Recent Projects: two Vietnam games

The latest new projects I have been working on came from the request of a History professor at a Canadian university, who originally wanted to use my Green Beret game in the classroom to teach some of his students about counterinsurgency in Vietnam. I thought this one was a maybe a bit detailed for students who might never have played a board wargame before, so I offered to design him something new.

Since his personal interest or current research was Binh Dinh province in 1968-70, I designed not one but two games taking place in this Central Coast province: a module of the District Commander system (an operational-level COIN system that uses no dice, and for which I’ve designed several modules: generic Red vs. Blue; Algeria 1959; Afghanistan 2009; and now Vietnam 1969) and a simpler design called Binh Dinh 69.

Section of Binh Dinh 69 counter sheet

Section of Binh Dinh 69 counter sheet       

District Commander Binh Dinh map excerpt

District Commander Binh Dinh map excerpt

DC BD ctr snip

District Commander Binh Dinh counter excerpt


I hope that it will prove useful! I’m still doing testing on the District Commander module (each one is a fair bit different from the others but there is a consistent core of rules). As always, there is not enough time to do everything in the speed and order I want to do it….

Class Wargames: the book, the website, the lifestyle!

For some years I have been corresponding with Dr. Richard Barbrook of the University of Westminster. Richard is one of the members of Class Wargames, “an avant-garde movement of artists, activists and theoreticians engaged in the production of works of ludic subversion in the bureacratic society of controlled consumption”.

Richard interviewed me for a radio program, and had in past used my games (Red Guard and others) as study material for students in one of his course for the BA in Politics program, where students studied and dissected different types of games, and then went on to make their own.

I finally met Richard in person last September when I went to London for the first Connections-UK conference. Richard attended Connections, and we also spent a very pleasant afternoon walking around his neighbourhood in Stoke Newington, talking in the wonderfully green and large Clissold Park. Richard was in a very good mood because he had just finished the manuscript of his book, Class Wargames: Ludic Subversion Against Spectacular Capitalism:

Now the book has been printed, and will be launched on October 24 at Red Gallery in London – coincidentally, the same day of the year that I was launched!

You can order a copy from Housmans Bookstore if you live in the UK, I understand that in North America you can get a copy from Autonomedia or AK Press. And you can always get your free electronic copy, made available under a Creative Commons license:

“Like H.G. Wells, Guy Debord saw wargames as a valuable means of ludic subversion of established societal and military hierarchies. In this impressively eclectic and erudite book, Richard Barbrook explains with infectious enthusiasm how he and his group have striven to use ludic ideas to inspire and inform a new generation of radicals.”

– Philip Sabin, Professor of Strategic Studies at King’s College London and author of Simulating War

(and yes, I do show up in a couple of footnotes in the book, just as I do in Philip Sabin’s book. They also serve, who only stand at the bottom of pages….)

Spoke at TableFlip, October 4-5

City Lights Books and the Transamerica Building

City Lights Books and the Transamerica Building

What a great weekend!

I got into San Francisco in the morning, took the BART in from the airport and spent the midday and afternoon looking around – The city was having a heatr wave, it was 95 degrees on Friday and bright-sunny all weekend. Went to City Lights Books (always wanted to go there) through Chinatown (liked the erhu players on the sidewalk), then over to Amoeba Records (great music and video store) via Haight-Ashbury (ehhh), then back downtown for a meetup with the conference organizers, Tim Hwang and Patrick Ewing, and three of the the other speakers at the conference: Volko Ruhnke of course, David Malki, designer of Machine of Death: the Game of Creative Assassination (, and Max Temkin, designer of Cards Against Humanity (

Saturday morning David Malki presented on “theme” in games, and as a quick exploration in that topic the audience played the simple kid’s game War (as we all know, one of the longest and most tedious kids’ card games) then each table came up with twists and rethemes – we imagined a three-player, film-noir theme of the game where one player is an investigator, one a villain who has kidnapped the victim Or Something, and one player is Fate, who trips up one or both of the other two.

C3i banner by Rodger MacGowan

C3i banner by Rodger MacGowan

After lunch it was our turn. I will be the first to admit that though I am willing to speak in public (thanks to my time on the debate team in high school (my sole contribution to School Spirit), and teaching recruits when I was in the military) I am not a particularly good improv speaker, nor even a good lecturer – I am always way too tied to my script. But Volko and I tagged off each other in speaking about what went into the design of the two COIN games, and he’s a much more animated speaker, so I think it went well.

Tableflip Script (this is what I read-said)

Ruhnke-Train Wargaming COIN (these are the slides we showed)

It was great to be with people who were willing to try something that, for many, laid outside their usual gaming frame of reference. Tim and Patrick had prepared some attendees beforehand to learn the rules and be facilitators for the games of Fire in the Lake and A Distant Plain; this helped tremendously. After playing for about three hours, we called everyone back together and had a very good discussion about their experiences, and fielded more questions about why and how the games were designed as they were.


The following morning was Max Temkin’s presentation, a very intelligent excursion on philosophy and/of game design via Wittgenstein (helped by a great clip from the Ricky Gervais Show), Magritte, David Foster Wallace and many others. He spoke about the impact and interest, or rather why the impact and interest, of Humans vs. Zombies (the first game he designed, while a college student), Cards Against Humanity, and Johann Sebastian JOUST (this was a new one on me ( Afterwards people played a similar game, Spaghetti Showdown: people begin by standing in a circle, each hand holding one end of a piece of uncooked spaghetti. The last pair of people holding a piece of unbroken spaghetti wins! Immediately the circle breaks up and people very gingerly (or not) start to attack the Pasta of Others.

Spaghetti Joust

Spaghetti Showdown

The fourth speaker was Matt Leacock, designer of Pandemic and Forbidden Desert. I really wanted to stay for his talk, but had to leave to get to the airport in time for my flight back.

This was a fantastic event, very lively with great conversations and ideas flying everywhere – it will take me a while to unpack it mentally, I think.

Twitter feed:

Short piece in San Francisco Weekly, by Marshall Sandoval:

David Malki’s account of the fun, not only did he try A Distant Plain he played Guerrilla Checkers too:

And a nice review of the event by attendee Richard Esguerra: