Hollandspiele’s one year old!

Hollandspiele is one year old this week, after releasing SEVENTEEN titles in that time.

And they are having a sale on each and every one of them!

https://hollandspiele.com/collections/all

Tom Russell made a very nice blog post about the process of publishing their first game, The Scheldt Campaign, but it’s more about the design work of Brian Train, the guy who designed it. His games sound like something I’d probably be interested in.

https://hollandspiele.com/blogs/hollandazed-thoughts-ideas-and-miscellany/on-publishing-the-scheldt-campaign-by-tom-russell

I’ve been very happy in my dealings with Tom and Mary Russell, both before and after their founding of Hollandspiele, a little game company that could. And did. And does. They are honest and work hard and communicate and respect the designer’s work; these are all good things. I look forward to meeting them in person one day – they were supposed to come out to the CSW Expo in Tempe this year but poor Tom screwed up his back. Well, next year.

Meanwhile, nine bucks off each of Scheldt Campaign and Ukrainian Crisis!

Kevin Sharp plays Ukrainian Crisis, and likes it

uacr-mapsmpl

Which about says it all, I suppose!

Pop over to his bigboardgaming.com site, and see his account of a complete and suspenseful game. Pictures, too!

http://bigboardgaming.com/ukrainian-crisis/

Some time earlier he also made a short video of his initial impressions:

http://bigboardgaming.com/ukraine-crisis-post-play-notes/

Interview on Travis Hill’s Low Player Count podcast

Travis Hill interviewed me recently for his podcast “Low Player Count”: we talked mostly about Colonial Twilight, but a number of other semi-rants crept in there too….

http://hwcdn.libsyn.com/p/d/6/6/d66213cf0db9b71d/Travis_Gets_Heavy_-_Brian_Train_Interview.mp3?c_id=15861033&expiration=1500241198&hwt=518aafe9e446255dff4f17cfa120b629

 

“Breaking the fourth wall”

JAntley tweet

Jeremy Antley, a very clever man (see his blog Peasant Muse, he also writes for Play the Past) recently Tweeted (if that’s the word I want) his reaction to receiving his copy of Colonial Twilight. I hope the text is readable. The “Sartre” card text reads:

15

Jean-Paul Sartre

Writes a play, donates royalties: +2 FLN Resources.

Signs manifesto: -1 Commitment.

Either way, he and Albert Camus are not friends anymore.

The card is on the surface “another of Brian’s little jokes”, and on the surface perhaps it is. The historical context is duly supplied in the Playbook:

This card reflects the actions of French intellectuals and cultural figures in opposing the war, particularly the use of torture by French forces. The “Manifesto of the 121”, a declaration published in September 1960 is an example of this and helped to mobilize public opinion and action against the war. Sartre was very vocal in support of the FLN and was the target of at least one assassination attempt by the OAS. Meanwhile, the writer Albert Camus, born in Algeria, defended the French government’s actions and supported the idea of co-existence and peaceful negotiation. He was ostracised by left-wing intellectuals for this.

But Jeremy does make a point about games and their self-absorbed nature as they try to recreate history through mechanical means. Designers occasionally break this “fourth wall” through humourous asides in the rules or their notes, but it is not often done.

If I knew more about what I was doing I could probably talk more coherently about this, but I’ll leave it here as an example of a time where a player tickled me back. Enjoy the game Jeremy!

 

Tactical narratives are not games

 

LT Backsight Forethought. Why does every subaltern try to grow a mustache?

Over at Rex Brynen’s great blog Paxsims is his reaction to a recent post on The Strategy Bridge website, about the first of a series of “tactical decision games” – the first is Kaliningrad Fires, about a hypothetical American force deployed in Lithuania to thwart an advance by Aggressor Fantasian Soviet Russian forces.

https://paxsims.wordpress.com/2017/05/10/kaliningrad-fires-is-war-but-no-game/

As he points out, the piece is called a game, but it isn’t really… because it’s not adversarial, nor does it have any real cycles to it. It could be called a wargame only in the narrow sense that the US Army uses the term: when a commander is deciding on a Course of Action (COA), he is said to “wargame” out how each COA might unfold, just to see how logical and feasible it is.

There is a long tradition to these pieces. They form part of a junior officer’s training and have been called any number of names – DIs, tactical problems, TEWTs – and their purpose is not to play out a game with rules, conflict and an outcome, but to see how well the student can formulate a logical plan of action in the time allotted, with due consideration for the problem’s parameters and its likely implications. “Creativity” (or more often, buggering about with what the text of the problem didn’t say in order to try and pull a Kobayashi Maru on the Directing Staff), comes later… first show us you’re smart.

There is an equally long tradition of presentations of worked-out tactical problems with solutions and discussion, presented in books in fictional form. They are called tactical narratives (or at least that is what I will call them, for purposes of this post).

The first of these to get wide circulation was The Defence of Duffer’s Drift written in 1904 by Ernest Swinton, then a Captain but who went on to develop the concept of tanks in battle, trained the first British tank units and finished his career in 1938 as a Major General and Commandant of the Royal Tank Corps. This is a classic and has been reprinted and reproduced many times, by all English-speaking armies (and was also translated into Urdu, for the Indian Army). It describes the experience of young Lieutenant Backsight Forethought, in command of a platoon of 50 riflemen and tasked with defending a “drift” or river crossing site during the Boer War. Forethought has no prior experience, so the book is a series of six “dreams” or visions where his first attempt is a disaster, then each subsequent dream explains a different principle or set of lessons as the scenario is played through again and again and he does better each time.  (link at the bottom, for this and other pieces)

This book was probably not on the required reading list for junior British officers then, insofar as a professional officer before the First World War was encouraged to read at all. But it was widely read, and its “serial dream” structure inspired several imitators:

  • The Battle of Booby’s Bluffs, written 1921 by Brigadier General William A. Mitchell (no, not the “Billy” Mitchell of Air Force iconoclasm);
  • The Defence of Bowler Bridge (about 1930);
  • The Rise, Fall and Rebirth of the Emma Gees (1979 by LCol Ken Nette, PPCLI – this one is on the history and tactical employment of machine guns, and I still have a reprint of the article from when I went on my Machine Gunner’s course in 1982);
  • The Defense of Hill 781: An Allegory of Modern Mechanized Combat  (1988)
  • The Defenseof Jisr al-Doreaa (2009, placed in Iraq)

The first three are all available as a collection of tactical primers at http://regimentalrogue.com/primers.htm ; the fourth is available for preview at https://books.google.ca/books/about/The_Defense_of_Hill_781.html?id=zGDZ43PhWEIC&redir_esc=y and the fifth is available on the Net at http://www.benning.army.mil/mssp/security%20topics/Global%20and%20Regional%20Security/content/pdf/Defense_of_Jisr_Al_Doreaa(2008).pdf but it was and is also available for sale on Amazon, bound with Duffer’s Drift.

It’s interesting that all of these tactical narratives deal with the defensive phase of operations.

One of the older items on my bookshelf is “The Solution of Tactical Problems”, by LCOL Joseph Needham, from 1907. Subtitled “A Logical and Easy Way of Working Out the Tactical Schemes Set at Examinations”, that is exactly what it is: a series of little vignettes placing the student who wants to pass the exams to enter RMA Sandhurst or some other military school in the position of a junior officer, tasked with commanding a flank guard or setting out pickets or something… the student thinks about his disposition and the author tells him the correct answer, as set forth in whatever Field Service Regulations there were for the infantry in 1906-07. Needham would rewrite and update the book each year, adding and changing the problems, up to the end of the First World War.

https://books.google.ca/books/about/Solution_of_Tactical_Problems.html?id=XEkenQAACAAJ&redir_esc=y

There are also examples of interactive tactical primers, written in the “choose your own adventure” style. Three examples are by John F. Antal: Infantry Combat: the Rifle Platoon (1995); Armor Attacks: the Tank Platoon (1991); and Combat Team: The Captain’s War (1998). Again, this is an interesting way to present the information, and it does verge on being a game, in that progress through the lessons is influenced by decisions made by the reader and the text is somewhat adversarial.

Then there are the extended narratives that read like novels but started life as manuals. There is Kenneth Macksey’s book, First Clash, written in 1985 and which takes an operational look at how things might have played out for the 4th Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group in southern Germany – it was also sold commercially as a book.

In 2005, a Canadian science fiction writer named Karl Schroeder was hired by the Canadian military to write Crisis at Zefra, a conceptual book about how Canadian soldiers would deal with asymmetrical threats in a generic African city of the near future (2025). A bit too goshwow with respect to the technology for me – nano-this and nano-that – but these things are valuable just by having been written down. The whole work is available at http://www.kschroeder.com/foresight-consulting/crisis-in-zefra/Crisis-in-Zefra-e.pdf . Annex B of the work is a survey by then-Major Andrew Godefroy of fictional narratives used by and for the Canadian military, beginning with Duffer’s Drift, which kind of brings things full circle.

This post has gone on longer than I planned to make it, and my original intention was to write about two other interesting items I found recently, on the uses of wargaming as tools for professional development. That will have to wait for another day, but I put the URLs here as a reminder for me, and a curiosity for you:

https://www.cove.org.au/wargaming/article-thespian-officers-narratives-and-planning/

http://cimsec.org/interwar-period-gaming-today-conflicts-tomorrow-press-start-play-pt-2/31712

 

 

 

 

 

Interview at Grogheads!

kidchicken

The inestimable Brant Guillory (okay, maybe he’s about 129.5 but don’t quote me on that) has interviewed me for his excellent website Grogheads!

http://grogheads.com/?p=14569

Thoughts on my favourite games, innovation in games, and my favourite Hasil Adkins song… plus the first announcement of my latest project (well, it will be the latest one for a week or two yet).

(He keeps calling me a “theorist”, and I don’t know why… but if it makes you happy to know one Brant, I will play one for you.)

Thanks Brant!

News Paper Games

… is the not-quite-as-bad-as-last-year title I picked for the short talk I am giving at the national conference of the American Popular Culture Association in San Diego next week.

http://pcaaca.org/national-conference/

Here is my abstract:

Ian Bogost’s 2011 book Newsgames: Journalism At Play described the growing use of videogames distributed via the Internet to fulfill the basic objectives of journalism: to inform, educate, criticize and persuade. Manual games (also called board games) distributed or published through magazines or newspapers were long used for the same purposes prior to the creation of the Internet, and the practice continues to this day. Manual games are more permissive of remixing/ reskinning for these objectives than video games, by a wider range of people. As physical and tactile objects, they demand and offer a different form of engagement with the material, on the ludic and informational level. They also particularly lend themselves to parody and satire, leading to a greater consciousness of “critical play” (Flanagan, 2009).

 This paper will focus on past and current examples of how manual games, as inclusions or features in print journalism products, have portrayed and “covered” (in the journalistic sense) contemporary issues and episodes of social, political and actual armed conflict. It will also discuss and present examples, including ones from my own work, of use of the Internet to disseminate manual games with critical and analytic content on current topics, as a form of citizen journalism.

Surprisingly, Bogost’s book does not mention paper games at all (or manual, or board, or analog, or tabletop, whatever term you want to use for games not played on a computer), except for a chapter on crosswords and other word puzzles with some news content in them appearing in newspapers.

Actually, nothing surprising about that… hardly anyone in the field of game studies writes anything about tabletop games. Last year’s conference had nearly 100 presentations in the game studies area, and three of them were not about some aspect of computer, video, digital games generally … two guys talking about people who play tabletop RPGs, and me.

Bored of War…          Back from Seattle

This year there are only about 50 presentations – it seems to be a smaller conference overall, though there will still be a couple of thousand people there – and still only three on non-digital games: one person presenting about narrative in Pandemic: Legacy (still can’t get used to the idea of a game that you scribble on, without first having made it yourself) and one person talking about “Policing Responsible Citizens: The Gamification of Crime Resistance in Children’s Table-Top Games” (seems interesting), and again me.

The fact remains, the practice of producing manual “newsgames”, under most of these genres, has been going on for some time. They remain as uncommon but clear acts of citizen-based social criticism and analytic journalism. And through DTP software, the PDF file, and the Internet for production, storage and distribution they carry on, in ever-greater numbers of PnP designs from ever-greater numbers of people.

Before there were video games there were manual games. But no one talks about it, at least not at an event like this. My talk is not even an argument, really, which I guess is fine because this seems to be a field profoundly ignorant of its origins.

Am I the skeleton at the feast?

Or does this just not have anything to do with elephants, in the room or out of it?

Anyway, there will be a game night like they had the year before, so I am bringing a few PnP items along for show, tell and play.