Coming up: Connections Online 2022

https://www.armchairdragoons.com/acdcons/connections/

Hey all!

Next week will see the 2022 edition of Connections Online, the second iteration of the purposely online version of the long-standing Connections franchise of conferences. As such it joins Connections-US, Connections-UK, Connections North, Connections Oz, and so forth in trying to create lasting, uh, connections between the hobby and professional wargaming worlds.

Core events are 19-21 April, with a series of extended events to either side 18-24 April.

The theme this year is “Developing Wargame Practitioners.” Panels on this topic include:

  • Recent Innovations in Wargaming
  • Hiring new Wargamers
  • Designing a Professional Wargame
  • Resources for Professional Development of Wargamers
  • Wargamer Professional Certification: Necessary or Not? (a perennial favourite!)
  • Wargaming outside the National Security Space

Lots of other things to see and do as well! I plan to attend events on Innovations in Hobby Wargaming, Wargaming Other than War, and Wargaming Politics.

Cost is $5.00 to attend the whole thing, everything else is free but you have to get a ticket to attend an event. Core events such as I have listed above will be posted on Youtube later, but the extended events will likely not.

Please plan to attend!

Urban warfare: 40ID’s new webpage

burned-out-soviet-tanks-1956-600x377

https://calguard.ca.gov/40id-urban-warfare

The US 40th Infantry Division (headquartered in California but responsible for National Guard units from Nebraska to Guam) is becoming the centre for development of training and doctrine in urban operations. Last summer they ran the first serial of the Urban Warfare Planners course (More on the Urban Warfare Planners Course) and will do it again in July 2022.

This new webpage is a great resource for manuals, case studies, links to other resources, and yes even a page for civilian market wargames on urban combat (District Commander: Maracas gets a look in, and there’s more to come).

Check it out!

Podcast: Armchair Dragoons

https://www.armchairdragoons.com/podcast/mentioned-in-dispatches-season-8-ep-6-looking-back-at-wargames-on-ukraine

Brant Guillory invited me on his regular podcast Mentioned in Dispatches recently.

Together with his regular partner in broadcasting Mike, we talk about games postulating war in Ukraine and how they seem to be largely inapplicable, or got it wrong.

I did Ukrainian Crisis in 2014 of course; and Brant designed Orange Crush, an operational level kinetic combat game about action around Lviv, in 2007.

But we talk about other things too….

Ukrainian Crisis: tableflip

tableflip 2014 400x400

Why I am not writing a 2022 scenario for Ukrainian Crisis

Well, I admit I was wrong.
After all, I’m not a freakin’ wizard.

I maintain though, that a 2022 scenario for this game would have been out of place anyway, for an overt invasion of Ukraine on this scale and extent is an admission that the other two sub-games have been lost, and in this case perhaps not even seriously played.

In that sense it’s a tableflip, and I still don’t see a point in constructing a scenario for that; find a different game.

And as I have said in the previous post, if somebody wants a war, they will get it… and now there is one, and it will be a disaster for all concerned.

There were many ways to accomplish Russian objectives; this is a poor one, possibly the worst course they could try.

And now that the table has been flipped and the pieces are headed for the floor, at this point I would not even try to guess the ultimate outcome.

One Facebook group I read is “Radio War Nerd”, a follow-on from the very entertaining and insightful War Nerd columns written over the years by “Gary Brecher”. One of the administrators is Mark Ames, who has posted the following today: 

When you’re wrong, you’re wrong.

 

I was wrong about Putin’s strategic intentions, wrong with a good crowd that’s been very useful to me over many years, and continue to be — people like exiled dissident journalists Leonid Bershidsky and Leonid Ragozin, along with a lot of other Russians and gone-native Russia-watchers who got this wrong. We — I — held to assumptions based on watching, reporting, researching, living in & thinking about Russia over the past few decades. (I should say that we all disagree on a lot of stuff, the Leonids for example are far more viscerally anti-Kremlin than I, and more sympathetic to the Maidan revolution, but none of us believed this is the sort of thing that fits Putin’s profile). Anyway, those assumptions no longer work, and I’m not going to pretend I’ve already got it figured out which assumptions will work from here on out.

 

 
This time it’s the very worst ghouls who got it right for once in their sleazy careers, after getting everything wrong without fail since the start of the century. There’s Robert Kagan, Vicky Nuland’s husband, who just published a big piece a couple of days ago in the WaPo about the impending mass invasion. Normally I’d take that as the final proof that Putin was about to do the very opposite of what Kagan predicted—if Kagan predicts invasion, experience says it really means Putin is about to quit the Kremlin to join Code Pink. The Kagan Clan and the Atlantic Council get paid for being wrong, but I suspect they’ll get extra bonuses from their sponsors for getting something right for once (and for helping catalyze the current shitshow by designing Biden’s hawkish Ukraine policy a year ago, which we’ve gone over).

 

God knows I don’t want to absolve Putin in any way here. It’s true that the US and NATO are big partners in this nightmare; they’ve done all they could to provoke a crisis assuming they could slowly creep and bleed it out, and when the Kremlin gave extra- serious signals last year that something big would happen, Biden responded with the same feckless diplomacy and distracted attention that’s characterized his Admin’s zombified domestic political program, whatever’s left of it anyway. I think Putin, who has clearly built up a volcano’s worth of grievances, understood Biden’s feckless inertia as an active fuck you, and Putin was clearly waiting for just that. He wants to bomb big, and Ukraine is the live demonstration board. Putin has all the “agency” imaginable here. He could have chosen a whole range of responses, none of them pretty, but none of them anywhere near as violent and dangerous and widespread as this one. This is what he wants; the US provoked, but it’s Putin, and very much not-metonymy Putin but Putin with his supporters, who is bombing the shit out of Ukraine. My family has good friends in Kiev; one of my wife’s best friends is huddling with her 3 children in their apartment as I’m writing this, too afraid to go out to the nearest bomb shelter, and her ex-husband is too afraid to come help with the children, he’s huddling in his apartment building. Most of my wife’s close friends from Moscow came from Ukraine, so it’s just hard to fathom. Полный пиздец.

The world is going to be a much much worse place for everyone. No lessons will be learned. Or rather, only the worst lessons will be learned, by and for the worst people. US intelligence credibility restored; neocon credibility restored; progressive agendas, such as they were still possible, gone; the GOP is going to pillory Biden and the Dems as weak, as taken advantage of by Putin, turning Russiagate on its ugly head. NATO’s gonna get very extra NATO. Ukraine is fucked. The worse, the worse-er, all around.

 

 

This invasion didn’t come from nothing, but I thought there would be more of something else before this. Mea culpa.

Connections North 2022: there’s still time!

connectionsnorthlogo

There is still time to register for the Connections-North conference happening this weekend!

It’s free, and online, and always interesting.

For general information: https://paxsims.wordpress.com/connections-north/

Link to register: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/connections-north-2022-tickets-238439548107

Conference programme: https://paxsims.wordpress.com/2022/01/23/connections-north-2022-conference-programme/

I will be chairing a panel on how games can model “influence operations” on Sunday the 20th… which operations are succinctly defined by Jim Wallman as, “doing stuff short of actually shooting people to get them to do what we want”.

How do we game social, political, and diplomatic influence in an age of digital communications and social media?

This is of central concern to all of us right now, as we are still working through a major episode and demonstration of all forms of influence operations by Russia, the United States, and practically everyone else who possibly could get into the act.

But of course, there is much much more happening because this is after all a Connections conference… so please come and join us!

Zones of Control, yong zhongwen

zoc pub chinese

Huzzah!

Though perhaps, just perhaps, a pirated translation of the anthology has been circulating among the various departments of the Central Military Commission of the Chinese Communist Party for some time… heh.

Obligatory end-of-year review, 2021

goldblum

Ohhhhh….

It’s almost over.

I thought 2020 was not that great, and boy 2021 was not an improvement.

  • My dad died in May 2021 and I spent the rest of the year doing executor duties and seeing his widow back to the UK where she has family. This put a big crimp into everything else, naturally.
  • I did not get back into my office until September 2021.
  • I did get my money back from the airline for my Hawaiian trip that never happened, but no other travel more than a few miles from home. I did participate in a few online events and things but it’s just not the same.
  • The renovations that started in August 2020 are still going on, though I have been promised carpets by Christmas. Doors, lights, kitchen appliances and other amenities will follow, as will the restoration of some game-playing space.

I’m not sorry to see 2021 go, and I know 2022 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. Maybe next year I will get back to Europe, or Washington DC, or even Tempe AZ. We’ll see.

Game publishing and publicity

February: Posted PDFs of the 12 issues of Strategist magazine I edited in 2000, containing several PnP games in their pages: some WarpGames by Lloyd Krassner; Battle of Seattle by me; and the first appearance of Waterloo 20 by Joe Miranda.

March: Vassal continues to elude me, but after a lot of angst I finally got it together to build a couple of simple Tabletop Simulator modules for two of my abstract games, Guerrilla Checkers and Kashmir Crisis. It wasn’t much fun, but I hope people might try them. Meanwhile, I think I am irretrievably old-school: give this man some cardboard and markers and he’s happy.

April: James Buckley published #2 of his online zine Punched, in which he ran a lot of material related to the GMT COIN system games (published and future), and a very nice review of Brief Border Wars.

June: District Commander: ZNO was released, the fourth and so far final module in the series. District Commander Maracas continues as the free print-and-play module for anyone who wants to try out the system.

November: A 4th printing of A Distant Plain was announced. We’ll see how long it takes them to pull the trigger on this one; perhaps people want to forget about this war once and for all. Also, the International Conference on Games and Learning Alliance (GALA) saw a paper presented on a digital port of Kashmir Crisis. Hans-Wolfgang Loidl, Associate Professor of Computer Science at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, wrote the paper with his student Charlie Murray, who created a digital version of the game.

Game design work and future publication

Work and or testing continued throughout the year on the following. Other projects languished.

Brief Border Wars Quad Volume II: Handed in the files for this to Compass Games in October 2021. The four battles are all pre-1945 titles: Second Balkan War 1913; Teschen 1919; Nomonhan 1939; and Italo-Greek War 1940. No idea when it will actually come out.

China’s War 1937-41: Development screeched to a halt when I lost my gaming space to renos in summer 2020. In the fall of 2021 I developed a 1938 scenario for the game. I recently heard from the GMT developer who also got sidetracked on things, and work will begin again in early 2022. We hope to finish testing and development by the end of summer. Over 1,500 pre-orders now.

O Canada: Now it can be told – this year I got a long way into making a power-politics, non-kinetic adaptation of the COIN system (something I always thought should be done). The situation I chose is a reboot of the old SPI game Canadian Civil War (1976). Four factions (Federalists, Provincial Moderates, Provincial Autonomists, Separatists) with asymmetrical force structures, menus of operations and special activities, and objectives; an Event Deck with jokes in it comprehensible only to Canadians; a Patronage Track that reflects the degeneration of political discourse and influence of foreign agencies; and conflict played out on two levels (one at province level where you have mostly Party structures and voting blocs but still need some Groups of influencers, and one at Issues level where Groups fight for control of intangibles). Quite a way down the road with this one, solo tests are good, work can continue when I have some more space to play the physical copy and maybe engage other people in it… but I strongly doubt anyone will want to publish this for like, money, so likely when I am satisfied with it I will put it out to free pasture, or a modestly priced PnP.

Conventions

Of course, nothing happened, at least nothing physical.

January: Pete Sizer and I spoke to the VCOW (Virtual Conference of Wargamers) on counterinsurgency games. I also spoke to the Cardboard Emperors Virtual Con II on the factions, mechanics and victory conditions of China’s War 1937-41. And a special episode of the No Enemies Here podcast by Dan Pancaldi, connected with the Armchair Dragoons virtual convention; some quite freewheeling conversation in that one.

November: had a nice chat with Harold Buchanan during his SDHistCon event, I would like to make it to the physical version in San Diego one day as I quite liked what I saw of the city that one time.

Conferences and professional wargaming stuff

No physical conferences, of course.

February: I talked to a group of officers at the US Army War College on “The Uses of Simple Games.”

April: As part of Connections-Online 2021, a virtual event with global reach, Mike Markowitz and I did a joint presentation on the practical matters within DIY game design. Mike talked about graphic design and talked about methods of self-publishing. Both were add-ons and developments of the talks we gave to the Georgetown University Wargaming Society in 2020. Also connected with this event, a very pleasant chat with Maurice Fitzpatrick et al on his Whiskey Charlie podcast about the Connections conferences of the past and future, and their enduring value. Shining Path was used with students at the Institute for World Politics (an independent graduate school that trains students for careers in national security and international affairs) in a class on “Counterterrorism and the Democracies“.

Writing and ‘casting

Nothing formally published, just the usual torrent of wise-guy stuff on blogs, sites and social media.

August: several posts on the end of the war in Afghanistan, that proved to be click-worthy (don’t know if they were read).

September: a great episode of Liz Davidson’s Beyond Solitaire podcast, with Volko Ruhnke. Not surprisingly, we mostly talked about A Distant Plain and the sensitivities of designing games on contemporary conflicts.

October: an episode of the History and Games Laboratory podcast, put on by Eduard Gafton at the University of Edinburgh. We talked about the origins of some of my game designs and how I got into game design, and focus on Brief Border Wars and the issues involved in designing games on sensitive and controversial topics (A Distant Plain got a look in, of course). I later wrote a blog post for them that was an abridged version of the chapter I wrote for the EuroWargames anthology about analog game design as a form of citizen journalism. (I handed the files for that in March 2021, and am still not sure when the book will appear – next year, perhaps.)

November: A great international panel on civilian victimization in wargames, as part of a probable series on “wargame ethics” hosted by Fred Serval (France). Other panelists were Javier Romero (Spain), John Poniske (USA) and Tomislav Cipcic (Croatia). I think we really got into it (the topic, not the practice itself). Also, I posted the popular piece “Quads That Never Were“: SPI Quadrigames that were proposed but never published.

Near-meaningless digest of site statistics:

Overall traffic seems to be stable and improved a bit over 2020. I seem to be cruising still at around 1,600 – 1,800 views per month, for a total of about 21,000 views. About 8,000 visitors in all. The five most curious countries were: US (by a very wide margin), UK, Canada, Australia and Japan. One guy clicked in from Bhutan.
Besides the then-current post, popular pages included the perennial favourites Free Games, BTR Games and Scenarios and Variants pages. No surprises there. The two most popular posts were my Afghan War post-mortem pieces “Endgame” and “Some more Afghan post-mortem”, likely due to my posting links to them on Facebook groups.
The most downloaded documents were four items for SPI game variants by Alan Arvold: three for Lost Battles and one for Search and Destroy, either the article itself by Alan or the counter sheets I made for them. The file of FAQ and clarifications/errata for the District Commander series was also popular.

Hiding in plain sight: connecting commercial and professional wargames

December 7, 2021 – John Curry gives a great talk to the Georgetown University Wargaming Society on the connections between the commercial (or hobby) wargame world and professional wargaming.

The talk is focused on the theme of how the hobby have influenced developments in professional gaming. Highlighting that the hobby games introduced concepts such as tabletop landscape, miniatures and political gaming. I then outline the wargaming evangelists who have influenced the direction of professional gaming, with the examples of HG Wells, Donald Featherstone, Colonel Dupuy, James Dunnigan and Paddy Griffith. I will then demonstrate how Matrix Games and Confrontational Analysis has spawned a whole series of professional wargames. My analysis suggests that professional gaming should openly acknowledge the need to borrow good practise from other disciplines, as well as the hobby sector. The world is facing critical threats and games are being played to help inform decision making and prepare leaders. If developments from hobby wargaming can improve the value of these professional games, this is of potential benefit to us all.

Nothing I want to argue about in here!

There is a fair amount of historical development/narrative so you might want to skip ahead if you are already familiar with the Big Names, but his talk is only about 47 minutes – he spends the last half hour fielding some very good questions.

A Playful Learning Exercise: Kashmir Crisis

KC_Cover mid

The International Conference on Games and Learning Alliance (GALA) is underway, and one of the papers being presented is on a digital port of my free game Kashmir Crisis.

It was written by Hans-Wolfgang Loidl, Associate Professor of Computer Science at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, and his student Charlie Murray who created the digital version of the game. I contributed a couple of paragraphs (and the original game design, of course).

Abstract
This paper summarises the development and evaluation of a digital board game on the “Kashmir Crisis” in 2019. It is based on a card-driven board-game design of one of the authors, with the concept of “games as journalism” as one underlying design principle. As such, this is a serious game with the aim of providing information on the context of recent political events in Kashmir. In this paper we focus on the design, implementation, and evaluation of a multi-platform, digital instance of this game. The evaluation results of using the game show significantly increased engagement and slightly better learning effectiveness, compared to a control group using standard learning techniques.

https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-030-92182-8_1

Because it’s Springer, you have to buy it I guess, in PDF for $29.95 or eBook for $54.99. Unless you are associated with an institution that has a subscription, in which case it’s free. In either case, the original game is free and I can answer any questions you have about the physical game, also for free.

Analog Print and Play version of the game is available here: Free Games!

Cite this paper as:
Murray C., Loidl HW., Train B. (2021) A Playful Learning Exercise: Kashmir Crisis. In: de Rosa F., Marfisi Schottman I., Baalsrud Hauge J., Bellotti F., Dondio P., Romero M. (eds) Games and Learning Alliance. GALA 2021. Lecture Notes in Computer Science, vol 13134. Springer, Cham.

https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-92182-8_1

Hollandays Big Sale: buy buy buy!

It’s that time of year again!

Hollandspiele is having its big sale: for two weeks (November 15-28) you can get substantial savings on all of their titles. Everything is $5 off, and if your order total before shipping is at least $100, you’ll get an additional 10% off (deducted automatically at checkout, no codes needed)!

Order two or more complete games and you get a free copy of this year’s mini-card-game, Republic of Virtue (for two players, about surviving the Reign of Terror).

Europeans are reminded to order from Second Chance Games in the UK, Hollandspiele simply cannot make it work from their end without suspending laws of time, space and thermodynamics.  https://www.secondchancegames.com/index.php/component/virtuemart/manufacturer/hollandspiele/

My Hollandspiele titles:

  • No. 1 The Scheldt Campaign $45 => $40
  • No. 9 Ukrainian Crisis and Little War $45 => $40
  • No. 43 District Commander Maracas $50 => $45
  • No. 47 District Commander Binh Dinh $50 => $45
  • No. 54 District Commander Kandahar $50 => $45
  • No. 60 District Commander Zone Nord Oranais $50 => $45

Go there now!

https://hollandspiele.com/pages/hollandays-sale