Talkin’ podcast on Three Moves Ahead

Last week Bruce Geryk kindly undertook to listen to my nasal pedantic voice for far too long, while I rattled on and on about my game designs, mostly about my COIN system games and the family of “four-box ops” irregular warfare designs (Tupamaro, Shining  Path, Algeria, Andartes, Kandahar, EOKA, etc.) .

Have a listen!

Podcast: Guns, Dice, Butter episode XX

David Dockter has a regular podcast on wargaming called “Guns, Dice, Butter” that has just recorded its twentieth episode.

This one has:

  • Phil Eklund, speaking from faraway Berlin about his brain-wringingly thoughtful and detailed designs,
  • then (about 1h 22min) Mark Herman, Jim Doughan and myself talking about “War by Other Means” where we discuss another “7 Ms” of warcraft (besides Machetes, Machine-guns and Missiles) that support the BIG “M” (Morale) in making and waging war,
  • and finally a few minutes with me (about 2h 12 min) talking about Ukrainian Crisis and what I was trying to get at (plus the story of how I met Rex Brynen, writer of the excellent Paxsims blog!).

Download it (it’s about an 83 MB file, or you can just listen) at:

Game design-related posts, 2011

It has not proven possible to import exactly the entries I need from my Livejournal blog to WordPress, so I decided to import what I could year by year via cut-and-paste.

Edited to remove some personal details and irrelevancies.

Date: 2011-11-10 12:24

Subject: (no subject)

Oh dear, and another month slips by. It has been such a busy year, at least since May, and there are only a few weeks left in 2011.

But not time for end-of-year accounting and 2011 memes yet.

Chronological accounting-for-myself:


October 19-22 – I went to the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey California. Dear Readuhs will remember the conference I went to in early August, and how well one of my games went down at the demonstration period there. Well, out of that I got an invitation to go to the NPS and talk to them about using digitized versions of this and other games of mine, in a project related to another, much larger project they have going on. I got to make a lunchtime presentation to their Irregular Warfare students, mostly Special Forces captains and majors – I was kind of nervous about this but they were very friendly and interested. I spoke for less than half an hour and they filled up the rest of the time with questions, so I didn’t get a chance to talk with them which I really wanted to do. I did have a quick chat with a Marine Corps major who had trained in Armor, and instead of charging across the desert dealing death to enemy tanks from two miles away found himself and his tank company in a neighbourhood of Baghdad, working out which streets would have priority for garbage collection and which block leaders could or couldn’t be trusted.

If anyone wants to look at my script or Powerpoint slides, they are here:  . This is another blog I have started that will be confined to my game design and “serious games” development and other stuff. Not much there yet though, as it has not proven possible to port my game-design related entries on LJ over to WordPress en masse.

Anyway, the ensuing discussions with the project team went well, I came up with some new ideas for games for them that I will be working on and I put them in touch with Richard who has made up a version of Guerrilla Checkers for Android mobile phones, and will probably do the technical work for the team on what they need for the project. See a screenshot at Little Viking Games. (

A “guided gaming session” went less well, I tend to forget that a game I regard as being comparatively simple (especially if I’ve designed it) is still quite complex to people who have grown up playing ordinary board games or just computer games. As much as I tend to dislike computer games, a lot of the complexity and fiddliness of a game design can be subsumed into the structure and interface of a game. Players do not need to remember what pieces can move where or how, when the program will simply not let them do it, so they can concentrate on playing the game – and that’s enough for most players, but there needs to be some explanation of why this or that thing can’t happen, or the penalties for doing so. And it’s a lot easier to change a sentence to two in a rulebook than it is to rewrite hundreds of lines of code. Anyway, I left them with a big bag of playable copies of my games.

Monterey is a beautiful little town, and Friday night I went out to look around. The NPS is just a few blocks from downtown, so I walked down to the big pier that is full of shops and restaurants. I looked at I don’t know how many cheap t-shirts, and got a pound of salt water taffy for Aki (and a bunch of cheap assorted candy from the Walgreen’s downtown later). I had a plate of completely ordinary chow mein at a small Chinese restaurant where this huge Mexican family was having dinner – I think it was someone’s birthday or something. “Dad” was at the head of the table, obviously the patriarch and wearing the biggest hat – they were having a great time. Later I walked back by a different route but did not turn when I needed to, and ended up walking by this highway to a gigantic shopping mall with no way out except the way you came in, and the buses had all stopped running – in the end I did get out and back, but had walked five miles more than I had planned!

I went back on Saturday the 22nd – the NPS had actually paid for my flight and hotel, which was great. My flights were well spaced so I didn’t have to hurry at all; and I have resolved to hand-carry my luggage from now on if I can possibly help it. You can get a lot into a small bag if you roll it right. (I saved even more room on the flight down by forgetting my good pants at home! Luckily I remembered this in the air on the way to San Francisco, and got a pair of acceptable golfing slacks at the pro shop in the airport – otherwise it would have been pretty embarassing.)

October 24 – was my 47th birthday, which we didn’t really bother marking except for a good dinner at San Remo. I’m feeling rather more middle-aged now, and while I’m happy to have outlived George Orwell, I don’t have TB and haven’t come near to matching his output.


November 4-6 – We went to deepest darkest Surrey, for BottosCon 2011 – the fifth annual board wargaming convention put on by Rob Bottos. It’s small, maybe 60 people came this time and that was the biggest yet. About half of the attendees were Advanced Squad Leader players, who usually don’t play much else (or at least, they came to the convention to play ASL only), and the other half were people playing practically everything else, from non-wargames like Urban Sprawl to Angola or Storming the Reich.

I don’t go to many conventions, and when I do I usually don’t play games – I spend my time talking to people, catching up with friends or trying to interest people in my new designs in the hope of snagging playtesters. Guerrilla Checkers ( ) proved to be a hit again, and someone expressed an interest in writing an iOS application for it so it can be played on iPad, iPhone, iKettle etc., which would be great. I also played out a few turns of the brigade-level version of my Finnish Civil War game (  ), which prompted someone to say that he thought he’d seen everything now, and did a complete run-through with a playtester of a newly written 2006 scenario for my Third Lebanon War game – it worked well and concluded on time, with a marginal Hezbollah victory. A minor revision to two to the rules and they’re even better – the basic designs are quite sound.

We also went out to one of Surrey’s many industrial zones – the whole area looks like it’s composed of strip malls, suburbs, and warehouse districts, there’s more than that but that’s what you see from the highway as you’re whizzing through – to get 25 pounds of Cerrotru, the metal I use for casting my miniatures. It’s gone up in price a lot, and this will probably be the last time I buy it for quite a while. I kind of like going to these industrial parks, reminds me that things are still made or at least assembled here.


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Date: 2011-08-08 16:45

Subject: Connections Conference 2011

Security: Public

Mood: confused

Music: kraftwerk, “Kometenmelodie II”

Tags: game design, games, travel, writing

Well, I’m back from the “Connections” conference at National Defense University (NDU) in Washington, and things went VERY well.  (site)   (agenda)

I got to Washington late late on Sunday night. Monday afternoon I went to NDU, first to the Metro station (what is it about every subway system I’ve ridden on that they all smell the same? It’s a hot, dusty smell that must come from the engines on the trains or the stale air down there) and then a few blocks to Fort McNair (a small Army post named after a general who was killed by friendly fire in July, 1944 in France). Met up with Skip Cole, late of the US Institute for Peace, and reunited with Rex Brynen, the McGill professor I mentioned, after thirty years! That night Joe Miranda and I went out and looked over Washington at night – we saw the Washington Monument, and the White House, both from afar. We wanted to have a beer at the bar of the Watergate Hotel, but apparently it has been pulled down – there is still a building called The Watergate but it is full of condo apartments and dentists’ offices.

Tuesday: first day of the conference proper. Keynote speakers were James F. Dunnigan and Peter Perla, both great figures in the development and history of board and professional wargaming, and they spoke well. The panel on which I was presenting came right after. I was third, and was sitting at the end of the table waiting to go, and James FREAKING Dunnigan walked back into the room and sat down next to me, muttering that it was “standing room only back there”. I told him I thought he could sit anywhere he wanted. I went up and made my presentation, which went well but was a bit rushed because I was third. My presentation was called “Ploughing in the COIN Field” and was about the series of seven counterinsurgency/guerrilla warfare games I had designed since 1995, very different from each other in topic but using the same basic system.

I went back and sat down, fielded questions and that was it for the panel discussion and then JAMES freaking DUNNIGAN shook my hand and said, “I like what you’re doing”.

Anyway, that’s certainly my brush with greatness this year.

That afternoon were game demonstrations, my Guerrilla Checkers was a hit! ( ).

Ya know, sometimes Value Village will give you just what you need… I had found a bag of 1,358 little red buttons, 1 cm across with a “handle”, just in time for $2.99. This made up 20 sets of 66 guerrilla pieces, and I used some miniatures from an old parts copy of Risk for the 6 counter-insurgent pieces for each set. I copied a grid and shortened rules onto a card, and gave those away for free. I got some cotton napkins from VV as well, and had an 8×8 grid silkscreened on them, and got some large and small stones in contrasting colours from Michael’s to make up another set of nice copies.

I started showing someone how to play, and within five minutes the free copies were flying away and there were five or six games going at once.

Rules, in case you’re interested, at: . Next thing to do is make some kind of Web or mobile app for the game; I had a couple of discussions with people on this.

Tuesday night were some more playtests, Wednesday was devoted to more presentations and working group work. Interesting discussions, including some talk on how to involve non-military people in military wargaming. I suggested we should call ourselves “ludic futurists”!

Wednesday night Joe and I went out to Georgetown. It started to pour rain the moment we stepped outside the Metro station, and we walked and walked. I was absolutely saturated but it was quite warm, so we dried out a little bit at a good Italian restaurant staffed by Filipinos.

Thursday were some final discussions and meetings, promises of further action, and the long flight home. I still think it’s pretty remarkable that I could travel over 5,000 km and visit three coasts of the continent in less than a day. I got home at midnight on Thursday. Security wasn’t too bad, only one pat-down in Seattle and I lost the little snow-globe of the White House Lianne asked for – apparently those are verboten, in any size, unless you drain them yourself first. So remember!

All in all, a good week – I made a lot of good contacts and plan on going back next year (it will be at NDU again).

Oh, and I also found that the article I wrote on the Dieppe Raid was nominated for “Best Historical Article” in the Charles S. Roberts Awards ( ). But it didn’t win.

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Date: 2011-07-18 09:51

Subject: Another Interview (podcast this time)

Security: Public

Mood: sleepy

Music: Martha and the Muffins, “Suburban Dream”

Tags: game design, games, me

So, last week I was interviewed for a podcast by a guy who writes a blog on games. Oh God, there’s almost an hour of it.

I really, really hate my voice on the air – do I really sound like that IRL? I sound like something’s pinching me inside. The cordless phone I was using died midway through the interview, as if it had killed itself rather than listen to me anymore.

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Date: 2011-07-04 15:06

Subject: (no subject)

Security: Public

Mood: calm

Yes, been a while, hasn’t it… Among other things:

I didn’t write about the outcome of the convention in Tempe. I think I found homes for ALL of these designs, except Virtualia, which nevertheless was the predecessor for Kandahar and EOKA, both of which attracted interest. But hoo boy, I never talked so much in all my life – and I owe a great debt to Todd Davis, He of the Blue Hair, who made sure that I got a chance to talk to people who mattered.

I observed and kibitzed some folks playing Summer Lightning, and at least one copy was given away as a door prize. I helped to playtest Andean Abyss, ( )a new game on counterinsurgency in the 1990s in Colombia that was quite clever, and showed Guerrilla Checkers ( ) to quite a few people. Got a couple of small games and picked up two items in the game auction, normally the high point of the convention.

It was up to 105 degrees in the daytime, and would cool to about 80 around 4 in the morning. My good intentions of getting exercise by walking up the butte behind the hotel in the relative cool of the morning soon evaporated, and we never did get into downtown Phoenix (it would have been easy as there is a new light rail station a couple of blocks away) to look around. But we did walk around in the general area, and I got some cheap CDs at the record exchange down the street we always visit – Lianne got some nice antique glassware at the little store down the street from there, that we also always visit.

I hadn’t been to this convention in three years, and it appears my reputation has grown slightly in the meantime – getting published in Strategy & Tactics and World at War magazine certainly helped. Joe Miranda and I also made a presentation at a rather sparsely-attended panel discussion on simulating modern warfare.


In the first week of August I am going to the Connections conference at the National Defense University in Washington DC to speak on a panel, and demonstrate some of my games. Again, I am not looking forward to getting there (Continental Airlines, which I understand is one notch above the way Aeroflot used to be, and a long period of cooling my heels in Houston TX of all places). I am taking just carry-on luggage so at least none of that can go wrong. And DC in August is a steambath, I hear, and there are no clubs for Joe and I to go to on the nights we are there (without travelling 90 miles to Richmond or Norfolk VA!).

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Date: 2011-06-06 10:10

Subject: Psychopaths and game-players

Security: Public

Mood: rushed

Music: Oingo Boingo, “Grey Matter” (balaphone solo)

Tags: crazies, game, game design, social decay, stupidity, travel

I haven’t read Vonnegut in years, but this makes me want to go out and get his last book:


In other news, tomorrow we’re off to Tempe AZ for the Consimworld convention! Lianne will lie by the pool and read while I bring her ice cream from time to time, and I will spend my time trying to get people interested in the batch of unpublished games I will be bringing with me, besides showing off Summer Lightning:

– EOKA (Cyprus 1955-59 – yep, whipped it into shape on the weekend, still think it’s a bit too fiddly though)

– The Scheldt Campaign (First Canadian Army Oct-Nov 1944, first game focused on the campaign)

– Third Lebanon War (Israeli Army invades souther Leb in near-future to stop Hezbollah, Or Not)

– Kandahar (non-historical game on Afghanistan)

– Virtualia (FID in a fictionalized post-Chavez Venezuela)

– Greek Civil War (been waiting a long time for this to come out, there is a new mag-with-a-game-in-it coming out that focuses on post-WW 2 conflicts)

– Balkan Gambit (when, o when?)

– Guerrilla Checkers (simple, interesting abstract game I invented last year)

Holy mac, I have been busy the last couple of years.

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Date: 2011-05-24 08:42

Subject: I’m on The Youtube!

Security: Public

Music: The Residents, “Never Known Questions”

Tags: game, game design

Or rather, one of my games is… an Italian wargamer does a 14-minute video review of Summer Lightning, so you can take a look at what goes into one of these things:

You know, I think I’ve finally arrived as a game designer with this one, due to the packaging. When I first started, we packaged the games in plastic comic book bags; later those tin boxes and small cardboard boxes, that were roomier but still pretty full of cardboard. The box for this one is 80% air; it must mean I’m nearly a professional!

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Date: 2011-05-09 16:07

Subject: First Look inside the Box

Security: Public

Music: Cruxshadows, something

Tags: game, game design

I haven’t received my personal copies yet, but here is a look inside my new Poland 1939 game:

Not a bad job on the graphics, not bad at all….

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Date: 2011-04-28 11:38

Subject: Kandahar

Security: Public

Mood: fulla cake

Music: Devo, “Fresh”

Tags: game design

A year or two ago, in response to the thoughts comments and feedback received by one of the Pentagon guys who was using my game on the 1954-62 Algerian War to model an online counterinsurgency game I worked up a new game called Virtualia, using a thinly-disguised post-Chavez Venezuela to look into urban guerrilla warfare. Later, I reworked that again into a game on the Afghanistan situation, in Kandahar Province and named Kandahar.

Anyway, an acquaintance from a long time ago who has since become a Poli Sci professor at McGill University used my Algeria game in one of his classes last year, and wanted to follow it up this year with another of my games. So he used Kandahar with some of his students, and they seemed to like it despite its relative complexity. Another student of his used the game for her Honours thesis and wrote a long playtest report/game review of it, and I got to write a response – both pieces are found here, on the professor’s blog on peace-building simulations:

Go and look, it’s really boring and irrelevant to you!

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Date: 2011-04-07 12:10

Subject: Charlie Sheen Welcomes Our Alien Overlords

Security: Public

Music: DHI, “Machine Altar Transmission”

Tags: dream, game design

I had a dream last night that aliens had invaded and taken many of us (including me) back to another planet, and Charlie Sheen was a collaborator/ overseer.

And he was being a real jerk about it, like “Who’s standing here WITHOUT a shovel in his hands, NOT mining thorium? Duh, WINNING!”

In other news, my Poland game is due in the publisher’s warehouse inside of two weeks. Links to aspects of the game:


Where to buy:


Very nice map, complete:

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Game design-related posts, 2010 and 2009

It has not proven possible to import exactly the entries I need from my Livejournal blog to WordPress, so I decided to import what I could year by year via cut-and-paste.

More posts, edited to remove personal irrelevancies, from 2010 and 2009.


Date: 2010-11-22 15:37

Subject: Game Convention in Surrey

Security: Public

Location: workity work work

Mood: mucus-ridden

Music: Dick Dale, “The Victor”

Tags: game design, games, travel, wargames

 The day after Remembrance Day I went over to swingin’ Surrey for “BottosCon”: a wargame convention organized by one Rob Bottos, who had been asking me to attend for a few years. It was held at the Compass Point Inn by the King George Highway, which hardly means anything because to me, Surrey looks like an enormous strip mall criscrossed by highways.

The hotel was adequate and they had enough space for the con in one of their two downstairs ball/meeting rooms: the last two years running there was a furry convention in the other ballroom, and guys told me that furries would wander into the room in costume, look at the fat nerds playing their complicated games, and wander out again. The hotel staff were pretty upfront about how they liked our crowd better. This year the furries had had their convention the weekend before; I’ve been told that next year the two coincide again so, I’m definitely planning on going!

I met Michel Boucher, a guy with whom I have been corresponding and trading games for several years. He is from Ottawa, but his daughter lives out here so he makes a combined visit. He’s helped me a lot over the years with practical suggestions and in making a French translation of the rules to my game on the French Algerian War. It was great to meet him finally! Here we are playtesting a game I just started work on the week before, on a hypothetical second invasion of Lebanon by Israel in the near future to stamp out Hezbollah:

But honestly, a good digital photo cannot be taken of me – it’s as if a hidden Photoshop filter or macro slides in place, a filter that would have the name “Moronify” or “30% Drunk”. And I am not as fat as I look in that photo. Here are some better ones:

[mercifully snipped]

We also played Hearts and Minds, an interesting newish card-driven game on the Vietnam War, and I got several people to play Guerrilla Checkers with me. Everyone said they had never played anything like it before. I sold a couple copies of my games, and about $100 of other games I had been trying to hawk on Boardgamegeek, so my hotel was half paid for. I bought a copy of Combat Commander: Europe, which looks to be very interesting.

What a nerdy time I had of things! It was great to meet people who had heard of and liked my work, and I talked for hours about game design with some other designers. I got an invitation from an organizer to attend Dragonflight, a gaming convention that has taken place in Seattle in August for the last 31 years.

The only bad part was finally succumbing to a cold I had been successfully fighting off for a week (something Akito had brought home with him from school). It was the hotel air conditioning, it always gets me in the end. I took Monday off sick and I’m only just now out of the woods, a week later.

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Date: 2010-09-15 15:18

Subject: Far Too Long

Security: Public

Mood: blah

Music: The Wipeouters, “Nubbie Boardsmen”


Not a great deal of gaming done, but I am selling and trading a few items. I took Virtualia and pulled it apart into basic, intermediate and advanced versions, so that an acquaintance at McGill University could try and use it in his classroom. If it works and there is some kind of lesson from it we might make a presentation on it at the fall 2011 meeting of the Canadian Association for Security and Intelligence Studies, in Ottawa. Hope so.

And, you know, I think I am really starting to like instrumental surf music.

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Date: 2010-05-11 16:10

Subject: Guerrilla Checkers

Security: Public

Mood: cranky

Music: Corvus Corax, “Avanti”

Tags: game design, games

 A few weeks ago I designed another game: Guerrilla Checkers. I was thinking about how two people could be playing two different games on the same board at the same time, with the common objective of killing each other, and came up with this hybrid of Checkers and Go, for two players.

Equipment required: checkerboard, six checkers, and 66 small flat pieces (buttons, glass beads, small Go stones, etc.). The “Guerrilla” player, using small Go stones or some such, plays on the intersection points of the checkerboard squares to surround and capture the enemy pieces. Meanwhile, the “Counterinsurgent” player, using checkers, moves on the checkerboard squares to jump and capture the enemy. Actually illustrates some Maoist tactics, in an abstract way and if you are sufficiently imaginative/trusting.

I looked around on the Net to see if I had not unconsciously copied someone else’s idea, didn’t find anything like it, and so it’s released to the world as a free download. So here are the rules, if you want to give it a try:

( entry, another place you can get the rules, record your ownership, plays, etc.)

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Date: 2010-04-19 11:51

Subject: The Clock, She is a-Ticking; The Fame, She is a-Fleeting….

Security: Public

Location: under

Mood: heartburny

Music: Plasmatics, “Hitman”

Tags: game design, games

 I am Geek of the Week, this week!

#241, to be precise.

It really doesn’t mean anything except that last week’s geek picked me, and here is where people ask me questions about my games:

Go me.

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Date: 2010-03-05 13:53

Subject: Recent Doin’s

Security: Public

Music: hollerin’

Tags: dream, game design, writing

It’s rather late, but for those who are curious, I did get my article on Dieppe done, and turned it in at the beginning of January. I did a lot of research on this one, and the best find was a lengthy 200+ page doctoral dissertation on the raid done by a guy who had done his history BA and MA at UVic, and sent a copy of his doctoral dissertation back from Oxford to the Special Collections at UVic. I spent a very valuable day there reading it.

The article ended up a trifle long, but it did not say the usual “noble sacrifice of our brave boys, as a dress rehearsal for D-Day they saved thousands of other lives…” blah blah woff woff. Truth is, it was nothing of the kind and I say so. Left me with an abiding distaste for Louis Mountbatten – I didn’t have much of an opinion about him before this but I do now. Last week I saw the CBC film on Dieppe, pretty minor work and used as its main source a very very anti-Mountbatten book called “Unathorized Action”, which I did use as a source but thought it went rather too far.

Also, today I published my game on the Finnish Civil War of 1918 to my webpage. I claim firsties! No one has done a game on this war before.

For years I have been wanting to do a game on the Finnish Civil War of 1918. Chaotic, savage, balance tipping this way and that, and one more facet of the turmooil coming out of World War One. In September-October 2009 I finally got it together to make such a game – actually made it in two versions: one using the Freikorps/Konarmiya/War Plan Crimson system with 280 counters, and one with only 50 counters using a modified FK/K/WPC system that I was going to send in to Victory Point Games, which does a lot of small fast games ( ). They use the same map.

I finished them at the end of October 2009, then got sidetracked on writing the Dieppe article and other end-of-year stuff. And VPG’s pipeline is seriously impacted, even if they were interested in thei obscure tussle and accepted the idea right away it would be 2-3 years before it came out. So, I decided just to upload it to my page – getcher free copy here:  (scroll down)

Updates on new games: Summer Lightning: went up on P500 in June 2009, now has roughly 115 pre-orders which miiiiight be juuuuust enough for Lock n’ Load to print it. It’s excited some interest, and I hope it will come out soon. Greek Civil War and Balkan Gambit are both pretty much ready to go, and have been since the fall. Fiery Dragon, the publisher in Toronto, has been cutting way back on production of new items, especially wargames which have iffy sales. The publisher has a digital printing business which simplifies most of the production but he has of course had to concentrate on keeping that business afloat – if it goes under, then no one gets anything out of the deal. So, still looking for those two to come out in 2010. Likely Green Beret will follow in 2011. As for Virtualia, I have had very little time to work on this, VASSAL looks to be the way to go but I haven’t had the time to figure out how to make a workable module. I’m told that once you do, producing others is easy. Thinking of overhauling it (not much required) to handle Afghanistan situation. I recently read David Kilcullen’s The Accidental Guerrilla and what he is saying seems to fit in with the game concepts of Virtualia. Even better if I can get that onto a computer screen.

Conventions and things: I haven’t gone to anything. Had to spend $$$ repairing the sundeck last summer, so no Consimworld Expo, will miss this year’s “Connections” conference in Dayton Ohio this March (I’m acting Boss at work, trying to put old house on the market again, and no money as we have to fix the roof siding on the new house), no MORS meetings (Irregular Warfare conference in February 2010 was classified, as is the annual Symposium in June in Quantico VA.)

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Date: 2009-12-03 10:29

Subject: Remember I was on the Radio?

Security: Public

Music: Sonic Youth, “Candle”

Tags: game design

 The Class Wargames people uploaded the MP3 files of the interview they did with me on September 2.

or more broadly

I think I sound awful. Nasal voice, stilted delivery, I am obviously working off a script I wrote and go on for far too long. Dull, dull, dull. Obviously, I haven’t feard form these folks since.

I obviously have no future in radio!

Elsewhere, they review two other games of mine, thankfully without my presence:  (Red Guard)  (Freikorps)

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Date: 2009-12-01 09:55

Subject: Hm, Interesting formula…

Security: Public

Music: The Wipeouters, “Nubbie Boardsmen”

Tags: game, game design

This is interesting, in a silly way:

Mathematical formula predicts the perfect toy

Last Updated: Tuesday, December 1, 2009 | 11:26 AM ET CBC News

(Associated Press)A British psychologist has come up with a mathematical formula to help parents choose the toy that best matches their child’s nature and their wallet’s cash level.

Dr. Cliff Arnall was asked to devise the formula by British toy company Worlds Apart. The company had sponsored a survey that found a majority of youngsters received Christmas presents they didn’t like or didn’t play with.

“For a number of years now people have been saying, particularly parents of younger children, that a lot of the toys they buy end up not lasting too long,” said Arnall in an interview Monday with CBC Radio’s As It Happens.

Arnall, who has also developed mathematical formulas to predict the happiest day of the year (June 19) and the most depressing day of the year, (Jan. 24), took six basic criterion [sic] into consideration to come up with the best toy for your child.

The perfect toy formula was devised by British psychologist Dr. Cliff Arnall. (Worlds Apart)

Each criterion was assigned a letter and parents could plug in a number between one and five.

Pi: Does the child prefer individual play?

Po: What is the child’s ability to play with others?

CR: Does the toy stimulate a number of senses?

S: Does the toy promote social activity?

U: Can a child play with the toy all year around? Is it easy to store and easy to transport?

H: Is the toy robust enough to be handed down. Will it still be relevant for younger siblings in years to follow?

Then, and this is where a calculator comes in handy, you add all these numbers up, and then add them to (T multiplied by L), where T is the estimated number of hours the child will play with the toy in a week, and L is the number of months the toy will likely be played with.

That number is then divided by the square root of C, where C is the cost of the toy.

Even with a calculator, it’s not so easy. The Worlds Apart toy company has a website where parents can simply plug in their numbers and get the answer with a few clicks.

A rating of 40 is considered a very good score, said Arnall. The simplest toys, like playing cards, tend to score highest. And a score will drop sharply if a toy is expensive.

Arnall is hoping the mathematical formula reduces the stress of gift buying, rather than raising it, as can happen when people are forced to figure out math.

“It’s really to help discriminate between toys and give parents an opportunity to take a step back and have a think about their child, matching up a toy that’s going to meet the needs of their children rather than some very complex and irritating formula,” he said.

Pi + Po + CR + S + U + H + ((T x L) / sqrtC) = Play Value

Interesting, but it couldn’t apply to all toys – let’s take one of my newest games, Battle for China:

Pi = 5 (yes, it can be played solitaire easily)

Po: 5 (yes, it’s meant to be played with others and it assumes the player-nerd is sufficiently socialized)

CR: 2 (eyes and brain, mostly)

S: 5 (yes, if “social activity” can be defined as two player-nerds staring at a map and arguing for several hours)

U: 5 (oh yes! Just don’t play it in the rain)

H: 4 (OK trade value, to go by

And for T and L, let’s say it’s played once a week for two months, before the next issue of Strategy and Tactics comes out. Per-issue cost is $25.

So, 5 + 5 + 2 + 5 + 5 + 4 + ((4 x 2) / 5) = 27.6

So, not bad but not great either. Hope your stress level wasn’t unduly affected by being “forced to figure out math”.

Date: 2009-10-02 10:56

Subject: Spanish doin’s

Security: Public

Tags: game, game design, history, writing

 A couple of weeks ago issue #8 of World at War magazine, featuring a leading article and full-size wargame on the subject by Yours Truly, hit the stands. Yes, you probably missed it because the mag has a circulation of only about 7,000, but it was nice to see some of my game work hit the relative big time.

And you know, it wasn’t long after the magazine came out that I got an e-mail from the publisher, passing on an e-mail he had received from a person billing himself as a visiting professor in Spanish studies at Indiana University. He had found the magazine at a Barnes & Noble and had written in to correct me on where he thought I was wrong, on separatist movements in the autonomous regions of Spain, and suggesting I refer to the works of Stanley Payne and Pio Moa, a Spanish writer. They were fairly minor points but Stanley Payne (who I did not use) has defended the work of Pío Moa, a controversial writer who is viewed by many academics as a pseudo-historian, revisionist writer and apologist for Franco. It’s obvious that the war is not over yet!

I’ve been writing articles for this magazine’s sister publication Strategy & Tactics for 16 years, and I have to say this is only the second time anyone has commented to me on the content of the article – and the first time it was to complain about a misdrawn provincial border on a map of 1848 Germany that I never even saw until it appeared in the magazine!

One of the best references I did use in writing the article was Anthony Beevor’s relatively recent book The Battle for Spain. I found an interesting review of it online (from The Independent, published: 21 May 2006), not least for his comments on Kids Today:

Antony Beevor: On the joys of history

The Left isn’t going to like Antony Beevor’s book on the Spanish Civil War, but he’s used to controversy – his account of the fall of Berlin elicited heated protests from the Russian ambassador. Danuta Kean talks to him about the joys of digging in the archives, his despair about history students today and his brush with Jackie Onassis

Antony Beevor is horrified, but, for once, it is not accounts of rape, torture or political betrayal uncovered in the archives of Berlin and Moscow that exercise the author of Stalingrad. What angers him is the state of British education, especially the teaching of history. “Britain is the only country in Europe, with the exception of Albania and Iceland, where history is no longer compulsory after the age of 14.” His words are rapid as machine gunfire. “There is an extraordinary conviction, which has come partly from teacher training colleges, that history is elitist and reactionary and not worthy.”

( snip)

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Date: 2009-09-02 10:19

Subject: Radio Radio

Security: Public

Location: Podunk Earth

Music: Shonen Knife, “Riding on the Rocket”

Tags: game design, japan

 I was on the radio!

The people from Class Wargames have an occasional slot on ResonanceFM, which bills itself as the world’s first radio art station, or maybe art radio station. ( ). They talk about games they have been playing (they have reviewed Freikorps, Red Guard and Operation Whirlwind) and have interviews with designers – today it was my turn, for about 15 minutes.

They asked me about my history as a designer, why I do political games, how I designed the system for Red Guard (they really like that game, which is encouraging), and about the economics of distributing games. I think I talked too long and with unnecessary detail, and I hate how my voice sounds on tape or over the radio. I also felt really self-conscious doing the interview over the phone from my cubicle (London is 8 hours ahead of Victoria and they were broadcasting live, so we had to do it at 9 am), as people in my office are aware of “Brian’s funny little hobbies” but don’t understand them.

Anyway, they were very nice and it was over quickly – I made a bad tape of it but I think they will post an MP3 of the program later.

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Date: 2009-06-18 12:27

Subject: A Lesson In Completely Missing the Frigging Point.

Security: Public

Mood: caffeinated

Music: bad 60s pop being played by a buncha amateurs on my lawn

Tags: game design, wargames

 Found this linked off the BBC online magazine feed:

“Wednesday, June 17, 2009

A Lesson In Revolutionary Politics From Video Games

I realize[d] something today about revolutionaries, and this realization can be entirely attributed to video games.

I saw [the] trailer of Just Cause 2, and I was thinking how much fun it would be to actually take over a country in a revolutionary action. I mean, I’m in the process of taking over a planet in Red Faction: Guerilla, but I’m not really the leader — more the main ass-kicker, really. So the idea of actually leading a revolution is entirely appealing.

Then I thought about how much fun it would be to lead a revolution in an action game, but then be able to run the country in a real-time strategy game. So you go from Just Cause to Tropico.

It was at that moment that I understood, more fully than ever before, why revolutionaries succeed and then fail. It’s because they’re switching genres. They take over the country in a third-person (or first person) action game, but then they have to play an RTS to govern the country.

That’s an entirely different gaming skill set. It’s much easier to wreck than to build, and not only do they have to build, they also have to stop all those first-person action heroes who want to lead their own revolution.”

This is so superficial and puerile I don’t know where to begin. I may design games about revolutions and civil wars, but I’m under no illusions that I am teaching or trying to simulate more than the barest beginnings of what actually happens in the real thing. And I do not do it via FPS, RTS or any other whing-dang-doodle *blinkenlights* techno-gimcrackery: my route is ideally the BOGSAT (Bunch Of Guys Sitting Around A Table), though I am trying to work up some way to do this via linked workstations.

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Date: 2009-05-25 15:31

Subject: Class War Games

Security: Public

Location: Oh, around

Mood: sick

Music: Pere Ubu, “The Modern Dance”

Tags: game design, wargames


At last, photographic evidence that people play my games and enjoy them! (or, at any rate, laugh while bits of one of my games are spread out below them on a beer-soaked table)

They are playing my game Red Guard, the only game published (so far) on the Chinese Cultural Revolution ( ). The occasion was the second “CLASS WARGAMES CLUB NIGHT” on April 21, at The Fleapit, a pub/cafe in London. Other games they played included Steve Jackson’s Coup (simpler smaller hex-based game, not about a coup so much as overcoming popular resistance to one), Guy Debord’s The Game of War (a game with an interesting history, not least because of its author), and Anders Fager’s card game Comrade Koba .

The players belong to a group called “Class Wargames”, they seem to be an interesting bunch. .

Well, anyway, if I ever return to London there’s a place to look up….

Meanwhile, my illness abates but I still have a lingering cough. Spent Saturday playtesting dzherzhinski’s new card-based game, Petrograd 1917. He has been working on it for years, the game includes over 400 cards featuring over 150 personalities from the major political movements in Petrograd at the time, each with an individual portrait and ratings reflecting his painstaking research. Fortified with lemonade and cheese larva, we played and argued far into the afternoon. The best way for the leadership of the Provisional Government to affect play remains to be seen, and proven by further testing.

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Date: 2009-05-08 12:18

Subject: Summer Lightning is up for P500

Security: Public

Location: over here

Mood: tired

Music: Nash the Slash, “Tension”

Tags: game design, wargames

 OK, I’ll bet that didn’t mean anything to most of you.

But click on this anyway:

P500 is how a lot of wargames are being published (or not) these days: they advertise it on a company website, and if enough people place pre-orders with their credit cards to make producing it pay, they print it up and send it out. If not enough, then they don’t. Simple economics.

This company does mostly tactical games but is branching out, the publisher thought the topic would sell and the art is pretty good:

Why would/should I design a game on Poland ’39, you ask? Well, there aren’t many wargames on the Polish campaign, probably because the conventional wisdom is that it was a very unbalanced contest. I think this is informed mostly by hindsight. The German Army knew it had superior numbers and organization, but much of its equipment was no better than that fielded by the Poles, the concept of blitzkrieg had not been proven in actual combat, and they were not at all sure that the campaign would not bog down into static fighting. As it was the Germans lost over 16,000 dead in five weeks of campaigning.

I used a game system that worked quite well in two other games of mine (one on the Battle of the Bulge that’s been in print for five years, and one on hypothetical Allied counter-invasions of the Balkans that’s due out this year), and came up with many options to vary the game for both players and make it as equal (or unequal) a contest as they want.

Anyway, you don’t have to order this, I just wanted to tell you about it….

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Date: 2009-03-02 08:59

Subject: Lost and Found Weekend

Security: Public

Location: back in the salt mines

Music: Gary Numan, “We Have a Technical”

Tags: food, game design, writing

 In preparation for the Connections conference next week (yikes! that kind of crept up on me), I spent the weekend tussling with some software called VASSAL, a “game engine” that allows people to create online versions of board and card games and play them over the Internet in real time.

The software was written to permit play of Advanced Squad Leader, a very complicated tactical board wargame, but it’s pretty flexible. Unfortunately, I don’t think I have the time to create a VASSAL version of Virtualia – I’ve never even played one of these things online. No time, no time.

But it’s amazing to see the lengths that people will go to mimic on a computer the experience of sitting across a table from a real live person to play a paper game (sorry, “manual simulation”). I wonder if I should even bother with this, though.

In other better news, The Lost Box of Books has surfaced! It was found as we excavated our way to the bottom of our video holdings – it must have been one of the first boxes moved into the new house, and then buried by everything else. Well, too late to have written a better article, but perhaps it would have turned out pretty much the same anyway.

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Date: 2009-02-18 10:45

Subject: Lunch

Security: Public

Location: back in the salt mines

Music: Devo, “Some Things Never Change”

Tags: food, game design, writing

 Yes, I know, it’s been a while since I posted but I’ve been busy. Finished writing yet another article: 7,600+ words on the Sino-Japanese War, to top the 9,300 I cranked out on the Spanish Civil War over Xmas and New Year’s holidays, means I’ve been a busy little bee.

The problem this time is that in the aftermath of moving every blessed thing I and everyone else near and dear to me own, about a mile away from where it was, is that I lost the box of books and reference materials I had pre-packed in order to write this article without having to unpack my entire library. Over 40 boxes of books and guess which ONE is missing. It has to be somewhere in the damn house. Anyway, I had to round up some lesser quality reference materials and get it done in a cracking hurry – at least there were no library books in that box. Wouldn’t want Lt. Bookman to get after me.

Next up: the CONNECTIONS conference in Orlando Florida, in early March. Some potential here for making some, uh, connections in the serious games world, wish I had time to convert Virtualia to some kind of digital form. I’ve given up on learning to use Visual Basic this year – life’s too short. Probably not going to Phoenix this year even though I have three games coming out by then (Greek Civil War game, Balkans invasion game, and revision of Vietnam 1964 game), need to save money to fix the back deck and put the stairs back in.

Oh yeah, about lunch: I just realized I am about to tuck into baloney and mustard, with processed cheese on white bread, and wash it down with genuine orange Tang. What am I, nine years old? But that’s what was in the fridge this morning… I will try to do better.

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