TVOntario: Judith Merril: wargames

Here’s an interesting thing I found today.

In the province of Ontario, Canada, there is an educational TV network called TVOntario. I suppose it would be roughly a Canadian equivalent of PBS except that it is government funded, and perhaps most American states maintain or maintain such a thing. In my province we have the Knowledge Network.

TVOntario has been broadcasting since 1970, and usually broadcasts a mix of children’s programming, documentaries, dramas, and public affairs programs as well as rebroadcasts of Question Period when the Ontario Legislative Assembly is in session. Before 1990 some unusual programming sometimes found its way in, with an escort of a knowledgeable commentator who could give it some educational context: for example, episodes of the Patrick McGoohan show The Prisoner were aired after introduction and discussion by a journalist who would explore the themes raised by the episode (https://youtu.be/8yIa1dtX9ag if you’re interested in that).

In 1969 the science fiction writer and anthologist Judith Merril moved to Canada over the suppression of protests against the Vietnam War by the American government. She settled in Toronto and created the “Spaced Out Library” in a section of the Toronto Public Library, as a special collection of all science fiction published in the English language (the Merril Collection survives as a repository of over 80,000 items at the Library, including hundreds of RPG and other game items). She was active in organizing SF writers’ groups, conferences and conventions and from 1978 to 1981 hosted episodes of Doctor Who as the UnDoctor, where she would give commentary on the episode that had just been shown.

http://www.retrontario.com/2014/02/02/tvontario-judith-merril-the-undoctor-1980-2/

I found on the website Retrontario a clip from one of these shows… where she is posing with copies of Starship Troopers, Sorcerer, and 4000 AD while discussing the episode’s theme of domination and genocide! (I guess you were wondering when the connection with wargames would appear.) These were probably items from the library’s collection; I am reasonably sure she was not a player herself.

Cardboard Emperors Virtual Con II: guest speaker

Cardboard Emperors is a group of gamers based mostly in London, UK. They used to have in-person game sessions, but with the coming of COVID they have moved to online gaming sessions and maintain a Discord server.

They also recently launched a free online magazine called Punched. The first issue is available here and is full of great stuff: a look at Mark Herman’s Great Statesman game Churchill, a strategy guide to Labyrinth, an excellent interview with Tomislav Cipcic who designed the very interesting Brotherhood and Unity, game reviews, and a free game on the battle of Gravelotte (1870) by Fred Serval!

Now, the Cardboard Emperors Virtual Con II is just under a month away.

I will be making a brief presentation of the factions, mechanics and victory conditions in China’s War: 1937-41. (by the way, now up to 1,307 pre-orders)

Far more interesting, though, will be a session by international relations scholar Dr David Banks, who focuses on diplomatic history and practice, and wargaming and conflict simulation. David will be running the seminar ‘Modelling the Next War: How Wargaming can help us understand Cyberwarfare.’

The sessions will happen 1800-1900 Saturday February 20 (British time, so GMT +0).

Attendees (limited to only 25, the maximum the Discord license will allow) will also be entered into a prize draw for a copy of C3i magazine. So there’s that, too!

If you would like to attend the Virtual Con II event, send an email to James Buckley, the con organizer, at cardboardemperors@gmail.com.

Connections North: full programme

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The full programme for the Connections North conference (February 19-21, 2021) is now available!

https://paxsims.files.wordpress.com/2021/01/connections-north-programme-2021.pdf

The event is free but you have to register through Eventbrite. So far over 200 people from 19 different countries have signed up!

See you there!

Interview with No Enemies Here, 16 January 2021

Today’s interview with Dan Pancaldi of “No Enemies Here” podcast with special guest Aardwulf. Special event as part of the Armchair Dragoons online con: Intvw w/ NEH, @ ACDC, 1400 16 JAN 2021

Many meandering anecdotes and fragments of tales: my dad’s very short film career helping to kill off the “Mountie Western” film genre; the development and combat history of the Pantzooka; fanboy squee about James F. Dunnigan; thoughts on border wars and sunlight; firm statement that I will never do a naval or air game; and much much more!

It was lots of fun. I hope to talk with Dan again one day!

Nights of Fire: best European Wargame nominee, 2020!

Image may contain: 1 person, text that says 'MIGHTY BOARDS BRIANTRAIN DAVID BEST EUROPEAN WARGAME 2020 OPJH ORDO Jeu 'Histoire Européenk NOMINE ー FIRE BUDAPES OF DIGHTS OF FIRE RIGHTS BATTLE FOR BUDAPEST'

Nights of Fire has been nominated in the category “Best European Wargame” by the worthy organizations Tric-Trac d’Or and OPJH ! Not sure what this means in the greater scheme of things but it’s nice to be recognized.

Copies are on sale from Mighty Boards! at $45.00 the copy:

https://www.mighty-boards.com/1/9/products/Nights-of-Fire-Battle-for-Budapest

(also, the expansion set of miniatures and cards to play the link game with Days of Ire is also still available, at $35.00)

Minute Men Mark II

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Two texts.

One I have quoted often, one I read today in a blog I read frequently and find wise.

First: James Dunnigan, writing in 1976, in the introduction to the basic scenario of one of my favourite games, Minuteman: the Second American Revolution (https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/5859/minuteman-second-american-revolution).

In Minuteman, Dunnigan’s objective was to portray the spread of underground anti-establishment movements, the government’s reaction to civil discontent, and the mechanics of fighting a popular revolution. Instead of making up an imaginary country, he placed the action in the United States of 2020. The future history he cooks up as the framework to the basic scenario describes a world largely at peace, with a bankrupt Russia removed from the superpower game and an America preoccupied with profound internal social problems caused by the massive public debt run up in the last twenty years of the 20th century.

“… the trend of the ‘rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer’ had been accentuated. The only jobs that paid enough to provide a comfortable existence were to be found in the government, military, and the top 100 industrial corporations. Because of the vastly increased mechanization of work, the corporations employed only some 10% of the working population. The government employed another 12% but half of these government employees were patronage jobs, and the workers served at the pleasure of the elected officials who paid them. Another 4% of the working population was in the armed forces, [which] had become something of a hereditary institution… The government now provided millions of ‘public works’ jobs which … had now become nothing more than another form of public welfare… the police, which amounted one-third of all government employees, were kept busy seeing that over 40 million unemployed and underemployed people did not get out of line. The present situation was not one in which Americans were starving, nor did they lack most basic comforts. What they were denied was any great hope of improvement… only some 20% of the population was going to have any future whatsoever. The rest of the population would subsist as well-fed, uneducated, and most horrifying of all, useless drones existing at the mercy of a small hereditary minority.”

Not bang-on, but prescient enough and a remarkable projection from the distance of 45 years.

Second: this, today, from ianwelsh.net. 

Might seem overstated now but who knows what this will look like from 45 years away?

The Conditions Now Exist For A Long Term Right Wing Insurgency In America
2021 JANUARY 13

by Ian Welsh

Let us understand that the attack on the capitol, while it included many “tourists”, included some very serious, coordinated people who had temporary restraints and a plan.

They genuinely believed, because they have been told this over and over and over again, that the election had been blatantly and massively stolen, and that democracy in the United States had been overthrown. As such, it was their duty to right the wrong that had been done, including taking captive those most responsible like Nancy Pelosi.

It’s hard to find general polling data, but over 50% of registered Republican voters think the attack was justified. Almost half blame Biden more than Trump. Fourty-five (to 43%) think the protest/attack was justified.

Republican support, like Democratic support, is geographically concentrated.

These numbers are more than sufficient to sustain a long term insurgency.

It’s worth understanding how insurgencies get better. Let’s take Hezbollah as an example: if as a Hezbollah member, let alone commander,  you get sloppy in your security at any time, you get dead, because Israel has the best American surveillance and ELINT equipment, plus jets and drones and assassination teams.

Israel, over the years, has killed a ton of Hezbollah officials.

Hasn’t slowed Hezbollah down one bit, instead it has acted as a perfect Darwinian crucible. If you make mistakes, you get dead and probably so does your family and most of your unit.

Israel kept doing that, and now mistakes hardly ever happen. In fact, in the last Israel-Hezbollah war, Hezbollah won the ELINT war (against American equipment, remember) and won the ground-battles. Over decades, Israel had created the perfect enemy, absolutely optimized to beat them, and arguably the best light infantry force in the world.

Nowadays Israel is scared to patrol near the Lebanese border, because Hezbollah has told them that the moment Hezbollah can, it will grab Israeli soldiers, and Israel is now the sort of society that can’t handle that. So Hezbollah has not just beaten them on the ground; electronically and in the spy-game, it has achieved psychological dominance.

Now, of course, an American right wing insurrection is not the same. Among other things, American forces will be operating in their own county; plus, this is the start, not the end.

But boobs like those who went the capitol and live-streamed the attack – those people will quickly be taken out of the picture. Even the slightly smarter will be caught because they wore the same gear as in previous protests or didn’t wear masks and goggles. People who used credit cards to travel and took their phones with them. They go to nasty prisons, and they learn or drop out of active life in the resistance. Over time, security becomes tighter and tighter. People learn.

America is a big country: far, far larger than Lebanon, which is barely a postage stamp. Lots of people and lots of terrain. The security services are at least somewhat sympathetic and clearly massively infiltrated by race-warriors and other “fellow travelers” of the right.

So what seems like a distinct possibility is a low grade insurrection, combined with protests that often turn violent, by very heavily armed people. Biden will pass his Patriot Act II, even more cameras and security checks and intrusive laws and unjust nonsense like the no-fly list (which is not made good or right because it was used against right wingers) proliferate.

The US becomes even more of a police and prison state.

If this metastasizes into the next stage, well, the US is full of veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. They know how area denial works (repeat after me, IEDs) and there will be techies willing to make them drones and so on. Parts of the country become no-go zones, where the security services can only go in convoys or by air, and even then at great risk.

Far-fetched?

Perhaps. But the US has a large enough and geographically concentrated enough population who genuinely believe that the election was stolen and that it is their patriotic duty to restore democracy to sustain an insurrection. It has compromised security forces, a geography that in many places is almost made for insurrection, and a vast amount of arms spread around the population along with the knowledge and means to make more.

As usual, this sort of thing takes time to really get going and there are actions which could be taken to limit it and drain the swamp.

But understand clearly that the conditions for a long term insurrection which cannot be put down with force short of imprisoning millions of people in prison camps (or killing millions) currently exist in America.

Legitimacy, for millions of Americans, is truly and completely broken. They consider the government about to be inaugurated to one that has no right to be in power.

In the game Minuteman, ultimate victory goes to the player who successfully contends for control of the major urban zones; as always, the bulk of the people are the prize (or at least the bulk of the politically active and mobilizable people). Meanwhile, there are cities aplenty that could serve as hinterland bases.

Some variants and update material for the game are here: Favourites Scenarios and Variants

I ought to take a weekend and get this one out again… and, as I did when I was a student, listen to this on headphones while playing:

Heard of a van that is loaded with weapons,
Packed up and ready to go
Heard of some grave sites, out by the highway,
A place where nobody knows

The sound of gunfire, off in the distance,
I’m getting used to it now
Lived in a brownstone, lived in a ghetto,
I’ve lived all over this town

This ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco,
This ain’t no fooling around
No time for dancing, or lovey dovey,
I ain’t got time for that now

Transmit the message, to the receiver,
Hope for an answer some day
I got three passports, a couple of visas,
You don’t even know my real name

High on a hillside, the trucks are loading,
Everything’s ready to roll
I sleep in the daytime, I work in the nighttime,
I might not ever get home

This ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco,
This ain’t no fooling around
This ain’t no Mudd Club, or C. B. G. B.,
I ain’t got time for that now

Heard about Houston? Heard about Detroit?
Heard about Pittsburgh, P. A.?
You oughta know not to stand by the window
Somebody’ll see you up there

I got some groceries, some peanut butter
To last a couple of days
But I ain’t got no speakers, ain’t got no headphones
Ain’t got no records to play

Why stay in college? Why go to night school?
Gonna be different this time
Can’t write a letter, can’t send no postcard
I ain’t got time for that now

Trouble in transit, got through the roadblock
We blended in with the crowd
We got computers, we’re tapping phone lines
I know that that ain’t allowed

We dress like students, we dress like housewives
Or in a suit and a tie
I changed my hairstyle so many times now
I don’t know what I look like

You make me shiver, I feel so tender
We make a pretty good team
Don’t get exhausted, I’ll do some driving
You ought to get you some sleep

Burned all my notebooks, what good are notebooks?
They won’t help me survive
My chest is aching, burns like a furnace
The burning keeps me alive

So what was that all about?

i tawt i taw a coup

image: Paul Mavrides.

Some truly remarkable images and events this week in Washing Tundy Sea. I can’t pick a favourite. So I use this cute image by Paul Mavrides.

Was it a coup? Not really, in my view, or at least not the riot itself. Edward Luttwak’s remarkable 1968 book Coup d’etat: A Practical Handbook defines ” [a] coup consists of the infiltration of a small, but critical, segment of the state apparatus, which is then used to displace the government from its control of the remainder.” He also gives some useful distinctions:

https://books.google.ca/books?id=bA7bCwAAQBAJ&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false

It’s interesting to note that the words being tossed around are foreign loan words: coup d’etat, putsch, pronunciamento. Almost as if English didn’t want to be associated with such ruffianlike behaviour.

But it’s not just local language, it’s the concept. And one concept/term hasn’t been used much is “autogolpe” or self-coup. Basically it is a form of coup d’etat, in that it uses some of the machinery and organs of the State to seize power, but the objective is not regime change – it is to keep the regime (and head of state) in power, when it is supposed to leave. This is something that is not unique to South America, but the continent furnishes some good examples: Alberto Fujimori in Peru in 1992, and recent events in Bolivia. I would say that what we’ve seen is a clumsily attempted autogolpe through the legislature, with a noisy messy mob attack on top of it as a threat and distraction.

https://www.brookings.edu/blog/order-from-chaos/2021/01/08/no-its-not-a-coup-its-a-failed-self-coup-that-will-undermine-us-leadership-and-democracy-worldwide/

There was also a swell of online gamer interest in Civil Power, which is now in production by Blue Panther LLC, as one of the very few tactical games about riots… I would guess it’s the only one in print, even including miniatures rules sets. So yes, one could make up a Capitol Hill scenario fairly quickly – I’m not going to bother, I have other things to do right now – it’s not hard:

https://brtrain.wordpress.com/2020/12/21/civil-power-making-your-own-scenarios/

As I’ve said many times, this is deliberately a sandbox game. The range of scenarios with the game is illustrative and there are plenty of optional rules. People can experiment with this one as they please, and add what assumptions and conditions they like.

Really, this would be a combination of two scenarios that are in the game already: I-4 “Terre Blanche, Pretoria 1991” (rioting neo-Nazis trying to get into a building (how about that), just be sure to mark a limited number of entry points) and I-8 “Demonstration, American city 202x”.

And for the run-up to Inauguration Day, if there is sustained crowd and demo activity (and no shooting or bombing, despite what some blowhards have posted), Battle of Seattle (Free Games! ) could be updated or you could run a 3-5 day campaign scenario of Civil Power like the Chicago ’68 scenario in the game.

Please don’t accuse me of bad taste or “too soon” (unless you feel that way about the whole hobby, in which case it isn’t just me). I designed Civil Power in 1991, using then-contemporary news stories as the bases for scenarios, and it’s been available from me in one form or another for over 25 years. Battle of Seattle I did within a few weeks of the actual event at the end of 1999. I’m interested in these things, and I make my wee games of them; and sometimes, the world catches up with me.

Connections North: now register this!

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Announcing the opening of registrations for the Connections North conference, to be held virtually over Zoom during the weekend of 19-21 February, 2021.

CONNECTIONS NORTH is Canada’s annual conference devoted to conflict simulation. It is intended for national security professionals, policymakers, researchers, educators, game designers, university students, and others interested in the field of wargaming and other serious games.

Prior registration is required, but is free:

Themes to be addressed this year include:

• wargaming and other serious policy gaming in Canada
• wargaming in smaller defence communities
• gaming the Arctic
• COVID gaming and hybrid threats
• gaming fisheries policy
• analytical and policy gaming in the humanitarian sector
• wargaming for command decision support
• distributed gaming
• diversity and inclusion in professional (war)gaming

A full version of the conference programme will be posted by mid-January. Online connection information and other details will be sent to all registered attendees a few days before the conference itself.

We hope to see you all there!

Red Guard: Japanese-language rules translation available

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Over on Boardgamegeek, Tatsuya Shishido has thoughtfully made a Japanese language translation of the rules to Red Guard!

Otsukaresamadeshita!

https://boardgamegeek.com/filepage/213994/red-guard-japanese-rules

Civil Power: rules, scenarios, VASSAL module available online

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Now that the game is officially out, CSL has made the rules and scenario booklet and VASSAL module available online here (if necessary, change the file extension from .zip to .vmod):

https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1i19QZV5qBeZVHv1U5iucoW1tb8w2StEk

But we’re sure that you would like to have the physical product too, so the order page is here:

https://www.consimsltd.com/products/civil-power

Fight the Power!
(or be the Power, you can do both)