Game design-related posts, 2010 and 2009

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, edited to remove personal irrelevancies, from 2010 and 2009.


Date: 2010-11-22 15:37

Subject: Game Convention in Surrey

Security: Public

Location: workity work work

Mood: mucus-ridden

Music: Dick Dale, “The Victor”

Tags: game design, games, travel, wargames

 The day after Remembrance Day I went over to swingin’ Surrey for “BottosCon”: a wargame convention organized by one Rob Bottos, who had been asking me to attend for a few years. It was held at the Compass Point Inn by the King George Highway, which hardly means anything because to me, Surrey looks like an enormous strip mall criscrossed by highways.

The hotel was adequate and they had enough space for the con in one of their two downstairs ball/meeting rooms: the last two years running there was a furry convention in the other ballroom, and guys told me that furries would wander into the room in costume, look at the fat nerds playing their complicated games, and wander out again. The hotel staff were pretty upfront about how they liked our crowd better. This year the furries had had their convention the weekend before; I’ve been told that next year the two coincide again so, I’m definitely planning on going!

I met Michel Boucher, a guy with whom I have been corresponding and trading games for several years. He is from Ottawa, but his daughter lives out here so he makes a combined visit. He’s helped me a lot over the years with practical suggestions and in making a French translation of the rules to my game on the French Algerian War. It was great to meet him finally! Here we are playtesting a game I just started work on the week before, on a hypothetical second invasion of Lebanon by Israel in the near future to stamp out Hezbollah:

But honestly, a good digital photo cannot be taken of me – it’s as if a hidden Photoshop filter or macro slides in place, a filter that would have the name “Moronify” or “30% Drunk”. And I am not as fat as I look in that photo. Here are some better ones:

[mercifully snipped]

We also played Hearts and Minds, an interesting newish card-driven game on the Vietnam War, and I got several people to play Guerrilla Checkers with me. Everyone said they had never played anything like it before. I sold a couple copies of my games, and about $100 of other games I had been trying to hawk on Boardgamegeek, so my hotel was half paid for. I bought a copy of Combat Commander: Europe, which looks to be very interesting.

What a nerdy time I had of things! It was great to meet people who had heard of and liked my work, and I talked for hours about game design with some other designers. I got an invitation from an organizer to attend Dragonflight, a gaming convention that has taken place in Seattle in August for the last 31 years.

The only bad part was finally succumbing to a cold I had been successfully fighting off for a week (something Akito had brought home with him from school). It was the hotel air conditioning, it always gets me in the end. I took Monday off sick and I’m only just now out of the woods, a week later.

4 Comments | Post A Comment | Edit | Tag | Add to Memories | Share | Track This | Link


Date: 2010-09-15 15:18

Subject: Far Too Long

Security: Public

Mood: blah

Music: The Wipeouters, “Nubbie Boardsmen”


Not a great deal of gaming done, but I am selling and trading a few items. I took Virtualia and pulled it apart into basic, intermediate and advanced versions, so that an acquaintance at McGill University could try and use it in his classroom. If it works and there is some kind of lesson from it we might make a presentation on it at the fall 2011 meeting of the Canadian Association for Security and Intelligence Studies, in Ottawa. Hope so.

And, you know, I think I am really starting to like instrumental surf music.

8 Comments | Post A Comment | Edit | Tag | Add to Memories | Share | Track This | Link


Date: 2010-05-11 16:10

Subject: Guerrilla Checkers

Security: Public

Mood: cranky

Music: Corvus Corax, “Avanti”

Tags: game design, games

 A few weeks ago I designed another game: Guerrilla Checkers. I was thinking about how two people could be playing two different games on the same board at the same time, with the common objective of killing each other, and came up with this hybrid of Checkers and Go, for two players.

Equipment required: checkerboard, six checkers, and 66 small flat pieces (buttons, glass beads, small Go stones, etc.). The “Guerrilla” player, using small Go stones or some such, plays on the intersection points of the checkerboard squares to surround and capture the enemy pieces. Meanwhile, the “Counterinsurgent” player, using checkers, moves on the checkerboard squares to jump and capture the enemy. Actually illustrates some Maoist tactics, in an abstract way and if you are sufficiently imaginative/trusting.

I looked around on the Net to see if I had not unconsciously copied someone else’s idea, didn’t find anything like it, and so it’s released to the world as a free download. So here are the rules, if you want to give it a try:

( entry, another place you can get the rules, record your ownership, plays, etc.)

Post A Comment | Edit | Tag | Add to Memories | Share | Track This | Link


Date: 2010-04-19 11:51

Subject: The Clock, She is a-Ticking; The Fame, She is a-Fleeting….

Security: Public

Location: under

Mood: heartburny

Music: Plasmatics, “Hitman”

Tags: game design, games

 I am Geek of the Week, this week!

#241, to be precise.

It really doesn’t mean anything except that last week’s geek picked me, and here is where people ask me questions about my games:

Go me.

Post A Comment | Edit | Tag | Add to Memories | Share | Track This | Link


Date: 2010-03-05 13:53

Subject: Recent Doin’s

Security: Public

Music: hollerin’

Tags: dream, game design, writing

It’s rather late, but for those who are curious, I did get my article on Dieppe done, and turned it in at the beginning of January. I did a lot of research on this one, and the best find was a lengthy 200+ page doctoral dissertation on the raid done by a guy who had done his history BA and MA at UVic, and sent a copy of his doctoral dissertation back from Oxford to the Special Collections at UVic. I spent a very valuable day there reading it.

The article ended up a trifle long, but it did not say the usual “noble sacrifice of our brave boys, as a dress rehearsal for D-Day they saved thousands of other lives…” blah blah woff woff. Truth is, it was nothing of the kind and I say so. Left me with an abiding distaste for Louis Mountbatten – I didn’t have much of an opinion about him before this but I do now. Last week I saw the CBC film on Dieppe, pretty minor work and used as its main source a very very anti-Mountbatten book called “Unathorized Action”, which I did use as a source but thought it went rather too far.

Also, today I published my game on the Finnish Civil War of 1918 to my webpage. I claim firsties! No one has done a game on this war before.

For years I have been wanting to do a game on the Finnish Civil War of 1918. Chaotic, savage, balance tipping this way and that, and one more facet of the turmooil coming out of World War One. In September-October 2009 I finally got it together to make such a game – actually made it in two versions: one using the Freikorps/Konarmiya/War Plan Crimson system with 280 counters, and one with only 50 counters using a modified FK/K/WPC system that I was going to send in to Victory Point Games, which does a lot of small fast games ( ). They use the same map.

I finished them at the end of October 2009, then got sidetracked on writing the Dieppe article and other end-of-year stuff. And VPG’s pipeline is seriously impacted, even if they were interested in thei obscure tussle and accepted the idea right away it would be 2-3 years before it came out. So, I decided just to upload it to my page – getcher free copy here:  (scroll down)

Updates on new games: Summer Lightning: went up on P500 in June 2009, now has roughly 115 pre-orders which miiiiight be juuuuust enough for Lock n’ Load to print it. It’s excited some interest, and I hope it will come out soon. Greek Civil War and Balkan Gambit are both pretty much ready to go, and have been since the fall. Fiery Dragon, the publisher in Toronto, has been cutting way back on production of new items, especially wargames which have iffy sales. The publisher has a digital printing business which simplifies most of the production but he has of course had to concentrate on keeping that business afloat – if it goes under, then no one gets anything out of the deal. So, still looking for those two to come out in 2010. Likely Green Beret will follow in 2011. As for Virtualia, I have had very little time to work on this, VASSAL looks to be the way to go but I haven’t had the time to figure out how to make a workable module. I’m told that once you do, producing others is easy. Thinking of overhauling it (not much required) to handle Afghanistan situation. I recently read David Kilcullen’s The Accidental Guerrilla and what he is saying seems to fit in with the game concepts of Virtualia. Even better if I can get that onto a computer screen.

Conventions and things: I haven’t gone to anything. Had to spend $$$ repairing the sundeck last summer, so no Consimworld Expo, will miss this year’s “Connections” conference in Dayton Ohio this March (I’m acting Boss at work, trying to put old house on the market again, and no money as we have to fix the roof siding on the new house), no MORS meetings (Irregular Warfare conference in February 2010 was classified, as is the annual Symposium in June in Quantico VA.)

Post A Comment | Edit | Tag | Add to Memories | Share | Track This | Link



Date: 2009-12-03 10:29

Subject: Remember I was on the Radio?

Security: Public

Music: Sonic Youth, “Candle”

Tags: game design

 The Class Wargames people uploaded the MP3 files of the interview they did with me on September 2.

or more broadly

I think I sound awful. Nasal voice, stilted delivery, I am obviously working off a script I wrote and go on for far too long. Dull, dull, dull. Obviously, I haven’t feard form these folks since.

I obviously have no future in radio!

Elsewhere, they review two other games of mine, thankfully without my presence:  (Red Guard)  (Freikorps)

6 Comments | Post A Comment | Edit | Tag | Add to Memories | Share | Track This | Link


Date: 2009-12-01 09:55

Subject: Hm, Interesting formula…

Security: Public

Music: The Wipeouters, “Nubbie Boardsmen”

Tags: game, game design

This is interesting, in a silly way:

Mathematical formula predicts the perfect toy

Last Updated: Tuesday, December 1, 2009 | 11:26 AM ET CBC News

(Associated Press)A British psychologist has come up with a mathematical formula to help parents choose the toy that best matches their child’s nature and their wallet’s cash level.

Dr. Cliff Arnall was asked to devise the formula by British toy company Worlds Apart. The company had sponsored a survey that found a majority of youngsters received Christmas presents they didn’t like or didn’t play with.

“For a number of years now people have been saying, particularly parents of younger children, that a lot of the toys they buy end up not lasting too long,” said Arnall in an interview Monday with CBC Radio’s As It Happens.

Arnall, who has also developed mathematical formulas to predict the happiest day of the year (June 19) and the most depressing day of the year, (Jan. 24), took six basic criterion [sic] into consideration to come up with the best toy for your child.

The perfect toy formula was devised by British psychologist Dr. Cliff Arnall. (Worlds Apart)

Each criterion was assigned a letter and parents could plug in a number between one and five.

Pi: Does the child prefer individual play?

Po: What is the child’s ability to play with others?

CR: Does the toy stimulate a number of senses?

S: Does the toy promote social activity?

U: Can a child play with the toy all year around? Is it easy to store and easy to transport?

H: Is the toy robust enough to be handed down. Will it still be relevant for younger siblings in years to follow?

Then, and this is where a calculator comes in handy, you add all these numbers up, and then add them to (T multiplied by L), where T is the estimated number of hours the child will play with the toy in a week, and L is the number of months the toy will likely be played with.

That number is then divided by the square root of C, where C is the cost of the toy.

Even with a calculator, it’s not so easy. The Worlds Apart toy company has a website where parents can simply plug in their numbers and get the answer with a few clicks.

A rating of 40 is considered a very good score, said Arnall. The simplest toys, like playing cards, tend to score highest. And a score will drop sharply if a toy is expensive.

Arnall is hoping the mathematical formula reduces the stress of gift buying, rather than raising it, as can happen when people are forced to figure out math.

“It’s really to help discriminate between toys and give parents an opportunity to take a step back and have a think about their child, matching up a toy that’s going to meet the needs of their children rather than some very complex and irritating formula,” he said.

Pi + Po + CR + S + U + H + ((T x L) / sqrtC) = Play Value

Interesting, but it couldn’t apply to all toys – let’s take one of my newest games, Battle for China:

Pi = 5 (yes, it can be played solitaire easily)

Po: 5 (yes, it’s meant to be played with others and it assumes the player-nerd is sufficiently socialized)

CR: 2 (eyes and brain, mostly)

S: 5 (yes, if “social activity” can be defined as two player-nerds staring at a map and arguing for several hours)

U: 5 (oh yes! Just don’t play it in the rain)

H: 4 (OK trade value, to go by

And for T and L, let’s say it’s played once a week for two months, before the next issue of Strategy and Tactics comes out. Per-issue cost is $25.

So, 5 + 5 + 2 + 5 + 5 + 4 + ((4 x 2) / 5) = 27.6

So, not bad but not great either. Hope your stress level wasn’t unduly affected by being “forced to figure out math”.

Date: 2009-10-02 10:56

Subject: Spanish doin’s

Security: Public

Tags: game, game design, history, writing

 A couple of weeks ago issue #8 of World at War magazine, featuring a leading article and full-size wargame on the subject by Yours Truly, hit the stands. Yes, you probably missed it because the mag has a circulation of only about 7,000, but it was nice to see some of my game work hit the relative big time.

And you know, it wasn’t long after the magazine came out that I got an e-mail from the publisher, passing on an e-mail he had received from a person billing himself as a visiting professor in Spanish studies at Indiana University. He had found the magazine at a Barnes & Noble and had written in to correct me on where he thought I was wrong, on separatist movements in the autonomous regions of Spain, and suggesting I refer to the works of Stanley Payne and Pio Moa, a Spanish writer. They were fairly minor points but Stanley Payne (who I did not use) has defended the work of Pío Moa, a controversial writer who is viewed by many academics as a pseudo-historian, revisionist writer and apologist for Franco. It’s obvious that the war is not over yet!

I’ve been writing articles for this magazine’s sister publication Strategy & Tactics for 16 years, and I have to say this is only the second time anyone has commented to me on the content of the article – and the first time it was to complain about a misdrawn provincial border on a map of 1848 Germany that I never even saw until it appeared in the magazine!

One of the best references I did use in writing the article was Anthony Beevor’s relatively recent book The Battle for Spain. I found an interesting review of it online (from The Independent, published: 21 May 2006), not least for his comments on Kids Today:

Antony Beevor: On the joys of history

The Left isn’t going to like Antony Beevor’s book on the Spanish Civil War, but he’s used to controversy – his account of the fall of Berlin elicited heated protests from the Russian ambassador. Danuta Kean talks to him about the joys of digging in the archives, his despair about history students today and his brush with Jackie Onassis

Antony Beevor is horrified, but, for once, it is not accounts of rape, torture or political betrayal uncovered in the archives of Berlin and Moscow that exercise the author of Stalingrad. What angers him is the state of British education, especially the teaching of history. “Britain is the only country in Europe, with the exception of Albania and Iceland, where history is no longer compulsory after the age of 14.” His words are rapid as machine gunfire. “There is an extraordinary conviction, which has come partly from teacher training colleges, that history is elitist and reactionary and not worthy.”

( snip)

3 Comments | Post A Comment | Edit | Tag | Add to Memories | Share | Track This | Link


Date: 2009-09-02 10:19

Subject: Radio Radio

Security: Public

Location: Podunk Earth

Music: Shonen Knife, “Riding on the Rocket”

Tags: game design, japan

 I was on the radio!

The people from Class Wargames have an occasional slot on ResonanceFM, which bills itself as the world’s first radio art station, or maybe art radio station. ( ). They talk about games they have been playing (they have reviewed Freikorps, Red Guard and Operation Whirlwind) and have interviews with designers – today it was my turn, for about 15 minutes.

They asked me about my history as a designer, why I do political games, how I designed the system for Red Guard (they really like that game, which is encouraging), and about the economics of distributing games. I think I talked too long and with unnecessary detail, and I hate how my voice sounds on tape or over the radio. I also felt really self-conscious doing the interview over the phone from my cubicle (London is 8 hours ahead of Victoria and they were broadcasting live, so we had to do it at 9 am), as people in my office are aware of “Brian’s funny little hobbies” but don’t understand them.

Anyway, they were very nice and it was over quickly – I made a bad tape of it but I think they will post an MP3 of the program later.

Post A Comment | Edit | Tag | Add to Memories | Share | Track This | Link


Date: 2009-06-18 12:27

Subject: A Lesson In Completely Missing the Frigging Point.

Security: Public

Mood: caffeinated

Music: bad 60s pop being played by a buncha amateurs on my lawn

Tags: game design, wargames

 Found this linked off the BBC online magazine feed:

“Wednesday, June 17, 2009

A Lesson In Revolutionary Politics From Video Games

I realize[d] something today about revolutionaries, and this realization can be entirely attributed to video games.

I saw [the] trailer of Just Cause 2, and I was thinking how much fun it would be to actually take over a country in a revolutionary action. I mean, I’m in the process of taking over a planet in Red Faction: Guerilla, but I’m not really the leader — more the main ass-kicker, really. So the idea of actually leading a revolution is entirely appealing.

Then I thought about how much fun it would be to lead a revolution in an action game, but then be able to run the country in a real-time strategy game. So you go from Just Cause to Tropico.

It was at that moment that I understood, more fully than ever before, why revolutionaries succeed and then fail. It’s because they’re switching genres. They take over the country in a third-person (or first person) action game, but then they have to play an RTS to govern the country.

That’s an entirely different gaming skill set. It’s much easier to wreck than to build, and not only do they have to build, they also have to stop all those first-person action heroes who want to lead their own revolution.”

This is so superficial and puerile I don’t know where to begin. I may design games about revolutions and civil wars, but I’m under no illusions that I am teaching or trying to simulate more than the barest beginnings of what actually happens in the real thing. And I do not do it via FPS, RTS or any other whing-dang-doodle *blinkenlights* techno-gimcrackery: my route is ideally the BOGSAT (Bunch Of Guys Sitting Around A Table), though I am trying to work up some way to do this via linked workstations.

Post A Comment | Edit | Tag | Add to Memories | Share | Track This | Link


Date: 2009-05-25 15:31

Subject: Class War Games

Security: Public

Location: Oh, around

Mood: sick

Music: Pere Ubu, “The Modern Dance”

Tags: game design, wargames


At last, photographic evidence that people play my games and enjoy them! (or, at any rate, laugh while bits of one of my games are spread out below them on a beer-soaked table)

They are playing my game Red Guard, the only game published (so far) on the Chinese Cultural Revolution ( ). The occasion was the second “CLASS WARGAMES CLUB NIGHT” on April 21, at The Fleapit, a pub/cafe in London. Other games they played included Steve Jackson’s Coup (simpler smaller hex-based game, not about a coup so much as overcoming popular resistance to one), Guy Debord’s The Game of War (a game with an interesting history, not least because of its author), and Anders Fager’s card game Comrade Koba .

The players belong to a group called “Class Wargames”, they seem to be an interesting bunch. .

Well, anyway, if I ever return to London there’s a place to look up….

Meanwhile, my illness abates but I still have a lingering cough. Spent Saturday playtesting dzherzhinski’s new card-based game, Petrograd 1917. He has been working on it for years, the game includes over 400 cards featuring over 150 personalities from the major political movements in Petrograd at the time, each with an individual portrait and ratings reflecting his painstaking research. Fortified with lemonade and cheese larva, we played and argued far into the afternoon. The best way for the leadership of the Provisional Government to affect play remains to be seen, and proven by further testing.

1 Comment | Post A Comment | Edit | Tag | Add to Memories | Share | Track This | Link


Date: 2009-05-08 12:18

Subject: Summer Lightning is up for P500

Security: Public

Location: over here

Mood: tired

Music: Nash the Slash, “Tension”

Tags: game design, wargames

 OK, I’ll bet that didn’t mean anything to most of you.

But click on this anyway:

P500 is how a lot of wargames are being published (or not) these days: they advertise it on a company website, and if enough people place pre-orders with their credit cards to make producing it pay, they print it up and send it out. If not enough, then they don’t. Simple economics.

This company does mostly tactical games but is branching out, the publisher thought the topic would sell and the art is pretty good:

Why would/should I design a game on Poland ’39, you ask? Well, there aren’t many wargames on the Polish campaign, probably because the conventional wisdom is that it was a very unbalanced contest. I think this is informed mostly by hindsight. The German Army knew it had superior numbers and organization, but much of its equipment was no better than that fielded by the Poles, the concept of blitzkrieg had not been proven in actual combat, and they were not at all sure that the campaign would not bog down into static fighting. As it was the Germans lost over 16,000 dead in five weeks of campaigning.

I used a game system that worked quite well in two other games of mine (one on the Battle of the Bulge that’s been in print for five years, and one on hypothetical Allied counter-invasions of the Balkans that’s due out this year), and came up with many options to vary the game for both players and make it as equal (or unequal) a contest as they want.

Anyway, you don’t have to order this, I just wanted to tell you about it….

9 Comments | Post A Comment | Edit | Tag | Add to Memories | Share | Track This | Link


Date: 2009-03-02 08:59

Subject: Lost and Found Weekend

Security: Public

Location: back in the salt mines

Music: Gary Numan, “We Have a Technical”

Tags: food, game design, writing

 In preparation for the Connections conference next week (yikes! that kind of crept up on me), I spent the weekend tussling with some software called VASSAL, a “game engine” that allows people to create online versions of board and card games and play them over the Internet in real time.

The software was written to permit play of Advanced Squad Leader, a very complicated tactical board wargame, but it’s pretty flexible. Unfortunately, I don’t think I have the time to create a VASSAL version of Virtualia – I’ve never even played one of these things online. No time, no time.

But it’s amazing to see the lengths that people will go to mimic on a computer the experience of sitting across a table from a real live person to play a paper game (sorry, “manual simulation”). I wonder if I should even bother with this, though.

In other better news, The Lost Box of Books has surfaced! It was found as we excavated our way to the bottom of our video holdings – it must have been one of the first boxes moved into the new house, and then buried by everything else. Well, too late to have written a better article, but perhaps it would have turned out pretty much the same anyway.

2 Comments | Post A Comment | Edit | Tag | Add to Memories | Share | Track This | Link


Date: 2009-02-18 10:45

Subject: Lunch

Security: Public

Location: back in the salt mines

Music: Devo, “Some Things Never Change”

Tags: food, game design, writing

 Yes, I know, it’s been a while since I posted but I’ve been busy. Finished writing yet another article: 7,600+ words on the Sino-Japanese War, to top the 9,300 I cranked out on the Spanish Civil War over Xmas and New Year’s holidays, means I’ve been a busy little bee.

The problem this time is that in the aftermath of moving every blessed thing I and everyone else near and dear to me own, about a mile away from where it was, is that I lost the box of books and reference materials I had pre-packed in order to write this article without having to unpack my entire library. Over 40 boxes of books and guess which ONE is missing. It has to be somewhere in the damn house. Anyway, I had to round up some lesser quality reference materials and get it done in a cracking hurry – at least there were no library books in that box. Wouldn’t want Lt. Bookman to get after me.

Next up: the CONNECTIONS conference in Orlando Florida, in early March. Some potential here for making some, uh, connections in the serious games world, wish I had time to convert Virtualia to some kind of digital form. I’ve given up on learning to use Visual Basic this year – life’s too short. Probably not going to Phoenix this year even though I have three games coming out by then (Greek Civil War game, Balkans invasion game, and revision of Vietnam 1964 game), need to save money to fix the back deck and put the stairs back in.

Oh yeah, about lunch: I just realized I am about to tuck into baloney and mustard, with processed cheese on white bread, and wash it down with genuine orange Tang. What am I, nine years old? But that’s what was in the fridge this morning… I will try to do better.

8 Comments | Post A Comment | Edit | Tag | Add to Memories | Share | Track This | Link