Back from Consimworld Expo 2019

 

nickkarp

I met Nick Karp (attending CSWExpo for the first time ever) in the dealers’ room!

Here I am again, after another hot week in the desert!

I can’t recall how many times I’ve been to CSWExpo, I think this might have been my tenth or something near that number. I always have a good time. I think the worst might have been the first or second time I went and got a horrible cold or something exacerbated by the air conditioning, caught laryngitis and couldn’t talk to any of the people I so much wanted to talk to. I recall there was no pharmacy nearby (there is a CVS now) and in my quest to get something like Listerine to gargle I ended up going to a Circle-K to get a mickey of their cheapest vodka, reasoning that it would a) sterilize my throat and b) be cheaper than actual Listerine. I was right about it being cheaper but still, won’t do that again.

Anyway, this year was fine though Lianne was laid low by the A/C monster this time, for a day or two.

China’s War got lots of attention, natch. I showed it to Gene Billingsley and he was quite happy to accept it for P500 after making one significant but also significantly simpler change in the design – so after making the proper edits I will be sending it off to GMT’s COIN family developer and it ought to hit the P500 list in a few months. Not much point in hurrying because it should make the 500 point briskly (appetite for COIN system is still strong and this is a better known war than the Algerian War) and GMT games now spend around a year in the physical pipeline between pulling final triggers and the physical product showing up in Oakland.

Gene and his son Luke also looked at Strongman, and were by and large impressed by it (Luke seemed particularly taken by the silly Spanish-language puns in the personality names). So that will likely be picked up once it has had more mechanical development; Gene also suggested some tricks for greater narrative development and involvement that will need to be framed up too.

Squares of the City and Virtualia II didn’t get a look in – they need some development and testing anyway, and when they are ready I will likely just upload them here for free download. Semi-abstract games aren’t all that popular anyway.

Designer dinner 2019

L to R: Bruce Geryk, me, Nick Karp, Harold Buchanan, Mark Herman. (photo credit: waiter who overheard we were all game designers and told us how much he loved Magic: the Gathering (hey, let people enjoy things!))

But what was really fine was running into and chatting with two of my design heroes while there – Mark Herman and Nick Karp! We went out to dinner in a group and had a great time telling stories and anecdotes about games, designers and publishers past and present. This was also my first time to meet Bruce Geryk, who I have corresponded with many times.

2019-06-25-19.42.04

Photo by Harold Buchanan. I must have nodded off in the middle of talking about myself.

Another fun thing was getting to talk with Harold Buchanan for another edition of his podcast “Harold on Games”… this time we talked about an even wider range of topics, from creativity and design innovation to the development history of the Pantzooka, a remarkable piece of sartorial ordnance (and sadly, now obsolete). I pity the man, having to edit my ramblings down to an hour or less of coherence.

pantzooka

Ave hominem vestitum.

 

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Play a game on nuclear war, help a research project.

 

ce1bf0d2c849c71d324bf21e7c7f7e47-terminal-dune

https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/05/nuclear-conflict-researchers-want-you-to-play-this-game

Some researchers at UC Berkeley have created a simple wargame for people to play that studies the options and actions the players are likely to take depending on various weapons and force structures they have.

The game is called SIGNAL, and “…on its surface, SIGNAL looks like many other military strategy board games: Each online player represents one of three hypothetical countries, and the goal of the game is to maintain territorial integrity while amassing more resources and infrastructure than your opponents. Players have the opportunity to “signal” their intent to take actions such as building civilian and military infrastructure or attacking an opponent with conventional, cyber, or nuclear weapons. Players can also negotiate trades and agreements with other players.” (from the linked article).

Players play online against other live opponents during specific time windows (right now, 1-5 PM PDT Wednesdays and Thursdays; they may expand the hours if there is enough interest). You have to login and create an account. The project runs until the end of summer. Have a look!

https://www.signalvideogame.com/

 

Podcast: on Armchair Dragoons’ “Mentioned in Dispatches”, vol 2 ep 9

Recently I sat down with James Sterrett for an episode of Brant Guillory’s podcast “Mentioned in Dispatches.”

The occasion was the recent release of Matt Caffrey’s new book On Wargaming

On Wargaming by Matt Caffrey, out at last!

and we thought we would discuss, for well over an hour in our meandering ways, this book and other books we’ve found useful for thinking about games and game design.

James has a more practical take on this of course, as he teaches game design to his students at the US Army Command and General Staff College.

https://paxsims.wordpress.com/2017/06/07/teaching-wargame-design-at-cgsc/

Anyway, here is the link, go and have a listen!

https://www.armchairdragoons.com/podcast/mentioned-in-dispatches-season-2-episode-9-the-essential-wargaming-library/

In other news, this weekend is the inaugural Victoriaconn, a mini-convention put on here in town by local gamer Geoff Conns. I’ll be there Friday and Saturday (have to work Sunday), showing the playtest version of China’s War and the near-production copy of the Brief Border Wars quad. Maybe someone will notice….

http://www.victoriaconn.ca/

Coo-Coo Ca-Coup

 

venezuela-politics

Not this time, Juanito.

H/t to David Redpath for bringing this to my attention… text is from The Atlantic, via Defense One.

It seems to me that the more obvious it becomes that this is a gringo plot to place a glove puppet at the top, the more resistance they are going to get from ordinary Venezuelans… who are hungry, poor, ill and literally in the dark but don’t want to bend a knee.

This article mentions the US oil embargo and other economic sanctions; it does not mention the acts of the Bolsonaro regime which has also been pretty upfront about its alliance with the US to throttle the government.(https://www.businessinsider.com/brazils-bolsonaro-says-working-with-us-to-sow-dissent-in-venezuela-army-2019-4)

What lies ahead? Certainly more misery and chaos, and possibly a civil war along with national collapse. Here is a link to a good bit in Foreign Policy about the weapons sloshing around in Venezuela right now, including 5,000 Igla-S MANPADs. https://foreignpolicy.com/2019/05/02/venezuela-is-armed-to-the-hilt/

How an Elaborate Plan to Topple Venezuela’s President Went Wrong

The United States thought all the pieces were in place for Maduro to leave. Then everything came crashing down.

In the effort to topple Nicolás Maduro, Colombia’s ambassador to the United States once told me, the military men propping up Venezuela’s authoritarian president are like chess pieces.

If they defect from the regime, “you lose that chess piece,” Francisco Santos explained. “They work better from the inside.”

As Tuesday, April 30, began, the United States and its allies thought they finally had checkmate, after months of building up the opposition leader Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s legitimate president and recruiting more than 50 nations to their cause.

By the end of the day, the board had been flipped upside down, pieces were scattered everywhere, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was on CNN blaming the kingmakers, Russia and Cuba, for sabotaging the game.

Donald Trump’s administration has at the same time continued issuing warnings to Maduro and his associates, though it’s unclear what effect they will actually have or whether they will save Guaidó. (In the latest sign that major U.S. actions could still be in the offing, acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan has canceled a trip to Europe in order to coordinate with the National Security Council and State Department on Venezuela.)

Maduro’s airplane was on the tarmac and he was prepared to depart for Cuba on Tuesday morning, but “the Russians indicated he should stay,” the U.S. secretary of state revealed. (The Russians have disputed this account.) The Cubans, he added, are “protecting this thug” and are “at the center of this malfeasance.”

Earlier in the day, National Security Adviser John Bolton had declared that the upheaval in Venezuela was “clearly not a coup.” What has since become clearer is that it amounted to a botched attempt to replace the Maduro government from within.

With the elaborate, out-of-control bid for regime change in Latin America, the U.S.-Russia proxy struggle, and the intrigue involving shadowy Cuban forces, it was as if the world had suddenly been seized by a live experiment in what the Cold War would have been like had it played out on Twitter. (Bolton’s coup comment, after all, came in response to a reporter’s question about whether the Trump administration was providing any support to Maduro’s challengers beyond “tweets of support,” a query Henry Kissinger never fielded back in the day.)

Tuesday started with Guaidó posting a video on Twitter at dawn of him at a military air base—flanked by soldiers and the imprisoned opposition figure Leopoldo López, apparently freed by security forces from house arrest—announcing the “final phase of Operation Freedom” in partnership with Venezuela’s “main military units,” ahead of planned protests on May 1.

This, it turned out, would be the high point of the day for Guaidó’s pro-democracy movement.

Bedlam, not freedom, ensued. Maduro officials accused Guaidó and fringe elements of the military of staging a coup, as opponents and supporters of Maduro clashed violently in the streets.

Within hours, dozens of people returned to the site to threaten a “complete embargo” and “highest-level sanctions” on Cuba if “Cuban Troops and Militia do not immediately CEASE military and other operations” in Venezuela.

As Operation Freedom went sideways, U.S. officials began divulging details of an effort that had gone spectacularly wrong.

After months of hinting coyly that Maduro’s support within the military was more wobbly than it seemed, Bolton named three top Venezuelan officials—Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino; Supreme Court Chief Justice Maikel Moreno; and the commander of the presidential guard, Iván Rafael Hernández Dala—who he claimed had been engaged in lengthy talks with the Venezuelan opposition and had “all agreed that Maduro had to go,” only to renege this week (at least so far) on their commitments to facilitate a democratic political transition.

In a tweet addressed to the three men, Bolton suggested that the terms of the deal had been to help remove Maduro from power in exchange for amnesty from Guaidó and the lifting of U.S.sanctions against them. (Pompeo even implied that the Trump administration was involved in the negotiations, noting that “senior leaders” in Maduro’s government had “told us” they “were prepared to leave … over the past few weeks.”)

On Wednesday, in an interview with the radio host Hugh Hewitt, Bolton outlined how the plan was supposed to work. The senior officials and Guaidó would sign documents memorializing their agreement. The Venezuelan Supreme Court would declare Maduro’s Constituent Assembly illegitimate and thereby legitimize the Guaidó-led National Assembly. Military leaders like Padrino would then have the political and legal cover to take action against Maduro.

Yet “for reasons that are still not clear, that didn’t go forward yesterday,” Bolton admitted. (Another senior official, the head of Venezuela’s intelligence service, did in fact split with Maduro, according to U.S. officials.)

Speaking with reporters at the White House on Tuesday, Bolton offered one theory for why the plan never came to fruition: The Cuban government had prevailed on the three officials to stick with their boss. Fear of the tens of thousands of Cuban security forces in the country, he argued, is keeping military officials in check.

On television and Twitter on Tuesday, the defense minister repeatedly backed Maduro. But by ratting out Padrino and the other officials, and thus exposing them to Maduro’s retribution, U.S. officials seemed to be deliberately sowing dissension and mistrust in the upper echelons of the Maduro government—as a means of deepening its dysfunction and pressuring top officials to move against Maduro before he moved against them.

As the Republican Senator Marco Rubio, an wrote on Twitter on Wednesday, “high ranking #MaduroRegime officials must now deal with the realization that despite their tweets of support &appearance with #Maduro on TV last night he knows they plotted against him. If Maduro remains in power what do you think their future holds?” Just in case his point was too subtle, Rubio appended an image of a scene from The Godfather in which Michael Corleone lashes into his brother Fredo for betraying him, before ordering his assassination.

Guaidó, for his part, seems undaunted and told Hewitt, “I just don’t believe President Trump is prepared to see foreign governments effectively take over the control of Venezuela, which possesses the largest reserves of petroleum in the world.”

But after playing some of its best chess pieces and coming up empty, the U.S. government is running low on ways to counter such escalations and boot Maduro from Caracas.

Despite administration officials’ ominous mantra that “all options are on the table” in Venezuela, they appear to have little appetite for taking military action, even as Cuba and Russia told lawmakers that the military has not been given orders to prepare for war in Venezuela.

The United States has also already deployed its most powerful economic weapon against the Maduro government—a de facto oil embargo—and is now resorting to dribbling out additional sanctions with diminishing returns.

Ahead of more anti-Maduro demonstrations on Wednesday, Bolton tried to put a rosy spin on Tuesday’s tumultuous events. Maduro’s support within the military has cratered and his support among the Venezuelan public is nonexistent, he argued, forcing the Venezuelan president to desperately cling to Cuba, a cadre of corrupt officials, and paramilitary groups known as colectivos.

Nevertheless, he acknowledged that if the campaign to dethrone Maduro fails, Venezuela could “sink into a dictatorship from which there are very few possible alternatives.”

The results of that campaign at the moment—something utterly unsettled, halfway between kleptocracy and democracy—were on display in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday at the Venezuelan embassy. Pro-Maduro activists affiliated with Code Pink and other groups, who had occupied the abandoned building and plastered it with messages denouncing American imperialism and regime change, confronted pro-Guaidó protesters across steel barricades and expressionless Secret Service agents. The dueling chants and posters punctuated the confusion of the present moment.

After grabbing a megaphone and denouncing the embassy squatters for siding with Maduro’s repressive rule, Carla Bustillos, a Venezuelan American from Maryland, told me that one stubborn fact was standing in the way of real political change in Venezuela. “You have to understand that the regime holds the arms,” she said, while holding her 1-year-old son, cloaked in Venezuelan-flag clothing, in a baby carrier. “The regime holds the hard power.”

And a few days later we see this. Swell.

https://www.cbc.ca/news/world/guaido-u-s-military-communications-maduro

Guaido says he’s keeping “all options on the table” to remove Maduro, repeating language used by U.S. President Donald Trump and his chief advisers.

Earlier this week, U.S. Navy Adm. Craig Faller said he would meet with Guaido when invited to discuss the future role of Venezuela’s armed forces.

On Wargaming by Matt Caffrey, out at last!

 

https://digital-commons.usnwc.edu/newport-papers/43/

At long last On Wargaming, Matt Caffrey’s book on the history and uses of wargaming is out and freely available as a PDF at the above link. Released through the Naval War College. You can also obtain a hard copy version through US government printing offices but I am told that there is a quite small print run.

Here is the list of chapter headings. You can see it’s a comprehensive history of the practice, and you will find it’s quite well written and researched. Matt Caffrey, who created and has been running the annual Connections conference on professional wargaming for over 25 years, has been working on this for a very long time, and it shows up well as a labour of love, devotion and hope.

Go, get your copy!

PART ONE: THE HISTORY OF WARGAMING

The Rise of Modern Wargaming: Prehistory to 1913

Wargaming and the World Wars: 1905–1945

Wargaming in the Cold War: 1946–1989/1991

Wargaming after the Cold War: 1990s–10 September 2001

Post-9/11 Wargaming: 2001–2011 

Wargaming in Transition: 2012–2016 and Beyond

PART TWO: TOWARD MORE EFFECTIVE WARGAMING

The Taxonomy of Wargaming 

The Utility of Wargaming

Wargame Participation

Wargame Practitioners

Leaders and Wargaming

Wargaming and Your Personal Objectives

Conclusions: Toward Peace Gaming

Studies in Concrete

102_2239

…is the name of my presentation at the Military Operations Research Society’s (MORS) event “Analysis of Urban Warfare”, April 2-5 2019 at Marine Corps Base Quantico.

I’m speaking on Wednesday afternoon but I’m putting my script and slides up here now, just before I leave home because I don’t know what kind of Net access I will have on the base.

The point of my talk is to take three civilian wargames on urban irregular war, and  talk about how basic concepts for the situations and supporting research flowed into game mechanics. The three games are

Duration Urban centre Type of conflict
Tupamaro 4 years 1968-72 Montevideo

~1.5 million

Low-intensity insurgency, frequent terrorism
Operation “Whirlwind”/ Nights of Fire 5 days    1956 Budapest

~ 1.6 million

Corps-sized operations against disorganized and unprepared insurgents
“We Are Coming, Nineveh” ~ 5 months 2017 West Mosul

~ 600,000?

Corps-sized operations against organized and prepared insurgents

So here are the items:

script Studies in Concrete am 26 mar

slides (PDF) Studies slides am 27 mar

It’s going to be an intense three days – I wish I weren’t fighting off a cold right now. After that I will be in Washington for a day and a half, then back home to the usual three ring circus here….

While in Washington, I hope to check out the Compleat Strategist satellite store in Falls Church!

Rebel, Inc.

Screenshot: Ndemic Creations

https://www.c4isrnet.com/it-networks/2019/02/22/what-if-anything-can-the-pentagon-learn-from-this-war-simulator/

An interesting article mostly on a new computer game called Rebel, Inc. designed by James Vaughan of Ndemic Creations.

The writer introduces the game, and writes more broadly about the value of and use of these kinds of games for educating policy makers and other interested parties. He contacted Volko Ruhnke and me for some quotes and background. The conclusion is that “it’s complicated”, which is fair enough!

Rex Brynen already posted a review of the game a while back, here:

https://paxsims.wordpress.com/2018/12/07/review-rebel-inc/

I’m waiting for the forthcoming Android version myself, since I can’t stand to play things on that tiny iPhone screen. (However, if anyone wants to take a crack at making an iOS version of Guerrilla Checkers, I’d be pleased to talk to you!)

iOS version here, for $1.99:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/rebel-inc/id1439187947

EDIT: the game is available on Android! Appears to be free, but there are a lot of in-game purchases to make.

https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.ndemiccreations.rebelinc

Uploaded about 10 days ago and over 50,000 downloads and over 4,000 ratings already. No indication of total downloads for the iOS version, but it has over 9,300 ratings, so following the same ratio – let’s say at least 150,000 examples of the game are being played, or not.

For perspective, it took five years and two reprints to get 10,000 copies of A Distant Plain out there.

Sure glad I am not in this to make money.