A Simulation of America’s Next Civil War
In October 2018, this site announced a new game design/research project about a civil war in the US. I wrote, “Tensions are rising. Many people think America might face a second Civil War.” As I write in September 2020, the situation has deteriorated further. The project is unfortunately still relevant.
The goal of the project has been to explore the mechanics of revolt in a modern US context, and the results are now available in two forms.
First there is a free classroom exercise, 30-45 minutes in length, suitable for middle school through college, to illustrate the basic, frustrating dynamics of the situation. The teacher materials for this exercise are available for free here: American Abyss: Student Edition.
There is also a complex two-player strategy game, lasting 2-3 hours, published by Compass Games: 2040: An American Insurgency. A draft version of the game board is below (Nov 2020):
This game goes into much greater depth about the mechanics of modern civil conflict, with systems involving the internet, social media, cyber-warfare, alongside the usual destruction and mayhem. There are two scenarios. In both scenarios, the Blue team represents the government and is based in Washington DC and the Red team represents the rebels. In one scenario the Red team is based in cities, in the other it is based in the countryside.
Please note that this project focuses on the mechanics of conflict only. There is no reference in these materials to the particular issues that set people at odds right now. The goal of the project is not to express or analyze the rights and wrongs of our current politics, but rather to simulate what would happen if we decide not to get along somehow.
The basic finding of this design/research is that a civil war in this country and at this time would not be swift or tidy. It would be awful: A guerilla-style conflict that lasts for decades.
The original post is below. Links to the free prototype version has been taken down due to the publication of the commercial game.
What would it be like? Defense and security experts have extensively modeled contemporary civil wars. The models expose the fissures and forces that make counter-insurgency (COIN) operations bloody and difficult. COIN situations are hard to stop; nobody wins; it is a dumpster fire.
Recently, CIA analyst Volke Ruhnke published a commercial game based on COIN models. Andean Abyss (GMT 2012) is set in Colombia in the 1990s. Four separate factions with different resources and goals are mired in a formless, ever-shifting conflict.
- Government: Many resources, trying to calm the entire country
- Communist rebels: Few resources, trying to control part of the country
- Pro-government vigilantes: Few resources, trying to destroy Communists
- Drug cartels: Wealthy, trying to exploit the chaos to make more money
I think 1990s Colombia is a good model of what America will experience if we fall into civil war today. My analysis is non-partisan: It does not matter which parties are the government and the rebels. We have in our country today four armed factions: The State, Antifa, Tea Party, and Crime.
- The State: Whoever is in charge will be trying to calm the whole country.
- Rebels: The government will have armed opponents. If the government is Right, the rebels will be Antifa. If the Government is Left, the rebels will be Tea Party.
- Vigilantes: Whoever holds the government will lose control of armed “allies” who have more bloodlust than the officials in Washington. The Left will lose control of Antifa, the Right will lose control of the Tea Party. These rogue forces will conduct an extra-legal vendetta against the other side.
- Crime: Armed criminal gangs are already active in this country. The chaos of a COIN situation will provide ample opportunities for expanding.
To show what this horrible war would be like, I am working on a variant of Andean Abyss (removed September 2020 – EC) set in the United States in the year 2040. In order to play this variant,
you must it is strongly suggested that you first buy the base game Andean Abyss to obtain its pieces, cards, and core rules. However, if desired, the game can be built at home by downloading and printing the items in the links below (removed September 2020 – EC), and gathering the appropriate pieces.
Now, because Andean Abyss is a realistic simulation, the rules are complex. This is not a family board game. Therefore, in order to deliver the lesson at a simpler level, I also designed a student edition (American Abyss Student Edition). This packet provides a stand-alone, extremely simple game that illustrates the core problem of a four-faction conflict like the one we face. The packet also includes everything you need for running a classroom exercise on the topic. No additional materials are needed.