Book video review: Zones of Control

ZOC book cover

Or maybe it’s a video book review!

Two reviews of the Zones of Control anthology on Youtube: a lengthy one by the notorious Marco Arnaudo.

https://youtu.be/rF0_YiWzlBo

And a shorter one by the Bonding with Board Games group, who also do the HAMTAG (Half As Much, Twice As Good) show

https://youtu.be/mk0UhBAhku4

By the way, MIT Press is having a sale on this and every other book they carry until Monday!

You can get a copy of this for 40% off, or just thirty Yankbucks!

https://mitpress.mit.edu/zones-control

And be sure to look elsewhere in the Game Studies area, as there are some other very good titles there.

https://mitpress.mit.edu/category/discipline/game-studies

Eight pages of stuff and like always 95% of it is about digital games and gaming, but I have bought and liked:

  • Works of Game: on the Aesthetics of Game and Art, by John Sharp
  • Uncertainty in Games, by Greg Costikyan
  • The Well Played Game: a Player’s Philosophy by Bernard de Koven
  • Critical Play: Radical Game Design by Mary Flanagan (excellent book)
  • War Games: A History of War on Paper by Philipp von Hilgers

Use promocode GIVEBOOKS40 at checkout. Hurry, offer ends at midnight 11/27/2017!  (Discount applies to website purchase only.) Service is prompt and shipping is pretty reasonable too.

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A Distant Plain in Warsaw!

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At least three games were running simultaneously.

Piotr Bambot is a teacher who likes to use games in his classroom and sometimes works for the Polish military’s equivalent of their War Colleges. Recently he spent a day with a group of officers playing A Distant Plain!

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Piotr is the one with the short haircut.

The place was the Military Center for Civic Education in Warsaw, during a course called “Leadership and social competence”. I can see officers from all branches of the services playing together… Piotr said everyone was highly interested and engaged.

I’m really happy when I see that these games can be of some professional use!

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Clockwise, I see two Air Force Lieutenants, two Army junior Lieutenants, a Navy Lieutenant Commander, an Army Sergeant and a Major, and two more Army Lieutenants.

Ten Busy Days Away

 

Wow, that was a very busy trip, nearly the last one of a very busy year!

On Saturday 2 September I flew to London, a 9 hour flight. I arrived at about 1200 Sunday 3 September local time but 0400 body time… I got to the student residences at King’s College London (just across Waterloo Bridge from the Strand Campus where the conference was, very convenient but also what the British call “cheap and cheerful”), unpacked and went out to get a few things I needed (snacks, an adapter for the wall socket adapter I had bought in Canada but which proved to be the wrong one, and a new portable umbrella to replace the one I had bought last time I was in London in 2013 and carried back this time, but which somehow got lost or escaped in the last 20 miles before arriving). Then I tried to get some sleep… to avoid getting the jetlag that plagued me last time, I took a sleeping pill for the first couple of nights. Normally I do not use them, but it seemed to do the trick this time. (Of course, now I am back but my brain is still 8 hours in the future, so it’s harder re-adjusting now.)

On Monday I went for a bit of sightseeing… to Ian Allen Ltd. nearby to have a look at their very idiosyncratic and particular stock of military history reference and research books (really, this is the place to go if you must have a book on SS parade helmets RIGHT NOW), and they seem to have every Osprey book ever printed. I got a “BEWARE OF THE TRAINS” mug for Akito, from the Trainspotters’ section of the store. Then to Hackney, to get some tickets for a puppet show on a barge on the Thames River that Friday night…but the office they advertised there was just a house where they kept props. I did get things straightened out but saw more of Hackney than I intended to, though I did get to go by 10 Martello Street, once the home of Throbbing Gristle and Industrial Records – it is still artists’ studios.

10 Martello

“The Death Factory”, they called it. Oh, those crazy kids….

I also went to the British Film Institute on Southbank, the Tate Modern, and very quickly to the Imperial War Museum – I would go back there later.

Tuesday was the “megagame” before the conference proper – an East Asia crisis simulation game called Dire Straits, that involved nearly 100 players and was set up and very ably run by Rex Brynen and Jim Wallman. Rex did a very good writeup of the form and intention of the exercise here: https://paxsims.wordpress.com/2017/09/09/dissecting-dire-straits/

They gave me the coveted role of Kim Jong Un, in which position I oversaw a team of very clever people who came up with some brilliant ideas, as we conspired to make trouble and so ensure the autonomy and integrity of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

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Me looking Dear Leader-like. Photo by Tom Mouat.

As you can see by the photo, we were also playing at the same time an elaborate side-game of whose faction was gaining or losing power through representation in the organs of DPRK government. Part of this was the Obsequious Loyalty Forms which had to be completed by each player on my team each turn, to comply with a task I had set them – e.g. write a haiku about me, or draw a picture of the statue of me they would erect on their properties – for which they would be rewarded or punished. During my time in the catbird seat (which I did not dare leave during the entire four hours of the exercise) I had only two assassination attempts against my person, and one challenge on the floor of the Central Committee. Another thing I did was have them applaud everything I decided, which worked to freak out everyone in the rest of the large room as bursts of loud and sustained applause would erupt randomly from the North Korean corner.

At the beginning of the game they played a short video which detailed the events that had-will happen(ed) in each involved country (USA, Japan, the Koreas, Russia, China, Taiwan, etc.) the next few years between now and the time of the game.

The background music that played when they got to North Korea was “99 Luftballons” by Nena (remember that one?) and without realising it we had a balloon-themed time of it:

  • The head of the Air Force drew an especially poor statue of me watering the World Garden of Peace and Cooperation, so we picked on a senior officer of that service to be tied to a weather balloon and set free to drift away – his frozen corpse dropped and shattered into a million bits on Russian territory, but they were dissuaded from regarding that as a hostile act.
  • Later, Russia and China leaned on us not to do any more ground-based missile launches (our first move in the game was to do a test launch of a MIRV device on a ballistic missile, which succeeded and rather set the cat amongst the pigeons), so we hit on a low-tech way of skirting it: take the test missile aloft with large weather balloons, drop it and fire it in mid-air – we got a satellite-killer up into low-earth orbit that way.
  • South Korea was bombarding our people and spreading dissension through propaganda broadcasts while moving forces up nearer the DMZ, so we decided to make a peaceful riposte. All DPRK schoolchildren were given a piece of fruit and the day off school to build small balloons to which were tied messages of peace, friendship and praise for the Dear Leader (again, written by members of my staff) and released to float south when the winds were right. Incidentally, the balloons were all made with strips of aluminum foil in them, so when they were released the South Korean military radars were completely spoofed by this strange blobby cloud of something drifting towards them over the border… they panicked, but not enough.

We did other things later in the game like hack Donald Trump’s Twitter feed, which made him pretty mad (even though he was not played by a person in the game; his decisions were the resultant of sets of policy vectors set and pushed by members in the large US Cabinet on a game board, which I thought was a brilliant touch), offer the USA shipments of food to help with its food bank problem, and condemn in the press a SEAL team’s failed attempt to sabotage our SSBN research program as “sneaky and moist.”

We had fun, though it was a serious exercise too – for me, it was a very intense time as crisis after crisis came in, needing to be dealt with.

The BBC did a story on it, even: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-41172485?SThisFB

After supper was an informal game session, where I brought Colonial Twilight to show and play – one of the few copies in the UK at the time.

The next day was the official beginning of the conference – the usual plenary sessions broken up by tea breaks, which were necessary in my view to allow the socializing that allows these kinds of things to progress and grow stronger. In the afternoon was a Games Fair, which was an organized time for people to bring their game designs to show and play. There were games on topics ranging from hospital triage and cyber strategy to a future war against Hezbollah and naval warfare. Bob Cordery took some nice pictures here: http://wargamingmiscellany.blogspot.ca/2017/09/connections-uk-2017-games-fair.html

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Photo: Bob Cordery

Bob also played in my five-player game of Caudillo, which went down very well despite my having forgotten a few minor rules. The two women on the right of the photo were business students from Venezuela and obviously weren’t fooled by the game’s setting in the city of “Maracas”, and its objective of determining a stable successor in power to “Jesus Shaves”.

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That evening there was a second session of the Games Fair, and I taught a group of five guys through a session of Colonial Twilight. Two of them had never played a COIN system game before so it was a slow start, but we got all the way through a campaign before having to pack it in.

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Photo: Ivan Seifert(?)

The next day I chaired a plenary session on “wargame design and analysis”. Rex and Jim, two of my favourite madmen, presented on the design and content of megagames in general, with commentary and analysis of how Tuesday’s game had gone. They were followed by a talk on the state of Swedish professional wargaming, and another on the risks and pitfalls encountered in playing through a game on nuclear missile defence. If nothing else, gaming these sorts of things points out how easily and quickly sides can be misunderstood, and actions and intentions distorted.

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Mmmm… thinky thinky. (photo: Bob Cordery)

The last major activity was a breakout session in which we separated into several groups and brainstormed ideas for gaming out aspects of future conflict (of any type) in “The High North” which is one of the topics the British Ministry of Defence is concerned about as a near- to mid-future theatre. My group went with an idea for a game design that would explore the dimensions of conflict between indigenous peoples in the far north and the other forces and complications that would arrive, in the wake of a changing climate. I think I will be taking some time to ponder this seriously later.

That was Thursday, and the end of the conference… though a bunch of us settled at a nearby pub to have a drink or two and do some more of that necessary gettoknowyou that (also necessarily) tends to get pushed aside in the structure of a conference.

Friday I shifted out of student digs and to my stepsister’s place in Islington. I had a late breakfast with Rex Brynen, and we had an excellent talk at a very nice place in St. Pancras station, near a large statue called “The Meeting” and the point where the high-speed trains leave for Europe (another thing that did not exist when I was in the UK in the 80s). That night we went out to the west end of the city to Richmond, where we saw a puppet play on a barge moored in the Thames (in the winter they move it into the city near Regent’s Canal). It was very well done and was all about how one should never put their trust in poets, which I thought a good theme for any medium.

Saturday I went to Tesco Superstore, a large grocery store in Lambeth, to get a large number of chocolate bars for Lianne… they sell a cheap dark chocolate that is really good, so I ended up getting three and a half pounds of it. Then I carried all that over to the Imperial War Museum.

IWM front

Front of the IWM, featuring a pair of guns from a battleship.

This was one of the best military museums I’ve ever been to, not just because of the quality of the artifacts on display but also by the thought that obviously went into the different exhibits. This museum is not the expected dusty closet of retired regimental colours and nostalgic battle scenes in oil paint by retired regimental officers; it’s far more about the aftereffects of conflicts and wider lessons learned (or not). As an example, the main exhibit that covered the Falklands featured the uniform and effects of a war artist who went with the troops, and the original Spitting Image puppet of Margaret Thatcher.

IWM thatcher

I had to leave from there and travel to the Isle of Dogs, to Fabian’s place where we would do further play of Caudillo, as we did back in 2013. (Playtesting Dios O Federacion)

We had a good time and the group made some great suggestions for turning this into an even more personally involving exercise for the players.

My arm went out of joint when James won the game (photos: Richard Barbrook).

Sunday I traveled all the way out to Dagenham, a town far out in the Greater London suburbs. I spent the day with David Turczi, with whom I’ve been working all year to design Nights of Fire, the thematic sequel to David’s game Days of Ire on the 1956 Hungarian Revolution. The game is pretty much there, we are just doing small tweaks and sealing and caulking against Stupid Gamer Tricks (which I continue to be quite bad at predicting or perceiving).

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I’ve learned a lot from David about new methods and mechanics to put into games to make them more interesting to players, without sacrificing too much of the historicity.

Also, we played a mid-length game of Mark Herman’s Churchill, a very clever 3-player game. I did too well as Churchill and Stalin won the peace.

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The woman on the left was posing for her boyfriend, not photobombing me.

Monday was the last day, and my stepsister took me to lunch at a nice place in Camden Lock. This is a somewhat touristy area with a lot of open-air and semi-outside markets with neat stuff in them. That night I packed up and we sat and watched The Devils, a demented Ken Russell film I had never had the chance to see. It was a good day to relax and start to decompress.

I didn’t get to sleep that night though, and was up at 0500 to catch the first tube to Heathrow Airport, because security there can take a very long time to get through. As it turned out, it wasn’t bad and there was no rush after all. The plane ride back was 9 1/2 hours (jet stream or head winds I guess) and quite boring; I watched three rather unmemorable movies. I also caught a cold because the whole row next to me was occupied by a Dutch family who all had the same virus, and whose darling little plague-vessel children hadn’t ever been taught to cover their mouths when coughing.

Come to think about it, maybe they were not Dutch but Phlegmish.

Well, that was the trip – busy and some intense times but I enjoyed myself quite a bit, came away with many new ideas and intend to go back next year!

 

 

Back to Blighty

presentation

Nope, not this time.

On Saturday I’m leaving for London, to attend this year’s Connections-UK conference at King’s College London. I’ll be chairing a plenary session on “wargame design and analysis”, and participating in some other shenanigans!

Other than that, I am taking a couple of extra days to see friends and collaborators, and play some more games – I am taking Colonial Twilight, Caudillo, the Brief Border Wars quad, the Freikorps re-do (still haven’t decided on a name) and Nights of Fire for show and tell and test-driving.

Really looking forward to seeing London again! Hope the jet-lag isn’t as bad as last time.

Posting may be spotty as I will be working off a tablet and it’s hard to type on it. I’ll be home on the 13th. Be good, now….

Michel Boucher – 2017

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Michel and me at Cangames, May 2017

My good friend Michel Boucher has died.

I first met Michel at BottosCon in 2010, after several years of corresponding and trading games over BGG. He playtested games with me, gave me lots of great constructive criticism and conversation, taught me to play Hearts and Minds and Les Poilus, translated some of my games into French, made VASSAL modules of my games, invited me to his home for dinner… A kind, intelligent, thoughtful guy.

I will miss Michel a lot.

Hollandspiele’s one year old!

Hollandspiele is one year old this week, after releasing SEVENTEEN titles in that time.

And they are having a sale on each and every one of them!

https://hollandspiele.com/collections/all

Tom Russell made a very nice blog post about the process of publishing their first game, The Scheldt Campaign, but it’s more about the design work of Brian Train, the guy who designed it. His games sound like something I’d probably be interested in.

https://hollandspiele.com/blogs/hollandazed-thoughts-ideas-and-miscellany/on-publishing-the-scheldt-campaign-by-tom-russell

I’ve been very happy in my dealings with Tom and Mary Russell, both before and after their founding of Hollandspiele, a little game company that could. And did. And does. They are honest and work hard and communicate and respect the designer’s work; these are all good things. I look forward to meeting them in person one day – they were supposed to come out to the CSW Expo in Tempe this year but poor Tom screwed up his back. Well, next year.

Meanwhile, nine bucks off each of Scheldt Campaign and Ukrainian Crisis!

Colonial Twilight is 1500, and charging!

P500 site 18 june

Snipped from the GMT P500 page on their website.

Won’t be long now, chums….