Speaking at TableFlip, October 4-5

In a few weeks I’ll be attending TableFlip, a small (limit of only 75 attendees) gathering in San Francisco of and for game designers and the people who love their productsThis is not a game convention: no exhibits, no tournament play, no flea market or panels. Instead, five game designers will speak on the mechanics and processes of one or two games they are best known for, and then attendees will have sessions of group play of these games, attended and advised by the designers.

The designers involved are:

David Malki (designer of Machine of Death and Wondermark) on “Theme vs. Mechanics” followed by Play Session (War)

Volko Ruhnke & Brian Train on “Wargaming Counterinsurgency”, followed by Play Session (Fire in the Lake & A Distant Plain)

Max Temkin (designer of Cards Against Humanity and Tabletop Deathmatch) on “Folk & Physical Tabletop Games”

Matt Leacock (designer of Pandemic and Forbidden Desert) on “Player Autonomy in Forbidden Desert” followed by Play Session (Forbidden Desert)

This is an interesting idea for a gathering, like a really interactive and focused conference, and I’m really looking forward to it.

Also, I’ve never been to San Francisco before! I have only a few hours to look around, though.

Site: http://tableflip.us/

Promotional Discount Code

And if anyone reading this is in the San Francisco area, you can get 25% off the ticket price by going to the registration page (https://www.eventbrite.com/e/tableflip-a-game-design-conference-tickets-12678013279) and using this code: ROLL20. 

Thanks!

Connections 2014 AAR

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Over on Grogheads.com, I wrote an account of Connections 2014.
Short, boring, copiously but fuzzily illustrated.
But it was a good conference, even if I ended up staying awake for 40 hours to get there!

http://grogheads.com/?p=5806

Connections 2014 presentation: script and slides

Placeholder for the script and slides for the presentation I made at Connections 2014.

Rockin’ video advertising the GlobalECCO game portal not included, sorry.

ECCO script

ECCO slides

Also found on Game Links and Resources page (see above link).

CONNECTIONS 2014 at MCB Quantico, 4-7 August

… and I’ll be there!

It’s going to be an interesting one (well, I have never been bored on one of these yet, except on the plane trips back and forth).

Keynote speakers include Thomas Schelling and Larry Bond!

It will be great to see the people I often meet at this conference, plus some new ones from the UK, and the Netherlands.

I will be speaking on the GlobalECCO project and its use for international cooperation – well, camaraderie and understanding really. No Game Lab exercise this year, too much else going on, but I will get to show and demonstrate a few things – will bring Kandahar and Green Beret, Caudillo, Ukrainian Crisis, and the abstract games I’ve taken to other conferences. Maybe also the latest project I’ve been working on, which is working out well but perhaps can’t be talked about widely yet (he hinted, not so darkly). Also looking forward to visiting the Home of the Marine Corps! Purposely packing minimal clothes so as to cram in extra demo material, maybe I’ll go home wearing 6 T-shirts, pockets stuffed full of Chinese-made Devil Dog tat….

http://www.connections-wargaming.com/

Off to Consimworld Expo!

At oh-my-god-it’s-early hours tomorrow morning, we’re taking off to attend the 2014 Consimworld Expo in Tempe Arizona!

http://expo.consimworld.com/

I don’t usually go to conventions, but this one is a good one – usually about 200 very hard-core gamers, with people coming from as far away as England and New Zealand to attend. I have been to this one several times but last went in 2011, before the release of Andean Abyss, the first of the COIN system of games from GMT Games, and the subsequent ignition of interest in counterinsurgency gaming.

It’s also a publisher’s expo, so it is a good time to talk about projects with various companies, though I don’t think I will be doing so much of that this year. I will be bringing copies for sale of the first wave of BTR Games offerings: 1848, Andartes, Land of the Free, Green Beret, Kandahar, Shining Path, Tupamaro, Ukrainian Crisis. I will also be bringing Dios o Federacion, Palace Coup, Balkan Gambit, and District Commander Kandahar to playtest, with anyone who’s inclined.

Finally, on Thursday night Joe Miranda and I will hold a short seminar on “Simulating Modern Warfare”, where we talk about recent games n contemporary topics and the special challenges they represent. This is a reprise of an event we did in 2011, again before the COIN system became a thing in the world (as the kids say nowadays).

But I also want to spend some time relaxing – as I said, I’ve been several times and have never gotten into Phoenix itself; there’s lots of exploring to do. One problem with my trying to take vacations is that they turn out to be second shifts at a poorly paid job.

Anyway, fun in the sun and perhaps I will post from the Con now and then!

CONNECTIONS 2014: Main Keynote Speaker will be THOMAS SCHELLING

Not exactly as illustrated.

The CONNECTIONS conference on professional wargaming will be held in Quantico, Virginia, August 4-7 2014.

Here is the latest news from organizer Matt Caffrey:

THE Professor Thomas Schelling has agreed to be our lead keynote speaker!

“There is no Nobel Prize for wargaming, but if there was, Professor Thomas Schelling would have one to go along with his 2005 Nobel Prize in economics. While he is best known as a game theorist and nuclear strategist, his contributions to the field of wargaming have been hugely significant. An advocate for the unique analytic value of gaming, while at Harvard’s Center for International Affairs he wargamed with RAND at Camp David and undisclosed locations. His writings pioneered the application of wargaming to diplomatic deliberations and international political-military crises. I can think of no better Keynote, especially in a year when our theme emphasizes understanding across international wargaming cultures and across wargame applications.”

Thomas Schelling’s most influential works that touch on negotiation behaviours and game theory as applied to the military are The Strategy of Conflict (1960) and Arms and Influence (1966). His 2005 Nobel Prize was for his work in understanding conflict and cooperation through game-theory analysis.

He also indirectly contributed to the making of the famous Stanley Kubrick film “Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb” when Kubrick read an article he had written on nuclear warfare that mentioned the (very serious) Peter George novel Red Alert, which became the base for the script (and which, coincidentally, I reread last weekend).

If you have spent any time studying negotiation or game theory, you will have heard of Schelling – don’t miss this chance to hear him speak!

In other news:

On Monday, August 4, Matt Caffrey will present his famed “Wargaming 101” briefing from 1200 to 1345. At 1400 there will be THREE choices of speaker:

– Dr. Peter Perla, author of The Art of Wargaming speaking on analytical wargaming
– Dr. Joe Saur and Chris Weuve on wargame design, its basics and its pitfalls
– Matt Caffrey speaking on the history of wargaming using information from his upcoming book.

Details on registration and how to participate in Connections virtually are still coming, but if you needed something else to help make up your mind, there will be ZERO registration fee for the conference. While there will be options to buy lunch, if you bring your own lunch (and live within driving distance of Quantico) Connections can literally be free!

The Connections website is here: http://connections-wargaming.com/

Finally, I will be attending the Consimworld Expo in Tempe AZ in late May, and plan to put on a special event on “Simulating Modern Warfare” with Joe Miranda. This is a reprise of an event Joe and I did at the Expo a few years ago, but we will also be talking about the Connections conference, as we’ve both attended a few (though this will be the 21st Connections conference).

Link to presentation script and slides

Picture is less fuzzy than my mind was, thanks to jetlag and sleep deprivation!

Picture is less fuzzy than my mind was, thanks to jetlag and sleep deprivation!

In case you were having trouble finding this:

https://brtrain.files.wordpress.com/2013/08/abstracted-for-your-attention-script1.docx

Click to access abstracted-for-your-attention-slides.pdf

Thanks!

Stepping out even further East

I’m leaving tomorrow for London, to attend the first ever “Connections-UK” conference. This conference has the same purpose as the twenty-years-young Connections annual conference in the United States, organized by Matt Caffrey. Dr. Phil Sabin of the Department of War Studies of Kings College London and colleagues put this together, and it looks to be a very interesting event!

http://www.professionalwargaming.co.uk/

I will be speaking on the panel “Using wargames for military purposes”, and will be talking about the work done and games used on the online gaming portal for the GlobalECCO project, a website associated with the Combating Terrorism Fellowship Program.

I will also be showing or demonstrating A Distant Plain (got an advance copy to take with me, looks beautiful and weighs as much as a baby!), Dios o Federacion, 1848, EOKA, Green Beret, Guerrilla Checkers, Kandahar, and Uprising – but I don’t think all that will fit on the table at one time.

The conference is 3-4 September, but I will be doing a few other things while there. I haven’t been to Britain in almost 25 years. Among others, there is the “War Games” exhibit at the Victoria and Albert Museum of Childhood, which looks pretty neat:

http://www.museumofchildhood.org.uk/whats-on/exhibitions-and-displays/war-games

It’s excited a bit of controversy, or at least that’s what the curators seem to want you to believe – plenty of opportunity to make your sentiments and reactions known, it’s almost as if they didn’t want to do it! Kind of reminds me of the hilarious short-short story “The Toys of Peace” by Saki:

http://www.eastoftheweb.com/short-stories/UBooks/ToysPeac.shtml

If I have time, I will try to post from London, but no promises. I’ll be staying at the Kings College London student residences in Hampstead, about five miles from the Strand campus where the conference is but a bargain at 30 pounds a night for a single student room. Well, a bargain by London standards.

Funny story: For a long time I have had a copy of Avalanche Press’ “Panzer Grenadier” for sale on Boardgamegeek, and last week I got an email asking if it was still available, and how much would postage to Britain be. I ask where he lives – he gives a London postal code – I ask where in London that is – he lives about 300 m away from the residences, and at that moment was staring at the building through his living room window! So, he gets personal delivery… can’t do that every time.

I will be gone about a week, so be good while I’m away.

Broadcasting Across a Series of Tubes: MORS 81.1 Virtual Symposium

Next week will the the 81st symposium of the Military Operations Research Society (MORS), in Alexandria, VA.

Because of sequestration, cutbacks (the original venue was to be West Point) and the near total cancellation of travel and conference permissions for military and civilian Department of Defense staff, for the first time there will be a virtual component to the symposium, running slightly before and parallel to the physical meeting.

As a non-US citizen with no security clearance, I could not attend the “real” event anyway, but I can present at the unclassified portion of the virtual symposium – so that’s what I will be doing, at 1430 EDT on Saturday, June 15. I’ll be giving a presentation called “Ploughing in the COIN Field: Recent Developments in Commercial Insurgency Wargames”. Basically, it’s a short talk on the scarcity and low acceptance of irregular warfare games in the civilian market, the qualities of a good game and its value nevertheless as a means of insight, and short mentions of recent games that have these qualities.

I’ll be posting my slides and script on the Game Links and Resources page later, so if you have better things to do with your Saturday, I won’t mind. But it would be nice if someone came, and there are some interesting topics given by others on the schedule.

From the invitation email:

MORS is pleased to present the Inaugural MORS Virtual Symposium – a series of on-line presentations and special discussions that coincide with the 81st Symposium.  These virtual meetings are being made available to members and friends of MORS.  The unclassified Virtual Symposium will take place June 14th and Saturday, June 15th.

– Not sure what MORS 81.1 is?  Checkout our video link:
http://youtu.be/evWm_FxykxY

– Not registered for MORS 81.1?  Visit http://www.mors.org/events/81.1.aspx

Registration is FREE!

– Please view the following links to the unclassified schedule and abstract list to help plan your attendance online. Schedule | Abstract List | Virtual MORS DCO Help Guide

Stack Academie trip report

Earlier this year I was contacted by Marc Guenette who wanted to know if I wanted to be one of the Guests of Honour at Stack Academie, an annual wargaming conference in Montreal. Gee, would I!

I went to Montreal a day or two early, on Tuesday April 30, since I had not been in the city for 24 years and wanted some time to look around. I flew Air Canada and everything went suspiciously smoothly, to the point where I even arrived a few minutes early. I took the 747 bus from Trudeau Airport (what was once called Dorval), it runs about every 7 minutes or less most of the day, very convenient though you have to buy a transit daypass – $9.00 but that’s 24 hours on the whole transit system, other parts of which you will probably need to use to get to your destination. However, I didn’t because the hotel (an otherwise unremarkable Comfort Inn) was right downtown – just around the corner from the 747 bus stop, 1 ½ blocks from the Berri-UQAM Metro stop, and 2 blocks from St. Catherines Street, the main drag for restaurants shops and bars.

Montreal after 24 years seemed much as I remembered it (which is barely, as I was more interested at the time in my then girlfriend, who was studying electrical engineering at McGill). Half of it is being torn down or rebuilt, and the other half is being measured for the same treatment. I guess it’s a different half from last time. There was a heatwave, and it was sunny and 22-27 degrees all week long. And me without shorts, in fact at the last minute I decided not to pack my cardigan (however, two guys at the con told me that two years before there had been pouring rain and wet snow on the streets).

Wednesday I did a little bit of shopping, at some Army surplus stores on St.-Laurent and at Le Valet de Coeur (Jack of Hearts), a good wargame store not far up the street. I even found a few old DTP quality titles of mine, from Schutze Games (Pusan Perimeter, Somalia), still in the old comic book bags. I got a couple of back issues of Vae Victis, a French wargaming magazine with interesting games in it, a copy of Battle for Hill 218, a simple card abstract game, and two little finger puppet characters they were selling near the cash register. They were all kinds of historical characters like Edison, Leonardo da Vinci and some others, but there were also others like Hannah Arendt, Frida Kahlo, Spinoza etc.. The little Michel Foucault puppet was especially funny, but I got a Che Guevara for Lianne and a George Orwell for me, so they can have mild disagreements. Anyway, a neat store.

Here is George in my office, looking about as happy as he ever did in life…

Thursday I spent the afternoon and evening at the Interuniversity Consortium for Arab and Middle Eastern Studies (http://www.mcgill.ca/icames/), where Rex Brynen (of Paxsims blog fame) is one of the Directors. He had set up a micro-armour game that he umpired, while six of us directed the forces of Natonia (guy called Tom) and East Norkea (me) in the “Battle of the Namgang River”.

The confident advance, moments before the M1A2s opened fire.

A full account with pictures is at http://genericgaminggoodness.wordpress.com/2013/05/07/the-battle-of-namgang-aka-the-battle-of-the-cauldron-of-death/ . It was tremendous fun, even though I lost most of my command in a huge Natonian ambush.

The aftermath of the ambush, with infantry running for cover. I think I actually did better without the tanks.

Even worse was a missed chance to take out his two tank unit commanders by infiltrating East Norkean commandos, who lofted RPG rounds onto the tops of their tanks, only to see the rounds fizzle and misfire (I rolled two 1s in succession, the only thing that could have saved their collective bacon!).

I meant to do that.

I meant to do that.

It was very kind of Rex to arrange this, as he and I had first met about 30 years ago while he was doing a history degree at the University of Victoria and I was a high school student who would go to the weekly meetings of the Gaming Club there. We would have these massive micro-armour battles, usually with Rex’s models, but as he collected mostly Warsaw Pact stuff we usually played Russian vs. Chinese. (Actually, we were playing with some of the same models and terrain from back then!)

Friday was the beginning of the convention, and we got right down to it – the other guest of honour was Volko Ruhnke, who ran games of Cuba Libre, his COIN system game of the Cuban Revolution, while I ran games of A Distant Plain. I also demonstrated Kandahar (in its present configuration with the District Commander engine under the hood), 1848 (a rarely-seen because rarely requested game on the European revolutions of that year) and Dios o Federacion (card game on post-Chavez Venezuela). Even got in a few playtest turns of the last one. A Distant Plain was a big hit, a lot of people stopped by to look and we even had one young fellow who had never played before but still managed to pull off a quick win by the Coalition, a difficult thing in this game – he moved in lightly, manufactured a lot of popular consent for the Afghan Government, and pulled out, ending the Western role in the war in 2004!

From left to right: Kyle X, Barry Setser, Marc Guenette, Sam Harper.

From left to right: Kyle X, Barry Setser, Marc Guenette, Sam Harper.

I met a lot of people who I had only corresponded with online, through Boardgamegeek or Consimworld, so it was great to put names to faces – also to see people again after some time, like Volko, Michel Boucher and Barry Setser. I came away with some excellent ideas for future game projects and extensions or fixes to ones I am testing now. I wish these events were at least a week long, so I could have conversations of appropriate length with everyone I wanted to talk to.

Jean-Francois Tremblay, a re-enactor when he is not an instructor at UQAM, showed up in period gear for a game of Wilderness War.

Jean-Francois Tremblay, a re-enactor when he is not an instructor at UQAM, showed up in period gear for a game of Wilderness War.

Saturday night we went out to Le Pied de Cochon, a very popular (you have to make reservations a month or two ahead) restaurant with most of the menu devoted to pork products (one favourite special is “Pig’s Head For Two”, at market price though I did not think price fluctuations for such a commodity would be extreme) and the remnant devoted to other meats (another great favourite is “Duck in a Can”, and that’s just what it is). Even my French onion soup had most of a small pork chop in it, it seemed. I paid a bit much for what I got, since there were several bottles of wine on the table I did not drink from, but it was still a worthwhile experience… probably never pass that way again.

Sunday I had breakfast with Rex, Volko and his wife Jill (it was the weekend of their 22nd wedding anniversary) and got back in time to finish packing and head out to the airport. Again, things went smoothly and we even landed 48 minutes early in Victoria (they asked us over the PA to remember this the next time they were late).

It was a great week and I was honoured to be asked to come by Marc, who was a fantastic and generous host, taking time to talk with me even though he was run off his feet with convention business and real-life business. Merci a tous!