Shuffling the Deck with Matt Denton’s “Insurgent Algeria”

Sponsored by the Hurford Center for Arts and Humanities and the Haverford lnnovations Program, Matt Denton ’24 spent the summer developing a game about the Algerian War of lndependence which will be for sale in the fall.

Over the COVID lockdown, Matt Denton ’24 became deeply immersed in playing all kinds of board games and was considering creating his own. He’d developed an interest in the Algerian War of Independence in Associate Professor of Political Science Susanna Wing’s “African Politics, African Novels, and Film” class, and began to think about how he might base a game on that subject.

Denton got to do just that over the summer thanks to a $5,000 microgrant from the Hurford Center for Arts and Humanities which he used to  help develop his game. “lt was a really cool moment, realizing that l’d have the opportunity to actually produce a full-blown game like the other ones on my shelf,” he says

Though Denton was initially inspired to make a board game, he settled on a card game instead because these tend to be shorter, he says. “One of my main goals of the project was to keep it accessible to an audience that would not necessarily pick up a historical game as their first choice on a game night.”

Denton’s creation is Insurgent Algeria, a two-player card game based on real events and people involved in the Algerian War of Independence, which took place from 1954-1962. A conflict between the Algerian National Liberation Front and the French, it was part of the Cold War and the decolonization of Africa, and resulted in the country gaining independence from its French colonizers.  Denton says he was inspired not only by what he learned of the war in Wing’s class, but also by the movie Battle of Algiers which was screened in it.  

The internship allowed him to devote his time to developing Insurgent Algeria’s rules and art. Over the eight weeks, he researched different kinds of games and continued testing and modifying his game. “For a long time l had been playing the game with plain text and some icons l found on the internet,” he says. “[With the funding from the Hurford Center], l was able to hire a freelance professional, who’s actually Algerian, to do the graphics and art for me.”

Denton chose to have each player take a side in the war, drawing cards that are based on real events and people. Players, he says, are “trying to accrue public support in three different areas: military, political, and diplomatic. Each card gets played to one of these three fronts, so over the course of the game all the people that you’ve played kind of stack in each of the fronts and you’re basically trying to accrue the most support across the fronts. 

“There are actions you can take to attack your opponent—bomb them, capture them—things that would’ve happened during the war, but there’s also rallying action for public support and things like that as well,” he adds. 

After the summer internship ended, Denton, who is part of the men’s cross-country team, spent a week at a meet in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where he continued testing Insurgent Algeria with the help of his teammates. He was thrilled that they were enthusiastic about it. “One thing that was really cool to see was that they were really interested to read the text at the bottom of the cards, which gave a bit of historical context,” he said. “They were genuinely interested to learn more based on the relatively abstract game that they had played.”

lnspired by the great response from his friends, when he returned home he shifted his focus to developing the historical background of the game. Testing the game with his teammates, he said, “made me realize that l have a real chance here to make people aware of  a pretty important conflict when you talk about the end of empires and the Cold War.”

The game has already won third place in the 2022 Wargame Print and Play Design Contest, hosted on BoardGameGeek, one of the biggest board game websites in the world.  ln late March, lnsurgent: Algeria was signed by the board game publisher Catastrophe Games and is planning to sell it in the coming months. 

lf you’re interested in purchasing the game or following the game’s progress, be sure to check out Denton’s newsletter here