight.

General Strike and Suave Qui Peut Event Cards from Colonial Twilight.

At nearly all times it was the supply of available weapons and equipment that limited the size and effectiveness of the ALN inside Algeria. Most units could count on limited numbers of small arms, up to light machine guns and hand grenades, but other useful items such as mortars, bazookas and radios were rare and jealously guarded by unit commanders.

The ALN had a theoretical formal organization of 11-man sections (faoudj), 110-man companies (katiba), and 350-man battalions (failek). Inside Algeria they normally operated in platoon to at most company size units; in the training camps and bases in Tunisia and Morocco they did organize in battalions, and even formed some artillery and air defense units, but they never engaged in any real pitched battles with the French. The more enterprising wilaya commanders would also create “zonal commando” units of several 20-man platoons each, which had the best equipment and training available and would be given the more complex missions.


As in most other COIN system games, FLN Bases represent the insurgent’s “shadow government” of spies, organizers, tax collectors, safe houses, training bases and leaders who direct the small number of actual fighters as well as the much larger number of sympathizers and passively involved people among the population.

A Note on Color Schemes

With respect to COIN system games, there always seems to come a point where the selection of colors for the different factions comes up for discussion, both pro and anti. I’m still surprised at what emotions this arouses, though I don’t think I should be after over 35 years of playing wargames. Anyway, we had involved discussions on this on,, and on the Google playtesting discussion site.  One discussion was started because someone thought that the use of black for insurgents was a deliberate association on our part with “evil”, given that black had been used for the Taliban in A Distant Plain and for the Insurgent player in Labyrinth: the war on Terror 2001-?. The suggestion was made that they should be green (the “Muslim color”) instead; we batted a number of schemes back and forth, and eventually settled on the scheme described at the beginning of this post. I’m satisfied with this, as it was the scheme I started with originally, it does use green for some of the Muslims involved in the conflict, and most importantly because these colors are distinct and remain distinct for deuteranopes (red-green color-blindness, which affects about 8% of males).

Or maybe it’s because Gene has a quarter of a million black octagonal cylinders in the GMT warehouse, and he means to use them all up before he retires!

-Brian Train


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2 thoughts on “Colonial Twilight: Pieces and Force Structure

  1. I’m really looking forward to playing this game! The map looks great and I can hardly wait to see all of the cards! I’ll be organizing a movie night before the game arrives to screen The Battle of Algiers and Lost Command.

    • I hope you’ll enjoy it when it comes!
      At the back of the playbook, besides the “serious” bibliography, is a selection of novels and movies I’d recommend for the atmosphere of the Algerian War. Battle of Algiers is the best (if rather dishonest), Lost Command is Hollywood gone to Algeria, you might enjoy a more recent French movie called Intimate Enemies (L’ennemi Intime), and from the Algerian perspective, Outside the Law (Hors La Loi).