A tale of two surges

battle-of-algiers

https://mwi.usma.edu/it-was-the-best-of-coin-it-was-the-worst-of-coin-a-tale-of-two-surges/

Over at the Modern War Institute, an interesting short article by LCOL Michael Nelson comparing the respective surges in Iraq and Afghanistan, outlining how local conditions, history and prospects will trump or at least modify general principles of counterinsurgency doctrine (assuming your army even has such a doctrine).

As often happens, the lead and final paragraphs are the most significant and I quote them here… but the whole article is worth a read:

….. Scholars and practitioners alike are familiar with the axiom that one should avoid fighting the last war. It should go without saying, then, that one should also avoid trying to fight two distinct, concurrent wars as though they are the same conflict. While there are guiding principles for counterinsurgency, there is simply no one-size-fits-all template for success.

However, heavily relying on methods from a different conflict is roughly what the United States tried to do in Afghanistan in 2009 with the attempt to replicate the apparent successes of the surge in Iraq. The fatal flaw in this plan was predicated on a misunderstanding of the circumstances and the environment that had created the conditions for reduced violence in Iraq. Perhaps most disappointingly, these plans for Afghanistan were made and implemented by some of the same leaders who earned praise for having turned the Iraq War around when it was at its most bleak.

……

All warfare is political, and all warfare shifts on human decisions made in complex circumstances. But this is doubly true of counterinsurgent warfare. It is a complicated endeavor that requires deft understanding of the motivations and goals of multiple actors. America’s mistake, in two theaters, was in trying to reduce one of the more complex forms of conflict into something simple, uniform, and replicable without regard to the environment. While the United States should not shy away from studying, determining principles of, developing doctrine for, and preparing to conduct counterinsurgency, we must remember that these guidelines are only as good as the means by which they are adapted to the fight at hand.

These words are especially poignant to me as a designer of games on insurgencies in many different countries at different historical periods.

I have published some 11 games using three general “system” mechanical approaches: the “4 box” system (Shining Path, Algeria, Andartes, EOKA, Kandahar), the GMT COIN system (A Distant Plain, Colonial Twilight) and the District Commander system (Maracas, Binh Dinh, Kandahar, ZNO). Each game was adapted to reflect the particular historical, geographical, political and military conditions of the conflict, within the general “grammar” of the game system.

But I have a further set of eight historical insurgency-related games that use mechanics unique or near-unique to their design: Binh Dinh ’69, Chile ’73, Green Beret, Nights of Fire, Operation Whirlwind, Somalia, Tupamaro, Ukrainian Crisis. 

I haven’t yet designed anything on the Iraqi insurgency, but when that day comes, I will do my best to assure it will not be a cookie-cutter effort.

SDHistCon: special Youtube pre-con event on Canadian designers!

 

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A message from SDHistCon Central:

O, Canada!
A special pre-con event!*
Thursday, May 20th, 2021 – 4:30pm PST

Dan Pancaldi (star of the No Enemies Here YouTube channel) hosts this special homage to Canadian historical boardgame designers. Dan will be leading this extraordinary panel, discussing his guests’ personal histories with the hobby, their games and their respective design philosophies. Featuring these designers: 

  • Robert DeLeskie (Wars of Marcus Aurelius; Stilicho, Last of the Romans)
  • Morgane Gouyon-Rety (Pendragon; Hubris)
  • Marco Poutré (Prelude to Rebellion: Mobilization and Unrest in Lower Canada)
  • Brian Train (Personal ludography)

Please join us for a heartfelt salute to these talented and insightful designers!

* Note that the O, Canada! panel event is not listed on the SDHistCon Events Schedule. No ticket is required. Subscribe to or visit the No Enemies Here YouTube channel at event time to join in the discussion… and of course it will be available for viewing on Youtube later, if you can’t make the scene.

https://www.youtube.com/c/NoEnemiesHere/featured

IMG_0407   I have a philosophy?

Tune in anyway, and listen to the other folks!

Dan Pancaldi is always fun to talk to.

“Cold War Gone Hot, Again” at Zones of Connection symposium

May be an image of chess and text that says 'ZONES OF CONNECTION BRADLEY TABLETOP GAMES SYMPOSIUM MAY 21sT & 22ND, 2021 Rensselaer BRADLEY EXPOSRREn Inc. University'

[ETA: better link to schedule here, plus registry link: https://dexposure.com/zoc2021sched.html

Link to twitch.tv room for the panel here: https://www.twitch.tv/dexboardroom1 ]

The schedule for the Zones of Connection: 21-22 May 2021 symposium has been roughed in and my panel is on Friday, May 21, 2030-2130 Eastern Daylight Time (UTC -4:00).

For people who want to listen in: see the twitch.tv links above; for anyone who wants to take part, things are handled through Discord (generally; Zoom if there is a screwup) and you can register at https://dexposure.com/zoc2021.html

Friday 8:30-9:30 

Room A

Title: The Cold War Gone Hot, Again: Retrofuturism or Futuristic Retro?

Participants: Brian Train

Style: Panel/Roundtable

Blurb:  In the 1980s a number of serious wargames on a hypothetical Third World War were published, exciting some interest at the time. Over the last 10 years or so there has been a second wave of newly designed wargames that study that same subject – the Soviet invasion of Europe in the mid-1980s that never happened. Nostalgia for an actual past that one remembers imperfectly is one thing. But nostalgic game design to commemorate a then-hypothetical future war that is now a fictional past is a strange inversion of historiography indeed, and an additional twist beyond the approach taken by the designers of Twilight Struggle. What kind of retrofuturism is it? Is it even retrofuturism at all?

Also,  the triumvirate behind the Eurowargames anthology will be holding a roundtable on the wargames connection between North American and European cultures.

[ETA: twitch.tv room for this session: https://www.twitch.tv/dexconcord  ]

Friday 1:00-2:00

Room C

Title: Speaking About Wargames, in Different Languages: A Comparison of Experiences as International Wargaming Content Creators

Participants: Jan Heinemann, Riccardo Masini, Fred Serval

Style: Roundtable

Blurb:  Coming from different cultural and national backgrounds, content creators Jan Heinemann (Germany), Riccardo Masini (Italy) and Fred Serval (France) have recently joined their common knowledge to coordinate a collection of essays about wargaming in Europe and its many new design trends all over the world. But what about their different experiences as wargaming content creators on YouTube and other social media, with different approaches and different groups of viewers? Together with other prominent international content creators, this roundtable aims at highlighting the peculiar features of speaking about wargames also to non-English speaking viewers: the related difficulties caused by the language barrier and the different historical heritages, the perks granted by cultural diversity and the related criticalities, the needs of the different publics, the choice of media and style, the most requested contents and the games that prove harder to introduce, sometimes for lack of interest on the topic and sometimes even for their controversial nature in other nations. An engaging and rarely seen comparison and mutual confrontation about what it means to speak about board wargaming, a hobby born in the United States in the 1950s, also to non-US players by non-US content creators in the 2020s. Showing once again how gaming can prove to be an important bridge and connection between different cultures.

I’m looking forward to seeing what these guys have to say!

CFS: TESA Collective wants to see your game design!

smile_drone_detail

https://www.tesacollective.com/we-are-seeking-to-sign-and-publish-new-board-and-card-games-about-changing-the-world

After 10 years of publishing work by internal designers and commissioned work by social organizations, the TESA (Toolbox for Education and Social Action) Collective is calling for outside designs.

A link for a submission form and additional details are available at the link above, but here is information on what they are looking for:

Please read: What we are and are not looking for

Here’s what we’re looking for: Board and card games that address an issue – such as nature and environmentalism, social justice/social change matters, historical events, building people’s power, climate change, and other important issues. The issue your game addresses can be big (like stopping climate change) or small (like growing a community garden) or anywhere in between. In summary, we are looking for games with a strong theme and a message about making the world a better place, in either a big or small way.

  • The game you pitch to us can be literal, but it does not have to be literal. Allegories or addressing important topics in fantastical settings is just fine. For instance, our games Space Cats Fight Fascism and STRIKE! The Game of Worker Rebellion both do this. Either approach – literal or fantastical representation of the theme – is fine, as long as the game is about something.

  • We are primarily looking for games that would be exciting to be played during game nights with friends and family.

  • Your game doesn’t have to be finished for you to pitch it to us, but you should have a playable demo that you feel good about – even if it will still needs some fine tuning. Part of our responsibility is to help get the game to the finish line. We would prefer if you have at least some minimal graphic design and placeholder art (do not commission final artwork, that would be our responsibility) to help us when we play the game. But if we sign the game, it is our responsibility to make the game beautiful and ready for print.

  • We’re not looking for pitches that are just an idea you have for a game. (If you want us to develop a game for your organization, however, that’s a service we offer.) We are looking for games that have been created and playtested already (even if they are not 100% done).

  • We prefer games that are accessible. They don’t have to be super easy to learn, but we’re not looking for incredibly complex games that take an hour to learn and 4 – 5 hours to play.

  • We are looking to work with people who are open to collaboration. We may have some gameplay improvement suggestions as well as other ideas for marketability purposes. While we will not steamroll your vision, we want to make sure folks we work with are open to suggestions.

  • Though not a requirement, we have a preference for games that have a hopeful message.

  • We are open to both cooperative and competitive games.

Connections Online – Practical Game Design presentation on Youtube

Just a quick one… here is the link to the event on Youtube.

VCOW 2021: “Two Sides of the COIN”

goldblum

[Edited to add: VCOW talk slides my slides VCOW talk 2 feb  and my script. Thanks for listening in!]

I will be speaking at VCOW 2021: 1915-2000 (+0 GMT) Friday, February 5, 2021 via a Zoom meeting.

This is what they tell me I’ll be doing for about 45 minutes:

TWO SIDES OF THE COIN

In this presentation, Brian will speak briefly about his work in designing asymmetric games on irregular warfare and how this has contributed to the origin and development of the popular “GMT COIN” system. Brian co-designed A Distant Plain (Afghanistan 2003-13) with Volko Ruhnke and designed Colonial Twilight (Algeria 1954-62). His third game using this system, China’s War (China 1937-41), is currently under development.

I will be followed immediately thereafter by Pete Sizer, who frequently comments on this blog as “Pete S/SP”:

BOTH SIDES OF THE COIN: AN OVERVIEW OF COUNTERINSURGENCY GAMES

Based on research undertaken for a PhD this talk will look at the commonly fought but infrequently gamed issue of counterinsurgency and guerrilla warfare looking at those games that have tried to simulate this complicated environment.

Pete Sizer is a gamer of 30 years’ experience with an special interest in guerrilla warfare, counter insurgency and asymmetric warfare. He is currently doing a PhD in Wargaming at Bath Spa University, supervised by John Curry and Dr. Clifford Williamson.

Further details and how-to-join at https://wdvirtualcow.blogspot.com/ !

Remember this is UK time, so about 2 pm on the East Coast, and 11 am for me.

VCOW stands for Virtual Conference of Wargamers, the online version of the Conference of Wargamers, the annual event put on by my favourite crowd of madmen, the Wargame Developments (WD) organization.

Wargame Developments was founded at the first Conference of Wargamers, organized by Paddy Griffith in 1980 – so technically the event came before the organization that holds the event, but I believe they have had one every year since.  It includes among its members some of the most interesting people I have ever met, from the standpoint of either game design or generally bustin’ out with creativity and good humour: Bob Cordery, Jim Wallman, John Curry, Russell King, and the mysterious Tim Price.

For more information see: http://www.wargamedevelopments.org

Also have a look at the WD Handbook here, for an idea of just how creative these guys are: Wargame Developments Handbook

Also, Wargame Developments has published its magazine The Nugget (slang term for a d10) for a long time – they are up to issue #332 now. Each issue contains discussion of games, after action reports, occasionally rule sets and think-pieces on wargaming. Back issues may be viewed here:

http://www.wargamedevelopments.org/nugget.htm

The Zenobia Award

Mentor.

Signal boost for a worthy cause: the Zenobia Award.

Rex Brynen is a better writer, speaker and when it comes down to it thinker than I am so I will quote from his announcement:

“Historical board games are enjoyed by people from all walks of life, but their designers are predominately white men. The Zenobia Award hopes to change this by encouraging game submissions by people from marginalized groups. The Zenobia Award is not an ordinary design award. Promising applicants will receive mentorship on their designs from established industry designers, and the winners will receive help navigating the game publication process in addition to a cash prize.”

Daniel Thurot at Space-Biff! is also far more eloquent than I, at his post at https://spacebiff.com/2020/11/22/zenobia/

More details are all here: https://zenobiaaward.org so go and have a look.

I write a lot about my game designs on this blog, less often on politics, and only occasionally on the state of the hobby. But anyone who’s been in it for long soon susses out that just as there are definitely more “outputs” (published games) on certain topics than others, there are also more “inputs” (designers of published games) of a certain category than others – white, male, and older.

This is an observation, and hardly a profound one at that.

I don’t see anything nefarious about this situation. It was well known, Back In The Day, that this was a hobby that was generally indulged in by white, educated males… the Great Dunnigan remarked on this, particularly the gender imbalance, in the pages of SPI-era Strategy and Tactics many times, and often referred to the whole shootin’ match as “the hobby of the overeducated” – which back then largely also meant white and male.

I also don’t see anything particularly praiseworthy about this situation. It is also well known, Now, that many cylinders of this hobby’s engine have run on nostalgia fumes for a very long time, and many players and designers from Back In The Day are still with us, just older. That’s expected – time does march on – but society has marched on too and the audiences, actual and potential, for tabletop games are far different in gender, ethnicity, nationality and cultural outlook from 40 years ago.

I think it’s pretty simple: if you want to see the hobby continue to function, to encourage new ideas and explore different topics, to invite new people and their experiences into the fold, either help to spread the word yourself or consider contributing, either as a member of an underrepresented group or part of a team that includes such. It’s not about the prize (personally, I don’t see why money has to be be involved at all), it’s about the offer of help, advice and mentorship to people who want to become involved… which is something I have tried to extend to everyone who has approached me, as a designer (and in my day job).

If these things are not important to you, or you think they will happen by themselves, or you think that historical board games are not inherently political objects, then carry on as you have – this initiative doesn’t require anything of you, and I am sure you can find someone who will agree with you elsewhere. But I have never had time for self-appointed gatekeepers.

The Game Political

A very good piece on aspects of the current (and not so current) “keep politics out of my games” breast-beating, by Iain McAllister at the blog There Will Be Games.

https://therewillbe.games/articles-essays/7944-the-game-political

+1 for the House of Cards image!

So much of my design work has been and will continue to be overtly political, or at least about politics. And certainly designing a game, any game, is a creative and therefore a personally-political act.

And yes, I think the games themselves are works of art, and as such deep and very telling artifacts of popular culture to boot. And that popular culture that we all swim about in is changing – it’s always changing, but nowadays it is changing in ways that make many of the inhabitants of this niche of a niche of a niche uncomfortable. We must all ask ourselves where we draw our sense of identity from, and what parts of life we overtly tie it to.

The Game Political

The Game Political

Tthegiantbrain Updated July 23, 2020 

‘Don’t get Politics in my game’ goes out the cry. It rings out during debates over diversity, games set in less than savoury periods of history, and ideologies overt and subtle in the world of tabletop games. This voice is getting louder and louder as boardgames shake off the cloak of being a niche hobby and make their tentative way to a more mainstream audience. As the number of people playing boardgames grows, more and more questions are being asked of the creators intent: the message the game is trying to convey. On top of this we are waking up to the idea that maybe diverse genders, sexualties and people of colour should be seen more on front of boxes and behind the scenes at companies. More questions, more probing of the status quo.

Should these concerns be shoved aside for the sake of ‘just playing the game’? Isn’t such criticism fundamental to the growth of any art form? Let’s take a deep breath together, and dive into some murky depths.

Defining the issue

This is a thorny subject, so let’s establish some ground rules. First of all we need to look at what is being said by those who declare ‘Don’t bring politics into my games’ (or words to that effect). Turning for a moment to the Oxford English Dictionary for a definition:

Politics: relating to the ideas or strategies of a particular party or group

Fundamentally we are talking about ideas, and of course people are going to argue about them. Unfortunately a lot of the time what they are arguing for is the status quo, as if politics has never existed in boardgames until this moment.

Since we first started making art the act of creation is one that expresses ideas. Ideas of place, of people, of lived experiences. We cannot separate politics from the act of creation, as one influences the other. From hanging portraits in a gallery to the latest blockbuster, our creative acts are imbued with the ideas, and politics, of their creators.

A foundation for discussion

I think we can agree that Boardgames are a creative endeavour, and I have argued that the creative act by its very nature is political. It therefore follows that boardgames are political.

Why then do we have voices telling us to get politics out of boardgames? My experience of seeing this said generally comes in one of two cases: when a company seeks to include more diverse voices, art, or to represent a particular political point of view more overtly, or when the game is coming in for criticism. It is the latter that really interests me (though we will come back to the former).

Are they art?

We’ve established that boardgames are political due to being a creative act. Are they art? That is a much trickier question to answer with any certainty, so let me answer it from my own perspective so we can move on.

I think we all recognise that individual components of a boardgame can be recognised as art: the illustrations, miniature design, graphic design, writing (both technical and creative). Therefore the whole that is created out of these elements, can also be seen as an art form. Simplistic maybe, but as I said this is my point of view. I think boardgames are art.

Art that is never seen, experienced or consumed, is art without purpose. Art needs interpreted, it should have emotional impact. To me the greatest sin a piece of art can commit is to not move me at all. If I watch a film and my reaction is a shrug of the shoulders and ‘meh’, then it has not done its job. Even films I dislike have provoked a strong reaction at least. Art should provoke a reaction, even if it is just in one person. If it provokes a reaction, it is likely to receive criticism as well.

On the defensive

When something we love comes in for negative feedback, it can feel like an attack. We take it personally. I get that, I’ve been there myself. We rage against the idea that the thing we love is not perfect, and one of the ways that happens is to call foul on the idea of ‘bringing politics into games’. This seems to be especially the case when that criticism is to do with the treatment of different cultures, people of colour, and diverse genders in games.

Curiously you don’t see this happening when Twilight Struggle stood colossus like atop the BGG top 100. Twilight Struggle is a game about a literal political fight (the Cold War). Did anyone shout ‘Keep politics out of my games’ when this happened? No. No they didn’t. How many wargames are there? Think war isn’t political? Where are these angry voices everytime a new wargame hits the market? Silent as the grave. Watergate, a current favourite of mine, has had a rapturous reception across the critical spectrum. I don’t recall seeing a single person saying ‘get politics out of my games’ despite it being about a political scandal. The moment someone says ‘could we please have a non-sexualised female miniature’ or ‘what about representing people of colour in your art’ then it’s all loud hailers and signs.

I think I’ve amply demonstrated that these comments do not come from a place of wanting to get ‘politics’ out of games. It’s about prejudice. White prejudice to be exact. All white people have it, myself included. We are conditioned in a certain way of thinking about other cultures and societies in such a way that we must always ask questions of ourselves and the games we play. I’ve been doing my best to educate myself about the struggles black people have endured, and I recommend the documentaries ‘I am not your Negro’ and ‘13th’ as good places to start. I have also been reading ‘White Fragility’ by Robin DiAngelo and that has given me a lot to think about.

If we want the hobby to grow it must represent all people. I can find myself everywhere in the hobby because I am a white, CIS, straight male. If you are not that, then your representation in the hobby is poor, bordering on non-existent. This is changing, albeit slowly. If you are represented in the hobby, you can use your voice to lift up great examples of inclusive practices, to shout about the designers, artists, developers who do not fall into the norm of the hobby’s demographic. You don’t need to be an influencer or reviewer, every voice helps.

Asking questions of ourselves, being critical of our own choices and actions is paramount. Such a course keeps us honest and stops us slipping into the outright discrimination that is ever prevalent in our culture and the hobby. I hope to do better myself in the future, and where I can will endeavour to highlight voices from a different cultural background to my own, whatever form that culture takes.

A critical moment

As critics start to ask hard questions of the endless colonial themes, the lack of racial & gender diversity both on the front of the box and behind the scenes, we must be accepting of these questions. If we want the hobby to grow and expand, we must listen to diverse voices, for we will only be enriched and strengthened if we do. Now is not the time to be afraid of these questions.

It will be painful, there are choices to be made that may make us feel uncomfortable, but we can make those choices together, as a community. We can choose to lift up a diverse range of voices. We can choose to ignore those who would foster hate and division. We can choose to welcome the whole world to sit round a table with us and chuck some dice. But we must make the choice. We must actively choose these actions. If we do not then boardgames don’t deserve to grow at all.

(By the way, sorry if this piece looks weird – I am trying to use the new editor WordPress is foisting on us all, and it’s not going well!)

Creative math

mentorhead

On the weekend someone asked on Facebook (a place where I am spending too much time, I’ll admit) about designers’ favourite methods of managing workflow or design projects generally.

I answered that I suppose if it were more of a business for me, like Ty Bomba and Joe Miranda who are Living The Dream, I’d be more businesslike about it. As it is, progress on my projects flows according to the equation

Pr = sqrt (TA – DG) x (IN – MWD)

Where Pr is Progress, TA is Time Available, DG is Daily Grind, IN is Inspiration, and MWD is Middle of the night Wakefulness Doubts.

Note that it is possible for Pr to have a negative value, where IN < MWD. This is where I go back and rip things apart because of something I thought at oh-dark-thirty.
Also note that where TA < DG, the square root will involve imaginary numbers, and any progress on the project will also be imaginary.

“Affective Networks at Play” by Cole Wehrle

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http://analoggamestudies.org/2016/05/affective-networks-at-play-catan-coin-and-the-quiet-year

This is a brilliant article written for the Journal of Analog Game Studies in 2016, by the even more brilliant Cole Wehrle.

From his introduction:

In this article, I want to consider the affective possibilities and consequences of contemporary board games. I begin with a discussion of Klaus Teuber’s Die Siedler von Catan (1995). Teuber’s design is something of a foundational text of the contemporary board game design. Using Catan as a lodestone, I want to draw on the vocabulary of affect studies in order to reorient how we talk about games, in hopes of better understanding why Catan proved to be such a phenomenon. From there, I will consider a recent trend in the subfield of historic wargames, where convention has been upended by the COIN (COunter INsurgency) game system by Volko Ruhnke. Rather than focus solely on military affairs, Ruhnke’s games reproduce the political tensions surrounding armed conflict and ask the players to inhabit positions of moral compromise in the interest of historical simulation. I end with brief discussion of Avery Mcdaldno’s storytelling game The Quiet Year. The Quiet Year pushes on the limits of the game as an engine of affect and asks hard questions about the power of affect and the formal limits of games to understand our knotty feelings.

I’ve made reference to this article many times in discussions, but for some reason I’ve never posted a reference to it here. I have now fixed that.

Go, and read it!