KCL wargame coverage in the Grauniad

Don’t Fear the Reaper Drone at KCL

https://www.theguardian.com/games/2022/may/27/from-the-invasion-of-ukraine-to-weapons-procurement-the-war-games-seeking-solutions-to-real-life-conflicts

A nice piece in The Guardian about the MA course “Designing Games for Education and Analysis” at Kings College London. The writer tried out some of the games designed by students and was impressed by the wide variety of treatments and topics. An unnamed “expert from MoD” is also cited (but we think we know who it is!).

And even better, the piece was not illustrated by a picture of a game of Risk….

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?”

Indigenous counterpoints to colonial themes in board games

Not ‘just a game’: World of board games faces reckoning for colonial themes

A news story in Canadian Indigenous media about a teacher up-Island from me who created a board game about the Truth part of Truth and Reconciliation.

The article mentions Spirit Island, something I would like to try but can’t arrange a trade for on BGG, and also gives a shout-out to the Zenobia Awards which is nice. It mentions Settlers of Catan as an example of an objectionable board game. I add that Greg Loring-Albright (co-designer of Bloc by Bloc: Uprising 3rd Edition, which I am awaiting eagerly) created a variant of the game, First Nations of Catan, that adds an Indigenous player since the mythical island is not and never was terra nullius.

https://analoggamestudies.org/2015/11/the-first-nations-of-catan-practices-in-critical-modification/

(nice-looking printable version is here: https://doctrineofdiscoverymenno.files.wordpress.com/2019/09/ddofd-catan-handout-frontback.pdf )

Meanwhile, the Playing Oppression anthology that was being worked on at MIT Gamelab (Mary Flanagan et al) seems to have ground to a halt about 2019/20, though Mary Flanagan is still designing games.

http://gamelab.mit.edu/research/games-and-colonialism/

Logistical listicle @ RMN and ACD

Battle Lab ~ Defining “Logistics” for Wargames

At Armchair Dragoons today, Brant Guillory posts about logistics could be shown in wargames but aren’t (but don’t always have to be). I cannot improve on what he has to say here! Freebird!

https://rockymountainnavy.com/2022/03/09/wargame-wednesday-wheres-my-supply

And earlier, over at the Rocky Mountain Navy blog, a good piece on logistics treatment and examples of supply rules in modern-period wargames… the handwavy, the ambitious-but-fundamentally-spineless, and the just-don’t-go-there. Also, would the famous 40 km long traffic jam north of Kyiv happen in a civilian wargame? Answer: no it wouldn’t, because trucks are magic and unit commanders are smart and disciplined. Offhand, the only wargame I can recall that dealt seriously with the amount of road space a unit on the march took up was SPI’s East Front game Lost Battles, from 1971; also, some Bulge games have rules about traffic jams and occasionally someone insists you cannot just drive one division through another division.

Go and have a look at it, it also cites the logistical articles I had pointed out in previous posts that described the supply problems the Russians would run into if they invaded (however, I presented these as arguments against them doing an invasion, but that’s now moot).

But more to the point he illustrated the article with this map which is far more descriptive than the scary massive red and stripey zones and plunging arrows we see on TV and other media. It points out the nature of the mostly empty modern battlefield, the “line and dot” nature of an advance into enemy territory and an evocation of the long logistical tail the advance needs for its sustenance.

Actually, most military campaign maps from almost any period should be drawn like this; they should look like duelling plates of spaghetti.

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Podcast: Armchair Dragoons

https://www.armchairdragoons.com/podcast/mentioned-in-dispatches-season-8-ep-6-looking-back-at-wargames-on-ukraine

Brant Guillory invited me on his regular podcast Mentioned in Dispatches recently.

Together with his regular partner in broadcasting Mike, we talk about games postulating war in Ukraine and how they seem to be largely inapplicable, or got it wrong.

I did Ukrainian Crisis in 2014 of course; and Brant designed Orange Crush, an operational level kinetic combat game about action around Lviv, in 2007.

But we talk about other things too….

Foucault in the Woodland, Part 3

 

Dan Thurot, lui-meme de <<Space-Biff!>> continues his series of commentaries on Root and Foucaultian biopolitics. This instalment is a comparison of the Marquis machine and its opponent the Woodland Alliance. A good quote:

Every so often I’ll meet somebody who can’t or won’t overlook the ugliness that takes place beneath a wargame’s resolution; say, the atrocities that appear on every single card in Twilight Struggle or one of the volumes of the COIN Series. By rewriting these atrocities in the language and imagery of fable, Wehrle degausses that resolution even further. One can make-believe that the inhabitants of the Marquise’s sawmills and workshops aren’t staffed with children, or that they’re safely evacuated before the Woodland Alliance puts them to the torch. That despite the blood frenzy of the moment, the line between forced laborer, reluctant collaborator, and enthusiastic participant is clearly drawn.

The Story So Far:

https://spacebiff.com/2022/01/25/foucault-in-the-woodland-3/

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

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

Interview: designing political-military games

Last year I did an interview about my games and thoughts about game design with the group “Anti-Imperialist Action Ireland” (because they asked nicely). I prefer to do interviews by email but they would have liked a live event, so we compromised by having a computer voice read the transcript quickly while a Terry Gilliam drawing wobbled its jaw up and down.

If this is too alarming an image for you, you can read the transcript at anti-imperialist-action-ireland.com/blog/2022/01/03/political-military-board-game-design-with-brian-train/

Obligatory end-of-year review, 2021

goldblum

Ohhhhh….

It’s almost over.

I thought 2020 was not that great, and boy 2021 was not an improvement.

  • My dad died in May 2021 and I spent the rest of the year doing executor duties and seeing his widow back to the UK where she has family. This put a big crimp into everything else, naturally.
  • I did not get back into my office until September 2021.
  • I did get my money back from the airline for my Hawaiian trip that never happened, but no other travel more than a few miles from home. I did participate in a few online events and things but it’s just not the same.
  • The renovations that started in August 2020 are still going on, though I have been promised carpets by Christmas. Doors, lights, kitchen appliances and other amenities will follow, as will the restoration of some game-playing space.

I’m not sorry to see 2021 go, and I know 2022 will not see the complete end of COVID-19, still less the beginnings of the necessary and obvious changes we’re going to have to make in order to flourish in the future. But like many people, I will adjust and carry on as best I can. Maybe next year I will get back to Europe, or Washington DC, or even Tempe AZ. We’ll see.

Game publishing and publicity

February: Posted PDFs of the 12 issues of Strategist magazine I edited in 2000, containing several PnP games in their pages: some WarpGames by Lloyd Krassner; Battle of Seattle by me; and the first appearance of Waterloo 20 by Joe Miranda.

March: Vassal continues to elude me, but after a lot of angst I finally got it together to build a couple of simple Tabletop Simulator modules for two of my abstract games, Guerrilla Checkers and Kashmir Crisis. It wasn’t much fun, but I hope people might try them. Meanwhile, I think I am irretrievably old-school: give this man some cardboard and markers and he’s happy.

April: James Buckley published #2 of his online zine Punched, in which he ran a lot of material related to the GMT COIN system games (published and future), and a very nice review of Brief Border Wars.

June: District Commander: ZNO was released, the fourth and so far final module in the series. District Commander Maracas continues as the free print-and-play module for anyone who wants to try out the system.

November: A 4th printing of A Distant Plain was announced. We’ll see how long it takes them to pull the trigger on this one; perhaps people want to forget about this war once and for all. Also, the International Conference on Games and Learning Alliance (GALA) saw a paper presented on a digital port of Kashmir Crisis. Hans-Wolfgang Loidl, Associate Professor of Computer Science at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, wrote the paper with his student Charlie Murray, who created a digital version of the game.

Game design work and future publication

Work and or testing continued throughout the year on the following. Other projects languished.

Brief Border Wars Quad Volume II: Handed in the files for this to Compass Games in October 2021. The four battles are all pre-1945 titles: Second Balkan War 1913; Teschen 1919; Nomonhan 1939; and Italo-Greek War 1940. No idea when it will actually come out.

China’s War 1937-41: Development screeched to a halt when I lost my gaming space to renos in summer 2020. In the fall of 2021 I developed a 1938 scenario for the game. I recently heard from the GMT developer who also got sidetracked on things, and work will begin again in early 2022. We hope to finish testing and development by the end of summer. Over 1,500 pre-orders now.

O Canada: Now it can be told – this year I got a long way into making a power-politics, non-kinetic adaptation of the COIN system (something I always thought should be done). The situation I chose is a reboot of the old SPI game Canadian Civil War (1976). Four factions (Federalists, Provincial Moderates, Provincial Autonomists, Separatists) with asymmetrical force structures, menus of operations and special activities, and objectives; an Event Deck with jokes in it comprehensible only to Canadians; a Patronage Track that reflects the degeneration of political discourse and influence of foreign agencies; and conflict played out on two levels (one at province level where you have mostly Party structures and voting blocs but still need some Groups of influencers, and one at Issues level where Groups fight for control of intangibles). Quite a way down the road with this one, solo tests are good, work can continue when I have some more space to play the physical copy and maybe engage other people in it… but I strongly doubt anyone will want to publish this for like, money, so likely when I am satisfied with it I will put it out to free pasture, or a modestly priced PnP.

Conventions

Of course, nothing happened, at least nothing physical.

January: Pete Sizer and I spoke to the VCOW (Virtual Conference of Wargamers) on counterinsurgency games. I also spoke to the Cardboard Emperors Virtual Con II on the factions, mechanics and victory conditions of China’s War 1937-41. And a special episode of the No Enemies Here podcast by Dan Pancaldi, connected with the Armchair Dragoons virtual convention; some quite freewheeling conversation in that one.

November: had a nice chat with Harold Buchanan during his SDHistCon event, I would like to make it to the physical version in San Diego one day as I quite liked what I saw of the city that one time.

Conferences and professional wargaming stuff

No physical conferences, of course.

February: I talked to a group of officers at the US Army War College on “The Uses of Simple Games.”

April: As part of Connections-Online 2021, a virtual event with global reach, Mike Markowitz and I did a joint presentation on the practical matters within DIY game design. Mike talked about graphic design and talked about methods of self-publishing. Both were add-ons and developments of the talks we gave to the Georgetown University Wargaming Society in 2020. Also connected with this event, a very pleasant chat with Maurice Fitzpatrick et al on his Whiskey Charlie podcast about the Connections conferences of the past and future, and their enduring value. Shining Path was used with students at the Institute for World Politics (an independent graduate school that trains students for careers in national security and international affairs) in a class on “Counterterrorism and the Democracies“.

Writing and ‘casting

Nothing formally published, just the usual torrent of wise-guy stuff on blogs, sites and social media.

August: several posts on the end of the war in Afghanistan, that proved to be click-worthy (don’t know if they were read).

September: a great episode of Liz Davidson’s Beyond Solitaire podcast, with Volko Ruhnke. Not surprisingly, we mostly talked about A Distant Plain and the sensitivities of designing games on contemporary conflicts.

October: an episode of the History and Games Laboratory podcast, put on by Eduard Gafton at the University of Edinburgh. We talked about the origins of some of my game designs and how I got into game design, and focus on Brief Border Wars and the issues involved in designing games on sensitive and controversial topics (A Distant Plain got a look in, of course). I later wrote a blog post for them that was an abridged version of the chapter I wrote for the EuroWargames anthology about analog game design as a form of citizen journalism. (I handed the files for that in March 2021, and am still not sure when the book will appear – next year, perhaps.)

November: A great international panel on civilian victimization in wargames, as part of a probable series on “wargame ethics” hosted by Fred Serval (France). Other panelists were Javier Romero (Spain), John Poniske (USA) and Tomislav Cipcic (Croatia). I think we really got into it (the topic, not the practice itself). Also, I posted the popular piece “Quads That Never Were“: SPI Quadrigames that were proposed but never published.

Near-meaningless digest of site statistics:

Overall traffic seems to be stable and improved a bit over 2020. I seem to be cruising still at around 1,600 – 1,800 views per month, for a total of about 21,000 views. About 8,000 visitors in all. The five most curious countries were: US (by a very wide margin), UK, Canada, Australia and Japan. One guy clicked in from Bhutan.
Besides the then-current post, popular pages included the perennial favourites Free Games, BTR Games and Scenarios and Variants pages. No surprises there. The two most popular posts were my Afghan War post-mortem pieces “Endgame” and “Some more Afghan post-mortem”, likely due to my posting links to them on Facebook groups.
The most downloaded documents were four items for SPI game variants by Alan Arvold: three for Lost Battles and one for Search and Destroy, either the article itself by Alan or the counter sheets I made for them. The file of FAQ and clarifications/errata for the District Commander series was also popular.

Hiding in plain sight: connecting commercial and professional wargames

December 7, 2021 – John Curry gives a great talk to the Georgetown University Wargaming Society on the connections between the commercial (or hobby) wargame world and professional wargaming.

The talk is focused on the theme of how the hobby have influenced developments in professional gaming. Highlighting that the hobby games introduced concepts such as tabletop landscape, miniatures and political gaming. I then outline the wargaming evangelists who have influenced the direction of professional gaming, with the examples of HG Wells, Donald Featherstone, Colonel Dupuy, James Dunnigan and Paddy Griffith. I will then demonstrate how Matrix Games and Confrontational Analysis has spawned a whole series of professional wargames. My analysis suggests that professional gaming should openly acknowledge the need to borrow good practise from other disciplines, as well as the hobby sector. The world is facing critical threats and games are being played to help inform decision making and prepare leaders. If developments from hobby wargaming can improve the value of these professional games, this is of potential benefit to us all.

Nothing I want to argue about in here!

There is a fair amount of historical development/narrative so you might want to skip ahead if you are already familiar with the Big Names, but his talk is only about 47 minutes – he spends the last half hour fielding some very good questions.

Foucault in the Woodland, Part 2

More smart stuff from Daniel Thurot at his Space-Biff! blog about biopolitics in Cole Wehrle’s Root:

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