The Putsch and the Bomb


Over at the Rockymountainnavy blog, the writer (I’ve been reading his blog for a long while but still don’t know his name) posts that he has acquired a copy of Colonial Twilight, and is looking forward to playing it! I’m glad to hear that, he has enjoyed other designs of mine he has played in the past.

In his post he also draws attention to a research paper he found detailing an incident that took place during the April 1961 putsch against de Gaulle: a nuclear device prepared for testing at the Reggane site (wayyy off to the south of the game map) was detonated during the events of the coup. The author explores the various interpretations of why and how the test took place, and whether there was any question of the rebellious generals being able to seize the device and use it (symbolically or in reality) against the government. The answer in this case is either “no” or “maybe, but so what”, but it does provide an interesting base for other questions about the role of nuclear weapons in contentious situations between a nation’s military and civilian powers.

Of course, nothing like this is reflected in the game, except for the Coup d’etat card (#66) and a reference to the nuclear Force de Frappe in the NATO card (#16) – which was another piece in the complicated game de Gaulle was playing to impress his vision of France on its armed forces.

dc_maracas medium

RMN also mentions the upcoming release of District Commander Maracas by Hollandspiele – they have announced that it and the Binh Dinh module will be released in 2019, followed by the Algeria and Afghanistan modules in 2020.


Recent Projects: two Vietnam games

The latest new projects I have been working on came from the request of a History professor at a Canadian university, who originally wanted to use my Green Beret game in the classroom to teach some of his students about counterinsurgency in Vietnam. I thought this one was a maybe a bit detailed for students who might never have played a board wargame before, so I offered to design him something new.

Since his personal interest or current research was Binh Dinh province in 1968-70, I designed not one but two games taking place in this Central Coast province: a module of the District Commander system (an operational-level COIN system that uses no dice, and for which I’ve designed several modules: generic Red vs. Blue; Algeria 1959; Afghanistan 2009; and now Vietnam 1969) and a simpler design called Binh Dinh 69.

Section of Binh Dinh 69 counter sheet

Section of Binh Dinh 69 counter sheet       

District Commander Binh Dinh map excerpt

District Commander Binh Dinh map excerpt

DC BD ctr snip

District Commander Binh Dinh counter excerpt


I hope that it will prove useful! I’m still doing testing on the District Commander module (each one is a fair bit different from the others but there is a consistent core of rules). As always, there is not enough time to do everything in the speed and order I want to do it….

From the Ridiculous to the Sublime

Definitely not as illustrated.

Recently I have been working on a counterinsurgency game with a generic Red vs. Blue setting called District Commander. It’s a game for two players concentrating on the concept of the “clear and hold” operation. Chapter 3 of the US Army Field Manual 3-07.22 Counterinsurgency Operations defines and describes this in the following:

 “The clear and hold operation focuses the three primary counterinsurgency programs: (Civil-Military Operations (CMO), combat operations, and Information Operations (IO)), supported by intelligence and psychological operations on  a specific geographical or administrative area or portions thereof…. The clear and hold operation is executed in a specific high priority area experiencing overt insurgency and has the following objectives:

  • Creation of a secure physical and psychological environment.
  • Establishing firm government control of the population and the area.
  • Gaining willing support of the population and their participation in the governmental programs for countering insurgency.”

I am now working on the third version of the game. The first, District Commander, was detail-, process- and dieroll-heavy; but it was subtle and derived in part from a (IMO) interesting game I’d done a few years ago on Special Forces operations in Vietnam. The second, District Commander II: Electric Boogaloo, was a diceless and card-driven version; I wanted to reduce some of the randomness and replace it with cards to drive and enable game mechanics, but it still had quite a few rules, processes and details. The third version, District Commander III: Acoustic Shivaree, is simpler yet: no dice, no cards, less random overall (the randomness comes from the players, not the components) and yet more stripped-down.

 All three versions of the game work well in their own ways, explore some different directions in terms of mechanics, and are (again IMO) diverting and instructive. None is complex by the standards of experienced tabletop game players. But I keep forgetting that what seems simple, almost intuitive, to me can be quite unfamiliar to someone who’s never played anything more involved than Stratego on a tabletop, and is used to having the computer/video game software do the observing of the rules for him (at the cost of understanding why the rules are the way they are, which is the price of this convenient disengagement from the processes).

My question is, why do I so often start with complex ideas and have to work to make them simple? Shouldn’t it be the other way around? I really wish it were.