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

More on the Urban Warfare Planners Course

The US Army’s First Urban Warfare Planners Course

(photo: Modern War Institute website)

A couple of weeks ago I posted a news item on the first ever Urban Warfare Planners Course, run by the staff of the 40th Infantry Division in California. News you can use

The Urban Warfare Project at the US Military Academy, Modern Warfare Institute has posted a very good podcast where they interviewed BG Robert Wooldridge, deputy commanding general for support about this first course – how it came about, what it is intended to do, and where they want it to go. Normally I do not have the time or patience to listen to podcasts but I did this one. You should too!

https://mwi.usma.edu/the-us-armys-first-urban-warfare-planners-course/

Podcast includes just a few tantalizing details of the tabletop exercise they ran, facilitated by LTC Luke Gygax (yes, the son of That Gygax, he serves in the California National Guard) on the adventures of a multinational task force engaging in combat operations in a dense urban area against a peer enemy. Factions included US forces, Allied forces, Civilians, the Enemy, and a Criminal element. Dice were rolled and chaos ensued!

This is inspiring me to return to work on an idea I had a while ago, the Scaleable Urban Combat Kriegsspiel… I had thought about the District Commander system could be useful as a manual system the Army could use for tabletop exercises, and it quite likely is, but perhaps I could work out something even easier to get into than District Commander Maracas. I easily forget how far these manual games lie outside “ordinary” people’s experience and frame of reference.

[ETA: A later post about their thoughts on offering the course, and what they plan to do next: https://mwi.usma.edu/what-we-learned-creating-the-armys-first-urban-planners-course]

SDHistCon: Chat with Harold Buchanan, 0900 13 November

[EDITED TO ADD: here is the video of our very pleasant chat!]

Once or twice a year Harold Buchanan holds the San Diego Historical Games Convention or “SDHistCon”. The last while it has been an online event perforce, and so is this one, coming up next weekend.

Early next Saturday morning Harold and I will spend a pleasant (it’s always pleasant) hour or so chatting about whatever comes into our heads, gamewise. If you would like to listen in, it is $10 to get a badge for the Convention but all the convention events are free!

https://tabletop.events/conventions/sdhist-con-2021

Dates and times

Thu, Nov 11 2021, 8:00am – 10:00pm
Fri, Nov 12 2021, 6:00am – 10:00pm
Sat, Nov 13 2021, 6:00am – 10:00pm
Sun, Nov 14 2021, 6:00am – 10:00pm
Time zone: America/Los_Angeles (UTC -08:00)

There are dozens of events – panels, interviews, demonstrations of games and seminars. All free (but you have to reserve a ticket). Some of the notable ones that caught my interest include:

  • 0900 Fri 12 November: Harold Buchanan interviews Phil Sabin
  • 1800 Fri 12 November: Designer chat on John Company with Cole and Drew Wehrle
  • 0900 Sat 13 November: Harold Buchanan interviews me
  • 1100 Sat 13 November: Panel introducing the finalists of the Zenobia Awards
  • 1300 Sat 13 November: Panel on “History as Tourism in Modern Strategy Games” panel with Liz Davidson of Beyond Solitaire
  • 1700 Sat 13 November: “Inside GMT” night with company principals and designers
  • plus demos of various upcoming games I’m especially interested in (Cross-Bronx Expressway, In the Shadows, Order and Opportunity, The British Way, and various Zenobia Award finalists) throughout the weekend.

Hope you will join us!

Livestream: discussion on Civilian Victimization (Wargame Ethics #1)

At 2000 GMT Sunday November 7, Fred Serval will host a discussion between him, myself, Javier Romero, John Poniske and Tomislav Cipcic (sorry, I don’t know how to get the characters to show up!) on the topic of civilian victimization in wargames, and how it shows up or more often is merely elided. Habitues of this blog probably recognize all these names and the very good games they have designed that include this aspect of warfare.

Loose list of topics we will discuss:

– Introduction: presenting participants, why the topic is important, what is the panel’s objective
– Part 1: why should wargames represent civilian victimization? Forms of victimization, the risk of whitewashing history, limits of the ludic medium etc.
– Part 2 : how to depict those effects? The role of the player, the effect on the game’s dynamics, choices beyond pure strategy & player experience etc.
– Conclusion : final thoughts and opinion on future topics.

Hope you can join us, or have a listen after the fact!

Compass Games: titles on sale!

Compass Games has launched its holiday catalog sale!

Many nice deals, but of more interest to my Dear Readers:

Paper Wars #84 with Finnish Civil War, marked down to $25.00

Brief Border Wars reduced to $45.00 (that’s less than $12 a game, friends!)

No coupon code required and prices are good until January 25, 2022.

See this and all the other on-sale goodies at https://compassgamesbucket.s3.us-east-2.amazonaws.com/downloads/Compass+catalog+2021+web+optimized.pdf

Podcast: History and Games Lab, episode #12

Recently I sat down with Eduard Gafton, of the History and Games Laboratory at the University of Edinburgh, to talk about many things – we talk 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 gets a look in, of course).

A great podcast and some very good questions came up!

I’m in very good company on this podcast… earlier guests in the series include Cole Wehrle, Tomislav Cipcic, Volko Ruhnke and Lewis Pulsipher.

https://player.fm/series/history-games-lab-podcast-university-of-edinburgh