TVOntario: Judith Merril: wargames

Here’s an interesting thing I found today.

In the province of Ontario, Canada, there is an educational TV network called TVOntario. I suppose it would be roughly a Canadian equivalent of PBS except that it is government funded, and perhaps most American states maintain or maintain such a thing. In my province we have the Knowledge Network.

TVOntario has been broadcasting since 1970, and usually broadcasts a mix of children’s programming, documentaries, dramas, and public affairs programs as well as rebroadcasts of Question Period when the Ontario Legislative Assembly is in session. Before 1990 some unusual programming sometimes found its way in, with an escort of a knowledgeable commentator who could give it some educational context: for example, episodes of the Patrick McGoohan show The Prisoner were aired after introduction and discussion by a journalist who would explore the themes raised by the episode (https://youtu.be/8yIa1dtX9ag if you’re interested in that).

In 1969 the science fiction writer and anthologist Judith Merril moved to Canada over the suppression of protests against the Vietnam War by the American government. She settled in Toronto and created the “Spaced Out Library” in a section of the Toronto Public Library, as a special collection of all science fiction published in the English language (the Merril Collection survives as a repository of over 80,000 items at the Library, including hundreds of RPG and other game items). She was active in organizing SF writers’ groups, conferences and conventions and from 1978 to 1981 hosted episodes of Doctor Who as the UnDoctor, where she would give commentary on the episode that had just been shown.

http://www.retrontario.com/2014/02/02/tvontario-judith-merril-the-undoctor-1980-2/

I found on the website Retrontario a clip from one of these shows… where she is posing with copies of Starship Troopers, Sorcerer, and 4000 AD while discussing the episode’s theme of domination and genocide! (I guess you were wondering when the connection with wargames would appear.) These were probably items from the library’s collection; I am reasonably sure she was not a player herself.

Interview with No Enemies Here, 16 January 2021

Today’s interview with Dan Pancaldi of “No Enemies Here” podcast with special guest Aardwulf. Special event as part of the Armchair Dragoons online con: Intvw w/ NEH, @ ACDC, 1400 16 JAN 2021

Many meandering anecdotes and fragments of tales: my dad’s very short film career helping to kill off the “Mountie Western” film genre; the development and combat history of the Pantzooka; fanboy squee about James F. Dunnigan; thoughts on border wars and sunlight; firm statement that I will never do a naval or air game; and much much more!

It was lots of fun. I hope to talk with Dan again one day!

Minute Men Mark II

pic871326

Two texts.

One I have quoted often, one I read today in a blog I read frequently and find wise.

First: James Dunnigan, writing in 1976, in the introduction to the basic scenario of one of my favourite games, Minuteman: the Second American Revolution (https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/5859/minuteman-second-american-revolution).

In Minuteman, Dunnigan’s objective was to portray the spread of underground anti-establishment movements, the government’s reaction to civil discontent, and the mechanics of fighting a popular revolution. Instead of making up an imaginary country, he placed the action in the United States of 2020. The future history he cooks up as the framework to the basic scenario describes a world largely at peace, with a bankrupt Russia removed from the superpower game and an America preoccupied with profound internal social problems caused by the massive public debt run up in the last twenty years of the 20th century.

“… the trend of the ‘rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer’ had been accentuated. The only jobs that paid enough to provide a comfortable existence were to be found in the government, military, and the top 100 industrial corporations. Because of the vastly increased mechanization of work, the corporations employed only some 10% of the working population. The government employed another 12% but half of these government employees were patronage jobs, and the workers served at the pleasure of the elected officials who paid them. Another 4% of the working population was in the armed forces, [which] had become something of a hereditary institution… The government now provided millions of ‘public works’ jobs which … had now become nothing more than another form of public welfare… the police, which amounted one-third of all government employees, were kept busy seeing that over 40 million unemployed and underemployed people did not get out of line. The present situation was not one in which Americans were starving, nor did they lack most basic comforts. What they were denied was any great hope of improvement… only some 20% of the population was going to have any future whatsoever. The rest of the population would subsist as well-fed, uneducated, and most horrifying of all, useless drones existing at the mercy of a small hereditary minority.”

Not bang-on, but prescient enough and a remarkable projection from the distance of 45 years.

Second: this, today, from ianwelsh.net. 

Might seem overstated now but who knows what this will look like from 45 years away?

The Conditions Now Exist For A Long Term Right Wing Insurgency In America
2021 JANUARY 13

by Ian Welsh

Let us understand that the attack on the capitol, while it included many “tourists”, included some very serious, coordinated people who had temporary restraints and a plan.

They genuinely believed, because they have been told this over and over and over again, that the election had been blatantly and massively stolen, and that democracy in the United States had been overthrown. As such, it was their duty to right the wrong that had been done, including taking captive those most responsible like Nancy Pelosi.

It’s hard to find general polling data, but over 50% of registered Republican voters think the attack was justified. Almost half blame Biden more than Trump. Fourty-five (to 43%) think the protest/attack was justified.

Republican support, like Democratic support, is geographically concentrated.

These numbers are more than sufficient to sustain a long term insurgency.

It’s worth understanding how insurgencies get better. Let’s take Hezbollah as an example: if as a Hezbollah member, let alone commander,  you get sloppy in your security at any time, you get dead, because Israel has the best American surveillance and ELINT equipment, plus jets and drones and assassination teams.

Israel, over the years, has killed a ton of Hezbollah officials.

Hasn’t slowed Hezbollah down one bit, instead it has acted as a perfect Darwinian crucible. If you make mistakes, you get dead and probably so does your family and most of your unit.

Israel kept doing that, and now mistakes hardly ever happen. In fact, in the last Israel-Hezbollah war, Hezbollah won the ELINT war (against American equipment, remember) and won the ground-battles. Over decades, Israel had created the perfect enemy, absolutely optimized to beat them, and arguably the best light infantry force in the world.

Nowadays Israel is scared to patrol near the Lebanese border, because Hezbollah has told them that the moment Hezbollah can, it will grab Israeli soldiers, and Israel is now the sort of society that can’t handle that. So Hezbollah has not just beaten them on the ground; electronically and in the spy-game, it has achieved psychological dominance.

Now, of course, an American right wing insurrection is not the same. Among other things, American forces will be operating in their own county; plus, this is the start, not the end.

But boobs like those who went the capitol and live-streamed the attack – those people will quickly be taken out of the picture. Even the slightly smarter will be caught because they wore the same gear as in previous protests or didn’t wear masks and goggles. People who used credit cards to travel and took their phones with them. They go to nasty prisons, and they learn or drop out of active life in the resistance. Over time, security becomes tighter and tighter. People learn.

America is a big country: far, far larger than Lebanon, which is barely a postage stamp. Lots of people and lots of terrain. The security services are at least somewhat sympathetic and clearly massively infiltrated by race-warriors and other “fellow travelers” of the right.

So what seems like a distinct possibility is a low grade insurrection, combined with protests that often turn violent, by very heavily armed people. Biden will pass his Patriot Act II, even more cameras and security checks and intrusive laws and unjust nonsense like the no-fly list (which is not made good or right because it was used against right wingers) proliferate.

The US becomes even more of a police and prison state.

If this metastasizes into the next stage, well, the US is full of veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. They know how area denial works (repeat after me, IEDs) and there will be techies willing to make them drones and so on. Parts of the country become no-go zones, where the security services can only go in convoys or by air, and even then at great risk.

Far-fetched?

Perhaps. But the US has a large enough and geographically concentrated enough population who genuinely believe that the election was stolen and that it is their patriotic duty to restore democracy to sustain an insurrection. It has compromised security forces, a geography that in many places is almost made for insurrection, and a vast amount of arms spread around the population along with the knowledge and means to make more.

As usual, this sort of thing takes time to really get going and there are actions which could be taken to limit it and drain the swamp.

But understand clearly that the conditions for a long term insurrection which cannot be put down with force short of imprisoning millions of people in prison camps (or killing millions) currently exist in America.

Legitimacy, for millions of Americans, is truly and completely broken. They consider the government about to be inaugurated to one that has no right to be in power.

In the game Minuteman, ultimate victory goes to the player who successfully contends for control of the major urban zones; as always, the bulk of the people are the prize (or at least the bulk of the politically active and mobilizable people). Meanwhile, there are cities aplenty that could serve as hinterland bases.

Some variants and update material for the game are here: Favourites Scenarios and Variants

I ought to take a weekend and get this one out again… and, as I did when I was a student, listen to this on headphones while playing:

Heard of a van that is loaded with weapons,
Packed up and ready to go
Heard of some grave sites, out by the highway,
A place where nobody knows

The sound of gunfire, off in the distance,
I’m getting used to it now
Lived in a brownstone, lived in a ghetto,
I’ve lived all over this town

This ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco,
This ain’t no fooling around
No time for dancing, or lovey dovey,
I ain’t got time for that now

Transmit the message, to the receiver,
Hope for an answer some day
I got three passports, a couple of visas,
You don’t even know my real name

High on a hillside, the trucks are loading,
Everything’s ready to roll
I sleep in the daytime, I work in the nighttime,
I might not ever get home

This ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco,
This ain’t no fooling around
This ain’t no Mudd Club, or C. B. G. B.,
I ain’t got time for that now

Heard about Houston? Heard about Detroit?
Heard about Pittsburgh, P. A.?
You oughta know not to stand by the window
Somebody’ll see you up there

I got some groceries, some peanut butter
To last a couple of days
But I ain’t got no speakers, ain’t got no headphones
Ain’t got no records to play

Why stay in college? Why go to night school?
Gonna be different this time
Can’t write a letter, can’t send no postcard
I ain’t got time for that now

Trouble in transit, got through the roadblock
We blended in with the crowd
We got computers, we’re tapping phone lines
I know that that ain’t allowed

We dress like students, we dress like housewives
Or in a suit and a tie
I changed my hairstyle so many times now
I don’t know what I look like

You make me shiver, I feel so tender
We make a pretty good team
Don’t get exhausted, I’ll do some driving
You ought to get you some sleep

Burned all my notebooks, what good are notebooks?
They won’t help me survive
My chest is aching, burns like a furnace
The burning keeps me alive

Civil Power: making your own scenarios

Untitled-1

Copies of Civil Power are starting to thud and rattle into mailboxes across the land.

https://www.consimsltd.com/products/civil-power in case you haven’t had a chance to order your copy yet!

I’ve mentioned this before, but from the beginning I purposely designed this to be a “sandbox” type of game, for people to experiment with new and revised scenarios, optional rules and so forth – there is also a points purchase system and force-package system so you can easily assemble opposing forces.
The game comes with two geomorphic squared maps of an imaginary urban area. Keeping in mind that each square is 20 metres across (~25 yards) or about the width of a street, you could take an image from Google Maps or something and make a squared map to suit your favourite location, with terrain interpretations informed by your knowledge of the area.
As an example, I made one such for the Legislative Assembly buildings in my capital city… took me a couple of minutes to do. (Yeah, it shows.) Though I hasten to add that while the front lawn has seen many demonstrations, they have all been fairly well mannered except one time in 1993 where protesters forced their way into the building, and broke a window (and a staff member was shoved to the ground and hurt their hip). A collection was taken up by the organizers to have the window fixed.
VicLeg 1

Reminder: talk on self-publishing, December 8

Comrades and friends:

Just a reminder that on Tuesday, December 8, from 6pm Eastern (that’s 2200 Zulu Time) for two whole hours (maybe), I will be talking and taking questions on the whys, hows and wherefores of self-publishing and distributing your own wargames. Everything begins with something homemade, and sometimes it just stays that way.

The event is free but you have to register through Eventbrite:

The Zenobia Award

Mentor.

Signal boost for a worthy cause: the Zenobia Award.

Rex Brynen is a better writer, speaker and when it comes down to it thinker than I am so I will quote from his announcement:

“Historical board games are enjoyed by people from all walks of life, but their designers are predominately white men. The Zenobia Award hopes to change this by encouraging game submissions by people from marginalized groups. The Zenobia Award is not an ordinary design award. Promising applicants will receive mentorship on their designs from established industry designers, and the winners will receive help navigating the game publication process in addition to a cash prize.”

Daniel Thurot at Space-Biff! is also far more eloquent than I, at his post at https://spacebiff.com/2020/11/22/zenobia/

More details are all here: https://zenobiaaward.org so go and have a look.

I write a lot about my game designs on this blog, less often on politics, and only occasionally on the state of the hobby. But anyone who’s been in it for long soon susses out that just as there are definitely more “outputs” (published games) on certain topics than others, there are also more “inputs” (designers of published games) of a certain category than others – white, male, and older.

This is an observation, and hardly a profound one at that.

I don’t see anything nefarious about this situation. It was well known, Back In The Day, that this was a hobby that was generally indulged in by white, educated males… the Great Dunnigan remarked on this, particularly the gender imbalance, in the pages of SPI-era Strategy and Tactics many times, and often referred to the whole shootin’ match as “the hobby of the overeducated” – which back then largely also meant white and male.

I also don’t see anything particularly praiseworthy about this situation. It is also well known, Now, that many cylinders of this hobby’s engine have run on nostalgia fumes for a very long time, and many players and designers from Back In The Day are still with us, just older. That’s expected – time does march on – but society has marched on too and the audiences, actual and potential, for tabletop games are far different in gender, ethnicity, nationality and cultural outlook from 40 years ago.

I think it’s pretty simple: if you want to see the hobby continue to function, to encourage new ideas and explore different topics, to invite new people and their experiences into the fold, either help to spread the word yourself or consider contributing, either as a member of an underrepresented group or part of a team that includes such. It’s not about the prize (personally, I don’t see why money has to be be involved at all), it’s about the offer of help, advice and mentorship to people who want to become involved… which is something I have tried to extend to everyone who has approached me, as a designer (and in my day job).

If these things are not important to you, or you think they will happen by themselves, or you think that historical board games are not inherently political objects, then carry on as you have – this initiative doesn’t require anything of you, and I am sure you can find someone who will agree with you elsewhere. But I have never had time for self-appointed gatekeepers.

Melodice: playlist for your favourite games

Now here’s a clever thing!

Melodice.org will assemble a Youtube playlist of favourite musical pieces based on player submissions. Let this play while you are playing, to set the mood.

You can search for different games, so here are two I found for A Distant Plain and Colonial Twilight, and two I made for Nights of Fire and District Commander Kandahar:

https://melodice.org/playlist/a-distant-plain-2013/

https://melodice.org/playlist/colonial-twilight-the-french-algerian-war-1954-62-2017/

https://melodice.org/playlist/nights-of-fire-battle-for-budapest-2019/

https://melodice.org/playlist/district-commander-kandahar-2020/

Simulmatics’ shadow

An early example of an urban COIN megagame

A while back I posted about an interesting urban insurgency game I found on the shelves of the US Army War College called URB-INS. It was produced by Simulmatics, a political consulting and analysis company that started in 1959, rocketed to prominence as one of the early proponents of big data for political analysis, and went bankrupt by 1970. 

Jill Lepore, a professor of history at Harvard, has written a book called If Then: How the Simulmatics Corporation Invented the Future that traces out just how far, high and fast Simulmatics went in the world of politics, government and academia. Have a look at this interview with the Chronicle of Higher Education – if nothing else, for the description of what Eugene Burdick, writer of The Ugly American and Fail-Safe and spokesman for Ballantine Ale, had to do with it all!

https://www.chronicle.com/article/higher-ed-has-a-silicon-valley-problem

Heat Ray!

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-54187961

An Army National Guard officer has testified that his unit was asked by military police whether they had a “heat ray”, more formally known as the Active Denial System, as Washington DC authorities prepared to clear demonstrators from Lafayette Square on June 1, 2020.

This is a vehicle-mounted system that uses a tightly focused beam of microwave energy to make the target feel as if their skin is burning, though the chances of actual physical damage are low. It was deployed to Afghanistan in 2010 but sent back unused, and was proposed to be but wasn’t deployed to the US border with Mexico in 2018. I am not sure it has ever actually been used in other than demonstrations for the media; a smaller version may have been used in prisons (possibly to break up impromptu performances of “Telephone” in the exercise yard).

The National Guard unit did not have one of these jolly contrivances, but YOU can have one of your very own – IF you get a copy of my forthcoming game Civil Power!

The counter for it is pictured above (art by Ivan Caceres). Rules are as follows:

  • The ADS may be used in scenarios taking place after 2010.
  • The ADS may apply its Shock Combat strength of 10 to one target unit in the Fire Combat Phase. The die roll is not modified. In the case of an X result, no WIA is counted.
  • The ADS has an infinite range (even at night) but only one unit in a stack may be targeted. 
  • The ADS may not attack units that are in a building, in the same area as a Gas cloud, or units where the LOS to the target crosses a Fire area or Barricade (the beam does not penetrate solid objects, and even a small amount of smoke or mist will reduce its power to the point where the target only feels toasty warm).

[EDITED TO ADD: The Chinese People’s Liberation Army has developed its own version of the ADS, and has reportedly used it against Indian Army troops in the Himalayas: November, 2020. (Source is the Daily Mail, but if I find a more reputable source I will link it here too.)

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-8957019/China-used-secret-microwave-pulse-weapon-Indian-soldiers.html

Team play of COIN system games

O’er the hills and far away….

The estimable Brant Guillory of Armchair Dragoons and other manifestations has published a guide to the team play of GMT COIN system games that he and his group have put on at Origins!

It’s brilliant, go check it out.

The hidden intelligence part is reflected in having teams of two players for each faction – one diplomatic and one military – but the diplomatic player cannot see the map and the military player cannot see the card, nor are they privy to the negotiations the diplomat has hammered out with the other players. This makes this method very good for games where there is a lot of argle-bargle, and Brant usually does this method with A Distant Plain (an even better wrinkle with this one is that the Warlords faction is played by two, but they take both roles, on alternate turns!).

Very clever, indeed.