Back from Seattle

… and things went really well!

Yes, no one had any idea of what I was talking about, but I think that happens a lot at this kind of conference. People are open to ideas and that’s great.

There was also a game night, I brought a couple of copies of Guerrilla Checkers to show and people really liked the game!

I’d like to go next year, mulling over some ideas now.

Script and slides, if anyone’s interested:

Bored of War 20 mar (text, Word)

bored20mar (slides, PDF)

Bored of War…

… is the in-retrospect,-not-very-good title I picked for the short talk I am giving at the national conference of the American Popular Culture Association in Seattle next week.

Here is my abstract:

Board wargames, or manual military simulation games, are a form of civilian entertainment that peaked commercially in the 1980s but continue today as a small press, near-DIY activity. They remain one of Western culture’s most complex analog artifacts, rich in their ability to generate narrative and explore historical possibilities.

 However, only a very small number of published civilian wargames address the dominant modes of actual post-World War Two conflict: irregular war and counterinsurgency. This paper will explore the cultural reasons for this absent focus, explain the social and political utility of these games as a means of interrogating and critiquing contemporary conflicts, and present specific games in this field as examples of “critical play” (Flanagan, 2009).

The point I am trying to make is that there are few of these games not just because they are on an icky uncomfortable subject. It’s also because they are subversive – not only of the contextless and fragmented stream of simplified media interpretation of current conflicts, but also of how most board wargames are played.

I find it quite hard to articulate things like this, though I think about them a lot. I want to acknowledge Jeremy Antley, Matt Kirschenbaum and Mary Flanagan for the thoughts and inspiration.

The point may also be lost on the audience – this is a large conference, with a couple of thousand presentations to be made, and the Game Studies area is responsible for about 100 of them. Only a very small number of these are not about video games: a few about tabletop RPGs, someone talking about how the The Game of Life (Milton Bradley 1960) reflected the American Dream, and my thing.

I think they’re going to look at me like I have bugs in my eyebrows.  But it will be experience, and that is cheap at any price, as they say.


Mmm… yeah, probably as illustrated.

Balkan Gambit… the rest of it


Yesterday I got both my subscriber copy and my designer’s copies of Strategy and Tactics magazine #298, containing Balkan Gambit, my game on the Mediterranean invasions of 1943-45 that weren’t.

Unlike the previous three projects with Decision Games (Greek Civil War, redux Next War in Lebanon, redux S&T 296 (Korean War Battles) is here…), this one came out relatively unscathed. A couple or three points, though:

  1. The Designer’s Notes, which explained many of the assumptions about how units were shown in the game, were cut for reasons of length (S&T magazine games have a maximum rules length of 16 pages, and there seems to be an unwritten rule that there be some unrelated photographic illustrations included in those pages to make the layout look nicer). If anyone’s interested, I post them below.
  2. A few fairly minor bits of errata, save for some important clarification about dispersed mode partisans. Also below.
  3. I also wrote the lead article in the magazine on Allied deception operations in the Mediterranean in World War Two. Articles in the magazine do not have a maximum page length, but they are supposed to top out at around 5,000 words (except when they’re longer). A 1,700 word sidebar on Allied deception in the Mediterranean that gave a lot of background information on the formations cited in the rest of the article did not run. Here it is: train_balkangambit unitsidebar_s&t
  4. A final bonus item: an alt-alt-hist scenario that takes place in 1950 where forces of the USSR and Soviet-allied countries invade Yugoslavia to spank Tito’s deviationist bottom. Apparently actual plans were made to do this but were shelved when the Greek Civil War ended and the Korean War broke out, diverting everyone’s attention for a while… long enough until Stalin could shuffle off. This wasn’t meant to run in the magazine but I put it together anyway. Get it here: Balkan Gambit 1950 scenario

Thanks and I hope you enjoy the game.


Designers’ Notes

One of the great what-ifs of World War II 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. Winston Churchill was famous for his advocacy of attacking the “soft underbelly” of Europe in this way. 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 October 1944, after the German garrison was already withdrawing 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 the 1943 and 1944 scenarios in this game (The book and movie” The Man Who Never Was” concern themselves with Operation MINCEMEAT, one of the deception plans for the invasion of Sicily). 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. In a sense, the scenarios in the game reflect the fantasies of both sides.

Order of Battle Notes

One of the problems in designing a wargame on a campaign that never happened, and in some sense was never meant to happen, is to construct a plausible Order of Battle (OOB) of the troops who could have fought in it. This is even worse when that campaign is set in the Balkans, a theatre of war that saw a bewildering variety of small, exotic and often improvised units. The approach taken in this game was to discount the presence of many of these “ant” units, due to counter mix limits and their negligible effect on the overall campaign.

Many “divisions” are shown in the game as brigades instead because of the Victory in Normandy game system used – an understrength division has to be shown as a non-divisional unit as it gets only one “shot” in combat, as opposed to a full division which gets two (and has two steps of strength).

Western Allies: Because the 1943 and 1944 scenarios are rooted in deception plans, using formations that either never existed or had their roles played by much smaller organizations, much of the Allied OOB consists of fictitious units. The only real divisions in the British OOB are the 5th and 50th Infantry Divisions. The American and Canadian units shown in the game all existed and served in Italy (even the 10th Mountain Division, which did not arrive in Italy until the end of 1944) and the Soviet units are all actual formations that remained in Yugoslavia after the battle for Beograd in October 1944.

Bulgarians: All of the eight units shown in the Bulgarian OOB carried the title of “division” but the five numbered 22 and above were units that were raised later in the war and were not as well equipped or trained as the lower-numbered units. Hence they are shown as brigades.

Collaborators: These are shown in the game as a collection of poor quality infantry brigades, in rough proportion to the numbers that were raised. The Croatian Army was substantially reorganized several times but this did not change its overall effectiveness much (at least, not against people with guns) and this detail has been left out of the game.

Germans: The occupation of the Balkans absorbed a large number of German divisions, but the few that were of good quality stayed only for a short time before being called away. An example is the elite 1st Panzer Division, which historically was sent to Greece from June to September of 1943, in response to Operation MINCEMEAT! The 1st Mountain Division was also deployed for brief periods on anti-partisan duties. Another high quality unit, the 22nd Infantry Division, appears in the 1945 scenario – this is the Luftlande or Air Landing Division, which had been garrisoning Crete and was withdrawn to the mainland in late 1944. At this time it was one of the strongest (or at any rate least damaged) divisions left in the region, and still had most of its transport.

Besides a collection of fortress infantry and several light infantry or motorized units, Brandenburger commandos, and a Luftwaffe field division of repurposed airmen, the German OOB also includes a number of generic infantry brigades – these represent amalgamations of the many security, police, replacement and training units the Germans maintained for rear area security, garrisons and guarding lines of communication.

A note on the Waffen-SS units, placed here under the German section though many of the formations were composed of “ethnic Germans” or collaborators. The 13th “Handschar” (Croatian), 14th “Galicia” (Ukrainian), 18th “Horst Wessel”, 21st “Skanderbeg” (Albanian), and 24th “Karstjager” were nominally divisions but are shown in the game as motorized or light infantry brigades. They did not operate as complete divisions – components were sent off prematurely to form battlegroups in other areas or they never reached sufficient levels of men, motivation or equipment. The 4th and 7th SS divisions did perform as such, though – the 4th was a “Polizei Panzer-Grenadier” division specializing in anti-partisan operations, and the 7th “Prinz Eugen” was a quality mountain infantry unit. The 18th SS light infantry regiment is an SS Police Mountain regiment, which was an effective anti-partisan unit.

Italians: With the exception of the 1st “Taurinense” mountain division, the Italian divisions garrisoning the Balkans were two-regiment units stripped of artillery, transport and quality recruits. Hence they are all shown in game terms as brigades, though they carry the matching division numbers.

Polish: The 7th Infantry Division was a deception unit. When it, along with the (real) 2nd Armoured Division were included in the OOB for Operation ZEPPELIN, there was a diplomatic incident when Marshal Tito learned of their planned mission to land at Durres and drive inland to Tirane. He objected very strongly to Slavic troops landing in the Balkans, and unfortunately could not be told that this was all a deception, since his headquarters was full of spies. So while the Allied planners deceived him that the Poles had been removed from the operation, they also continued to deceive the Germans that they were still in. The actual invasion of Southern France happened before anyone got to compare notes.

Yugoslavs: For simplicity, the Partisan light infantry units are not numbered and are rated identically as brigades – again, they carried the honourifics of “Proletarian” or “Assault” divisions, but they did not have enough supporting arms or training in large unit operations to function as divisions in game terms.

Errata and clarifications


6.3: Dispersed mode partisans may co-exist with enemy units. This is explicit in 10.3 (c) and implied in 12.1.

9.4 Axis supply sources: should also specify Austrian territory for map edge exit hexes. (In my original map, Austria did not appear but the S&T map artist added 8 hex rows of territory to the north of the original map, so it’s there now.)

12.15: The combat example paragraph should be deleted as it refers to a superseded combat method. Clarification: Croatian, Chetnik, German light infantry and SS units count DOUBLE their CF whenever firing on dispersed mode partisan type units. (German infantry divisions 369, 373 and 392 are treated as Croatian for this purpose only, but are otherwise treated as if they were German Army units.)

13.6: Not errata, but the “Force 10 From Navarone” rule was not my idea… a bit of supra-fictional whimsy added in development.

1943 Scenario:

The restrictions on Greek guerrillas noted in the 1944 scenario should also be applied in the 1943 scenario.

1944 Scenario:

The German 104th light infantry division (3-4) should set up in Greece, not Serbia.

German optional reinforcements: There should be only one 3-6 motorized infantry regiment, the 15th.


The British 12th Corps Support Unit should be numbered the 3rd. Not important to play of the game, and the 3rd Corps never actually existed anyway .

The 18th SS motorized infantry (3-6) should be a brigade, not a division (as noted above, this is the “Horst Wessel” Panzer-Grenadier Division; at this time it was about half strength and was still lacking equipment). This is the only counter erratum that matters, and then not even that much; the unit counter has only one step of strength.

The German 375th infantry division (4-3) appearing in the 1944 scenario should be the 367th. (In history, the 367th was formed in late 1943 from elements of the 330th Division (destroyed earlier) and other units, and was kept in Croatia until it was sent to the Eastern Front in the spring of 1944. In the game, the division is instead held in Croatia, awaiting developments. Again, not important to play of the game.)

Games Without Frontiers 2.0



As part of the University of Victoria’s “Ideafest”, going on this week, there will be a session titled “Games w/o Frontiers: The Social Power of Video (& Other) Games”. This will include a game jam, where participants will be asked to work on creating a game to help resettle refugees or shift Canadian attitudes about the refugee experience.

Quote from

In Ideafest, the refugee experience will become the focus of a “game jam.”

It’s a session where participants brainstorm ideas. Then, with the assistance of two mentors, both experienced game designers, they can come up with ideas for plotting the refugee experience in a game format. It might be a board game, like Monopoly, or a card game or a video game.

But the idea will be to imagine or reconstruct an experience, in this case a refugee experience, to foster positive social change. It might help teach genuine refugees to navigate the Canadian experience. It might sensitize Canadians to what refugees need and would appreciate.

Meanwhile, other sessions in the Ideafest event will include discussions and exploration of issues such as games in education, virtual reality, games for health and games as art.

One of the the “experienced game designers” doing the mentoring is me!

I’ll be there in the morning, then I will be covering a table elsewhere in MacLaurin A-Wing with some of my games for display. Think I’ll set up A Distant Plain and Ukrainian Crisis, and have a few giveaway copies of Guerrilla Checkers ready. Stop by and say hi!

Game w/o Frontiers is on March 12, noon to 4:30 p.m. in the MacLaurin Building.