Back, then forth

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Thanks to LTC James di Crocco for the flyer, and for organizing the film!

Wow, what a busy week! But it was certainly worth it.

I got into Carlisle PA very late on Sunday night. The next morning I had breakfast at the nearby Hamilton Restaurant, a nice cheap diner place that’s been there for 84 years. I had scrapple for the first time in my life… it’s a regional delicacy, let’s call it that. Think of toast made of pureed meat.

IMG_0089It’s the Pennsylvania treat!

Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday were spent in meetings, panels and testing sessions, as well as the movie and game event on Tuesday afternoon.

On Monday I had an hour or two in the War College Library and quite by accident, I happened to set my stuff down in a chair next to the very area I wanted to poke around in – urban guerrilla warfare! I found an old copy of “Report on Urban Insurgency Studies”, something put together under an old ARPA contract in 1966 by “Simulmatics Corporation”. Along with case studies of urban conflicts, including the Algerian insurgency, it also included “URB-INS”, directions and descriptions for making and running a manual game on counterinsurgency in a generic city. It was pretty sophisticated for its day – double-blind play with an umpire using a third board; time lag on intelligence and movements; uncertain information on sympathizers for either side; interrogation and arrest; etc..

Simulmatics was one of those little companies that sprang up like mushrooms in the early days of using social science and computers to defeat insurgency, funded by ARPA project money. Simulmatics did work in computer simulations in the early 1960s analyzing American voter behaviours, and so were pioneers in doing that kind of work for political parties, but  did not do well in contracted ARPA work in Vietnam trying to develop psychological weapons and predictors to defeat the Viet Cong (as described in The Imagineers of War: The Untold History of DARPA, the Pentagon Agency That Changed the World, a new book by Sharon Weinberger).

Tuesday morning I sat in on a panel on “Games and Innovation in the Classroom” with LTC Pat Schoof from the Command and General Staff College (James Sterrett’s delegate), Jim Lacey and Peter Perla. I was especially glad to see Peter, as I don’t get many chances to talk with this highly intelligent guy … luckily we were able to have dinner the night before, and talk up a storm. No pictures because it was in Collins Hall, a building where I had to lock up my tablet and phone before entering.

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Tuesday afternoon we were in Root Hall, which is open to the public, and had a couple of hours of guided play of Colonial Twilight before the movie. The College has some nice printers, so they were able to make double-size maps which were almost too big to play on.

The movie went well too. I made some introductory remarks on the Algerian history and war development up to the point the movie begins in 1957, and some comments on how the movie came to be made (did you know Pontecorvo’s original idea was to make a dramatic movie called Paras, starring either Steve McQueen or Warren Beatty?).

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Halfway through the movie, after the scene of Colonel Mathieu’s first briefing with his officers, I stopped and talked about the historical and effective tactics the French used in the actual Battle of Algiers, and at the end I talked about some of the liberties the producer/star Yacef Saadi had taken with history, and about the historical impact of the film. My remarks are here, in case anyone is interested: remarks on the war and film.

On Wednesday I was in the War College Library for a playtest of South China Sea, a grown-out and complexified version of Breaking The Chains, a game on naval warfare in the area by John Gorkowski published by Compass Games (which will also be doing the new version). (https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/137498/breaking-chains-war-south-china-sea) A class of students at the College will use this game at an event in the summer to explore the wild world of “joint operations”.

Wednesday night I had dinner with now-retired LTC Dave Barsness, who was my escort officer last year, and who has somehow contrived to look even leaner, fitter and more tanned than the last time I saw him! Afterwards I went to a talk at the Army Heritage Education Centre which is near the War College, where one of the faculty there talked about his recent book Elvis’s Army, on the US Army’s years between Korea and Vietnam. I’ve always been interested in this period, especially the brief and weird Pentomic Division reorganization, so it was a really interesting talk. One of the topics was the legendary M29 Davy Crockett recoilless gun, which fired a small Mk 54 nuclear warhead with variable yields in the 10-20 ton range. Problem was, the warhead’s danger radius was a considerable fraction of the launcher’s accurate range, so unless you had considerable ground cover (or preferably a ridge or mountain) between you and the explosion, you were cooked.

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On Thursday it went up to 32 degrees (90 F and humid) and I got a lift to the Harrisburg airport from LTC Jim Di Crocco, a friend and fellow gamer who had been my escort officer on and off and around the College, taking time out from his very busy week that would end with a trip to Bangkok the next day. Thanks Jim! After a delay caused by a certain amount of something observed leaking from the starboard engine, we took off for Toronto, affording me a nice view of the cooling towers of Three Mile Island.

However, that delay cost me my comfortable connection to the flight to Ottawa. The plane landed at what must have been the very end of Pearson Airport (gate F93?) and I galumphed as fast as I could through Customs and Security, making it to the plane just as they were about to close the door and leave… another two minutes and they would have been gone. We landed in Ottawa in a thunderstorm, and had to wait until the lightning stopped to disembark.

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My good friend Andreas playing the game with his kids.

I stayed with my friend Andreas and his family, here he is playing Guerrilla Checkers with his very smart children.

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Friday I was in a meeting with Rex Brynen and Tom Fisher, his partner in design crimes, talking with staff in Global Affairs Canada about a matrix game exercise they were planning to try out on their people. That morning I had had a chance to wander around Parliament Hill, where I hadn’t been since 1989 and my Class B days. It’s pretty much the same except for all the added security people, searches and roadblocks. I also saw them post the guard at the National War Memorial, something they did not do back in the day.

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I’m not smiling, I’m having an attack of colic. Photo by Denis Lavergne.

Friday night and Saturday  I was at the Cangames convention, showing and playing Colonial Twilight with Rex Brynen and Michel Boucher. On Saturday Michel taught me to play The Grizzled (Les Poilus), a co-operative game I had been meaning to try. It was very interesting and affecting, enjoyable (?) on a lot of levels. That night I went to Michel’s place for a delicious dinner of roast chicken, and I met his wife and daughter as well as getting a quick look at his massive and eclectic wargame collection.

Major score at the Cangames flea market: the complete (well, haven’t inventoried the counters but it looks so) set of Command Series Games, Volume I by Rand Games Associates, published in 1974, even with red drawer box in 1974-was-a-long-time-ago condition… for a very good price. Maybe not hugely innovative or even good games but a piece of hobby history I have been looking for a long time. http://mapandcounters.blogspot.ca/2010/03/mixed-memories-rand-game-associates.html

Sunday it was time to go. I spent the morning playing Settlers of Catan with Andreas and the kids. Flight home not as stressful or sweaty as the flight in, but I was very happy to have Victoria Day off to depressurize.

In three days we are taking off for Tempe Arizona for the 2017 Consimworld Expo! Almost a whole week in the sun, it will probably be over 100 degrees every day. I’m bringing a bunch of stuff to test and show, and we’ll see who bites on what…

More later, during or more likely after the Expo.

Back to USAWC

  • May 16, 2017, 4:30 pm – Strategic Art Film: The Battle of Algiers, moderated by Brian Train.  US Army War College, Root Hall, Wil Washcoe Auditorium. For more information, call Army Heritage and Education Center at 717-245-3828.

In about two weeks I will be returning to the US Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania for a repeat performance of last year’s event: I will be moderating a screening of the Pontecorvo film The Battle of Algiers and then we will have some guided play of Colonial Twilight.

Algiers and Algeria at AWC

The difference is this time Colonial Twilight will be in its final, approved form! Apparently it is still on track to appear in June 2017, just a bit too late for the Consimworld Expo in Tempe, Arizona (at the end of May, this year) but about three years since GMT first approached me about doing the game.

After this I am going to Ottawa for a couple of days, where I will be at the Cangames convention on the weekend. It’s their 40th annual convention! Maybe I’ll see some of you there. I’ll be running a couple of games of Colonial Twilight there as well, and maybe some other goodies.

http://www.cangames.ca/

Home from BottosCon 2016!

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Playing the short scenario with Lyman Leong. Photo: David Rice.

Like most cons, I spent most of my time talking to old friends I often see only once a year, catching up and discussing new projects and thoughts on game design generally. Though this time I met someone who I hadn’t seen in 35 years – we used to play matches of Richthofen’s War during lunch hour in high school! He’s a bit taller now…. And I met some interesting new people too.

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Multiple games of A Distant Plain were played. Photo:Boaz Joseph, from the story that appeared in the Surrey Leader

I did get a bit of gaming in too, just one play-through of the short scenario of Colonial Twilight. And I did introduce Guerrilla Checkers to a fellow who brought his 12 year old daughter to the con… and she promptly kicked the stuffing out of him, twice!

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Another great photo by David Rice… though as usual I am frozen in indecision and fatal distraction… I never said I was any good at actually playing these things.

 

Back, bruised, from Tempe.

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Playtesting Colonial Twilight with Joseph Vanden Borre (who came all the way from Belgium) and Ian Weir. Photo: Harold Buchanan

Okay, I am back and things went well, considering.

The day after we arrived I was starting down the stairs with Lianne on the way to lunch, and I stepped on something that wasn’t there (bright sunlight into dark staircase). I fell and got a bruise+hematoma on my but-tocks (say it Forrest Gump style) that made and makes it hard to sit, sleep, or walk normally. It’s not the ugliest thing ever to happen to my body but the bruise was so large and spectacular I gave it a name.

Apart from that, I got in some really good playtesting of Colonial Twilight, met with Mark Simonitch about the final art, cemented an idea about the ‘bot (which is the last major detail to be completed in the game), and buy-in to the forces adjustment (a slight reduction in the number of Government pieces). Also, Lance McMillan and I took Red Horde 1920 for a spin and he gave me a lump of good ideas to use in it – much improved I think.

Met lots of people I never see except at this convention – though LCOL Barsness from the Army War College was there for the first time too.

Highlight was Daniel Thorpe and the other five or six Canadian attendees organizing a Canada Day Eve event – he laid in 60 bottles of Labatt’s Blue and boxes of poutine from a US Fries place around the corner from the hotel, and group entertainment was provided with a Canadian military history trivia quiz. Team “Dieppe” won the donated prize copies of War Plan Crimson and Scheldt Campaign !

 

 

 

Off to CSW Expo 2016… meanwhile, Ramadi.

Leaving soon for Tempe, Arizona for the Consimworld Expo!

Going to be extremely hot – 43 to 46 degrees!

Will do my best to engage as little as possible on any topic other than play, publishing, design etc. of wargames!

Meanwhile, let me point you toward a simple but very clever solitaire wargame on the Battle for Ramadi (December 2015), by Jay Ward and made available for free on his website “Numbers, Wargames and Arsing About”.

http://flagsofvictory.blogspot.ca/p/the-battle-for-ramadi-complete-game.html

If nothing else, download and read the rules – he spends the first 11 pages setting out the situation and giving information on the forces involved, and how they are reflected in the game. I like it when designers give this kind of account of their research and thoughts.

If I had the time, I’d nick all this and make a Fallujah version of the game myself!

But meanwhile, the desert beckons….

 

Busy week ahead

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I take off Saturday for a busy week of gaming and talking, and more gaming!

On Monday I will be at the US Army War College at Carlisle Barracks, PA to cover another event in their Strategic Wargame Program. See https://paxsims.wordpress.com/2016/04/01/us-army-war-college-strategic-wargame-program/ for a full description by its director, COL Jerry Hall. So far they have done events using Fire in the Lake and Game of Thrones.

We’ll start with a screening of the Pontecorvo film The Battle of Algiers, maybe a bit of discussion about it, then onto guided play of Colonial Twilight. Should be great fun!

After that I am heading to Montreal for Stack Academie, the gaming convention organized by Marc Guenette.

Marc is also a student in the “DESS en Design de jeux”, a one-year post-degree program in game design run by the University of Montreal. (https://admission.umontreal.ca/programmes/dess-en-design-de-jeux/). Marc has asked me to conduct a “master class” in the design of games on modern irregular warfare, with particular attention to the COIN system. So, I will largely be amplifying my remarks from the PCA conference, with more emphasis on the potential of these games to enlarge and modify wargame design as a whole. Luckily, Volko Ruhnke will be in the audience to correct any egregious errors I commit. I will post my script and slide deck later, as usual.

That’s on Thursday; from then until early Sunday it’s going to be more playtesting of Colonial Twilight and some other games I am bringing – the revised versions of Algeria and War Plan Crimson coming soon from Tiny Battle Publishing, Chile ’73 (new mini-game on the coup against Allende, multiplayer), The Little War (new mini-game on the March 1939 border war between Slovakia and Hungary), and for the very brave, District Commander: Binh Dinh. And the usual Guerrilla Checkers giveaways, of course, unless the officers at the Army War College grab them all first…

“It’s going to be fun, Dryden.”

“It is recognized that you have a funny sense of fun.”

Bottoscon 2015

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That bald spot of mine appears to be growing year by year.

2015 is nearly over, and another Bottoscon has come and gone (really, where has the time gone?). This was a good one, the best attended yet!

I went over on Friday with Ian Weir (Red Sash Games) and Michael Junkin. After a bite I got set up at two tables that I kept filled with my games all weekend, either being displayed or played.

There were three test games of Colonial Twilight, all played with the short (3 Propaganda Rounds) Tournament Scenario: Friday with Andrew Laws and Stephen Graham (all 3 rounds, Government Victory on final  round), Saturday with Mike Mahoney and Rick Smith (all 3 rounds, FLN closer to victory point than Government on final round), and Sunday with Hjalmar Gerber and Richard Douziech (game had to be packed up after 2nd Prop round but FLN was doing better). Players had varying degrees of prior experience with the COIN system. All agreed this was a significant departure from other COIN system games in terms of playing speed: same amount of actual action per card – two factions get to one thing  each – but with only one adversary to worry about, not three, the tempo of the game gets cranked way up. The Initiative Track, that makes the leader of the dance pass back and forth between the two players, was thought to be a clever idea.

Other games: I helped Ian Weir and Rob Bottos through most of a game of Ukrainian Crisis with the revised rules (will be uploaded shortly to this blog), and Rick Smith helped me a lot with clarity and mechanics of my latest design, The LIttle War – a mini-game on the Slovak-Hungarian border conflict of March 1939 (you mean, you didn’t know about this one?).

Acquisitions:

  • Won as a door prize, a copy of YAAH! Magazine #3, with a very nice interview of Volko Ruhnke and me by Roger Leroux on the COIN system generally, plus another long article by Roger of his impressions of the games in the system.
  • Machine of Death, a curious sort of morbid party game by David Malki!, who was at the Tableflip conference in San Francisco last October.
  • Winter Fury, a small game on two Winter War battles
  • Some back issues of Canadian Wargamers Journal with variants and things in them.
  • Sold a few copies of Andartes and Tupamaro too.

I generally go to only two conventions a year: the big Consimworld Expo in Tempe, and this local con. It’s always great to meet people, walk around and talk to other designers about their work and projects. Rob works so hard to set this con up, and everyone appreciates it.

Thanks also to GMT, One Small Step Games and Tiny Battles Publishing for being so generous with door prizes too!