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Looking back at a 1976 game about U.S. civil conflict – exploring social alternatives through eclectic media (Part One)

By Mark Wegierski
web posted July 4, 2016

Minuteman: The Second American Revolution is a conflict simulation or board wargame of relatively moderate complexity, published by Simulations Publications Incorporated (SPI), then the premiere company in the field, in 1976 (the U.S. Bicentennial Year). The legendary James F. Dunnigan (Jim Dunnigan), one of the main founders of SPI, was the main designer. It is today a collectors' item, although Decision Games, which has acquired rights to most of the SPI game-line, might bring out a revamped edition at some point. Although certain game-mechanics are discussed here, most of the focus will be on the conceptual framework animating the game, especially in terms of its possible predictive aspects.

The game is played on a map which represents most of North America, on which terrain is regularized into small hexagons (hexes). The main terrain and hex types are "clear", "rough brush", "south winter cover", "north winter cover", and Major and Minor Population areas. These are meant to represent the main types of terrain significant to conducting insurgency and counterinsurgency in North America. (For example, units in severe terrain types during a Winter turn are sometimes eliminated because of lack of supply.) There are 400 counters of various types in this game, though fortunately, not all of them are on the map at the same time. Most of the counters represent "units", which include army divisions and brigades; counterintelligence groups (CIGs); government agents; government informers; rebel minutemen (small, select revolutionary leadership teams); rebel networks; and rebel militia. There are also about 130 other types of counters. These include 40 "special events" markers, which are randomly picked throughout the game and can be used to enhance one's efforts. "Special events" include enhanced movement for one of your units; increased mobilization efforts; betrayals; and assassination attempts. Other markers represent "riots" (which is one of the main ways for the Rebel Player to augment their forces); "unrest", which has weaker effects than a riot; "pins" (which is one of the main effects of rebel activity on government military forces); and markers denoting rebel units which "go underground", meaning they are doubled in defense strength when attacked by government forces, but cannot move or carry out attacks themselves.

The units have several notable characteristics. First of all, unlike in many wargames, the movement allowances do not appear on the units, as they are standardized for different types of formations. For the high-intensity-combat units, which include U.S. army divisions, Canadian army brigades, Mexican army brigades, and Rebel Militia, the two printed values represent attack and defense strength. For government agents, CIGs, rebel minutemen, and rebel networks, the three printed values represent attack strength, defense strength, and build strength, the third value being a quantification of that units' ability to place new friendly units on the map. Finally, informers have only one value printed on their counter, which can only be used in one defined way against rebels.

The second notable feature of the units is that they are printed on both sides. For high-intensity-combat units, this means that they are initially selected as "untried", that is, neither player knows their actual strength until they are committed to combat. For the political units it means they have a weaker (unaugmented) and stronger (augmented) side, which economizes on the number of counters needed, and also affords an improved build and conflict-outcome procedure, i.e., flipping the unit up or down as the case may be. (Informers are blank on the reverse side.)

A third feature is the rather curious use of some well-known names of individuals and organizations for the informers, agents, minutemen, rebel nets, and for rebel militia unit designations. The designer rather disingenuously claims that this "simulates the employment of these names as code-names (i.e., the units do not actually represent the named organizations and individuals)." While the pseudo-appearance of various famous fictional, and even contemporary figures, as well as of the names of well-known (and currently-existing!) organizations such as the "K of C" (Knights of Columbus) might have some novelty value, it is also often in exceedingly poor taste. Apart from the use of the names of many actually-existing organizations and living persons, four famous Star Trek names are used for informers, while government agents include the names of a number of comic-book heroes. Fortunately for the designer, the product was probably considered too marginal to bring lawsuits from any of the concerned fictional properties, or from actual individuals and actually-existing organizations.

Looking at this mish-mash carefully, one finds that the 1st Rebel faction is mostly led by American Revolutionary War names; its nets are either American patriotic or far-left organizations; and its militia units use WASP names. The 2nd Rebel faction is led mostly by names associated with African-American history; its nets consist mostly of well-known union organization names (e.g., AFL); and its militia units are designated by common American names, two of which are non-WASP. The 3rd Rebel faction consists mostly of names of American labor leaders; while most of nets are named after African-American organizations; and its militia designations are all WASP, with the curious exception of "Nagy" (referring, of course, to one of the leaders of the 1956 Hungarian Uprising). The Canadian rebel militia is named, if one can believe it, after Trudeau, Pearson, and four prominent hockey players, as well as "Loup Gru"; and "Dieppe"! It is too bad that the game-designer did not attempt to put some method in this madness: eliminating some rather offensive "borrowings", and perhaps identifying three main Rebel factions: "American patriots"; "American labor"; and "the Rainbow Coalition".

To be continued. ESR

Mark Wegierski is a Canadian writer and historical researcher.




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