Presentation at Naval Postgraduate School

On October 20, I made a presentation on civilian-market games on counterinsurgency and irregular warfare to a lunchtime crowd at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, CA.

About 25 people were there and I was asked quite a few questions, unfortunately there wasn’t enough time to get into a real dialogue with the audience. There’s so much to say and so much to hear, too.

This presentation was in connection with work on the Combating Terrorism Fellowship Program – had a great and very productive day and a half of meeting and talking with the project team!

My script and slides are here:


slides 201011

Game design-related posts, 2011

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.

Edited to remove some personal details and irrelevancies.

Date: 2011-11-10 12:24

Subject: (no subject)

Oh dear, and another month slips by. It has been such a busy year, at least since May, and there are only a few weeks left in 2011.

But not time for end-of-year accounting and 2011 memes yet.

Chronological accounting-for-myself:


October 19-22 – I went to the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey California. Dear Readuhs will remember the conference I went to in early August, and how well one of my games went down at the demonstration period there. Well, out of that I got an invitation to go to the NPS and talk to them about using digitized versions of this and other games of mine, in a project related to another, much larger project they have going on. I got to make a lunchtime presentation to their Irregular Warfare students, mostly Special Forces captains and majors – I was kind of nervous about this but they were very friendly and interested. I spoke for less than half an hour and they filled up the rest of the time with questions, so I didn’t get a chance to talk with them which I really wanted to do. I did have a quick chat with a Marine Corps major who had trained in Armor, and instead of charging across the desert dealing death to enemy tanks from two miles away found himself and his tank company in a neighbourhood of Baghdad, working out which streets would have priority for garbage collection and which block leaders could or couldn’t be trusted.

If anyone wants to look at my script or Powerpoint slides, they are here:  . This is another blog I have started that will be confined to my game design and “serious games” development and other stuff. Not much there yet though, as it has not proven possible to port my game-design related entries on LJ over to WordPress en masse.

Anyway, the ensuing discussions with the project team went well, I came up with some new ideas for games for them that I will be working on and I put them in touch with Richard who has made up a version of Guerrilla Checkers for Android mobile phones, and will probably do the technical work for the team on what they need for the project. See a screenshot at Little Viking Games. (

A “guided gaming session” went less well, I tend to forget that a game I regard as being comparatively simple (especially if I’ve designed it) is still quite complex to people who have grown up playing ordinary board games or just computer games. As much as I tend to dislike computer games, a lot of the complexity and fiddliness of a game design can be subsumed into the structure and interface of a game. Players do not need to remember what pieces can move where or how, when the program will simply not let them do it, so they can concentrate on playing the game – and that’s enough for most players, but there needs to be some explanation of why this or that thing can’t happen, or the penalties for doing so. And it’s a lot easier to change a sentence to two in a rulebook than it is to rewrite hundreds of lines of code. Anyway, I left them with a big bag of playable copies of my games.

Monterey is a beautiful little town, and Friday night I went out to look around. The NPS is just a few blocks from downtown, so I walked down to the big pier that is full of shops and restaurants. I looked at I don’t know how many cheap t-shirts, and got a pound of salt water taffy for Aki (and a bunch of cheap assorted candy from the Walgreen’s downtown later). I had a plate of completely ordinary chow mein at a small Chinese restaurant where this huge Mexican family was having dinner – I think it was someone’s birthday or something. “Dad” was at the head of the table, obviously the patriarch and wearing the biggest hat – they were having a great time. Later I walked back by a different route but did not turn when I needed to, and ended up walking by this highway to a gigantic shopping mall with no way out except the way you came in, and the buses had all stopped running – in the end I did get out and back, but had walked five miles more than I had planned!

I went back on Saturday the 22nd – the NPS had actually paid for my flight and hotel, which was great. My flights were well spaced so I didn’t have to hurry at all; and I have resolved to hand-carry my luggage from now on if I can possibly help it. You can get a lot into a small bag if you roll it right. (I saved even more room on the flight down by forgetting my good pants at home! Luckily I remembered this in the air on the way to San Francisco, and got a pair of acceptable golfing slacks at the pro shop in the airport – otherwise it would have been pretty embarassing.)

October 24 – was my 47th birthday, which we didn’t really bother marking except for a good dinner at San Remo. I’m feeling rather more middle-aged now, and while I’m happy to have outlived George Orwell, I don’t have TB and haven’t come near to matching his output.


November 4-6 – We went to deepest darkest Surrey, for BottosCon 2011 – the fifth annual board wargaming convention put on by Rob Bottos. It’s small, maybe 60 people came this time and that was the biggest yet. About half of the attendees were Advanced Squad Leader players, who usually don’t play much else (or at least, they came to the convention to play ASL only), and the other half were people playing practically everything else, from non-wargames like Urban Sprawl to Angola or Storming the Reich.

I don’t go to many conventions, and when I do I usually don’t play games – I spend my time talking to people, catching up with friends or trying to interest people in my new designs in the hope of snagging playtesters. Guerrilla Checkers ( ) proved to be a hit again, and someone expressed an interest in writing an iOS application for it so it can be played on iPad, iPhone, iKettle etc., which would be great. I also played out a few turns of the brigade-level version of my Finnish Civil War game (  ), which prompted someone to say that he thought he’d seen everything now, and did a complete run-through with a playtester of a newly written 2006 scenario for my Third Lebanon War game – it worked well and concluded on time, with a marginal Hezbollah victory. A minor revision to two to the rules and they’re even better – the basic designs are quite sound.

We also went out to one of Surrey’s many industrial zones – the whole area looks like it’s composed of strip malls, suburbs, and warehouse districts, there’s more than that but that’s what you see from the highway as you’re whizzing through – to get 25 pounds of Cerrotru, the metal I use for casting my miniatures. It’s gone up in price a lot, and this will probably be the last time I buy it for quite a while. I kind of like going to these industrial parks, reminds me that things are still made or at least assembled here.


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Date: 2011-08-08 16:45

Subject: Connections Conference 2011

Security: Public

Mood: confused

Music: kraftwerk, “Kometenmelodie II”

Tags: game design, games, travel, writing

Well, I’m back from the “Connections” conference at National Defense University (NDU) in Washington, and things went VERY well.  (site)   (agenda)

I got to Washington late late on Sunday night. Monday afternoon I went to NDU, first to the Metro station (what is it about every subway system I’ve ridden on that they all smell the same? It’s a hot, dusty smell that must come from the engines on the trains or the stale air down there) and then a few blocks to Fort McNair (a small Army post named after a general who was killed by friendly fire in July, 1944 in France). Met up with Skip Cole, late of the US Institute for Peace, and reunited with Rex Brynen, the McGill professor I mentioned, after thirty years! That night Joe Miranda and I went out and looked over Washington at night – we saw the Washington Monument, and the White House, both from afar. We wanted to have a beer at the bar of the Watergate Hotel, but apparently it has been pulled down – there is still a building called The Watergate but it is full of condo apartments and dentists’ offices.

Tuesday: first day of the conference proper. Keynote speakers were James F. Dunnigan and Peter Perla, both great figures in the development and history of board and professional wargaming, and they spoke well. The panel on which I was presenting came right after. I was third, and was sitting at the end of the table waiting to go, and James FREAKING Dunnigan walked back into the room and sat down next to me, muttering that it was “standing room only back there”. I told him I thought he could sit anywhere he wanted. I went up and made my presentation, which went well but was a bit rushed because I was third. My presentation was called “Ploughing in the COIN Field” and was about the series of seven counterinsurgency/guerrilla warfare games I had designed since 1995, very different from each other in topic but using the same basic system.

I went back and sat down, fielded questions and that was it for the panel discussion and then JAMES freaking DUNNIGAN shook my hand and said, “I like what you’re doing”.

Anyway, that’s certainly my brush with greatness this year.

That afternoon were game demonstrations, my Guerrilla Checkers was a hit! ( ).

Ya know, sometimes Value Village will give you just what you need… I had found a bag of 1,358 little red buttons, 1 cm across with a “handle”, just in time for $2.99. This made up 20 sets of 66 guerrilla pieces, and I used some miniatures from an old parts copy of Risk for the 6 counter-insurgent pieces for each set. I copied a grid and shortened rules onto a card, and gave those away for free. I got some cotton napkins from VV as well, and had an 8×8 grid silkscreened on them, and got some large and small stones in contrasting colours from Michael’s to make up another set of nice copies.

I started showing someone how to play, and within five minutes the free copies were flying away and there were five or six games going at once.

Rules, in case you’re interested, at: . Next thing to do is make some kind of Web or mobile app for the game; I had a couple of discussions with people on this.

Tuesday night were some more playtests, Wednesday was devoted to more presentations and working group work. Interesting discussions, including some talk on how to involve non-military people in military wargaming. I suggested we should call ourselves “ludic futurists”!

Wednesday night Joe and I went out to Georgetown. It started to pour rain the moment we stepped outside the Metro station, and we walked and walked. I was absolutely saturated but it was quite warm, so we dried out a little bit at a good Italian restaurant staffed by Filipinos.

Thursday were some final discussions and meetings, promises of further action, and the long flight home. I still think it’s pretty remarkable that I could travel over 5,000 km and visit three coasts of the continent in less than a day. I got home at midnight on Thursday. Security wasn’t too bad, only one pat-down in Seattle and I lost the little snow-globe of the White House Lianne asked for – apparently those are verboten, in any size, unless you drain them yourself first. So remember!

All in all, a good week – I made a lot of good contacts and plan on going back next year (it will be at NDU again).

Oh, and I also found that the article I wrote on the Dieppe Raid was nominated for “Best Historical Article” in the Charles S. Roberts Awards ( ). But it didn’t win.

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Date: 2011-07-18 09:51

Subject: Another Interview (podcast this time)

Security: Public

Mood: sleepy

Music: Martha and the Muffins, “Suburban Dream”

Tags: game design, games, me

So, last week I was interviewed for a podcast by a guy who writes a blog on games. Oh God, there’s almost an hour of it.

I really, really hate my voice on the air – do I really sound like that IRL? I sound like something’s pinching me inside. The cordless phone I was using died midway through the interview, as if it had killed itself rather than listen to me anymore.

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Date: 2011-07-04 15:06

Subject: (no subject)

Security: Public

Mood: calm

Yes, been a while, hasn’t it… Among other things:

I didn’t write about the outcome of the convention in Tempe. I think I found homes for ALL of these designs, except Virtualia, which nevertheless was the predecessor for Kandahar and EOKA, both of which attracted interest. But hoo boy, I never talked so much in all my life – and I owe a great debt to Todd Davis, He of the Blue Hair, who made sure that I got a chance to talk to people who mattered.

I observed and kibitzed some folks playing Summer Lightning, and at least one copy was given away as a door prize. I helped to playtest Andean Abyss, ( )a new game on counterinsurgency in the 1990s in Colombia that was quite clever, and showed Guerrilla Checkers ( ) to quite a few people. Got a couple of small games and picked up two items in the game auction, normally the high point of the convention.

It was up to 105 degrees in the daytime, and would cool to about 80 around 4 in the morning. My good intentions of getting exercise by walking up the butte behind the hotel in the relative cool of the morning soon evaporated, and we never did get into downtown Phoenix (it would have been easy as there is a new light rail station a couple of blocks away) to look around. But we did walk around in the general area, and I got some cheap CDs at the record exchange down the street we always visit – Lianne got some nice antique glassware at the little store down the street from there, that we also always visit.

I hadn’t been to this convention in three years, and it appears my reputation has grown slightly in the meantime – getting published in Strategy & Tactics and World at War magazine certainly helped. Joe Miranda and I also made a presentation at a rather sparsely-attended panel discussion on simulating modern warfare.


In the first week of August I am going to the Connections conference at the National Defense University in Washington DC to speak on a panel, and demonstrate some of my games. Again, I am not looking forward to getting there (Continental Airlines, which I understand is one notch above the way Aeroflot used to be, and a long period of cooling my heels in Houston TX of all places). I am taking just carry-on luggage so at least none of that can go wrong. And DC in August is a steambath, I hear, and there are no clubs for Joe and I to go to on the nights we are there (without travelling 90 miles to Richmond or Norfolk VA!).

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Date: 2011-06-06 10:10

Subject: Psychopaths and game-players

Security: Public

Mood: rushed

Music: Oingo Boingo, “Grey Matter” (balaphone solo)

Tags: crazies, game, game design, social decay, stupidity, travel

I haven’t read Vonnegut in years, but this makes me want to go out and get his last book:


In other news, tomorrow we’re off to Tempe AZ for the Consimworld convention! Lianne will lie by the pool and read while I bring her ice cream from time to time, and I will spend my time trying to get people interested in the batch of unpublished games I will be bringing with me, besides showing off Summer Lightning:

– EOKA (Cyprus 1955-59 – yep, whipped it into shape on the weekend, still think it’s a bit too fiddly though)

– The Scheldt Campaign (First Canadian Army Oct-Nov 1944, first game focused on the campaign)

– Third Lebanon War (Israeli Army invades souther Leb in near-future to stop Hezbollah, Or Not)

– Kandahar (non-historical game on Afghanistan)

– Virtualia (FID in a fictionalized post-Chavez Venezuela)

– Greek Civil War (been waiting a long time for this to come out, there is a new mag-with-a-game-in-it coming out that focuses on post-WW 2 conflicts)

– Balkan Gambit (when, o when?)

– Guerrilla Checkers (simple, interesting abstract game I invented last year)

Holy mac, I have been busy the last couple of years.

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Date: 2011-05-24 08:42

Subject: I’m on The Youtube!

Security: Public

Music: The Residents, “Never Known Questions”

Tags: game, game design

Or rather, one of my games is… an Italian wargamer does a 14-minute video review of Summer Lightning, so you can take a look at what goes into one of these things:

You know, I think I’ve finally arrived as a game designer with this one, due to the packaging. When I first started, we packaged the games in plastic comic book bags; later those tin boxes and small cardboard boxes, that were roomier but still pretty full of cardboard. The box for this one is 80% air; it must mean I’m nearly a professional!

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Date: 2011-05-09 16:07

Subject: First Look inside the Box

Security: Public

Music: Cruxshadows, something

Tags: game, game design

I haven’t received my personal copies yet, but here is a look inside my new Poland 1939 game:

Not a bad job on the graphics, not bad at all….

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Date: 2011-04-28 11:38

Subject: Kandahar

Security: Public

Mood: fulla cake

Music: Devo, “Fresh”

Tags: game design

A year or two ago, in response to the thoughts comments and feedback received by one of the Pentagon guys who was using my game on the 1954-62 Algerian War to model an online counterinsurgency game I worked up a new game called Virtualia, using a thinly-disguised post-Chavez Venezuela to look into urban guerrilla warfare. Later, I reworked that again into a game on the Afghanistan situation, in Kandahar Province and named Kandahar.

Anyway, an acquaintance from a long time ago who has since become a Poli Sci professor at McGill University used my Algeria game in one of his classes last year, and wanted to follow it up this year with another of my games. So he used Kandahar with some of his students, and they seemed to like it despite its relative complexity. Another student of his used the game for her Honours thesis and wrote a long playtest report/game review of it, and I got to write a response – both pieces are found here, on the professor’s blog on peace-building simulations:

Go and look, it’s really boring and irrelevant to you!

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Date: 2011-04-07 12:10

Subject: Charlie Sheen Welcomes Our Alien Overlords

Security: Public

Music: DHI, “Machine Altar Transmission”

Tags: dream, game design

I had a dream last night that aliens had invaded and taken many of us (including me) back to another planet, and Charlie Sheen was a collaborator/ overseer.

And he was being a real jerk about it, like “Who’s standing here WITHOUT a shovel in his hands, NOT mining thorium? Duh, WINNING!”

In other news, my Poland game is due in the publisher’s warehouse inside of two weeks. Links to aspects of the game:


Where to buy:


Very nice map, complete:

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