Playings; 10, Communist wins = 1, rebel wins = 9.
At first sight Afghanistan is like so many S&T games, the rules are peppered with holes and do not match up with the tables (I have been sticking to the tables). The rebels stick together just like they really didn't and the government will be lucky to hold on for 2 years regardless of how many troops the Ruskies pour in. Despite all this the basic system is sound and easily adapted to fit your view of reality, I have included a few ideas to balance the game. Taken as a game this really works, having lost badly to the rebels in about 1 1/2 hours it is hard to resist setting the thing up and trying again straight away, instead of just throwing it back in its bag. This is a little like those computer games where the monster stomps on you in seconds but you must have one more go, like them Afghanistan is best played solo or as a pair of games in a single sitting with the players swapping roles. The last S&T I played this often was Manchu (116), which is a real free for all but alter those recruiting tables before you play.
The game has a swift set up (always popular), there are few set hexes both sides set up, government 1st but after the rebel has finished the government rolls for all unreliable troops (about 3/4's of all his units), these have a 50% chance of deserting (off to the dead pile). There will not be enough troops left to garrison everywhere even with Russian help so the rebel can walk right into some towns. The communist has to work hard from turn 1 turfing this lot out and trying to garrison every town (it is likely that he will still not have enough units to do this, allowing for some new units and a lot of casualties). The rebel builds up new units faster than the government so clearing the rebels out of one area just means they turn up somewhere else later on. The game has a definite feel of trying to catch an elusive enemy while garrisoning all population centres against his attacks.
Chits are a major part of the game but are only counter sized, Decision have not included an inventory of the counters so don't lose any. If you look closely 6 of the counters have the wrong back on them, they should be the same unit type on each side, if you do not play this way it gives the rebel another advantage. Ideally we should have a deck of cards, each card could include the rules of the chit instead of having to look them up in the rules summary. Of course cards are almost unknown in the cut every corner world of magazine games, the last I remember was in a Wargamer game of the 30 years war.
The military game system is not going to shock anyone, the game sees the return of the chit, tested in Trajan these guys are back with us in a big way. There are no ZOC's and stacking depends on terrain, combat is from adjacent hexes and voluntary. Chits are spent to influence recruiting, control of population centres (this affects combat), to initiate random events and sometimes to cancel the effect of other chits.
The game is won and lost by the accumulation of political points if the total drops below 0 the communist has won, usually the total shoots above 100 for a crushing rebel win. If neither happens the game continues to the historical end date and victory is judged by the amount of populated area controlled and the PP status. The rebel is aiming for above 75 but the government needs below 25.
Control is not just sitting on a hex, it must be subverted to give political control (hearts and minds), just about everywhere backs the rebel so the poor commie has a hard time here. The commie has all the work, stamp on all the rebels and they just come back somewhere else (lots of replacement chits). It makes a change for the commie to be the government. Call in the USSR, lose political points (less chits next go), go for the hearts and minds (Socialist Revolution) lose even more PP`s. Chits are the heart of the game, it can pay to hold onto chits without playing them in the hope that a really useful chit will turn up. The more chits that are held, the less in the bag and the greater chance of a specific chit being pulled. Most are Agitprop chits usually used to help subversion combat but both sides have a few show stoppers, if the rebel pulls either of the 2 intervention chits early on the government is in trouble. Some chits are harmful to the drawing side, notably resistance disunity, a big boost for the commie, but the gains outweigh the risks. There are not enough good units (the bad ones tend to desert to the rebels) to hold the towns and knock out the rebels (needed to increase PP`s and gain chits). Plenty to think about for the solo gamer, the rebel just needs to play by the book and not make mistakes, let the cat play this side.
The weakest link in the game are the control of hexes rules, most of the map supports the rebel (fair enough) but it is unclear what is being simulated when the government subverts a hex to his control. Back in Nicaragua (S&T 120) various social groups could be soaped to support either side, workers, peasants and the like. In Afghanistan the communist will be lucky to politically control Kabul and a few other towns and cities, others with similar people in them will stick with the rebels. So why does a political campaign work in 1 town but not another and what exactly is happening when a hex is subverted? I guess that 1 side must be putting up bill hordings, arresting suspects, bribing public officials and the like. Oddly a unit cannot subvert a hex it is in, change this rule. Hexes can be terrorised instead (this I can relate to), giving neither side control, everyone has run away.
The rebels should win the invasion scenario before game end due to government collapse, Najibulla will be lucky to last as long as he really did in the after Russia scenario. The campaign is pretty even though. The game is eminently bodgeable so I am including a few changes to help old Najibulla (purists should leave the room now).
The commie need some help so here goes, units in cities may ignore retreats (if you reds keep 2 units in all cities they should be safe, historically the rebels never got a city until the recent coup when several units changed sides and all hell broke loose). Change victoryconditions to government only needing to occupy 3 cities and half towns not control them, it is very hard for the commie to politically control much of the board in this game. Overall the game is fairly close to history the good government units are pretty shooty when they can catch the rebs, the others desert to make more rebels. The game is too short, a common fault in simulations, the designer knows that we do not want to spend weeks playing but if turns are too long (game time not playing time) all his lovely combat mechanisms fall apart. The communists usually collapse due to high PP's long before the game end. The reason why it took the rebels so long to get their act together was that they hated each other more than the communists. In the game there are 3 basic flavours of rebel but apart from recruiting in different areas and occasionally falling out they are all much the same, I played 1 game using markers to show which faction stacks belonged to and forbade cooperation between groups. I can safely say it was not worth the trouble, I went back to the standard rules.
The beginning of the supply rules has a note saying that players can ignore them, I have to agree. They prevent tracing of supply through enemy controlled hexes because the rebel controls most of the board, the government cannot move far and remain in supply. I only use the supply rules for placing rebel mechanised and armour units, this forces them to realistically start in or near Pakistan.
Anti USSR bias? Certainly the rebel seems to get all the breaks, the penalty for Socialist Revolution is 10PP's, USSR help up to 6. Compare this to western help to the rebs being free unless the RDF is called in for a paltry 5PP's (all these values are paid every turn). This means that the world is shocked by Russian adventurism and the government loses support but American backed intervention forces can walk all over the place with no sympathy going to the government. Once those PP's top 100 the communist is out of office so the game does him no favours. The full intervention chit always turns up and is a big rebel boost even if he does not call in the optional extratroops. In the real war there never was armed intervention by the west on a Kuwait scale so it would not be unreasonable to play without this chit and give the government a big boost. Basically, the American disregard for socialism shines through but things can be bodged around to suit your own views. The weakest parts are the rules for the effect of control of hexes on combat and the effect of subversion on combat units. The communist has a hard time in the invasion scenario but is better off in the, longer, campaign game.
Here are a few tips for struggling governments, call the Socialist revolution near the beginning of the game but not until more political subversion units have been raised. Leave it too long and many of the rebels will be on their reliable sides and less susceptible to subversion. The PP penalty for the revolution is so high that it should not be used for above 2 or 3 turns, similarly the Russian presence should be kept to a minimum after the initial invasion to keep PP levels low.
This game must be fun or I would not have played it so often, I even came back to it months after my initial playings and several S&T's later. Most of my playings were of the invasion scenario only 2 were of the campaign, 1 being the government win, this takes about 4 hoursor 3 to 4 game years, much shorter than the real thing. In conclusion a better game than simulation (only 1 rebel player indeed) but the campaign game is best balanced especially if the supply rules and full intervention chit are scrapped.