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

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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.

Guerrilla Checkers and Kashmir Crisis: new TTS modules!

Over the last couple of months I made sporadic efforts to  learn to make modules of my games for Tabletop Simulator (TTS)  and Vassal. (I got TTS some time ago when it was on sale for $10 and had some ideas of playing some games to pass the lockdown time, except that it turned out I had no spare time!) I had no real success learning Vassal, but I seemed to get on better with TTS as it’s closer to making a physical copy of a game, or it had more useful gizmos, or whatever. Also, development and playtesting for China’s War will start soon and the developer will be doing it over TTS, not Vassal as was the case with Colonial Twilight, so it was time I learned how to use it. Even at that it took me weeks to learn how to build and upload a deck of special cards, and I experienced the full-on tedium of having to make individual .jpg images of absolutely every piece in the game, including separate front and back images for many things. (I understand Vassal is not much different in the tedium department.)

But after all that, I got things to work with a couple of small and simple games (plus a larger game project that I’m not going to talk about just yet, except that I just did!). So how do I share the modules with the world? I was held up again for weeks because when you go to upload a TTS module to their “workshop” to make it available, you need to include the URL of a small thumbnail image for the game. Time and again the upload failed, this problem has been noted with TTS for some time but all the fixes I had read did not work. Finally last night, with the aid of a friend of a friend, I got the darn things uploaded and went public!

So, if you are on Steam and own Tabletop Simulator, you can now go and have a look at the modules I made for Guerrilla Checkers and Kashmir Crisis. These are two of my smallest and simplest games, and they use pre-made game items (checkerboard, deck of ordinary cards etc.) so they were not that hard to make. No fancy fog of war or other mechanisms, though I would like to learn next how to do that in TTS. If you do have a look, please let me know if these worked for you. 

Guerrilla Checkers: https://steamcommunity.com/sharedfiles/filedetails/?id=2421938802

Kashmir Crisis: https://steamcommunity.com/sharedfiles/filedetails/?id=2421971111

Winter Thunder: computer implementation ready for playtesting

Winter Thunder cover

Casey Bruyn has been working on a computer version of Winter Thunder for some time. It will feature an AI, and the possibility of synchronous (hotseat) and asynchronous (via email) play.

Have a look at the development page: http://www.bruinbeargames.com/#winterthunder

He says, “The basic game and email version are at beta test. We are looking for playtesters that know the rules for the game. If interested please contact info@bruinbeargames.com.”

Give him a hand!

Strategist, 2000

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Once upon a time, I edited Strategist, the monthly newsletter of the Strategy Gaming Society. Boardgamegeek.com says that “the American Wargaming Association (AWA) merged with the National Wargaming Alliance (NWA) in 1984. The combined organization was renamed the Strategy Gaming Society (SGS). The AWA’s newsletter was called “The American Wargamer“, issued from 1973 to November 1984. The NWA’s newsletter was called “Kriegsrat“, issued until November 1984. With the December 1984 issue, the combined publication became “Strategist”.

George Phillies, who is still quite active in wargaming, was a central figure in the Society from way back, but I think the Society has been defunct for quite a while now. Anyway, I took over the newsletter after John Kula had had it for a while and edited it for a year before concluding I just did not have the time or energy to keep it going the way I wanted it (I was then still in the process of recovering from getting run over by a car at the end of 1998).

This was all 20 years in the past, and in the interests of oh I don’t know future ludic archaeologists I am putting up those dozen issues, in PDF form, on the Resources page (converted cheaply from their original MS Publisher format, so there might be an oopsy or two somewhere). They give you 3 GB of space here at WordPress and I am not using much of it so far. Game Links and Resources

Here is an index to the contents, nothing really remarkable except that I did publish a few simple games in its pages: Attrition, War Fair, Wolf Pack and Zulu Spears by Lloyd Krassner; Battle of Seattle by me; and the first appearance of Waterloo 20 by Joe Miranda. Another funny thing I ran was a series of “Military Movie Star” bios where I wrote about the star’s service career and the war/action movies they were in later. Did you know James Mason was a pacifist and conscientious objector in World War Two?

STRATEGIST index for 2000

District Commander Maracas: VASSAL module available!

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Trevor Lieberman has braved the demons of Vassal and created a module for District Commander Maracas!

Download it here: http://www.vassalengine.org/wiki/Module:District_Commander_Maracas:_Virtualia_2019

It needs a few people to work it and check it over for errors or bugs, so this may not be the final version, but there is the page to find it when it is.

Thanks so much for your work Trevor!

(Honestly, I have tried off and on for the past few weeks to finally get it together to understand Vassal and Tabletop Simulator, and both have thoroughly defeated me except for the simplest things. I did make a functioning version of Guerrilla Checkers on TTS, but have no idea how to distribute it now.)

[ETA: Trevor also made an Excel spreadsheet to automate scoring for Population and LOC Control victory points for the module: https://boardgamegeek.com/filepage/213982/automated-scoring ]

BTR Games available through Wargame Vault

I am making my whole line of “BTR Games” products available for PnP on Wargame Vault.

To produce these games, I would go to the copy shop to have small batches of counter sticker sheets, maps etc. made up. But I’ve been working from home since March 2020 and can’t get near any copy shops, and it is not worth trying to print all this at home, so I have run out of components for most titles. I can’t print 11×17″ maps at home anyway. This also saves any delay in my having to organize a trip to the post office (which was also proving occasionally difficult).

The real value, though, from the customer’s point of view is that they can order Brian Train products drunk at 3 am, as most online purchases are made, and get them right away.

https://www.wargamevault.com/browse/pub/18373/BTR-Games

When things begin to stabilize and I return to my office, I do plan to have physical versions of the games available again for people who do not want to go the PnP route.

The Zenobia Award

Mentor.

Signal boost for a worthy cause: the Zenobia Award.

Rex Brynen is a better writer, speaker and when it comes down to it thinker than I am so I will quote from his announcement:

“Historical board games are enjoyed by people from all walks of life, but their designers are predominately white men. The Zenobia Award hopes to change this by encouraging game submissions by people from marginalized groups. The Zenobia Award is not an ordinary design award. Promising applicants will receive mentorship on their designs from established industry designers, and the winners will receive help navigating the game publication process in addition to a cash prize.”

Daniel Thurot at Space-Biff! is also far more eloquent than I, at his post at https://spacebiff.com/2020/11/22/zenobia/

More details are all here: https://zenobiaaward.org so go and have a look.

I write a lot about my game designs on this blog, less often on politics, and only occasionally on the state of the hobby. But anyone who’s been in it for long soon susses out that just as there are definitely more “outputs” (published games) on certain topics than others, there are also more “inputs” (designers of published games) of a certain category than others – white, male, and older.

This is an observation, and hardly a profound one at that.

I don’t see anything nefarious about this situation. It was well known, Back In The Day, that this was a hobby that was generally indulged in by white, educated males… the Great Dunnigan remarked on this, particularly the gender imbalance, in the pages of SPI-era Strategy and Tactics many times, and often referred to the whole shootin’ match as “the hobby of the overeducated” – which back then largely also meant white and male.

I also don’t see anything particularly praiseworthy about this situation. It is also well known, Now, that many cylinders of this hobby’s engine have run on nostalgia fumes for a very long time, and many players and designers from Back In The Day are still with us, just older. That’s expected – time does march on – but society has marched on too and the audiences, actual and potential, for tabletop games are far different in gender, ethnicity, nationality and cultural outlook from 40 years ago.

I think it’s pretty simple: if you want to see the hobby continue to function, to encourage new ideas and explore different topics, to invite new people and their experiences into the fold, either help to spread the word yourself or consider contributing, either as a member of an underrepresented group or part of a team that includes such. It’s not about the prize (personally, I don’t see why money has to be be involved at all), it’s about the offer of help, advice and mentorship to people who want to become involved… which is something I have tried to extend to everyone who has approached me, as a designer (and in my day job).

If these things are not important to you, or you think they will happen by themselves, or you think that historical board games are not inherently political objects, then carry on as you have – this initiative doesn’t require anything of you, and I am sure you can find someone who will agree with you elsewhere. But I have never had time for self-appointed gatekeepers.

Civil Power: interview with The Players Aid

Will neither confirm nor deny this was considered for the rulebook cover.

https://theplayersaid.com/2020/09/28/interview-with-brian-train-designer-of-civil-power-from-conflict-simulations-llc/

Yes!

Over at The Players Aid, an interview about the provenance and mechanics of Civil Power

In this interview I was glad to have the chance to point out some of the obvious bits:

  • that while the technology might change, riots are still much like ancient/medieval battles;
  • even though it is a battle, it is still a confrontation with citizens in a relatively civilized overall situation and you cannot shoot your way to victory (except in the 1944 Warsaw scenario of course); and
  • using the idea of an Engagement Level to acknowledge that there are two mobs at every riot: the civilian and the non-civilian, and that while they have different structures they feed off each other’s energy.

We’re getting into the final stretch of Getting It Ready For You, laying out rules and player aids. 

Fight the Power!

(or be the Power, or both… there’s no solitaire AI or anything like that)