Monday, October 24, 2022

Colombian Leftists & Paramilitaries Squeeze Narco Gang in Medellin

    Leftist guerrillas close in on the Mini-Mart where most of the Narcos are holed up in my ATC game
Ever since my visit this summer to Medellin, Colombia, I'd been fascinated by wargaming a conflict in that violence-plagued city with my Wars of Insurgency rules. Although things are peaceful there now, for decades there was war raging in the streets and hills above this densely-populated, South American city in the highlands. Left-wing guerrillas controlled the barrios -- or communas as they are called there -- that sprawl up the slopes above downtown Medellin. Right-wing paramilitaries, often sent by the government or on their own behest to attempt to drive them from the ramshackle (and illegal) settlements. When the drug trade put its stamp on Colombia's civil war, this added another violent twist to the conflict.

    Bob & Heidi, center, being squeezed by the Leftists (on the left) and paramilitaries (on the right)
My idea for a scenario for a wargame set in Medellin would be a push by the paramilitaries to clear out the guerrillas from one of the communas. The catch was they happen to choose a day when a strong narco gang was present in that barrio, guarding a drug shipment. It was supposed to be a chaotic, three-way clash with the left and right fighting over territory on the board while the narcos fired on whoever got too close to their shipment. The narcos advantage is they have heavier cover with the market building and stone huts, while their disadvantage is they are in the middle of the board. Leftists guerrillas start at one of the short sides of the 6'x4' table and the right-wing paramilitaries at the opposite. How would it play out? Would it truly play out as three-sided clash, or would two gang up on one?

    Heidi's Narco gang members jump out of cover to take a tempting shot at paramilitaries in the open
We all know how gamers can find a way to throw a curve ball in any scenario -- especially at conventions with people you may not be as familiar with. In our playtest with our Sunday evening crew, Jenny and I played the Narcos. We both agreed that we opened up on the guerrillas and paramilitaries too early. We should have let them get closer to each other. As it was, with only our narcos in effective range, they fired back on us and almost never let up. I rearranged the terrain a bit for the convention game, which I hoped would beef up the Narcos chances because Jenny and I got decimated.

    One squad of paramilitaries advances through the creek, taking advantage of better cover

It turned out that my changes to the deployment, mission briefings, and victory points for Advance the Colors 2022 didn't make much of a difference. Heidi, who was playing one of the two Narco positions, jumped out of hidden status and opened up on the paramilitaries right away. Her partner in crime, Bob, was a bit more circumspect. He waited a turn or two longer before shooting at the guerrillas as they crossed a bit of open ground. Almost the same thing happened at the convention that had happened at our Sunday night game. The paramilitaries and guerrillas blazed away at the hapless Narcos, slowly whittling them down. The Narcos had their successes and gunned down many leftists and paramilitaries. However, the attrition coming back on them was too much in the long run.

    Leftist guerrillas (using my 20mm Cuban figures from Liberation Minis) advance through the jungle
Next time I run this, I will likely tweak the terrain and even the starting forces a bit more. I think the scenario still has potential for a fun day or evening of gaming. Plus, the period is a fascinating one and a change of pace from my usual sub-Saharan Africa games. Luckily, I could field this game with the figures I have painted up, already. My Rhodesian/South Africans stood in as the paramilitaries. My Cubans made good leftist guerrillas, and for the Narcos, I used my African militia in civilian clothing. Unfortunately, the 20mm figures I used for my modern warfare games, have become hard to find. Anyone who's had luck in ordering from RH Models (Liberation Miniatures), I'd be eager to hear from you!

    The Narcos hunker down on the roof of the Mini-Mart, keeping an eye on their drug shipments
As always, it was a cinch to explain the rules and the players picked it up quickly. In fact, I find that as GM I often need to be LESS helpful when the players are doing their early shooting attacks. Let them walk their way through the modifiers on their own (while paying attention, of course). Once they have calculated their own shooting attack and saving roll, they have the rules down. Wars of Insurgency is meant to be a fast-play, easy-to-learn set of rules. Players are taking care of their own turns and I need only to focus on reminding folks who's up next. 

    The paramilitaries close in on the market area while taking advantage of the cover of a stand of trees
Speaking of which, for this six-player game, I experimented with running it as three teams of two players each, rather than six individual factions to move. When the Leftists were up, both John and Michael would each activate their next unit simultaneously. This cut down dramatically on the wait time for your next turn and the game seemed to flow quickly. That's encouraging and may allow me to try an 8-player, four team game one of these days. My games seem to fill up quickly, and I always feel bad for the folks who get closed out, but wanted to play. Plus, if I have an odd number, then either I can help out one faction or one more experienced player can run both player positions of his or her faction. I'm interested to see how that goes!

Center market area of the communa, with Narcos & Leftists scrambling for cover as gunfire breaks out

   Leftist guerrillas near one of the shacks they had to defend from the paramilitaries

    One squad advances past an area of dense brush while another clears one of the communa's shacks

    Leftists John & Michael advance towards the center as their opponents keep an eye on them

    Narcos pause as they file past the 'Morning Crower' - do the papers talk about their exploits??

    'That's close enough!' a Narco squad declares as they defend their shipment in the red pickup