New for 2023: Palace Coup!

PalCoup cover

Now available for download and print-and-play from Wargame Vault: PALACE COUP, a simple and fast game on the modern coup d’etat.

This game was inspired by two works: Coup d’etat, a Practical Handbook published by Edward Luttwak in 1968, which in turn inspired the making of the movie Power Play in 1978. David Hemmings and Peter O’ Toole played two Army officers plotting a coup in an imaginary country, Donald Pleasence fittingly played the head of the secret police, and Barry Morse played a civilian academic who advises the military. This game is a thorough revision of a game I designed in 1991 called, unoriginally, Power Play. In homage to the movie I have supplied an alternative set of Leader counters with images of these actors, and the cover sheet is a still image from the movie.

Same price as all BTR Games products in this line: $8.00 US funds!

https://www.wargamevault.com/product/421823/Palace-Coup

Ad copy:

Historically in the Third World, coups have changed more governments than elections since World War II. Most coups involve using part of the armed forces of a country to seize power from a ruler, though there is usually little overt conflict – the coup d’etat is generally a much less bloody way of seizing power than its distant cousin, the popular revolution.

In the game, two or more players act as the leaders of political or professional factions in a fictional country. Some players will be plotting, individually or severally, to effect a change in the existing government; they will be opposed by others who wish things to remain as they are.

The game is played in two phases: the Pre-coup Phase where players attempt to secure support for their faction and thwart the others; and the Coup Phase where both pro-government loyalist and rebel sides face off in direct combat.

Each game contains the following: one set of 40 counters, one Tactical Map, and these rules. You will also need one six-sided die, some bits of scrap paper for recording secret information, and one deck of ordinary playing cards (including Jokers).

Power Play was available only briefly from a DTP publisher, with lackluster components and limp promotion, over 20 years ago. I hope you will give this new and much improved BTR Games version a try!

[ETA: a Boardgamegeek entry for this game was approved with suspicious speed: https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/377788/palace-coup ]

Obligatory end-of-year review, 2022

goldblum

Ohhhhh….

2022 is almost over.

A scant improvement over 2021, but it wasn’t worse, so on the whole we progress… or do we.

  • Top gaming-related event of the year was attending the California Army National Guard’s Urban Operations Planners Course at JFTB Los Alamitos in July, as both a student (of urban warfare generally) and as an instructor (introduced and collectively played the Quick Urban Integrated Combat Kriegsspiel or QUICK on the last day of the course).
  • At the end of 2021 I posted confidently that in my view there would be no overt war in Ukraine, in a bit called “Why I am not writing a 2022 Scenario for Ukrainian Crisis“. Well, I was wrong, obviously… but I have never held that any of my games have any predictive value, no more than any other wargame does. I maintain though, that a 2022 scenario for this game would have been out of place anyway, for an overt military invasion of Ukraine on this scale and extent is an admission that the other two sub-games (diplomatic and information) have been lost, and in this case perhaps not even seriously played. In that sense Putin has done a tableflip, and now that the pieces are headed for the floor, I am unwilling to even try to guess the ultimate outcome.
  • Finally caught COVID after dodging it for 2 1/2 years, on the ferry going over to attend BottosCon, my first gaming event in three years. My fall booster was only a month old so it was about as light a sentence as you could ask for; it presented exactly like a head cold, with a lot of sinus stuff… no fever, ever, not even a sore throat. Because I normally come home from a convention with something like a head cold, from the hotel air-conditioned air or the usual “con crud”, that’s just what I thought it was. It was only when I got an email from the convention organizers saying that a number of people had tested positive for COVID, that I tested myself out of an abundance of caution. I lost my sense of taste and smell though I understand this is not a usual symptom of Omicron (which is like 85-90% of all cases right now in my area) and did recover it in a few weeks. As it happened my mom caught it about the same time (who knows how, she is kind of shut in) and I had to go take care of her for a few days, so even if I had dodged it on the way to the convention I would have caught it from her later.
  • The renovations that started in August 2020 are still going on. I did get carpets a year ago, and that started a slow migration of material back upstairs so now I have my study back again (!), and a door to it that opens and shuts (!!) and a table downstairs that can be used for games (!!!). Still missing upstairs furniture and I’m sleeping in my dining room, but the end is in sight – at least on the second floor. By next Christmas all should be done.

Game publishing and publicity

March: An interview in Spanish about China’s War, not that much new stuff in it though.

June: It was announced that my game Greek Civil War would be in issue #165 of Japanese Command magazine. This one uses the original rules that I submitted to Decision Games that were adapted from Joe Miranda’s Decision Iraq system, and so are quite different from the mess that Decision published in Modern War magazine. This was my second appearance in Japanese Command (first was back in  2002 with Battle for China) and like the first, it appeared with beautiful map printing and counter production. Meanwhile, the original “4 box system” version called Andartes is still available for PnP from wargamevault.com.

July: Publication on the website of the complete PnP files for the QUICK, including a Vassal module put together in jig time by Curt Pangracs of the US Command General and Staff College. The QUICK Page

Game design work and future publication

Work and or testing started or continued throughout the year on the following. Other projects (a couple of semi-abstract games on urban counterinsurgency) languished.

Brief Border Wars Quad Volume II: Announced for pre-orders in August. We have about finished rules, counters, maps and box now and this will be out some time in 2023.

China’s War 1937-41: Development jerked ahead in the summer. Bad news is that development and testing has subsided while the GMT developer works to finish off Red Dust Rebellion, a COIN system game that will sell much, much better than this one (another advantage of science fiction games is that you don’t have to be true to history, and sometimes not even to the laws of physics). Good news is that there really isn’t much more to do! We turned up the volume on many of the cards of the Event Deck as players found them underwhelming, and made a few other slight mechanical changes but nothing major. At year end pre-orders are stuck just short of 1,600, which is good enough but not many more than this time last year.

Imposed Cost: a quick and simple game for 2 players on the 18-card model, on causing or preventing clandestine trouble on projects being built on the Belted Road. Would like to work on and test this with other human beings once or twice before putting it up for free PnP.

O Canada: A couple of playtests and a bit of thought. It’s about where I want it. Will likely put it out next year for free PnP (or I will make a physical copy for you for a price commensurate with my time and trouble to do so).

Quick Urban Integrated Combat Kriegsspiel (QUICK): A semi-abstract game about opposing modern-day forces engaging in kinetic conflict in a large city. Players are Division or Group Army commanders, vying to gain control of critical terrain within the city. To succeed, they must successfully manage Enablers, the array of skilled troops and machinery that exist to support and augment the power of the main Maneuver Units in the forces they command. Each round both players will draw or select colored cubes and then take turns using them to perform actions. The color of a cube determines what can be done, and with what unit. During play Enablers will be brought onto the battlefield or returned to it by being allocated to larger Maneuver Units, and these reinforced Maneuver Units will engage the enemy assisted by the special powers and abilities of their allocated Enablers. I started work on this in December 2021 and published it on this website (the QUICK page) in the summer, just before attending the Urban Operations Planners Course in July 2022.

Scaleable Urban Simulation: this was a game I developed for the Urban Operations Planners Course before I realized that I had to take a much simpler and more streamlined approach with the non-gamer students (which resulted in the QUICK). The idea is that there is a set of core rules that cover basic sets of missions/operations – moving, fighting, renewing, seeking – that are applicable to any of the three module levels the game is played out on: Division (where division HQ tells brigade HQs what to do, who then get battalion groups to do the operations and fighting); Brigade (Brigade HQ, battalion HQs, company size task forces); or Battalion (battalion HQ, company HQs, platoons with attachments). Meanwhile there are exclusive rules and different mixes of Enablers and things like that for the different modules; it is also a more open to modelling different points on the “competition continuum” than the QUICK, which is oriented towards large-scale, very kinetic combat operations. The game centres more on the activities of formation HQ units that become less and less able to do what they want to do (or are told to do) as they get tired and dissipated, as opposed to modelling combat resolution and damage to maneuver units. Components are a sheet of counters, formation cards, a set of 80 coloured cubes as needed for the QUICK and a map built up out of isomorphic tiles so battlefields can be built however you like. Would like to work on and test this with other human beings once or twice before putting it up for free PnP.

Strongman: a thorough redesign of Caudillo, for 3-5 players. Mostly done in Early Lockdown with the help of another designer but I’ve returned to it this year to straighten out a couple of points.  Again, would like to test this with some other humans, as this is one I think would be formally published (though the art bill would not be small, since it is a card game).

SUBTLE (SUBterranean Learning Exercise): a fast game about keeping planning on track. 3-10 players collectively and abstractly represent the staff officers of a BCT who are trying to build a workable plan towards an objective, represented by them exploring through a field of inverted counters and creating a route past Hazards that are nullified by Enablers. Problem is, some players are actually “agents of chaos” who may mean well but lead the route of the plan astray or place obstacles in its path (as illustration, I offer this clever article from Task and Purpose: https://taskandpurpose.com/news/16-people-make-every-operational-planning-team/. Fear the Debater, the Guy From Band Camp, and above all the Seagull.). A bit of a metaphorical exercise and the Hazards and the Enablers that resolve them have a subterranean/urban theme – navigation failures, structural collapse, civilian detainee problem etc. – but this could be changed for other settings. The game has simple components – a small plain grid and 60 counters, no dice – and takes about 20-30 minutes to play depending on the number of players. Would like to work on and test this with other human beings once or twice before putting it up for free PnP.

DSSB Staff Game: A cooperative game for 3 players who represent different staff sections in a DSSB (American Army Divisional Sustainment Support Battalion), who work together to prepare and send off daily supply convoys to 3 divisional BCTs on the FLOT. Experienced wargamers know that most civilian wargames have detailed procedures for movement and combat, with the logistics processes handwaved away. For a long time I have wanted to design a game that approached the inverse of this. It’s a time management and planning game, with simple processes featuring an endless time track and roles and choices that put demands on the players as the situation continues to change. As a cooperative game it is not intensely competitive or antagonistic but the players have to work together to prevent the front line units from starving or running out of things (which will in turn make their own jobs that much harder). The game has simple components – two pages of tracks and charts, some small player mats, 60 counters and the same set of 80 coloured cubes needed for the QUICK. It can be played at any length to cover any number of “days” (actually iterations of the unit’s battle rhythm); probably takes about an hour or less for players to get the gist of things without prompting. Would like to work on and test this with other human beings once or twice before putting it up for free PnP.

That’s 12 designs more or less finished, and in some cases also started, in the last year and a bit (I think the Brief Border Wars Quad should count as four games, because each one requires a fair amount of specific research and its own exclusive rules). The new, smaller games were all done in August-October as I was inspired by feedback from the students on the Urban Operations Planners course to the effect that they wanted more time with the games, and the “theme day” structure of the course itself where we spent concentrated times on certain aspects of urban operations… could I make small, simple fast games that related to these themes?

Conventions

November: Went to BottosCon for the first time in three years. Caught COVID on the ferry going there. But it was fun until the virii took over.

Conferences and professional wargaming stuff

February: I chaired a panel at Connections North on “influence games”.

July: As mentioned above, I went to the second serial of the Urban Operations Planners Course. It was quite remarkable! Fortunately I was able to stay on the Base and the commute was a four-minute walk with no gate-guard angst; good because it was at the go-go-go pace of many courses… meaty lectures from 0800 to 1700 every day for six days, except one day when the military students went to “Razish”, an urban combat training site at the National Training Centre at Fort Irwin (we used the time back at the base to do some orientation and practice play of the QUICK) and the last day when we collectively learned and played the QUICK. I had spent much of the first half of the year preparing for this; it was the first time I had taught a game to a large group cold, with most of the group non-gamers to boot. But thanks to some excellent facilitators, the enthusiastic support and participation of the General sponsoring the course, and plain novelty value we pulled it off. The next serial is in May 2023 and I do believe the General is going to give it another go, so I am planning to attend this one as well (and intend to catch the lectures I missed while I was ill).

October: At the one-day Connections Online event, I made a presentation on the QUICK as a case study of a wargame being used in professional military development.

Writing and ‘casting

January: 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 posting a Youtube video of a Terry Gilliam drawing wobbling its jaw up and down while a computer voice rapidly read the transcript of my answers to their questions. Mercifully, transcript is available separately.

March: I went on Brant Guillory’s Mentioned in Dispatches podcast to talk with him about past wargames on then-future wars in Ukraine. I repeat, these things do not have useful predictive value (what will happen) but they can help you think about the possible boundaries (what could happen) of the problem.

September: A good month for podcasts… first I was on Episode 78 of I’ve Been Diced! by Tom Grant, we talked about newsgames and a lot of other things besides. And even more remarkably a long interview on Radio War Nerd with Mark Ames and Gary Brecher! The latter is only for Patreon-paying folks so you will have to join  to listen, but I will say it was a wonderful talk with these two very intelligent guys… Guerrilla Checkers got a definite boost in notoriety from this one.

November: Published an alt-alt-hist scenario for Strike for Berlin on the German “Ostplan 1919” contemplated campaign to tussle with Poland over ownership of western Poland, in and around Posen/Poznan. Designed with Wolfgang Hoepper, who also wrote a very good article on the plan and its context.

Near-meaningless digest of site statistics:

Overall traffic seems to be stable and improved a bit over 2021. I seem to be cruising still at around 1,800 views per month, for a total of about 24,000 views. About 9,000 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 Cambodia.
Besides the then-current post, popular pages included Free Games, BTR Games, the QUICK Page and Scenarios and Variants pages. The two most popular posts were on Ukrainian Crisis and my faux pas on the Ukrainian war, likely due to linked traffic from Facebook groups.
The most downloaded documents were items for free PnP games: Ukrainian Crisis, District Commander Maracas and Putin’s War (a game designed by Riccardo Affinati and Mauro Faina that used the map from Ukrainian Crisis plus some new components). However, by the unequal numbers of downloads for the different game components I cannot help but think that a lot of these downloads are just grabs by ‘bots… whatever for, I don’t know.

Coming soon: interview with Radio War Nerd

I spent a very pleasant time today talking about my game designs with Mark Ames and Gary Brecher, who run the Radio War Nerd podcast. It should be up and available soon!

Watch this space….

[ETA 26 Sep] Here it is!

https://www.patreon.com/posts/radio-war-nerd-72457682

You’ll have to join the Patreon to hear it, they might unlock it later and make it free.

Meanwhile,

Patreon page that supports the podcast: https://www.patreon.com/radiowarnerd

Facebook page that supports the chatter (also, a lot of interesting posts and questions on their own, it’s quite an eclectic crowd) https://www.facebook.com/people/Gary-Brecher/100009407541064

Twitter, for those who tweet https://twitter.com/TheWarNerd

Brief Border Wars: Volume II now available for pre-order!

I did a Compass Games broadcast with John Kranz tonight.

Big announcement: volume II of Brief Border Wars is now available for pre-order from Compass Games!

Get it now for the “pay later” price of $54.00!

I talk about the game for about 30 minutes on the video above, and the ad copy at the link below will tell you more and show you the maps, counters and cover artwork, very ably done by Knut Grunitz.

Brief Border Wars 2 (Pay Later)

The four games in Volume II are:

1913: Second Balkan War
The division of lands given up by the Ottoman Empire at the end of the First Balkan War was soon the subject of squabbles between the allied nations that had defeated the Empire. Bulgaria decided to grab as much of this territory as it could by a surprise attack on June 30, 1913 against Serbia and Greece. The offensive by their more powerful army soon petered out due to poor logistical depth and bad coordination, then in mid-July Romanian and Ottoman forces crossed Bulgaria’s borders. This made Bulgaria sue for peace but if the Bulgarian player has seized enough territory and made significant diplomatic assurances, they will have a better position in the negotiations.

1919: The Seven-Day War
The Duchy of Teschen (Cieszyn in Polish) was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until the end of the war. The two new countries of Czechoslovakia and Poland both laid claim to the territory on historic and ethnic grounds; more urgently, both countries desperately needed the land because of its large coal deposits and valuable mines, as well as the important iron and steel works at Trinec. On January 23, 1919, Czechoslovakia invaded to seize control of as much of the region as they could to stop Poland’s efforts to claim sovereignty over it. After seven days of fighting, the Entente nations forced a ceasefire and the two antagonists signed an agreement establishing a border at the Olza River, dividing the city of Cieszyn.

1939: The Nomonhan Incident
Also called the Battle of Khalkin Gol, this border clash between Japanese and Soviet forces in a remote part of the Mongolian grasslands had an impact on the development of the Second World War in the Pacific all out of proportion to the numbers involved. The game covers the early to mid-July 1939 period, the only time frame in which the Japanese Army could have succeeded in overpowering the local Soviet forces and establishing their claim to the zone between the Soviet claimed boundary and the Halha River. The attack provoked extensive reinforcements for the Soviet 57th Corps and their counteroffensive in August under the command of General Georgi Zhukov discouraged the Japanese Empire from contemplating further attacks on Mongolia or the USSR.

1940: The Italo-Greek War
This game covers the first two months of the Italian invasion of Greece in the fall and winter of 1940. Hardly anything went right for the Italians; chaotic logistics and poor communication nullified their great advantage in men and machines and their offensive was halted and then thrown back into Albania by the determined Greek forces. Could you have done better than Mussolini?

bbw2-gamebox-top-062022

Consim Game Jam #2: 19-21 August 2022

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(everything starts with a prototype)

http://consimgamejam.com/

Consim Game Jam is a so-far-annual event where small groups of people from all over the world get together to create a wargame prototype, from start to finish, in 72 hours!

The last one was in October 2021 and the given theme was “Recycle an existing COIN game”. That is, using the physical components of a published GMT COIN system game, create a new design. This event shook 15 submissions out of the Idea Tree, and they are impressive in their variety and imagination.

http://consimgamejam.com/edition-1-submissions/

Now, the next one is scheduled for the weekend of August 19-21, 2022!

Theme hasn’t been announced yet, as far as I can find.

Go to the link at the top of the post, and/or register at this link to get further details.

http://consimgamejam.com/register/

I won’t be in this one, but I cannot wait to hear the theme and see what comes of this second exercise.

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?”

And some time later (July 2022), Fred posts part 2, where he plays through a game with Alex Galloway and they discuss the design and adaptation of the game, among other things.

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….