Modern War magazine – change in lineup

(Originally published 2 April 2013, bumped up to here for news.)

Referring to my post of November 23:

I have been informed that my game in issue #9, “Next War in Lebanon”, has been replaced by the publisher in the lineup with  “Target: Iran”, a game by another designer that was originally for issue #17. Whether future military US/Israeli action against Iran is more likely than Israeli action against Hezbollah, I really can’t say. But I’m not the publisher either.

The more worrying thing is that Lebanon has been bumped back to #13, the issue slotted for Kandahar, and no word for now how far back that one will be bumped – perhaps to #17, which must now be vacant? Anyway, there will be an extra wait of 8 or 9 months for everything, but the good part of the news is that as far as I know all of the games will be published eventually. I’ll let you know more when I do, should be in a few weeks.

16 April – Edited to add: Okay, here is the lineup as she is goodly spocken now:

  • Andartes (Greek Civil War) – #11, May-June 2014
  • Next War in Lebanon (IDF in Lebanon 201?) – #13, Sep-Oct 2014
  • Kandahar (Afghanistan 2009-10) – #17, May-June 2015
  • Green Beret (Vietnam 1962-4) – #18, Jul-Aug 2015

So, another year to wait, but getting published is better than not.

20 June – edited to add: Today I was unofficially informed that Kandahar and Green Beret will not be published in Modern War, and these slots will be filled by other games by other designers. So it goes. Considering my options. Suggestions?

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About brtrain
This blog is mostly devoted to posts, work and resources on "serious" conflict simulation games.

22 Responses to Modern War magazine – change in lineup

  1. There’s more of a market for Greek Civil War than Green Beret? I’m not convinced.

    Maybe Victory Point Games would be interested?

  2. brtrain says:

    It’s not a question of market so much as timing – Greek Civil War was done and handed in a long time ago, and had been slotted for issue #11 for some time. Lebanon game was done before that, and would have been in #9 except it got bumped. Green Beret and Kandahar were scheduled for #17 and #18, summer of 2015ish, so there was time to drop them from the lineup. Whether this shows a decisive move away from the topic of counterinsurgency I’m not entirely sure, time will tell.
    Anyway, Victory Point Games is a non-starter. As much as I woudl like to publish something with them, these are full-size games with counter counts and map sizes that VPG just does not do, nor does it plan to do. Not only that, their pipeline is at least three years long now…

    • brtrain says:

      Well, I am not giving up on either of these designs, because I have invested a LOT of my and other peoples’ time and thought on them. I hope to be able to report better news shortly.

  3. Mike Dale says:

    Hey Brian

    I am glad to hear you are not giving up on Kandahar – what I’ve heard of the design intrigues me and I hope you have success finding a publisher – more COIN gaming is what we need …

    Cheers
    Mike

    • brtrain says:

      Thanks for your support Mike – I fear what I am running up against is that the closer I try to get to the essence of population-centric COIN, the more boring, slow and non-linear it becomes to your more impatient and shall we say “kinetically inclined” gamer. I read a very good blog post about this the other day, on why there are almost no video games about COIN: http://onviolence.com/?e=729

      • kingdaddy8 says:

        And yet people will spend hours playing a game about the gradual construction of railroads, or the incremental gains in trading goods across the Mediterranean…I’m not sure that you need to make the game more kinetic to make it interesting. Andean Abyss, for instance, is a slow, non-linear game, but it’s anything but boring. (As I expect A Distant Plain to be, too.) You have a lot of important short-term decisions (do I pass, which action do I take, where do I build a base, etc.), plus the color commentary that the cards provide.

        You also have a legitimate fear that, if you’re not careful, someone else might win abruptly, even if you see only a long slog ahead for yourself. The other players probably feel the same way, but they’re also worried that you might blitz your way suddenly. I finally got to play Angola, and I feel the same way about that game. It’s going to take a long time to finish, but the action in a single turn is pretty fierce. Even the more static parts of the map were interesting for me, since they provoked me into thinking how to break the stasis.

        So, I don’t think that COIN games must be boring and slow…Or at least, feel that way. Maybe at the grand strategic plain, they always will be. But at the tactical and operational levels, it could be anything but boring and slow.

  4. brtrain says:

    Thanks for the thoughts. I think what I am having trouble doing is reconciling the long-term, network and society-building part of COIN (which is the strategic part, which I have covered in games like Algeria where the time scale can be stretched out, so it’s not boring or slow) with the short-term, more kinetic cut-and-thrust at the tactical level (which is where games like Boots on the Ground and Phantom Fury get their energy; problem is, they are not connected to anything bigger).

    With Green Beret and Kandahar, I have been trying to work this dialectic out at the operational level, which is the most difficult one to design wargames at, period. The point to be made is that tactical decisions (“we had to call in that airstrike to get the insurgents”) have long-term effects (“too bad it wrecked the well, and there’s no government money to drill a new one”). A common method of conducting an insurgency is to have “a strategy of tactics”: the government dies or goes berserk from a thousand pinpricks and small cuts, none significant in themselves.

    I’ve been exploring this in other games by doing things like introducing menus of kinetic and non-kinetic actions, only some of which can be reacted to

    • kingdaddy8 says:

      My suggestion: At the theater or operational level, generate suspense, not excitement. (Which is why I strongly disagree with that “COIN Is Boring” post.) If you don’t know what the exact implications of bombing the well are going to be, you have the ability to generate suspense. Maybe we’ll be OK, and survive our mistake…Or maybe we just triggered a local uprising, or journalists captured the cock-up on film, or something else dreadful will happen.

      The mechanic for measuring the operational or theater effects could be as simple as a track, like Mark Herman’s national will track in For The People. Or, it could be something else,like putting random event counters into a draw pile. Whatever it is, it would benefit from something that For The People lacked: political opacity. People fighting COIN wars don’t know that today, they’re winning by a comfortable margin of 5 points. They’re often as surprised at signs of their success as the sure indicators of failure.

      • brtrain says:

        That’s a very good suggestion and I will implement something like that. One feature of Kandahar is that it is diceless; randomness is produced by playing your choice from a supply of chits obtained randomly at the beginning of the turn, chits are rated differently for Intelligence, Troop and CIMIC abilities – so you have to do a bit of choosing. This is distorting play a bit but not more than I am comfortable with – but you can still work suspense into it.

        Another point about Kandahar is that there are variable “strategies” players follow to get VP during the game, that change (randomly or by request) during the game. These, and VP levels, are kept secret from the other player but to reflect your final statement I would hide the “real” strategy from the player himself as well! I discussed this with Mark Herman and Volko Ruhnke on a Guns Dice Butter podcast a while back when we were discussing Vietnam – some in the US Army may have realized that “counterinsurgency” might have been the way to make headway against the guerrillas, but doctrine and the senior leadership was thinking of big battalions and large sweeps, so that’s what was done in 1965-67… later there w were changes, but not necessarily because they knew they were doing it wrong; the point was they were playing the game but didn’t know, couldn’t know, the victory conditions.
        I have to keep my replies shorter because there is an irritating feature of WordPress that makes it flick back to the middle of my reply every few seconds and I can’t see what I am typing.

        I think I might expand our back-and-forth here to a new post.

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  7. Brant says:

    Brian – I’ll contact you off-line about publication 🙂

  8. neilspry says:

    Now that DG’s Greek Civil War has been published I was wondering if your own ‘Algeria’ system version has been published. You mention Fiery Dragon as potential publisher, however I’ve not seen this.

    • brtrain says:

      Thanks Neil. Frnakly, I am disappointed at what DG did to the Greek Civil war design – after redesigning the game to use another system at their behest, they then changed what I submitted to make something that is in my view cruder and less balanced.
      Without my knowledge, either, so I first heard about these changes when subscribers started to ask questions (I still haven’t received my subscriber copy yet!).

      So, not pleased, but I will probably publish the “director’s cut” rules on BGG or somewhere, and maybe here as well.
      I also plan to release the original, “Algeria system” version by myself later this spring – more on this later but I will be doing this with a string of my games.
      Fiery Dragon appears to be still in business but has not published a wargame since 2009, and the publisher no longer answers my e-mails.

      • neilspry says:

        Brian

        I look forward to hearing more of your plans to release your own own version of Greek Civil War and other games.

        Would your ‘Director’s cut’ rules be playable with the DG map and counters?

        Shame about Fiery Dragon: I have several of their/your games and always considered them excellent value for money. Considering the cost and size of box a lot was included and the components were of decent quality.

        Regards
        Neil

      • Tom Grant says:

        What’s the system that DG wanted you to use?

  9. brtrain says:

    Neil.
    I’m about ready to go forward with one title, but am holding off on official notices… time is tight and I have deadlines on other things right now.
    The Director’s Cut would absolutely be playable with the DG map and counters.
    DG has just changed a lot of the rules, including deliberately or accidentally mixing up the type names of all of the different Communist units, deleting some very important rules on the use of Fronts (the Communist static unit) and mashing the combat system into something completely different from what I was told to work with.
    Fiery Dragon did some excellent work, but the 2008-09 recession seems to have shelved any back-then plans for producing more wargames while the publisher concentrated on keeping his day job (digital printing company) and growing family fed, for which I cannot fault him.
    The games never made very much money for them anyway.

    • brtrain says:

      Tom,
      I designed Greek Civil war with a development of the Algeria system back in 2007, and sent it to Fiery Dragon, and after four years of nothing happening it got the thumbs-up in the DG magazine game feedback. so I sent it in and they said, “redesign it to use the system in Decision Iraq”. So I did, because if I didn’t someone else would have and a man ought to shoot his own dog…. still, I gave it some interesting chrome and subtlety while staying true to the basic rules, or so I thought. Now when it comes out I find they have made fundamental changes to that system, even – and they make the game a little simpler to play, but at the cost of some basic details – the end result is a whole lot less subtle and seems quite unbalanced in favour of the Government.

      • Tom Grant says:

        I don’t understand the logic behind these changes. Are they trying to make the Decision Iraq system some kind of standard? And why change your re-design without talking to you?

        This is why I don’t buy titles from Decision Games until after the game has been on the market a little while. Their track record is spotty at best, and they change things for no good reason. That’s why I didn’t buy, for example, the reprint of Empires Of The Middle Ages: they made the game worse, not better, when they didn’t need to change it at all.

        Sorry this happened to you. I was really looking forward to your Greek Civil War game. Grafting a highly conventional warfare-oriented system on an internal war is just dumb. Making further changes without consulting with the designer is even dumber.

      • brtrain says:

        Tom, I am not sure if you will see this reply, it doesn’t seem to be very well set up. But I clicked the nearest “Reply” button so here we go.

        We don’t see the logic behind these changes because we are using a different logic.
        DG doesn’t do these things just to be different or to sow chaos (at least, not deliberately): I think they think they are doing this for sound business reasons.
        I have been told that the average magazine game, if it is played at all, is played one and a half to two times before it’s dropped for something else – so in order for the games to be played more and more often, they deliberately move toward things like standardized systems, shorter rules, simpler and less detailed processes, and familiar mechanics so that a subscriber can pick up the magazine and be punching counters after 20 minutes of studying the rules.

        This is why they pay close attention to what the playtesters say.
        The first question posted in the discussion area for the game at Consimworld was “why should I buy a Guerrilla Band unit?”
        I need to say at this point that a Guerrilla Band unit is a Front unit, or it was when I submitted the game; DG deliberately or accidentally scrambled the names of the unit types from the original design.
        Chapter 2 of the current US Army field manual on counterinsurgency, FM 3-24, is devoted to examining the nature of insurgencies and section 5 of that chapter talks about insurgenc organization: in this game, the Front represents what is referred to in the manual as “underground” and “support base/auxiliary” organizations.
        These are the networks of part-timers, who do such things as: “running safe houses;
        storing weapons and supplies; acting as couriers; providing intelligence collection; giving
        early warning of counterinsurgent movements; providing funding from lawful and unlawful
        sources; and providing forged or stolen documents and access or introductions to potential supporters.” Chapter II, section 5, 3. (d).
        Obviously this is a static organization embedded in the civilian population.
        And while I may be quoting a current military publication, it is nothing new in the history of insurgencies.

        http://www.dtic.mil/doctrine/new_pubs/jp3_24.pdf

        As I designed the game, Front units were subtly important: among other things, they were needed to build certian kinds of units (rest, reorg, training areas and immobile weapons caches), they permitted the insurgent to make selective attacks on government forces (local intelligence), and they permitted the insurgent to ignore retreat results (fading back into the sympathitic population/network).

        However, in answer to the question about why one would buy a unit that didn’t move and seemed to have no function, DG replied on CSW:

        “Basically, playtesters universally disliked the inability to move certain units, claiming that such restrictions are actually the antithesis of insurgency warfare, so things were retooled to make static units purely optional. ”

        So it was done; plainly, the playtesters knew better than the designer or historians what they liked and didn’t like.
        Though DG alludes to there being optional rules giving Fronts a function in the e-rules available on the website, I could not find them in the e-rules I downloaded (dated 27 March; the DG website is down and has been down for most of a week now).

        I thought the Decision Iraq rules were to be a standard system, so I designed to that standard; but systems evolve it seems.
        As to why I was never consulted or informed, I can only say that DG has its people stretched extremely thin.
        With three magazines each producing six games per year, plus all the Folio games and mini-games they are producing like kittens, and boxed games too, they’d be hard put to do this with triple the staff.

  10. Tom Grant says:

    Brian, thanks for the lengthy and informative reply.

    If memory serves, the KKE’s decision to “go conventional” was a huge mistake. Which is why I was initially puzzled by the idea of applying a game system designed for conventional wars to this conflict. Maybe I should see the game before saying anything more.

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