Obligatory end-of-year review, 2022

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Ohhhhh….

2022 is almost over.

A scant improvement over 2021, but it wasn’t worse, so on the whole we progress… or do we.

  • Top gaming-related event of the year was attending the California Army National Guard’s Urban Operations Planners Course at JFTB Los Alamitos in July, as both a student (of urban warfare generally) and as an instructor (introduced and collectively played the Quick Urban Integrated Combat Kriegsspiel or QUICK on the last day of the course).
  • At the end of 2021 I posted confidently that in my view there would be no overt war in Ukraine, in a bit called “Why I am not writing a 2022 Scenario for Ukrainian Crisis“. Well, I was wrong, obviously… but I have never held that any of my games have any predictive value, no more than any other wargame does. I maintain though, that a 2022 scenario for this game would have been out of place anyway, for an overt military invasion of Ukraine on this scale and extent is an admission that the other two sub-games (diplomatic and information) have been lost, and in this case perhaps not even seriously played. In that sense Putin has done a tableflip, and now that the pieces are headed for the floor, I am unwilling to even try to guess the ultimate outcome.
  • Finally caught COVID after dodging it for 2 1/2 years, on the ferry going over to attend BottosCon, my first gaming event in three years. My fall booster was only a month old so it was about as light a sentence as you could ask for; it presented exactly like a head cold, with a lot of sinus stuff… no fever, ever, not even a sore throat. Because I normally come home from a convention with something like a head cold, from the hotel air-conditioned air or the usual “con crud”, that’s just what I thought it was. It was only when I got an email from the convention organizers saying that a number of people had tested positive for COVID, that I tested myself out of an abundance of caution. I lost my sense of taste and smell though I understand this is not a usual symptom of Omicron (which is like 85-90% of all cases right now in my area) and did recover it in a few weeks. As it happened my mom caught it about the same time (who knows how, she is kind of shut in) and I had to go take care of her for a few days, so even if I had dodged it on the way to the convention I would have caught it from her later.
  • The renovations that started in August 2020 are still going on. I did get carpets a year ago, and that started a slow migration of material back upstairs so now I have my study back again (!), and a door to it that opens and shuts (!!) and a table downstairs that can be used for games (!!!). Still missing upstairs furniture and I’m sleeping in my dining room, but the end is in sight – at least on the second floor. By next Christmas all should be done.

Game publishing and publicity

March: An interview in Spanish about China’s War, not that much new stuff in it though.

June: It was announced that my game Greek Civil War would be in issue #165 of Japanese Command magazine. This one uses the original rules that I submitted to Decision Games that were adapted from Joe Miranda’s Decision Iraq system, and so are quite different from the mess that Decision published in Modern War magazine. This was my second appearance in Japanese Command (first was back in  2002 with Battle for China) and like the first, it appeared with beautiful map printing and counter production. Meanwhile, the original “4 box system” version called Andartes is still available for PnP from wargamevault.com.

July: Publication on the website of the complete PnP files for the QUICK, including a Vassal module put together in jig time by Curt Pangracs of the US Command General and Staff College. The QUICK Page

Game design work and future publication

Work and or testing started or continued throughout the year on the following. Other projects (a couple of semi-abstract games on urban counterinsurgency) languished.

Brief Border Wars Quad Volume II: Announced for pre-orders in August. We have about finished rules, counters, maps and box now and this will be out some time in 2023.

China’s War 1937-41: Development jerked ahead in the summer. Bad news is that development and testing has subsided while the GMT developer works to finish off Red Dust Rebellion, a COIN system game that will sell much, much better than this one (another advantage of science fiction games is that you don’t have to be true to history, and sometimes not even to the laws of physics). Good news is that there really isn’t much more to do! We turned up the volume on many of the cards of the Event Deck as players found them underwhelming, and made a few other slight mechanical changes but nothing major. At year end pre-orders are stuck just short of 1,600, which is good enough but not many more than this time last year.

Imposed Cost: a quick and simple game for 2 players on the 18-card model, on causing or preventing clandestine trouble on projects being built on the Belted Road. Would like to work on and test this with other human beings once or twice before putting it up for free PnP.

O Canada: A couple of playtests and a bit of thought. It’s about where I want it. Will likely put it out next year for free PnP (or I will make a physical copy for you for a price commensurate with my time and trouble to do so).

Quick Urban Integrated Combat Kriegsspiel (QUICK): A semi-abstract game about opposing modern-day forces engaging in kinetic conflict in a large city. Players are Division or Group Army commanders, vying to gain control of critical terrain within the city. To succeed, they must successfully manage Enablers, the array of skilled troops and machinery that exist to support and augment the power of the main Maneuver Units in the forces they command. Each round both players will draw or select colored cubes and then take turns using them to perform actions. The color of a cube determines what can be done, and with what unit. During play Enablers will be brought onto the battlefield or returned to it by being allocated to larger Maneuver Units, and these reinforced Maneuver Units will engage the enemy assisted by the special powers and abilities of their allocated Enablers. I started work on this in December 2021 and published it on this website (the QUICK page) in the summer, just before attending the Urban Operations Planners Course in July 2022.

Scaleable Urban Simulation: this was a game I developed for the Urban Operations Planners Course before I realized that I had to take a much simpler and more streamlined approach with the non-gamer students (which resulted in the QUICK). The idea is that there is a set of core rules that cover basic sets of missions/operations – moving, fighting, renewing, seeking – that are applicable to any of the three module levels the game is played out on: Division (where division HQ tells brigade HQs what to do, who then get battalion groups to do the operations and fighting); Brigade (Brigade HQ, battalion HQs, company size task forces); or Battalion (battalion HQ, company HQs, platoons with attachments). Meanwhile there are exclusive rules and different mixes of Enablers and things like that for the different modules; it is also a more open to modelling different points on the “competition continuum” than the QUICK, which is oriented towards large-scale, very kinetic combat operations. The game centres more on the activities of formation HQ units that become less and less able to do what they want to do (or are told to do) as they get tired and dissipated, as opposed to modelling combat resolution and damage to maneuver units. Components are a sheet of counters, formation cards, a set of 80 coloured cubes as needed for the QUICK and a map built up out of isomorphic tiles so battlefields can be built however you like. Would like to work on and test this with other human beings once or twice before putting it up for free PnP.

Strongman: a thorough redesign of Caudillo, for 3-5 players. Mostly done in Early Lockdown with the help of another designer but I’ve returned to it this year to straighten out a couple of points.  Again, would like to test this with some other humans, as this is one I think would be formally published (though the art bill would not be small, since it is a card game).

SUBTLE (SUBterranean Learning Exercise): a fast game about keeping planning on track. 3-10 players collectively and abstractly represent the staff officers of a BCT who are trying to build a workable plan towards an objective, represented by them exploring through a field of inverted counters and creating a route past Hazards that are nullified by Enablers. Problem is, some players are actually “agents of chaos” who may mean well but lead the route of the plan astray or place obstacles in its path (as illustration, I offer this clever article from Task and Purpose: https://taskandpurpose.com/news/16-people-make-every-operational-planning-team/. Fear the Debater, the Guy From Band Camp, and above all the Seagull.). A bit of a metaphorical exercise and the Hazards and the Enablers that resolve them have a subterranean/urban theme – navigation failures, structural collapse, civilian detainee problem etc. – but this could be changed for other settings. The game has simple components – a small plain grid and 60 counters, no dice – and takes about 20-30 minutes to play depending on the number of players. Would like to work on and test this with other human beings once or twice before putting it up for free PnP.

DSSB Staff Game: A cooperative game for 3 players who represent different staff sections in a DSSB (American Army Divisional Sustainment Support Battalion), who work together to prepare and send off daily supply convoys to 3 divisional BCTs on the FLOT. Experienced wargamers know that most civilian wargames have detailed procedures for movement and combat, with the logistics processes handwaved away. For a long time I have wanted to design a game that approached the inverse of this. It’s a time management and planning game, with simple processes featuring an endless time track and roles and choices that put demands on the players as the situation continues to change. As a cooperative game it is not intensely competitive or antagonistic but the players have to work together to prevent the front line units from starving or running out of things (which will in turn make their own jobs that much harder). The game has simple components – two pages of tracks and charts, some small player mats, 60 counters and the same set of 80 coloured cubes needed for the QUICK. It can be played at any length to cover any number of “days” (actually iterations of the unit’s battle rhythm); probably takes about an hour or less for players to get the gist of things without prompting. Would like to work on and test this with other human beings once or twice before putting it up for free PnP.

That’s 12 designs more or less finished, and in some cases also started, in the last year and a bit (I think the Brief Border Wars Quad should count as four games, because each one requires a fair amount of specific research and its own exclusive rules). The new, smaller games were all done in August-October as I was inspired by feedback from the students on the Urban Operations Planners course to the effect that they wanted more time with the games, and the “theme day” structure of the course itself where we spent concentrated times on certain aspects of urban operations… could I make small, simple fast games that related to these themes?

Conventions

November: Went to BottosCon for the first time in three years. Caught COVID on the ferry going there. But it was fun until the virii took over.

Conferences and professional wargaming stuff

February: I chaired a panel at Connections North on “influence games”.

July: As mentioned above, I went to the second serial of the Urban Operations Planners Course. It was quite remarkable! Fortunately I was able to stay on the Base and the commute was a four-minute walk with no gate-guard angst; good because it was at the go-go-go pace of many courses… meaty lectures from 0800 to 1700 every day for six days, except one day when the military students went to “Razish”, an urban combat training site at the National Training Centre at Fort Irwin (we used the time back at the base to do some orientation and practice play of the QUICK) and the last day when we collectively learned and played the QUICK. I had spent much of the first half of the year preparing for this; it was the first time I had taught a game to a large group cold, with most of the group non-gamers to boot. But thanks to some excellent facilitators, the enthusiastic support and participation of the General sponsoring the course, and plain novelty value we pulled it off. The next serial is in May 2023 and I do believe the General is going to give it another go, so I am planning to attend this one as well (and intend to catch the lectures I missed while I was ill).

October: At the one-day Connections Online event, I made a presentation on the QUICK as a case study of a wargame being used in professional military development.

Writing and ‘casting

January: Last year I did an interview about my games and thoughts about game design with the group “Anti-Imperialist Action Ireland” (because they asked nicely). I prefer to do interviews by email but they would have liked a live event, so we compromised by posting a Youtube video of a Terry Gilliam drawing wobbling its jaw up and down while a computer voice rapidly read the transcript of my answers to their questions. Mercifully, transcript is available separately.

March: I went on Brant Guillory’s Mentioned in Dispatches podcast to talk with him about past wargames on then-future wars in Ukraine. I repeat, these things do not have useful predictive value (what will happen) but they can help you think about the possible boundaries (what could happen) of the problem.

September: A good month for podcasts… first I was on Episode 78 of I’ve Been Diced! by Tom Grant, we talked about newsgames and a lot of other things besides. And even more remarkably a long interview on Radio War Nerd with Mark Ames and Gary Brecher! The latter is only for Patreon-paying folks so you will have to join  to listen, but I will say it was a wonderful talk with these two very intelligent guys… Guerrilla Checkers got a definite boost in notoriety from this one.

November: Published an alt-alt-hist scenario for Strike for Berlin on the German “Ostplan 1919” contemplated campaign to tussle with Poland over ownership of western Poland, in and around Posen/Poznan. Designed with Wolfgang Hoepper, who also wrote a very good article on the plan and its context.

Near-meaningless digest of site statistics:

Overall traffic seems to be stable and improved a bit over 2021. I seem to be cruising still at around 1,800 views per month, for a total of about 24,000 views. About 9,000 visitors in all. The five most curious countries were: US (by a very wide margin), UK, Canada, Australia and Japan. One guy clicked in from Cambodia.
Besides the then-current post, popular pages included Free Games, BTR Games, the QUICK Page and Scenarios and Variants pages. The two most popular posts were on Ukrainian Crisis and my faux pas on the Ukrainian war, likely due to linked traffic from Facebook groups.
The most downloaded documents were items for free PnP games: Ukrainian Crisis, District Commander Maracas and Putin’s War (a game designed by Riccardo Affinati and Mauro Faina that used the map from Ukrainian Crisis plus some new components). However, by the unequal numbers of downloads for the different game components I cannot help but think that a lot of these downloads are just grabs by ‘bots… whatever for, I don’t know.

Connections Online showcase now available!

The complete archive of presentations made during the one-day Connections Online event on 19 October 2022 is now available:

Connections Online Showcase 2022

My presentation on the QUICK is at the very bottom, at the end of a very long day for the people on the East Coast.

I’ll be reviewing these soon – great selection of topics.

I like the idea of a Reconstruction period political game, among others.

Connections Online: Showcase 2022

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Wednesday 19 October 2022: a one-day, all-day Connections Online project showcase for professional/practitioner game design. Each presentation will run 90-120 minutes and focus on a single use case of a game designed or adapted to professional military/ national security usage, including deep dives into the objectives/purposes, designs, mechanics, execution, and lessons learned from both the preparation and conduct of the games.

The event will be a single 12-hour event, with no overlapping presentations, broadcast over Youtube for people who register. All or most presentations will be made available to the public after review.

Here is the schedule:

 Schedule (all times EDT)

1100 MAJ Dan Warner Decisive Operations
1300 UKFC Take That Hill / (urban ops)
1500 Eric Price & James Sterrett / SAMS Root at SAMS
1700 Roger Mason  TBA
1900 Andrew Olson / Matthew Kirchman Malign / A Splendid Failure
2100 Brian Train QUICK

I will be giving a talk on the QUICK game, of course, and how it was designed and used at the 40th Infantry Division’s Urban Warfare Planners Course in July 2022. I’ll be at or near the end of the queue of presentations because of time zones: I am on the West Coast and need to get home after work to make the presentation.

Other presenters include two students from the Georgetown University Wargaming Society (Matt Kirchman on A Splendid Failure (Reconstruction in post-ACW US) and Andrew Olson on the Malign wargame design); Command and General Staff College student Dan Hauser on Decisive Operations and incorporating that game into the curriculum there; SAMS instructor Eric Price and the inestimable James Sterrett on integrating ROOT into professional military curricula; and a presentation of the UK Fight Club training game Take That Hill. Not sure what Roger Mason will be talking about but he’s always interesting to listen to.

Registration starts tomorrow (September 29). There is an event charge of $3 to cover their IT costs. Go here: https://tabletop.events/conventions/connections-online-showcase-2022

Hope to see you there!

[EDITED TO ADD]

Here is the link to the page with links to all the presentations made that day… some very interesting topics!

Connections Online Showcase 2022

From DSTL: Stuart Lyle on the Urban Operations Planner Course

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(photo credit: CA Army National Guard Public Affairs)

https://www.gov.uk/government/case-studies/stuart-lyle-international-knowledge-exchange-on-urban-warfare

Stuart Lyle of the UK Government’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) writes about his experiences teaching and learning on the 40th Infantry Division Urban Operations Planner Course in July. I was really glad to meet Stuart and the lectures he gave were fantastic! He’s the one in the middle of the group, with the beard.

I also owe him a beer or three for helping me set up the game sets the night before we played the QUICK game, and for his introductory remarks before we started that set the context for the use of games in professional military education – he was far more articulate about it than I could ever be.

Urban Operations Planner Course: story in the Digital Grizzly

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https://grizzly.shorthandstories.com/40thIDhostsweeklongUrbanOperationsPlannerCourse/index.html

A profusely illustrated story on the Urban Operations Planner Course in the Digital Grizzly, the  online version of the California National Guard magazine. (photos: California National Guard Public Affairs)

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2022-02 Urban Operations Planner Course

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(photo: Jayson Geroux)

I’ve spent the last week attending the second serial of the Urban Operations Planners Course, run by the 40th Infantry Division (California Army National Guard) and held at Joint Force Training Base Los Alamitos. And what an interesting week it was!

A solid week of really great lectures and exercises on urban warfare, featuring people like COL John Spencer of the Modern War Institute’s Urban Warfare Project, Stuart Lyle of the UK Defence Science and Technology Laboratory, Dr. Jacob Stoil of the School of Advanced Military Studies, and MAJ Jayson Geroux of the Royal Canadian Regiment. I met a lot of really interesting students as well – most were Americans but there were also  students from the Australian, British, Chilean, Dutch, and German armies.

Unfortunately soon after I arrived at the Base I developed a bad summer cold that also turned into laryngitis… fortunately my voice recovered just in time, for the last day was a “learn by doing” exercise featuring group play of the Quick Urban Integrated Combat Kriegsspiel or QUICK, designed by yours truly… I’ve been working on it since last December.

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It landed very very well; the 40 students seemed really engaged by it. Also, about 20 remote students played online at the same time, using a VASSAL module produced by Curt Pangracs at the Command General and Staff College.

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(Of course people got to use their Military Pointing Skills!)

This was the first time I had the opportunity to teach a game, any game, to a large group of people, many of whom were non-gamers. Fortunately I had a set of great facilitators including faculty from the Joint Special Operations University, Stuart Lyle and students and instructors of the course. It never would have worked without them!

The QUICK now joins the range of free print-and-play games I offer on this website; it’s available to everyone – files are on this separate page: The QUICK Page

However, be aware that I will soon be making some small changes and revisions to the game rules and charts due to feedback and comments from the students.

Me and BG

Me and BGEN Robert Wooldridge, Deputy Commander of 40ID, sponsor of the course and avid wargamer himself.

KCL wargame coverage in the Grauniad

Don’t Fear the Reaper Drone at KCL

https://www.theguardian.com/games/2022/may/27/from-the-invasion-of-ukraine-to-weapons-procurement-the-war-games-seeking-solutions-to-real-life-conflicts

A nice piece in The Guardian about the MA course “Designing Games for Education and Analysis” at Kings College London. The writer tried out some of the games designed by students and was impressed by the wide variety of treatments and topics. An unnamed “expert from MoD” is also cited (but we think we know who it is!).

And even better, the piece was not illustrated by a picture of a game of Risk….

Coming up: Connections Online 2022

https://www.armchairdragoons.com/acdcons/connections/

Hey all!

Next week will see the 2022 edition of Connections Online, the second iteration of the purposely online version of the long-standing Connections franchise of conferences. As such it joins Connections-US, Connections-UK, Connections North, Connections Oz, and so forth in trying to create lasting, uh, connections between the hobby and professional wargaming worlds.

Core events are 19-21 April, with a series of extended events to either side 18-24 April.

The theme this year is “Developing Wargame Practitioners.” Panels on this topic include:

  • Recent Innovations in Wargaming
  • Hiring new Wargamers
  • Designing a Professional Wargame
  • Resources for Professional Development of Wargamers
  • Wargamer Professional Certification: Necessary or Not? (a perennial favourite!)
  • Wargaming outside the National Security Space

Lots of other things to see and do as well! I plan to attend events on Innovations in Hobby Wargaming, Wargaming Other than War, and Wargaming Politics.

Cost is $5.00 to attend the whole thing, everything else is free but you have to get a ticket to attend an event. Core events such as I have listed above will be posted on Youtube later, but the extended events will likely not.

Please plan to attend!

Urban warfare: 40ID’s new webpage

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https://calguard.ca.gov/40id-urban-warfare

The US 40th Infantry Division (headquartered in California but responsible for National Guard units from Nebraska to Guam) is becoming the centre for development of training and doctrine in urban operations. Last summer they ran the first serial of the Urban Warfare Planners course (More on the Urban Warfare Planners Course) and will do it again in July 2022.

This new webpage is a great resource for manuals, case studies, links to other resources, and yes even a page for civilian market wargames on urban combat (District Commander: Maracas gets a look in, and there’s more to come).

Check it out!

Connections North 2022: there’s still time!

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There is still time to register for the Connections-North conference happening this weekend!

It’s free, and online, and always interesting.

For general information: https://paxsims.wordpress.com/connections-north/

Link to register: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/connections-north-2022-tickets-238439548107

Conference programme: https://paxsims.wordpress.com/2022/01/23/connections-north-2022-conference-programme/

I will be chairing a panel on how games can model “influence operations” on Sunday the 20th… which operations are succinctly defined by Jim Wallman as, “doing stuff short of actually shooting people to get them to do what we want”.

How do we game social, political, and diplomatic influence in an age of digital communications and social media?

This is of central concern to all of us right now, as we are still working through a major episode and demonstration of all forms of influence operations by Russia, the United States, and practically everyone else who possibly could get into the act.

But of course, there is much much more happening because this is after all a Connections conference… so please come and join us!