Cancellation

I have had a family emergency come up.

I will not be participating in Dan Pancaldi’s podcast, and have cancelled the Zones of Connection and SDHistCon events I was going to hold.

Thank you.

Kashmir Crisis: solitaire rules

KC_Cover mid

Today at the Boardgamegeek.com entry for Kashmir Crisis, player (yes! there is at least one!) Steve Roberts posts about his method for an automated manual opponent for the game, using a second deck of cards with a different back. I haven’t tried it (frankly, I did not think at all about a bot for the game when I designed it) but it’s clever!

https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/2626513/my-solo-mechanics

He also posted about his experience playing the game solitaire, and the narrative it generated:

https://boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/281198/item/8203151#item8203151

Thanks Steve!

The other Thin White Duke

696df3e1d2d5e4cee08b9872a346292b

Okay, so who didn’t have a watch party of Waterloo tonight?

I know there are lots of candidates but this is my favourite role of his.

So what was that all about?

i tawt i taw a coup

image: Paul Mavrides.

Some truly remarkable images and events this week in Washing Tundy Sea. I can’t pick a favourite. So I use this cute image by Paul Mavrides.

Was it a coup? Not really, in my view, or at least not the riot itself. Edward Luttwak’s remarkable 1968 book Coup d’etat: A Practical Handbook defines ” [a] coup consists of the infiltration of a small, but critical, segment of the state apparatus, which is then used to displace the government from its control of the remainder.” He also gives some useful distinctions:

https://books.google.ca/books?id=bA7bCwAAQBAJ&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false

It’s interesting to note that the words being tossed around are foreign loan words: coup d’etat, putsch, pronunciamento. Almost as if English didn’t want to be associated with such ruffianlike behaviour.

But it’s not just local language, it’s the concept. And one concept/term hasn’t been used much is “autogolpe” or self-coup. Basically it is a form of coup d’etat, in that it uses some of the machinery and organs of the State to seize power, but the objective is not regime change – it is to keep the regime (and head of state) in power, when it is supposed to leave. This is something that is not unique to South America, but the continent furnishes some good examples: Alberto Fujimori in Peru in 1992, and recent events in Bolivia. I would say that what we’ve seen is a clumsily attempted autogolpe through the legislature, with a noisy messy mob attack on top of it as a threat and distraction.

https://www.brookings.edu/blog/order-from-chaos/2021/01/08/no-its-not-a-coup-its-a-failed-self-coup-that-will-undermine-us-leadership-and-democracy-worldwide/

There was also a swell of online gamer interest in Civil Power, which is now in production by Blue Panther LLC, as one of the very few tactical games about riots… I would guess it’s the only one in print, even including miniatures rules sets. So yes, one could make up a Capitol Hill scenario fairly quickly – I’m not going to bother, I have other things to do right now – it’s not hard:

https://brtrain.wordpress.com/2020/12/21/civil-power-making-your-own-scenarios/

As I’ve said many times, this is deliberately a sandbox game. The range of scenarios with the game is illustrative and there are plenty of optional rules. People can experiment with this one as they please, and add what assumptions and conditions they like.

Really, this would be a combination of two scenarios that are in the game already: I-4 “Terre Blanche, Pretoria 1991” (rioting neo-Nazis trying to get into a building (how about that), just be sure to mark a limited number of entry points) and I-8 “Demonstration, American city 202x”.

And for the run-up to Inauguration Day, if there is sustained crowd and demo activity (and no shooting or bombing, despite what some blowhards have posted), Battle of Seattle (Free Games! ) could be updated or you could run a 3-5 day campaign scenario of Civil Power like the Chicago ’68 scenario in the game.

Please don’t accuse me of bad taste or “too soon” (unless you feel that way about the whole hobby, in which case it isn’t just me). I designed Civil Power in 1991, using then-contemporary news stories as the bases for scenarios, and it’s been available from me in one form or another for over 25 years. Battle of Seattle I did within a few weeks of the actual event at the end of 1999. I’m interested in these things, and I make my wee games of them; and sometimes, the world catches up with me.

Obligatory end-of-year review, 2020

HerzogCans

Well, another year has zipped by. And what a year it was; this time last year, I was arranging to spend a week in Hawaii to combine (game) business with pleasure in April, and plotting out trips to conferences and conventions including a longer trip to Europe in the fall. Obviously none of that happened and I am completing my ninth month working from home (for the first time in my career), at a job that got even crazier as colleges and universities made the swift pivot to all-online instruction. I quite resented the intrusion of day-job space into home-job space at first but what are you going to do… and I save ~2 hours of commuting and dressing each day.

I’m not sorry to see 2020 go, and I know 2021 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.

Game publishing and publicity

  • January: Hollandspiele brought out District Commander: Binh Dinh, the second volume in the series. District Commander: Binh Dinh out now!
  • February: long interview with The Players Aid about Brief Border WarsBrief Border Wars quad: interview at The Players Aid
  • April: a nice interview with Harold Buchanan, talking mostly about China’s War and StrongmanInterview with Howard Buchanan  I also belatedly posted notice of an interview with The Players Aid that was posted at the very end of 2019, on China’s WarChina’s War: interview with The Players Aid
  • June: After about a year of pre-orders, the Brief Border Wars quad sailed out the door. Sales were quite brisk, apparently! Brief Border Wars: shipping at last! I also had a very nice long session with John Kranz of Compass Games talking about this and other designs and thoughts. Interview with Compass Games, 5 June 2020
  • August: Posted link to a long and interesting interview with Neil Bunker of Diagonal Move. Interview: Diagonal Move
  • September: District Commander: Kandahar was published by Hollandspiele! District Commander: on sale, sale, sale! This leaves one module of the original four, District Commander: ZNO (Zone Nord Oranais).  This will be out some time in 2021 but meanwhile it is still available here for free PnP New free game: ZNO (District Commander module) Also, a longish interview at The Players Aid about the thoughts and mechanics in Civil PowerCivil Power: interview with The Players Aid
  • November: After eight months of working from home, I had run out of enough components for the infrequent sales of my DTP quality BTR Games designs that I suspended sales of the physical product. It was getting difficult to get to the post office on time too. So I made up PDF copies of six designs (1848, Andartes, Balkan Gamble, EOKA, Land of the Free, Red Guard) and made them available for PnP through Wargame Vault: https://www.wargamevault.com/browse/pub/18373/BTR-Games  I also took the opportunity to clean up and add to the rules for several designs, and was especially happy to make Red Guard available again even if it is not a big crowd-pleaser. When the world straightens out a bit I will resume sales of the physical product but will likely keep these six up there. Current price: $8.00 US a pop.
  • December: Civil Power finally went on sale! My proof copy is very nice, the counters look great. Civil Power: preview video!  I gave a talk to the Georgetown University Wargaming Society about self-publishing games, which seems to have been well-received… the biggest thing I learned in putting material together for this was that I have lots more to learn, beyond my simple, crude and low-tech methods (which, I hasten to add, work perfectly well for me). Links to slide deck and Youtube recording are here. PostGUWS

Game design work and future publication

Work and or testing continued throughout the year on some of the following:

  • Brief Border Wars Quad: Compass Games realized they had a good seller on their hands, and they are quite interested in Volume II – so I spent a lot of time on these in the summer and fall. The four battles are all pre-1945 titles: Second Balkan War 1913; Teschen 1919; Nomonhan 1939; and Italo-Greek War 1940. If people (including me) aren’t completely sick of these after this, I have thoughts on what to pick for a Volume III, which would all be post-1945 topics once again.
  • China’s War 1937-41: testing testing, until late summer when renos forced me to turn my gaming space into my work-from home space. I had been hoping to get into development in 2020, but lags with other projects prevented the developer from getting to it. No problem, it will come when it does as GMT is facing some large problems with production and shipping with current and near-future product. Almost 1,300 pre-orders now.
  • Civil Power: This was one of the first games I ever designed (1991-92) and revising it after 25 years is proving almost as much work as doing a new one. But it’s done, with some good revised rules and extra options and a lot of new scenarios based on contemporary headlines: Hong Kong 2019, duelling mobs in Caracas, Violent Demo USA, etc.. Timely, yes, but perhaps it always was.
  • District Commander series: Made changes to the core rules after Maracas came out: nerfing Ambush and Intimidate missions, a new use for Intelligence Advantage chits, and disrupting Militia units no longer deducts Task Points. Pleased with the way things are with it now. If I get time and opportunity next year I might do a Kashmir module that has scenarios from various flare-ups over the years; we’ll see.
  • Semi-abstract urban counterinsurgency games: no time to finish these two off. Will likely put them up for free PnP as few people seem interested in this kind of thing.
  • Strongman: I got in some plays and an important revision of this done before the March lockdown. I haven’t had a chance to work on it since then but I’m pleased – maybe not reached the final step on this but the last few steps have been forward ones.
  • Tabletop Simulator: I have a few days off the end of this year (was not able to take much vacation due to having to substitute for my boss while he sought elected office) so would like to learn how to use this and make TTS versions of some of my games. I think it might be useful for future playtesting and I don’t think I will ever be able to grok making a Vassal module for myself.

Conventions

  • Of course, nothing happened, at least nothing physical.

Conferences and professional wargaming stuff

  • No physical conferences – Connections-US this year was virtual, and I did manage to attend a couple of online sessions though it was difficult to do during working hours. Connections-UK was cancelled outright.

Writing

  • Not a productive year, as far as writing about war and games. Nothing formally published, just the usual torrent of wise-guy stuff on blogs, sites and social media. I did write a lot for some quite pleasant interviews and Q&A I had with The Player’s Aid. One interview with Diagonal Move made me think a bit. Interview: Diagonal Move

Near-meaningless digest of site statistics:

  • Overall traffic seems to be continuing a decline since 2018. I seem to be cruising still at just below 1,600 views per month, for a total of about 19,000 views. About 7,000 visitors. The five most curious countries were: US (by a very wide margin), UK, Canada, France and Italy. One guy clicked in from Oman.
  • Besides the then-current post, popular pages included the perennial favourites BTR Games, Free Games and Scenarios and Variants pages. No surprises there. The most popular post was the one for the Colonial Twilight-inspired method of playing 4-faction COIN system games with 2 people: Spielenexperiment: Turning 4 into 2
  • The most downloaded documents were the card/counter files for District Commander: ZNO,  Third Lebanon War and Canadian Civil War, the play mat for Kashmir Crisis, and the presentation I made at Connections North (“Soft Power Maps”). Since download figures for the other parts of the associated games are nowhere near these numbers, it’s obvious they are being scooped up by some kind of bot or script.

Article on professional wargaming from VICE France

Polish, not French officers and NCOs.

Seen today: an article that originally appeared in VICE France that includes an interview with Antoine Bourguilleau, historian and researcher at the Institute of War and Peace Studies at the Sorbonne University in Paris. Bourgilleau talks about the use of wargames to train professional soldiers.

Games cited or illustrated (other than the obligatory introductory reference to Risk, of course) include:

  • Kriegsspiel
  • the 1930s US Naval War College games
  • the WATU anti-submarine games
  • the Fletcher Pratt naval wargame
  • Phantom Fury by Laurent Closier
  • FITNA by Pierre Razoux
  • Matrix games get a brief description too.

Have a look!

https://www.vice.com/en/article/v7gpwb/how

Jouer la guerre
https://passes-composes.com/book/264

Bourgilleau has written a book on the subject, difficult to tell whether it is more than the usual historical survey of the subject.

Interview with Compass Games, 5 June 2020

Coming to an Orthicon Tube near you: John Kranz of Compass Games does a live online interview with me!

Mostly we will be talking about the Brief Border Wars Quad, coming out Real Soon Now from Compass, but maybe other things if John lets Unca’ Gran’pa’s mind and mouth wander….

Friday, June 5, 2020: 1700 Pacific, 2000 Eastern

Click on the above or below to set a reminder!

Tune in, maggots!

Peter Cushing, wargamer

petercushingmodels

https://dangerousminds.net/comments/all_the_kings_men_peter_cushings_impressive_5000_piece_collection_of_model_

I always enjoyed Peter Cushing on the big screen, not his Star Wars character but all the different characters he played in Hammer Horror films, the Amicus horror anthologies and his 1954 portrayal of Winston Smith in Nineteen Eighty-Four (which you can see on Youtube).

Not everyone knows that he had a wide range of creative activities and interests outside of acting, and one of these was miniature wargaming. He had a collection of over 5,000 miniatures, mostly 54mm scale it seems from photographs, and would play wargames with them, using the Little Wars and Floor Games rules sets written by H. G. Wells. Writeups of this also point out how meticulously he would paint them, but these rules require firing small wooden pellets at the miniatures from a spring cannon – so I suspect he had one set to paint and keep on the shelf, and another set to play wargames with!

Here is a British Pathe clip from 1956.

A Visit to DSTL

From Engineering and Technology magazine.

Even better, the article was not illustrated with a picture of a game of RISK!

https://eandt.theiet.org/content/articles/2020/02/playing-wargames-to-help-shape-real-life-military-strategy

Playing wargames to shape real-life military strategy

Commercial wargames may be a crowd-pleaser for gaming enthusiasts, but what if these strategy-based tools could be used to support real-life military tactics? We speak to experts at the UK’s first dedicated wargaming centre who are setting this in motion.

Tucked away in a little town near Portsmouth, on the south coast of the UK, lies a facility. Here, those who serve our country are likely currently battling each other in games similar to those you may have come across in a store or in the comfort of your own home. Indeed, it may sound like a computer game, but they are so much more than that.

These are, in fact, wargames – a scenario-based warfare model in which the outcome and sequence of events affect, and are affected by, the decisions made by players, as described by the Ministry of Defence (MoD). It is a decision-making technique that provides structured but intellectually liberating safe-to-fail environments to help explore what works during warfare and what does not.

In fact, the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) has a long history of delivering these successful wargames on behalf of the MoD alongside other government departments. To take this one step further, Dstl has now opened the UK’s first dedicated wargaming centre.

The Defence Wargaming Centre (DWC), located on Dstl’s Portsdown West site near Portsmouth, was created to host wargames for all three UK services, responding to the increasing demand for wargaming as a tool both to support decisions and to develop insight into complex issues faced by defence and security.

Mike Larner, head of the DWC, says: “Wargaming enables commanders to anticipate and rehearse future conflicts which, ultimately, increases the UK’s capability to deter aggression and protect its interests.

“What’s quite different about this centre is that we’ve drawn together all of the people that are involved in wargames from different areas,” Larner adds, “so we now have a single team supporting wargames across all of the services, head office and all other departments at Dstl and the MoD.”

Currently, DWC covers around 600m2 with two large areas and one smaller open-plan area that can be subdivided further into smaller cells as required. Gaming tables, some of which have short-throw HD projectors to visualise wargame scenarios, reconfigure to the necessary shape and size. Dstl says that future upgrades are being planned to the physical space, computing, and communications, as well as further expansion to the wargaming teams and the range of tools available to them.

Beyond the wargames themselves, the centre intends to focus on research for wargaming methods, tools and techniques. “At the heart of a wargame there is some sort of simulation, and that can be anything from a board game or a map with characters being moved around,” says Larner, “or it could be a really sophisticated computer model that you’re putting all of this into and that is simulating a lot of the lower-level activities, and then it gives you results.”

In December 2019, the Royal Air Force (RAF) conducted the first wargaming exercise, Eagle Warrior 19, at the facility. The exercise was designed and developed by Dstl and involved staff from across the RAF and other services.

Lee Purslow, a wargame designer and analyst at DWC, describes the premise of the exercise: “Eagle Warrior 19 was a command and control wargame facilitated at DWC and attended by more than 40 RAF officers. The wargame used a hybridised combination of tools including digital modelling, maps and manual table-top games to evaluate the RAF’s response to various scenarios,” he explains. “Teams were split across seven cells and were assessed in their decision-making and timeliness of responses.” He delines to elaborate beyond that, saying the DWC cannot disclose any further details about the wargame for security reasons.

“One of the things about wargames is that it immerses people,” says analyst Marianne Shirley. “It’s quite an interesting way of considering and analysing problems.” So whether that is through the means of a manual table-top or a digital model, or perhaps a ‘hybrid’ of both, analysts and wargame designers discuss and cater to the requirements of their client to create the most suitable wargame for their needs.

“The customers come up with requirements; we will decide at that stage if it’s a simulation model or a manual table-top,” Purslow explains. “The biggest difference between the two is that simulation models tend to produce more quantitative information data as opposed to manual table-top games, which produce more qualitative information.”

According to the Dstl experts, commercial wargames offer a novel way of developing and testing combat strategy, taking inspiration from pre-existing wargames. Here, analysts spend time playing the games, analysing what makes them effective, looking at the mechanics of the game, and then taking the parts of the wargames that they feel are appropriate to a customer’s requirements.

“We look at the work of other people and draw from them,” Larner explains. “We are also very interested in how [boardgames] have been translated into video games.”

In July 2019, Dstl announced a partnership with Epsom-based video game developer Slitherine Software to explore the mechanics of a few of its own digital strategy-based games such as grand strategy game ‘Fields of Glory: Empires’ and variations of the digital version of ‘Warhammer 40,000’, initially a table-top wargame.

The team at DWC are positive about the wargaming centre, explaining that they aim to embed more technology into their facilities in the future.

They will also look to grow the team at the centre. DWC currently has around 35 full-time wargamers, who work with around 100 analysts across different divisions that specialise in coordinating different services and commands. “We’re planning to carry on growing from that,” Larner says.

Furthermore, DWC aspires to bring more technology into the centre, look for technology for improved data analysis, and to develop more mobile capabilities so that participants can conduct wargames remotely.

“Some of our wargames are actually about the technology and about viewing the ways that the armed forces use it. Then we have the technology for the wargames themselves and we’re looking into how we can use it better,” says Larner. “This area, in particular, is something that there’s a lot of interest in: how it might revolutionise defence. We’re certainly tracking that.”

Indeed, DWC is interested in using greater levels of technology to design a wargame and to even better visualise what is going on in a scenario-based model. By delivering a wide variety of wargames “it represents a significant step-up in capability and signals our intent to keep developing in response to growing MoD and wider government demand for wargaming,” Larner remarks, “which is, in turn, a response to the increasing complexity of conflict”.

CASE STUDY:

Shaping Afghan peace support operations

In 2011, Dstl deployed two teams of civilian volunteers to Afghanistan to support the headquarters of the International Security Assistance Force Joint Command (IJC) military planning teams. Dstl supported IJC, which was responsible for the combined Coalition and Afghan military campaign across the country, to shape future Nato operations at the time.

Two major planning conferences in March and November that year used Dstl’s computer simulation, the Peace Support Operations Model (PSOM), a research-based decision-support tool for examining operations and outcomes in complex environments such as Afghanistan.

Originally designed to inform future UK strategic planning, PSOM was employed by the Dstl teams in Afghanistan in a bespoke analytical process. Indeed, this process simulated the planning, execution and assessment of real-world operations by giving senior military and civilian decision-makers clear direction and insights that influenced and shaped Nato operations in the region.

The activity

These conferences were the first of their kind to use a computer-based wargame to evaluate and refine campaign planning in Afghanistan. As part of the game, the PSOM computer system provided a novel analysis capability; these incorporated complex interactions between factors such as religious beliefs, ethnic identities, socio-economic conditions, geography and terrain, as well as political and military activity.

During the process, PSOM simulated military operations and civilian development activities by placing these complex factors in context. The models described the relationships between them and used the computer simulation to provide an objective structure to track cause-and-effect and generate insights for decision-makers. The process also used the subject-matter experts within the wargame to ensure their knowledge and expertise was reflected.

Within this process, military and civilian planners were able to assess the potential effects of different courses of action and test them against different challenges.

The variants

The wargame conferences were centred on semi-rigid, computer-assisted adjudication. Interactions during the month-long turns were first determined using PSOM, but then could be moderated or overruled by the adjudication team.

Each of these conferences involved around 20 control staff and 100-150 military and civilian players, with every cell represented: red, orange, green, blue, black and white, and brown for the civilian population. The blue, green and white players comprised strategic-, operational- and tactical-level planners, with support from external civilian agencies, embassies and elements from the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF).

Thousands of entities were simulated, with military elements represented at a company level. Within PSOM, the civilian population was simulated as a set of discrete agents with decision-sets and information properties.

This was a closed game, with players collecting intelligence from various sources. Meanwhile, one central bird table and a network of computers provided shared situational awareness. The MoD described the wargame as “dynamic”, with an open-ended narrative driven by the player decisions and how they reacted to the consequences of these actions taken.

The outcome

“You have raised issues that a coalition and combined team, hundreds of thousands strong, have not thought all the way through to the finish,” IJC said in its summary of the 2011 Afghanistan planning conferences. “That early catch will save many lives as well as be critical to the success of the future campaign.”

Major General (then Brigadier) Gary Deakin, representing the British Army, said in 2014: “The use of the wargaming tool PSOM enabled commanders and their planning staffs to objectively visualise the likely outcomes of the transition campaign for Afghanistan.

“Almost three years on, and having been involved directly or indirectly in Afghanistan since, I have frequently observed events and trends which were identified as key risks to the plan in the wargaming,” he continued. “This is the most effective tool for wargaming at the higher levels I have experienced.”

Nights of Fire: video review

Liz Davidson of “Beyond Solitaire” does a short review of Nights of Fire.

She really liked the theme and the challenging nature of the desperate situation, but would have liked a closer connection to the events relating to the physical locations on the board and thought the final turns of the game (as the Insurgent’s options and numbers dwindle) dragged a bit. Fair enough. But on balance, she liked it!