A Visit to DSTL

From Engineering and Technology magazine.

Even better, the article was not illustrated with a picture of a game of RISK!

https://eandt.theiet.org/content/articles/2020/02/playing-wargames-to-help-shape-real-life-military-strategy

Playing wargames to shape real-life military strategy

Commercial wargames may be a crowd-pleaser for gaming enthusiasts, but what if these strategy-based tools could be used to support real-life military tactics? We speak to experts at the UK’s first dedicated wargaming centre who are setting this in motion.

Tucked away in a little town near Portsmouth, on the south coast of the UK, lies a facility. Here, those who serve our country are likely currently battling each other in games similar to those you may have come across in a store or in the comfort of your own home. Indeed, it may sound like a computer game, but they are so much more than that.

These are, in fact, wargames – a scenario-based warfare model in which the outcome and sequence of events affect, and are affected by, the decisions made by players, as described by the Ministry of Defence (MoD). It is a decision-making technique that provides structured but intellectually liberating safe-to-fail environments to help explore what works during warfare and what does not.

In fact, the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) has a long history of delivering these successful wargames on behalf of the MoD alongside other government departments. To take this one step further, Dstl has now opened the UK’s first dedicated wargaming centre.

The Defence Wargaming Centre (DWC), located on Dstl’s Portsdown West site near Portsmouth, was created to host wargames for all three UK services, responding to the increasing demand for wargaming as a tool both to support decisions and to develop insight into complex issues faced by defence and security.

Mike Larner, head of the DWC, says: “Wargaming enables commanders to anticipate and rehearse future conflicts which, ultimately, increases the UK’s capability to deter aggression and protect its interests.

“What’s quite different about this centre is that we’ve drawn together all of the people that are involved in wargames from different areas,” Larner adds, “so we now have a single team supporting wargames across all of the services, head office and all other departments at Dstl and the MoD.”

Currently, DWC covers around 600m2 with two large areas and one smaller open-plan area that can be subdivided further into smaller cells as required. Gaming tables, some of which have short-throw HD projectors to visualise wargame scenarios, reconfigure to the necessary shape and size. Dstl says that future upgrades are being planned to the physical space, computing, and communications, as well as further expansion to the wargaming teams and the range of tools available to them.

Beyond the wargames themselves, the centre intends to focus on research for wargaming methods, tools and techniques. “At the heart of a wargame there is some sort of simulation, and that can be anything from a board game or a map with characters being moved around,” says Larner, “or it could be a really sophisticated computer model that you’re putting all of this into and that is simulating a lot of the lower-level activities, and then it gives you results.”

In December 2019, the Royal Air Force (RAF) conducted the first wargaming exercise, Eagle Warrior 19, at the facility. The exercise was designed and developed by Dstl and involved staff from across the RAF and other services.

Lee Purslow, a wargame designer and analyst at DWC, describes the premise of the exercise: “Eagle Warrior 19 was a command and control wargame facilitated at DWC and attended by more than 40 RAF officers. The wargame used a hybridised combination of tools including digital modelling, maps and manual table-top games to evaluate the RAF’s response to various scenarios,” he explains. “Teams were split across seven cells and were assessed in their decision-making and timeliness of responses.” He delines to elaborate beyond that, saying the DWC cannot disclose any further details about the wargame for security reasons.

“One of the things about wargames is that it immerses people,” says analyst Marianne Shirley. “It’s quite an interesting way of considering and analysing problems.” So whether that is through the means of a manual table-top or a digital model, or perhaps a ‘hybrid’ of both, analysts and wargame designers discuss and cater to the requirements of their client to create the most suitable wargame for their needs.

“The customers come up with requirements; we will decide at that stage if it’s a simulation model or a manual table-top,” Purslow explains. “The biggest difference between the two is that simulation models tend to produce more quantitative information data as opposed to manual table-top games, which produce more qualitative information.”

According to the Dstl experts, commercial wargames offer a novel way of developing and testing combat strategy, taking inspiration from pre-existing wargames. Here, analysts spend time playing the games, analysing what makes them effective, looking at the mechanics of the game, and then taking the parts of the wargames that they feel are appropriate to a customer’s requirements.

“We look at the work of other people and draw from them,” Larner explains. “We are also very interested in how [boardgames] have been translated into video games.”

In July 2019, Dstl announced a partnership with Epsom-based video game developer Slitherine Software to explore the mechanics of a few of its own digital strategy-based games such as grand strategy game ‘Fields of Glory: Empires’ and variations of the digital version of ‘Warhammer 40,000’, initially a table-top wargame.

The team at DWC are positive about the wargaming centre, explaining that they aim to embed more technology into their facilities in the future.

They will also look to grow the team at the centre. DWC currently has around 35 full-time wargamers, who work with around 100 analysts across different divisions that specialise in coordinating different services and commands. “We’re planning to carry on growing from that,” Larner says.

Furthermore, DWC aspires to bring more technology into the centre, look for technology for improved data analysis, and to develop more mobile capabilities so that participants can conduct wargames remotely.

“Some of our wargames are actually about the technology and about viewing the ways that the armed forces use it. Then we have the technology for the wargames themselves and we’re looking into how we can use it better,” says Larner. “This area, in particular, is something that there’s a lot of interest in: how it might revolutionise defence. We’re certainly tracking that.”

Indeed, DWC is interested in using greater levels of technology to design a wargame and to even better visualise what is going on in a scenario-based model. By delivering a wide variety of wargames “it represents a significant step-up in capability and signals our intent to keep developing in response to growing MoD and wider government demand for wargaming,” Larner remarks, “which is, in turn, a response to the increasing complexity of conflict”.

CASE STUDY:

Shaping Afghan peace support operations

In 2011, Dstl deployed two teams of civilian volunteers to Afghanistan to support the headquarters of the International Security Assistance Force Joint Command (IJC) military planning teams. Dstl supported IJC, which was responsible for the combined Coalition and Afghan military campaign across the country, to shape future Nato operations at the time.

Two major planning conferences in March and November that year used Dstl’s computer simulation, the Peace Support Operations Model (PSOM), a research-based decision-support tool for examining operations and outcomes in complex environments such as Afghanistan.

Originally designed to inform future UK strategic planning, PSOM was employed by the Dstl teams in Afghanistan in a bespoke analytical process. Indeed, this process simulated the planning, execution and assessment of real-world operations by giving senior military and civilian decision-makers clear direction and insights that influenced and shaped Nato operations in the region.

The activity

These conferences were the first of their kind to use a computer-based wargame to evaluate and refine campaign planning in Afghanistan. As part of the game, the PSOM computer system provided a novel analysis capability; these incorporated complex interactions between factors such as religious beliefs, ethnic identities, socio-economic conditions, geography and terrain, as well as political and military activity.

During the process, PSOM simulated military operations and civilian development activities by placing these complex factors in context. The models described the relationships between them and used the computer simulation to provide an objective structure to track cause-and-effect and generate insights for decision-makers. The process also used the subject-matter experts within the wargame to ensure their knowledge and expertise was reflected.

Within this process, military and civilian planners were able to assess the potential effects of different courses of action and test them against different challenges.

The variants

The wargame conferences were centred on semi-rigid, computer-assisted adjudication. Interactions during the month-long turns were first determined using PSOM, but then could be moderated or overruled by the adjudication team.

Each of these conferences involved around 20 control staff and 100-150 military and civilian players, with every cell represented: red, orange, green, blue, black and white, and brown for the civilian population. The blue, green and white players comprised strategic-, operational- and tactical-level planners, with support from external civilian agencies, embassies and elements from the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF).

Thousands of entities were simulated, with military elements represented at a company level. Within PSOM, the civilian population was simulated as a set of discrete agents with decision-sets and information properties.

This was a closed game, with players collecting intelligence from various sources. Meanwhile, one central bird table and a network of computers provided shared situational awareness. The MoD described the wargame as “dynamic”, with an open-ended narrative driven by the player decisions and how they reacted to the consequences of these actions taken.

The outcome

“You have raised issues that a coalition and combined team, hundreds of thousands strong, have not thought all the way through to the finish,” IJC said in its summary of the 2011 Afghanistan planning conferences. “That early catch will save many lives as well as be critical to the success of the future campaign.”

Major General (then Brigadier) Gary Deakin, representing the British Army, said in 2014: “The use of the wargaming tool PSOM enabled commanders and their planning staffs to objectively visualise the likely outcomes of the transition campaign for Afghanistan.

“Almost three years on, and having been involved directly or indirectly in Afghanistan since, I have frequently observed events and trends which were identified as key risks to the plan in the wargaming,” he continued. “This is the most effective tool for wargaming at the higher levels I have experienced.”

New book: Successful Professional Wargames by Graham Longley-Brown

glbcover

Graham Longley-Brown served in the British Army as a Regular officer from 1986 to 2003, and finished off his career as the UK Joint Services Command and Staff College Directing Staff Subject Matter Expert for wargaming from 2000-2002. Since his retirement from the Regular Army, Graham has worked as a self-employed consultant (www.lbsconsultancy.co.uk) running wargames for national militaries and their research centres across the world. Graham also developed the Rapid Campaign Analysis Toolset in use by the British military, helped to write the UK MOD Wargaming Handbook, and co-founded and organizes the Connections-UK conference on professional wargaming. (www.professionalwargaming.co.uk)

I’ve known Graham since I first became involved with Connections-UK, at the first conference in 2013. Now he has written a book, Successful Professional Wargames: A Practitioner’s Handbook wherein he promises to reveal all his secrets.

He’s obviously doing something right!

Published by John Curry’s History of Wargaming project, you can buy your copy here: http://www.wargaming.co/professional/details/professionalhandbook.htm

 

Getting the Story…

P1110519a

…Right on Wargaming.

A very good piece by Ed McGrady, a long-time colleague of Peter Perla’s at the Centre for Naval Analysis.

Narrative, narrative all is narrative because we are working with humans who respond to stories.

https://warontherocks.com/2019/11/getting-the-story-right-about-wargaming

On Wargaming by Matt Caffrey, out at last!

 

https://digital-commons.usnwc.edu/newport-papers/43/

At long last On Wargaming, Matt Caffrey’s book on the history and uses of wargaming is out and freely available as a PDF at the above link. Released through the Naval War College. You can also obtain a hard copy version through US government printing offices but I am told that there is a quite small print run.

Here is the list of chapter headings. You can see it’s a comprehensive history of the practice, and you will find it’s quite well written and researched. Matt Caffrey, who created and has been running the annual Connections conference on professional wargaming for over 25 years, has been working on this for a very long time, and it shows up well as a labour of love, devotion and hope.

Go, get your copy!

PART ONE: THE HISTORY OF WARGAMING

The Rise of Modern Wargaming: Prehistory to 1913

Wargaming and the World Wars: 1905–1945

Wargaming in the Cold War: 1946–1989/1991

Wargaming after the Cold War: 1990s–10 September 2001

Post-9/11 Wargaming: 2001–2011 

Wargaming in Transition: 2012–2016 and Beyond

PART TWO: TOWARD MORE EFFECTIVE WARGAMING

The Taxonomy of Wargaming 

The Utility of Wargaming

Wargame Participation

Wargame Practitioners

Leaders and Wargaming

Wargaming and Your Personal Objectives

Conclusions: Toward Peace Gaming

CFP: Connections-USA 2019

This is reposted from an email received by Tim Wilkie, a Great Guy who is organizing the Connections-USA conference.

I’ve posted many times on this blog about how interesting and valuable these conferences are, at least to me. You should consider attending, if you have any interest in how government (primarily the military, but the lessons are often widely applicable) uses wargaming.

/ / / / /

Connections 2019 will be hosted by the U.S. Army War College at the Army Heritage and Education Center in Carlisle, PA, August 13-16.

Connections is an interdisciplinary* wargaming conference that has been held annually since 1993, with the mission of advancing and preserving the art, science, and application of wargaming.  Connections participants come from all elements of the wargaming discipline, and include those in the military, government, academic, private sector, and commercial hobbyist fields.  By providing a forum for practitioners to share insights and best practices, Connections works to improve gaming as a tool for research, analysis, education, and policy.

Presentations on any aspect of professional wargaming are welcome.  The 2019 conference theme is Futures of Wargaming, and with that in mind, presentations on wargaming future events, advances in wargaming techniques, wargaming to train future leaders, and related topics are especially encouraged.

Please submit your proposal via the Google Form at the following link (which contains additional information):
https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSeyDQazE8CCsGmzjKorpEdaB1eQF9ijsKOdnYwMC5JnL8-uOg/viewform?usp=sf_link

It is by no means necessary to have attended a previous Connections conference to participate as a speaker.  More information about past Connections events and current updates on the status of planning for Connections 2019 can be found at the conference website:
https://connections-wargaming.com/

Feel free to pass this along to those who you think might be interested, including posting this in appropriate places online.  For additional information or any questions or concerns, please contact me at timothy.wilkie@ndu.edu

Timothy Wilkie
Research Fellow
Center for Applied Strategic Learning (CASL)
National Defense University
timothy.wilkie@ndu.edu
(202)433-4865

/ / / / /
*[best thing I read on the Net yesterday, from “S**t Academics Say”: “We’re all two drinks away from becoming interdisciplinary.”]

Colonial Twilight in Warsaw!

A Distant Plain in Warsaw!

Last year Piotr Bambot, a teacher who uses games in his classrooms and sometimes engages with members of the Polish military for their professional development, reported on his use of A Distant Plain with a group of officers and senior NCOs from the three main services.

Recently he did much the same thing with a similar group, using Colonial Twilight. He ran three games at the same time, each game was played with teams of five or six.

Bambot4821

Piotr gives initial instruction. Apparently the head-grabbing went away after a while.

Piotr said that many of the participants, some of whom had had several Afghanistan tours, appreciated the mechanics used to mimic insurgent actions. That’s always good to hear.

 

Thanks so much Piotr, and I am glad to hear that they found the games useful!

BambotRangi

Piotr thoughtfully provided a photo listing the ranks of the players, so you can get an idea of the the intended audience.

An early example of an urban COIN megagame

pentagonurbancoincover

Very new from the History of Wargaming Project by John Curry, is a book reprinting rules for making up and playing a multi-player game on urban counterinsurgency, along with analysis of many urban insurgency incidents… including the Battle of Algiers, which was still quite recent as the original documents are from 1966.

Unless I miss my guess, this is “URB-INS”, contained in the “Report on Urban Insurgency Studies”, done in 1966 by Simulmatics Corporation. I remember examining a copy of this in the US Army War College’s library briefly (Back, then forth); I found it by chance there, but I wasn’t going to pass up a look at such an early example of a manual game on counterinsurgency in a generic city. I recall 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..

Buy your copy at:

http://www.wargaming.co/professional/details/pentagonurbancoin.htm

EDIT: I was wrong! Turns out the game in question is URB-COIN, developed by Abt Associates in 1966. It is related to two other games Abt did for the US military, AGILE-COIN and POLITICA. Faithful Readuhs may recall my mention of AGILE-COIN as an early attempt to model rural insurgency in a couple of my presentations, and the game is described in greater detail in Andrew Wilson’s very good book The Bomb and The Computer (also available from John Curry as a reprint).

http://www.wargaming.co/professional/details/awthebomb.htm

Clark Abt did very well for himself and the world of simulations and games, as he was one of the first major designers and promoters of “serious games”. He designed dozens of games on a very wide variety of topics, most of them educational and policy games though he had quite a few DARPA contracts too. He is still alive and his company, Abt Associates, is doing very well (and seemingly not doing work for the military any more, at least not overtly). You can see part of his “Serious Games”, a major work, here:

https://books.google.ca/books?id=axUs9HA-hF8C&printsec=frontcover&dq=inauthor:%22Clark+C.+Abt%22&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwj238Tq8b_cAhWCJ3wKHf0GD0kQ6AEIKTAA#v=onepage&q&f=false

 

 

A Distant Plain in Warsaw!

polishadp1

At least three games were running simultaneously.

Piotr Bambot is a teacher who likes to use games in his classroom and sometimes works for the Polish military’s equivalent of their War Colleges. Recently he spent a day with a group of officers playing A Distant Plain!

polishadp2

Piotr is the one with the short haircut.

The place was the Military Center for Civic Education in Warsaw, during a course called “Leadership and social competence”. I can see officers from all branches of the services playing together… Piotr said everyone was highly interested and engaged.

I’m really happy when I see that these games can be of some professional use!

polishadp3

Clockwise, I see two Air Force Lieutenants, two Army junior Lieutenants, a Navy Lieutenant Commander, an Army Sergeant and a Major, and two more Army Lieutenants.

Ten Busy Days Away

 

Wow, that was a very busy trip, nearly the last one of a very busy year!

On Saturday 2 September I flew to London, a 9 hour flight. I arrived at about 1200 Sunday 3 September local time but 0400 body time… I got to the student residences at King’s College London (just across Waterloo Bridge from the Strand Campus where the conference was, very convenient but also what the British call “cheap and cheerful”), unpacked and went out to get a few things I needed (snacks, an adapter for the wall socket adapter I had bought in Canada but which proved to be the wrong one, and a new portable umbrella to replace the one I had bought last time I was in London in 2013 and carried back this time, but which somehow got lost or escaped in the last 20 miles before arriving). Then I tried to get some sleep… to avoid getting the jetlag that plagued me last time, I took a sleeping pill for the first couple of nights. Normally I do not use them, but it seemed to do the trick this time. (Of course, now I am back but my brain is still 8 hours in the future, so it’s harder re-adjusting now.)

On Monday I went for a bit of sightseeing… to Ian Allen Ltd. nearby to have a look at their very idiosyncratic and particular stock of military history reference and research books (really, this is the place to go if you must have a book on SS parade helmets RIGHT NOW), and they seem to have every Osprey book ever printed. I got a “BEWARE OF THE TRAINS” mug for Akito, from the Trainspotters’ section of the store. Then to Hackney, to get some tickets for a puppet show on a barge on the Thames River that Friday night…but the office they advertised there was just a house where they kept props. I did get things straightened out but saw more of Hackney than I intended to, though I did get to go by 10 Martello Street, once the home of Throbbing Gristle and Industrial Records – it is still artists’ studios.

10 Martello

“The Death Factory”, they called it. Oh, those crazy kids….

I also went to the British Film Institute on Southbank, the Tate Modern, and very quickly to the Imperial War Museum – I would go back there later.

Tuesday was the “megagame” before the conference proper – an East Asia crisis simulation game called Dire Straits, that involved nearly 100 players and was set up and very ably run by Rex Brynen and Jim Wallman. Rex did a very good writeup of the form and intention of the exercise here: https://paxsims.wordpress.com/2017/09/09/dissecting-dire-straits/

They gave me the coveted role of Kim Jong Un, in which position I oversaw a team of very clever people who came up with some brilliant ideas, as we conspired to make trouble and so ensure the autonomy and integrity of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

BRT-KJU

Me looking Dear Leader-like. Photo by Tom Mouat.

As you can see by the photo, we were also playing at the same time an elaborate side-game of whose faction was gaining or losing power through representation in the organs of DPRK government. Part of this was the Obsequious Loyalty Forms which had to be completed by each player on my team each turn, to comply with a task I had set them – e.g. write a haiku about me, or draw a picture of the statue of me they would erect on their properties – for which they would be rewarded or punished. During my time in the catbird seat (which I did not dare leave during the entire four hours of the exercise) I had only two assassination attempts against my person, and one challenge on the floor of the Central Committee. Another thing I did was have them applaud everything I decided, which worked to freak out everyone in the rest of the large room as bursts of loud and sustained applause would erupt randomly from the North Korean corner.

At the beginning of the game they played a short video which detailed the events that had-will happen(ed) in each involved country (USA, Japan, the Koreas, Russia, China, Taiwan, etc.) the next few years between now and the time of the game.

The background music that played when they got to North Korea was “99 Luftballons” by Nena (remember that one?) and without realising it we had a balloon-themed time of it:

  • The head of the Air Force drew an especially poor statue of me watering the World Garden of Peace and Cooperation, so we picked on a senior officer of that service to be tied to a weather balloon and set free to drift away – his frozen corpse dropped and shattered into a million bits on Russian territory, but they were dissuaded from regarding that as a hostile act.
  • Later, Russia and China leaned on us not to do any more ground-based missile launches (our first move in the game was to do a test launch of a MIRV device on a ballistic missile, which succeeded and rather set the cat amongst the pigeons), so we hit on a low-tech way of skirting it: take the test missile aloft with large weather balloons, drop it and fire it in mid-air – we got a satellite-killer up into low-earth orbit that way.
  • South Korea was bombarding our people and spreading dissension through propaganda broadcasts while moving forces up nearer the DMZ, so we decided to make a peaceful riposte. All DPRK schoolchildren were given a piece of fruit and the day off school to build small balloons to which were tied messages of peace, friendship and praise for the Dear Leader (again, written by members of my staff) and released to float south when the winds were right. Incidentally, the balloons were all made with strips of aluminum foil in them, so when they were released the South Korean military radars were completely spoofed by this strange blobby cloud of something drifting towards them over the border… they panicked, but not enough.

We did other things later in the game like hack Donald Trump’s Twitter feed, which made him pretty mad (even though he was not played by a person in the game; his decisions were the resultant of sets of policy vectors set and pushed by members in the large US Cabinet on a game board, which I thought was a brilliant touch), offer the USA shipments of food to help with its food bank problem, and condemn in the press a SEAL team’s failed attempt to sabotage our SSBN research program as “sneaky and moist.”

We had fun, though it was a serious exercise too – for me, it was a very intense time as crisis after crisis came in, needing to be dealt with.

The BBC did a story on it, even: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-41172485?SThisFB

After supper was an informal game session, where I brought Colonial Twilight to show and play – one of the few copies in the UK at the time.

The next day was the official beginning of the conference – the usual plenary sessions broken up by tea breaks, which were necessary in my view to allow the socializing that allows these kinds of things to progress and grow stronger. In the afternoon was a Games Fair, which was an organized time for people to bring their game designs to show and play. There were games on topics ranging from hospital triage and cyber strategy to a future war against Hezbollah and naval warfare. Bob Cordery took some nice pictures here: http://wargamingmiscellany.blogspot.ca/2017/09/connections-uk-2017-games-fair.html

ConnectionsUK2017-Day2-06

Photo: Bob Cordery

Bob also played in my five-player game of Caudillo, which went down very well despite my having forgotten a few minor rules. The two women on the right of the photo were business students from Venezuela and obviously weren’t fooled by the game’s setting in the city of “Maracas”, and its objective of determining a stable successor in power to “Jesus Shaves”.

CTplay

That evening there was a second session of the Games Fair, and I taught a group of five guys through a session of Colonial Twilight. Two of them had never played a COIN system game before so it was a slow start, but we got all the way through a campaign before having to pack it in.

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Photo: Ivan Seifert(?)

The next day I chaired a plenary session on “wargame design and analysis”. Rex and Jim, two of my favourite madmen, presented on the design and content of megagames in general, with commentary and analysis of how Tuesday’s game had gone. They were followed by a talk on the state of Swedish professional wargaming, and another on the risks and pitfalls encountered in playing through a game on nuclear missile defence. If nothing else, gaming these sorts of things points out how easily and quickly sides can be misunderstood, and actions and intentions distorted.

ConnectionsUK2017-Day3-06

Mmmm… thinky thinky. (photo: Bob Cordery)

The last major activity was a breakout session in which we separated into several groups and brainstormed ideas for gaming out aspects of future conflict (of any type) in “The High North” which is one of the topics the British Ministry of Defence is concerned about as a near- to mid-future theatre. My group went with an idea for a game design that would explore the dimensions of conflict between indigenous peoples in the far north and the other forces and complications that would arrive, in the wake of a changing climate. I think I will be taking some time to ponder this seriously later.

That was Thursday, and the end of the conference… though a bunch of us settled at a nearby pub to have a drink or two and do some more of that necessary gettoknowyou that (also necessarily) tends to get pushed aside in the structure of a conference.

Friday I shifted out of student digs and to my stepsister’s place in Islington. I had a late breakfast with Rex Brynen, and we had an excellent talk at a very nice place in St. Pancras station, near a large statue called “The Meeting” and the point where the high-speed trains leave for Europe (another thing that did not exist when I was in the UK in the 80s). That night we went out to the west end of the city to Richmond, where we saw a puppet play on a barge moored in the Thames (in the winter they move it into the city near Regent’s Canal). It was very well done and was all about how one should never put their trust in poets, which I thought a good theme for any medium.

Saturday I went to Tesco Superstore, a large grocery store in Lambeth, to get a large number of chocolate bars for Lianne… they sell a cheap dark chocolate that is really good, so I ended up getting three and a half pounds of it. Then I carried all that over to the Imperial War Museum.

IWM front

Front of the IWM, featuring a pair of guns from a battleship.

This was one of the best military museums I’ve ever been to, not just because of the quality of the artifacts on display but also by the thought that obviously went into the different exhibits. This museum is not the expected dusty closet of retired regimental colours and nostalgic battle scenes in oil paint by retired regimental officers; it’s far more about the aftereffects of conflicts and wider lessons learned (or not). As an example, the main exhibit that covered the Falklands featured the uniform and effects of a war artist who went with the troops, and the original Spitting Image puppet of Margaret Thatcher.

IWM thatcher

I had to leave from there and travel to the Isle of Dogs, to Fabian’s place where we would do further play of Caudillo, as we did back in 2013. (Playtesting Dios O Federacion)

We had a good time and the group made some great suggestions for turning this into an even more personally involving exercise for the players.

My arm went out of joint when James won the game (photos: Richard Barbrook).

Sunday I traveled all the way out to Dagenham, a town far out in the Greater London suburbs. I spent the day with David Turczi, with whom I’ve been working all year to design Nights of Fire, the thematic sequel to David’s game Days of Ire on the 1956 Hungarian Revolution. The game is pretty much there, we are just doing small tweaks and sealing and caulking against Stupid Gamer Tricks (which I continue to be quite bad at predicting or perceiving).

NOF-DT

I’ve learned a lot from David about new methods and mechanics to put into games to make them more interesting to players, without sacrificing too much of the historicity.

Also, we played a mid-length game of Mark Herman’s Churchill, a very clever 3-player game. I did too well as Churchill and Stalin won the peace.

Camden2

The woman on the left was posing for her boyfriend, not photobombing me.

Monday was the last day, and my stepsister took me to lunch at a nice place in Camden Lock. This is a somewhat touristy area with a lot of open-air and semi-outside markets with neat stuff in them. That night I packed up and we sat and watched The Devils, a demented Ken Russell film I had never had the chance to see. It was a good day to relax and start to decompress.

I didn’t get to sleep that night though, and was up at 0500 to catch the first tube to Heathrow Airport, because security there can take a very long time to get through. As it turned out, it wasn’t bad and there was no rush after all. The plane ride back was 9 1/2 hours (jet stream or head winds I guess) and quite boring; I watched three rather unmemorable movies. I also caught a cold because the whole row next to me was occupied by a Dutch family who all had the same virus, and whose darling little plague-vessel children hadn’t ever been taught to cover their mouths when coughing.

Come to think about it, maybe they were not Dutch but Phlegmish.

Well, that was the trip – busy and some intense times but I enjoyed myself quite a bit, came away with many new ideas and intend to go back next year!

 

 

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.