Unboxing videos: District Commander Binh Dinh and Kandahar

Fresh today – Alexander Klein of The Players Aid does an unboxing of District Commander modules Binh Dinh (Vietnam 1969) and Kandahar (Afghanistan 2009).

Just a look in the box, and comments on the components, but if you haven’t had a chance to see the inside of one of these, this is your chance.

I hope he and Grant will enjoy playing these! They did comment on how they found District Commander Maracas rather a challenge.

COIN Collectors #9: interview with Jason Carr

The podcast “Dads on a Map” recently posted an episode with Jason Carr, who is the head of development at GMT. Here he talks about the GMT COIN system generally, and particularly the post Pendragon period when he came aboard.

Lots of news on new developments! He’s very enthused about the upcoming releases of Fall of Saigon (the late war expansion to Fire in the Lake) and especially People Power (which he cites as a good introductory game to the system) and Irregular Conflict series games like The Pure Land.

Nothing on China’s War though; I haven’t had a lot of feedback to react to, other than we’re going to have to do some work on the Event Card deck.

https://directory.libsyn.com/episode/index/id/22505021/tdest_id/1590551

00:00:53 – Introduction
00:01:54 – Background and Game Development at GMT
00:12:50 – What makes a COIN a COIN?
00:19:05 – Upcoming Releases: Fire in the Lake, Fall of Saigon; People Power.
00:23:48 – Selecting conflicts for COIN games
00:26:51 – Expansions for COIN games
00:29:20 – Best first COIN game
00:37:35 – New mechanisms for COIN games
00:40:57 – 2p COIN games
00:48:10 – The COIN experience and attracting new players
00:50:56 – App integration
01:01:15 – Best fictional COIN setting?
01:03:50 – Final thoughts and Outro

Space-Biff! on Bloc by Bloc (3rd edition)

kent state disturbance playset

(image: National Lampoon, ca. 1971)

https://spacebiff.com/2022/01/29/bloc-by-bloc

Thankfully, Bloc by Bloc isn’t ideologically agnostic. It’s radically and refreshingly committed to egalitarianism, clear-eyed about the contradictions that tug at modern efforts to effect change, and both deeply angry and hopelessly idealistic.

Oh, Daniel Thurot just keeps swinging and hitting them wayyy over the fence… what a nice surprise today to see that he has written a piece on the new edition of Bloc by Bloc: Uprising. It is the third edition, coming soon on Gamefound and I will be there for it, just as I was when the game was first noised about on Boardgamegeek.

Bloc by Bloc: compelling subject matter, good presentation, and genuinely interesting mechanics for both cooperative (Kumbayah) and semi-cooperative (duelling agendas) versions. One of the more inspiring things I’ve played in years.

The point is, change begins somewhere. The bug of hope must first be contracted. Whether it speaks of suffrage, liberty, civil rights, opportunity, or true equality before the law, Bloc by Bloc is no mere polemic. It understands its contradictions and grapples with them. It speaks a message while remaining playful. Most importantly, it instills a yearning for something better.

February 15, on Gamefound!

Bloc by Bloc: The Insurrection Game

https://gamefound.com/projects/draft/zxc58ag7firw48g1aggj8ue80qo

Civil Power: unboxing video

The notorious “Stuka Joe” does an unboxing video of Civil Power. Unusually, the box cover art features a background image of a large gas mask, where the examples I’ve seen and own feature a large fist. Joe said he got this directly from CSL so maybe they have made some changes. The inside components are all the same, and the “fist” motif is on the cover of the rulebook.

It’s an unboxing so he thumbs through the component and interesting sections of the rulebook, but he seems enthused by the topic and the treatment! I hope he will have more to say about this game later.

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.

A distant Plain: review at Player Elimination

https://playerelimination.com/2021/09/28/adp

A perceptive and heartfelt review of A Distant Plain by Charlie Theel at his blog Player Elimination. 

Review: Zones of Control

ZOC book cover

It’s been a while since it came out, but here is a new review of the Zones of Control anthology:

https://thetidesofhistory.com/2021/08/22/book-review-zones-of-control-edited-by-pat-harrigan-matthew-kirschenbaum

Nice review – the writer liked the collection generally, including the chapter on gaming insurgencies that Volko Ruhnke and I wrote.

He did note:

Examining the short blurbs at the end of each essay, I noticed that the vast majority of the authors had Master’s and/or Doctorate levels of education. Only one or two authors had anything lower and they were Bachelor’s degrees at the very minimum.

Guilty!!

It appears that I and co-editor Pat Harrigan are the two bringing up the academic rear….

Punched, punched

Out today, the second number of Punched, a free online zine on wargames edited by James Buckley of Cardboard Emperors!

https://www.cardboardemperors.co.uk/punched-2#coin

This one is a special issue with lots of content on COIN everything:

  • James Buckley discusses the four keys to the success of the COIN engine
  • Jason Carr talks about COIN’s success, discusses some mechanics, and considers the future of the series
  • Volko Ruhnke discusses how insurgencies are modelled in the COIN series, and what Control and Oppose/Support mean
  • Fred Serval writes about the seething mass of fan-made COIN games churning around on the GMT COIN Discord server; it’s frightening to poke your head in there. Of special interest is an upcoming quad of short games by Stephen Ranganzas using cut-down COIN system mechanics to explore “the British Way” of counterinsurgency: Palestine, Malaya, Kenya and Cyprus.
  • Also, a really nice review of Brief Border Wars!

It’s free, it’s there, it’s waiting for you at the above link!

Oh, and would I ever love to attend this con in July – Camden is so neat (setting aside the tourist-trappy stuff). But maybe next year.

Camden

District Commander Kandahar: quick look by Maurice Fitzpatrick

Moe’s Game Table has a look at District Commander: Kandahar, the Afghanistan 2009/10 module of the series. He likes what he sees.

Thank you Moe!

History Chat Podcast: Days of Ire/ Nights of Fire

Jason Perez and Liz Davidson (who posted a review of Nights of Fire some time ago on Beyond Solitaire, here: Nights of Fire: video review) have a long discussion on the games Days of Ire and Nights of Fire for the first 25 minutes, then spend another 25 minutes discussing the broader historical context and background of the Hungarian Revolution.

Jason puts in a good word for the Red Army expansion kit, which besides miniatures includes material for a campaign game that links the two – so the end state of the first game sets up some conditions for the second, and characters may or may not survive to do things in the sequel.

This is a really great exchange to examine both game and history! Go and have a listen.