Saturday, May 19, 2012

Virunga Gorilla Scenario

For a very long time I have had this scenario running through my imagination.  I have the National Geographic magazine that has the article about the Virunga Gorilla massacre of 2008.  While reading this tragedy I realized that as source material for a wargame there was ripe ideas of multi forced cross objective gaming to be created based on this content.  The Virunga park is home to mountain gorillas, park rangers, two rebel militia groups, Congolese army troops, United Nations troops, poachers, and regular civilians just eking out an existence in the most agriculturally diverse spot on earth. Gaming fresh topics is always at risk of being trite or unsympathetic to the horrors suffered by the involved cultures.  I assure you that this is the case in all eras regardless of time period, but something uncomfortable always crops up if the conflict is very recent.  Without any qualms I explore and recreate in 54mm the conflict and mission objectives in the Virunga National park surrounding the charcoal poaching industry and it's insidious effects on the gorilla environment and the organizations that are supposed to protect the gorilla habitat and the gorillas themselves.
The above image is a park road withing the Virunga National Park.  We see truck traffic bringing supplies and charcoal into Goma, a city near the park.  Poachers can be seen in this aerial view working a charcoal kiln - turning hardwood trees into fuel charcoal for the population of Goma.

Nearby a gorilla family enjoys the depths of the verdant jungle.  Senkwekwe the giant silver back reigns over his family of females and infant gorillas.
Senkwekwe approaches our groups photographer.  Curious but not violent.
Pregame shot of the scenario on a 12x6' table.  We are looking north from Goma outskirts to the beginning of the jungle terrain of the park.  UN vehicles are seen in the foreground.
Counter view also pregame.  We see the mountain gorillas in the foreground and the charcoal fires.
Our Secondhand Lions have arrived for the evenings game and are looking over their deployments and troops.  Here the Goma Citizens Committee is beginning set up.
The FDLR are rolling into action.  This is the Hutu organization known as the Democratic Federation for the Liberation of Rwanda.  They make their home in the vastness of the park and use their AK47 credit card to take what they want.  They are motivated by charcoal industry poaching, killing the CNDP, drugs, recruitment of ethnic Hutu's to their militia and will protect the gorillas as a national treasure.

The Force Publique and the Goma Committee fast at work setting up for the scenario.

Goma Committee sector is located in the slum and the IDP compound (internally displaced persons).  They are motivated by a subsistence dependency on the illegal charcoal industry and drugs.  They are frequently the targets of all other groups atrocities against citizens.  The city of Goma heats and cooks on charcoal and is an estimated $300 billion industry a year.

Disenfranchised Congolese army defectors have set up  shop in the park and use the moniker The National Congress for the Peoples Defence.  Their motivation is on illegal charcoal trade, killing the FDLR, drugs, and they have been accused of killing gorillas for food.
This view is looking from the CNDP lines into the city of GOMA just east of the UN compound.
 CNDP have set up a roadblock to control the flow of charcoal into the city.  They have negotiated a tax on the Goma Committee for passage for two vehicles.
 Goma Committee travel through Virunga bringing in the "goods".
 Charcoal trade from the air.  We see Goma Committee using forced citizen labor to harvest illegal park charcoal.
 The smug FDLR commanders with their SUV convoy travel to interrupt the Virunga-Goma road.
Goma Committee load up and roll.  The park roads are treacherous to vehicle and people alike. Chits under the figures are motivational victory objectives White is charcoal, red is civilian, blue was drugs, and black was gorillas encounter.  The four different sides each had a different point value for these motivational chits.  Collecting them was part of the game action and interaction and bartering with them helped paint the scene of my imagined scenario.

 Virunga-Goma road from the air.  Goma Committee in the act of loading up charcoal.
 CNDP has cut the road and also has control of another charcoal kiln.
 Goma Committee is on the radio and awaits the return of their squads from the park.
 The UN and Force Publique rolls out of the UN compound to interdict the Goma Committee and to go into the park for a patrol of the charcoal industry.
 Goma Committee watches warily as the UN Force Publique approaches.  "What are your intentions?" (in your best islander, Afrikaner,third worlder voice).
 CNDP has this park entrance under heavy control.  UN can't come through and the committee is going to pay to come through...
 Force Publique first squad pays heavily for their intrusion on park grounds.
 CNDP and FDLR firefight in the jungle.  Heavy firepower echos through the park.
 Goma Committee heads off-road rather than gauntlet the firefight.
Action shot.

All in all at the end it was a Goma Committee supposed victory with more charcoal chits.  Each cultural group had a list of objectives that included: charcoal, citizens, drugs, enemy KIA, gorilla encounter.   Each of these items was weighted on a chart to be worth more or less in points.  Each group rolled a D6 before the game and referenced the chart to see what area of interest they were going to concentrate on for the scenario.  This created cross purposes and in the final count the FDLR won on enemy KIA's even though the Goma Committee had swept nearly all the chits from the charcoal, drug industry.

The game was played using GASLIGHT rules.  Each side had four activation cards for squads and vehicles.  Each side had leaders with all the variable abilities from the game and those came into play nicely.  I think GASLIGHT worked well for this skirmish.  The sustain rolls for the vehicles were explained as terrain related.  The ability to tweak the stats for the different forces also made intuitive sense.  This would make a nice convention presentation and would be a way to enlighten people to the conditions and concerns we have in our world.
I recommend the Nat Geo article.  Google Virunga Gorilla Murders and watch the videos on Nat Geo and YouTube.  Very interesting world we live in.


  1. An interesting scenario, I like the buildings, particularly the shanty town.

    Best wishes, Brian

  2. Well done, attractive but thoughtful as well as challenging for the players.

  3. I know what you mean about running games on more recent conflicts. I ran a game for an after-school class on the Ia Drang battle in 1965. For the kids it was ancient history of course, but for the adults...not so much. At the end of the game one of the teachers came up and told me quietly that her brother had died at Ia Drang. I could have run the game again the next semester, but I just didn't feel comfortable about it.