TVOntario: Judith Merril: wargames

Here’s an interesting thing I found today.

In the province of Ontario, Canada, there is an educational TV network called TVOntario. I suppose it would be roughly a Canadian equivalent of PBS except that it is government funded, and perhaps most American states maintain or maintain such a thing. In my province we have the Knowledge Network.

TVOntario has been broadcasting since 1970, and usually broadcasts a mix of children’s programming, documentaries, dramas, and public affairs programs as well as rebroadcasts of Question Period when the Ontario Legislative Assembly is in session. Before 1990 some unusual programming sometimes found its way in, with an escort of a knowledgeable commentator who could give it some educational context: for example, episodes of the Patrick McGoohan show The Prisoner were aired after introduction and discussion by a journalist who would explore the themes raised by the episode (https://youtu.be/8yIa1dtX9ag if you’re interested in that).

In 1969 the science fiction writer and anthologist Judith Merril moved to Canada over the suppression of protests against the Vietnam War by the American government. She settled in Toronto and created the “Spaced Out Library” in a section of the Toronto Public Library, as a special collection of all science fiction published in the English language (the Merril Collection survives as a repository of over 80,000 items at the Library, including hundreds of RPG and other game items). She was active in organizing SF writers’ groups, conferences and conventions and from 1978 to 1981 hosted episodes of Doctor Who as the UnDoctor, where she would give commentary on the episode that had just been shown.

http://www.retrontario.com/2014/02/02/tvontario-judith-merril-the-undoctor-1980-2/

I found on the website Retrontario a clip from one of these shows… where she is posing with copies of Starship Troopers, Sorcerer, and 4000 AD while discussing the episode’s theme of domination and genocide! (I guess you were wondering when the connection with wargames would appear.) These were probably items from the library’s collection; I am reasonably sure she was not a player herself.

PostGUWS

This is the link to the slide deck used for this presentation. Hope you enjoyed it!

PDF version, about 2 MB.

Also, here is the link to the Youtube recording of the presentation… people seemed to like it, though I hate the way I look and sound on media.

Here is the link to the excellent series of posts on game development written by Neal Durando in his blog, that I referenced in the Q&A: http://defling.com/blog/?cat=8

Thanks to everyone who attended, and thanks to Sebastian Bae of GUWS for giving me the chance to talk!

District Commander Kandahar: quick look by Maurice Fitzpatrick

Moe’s Game Table has a look at District Commander: Kandahar, the Afghanistan 2009/10 module of the series. He likes what he sees.

Thank you Moe!

Civil Power: preview video!

Ray Weiss has gotten a proof copy of Civil Power! Here he spends a few minutes talking about the game, its mechanics, options and scenarios, and shows off the very nice components.

Sales should start Real Soon Now.

Brief Border Wars: unboxing video by The Fortinbras Effect

Having digested Colonial Twilight, Andrei Achim of The Fortinbras Effect reappears with his unboxing video of Brief Border Wars.

Thanks Andrei!

Fearsome knife!

Unboxing videos by The Players Aid: District Commander Maracas and Brief Border Wars

Today, a Brian Train double feature as Alexander of The Players Aid does unboxing videos for District Commander Maracas and Brief Border Wars.

Interview with TPA about the game: https://theplayersaid.com/2019/07/22/interview-with-brian-train-designer-of-district-commander-maracas-from-hollandspiele/

Interview with TPA about the game: https://theplayersaid.com/2020/02/17/interview-with-brian-train-designer-of-brief-border-wars-from-compass-games/

District Commander Kandahar: preview video from Hollandspiele!

Coming next week from Hollandspiele: District Commander: Kandahar, the third in a series of four volumes using the District Commander system.

Tom gives a quick introduction to some wrinkly and attractive parts of the system, and references the procedural videos he made last year to introduce District Commander: Maracas.

I hope you’ll give this one a look!

The fourth and final (so far) volume will be District Commander: ZNO, which takes place in Algeria 1959. It will be out some time next year but meanwhile you can get it for free print-and-play here.

Free Games!

Link: DC Maracas: Two Videos

Link to the Hollandspiele store: https://hollandspiele.com/collections/all

Winter Thunder: video review and playthrough

Over at The Diagonal Move, Neil Bunker introduces Winter Thunder’s components and mechanisms, and plays through some of the game to illustrate.

Nice!

Brief Border Wars: video reviews and play by TheGimpyGamer

A set of FIVE (!) videos of Brief Border Wars by TheGimpyGamer, who really likes the overall idea of four small games in one box and the core + exclusive rules approach. Component show-and-tell, description of play mechanisms, comments, and then he plays through a full game of The Football War.

Nice!

Brief Border Wars: reviews at Moe’s Game Table

Over at Moe’s Game Table, Maurice Fitzpatrick gives his impressions of Brief Border Wars, both the system and each of the four games in the volume. He likes it!

And a few days later, he puts up a complete and mostly positive review, using a partial playthrough of the Football War game.

Thanks Moe!

I put here my notes to his review:
 
You are right, this game does a few things differently and it is not for everyone. I’ll also say that many of the questions I’ve answered on BGG are from long-time players and are in the nature of “rules say X, can you confirm you really mean X”. This often happens when I try to do something a little different; as I go on designing games (more than 25 years now) I encounter more and more players who mentally port over rules and assumptions from other games they have played. 
 
Map legend missing is an unfortunate slip. My original maps that I sent in to Compass had separate tree, hill and urban icons that were obvious; Mark Mahaffey came up with the little roundel device and I thought it was clever – the woods and mountain icons are obvious enough and that’s two of the three terrain types down. Many people figured out on their own that a black top semicircle meant an urban area but that’s not a good excuse: yes, a map legend would have made it simple. If there is a Volume II quad I will address this point, of course, as well as adding a long combat example so fewer grognards will be thrown by the options added to what is otherwise a simple bucket of dice combat system.
 
Speaking of combat, I agree reformatting the combat results explanations in the rules as a table would have worked, except space demands and layout would have broken the table in two parts across columns. The Sequence of Play aid that comes with each game presents the combat results as a more compact bullet list, which is part way there.
 
Cards and chaos: Each side has the same number of potential moves and/or combats in its deck, the randomness is in how and when they come out. Moe remarks accurately that the armies in these games are bad, disorganized, second or third-string forces in impromptu conflicts and this game mechanic underlines that. Players are overall commanders and they are in the role of chaos managers, in a way that most wargames don’t ask them to be. Sometimes chaos gives you the shaft, and sometimes the other guy gets it (and if you’re playing solo, you always get it!). But, as noted, this gives the game a lot of replayability.
 
Certainly not all players react the same way to chaos in their games, this may be too much for some (and I know full well there are players out there who dislike even having random event tables in a game), so I can suggest a not-random way for them to play:
 

Take out the 2 Random Event Cards and each player starts the game with their allotted 20 Action Cards and 6 special Actions. Each turn a player plays a total of up to 3 cards of their choice from their deck, alternately, beginning with the scenario-designated tie-winning player. Some cards will be left over as you play up to 21 of 26 cards of your choice in the course of a 7 turn game. A workable way to play, rather dull, not respectful of chaos and not the point I wanted to make in these designs at all. But it works. And no random events. Eh.
 
Order of play of the 4 games: I didn’t have a set order in mind, all situations are rather different from each other and each has examples of special units or rules that give flavour to each conflict. No getting around that.
 
Stripes on the random event cards: that was a printing slip and not deliberate. As you noted, the random event card is resolved before the action cards are played so you go with the ones you have in hand at the start of the phase.

One more comment about the randomness of the Action Cards appearances: people are willing to blame their defeats on the cards, but their victories are always due to their clever planning and skill with dice!

I never did test the no-random-cards method suggested above, again it seemed to me to be missing the point but people are welcome to try it. I suppose it has a root in the playing card variant for Ukrainian Crisis.