Back to my Megagame page

Suspects

Suspects was a trial game run by Jim Wallman. As a trial game it had fewer players than a real meggagame (less than 20 if I recall correctly). It was set in Cromwell, the central province of Binni, a corrupt third world semi- dictatorship (Similar to Kenya). The old dictator, Ancongo, had been promising free elections for years but the party I led had most of it's leaders in prison. This is the account I wrote immediately after the game.

When is the Moment to Act?

As local leader of the Democratic Freedom Party (DFP) I experienced Suspects was a three way game. On the one hand there was the corrupt government of Ancongo. Then there was DAFT (Democracy And Freedom Today) - a quite appalling bunch of terrorists who would be even worse tyrants if Binni ever fell into their clutches. (Jim, the game designer, seemed to be surprised that DFP and DAFT never attempted an alliance. Why he thought there was even the remotest chance of this is beyond me.). Finally there was the semi legal opposition - the miners, the farmers and the DFP. The DFP's job to provide the glue for this coalition and this we seemed to be doing.

Binni was a dictatorship but it was not a state based on terror such as Stalinist Russia or Nazi Germany. A lot of political action was possible and the farmers very soon got the hang of living on the border of what's permissible. One of the advantages of opposition in semi-dictatorships like Bini is that even quite tame actions are genuinely revolutionary. [I know this from personal experience - when I've given out leaflets in the UK people walk past without seeing me, when I gave out leaflets in Communist Czechoslovakia I was mobbed for them] The association set up by the farmers for purely educational purposes (honest guv) was an excellent way for small farmers to make a firm stand against the government.

What made things complicated was we were doing it in a war zone. In some ways it made things easier as the police spent most of their time worrying about terrorists and ignored us but it also gave the police an excuse to arrest us. It did need the semi-legal opposition to realise that DAFT were not allies but mortal enemies. The farmers learnt this. It was not learnt by the miners.

So we come to the Desmond meeting. I really did not have the time to suss out what the miners were up to. They sort of explained it but information overload meant I couldn't take it in - all I really grasped was that Desmond was a prominent exile who would be smuggled in to give a speech to a mass meeting of miners. Basically I let them get on with it and trusted them to do something sensible.

What they were up to was far from sensible. Desmond was jointly being smuggled in by the secret police and DAFT (the miners leader knew this) and it was clearly a provocation because both these groups wanted more chaos for their own differing ends. I really don't know whether the miners leader was a dupe of DAFT or whether he was by then a fully paid up DAFT cadre and that we, the DFP, were suckered by him. Who know? But the result was to provoke the legal opposition into a premature rebellion that was to destroy us.

I'll let others describe those confused events but when the smoke cleared Cromwell was in the hands of the Brigadier (the senior army in Cromwell) who I then discovered had been working closely with the farmers. [If the story appears disjointed at this point then that is exactly how I experienced it] I then went into complete mental paralysis because the situation was totally unanticipated. My strategy had been a slow build up of democratic forces until we could put a mass movement on the streets so strong that the army could be neutralised.

There are two cardinal sins for revolutionaries. The first is to try to stage a revolution before it is ripe. The second is to fail to act when the revolution is ripe. SO WHICH CARDINAL SIN WAS I ABOUT TO COMMIT - FAILING TO ACT OR ACTING AT THE WRONG MOMENT?

Was it ripe. Clearly it was too soon. I'd increased my support but not excessively so. Demonstrations were very easy to organise but there was not that feeling that the people were overtaking their leaders which is the hallmark of revolution (I'm not sure that the overworked umpires could have provided this kind of feed back but I'm still sure we were not at that point.) The revolt was happening only because the army was on our side - or was it? Was the Brigadier merely staging a coup? The Brigadier didn't so much control Cromwell as command the largest force as Cromwell disintegrated into chaos with DAFT launching a massive campaign of violence.

But even if the moment was wrong, was it too late to stay neutral? If the Brigadier was defeated the repression was going to crush the miners and the farmers, so the semi legal opposition would have been broken in any case. The revolt may have been a mistake but perhaps the mistake had already been made so the DFP might as well do what it could to make a slim chance of success greater. And even if the Brigadier was only out for himself perhaps we could build a movement under the wing of his revolt that would be too strong for him to crush.

No wonder my brain seized up. I might as well have tossed a coin and indeed that is what I should have done. Instead I spent two crucial game days wracked with indecision and then too late decided to back the revolt. Once I had decided I knew what to do and soon the DFP who everyone had dismissed as wishy washy liberals had the largest armed wing, larger even than DAFT. (Yes I believed we needed to avoid violence but if you fight you don't do it by halves) But it was too late, the Brigadier attempted to flee and the Presidential Guard began their brutal reprisals in Cromwell.

People complained that it was a mistake to have only one province as it meant that any revolt would inevitably be isolated. I now think that's wrong and that the Megga game should be in only one province as with the tryout. Jim said that we should assume that what was going on in Cromwell and Ahafo province was similar to the rest of Bini. But what was going on in Cromwell? Our revolt was a complete shambles! Unless our revolt was more than a botched putsch then the Umpires had no choice than deem our revolt as isolated. So what should we have done.

1. A provisional government needed to be organised. We needed to have a clear focus of legitimacy.

2. DAFT was a real threat. Community militia needed to be organised as, in effect an alternative police force. If we could have made it clear that DAFT were now acting against the people some DAFT cadres might have come over to us

3. The DFP had their militia - where was the militia of the farmers and the miners? The miners would have brought dynamite and so could have done something about the Presidential Guard's tanks.

We would still have been outgunned but we could have held out. In effect Cromwell could have become Binni's Vukovar, it's Sarajevo. And then the Umpires would have been justified in letting the rest of the country catch up with us. We didn't need to defeat the Presidential Guard - we just needed to pin them down long enough for the revolt to spread.

This looks like being wise after the event. It's not. Basically it is what I knew had to be done and I ought to have been able to persuade the others that it was the right course of action. What did it for me was wasting crucial time in headless chicken mode.

I have assumed that the miners would have been with us. They ended the game quite smug. Didn't they realise that the Presidential Guard would be moving on to the mines to continue their bloody repression there if the game had gone on one day more? The only way the miners leader could have any cause for satisfaction was if he had been promised a job as People's Commissar in a future DAFT government (complete with a supply of black market booze etc) because it was DAFT who were the true winners of the day. As one DAFT activist said afterwards with satisfaction: "We got the authorities to fight amongst themselves and we've eliminated the DFP". What made that possible was the wizard wheezes of the miners.