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.

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It’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, the main building, 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, with only a couple of missing counters. 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.

Back to USAWC

  • May 16, 2017, 4:30 pm – Strategic Art Film: The Battle of Algiers, moderated by Brian Train.  US Army War College, Root Hall, Wil Washcoe Auditorium. For more information, call Army Heritage and Education Center at 717-245-3828.

In about two weeks I will be returning to the US Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania for a repeat performance of last year’s event: I will be moderating a screening of the Pontecorvo film The Battle of Algiers and then we will have some guided play of Colonial Twilight.

Algiers and Algeria at AWC

The difference is this time Colonial Twilight will be in its final, approved form! Apparently it is still on track to appear in June 2017, just a bit too late for the Consimworld Expo in Tempe, Arizona (at the end of May, this year) but about three years since GMT first approached me about doing the game.

After this I am going to Ottawa for a couple of days, where I will be at the Cangames convention on the weekend. It’s their 40th annual convention! Maybe I’ll see some of you there. I’ll be running a couple of games of Colonial Twilight there as well, and maybe some other goodies.

http://www.cangames.ca/

Guerrilla Checkers at Sandhurst!

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“You’re probably wondering why I’ve called us here together…”

Captain Ed Farrell, a platoon commander at Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, recently used Guerrilla Checkers to teach a group of officer cadets some lessons about asymmetric warfare in preparation for the phase in their training when they learn about insurgencies.

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Still looks a bit linear to me. Lawrence, wake up!

He reported that it went over well, but as so often happens with this sort of thing a lot of time is spent in explaining the game to people who are unfamiliar with manual games (even though this one has extremely short rules, and the mechanics are derived from two existing ones, it is different) and getting them to play it less gingerly. In this case they played the game in teams of two or three each side, and discussed each move, which slowed things down further but I can see the value of explaining your reasoning in syndicates.

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All photos by Ed Farrell.

He had A Distant Plain out for display purposes as well, to show what could be done with manual games, but there was no time to do more than show the bits. Still and all, he may have planted some ideas in young officers’ heads for future training aids!

I’m very grateful to Captain Farrell for using my game, and I hope he will try it again if the opportunity permits!

By the way, if you are interested in the game shown, here are the rules – I also have a basic version that works on Android devices and can send you the .apk file if you ask:

rules in Word with Maoist hints on play

rules in PDF with board to play on

RB @ DSTL

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(photo of Ukrainian Crisis in play, from Paxsims website)

Over at the Paxsims blog, Rex Brynen tells about a recent and very busy week spent at the UK’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL):

https://paxsims.wordpress.com/2016/08/02/dstl-wargaming-trip-report-or-i-visited-portsdown-west-and-all-i-got-was-this-lousy-mug/

Among many other things, people played a series of games to explore “hybrid warfare”, including LCOL Dave Barsness’ Kaliningrad 2017, Volko Ruhnke’s Labyrinth, and my own Ukrainian Crisis.

Rex concludes matrix games FTW for analyzing this form of warfare, at least for the broad strokes, and I would tend to agree. But here’s the typical Brynen wit:

Ironically, one of the problems of a matrix game approach is that it does not require a great deal of preparation, nor need it involve a great deal of materials and complexity. This makes it an unattractive proposition for defence contractors and consultants since product creation and delivery generates relatively few billable hours. Similarly, a sponsor may feel that it does not seem enough of a tangible product compared with a more complex, traditional wargame.

Hm! Words to live by, I guess… though a poorly prepared and executed matrix game is just as much a failure as a poorly done game of another type.

Algiers and Algeria at AWC

 

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This was the first time I had ever moderated a film. Unfortunately Lianne’s presentation style hasn’t rubbed off on me.

Had a great time at the US Army War College! Made very welcome by COL Jerry Hall and LCOL Dave Barsness, both long-time wargamers. I arrived very late Saturday and Sunday LCOL Barsness took me on a tour of the Army Heritage and Education Centre. A very well put together museum; one thing they do is give you a small plastic card which is a profile of a typical American soldier, from the time of teh Spanish-American War up to the GWOT and you can read about “your” soldier when you reach the right exhibit. I picked a Specialist from Vietnam and found at the end that he was killed in the 11th month of his tour. They also had some very nice outside exhibits including life size replicas of a redoubt and a blockhouse, and another interesting one showing the various ways IEDs could be concealed.

Monday was the event; we set up five copies of Colonial Twilight ahead of time and got into the movie. Attendance was a little light because the students are very busy and near  the end of their program, and the timing wasnot great. But it was great to meet and talk with those who came, including COL di Crocco with whom I had been corresponding for a while but as a gamer.

The movie went over very well and people enjoyed the games.It was a real privilege to be able to help with the program.  And at the end, the customary group picture!

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