Now It Can Be Seen: Box art for Colonial Twilight

Rodger MacGowan has finished the box art for Colonial Twilight!

And boy it looks good. The collage-of-images is a staple for many wargame covers, but it’s particularly interesting how Rodger has arranged these and used colours to imitate and fuse the structures of both the French and Algerian flags. And the green-and-black scheme really makes it pop.

I’m very pleased with this, another great cover by Rodger!

And now, this is the very last thing there is for me to look at and approve… so that’s it.

I think we’re done here, after more than two and a half years.

*sigh*

Look for this to appear in June or July!

Namechecked on VICE Waypoint and Killscreen!

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https://waypoint.vice.com/en_us/article/what-we-dont-talk-about-when-we-talk-about-gitmo-games

Over at Waypoint (the section of VICE magazine that deals with gaming and gamer culture), Muira McCammon, an academic who writes on Guantanamo Bay quotes from the essay on irregular warfare games I wrote with Volko Ruhnke for the Zones of Control anthology . She also references A Distant Plain and Labyrinth.

So, what sort of game system might be able to model the complexity of GiTMO, to give voice to the challenges that detainees, journalists, lawyers, and guards have faced in the detention facility’s history?

My answer: the wargame.

Wargames are a great way to parse asymmetrical conflict in a political system, and in many ways, GiTMO can be understood as a series of power struggles. A wargame has the potential to model the tensions between journalists, detainees, lawyers, and members of the U.S. military. It could give us an outlet to reflect on serious episodes in GiTMO’s history, like that time when Cmdr. Jeffrey Gordon accused journalist Carol Rosenberg of “multiple incidents of abusive and degrading comments of an explicitly sexual nature.” It could help us examine the history of coalition building in GiTMO, like when detainees held an election to select two leaders, one who was revealed to the Americans and one who worked in the shadows.

….

What Ruhnke and Train speak to is a problem that extends beyond wargames. A lot of us with differing ideological, religious, ethnic, and other backgrounds are uncomfortable with the idea of people “playing” games about serious things like war crimes and human rights violations.   Anyone trying to make a wargame out of GiTMO would have to simplify the place, and that carries a number of inherent risks. Another problem: GiTMO is still a morphing, changing place with an uncertain future.

I can think of a few ways to do this, actually, but that will have to wait while I work on other projects. I suspect that Camp Delta will be there for a while yet.

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Banner: Rodger MacGowan.

And a few weeks ago on a website called Killscreen, she also wrote about A Distant Plain and what did and didn’t go into the Events Deck for that game.

https://killscreen.com/articles/ghost-churchill-make-wargame/

Event cards helped me become comfortable with wargame design. The first deck I really loved and explored belonged to A Distant Plain (2013), a wargame about contemporary Afghanistan. I considered how my Afghan friends would critique the narrative put forth in the deck and the board. What would they think of this attempt to boil a segment of their nation’s history down? Omission, deletion, marginalization, and exclusion—these are issues that always bubbled up in my mind as I shuffled through the deck.

I had mentored a group of Afghan women writers, many of whom were based in Kabul, and I always wondered, if they had been taught wargame design, how might their deck have differed? Instead of having a card devoted to “Koran Burning,” would they have given a card to mark the murder of Farkhunda Malikzada, an Afghan woman falsely accused of burning a Qur’an? As wargame designers Volko Ruhnke and Brian Train crafted their A Distant Plain (2013), which cards had been edited out?

She does have a point and I did attempt to answer her in the comments, but I don’t know if she saw it.

A deck of 72 event cards presents only 72 different chances to alter the game as it is played, even though the number of combinations is astronomical (72 factorial, or 6.123446 to the 103rd power). As I’ve said before, a wargame is a created object, a distillation of first and second hand experience and therefore cannot be a neutral one, any more than there can be a neutral novel. Deliberately or not, there of course will be deletions, omissions, exclusions and abstractions – that’s endemic to the process of recording history itself, let alone abstracting from that history to make a model in the form of a game. The designer, through the processes of research, conceptualizing, testing and production of a game, must make a series of choices of what to include in their design, what to leave out, and how to model what’s been judged relevant enough and left in.

Volko and I were aware of this of course, and took a few online kicks in the ribs for even trying to design a game on a war that was still underway. We felt that most importantly, a designer should be prepared to “show their work” and stand behind what they have done. Therefore we tried to select events that one were based on one or more actual historical events, tactics, or tendencies that materially affected the conflict; in a couple of cases things that could have affected it and were possible but didn’t happen (e.g. a coup d’etat in the Afghan Government). In all cases we had descriptions of what is represented by that card in history in the game’s playbook, with a reference to one or more items in the game’s bibliography.

Jeremy Antley, whom McCammon also references, wrote an interesting post on this aspect in his blog concerning the “My Lai” event card in Fire in the Lake. (Unfortunately, his domain name has expired so I can’t link to it right now – it was at http://www.peasantmuse.com/. Jeremy, pay the Internet Gods!)

And in the final analysis, A Distant Plain is a manual wargame. It’s entirely possible for Muira McCammon, or anyone else, to introduce, edit or replace the cards in the game, for greater or lesser (but certainly different) effect. As Mary Flanagan points out in Critical Play, that’s just the beginning of what you can do!

How To Kill A Rational Peasant

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This post is half-placeholder, and half-recommendation to one and all concerning “How to Kill A Rational Peasant”: a very good film and article made in 2012 by Adam Curtis, on the history and development of counterinsurgency (COIN) doctrine and its misapplications and perversions.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/adamcurtis/entries/93073500-9459-3bbb-a3e5-cde7a1cc2559

It’s necessary to do this because simply Googling the title of the film leads you to an old URL for the post which is no longer functioning.

So many great references… he leaps and bounds from the story of Jack Idema, a noted fake “security expert”, to David Galula to the film Battle of Algiers to the OAS to The Ugly American to the RAND Corporation’s cost-benefit theories of counterinsurgency, which approach is summarized in this book:

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And thence to the failure in Vietnam, the Phoenix Program, CORDS and finally to the 2007 “Surge” in Iraq under General David Petraeus, equipped as he was with FM 3-24 which was in turn inspired by Galula’s theories.

Wargamers will be tickled to note that Curtis introduces one of the film clips thus:

I have also put at the front of the film a wonderful couple of minutes of two civilian “advisers” in Vietnam playing a board game called “Insurgency”. It had been designed by one of the team to express and test out their theories. It sets the weird context for the even stranger reality that then follows.

I don’t know how to embed the clip here, it’s about 2/3 of the way down the post and the initial image is of a bunch of flowers. Anyway, the two analysts are playing what appears to be an early version of the game Insurgency, published by Battleline in 1979, and one of them must be Blake Smith, whose debrief on his time with the AID Program in Vietnam has been published here: http://hdl.handle.net/10524/1110

Anyway, I highly recommend this… and now I don’t have to scramble around every time to point someone to it.

 

 

“Kandahar: the dark, cynical, bitter sibling of GMT’s COIN series”

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James Sterrett sees right through me:

https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/1677733/kandahar-dark-cynical-bitter-sibling-gmts-coin-ser

James’ conclusion:

I mentioned these and a number of other factors to a co-worker (and fellow gamer) who served in Afghanistan; he was not sure the game was quite cynical enough to be accurate, but more so than A Distant Plain. You can make a case that A Distant Plain is a better game, but Kandahar feels like a better simulation, and if you are interested in the topic, it is well worth giving it playtime.

Thanks James! You have seen to the bottom of my insufficiently rotten soul.

Also, a quick link to Neal Durando’s cogent thoughts on the game, which James also references:

http://defling.com/blog/?p=85

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New post on InsideGMT: Colonial Twilight Operations and Special Activities

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Over at the InsideGMT blog, about 3,000 words on the menus of Operations and Special Activities available to the two players.

http://www.insidegmt.com/?p=13712

In a couple of weeks I will write another post on the Propaganda Round sequence of play, and about the Pivotal Event cards each side has. After that, I don’t think there is much more to describe about this game!

Leaving tomorrow for BottosCon 2016, the annual wargame convention in saturated Surrey. Always a good time, and nice to meet so many people I often meet just once a year at this event.

Items I will be bringing with me for people to paw through and try include: Caudillo, Chile ’73, Colonial Twilight, EOKA, The Little War, and Red Horde 1920. Plus giveaway copies of Guerrilla Checkers and Uprising.

Stakeholder-centric COIN: interview on Small Wars Journal

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An interview at the Small Wars Journal website with Karsten Friis, a Norwegian expert.

http://smallwarsjournal.com/jrnl/art/we-need-a-stakeholder-centric-counterinsurgency-doctrine

A certain amount of my output on irregular warfare could be described as games swirling around the ideas of population-centric COIN (colloquially, the “hearts-and-minds” approach) as opposed to the enemy-centric COIN (sometimes called “counter-terrorism”, or it was so recently, but it can shade off into the “pyramid of skulls” approach too).

What the interviewee is talking about here is that neither approach has been particularly successful when applied in the strict sense, but that the role of government and its expeditionary/ interventionist allies should be to weaken the armed insurgents and other agencies driving the violence to the point where you can hammer out a peace. You can’t get ’em all. He says:

We have argued in favor of what we call a ‘stakeholder centric’ COIN. The center of gravity is the forces engaged in the conflict. A solution will need to include them, they cannot be excluded. Even jihadist movements with a global ‘brand’ tend to often be largely locally based and fuelled. They can therefore potentially be reconciled into a local solution. If you want to have a sustainable peace then some kind of a legitimate political construction is needed. There will have to be some kind of political agreement where some of the grievances of the insurgents are addressed. You need political and cultural intelligence to understand the environment, who are they, why are they fighting. The political strategy that the COIN operation is supporting should address all these features in order to formulate a political solution once the opponents were weakened enough and are ready to negotiate. In most societies you can talk about stakeholders. They could be warlords, religious leaders, elders, people that represent constituencies that are essential to achieving lasting societal stability. A COIN operation should therefore be stakeholder-centric so the focus should be aimed at all the relevant societal stakeholders that may impact on a future political agreement. The goal is not that of re-engineering a foreign society, but more along the lines of facilitating/enabling a political process that is representative of the main political stakeholders and political forces.

The process of continual abstraction that’s done in trying to get a reasonably playable game on a conflict, to the point where it hits at least some of the higher spots of a functional model of that conflict, blurs the distinctions between the kinds of COIN described. You remove a black octagon from the board; was its leadership vaporized in a drone strike or did everyone go home because that greedy tax collector was finally killed? The in-game procedures might differ but to the play of the game, generally the result is the same – unless the designer has tried to make the results differ too (e.g. in games where I’ve tried to reflect some aftereffects of strenuously-applied kinetic operations).

Another difficult point is when and how the game ends. It has to end, because there are only so many cards in the Event Deck, and people will sit still for only so much of this nonsense before they remember that they have other things in life to do. Barring some faction’s early victory, Volko Ruhnke’s and Mark Herman’s Fire in the Lake ends in 1972, as that was when the Paris Peace Accords started to get hammered out – not in 1975 when the NVA T-54s broke down the gate of the Presidential Palace in 1975. Colonial Twilight ends in 1962 with negotiations as well, as the intention of the French government to divest itself of formal administration of and responsibility for Algeria is a given in the game.

I’ve been thinking about that recently. Once in a great while there will be a game designed on the political pre-game that positions the antagonists for the war, e.g. Days of Decision (I, II and III) by Australian Design Group, and the interesting but untested political pre-game that was included with Arabian Nightmare: Kuwait War back in 1991. But once the game’s over, there is a hurried post-mortem while the pieces and cards are swept up and re-bagged for next time. That political process of hammering out the peace, and just as importantly the reconciliation of foes, is something that never gets covered in the games. There aren’t even any games that cover it, not even the positioning for it, though I try to reflect that in the wording of some of the victory conditions of my games.

Well, that’s not the point, people will say… I signed over my Saturday afternoon for the Big Sweep, not to pretend I’m sitting around a conference table after the shooting’s done. And they’re right, in their limited way that reflects how all these games are also limited.

Hm.

Interview on The Players’ Aid, Part I

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Think I’ll use this picture every time I post about one of my interviews.

Over at the prolifically-posting blog The Players’ Aid, Part I of III of an interview with me about Colonial Twilight (mostly).

https://theplayersaid.com/2016/08/24/interview-with-brian-train-designer-of-colonial-twilight-the-french-algerian-war-1954-62-coin-series-volume-vii-by-gmt-games-part-i/

Link to Part II is here:

Interview on The Player ‘s Aid, Part 2

Link to Part III is here:

https://theplayersaid.com/2016/09/06/interview-with-brian-train-designer-of-colonial-twilight-the-french-algerian-war-1954-62-coin-series-volume-vii-by-gmt-games/