Finding A Place For an Unusual Scenario

Most of the time, picking the location for Command scenario is not very difficult for me. But not all. I was making a scenario where the player takes control of a group of coup plotters controlling a limited force. The scenario itself stalled out for a variety of reasons , but the story of its setting-from Venezuela to Croatia, is one that’s oddly fun to tell.

So I wanted a coup scen. One of the inspirations was the 1992 Venezuelan coup attempt, where the plotters used aircraft (and which I mentioned in my post on air power in civil wars). Now, there’s good reason why aircraft are not the ideal weapons for a coup. Only a few attempts have had aircraft as the primary tools and all of them failed. So, with that inspiration in mind, I had to narrow down a list. There were two gigantic bottlenecks.

First, it had to be a country that wasn’t just plausible for a coup to happen at all, but for what Naunihal Singh, in his superlative work Seizing Power calls a coup “from the middle” to plausibly occur. The short version of Singh’s thesis is that there’s three main types of coups. Coups from the “top” involve the heads of the entire military or at least an officer ranked up there, coups from the “middle” involve direct commanders of fighting units, and coups from the “bottom” are essentially revolutionary mutinies involving enlisted or junior officers. This narrowed the list down a lot, because even many countries with a large history of military rule or manipulation have not had a legacy of random colonel-types charging into the capital. That was the political problem, and a scenario centered around a coup needs to be a lot more politically focused than other scenarios. It got to the point where I was willing to relax some of my old standards a bit, but I still felt a sense of restriction, especially with the next problem.

Second, it had to be a country whose military was big enough and dispersed enough for the coup plotters AND the loyal government to both control a number of aircraft (and potentially ships), while simultaneously not being overwhelmed. This meant I had to cross any former Warsaw Pact nation off the list, because the legacy SAMs made the “defenders” far more capable than the lower-end “attackers”. (Doing an air defense import and seeing the masses of S-300s around one candidate’s capitol made me go “uh, no.”) This was a lot of trouble too, since some of the less-developed countries where I could see colonels rampaging around didn’t have the air force of the right size. Another candidate would have the player either controlling all of their country’s air to air capability or none of it, depending on which side the one fighter squadron ended up on.

I was probably making this harder on myself than I deserved, but I still found myself struggling. Then I found an unconventional one-Croatia. Early 2000s, politics handwaved aside with some alternate history, and it had the jackpot-the player would control MiG-21s, armed PC-9 trainers, and have the possibility to get helicopters. The government might have aircraft, or it might not. It might have air defense systems, or it might not.

And that was, ironically, one of the things that dropped that scenario concept. Part of it was basic scenario creep and other issues, but part of it was a conflict every bit as bad as the dice rolling to see if you got a monster or pipsqueak of a submarine in the North Atlantic-it was too luck based. Singh argues that coups are best viewed as “coordination games”, in which the key to determining whether they fail or succeed is whether they can give the impression that they can succeed. This is especially true for coups from the middle or bottom. If there is any resistance at all, the chance of the coup succeeding drops dramatically, as the plotters are clearly not in control of the entire military. Even more so if there’s militarily significant resistance-having a SAM unit defending Zagreb joining the player’s side means that it can effortlessly shoot down the Fishbeds the loyalists send out, while the same unit on the enemy’s side means one has to divert (and sacrifice) one’s ground attack units.

And of course, the real meat is whether or not the offscreen ground forces can succeed or not. This was the unsatisfying part-I considered either a purely luck based “roll of the dice, the coup succeeds or fails even if the player accomplishes everything militarily) or an coup factors list that was both very complex and ultimately boiled down to more random dice rolls anyway (if you can get multiple types of aircraft over the capital, +10 to the coup chance, if the government launches fighters at all, -20 to the coup chance…)

So I shelved it as unsatisfying for now. But I may just return to it, or a similar scenario sometime…

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