April 10, 2017 Leave a comment
Here is a picture of two people, in an undisclosed location, playtesting my Secret Project of 2017.
What’s going on? What could it be?
Just going to tease you with this, for now!
April 6, 2017 2 Comments
Nestorgames, an outfit in Spain that publishes very nicely made editions of (mostly) abstract games, is now offering copies of Guerrilla Checkers for sale. The board is made of rubber, and the pieces are made of acrylic or plastic. And it all folds up into a small cotton case!
Available now for 20.00 Euros (about $21.00 US right now). Shipping appears to be a default 9.95 Euros.
Go grab one!
March 28, 2017 4 Comments
I don’t play computer games. Ever, or at least not for a long time. The last one I played was half of Imperialism, the original one from SSI published in 1997.
But I happened across a review of this one http://www.wargamer.com/reviews/review-afghanistan-11/ and it looks interesting, in that its action seems to approximate a simpler manual wargame, except with a lot more drudgery that the computer mostly handles. It is also an updating of an earlier Vietnam game by the same designer, ’65.
The interesting part is the final two paragraphs, on doctrine:
More fundamentally though, Afghanistan ‘11 is based on some good faith assumptions about COIN that the doctrine itself probably doesn’t deserve. The U.S. strategy of “build infrastructure, visit villages until bad guys go away” is modelled as completely workable in Nagel’s games, despite the fact that the two major American wars that have relied heavily on this strategy are anything but resounding successes. Since David Galula published the first comprehensive explanation of COIN, Counterinsurgency Warfare and Practice (1964), the concept has not been meaningfully adapted nor successfully brought to bear in either major war where it’s formed the centrepiece of American strategy. Afghanistan ‘11 doesn’t interrogate COIN theory, but rather is content to assume that it just works, so long as commanders using it are clever enough.
Then again, what would a strategy game that does critique COIN doctrine even look like? The fact that Afghanistan ‘11 refuses to dig into the question doesn’t detract from its effectiveness as a military strategy game. With relatively few moving pieces, this game evokes a side of modern warfare that’s rarely seen in games due to the difficulties in modeling something as conceptually squishy as “hearts and minds.” The elegance of its design make it engaging and fun from the word go, and the game’s new features fill out the already solid foundation laid down by ‘65.
Emphasis mine. And yes, you won’t find the answer in a computer game, at least not this one.
Oh well, baby (digital) steps….
December 23, 2016 Leave a comment
John’s wife Fresca called me this morning to tell me that John died at 0525 today. He had a major brain bleed during the night and was taken to hospital, but he did not recover consciousness and died peacefully and painlessly.
John was a good man, smart and funny. He was a good friend, a talented artist and a conscientious ludographer. He dedicated almost an entire issue of Simulacrum (#30) to my games, which was one of the most touching gifts anyone has ever given me. No one could ask for a better gesture of friendship and esteem.
We will all miss him.
December 23, 2016 6 Comments
Several times over the past few years I have mentioned Caudillo (pronounced “caw-DEE-yo“), a 2-5 player card game I designed three years ago on power politics in the fictional Latin American country of Virtualia, after the departure from power of its strongman leader Jesus Shaves (pronounced “hay-sus sha-bezz“).
The game was of course about a thinly-disguised post-Chavez Venezuela (though in 2013 it wasn’t post-Chavez yet), and just to drive it home, its original title was Dios o Federacion, a takeoff on “Dios y Federacion”, the national motto of Venezuela.
I liked working on this game because there is a constant tension within it between competition and cooperation. As players vie to create the largest and most durable personal power base, the card deck delivers more and more crises that players must deal with collectively, or the country will collapse. There are coups, too!
Anyway, I do not think that there will be any time soon that I could find this game a properly professional publisher, with 90 pieces of original card art and high-class production to match. And Venezuela looks as if it is really about to implode, with rampant inflation, riots, political intrigue and so on.
So, as my Christmas present to you all, I am now making the files for Caudillo available for free download and print-and-play (PnP).
The free PnP version consists of 90 cards, 230 counters, and the usual rules and play aids. You print ’em, you cut ’em, you stick ’em or sleeve ’em.
And, just for fun, I will also be making a limited number of hand-made copies of the game for sale too, through BTR Games. Besides the rules and play aids, this version has:
Price is $50 US, which includes postage. If you want one of these, let me know at email@example.com; I take (and prefer) Paypal.
Here are the files for the free version:
caudillo-pnp-crisis-cards (Crisis cards and Scoring Round cards)
caudillo-pnp-group-cards (Group cards, Personality cards, Sequence of Play reminders)
caudrls-124 (rules and play aid)
caud-pnp-assembly-notes (notes on how to print and assemble the cards and counters)
I hope you will enjoy this game, in either format.
PS: the game now has a Boardgamegeek entry: https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/216686/caudillo
December 15, 2016 Leave a comment
Over at Waypoint (the section of VICE magazine that deals with gaming and gamer culture), Muira McCammon, an academic who writes on Guantanamo Bay quotes from the essay on irregular warfare games I wrote with Volko Ruhnke for the Zones of Control anthology . She also references A Distant Plain and Labyrinth.
So, what sort of game system might be able to model the complexity of GiTMO, to give voice to the challenges that detainees, journalists, lawyers, and guards have faced in the detention facility’s history?
My answer: the wargame.
Wargames are a great way to parse asymmetrical conflict in a political system, and in many ways, GiTMO can be understood as a series of power struggles. A wargame has the potential to model the tensions between journalists, detainees, lawyers, and members of the U.S. military. It could give us an outlet to reflect on serious episodes in GiTMO’s history, like that time when Cmdr. Jeffrey Gordon accused journalist Carol Rosenberg of “multiple incidents of abusive and degrading comments of an explicitly sexual nature.” It could help us examine the history of coalition building in GiTMO, like when detainees held an election to select two leaders, one who was revealed to the Americans and one who worked in the shadows.
What Ruhnke and Train speak to is a problem that extends beyond wargames. A lot of us with differing ideological, religious, ethnic, and other backgrounds are uncomfortable with the idea of people “playing” games about serious things like war crimes and human rights violations. Anyone trying to make a wargame out of GiTMO would have to simplify the place, and that carries a number of inherent risks. Another problem: GiTMO is still a morphing, changing place with an uncertain future.
I can think of a few ways to do this, actually, but that will have to wait while I work on other projects. I suspect that Camp Delta will be there for a while yet.
And a few weeks ago on a website called Killscreen, she also wrote about A Distant Plain and what did and didn’t go into the Events Deck for that game.
Event cards helped me become comfortable with wargame design. The first deck I really loved and explored belonged to A Distant Plain (2013), a wargame about contemporary Afghanistan. I considered how my Afghan friends would critique the narrative put forth in the deck and the board. What would they think of this attempt to boil a segment of their nation’s history down? Omission, deletion, marginalization, and exclusion—these are issues that always bubbled up in my mind as I shuffled through the deck.
I had mentored a group of Afghan women writers, many of whom were based in Kabul, and I always wondered, if they had been taught wargame design, how might their deck have differed? Instead of having a card devoted to “Koran Burning,” would they have given a card to mark the murder of Farkhunda Malikzada, an Afghan woman falsely accused of burning a Qur’an? As wargame designers Volko Ruhnke and Brian Train crafted their A Distant Plain (2013), which cards had been edited out?
She does have a point and I did attempt to answer her in the comments, but I don’t know if she saw it.
A deck of 72 event cards presents only 72 different chances to alter the game as it is played, even though the number of combinations is astronomical (72 factorial, or 6.123446 to the 103rd power). As I’ve said before, a wargame is a created object, a distillation of first and second hand experience and therefore cannot be a neutral one, any more than there can be a neutral novel. Deliberately or not, there of course will be deletions, omissions, exclusions and abstractions – that’s endemic to the process of recording history itself, let alone abstracting from that history to make a model in the form of a game. The designer, through the processes of research, conceptualizing, testing and production of a game, must make a series of choices of what to include in their design, what to leave out, and how to model what’s been judged relevant enough and left in.
Volko and I were aware of this of course, and took a few online kicks in the ribs for even trying to design a game on a war that was still underway. We felt that most importantly, a designer should be prepared to “show their work” and stand behind what they have done. Therefore we tried to select events that one were based on one or more actual historical events, tactics, or tendencies that materially affected the conflict; in a couple of cases things that could have affected it and were possible but didn’t happen (e.g. a coup d’etat in the Afghan Government). In all cases we had descriptions of what is represented by that card in history in the game’s playbook, with a reference to one or more items in the game’s bibliography.
Jeremy Antley, whom McCammon also references, wrote an interesting post on this aspect in his blog concerning the “My Lai” event card in Fire in the Lake. (Unfortunately, his domain name has expired so I can’t link to it right now – it was at http://www.peasantmuse.com/. Jeremy, pay the Internet Gods!)
And in the final analysis, A Distant Plain is a manual wargame. It’s entirely possible for Muira McCammon, or anyone else, to introduce, edit or replace the cards in the game, for greater or lesser (but certainly different) effect. As Mary Flanagan points out in Critical Play, that’s just the beginning of what you can do!
December 13, 2016 Leave a comment
Fresh today, a post to the InsideGMT blog on the procedures to follow in the Propaganda Rounds of the game, and illustrations and explanations of the Pivotal Event cards.
I think I have about reached the limit of what I can describe about this game’s content and mechanisms! Anyway, slip on over and check it out.