The CIA may be underestimating the marketability of their board games.

Yes, the CIA has board games. Because sometimes people in government have a rush of oxygen to the brain. I know, I know, I’m as shocked as you are.

[CIA Senior Collection Analyst David] Clopper recalls one day in 2008 when his “boss’s boss” called him into a meeting and asked him to develop new internal training exercises. Normally, these exercises test whether recent lessons and seminars have been absorbed by officers, and they usually involve “teams, flip charts, and briefings,” Clopper says. “Incredibly boring.” But Clopper had now been at the CIA long enough to reshape its exercises, his boss said, and he got excited: “I’m a gamer. I enjoy games, video games, tabletop games. Could we bring games into learning?”

He used SXSW to present three board games made for his training exercises over the span of a four-year period, one of which is still in development. The first is the one we got the most hands-on time with during SXSW: Collection. If that dry-as-a-desert name isn’t a good indicator, rest assured—this is not a game meant for retail or for the highest ratings at BoardGameGeek.

Collection is apparently designed to be vicious to players, particularly ones that don’t work well with others. I suspect that this will make it all the more alluring to hardcore board game players, and those folks are pretty hardcore.  I don’t know whether the CIA would make back development costs, but they’d be able to recoup expenses for a print run if they crowdfunded it. Seriously, I’m a taxpayer and I neither mind them spending my tax dollars and creating interesting and useful training tools in game form, nor in generating revenue on them later. Every little bit helps, and Clopper could probably use the production credit.

4 thoughts on “The CIA may be underestimating the marketability of their board games.”

  1. Kissenger used to make extensive use of Diplomacy, so it’s not entirely unprecedented.

  2. Back in the day, Avalon Hill had a game called “Republic of Rome” that pitted the players against each other and the game system. The players were pitted against each other to elevate their faction to dominance over Rome, but had to cooperate against the periodic external threats to Rome’s existence. Gods help you if the players can’t coordinate resources against, say, Pyrrhus of Epirus or the Servile Revolts. IIRR, the game system would “win” about 30% of the time.

    1. Avalon Hill tended to do *very* nicely balanced games .. that sounds like a fun one for a weekender.

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