Obligatory end-of-year review, 2021

goldblum

Ohhhhh….

It’s almost over.

I thought 2020 was not that great, and boy 2021 was not an improvement.

  • My dad died in May 2021 and I spent the rest of the year doing executor duties and seeing his widow back to the UK where she has family. This put a big crimp into everything else, naturally.
  • I did not get back into my office until September 2021.
  • I did get my money back from the airline for my Hawaiian trip that never happened, but no other travel more than a few miles from home. I did participate in a few online events and things but it’s just not the same.
  • The renovations that started in August 2020 are still going on, though I have been promised carpets by Christmas. Doors, lights, kitchen appliances and other amenities will follow, as will the restoration of some game-playing space.

I’m not sorry to see 2021 go, and I know 2022 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. Maybe next year I will get back to Europe, or Washington DC, or even Tempe AZ. We’ll see.

Game publishing and publicity

February: Posted PDFs of the 12 issues of Strategist magazine I edited in 2000, containing several PnP games in their pages: some WarpGames by Lloyd Krassner; Battle of Seattle by me; and the first appearance of Waterloo 20 by Joe Miranda.

March: Vassal continues to elude me, but after a lot of angst I finally got it together to build a couple of simple Tabletop Simulator modules for two of my abstract games, Guerrilla Checkers and Kashmir Crisis. It wasn’t much fun, but I hope people might try them. Meanwhile, I think I am irretrievably old-school: give this man some cardboard and markers and he’s happy.

April: James Buckley published #2 of his online zine Punched, in which he ran a lot of material related to the GMT COIN system games (published and future), and a very nice review of Brief Border Wars.

June: District Commander: ZNO was released, the fourth and so far final module in the series. District Commander Maracas continues as the free print-and-play module for anyone who wants to try out the system.

November: A 4th printing of A Distant Plain was announced. We’ll see how long it takes them to pull the trigger on this one; perhaps people want to forget about this war once and for all. Also, the International Conference on Games and Learning Alliance (GALA) saw a paper presented on a digital port of Kashmir Crisis. Hans-Wolfgang Loidl, Associate Professor of Computer Science at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, wrote the paper with his student Charlie Murray, who created a digital version of the game.

Game design work and future publication

Work and or testing continued throughout the year on the following. Other projects languished.

Brief Border Wars Quad Volume II: Handed in the files for this to Compass Games in October 2021. The four battles are all pre-1945 titles: Second Balkan War 1913; Teschen 1919; Nomonhan 1939; and Italo-Greek War 1940. No idea when it will actually come out.

China’s War 1937-41: Development screeched to a halt when I lost my gaming space to renos in summer 2020. In the fall of 2021 I developed a 1938 scenario for the game. I recently heard from the GMT developer who also got sidetracked on things, and work will begin again in early 2022. We hope to finish testing and development by the end of summer. Over 1,500 pre-orders now.

O Canada: Now it can be told – this year I got a long way into making a power-politics, non-kinetic adaptation of the COIN system (something I always thought should be done). The situation I chose is a reboot of the old SPI game Canadian Civil War (1976). Four factions (Federalists, Provincial Moderates, Provincial Autonomists, Separatists) with asymmetrical force structures, menus of operations and special activities, and objectives; an Event Deck with jokes in it comprehensible only to Canadians; a Patronage Track that reflects the degeneration of political discourse and influence of foreign agencies; and conflict played out on two levels (one at province level where you have mostly Party structures and voting blocs but still need some Groups of influencers, and one at Issues level where Groups fight for control of intangibles). Quite a way down the road with this one, solo tests are good, work can continue when I have some more space to play the physical copy and maybe engage other people in it… but I strongly doubt anyone will want to publish this for like, money, so likely when I am satisfied with it I will put it out to free pasture, or a modestly priced PnP.

Conventions

Of course, nothing happened, at least nothing physical.

January: Pete Sizer and I spoke to the VCOW (Virtual Conference of Wargamers) on counterinsurgency games. I also spoke to the Cardboard Emperors Virtual Con II on the factions, mechanics and victory conditions of China’s War 1937-41. And a special episode of the No Enemies Here podcast by Dan Pancaldi, connected with the Armchair Dragoons virtual convention; some quite freewheeling conversation in that one.

November: had a nice chat with Harold Buchanan during his SDHistCon event, I would like to make it to the physical version in San Diego one day as I quite liked what I saw of the city that one time.

Conferences and professional wargaming stuff

No physical conferences, of course.

February: I talked to a group of officers at the US Army War College on “The Uses of Simple Games.”

April: As part of Connections-Online 2021, a virtual event with global reach, Mike Markowitz and I did a joint presentation on the practical matters within DIY game design. Mike talked about graphic design and talked about methods of self-publishing. Both were add-ons and developments of the talks we gave to the Georgetown University Wargaming Society in 2020. Also connected with this event, a very pleasant chat with Maurice Fitzpatrick et al on his Whiskey Charlie podcast about the Connections conferences of the past and future, and their enduring value. Shining Path was used with students at the Institute for World Politics (an independent graduate school that trains students for careers in national security and international affairs) in a class on “Counterterrorism and the Democracies“.

Writing and ‘casting

Nothing formally published, just the usual torrent of wise-guy stuff on blogs, sites and social media.

August: several posts on the end of the war in Afghanistan, that proved to be click-worthy (don’t know if they were read).

September: a great episode of Liz Davidson’s Beyond Solitaire podcast, with Volko Ruhnke. Not surprisingly, we mostly talked about A Distant Plain and the sensitivities of designing games on contemporary conflicts.

October: an episode of the History and Games Laboratory podcast, put on by Eduard Gafton at the University of Edinburgh. We talked about the origins of some of my game designs and how I got into game design, and focus on Brief Border Wars and the issues involved in designing games on sensitive and controversial topics (A Distant Plain got a look in, of course). I later wrote a blog post for them that was an abridged version of the chapter I wrote for the EuroWargames anthology about analog game design as a form of citizen journalism. (I handed the files for that in March 2021, and am still not sure when the book will appear – next year, perhaps.)

November: A great international panel on civilian victimization in wargames, as part of a probable series on “wargame ethics” hosted by Fred Serval (France). Other panelists were Javier Romero (Spain), John Poniske (USA) and Tomislav Cipcic (Croatia). I think we really got into it (the topic, not the practice itself). Also, I posted the popular piece “Quads That Never Were“: SPI Quadrigames that were proposed but never published.

Near-meaningless digest of site statistics:

Overall traffic seems to be stable and improved a bit over 2020. I seem to be cruising still at around 1,600 – 1,800 views per month, for a total of about 21,000 views. About 8,000 visitors in all. The five most curious countries were: US (by a very wide margin), UK, Canada, Australia and Japan. One guy clicked in from Bhutan.
Besides the then-current post, popular pages included the perennial favourites Free Games, BTR Games and Scenarios and Variants pages. No surprises there. The two most popular posts were my Afghan War post-mortem pieces “Endgame” and “Some more Afghan post-mortem”, likely due to my posting links to them on Facebook groups.
The most downloaded documents were four items for SPI game variants by Alan Arvold: three for Lost Battles and one for Search and Destroy, either the article itself by Alan or the counter sheets I made for them. The file of FAQ and clarifications/errata for the District Commander series was also popular.

SDHistCon: Chat with Harold Buchanan, 0900 13 November

[EDITED TO ADD: here is the video of our very pleasant chat!]

Once or twice a year Harold Buchanan holds the San Diego Historical Games Convention or “SDHistCon”. The last while it has been an online event perforce, and so is this one, coming up next weekend.

Early next Saturday morning Harold and I will spend a pleasant (it’s always pleasant) hour or so chatting about whatever comes into our heads, gamewise. If you would like to listen in, it is $10 to get a badge for the Convention but all the convention events are free!

https://tabletop.events/conventions/sdhist-con-2021

Dates and times

Thu, Nov 11 2021, 8:00am – 10:00pm
Fri, Nov 12 2021, 6:00am – 10:00pm
Sat, Nov 13 2021, 6:00am – 10:00pm
Sun, Nov 14 2021, 6:00am – 10:00pm
Time zone: America/Los_Angeles (UTC -08:00)

There are dozens of events – panels, interviews, demonstrations of games and seminars. All free (but you have to reserve a ticket). Some of the notable ones that caught my interest include:

  • 0900 Fri 12 November: Harold Buchanan interviews Phil Sabin
  • 1800 Fri 12 November: Designer chat on John Company with Cole and Drew Wehrle
  • 0900 Sat 13 November: Harold Buchanan interviews me
  • 1100 Sat 13 November: Panel introducing the finalists of the Zenobia Awards
  • 1300 Sat 13 November: Panel on “History as Tourism in Modern Strategy Games” panel with Liz Davidson of Beyond Solitaire
  • 1700 Sat 13 November: “Inside GMT” night with company principals and designers
  • plus demos of various upcoming games I’m especially interested in (Cross-Bronx Expressway, In the Shadows, Order and Opportunity, The British Way, and various Zenobia Award finalists) throughout the weekend.

Hope you will join us!

SDHistCon: special Youtube pre-con event on Canadian designers!

 

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A message from SDHistCon Central:

O, Canada!
A special pre-con event!*
Thursday, May 20th, 2021 – 4:30pm PST

Dan Pancaldi (star of the No Enemies Here YouTube channel) hosts this special homage to Canadian historical boardgame designers. Dan will be leading this extraordinary panel, discussing his guests’ personal histories with the hobby, their games and their respective design philosophies. Featuring these designers: 

  • Robert DeLeskie (Wars of Marcus Aurelius; Stilicho, Last of the Romans)
  • Morgane Gouyon-Rety (Pendragon; Hubris)
  • Marco Poutré (Prelude to Rebellion: Mobilization and Unrest in Lower Canada)
  • Brian Train (Personal ludography)

Please join us for a heartfelt salute to these talented and insightful designers!

* Note that the O, Canada! panel event is not listed on the SDHistCon Events Schedule. No ticket is required. Subscribe to or visit the No Enemies Here YouTube channel at event time to join in the discussion… and of course it will be available for viewing on Youtube later, if you can’t make the scene.

https://www.youtube.com/c/NoEnemiesHere/featured

IMG_0407   I have a philosophy?

Tune in anyway, and listen to the other folks!

Dan Pancaldi is always fun to talk to.

SDHistCon, 21-23 May 2021

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Coming soon:

SDHistCon 2021: ‘Spring Deployment’! May 21-23, 2021
The San Diego Historical Games Convention (SDHistCon) is an annual event hosted and coordinated by a dedicated cadre of local gamers and friends, led by Harold Buchanan.

This “Spring Deployment” will be held virtually. There will be online historical gaming sessions and demos, seminars, live streams and other wargame community events. Most events will be coordinated using the Discord app (available free to all users).

The link to register is here:

https://tabletop.events/conventions/san-diego-history-con-2021-spring-deployment

Events during the con are free, but you need to get a ticket to attend anything; you also need an attendee’s badge which is a $10 donation (for all three days of the event).

I will be be conducting a session on China’s War 1937-41 at 1600 Sunday 23 May (that’s Pacific time, so UTC -7:00)

https://tabletop.events/conventions/san-diego-history-con-2021-spring-deployment/schedule/36

Only a few tickets are left! (I was surprised about that too.)

I’ll be talking about the history of the war, the different factions in the game, and other bits about game mechanics.

I hope you can make it! And if you can’t see this one, there are dozens and dozens of other events for you to check out:

https://tabletop.events/conventions/san-diego-history-con-2021-spring-deployment/schedule

Punched, punched

Out today, the second number of Punched, a free online zine on wargames edited by James Buckley of Cardboard Emperors!

https://www.cardboardemperors.co.uk/punched-2#coin

This one is a special issue with lots of content on COIN everything:

  • James Buckley discusses the four keys to the success of the COIN engine
  • Jason Carr talks about COIN’s success, discusses some mechanics, and considers the future of the series
  • Volko Ruhnke discusses how insurgencies are modelled in the COIN series, and what Control and Oppose/Support mean
  • Fred Serval writes about the seething mass of fan-made COIN games churning around on the GMT COIN Discord server; it’s frightening to poke your head in there. Of special interest is an upcoming quad of short games by Stephen Ranganzas using cut-down COIN system mechanics to explore “the British Way” of counterinsurgency: Palestine, Malaya, Kenya and Cyprus.
  • Also, a really nice review of Brief Border Wars!

It’s free, it’s there, it’s waiting for you at the above link!

Oh, and would I ever love to attend this con in July – Camden is so neat (setting aside the tourist-trappy stuff). But maybe next year.

Camden

Cardboard Emperors Virtual Con II: guest speaker

Cardboard Emperors is a group of gamers based mostly in London, UK. They used to have in-person game sessions, but with the coming of COVID they have moved to online gaming sessions and maintain a Discord server.

They also recently launched a free online magazine called Punched. The first issue is available here and is full of great stuff: a look at Mark Herman’s Great Statesman game Churchill, a strategy guide to Labyrinth, an excellent interview with Tomislav Cipcic who designed the very interesting Brotherhood and Unity, game reviews, and a free game on the battle of Gravelotte (1870) by Fred Serval!

Now, the Cardboard Emperors Virtual Con II is just under a month away.

I will be making a brief presentation of the factions, mechanics and victory conditions in China’s War: 1937-41. (by the way, now up to 1,307 pre-orders)

Far more interesting, though, will be a session by international relations scholar Dr David Banks, who focuses on diplomatic history and practice, and wargaming and conflict simulation. David will be running the seminar ‘Modelling the Next War: How Wargaming can help us understand Cyberwarfare.’

The sessions will happen 1800-1900 Saturday February 20 (British time, so GMT +0).

Attendees (limited to only 25, the maximum the Discord license will allow) will also be entered into a prize draw for a copy of C3i magazine. So there’s that, too!

If you would like to attend the Virtual Con II event, send an email to James Buckley, the con organizer, at cardboardemperors@gmail.com.

Intvw w/ NEH, @ ACDC, 1400 16 JAN 2021

acdc-jan-21-header

The Regiment of Armchair Dragoons, an organization of strategy gamers only partly corralled by Brant Guillory, is having a virtual convention in mid-January!

As part of this event, on Saturday, January 16, from 1400 to 1500 Eastern Standard Time, I will be on Zoom for a 60-minute interview with podcaster Dan Pancaldi (of No Enemies Here). We’ll talk, we’ll scratch each other’s backs, we’ll take some questions….

Tickets required, and there is a limit of 100 (like all seminars on this event, I gather this is some kind of license-imposed limit; nothing personal).

It’s only 3 bucks to participate all weekend, and there is a LOT going on besides this meeting -board and miniatures games played via ASCBI, Discord, Roll20, Tabletop Simulator, Tabletopia, Vassal and Zoom; and online seminars including two presentations from the Georgetown University Wargaming Society.

Event details are here: https://www.armchairdragoons.com/acdc-jan-21/

Registration is via Tabletop Events: https://tabletop.events/conventions/acdc-january-2021

And here is the whole events schedule, though it will continue to change until January 4: https://www.armchairdragoons.com/acdc-jan-21-events/

More about Dan’s weekly podcast here: https://www.facebook.com/NoEnemiesHere/

I hope you’ll attend!

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.

BottosCon pictures

Back from a very good BottosCon, here are some pictures taken by the very able David Rice.

cw3741 playing bcon

Beginning of a game of China’s War. You can see the Japanese Army ready to “do the Locomotion” into northern China, to link up with the forces heading north from Shanghai. (Photo: David Rice)

 

cw3741 closeup bcon

Closeup of the “home plate” Initiative Track, which works just fine for a 4-player game. (Photo: David Rice)

 

kashmir playing bcon

I even got in a few quick games of Kashmir Crisis with Christopher Spence! (photo: David Rice)

Con Weekend

making point bottos14

Not sure what i was saying here, but I guess it was important…

Going to be a good weekend for wargaming conventions.

I don’t go to many cons, normally just two a year: the big Consimworld Expo in Tempe AZ each summer, and Rob Bottos’ “BottosCon” over in Vancouver on the weekend nearest Remembrance Day.

https://www.facebook.com/groups/BottosCon/

Rob has been running this for over ten years now, and it’s grown every year. I think he is now at well over 100 attendees, and while there is and likely always will be a strong contingent of ASL lifestyle guys you can see games of all types being played.

I’ll be bringing the usual bag of playtest stuff with me, most of which will not even leave the bag let alone be tested… I cheerfully admit this is my fault, since normal con behaviour is to pre-arrange the games that you will play, down to the time and table, so you can maximise your time playing and not puzzling through something new and unfamiliar and which may not work all that well.

But I do have a couple of people lined up for a test run of China’s War, which is in a pretty good state now IMO. Other than that I’m bringing the QWexit material, Kashmir Crisis, Virtualia II, Squares of the City and maybe Strongman if the Magic Bag isn’t too full.

http://www.sdhist.com/home.html

On the same weekend is Harold Buchanan’s San Diego Historical Games Convention, down in, yeah, San Diego. A LOT of game designers will be here, and publishers too of course, and a lot of open gaming as well as pre-arranged play and events. And knowing Harold, it will all be well organized and lots of fun! I’d like to make the scene there some day, but it’s not going to work out this year due to day-job stuff.

You take some time and play something this weekend too, y’hear?