Imperialism and Protest in GANDHI: How to Shift Support (or Build Opposition)

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The newest offering in our COIN Series—Volume IX, Gandhi—takes on the world’s most famous nonviolent resistance movement, the 20th century struggle to free India from British colonial rule. In today’s article, designer Bruce Mansfield introduces us to the ways this COIN volume treats population, support for/opposition to the colonial government, and the role of Gandhi’s strategy of peaceful civil disobedience within the broader framework of insurgency and counterinsurgency. Enjoy!

— Gene


In Gandhi, four Factions contest the future of British India: the British Raj, the Indian National Congress, the Muslim League, and the Revolutionaries. As a COIN faction, the Raj will likely be familiar to COIN players as they are similar in goals and abilities to counterinsurgency factions explored in earlier titles. Likewise, the Revolutionaries are similar to insurgent factions like the AUC in Andean Abyss, the Directorio in Cuba Libre, or the Warlords in A Distant Plain. What sets Gandhi apart from previous titles are the two new nonviolent factions (“NV” for short). Both Congress and the Muslim League meet their victory goals using Operations and Special Activities very different from those of the armed insurgencies seen in past COIN volumes. Non-Cooperation, Civil Disobedience, and Boycott replace the familiar Attack, Terror, and Assassination options. Activists, rather than guerrillas, compose the NV forces. Activists are very mobile but remove few adversary pieces. However, they are generally immune from counterinsurgency Operations until they engage in open defiance of Raj rule. The interactions of these three different types of factions make playing Gandhi a new COIN experience with unique challenges and gameplay.

BACKGROUND HISTORY — The British Raj & The Indian National Congress

By the turn of the 20th century, the British had near complete control of India. The colonial Raj government had been running India for 60 years since the failed Mutiny of 1857 (or the 1st War of Independence, as it is known in India), when the British East India Company handed its Indian possessions over to the Crown under the Government of India Act of 1858. As a vast and multifaceted overseas colony that was also one of the world’s great classical civilizations, India became the crown jewel of the British Empire. The Raj ruled over the Indian people while also relying on them as a vital part of the colonial bureaucracy to staff the administration, courts, telegraph offices, and other necessary institutions of colonial rule. In addition to civilian offices, hundreds of thousands of Indian soldiers served in the British Indian Army both at home and abroad. India was very different from earlier British colonies in North America or Australia where Europeans supplanted the native population—the number of Europeans in India never exceeded a quarter million amid an Indian population that grew to nearly 400 million over 90 years of Raj rule. Simply to exist, the Raj required the support of the Indian people, and it walked a fine line between rule and oppression, cooperation and coercion.

The Indian National Congress was founded in 1885 by prominent Indian political leaders. Whether Congress existed as a safety valve to forestall another armed uprising like in 1857, or was the first organized expression of Indian national identity after 1857, is still debated by historians. Perhaps even the founders of Congress were unsure of its mission, as the organization threatened to divide numerous times along ethnic, religious, and nationalist lines over this key question: How best to end foreign occupation and gain home rule?

Then came World War I. India was suddenly pulled into a distant European conflict that had little direct impact on its people. Disagreements in Congress between moderates and extremists over how to respond split the party and allowed a new leader to rise to prominence—Mohandas Gandhi. Though born and raised in India, Gandhi had spent over twenty years in the British colony of South Africa developing techniques of nonviolent protest that he termed satyagraha, or truth-force. When he returned to India in 1915, he brought his vision of nonviolent active resistance (not passive resistance, a common misconception). Gandhi focused on ending Indians’ reliance on the British and the economic and political infrastructure of colonial rule that by its very nature privileged Europeans over Indians. Through organized civil disobedience of unjust laws and non-cooperation with colonial institutions, he would challenge the legitimacy of Raj rule. Withdraw Indians’ active participation with the colonial regime, Gandhi argued, and it would collapse.

IN THE GAME — Support and Opposition

As in many existing COIN titles, much of the game centers on the contest for the hearts and minds of the populace. For the British Raj and the Indian National Congress in Gandhi, victory requires shifting a sufficient number of the Indian population toward Support or Opposition, respectively. The Raj faction wins by keeping total Support above Unrest, a measure of violence and disorder in India that slowly grows throughout the game. The Congress faction wins by building total Opposition greater than total Support. Each Faction, however, has two victory conditions. Building Support or Opposition must be balanced by other strategic considerations.

The Raj primarily relies on Imperialism to shift Support. Imperialism removes Terror markers and can shift a space up to two levels toward Active Support. Like Civic Action, Pacification, and Reward Loyalty of earlier COIN volumes, Imperialism requires Raj Control and can occur during Deploy Operations (“Deploy Ops,” used to add cubes to the map) and Campaign Rounds (Gandhi’s version of Propaganda, Coup, and Winter Quarters). However, Imperialism requires different criteria in either phase. During Deploy Ops, mere Raj-Control is sufficient to conduct Imperialism, but during Campaign Rounds the presence of both types of Raj forces, Troops and Sepoys, is required. What’s more, Gandhi adds a new twist: the cost of Imperialism changes with gameplay. It is determined by the current British Rule value, a measure from 1 to 5 of the latitude the Raj has to respond to insurrection as well as the attention given the colony by the Indian Office in London. Thus Imperialism can cost anywhere from 1 to 5 Resources per shift or Terror marker removed. The current British Rule value is displayed on the British Rule Track.

The British Rule Track determines the cost of a particular Operation for each Faction as well as the total number of Terror/Protest markers Available to be placed on the map.

Not all Raj Controlled spaces are eligible for Imperialism, however. The space must also be free of nonviolent protests. The most powerful tool available to both Congress and the Muslim League is the protest—organized resistance aimed at shifting popular support for the colonial Raj government toward opposition. It is represented in a space by a Protest marker, placed by some NV Operations and Events. In spaces with a Protest marker, a whole range of nonviolent activity may be taking place including organized marches, boycotts of British institutions, or large gatherings that violate laws banning assembly: in other words, civil disobedience on a large scale meant to provoke a British response. In the game, placing and maintaining Protest markers is a key strategic goal of both NV Factions (though for different reasons).

As NV Factions, Congress and the Muslim League are natural allies: they share the same Operations, jointly Control a space, and at times can even make use of the other’s Activists. Yet ultimately they must pull apart, driven by conflicting strategic goals. Unity measures the overall level of cooperation between these Factions and is displayed on the Muslim-Hindu Unity Track. Like British Rule, Unity will fluctuate throughout the game and has an impact on several game features. For example, the Muslim League doesn’t have Resources of its own and instead spends Congress Resources. The total number of Congress Resources that the Muslim League may spend is limited to the current Unity value. Unity is also the number of Muslim League Activists required to build a Base, a key part of the Muslim League victory conditions. Thus Unity both helps and hinders; a Muslim League player who reduces Unity in an attempt to build Bases may find themselves without the Resources needed to expand.

The Unity Track measures cooperation between Hindus and Muslims in India. The current Unity value is the maximum Congress Resources the Muslim League may spend each Operation (as the Muslim League does not have resources of its own), and the number of pieces necessary for both the Muslim League and Revolutionaries Factions to build a Base.

NONVIOLENCE IN INDIA — Protests and the Raj Response

Two NV Operations place Protest markers: March and Civil Disobedience. The NV March Operation is primarily used to move NV pieces, called Activists, around the map. Activists normally March for free. Moving into a Protest space, however, costs 1 Congress Resource per destination space—regardless of whether Congress or the Muslim League is the active Faction.

NV March can do more than move pieces, though. Activists Marching into non-Protest spaces may spend 1 Congress Resource to place an Available Protest marker there if the total number of NV Activists (Congress plus Muslim League) exceeds the current British Rule value, or Gandhi is Marching along with Congress Activists. Historically, it was not uncommon for the British to limit demonstrations by restricting the number of Indians who could legally assemble. By using March to overstack a space, NV Activists openly protest British law. Gandhi is a powerful piece, as he also allows the Congress Faction to place a Protest marker in a March destination space where he is, regardless of the number of Activists there.

Gandhi leads a protest march into United Provinces, placing a Protest marker. The marker makes this a Protest space, allowing the Raj Operation Martial Law to move Congress Activists (and Gandhi) to the Jail space.

Protests disrupt British control over India in several ways. On the one hand, the presence of a Protest marker blocks Imperialism and thus prevents the Raj from shifting Support in that space. If the NV Factions can maintain those Protest markers until the next Campaign Round, the Raj’s ability to build support may be crippled. Another use of Protests is to allow NV Factions to build Opposition, via the Civil Disobedience Operation. Unlike March Operations, Civil Disobedience may place a new Protest with as little as a single Activist. Even more, Civil Disobedience that occurs in spaces that already contain a Protest marker instead shift that space 1 level toward Active Opposition. And as this shift can be repeated in later turns—barring disruption by the Raj or Revolutionaries Factions—it is possible for a single Activist to have a significant impact on the overall level of Support and Opposition across India.

Yet Protests can be removed in several ways. One method available to the Raj Faction requires that the space first be cleared of all of all Activists. Raj can use the Martial Law Operation to move those pieces to the out-of-play Jail space. But only Activists in spaces with Protest or Terror markers are vulnerable. Activists are mostly immune to Martial Law otherwise. Only once all Activists have been removed can the Raj in a later turn use their Sweep Operation to remove Protest makers from spaces without any Activists. Of course, this gives the NV Factions a turn to March additional Activists into the Protest space to protect the Protest marker (and exposing them to arrest in the process).

Another way to remove Protest is shared by both the NV Factions and the Raj: the Negotiate Special Activity. Negotiate targets a single Protest space and removes its Protest marker, along with additional effects. Those effects depend on the initiating Faction. Both Congress and the Muslim League can use Negotiate to force the release of Activists in Jail or instead cause a shift in Unity: Congress can Negotiate to raise Unity, while the Muslim League can Negotiate to lower it. For the Raj, removing the Protest marker requires either the release of jailed Activists or the transfer of Resources to the Congress faction. Finally, Negotiate may also result in a reduction of British Rule, which benefits the Raj.

A third option for removing Protest is open to the Revolutionaries Faction, the violent insurgent force in Gandhi. Representing a number of revolutionary groups that fought against British rule, the Revolutionaries make use of Operations that will be familiar to COIN players who have dealt with the FARC, M-26, Taliban, or VC of earlier games. The Revolutionaries’ Terror Operation not only shifts Population toward Neutral, erasing any support for or opposition toward the colonial government, it also increases Unrest and flips any Protest marker in the space to its Terror side. Like Protest, Terror blocks Raj Imperialism but also allows the Raj to arrest Activists in the same space as the Terror marker. Yet unlike Protest markers, Terror may be removed during Raj Deploy Ops at a cost. Terror also blocks NV Civil Disobedience from placing new Protest markers; the Terror must be removed first. Since the total number of Terror/Protest markers is fixed by British Rule, a rash of terrorism across India will make it all the more difficult to advance the nonviolent cause by limiting the availability of Protest markers. Terror typically costs the Revolutionaries Resources equal to British Rule (1 to 5), so it is comparatively more rare than in earlier COIN volumes because of the possibility of much higher cost. Terror in Protest spaces, however, only costs 1 Resource, representing the danger of agents provocateurs exploiting protests for their own aims. Congress or Muslim League players who wish to use protest to further their own goals needs to be careful they are not playing into the hands of the Revolutionaries.

Terror and Protest share the two sides of the same marker—placing one limits the availability of the other. The total number of Available markers is determined by the current British Rule value.

In the next Inside GMT article, we’ll discuss the impacts of the British Rule and Muslim-Hindu Unity tracks on gameplay.


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One thought on “Imperialism and Protest in GANDHI: How to Shift Support (or Build Opposition)

  1. Bruce,

    I am very pleased that you are designing this game! The topic of decolonization of India is fascinating in its scope and depth, and I pre-ordered the game even before I finished reading the GMT update email that first announced it! Extending the COIN system into non-violent civil action opens up a whole host of potential topics, and as an old bureaucrat with many decades of federal service, I can say that there are many departmental conflicts that could be ideally gamed with a COIN-like system, although I’d likely be a P500 of 1 on most of those.

    Your description of the subtle interactions among factions sounds very intriguing, and I’m eager to hear more in your forthcoming articles. I’m hopeful this game will be on the fast track to publication, because I really want to bring it to our weekly game night and have a go!

    Jan