Strategist, 2000

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Once upon a time, I edited Strategist, the monthly newsletter of the Strategy Gaming Society. Boardgamegeek.com says that “the American Wargaming Association (AWA) merged with the National Wargaming Alliance (NWA) in 1984. The combined organization was renamed the Strategy Gaming Society (SGS). The AWA’s newsletter was called “The American Wargamer“, issued from 1973 to November 1984. The NWA’s newsletter was called “Kriegsrat“, issued until November 1984. With the December 1984 issue, the combined publication became “Strategist”.

George Phillies, who is still quite active in wargaming, was a central figure in the Society from way back, but I think the Society has been defunct for quite a while now. Anyway, I took over the newsletter after John Kula had had it for a while and edited it for a year before concluding I just did not have the time or energy to keep it going the way I wanted it (I was then still in the process of recovering from getting run over by a car at the end of 1998).

This was all 20 years in the past, and in the interests of oh I don’t know future ludic archaeologists I am putting up those dozen issues, in PDF form, on the Resources page (converted cheaply from their original MS Publisher format, so there might be an oopsy or two somewhere). They give you 3 GB of space here at WordPress and I am not using much of it so far. Game Links and Resources

Here is an index to the contents, nothing really remarkable except that I did publish a few simple games in its pages: Attrition, War Fair, Wolf Pack and Zulu Spears by Lloyd Krassner; Battle of Seattle by me; and the first appearance of Waterloo 20 by Joe Miranda. Another funny thing I ran was a series of “Military Movie Star” bios where I wrote about the star’s service career and the war/action movies they were in later. Did you know James Mason was a pacifist and conscientious objector in World War Two?

STRATEGIST index for 2000

The Uses of Simple Games

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(image: Nanda van Dijk)

On February 19 I got up early to give a short talk to a class of officers at the US Army War College on “The Uses of Simple Games”.

Simplicity vs. depth in games (yes to both); the value of simple games for personal learning, development and innovative habits of mind (oh yeah); these concepts in action at the GlobalECCO gaming portal (still chugging along!).

Script (OpenDoc) Simple Games script 18 feb 21

Slides (PDF) Simple Games slides 18 feb 21

Wargames and experiential learning

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Every so often you encounter an article or blog post that ties a lot of things together, and expresses for you things you have thought about – only in a much more coherent way. Today I found one of these by Roger Mason, in a blog he keeps for LECMgt, his consulting company.

https://www.lecmgt.com/blog/commercial-wargames-and-experiential-learning/

In the post, he talks about the value of civilian/commercial wargames (and their designers): how they teach lessons, how they teach adults, and what they have to offer the professional wargaming world and the learners it serves. Nothing that new, on the surface – we know how commercial off the shelf (COTS) games are sometimes mined for ideas by the professionals – but Roger ties it in with principles of andragogy (how adults learn, as opposed to children) particularly the theory of experiential learning as shown by the Kolb cycle, and shows the layers of learning that player-learners can extract from playing (experiencing) games: from concepts to context to application of learning.

A certain part of my day job involves knowing about work-integrated learning (a form of experiential learning) and encouraging it in post-secondary educational institutions… so I have been familiar with these concepts for a long time, and the value of games in assisting learning (games generally, and wargames specifically). But Roger has put it so much better than I would ever have been able to write it… so go read it!

(Also, Roger talks about the work of John Clerk, a British civilian who was interested in naval tactics and studied their history and development, and worked out a few ideas of his own using maps and miniatures. He published them in 1782, as one of the first examples of operational research in the Western world, a Royal Navy Board of Inquiry concluded they had merit, and that was part of the story of why and how Nelson “crossed the T” at Trafalgar! This was a new one to me…)

[Edited to add:]

Just a few days later, here is another excellent post on wargaming and Professional Military Education (PME) by RAAF Group Captain Jo Brick writing in The Forge, an online portal of the Australian Defence College (where she is currently Chief of Staff):

https://theforge.defence.gov.au/wargaming/gaming-and-professional-military-education

The Forge has a whole series of excellent articles on the uses of wargaming of which this is only the latest example. See them all at:

https://theforge.defence.gov.au/wargaming

Six Days in Fallujah Redux

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After 11 years, a video game on the 2004 battle of Fallujah is being revived. It was originally to be produced by Konami and was yanked when it became apparent that veterans, parents and widows were going to take strong exception to a contextless shoot-’em-up featuring their friends and relations. In an interview from 2009, Peter Tamte (who now heads the company bringing back the game) confirmed this lack of frame:

“As we’ve watched the dialog that’s taken place about the game, there is definitely one point that we want people to understand about the game. And that is, it’s not about the politics of whether the U.S. should have been there or not. It is really about the stories of the Marines who were in Fallujah and the question, the debate about the politics, that is something for the politicians to worry about. We’re focused now on what actually happened on the ground.”

I suppose the principals thought it is safer now: I don’t have any more faith than this writer in today’s VICE that the game will have a much more redeeming quality from the waiting.

Read the below in full if you like; meanwhile here is a link to an article from 2018 about the history of the game – including how the team spent three years designing a game engine that could destroy anything and everything in the game’s “world” and the bickering between a combat veteran and a video game designer about what a hand grenade can and cannot do. Oh, and that the lovely engine they worked on got used anyway in a later game called “Breach”.

https://variety.com/2018/gaming/features/6-days-in-fallujah-1202829115/

‘Six Days in Fallujah’ Is Back, but Why and For Who? A controversial project returns under new leadership, but there’s every reason to be skeptical of its vision.

About 10 years ago, one of the most controversial things happening in video games was a military sim about an infamously bloody battle for an Iraqi city that had become synonymous with the war’s violence and, depending on who you talked to, its pointlessness or its purpose. Then it was canceled. Now, over 20 years into a series of wars that never ended, Six Days in Fallujah is back, but with a new team and ostensibly a new angle.
It’s all about framing. Six Days in Fallujah could be an important game that reminds people of what the Iraq War was at some of its worst and most intense moments, both for U.S. troops sent to fight in it and for the people who suddenly found their country turned into a battleground for myriad countervailing forces.
Or it could be a game about the honor, decency, and prowess of U.S. troops—and never mind all the messy context and contradictions. A higher-minded but still reductive politics of “support the troops” that has defined the Global War on Terror since its ill-considered inception. Slick propaganda, in other words, with just enough awareness to be credible.
Either way, it’ll still be a game. A “tactical shooter,” which immediately puts some boundaries on what’s possible. Games love stand-up shoot-outs, where there are two sides and everyone knows who is shooting at everyone else and the rules are clear. But the minute you make a game that portrays the war in Iraq through that lens, you’re already engaged in the work of sanitizing the conflict.
To its credit, the announcement trailer for Six Days in Fallujah, a long-abandoned project effectively resurrected under a new team comprised of former Bungie developers, seems to recognize the pitfalls around its subject matter. The trailers shows scant gameplay but does feature some reflective quotes from soldiers who were there, and ends on an ambivalent note about the way “respect” for “the troops” has often made it impossible to be honest about the reality of this war.
On the other hand, is this game going to be much more honest? The opening of the trailer talks about how the city was seized by Al Qaeda and the entire battle was about liberating it and preventing the country from collapsing as authority broke down. But out of the gate, that’s an unusual reading of the battle and its immediate context.
This is not a particularly partisan take on the battle. Bing West, who wrote maybe the definitive (to date) account of the battle and was largely sympathetic to the military and its counterinsurgency efforts, identified George Bush’s drastic overreaction to the Blackwater ambush as the catalyst for the entire engagement. It was a battle a lot of the military leadership had grave reservations about fighting in the first place because it was, on its face, a bad idea to engage a massive assault in a densely populated city in revenge for a group of mercenaries who made their own bad luck. 
It was such a controversial decision that the entire battle was characterized by hemming-and-hawing between the Coalition’s generals and the caretaker, not-quite-puppet government of Iraq. It was also a microcosm of the logic of the War on Terror: overreaction to a predictable act of violence, leading to an inescapable and bloody quagmire as the mere presence of American forces ensured further resistance, which then had to be crushed in order to maintain an aura of invincibility. The significance of the ultimate victory there might be gleaned from the fact that three years later, things across Iraq were so bad that the Bush administration launched The Surge to attempt to regain some semblance of stability in a country it had invaded and occupied entirely by choice.
But the game is also going to attempt to present the experience of Iraqi civilians, which is an important perspective but not one easily reduced to the space of a few months in 2004 (or the “six days” of the title). Civilians in Fallujah were not just caught in the crossfire of the battle, but many of them were encouraged by the Coalition forces to flee their homes because the assaulting troops had little intention of restraining their use of high-explosives, city or no city. They had the choice to become refugees, or try and survive a massive battle happening in and around their homes. And to this day, long after the battles Fallujah is most famous for (though more would occur as the shaky stability of Iraq crumbled alongside Syria’s), there is credible evidence that the residue of those battles has made Fallujah toxic to the people who still live there, where physicians have for years reported a stunning incidence of birth defects and cancer.
The press release for the game promises to “tell these military and civilian stories with the integrity they deserve.” Honestly, I have no idea what that would look like for any game, much less a tactical shooter, and my instinct is to applaud anyone who tries to wrestle honestly with these things. But war is shot-through with profound dishonesty. The true costs of the battle of Fallujah to the people who lived and still live there are yet impossible to calculate, much the way all the lives lost in Iraq vary wildly depending on who is doing the counting. Meanwhile, while the military made great strides in protective equipment and medical treatment to prevent soldiers from losing their lives in combat, it also allowed low numbers of “killed-in-action” to obscure the level of bloodshed and violence happening throughout the War on Terror. The heavily-armored MRAP saved lives by preventing more deaths from roadside bombs, yes, but it did not solve the problem of those roadside bombs, nor did it prevent soldiers from suffering major and life-altering injuries as a matter of routine. 

The other Thin White Duke

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Okay, so who didn’t have a watch party of Waterloo tonight?

I know there are lots of candidates but this is my favourite role of his.

VCOW 2021: “Two Sides of the COIN”

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[Edited to add: VCOW talk slides my slides VCOW talk 2 feb  and my script. Thanks for listening in!]

I will be speaking at VCOW 2021: 1915-2000 (+0 GMT) Friday, February 5, 2021 via a Zoom meeting.

This is what they tell me I’ll be doing for about 45 minutes:

TWO SIDES OF THE COIN

In this presentation, Brian will speak briefly about his work in designing asymmetric games on irregular warfare and how this has contributed to the origin and development of the popular “GMT COIN” system. Brian co-designed A Distant Plain (Afghanistan 2003-13) with Volko Ruhnke and designed Colonial Twilight (Algeria 1954-62). His third game using this system, China’s War (China 1937-41), is currently under development.

I will be followed immediately thereafter by Pete Sizer, who frequently comments on this blog as “Pete S/SP”:

BOTH SIDES OF THE COIN: AN OVERVIEW OF COUNTERINSURGENCY GAMES

Based on research undertaken for a PhD this talk will look at the commonly fought but infrequently gamed issue of counterinsurgency and guerrilla warfare looking at those games that have tried to simulate this complicated environment.

Pete Sizer is a gamer of 30 years’ experience with an special interest in guerrilla warfare, counter insurgency and asymmetric warfare. He is currently doing a PhD in Wargaming at Bath Spa University, supervised by John Curry and Dr. Clifford Williamson.

Further details and how-to-join at https://wdvirtualcow.blogspot.com/ !

Remember this is UK time, so about 2 pm on the East Coast, and 11 am for me.

VCOW stands for Virtual Conference of Wargamers, the online version of the Conference of Wargamers, the annual event put on by my favourite crowd of madmen, the Wargame Developments (WD) organization.

Wargame Developments was founded at the first Conference of Wargamers, organized by Paddy Griffith in 1980 – so technically the event came before the organization that holds the event, but I believe they have had one every year since.  It includes among its members some of the most interesting people I have ever met, from the standpoint of either game design or generally bustin’ out with creativity and good humour: Bob Cordery, Jim Wallman, John Curry, Russell King, and the mysterious Tim Price.

For more information see: http://www.wargamedevelopments.org

Also have a look at the WD Handbook here, for an idea of just how creative these guys are: Wargame Developments Handbook

Also, Wargame Developments has published its magazine The Nugget (slang term for a d10) for a long time – they are up to issue #332 now. Each issue contains discussion of games, after action reports, occasionally rule sets and think-pieces on wargaming. Back issues may be viewed here:

http://www.wargamedevelopments.org/nugget.htm

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 doubt she was a player herself (at least, not of wargames).

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!