From the Ridiculous to the Sublime

Definitely not as illustrated.

Recently I have been working on a counterinsurgency game with a generic Red vs. Blue setting called District Commander. It’s a game for two players concentrating on the concept of the “clear and hold” operation. Chapter 3 of the US Army Field Manual 3-07.22 Counterinsurgency Operations defines and describes this in the following:

 “The clear and hold operation focuses the three primary counterinsurgency programs: (Civil-Military Operations (CMO), combat operations, and Information Operations (IO)), supported by intelligence and psychological operations on  a specific geographical or administrative area or portions thereof…. The clear and hold operation is executed in a specific high priority area experiencing overt insurgency and has the following objectives:

  • Creation of a secure physical and psychological environment.
  • Establishing firm government control of the population and the area.
  • Gaining willing support of the population and their participation in the governmental programs for countering insurgency.”

I am now working on the third version of the game. The first, District Commander, was detail-, process- and dieroll-heavy; but it was subtle and derived in part from a (IMO) interesting game I’d done a few years ago on Special Forces operations in Vietnam. The second, District Commander II, was a diceless and card-driven version; I wanted to reduce some of the randomness and replace it with cards to drive and enable game mechanics, but it still had quite a few rules, processes and details. The third version, District Commander III, is simpler yet: no dice, no cards, less random overall (the randomness comes from the players, not the components) and yet more stripped-down.

 All three versions of the game work well in their own ways, explore some different directions in terms of mechanics, and are (again IMO) diverting and instructive. None is complex by the standards of experienced tabletop game players. But I keep forgetting that what seems simple, almost intuitive, to me can be quite unfamiliar to someone who’s never played anything more involved than Stratego on a tabletop, and is used to having the computer/video game software do the observing of the rules for him (at the cost of understanding why the rules are the way they are, which is the price of this convenient disengagement from the processes).

My question is, why do I so often start with complex ideas and have to work to make them simple? Shouldn’t it be the other way around? I really wish it were.


Simulating War by Philip Sabin

Yesterday I got my (pre-ordered) copy of Simulating War: Studying Conflict Through Simulation Games by Philip Sabin.

Dr. Sabin is Professor of Strategic Studies at the Department of War Studies at King’s College London. For years he has run courses at the BA and MA level in military history and conflict simulation, part of curriculum being the design and development of a wargame to be played in class! The games tend to be on the simple end of the spectrum, but the wide variety of subjects chosen and the innovative mechanics students are willing to try are fascinating.

I look forward very much to reading this (even though my name’s not in it!). [ETA: later, I did find my name, as the designer of Summer Lightning in the bibliography of wargames he had in the back of the book.]

And here is a review at follower-blog Paxsims: