District Commander: FAQ, errata, clarifications and comments document

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Here and now: a FAQ-so-far, together with collected errata, clarifications and some comments on play on the DC system and the three modules released. Also posted to Boardgamegeek under the DC: Maracas module page and on the Free Games page.

Thanks to James Buckley for his help and editing! James has also written a longer, joined-up example of play for the Maracas module on Boardgamegeek.com for people who want a bit more demonstration on how to put missions together.

Connections Online – Practical Game Design presentation on Youtube

Just a quick one… here is the link to the event on Youtube.

Zones of Connection: 21-22 May 2021

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Nick Mizer, who I first met in connection with the national conference of the Popular Culture Association several years ago (Bored of War…  and News Paper Games) recently sent me an “Invitation to Collaborate” to the Bradley Tabletop Games Symposium, an online event to be held 21-22 May, 2021.

The Symposium is itself a collaboration between the Interactive Media Department of Bradley University and the Games and Simulation Arts and Sciences Program of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, where Nick is currently teaching. First, this event is quite welcome because it focuses on tabletop games; people have heard me often enough moaning about how the academic field of Game Studies is wilfully ignorant of its analog past and all it still has to teach. Second, this event is unusual because it is designed to be a collaborative event, a collection of events and sessions between the interdisciplinarian individuals involved in the field without the formal structure of keynote speakers, presentation of prepared papers, or scheduled fun-time events (that is, you’ll have to provide your own wine and charcuterie).

In wargames, a zone of control refers to the area of restricted movement and activity that occurs when two units become adjacent. As a theme for the first of these tabletop symposia “Zones of Connection” expresses our belief that bringing together a diversity of emerging voices and perspectives on tabletop games has much to offer through the connections that can be forged, interpersonally, emotionally, and intellectually.

Have a look at the invitation to collaborate document here Bradley Tabletop Games Symposium – Invitation to Collaborators and note that rather than submitting abstracts, they are asking for ideas for sessions (to be formatted as workshops, roundtables, panels and seminars but with as much audience participation as possible). If you have an idea for something you would like to participate in, let them know at the link in the document. Deadline for submissions is 26 April 2021.

To give you a further idea of what they might want to see, here are some topics of interest:

  • Games as media
  • Games and simulation
  • Games and anti-colonialism
  • Games as resistance
  • Games in/as education
  • Industry studies
  • Cultures of play
  • Board game cafes
  • Hybrid games
  • Ludo-textual analysis
  • Virtual tabletop play
  • Storytelling in tabletop games
  • Legacy and campaign games
  • Games and speculative futures / alternate histories
  • Discourse analysis of play sessions
  • Streaming and actual play podcasts
  • Phenomenology of play
  • Ludic fandom
  • History of tabletop games
  • Gaming and the military industrial complex
  • Games and translation
  • Games and play therapy
  • Board game renaissance
  • Games in the age of the pandemic

There must be something in all this to interest you!

Personally, I was interested in the speculative futures/ alternate histories topic and am considering submitting a suggestion for a session on that, related to this:

One thing that tweaked me while working on the games-as-journalism piece for the Eurowargames anthology was the section on games on hypothetical wars produced in the 80s, mainly on a Third World War. Regardless of whether you thought that was a farfetched event at the time, it did occupy a lot of interest – at the time. But over the last 10 years or so there has been a resurgence of new games coming out that study that same subject – a Soviet invasion of Europe in the mid-1980s (examples include the World at War series (2007 – 2015), Corps Command: Dawn’s Early Light (2010), Red Tide West (2014), Brezhnev’s War (2018), 1985: Under an Iron Sky (2018), Less than 60 Miles (2019), Red Tide South (2019), and The Fulda Gap: the Battle for the Center (2020)).

Nostalgia for an actual past that one remembers imperfectly is one thing. But nostalgic game design to commemorate a then-hypothetical future that is now a fictional past, it seems to me is a strange inversion of historiography indeed, and an additional twist beyond the approach taken by the designers of Twilight Struggle (where the disproved “domino theory” is consciously used in the game as the logic and incentive for players to act, within their roles as world leaders during the Cold War). So it’s a recreation of a hypothetical future from our past, but what kind of “retrofuturism” is it?

  • Dissatisfaction with the complex and quite changed power structures of today, and nostalgia for the bipolar world with its predicted wargasmic collision of the ideologies?
  • A notion that this war (potentially personally involving players then and now) would have been that generation’s “Good War” (per Studs Terkel), a moral exercise of Us vs. Them with clear-cut roles, unlike the troubling conflicts of Korea, Vietnam and half a dozen other interventions? (I do note that practically all of the examples I’ve given have been by American designers.)
  • Simple-minded huffing of nostalgia fumes for the games that these designers played in their youth? (Sure, I played my SPI NATO, Fifth Corps and BAOR like everyone else, but I miss other games from Back In The Day).
  • Rivet-counters looking for neato technical match-ups, and missing the contextual point as they often seem to do?

I can’t decide what it is; like always, it’s probably a little bit of everything, varying with the individual. It’s just something I’ve noticed and find perplexing, and while it’s pretty narrow I wonder if there are similar veins in other types of tabletop games.

Eurowargames anthology

One project I undertook during the winter was to prepare a piece for an upcoming anthology on Eurowargames – basically an expansion on my “games as citizen journalism” wheeze. This project is edited by Riccardo Masini, Fred Serval and Jan Heinemann, three very good names; they put out a call for articles last fall.

https://eurowargames.wordpress.com/

The original focus has somewhat widened, and the range of submissions will reflect that I think. Latest is that the anthology will be published in fall or winter of 2021, after getting sufficient funding through Kickstarter.

They did ask me my opinion about crowdfunding this, and I had no objection to using it as a pre-order system, but please, NO STRETCH GOALS!

Just get the book funded, and only the book. No tooled leather slipcases, commemorative tea cosies, or sets of commissioned miniatures of the authors (that last one is tempting though. I wonder what I would look like as a small action figure).

Anyway, the above interview (made before the final deadline for article submissions, so they did not yet know for certain what-all they had) gives more details.

Connections Online 2021: Whiskey Charlie podcast

Tomorrow!

I’ll join Maurice Fitzpatrick on his podcast, with Brant Guillory and others to talk about the Connections franchise of annual conferences on professional wargaming – its past, present (online for now) and future.

The Connections Online conference is next week, registration is open, and the schedule and events thereto are filling up.

Hey, don’t forget I will be talking about the practicalities of game physical design with Mike Markowitz on Monday, April 12 at 1500 EDT!

Connections Online

Connections North (the Canadian variant) is in the past, the US conference is 22-25 June (special theme: Ethics in Wargaming) and the Connections-UK conference has been moved forward two weeks from its usual time (14-16 September). All will be online events, For The Duration Of Viral Hostilities. Meanwhile, keep up with developments on the Facebook group:

https://www.facebook.com/ConnectionsWargaming

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Tune in, maggots!

Shining Path in the classroom

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Last month Aaron Danis, a professor at the Institute for World Politics (an independent graduate school that trains students for careers in national security and international affairs) used the Vassal version of Shining Path as a classroom activity in his course “Counterterrorism and the Democracies”.

He very kindly wrote up the exercise at the following link: https://www.iwp.edu/students-alumni/2021/04/01/iwp-students-play-in-peru-counterterrorism-wargame/

There was only enough time to get through the first three turns, but he would like to return to it later and spend a half or full day on it. The students were enthused and added knowledge from their own readings or documentaries they had seen on Sendero Luminoso. He tried to get his students to play it out on Vassal by themselves, but the interface and technology was a bit of a struggle so he adopted a simple solution of setting up the game for himself, then sharing the game screen on Zoom with the students so they could discuss and direct the moves of the pieces.

I’m glad this worked out well!

Connections Online 2021: 12-14 April, +/-

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The Connections Online conference on professional wargaming will be a virtual event.

Details, registration link and a preliminary schedule are here: https://www.armchairdragoons.com/connections/

All core Connections Online events will take place from 12-14  April, each day 1000 – 1600 EDT(UTC -4). All core events will be recorded and available for future viewing.

A livestream of the conference and the recordings will be free and open to all, but you can register to get access to a whole lot more. A small fee of $5 will be charged to partially cover the IT expenses.  Registration cost includes:

  • All presentations, panels, and keynotes (unlimited seats for participation), including ability to ask questions / interact with the speakers during their presentations
  • Access to the Connections Online Discord server
  • Ability to register for any extended conference events, on a first-come, first-served basis for limited-seat events

Oh, and what about those extended conference events you may ask? Well, from 10-18 April there will be many smaller focused events during and to either side of the core hours and dates. Details are still being worked out about these but will include game demonstrations, presentations, and activities similar to the famous “game lab” event where we work in small groups to brainstorm and explore how to game or model certain topics or issues, or general approaches to and utility of games and modelling.

If you are interested in serious games (and this term is definitely not limited to military wargaming!) you should check this out.

This is the latest addition to the Connections franchise of professional wargaming events. Connections-US, the original and American version of the conference will be in June and will also be a virtual event. I’ll post more about that later as details are firmed up. Readers of this and the Paxsims blog will know that there are also Australian, Canadian, Dutch and UK conferences along the same themes. I really miss these events in person, I’ve been several times to the US and UK ones and it’s an intense experience. Maybe next year we’ll be back to doing this sort of thing in person – though we have certainly proven the added value of doing as much as possible online, or making things available online.

Anyway, as part of this particular conference on Monday April 12 at 1500 EDT I will be doing a joint presentation with Mike Markowitz on practicalities of DIY game design. Mike, a really smart guy and a better public speaker than I, will talk about graphic design and I will talk about methods of self-publishing. Both are add-ons and developments of the talks we gave to the Georgetown University Wargaming Society recently, and you should watch these first.

Again, if you want to talk to us and ask questions you’ll have to register. It’s five bucks but you get a whole lot more than just us!

We hope to see you all there!

[ETA] Here is the Youtube link for the event…

Kashmir Crisis: solitaire rules

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Today at the Boardgamegeek.com entry for Kashmir Crisis, player (yes! there is at least one!) Steve Roberts posts about his method for an automated manual opponent for the game, using a second deck of cards with a different back. I haven’t tried it (frankly, I did not think at all about a bot for the game when I designed it) but it’s clever!

https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/2626513/my-solo-mechanics

He also posted about his experience playing the game solitaire, and the narrative it generated:

https://boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/281198/item/8203151#item8203151

Thanks Steve!

Institutionalizing irregular warfare

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Irregular warfare is an enduring, economical contribution to America’s national security, and will remain an essential core competency of the U.S. Department of Defense.

Yes.

Is what I said to myself when I saw this quote leading a post on War on the Rocks, from an annex to the new American National Defense Strategy document on the abiding need for planning and expertise on irregular warfare. 

https://warontherocks.com/2021/03/an-irregular-upgrade-to-operational-design/

https://media.defense.gov/2020/Oct/02/2002510472/-1/-1/0/Irregular-Warfare-Annex-to-the-National-Defense-Strategy-Summary.PDF

People have heard me bang on quite long enough that the American Army (the British Army too, for that matter, and the US Marine Corps even more so) has spent more of its history in fighting irregular campaigns and incidents than in “near-peer combat”, “force on force” or whatever you want to call it. 

So it’s nice to see this home truth reflected, and advocated, and some conscious before-the-next-time thought put into it in “phase zero, that amorphous planning space where everything short of war happens.”

The blog post talks about five shifts in operational design to acknowledge irregular warfare:

  • Shift from “Military End State” to “Position of Continuing Advantage” (because wars no longer just end, and you won’t be home by Christmas)
  • Beyond “Center of Gravity” to “Strategic Levers” (because war is a human-centred activity, not a physics problem)
  • Elevate “Simultaneity” to “Concurrent Effects” (because no mission ever has a single objective, nor a single consequence)
  • Adding “Narrative,” or Shaping Information to Attain Influence (because one day the US is going to get better at this, by dint of repetition if nothing else)
  • Enabling with “Empowerment,” or the Right Tools to Wield Influence (because you should be more creative in where you sprinkle your money, and who you authorize to sprinkle it)

The post is quite clever, and you should go and read it.

Bon Weekend a tous!

Further to my last, the Modern War Institute at USMA West Point has announced the Irregular Warfare Initiative, an ongoing set of activities (podcasts, a conference, fellowships) to preserve knowledge of irregular warfare and exchange ideas. It won’t be like the stampede away from knowledge like after Vietnam (see John Nagl’s “Learning to Eat Soup With A Knife”). This time it’s different. They promise. 

https://mwi.usma.edu/introducing-the-irregular-warfare-initiative/

Vive La Commune!

One hundred and fifty years ago today: March 18, 1871 marked the first of the 71 days of the Paris Commune, a remarkable episode of political, social and class revolt before it was crushed by its own government.

A “last stand of the Paris Commune” scenario is included in Civil Power.

Red Flag Over Paris, a game on the Paris Commune designed by Fred Serval and which uses the Fort Sumter system is on P500 at GMT Games. Looks interesting, I’m awaiting it!

https://www.gmtgames.com/p-849-red-flag-over-paris.aspx