District Commander: on sale, sale, sale!

Starting today, District Commander Kandahar is on sale from Hollandspiele!

In fact, all three District Commander games are currently on sale.

Buy two and use the discount code “DCdiscount” at checkout will save an additional $5.

Buy all three modules and use “traingames” to save an extra $10.

I’ve made it, I’ve become a discount code!

I really like Tom’s ad copy for this one:

District Commander: Kandahar simulates the problems facing insurgent and counterinsurgent commanders in southern Afghanistan circa 2009-2010. This is not Brian Train’s first or even second game about this conflict, and you might be wondering, what does this one have to offer? We think that the District Commander system – with its emphasis on bluff and deception, scarce resources, and shifting operational goals – is an especially good fit for capturing the pace and nature of operations in Afghanistan. 

Brian Train’s District Commander is a series of operational games on counterinsurgency situations. The players alternate activation of groups of units (stacks) to perform discrete operations (missions) through the expenditure of Task Points (TP). Some missions are Tactical Missions – straightforward military tasks such as performing patrols, ambushing or attacking enemy forces, or moving from one place to another – and these may be performed multiple times by a stack during a turn. Other missions emphasize the “non-tactical” end of the campaign, establishing friendly influence, control, and infrastructure in an area, reducing the enemy’s claim to the same, and recruiting or training troops. These missions take more time to perform and so unlike the tactical missions may be the only mission performed by the stack during the turn. 

Missions are resolved by play of secretly-held Chance Chits, each with ratings that are better or worse for certain types of operations. Chits are played simultaneously and the ratings compared, modified by units, assets, and the current board state to determine the outcome. Using the right chit at the right time – knowing when to save a good chit for later and when to use it, and trying to determine if your opponent is going all-in or holding back – will require steely judgment in an atmosphere of doubt and deception.

All this is done in pursuit of objectives handed down to you by your superiors (i.e., chosen randomly) and kept secret from your opponent – objectives that may even change over the course of the game. Within this framework, the two sides – Government and Insurgent – play very differently, with the Insurgent player, in particular, depending on bluff and deception to achieve their goals. A large number of variant rules allow you to turn the game into a sandbox for exploring counterinsurgency doctrine and practice.

Now go have fun in the sandbox….

Civil Power: interview with The Players Aid

Will neither confirm nor deny this was considered for the rulebook cover.

https://theplayersaid.com/2020/09/28/interview-with-brian-train-designer-of-civil-power-from-conflict-simulations-llc/

Yes!

Over at The Players Aid, an interview about the provenance and mechanics of Civil Power

In this interview I was glad to have the chance to point out some of the obvious bits:

  • that while the technology might change, riots are still much like ancient/medieval battles;
  • even though it is a battle, it is still a confrontation with citizens in a relatively civilized overall situation and you cannot shoot your way to victory (except in the 1944 Warsaw scenario of course); and
  • using the idea of an Engagement Level to acknowledge that there are two mobs at every riot: the civilian and the non-civilian, and that while they have different structures they feed off each other’s energy.

We’re getting into the final stretch of Getting It Ready For You, laying out rules and player aids. 

Fight the Power!

(or be the Power, or both… there’s no solitaire AI or anything like that)

District Commander Kandahar: preview video from Hollandspiele!

Coming next week from Hollandspiele: District Commander: Kandahar, the third in a series of four volumes using the District Commander system.

Tom gives a quick introduction to some wrinkly and attractive parts of the system, and references the procedural videos he made last year to introduce District Commander: Maracas.

I hope you’ll give this one a look!

The fourth and final (so far) volume will be District Commander: ZNO, which takes place in Algeria 1959. It will be out some time next year but meanwhile you can get it for free print-and-play here.

Free Games!

Link: DC Maracas: Two Videos

Link to the Hollandspiele store: https://hollandspiele.com/collections/all

Simulmatics’ shadow

An early example of an urban COIN megagame

A while back I posted about an interesting urban insurgency game I found on the shelves of the US Army War College called URB-INS. It was produced by Simulmatics, a political consulting and analysis company that started in 1959, rocketed to prominence as one of the early proponents of big data for political analysis, and went bankrupt by 1970. 

Jill Lepore, a professor of history at Harvard, has written a book called If Then: How the Simulmatics Corporation Invented the Future that traces out just how far, high and fast Simulmatics went in the world of politics, government and academia. Have a look at this interview with the Chronicle of Higher Education – if nothing else, for the description of what Eugene Burdick, writer of The Ugly American and Fail-Safe and spokesman for Ballantine Ale, had to do with it all!

https://www.chronicle.com/article/higher-ed-has-a-silicon-valley-problem

BTR Games: suspending sales

NOTICE:

I have been working from home since March, 2020 and do not have the access to copy/print shops I did when I was at my downtown office.

I have run out of at least some components for most of the games and am suspending sales of the physical versions until I can resupply.

I guess I should also look into making PnP versions of these available from wargamevault.com, but really they would be the same files as available from me personally.  The main difference would be you could order them drunk at 3 am, like most online purchases, and get them right away. 

 

Winter Thunder: video review and playthrough

Over at The Diagonal Move, Neil Bunker introduces Winter Thunder’s components and mechanisms, and plays through some of the game to illustrate.

Nice!

Heat Ray!

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-54187961

An Army National Guard officer has testified that his unit was asked by military police whether they had a “heat ray”, more formally known as the Active Denial System, as Washington DC authorities prepared to clear demonstrators from Lafayette Square on June 1, 2020.

This is a vehicle-mounted system that uses a tightly focused beam of microwave energy to make the target feel as if their skin is burning, though the chances of actual physical damage are low. It was deployed to Afghanistan in 2010 but sent back unused, and was proposed to be but wasn’t deployed to the US border with Mexico in 2018. I am not sure it has ever actually been used in other than demonstrations for the media; a smaller version may have been used in prisons (possibly to break up impromptu performances of “Telephone” in the exercise yard).

The National Guard unit did not have one of these jolly contrivances, but YOU can have one of your very own – IF you get a copy of my forthcoming game Civil Power!

The counter for it is pictured above (art by Ivan Caceres). Rules are as follows:

  • The ADS may be used in scenarios taking place after 2010.
  • The ADS may apply its Shock Combat strength of 10 to one target unit in the Fire Combat Phase. The die roll is not modified. In the case of an X result, no WIA is counted.
  • The ADS has an infinite range (even at night) but only one unit in a stack may be targeted. 
  • The ADS may not attack units that are in a building, in the same area as a Gas cloud, or units where the LOS to the target crosses a Fire area or Barricade (the beam does not penetrate solid objects, and even a small amount of smoke or mist will reduce its power to the point where the target only feels toasty warm).

Team play of COIN system games

O’er the hills and far away….

The estimable Brant Guillory of Armchair Dragoons and other manifestations has published a guide to the team play of GMT COIN system games that he and his group have put on at Origins!

It’s brilliant, go check it out.

The hidden intelligence part is reflected in having teams of two players for each faction – one diplomatic and one military – but the diplomatic player cannot see the map and the military player cannot see the card, nor are they privy to the negotiations the diplomat has hammered out with the other players. This makes this method very good for games where there is a lot of argle-bargle, and Brant usually does this method with A Distant Plain (an even better wrinkle with this one is that the Warlords faction is played by two, but they take both roles, on alternate turns!).

Very clever, indeed.

“Incipient insurgency”: Kilcullen

[I think I really dislike this new editor WordPress is making people use. I am going to put the link to the Kilcullen piece at the bottom, as it obscures everything under it.]

When David Kilcullen writes something, I pay attention to it. A recent short article by him (though he has been writing in this vein for some time) declares that the United States is showing warning signs of having an incipient insurgency. Final two paragraphs from the piece, though it’s all worth reading:

One possible interpretation is that America may be in what the CIA Guide to the Analysis of Insurgency calls “incipient insurgency.” This encompasses pre-insurgency and organizational stages; it may involve inchoate action by a range of groups, followed by organization, training, acquisition of resources, and building external and public support, then increasingly frequent antigovernment incidents displaying improved organization and forethought. Many simultaneous proto-insurgencies can coexist, and it may be impossible to determine which (if any) of them will progress to a more serious stage.

Clearly, current conditions in the United States match some – though not all – of these criteria. There is no reason why, even with today’s toxic political polarization, we must inevitably slip further toward conflict. But if we want to avoid that risk, it is essential to recognize that it does exist and that, “insurrection” or not, the best thing to do is to treat the current unrest as a wake-up call and act urgently to address it.

Meanwhile, Fred Kaplan give it a somewhat more strident and overtly political context, in a piece for Slate magazine with other references to Kilcullen’s writing. Bonus points for references to focoism and Stathis Kalyvas’ The Logic of Violence in Civil War.

https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2020/09/america-insurgency-chaos-trump-violence.html

The word to apply right now is “inchoate”, and I have a feeling that it will be the one to apply for some time to come… widespread but disorganized disorder that will, possibly, persist until it becomes its own reason for continuing on… but nothing approaching the “second Civil War” that some people seem to love to fantasize about. For one thing, events would have to reach the stage where both sides consistently show up with firearms.

So much more to write on this, but I have to get back to more urgent and better-paying tasks…

Hidden COINs

original image: Greg Groesch for Washington Post story, 2016

Many of my Constant Readuhs will know of my fondness for games with limited information for one or both sides, and my disdain for games that make a point of giving both sides complete information when lack of same was critical to the historical situation the game claims to represent.

I’ll freely admit that many of my games have this exact fault. I rationalize that it’s for ease and speed of play when the players may have enough new stuff to struggle with already, that Chaos may rear its head and wreck the perfect plans people make with their undue dollops of information, that most wargames are played solitaire anyway (maybe even truer of my games too!), that players hate the loss of control and certainty and don’t particularly care how unrealistic that is, and so on… But I keep making such games, and write optional rules for other games where fog of war can be introduced.

But hoo boy, would I like to make it a big part of everything I design. If you’ve ever played an umpired or double-blind game, board or miniatures, you quickly get the feelings of angst and caution you should be feeling when playing these things… every bend in the road is an ambush, every house is boobytrapped.

And so, from the time that I first started in on the GMT COIN system (playtesting of Andean Abyss, then work on A Distant Plain and later Colonial Twilight), it didn’t bother me much that these games were perfect-information exercises, as the multi-faction nature of the games gave people enough to tussle with. But more than a few people have commented about how this does let the game down in the realism department, where insurgency situations are concerned.

I can’t shake the feeling that an umpired game of say, A Distant Plain would be something to see (or not see, or not be sure you’ve seen!) indeed. It wouldn’t be hard to arrange with multiple copies and a willing Director, would take a long time to play most likely but it would be an eye-opener for the players… who would also have to be willing, because this kind of thing strains the patience of most players who like their complete information and control of things, though that situation is far from reality. 

I’ve never had the time or opportunity to try this. Anyone is welcome to give it a spin. Has anyone tried it, or heard of someone trying it? What do you think?