The Afghanistan Papers

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Starting today, the Washington Post is running a series of articles on the aims and conduct of the conflict in Afghanistan.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2019/investigations/afghanistan-papers/afghanistan-war-confidential-documents

It will come as a surprise to no one that the war was a muddled, aimless, expensive and bloody mess. What may come as a bit more of a revelation is how the US military and government worked to “polish the turd”: to misrepresent, embroider, creatively omit, or just lie that the war was being won, somehow… not that this was being done, but how extensively and thoroughly, under two administrations.

The Post obtained these documents through FOI requests and a three year legal battle involving two lawsuits. No purloined photocopies as with the Pentagon Papers, and no hand-wringing over whether to publish them, so no Tom Hanks movie but these are important documents.

District Commander Maracas: interview at The Players Aid

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https://theplayersaid.com/2019/07/22/interview-with-brian-train-designer-of-district-commander-maracas-from-hollandspiele/

The doughty (now that I’ve looked it up, I’m confident that’s a good word) Grant Kleinheinz over at The Players Aid has published an interview with me about District Commander: Maracas, the first of four modules in the District Commander series to come from Hollandspiele.

Grant says this is the eighth interview I’ve had with him, and I believe it!

(Why wouldn’t I? Well, perhaps I should – these days I’m feeling rather like Hank Kimball from Green Acres.)

Image result for "hank kimball"

It’s quite long – over 7,000 words – but it tells you most everything you might want to know about the system itself, and the changes rung on it for the Maracas module, which covers the action in a made-up large city (the capital of Virtualia, reeling in the aftermath of the sudden departure from power of the charismatic strongman Jesus Shaves).

Hollandspiele will bring the game out in probably late August; I’m not sure of the price at this point. But in the meantime, you can still score a free print-and-play copy here, if you want a closer look at the rules and mechanics of play.

Free Games!

Remembering to Forget

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photo: bbc.com

https://www.defenseone.com/ideas/2019/03/us-army-trying-bury-lessons-iraq-war/155403

As has been explained to me by senior officers who are still on active duty, the conventional wisdom today is that our military has moved on — and in an odd redux, they note that we have returned to the philosophy of 1973. Similar to how the Pentagon abandoned its doctrine of fighting counterinsurgencies and irregular conflicts in the aftermath of the Vietnam War, today’s military has shifted away from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Instead of preparing to fight insurgents and guerrillas, our security establishment has refocused almost exclusively on the realm of great power conflict — in their parlance, peer or near-peer competitors such as Russia or China.

Distressing, but hardly surprising… the same thing happened after Vietnam, though the external circumstances were quite different. The US Army may be a “learning organization” but it keeps forgetting that it needs to retain some of that learning.

As the world continues to migrate to cities and pressures from failed or failing states push populations toward armed insurrection, it is quite possible that our next conflict could be another irregular war fought against guerrillas and insurgents. Even if we do end up facing a peer or near-peer competitor as the defense establishment is predicting, many of the lessons of the Iraq War still ring true. If we find ourselves facing such a foe, it would be highly likely that our opponents would fight us with a blend of conventional warfare—using ships, tanks, and warplanes—as well as with irregular tactics such as we faced in Iraq and Afghanistan. Blending both types of warfare, which has been called “hybrid warfare” or “conflict in the grey zone” enables our enemies to counter some of our conventional advantages asymmetrically, and challenge us symmetrically with forces that are on par with our capabilities. The use of paramilitaries or militias rather than uniformed soldiers, ambushing logistics convoys with improvised explosive devices, and hiding soldiers and resources amongst the civilian population- all staples of the Iraq conflict- are tactics that have also been used by Russia and other states because they make attribution and retaliation more difficult. It would be a dangerous proposition to hope that nation-state competitors we face in the future have not studied the war in Iraq and adapted their tactics. 

The two volumes of the Iraq War Study, completed in 2016 but not released until the very end of 2018, may be found here. Download them if you’re interested, just so you can have them for later….

Volume One (2003-2006): https://publications.armywarcollege.edu/publication-detail.cfm?publicationID=3667

Volume Two (2007-2011): https://publications.armywarcollege.edu/publication-detail.cfm?publicationID=3668

 

Interview with Scott Cole

photo: found on goodreads.com

Scott Cole, Wargame Wednesday blogger, recently asked me some pointy questions about my take on the current situation in Venezuela, points of designing games on insurgencies, and other such thoughtful stuff. A bit disjointed but then so is the situation, so is my body of work… pop on over and have a look!

https://wargamewednesday.blogspot.com/2019/03/brian-train-game-designer-interview.html

New on the bookshelf

I’ve recently acquired a book or two on urban conflict:

image: amazon.com

Blood and Concrete: 21st Century Conflict in Urban Centers and Megacities

A 768 page brick of a book, consisting mostly of articles on the subject previously published in Small Wars Journal. I’ve read a few of them but there is plenty more to chew on. Some new material, including a preface by David Kilcullen.

Surprise content: a reprint of the review of Operation Whirlwind Michael Peck wrote for SWJ! link to original is here: Review of Operation Whirlwind in Small Wars Journal

Published January 2019, Amazon.com link

image: amazon.com

Cities Under Siege: The New Military Urbanism

Another interesting title, but I haven’t been able to get into it yet – it has been a busy couple of weeks. Where the above title goes into mainly the kinetic considerations of urban battles that largely haven’t been fought yet, this one stops to consider the extensive and increasing militarization of the largely non-kinetic life we lead in the West, via surveillance, security bureaucracy/ theatre and the manipulation of fear and language.

Published 2011, Amazon.com link

Both of these make good additions to the library I have been building on the subject, which includes:

  • Out of the Mountains: the Coming Age of the Urban Guerrilla by David Kilcullen
  • Concrete Hell: Urban Warfare from Stalingrad to Iraq by Louis diMarco
  • Planet of Slums by Mike Davis

Rebel, Inc.

Screenshot: Ndemic Creations

https://www.c4isrnet.com/it-networks/2019/02/22/what-if-anything-can-the-pentagon-learn-from-this-war-simulator/

An interesting article mostly on a new computer game called Rebel, Inc. designed by James Vaughan of Ndemic Creations.

The writer introduces the game, and writes more broadly about the value of and use of these kinds of games for educating policy makers and other interested parties. He contacted Volko Ruhnke and me for some quotes and background. The conclusion is that “it’s complicated”, which is fair enough!

Rex Brynen already posted a review of the game a while back, here:

https://paxsims.wordpress.com/2018/12/07/review-rebel-inc/

I’m waiting for the forthcoming Android version myself, since I can’t stand to play things on that tiny iPhone screen. (However, if anyone wants to take a crack at making an iOS version of Guerrilla Checkers, I’d be pleased to talk to you!)

iOS version here, for $1.99:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/rebel-inc/id1439187947

EDIT: the game is available on Android! Appears to be free, but there are a lot of in-game purchases to make.

https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.ndemiccreations.rebelinc

Uploaded about 10 days ago and over 50,000 downloads and over 4,000 ratings already. No indication of total downloads for the iOS version, but it has over 9,300 ratings, so following the same ratio – let’s say at least 150,000 examples of the game are being played, or not.

For perspective, it took five years and two reprints to get 10,000 copies of A Distant Plain out there.

Sure glad I am not in this to make money.

Billionaires Board Games Club comic

050_billionaires

Gee, how did I miss this one?

The March 7, 2016 edition Of “Semi Co-op”, an online cartoon about boardgames drawn by the very clever Rachel Kremer (and coded by Heinze Havinga, also pictured).

https://www.semicoop.com/info/

Thank Rachel and Heinze! I’d like to think that everyone in the world would learn from this game, but likely we’ll have to get it done in small batches….

Meanwhile:

https://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/america-is-headed-for-military-defeat-in-afghanistan/

Afghanistan ’11, minus one outlet

https://www.polygon.com/2018/12/6/18128924/afghanistan-11-taliban-app-store-removed

Update on a game I mentioned last year.

Review of Afghanistan ’11

Several years ago Rex Brynen wrote in his blog Paxsims an excellent post on the issue – the game in question then was Endgame: Syria, a game on the Syrian Civil War produced by the Gamethenews people.

https://paxsims.wordpress.com/2013/03/22/apple-and-politically-provocative-game-apps/

In this case they got around it by renaming the antagonists in the iPhone/iPad version as randomly named fictional countries, which seemed to satisfy Apple – more on that here http://gamethenews.net/index.php/endgame-eurasia/

Meanwhile, you can still get the original versions at http://gamethenews.net/index.php/more-games/.

An early example of an urban COIN megagame

pentagonurbancoincover

Very new from the History of Wargaming Project by John Curry, is a book reprinting rules for making up and playing a multi-player game on urban counterinsurgency, along with analysis of many urban insurgency incidents… including the Battle of Algiers, which was still quite recent as the original documents are from 1966.

Unless I miss my guess, this is “URB-INS”, contained in the “Report on Urban Insurgency Studies”, done in 1966 by Simulmatics Corporation. I remember examining a copy of this in the US Army War College’s library briefly (Back, then forth); I found it by chance there, but I wasn’t going to pass up a look at such an early example of a manual game on counterinsurgency in a generic city. I recall 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..

Buy your copy at:

http://www.wargaming.co/professional/details/pentagonurbancoin.htm

EDIT: I was wrong! Turns out the game in question is URB-COIN, developed by Abt Associates in 1966. It is related to two other games Abt did for the US military, AGILE-COIN and POLITICA. Faithful Readuhs may recall my mention of AGILE-COIN as an early attempt to model rural insurgency in a couple of my presentations, and the game is described in greater detail in Andrew Wilson’s very good book The Bomb and The Computer (also available from John Curry as a reprint).

http://www.wargaming.co/professional/details/awthebomb.htm

Clark Abt did very well for himself and the world of simulations and games, as he was one of the first major designers and promoters of “serious games”. He designed dozens of games on a very wide variety of topics, most of them educational and policy games though he had quite a few DARPA contracts too. He is still alive and his company, Abt Associates, is doing very well (and seemingly not doing work for the military any more, at least not overtly). You can see part of his “Serious Games”, a major work, here:

https://books.google.ca/books?id=axUs9HA-hF8C&printsec=frontcover&dq=inauthor:%22Clark+C.+Abt%22&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwj238Tq8b_cAhWCJ3wKHf0GD0kQ6AEIKTAA#v=onepage&q&f=false

 

 

New free game: Maracas

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Maracas mapsnip      Maracas ctrsnip

[EDITED 9 SEPTEMBER 2019:  Now that Hollandspiele has formally published the Maracas module, I am pulling this one off the free print-and-play wagon. But I want people to try the system if they want to, so I will substitute another of the three remaining modules, and keep it up until such time as it is also published by Hollandspiele.  Check the Free Games page: Free Games!]

Maracas is one of the four games I’ve designed so far that uses the District Commander diceless, operational-level counterinsurgency system.

It takes place in Maracas, the fictional megacity capital of the equally fictitious nation of Virtualia (which was also the locale for my game Caudillo).

I am making it available for free print-and-play download as an example of

a) the District Commander system itself; and

b) an introductory game on asymmetrical warfare in a modern large city.

I intend to do more of this kind of thing. I’ve been interested in urban combat for a long time (Tupamaro was one of my first game designs) and I think this is a crucially important topic for present-day and near-future wargame work. There’s certainly going to be a certain amount of the real thing soon enough.

Game components consist of:

  • System rules (a bit long and chatty but they introduce concepts and many variations) DC RB
  • Exclusive rules (a lot shorter but they introduce some changes and extra units)
  • Player aids and charts
  • Set of standard counters (176 x 5/8″): infrastructure, chance chits, intelligence chits, insurgent units and assets DC system counters 4july
  • Set of exclusive counters (88 x 5/8″): Government/Foreign units and assets, extra insurgent, intelligence pieces
  • Area movement map (made to be printed out at 17×22″)

The counters are made to be printed out at 5/8″ and the map at 17×22″, but if your eyes are young and strong and your fingers nimble go ahead and print them out smaller. Or if you’re half-blind and near-palsied like me, print them out on 1″ foamcore and as big a map as you can find.

Permission is granted to downloaders to make a copy for their own personal use, under the usual Creative Commons Licence adopted for this website.

NOTICE:

All material on this website, including all its subsidiary pages, that is written by me is made available through a Creative Commons license.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

This game, and up to three or more other modules in the system (so far Algeria 1959, Vietnam 1969, Afghanistan 2009, Maracas 2019), will be released over the next year or two by Hollandspiele.

I hope you will give it a try.

Thanks!