Most years we debut a new game at Gen Con, and thus have to spend most of our time in the booth demonstrating it to gamers who might buy it. The 40 Years of Gen Con book, however, doesn't have any rules to be taught, plus it's being sold exclusively through the convention gift shop here at the show. So this seemed like the perfect year to actually play in some of the games -- especially the kind of games that only really come together in the convention setting.
Thus I set aside my whole day yesterday for one big eight-hour session of The National Security Decision-Making Game. The background of this game is that it's created and refereed by people who develop and run wargames for the Naval War College. (It's not exactly the same as the games played there, because if you play in the Naval War College then the game actually uses classified intelligence, and they have people like ambassadors playing the parts of countries they've served in.) The game can accommodate up to 200 players, each playing the part of a country or a faction or interest group within a country; we had several dozen playing in ours today, with the players divided between roles in the US and China.
My randomly assigned role was the Party Monitor -- or, to be more precise, my title was Chairman of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, in the Ministry of State Security, People's Republic of China. In other words, my main job was to root out counterrevolutionary tendencies among members of the Communist Party (arrest them -- which I could do if they were in the conference room designated as Chinese soil; send them to reeducation camps, etc.). We had to propose a budget, and then elect a member of our Ministry to represent us on the Politburo, which would decide which budget to select and make other policy decisions. The first year, the budget I helped craft and then, after I was elected to the Politburo, helped get passed by winning the support of the Chairman and Ideologue, delivered spectacular 13.3% GDP growth!
Unfortunately, we were quickly distracted by saber-rattling on the Indian border, a lame duck American president's decision to carpet bomb the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, and Taiwan's declaration of independence a couple of months before the Beijing Olympics. I argued for an immediate military strike across the Taiwan straits (before American forces could be positioned to defend Taiwanese independence), but my comrades dithered about the practical effects and were frightened by the prospect of Olympic boycotts. What about ideological purity?! What about saving face?! I probably should have arrested them all on the spot and had them executed for treason.
In the end, the chairman's decision to delay military action until after the Olympics gave the Americans time to move a large marine force, carrier group, and land-based air wings to Taiwan, at which point my comrades were all simpering about the likely casualties of an invasion. (Would Mao have worried about the casualties? I think not.) Besides, everyone seemed too busy selling off bits of the country to the capitalist running dogs, pocketing kickbacks from Iraqi oil deals (though to be fair, some of that money went to good use in buying an Indian election, which at least temporarily alleviated that Himalayan border dispute), framing a dissident religious leader as a drug-runner so he'd be arrested by the Americans (thus getting him out of China's hair without giving us the human rights headache), holding nation-wide strikes to protest the plummeting GDP that resulted from the horrible budgets passed by subsequent Politburos, or gunning down protesters in an effort to quell that unrest.
While America came out the winner, so did many of the Chinese players. Each player was given a different set of motivations and goals -- mine was to enforce ideological purity, while others on the Chinese side were trying to democratize the government, get rich trading with the West, and so forth. And I suppose it's a good thing that we avoided World War III in the end . . .
Anyhow, a good time was had by all, and I was reminded of how much fun things are going on outside the exhibit hall. And if I ever meet some admiral or state department undersecretary and he starts telling me about his character, I'll know where he's coming from.