Obligatory end-of-year review, 2020


Well, another year has zipped by. And what a year it was; this time last year, I was arranging to spend a week in Hawaii to combine (game) business with pleasure in April, and plotting out trips to conferences and conventions including a longer trip to Europe in the fall. Obviously none of that happened and I am completing my ninth month working from home (for the first time in my career), at a job that got even crazier as colleges and universities made the swift pivot to all-online instruction. I quite resented the intrusion of day-job space into home-job space at first but what are you going to do… and I save ~2 hours of commuting and dressing each day.

I’m not sorry to see 2020 go, and I know 2021 will not see the complete end of COVID-19, still less the beginnings of the necessary and obvious changes we’re going to have to make in order to flourish in the future. But like many people, I will adjust and carry on as best I can.

Game publishing and publicity

  • January: Hollandspiele brought out District Commander: Binh Dinh, the second volume in the series. District Commander: Binh Dinh out now!
  • February: long interview with The Players Aid about Brief Border WarsBrief Border Wars quad: interview at The Players Aid
  • April: a nice interview with Harold Buchanan, talking mostly about China’s War and StrongmanInterview with Howard Buchanan  I also belatedly posted notice of an interview with The Players Aid that was posted at the very end of 2019, on China’s WarChina’s War: interview with The Players Aid
  • June: After about a year of pre-orders, the Brief Border Wars quad sailed out the door. Sales were quite brisk, apparently! Brief Border Wars: shipping at last! I also had a very nice long session with John Kranz of Compass Games talking about this and other designs and thoughts. Interview with Compass Games, 5 June 2020
  • August: Posted link to a long and interesting interview with Neil Bunker of Diagonal Move. Interview: Diagonal Move
  • September: District Commander: Kandahar was published by Hollandspiele! District Commander: on sale, sale, sale! This leaves one module of the original four, District Commander: ZNO (Zone Nord Oranais).  This will be out some time in 2021 but meanwhile it is still available here for free PnP New free game: ZNO (District Commander module) Also, a longish interview at The Players Aid about the thoughts and mechanics in Civil PowerCivil Power: interview with The Players Aid
  • November: After eight months of working from home, I had run out of enough components for the infrequent sales of my DTP quality BTR Games designs that I suspended sales of the physical product. It was getting difficult to get to the post office on time too. So I made up PDF copies of six designs (1848, Andartes, Balkan Gamble, EOKA, Land of the Free, Red Guard) and made them available for PnP through Wargame Vault: https://www.wargamevault.com/browse/pub/18373/BTR-Games  I also took the opportunity to clean up and add to the rules for several designs, and was especially happy to make Red Guard available again even if it is not a big crowd-pleaser. When the world straightens out a bit I will resume sales of the physical product but will likely keep these six up there. Current price: $8.00 US a pop.
  • December: Civil Power finally went on sale! My proof copy is very nice, the counters look great. Civil Power: preview video!  I gave a talk to the Georgetown University Wargaming Society about self-publishing games, which seems to have been well-received… the biggest thing I learned in putting material together for this was that I have lots more to learn, beyond my simple, crude and low-tech methods (which, I hasten to add, work perfectly well for me). Links to slide deck and Youtube recording are here. PostGUWS

Game design work and future publication

Work and or testing continued throughout the year on some of the following:

  • Brief Border Wars Quad: Compass Games realized they had a good seller on their hands, and they are quite interested in Volume II – so I spent a lot of time on these in the summer and fall. The four battles are all pre-1945 titles: Second Balkan War 1913; Teschen 1919; Nomonhan 1939; and Italo-Greek War 1940. If people (including me) aren’t completely sick of these after this, I have thoughts on what to pick for a Volume III, which would all be post-1945 topics once again.
  • China’s War 1937-41: testing testing, until late summer when renos forced me to turn my gaming space into my work-from home space. I had been hoping to get into development in 2020, but lags with other projects prevented the developer from getting to it. No problem, it will come when it does as GMT is facing some large problems with production and shipping with current and near-future product. Almost 1,300 pre-orders now.
  • Civil Power: This was one of the first games I ever designed (1991-92) and revising it after 25 years is proving almost as much work as doing a new one. But it’s done, with some good revised rules and extra options and a lot of new scenarios based on contemporary headlines: Hong Kong 2019, duelling mobs in Caracas, Violent Demo USA, etc.. Timely, yes, but perhaps it always was.
  • District Commander series: Made changes to the core rules after Maracas came out: nerfing Ambush and Intimidate missions, a new use for Intelligence Advantage chits, and disrupting Militia units no longer deducts Task Points. Pleased with the way things are with it now. If I get time and opportunity next year I might do a Kashmir module that has scenarios from various flare-ups over the years; we’ll see.
  • Semi-abstract urban counterinsurgency games: no time to finish these two off. Will likely put them up for free PnP as few people seem interested in this kind of thing.
  • Strongman: I got in some plays and an important revision of this done before the March lockdown. I haven’t had a chance to work on it since then but I’m pleased – maybe not reached the final step on this but the last few steps have been forward ones.
  • Tabletop Simulator: I have a few days off the end of this year (was not able to take much vacation due to having to substitute for my boss while he sought elected office) so would like to learn how to use this and make TTS versions of some of my games. I think it might be useful for future playtesting and I don’t think I will ever be able to grok making a Vassal module for myself.


  • Of course, nothing happened, at least nothing physical.

Conferences and professional wargaming stuff

  • No physical conferences – Connections-US this year was virtual, and I did manage to attend a couple of online sessions though it was difficult to do during working hours. Connections-UK was cancelled outright.


  • Not a productive year, as far as writing about war and games. Nothing formally published, just the usual torrent of wise-guy stuff on blogs, sites and social media. I did write a lot for some quite pleasant interviews and Q&A I had with The Player’s Aid. One interview with Diagonal Move made me think a bit. Interview: Diagonal Move

Near-meaningless digest of site statistics:

  • Overall traffic seems to be continuing a decline since 2018. I seem to be cruising still at just below 1,600 views per month, for a total of about 19,000 views. About 7,000 visitors. The five most curious countries were: US (by a very wide margin), UK, Canada, France and Italy. One guy clicked in from Oman.
  • Besides the then-current post, popular pages included the perennial favourites BTR Games, Free Games and Scenarios and Variants pages. No surprises there. The most popular post was the one for the Colonial Twilight-inspired method of playing 4-faction COIN system games with 2 people: Spielenexperiment: Turning 4 into 2
  • The most downloaded documents were the card/counter files for District Commander: ZNO,  Third Lebanon War and Canadian Civil War, the play mat for Kashmir Crisis, and the presentation I made at Connections North (“Soft Power Maps”). Since download figures for the other parts of the associated games are nowhere near these numbers, it’s obvious they are being scooped up by some kind of bot or script.

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

2 Responses to Obligatory end-of-year review, 2020

  1. Randy S says:

    Nice summary Brian. I am curious about this: “Semi-abstract urban counterinsurgency games.” I consider your “urban” titles to be Battle of Seattle, Tupamaro, Civil Power, Virtualia, maybe Caudillo. Are these more abstract than the titles I mention? I.e., does your list differ? I, for one, would love to see the abstract-urban concept of something like Tupamaro updated to something more recent. Hong Kong. Maybe Minsk 2020.
    Oh, and, in 2021 my stretch goal is to play Paranoid Delusions!

    • brtrain says:

      I consider my urban-irregular titles to include Battle of Seattle, Civil Power, Tupamaro, Operation Whirlwind, District Commander Maracas, Nights of Fire and my development work on We Are Coming, Nineveh.
      Caudillo is a politics game, though the action is assumed to be mostly taking place in the capital city of Virtualia.
      The two semi-abstract games are called Virtualia II (until I think of a better title) and Squares of the City.
      The first might be a bit closer to what you are wanting though it’s simpler than Tupamaro; the second is more of an intelligence game.
      When I am happy with them I will put them out to free PnP pasture; I can’t imagine anyone publishing them for real. I have adjusted the components of Virtualia II so that one thrifted Risk set will yield three sets of pieces, so that’s one way to get rid of the bits I have acquired over the years.
      Have fun with Paranoid Delusions – not my most serious or involved design, that’s for sure.

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