Soldiers: Decision in the Trenches 1918 variant

Soldiers: Decision in the Trenches 1918 is the game in issue #280 of Strategy and Tactics magazine. It’s a fairly simple and easy to play game on an American infantry division going “over the top” into a German defensive position manned by a reinforced infantry regiment.
I posted a variant for the game over at

Made up some new counters, and some added rules: American command control limitations, German hidden units, artillery bombardment patterns and drift.

All quite simple, all very optional, use or not use as you wish.

Balkans 1943-45: The Invasions That Weren’t

Okay, herewith a link to Balkans 1943-45: The Invasions That Weren’t. (scroll down a bit)

This is a large variant I designed in 2005 for the Joe Miranda game Balkans 1941 (S&T #182, DG 1997, One of the great what-ifs of World War 2 in the Mediterranean theatre was the possibility of an Allied invasion of Greece and/or Yugoslavia after clearing the German and Italian armies from North Africa. In history, the logistical and political difficulties were rife and 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nothing of the kind until Operation MANNA, the liberation of Greece in late 1944 after the German garrison had already withdrawn into Yugoslavia.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 to Hitler and the German High Command, it was always a possibility and made them vulnerable to several Allied deception plans, which have been used as the basis for two scenarios in this variant. In response to these plans, the Germans held several critical troop formations in northern Italy and Yugoslavia in readiness for invasions that never came, when they would have been much more useful somewhere else.

To play this variant, the rules for the game are altered as described in the doc found at the link above; you will also need to make up 140 new counters from the included PDF files (one version in black-and-white to colour yourself, one in colour if you have a fancy printer).

Files have also been posted to the game’s topic on Boardgamegeek (see second link above).

My work on this variant grew into a completely new game, Balkan Gambit, but I have been waiting since 2008 for it to be published so I just thought I would at least get this variant on the same subject out there, so someone can play it.

One of the most onerous parts of the variant and the game, and yet what will probably the least appreciated, was trying to work out the Order of Battle for the campaigns – it’s one thing to find out which units were actually where at some point in time, and quite another to figure out which units could plausibly have taken part in a campaign that was never fought! For the Allied OOB I used half actual units and half deception units – the Allies had over a dozen fake divisions deployed in the Mediterranean, as well as several fictitious corps HQs, in order to confuse the Germans as to the real strength they had in the theatre. So I thought that if these invasions were to be the realization of German fantasies, then they should include units the Germans got sucked into believing existed too.

Hope this excites your interest!

Nice RBM Graphic for ADP

New banner for A Distant Plain, by Rodger B. MacGowan.

Latest news I have heard is that the game will be out in August!

I’ve just turned in my designer’s notes, sources and references list, and background text (i.e. explanatory notes and citations) to the 72 Event Cards in the game deck. From now on it’s art and production decisions.

Whew. It’s been a real experience working on this game with Volko!


Sometimes, only sometimes, I feel the need to say…


No offence meant, but …

these are not

Post-Chavez Venezuela

Hugo Chavez, President of Venezuela, died yesterday at age 58.

His appointed successor, Vice President Maduro, announced on the same day that there would be seven days of mourning, and two military attaches from the US Air Force were being expelled from Venezuela for spying and meeting with right-wing organizations to destabilize the government, and that members of the Bolivarian National Militia, an amred pro-Chavez party militia with 125,000 members and the same legal status as other branches of the official Venezuelan military, should adopt a “war footing” against any sudden moves by right wing forces.

In 2008 I started work on “Virtualia”, a wargame on an urban insurgency taking place in “Maracas”, capital city of a thinly-disguised post-Chavez Venezuela. It was an ambitious expansion to one of my first wargames, Tupamaro ( with many new mechanisms and multi-player play (up to 5factions).

I never published it – what company would have wanted it – but it did generate ideas and mechanics for other games I have done since on Afghanistan and the Cyprus Emergency. Thinking that it might have uses in the classroom, I even split it apart into progressively more detailed basic, intermediate and advanced versions.

For interest’s sake, here is the brief blurb on concepts in the game, as I wrote it up in 2008:




Virtualia is meant to be played with three or more players, representing the factions in the situation. Each faction or association has a colour, as follows:


The main organized and armed opposition to the current government of Virtualia. Consider many of them to be “Former Regime Elements”: before his fall from power, Shaves had created a large citizen’s militia, armed with stocks of ex-Soviet small arms, controlled through local Party offices and with no reporting relationship to the Ministry of Defence. This was to provide insurance against coup attempts by professionals: the Army has also had its share of an ideological makeover. Finally, the Army has recently had a formally imposed switch in doctrine to “asymmetric warfare” tactics in the event of invasion by a foreign power. Red objectives include a high Political Support Level (PSL) and positive Political Attitudes (PA) in local neighbourhoods in Maracas.


A faction of Red, this group may appear if the government of Virtualia seeks assistance from Green – representing additional sectors of the population who may not have had a serious quarrel with the government until now, but are provoked by its action in introducing “imperialist foreign forces” into the situation. Activating the Pink faction will generally double the Red forces and OP awards. Pink will be played by Red, but Pink forces may have slightly different vulnerabilities from Red forces (e.g. a different CHL). In the rules, situations referring to Red units will generally include Pink units, unless specifically stated otherwise. (Optionally, Pink may be activated by a different human player and would be in competition with Red.)


The present government of Virtualia, and it means to stay that way. Scenarios can be adjusted to reflect whether Blue assumed power peacefully or through a coup (for example, to reflect the latter situation, Red could start with a higher number of CBT units; to reflect division or disaffection in the armed forces the Army and Police CHL could start out low; and so on).  Like Red, Blue seeks a high PSL and good local PA, but also has a requirement to provide services to the population and keep street-level violence under control (measured by a high Civic Level (CL) and low numbers of Violence chits), in the neighbourhoods shown on the map.


Represents various assets deployed by the LFPN (Large Friendly Power to the North). These can range from government-to-government material assistance programs to use of intelligence assets, to deployments of LFPN military units. These assets can be quite powerful but will be a political liability to Blue, costing him support and the perceived legitimacy to remain the government of Virtualia. PSL penalties are levied twice during the turn (once randomly an once IAW the level of Green assistance). More deployments of Green units makes it more likely the Pink faction will be activated, which will more or less double Red’s forces and OP awards. Green units are deployed and used by Blue


This player represents more or less organized criminal gangs. Black is not concerned with political support or positive popular attitudes, instead Black will seek larger and larger amounts of Operations Points (representing money, goods, or the “muscle” to operate illegal networks for distribution and sale of narcotics or human beings). Unlike the other players, Black is able to “bank” unused OP as Victory Points (VP), which will affect Red or Blue’s VP levels. If, at the end of the game, Black has the highest number of VP, Virtualia has become a “failed state”. Black is somewhat limited in that it is allowed to build only in Areas with a CL deficit and at least some violence.


Represents non-state militias and other unorganized violence-prone types who support the government but are not under its control. Orange CBT units enter the game as random events or as a byproduct of White presence (in this case they may represent private security firms and contractors similar to Blackwater Corporation). They are not played by a human player but perform in accordance with a set of “automatic” rules (11.5). Orange units can be effective in engaging Red but are indiscriminate in their targeting (reflected by their leaving extra Violence Chits) and the long-term effect of their presence is to turn Popular Attitudes towards Red. Orange can be disarmed by Blue but there is a PSL penalty.


These represent the personnel and/or assets of Non-Government Organizations: agencies for humanitarian aid or support of civil government, or multi-national corporations with an economic interest in Virtualia. 

White units “sow” Civic chits in neighbourhoods where they are located, which is a positive for Blue, but White units are targets for Red and Black operations, which costs Blue politically.

 Unit Types

Units are divided into static and mobile types. The typology is drawn from FM 3-24 Counterinsurgency, chapter 1 (1-59 to 1-66: the category of “leader” has been left out of this iteration of the game but could be added as an optional module).


  Combatant (CBT) (mobile) Cadre (CDR) (mobile) Auxiliary (AUX)  (static) Mass Base (BASE) (static)
Red/Pink Small teams of fighters. Propagandists, organizers, recruiters. Builds BASE. Network of politically involved supporters who provide security, shelter, resources or passive intelligence to mobile units. Builds CBT and CDR. Larger groups of less active civilians. Required as source of recruits for other categories of unit, assists to build mobile units. Source of OP. Builds AUX.
Blue Security forces (Police or Army), coy/bn strength. media, PSYOP formations, religious leaders, government organizers. Builds AUX. Politically involved civilians, businessmen, etc.. Builds BASE or Civic chit. Larger groups of less active civilians. Source of OP. Assists to build AUX or Civic chits.
Green Distinct formed units of LFPN’s military, combat team or bn strength. Elite quality. Military training/ advising teams or Civic Affairs units. Can build Civic chits or train units cheaply. none none
Orange Non-state militia or private security forces. Attacks Red/Pink/Black under automatic rules. none none none
Black Violent criminal gangs. Limited ability to build. none Criminal support network. Limited ability to build. none
White None Non-government organization (NGO) providing services or employment to Area. Builds Civic chits. Larger scale NGO effort providing services/ employment to Area. Builds Civic chits. none



 Civic Level (CL)

Each Area on the map has a CL, a measure of the level of infrastructure and services available to the people of that neighbourhood. Examples include access to clean water and food stores, regular garbage collection, available health care, sufficient housing, well-maintained roads/ transport, and sufficient local employment prospects. The presence or absence of these services is marked by “Civic chits”. A number of Civic chits greater than the CL of an Area gives a PSL and OP benefit to Blue; a “deficit” of Civic chits will lose him political support (this does not mean Red or Black, in attacking infrastructure, actually wants people to be poor and miserable: rather, local conditions of unemployment, poverty and unmet expectations will improve his recruiting and political prospects).

 Cohesion Level (CHL)

A measure of operational security, discipline, efficiency and morale. Red maintains one CHL for all his forces, as does Pink (when activated). Blue maintains two separate CHLs, one for the Army and one for the Police. CHL can be lowered through Subversion, Intelligence and Purge failures and successes, and the presence of Infiltrators. CHL can be raised through Training. A low CHL has many effects on game subsystems: It is easier for the enemy to place Infiltrators, units are vulnerable to Desertion operations, enemy Intelligence and Purge operations are more effective, it is easier for Operations Points (OP) to be “lost” through depreciation (models corruption), and most importantly, the current CHL is the number of OP the player can expend in the Operations Phase.

 Economic Stability Level (ESL)

A measure of the economic climate prevailing in Virtualia. The ESL starts at a level of 50, representing a relatively stable and productive economy. It can be negatively affected by high levels of violence, labour strikes, and sabotage; Blue can raise it by converting leftover OP. Blue derives OP, PSP, and VP by having a high ESL; he also raises new forces by deducting from the ESL (represents diverting human and material resources and administrative effort from the civilian economy).


It costs money, time and administrative effort to keep your forces together and functioning. A player must pay maintenance for all his units if possible; if he does not have enough OP to pay the maintenance for all his units, he may choose to make up the deficit by eliminating or degrading his units or deducting points from his CHL.

 Operations Points (OP)

These Points represent different things at different times during the game. It is most useful to think of OPs in terms of time and effort spent planning an operation or training troops, or as an expenditure of assets like money, ammunition, explosives, etc.. OP can be saved from turn to turn but are subject to depreciation if they are hoarded. Red, Pink, Blue and Black require OPs to function in the game.

 Political Support Level (PSL)

Political Support Levels represent the level of political legitimacy the population of Maracas is willing to give Red or Blue, in their current political configurations. Red and Blue (and optionally Pink) maintain PSL independently of each other during the game. If a player’s PSL reaches 0 at any point in the game, he is deemed to have reached the point of political collapse, the game ends and victory is judged.

 Popular Attitude (PA)

Each Area on the map has a Popular Attitude marker, which denotes the current general disposition of the people in it towards Red or Blue. A PA is different from a PSL in that it is a local variable affected by local conditions (Civic chits, Violence chits, and player’s local attempts to influence attitudes). It affects PSL, building attempts, Infiltrator placement, Purges, and Intelligence missions.

 Victory Points (VP)

This is a measure of the overall success players are having in achieving their objectives. Red or Blue gain VP by having a larger degree of political acceptability (measured by PSL, the number of mass BASE units they have on the map, and the current balance of Popular Attitudes). Blue also gains VP if Red conducts no kinetic missions in a turn, and if the economy is healthy. Black can convert OP gained through kinetic missions directly into VP. If players wish a shorter game, in the absence of an event of political collapse as noted above, the respective totals of VP are checked periodically to determine if there is a winner.


During the game, all factions except White will engage in kinetic operations. These will leave traces in the form of “Violence chits” in the Area where the operations occurred. The total number of Violence chits in an Area will reduce itself over time, but in general, the people living in that Area will be less favourably disposed towards the factions that caused the largest amount of violence. Blue has the most to gain by keeping Areas free of violence: it will give him greater political acceptability and extra OP (means tax collectors are at work!).


Red has a menu of missions divided into non-violent and kinetic categories. The kinetic ones are familiar from Algeria  or Tupamaro but others have been added, inspired by Gene Sharp’s catalogue of 198 methods of nonviolent action ( Blue has some similar missions but also has Intelligence (to turn Red units face up, making them vulnerable to later attacks) and React (to Red missions).






Propaganda CDR
  •  +/- Red or Blue PSL
  • Blue PSL -1 if he Reacts
Mass political action CDR
  • +/- Red or Blue PSL
  • May shift PA pro-Red or Blue
Economic boycott CDR
  • +/- Red or Blue PSL
  • May eliminate Civic chit or reduce ESL
Subversion CDR
  • vs. mobile units only; Elite units may not be targeted
  • may reduce target organization CHL; unit may not React
Desertion CDR
  • Possible when Blue CHL and PSL are low
  • May destroy unit and give Red OP





Riot CDR
  • Removes Civic chits or large Blue PSL penalty, may place Violence chits
  • May reduce ESL
  • Blue must React or lose additional PSP
  • Red BASE required, may be attacked in reaction
Strike CDR
  • requires Red Infiltrator in Area marked “S”
  • Removes Civic chits or reduces ESL, may place Violence chits
  • Blue must react or lose additional PSP
Robbery CBT
  • Gains OP, places Violence chit
  • May hit unit or place additional Violence chit
Attack Unit CBT
  • Places Violence chit
  • May hit unit (static units degraded, mobile units eliminated or moved to OC box (pre-empting mission)
Attack Infrastructure CBT
  • Places Violence chit
  • May remove Civic chit and gain OP
Purge 2
  • Eliminates Infiltrator
  • May reduce own or enemy CHL


In the Operations Phase, players conduct missions in the various Areas on the Maracas map, one Area at a time, with players conducting one mission at a time in a defined circular sequence until all missions have been conducted in that Area. Red chooses which Area will have its missions resolved next; he also gets to choose at which point the circular sequence of player actions within that Area will start.

 – Brian R. Train, 4 June 2008