Aint’a gonna study “Modern War” no more…

Greek Civil War, redux

Next War in Lebanon, redux

Struggle for Kandahar: the rest of the story

Decision Games’ magazine-with-game Modern War is dead.

Yesterday on Consimworld and Facebook editor Ty Bomba confirmed the rumour that had been flying around:

Ty Bomba – Aug 10, 2021 7:45 am (#2506 Total: 2512)  BookmarkEmail to Friend
The End of Modern War Magazine

Issue No. 55 is the last and final issue of MW, for both its no-game newsstand and hobby editions.

About the “Central Front Curse” — I am sure the regular attendees in this website’s Central Front Series folder WILL be blaming my “Seven Days to the Rhine Series” for the magazine’s demise.

When I asked Dr. Cummins about that, however, he said they had chosen issue 55, and its completion of the 7DttR Series, as the final issue “in order to go out on a high note.”

The simple problem has been — since the start of MW — insufficient subscription sales, which was then compounded on the single-issue impulse-buy side by the effective demise of bookstores during the worst of the pandemic.

I didn’t care for the 7 Days to the Rhine series, and while it wasn’t Central Front, it wasn’t Warmaster Chess either… though that series of games had nothing to do with the demise of Command magazine.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I long ago reached the conclusion that most wargamers, while they may have an incredible knowledge about certain historical periods, are no more interested in contemporary events than non-wargamers. Therefore they won’t subscribe to a game magazine devoted entirely to contemporary events, and magazines live and die on subscriptions.

A look at the 55 issue run shows more than 30 titles were hypothetical subjects: about 10 of them “past hypotheticals” like Objective Havana and the 1970s-80s “Cold War Goes Hot” chestnut and 20 were future hypotheticals like the “Putin Boxes The Compass” series. Twenty-two were devoted to actual conflicts, 13 from the 20th century and 9 from the 21st. So it goes.

Well, I will just say “Ave!” and turn the page, and hope that Javier Romero will be able to find a good home for some of the very good work he has been doing.

UK in AF: RUSI post-mortem

https://rusi.org/explore-our-research/publications/commentary/twelve-dilemmas-behind-uks-afghan-defeat

Here is a good short dissection of the 12 dilemmas faced by the United Kingdom’s mission in Afghanistan, by RUSI’s Tim Willasey-Wilsey (love those double-barreled names).

Many of these remarks could also apply to the Canadian mission there, in our role as a junior ally to the United States, and in our deployment to Kandahar province, next door to the UK main effort in Helmand.

Making flippy-floppy

 

Afghan districts 29 july 21

The date for the final US troop withdrawals from Afghanistan is fast approaching, and the number of short analytical post-mortem articles on this long war, is approaching a Very Large Number even faster.

Some of them are “I-told-you-so” and some are “viewing-with-alarm” of the apparent speed of the Taliban advance. The latter are often illustrated with a map of Afghan districts and their putative level of control by government; here’s one from a few days ago. Oh, oh, how could this happen so quickly, are they equipped with rocket belts or something? Below is a recent post on Tanner Greer’s blog, highlighting something that Dexter Filkins also pointed out more than 15 years ago in his book Fiasco: the “normal” method of winning fights is for the loser to switch sides, in order to live another day and get some spoils of victory… the end result of picking hills to die on is some dead guys on top of some hills. And when you introduce actors into the system that won’t play by those rules, it does not end well.

https://scholars-stage.org/fighting-like-taliban

To tie this back to gaming, this concept is also central in A Distant Plain with the Taliban’s Infiltrate and the Captured Goods rule in Attacks and Ambushes, and the Warlord Suborn, and more broadly in the movement of pieces between on-map and Available. 

[edited to add – 16 August 2021]

A good piece by Anatol Lieven has appeared in Politico to flesh this out a bit.

https://www.politico.com/news/magazine/2021/08/16/afghanistan-history-taliban-collapse-504977

Here are some choice paragraphs about what happened: 

The central feature of the past several weeks in Afghanistan has not been fighting. It has been negotiations between the Taliban and Afghan forces, sometimes brokered by local elders. On Sunday, the Washington Post reported “a breathtaking series of negotiated surrenders by government forces” that resulted from more than a year of deal-making between the Taliban and rural leaders.

The power of kinship led to a common arrangement whereby extended families have protected themselves by sending one son to fight with the government army or police (for pay) and another son to fight with the Taliban. This has been a strategy in many civil wars, for example, among English noble families in the 15th-century Wars of the Roses. It means that at a given point, one of the sons can desert and return home without fearing persecution by the winning side.
These arrangements also serve practical purposes. It is often not possible for guerrilla forces to hold any significant number of prisoners of war. Small numbers might be held for ransom, but most ordinary soldiers are let go, enlisted in the guerrillas’ own ranks or killed.

Deals between Afghan and Taliban forces during the U.S. war have been detailed in works like War Comes to Garmser by Carter Malkasian and An Intimate War by British soldier Mike Martin. A report by the Afghanistan Analysts Network describes such an agreement in Pakhtia province in 2018:
“Haji Ali Baz, a local tribal elder, told AAN that it was agreed that the government’s presence would be limited to the district centre, and neither side would venture into the areas controlled by the other. This agreement resulted in all of the government security posts outside the district centre being dismantled. In the words of Haji Ali Baz, this led to the end of the fighting, which had ‘caused a lot of trouble for the people.’”
Afghan society has been described to me as a “permanent conversation.” Alliances shift, and people, families and tribes make rational calculations based on the risk they face. This is not to suggest that Afghans who made such decisions are to blame for doing what they felt to be in their self-interest. The point is that America’s commanders and officials either completely failed to understand these aspects of Afghan reality or failed to report them honestly to U.S. administrations, Congress and the general public.
We can draw a clear line between this lack of understanding and the horrible degree of surprise at the events of the past several days. America didn’t predict this sudden collapse, but it could have and should have — an unfortunately fitting coda to a war effort that has been undermined from the start by a failure to study Afghan realities.

Another good piece by Lieven, from May 2021: 

https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/00396338.2021.1930403

GMT goes SPI

https://www.gmtgames.com/p-945-the-british-way-counterinsurgency-at-the-end-of-empire.aspx

Four-on-the-floor, that is… as in Quadrigame!

A while ago I had a talk with Stephen Rangazas, who has come up with an interesting way of distilling much of the 2-player COIN system experience down to a few cards and a small number of pieces… and he has put four examples of such in one box, called:

The British Way: Counterinsurgency at the End of Empire is the first of several COIN multipacks, containing four separate games exploring a series of thematically related insurgencies. Between 1945 and 1960, the British fought four major “emergencies,” as they referred to their counterinsurgency campaigns, each trying to manage their retreat from empire. The four games in this pack focus on exploring British counterinsurgent responses to a variety of different opponents, including communist insurgents in Malaya, militant nationalists in Kenya, and smaller and more clandestine terrorist organizations in Palestine and Cyprus. The games adjust the core COIN mechanics to provide a compelling new way of handling two-player conflicts, while also streamlining several mechanics to quicken gameplay. The British Way offers an approachable introduction to the COIN series for new players, while presenting experienced players with four mechanically distinct games to explore and compare.
 

Highlights:
  • Four full games in one box: Explore four different conflicts set during the twilight of the British Empire in the 1940s and 1950s. Each game uses a unique ruleset building on the same general mechanical structure, ensuring that they are easy to pick up while still offering a distinctive experience.
  • A new adaptation of the classic COIN system: Improved two-player sequence of play and a versatile Political Will track for determining victory. 
  • Unique mechanisms reflecting the British approach to each conflict: New Villages in Malaya, the ‘Pipeline’ in Kenya, Curfews in Cyprus, and Mass Detention in Palestine.
  • Small board footprint with quick-but-deep gameplay: Each game plays in under 90 minutes and takes place on a single 17×22” board.
  • An “End of Empire” Campaign: A campaign scenario allowing players to play the four games in a linked series with a cumulative scoring system, random ‘external’ events relating to British decolonization, and new mechanics to integrate each game into the campaign.

Prototype maps for Kenya and Malaya

Malaya
The British Emergency in Malaya (1948-1960) is viewed by some as the classic case of a successful counterinsurgency campaign, fought against an insurgency led by the Malayan Communist Party. The Malayan Emergency significantly influenced counterinsurgency theory and would become a model case, later appealed to by commanders in conflicts ranging from Vietnam to the present. The British Way: Malaya is the perfect introduction for players new to the COIN series, offering a shorter two-player game experience that will give players some familiarity with Government and Insurgent factions in other modern COIN volumes, such as Cuba Libre or A Distant Plain. For experienced players, it also serves as a good introduction to the new core mechanics in The British Way by offering Factions and Operations that will be familiar from previous COIN volumes but with several new systems, such as the Political Will track, streamlined Sequence of Play, and a shifting British Commander Capability.

Prototype event cards for Malaya


Kenya
The British Emergency in Kenya (1952-1960), fought against the Mau Mau insurgents, dramatically departed from the strategy modeled in many of the modern COIN volumes, with a heavy focus on coercion rather than winning ‘hearts and minds.’ In game terms, this means a shift away from building ‘Support’ towards new mechanics modeling various forms of repression used by the British in Kenya. However, their use of repression can have political consequences back in Britain, represented as a potential penalty to Political Will—as one British official noted, “If we sin, we must sin quietly.” The British player must balance this core tradeoff, while the Mau Mau player must mobilize the Kikuyu population and expand their revolt to survive the overwhelming British response. The British Way: Kenya depicts a dramatically asymmetrical conflict where an extremely poorly equipped insurgency must utilize clever (and in some cases brutal) tactics to try and ride out an overwhelmingly powerful, often unconstrained, and increasingly criticized counterinsurgency campaign.

Prototype event cards for Kenya

Cyprus and Palestine: New Counter-Terrorism Mechanics
The next two conflicts in the pack depart more significantly from core COIN concepts because Britain’s two opponents in Cyprus and Palestine operated as smaller clandestine terrorist cells rather than the larger insurgencies depicted in Malaya and Kenya. Instead, new “counter-terrorism” tactics are modeled, such as Curfews, Intelligence, Arms Caches, and a more detailed Sabotage and Terror system. These two games offer a fresh approach to a different kind of conflict and provide an even quicker play experience for two-player COIN duels.

Prototype maps for Palestine and Cyprus

The British Emergency in Cyprus (1955-1959) was conducted under the shadow of international opinion and increasing pressure from the international community to respect human rights. As the British player tries to balance locking down the population while managing international pressure, the EOKA player will launch sabotage attacks in towns across the island while building their organization in the mountains. The British Way: Cyprus is probably the simplest of the four games in the pack, although the new counter-terrorism mechanics it introduces are significantly different from anything that has appeared in previous COIN volumes.

Prototype event cards for Cyprus

Likewise, during the Palestine campaign (1945-1947), the British player will be faced with the Jewish resistance groups Irgun and Lehi launching sabotage and terrorist attacks across Mandatory Palestine, while risking criticism from the US and other international observers if their response is too heavy-handed. The British Way: Palestine further develops the new counter-terrorism mechanics introduced in Cyprus, while also including unique game systems to model the British use of the blunt tool of Mass Detention, the shifting cooperation of Haganah (the Jewish Agency’s armed wing), and high-profile terrorist attacks such as the King David Hotel bombing.

Prototype event cards for Palestine

A Note on “The British Way” of Counterinsurgency:
“that nauseating phrase I think I invented” – General Sir Gerald Templer on the term ‘Hearts and Minds’
The historical simulations included in The British Way are designed to depict the full array of strategies used by the British during these conflicts, ranging from the more benevolent provision of material benefits through pacification programs to the horrific measures used to gain control over the local population. Many myths have arisen about an ‘enlightened’ British approach to counterinsurgency that emphasized the use of minimum force and focused on winning the population’s “hearts and minds,” compared with the supposedly more violent approaches taken by the United States in Vietnam or by France in Algeria. However, new scholarship on these conflicts has confirmed the brutality of the methods commonly used by the British in their counterinsurgency campaigns. As summarized by the historian Hew Strachan, these conflicts were often decided by “the firm smack of government,” not the popular winning of hearts and minds. This multipack is intended to help synthesize and present these crucial developments in our understanding of British counterinsurgency, even if that means the simulations depicted are at times more thought-provoking than fun. The designer’s main goal is that players find these games informative about what happened during each conflict and why, and that the gameplay leaves them wanting to learn more. Each game will come with a detailed Background booklet describing the events depicted and listing additional sources, while the combined Playbook will include comparative essays discussing British counterinsurgency across the four games and how it is depicted in conflict simulations.

Game components
  • Two double-sided 17×22” mounted game boards
  • 4 Game Event Decks and 1 Campaign Event Deck
  • 54 Wooden Pieces
  • 8 Pawns
  • One full-color counter sheet
  • Eleven double-sided player aids
  • Two 6-sided dice
  • 4 Combined Rule/Background Booklets
  • 1 Combined Playbook/Campaign Guide
Number of players: 2
GAME DESIGN: Stephen Rangazas
DEVELOPER: Joe Dewhurst 

 

You better believe I signed up for this!

I believe I am customer #303, snicker….

A word about that “hearts and minds” aspect, though… I have been extremely busy lately and have not been able to finish work on a post I was making in response to “The Hearts-and-Minds Myth: How America Gets Counterinsurgency Wrong”, an article that appeared last week in Foreign Policy magazine by Jacqueline Hazelton, who teaches at the Naval War College. She also wrote Bullets Not Ballots: Success in Counterinsurgency Warfare which has been poked my way more than once recently. 

I don’t understand the binary, all-or-nothing thinking that goes into commentary on these things… it’s not a stark choice between “pyramid of skulls” or “armed social work”, it never is. If you never punish or pursue the insurgents, you will not win. But if you never do anything to address “why?”, the concerns of the insurgents or the populations they spring from (because no one ever does this for fun), you will not win either. 

But I am looking forward to these sporty little fellas. Happy to see a second game on Cyprus, too!

Meanwhile… in a faraway city

 

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2021/jul/08/venezuela-caracas-gun-battles-police-gangs

H/t to James Buckley for noticing this one!

What would Jesus Shaves do?

Get your free print-and-play copy of District Commander Maracas here!

Free Games!

A tale of two surges

battle-of-algiers

https://mwi.usma.edu/it-was-the-best-of-coin-it-was-the-worst-of-coin-a-tale-of-two-surges/

Over at the Modern War Institute, an interesting short article by LCOL Michael Nelson comparing the respective surges in Iraq and Afghanistan, outlining how local conditions, history and prospects will trump or at least modify general principles of counterinsurgency doctrine (assuming your army even has such a doctrine).

As often happens, the lead and final paragraphs are the most significant and I quote them here… but the whole article is worth a read:

….. Scholars and practitioners alike are familiar with the axiom that one should avoid fighting the last war. It should go without saying, then, that one should also avoid trying to fight two distinct, concurrent wars as though they are the same conflict. While there are guiding principles for counterinsurgency, there is simply no one-size-fits-all template for success.

However, heavily relying on methods from a different conflict is roughly what the United States tried to do in Afghanistan in 2009 with the attempt to replicate the apparent successes of the surge in Iraq. The fatal flaw in this plan was predicated on a misunderstanding of the circumstances and the environment that had created the conditions for reduced violence in Iraq. Perhaps most disappointingly, these plans for Afghanistan were made and implemented by some of the same leaders who earned praise for having turned the Iraq War around when it was at its most bleak.

……

All warfare is political, and all warfare shifts on human decisions made in complex circumstances. But this is doubly true of counterinsurgent warfare. It is a complicated endeavor that requires deft understanding of the motivations and goals of multiple actors. America’s mistake, in two theaters, was in trying to reduce one of the more complex forms of conflict into something simple, uniform, and replicable without regard to the environment. While the United States should not shy away from studying, determining principles of, developing doctrine for, and preparing to conduct counterinsurgency, we must remember that these guidelines are only as good as the means by which they are adapted to the fight at hand.

These words are especially poignant to me as a designer of games on insurgencies in many different countries at different historical periods.

I have published some 11 games using three general “system” mechanical approaches: the “4 box” system (Shining Path, Algeria, Andartes, EOKA, Kandahar), the GMT COIN system (A Distant Plain, Colonial Twilight) and the District Commander system (Maracas, Binh Dinh, Kandahar, ZNO). Each game was adapted to reflect the particular historical, geographical, political and military conditions of the conflict, within the general “grammar” of the game system.

But I have a further set of eight historical insurgency-related games that use mechanics unique or near-unique to their design: Binh Dinh ’69, Chile ’73, Green Beret, Nights of Fire, Operation Whirlwind, Somalia, Tupamaro, Ukrainian Crisis. 

I haven’t yet designed anything on the Iraqi insurgency, but when that day comes, I will do my best to assure it will not be a cookie-cutter effort.

District Commander ZNO: now available!

pic6229843

https://hollandspiele.com/products/district-commander-zno

Now available – the fourth and so far final module in the District Commander series.

ZNO stands for Zone Nord Oranais, the operational area depicted in this game… the hill country generally to the south and east of Mostaganem in Algeria, around Mascara – Pelikao – Relizane.

external image

The game is set roughly during 1958-59, when generally either the 4th Motorized Infantry Division or the 5th Armoured Division was responsible for most of the area (it’s difficult and rather pointless to pin down as areas of responsibility were constantly in flux depending on mission and deployments of other units).

French combat units that appear in the game include:

Cavalry
1st Cuirassiers (French Army unit, cavalry reorganized for infantry role)
2nd Spahis (mixed French-Algerian cavalry unit)
30th Dragoons

Infantry
6th Chasseurs d’Afrique (mixed French-Algerian light infantry unit)
19th and 20th Chasseurs (French Army light infantry units)
21st Regiment Tirailleurs Algeriens (mixed French-Algerian unit)
battalions of the 93rd and 158 French line infantry regiments

Other
4th, 31st Bataillon Parachutiste Coloniale (elite French parachute unit)
8th Regiment de Parachutistes d’Infanterie de Marine (elite French parachute unit)

Fun things you get to play with in the game include:
– FLN supply convoys;
Commandos de chasse (special small units of mixed French-Algerian troops (including turned guerrillas) who specialized in reconnaissance and tracking);
Sections Administrative Specialisees or SAS (French officers given special training and sent to assume control of all aspects of life in selected rural villages to organize indigenous resistance to the insurgents);
– population resettlement (when the SAS didn’t do a good job);
– double agents and psychological war assets;
– terror cells;
and more!

Note: Now that this one is properly published, I will be taking the PnP files for this module (with my substandard artwork) down and substituting PnP files for the Maracas module, so a free game of the District Commander system will still be available.

Free Games!

In and out.

https://www.victoriasimplycremations.com/garth-taylor-train/

I will be occupied with executor duties for some time to come, so posts here will not be very regular… won’t be much to report, either.

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.

“Cold War Gone Hot, Again” panel: Friday, May 21, 2030-2130 EDT

The Bradley Tabletop Games Symposium is a two-day participatory online event that brings together game industry practitioners, scholars, and anyone else interested in the design and study of tabletop games. The symposium is a product of collaboration between the Interactive Media Department (https://www.bradley.edu/academic/departments/im/) of Bradley University and the Games and Simulation Arts & Sciences Program (https://hass.rpi.edu/games-and-simulation-arts-and-sciences) of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, managed by Double Exposure, Inc. (https://www.dexposure.com).

I’m doing a panel on the evening of Friday May 21st (well, generally evening, in North America): (event description)

The Cold War Gone Hot, Again: Retrofuturism or Futuristic Retro?

In the 1980s a number of serious wargames on a hypothetical Third World War were published, exciting some interest at the time. Over the last 10 years or so there has been a second wave of newly designed wargames that study that same subject – the Soviet invasion of Europe in the mid-1980s that never happened. Nostalgia for an actual past that one remembers imperfectly is one thing. But nostalgic game design to commemorate a then-hypothetical future war that is now a fictional past is a strange inversion of historiography indeed, and an additional twist beyond the approach taken by the designers of Twilight Struggle. What kind of retrofuturism is it? Is it even retrofuturism at all?

Hopefully it will be a true rambling conversation because I have more questions than answers on this.

Here is the event link, we will be talking on Discord but it will be broadcast on twitch.tv:

https://www.envoygateway.com/calendar/event/1888-the-cold-war-gone-hot-again-retrofuturism-or-futuristic-retro/

If you want to take part, you must register as a member of the Gateway. There is no cost (besides time subtracted from your mortal coil listening to me/us). There are many other interesting panels and games running; you can view the whole calendar as a list of events at this link, which also has a link to register:

https://dexposure.com/zoc2021sched.html

One event I plan to attend is on Saturday May 22, by the three guys behind the Eurowargames anthology I have written about (and for): Jan Heinemann, Riccardo Masini, Fred Serval.

Speaking About Wargames, in Different Languages: A Comparison of Experiences as International Wargaming Content Creators

Coming from different cultural and national backgrounds, content creators Jan Heinemann (Germany), Riccardo Masini (Italy) and Fred Serval (France) have recently joined their common knowledge to coordinate a collection of essays about wargaming in Europe and its many new design trends all over the world. But what about their different experiences as wargaming content creators on YouTube and other social media, with different approaches and different groups of viewers? Together with other prominent international content creators, this roundtable aims at highlighting the peculiar features of speaking about wargames also to non-English speaking viewers: the related difficulties caused by the language barrier and the different historical heritages, the perks granted by cultural diversity and the related criticalities, the needs of the different publics, the choice of media and style, the most requested contents and the games that prove harder to introduce, sometimes for lack of interest on the topic and sometimes even for their controversial nature in other nations. An engaging and rarely seen comparison and mutual confrontation about what it means to speak about board wargaming, a hobby born in the United States in the 1950s, also to non-US players by non-US content creators in the 2020s. Showing once again how gaming can prove to be an important bridge and connection between different cultures.

Link to event https://www.envoygateway.com/calendar/event/1901-speaking-about-wargames-in-different-languages-a-comparison-of-experiences-as-international-wargaming-content-creators/

Broadcast on: http://twitch.tv/dexconcord