Remembering to Forget

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photo: bbc.com

https://www.defenseone.com/ideas/2019/03/us-army-trying-bury-lessons-iraq-war/155403

As has been explained to me by senior officers who are still on active duty, the conventional wisdom today is that our military has moved on — and in an odd redux, they note that we have returned to the philosophy of 1973. Similar to how the Pentagon abandoned its doctrine of fighting counterinsurgencies and irregular conflicts in the aftermath of the Vietnam War, today’s military has shifted away from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Instead of preparing to fight insurgents and guerrillas, our security establishment has refocused almost exclusively on the realm of great power conflict — in their parlance, peer or near-peer competitors such as Russia or China.

Distressing, but hardly surprising… the same thing happened after Vietnam, though the external circumstances were quite different. The US Army may be a “learning organization” but it keeps forgetting that it needs to retain some of that learning.

As the world continues to migrate to cities and pressures from failed or failing states push populations toward armed insurrection, it is quite possible that our next conflict could be another irregular war fought against guerrillas and insurgents. Even if we do end up facing a peer or near-peer competitor as the defense establishment is predicting, many of the lessons of the Iraq War still ring true. If we find ourselves facing such a foe, it would be highly likely that our opponents would fight us with a blend of conventional warfare—using ships, tanks, and warplanes—as well as with irregular tactics such as we faced in Iraq and Afghanistan. Blending both types of warfare, which has been called “hybrid warfare” or “conflict in the grey zone” enables our enemies to counter some of our conventional advantages asymmetrically, and challenge us symmetrically with forces that are on par with our capabilities. The use of paramilitaries or militias rather than uniformed soldiers, ambushing logistics convoys with improvised explosive devices, and hiding soldiers and resources amongst the civilian population- all staples of the Iraq conflict- are tactics that have also been used by Russia and other states because they make attribution and retaliation more difficult. It would be a dangerous proposition to hope that nation-state competitors we face in the future have not studied the war in Iraq and adapted their tactics. 

The two volumes of the Iraq War Study, completed in 2016 but not released until the very end of 2018, may be found here. Download them if you’re interested, just so you can have them for later….

Volume One (2003-2006): https://publications.armywarcollege.edu/publication-detail.cfm?publicationID=3667

Volume Two (2007-2011): https://publications.armywarcollege.edu/publication-detail.cfm?publicationID=3668

 

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Aftershocking, hardly.

O0pg

Screenshot of Despair by Lloyd Burchill, ca. 1997.

Okay, I am sorry but I couldn’t do better at a punny title… puns are the lowest form of humour anyway, though Joe Miranda differs with me on that.

Points the main:

  • In 2015 Rex Brynen, great educator and friend of the blog, published Aftershock, a serious board game on the difficulties and processes of HADR (Humanitarian Action and Disaster Relief). The game grew out some ideas floated at a “game lab” session held at Connections-US 2012.
  • Since its publication, this game has been used (with or without Rex’s facilitation) by large numbers of humanitarian aid workers, medical students, UN peacekeepers, and military personnel. Rex also uses sales of the game as a non-profit fundraiser for frontline UN humanitarian agencies who respond to actual earthquakes and other humanitarian emergencies.
  • Here’s a link to my review of it: https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/1467592/review-aftershock-humanitarian-crisis-game
  • Recently Stronghold Games launched a Kickstarter for a board game called Aftershock, designed by Alan R. Moon and Bobby West. This game imagines that the San Francisco Bay area has been hit with a mega-earthquake, and focuses on rebuilding the city. Here is the ad copy from BGG.com:

Aftershock is an area control game. Players will spend money to acquire cards, which are used to increase population, build bridges, and determine where aftershocks occur. Negotiate with other players to score areas on the placement board. Spend money wisely to acquire the needed cards that move people back into the demolished areas. Make deals to score points in Aftershock!

So, in this game you are not directly working on saving helping anyone, and in fact plan on the placement of subsequent quakes (whence the title) to drive people around on the board. It reminds me of an old Macintosh game my son liked when he was little called Despair, where you chase little meeples around with different disasters and woe. The image at the top of the post is from that game.

It is apparent that Stronghold just did not bother to search if there were any other games with the title already in print – 15 seconds on BGG.com would have told them all they needed to know.

When Rex informed them politely that the two games were quite close in theme and appearance, he got a “well, that happens, whatcha gonna do” reply… and when he pointed out on Stronghold’s tweet about their game launch that there was a different game with this title, he got blocked by them… and so did everyone else who tweeted about it.

There are at most several hundred copies of Rex’s game out in the world, produced on a non-profit basis. Stronghold, a for-profit company, expects to sell tens of thousands of their game. While it may not be all that likely that people will mistake one for the other and buy something in error, Stronghold’s dismissive and high-handed response does not do them any favours. Comments on this have appeared on the Kickstarter comments page.

More details, and Rex’s very creative response to all this, at https://paxsims.wordpress.com/2019/02/05/aftershocks/

[EDITED TO ADD: 8 February – Rex reports that the issue has been resolved! Stronghold, after cancelling the Kickstarter for reasons other than the name issue, also discussed the situation with Rex… and when they attempt to bring the game to market again (might be crowdfunding, might be straight to retail) it will have some form of name change. Good-oh, and I’m glad cooler heads prevailed, even if it means I’m wrong.]

https://paxsims.wordpress.com/2019/02/08/a-happy-aftershocks-ending

The Forgotten Faces

Peter Watkins is the film director whose work you likely haven’t seen, but definitely should.

He is best known for his work in the 1960s and 1970s, including Culloden, The War Game, and Punishment Park. The common method for these films was to take a “you are there”, documentary approach and treat the camera as if it were an actual witness to the events as they unfolded. So while it may be a bit jarring to see and hear a TV film crew interviewing and reacting to Scottish rebels in 1745, you see his point in doing so pretty easily.

It was certainly a method commonly used in comedy, but Watkins uses it to great dramatic effect, particularly notably in The War Game, a 1965 film that documents the aftereffects of a nuclear detonation over an area of Kent. It was such a horrific film that the BBC, who produced it, refused to broadcast it on TV and the film was not shown publicly in the UK until 1985. Watkins did not take kindly to this suppression of his work and left the UK. He has since lived and made films in Sweden, the United States, Denmark, Canada, Lithuania and France. His most recent film was La Commune in 2000, on the Paris Commune. (It’s probably his last film too, as he no longer gives interviews and has largely withdrawn from public life.)

http://pwatkins.mnsi.net/index.htm

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Watkins

Another trademark of Watkins’ work is to use people who are entirely untrained in acting, or are at most amateur theatre performers. He began this practice with his early amateur films but kept on with it throughout his career.

It’s one of these early amateur films I want to draw your attention to today. It’s The Forgotten Faces, an 18 minute film made in 1960 with amateur performers in a back street in Canterbury. It’s an impressionistic view of the Hungarian Revolution in October 1956.

In all the work and thought I’d invested in Nights of Fire, this film was always in the back of my mind but I never mentioned it until now.

I hope you find it interesting.

Nights of Fire is still on track for a March release.

Hollandspiele + Second Chance Games = $ales$ !!

Even since Hollandspiele got started, they have had a rising tide of interest from customers in the UK and Europe – interest that was promptly deflated by their  production costs (print-on-demand) and postage (which could sometimes be higher than the cost of the item) and probability of exorbitant customs and duties once the item reached foreign shores.

The print-and-play version solution was always there, and it’s the same price to everyone on the planet. But there are lots of people out there who value their time more highly, and their crafting skills less generously.

So today Hollandspiele announced its partnership with Second Chance Games in the UK, as their retailer Across the Water.

https://www.secondchancegames.com/index.php/component/virtuemart/manufacturer/hollandspiele/

Prices range, and I am not sure how much shipping would be, though certainly it would be more reasonable than sending from California. But as an illustration, Scheldt Campaign and Ukrainian Crisis/Little War are 49 pounds each.

The Putsch and the Bomb

bof-a

Over at the Rockymountainnavy blog, the writer (I’ve been reading his blog for a long while but still don’t know his name) posts that he has acquired a copy of Colonial Twilight, and is looking forward to playing it! I’m glad to hear that, he has enjoyed other designs of mine he has played in the past.

In his post he also draws attention to a research paper he found detailing an incident that took place during the April 1961 putsch against de Gaulle: a nuclear device prepared for testing at the Reggane site (wayyy off to the south of the game map) was detonated during the events of the coup. The author explores the various interpretations of why and how the test took place, and whether there was any question of the rebellious generals being able to seize the device and use it (symbolically or in reality) against the government. The answer in this case is either “no” or “maybe, but so what”, but it does provide an interesting base for other questions about the role of nuclear weapons in contentious situations between a nation’s military and civilian powers.

https://rockymountainnavy.wordpress.com/2019/01/09/wargame-for-train-coups-nukes-colonial-twilight-the-french-algerian-war-1954-62-gmtgames-2017/

Of course, nothing like this is reflected in the game, except for the Coup d’etat card (#66) and a reference to the nuclear Force de Frappe in the NATO card (#16) – which was another piece in the complicated game de Gaulle was playing to impress his vision of France on its armed forces.

dc_maracas medium

RMN also mentions the upcoming release of District Commander Maracas by Hollandspiele – they have announced that it and the Binh Dinh module will be released in 2019, followed by the Algeria and Afghanistan modules in 2020.

Obligatory end-of-year-review, 2018

FranklinHowe_o

Can you mansplain convincingly while wearing breeches, stockings and buckle shoes?

Well, another year has zipped by. Maybe a bit early for year-end post-mortems, but I have been busy:

Game publishing

  • February: the Kickstarter launch for Nights of Fire. We made the first, most important target in 12 or 13 hours, and ended up with $87,821 pledged over 30 days. Nights of Fire: Kickstarter day at last!
  • February also saw Tupamaro come out, in folio format from One Small Step. Tupamaro is out!
  • March saw the release of Chile ’73 from Tiny Battle Publishing. I was pleased that this came out, but there were a number of unfortunate changes/additions of art, physical components and rules that lessened the “bang” for me. Chile ’73: errata file
  • May, and out came Strike for Berlin in #11 of Yaah! magazine. Very nice art and production, a really great overhaul of Freikorps. I was quite pleased with it, but it doesn’t seem to have garnered a lot of attention on BGG and other places. Strike for Berlin has struck
  • July: I posted District Commander: Maracas, for free print-and-play. This is presented as an example of how the District Commander system works (this and three other modules will be published by Hollandspiele over the next couple of years) and as an introductory essay of mine into operational level urban combat against irregular forces in a large city. New free game: Maracas
  • September: a second edition of Summer Lightning came out, from Lock n Load Games. This is a physically enlarged (one might say engorged) edition, the rules are the same – just all of the components are bigger. Pretty spiffy looking though! Summer Lightning: Second Edition!

Game design work and future publication

Work and or testing continued throughout the year on some of the following, while others have likely publishing dates in 2019 or later:

  • Thunder out of China (now renamed China’s War, at least until an even better title comes along): testing testing, and hoping to have this ready for GMT P500 by Consimworld Expo time.
  • Strongman, an extensive rework of Caudillo that may be a while coming, and publisher not completely confirmed.
  • Brief Border Wars Quad, from Compass Games – I handed this over to the guys at Consimworld Expo and understand that it will be up for pre-order in the next couple of months. Will be published all four in one box.
  • District Commander series, from Hollandspiele – I handed over four modules (Algeria 1959, Vietnam 1969, Afghanistan 2009, and Maracas 2019) to Hollandspiele at Consimworld Expo and they will be publishing these as separate single titles over the next two years.
  • We Are Coming Nineveh: This very clever game on contemporary urban combat (Mosul 2017) was designed by two of Rex Brynen’s students in a trial course he ran in getting students to design games. Rex and I have done a considerable amount of development on it, without changing its basic concepts, and I’m quite pleased at how this came out. Will likely be published in 2019 or early 2020.
  • Nights of Fire: Pretty sure this will be out in March 2019 or so. I think people will be pleased.

Conferences and conventions

Another busy year on this front, a week or more away at each of these events:

Writing

  • Only one formally published piece, the foreword to a book of wargames rules on irregular war situations published by History of Wargaming Project, John Curry’s imprint. New book out – Small Wars

Near-meaningless digest of site statistics:

  • I seem to be cruising still at just below 2,000 views per month, a bit higher than the preceding two years. The five most curious countries were: US (by a very wide margin), UK, Canada, Spain and Italy. One guy clicked in from Venezuela!
  • Besides the then-current post, popular pages or posts included the BTR Games and Free Games pages, and the post containing the corrected Tutorial and errata for Colonial Twilight. Also popular was a new page of Scenarios and Variants I added in July, incorporating material lugged over from my old website as well as some new pieces (e.g. the 4-player variant for Colonial Twilight and the historical scenario for Operation Whirlwind).
  • The most clicked-on documents were the rules, corrected tutorial and playbook for Colonial Twilight, followed by the free PnP files for Ukrainian Crisis, Third Lebanon War and Desert Leader.

Yet more sale! OSS Games -25% too!

It’s on! 25% off on published games at www.ossgamescart.com.

Shining Path, Green Beret, Operation Whirlwind are marked down to $17.25; Kandahar, Algeria Binh Dinh and Tupamaro are down to $18.75.

Use coupon code BLACKFRI at checkout.

Sale runs now through Monday the 26th of November. Does not include pre-order items, subscriptions, or games already on sale.

Oh God, I feel so cheap….