Obligatory end-of-year review, 2022

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Ohhhhh….

2022 is almost over.

A scant improvement over 2021, but it wasn’t worse, so on the whole we progress… or do we.

  • Top gaming-related event of the year was attending the California Army National Guard’s Urban Operations Planners Course at JFTB Los Alamitos in July, as both a student (of urban warfare generally) and as an instructor (introduced and collectively played the Quick Urban Integrated Combat Kriegsspiel or QUICK on the last day of the course).
  • At the end of 2021 I posted confidently that in my view there would be no overt war in Ukraine, in a bit called “Why I am not writing a 2022 Scenario for Ukrainian Crisis“. Well, I was wrong, obviously… but I have never held that any of my games have any predictive value, no more than any other wargame does. I maintain though, that a 2022 scenario for this game would have been out of place anyway, for an overt military invasion of Ukraine on this scale and extent is an admission that the other two sub-games (diplomatic and information) have been lost, and in this case perhaps not even seriously played. In that sense Putin has done a tableflip, and now that the pieces are headed for the floor, I am unwilling to even try to guess the ultimate outcome.
  • Finally caught COVID after dodging it for 2 1/2 years, on the ferry going over to attend BottosCon, my first gaming event in three years. My fall booster was only a month old so it was about as light a sentence as you could ask for; it presented exactly like a head cold, with a lot of sinus stuff… no fever, ever, not even a sore throat. Because I normally come home from a convention with something like a head cold, from the hotel air-conditioned air or the usual “con crud”, that’s just what I thought it was. It was only when I got an email from the convention organizers saying that a number of people had tested positive for COVID, that I tested myself out of an abundance of caution. I lost my sense of taste and smell though I understand this is not a usual symptom of Omicron (which is like 85-90% of all cases right now in my area) and did recover it in a few weeks. As it happened my mom caught it about the same time (who knows how, she is kind of shut in) and I had to go take care of her for a few days, so even if I had dodged it on the way to the convention I would have caught it from her later.
  • The renovations that started in August 2020 are still going on. I did get carpets a year ago, and that started a slow migration of material back upstairs so now I have my study back again (!), and a door to it that opens and shuts (!!) and a table downstairs that can be used for games (!!!). Still missing upstairs furniture and I’m sleeping in my dining room, but the end is in sight – at least on the second floor. By next Christmas all should be done.

Game publishing and publicity

March: An interview in Spanish about China’s War, not that much new stuff in it though.

June: It was announced that my game Greek Civil War would be in issue #165 of Japanese Command magazine. This one uses the original rules that I submitted to Decision Games that were adapted from Joe Miranda’s Decision Iraq system, and so are quite different from the mess that Decision published in Modern War magazine. This was my second appearance in Japanese Command (first was back in  2002 with Battle for China) and like the first, it appeared with beautiful map printing and counter production. Meanwhile, the original “4 box system” version called Andartes is still available for PnP from wargamevault.com.

July: Publication on the website of the complete PnP files for the QUICK, including a Vassal module put together in jig time by Curt Pangracs of the US Command General and Staff College. The QUICK Page

Game design work and future publication

Work and or testing started or continued throughout the year on the following. Other projects (a couple of semi-abstract games on urban counterinsurgency) languished.

Brief Border Wars Quad Volume II: Announced for pre-orders in August. We have about finished rules, counters, maps and box now and this will be out some time in 2023.

China’s War 1937-41: Development jerked ahead in the summer. Bad news is that development and testing has subsided while the GMT developer works to finish off Red Dust Rebellion, a COIN system game that will sell much, much better than this one (another advantage of science fiction games is that you don’t have to be true to history, and sometimes not even to the laws of physics). Good news is that there really isn’t much more to do! We turned up the volume on many of the cards of the Event Deck as players found them underwhelming, and made a few other slight mechanical changes but nothing major. At year end pre-orders are stuck just short of 1,600, which is good enough but not many more than this time last year.

Imposed Cost: a quick and simple game for 2 players on the 18-card model, on causing or preventing clandestine trouble on projects being built on the Belted Road. Would like to work on and test this with other human beings once or twice before putting it up for free PnP.

O Canada: A couple of playtests and a bit of thought. It’s about where I want it. Will likely put it out next year for free PnP (or I will make a physical copy for you for a price commensurate with my time and trouble to do so).

Quick Urban Integrated Combat Kriegsspiel (QUICK): A semi-abstract game about opposing modern-day forces engaging in kinetic conflict in a large city. Players are Division or Group Army commanders, vying to gain control of critical terrain within the city. To succeed, they must successfully manage Enablers, the array of skilled troops and machinery that exist to support and augment the power of the main Maneuver Units in the forces they command. Each round both players will draw or select colored cubes and then take turns using them to perform actions. The color of a cube determines what can be done, and with what unit. During play Enablers will be brought onto the battlefield or returned to it by being allocated to larger Maneuver Units, and these reinforced Maneuver Units will engage the enemy assisted by the special powers and abilities of their allocated Enablers. I started work on this in December 2021 and published it on this website (the QUICK page) in the summer, just before attending the Urban Operations Planners Course in July 2022.

Scaleable Urban Simulation: this was a game I developed for the Urban Operations Planners Course before I realized that I had to take a much simpler and more streamlined approach with the non-gamer students (which resulted in the QUICK). The idea is that there is a set of core rules that cover basic sets of missions/operations – moving, fighting, renewing, seeking – that are applicable to any of the three module levels the game is played out on: Division (where division HQ tells brigade HQs what to do, who then get battalion groups to do the operations and fighting); Brigade (Brigade HQ, battalion HQs, company size task forces); or Battalion (battalion HQ, company HQs, platoons with attachments). Meanwhile there are exclusive rules and different mixes of Enablers and things like that for the different modules; it is also a more open to modelling different points on the “competition continuum” than the QUICK, which is oriented towards large-scale, very kinetic combat operations. The game centres more on the activities of formation HQ units that become less and less able to do what they want to do (or are told to do) as they get tired and dissipated, as opposed to modelling combat resolution and damage to maneuver units. Components are a sheet of counters, formation cards, a set of 80 coloured cubes as needed for the QUICK and a map built up out of isomorphic tiles so battlefields can be built however you like. Would like to work on and test this with other human beings once or twice before putting it up for free PnP.

Strongman: a thorough redesign of Caudillo, for 3-5 players. Mostly done in Early Lockdown with the help of another designer but I’ve returned to it this year to straighten out a couple of points.  Again, would like to test this with some other humans, as this is one I think would be formally published (though the art bill would not be small, since it is a card game).

SUBTLE (SUBterranean Learning Exercise): a fast game about keeping planning on track. 3-10 players collectively and abstractly represent the staff officers of a BCT who are trying to build a workable plan towards an objective, represented by them exploring through a field of inverted counters and creating a route past Hazards that are nullified by Enablers. Problem is, some players are actually “agents of chaos” who may mean well but lead the route of the plan astray or place obstacles in its path (as illustration, I offer this clever article from Task and Purpose: https://taskandpurpose.com/news/16-people-make-every-operational-planning-team/. Fear the Debater, the Guy From Band Camp, and above all the Seagull.). A bit of a metaphorical exercise and the Hazards and the Enablers that resolve them have a subterranean/urban theme – navigation failures, structural collapse, civilian detainee problem etc. – but this could be changed for other settings. The game has simple components – a small plain grid and 60 counters, no dice – and takes about 20-30 minutes to play depending on the number of players. Would like to work on and test this with other human beings once or twice before putting it up for free PnP.

DSSB Staff Game: A cooperative game for 3 players who represent different staff sections in a DSSB (American Army Divisional Sustainment Support Battalion), who work together to prepare and send off daily supply convoys to 3 divisional BCTs on the FLOT. Experienced wargamers know that most civilian wargames have detailed procedures for movement and combat, with the logistics processes handwaved away. For a long time I have wanted to design a game that approached the inverse of this. It’s a time management and planning game, with simple processes featuring an endless time track and roles and choices that put demands on the players as the situation continues to change. As a cooperative game it is not intensely competitive or antagonistic but the players have to work together to prevent the front line units from starving or running out of things (which will in turn make their own jobs that much harder). The game has simple components – two pages of tracks and charts, some small player mats, 60 counters and the same set of 80 coloured cubes needed for the QUICK. It can be played at any length to cover any number of “days” (actually iterations of the unit’s battle rhythm); probably takes about an hour or less for players to get the gist of things without prompting. Would like to work on and test this with other human beings once or twice before putting it up for free PnP.

That’s 12 designs more or less finished, and in some cases also started, in the last year and a bit (I think the Brief Border Wars Quad should count as four games, because each one requires a fair amount of specific research and its own exclusive rules). The new, smaller games were all done in August-October as I was inspired by feedback from the students on the Urban Operations Planners course to the effect that they wanted more time with the games, and the “theme day” structure of the course itself where we spent concentrated times on certain aspects of urban operations… could I make small, simple fast games that related to these themes?

Conventions

November: Went to BottosCon for the first time in three years. Caught COVID on the ferry going there. But it was fun until the virii took over.

Conferences and professional wargaming stuff

February: I chaired a panel at Connections North on “influence games”.

July: As mentioned above, I went to the second serial of the Urban Operations Planners Course. It was quite remarkable! Fortunately I was able to stay on the Base and the commute was a four-minute walk with no gate-guard angst; good because it was at the go-go-go pace of many courses… meaty lectures from 0800 to 1700 every day for six days, except one day when the military students went to “Razish”, an urban combat training site at the National Training Centre at Fort Irwin (we used the time back at the base to do some orientation and practice play of the QUICK) and the last day when we collectively learned and played the QUICK. I had spent much of the first half of the year preparing for this; it was the first time I had taught a game to a large group cold, with most of the group non-gamers to boot. But thanks to some excellent facilitators, the enthusiastic support and participation of the General sponsoring the course, and plain novelty value we pulled it off. The next serial is in May 2023 and I do believe the General is going to give it another go, so I am planning to attend this one as well (and intend to catch the lectures I missed while I was ill).

October: At the one-day Connections Online event, I made a presentation on the QUICK as a case study of a wargame being used in professional military development.

Writing and ‘casting

January: Last year I did an interview about my games and thoughts about game design with the group “Anti-Imperialist Action Ireland” (because they asked nicely). I prefer to do interviews by email but they would have liked a live event, so we compromised by posting a Youtube video of a Terry Gilliam drawing wobbling its jaw up and down while a computer voice rapidly read the transcript of my answers to their questions. Mercifully, transcript is available separately.

March: I went on Brant Guillory’s Mentioned in Dispatches podcast to talk with him about past wargames on then-future wars in Ukraine. I repeat, these things do not have useful predictive value (what will happen) but they can help you think about the possible boundaries (what could happen) of the problem.

September: A good month for podcasts… first I was on Episode 78 of I’ve Been Diced! by Tom Grant, we talked about newsgames and a lot of other things besides. And even more remarkably a long interview on Radio War Nerd with Mark Ames and Gary Brecher! The latter is only for Patreon-paying folks so you will have to join  to listen, but I will say it was a wonderful talk with these two very intelligent guys… Guerrilla Checkers got a definite boost in notoriety from this one.

November: Published an alt-alt-hist scenario for Strike for Berlin on the German “Ostplan 1919” contemplated campaign to tussle with Poland over ownership of western Poland, in and around Posen/Poznan. Designed with Wolfgang Hoepper, who also wrote a very good article on the plan and its context.

Near-meaningless digest of site statistics:

Overall traffic seems to be stable and improved a bit over 2021. I seem to be cruising still at around 1,800 views per month, for a total of about 24,000 views. About 9,000 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 Cambodia.
Besides the then-current post, popular pages included Free Games, BTR Games, the QUICK Page and Scenarios and Variants pages. The two most popular posts were on Ukrainian Crisis and my faux pas on the Ukrainian war, likely due to linked traffic from Facebook groups.
The most downloaded documents were items for free PnP games: Ukrainian Crisis, District Commander Maracas and Putin’s War (a game designed by Riccardo Affinati and Mauro Faina that used the map from Ukrainian Crisis plus some new components). However, by the unequal numbers of downloads for the different game components I cannot help but think that a lot of these downloads are just grabs by ‘bots… whatever for, I don’t know.

From DSTL: Stuart Lyle on the Urban Operations Planner Course

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(photo credit: CA Army National Guard Public Affairs)

https://www.gov.uk/government/case-studies/stuart-lyle-international-knowledge-exchange-on-urban-warfare

Stuart Lyle of the UK Government’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) writes about his experiences teaching and learning on the 40th Infantry Division Urban Operations Planner Course in July. I was really glad to meet Stuart and the lectures he gave were fantastic! He’s the one in the middle of the group, with the beard.

I also owe him a beer or three for helping me set up the game sets the night before we played the QUICK game, and for his introductory remarks before we started that set the context for the use of games in professional military education – he was far more articulate about it than I could ever be.

Urban Operations Planners Course: featured on the Urban Warfare Project podcast!

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COL John Spencer of the Urban Warfare Project, and one of the three principals of the recent Urban Operations Planners Course, has BG Wooldridge back on his program to discuss how the second iteration of the course went… what changes they made, what was dropped and added and why, and how the course generally achieved its aim quite well!

The whole podcast is great listening – this course was run really well, in my opinion, and that was obviously not without a lot of prior work and thought. The QUICK wargame as a concluding exercise gets some discussion about 34:40; both were impressed with how the wargame went over and COL Spencer terms me “the Yoda of wargaming” – but apparently not because I am short or pudgy or sometimes difficult to understand!

Next serial of the course is 14-20 May, 2023.

https://mwi.usma.edu/urban-warfare-project/urban-warfare-project-podcast/

Review: A Distant Plain

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It’s been a while since I’ve seen a review of A Distant Plain – I got my early designer’s copy of the game almost exactly nine years ago – but here is a good short review by someone meeting it for the first time, and their thoughts on playing a game on this subject.

https://www.stuartellisgorman.com/blog/first-impressions-a-distant-plain

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)

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(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

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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.

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.