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Posted on Oct 5, 2020 in Boardgames, Front Page Features

A Different Side of the COIN. ‘The Siege of Orgun’. Board Game Review

A Different Side of the COIN. ‘The Siege of Orgun’. Board Game Review

Ray Garbee

By Ray Garbee

The Siege of Orgun, Afghanistan 1983. Publisher: Revolution Games. Designer: Patrick Ruestchmann. Price $33.00

Passed inspection: Quick playing game. Accessible rules. Requires players to synthesize a strategy using a blend of kinetic combat, operational event cards, unconventional warfare and tactical misdirection.

Failed basic: Failed assaults seem too bloodless.

It seems like ancient history now, but in the early 1980’s, if you spoke about the war in Afghanistan you were referring to the war between the Afghans and the Soviet Union. In 1978, the Soviet Union engineered a coup that installed a communist government (the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan, or DRA) in Kabul. At the end of 1979 the Soviets intervened directly in Afghanistan by sending the Red Army to facilitate a change of leadership. The Afghan tribes had been resisting the communist state, the Soviet invasion brought foreign aid that supported the Mujahadeen in a bloody war against the communists. Foreshadowing what the future would hold, DRA forces pursued a classic counterinsurgency strategy to build support across the country. Troops were spread out to occupy towns and villages in an effort to win the hearts and minds of the people. If the people failed to respond favorably, the army could at least deny the insurgency a safe harbor in the towns.   

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The Afghan army was not an overly aggressive force. Troop quality and motivation were marginal. The rank and file still felt strong loyalties to their extended family community. The conscripts were able to hold ground, and to fight on the open fields of the valley floor. But the DRA troops struggled if tasked to take to the hills. In general, the troops were content to hunker down in their outposts and exert control over the ground adjacent to their bases.

When the Mujahadeen struck at the DRA troops, the most effective response the army could mount was often to call in air support. This was often in the form of M-24 ‘Hind’ Helicopter gunships, but also included tactical jet bombers. The attack helicopters were a most effective weapon, being referred to by the Mujahadeen as ‘Satan’s Chariots’.

So stood the situation in the fall of 1983 when the Mujahadeen launched a broad offensive in Eastern Afghanistan. One goal of the offensive was to capture the town of Orgun (also spelled Urgun) and establish a provisional capital for the government-in-exile. Orgun was held by troops of the DRA 15th Brigade with some support provided by the Soviet Union’s military.

This brings us to the subject of our review – The Siege of Orgun, from Revolution Games. The game depicts an attempt by the Afghan insurgents to seize the town from the DRA garrison. It’s a classic situation that you could find from the Rome’s Germanic frontier, the conflicts on the 18th Century American western frontier or the 20th Century highlands of Vietnam.  

The Siege of Orgun follows the standard format as other products from Revolution Games. The game ships in a clear plastic bag. Inside that bag you’ll find the following components:

  • A 22” x 17” map
  • One counter sheet with 88 counters representing units and markers
  • One Players Aid Card
  • One 12-page rule booklet
  • 36 event cards
The Siege of Orgun – game components

Not included but required is a six-sided die. Ideally each player will have one d6 to speed up combat resolution.

The Siege of Orgun is an area movement game. The map is divided into 43 areas depicting the area around Orgun.  This includes the town, the valley floor and the mountains on each side of the valley. Roads are depicted and show the main lines of communication leading to off-map supply sources for the DRA. Supply sources for the Mujahadeen are also depicted. The map does a nice job of depicting terrain and conveying a sense of place.

There are 88 counters used for the units and markers in the game. Both are nicely die-cut 5/8” counters. The artwork is straight forward and uncluttered. DRA/Soviet units depict the key vehicle used by the unit, either wheeled personnel carriers, IFV or tanks. Mujahadeen units are depicted by their tribal alliance and key weapons system (including a handful of captured T-55 tanks). The front side of a unit lists the units combat value, cohesion and movement points. The backside of the counter shows its reduced combat value used when the unit has already acted and is now ‘spent’. Cohesion is a measurement of how likely a specific unit is to perform a task. It’s a catch all metric of troop quality and morale.

The countersheet

DRA units represent approximately company sized formations, while the insurgent units represent roughly platoon sized formations. Tanks and aircraft represent individual vehicles.

Each side has a few named leaders that can be used to motivate their troops or be used to play an event card. A handful of markers round out the counter mix and are used to depict minefields as well as any out of supply units.

The back side of the cover sheet pulls duty as the player aid card. It’s a useful reference that explains the various units and markers used in the game.

The rule book is a 12-page, softbound saddle stich document. It’s closer to 8 pages as the first page is the cover, the back page is a reference page for various tables used in the game and there are two pages of designers notes and examples of play. Take a minute to download the errata for the game. You can find the errata either on Board Game Geek or Consimworld.  It’s a short page with some minor corrections. While you are at it, grab the home brewed player aid card that has the turn sequence and reference tables.

One break from the traditional area impulse game is the use of thirty-six event cards. The cards are divided into two, 18-card decks, one for each side. The cards are a good mix of offensive and defensive benefits that help add to the historical context of the battle and make the game stand out from other area movement games in the Revolution Games catalog.

Sample Mujahadeen event card

All the components share the typical quality you expect from Revolution Games. Nicely done counters, attractive map and a concise, well documented rulebook.

Describing the games components is all well and good, but how it plays is the thing we’re most interested in. In that respect The Siege of Orgun takes the foundation of a classic area impulse game and paints the veneer of a card driven game on top. And it is a veneer. We’re looking at a classic area impulse game design, but it’s married to a short deck of action cards. This is not a true ‘card driven game’ design in terms of using Operations Points, but the cards definitely influence and to an extent ‘drive’ the play of the game.

The game may last for up to twelve turns. In each turn, the players will work through the following phases:

  • Initiative Phase
  • Card Draw Phase
  • Reinforcement Phase
  • Action Phase
  • Supply Phase
  • End Phase

The initiative phase is where the players determine which player will be acting first in the turn. It’s a simple opposed die roll with each side having some modifiers that reflect the current situation on the ground. The Mujahadeen start the game with the initiative, which makes sense since they are on the offensive.

Next up comes the card draw phase. The turn record track defines how many cards each side draws for the game turn. There is no limit on hand size, so you won’t have to agonize over which cards to play or discard to stay under an arbitrary hand size limit.

Next comes the reinforcement phase. It’s mostly done through event card play, though later in the game the Soviet ‘cavalry’ may come riding in to rescue the besieged DRA troops.

The heart of the game is the action phase. Here the players alternate activating areas. In the active area the player can move units and launch attacks including raids and ambushes. The DRA troops are good at holding ground in the valley, but they may balk at moving out into the mountains. A difference from other area impulse games is that the action phase here is strictly IGOUGO in execution. You activate an area, then your opponent activates an area. A player may pass, but if their opponent also passes – that’s the end of the turn.

And the end of the turn triggers the supply phase in which both players check their supply status and reset their ‘spent’ units to ‘fresh’. If a unit cannot trace supply it may be low on supply, or if already low, then become out of supply. There are multiple supply sources, but trying to cut the supply lines is a key part of the game.

Having checked supply, you reach the end phase where you check to see if either player has achieved their victory conditions. Each side has automatic victory conditions which will end the game. But both sides also have other conditions that are checked at the end of the full 12 turn game.

It’s a straight forward experience, but it’s far from a simple game. Both players are confronted by a series of tough decisions. At the start of the game, the DRA player faces a choice- leave the safety of their base and engage the insurgents in the open ground, or hunker down in fortifications and passively let the Mujahedeen maneuver for position and an advantageous assault? 

Weighing on that decision is the DRA players need to draw event cards that will facilitate their defense.   Basically, the DRA are looking for events like ‘fierce defense’, the Mi-24 Hind helicopter gunship and air support as well as cards that impact the Mujahadeen supply and tribal cooperation.

Sample DRA event card

Conversely, the Mujahadeen player starts with a good number of cards and three well equipped tribal strike forces. The burden of the attack is on the insurgents. The Mujahadeen player is motivated by the knowledge that the Mi-24 helicopter gunship cannot appear before turn four, so they need to accomplish a lot in those first three game turns. And there is a lot to do!

The Mujahadeen have a choice – strike hard at the airfield and the forts, or attempt to cut the supply lines to the DRA garrison. Neither is an easy task. Ideally, you’d spend a few turns raiding the DRA and softening up the defenses, but the looming threat of those helicopter gunships means you may not have the luxury of a few game turns.  As with most things, the path forward will likely be a blend of attacking while attempting to interdict the supply lines.

The net effect of the game rules and decisions creates a product that does a good job of capturing the feel of the period. The alternating move impulses capture the strengths of a defender. The insurgent player generally can’t attack without first moving up adjacent to the DRA troops and risking a counterattack.

The game models the difficulties faced by the Mujahadeen in coordinating the efforts between different tribes. Tribal distrust was an issue at various points in the battle. The rules allow for that distrust to be an obstacle, and provide ways for it to be overcome. Much of this is driven by event cards and the use of a tribal council leader unit.

Col. Rahman’s failed attack to open the MSR.

It’s easy to get obsessed with the kinetic combat model of assaulting your opponent, but to do so is to overlook the real core operations in the game – the special actions. These actions can be as effective – and safer – that just wading into combat.  While this is an area impulse game, how well each player uses their event cards and the special actions will determine how successful they are in executing their operations.  The cards are not an afterthought – these are the heart of how you win the game. For example, the ammunition card allows for recovering and attacking again in the same turn. As noted earlier, the helicopter card brings uncertainty to the game. The DRA need that card (I found myself saying to myself ‘Where is our precious? We wants it!’). Meanwhile, the Mujahadeen should fear that helicopter – it lives up to its reputation as deadly killing machine. It can be a literal ‘game changer’ in action.

The supply rules seemed overly generous in that they do not require a path of friendly controlled areas to trace supply. You can skirt enemy controlled areas with no penalty and the supply line can be as long or convoluted as necessary. Reading about the battle, part of this is due to the DRA using armored vehicles to transport supplies instead of trucks. So, unless the area was physically occupied by your opponent, you could get through. And for the Mujahadeen, it was relatively easy to move through the ‘neutral’ areas.

The movement rules do a nice job of simulating the friction of war and the mobility that mechanization imparts to a unit. In the game, an individual unit’s ‘zone of control’ is depicted through the higher movement point cost that is required to move adjacent to enemy units. This benefits the DRA/Soviet as they generally have units with FOUR movement points, while the MUJAHADEEN units only have THREE movement points. That single movement point makes a huge difference in being able to move directly to the assault or having to sit and suffer a spoiling counterattack before being able to move to contact. 

The game has a lot going for it, but there is one thing that feels off – the results of a failed assault. If you attack and that attack fails, you just retreat the attackers and mark them spent. That’s it, no casualties or losses. Aside from being spent and retreating, it feels like the assaulting units are getting off lightly.

This is the 1980’s where both sides field impressive amounts of automatic weapons as well as anti-tank weapons. Is this reasonable that assaulting units would just ‘bounce’ off a defender and take no losses?  I’ve tried to wrap my head around what this represents and the best I can muster is that the failure is like a morale check that causes the attack to falter before getting engaged. If the defender is fresh, this may pose an opportunity to counter attack and further disrupt the failed attack.

The siege of Orgun captures the feel of the Afghan-Soviet conflict. At times I felt that the title would more accurately be the ‘Assault on Orgun’ as the game covers one of the battles in which the insurgents of the three tribes attempted to liberated the town of Orgun and install their own government.
But there definitely is a siege element to the game. You’ll need to wrap your head around the rules to see how the tactical actions and event cards support the ‘siege’ of the DRA garrison.

Like the Iran – Iraq war, the game features two factions that are tough to embrace. The Soviet/DRA faction are the foreign occupiers and their puppet regime. The Mujahadeen are ostensibly the ‘good guys’ (they certainly seemed so back in the 80’s), but the last thirty years have left a perception that they might not have been as Ronald Reagan said, “goodness personified” in the long run. This is exacerbated when you realize that one of the leaders featured in the game is Jalaluddin Haqqani – future leader of a Taliban network. It’s a case study of the ancient Sanskrit proverb, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”.

Putting aside the perceived morality of the combatants, how does the game play? The short answer is – nicely! It’s a challenging game for both sides. Moving units that will then become spent poses a huge risk in presenting reduced combat factors to your opponent. But sometimes that risk is required in order to draw the other side out and get your strategy rolling. This feeling of risk is magnified by the few number of additional reinforcements each side can receive. The loss of each of your units is acutely felt on both sides. With each loss, you feel your strength slipping away between your fingers.

Mujahadeen T-55 counters

Some games get played once and then put on the shelf. Once a winning strategy is discovered, play can become predictable and even boring. The game’s luster dims and the desire to replay it fades. But with The Siege of Orgun, the nature of the card decks mean that no two games are likely to play out the same way. A fresh game awaits each time the game is set up and the cards are drawn!

Adding to the game’s playability, there’s a free scenario on board game geek that gives more utility. The inclusion of some additional counters on the counter sheet mean that the enterprising player can use the game as a bit of sandbox to craft additional scenarios from the base components.

A key feature with a lot of games is how well is it suited for solitaire play. In the case of The Siege of Orgun, the answer is a qualified ‘sorta/kinda’. The turn sequence supports the solitaire player as you are forced to make decisions before having all the information you would like. For example, you have to select the first player BEFORE drawing cards for the turn. Which helps the solitaire game preserve some sense of the unknown.

While the core game engine is similar to Ie Shima, the addition of the event cards makes it a more difficult sell as a solo game. The challenge is that you lose the element of surprise that the cards bring to the game. There’s no easy way around this with the back and forth nature of the impulses. And the tension that the cards bring to the decision-making process and the sense of tactical surprise the cards impart to the game are a big part of what makes this game work.

A big part of the value of the event cards is not just the event, but the surprise that the hidden card adds to the decision-making process for each player. As the game has no way to automate the play of one side, you are reduced to playing both sides, with perfect knowledge of the event cards held by each side.

As an example, if I’m playing the DRA and I draw the helicopter gunship card in turn 2, I am motivated to hold on. I know the (air) cavalry is coming to help save the day. In a two-player game, the insurgent player does not know this information, but either has to deduce it from the DRA players (in)actions, or risk being surprised when the gunship does make an appearance.

So, yes, the game can be played by a single player, but it won’t give you the same enjoyment as you would get from having a second player engaged in the game. Clearly, there’s an opportunity here for an enterprising person to come up with an improved solitaire engine for the game.

Students of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan will find an engaging experience representing a little-known battle. At the same time the game provides a contrast and context for the more recent experience of the United States and the global war on terror in Afghanistan. The tactical nature of the game makes a good contrast with other games on counterinsurgency conflict.

The Siege of Orgun is an engaging two-player game. It’s low unit count and small size make it an ideal choice for a short afternoon game. It’s a worthy addition to your gaming library!

Armchair General Score: 91 %

Solitaire suitability (1–5 scale, with 1 being virtually unplayable as a solitaire game and 5 being completely suitable for solitaire play):  3

Ray Garbee has been a gamer for over four decades. Ray’s interests include the Anglo-Sikh Wars through the conflicts of the 20th Century and beyond, but his passion remains American Civil War naval gaming. His past works include Iron Thunder, Anaconda, Anaconda: Capital Navies and articles in a number of defunct hobby magazines.

2 Comments

  1. Many thanks for your review, my design intentions are particulary well described !

  2. Hello Patrick! Thank you for the kind words. Apologies for the typo. It’s been corrected.

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