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Gaming the Next American Civil War

by Edward Castronova on 10/08/18 12:59:00 pm   Expert Blogs

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The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


2040 American Abyss. A Simulation of America’s Next Civil War


Tensions are rising. Many people think America might face a second Civil War.

What would it be like? Defense and security experts have extensively modeled contemporary civil wars. The models expose the fissures and forces that make counter-insurgency (COIN) operations bloody and difficult. COIN situations are hard to stop; nobody wins; it is a dumpster fire.

IMG_20180731_212556981Recently, CIA analyst Volke Ruhnke published a commercial game based on COIN models. Andean Abyss (GMT 2012) is set in Colombia in the 1990s. Four separate factions with different resources and goals are mired in a formless, ever-shifting conflict.

  • Government: Many resources, trying to calm the entire country
  • Communist rebels: Few resources, trying to control part of the country
  • Pro-government vigilantes: Few resources, trying to destroy Communists
  • Drug cartels: Wealthy, trying to exploit the chaos to make more money

I think 1990s Colombia is a good model of what America will experience if we fall into civil war today. My analysis is non-partisan: It does not matter which parties are the government and the rebels. We have in our country today four armed factions: The State, Antifa, Tea Party, and Crime.

  • The State: Whoever is in charge will be trying to calm the whole country.
  • Rebels: The government will have armed opponents. If the government is Right, the rebels will be Antifa. If the Government is Left, the rebels will be Tea Party.
  • Vigilantes: Whoever holds the government will lose control of armed “allies” who have more bloodlust than the officials in Washington. The Left will lose control of Antifa, the Right will lose control of the Tea Party. These rogue forces will conduct an extra-legal vendetta against the other side.
  • Crime: Armed criminal gangs are already active in this country. The chaos of a COIN situation will provide ample opportunities for expanding.

To show what this horrible war would be like, I have crafted a variant of Andean Abyss that is set in the United States in the year 2040. In order to play this variant, you must first buy the base game Andean Abyss to obtain its pieces, cards, and core rules. However, you actually play the game on this map of the United States (2040 American Abyss 1.4). There are also a few additional rules specific to the US scenario (American Abyss Rules).


Now, because Andean Abyss is a realistic simulation, the rules are complex. This is not a family board game. Therefore, in order to deliver the lesson at a simpler level, I also designed a student edition (American Abyss Student Edition).  This packet provides a stand-alone, extremely simple game that illustrates the core problem of a four-faction conflict like the one we face. The packet also includes everything you need for running a classroom exercise on the topic. No additional materials are needed.

These materials are offered free of charge in the hopes that we will all realize how foolish it would be to draw blood over whatever it is that divides us now.

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