Back, then forth

Battle of Algiers_Flyer

Thanks to LTC James di Crocco for the flyer, and for organizing the film!

Wow, what a busy week! But it was certainly worth it.

I got into Carlisle PA very late on Sunday night. The next morning I had breakfast at the nearby Hamilton Restaurant, a nice cheap diner place that’s been there for 84 years. I had scrapple for the first time in my life… it’s a regional delicacy, let’s call it that. Think of toast made of pureed meat.

IMG_0089It’s the Pennsylvania treat!

Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday were spent in meetings, panels and testing sessions, as well as the movie and game event on Tuesday afternoon.

On Monday I had an hour or two in the War College Library and quite by accident, I happened to set my stuff down in a chair next to the very area I wanted to poke around in – urban guerrilla warfare! I found an old copy of “Report on Urban Insurgency Studies”, something put together under an old ARPA contract in 1966 by “Simulmatics Corporation”. Along with case studies of urban conflicts, including the Algerian insurgency, it also included “URB-INS”, directions and descriptions for making and running a manual game on counterinsurgency in a generic city. It was pretty sophisticated for its day – double-blind play with an umpire using a third board; time lag on intelligence and movements; uncertain information on sympathizers for either side; interrogation and arrest; etc..

Simulmatics was one of those little companies that sprang up like mushrooms in the early days of using social science and computers to defeat insurgency, funded by ARPA project money. Simulmatics did work in computer simulations in the early 1960s analyzing American voter behaviours, and so were pioneers in doing that kind of work for political parties, but  did not do well in contracted ARPA work in Vietnam trying to develop psychological weapons and predictors to defeat the Viet Cong (as described in The Imagineers of War: The Untold History of DARPA, the Pentagon Agency That Changed the World, a new book by Sharon Weinberger).

Tuesday morning I sat in on a panel on “Games and Innovation in the Classroom” with LTC Pat Schoof from the Command and General Staff College (James Sterrett’s delegate), Jim Lacey and Peter Perla. I was especially glad to see Peter, as I don’t get many chances to talk with this highly intelligent guy … luckily we were able to have dinner the night before, and talk up a storm. No pictures because it was in Collins Hall, a building where I had to lock up my tablet and phone before entering.

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Tuesday afternoon we were in Root Hall, which is open to the public, and had a couple of hours of guided play of Colonial Twilight before the movie. The College has some nice printers, so they were able to make double-size maps which were almost too big to play on.

The movie went well too. I made some introductory remarks on the Algerian history and war development up to the point the movie begins in 1957, and some comments on how the movie came to be made (did you know Pontecorvo’s original idea was to make a dramatic movie called Paras, starring either Steve McQueen or Warren Beatty?).

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Halfway through the movie, after the scene of Colonel Mathieu’s first briefing with his officers, I stopped and talked about the historical and effective tactics the French used in the actual Battle of Algiers, and at the end I talked about some of the liberties the producer/star Yacef Saadi had taken with history, and about the historical impact of the film. My remarks are here, in case anyone is interested: remarks on the war and film.

On Wednesday I was in the War College Library for a playtest of South China Sea, a grown-out and complexified version of Breaking The Chains, a game on naval warfare in the area by John Gorkowski published by Compass Games (which will also be doing the new version). (https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/137498/breaking-chains-war-south-china-sea) A class of students at the College will use this game at an event in the summer to explore the wild world of “joint operations”.

Wednesday night I had dinner with now-retired LTC Dave Barsness, who was my escort officer last year, and who has somehow contrived to look even leaner, fitter and more tanned than the last time I saw him! Afterwards I went to a talk at the Army Heritage Education Centre which is near the War College, where one of the faculty there talked about his recent book Elvis’s Army, on the US Army’s years between Korea and Vietnam. I’ve always been interested in this period, especially the brief and weird Pentomic Division reorganization, so it was a really interesting talk. One of the topics was the legendary M29 Davy Crockett recoilless gun, which fired a small Mk 54 nuclear warhead with variable yields in the 10-20 ton range. Problem was, the warhead’s danger radius was a considerable fraction of the launcher’s accurate range, so unless you had considerable ground cover (or preferably a ridge or mountain) between you and the explosion, you were cooked.

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On Thursday it went up to 32 degrees (90 F and humid) and I got a lift to the Harrisburg airport from LTC Jim Di Crocco, a friend and fellow gamer who had been my escort officer on and off and around the College, taking time out from his very busy week that would end with a trip to Bangkok the next day. Thanks Jim! After a delay caused by a certain amount of something observed leaking from the starboard engine, we took off for Toronto, affording me a nice view of the cooling towers of Three Mile Island.

However, that delay cost me my comfortable connection to the flight to Ottawa. The plane landed at what must have been the very end of Pearson Airport (gate F93?) and I galumphed as fast as I could through Customs and Security, making it to the plane just as they were about to close the door and leave… another two minutes and they would have been gone. We landed in Ottawa in a thunderstorm, and had to wait until the lightning stopped to disembark.

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My good friend Andreas playing the game with his kids.

I stayed with my friend Andreas and his family, here he is playing Guerrilla Checkers with his very smart children.

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Friday I was in a meeting with Rex Brynen and Tom Fisher, his partner in design crimes, talking with staff in Global Affairs Canada about a matrix game exercise they were planning to try out on their people. That morning I had had a chance to wander around Parliament Hill, where I hadn’t been since 1989 and my Class B days. It’s pretty much the same except for all the added security people, searches and roadblocks. I also saw them post the guard at the National War Memorial, something they did not do back in the day.

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I’m not smiling, I’m having an attack of colic. Photo by Denis Lavergne.

Friday night and Saturday  I was at the Cangames convention, showing and playing Colonial Twilight with Rex Brynen and Michel Boucher. On Saturday Michel taught me to play The Grizzled (Les Poilus), a co-operative game I had been meaning to try. It was very interesting and affecting, enjoyable (?) on a lot of levels. That night I went to Michel’s place for a delicious dinner of roast chicken, and I met his wife and daughter as well as getting a quick look at his massive and eclectic wargame collection.

Major score at the Cangames flea market: the complete (well, haven’t inventoried the counters but it looks so) set of Command Series Games, Volume I by Rand Games Associates, published in 1974, even with red drawer box in 1974-was-a-long-time-ago condition… for a very good price. Maybe not hugely innovative or even good games but a piece of hobby history I have been looking for a long time. http://mapandcounters.blogspot.ca/2010/03/mixed-memories-rand-game-associates.html

Sunday it was time to go. I spent the morning playing Settlers of Catan with Andreas and the kids. Flight home not as stressful or sweaty as the flight in, but I was very happy to have Victoria Day off to depressurize.

In three days we are taking off for Tempe Arizona for the 2017 Consimworld Expo! Almost a whole week in the sun, it will probably be over 100 degrees every day. I’m bringing a bunch of stuff to test and show, and we’ll see who bites on what…

More later, during or more likely after the Expo.

Playing the Recent Past: presentation to UVic class

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Today: a  presentation to a class at the University of Victoria – AHVS311, “History of Video Games” – on board wargames as tools for exploring history, the narratives they generate, and the problems (and value) of wargames in portraying recent conflicts, with particular mention of A Distant Plain.

Somewhat like the talk I gave at the University of Montreal game designers’ class, but taken back a step and sideways as the students are not designers (and may never even have seen a board wargame before).

Script and slides are here:

AHVS311 script

AHVS311 slides

Presentation at Universite de Montreal

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Photo by Marc Guenette. Pensive pose provoked by perspicacious pupil’s point.

What a great time! The students asked so many great questions, very thought-provoking.  What was supposed to be a bit over an hour took over two hours. Afterwards we went upstairs to see the students’ graduating projects, both video and table games. Excellent work, they are so inventive!

Tomorrow starts Stack Academie, the game convention, and some of them will be there to give my work the once-over. Gulp.

Meanwhile here are my script and slides. They shot a video too, but I don’t know what they are going to do with it.

UdeM class 2016 26 apr (script)

UdeM 5may slides (slide deck, PDF)

 

 

Busy week ahead

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It’s going to be fun, Dryden.”

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