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.

Connections Online showcase now available!

The complete archive of presentations made during the one-day Connections Online event on 19 October 2022 is now available:

Connections Online Showcase 2022

My presentation on the QUICK is at the very bottom, at the end of a very long day for the people on the East Coast.

I’ll be reviewing these soon – great selection of topics.

I like the idea of a Reconstruction period political game, among others.

Strike for Berlin: new alt-hist scenario for Ostplan 1919

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Yaah 11 cover

Here is something new-old for you: an even-more-alt-hist scenario for my alternate-history game Strike For Berlin.

In December 1918, a general revolt across “Greater Poland” (mostly the territory known as the Grand Duchy of Posen to the Germans and the Voivodeship of Poznan to the Poles) led to confused fighting between German regular and paramilitary Freikorps units and Polish insurgents and portions of the Polish National Army. A ceasefire imposed by the Entente in mid-February 1919 confirmed the Polish occupation of most of the area and contributed to the decision to award this and other areas to Poland under the Treaty of Versailles in June 1919.

In history, the Germans were disadvantaged in the initial revolt because most of Germany was then in chaos and revolution, and trustworthy forces were needed to secure order and save the government in Berlin. But what if the November Revolution had been settled faster, or if the government was on a more secure footing generally, and decided to buck the Entente-imposed ceasefire and fight again for Greater Poland, while the Polish main effort was diverted to the east in Galicia?

This scenario uses the rules, counters and map for Strike for Berlin. The directions for this scenario are written as additions, changes or deletions to the original rules.

Wolfgang Hoepper helped immensely with OOB and other details for this scenario. Not least, he also wrote a comprehensive article on the German contemplation of carrying out just such a plan! (I have edited the article slightly for usage and vocabulary.)

We hope you try this out, and enjoy. 

Ostplan scen

Ostplan 1919 article BRT edits

 

MWI podcast: urban irregular warfare

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I don’t have a lot of time to listen to podcasts but this is one from COL John Spencer at Modern Warfare Institute that is worth a listen.

Something to think about when listening to talk about “peer to peer combat”: it’s still going to be downright guerrillas-in-the-mist in BUAs of any size.

https://mwi.usma.edu/the-great-equalizer-irregular-warfare-in-the-city

Coming soon: interview with Radio War Nerd

I spent a very pleasant time today talking about my game designs with Mark Ames and Gary Brecher, who run the Radio War Nerd podcast. It should be up and available soon!

Watch this space….

[ETA 26 Sep] Here it is!

https://www.patreon.com/posts/radio-war-nerd-72457682

You’ll have to join the Patreon to hear it, they might unlock it later and make it free.

Meanwhile,

Patreon page that supports the podcast: https://www.patreon.com/radiowarnerd

Facebook page that supports the chatter (also, a lot of interesting posts and questions on their own, it’s quite an eclectic crowd) https://www.facebook.com/people/Gary-Brecher/100009407541064

Twitter, for those who tweet https://twitter.com/TheWarNerd

Podcast: I’ve been Diced! ep 78

I’ve Been Diced! episode 78: Brian Train on newsgames, little wars, and simulation

Not long ago Tom Grant had an interview with me for his long-running podcast I’ve Been Diced!

Have a listen! I duck out about 1 hour 23 min, and Tom carries on and amplifies some of the points we talked about, particularly games vs. simulations, far more articulately than I’ve ever been able to. He even makes a Borges reference!

This is episode 78; I was on the podcast once before, back in 2011 for episode 20 where we talked about revolutionary and asymmetrical warfare. Here we are ten years later, still talking about irregular wars and simulating them, though I have more titles (and a new fixation, analog newsgames) under my belt.

I’ve Been Diced! episode 20: Brian Train on wargames about revolutionary and asymmetric warfare

Connections North 2022: videos

The videos from the Connections North 2022 conference have been posted to Youtube.

One of them is me introducing a panel discussing “influence gaming”, with some remarks on two of my primitive efforts in that direction… Ukrainian Crisis and Kashmir Crisis.

REMARKS ON INFLUENCE GAMING 2022

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/

Two Interviews: The British Way, La Jeu de la Guerre

ONE

https://elwargameronovato.blogspot.com/2022/05/the-british-way-interview-stephen.html

Daniel Iniesta interviewed Stephen Rangazas, whose 4-pack of cut-down GMT COIN system games is forthcoming from GMT.

The British Way picks up on four postwar British entanglements: Malaya, Palestine, Kenya and Cyprus. He says:

The main changes to the core COIN mechanics for The British Way was altering the way two player COIN works. I streamlined the two-player sequence of play designed by Brian Train in Colonial Twilight and changed victory to work off an overall Political Will Track to reflect that these were really head-to-head challenges between the British and insurgents. There are also significant variations to the core COIN mechanics with the two more clandestine cell-based insurgencies in Cyprus and Palestine. Finally, I think the multipack really benefited from the linked campaign scenario and designing a macro game that covers four smaller COIN games required innovating from what had been done before in the series.

It’s kind of interesting to me that my “4-box” family of games that partly inspired Volko Ruhnke’s design for the COIN system (Algeria particularly) also depended heavily on an overall Political Will or Support Track that reflected each side’s cohesion and popular support (I suppose more accurately government support for the British, since these were decolonization campaigns) in a non-zero-sum way. So kind of a return to base, in its way.

The games are limited in size and component count – not more than 18 cards played in a game, so it’s done in 1-2 hours.

I’m looking forward to this package very much!

TWO

The very clever Fred Serval has an interview with Alex Galloway about Guy Debord’s La Jeu de la Guerra for his podcast Homo Ludens. History about Debord and his game, and talk about Galloway’s work on a digital version of the game (still in process). Also, a neat clip from the Situationist detourned film, “Can Dialectics Break Bricks?”

And some time later (July 2022), Fred posts part 2, where he plays through a game with Alex Galloway and they discuss the design and adaptation of the game, among other things.

Indigenous counterpoints to colonial themes in board games

Not ‘just a game’: World of board games faces reckoning for colonial themes

A news story in Canadian Indigenous media about a teacher up-Island from me who created a board game about the Truth part of Truth and Reconciliation.

The article mentions Spirit Island, something I would like to try but can’t arrange a trade for on BGG, and also gives a shout-out to the Zenobia Awards which is nice. It mentions Settlers of Catan as an example of an objectionable board game. I add that Greg Loring-Albright (co-designer of Bloc by Bloc: Uprising 3rd Edition, which I am awaiting eagerly) created a variant of the game, First Nations of Catan, that adds an Indigenous player since the mythical island is not and never was terra nullius.

https://analoggamestudies.org/2015/11/the-first-nations-of-catan-practices-in-critical-modification/

(nice-looking printable version is here: https://doctrineofdiscoverymenno.files.wordpress.com/2019/09/ddofd-catan-handout-frontback.pdf )

Meanwhile, the Playing Oppression anthology that was being worked on at MIT Gamelab (Mary Flanagan et al) seems to have ground to a halt about 2019/20, though Mary Flanagan is still designing games.

http://gamelab.mit.edu/research/games-and-colonialism/