Two Interviews: The British Way, La Jeu de la Guerre

ONE

https://elwargameronovato.blogspot.com/2022/05/the-british-way-interview-stephen.html

Daniel Iniesta interviewed Stephen Rangazas, whose 4-pack of cut-down GMT COIN system games is forthcoming from GMT.

The British Way picks up on four postwar British entanglements: Malaya, Palestine, Kenya and Cyprus. He says:

The main changes to the core COIN mechanics for The British Way was altering the way two player COIN works. I streamlined the two-player sequence of play designed by Brian Train in Colonial Twilight and changed victory to work off an overall Political Will Track to reflect that these were really head-to-head challenges between the British and insurgents. There are also significant variations to the core COIN mechanics with the two more clandestine cell-based insurgencies in Cyprus and Palestine. Finally, I think the multipack really benefited from the linked campaign scenario and designing a macro game that covers four smaller COIN games required innovating from what had been done before in the series.

It’s kind of interesting to me that my “4-box” family of games that partly inspired Volko Ruhnke’s design for the COIN system (Algeria particularly) also depended heavily on an overall Political Will or Support Track that reflected each side’s cohesion and popular support (I suppose more accurately government support for the British, since these were decolonization campaigns) in a non-zero-sum way. So kind of a return to base, in its way.

The games are limited in size and component count – not more than 18 cards played in a game, so it’s done in 1-2 hours.

I’m looking forward to this package very much!

TWO

The very clever Fred Serval has an interview with Alex Galloway about Guy Debord’s La Jeu de la Guerra for his podcast Homo Ludens. History about Debord and his game, and talk about Galloway’s work on a digital version of the game (still in process). Also, a neat clip from the Situationist detourned film, “Can Dialectics Break Bricks?”

Indigenous counterpoints to colonial themes in board games

Not ‘just a game’: World of board games faces reckoning for colonial themes

A news story in Canadian Indigenous media about a teacher up-Island from me who created a board game about the Truth part of Truth and Reconciliation.

The article mentions Spirit Island, something I would like to try but can’t arrange a trade for on BGG, and also gives a shout-out to the Zenobia Awards which is nice. It mentions Settlers of Catan as an example of an objectionable board game. I add that Greg Loring-Albright (co-designer of Bloc by Bloc: Uprising 3rd Edition, which I am awaiting eagerly) created a variant of the game, First Nations of Catan, that adds an Indigenous player since the mythical island is not and never was terra nullius.

https://analoggamestudies.org/2015/11/the-first-nations-of-catan-practices-in-critical-modification/

(nice-looking printable version is here: https://doctrineofdiscoverymenno.files.wordpress.com/2019/09/ddofd-catan-handout-frontback.pdf )

Meanwhile, the Playing Oppression anthology that was being worked on at MIT Gamelab (Mary Flanagan et al) seems to have ground to a halt about 2019/20, though Mary Flanagan is still designing games.

http://gamelab.mit.edu/research/games-and-colonialism/

Foucault in the Woodland, Part 3

 

Dan Thurot, lui-meme de <<Space-Biff!>> continues his series of commentaries on Root and Foucaultian biopolitics. This instalment is a comparison of the Marquis machine and its opponent the Woodland Alliance. A good quote:

Every so often I’ll meet somebody who can’t or won’t overlook the ugliness that takes place beneath a wargame’s resolution; say, the atrocities that appear on every single card in Twilight Struggle or one of the volumes of the COIN Series. By rewriting these atrocities in the language and imagery of fable, Wehrle degausses that resolution even further. One can make-believe that the inhabitants of the Marquise’s sawmills and workshops aren’t staffed with children, or that they’re safely evacuated before the Woodland Alliance puts them to the torch. That despite the blood frenzy of the moment, the line between forced laborer, reluctant collaborator, and enthusiastic participant is clearly drawn.

The Story So Far:

https://spacebiff.com/2022/01/25/foucault-in-the-woodland-3/

https://spacebiff.com/2021/12/02/foucault-in-the-woodland-2/

https://spacebiff.com/2021/11/04/foucault-in-the-woodland-1/

Foucault in the Woodland, Part 2

More smart stuff from Daniel Thurot at his Space-Biff! blog about biopolitics in Cole Wehrle’s Root:

https://spacebiff.com/2021/12/02/foucault-in-the-woodland-2/

Foucault in the Woodland, by Daniel Thurot

foucault d and p

Over at the insanely clever (or cleverly insane) Space-Biff! blog of Daniel Thurot, he writes ably on Foucault’s take on power and biopolitics as it is expressed in Cole Wehrle’s game Root. Cole Wehrle wrote about Foucault’s ideas in this regard in his Root designer diaries as well, this is a good expansion on that.

It’s just… oh, go and read it!

https://spacebiff.com/2021/11/04/foucault-in-the-woodland-1

This is part 1 of a series of 3. What he has written so far in summarizing Foucault resonates with the underpinning ideas in some of my games on irregular conflict… this is unconscious on my part since my Poli Sci education did not involve reading him, but still, DINGGGG, and I present my current favourite Fouquote where he flips Clausewitz’s dictum about war being a continuation of politics by other means:

“It may be that war as strategy is a continuation of politics. But it must not be forgotten that ‘politics’ has been conceived as a continuation, if not exactly and directly of war, at least of the military model as a fundamental means of preventing civil disorder. Politics, as a technique of internal peace and order, sought to implement the mechanism of the perfect army …. It is strategy that makes it possible to understand warfare as a way of conducting politics between states; it is tactics that makes it possible to understand the army as a principle for maintaining the absence of warfare in civil society.”

(Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish (1986): 168)

And here is Part 2:

https://spacebiff.com/2021/12/02/foucault-in-the-woodland-2/

And here is Part 3, when it pops up:

(placeholder)

Minute Men Mark II

pic871326

Two texts.

One I have quoted often, one I read today in a blog I read frequently and find wise.

First: James Dunnigan, writing in 1976, in the introduction to the basic scenario of one of my favourite games, Minuteman: the Second American Revolution (https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/5859/minuteman-second-american-revolution).

In Minuteman, Dunnigan’s objective was to portray the spread of underground anti-establishment movements, the government’s reaction to civil discontent, and the mechanics of fighting a popular revolution. Instead of making up an imaginary country, he placed the action in the United States of 2020. The future history he cooks up as the framework to the basic scenario describes a world largely at peace, with a bankrupt Russia removed from the superpower game and an America preoccupied with profound internal social problems caused by the massive public debt run up in the last twenty years of the 20th century.

“… the trend of the ‘rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer’ had been accentuated. The only jobs that paid enough to provide a comfortable existence were to be found in the government, military, and the top 100 industrial corporations. Because of the vastly increased mechanization of work, the corporations employed only some 10% of the working population. The government employed another 12% but half of these government employees were patronage jobs, and the workers served at the pleasure of the elected officials who paid them. Another 4% of the working population was in the armed forces, [which] had become something of a hereditary institution… The government now provided millions of ‘public works’ jobs which … had now become nothing more than another form of public welfare… the police, which amounted one-third of all government employees, were kept busy seeing that over 40 million unemployed and underemployed people did not get out of line. The present situation was not one in which Americans were starving, nor did they lack most basic comforts. What they were denied was any great hope of improvement… only some 20% of the population was going to have any future whatsoever. The rest of the population would subsist as well-fed, uneducated, and most horrifying of all, useless drones existing at the mercy of a small hereditary minority.”

Not bang-on, but prescient enough and a remarkable projection from the distance of 45 years.

Second: this, today, from ianwelsh.net. 

Might seem overstated now but who knows what this will look like from 45 years away?

The Conditions Now Exist For A Long Term Right Wing Insurgency In America
2021 JANUARY 13

by Ian Welsh

Let us understand that the attack on the capitol, while it included many “tourists”, included some very serious, coordinated people who had temporary restraints and a plan.

They genuinely believed, because they have been told this over and over and over again, that the election had been blatantly and massively stolen, and that democracy in the United States had been overthrown. As such, it was their duty to right the wrong that had been done, including taking captive those most responsible like Nancy Pelosi.

It’s hard to find general polling data, but over 50% of registered Republican voters think the attack was justified. Almost half blame Biden more than Trump. Fourty-five (to 43%) think the protest/attack was justified.

Republican support, like Democratic support, is geographically concentrated.

These numbers are more than sufficient to sustain a long term insurgency.

It’s worth understanding how insurgencies get better. Let’s take Hezbollah as an example: if as a Hezbollah member, let alone commander,  you get sloppy in your security at any time, you get dead, because Israel has the best American surveillance and ELINT equipment, plus jets and drones and assassination teams.

Israel, over the years, has killed a ton of Hezbollah officials.

Hasn’t slowed Hezbollah down one bit, instead it has acted as a perfect Darwinian crucible. If you make mistakes, you get dead and probably so does your family and most of your unit.

Israel kept doing that, and now mistakes hardly ever happen. In fact, in the last Israel-Hezbollah war, Hezbollah won the ELINT war (against American equipment, remember) and won the ground-battles. Over decades, Israel had created the perfect enemy, absolutely optimized to beat them, and arguably the best light infantry force in the world.

Nowadays Israel is scared to patrol near the Lebanese border, because Hezbollah has told them that the moment Hezbollah can, it will grab Israeli soldiers, and Israel is now the sort of society that can’t handle that. So Hezbollah has not just beaten them on the ground; electronically and in the spy-game, it has achieved psychological dominance.

Now, of course, an American right wing insurrection is not the same. Among other things, American forces will be operating in their own county; plus, this is the start, not the end.

But boobs like those who went the capitol and live-streamed the attack – those people will quickly be taken out of the picture. Even the slightly smarter will be caught because they wore the same gear as in previous protests or didn’t wear masks and goggles. People who used credit cards to travel and took their phones with them. They go to nasty prisons, and they learn or drop out of active life in the resistance. Over time, security becomes tighter and tighter. People learn.

America is a big country: far, far larger than Lebanon, which is barely a postage stamp. Lots of people and lots of terrain. The security services are at least somewhat sympathetic and clearly massively infiltrated by race-warriors and other “fellow travelers” of the right.

So what seems like a distinct possibility is a low grade insurrection, combined with protests that often turn violent, by very heavily armed people. Biden will pass his Patriot Act II, even more cameras and security checks and intrusive laws and unjust nonsense like the no-fly list (which is not made good or right because it was used against right wingers) proliferate.

The US becomes even more of a police and prison state.

If this metastasizes into the next stage, well, the US is full of veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. They know how area denial works (repeat after me, IEDs) and there will be techies willing to make them drones and so on. Parts of the country become no-go zones, where the security services can only go in convoys or by air, and even then at great risk.

Far-fetched?

Perhaps. But the US has a large enough and geographically concentrated enough population who genuinely believe that the election was stolen and that it is their patriotic duty to restore democracy to sustain an insurrection. It has compromised security forces, a geography that in many places is almost made for insurrection, and a vast amount of arms spread around the population along with the knowledge and means to make more.

As usual, this sort of thing takes time to really get going and there are actions which could be taken to limit it and drain the swamp.

But understand clearly that the conditions for a long term insurrection which cannot be put down with force short of imprisoning millions of people in prison camps (or killing millions) currently exist in America.

Legitimacy, for millions of Americans, is truly and completely broken. They consider the government about to be inaugurated to one that has no right to be in power.

In the game Minuteman, ultimate victory goes to the player who successfully contends for control of the major urban zones; as always, the bulk of the people are the prize (or at least the bulk of the politically active and mobilizable people). Meanwhile, there are cities aplenty that could serve as hinterland bases.

Some variants and update material for the game are here: Favourites Scenarios and Variants

I ought to take a weekend and get this one out again… and, as I did when I was a student, listen to this on headphones while playing:

Heard of a van that is loaded with weapons,
Packed up and ready to go
Heard of some grave sites, out by the highway,
A place where nobody knows

The sound of gunfire, off in the distance,
I’m getting used to it now
Lived in a brownstone, lived in a ghetto,
I’ve lived all over this town

This ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco,
This ain’t no fooling around
No time for dancing, or lovey dovey,
I ain’t got time for that now

Transmit the message, to the receiver,
Hope for an answer some day
I got three passports, a couple of visas,
You don’t even know my real name

High on a hillside, the trucks are loading,
Everything’s ready to roll
I sleep in the daytime, I work in the nighttime,
I might not ever get home

This ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco,
This ain’t no fooling around
This ain’t no Mudd Club, or C. B. G. B.,
I ain’t got time for that now

Heard about Houston? Heard about Detroit?
Heard about Pittsburgh, P. A.?
You oughta know not to stand by the window
Somebody’ll see you up there

I got some groceries, some peanut butter
To last a couple of days
But I ain’t got no speakers, ain’t got no headphones
Ain’t got no records to play

Why stay in college? Why go to night school?
Gonna be different this time
Can’t write a letter, can’t send no postcard
I ain’t got time for that now

Trouble in transit, got through the roadblock
We blended in with the crowd
We got computers, we’re tapping phone lines
I know that that ain’t allowed

We dress like students, we dress like housewives
Or in a suit and a tie
I changed my hairstyle so many times now
I don’t know what I look like

You make me shiver, I feel so tender
We make a pretty good team
Don’t get exhausted, I’ll do some driving
You ought to get you some sleep

Burned all my notebooks, what good are notebooks?
They won’t help me survive
My chest is aching, burns like a furnace
The burning keeps me alive

So what was that all about?

i tawt i taw a coup

image: Paul Mavrides.

Some truly remarkable images and events this week in Washing Tundy Sea. I can’t pick a favourite. So I use this cute image by Paul Mavrides.

Was it a coup? Not really, in my view, or at least not the riot itself. Edward Luttwak’s remarkable 1968 book Coup d’etat: A Practical Handbook defines ” [a] coup consists of the infiltration of a small, but critical, segment of the state apparatus, which is then used to displace the government from its control of the remainder.” He also gives some useful distinctions:

https://books.google.ca/books?id=bA7bCwAAQBAJ&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false

It’s interesting to note that the words being tossed around are foreign loan words: coup d’etat, putsch, pronunciamento. Almost as if English didn’t want to be associated with such ruffianlike behaviour.

But it’s not just local language, it’s the concept. And one concept/term hasn’t been used much is “autogolpe” or self-coup. Basically it is a form of coup d’etat, in that it uses some of the machinery and organs of the State to seize power, but the objective is not regime change – it is to keep the regime (and head of state) in power, when it is supposed to leave. This is something that is not unique to South America, but the continent furnishes some good examples: Alberto Fujimori in Peru in 1992, and recent events in Bolivia. I would say that what we’ve seen is a clumsily attempted autogolpe through the legislature, with a noisy messy mob attack on top of it as a threat and distraction.

https://www.brookings.edu/blog/order-from-chaos/2021/01/08/no-its-not-a-coup-its-a-failed-self-coup-that-will-undermine-us-leadership-and-democracy-worldwide/

There was also a swell of online gamer interest in Civil Power, which is now in production by Blue Panther LLC, as one of the very few tactical games about riots… I would guess it’s the only one in print, even including miniatures rules sets. So yes, one could make up a Capitol Hill scenario fairly quickly – I’m not going to bother, I have other things to do right now – it’s not hard:

https://brtrain.wordpress.com/2020/12/21/civil-power-making-your-own-scenarios/

As I’ve said many times, this is deliberately a sandbox game. The range of scenarios with the game is illustrative and there are plenty of optional rules. People can experiment with this one as they please, and add what assumptions and conditions they like.

Really, this would be a combination of two scenarios that are in the game already: I-4 “Terre Blanche, Pretoria 1991” (rioting neo-Nazis trying to get into a building (how about that), just be sure to mark a limited number of entry points) and I-8 “Demonstration, American city 202x”.

And for the run-up to Inauguration Day, if there is sustained crowd and demo activity (and no shooting or bombing, despite what some blowhards have posted), Battle of Seattle (Free Games! ) could be updated or you could run a 3-5 day campaign scenario of Civil Power like the Chicago ’68 scenario in the game.

Please don’t accuse me of bad taste or “too soon” (unless you feel that way about the whole hobby, in which case it isn’t just me). I designed Civil Power in 1991, using then-contemporary news stories as the bases for scenarios, and it’s been available from me in one form or another for over 25 years. Battle of Seattle I did within a few weeks of the actual event at the end of 1999. I’m interested in these things, and I make my wee games of them; and sometimes, the world catches up with me.

The Zenobia Award

Mentor.

Signal boost for a worthy cause: the Zenobia Award.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Simulmatics’ shadow

An early example of an urban COIN megagame

A while back I posted about an interesting urban insurgency game I found on the shelves of the US Army War College called URB-INS. It was produced by Simulmatics, a political consulting and analysis company that started in 1959, rocketed to prominence as one of the early proponents of big data for political analysis, and went bankrupt by 1970. 

Jill Lepore, a professor of history at Harvard, has written a book called If Then: How the Simulmatics Corporation Invented the Future that traces out just how far, high and fast Simulmatics went in the world of politics, government and academia. Have a look at this interview with the Chronicle of Higher Education – if nothing else, for the description of what Eugene Burdick, writer of The Ugly American and Fail-Safe and spokesman for Ballantine Ale, had to do with it all!

https://www.chronicle.com/article/higher-ed-has-a-silicon-valley-problem

“Incipient insurgency”: Kilcullen

[I think I really dislike this new editor WordPress is making people use. I am going to put the link to the Kilcullen piece at the bottom, as it obscures everything under it.]

When David Kilcullen writes something, I pay attention to it. A recent short article by him (though he has been writing in this vein for some time) declares that the United States is showing warning signs of having an incipient insurgency. Final two paragraphs from the piece, though it’s all worth reading:

One possible interpretation is that America may be in what the CIA Guide to the Analysis of Insurgency calls “incipient insurgency.” This encompasses pre-insurgency and organizational stages; it may involve inchoate action by a range of groups, followed by organization, training, acquisition of resources, and building external and public support, then increasingly frequent antigovernment incidents displaying improved organization and forethought. Many simultaneous proto-insurgencies can coexist, and it may be impossible to determine which (if any) of them will progress to a more serious stage.

Clearly, current conditions in the United States match some – though not all – of these criteria. There is no reason why, even with today’s toxic political polarization, we must inevitably slip further toward conflict. But if we want to avoid that risk, it is essential to recognize that it does exist and that, “insurrection” or not, the best thing to do is to treat the current unrest as a wake-up call and act urgently to address it.

Meanwhile, Fred Kaplan give it a somewhat more strident and overtly political context, in a piece for Slate magazine with other references to Kilcullen’s writing. Bonus points for references to focoism and Stathis Kalyvas’ The Logic of Violence in Civil War.

https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2020/09/america-insurgency-chaos-trump-violence.html

The word to apply right now is “inchoate”, and I have a feeling that it will be the one to apply for some time to come… widespread but disorganized disorder that will, possibly, persist until it becomes its own reason for continuing on… but nothing approaching the “second Civil War” that some people seem to love to fantasize about. For one thing, events would have to reach the stage where both sides consistently show up with firearms.

So much more to write on this, but I have to get back to more urgent and better-paying tasks…