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.

One comment

  1. […] https://darkplaces.wordpress.com/2021/03/27/pre-play-review-of-hedgemony-part-2/ – Per Fischer tutustuu ammattimaiseen sotapeliin nyky-Yhdysvalloista poliittisena vaikuttajana. […]

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