Connections Online 2021: 12-14 April, +/-

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The Connections Online conference on professional wargaming will be a virtual event.

Details, registration link and a preliminary schedule are here: https://www.armchairdragoons.com/connections/

All core Connections Online events will take place from 12-14  April, each day 1000 – 1600 EDT(UTC -4). All core events will be recorded and available for future viewing.

A livestream of the conference and the recordings will be free and open to all, but you can register to get access to a whole lot more. A small fee of $5 will be charged to partially cover the IT expenses.  Registration cost includes:

  • All presentations, panels, and keynotes (unlimited seats for participation), including ability to ask questions / interact with the speakers during their presentations
  • Access to the Connections Online Discord server
  • Ability to register for any extended conference events, on a first-come, first-served basis for limited-seat events

Oh, and what about those extended conference events you may ask? Well, from 10-18 April there will be many smaller focused events during and to either side of the core hours and dates. Details are still being worked out about these but will include game demonstrations, presentations, and activities similar to the famous “game lab” event where we work in small groups to brainstorm and explore how to game or model certain topics or issues, or general approaches to and utility of games and modelling.

If you are interested in serious games (and this term is definitely not limited to military wargaming!) you should check this out.

This is the latest addition to the Connections franchise of professional wargaming events. Connections-US, the original and American version of the conference will be in June and will also be a virtual event. I’ll post more about that later as details are firmed up. Readers of this and the Paxsims blog will know that there are also Australian, Canadian, Dutch and UK conferences along the same themes. I really miss these events in person, I’ve been several times to the US and UK ones and it’s an intense experience. Maybe next year we’ll be back to doing this sort of thing in person – though we have certainly proven the added value of doing as much as possible online, or making things available online.

Anyway, as part of this particular conference on Monday April 12 at 1500 EDT I will be doing a joint presentation with Mike Markowitz on practicalities of DIY game design. Mike, a really smart guy and a better public speaker than I, will talk about graphic design and I will talk about methods of self-publishing. Both are add-ons and developments of the talks we gave to the Georgetown University Wargaming Society recently, and you should watch these first.

Again, if you want to talk to us and ask questions you’ll have to register. It’s five bucks but you get a whole lot more than just us!

We hope to see you all there!

[ETA] Here is the Youtube link for the event…

Kashmir Crisis: solitaire rules

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Today at the Boardgamegeek.com entry for Kashmir Crisis, player (yes! there is at least one!) Steve Roberts posts about his method for an automated manual opponent for the game, using a second deck of cards with a different back. I haven’t tried it (frankly, I did not think at all about a bot for the game when I designed it) but it’s clever!

https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/2626513/my-solo-mechanics

He also posted about his experience playing the game solitaire, and the narrative it generated:

https://boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/281198/item/8203151#item8203151

Thanks Steve!

Institutionalizing irregular warfare

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Irregular warfare is an enduring, economical contribution to America’s national security, and will remain an essential core competency of the U.S. Department of Defense.

Yes.

Is what I said to myself when I saw this quote leading a post on War on the Rocks, from an annex to the new American National Defense Strategy document on the abiding need for planning and expertise on irregular warfare. 

https://warontherocks.com/2021/03/an-irregular-upgrade-to-operational-design/

https://media.defense.gov/2020/Oct/02/2002510472/-1/-1/0/Irregular-Warfare-Annex-to-the-National-Defense-Strategy-Summary.PDF

People have heard me bang on quite long enough that the American Army (the British Army too, for that matter, and the US Marine Corps even more so) has spent more of its history in fighting irregular campaigns and incidents than in “near-peer combat”, “force on force” or whatever you want to call it. 

So it’s nice to see this home truth reflected, and advocated, and some conscious before-the-next-time thought put into it in “phase zero, that amorphous planning space where everything short of war happens.”

The blog post talks about five shifts in operational design to acknowledge irregular warfare:

  • Shift from “Military End State” to “Position of Continuing Advantage” (because wars no longer just end, and you won’t be home by Christmas)
  • Beyond “Center of Gravity” to “Strategic Levers” (because war is a human-centred activity, not a physics problem)
  • Elevate “Simultaneity” to “Concurrent Effects” (because no mission ever has a single objective, nor a single consequence)
  • Adding “Narrative,” or Shaping Information to Attain Influence (because one day the US is going to get better at this, by dint of repetition if nothing else)
  • Enabling with “Empowerment,” or the Right Tools to Wield Influence (because you should be more creative in where you sprinkle your money, and who you authorize to sprinkle it)

The post is quite clever, and you should go and read it.

Bon Weekend a tous!

Further to my last, the Modern War Institute at USMA West Point has announced the Irregular Warfare Initiative, an ongoing set of activities (podcasts, a conference, fellowships) to preserve knowledge of irregular warfare and exchange ideas. It won’t be like the stampede away from knowledge like after Vietnam (see John Nagl’s “Learning to Eat Soup With A Knife”). This time it’s different. They promise. 

https://mwi.usma.edu/introducing-the-irregular-warfare-initiative/

Vive La Commune!

One hundred and fifty years ago today: March 18, 1871 marked the first of the 71 days of the Paris Commune, a remarkable episode of political, social and class revolt before it was crushed by its own government.

A “last stand of the Paris Commune” scenario is included in Civil Power.

Red Flag Over Paris, a game on the Paris Commune designed by Fred Serval and which uses the Fort Sumter system is on P500 at GMT Games. Looks interesting, I’m awaiting it!

https://www.gmtgames.com/p-849-red-flag-over-paris.aspx

Guerrilla Checkers and Kashmir Crisis: new TTS modules!

Over the last couple of months I made sporadic efforts to  learn to make modules of my games for Tabletop Simulator (TTS)  and Vassal. (I got TTS some time ago when it was on sale for $10 and had some ideas of playing some games to pass the lockdown time, except that it turned out I had no spare time!) I had no real success learning Vassal, but I seemed to get on better with TTS as it’s closer to making a physical copy of a game, or it had more useful gizmos, or whatever. Also, development and playtesting for China’s War will start soon and the developer will be doing it over TTS, not Vassal as was the case with Colonial Twilight, so it was time I learned how to use it. Even at that it took me weeks to learn how to build and upload a deck of special cards, and I experienced the full-on tedium of having to make individual .jpg images of absolutely every piece in the game, including separate front and back images for many things. (I understand Vassal is not much different in the tedium department.)

But after all that, I got things to work with a couple of small and simple games (plus a larger game project that I’m not going to talk about just yet, except that I just did!). So how do I share the modules with the world? I was held up again for weeks because when you go to upload a TTS module to their “workshop” to make it available, you need to include the URL of a small thumbnail image for the game. Time and again the upload failed, this problem has been noted with TTS for some time but all the fixes I had read did not work. Finally last night, with the aid of a friend of a friend, I got the darn things uploaded and went public!

So, if you are on Steam and own Tabletop Simulator, you can now go and have a look at the modules I made for Guerrilla Checkers and Kashmir Crisis. These are two of my smallest and simplest games, and they use pre-made game items (checkerboard, deck of ordinary cards etc.) so they were not that hard to make. No fancy fog of war or other mechanisms, though I would like to learn next how to do that in TTS. If you do have a look, please let me know if these worked for you. 

Guerrilla Checkers: https://steamcommunity.com/sharedfiles/filedetails/?id=2421938802

Kashmir Crisis: https://steamcommunity.com/sharedfiles/filedetails/?id=2421971111

Winter Thunder: computer implementation ready for playtesting

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Casey Bruyn has been working on a computer version of Winter Thunder for some time. It will feature an AI, and the possibility of synchronous (hotseat) and asynchronous (via email) play.

Have a look at the development page: http://www.bruinbeargames.com/#winterthunder

He says, “The basic game and email version are at beta test. We are looking for playtesters that know the rules for the game. If interested please contact info@bruinbeargames.com.”

Give him a hand!

Send in the drones

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Over at Forbes magazine, the very clever Michael Peck writes on a new move to place new technology on other new technology for an old purpose. It may take a while for the Pentagon to get what it wants loaded handily onto drones, but when it does we have anticipated it with optional rule 8.6 for Civil Power: Helicopters!

In the existing rule, Helicopters already come equipped with a searchlight plus the Police player’s choice one of a Gas Gun, a Sniper or an Active Denial System (optional rule 8.3). It’s easy enough to add a Baton Rounds capability to the aircraft (optional rule 8.1) reflecting the non-lethal munitions requirement; the Height Advantage of the Helicopter (now a drone) defeats the shelter a Barricade or Hedge would have given against these munitions. 

In the existing rule, Helicopters are eliminated by a “K” result in Fire combat. For balance, let us give Trained Crowds (1-6-3-3) laser pointers and let them apply their Fire Combat strength of 1 with infinite range against drones only, and treat a drone target as an individual, so it is removed on a “W” or “K” result (so 4 or more Trained Crowds using their laser pointers have a reasonable chance of overloading its sensors and bringing it down, as happened in Chile in 2019 (https://futurism.com/the-byte/protestors-kill-drone-using-laser-pointers ). Again, if it is a drone, its crashing to the ground will not be so dramatic an event so it would simply be removed.  

Helicopters are fairly expensive at 70 points each, but we have made them easier to shoot down, so let us say that if the Police player buys one (as a drone) with a Gas Gun, Baton Rounds or Sniper system aboard, it will automatically be replaced within 1d6 turns if it is eliminated. A drone with an Active Denial System aboard is removed from the game when shot down. Also, they are machines, and no one cares about machines: eliminating a drone does not add to the Tactical Disintegration Number (optional rule 8.9). For a bit more balance, we can also assume that a small drone will not have a lot of munitions aboard, so roll a 1d6 every time a drone uses any of these systems and remove it on a roll of “6”. It will be replaced 1d6 turns later, as above.  

However, I am not writing rules for the “optogenics modulation of high magnetic fields to disrupt the human nervous system”. That’s just freaky.

https://www.forbes.com/sites/michaelpeck/2021/03/08/the-pentagon-wants-to-arm-drones-with-non-lethal-lasers-and-microwave-cannon

The Pentagon Wants To Arm Drones With Non-Lethal Lasers And Microwave Cannon
Michael Peck, Contributor, Aerospace & Defense Mar 8, 2021,10:29am EST

These devices would include exotic non-lethal gear, including directed energy weapons such as low-powered lasers and microwave beams, as well as more familiar weapons such as stun grenades and stink bombs. These weapons would equip aerial drones and manned and robotic ground vehicles, as well naval surface and underwater craft.

For most of history, armies have only enjoyed a binary option: either use lethal force or don’t use force at all. Employing regular troops – who often lacked appropriate equipment and training – for missions such as riot control and civil policing often had bloody and politically embarrassing results.

But a new generation of non-lethal weapons – and the advent of small drones able to carry them – offers new options for armies preparing for gray zone warfare, that netherworld populated by information operations, cyberattacks, state-sponsored political and militant groups, and special forces operations. For U.S. commanders dreading social media video of American troops firing bullets at a mob, a robot that can disperse rioters with a non-lethal laser or microwave cannon would be a godsend.

The Pentagon is examining multiple non-lethal weapons for tasks such as disabling people or vehicles, according to the research solicitation published by the U.S. Navy, which is acting on behalf of the other services. These weapons, called Intermediate Force Capability, include:

  • lasers to dazzle an opponent.
  • 12-gauge/40-mm non-lethal munitions, including “blunt impact, flashbang, riot control agents, human electro-muscular incapacitation and malodorant” devices
  • long-range acoustic hailing devices,
  • directed energy weapons “such as counter-electronics (e.g., high power microwave weapons) and Active Denial Technologies (ADT ADT +3.2%).”

Particularly intriguing is a call for development of “optogenics modulation of high magnetic fields” to disrupt the human nervous system. The proposal also mentions using drones for broadcasting long-range “hail and warn” messages,  as well as access denial devices to discourage people from moving into designated areas.

The Pentagon wants small weapons that can fit on small platforms, so they should be less than 3 cubic feet in size and weigh no more than 50 to 100 pounds. Given that directed energy weapons such as lasers gulp electricity, it is not surprising that the military wants systems that don’t neither require a lot of power nor run so hot that they need elaborate cooling equipment (temperatures should range from minus 55 degrees Centigrade to 125 degrees).

Phase I of the project calls for developing “non-lethal stimuli.” Drone payloads should be less than 3 cubic feet and weigh no more than 50 to 100 pounds.

The Pentagon also wants equipment with a price tag in the tens of thousands of dollars rather than “payloads that cost more than $1 million.”

“Phase I will not require human subject or animal subject testing,” the Navy added.

Phase II calls for integrating these non-lethal weapons on small manned tactical vehicles as well as drones. The Pentagon’s Joint Intermediate Force Capabilities Office (JIFCO, formerly the Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate) “maintains a set of counter-personnel human effects and weapon effectiveness models and a full set of counter-personnel and counter-material test targets at various DoD labs,” notes the Navy, which suggests these weapons will not be tested on humans.

If the projects succeeds, it’s not just the military that will be using exotic non-lethal weapons. Other potential users include the Department of Justice, Department of Homeland Security – and even Customs and Border Security, according to the Navy. “Local civilian law enforcement has these specific type of missions to support both counter-personnel and counter-materiel missions for law enforcement as well as to mitigate terrorist acts. Currently overall system size, weight, and cost have hindered the use of these systems by these agencies.”

The project appears more than feasible. Machine guns and anti-tank missiles are already mounted on drones, robot tanks and the manned dune buggy-like tactical vehicles by special forces units. Mounting weapons like lasers shouldn’t be that difficult, assuming that scientists can miniaturize them sufficiently to fit on a small platform.

The Navy says these non-lethal drones will be used across the Range of Military Operations (ROMO), which includes conventional combat operations, as well as irregular warfare and civic stabilization operations. This raises the question of whether non-lethal weapons could be used on conventional battlefields when governments decide that it’s better to incapacitate than kill opposing forces.

Either way, the advent of drone swarms – hordes of small robots that overwhelm a target – combined with miniaturized non-lethal weapons raises the possibility of future warfare where deadly force isn’t the only option. The fact that these non-lethal weapons can also be used by law enforcement raises another possibility: instead of calling out the riot police, authorities can call out the riot drones.