Winter Thunder: computer version now available!

(screenshot from the beginning of Turn 1… German LXVII Corps prepares to jump off)

https://bruinbeargames.itch.io/winterthunder

From the mind of Casey Bruyn, of Bruinbear Games, comes a computerized version of Winter Thunder, my game on the Battle of the Bulge!

Windows only.

Hot-seat mode where you play both sides, or there is an AI for the German side… next release will feature an AI for the Allied side.

Available on itch.io for a minimum price of $10.00.

Apparently it will be available on Steam in the near future too, and will have that Allied A.I.

Check it out!

[ETA: here is a 27 minute video where Karl Muller of SmartWargames takes it for a spin…

Algeria: Tabletop Simulator module produced!

AlgeriaTTS

Stewart Schofield, currently of New Zealand, has gone to the considerable trouble of creating a Tabletop Simulator module for Algeria: War of Independence (the Microgame Design Group/ Fiery Dragon edition, not the One Small Step edition).

https://steamcommunity.com/sharedfiles/filedetails/?id=2853226660

This joins the limited number of TTS modules available for my game designs.

Thanks Stewart!

Brief Border Wars: Volume II now available for pre-order!

I did a Compass Games broadcast with John Kranz tonight.

Big announcement: volume II of Brief Border Wars is now available for pre-order from Compass Games!

Get it now for the “pay later” price of $54.00!

I talk about the game for about 30 minutes on the video above, and the ad copy at the link below will tell you more and show you the maps, counters and cover artwork, very ably done by Knut Grunitz.

Brief Border Wars 2 (Pay Later)

The four games in Volume II are:

1913: Second Balkan War
The division of lands given up by the Ottoman Empire at the end of the First Balkan War was soon the subject of squabbles between the allied nations that had defeated the Empire. Bulgaria decided to grab as much of this territory as it could by a surprise attack on June 30, 1913 against Serbia and Greece. The offensive by their more powerful army soon petered out due to poor logistical depth and bad coordination, then in mid-July Romanian and Ottoman forces crossed Bulgaria’s borders. This made Bulgaria sue for peace but if the Bulgarian player has seized enough territory and made significant diplomatic assurances, they will have a better position in the negotiations.

1919: The Seven-Day War
The Duchy of Teschen (Cieszyn in Polish) was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until the end of the war. The two new countries of Czechoslovakia and Poland both laid claim to the territory on historic and ethnic grounds; more urgently, both countries desperately needed the land because of its large coal deposits and valuable mines, as well as the important iron and steel works at Trinec. On January 23, 1919, Czechoslovakia invaded to seize control of as much of the region as they could to stop Poland’s efforts to claim sovereignty over it. After seven days of fighting, the Entente nations forced a ceasefire and the two antagonists signed an agreement establishing a border at the Olza River, dividing the city of Cieszyn.

1939: The Nomonhan Incident
Also called the Battle of Khalkin Gol, this border clash between Japanese and Soviet forces in a remote part of the Mongolian grasslands had an impact on the development of the Second World War in the Pacific all out of proportion to the numbers involved. The game covers the early to mid-July 1939 period, the only time frame in which the Japanese Army could have succeeded in overpowering the local Soviet forces and establishing their claim to the zone between the Soviet claimed boundary and the Halha River. The attack provoked extensive reinforcements for the Soviet 57th Corps and their counteroffensive in August under the command of General Georgi Zhukov discouraged the Japanese Empire from contemplating further attacks on Mongolia or the USSR.

1940: The Italo-Greek War
This game covers the first two months of the Italian invasion of Greece in the fall and winter of 1940. Hardly anything went right for the Italians; chaotic logistics and poor communication nullified their great advantage in men and machines and their offensive was halted and then thrown back into Albania by the determined Greek forces. Could you have done better than Mussolini?

bbw2-gamebox-top-062022

Consim Game Jam #2: 19-21 August 2022

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(everything starts with a prototype)

http://consimgamejam.com/

Consim Game Jam is a so-far-annual event where small groups of people from all over the world get together to create a wargame prototype, from start to finish, in 72 hours!

The last one was in October 2021 and the given theme was “Recycle an existing COIN game”. That is, using the physical components of a published GMT COIN system game, create a new design. This event shook 15 submissions out of the Idea Tree, and they are impressive in their variety and imagination.

http://consimgamejam.com/edition-1-submissions/

Now, the next one is scheduled for the weekend of August 19-21, 2022!

Theme hasn’t been announced yet, as far as I can find.

Go to the link at the top of the post, and/or register at this link to get further details.

http://consimgamejam.com/register/

I won’t be in this one, but I cannot wait to hear the theme and see what comes of this second exercise.

2022-02 Urban Operations Planner Course

QUICK lesson 1 geroux

(photo: Jayson Geroux)

I’ve spent the last week attending the second serial of the Urban Operations Planners Course, run by the 40th Infantry Division (California Army National Guard) and held at Joint Force Training Base Los Alamitos. And what an interesting week it was!

A solid week of really great lectures and exercises on urban warfare, featuring people like COL John Spencer of the Modern War Institute’s Urban Warfare Project, Stuart Lyle of the UK Defence Science and Technology Laboratory, Dr. Jacob Stoil of the School of Advanced Military Studies, and MAJ Jayson Geroux of the Royal Canadian Regiment. I met a lot of really interesting students as well – most were Americans but there were also  students from the Australian, British, Chilean, Dutch, and German armies.

Unfortunately soon after I arrived at the Base I developed a bad summer cold that also turned into laryngitis… fortunately my voice recovered just in time, for the last day was a “learn by doing” exercise featuring group play of the Quick Urban Integrated Combat Kriegsspiel or QUICK, designed by yours truly… I’ve been working on it since last December.

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It landed very very well; the 40 students seemed really engaged by it. Also, about 20 remote students played online at the same time, using a VASSAL module produced by Curt Pangracs at the Command General and Staff College.

gameshot1

(Of course people got to use their Military Pointing Skills!)

This was the first time I had the opportunity to teach a game, any game, to a large group of people, many of whom were non-gamers. Fortunately I had a set of great facilitators including faculty from the Joint Special Operations University, Stuart Lyle and students and instructors of the course. It never would have worked without them!

The QUICK now joins the range of free print-and-play games I offer on this website; it’s available to everyone – files are on this separate page: The QUICK Page

However, be aware that I will soon be making some small changes and revisions to the game rules and charts due to feedback and comments from the students.

Me and BG

Me and BGEN Robert Wooldridge, Deputy Commander of 40ID, sponsor of the course and avid wargamer himself.

Obligatory end-of-year review, 2021

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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.

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, 21-23 May 2021

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Coming soon:

SDHistCon 2021: ‘Spring Deployment’! May 21-23, 2021
The San Diego Historical Games Convention (SDHistCon) is an annual event hosted and coordinated by a dedicated cadre of local gamers and friends, led by Harold Buchanan.

This “Spring Deployment” will be held virtually. There will be online historical gaming sessions and demos, seminars, live streams and other wargame community events. Most events will be coordinated using the Discord app (available free to all users).

The link to register is here:

https://tabletop.events/conventions/san-diego-history-con-2021-spring-deployment

Events during the con are free, but you need to get a ticket to attend anything; you also need an attendee’s badge which is a $10 donation (for all three days of the event).

I will be be conducting a session on China’s War 1937-41 at 1600 Sunday 23 May (that’s Pacific time, so UTC -7:00)

https://tabletop.events/conventions/san-diego-history-con-2021-spring-deployment/schedule/36

Only a few tickets are left! (I was surprised about that too.)

I’ll be talking about the history of the war, the different factions in the game, and other bits about game mechanics.

I hope you can make it! And if you can’t see this one, there are dozens and dozens of other events for you to check out:

https://tabletop.events/conventions/san-diego-history-con-2021-spring-deployment/schedule

District Commander: FAQ, errata, clarifications and comments document

DC_FAQetc_12_apr_21

Here and now: a FAQ-so-far, together with collected errata, clarifications and some comments on play on the DC system and the three modules released. Also posted to Boardgamegeek under the DC: Maracas module page and on the Free Games page.

Thanks to James Buckley for his help and editing! James has also written a longer, joined-up example of play for the Maracas module on Boardgamegeek.com for people who want a bit more demonstration on how to put missions together.

Zones of Connection: 21-22 May 2021

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[EDITED TO ADD: the schedule for the symposium has been roughed in and my panel is on Friday, May 21, 2030-2130 Eastern Time]:

Friday 8:30-9:30 

Room A

Title: The Cold War Gone Hot, Again: Retrofuturism or Futuristic Retro?

Participants: Brian Train

Style: Panel/Roundtable

Blurb:  In the 1980s a number of serious wargames on a hypothetical Third World War were published, exciting some interest at the time. Over the last 10 years or so there has been a second wave of newly designed wargames that study that same subject – the Soviet invasion of Europe in the mid-1980s that never happened. Nostalgia for an actual past that one remembers imperfectly is one thing. But nostalgic game design to commemorate a then-hypothetical future war that is now a fictional past is a strange inversion of historiography indeed, and an additional twist beyond the approach taken by the designers of Twilight Struggle. What kind of retrofuturism is it? Is it even retrofuturism at all?

Also,  the triumvirate behind the Eurowargames anthology will be holding a roundtable on the wargames connection between North American and European cultures.

Friday 1:00-2:00

Room C

Title: Speaking About Wargames, in Different Languages: A Comparison of Experiences as International Wargaming Content Creators

Participants: Jan Heinemann, Riccardo Masini, Fred Serval

Style: Roundtable

Blurb:  Coming from different cultural and national backgrounds, content creators Jan Heinemann (Germany), Riccardo Masini (Italy) and Fred Serval (France) have recently joined their common knowledge to coordinate a collection of essays about wargaming in Europe and its many new design trends all over the world. But what about their different experiences as wargaming content creators on YouTube and other social media, with different approaches and different groups of viewers? Together with other prominent international content creators, this roundtable aims at highlighting the peculiar features of speaking about wargames also to non-English speaking viewers: the related difficulties caused by the language barrier and the different historical heritages, the perks granted by cultural diversity and the related criticalities, the needs of the different publics, the choice of media and style, the most requested contents and the games that prove harder to introduce, sometimes for lack of interest on the topic and sometimes even for their controversial nature in other nations. An engaging and rarely seen comparison and mutual confrontation about what it means to speak about board wargaming, a hobby born in the United States in the 1950s, also to non-US players by non-US content creators in the 2020s. Showing once again how gaming can prove to be an important bridge and connection between different cultures.

Nick Mizer, who I first met in connection with the national conference of the Popular Culture Association several years ago (Bored of War…  and News Paper Games) recently sent me an “Invitation to Collaborate” to the Bradley Tabletop Games Symposium, an online event to be held 21-22 May, 2021.

The Symposium is itself a collaboration between the Interactive Media Department of Bradley University and the Games and Simulation Arts and Sciences Program of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, where Nick is currently teaching. First, this event is quite welcome because it focuses on tabletop games; people have heard me often enough moaning about how the academic field of Game Studies is willfully ignorant of its analog past and all it still has to teach. Second, this event is unusual because it is designed to be a collaborative event, a collection of events and sessions between the interdisciplinarian individuals involved in the field without the formal structure of keynote speakers, presentation of prepared papers, or scheduled fun-time events (that is, you’ll have to provide your own wine and charcuterie).

In wargames, a zone of control refers to the area of restricted movement and activity that occurs when two units become adjacent. As a theme for the first of these tabletop symposia “Zones of Connection” expresses our belief that bringing together a diversity of emerging voices and perspectives on tabletop games has much to offer through the connections that can be forged, interpersonally, emotionally, and intellectually.

Have a look at the invitation to collaborate document here Bradley Tabletop Games Symposium – Invitation to Collaborators and note that rather than submitting abstracts, they are asking for ideas for sessions (to be formatted as workshops, roundtables, panels and seminars but with as much audience participation as possible). If you have an idea for something you would like to participate in, let them know at the link in the document. Deadline for submissions is 26 April 2021.

To give you a further idea of what they might want to see, here are some topics of interest:

  • Games as media
  • Games and simulation
  • Games and anti-colonialism
  • Games as resistance
  • Games in/as education
  • Industry studies
  • Cultures of play
  • Board game cafes
  • Hybrid games
  • Ludo-textual analysis
  • Virtual tabletop play
  • Storytelling in tabletop games
  • Legacy and campaign games
  • Games and speculative futures / alternate histories
  • Discourse analysis of play sessions
  • Streaming and actual play podcasts
  • Phenomenology of play
  • Ludic fandom
  • History of tabletop games
  • Gaming and the military industrial complex
  • Games and translation
  • Games and play therapy
  • Board game renaissance
  • Games in the age of the pandemic

There must be something in all this to interest you!

Personally, I was interested in the speculative futures/ alternate histories topic and am considering submitting a suggestion for a session on that, related to this:

One thing that tweaked me while working on the games-as-journalism piece for the Eurowargames anthology was the section on games on hypothetical wars produced in the 80s, mainly on a Third World War. Regardless of whether you thought that was a farfetched event at the time, it did occupy a lot of interest – at the time. But over the last 10 years or so there has been a resurgence of new games coming out that study that same subject – a Soviet invasion of Europe in the mid-1980s (examples include the World at War series (2007 – 2015), Corps Command: Dawn’s Early Light (2010), Red Tide West (2014), Brezhnev’s War (2018), 1985: Under an Iron Sky (2018), Less than 60 Miles (2019), Red Tide South (2019), and The Fulda Gap: the Battle for the Center (2020)).

Nostalgia for an actual past that one remembers imperfectly is one thing. But nostalgic game design to commemorate a then-hypothetical future that is now a fictional past, it seems to me is a strange inversion of historiography indeed, and an additional twist beyond the approach taken by the designers of Twilight Struggle (where the disproved “domino theory” is consciously used in the game as the logic and incentive for players to act, within their roles as world leaders during the Cold War). So it’s a recreation of a hypothetical future from our past, but what kind of “retrofuturism” is it?

  • Dissatisfaction with the complex and quite changed power structures of today, and nostalgia for the bipolar world with its predicted wargasmic collision of the ideologies?
  • A notion that this war (potentially personally involving players then and now) would have been that generation’s “Good War” (per Studs Terkel), a moral exercise of Us vs. Them with clear-cut roles, unlike the troubling conflicts of Korea, Vietnam and half a dozen other interventions? (I do note that practically all of the examples I’ve given have been by American designers.)
  • Simple-minded huffing of nostalgia fumes for the games that these designers played in their youth? (Sure, I played my SPI NATO, Fifth Corps and BAOR like everyone else, but I miss other games from Back In The Day).
  • Rivet-counters looking for neato technical match-ups, and missing the contextual point as they often seem to do?

I can’t decide what it is; like always, it’s probably a little bit of everything, varying with the individual. It’s just something I’ve noticed and find perplexing, and while it’s pretty narrow I wonder if there are similar veins in other types of tabletop games.