Obligatory end-of-year review, 2019

headthames

Well, another year has zipped by. A busy year too, though day job stuff dominated my busy:

Game publishing

Game design work and future publication

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

  • China’s War: testing testing, and hoping to get into development in early 2020. Almost 900 pre-orders now.
  • Strongman, an extensive rework of Caudillo that may be a while coming, and publisher not completely confirmed. Really need to spend some time on this but it needs multiple people to play it.
  • Brief Border Wars Quad, from Compass Games – up for pre-order and probably will come out in the first half of 2020: not sure what conditions they apply to pull the trigger.
  • District Commander series, from Hollandspiele – Maracas is out, Binh Dinh is coming next; maybe Kandahar might be out in 2020, or maybe not. Meanwhile, the Algeria module is available for free PnP.
  • Semi-abstract urban counterinsurgency games: I have been working on two of these for some time now, can’t get time to finish them off. Will likely put them up for free PnP as few people seem interested in this kind of thing.
  • 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. Like the original version, this will have a lot of new scenarios based on contemporary headlines: Hong Kong 2019, duelling mobs in Caracas, Violent Demo USA, etc..

Conferences and conventions

Not so busy year on this front:

  • February: I attended Connections North for the first time, at McGill University. It was a great but short event: I made a presentation, met some nice folks, role-played CDS John Vance in the megagame about a zombie outbreak, and spent some quality time talking with Jim Wallman! Into the White
  • April: I went to Marine Corps University at MCB Quantico April 2-5 for a special MORS event on urban warfare. I presented on the different games I had worked on to cover urban conflict at the operational level. There were some really imaginative analyses but it seems to me that the professional military is still consumed by the likely problems of standing armies fighting “peer” forces in an urban environment, not the far more likely and nastier irregular warfare. Studies in Concrete
  • June: Consimworld Expo at Tempe, AZ. High point was meeting and spending time with Nick Karp and Mark Herman, two Gods of Design, and a long, fun interview with Harold Buchanan for his podcast! Back from Consimworld Expo 2019
  • July-August-September: no Connections conferences for me, in any flavour, as Day Job kept me too busy. I intend to attend as many as I can in 2020.
  • November: BottosCon was fun as it usually is, though I got there rather late. Still, got some testing of China’s War and Kashmir Crisis in, and picked up a couple of nice games in the flea market. BottosCon pictures  .

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.
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Near-meaningless digest of site statistics:

  • I seem to be cruising still at just below 2,000 views per month, but about 3,000 fewer than 2018. About 8,000 visitors. The five most curious countries were: US (by a very wide margin), UK, Canada, Italy and Australia. One guy clicked in from Ghana! Don’t know what to make of that.
  • Besides the then-current post, popular pages or posts included the BTR Games, Free Games and Scenarios and Variants pages. No surprises there.
  • The most clicked-on and/or downloaded documents (WordPress started measuring downloads in July 2019) were the files for the free games District Commander,  Ukrainian Crisis, Third Lebanon War and Battle of Seattle.

Studies in Concrete

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…is the name of my presentation at the Military Operations Research Society’s (MORS) event “Analysis of Urban Warfare”, April 2-5 2019 at Marine Corps Base Quantico.

I’m speaking on Wednesday afternoon but I’m putting my script and slides up here now, just before I leave home because I don’t know what kind of Net access I will have on the base.

The point of my talk is to take three civilian wargames on urban irregular war, and  talk about how basic concepts for the situations and supporting research flowed into game mechanics. The three games are

Duration Urban centre Type of conflict
Tupamaro 4 years 1968-72 Montevideo

~1.5 million

Low-intensity insurgency, frequent terrorism
Operation “Whirlwind”/ Nights of Fire 5 days    1956 Budapest

~ 1.6 million

Corps-sized operations against disorganized and unprepared insurgents
“We Are Coming, Nineveh” ~ 5 months 2017 West Mosul

~ 600,000?

Corps-sized operations against organized and prepared insurgents

So here are the items:

script Studies in Concrete am 26 mar

slides (PDF) Studies slides am 27 mar

It’s going to be an intense three days – I wish I weren’t fighting off a cold right now. After that I will be in Washington for a day and a half, then back home to the usual three ring circus here….

While in Washington, I hope to check out the Compleat Strategist satellite store in Falls Church!

Back to Quantico

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Next mission: back to Quantico!

The Military Operations Research Society (MORS) is having a special “Analysis of Urban Warfare” event, 2-5 April at Marine Corps University. I’ve been asked to join the Analytical Tools working group, which hits on wargaming, so I’ll be presenting on some aspect of how urban combat’s been treated, in both my and other’s work. If all goes well, I may have a new playable thing to bring too….

Details here: http://www.mors.org/Events/Analysis-of-Urban-Warfare

Back to the Green

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Telling the US Defence Attache I will not hesitate to disarm their refugee survivalist militias by force, or something else sternly declarative. I guess for CDS verisimilitude I should be wearing my glasses halfway down my nose. Photo: Kevin Farnworth?

Okay, back from Montreal, and while I didn’t need a reminder of what real cold felt like, I still got one.

Presentation went fine and I met a lot of familiar faces as well as some new ones. My substandard pre-production replica copy of Nights of Fire even got a spin for a couple of turns!

Rex Brynen wrote a very good summation of the conference here: https://paxsims.wordpress.com/2019/02/21/connections-north-2019-conference-report/

The Apocalypse North megagame was also an excellent experience. For six intense hours I played the Chief of the Defence Staff: I had two division commanders, five brigade commanders, a Special Operations commander and an Air commander to boss around. Things went pretty well and I hardly ever had to use “knife hands”*.

Again, Rex does a great and copiously illustrated writeup here: https://paxsims.wordpress.com/2019/02/21/alas-poor-windsor-an-apocalypse-north-megagame-report/

On Monday Jim Wallman and I had a session with some of Rex’s students, dispensing free advice on the games they were designing for his 422 course. Worth every penny they paid for it, I’m sure. It was great hanging out with Jim; we hatched ideas for games like strings of firecrackers.

A long and fortunately not involved flight back and here I am. It was six degrees, sunny and almost springlike out here today. I can see the buds on the cherry trees.

* American usage: also known as the “Sandhurst chop” or the “pie cutter”. https://angrystaffofficer.com/2017/06/26/the-history-of-the-military-knife-hand/

Into the White

Over the last five days Victoria has seen a huge dump of snow, the worst since the Great Blizzard of 1996, which was the worst since 1917.

Okay, all in all it’s been about 50 cm over that stretch of time, but it isn’t gone yet and at this time of year we are used to kicking our way through cherry blossom petals, not slushdrifts.

Just yesterday alone Montreal got 40 cm, and more to come… and I am heading into it very early Friday morning  (that is, if the airport is not shut down!), to attend the Connections-North conference on professional wargaming, organized by Professor Rex Brynen at McGill University.

This is the second time Rex has run the “northern franchise” of the Connections family of conferences on professional wargaming, started and maintained to this day by Matt Caffrey. Other Connections regulars will include Stephen Downes-Martin, Anja van der Hulst, and Jim Wallman.

More details at https://paxsims.wordpress.com/2018/11/13/connections-north-2019/

I’ll be presenting on “Integrating the Political, Social and Economic in Insurgency Games”, just a quick talk profiling the non-kinetic design elements in Tupamaro and A Distant Plain, as examples. I found a number of other good examples but I don’t have time to cover them all and they were mostly long out of print or small-press hard to find items. A partial list is at the end of my script, which I am putting here with my slides, for the curious to access:

Soft Power Maps 11 feb  (script)

Soft Power Maps 11 feb  (slides)

The conference is a one-day event on Saturday the 16th, but I will be staying on a couple of days. Sunday is “Apocalypse North”, a megagame that will have about 70 players in it, and I have the role of Canadian Chief of Defence Staff! And on Monday Rex has laid on something like a master class Q&A on game design with members of his POLI 422 course, in which students design conflict simulation games to present their research topics.

https://paxsims.wordpress.com/2019/02/02/mcgill-gaming-winter-2019-edition/

Sila willing, I’ll be leaving Monday night and returning to Victoria, where I hope all this snowy mess will have been cleaned up in the meantime.

CFP: Connections-USA 2019

This is reposted from an email received by Tim Wilkie, a Great Guy who is organizing the Connections-USA conference.

I’ve posted many times on this blog about how interesting and valuable these conferences are, at least to me. You should consider attending, if you have any interest in how government (primarily the military, but the lessons are often widely applicable) uses wargaming.

/ / / / /

Connections 2019 will be hosted by the U.S. Army War College at the Army Heritage and Education Center in Carlisle, PA, August 13-16.

Connections is an interdisciplinary* wargaming conference that has been held annually since 1993, with the mission of advancing and preserving the art, science, and application of wargaming.  Connections participants come from all elements of the wargaming discipline, and include those in the military, government, academic, private sector, and commercial hobbyist fields.  By providing a forum for practitioners to share insights and best practices, Connections works to improve gaming as a tool for research, analysis, education, and policy.

Presentations on any aspect of professional wargaming are welcome.  The 2019 conference theme is Futures of Wargaming, and with that in mind, presentations on wargaming future events, advances in wargaming techniques, wargaming to train future leaders, and related topics are especially encouraged.

Please submit your proposal via the Google Form at the following link (which contains additional information):
https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSeyDQazE8CCsGmzjKorpEdaB1eQF9ijsKOdnYwMC5JnL8-uOg/viewform?usp=sf_link

It is by no means necessary to have attended a previous Connections conference to participate as a speaker.  More information about past Connections events and current updates on the status of planning for Connections 2019 can be found at the conference website:
https://connections-wargaming.com/

Feel free to pass this along to those who you think might be interested, including posting this in appropriate places online.  For additional information or any questions or concerns, please contact me at timothy.wilkie@ndu.edu

Timothy Wilkie
Research Fellow
Center for Applied Strategic Learning (CASL)
National Defense University
timothy.wilkie@ndu.edu
(202)433-4865

/ / / / /
*[best thing I read on the Net yesterday, from “S**t Academics Say”: “We’re all two drinks away from becoming interdisciplinary.”]

Back from Connections-UK 2018

Well, that was a great time! Connections was great, went better than I expected.

Rex Brynen did a very good report, and the Connections-UK website has audio and some slide decks.

https://paxsims.wordpress.com/2018/09/07/connections-uk-2018-conference-report/

http://professionalwargaming.co.uk/2018.html

The first day was the megagame – “Green and Pleasant Land” by Jim Wallman. It concentrated on UK government internal operations as they dealt with different natural and artificial crises and emergencies – floods, a death in the Royal Family, and some nefarious doin’s as well. I had fun as the the “Adversary” (Russian) Minister of Defense (Phil Pournelle played Putin). Before the game began, Anja v.d. Hulst and I “bugged” seven tables in the UK Government room with sticky notes – they had no game function but when the Cabinet found one of them they panicked and withdrew to a secure bunker. Their nuclear submarine fleet had just put out to sea so we didn’t know what they were up to! Uh oh…

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Photo: Tom Mouat

Second day was my “Game design as Journalism” presentation and later, the dialogue between me and Volko Ruhnke. It went far better than I ever thought it would, I had been spinning so many brain-cycles over it I thought it was no good. But I never want to talk or write about Creativity itself ever again, it’s easier just to make things.

There was also a game fair: I had brought giveaway copies of Guerrilla Checkers, which attracted quite a few people, and got two fellows into a game of Second Lebanon War.  “We are Coming Nineveh”, which we had playtested a couple of days before, was also on display. (two right photos: Tom Mouat)

LCols and me

With LCol Neil Stevens and LCol Ranald Shepherd, all looking very pleased with ourselves.

On the third day, I chaired a plenary session on “validation” that featured two presentations by people who had used my work. The first was by two LCols in the British Army who had used A Distant Plain as a training aid for their staff officers to give them some appreciation of the complexity of the Afghan situation, and in the second John Curry talked about recent games that examined the Ukraine Crisis… I am quoted as saying I got it “half right and half wrong.” (Yes, just don’t ask me which half is which.) Even if the games are not a perfect mirror of historical reality I felt validated myself and was very grateful, as always, to hear about my stuff being used in contexts outside sheer entertainment.

Before and after the conference, I had a day or two to enjoy London… I went museum hopping. At the Imperial War Museum I saw this:

dummy

“Douglas” the ventriloquist’s dummy.

“Douglas” and his handler have quite a story. Arthur Harden joined the Artillery and served in the 59th Division’s Divisional Ammunition Column. He was a hobby ventriloquist and entertained the troops with Douglas (possibly named after Douglas Haig) when out of the line. His commanding officer recognized the morale-maintaining function of the dummy and took him on his orderly room staff and promoted him to Sergeant (Harden, not the dummy). Harden said later, “The Colonel enjoyed Douglas so much that he prevented my posting elsewhere and mildly discouraged my taking a commission.” It certainly saved his life, though Douglas’ case has a hole in it from a piece of shrapnel (hidden in this shot).

https://www.forces.net/news/creepy-dummy-entertained-soldiers-during-ww1

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The kids didn’t quite get the point.

I also went to the National Army Museum, which was quite fun. There was an interactive display where a CGI drill sergeant from the Guards would come out and berate you (in clean language) over your sloppy drill when you stood on the footprints.

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Wellington’s cloak and barometer. Also, the skeleton of Marengo, one of Napoleon’s horses.

 

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T.E. Lawrence’s robes and dagger.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I also went to the Victoria & Albert and British Museums, but did not have a lot of time to spend in either. I liked the 20th century design rooms at the former and just went to the Roman Britain room in the latter to take some pictures for my dad.

I also went to Richmond, to see a puppet show in a barge moored in the Thames river. The barge is brought up into London during the winter for shows. Very talented puppeteers.

puppets

Puppets from earlier shows hung on the walls.

On my last day I went out to suburban Dagenham to visit David Turczi, where we talked about our newest projects and played Root, a very interesting asymmetric game by Cole Wehrle. I didn’t really know what I was doing but still won as the Cats, on a Domination card.

Now, back to work!