The Decolonization of British India, 1917–1947- First Impressions – The Boardgames Chronicle

It does not take long to convince me to familiarize with yet another COIN game 🙂 This was exactly the situation with Gandhi: The Decolonization of British India, 1917–1947. From one side, a colleague of mine was selling an unwrapped copy – and I couldn’t pass such an opportunity; on the other hand my online COIN buddies were planning for the PBEM game of Gandhi. Thus it was only obvious that this is a good opportunity to crack yet one more COIN system title!


Historical Background

“Gandhi made it impossible for us to go on ruling India, but at the same time he made it possible for us to abdicate without rancor and without dishonor.”
— British Historian Arnold Toynbee

The Indian independence movement was a series of historic events with the ultimate aim of ending British rule in India. It lasted from 1857 to 1947. The scope of the game is narrower, as it describes the years between 1917 and 1947. It is when Indian National Congress, which was mainly based on prominent moderate leaders, decided on adoption of Mahatma Gandhi’s policy of non- violence and civil disobedience, and several other campaigns.

What is worth to remember, is that the Indian independence movement encompassed all sections of society. It was in constant ideological evolution. Although the underlying ideology was anti-colonial, it was supported by a vision of independent, economic development coupled with a secular, democratic, republican, and civil-libertarian political structure. After the 1930s, the movement took on a strong socialist orientation. The work of these various movements ultimately led to the Indian Independence Act 1947, which ended suzerainty in India, and created Pakistan.

Rules, components and general course of play

Gandhi is Volume IX of the COIN Series of games that use similar rules to cover modern and historical insurgencies – thus it is relatively easy to start a new one if you are familiar with the system. A deck of cards regulates turn order, events, victory checks, and other processes. Each turn, a new card is played from the event deck and it determines which two Factions will play this turn and their order. The choices of one Faction influence the others, as a new card is drawn and play continues.

Still, Gandhi offers a fresh perspective on the history of insurgency with the addition of a new type of factions to the COIN Series, the Nonviolent (NV) ones. Of course it retains the multi-faction, asymmetrical, card-assisted system of earlier titles in the COIN Series. Now let us see what sides we can choose from and what are their victory conditions?

  • the British Raj – which seeks to control territory and influence the population of India to support its rule
  • the Indian National Congress – which seeks to disrupt Raj control by building popular opposition to the British
  • the Muslim League – which also seeks opposition to the British Raj as a means of establishing protected states for Muslim Indians
  • the Revolutionaries – seek to disrupt British Raj control through unrest and to establish bases of Hindu and Sikh influence

In Gandhi, players will face a range of difficult and interesting strategic choices. Civil disobedience and non-cooperation, protests and terror, imperialism and constructive program, growing unrest, negotiation, agitation, assassination, persuasion, boycotts, martial law, and many other options await.

Sessions

We covered the Historical Background and Game Overview so now is the time to jump to Session Reports. I will focus on one solo play as I have best pictures from it, but of course the information provided based on this is general. Of course, this will be a picture-rich story, with many close ups and situations explanations (you can click on each to enlarge it!)

Game set-up. I would like to draw your attention to the fact that there are no player mats but everything, all components, are placed on board. And it looks simply beautiful!
The things are starting to move forward. Congress brings it supporters to the streets, placing many of them in the cities and in the states. So far only one area has a protest marker but it will develop for sure…
The Campaign cards not only divide the game into Turns, but also provide special abilities to British Raj. As we shall see in a moment, Lord Chelmsford will be very useful in quelling all independence movements.
A lot happens in the North. Muslims build a base, Raj recruits tons of Sepoy and Revolutionaries spread the Unrest. The inevitable clash is near!
But is sparks not in Punjab but East Bengal! The Revolutionaries grew too strong and has to be dealt with!
But wait, don’t Raj have that great governor allowing Sepoy to pay only 1 resource for each attack! Let us use it! And so they did…
Truth to be told, the results were spectacular with 12 enemy pieces removed from map!
In Gandhi, once you draw a Campaign card, you immediately resolve it. I prefer slightly more forseeable Falling Sky method, but the immediate action also has its appeal.
The solo game went through a couple of additional Turns culminating in the end in British victory! The opposition was too fragmented and uncoordinated. The only true British enemy, who could possibly challenge their hegemony, were Revolutionaries.

First Impressions

Definitely, many more sessions are needed to provide the full, detailed review. Still, I can already share my initial observations regarding this title:

  • COIN, COIN and once again COIN. It follows proven mechanicsadds its own twist, is easy to learn, especially with previous experience in the system.
  • The concept of Nonviolent factions is very interesting. The play completely differently and grasping how exactly to use their potential in full takes time. But I will definitely explore it more!
  • I am fan of history and was able to learn a lot about this period – it is very thematicexplains all the events and has a great playbook.
  • Look once again at the pictures above – this is simply beautiful game!
  • One of the drawbacks I see, but which is common to COINs, is constant keeping track of victory points – which are calculated in not-so-straightforward ways. But you can get used to it!

Summary

That was definitely a refreshing COIN experience, completely new scenery, new theme and some factions which do not use violence in order to win! I love that system, see more and more designers using it and can’t wait to play more of Gandhi as well as other titles in the series!

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