Game design related posts, 2008 – 2006

It has not proven possible to import exactly the entries I need from my Livejournal blog to WordPress, so I decided to import what I could year by year via cut-and-paste.

More posts from 2008, 2007 and 2006, edited for relevant content.

2008-06-06 13:00

Subject: Go East, Middle-aged Man

Security: Public

Location: on my ass

Mood: okay

Music: Jesus and Mary Chain, “Just Like Honey”

Tags: game design, mors, wargames

 I will be gone all next week, not that you’d notice.

On Sunday I am leaving for the Military Operations Research Society (MORS) annual symposium in New London, CT to show a game design I’ve been working on to some Pentagon folks who could be interested, and to take part in at least some of the symposium (I can’t take part in everything, as it is a classified event and requires US citizenship. This is a sore point with many members and they may be changing the rules about it soon. I wrote a letter to the editor of their magazine an’ everything.)

The game is called “Virtualia” (an unfortunate choice as it turns out, as it appears there is a series of cartoon computer porn DVDs featuring a character of this name). I got the idea for it at the MORS meeting in December. Just to give it a framework, it’s a thinly fictionalized treatment of what might come to pass in Venezuela, though the parameters of the game could be adjusted to reflect almost any situation. I’ve been working on it for the last two months or more and it is one of the most ambitious designs I’ve done yet. It’s intricate but it came together well, and now it’s time to stick a fork in it, it’s done!

This could be just a waste of my time, hopefully not as there is a MORS meeting on Irregular Warfare in Tampa FL in February 2009 at which presenting this design would be very appropriate – that is, if there is any interest advanced in it at all. I’d like to show a digitized version there, unfortunately that’s probably going to involve learning Visual Basic. I got one of those teach-yourself books, but I also want to look at some software that has been developed just for playing wargames over the Internet: there is one called VASSAL that seems good. Been no time to check it out though.

[snip]

Anyway, here’s hoping there will be some follow-on and benefit out of this!

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Date: 2007-12-19 14:21

Subject: Conference

Security: Public

Location: here

Mood: satisfied

Tags: game design, mors, war on terror, wargames

 Conference in Monterey: well, I went, and they made a big fuss over me!

[snip]

The group putting this on, the Military Operations Research Society, is a civilian think-tank funded by the US Departments of Defence, a lot of heavy math and computer science types. My social science background made me unusual I suppose. Many people there were civilians working for the military, but a lot of professional military officers too, since Operations Research is an actual service MOS. In fact, on the first day when I walked into the room for the plenary address I thought I had walked into a cornfield!*

I made a presentation there (on my game about the Tupamaros) to the “Counterterrorism” working group, and participated in a wargame being run by the “Counterinsurgency” working group. I found out, three days before leaving, that the wargame is a very slightly modified version of my Algeria game!

My presentation to the counterterrorism working group, on how I designed Tupamaro from history and adapted it to a game system, seemed to go down pretty well. One colonel from the Israeli Army was not that impressed and asked, “What kind of people play these games?” But in contrast, a colonel from the Saudi Arabian Army asked if I had done on Al Qaeda, and where he could obtain copies of my games!

They had constructed a civil-war type scenario that took place in a fictional island group in the South Pacific, with the southern group of islands trying to secede from the government through a guerrilla movement – it was too funny, because everything was written with Gilligan’s Island references (e.g. the two main cities were named Howell and Maryanne, the guerrilla movement was called the Minnows, commanded by a shadowy figure knonw only as “The Skipper”, etc.)!

They picked Algeria as the game system for the scenario, and had used Visual BASIC to make a version playable on the computer with a moderator. It was not a great match because Algeria models an “occupation” or colonial war type of conflict. My Shining Path game would have been much better to model the civil war scenario they had going. However, it probably made for better discussions among the participants, which were in fact many and heated. But very collegial and respectful, very different from a war-game convention!

They gave me a nice coin/medal/paperweight (not sure what it is, ironically it was made in China) in appreciation, and took my picture lots of times. I met a lot of people and might have a chance to work on some other projects with various people I met, hope so. I met some people from DRDC in DND, the people in Canada who do this sort of analysis for the Canadian military – they seemed mildly interested in what I was doing but I don’t think I am going to book any flights to Ottawa just yet.

[snip]

At this conference, I was just bowled over by the respect and interest shown my ideas, and the collegiality I saw there. This was the first time I thought there was some real professional worth or serious intellectual content in what I’ve been doing for so long. It was a good experience and I’m glad I went.

Next June there is a big symposium in Connecticut and perhaps I might be able to do something then. At least now I’ve got my number from the JCO declaring me a “consultant”.

*Why a cornfield? Because of all the kernels I saw there! Hyuck hyuck hyuck hyuck…

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Date: 2007-12-05 15:25

Subject: Leavin’, On a Jet-Plane

Security: Public

Mood: productive

Music: Oingo Boingo, “Grey Matter”

Tags: game design, war on terror, wargames

 In other news, I am off on Saturday for a whole week! I’m going to Los Angeles, then back up to Monterey for a conference on Irregular Warfare analysis held by the Military Operational Research Society (a think-tank group supported by the US military), then back down to Los Angeles.

You never know where your hobbies might lead you – I have discovered that one of the simulations to be played by one of the sub-working groups at this conference is an only slightly modified version of my game on Algeria! Thankfully they gave me the proper credit. It’ll be interesting to see what people think of this one.

[snip]

Constant Readuhs will remember that last May I wrote that I had discovered that one of my simulation games, the one modelling the Algerian insurgency of 1954-62, was being used as the basis for work by the “Institute for Revolutionary and Insurgency Studies” at George Mason University to create a computer simulation of how to counter the insurgency in Iraq, and that the director of the project, someone who was on the staff of the Office of the Secretary of Defense (Rumsfeld, back then), was evading my numerous though friendly e-mails and phone calls.

Week before last I got an email out of the blue from this fellow, saying hi how are you, I stopped work on this project for a year but now I’m planning on presenting it at a Military Operations Research Society conference in December, would you like to come….

Yikes!

Sure!

So I went and filled out a DD Form 2345 with the Joint Certification Office (located in Battle Creek Michigan, where Kellogg’s Corn Flakes come from) to establish me as a bona fide consultant who’s allowed to be on US DoD facilities, made my travel plans, and now I have to think of some half-academic, half-military way to explain my methodology in taking an historical situation and turning it into a game, without ever using the acronym SWAG. Never mind that I think my Algeria game system is really not the right one to use to model a fourth-generation war insurgency like the one in Iraq – I’d still like to see what he’s done with my work.

Also, I have finished work on a new game on the Greek Civil War 1947-49. It uses a modified version of the Algeria game system (like to think it gets better every time, or at least more reflective of what I’m trying to simulate) but no one has ever designed a game on this conflict before. Kind of interesting because it is one of the few guerrilla wars the West won, and the first expression of the Truman Doctrine.

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Date: 2007-05-02 10:25

Subject: Operation Whirlwind is here

Security: Public

Location: 2F

Mood: blank

Music: Shanghai Dog – American Desert

Tags: game design, games

 In 2002 I designed a game called Operation Whirlwind, about the Soviet intervention in Hungary in November 1956. It was about the street battles in Budapest. It was published by the Microgame Design Group, sold modestly and went out of print when the MDG deactivated.

Yesterday I got a box of copies of the 2007 reissue of this game, by Fiery Dragon Productions of Toronto. The tin boxes are gone (they could not find a reliable supplier), and the cardboard boxes are really tight, but the graphics are great and the die-cutting and thickness of the counters is much, much improved.

Box art featuring a sombre painting by David Sourwine, who did a couple of the other covers for my FDP reissue games.

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Date: 2007-03-26 14:05

Subject: Another marginal brush with semi-greatness

Security: Public

Location: salt mines

Mood: heartburny

Music: Iggy Pop, “Theme to Repo Man”

Tags: game design, games

 Hey, guess what?

I was randomly Googling one of my game titles (to see where it pops up, is being sold, or has comments) and found that Alex Cox (director of Repo Man, Sid & Nancy, etc.) is doing a project for Venezuelan TV called Against The World. http://www.alexcox.com/future_prod.htm#P3

It’s a semi-documentary about the various US Rainbow war plans, namely “Red” (war against Britain), “Crimson” (invasion of Canada) and “Green” (invading Mexico).

I offered him a copy of my War Plan Crimson game, and he accepted! (Though at first he asked if it would play on a Mac….) I sent it off to him today, with my regards.

I don’t expect to hear back from him, but I don’t mind – Repo Man is my favouritest movie EVAR (!!!) and it’s nice to be able to send him something in appreciation for his work.

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Date: 2007-02-28 11:56

Subject: Gaming Update

Security: Public

Location: about to go out

Mood: creative

Music: some stupid TV commercial music

Tags: game design, games

 I’m working on four game projects right now. In alphabetical order:

Balkan Gambit

“The Allied invasions of the Balkans that weren’t”. One of the great what-ifs of World War 2 in the Mediterranean theatre, at least to Hitler and the German High Command, was the possibility of an Allied invasion of Greece and/or Yugoslavia. In history, the Allies did nothing of the kind until Operation MANNA, the liberation of Greece in late 1944 after the German garrison had already withdrawn into Yugoslavia. But the Allies knew the Germans perceived such invasions as a credible threat and created several strategic deception plans, leading the Germans to move or keep critical troop formations in northern Italy and the Balkans when they would have been much more useful somewhere else.

The game comes with four scenarios:

– Operation BOARDMAN: In summer 1943, the British 8th Army is sent to liberate Greece and Crete. This was a deception to cover Operations HUSKY and AVALANCHE, the historical invasions of Sicily and Salerno.

– Operation ZEPPELIN: In summer 1944, the notional British 12th Army attacks Greece and Albania while the US 7th Army attacks in Dalmatia, in concert with Soviet amphibious operations against the coast of Rumania and Bulgaria. This plan was part of Operation BODYGUARD, the overall deception plan to disguise Operations OVERLORD and ANVIL (the invasions of northern and southern France).

– Operation GELIGNITE: Actual plans were drawn up to send the British 8th Army across the Adriatic in late 1944 or early 1945 to cut off the final retreat of German Army Group F and forestall any further Soviet advances towards northern Italy. The plan was shelved due to shortages of troops and landing craft.

– Operation SLIVA (PLUM): Between 1948 and 1955, the possibility of a Soviet invasion to bring Yugoslavia back into the Soviet orbit remained the largest factor in Yugoslavia’s perception of external threat. This hypothetical scenario frames such an invasion as an intervention in support of pro-Soviet Yugoslavs, in the name of “fraternal assistance”.

The idea of doing this game has stuck with me for a long time, and I worked hard on order of battle research – orbatwise, designing a game on something that never happened is just as hard as the other way! The game system used is one that I introduced in a Bulge game I designed a few years ago called Autumn Mist, available from Fiery Dragon Productions (the tin box lads). This situation is a little different in that the unit scale (mostly divisions) is about the same, but the time and space scales are larger (20 miles/hex, and about 1 week/turn), the terrain is very different from the Ardennes, and there is a very varied set of combatants: several flavours of Allies (Americans, British, Bulgarians, Canadians, Greeks, Poles, Soviets and Yugoslavs) including two flavours of partisans, and varied Axis types (Bulgarians again, Germans of course, Croat-Serb-Slovene collaborators, Italians, miscellaneous SS nasties).

Because of the weird and chaotic nature of the campaign, I had to put in some new rules but hopefully they won’t be too bulky. On the other hand, I have had to sluff off a few minor weirdnesses as I felt they were military irrelevant, no matter how picturesque they might have been (e.g. the Chetniks get a rather abstract treatment). Everything seems to be working in playtesting though.

This game will get the “P500” treatment from a publishing company called Lock n’Load. This means that the game will be advertised on the company website and people will “pledge” their support, in the form of credit card information, until they have about 500 pre-orders – this being the round figure the company has to sell before they are sure to recoup printing and production costs. I freely admit this is an obscure topic and frankly unlikely to get that many orders – if it doesn’t, the design reverts to me and I can do something else with it. I might even just give it away, I’ve spent so much time on it.

Battle for Baghdad

Very much an embryonic idea right now, this is to be a very chaotic design on the current strife in that unhappy city. I am not sure how to approach its mechanics.

Battle for China

A proposal to run this in Strategy & Tactics magazine got a favourable enough response that I got a contract! The game’s been in print since 1999, and been published three times already (originally by Microgame Design Group, then by the Japanese edition of Command magazine, and then by Fiery Dragon Productions) for several thousand copies distributed – but the circulation of S&T is up around 6-7,000.

My only concern is that the game has been handed over to a developer whose name I do not know and who may decide to muck around with what I think is a pretty solid design.

Konarmiya

A prequel to Freikorps, my alt-hist game on the Soviet Red Army lurching for Berlin over the corpse of Poland in the fall of 1920. It covers the Russo-Polish war from July to the end of September 1920. It uses the same system and map scale, and the maps match so you can play one big struggle for North East Central Europe. Because of the distances involved, the map is 22×17″ and runs from Warsaw to Kiev. Features the Polish Legion, Polish National Army, Konarmiya of course, volunteer Hungarians, Lithuanians, and Ukranians, Pilsudski, Trotsky, and the usual mayhem and chaos. Somewhat fewer counters (192) than in Freikorps, enough for play of the game with no problems though. The game is in playtesting, seems to work fine, and will in all likelihood be published by Fiery Dragon Publications of Toronto.

I have loads of other ideas, but no time to work on them. So it goes.

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Date: 2006-12-06 09:44

Subject: Depress release

Security: Public

Location: elevated

Music: Motorhead, “Ace of Spades”

Tags: game design

Nowwww hold on there, pardners….

jeffreyab asked for some more gaming-related posts, and I obliged (well, it was something I would have posted anyway).

But I posted late in the day yesterday, and did not add an important caveat that relates to how this niche-of-a-niche hobby runs: The P500 Hurdle.

“P500” is something introduced a few years back by a “professional” wargame publishing company (meaning, they have an actual office from which to do business and at least two part-time employees, instead of doing everything from a corner of the basement). Basically, a game design is proposed on a company website and people sign up for it. When about 500 have pledged to do so, then the company is assured of not losing its shirt on the venture and goes ahead and prints the game.

Not everyone likes this arrangement, and I have strong doubts enough people will sign up to buy a game on this weirdo topic. Therefore, my contact with the company includes a statement that if the proposal does not reach the printing point in a year, the whole shebang reverts to me and I can do what I want with it. Hell, I’ll probably give it away for free if that happens.

So thanks everyone for your kind wishes, but it’s not over yet! It is nice to see that I have a bit of a reputation, though.

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Date: 2006-12-05 16:38

Subject: Press Release

Security: Public

Location: almost out of the cage

Music: L’Internationale

Tags: game design, wargames

 From Consimworld.com etc:

December 04, 2006

LnLP Signs Brian Train

Lock ‘n Load Publishing announces that Brian Train, designer of over twenty published games, will join a growing stable of wargame design talent that includes award-winners Richard Berg and Paul Rohrbaugh. Read the ( press release )

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Date: 2006-11-10 12:48

Subject: New Game – Paranoid Delusions

Security: Public

Location: on my hams

Mood: numb

Music: Xmal Deutschland, “Mondlicht”

Tags: game design

 I have designed a new game, on the occasion of the 2006 Microgame Design Contest, run by the worthy Tom Higgins. It is called Paranoid Delusions and may be downloaded for free at http://tomhiggins.googlepages.com/mdc2006 .

If you have any comments, that would be nice, but it would be nice if you would just go and look at it, too.

Shot of some of the counters:

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Date: 2006-05-26 11:24

Subject: Procrastablogging

Security: Public

Mood: confused

Music: Yakety Sax – gaaaarhhhh!!!

Tags: game design, games, wargames

 [snip]

I recently discovered that one of my simulation games, the one modelling the Algerian insurgency of 1954-62, is being used as the basis for work by the “Institute for Revolutionary and Insurgency Studies” at George Mason University to create a computer simulation of how to counter the insurgency in Iraq. Well, good luck with that boys… the director of the project, someone who was or is on the staff of the Office of the Secretary of Defense, has so far evaded my numerous though friendly e-mails and phone calls.

[snip]

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Date: 2006-05-02 10:24

Subject: No Use For A Title

Security: Public

Location: compos mentis

Mood: complacent

Music: Laibach, “Now You Will Pay”

Tags: game design, games

 [snip]

Before very long, my next game will be published – War Plan Crimson, an alternative-history game about a US invasion of Canada in the late 1930s. Inspiration drawn from an actual war plan drawn up by the US Department of War: http://harpers.org/PlanEh.html . Should make me rather popular at this year’s gaming convention in Phoenix.

Here’s a shot of the cover art, showing US Marines raising the Stars and Stripes over Halifax harbour:

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First Post

This blog is used mostly for my game-related activities, especially as a design diary or account of work done on or around “serious games”. 

I have a personal blog elsewhere. Any entries dated before August, 2011 have been imported from this blog and have to do wholly or partially with game design.