Two Interviews: The British Way, La Jeu de la Guerre

ONE

https://elwargameronovato.blogspot.com/2022/05/the-british-way-interview-stephen.html

Daniel Iniesta interviewed Stephen Rangazas, whose 4-pack of cut-down GMT COIN system games is forthcoming from GMT.

The British Way picks up on four postwar British entanglements: Malaya, Palestine, Kenya and Cyprus. He says:

The main changes to the core COIN mechanics for The British Way was altering the way two player COIN works. I streamlined the two-player sequence of play designed by Brian Train in Colonial Twilight and changed victory to work off an overall Political Will Track to reflect that these were really head-to-head challenges between the British and insurgents. There are also significant variations to the core COIN mechanics with the two more clandestine cell-based insurgencies in Cyprus and Palestine. Finally, I think the multipack really benefited from the linked campaign scenario and designing a macro game that covers four smaller COIN games required innovating from what had been done before in the series.

It’s kind of interesting to me that my “4-box” family of games that partly inspired Volko Ruhnke’s design for the COIN system (Algeria particularly) also depended heavily on an overall Political Will or Support Track that reflected each side’s cohesion and popular support (I suppose more accurately government support for the British, since these were decolonization campaigns) in a non-zero-sum way. So kind of a return to base, in its way.

The games are limited in size and component count – not more than 18 cards played in a game, so it’s done in 1-2 hours.

I’m looking forward to this package very much!

TWO

The very clever Fred Serval has an interview with Alex Galloway about Guy Debord’s La Jeu de la Guerra for his podcast Homo Ludens. History about Debord and his game, and talk about Galloway’s work on a digital version of the game (still in process). Also, a neat clip from the Situationist detourned film, “Can Dialectics Break Bricks?”

Counterinsurgency RTS game

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I don’t often read Duffel Blog, so it was only today this piece from 2017 came to my attention:

https://www.duffelblog.com/p/realistic-new-counterinsurgency-video-game-lets-watch-troops-fuck-youre-fired

Realistic new ‘Counterinsurgency’ video game lets you watch troops fuck up until you’re fired
Dec 5, 2017

SEATTLE, Wash. — An upcoming real-time strategy game is designed to let you watch your troops fuck up until you’re fired, sources confirmed today.

Titled Counterinsurgency, the debut video game from Seattle-based Green Wood Studios breaks new ground by pulling players into a protracted campaign mode with virtually no way to win. During this time, you — playing as the Theater Commander — get to witness gross mismanagement and malfeasance on the part of your subordinates until you are replaced.

“Most RTS games are about achieving measurable objectives, such as destroying the enemy team or acquiring key resources,” said Jerry Cevalos, the lead game designer, during an interview at GWS. “We went the opposite direction by instating a nebulous end-game of installing and sustaining a democracy.”

Counterinsurgency takes place in a fictional country, Angelovya, after World War III. The playable faction (U.S. military) occupies the nation in an effort to uphold an American-backed government, rebuild infrastructure, and protect the populace from the insurgent “Red Phoenix Army.” To this end, you have the option of using a plethora of military, civil, and diplomatic options — from Special Forces raids and airstrikes to training local security forces and bribing village officials.

Players have a finite number of Confidence Points, which are gained or lost depending on in-game successes and failures. Reaching zero points results in being relieved of command and the game self-destructing inside the console.

According to a preview of the game, despite having superior forces and materiel on the player’s side, things quickly go haywire after the campaign begins. Faulty intelligence gained from tortured prisoners leads to a missile obliterating a wedding, killing 23 unarmed civilians and a CIA asset. A shadowy, Russian-backed cartel quickly gains recruits from the angry populace, and the Red Phoenix Army is born.

Numerous pre-scripted and dynamic real-time events wreak further havoc on your command, from vehicle-borne IEDs blowing up civilians and gate guards, to special ops raids killing the wrong people, to soldiers disobeying orders or going on murder-sprees.

“You could be in the middle of stability operations in a nearby province, and a disillusioned soldier will desert his post or leak classified documents,” Cevalos explained, referring to unscripted incidents that can happen during gameplay. “And don’t be surprised if your best troops with fleshed-out skill trees quit the military and get replaced with inept morons.”

Making things worse, the insurgents are often indistinguishable from neutral non-playable characters, making accidental civilian deaths practically unavoidable. This problem is compounded by vindictive locals falsely accusing their rivals of being guerrillas, while others have no interest in ratting out their insurgent friends and family. All of these contribute to the loss of Confidence Points and bring your command tenure to its inevitable demise.

“Whether it’s sending Special Forces to train people who will later try to kill them or arresting a dozen Marines in a drug and prostitution sting, we intend to make this the most realistic RTS to date,” Cevalos added.

He concluded, “We hope this will best reflect the state of America’s current wars.”

At press time, a leaked memo has revealed that the only way to win the game is by carpet-bombing the entire country. This results in the Theater Commander being sent to the Hague for war crimes and your computer frying itself anyway.

Counterinsurgency is scheduled to be released after the War in Afghanistan ends, sometime in 2031.

By Paul Szoldra

Duffel Blog is the first and only online parody news organization focused on the U.S. military and veterans — helping advance critical thinking in national security through satire and smart humor.

Livestream: discussion on Civilian Victimization (Wargame Ethics #1)

At 2000 GMT Sunday November 7, Fred Serval will host a discussion between him, myself, Javier Romero, John Poniske and Tomislav Cipcic (sorry, I don’t know how to get the characters to show up!) on the topic of civilian victimization in wargames, and how it shows up or more often is merely elided. Habitues of this blog probably recognize all these names and the very good games they have designed that include this aspect of warfare.

Loose list of topics we will discuss:

– Introduction: presenting participants, why the topic is important, what is the panel’s objective
– Part 1: why should wargames represent civilian victimization? Forms of victimization, the risk of whitewashing history, limits of the ludic medium etc.
– Part 2 : how to depict those effects? The role of the player, the effect on the game’s dynamics, choices beyond pure strategy & player experience etc.
– Conclusion : final thoughts and opinion on future topics.

Hope you can join us, or have a listen after the fact!

Foucault in the Woodland, by Daniel Thurot

foucault d and p

Over at the insanely clever (or cleverly insane) Space-Biff! blog of Daniel Thurot, he writes ably on Foucault’s take on power and biopolitics as it is expressed in Cole Wehrle’s game Root. Cole Wehrle wrote about Foucault’s ideas in this regard in his Root designer diaries as well, this is a good expansion on that.

It’s just… oh, go and read it!

https://spacebiff.com/2021/11/04/foucault-in-the-woodland-1

This is part 1 of a series of 3. What he has written so far in summarizing Foucault resonates with the underpinning ideas in some of my games on irregular conflict… this is unconscious on my part since my Poli Sci education did not involve reading him, but still, DINGGGG, and I present my current favourite Fouquote where he flips Clausewitz’s dictum about war being a continuation of politics by other means:

“It may be that war as strategy is a continuation of politics. But it must not be forgotten that ‘politics’ has been conceived as a continuation, if not exactly and directly of war, at least of the military model as a fundamental means of preventing civil disorder. Politics, as a technique of internal peace and order, sought to implement the mechanism of the perfect army …. It is strategy that makes it possible to understand warfare as a way of conducting politics between states; it is tactics that makes it possible to understand the army as a principle for maintaining the absence of warfare in civil society.”

(Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish (1986): 168)

And here is Part 2:

https://spacebiff.com/2021/12/02/foucault-in-the-woodland-2/

And here is Part 3, when it pops up:

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Podcast: Beyond Solitaire #58 – A Distant Plain

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https://beyondsolitaire.buzzsprout.com/1091807/9218856-episode-58-volko-ruhnke-and-brian-train-on-a-distant-plain

A great podcast by Liz Davidson, talking with Volko Ruhnke and me about A Distant Plain’s origin, structure and intent – and touching on the sensitivities of designing games on contemporary conflicts.

Review: Zones of Control

ZOC book cover

It’s been a while since it came out, but here is a new review of the Zones of Control anthology:

https://thetidesofhistory.com/2021/08/22/book-review-zones-of-control-edited-by-pat-harrigan-matthew-kirschenbaum

Nice review – the writer liked the collection generally, including the chapter on gaming insurgencies that Volko Ruhnke and I wrote.

He did note:

Examining the short blurbs at the end of each essay, I noticed that the vast majority of the authors had Master’s and/or Doctorate levels of education. Only one or two authors had anything lower and they were Bachelor’s degrees at the very minimum.

Guilty!!

It appears that I and co-editor Pat Harrigan are the two bringing up the academic rear….

Okay, one more post-mortem

ADP_logo

This is a good one, and to make it more blog- and game-relevant I will try and relate it to A Distant Plain’s mechanics and event cards, where appropriate.

Remember, this game was researched in 2012/13, but it looks as if we hit the high spots. 

From The Intercept, by James Riser, 26 August 2021. https://theintercept.com/2021/08/26/afghanistan-america-failures

It contains a link to a very important document, the last report of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR): https://www.sigar.mil/pdf/lessonslearned/SIGAR-21-46-LL.pdf

A WAR’S EPITAPH
For Two Decades, Americans Told One Lie After Another About What They Were Doing in Afghanistan
James Risen
August 26 2021, 9:35 a.m.

Read more of this post

UK in AF: RUSI post-mortem

https://rusi.org/explore-our-research/publications/commentary/twelve-dilemmas-behind-uks-afghan-defeat

Here is a good short dissection of the 12 dilemmas faced by the United Kingdom’s mission in Afghanistan, by RUSI’s Tim Willasey-Wilsey (love those double-barreled names).

Many of these remarks could also apply to the Canadian mission there, in our role as a junior ally to the United States, and in our deployment to Kandahar province, next door to the UK main effort in Helmand.

GMT goes SPI

https://www.gmtgames.com/p-945-the-british-way-counterinsurgency-at-the-end-of-empire.aspx

Four-on-the-floor, that is… as in Quadrigame!

A while ago I had a talk with Stephen Rangazas, who has come up with an interesting way of distilling much of the 2-player COIN system experience down to a few cards and a small number of pieces… and he has put four examples of such in one box, called:

The British Way: Counterinsurgency at the End of Empire is the first of several COIN multipacks, containing four separate games exploring a series of thematically related insurgencies. Between 1945 and 1960, the British fought four major “emergencies,” as they referred to their counterinsurgency campaigns, each trying to manage their retreat from empire. The four games in this pack focus on exploring British counterinsurgent responses to a variety of different opponents, including communist insurgents in Malaya, militant nationalists in Kenya, and smaller and more clandestine terrorist organizations in Palestine and Cyprus. The games adjust the core COIN mechanics to provide a compelling new way of handling two-player conflicts, while also streamlining several mechanics to quicken gameplay. The British Way offers an approachable introduction to the COIN series for new players, while presenting experienced players with four mechanically distinct games to explore and compare.
 

Highlights:
  • Four full games in one box: Explore four different conflicts set during the twilight of the British Empire in the 1940s and 1950s. Each game uses a unique ruleset building on the same general mechanical structure, ensuring that they are easy to pick up while still offering a distinctive experience.
  • A new adaptation of the classic COIN system: Improved two-player sequence of play and a versatile Political Will track for determining victory. 
  • Unique mechanisms reflecting the British approach to each conflict: New Villages in Malaya, the ‘Pipeline’ in Kenya, Curfews in Cyprus, and Mass Detention in Palestine.
  • Small board footprint with quick-but-deep gameplay: Each game plays in under 90 minutes and takes place on a single 17×22” board.
  • An “End of Empire” Campaign: A campaign scenario allowing players to play the four games in a linked series with a cumulative scoring system, random ‘external’ events relating to British decolonization, and new mechanics to integrate each game into the campaign.

Prototype maps for Kenya and Malaya

Malaya
The British Emergency in Malaya (1948-1960) is viewed by some as the classic case of a successful counterinsurgency campaign, fought against an insurgency led by the Malayan Communist Party. The Malayan Emergency significantly influenced counterinsurgency theory and would become a model case, later appealed to by commanders in conflicts ranging from Vietnam to the present. The British Way: Malaya is the perfect introduction for players new to the COIN series, offering a shorter two-player game experience that will give players some familiarity with Government and Insurgent factions in other modern COIN volumes, such as Cuba Libre or A Distant Plain. For experienced players, it also serves as a good introduction to the new core mechanics in The British Way by offering Factions and Operations that will be familiar from previous COIN volumes but with several new systems, such as the Political Will track, streamlined Sequence of Play, and a shifting British Commander Capability.

Prototype event cards for Malaya


Kenya
The British Emergency in Kenya (1952-1960), fought against the Mau Mau insurgents, dramatically departed from the strategy modeled in many of the modern COIN volumes, with a heavy focus on coercion rather than winning ‘hearts and minds.’ In game terms, this means a shift away from building ‘Support’ towards new mechanics modeling various forms of repression used by the British in Kenya. However, their use of repression can have political consequences back in Britain, represented as a potential penalty to Political Will—as one British official noted, “If we sin, we must sin quietly.” The British player must balance this core tradeoff, while the Mau Mau player must mobilize the Kikuyu population and expand their revolt to survive the overwhelming British response. The British Way: Kenya depicts a dramatically asymmetrical conflict where an extremely poorly equipped insurgency must utilize clever (and in some cases brutal) tactics to try and ride out an overwhelmingly powerful, often unconstrained, and increasingly criticized counterinsurgency campaign.

Prototype event cards for Kenya

Cyprus and Palestine: New Counter-Terrorism Mechanics
The next two conflicts in the pack depart more significantly from core COIN concepts because Britain’s two opponents in Cyprus and Palestine operated as smaller clandestine terrorist cells rather than the larger insurgencies depicted in Malaya and Kenya. Instead, new “counter-terrorism” tactics are modeled, such as Curfews, Intelligence, Arms Caches, and a more detailed Sabotage and Terror system. These two games offer a fresh approach to a different kind of conflict and provide an even quicker play experience for two-player COIN duels.

Prototype maps for Palestine and Cyprus

The British Emergency in Cyprus (1955-1959) was conducted under the shadow of international opinion and increasing pressure from the international community to respect human rights. As the British player tries to balance locking down the population while managing international pressure, the EOKA player will launch sabotage attacks in towns across the island while building their organization in the mountains. The British Way: Cyprus is probably the simplest of the four games in the pack, although the new counter-terrorism mechanics it introduces are significantly different from anything that has appeared in previous COIN volumes.

Prototype event cards for Cyprus

Likewise, during the Palestine campaign (1945-1947), the British player will be faced with the Jewish resistance groups Irgun and Lehi launching sabotage and terrorist attacks across Mandatory Palestine, while risking criticism from the US and other international observers if their response is too heavy-handed. The British Way: Palestine further develops the new counter-terrorism mechanics introduced in Cyprus, while also including unique game systems to model the British use of the blunt tool of Mass Detention, the shifting cooperation of Haganah (the Jewish Agency’s armed wing), and high-profile terrorist attacks such as the King David Hotel bombing.

Prototype event cards for Palestine

A Note on “The British Way” of Counterinsurgency:
“that nauseating phrase I think I invented” – General Sir Gerald Templer on the term ‘Hearts and Minds’
The historical simulations included in The British Way are designed to depict the full array of strategies used by the British during these conflicts, ranging from the more benevolent provision of material benefits through pacification programs to the horrific measures used to gain control over the local population. Many myths have arisen about an ‘enlightened’ British approach to counterinsurgency that emphasized the use of minimum force and focused on winning the population’s “hearts and minds,” compared with the supposedly more violent approaches taken by the United States in Vietnam or by France in Algeria. However, new scholarship on these conflicts has confirmed the brutality of the methods commonly used by the British in their counterinsurgency campaigns. As summarized by the historian Hew Strachan, these conflicts were often decided by “the firm smack of government,” not the popular winning of hearts and minds. This multipack is intended to help synthesize and present these crucial developments in our understanding of British counterinsurgency, even if that means the simulations depicted are at times more thought-provoking than fun. The designer’s main goal is that players find these games informative about what happened during each conflict and why, and that the gameplay leaves them wanting to learn more. Each game will come with a detailed Background booklet describing the events depicted and listing additional sources, while the combined Playbook will include comparative essays discussing British counterinsurgency across the four games and how it is depicted in conflict simulations.

Game components
  • Two double-sided 17×22” mounted game boards
  • 4 Game Event Decks and 1 Campaign Event Deck
  • 54 Wooden Pieces
  • 8 Pawns
  • One full-color counter sheet
  • Eleven double-sided player aids
  • Two 6-sided dice
  • 4 Combined Rule/Background Booklets
  • 1 Combined Playbook/Campaign Guide
Number of players: 2
GAME DESIGN: Stephen Rangazas
DEVELOPER: Joe Dewhurst 

 

You better believe I signed up for this!

I believe I am customer #303, snicker….

A word about that “hearts and minds” aspect, though… I have been extremely busy lately and have not been able to finish work on a post I was making in response to “The Hearts-and-Minds Myth: How America Gets Counterinsurgency Wrong”, an article that appeared last week in Foreign Policy magazine by Jacqueline Hazelton, who teaches at the Naval War College. She also wrote Bullets Not Ballots: Success in Counterinsurgency Warfare which has been poked my way more than once recently. 

I don’t understand the binary, all-or-nothing thinking that goes into commentary on these things… it’s not a stark choice between “pyramid of skulls” or “armed social work”, it never is. If you never punish or pursue the insurgents, you will not win. But if you never do anything to address “why?”, the concerns of the insurgents or the populations they spring from (because no one ever does this for fun), you will not win either. 

But I am looking forward to these sporty little fellas. Happy to see a second game on Cyprus, too!

A tale of two surges

battle-of-algiers

https://mwi.usma.edu/it-was-the-best-of-coin-it-was-the-worst-of-coin-a-tale-of-two-surges/

Over at the Modern War Institute, an interesting short article by LCOL Michael Nelson comparing the respective surges in Iraq and Afghanistan, outlining how local conditions, history and prospects will trump or at least modify general principles of counterinsurgency doctrine (assuming your army even has such a doctrine).

As often happens, the lead and final paragraphs are the most significant and I quote them here… but the whole article is worth a read:

….. Scholars and practitioners alike are familiar with the axiom that one should avoid fighting the last war. It should go without saying, then, that one should also avoid trying to fight two distinct, concurrent wars as though they are the same conflict. While there are guiding principles for counterinsurgency, there is simply no one-size-fits-all template for success.

However, heavily relying on methods from a different conflict is roughly what the United States tried to do in Afghanistan in 2009 with the attempt to replicate the apparent successes of the surge in Iraq. The fatal flaw in this plan was predicated on a misunderstanding of the circumstances and the environment that had created the conditions for reduced violence in Iraq. Perhaps most disappointingly, these plans for Afghanistan were made and implemented by some of the same leaders who earned praise for having turned the Iraq War around when it was at its most bleak.

……

All warfare is political, and all warfare shifts on human decisions made in complex circumstances. But this is doubly true of counterinsurgent warfare. It is a complicated endeavor that requires deft understanding of the motivations and goals of multiple actors. America’s mistake, in two theaters, was in trying to reduce one of the more complex forms of conflict into something simple, uniform, and replicable without regard to the environment. While the United States should not shy away from studying, determining principles of, developing doctrine for, and preparing to conduct counterinsurgency, we must remember that these guidelines are only as good as the means by which they are adapted to the fight at hand.

These words are especially poignant to me as a designer of games on insurgencies in many different countries at different historical periods.

I have published some 11 games using three general “system” mechanical approaches: the “4 box” system (Shining Path, Algeria, Andartes, EOKA, Kandahar), the GMT COIN system (A Distant Plain, Colonial Twilight) and the District Commander system (Maracas, Binh Dinh, Kandahar, ZNO). Each game was adapted to reflect the particular historical, geographical, political and military conditions of the conflict, within the general “grammar” of the game system.

But I have a further set of eight historical insurgency-related games that use mechanics unique or near-unique to their design: Binh Dinh ’69, Chile ’73, Green Beret, Nights of Fire, Operation Whirlwind, Somalia, Tupamaro, Ukrainian Crisis. 

I haven’t yet designed anything on the Iraqi insurgency, but when that day comes, I will do my best to assure it will not be a cookie-cutter effort.