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?

Back from Consimworld Expo 2019

 

nickkarp

I met Nick Karp (attending CSWExpo for the first time ever) in the dealers’ room!

Here I am again, after another hot week in the desert!

I can’t recall how many times I’ve been to CSWExpo, I think this might have been my tenth or something near that number. I always have a good time. I think the worst might have been the first or second time I went and got a horrible cold or something exacerbated by the air conditioning, caught laryngitis and couldn’t talk to any of the people I so much wanted to talk to. I recall there was no pharmacy nearby (there is a CVS now) and in my quest to get something like Listerine to gargle I ended up going to a Circle-K to get a mickey of their cheapest vodka, reasoning that it would a) sterilize my throat and b) be cheaper than actual Listerine. I was right about it being cheaper but still, won’t do that again.

Anyway, this year was fine though Lianne was laid low by the A/C monster this time, for a day or two.

China’s War got lots of attention, natch. I showed it to Gene Billingsley and he was quite happy to accept it for P500 after making one significant but also significantly simpler change in the design – so after making the proper edits I will be sending it off to GMT’s COIN family developer and it ought to hit the P500 list in a few months. Not much point in hurrying because it should make the 500 point briskly (appetite for COIN system is still strong and this is a better known war than the Algerian War) and GMT games now spend around a year in the physical pipeline between pulling final triggers and the physical product showing up in Oakland.

Gene and his son Luke also looked at Strongman, and were by and large impressed by it (Luke seemed particularly taken by the silly Spanish-language puns in the personality names). So that will likely be picked up once it has had more mechanical development; Gene also suggested some tricks for greater narrative development and involvement that will need to be framed up too.

Squares of the City and Virtualia II didn’t get a look in – they need some development and testing anyway, and when they are ready I will likely just upload them here for free download. Semi-abstract games aren’t all that popular anyway.

Designer dinner 2019

L to R: Bruce Geryk, me, Nick Karp, Harold Buchanan, Mark Herman. (photo credit: waiter who overheard we were all game designers and told us how much he loved Magic: the Gathering (hey, let people enjoy things!))

But what was really fine was running into and chatting with two of my design heroes while there – Mark Herman and Nick Karp! We went out to dinner in a group and had a great time telling stories and anecdotes about games, designers and publishers past and present. This was also my first time to meet Bruce Geryk, who I have corresponded with many times.

2019-06-25-19.42.04

Photo by Harold Buchanan. I must have nodded off in the middle of talking about myself.

Another fun thing was getting to talk with Harold Buchanan for another edition of his podcast “Harold on Games”… this time we talked about an even wider range of topics, from creativity and design innovation to the development history of the Pantzooka, a remarkable piece of sartorial ordnance (and sadly, now obsolete). I pity the man, having to edit my ramblings down to an hour or less of coherence.

pantzooka

Ave hominem vestitum.

 

Podcast: on Armchair Dragoons’ “Mentioned in Dispatches”, vol 2 ep 9

Recently I sat down with James Sterrett for an episode of Brant Guillory’s podcast “Mentioned in Dispatches.”

The occasion was the recent release of Matt Caffrey’s new book On Wargaming

On Wargaming by Matt Caffrey, out at last!

and we thought we would discuss, for well over an hour in our meandering ways, this book and other books we’ve found useful for thinking about games and game design.

James has a more practical take on this of course, as he teaches game design to his students at the US Army Command and General Staff College.

https://paxsims.wordpress.com/2017/06/07/teaching-wargame-design-at-cgsc/

Anyway, here is the link, go and have a listen!

https://www.armchairdragoons.com/podcast/mentioned-in-dispatches-season-2-episode-9-the-essential-wargaming-library/

In other news, this weekend is the inaugural Victoriaconn, a mini-convention put on here in town by local gamer Geoff Conns. I’ll be there Friday and Saturday (have to work Sunday), showing the playtest version of China’s War and the near-production copy of the Brief Border Wars quad. Maybe someone will notice….

http://www.victoriaconn.ca/

Back from CSWExpo 2018

me and masahiro

At CSWExpo with Masahiro Yamazaki, a profound and prolific game designer.

Well, I went, and now I’m back… it was a great week!

As You Know, Bob, I went down to Tempe with ten designs and I think I have found homes for twelve of them.

  • The Brief Border Wars quad will be published by Compass Games, all four in one box;
  • the District Commander series (the first four anyway) will come out singly from Hollandspiele;
  • Thunder Out of China gathered a lot of interest and some very good initial player test input (lychee-nut clusters to John Burtt and Ian Weir, among others), time permitting in between it should be ready to deliver to GMT for P500 next Expo time;
  • We Are Coming, Nineveh attracted some nice attention and partial or full tests from passersby, notably Paul Van Etten and Steve Lieske who gave me a page or two of notes and suggestions. Needs some work but an established publisher is definitely interested!
  • I showed Caudillo to GMT and they were interested too but it needs some R&D for added light-heartedness without it becoming like Junta… I know the man who  is up for this kind of job, and hopefully can report more soon.
  • Finally, Steve Jones of Blue Panther games proposed sales of a spiffed-up version of Guerrilla Checkers (board printed on canvas with poly back, little wooden punch-out pieces) to SoCal pubs… a market I had never considered, though the linen-napkin and glass stones versions I had been selling are just as beer-proof.

Whoof, it was hot though… 42 degrees and more every day. No excursions as we had planned, but we had fun in the hotel and general area, and it was great to meet both the people I meet once a year here (John Teixeira, Kerry Anderson, John Kranz the expo organizer, Joel Dahlenberg etc.) and new friends (Masahiro Yamazaki from Japan (he was there last year but I was too shy to speak to him, this year I essayed my broken Japanese), Florent Coupeau from Nuts! Publishing in France, Zach Larue, Sam Losthisname (but he’s a cool guy), Tom Switajewski, Randy Strader, etc.).

Besides the revision and refining work to be done on some of these designs, I also came home with several ideas for new games that I hope to work out over the rest of the year. So stay tuned….

buchanan intvw

Being interviewed at CSWExpo for Harold Buchanan’s podcast “Harold on Games”. Photo: Harold Buchanan.

While I was there, Harold Buchanan (designer of Liberty of Death and more besides) interviewed me for his podcast “Harold on Games”. He let me ramble on for almost two hours, I don’t envy him the job of editing it down to fit. Anyway, when he does I’ll let you know here and you can listen to me, too.

Off to Consimworld Expo 2018!

lawrncoarabia_032pyxurz

Best cut in cinematic history.

So, very early tomorrow we take off for a week and change in Tempe Arizona, to attend Consimworld Expo 2018. This convention gets bigger every year, there will be at least 275 hardcore gamers there this time.

I am taking lots of things with me, to show and/or test with people:

The Brief Border Wars quad:

Four minigames on border conflicts. Uses a development of the system in The Little War. Pretty much done testing but they are fun and short. El Salvador-Honduras 1969, Turkey-Cyprus 1974, China-Vietnam 1979, Israel-Hezbollah 2006.

Thunder out of China:

4-player COIN system for China 1937-41, I got this one to the 50% mark in 2015 but had to stop due to the need to finish off Colonial Twilight. Event Deck needs work as do a few tuneups. This will be a different twist on the COIN system but only slightly; twist of emphasis, not addition of mechanics.

The District Commander quad:

What, am I bringing back the Quadrigame? This is a diceless system of counterinsurgency at the operational level that I have been working on for a few years. Standard rules are rather long but they are “chatty”, the system is pretty simple and there are lots of possible options/ variations on play; each set of module exclusive rules is written as additions and exceptions to the standard rules.

Four modules: Mascara (Algeria 1959); Binh Dinh (Vietnam 1969); Kandahar (Afghanistan 2009); Maracas (imaginary megacity 2019). Modules feature things like population resettlement, airmobility, insurgent logistics, Agent Orange, monsoon rains, Phoenix Program, non-state militias, criminal gangs, insurgent command nodes, informers, sabotage, etc..

Caudillo:

Multi-player game on Latin American power politics, this brings up the tension between cooperation and competition. Not testing but CSW is a good place to try and snag people for multi-player games (3-5).

We Are Coming, Nineveh

Something new, not my design but I am helping on its development and need some playtester input. Designed by two graduate students of Rex Brynen, a Political Science professor at McGill University in Montreal who uses games in his classes a lot. This is their first essay into game design and it’s good enough that Rex and I are helping on its development for commercial publication.

It is an operational-level game of the Iraqi government campaign to liberate the western half of the city of Mosul from the forces of Daesh between 19 February and 9 July 2017. This was one of the largest and most difficult urban operations of the post-WWII era, and marked a major defeat for Daesh and its so-called “Islamic State.”

Area-movement map of west Mosul, including the densely-built Old City where Daesh forces made their last stand. Unit scale is groups of 100 or so Daesh fighters each, or battalion-sized units of the Iraqi Army, Ministry of the Interior, and elite Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS). Time scale is about 2 weeks/turn but this is flexible, and not that important. Blocks for both sides, to maintain uncertainty and the “fog of war.”

Capability cards: Before the operation starts, players choose a number of special capability cards. Gives great replayability.

Also during each turn, event cards can be triggered at any time by either player. Some of these indicate the growing collateral damage done to the city and its people. Others generate tactical vignettes: troops can get lost in the maze of small streets, communications can break down, and commanders can be faced with difficult moral and operational choices.

Victory: Unlike most wargames where there is a single measure for victory or loss, the game assesses three key aspects of the campaign: the speed at which the operation is completed, the casualties suffered by Iraqi government forces, and the collateral damage done to Mosul. One might outperform the historical case, capturing the Old City faster—but at a terrible civilian cost.

Going to be HOT and sunny, every day!

I may post from there, probably not as I will be working off a tablet with a tiny keyboard that is an exercise in patience to use.

Be good to each other while I’m gone.