Looking back at a 1976 game about U.S. civil conflict – exploring social alternatives through eclectic media (Part Three)
By Mark Wegierski
Minuteman offers some rather innovative mechanics to simulate unconventional warfare. One obvious omission in the game was airpower, which could have easily been incorporated by the use of air-points augmenting government attack or defense strengths. The helicopter forces for which Americans are so well-known do not explicitly appear, either. Another obvious omission, naval power, could have easily been simulated by naval bombardment points available to the government player in hexes adjacent to the sea. Naval-based airpower could also have been easily represented, by having air-points with a limited range of use from sea-hexes. The land-based Government nuclear arsenal, which Rebels would certainly try to sabotage and/or take over, if not actually use, is completely ignored. There are also no provisions for the struggle for U.S. diplomatic and commercial resources abroad that would undoubtedly take place. It was certainly a major oversimplification of the game-design to not take any of these factors into account. Perhaps, however, the whole posited scenario would collapse into complete improbability when taking into consideration the vast preponderance of military force available to the U.S. government. For example, virtually all personnel in the U.S. military, regardless in which branch or support service they serve, probably have sufficient training to fight as land-infantry if necessary, certainly well enough to defeat the average rural "patriot militiaman" or "urban guerilla". All this suggests a re-design would do well to move the game onto the tracks of social/political/economic, as opposed to military conflict.
It seems that the enormous build-up of ponderous military and bureaucratic infrastructures in the late-twentieth century Western societies forever precludes in those societies successful "barricade revolutions" of the nineteenth or early-twentieth century type; or the kinds of military coups typical of Latin American "banana-republics". Current-day social/political/economic conflict can certainly be very destructive to society, and, while it is accompanied by a degree of what could sardonically be called "street-theatre", it is not destructive in the obvious way of dissidents being rounded up, people arbitrarily shot by government forces in the streets, etc. The excruciatingly high pitch of programmatic, systematized, coercive/violent totalitarianism in the "Western world" was probably reached in the regimes of Hitler's Nazi Germany, and Stalin's Soviet Union. The dangers of late modernity in current Western societies are of a different nature. Some would say that, because such dangers are not immediately obvious, they are in some senses even more pernicious. There is certainly more than one way of "skinning the cat", i.e., of ruining or destroying a society.
One aspect of the game-mechanics that could be debated is the extent to which major urban centers -- as opposed to the hinterland -- constitute the strongpoints of the revolution. While urban centers are difficult to police and control in the context of late modern liberal democracies (i.e., from the standpoint of legitimate law enforcement); it would seem that an authoritarian, and especially a totalitarian regime, would find control of the cities comparatively far easier to effect. The countryside has always appeared to be the natural locale for partisan or guerilla resistance against any oppressive or semi-oppressive regimes.
In recent times in America, there has been a current of speculation about a "second American revolution". It could be argued that the American Civil War/War Between the States was itself "a second American Revolution", both in terms of the South's attempted secession, and in terms of the subsequent birth of a new America. Michael Lind's book, The Next American Nation: The New Nationalism and the Fourth American Revolution raises these kinds of questions. It also argues that the New Deal and the Sixties' could be interpreted as two other profoundly revolutionary periods. In 1994, some might have seen Newt Gingrich and his followers as trying to launch another revolution (or, really, counter-revolution).
However, one of the major characteristics of the more recent "new American revolutions" has been the fact that they never devolved into armed struggle on a massive scale, although the social transformations engendered have certainly been no less wrenching and far-reaching as a result of their somewhat more pacific natures.
Although Minuteman may still function reasonably well as a game, its background concept and its premises are today clearly severely flawed and utterly outdated. Should Decision Games consider re-issuing the game, major, major work would be required on reconfiguring a coherent background. How is the game to mirror the authentic ideological, cultural, economic, regional, ethnic, etc., lines of division of North America today -- or possibly, tomorrow? Should the game attempt to show only purely political -- as opposed to military -- actions? The kind of massive, large-scale military conflict shown in Minuteman appears too hypothetical. If the situation had really gotten to the point where the Government was authoritarian or semi-authoritarian (which would imply a rather unlikely neutering of media criticism), then no patriot militia in the woods, or urban guerillas in the inner-cities, could constitute much of a challenge to it, given the modern military realities. A line of future development where a military invasion of America from Europe (or Asia, or anywhere else) would become possible, also seems rather hypothetical. A re-design of the game Minuteman should therefore probably focus on social/political/economic struggle, with few military aspects, or perhaps be set somewhat further in the future. One way of reducing what would certainly be the incredible military power of the Government would be to conceive the conflict along a dichotomy other than Government vs. Rebels, and have all of the starting military, police, intelligence, and bureaucratic resources and assets both appropriately weakened and "divvied up" between the two or more different factions. The very idea that an entity called "the U.S. Government", in all of its multifarious and "many-splendored" variety, could ever achieve a single-minded unity of purpose, seems extremely remote. The pinnacle structures of formal, political national-level leadership -- the Federal Presidency, Cabinet, Congress, and the Supreme Court are in themselves extremely labyrinthine, yet they constitute only a small fraction of the persons and possible interests represented in the U.S. Government.
Perhaps a resurgence of interest in the game might prompt Decision Games to consider a re-release.
Mark Wegierski is a Canadian writer and historical researcher.