The unexpected nuance of White Tribe and its racist rump-colonial regime: a review by Bruce Geryk

From @Brooski’s review:

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

Fantastic review; very not much else to say. Madison’s nuance, only possible in deeply researched history, presented distilled yet detailed is so even-handed in tone that it hasn’t created “ye olde partisan identity right v left” twitter flame war. Quite the opposite. If you hear the same praise and thoughtful discussion of the history from reviewers from both Right, Left , Middle and None of the Above, regarding what, on it’s face, could be snap-judged as an extremely controversial topic? Well, you’ve done something. Bubby. Probably something quite good.
Oh, and even-handedness is an indicator of objectivity!

because it showed exactly what you had to leapfrog this impassable obstacle.


I appreciate your review and you make some sophisticated and delicate points. But I also think you repeated yourself quite a bit and could use an editor to help you shave it down by 25%. I give your review 3.5 stars ;)

That was a really thoughtful and engaging review. Thanks!

Also a pretty nice dice tower.

Great review, Bruce. Thanks! Sounds like an intriguing game. I’m (re-)reading Seth Dickinson’s hard fantasy novel The Traitor Baru Cormorant, and it strikes me that this is a similar kind of hard-nosed look at historical circumstance: history doesn’t really care about ethics, and power is a slippery and difficult thing to use, even or especially to putative good ends. Since my grognard exposure is very limited, how would you compare this to one of the few solo wargames I’m familiar with: the way that Joel Toppen treated a similarly potentially fraught subject matter in Navajo Wars?

Thanks, all.

No, objectivity means rating the installation, manual, gameplay, graphics, and sound.

I did mention a couple things twice, but that’s on me, not my editor.

You can have one yourself! It’s not on his website, but this guy…

…will make you some fine pieces of woodworking if you tell him what you want. I had him make me some companion pieces for playing card-driven games:

He made those to my specs but now has all the plans to make more.

The White Tribe is a much more straightforward design than Navajo Wars. I was a bit put off by the Navajo Wars rules at first but really appreciated it later as a truly genre-breaking design. This is a more evolutionary branch of the solo wargame with a politico-sociological thesis built it.

Agreed. Its a rare game dealing with such a subject that it feels right to people of all political stripes.

Tbh I was surprised at Ben Madison’s actual politics which he openly describes up front. There isnt a whiff of agenda in the game design.

The two reviewers quoted on the product page are really on the same wavelength:


I think I’d remove the second one. “Coherent, playable, enjoyable” seems like a low bar to exceed. Hah.

Besides lurking in Quarter to Three for years now, I am huge history nerd. As such I have a soft heart for wargames and anything historical flavored. I have to say, though, that I am having more and more trouble to stomach their “evenhandedness.”

There is nothing nuanced and nothing unexpected about the White Tribe’s (WT) premise. Defining your goals and your opposition, then making concessions to divide the latter between willing collaborators and unredeemable enemies has been the standard playbook of colonial regimes, and counterinsurgency operations since before WWII. The British Raj? The Malay Insurgency? Nixon’s policy of Vietnamization? The successful or abortive “liberalization” of military regimes from Greece to El Salvador? It’s all in there.

What do we gain by putting ourselves in the shoes of an apartheid regime, down to the discourse their using (“terrs”?).
Would we be able to ignore these very problematic premises of the game, if its setting had not been South Rodhesia, but white-rule South Africa?

I expect that wargamers have a long history of divorcing themselves from the politics and look toward quantifying and qualifying the forces in situ and the decisions made by the actors. This goes back to Clausewitz (at least) who tried to look objectively at military maneuvers of famous generals and see what they did right or wrong, without regarding the justice of their cause.

When you play as Germany invading the Soviet Union, you’re not hoping Germany will win. Or at least, the true grognards don’t. That’s why you can play as the Vietnamese vs the Americans as an American, or the Argentinians vs the UK as a Brit. Or play as the Communist Reds vs the Whites, or Chiang Kai Shek vs Mao Tse Dung, or the South vs the North.

I think the question being asked by the White Tribe is more a matter of how can those in power (justly or not) navigate a mostly peaceful transition considering the forces arrayed against them. Your position, the more modern and less patient perspective, doesn’t actually care whether there are more or less destructive outcomes the nation will suffer if that nation is unjust and find even asking the question of “what is to be done?” to be offensive.

In this way the game seems of a different time, a sort of “pre-1990” Cold War era board game, a kind of game you’d be fascinated at finding on the top of your uncle’s closet under the lava lamp and The Who albums gathering dust sometime in the early 1980s, that opened a window on a whole world of political actors and agents whose contours of which you were barely aware.

Interesting, but a straw man. The game being reviewed doesn’t deal with the South African state as its premise.

To your other examples you pointed out, some counterinsurgencies/liberalization attempts were successful and others were not. This is, in itself, an interesting set of historical questions that bears examining/modeling/deeper immersion via a game form. To some. To others, not. But that would come down to area of historical interest, prefence and taste,

On the contrary: Both South Rhodesia and South Africa were white-majority states, faced with opposition movements both armed and popular, which they derided as terrorist, and against which they employed similar measures (repression, military action, lobbying Western governments for support). If the “terrs” were not ZANU-PF but Mandela’s ANC, and the anti-apartheid struggle abroad was only increasing “terror,” I think comments here would be less likely to see the game’s premise as balanced.

Which also ties in to Enidigm’s comments: Based on the review, I’m sure I’d enjoy playing WT, since its mechanics seem to work well as a game. On the other hand, I am also interested in how game designers choose to express historical facts through mechanics, what preconceptions they adopt and what they leave outside.

I feel like the terminology is meant to be evocative of the period and the subject matter, taking the Rhodesian position on its own terms. I tend to think if we’re expressing history through mechanics, the how is more important than the names. I imagine that were it to be a two player game, the terms would be more neutral.

I don’t necessarily disagree, but I think that is a much different debate than one about the the White Tribe, and it’s review. In making that switch, you are fundamentally changing the discussion to a hypothetical game. I think though, your hypothetical emphasizes the fact that “one -size fits all” designs are reductionist; that if you are going to probe these sorts of issues and problems, and ask why some states could successfully prosecute counterinsurgencies/liberalize and others couldn’t, the details do matter.

I agree with @Panzeh regarding “Terrs”. And “Troopies”. That is using the language of that state and that time to contribute to atmosphere, time and place in-game.

The comparisons with South Africa are relevant, but I feel like I need to rebate Sotirios over three points.

The first issue is that the history of the ANC is quite long and their political positions evolved and changed significantly over the 30 years of struggle. That Mandela was instrumental in that process can’t be denied, but I think it is healthy to remember that he needed to rely on a wide network of collaborators to turn around the ANC towards the path of non violence and reconciliation. So not really just “Mandela’s ANC” and neither 1968 was anything like 1988. The figure of Winnie Mandela is quite problematic too, one of the few things the Truth and Reconciliation Commission wasn’t able to address.

The second issue is that, in all fairness, De Klerk pretty much chose to work with the ANC - a mostly Bantu movement - over doing so with the Zulu parties. And for good reasons! So I think it is not cynical to say that in that case that “imperialist” divide and conquer strategies actually worked well.

The third issue lies with the fact that South African armed forces had basically contained and defeated the guerrillas. The South African struggle final stages played to a great extent on the cities for a reason. And also, sadly enough, armed resistance was abandoned in part out of pragmatism because it was perceived as less effective (it didn’t work) and logistical bases for it had been interdicted.

What the White Tribe mechanics prescibr is consistent with the historical facts above. It is truly a quite gobsmacking achievement in telling straight a complicated story, and by playing the game you actually get to see how the pieces fit together. The AAR on these forums shows the game for what it is: a political science sandbox.

I wonder if White Dog games will dare to visit former Yugoslavia some day.

Some Monday morning corrections:

“it showed exactly [t]hat you had to leapfrog this impassable obstacle”
“a certain interpretation [of] the possible outcomes”
“Your need to go after guerillas in their sanctuaries (Zambia, Botswana, Mozambique) [which] opens you up to international outrage”

Great paragraph.

Oh God… Don’t tempt me.

As for playing the RF regime in Rhodesia, I am reminded of someone who refused to play Cruel Necessity (on the English Civil War) who said, and I paraphrase, “I have no problem playing a game as Adolf Hitler but I refuse to play a game as Oliver Cromwell!”