Archive for March, 2021


Pre-play review of Hedgemony, part 2

27 March, 2021

So, how are you supposed to play this thing? See part 1 for an initial overview of Hedgemony, a Game of Strategic Choices published by the RAND Corporation. The game is strictly focused on the US and on US defence strategy in particular, with all other parties mainly functioning as a kind of soundboard. Something happens in the world and the US has to consider whether to do something about it, and what. More on that later.

US and them

There are six factions in the game, two blue, which is wargame code for “friendly” and four red, ie. “enemies”, or opponents. The blue factions are the US Department of Defense (DoD) and NATO/EU. The red factions are China, Iran, North Korea and Russia. These factions can be played by one player or teams of two or even more. Each side has a certain amount of Resource Points (money in the game) available from the start, including an annual income, and a national tech level that determines the maximum level of modernisation (a game term) of the side’s forces and other technologic capabilities. Finally, each faction starts with an amount of (highly abstracted) military forces at various tech levels. Both the starting resources and the victory conditions are set by the given scenario played, and Hedgemony comes with one scenario only. The factions have wildly different resources and also victory conditions. Victory points are called Influence Points (IP) and the scenario lists how many IPs each faction have to achieve to win in the end. There may be several winners, but the scenario doesn’t specify how many turns the game lasts, so it’s a bit unclear when to determine winners and loser. As a few examples, the US starts the default scenario with 50 IP and wins if they have more IPs than everyone else, plus North Korea doesn’t win. North Korea starts with only 5 IP and wins if they get 15 IP or the US leaves the Korean Peninsula, but lose if they reach 0 IP.

Facilitated play

How IPs are gained and lost is one of the primary mechanism, but first there’s another thing to mention, because Hedgemony is supposed to be played facilitated, at least for educational purposes. Fortunately, this requirement is mentioned very early in the player guide: “Hedgemony is designed to be expertly staffed and facilitated. Facilitation is provided by a White Cell, a team composed of two or more domain experts who act as game masters and referees.” It’s also worth mentioning that there should be learning outcomes in place before the game starts, and it also helps that the players playing red factions either have knowledge of their country’s politics or research it beforehand, as many of the game’s country-specific event cards need added colour to flesh out their rather broad descriptions. Most of those cards are played by red factions.

In the two card examples above for China and Russia, no specific countries are mentioned, so this is up to the red players to narrate around the played event. Other event cards are more specific, such as all the global event cards. The player guide describes the learning outcomes and preparations in detail, and points out that “Hedgemony is not really a game qua game; it is a flexible pedagogical tool. Although Hedgemony’s game system is designed to accommodate a wide variety of scenarios and to facilitate making significant changes to existing scenarios with relatively modest time and effort, the key questions in planning a game event revolve around deciding what is to be learned (or taught) in each game session.”

Sequence of play

Hedgemony is played in game turns of five phases each:

  • Red signalling
  • Blue investments and actions
  • Red investments and actions
  • Annual resources allocation
  • Status

In the red signalling phase, each red faction announces which actions and investments they consider playing in this turn. They pick these from two decks of cards, play three cards, at least one action and one investment, and describe to the rest of the table what they might have in mind. Thus, this phase also functions as an intelligence briefing for the blue players, which is a nice touch. The announced cards, however, may never happen, we will only know in the third phase, ie. after blue has reacted. Also note that each card has a cost in resource points, if played.

Now it’s blue’s turn to decide how to react — or indeed not — to the situation unfolding. China might prepare an incursion in Taiwan, should the US have forces ready to oppose that? But what then about the refugee crisis in Greece, who have requested help from both the US and Russia. Could NATO be convinced to send some of their forces that way? On top of that, the US also needs to pay to upkeep their forces and pay for new troops as well as for deploying to another area. The blue players also have few action cards and investment cards they can play, but the blue turn is more free play than the red turn, and blue doesn’t have to play any cards at all.

In the red action/investment phase, the red players then decide what cards to actually play, and then other players, not just the US, get the chance to react (oppose) or leave it. Every event comes with the possibility of either gaining or losing IPs, victory points. If a factions sends forces to oppose an event, then the game’s resolution system kicks in, which is the most “wargamy” aspect of Hedgemony with force ratios and conflict resolution tables and die rolls, all handled by the facilitators, if playing with those.

The two last phases are quickly done. Every faction gets their annual income, adjusted by outcomes of event cards, and in the status phase the facilitators summarises the state of affairs in the game.

So far so good. Next step will be to make an attempt to actually play the game — not as a professional wargame, but as a hobby wargame. No facilitators, no learning outcomes, unless you count those about finding out how the game works in practice.


Pre-play review of Hedgemony, part 1

23 March, 2021

Professional wargames and simulations are games used for educational and training purposes in both the military, academia and the business sector. In that sense they are quite different from the hobby wargames we play, but there is an overlap, I expect, since I’m assuming I’m not alone in being a hobby gamer that is also interested in the broader use of games. Most professional wargames are purpose-built for the organisations that are using them, but a few have been further developed towards a consumer product available to the general public. Back in 2015, PAXsims developed and published Aftershock: A Humanitarian Crisis Game, which is a print on demand product from The Game Crafter and closely resembles a consumer game from a mainstream publisher.

Enter Hedgemony, a Game of Strategic Choices

Last year, the RAND Corporation decided to develop their own strategic game to teach “U.S. defense professionals how different strategies could affect key planning factors in the trade space at the intersection of force development” and publish it to the wider public. The game is called Hedgemony – the title is an amalgamation of the terms “hedging” and “hegemony”. Hedging meaning how to engage around the world with economic and military means without direct conflict on a large scale, and hegemony is, well, world domination. The game is about how the US Department of Defense can keep its influence around the globe, using its resources in an optimal way, depending on the chosen strategy. Much more about that later.

I will be taking a look at this from a consumer’s point of view – as a gamer who purchased this game and would like to invite some friends over to play it. The first major stumbling block for it as a wargame in the market place, it the hefty price tag of 250 USD. And since it’s printed by The Gamecrafter, it’s only possible to buy it from the US, so add to that an equally hefty shipping charge and possible customs fees. Very expensive game indeed, and right off the bat I think it will be a major hurdle for people, even if the price would be cut in half. Even 125 USD is not far from getting you a copy of Twilight Imperium 4, World in Flames CE Classic or Stellar Horizons, just to name a few huge games with lots and lots of components and in the more expensive bracket of the market.

That said, Hedgemony is a meaty product, coming in at nearly 4 kilos of paper and cardboard.

You get what looks and feels like a quality product. The game has a big mounted board, showing a world map with the different US areas of interest. It comes with two huge stacks of bridge-sized cards and a smaller stack of oversized (tarot-sized?) event cards – the type is quite small on all the cards, but it’s all crisp and clean and beautiful. Then there are player boards in folded A3 (or something close to that) for each of the factions, with space for cards and tracking faction levels, except resource points. Resource points are tracked on two separate boards, one for blue (US and NATO/EU) and one for red (China, North Korea, Russia and Iran). This all means that Hedgemony eats a good chunk of your table space. Included are also six 10-sided dice.

Then we get a name tag for each faction, with the game’s setup and winning conditions printed inside each, and a meaty rulebook, a player guide and a book listing all game terms and abbreviations. Not shown on the picture above are seven player aid sheets, thick and laminated, with the different resolutions tables and calculation procedures the game uses.

Then there are over 700 cardboard chits with game pieces for each faction to keep track of military forces and several different levels in the game. Those chits are my major beef with the quality of the game since they are thick cardboard and laser-cut like other Gamecrafter product, which unfortunately leaves a thin layer of soot on all the sheets and, even worse, on every single chit. I spent a couple of evenings wiping the soot off every piece with paper tissues, and after each session my fingers looked like I’ve been shovelling coal all day with my bare hands. This has nothing to do with the design as such, just the production.

Apart from that, as you can see on the closeup above, the chits are nice with rounded corners, albeit tiny and with even tinier print on them. This blue chit here signifies that NATO have 5 force factors (FF) of modernisation level 3 (M3) in this map area.

More details on the game and how it’s supposed to be played in part 2.