The Scheldt Campaign in Minnesota

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photo: Gordon Pueschner

The First Minnesota Historical Wargaming Society, a board gaming group that has regular events, had its meetup on Friday, and The Scheldt Campaign got a good going over!

https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/1639645/gr-91616-celebrate-good-times-come

Very glad the guys enjoyed it!

RB @ DSTL

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(photo of Ukrainian Crisis in play, from Paxsims website)

Over at the Paxsims blog, Rex Brynen tells about a recent and very busy week spent at the UK’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL):

https://paxsims.wordpress.com/2016/08/02/dstl-wargaming-trip-report-or-i-visited-portsdown-west-and-all-i-got-was-this-lousy-mug/

Among many other things, people played a series of games to explore “hybrid warfare”, including LCOL Dave Barsness’ Kaliningrad 2017, Volko Ruhnke’s Labyrinth, and my own Ukrainian Crisis.

Rex concludes matrix games FTW for analyzing this form of warfare, at least for the broad strokes, and I would tend to agree. But here’s the typical Brynen wit:

Ironically, one of the problems of a matrix game approach is that it does not require a great deal of preparation, nor need it involve a great deal of materials and complexity. This makes it an unattractive proposition for defence contractors and consultants since product creation and delivery generates relatively few billable hours. Similarly, a sponsor may feel that it does not seem enough of a tangible product compared with a more complex, traditional wargame.

Hm! Words to live by, I guess… though a poorly prepared and executed matrix game is just as much a failure as a poorly done game of another type.

Algiers and Algeria at AWC

 

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This was the first time I had ever moderated a film. Unfortunately Lianne’s presentation style hasn’t rubbed off on me.

Had a great time at the US Army War College! Made very welcome by COL Jerry Hall and LCOL Dave Barsness, both long-time wargamers. I arrived very late Saturday and Sunday LCOL Barsness took me on a tour of the Army Heritage and Education Centre. A very well put together museum; one thing they do is give you a small plastic card which is a profile of a typical American soldier, from the time of teh Spanish-American War up to the GWOT and you can read about “your” soldier when you reach the right exhibit. I picked a Specialist from Vietnam and found at the end that he was killed in the 11th month of his tour. They also had some very nice outside exhibits including life size replicas of a redoubt and a blockhouse, and another interesting one showing the various ways IEDs could be concealed.

Monday was the event; we set up five copies of Colonial Twilight ahead of time and got into the movie. Attendance was a little light because the students are very busy and near  the end of their program, and the timing wasnot great. But it was great to meet and talk with those who came, including COL di Crocco with whom I had been corresponding for a while but as a gamer.

The movie went over very well and people enjoyed the games.It was a real privilege to be able to help with the program.  And at the end, the customary group picture!

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Busy week ahead

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I take off Saturday for a busy week of gaming and talking, and more gaming!

On Monday I will be at the US Army War College at Carlisle Barracks, PA to cover another event in their Strategic Wargame Program. See https://paxsims.wordpress.com/2016/04/01/us-army-war-college-strategic-wargame-program/ for a full description by its director, COL Jerry Hall. So far they have done events using Fire in the Lake and Game of Thrones.

We’ll start with a screening of the Pontecorvo film The Battle of Algiers, maybe a bit of discussion about it, then onto guided play of Colonial Twilight. Should be great fun!

After that I am heading to Montreal for Stack Academie, the gaming convention organized by Marc Guenette.

Marc is also a student in the “DESS en Design de jeux”, a one-year post-degree program in game design run by the University of Montreal. (https://admission.umontreal.ca/programmes/dess-en-design-de-jeux/). Marc has asked me to conduct a “master class” in the design of games on modern irregular warfare, with particular attention to the COIN system. So, I will largely be amplifying my remarks from the PCA conference, with more emphasis on the potential of these games to enlarge and modify wargame design as a whole. Luckily, Volko Ruhnke will be in the audience to correct any egregious errors I commit. I will post my script and slide deck later, as usual.

That’s on Thursday; from then until early Sunday it’s going to be more playtesting of Colonial Twilight and some other games I am bringing – the revised versions of Algeria and War Plan Crimson coming soon from Tiny Battle Publishing, Chile ’73 (new mini-game on the coup against Allende, multiplayer), The Little War (new mini-game on the March 1939 border war between Slovakia and Hungary), and for the very brave, District Commander: Binh Dinh. And the usual Guerrilla Checkers giveaways, of course, unless the officers at the Army War College grab them all first…

“It’s going to be fun, Dryden.”

“It is recognized that you have a funny sense of fun.”

Bored of War…

… is the in-retrospect,-not-very-good title I picked for the short talk I am giving at the national conference of the American Popular Culture Association in Seattle next week.

http://pcaaca.org/national-conference/

Here is my abstract:

Board wargames, or manual military simulation games, are a form of civilian entertainment that peaked commercially in the 1980s but continue today as a small press, near-DIY activity. They remain one of Western culture’s most complex analog artifacts, rich in their ability to generate narrative and explore historical possibilities.

 However, only a very small number of published civilian wargames address the dominant modes of actual post-World War Two conflict: irregular war and counterinsurgency. This paper will explore the cultural reasons for this absent focus, explain the social and political utility of these games as a means of interrogating and critiquing contemporary conflicts, and present specific games in this field as examples of “critical play” (Flanagan, 2009).

The point I am trying to make is that there are few of these games not just because they are on an icky uncomfortable subject. It’s also because they are subversive – not only of the contextless and fragmented stream of simplified media interpretation of current conflicts, but also of how most board wargames are played.

I find it quite hard to articulate things like this, though I think about them a lot. I want to acknowledge Jeremy Antley, Matt Kirschenbaum and Mary Flanagan for the thoughts and inspiration.

The point may also be lost on the audience – this is a large conference, with a couple of thousand presentations to be made, and the Game Studies area is responsible for about 100 of them. Only a very small number of these are not about video games: a few about tabletop RPGs, someone talking about how the The Game of Life (Milton Bradley 1960) reflected the American Dream, and my thing.

I think they’re going to look at me like I have bugs in my eyebrows.  But it will be experience, and that is cheap at any price, as they say.

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Mmm… yeah, probably as illustrated.

Games Without Frontiers 2.0

 

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As part of the University of Victoria’s “Ideafest”, going on this week, there will be a session titled “Games w/o Frontiers: The Social Power of Video (& Other) Games”. This will include a game jam, where participants will be asked to work on creating a game to help resettle refugees or shift Canadian attitudes about the refugee experience.

Quote from http://www.timescolonist.com/life/islander/ideafest-playing-games-without-frontiers-1.2191366

In Ideafest, the refugee experience will become the focus of a “game jam.”

It’s a session where participants brainstorm ideas. Then, with the assistance of two mentors, both experienced game designers, they can come up with ideas for plotting the refugee experience in a game format. It might be a board game, like Monopoly, or a card game or a video game.

But the idea will be to imagine or reconstruct an experience, in this case a refugee experience, to foster positive social change. It might help teach genuine refugees to navigate the Canadian experience. It might sensitize Canadians to what refugees need and would appreciate.

Meanwhile, other sessions in the Ideafest event will include discussions and exploration of issues such as games in education, virtual reality, games for health and games as art.

One of the the “experienced game designers” doing the mentoring is me!

I’ll be there in the morning, then I will be covering a table elsewhere in MacLaurin A-Wing with some of my games for display. Think I’ll set up A Distant Plain and Ukrainian Crisis, and have a few giveaway copies of Guerrilla Checkers ready. Stop by and say hi!

Game w/o Frontiers is on March 12, noon to 4:30 p.m. in the MacLaurin Building.

MORS Workshop on Professional Gaming, 28 September – 1 October

Hopefully not as illustrated.

Week after next I am heading out for a few days in Fairfax, Virginia, to co-facilitate a working group at the Military Operations Research Society’s (MORS) Workshop on Professional Gaming.

http://www.mors.org/Events/Special-Meetings/Professional-Gaming-Workshop

Wargames used for analytic purposes have been around almost as long as operations research, maybe even longer if you are flexible about the word “analysis”. Many of the members of MORS are military, or civilians working for the military, with backgrounds in math, computer science or engineering so the games they produce and use tend to be quite technical and numbers-based, with results to a specific question validated by data. But there are also others in the organization, often with social science backgrounds, who struggle with the more qualitative side of contemporary problems and questions. More and different methods of looking at these problems through games are being used, and I think that’s where my contribution to this workshop will lie… games for analysis are a bit out of my line of country, but they still have to work as games, which in this case are a particular kind of model I have some experience building. It’s all in how you frame the problem, right….

The workshop will have eight working groups, and I will be working in the “Quick-Turnaround Game Development” one – plan is to take the participants from idea to (at least partially) playtested design, on a topic of their choice, within 36 hours. The inestimable Rex Brynen of Paxsims will be there too!

We’ll also have a chance to show and demonstrate some new game designs. I will be bringing demo copies of

  • Algeria (140-counter rework of first design on Algeria, for OSS Games’ Folio line)
  • Binh Dinh 69 (Vietnam 1969, for OSS Games as well)
  • Caudillo
  • Colonial Twilight
  • District Commander Kandahar
  • Guerrilla Checkers (free copies to give away)
  • Third Lebanon War
  • Ukrainian Crisis (have made some changes to the design recently, will post later)

I hope there’ll be room for all that lot, and clothes too… otherwise I’ll have to bring some binder clips, and use the hotel sheets and blankets instead.

Also, Rex will be demonstrating his very clever humanitarian aid/ disaster relief game Aftershock, and possibly ISIS Crisis as well, to introduce people to the idea of matrix games.

Will be a busy but fun week!