Obligatory end-of-year review, 2021

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Ohhhhh….

It’s almost over.

I thought 2020 was not that great, and boy 2021 was not an improvement.

  • My dad died in May 2021 and I spent the rest of the year doing executor duties and seeing his widow back to the UK where she has family. This put a big crimp into everything else, naturally.
  • I did not get back into my office until September 2021.
  • I did get my money back from the airline for my Hawaiian trip that never happened, but no other travel more than a few miles from home. I did participate in a few online events and things but it’s just not the same.
  • The renovations that started in August 2020 are still going on, though I have been promised carpets by Christmas. Doors, lights, kitchen appliances and other amenities will follow, as will the restoration of some game-playing space.

I’m not sorry to see 2021 go, and I know 2022 will not see the complete end of COVID-19, still less the beginnings of the necessary and obvious changes we’re going to have to make in order to flourish in the future. But like many people, I will adjust and carry on as best I can. Maybe next year I will get back to Europe, or Washington DC, or even Tempe AZ. We’ll see.

Game publishing and publicity

February: Posted PDFs of the 12 issues of Strategist magazine I edited in 2000, containing several PnP games in their pages: some WarpGames by Lloyd Krassner; Battle of Seattle by me; and the first appearance of Waterloo 20 by Joe Miranda.

March: Vassal continues to elude me, but after a lot of angst I finally got it together to build a couple of simple Tabletop Simulator modules for two of my abstract games, Guerrilla Checkers and Kashmir Crisis. It wasn’t much fun, but I hope people might try them. Meanwhile, I think I am irretrievably old-school: give this man some cardboard and markers and he’s happy.

April: James Buckley published #2 of his online zine Punched, in which he ran a lot of material related to the GMT COIN system games (published and future), and a very nice review of Brief Border Wars.

June: District Commander: ZNO was released, the fourth and so far final module in the series. District Commander Maracas continues as the free print-and-play module for anyone who wants to try out the system.

November: A 4th printing of A Distant Plain was announced. We’ll see how long it takes them to pull the trigger on this one; perhaps people want to forget about this war once and for all. Also, the International Conference on Games and Learning Alliance (GALA) saw a paper presented on a digital port of Kashmir Crisis. Hans-Wolfgang Loidl, Associate Professor of Computer Science at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, wrote the paper with his student Charlie Murray, who created a digital version of the game.

Game design work and future publication

Work and or testing continued throughout the year on the following. Other projects languished.

Brief Border Wars Quad Volume II: Handed in the files for this to Compass Games in October 2021. The four battles are all pre-1945 titles: Second Balkan War 1913; Teschen 1919; Nomonhan 1939; and Italo-Greek War 1940. No idea when it will actually come out.

China’s War 1937-41: Development screeched to a halt when I lost my gaming space to renos in summer 2020. In the fall of 2021 I developed a 1938 scenario for the game. I recently heard from the GMT developer who also got sidetracked on things, and work will begin again in early 2022. We hope to finish testing and development by the end of summer. Over 1,500 pre-orders now.

O Canada: Now it can be told – this year I got a long way into making a power-politics, non-kinetic adaptation of the COIN system (something I always thought should be done). The situation I chose is a reboot of the old SPI game Canadian Civil War (1976). Four factions (Federalists, Provincial Moderates, Provincial Autonomists, Separatists) with asymmetrical force structures, menus of operations and special activities, and objectives; an Event Deck with jokes in it comprehensible only to Canadians; a Patronage Track that reflects the degeneration of political discourse and influence of foreign agencies; and conflict played out on two levels (one at province level where you have mostly Party structures and voting blocs but still need some Groups of influencers, and one at Issues level where Groups fight for control of intangibles). Quite a way down the road with this one, solo tests are good, work can continue when I have some more space to play the physical copy and maybe engage other people in it… but I strongly doubt anyone will want to publish this for like, money, so likely when I am satisfied with it I will put it out to free pasture, or a modestly priced PnP.

Conventions

Of course, nothing happened, at least nothing physical.

January: Pete Sizer and I spoke to the VCOW (Virtual Conference of Wargamers) on counterinsurgency games. I also spoke to the Cardboard Emperors Virtual Con II on the factions, mechanics and victory conditions of China’s War 1937-41. And a special episode of the No Enemies Here podcast by Dan Pancaldi, connected with the Armchair Dragoons virtual convention; some quite freewheeling conversation in that one.

November: had a nice chat with Harold Buchanan during his SDHistCon event, I would like to make it to the physical version in San Diego one day as I quite liked what I saw of the city that one time.

Conferences and professional wargaming stuff

No physical conferences, of course.

February: I talked to a group of officers at the US Army War College on “The Uses of Simple Games.”

April: As part of Connections-Online 2021, a virtual event with global reach, Mike Markowitz and I did a joint presentation on the practical matters within DIY game design. Mike talked about graphic design and talked about methods of self-publishing. Both were add-ons and developments of the talks we gave to the Georgetown University Wargaming Society in 2020. Also connected with this event, a very pleasant chat with Maurice Fitzpatrick et al on his Whiskey Charlie podcast about the Connections conferences of the past and future, and their enduring value. Shining Path was used with students at the Institute for World Politics (an independent graduate school that trains students for careers in national security and international affairs) in a class on “Counterterrorism and the Democracies“.

Writing and ‘casting

Nothing formally published, just the usual torrent of wise-guy stuff on blogs, sites and social media.

August: several posts on the end of the war in Afghanistan, that proved to be click-worthy (don’t know if they were read).

September: a great episode of Liz Davidson’s Beyond Solitaire podcast, with Volko Ruhnke. Not surprisingly, we mostly talked about A Distant Plain and the sensitivities of designing games on contemporary conflicts.

October: an episode of the History and Games Laboratory podcast, put on by Eduard Gafton at the University of Edinburgh. We talked about the origins of some of my game designs and how I got into game design, and focus on Brief Border Wars and the issues involved in designing games on sensitive and controversial topics (A Distant Plain got a look in, of course). I later wrote a blog post for them that was an abridged version of the chapter I wrote for the EuroWargames anthology about analog game design as a form of citizen journalism. (I handed the files for that in March 2021, and am still not sure when the book will appear – next year, perhaps.)

November: A great international panel on civilian victimization in wargames, as part of a probable series on “wargame ethics” hosted by Fred Serval (France). Other panelists were Javier Romero (Spain), John Poniske (USA) and Tomislav Cipcic (Croatia). I think we really got into it (the topic, not the practice itself). Also, I posted the popular piece “Quads That Never Were“: SPI Quadrigames that were proposed but never published.

Near-meaningless digest of site statistics:

Overall traffic seems to be stable and improved a bit over 2020. I seem to be cruising still at around 1,600 – 1,800 views per month, for a total of about 21,000 views. About 8,000 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 Bhutan.
Besides the then-current post, popular pages included the perennial favourites Free Games, BTR Games and Scenarios and Variants pages. No surprises there. The two most popular posts were my Afghan War post-mortem pieces “Endgame” and “Some more Afghan post-mortem”, likely due to my posting links to them on Facebook groups.
The most downloaded documents were four items for SPI game variants by Alan Arvold: three for Lost Battles and one for Search and Destroy, either the article itself by Alan or the counter sheets I made for them. The file of FAQ and clarifications/errata for the District Commander series was also popular.

Podcast: History and Games Lab, episode #12

Recently I sat down with Eduard Gafton, of the History and Games Laboratory at the University of Edinburgh, to talk about many things – we talk about the origins of some of my game designs and how I got into game design, and focus on Brief Border Wars and the issues involved in designing games on sensitive and controversial topics (A Distant Plain gets a look in, of course).

A great podcast and some very good questions came up!

I’m in very good company on this podcast… earlier guests in the series include Cole Wehrle, Tomislav Cipcic, Volko Ruhnke and Lewis Pulsipher.

https://player.fm/series/history-games-lab-podcast-university-of-edinburgh

Podcast: Beyond Solitaire #58 – A Distant Plain

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https://beyondsolitaire.buzzsprout.com/1091807/9218856-episode-58-volko-ruhnke-and-brian-train-on-a-distant-plain

A great podcast by Liz Davidson, talking with Volko Ruhnke and me about A Distant Plain’s origin, structure and intent – and touching on the sensitivities of designing games on contemporary conflicts.

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.

Connections Online 2021: Whiskey Charlie podcast

Tomorrow!

I’ll join Maurice Fitzpatrick on his podcast, with Brant Guillory and others to talk about the Connections franchise of annual conferences on professional wargaming – its past, present (online for now) and future.

The Connections Online conference is next week, registration is open, and the schedule and events thereto are filling up.

Hey, don’t forget I will be talking about the practicalities of game physical design with Mike Markowitz on Monday, April 12 at 1500 EDT!

Connections Online

Connections North (the Canadian variant) is in the past, the US conference is 22-25 June (special theme: Ethics in Wargaming) and the Connections-UK conference has been moved forward two weeks from its usual time (14-16 September). All will be online events, For The Duration Of Viral Hostilities. Meanwhile, keep up with developments on the Facebook group:

https://www.facebook.com/ConnectionsWargaming

Sgt.Hartman

Tune in, maggots!

Intvw w/ NEH, @ ACDC, 1400 16 JAN 2021

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The Regiment of Armchair Dragoons, an organization of strategy gamers only partly corralled by Brant Guillory, is having a virtual convention in mid-January!

As part of this event, on Saturday, January 16, from 1400 to 1500 Eastern Standard Time, I will be on Zoom for a 60-minute interview with podcaster Dan Pancaldi (of No Enemies Here). We’ll talk, we’ll scratch each other’s backs, we’ll take some questions….

Tickets required, and there is a limit of 100 (like all seminars on this event, I gather this is some kind of license-imposed limit; nothing personal).

It’s only 3 bucks to participate all weekend, and there is a LOT going on besides this meeting -board and miniatures games played via ASCBI, Discord, Roll20, Tabletop Simulator, Tabletopia, Vassal and Zoom; and online seminars including two presentations from the Georgetown University Wargaming Society.

Event details are here: https://www.armchairdragoons.com/acdc-jan-21/

Registration is via Tabletop Events: https://tabletop.events/conventions/acdc-january-2021

And here is the whole events schedule, though it will continue to change until January 4: https://www.armchairdragoons.com/acdc-jan-21-events/

More about Dan’s weekly podcast here: https://www.facebook.com/NoEnemiesHere/

I hope you’ll attend!

History Chat Podcast: Days of Ire/ Nights of Fire

Jason Perez and Liz Davidson (who posted a review of Nights of Fire some time ago on Beyond Solitaire, here: Nights of Fire: video review) have a long discussion on the games Days of Ire and Nights of Fire for the first 25 minutes, then spend another 25 minutes discussing the broader historical context and background of the Hungarian Revolution.

Jason puts in a good word for the Red Army expansion kit, which besides miniatures includes material for a campaign game that links the two – so the end state of the first game sets up some conditions for the second, and characters may or may not survive to do things in the sequel.

This is a really great exchange to examine both game and history! Go and have a listen.

Interview with Howard Buchanan

A surprise interview with Howard Harold Buchanan, from confinement.

A very enjoyable three quarters of an hour!

Kind of a weird echo sometimes on my end, and just as many umm, uhhh, ahhs as ever.

Fair bit of detail about China’s War 1937-41, if you haven’t heard it already, and a bit about Strongman (remake of Caudillo).

But I hope you like it.

 

Interview with Harold Buchanan – part 2

 

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https://soundcloud.com/harold-buchanan/podcast-22-an-interview-with-designer-brian-train-and-his-top-5-list-part-2-of-2

Continuing on from a week or two ago, part 2 of my long interview with Harold Buchanan when we were at Consimworld Expo 2019.

For some reason he starts off with me explaining and singing the Smarties song….

Also, the tale of the Pantzooka!

Games (inspirational and not) referenced in the interview:

  • Central America
  • Minuteman: Second American Revolution
  • National Liberation Front
  • Nicaragua
  • Plot to Assassinate Hitler
  • South Africa
  • Tito
  • Vietnam 1965-75

 

Interview with Harold Buchanan out now!

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Looks as if I’ve run out of rant and have put myself to sleep.

Remember that Harold Buchanan interviewed me while I was at CSWExpo this year? He managed to edit my gibberish down into something halfway coherent, and now you can listen to it!

https://soundcloud.com/harold-buchanan/podcast-21-gen-con-insurgency-and-an-interview-with-designer-brian-train-1-of-2

The Benno Effect gets a shout-out around 33:35.

Be sure to tune in for the next episode, part 2 of 2. Highlight will undoubtedly be the tale of the history and deployment of the Pantzooka!

Ave hominem vestitum!