News Paper Games

… is the not-quite-as-bad-as-last-year title I picked for the short talk I am giving at the national conference of the American Popular Culture Association in San Diego next week.

http://pcaaca.org/national-conference/

Here is my abstract:

Ian Bogost’s 2011 book Newsgames: Journalism At Play described the growing use of videogames distributed via the Internet to fulfill the basic objectives of journalism: to inform, educate, criticize and persuade. Manual games (also called board games) distributed or published through magazines or newspapers were long used for the same purposes prior to the creation of the Internet, and the practice continues to this day. Manual games are more permissive of remixing/ reskinning for these objectives than video games, by a wider range of people. As physical and tactile objects, they demand and offer a different form of engagement with the material, on the ludic and informational level. They also particularly lend themselves to parody and satire, leading to a greater consciousness of “critical play” (Flanagan, 2009).

 This paper will focus on past and current examples of how manual games, as inclusions or features in print journalism products, have portrayed and “covered” (in the journalistic sense) contemporary issues and episodes of social, political and actual armed conflict. It will also discuss and present examples, including ones from my own work, of use of the Internet to disseminate manual games with critical and analytic content on current topics, as a form of citizen journalism.

Surprisingly, Bogost’s book does not mention paper games at all (or manual, or board, or analog, or tabletop, whatever term you want to use for games not played on a computer), except for a chapter on crosswords and other word puzzles with some news content in them appearing in newspapers.

Actually, nothing surprising about that… hardly anyone in the field of game studies writes anything about tabletop games. Last year’s conference had nearly 100 presentations in the game studies area, and three of them were not about some aspect of computer, video, digital games generally … two guys talking about people who play tabletop RPGs, and me.

Bored of War…          Back from Seattle

This year there are only about 50 presentations – it seems to be a smaller conference overall, though there will still be a couple of thousand people there – and still only three on non-digital games: one person presenting about narrative in Pandemic: Legacy (still can’t get used to the idea of a game that you scribble on, without first having made it yourself) and one person talking about “Policing Responsible Citizens: The Gamification of Crime Resistance in Children’s Table-Top Games” (seems interesting), and again me.

The fact remains, the practice of producing manual “newsgames”, under most of these genres, has been going on for some time. They remain as uncommon but clear acts of citizen-based social criticism and analytic journalism. And through DTP software, the PDF file, and the Internet for production, storage and distribution they carry on, in ever-greater numbers of PnP designs from ever-greater numbers of people.

Before there were video games there were manual games. But no one talks about it, at least not at an event like this. My talk is not even an argument, really, which I guess is fine because this seems to be a field profoundly ignorant of its origins.

Am I the skeleton at the feast?

Or does this just not have anything to do with elephants, in the room or out of it?

Anyway, there will be a game night like they had the year before, so I am bringing a few PnP items along for show, tell and play.

 

Finnish Civil War (Paper Wars #84) has arrived.

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Cover by Knut Grunitz.

Today in the mail I got my subscriber copy of Paper Wars #84, containing Finnish Civil War.

Excellent map and counter art by Knut Grunitz, who put both together very quickly and effectively. Very pleased! I hope you will like this one.

Unfortunately, due to a layout oversight only the first half of the historical article I wrote on the War was printed in the magazine! The whole article will be uploaded to the Compass Games website or you can get a copy here:

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Coming soon from Hollandspiele: Ukrainian Crisis and The Little War!

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Another interesting cover design by Tom Russell.

Coming in March 2017, from Hollandspiele!

Ukrainian Crisis will be much the same as the PnP version available now here, except that the Resource cards will be chits (they can’t print up that many cards), the game length is increased to 9 turns and there are a few extra units, for variety and to fill up the counter sheet.

Even better, this will be half of a two-game package… the other game will be the mini-game The Little War, on the brief Slovak-Hungarian border war of March 1939! This one uses only 30 counters and a deck of ordinary playing cards to drive the action. I designed this one last year.

The free print-and-play version of Ukrainian Crisis will remain available. But you know Hollandspiele and their printing partner Blue Panther LLC have been doing a very good job of production!

A New PnP Game: UKRAINIAN CRISIS

 

Review of Operation Whirlwind in Small Wars Journal

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Over in the clandestine caverns of the Small Wars Journal, Michael Peck has written a good review of Operation Whirlwind:

http://smallwarsjournal.com/jrnl/art/game-review-operation-whirlwind-the-soviet-assault-on-budapest-1956

Go check it out!

Namechecked on VICE Waypoint and Killscreen!

ZOC book cover

https://waypoint.vice.com/en_us/article/what-we-dont-talk-about-when-we-talk-about-gitmo-games

Over at Waypoint (the section of VICE magazine that deals with gaming and gamer culture), Muira McCammon, an academic who writes on Guantanamo Bay quotes from the essay on irregular warfare games I wrote with Volko Ruhnke for the Zones of Control anthology . She also references A Distant Plain and Labyrinth.

So, what sort of game system might be able to model the complexity of GiTMO, to give voice to the challenges that detainees, journalists, lawyers, and guards have faced in the detention facility’s history?

My answer: the wargame.

Wargames are a great way to parse asymmetrical conflict in a political system, and in many ways, GiTMO can be understood as a series of power struggles. A wargame has the potential to model the tensions between journalists, detainees, lawyers, and members of the U.S. military. It could give us an outlet to reflect on serious episodes in GiTMO’s history, like that time when Cmdr. Jeffrey Gordon accused journalist Carol Rosenberg of “multiple incidents of abusive and degrading comments of an explicitly sexual nature.” It could help us examine the history of coalition building in GiTMO, like when detainees held an election to select two leaders, one who was revealed to the Americans and one who worked in the shadows.

….

What Ruhnke and Train speak to is a problem that extends beyond wargames. A lot of us with differing ideological, religious, ethnic, and other backgrounds are uncomfortable with the idea of people “playing” games about serious things like war crimes and human rights violations.   Anyone trying to make a wargame out of GiTMO would have to simplify the place, and that carries a number of inherent risks. Another problem: GiTMO is still a morphing, changing place with an uncertain future.

I can think of a few ways to do this, actually, but that will have to wait while I work on other projects. I suspect that Camp Delta will be there for a while yet.

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Banner: Rodger MacGowan.

And a few weeks ago on a website called Killscreen, she also wrote about A Distant Plain and what did and didn’t go into the Events Deck for that game.

https://killscreen.com/articles/ghost-churchill-make-wargame/

Event cards helped me become comfortable with wargame design. The first deck I really loved and explored belonged to A Distant Plain (2013), a wargame about contemporary Afghanistan. I considered how my Afghan friends would critique the narrative put forth in the deck and the board. What would they think of this attempt to boil a segment of their nation’s history down? Omission, deletion, marginalization, and exclusion—these are issues that always bubbled up in my mind as I shuffled through the deck.

I had mentored a group of Afghan women writers, many of whom were based in Kabul, and I always wondered, if they had been taught wargame design, how might their deck have differed? Instead of having a card devoted to “Koran Burning,” would they have given a card to mark the murder of Farkhunda Malikzada, an Afghan woman falsely accused of burning a Qur’an? As wargame designers Volko Ruhnke and Brian Train crafted their A Distant Plain (2013), which cards had been edited out?

She does have a point and I did attempt to answer her in the comments, but I don’t know if she saw it.

A deck of 72 event cards presents only 72 different chances to alter the game as it is played, even though the number of combinations is astronomical (72 factorial, or 6.123446 to the 103rd power). As I’ve said before, a wargame is a created object, a distillation of first and second hand experience and therefore cannot be a neutral one, any more than there can be a neutral novel. Deliberately or not, there of course will be deletions, omissions, exclusions and abstractions – that’s endemic to the process of recording history itself, let alone abstracting from that history to make a model in the form of a game. The designer, through the processes of research, conceptualizing, testing and production of a game, must make a series of choices of what to include in their design, what to leave out, and how to model what’s been judged relevant enough and left in.

Volko and I were aware of this of course, and took a few online kicks in the ribs for even trying to design a game on a war that was still underway. We felt that most importantly, a designer should be prepared to “show their work” and stand behind what they have done. Therefore we tried to select events that one were based on one or more actual historical events, tactics, or tendencies that materially affected the conflict; in a couple of cases things that could have affected it and were possible but didn’t happen (e.g. a coup d’etat in the Afghan Government). In all cases we had descriptions of what is represented by that card in history in the game’s playbook, with a reference to one or more items in the game’s bibliography.

Jeremy Antley, whom McCammon also references, wrote an interesting post on this aspect in his blog concerning the “My Lai” event card in Fire in the Lake. (Unfortunately, his domain name has expired so I can’t link to it right now – it was at http://www.peasantmuse.com/. Jeremy, pay the Internet Gods!)

And in the final analysis, A Distant Plain is a manual wargame. It’s entirely possible for Muira McCammon, or anyone else, to introduce, edit or replace the cards in the game, for greater or lesser (but certainly different) effect. As Mary Flanagan points out in Critical Play, that’s just the beginning of what you can do!

New from BTR Games: EOKA

As work finally winds down on Colonial Twilight, I finally made the last touches to EOKA, and journeyed to the copy shop to get some copies printed out. So, the game that I originally worked out in 2010-11 is finally available!
It is the first game ever published on this small but very interesting counterinsurgency campaign.
[ETA: it now has a BGG entry too: https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/214564/eoka]
EOKA: The Cyprus Emergency, 1955-59

Greek Cypriot terrorists (EOKA) vs. British occupiers (Empire). A colonial situation, with both sides working under considerable strictures of resources and time.

One 11×17″ area-movement map of Cyprus, 140 double-sided counters (when assembled). Mission-oriented system, the most ambitious development of the Shining Path/ Algeria/ Andartes system yet, with additional rules to cover the lasting effects of violence and kinetic operations and requirements for government to maintain civic infrastructure. Also includes:

  • A third faction, representing non-state militias. During the historical conflict groups of Turkish Cypriots came together to form self-defence groups to protect their villages from ethnic violence. There were also small groups of British expatriates who acted as vigilantes. They supported the government in its opposition to EOKA, but were not under its control. These groups are represented in the game by “Volkan” units (named after the main such Turkish group), that are not played by a human player but which appear on the map in response to high levels of insurgent violence and perform in accordance with a set of “automatic” rules.
  • A simple intelligence – counterintelligence subsystem, where the counterinsurgent seeks to identify the insurgent forces and anticipate their actions, while the insurgent tries to evade and cloak his presence.
  • Lastly, solitaire play rules are included for a semi-randomized British player that will allow players to learn and play the game alone.

Like other games in the “Box4” system, the main currency of victory is the Political Support Level, and the game ends when one side zeroes out.

If the Empire PSL reaches zero, it means something along the lines of a negotiated settlement has been reached among the British, Greek and Turkish governments on the future status of Cyprus. Historically, one was reached at the beginning of 1959 which decided that Cyprus would be an independent country, without ethnic partitions, and that the British would be allowed to maintain several military bases on the island.

If the EOKA PSL reaches zero, it means something like a collapse of the viability of the organization has occurred –  the Greek government decides it should no longer be supported, the population of Cyprus turns against what EOKA proposes, the security forces manage to round up or eliminate much of EOKA’s field units, etc..

The usual terms: $15 US funds, which includes postage to anywhere. I take, and prefer Paypal: please pay to brian.train@gmail.com. Like other BTR Games releases, the game comes in a comic book bag and you must mount and cut the counters yourself. (Tell you what, though, I will do that for you for an extra $35 US… a bargain, Tom Wham will charge you up to $200! http://www.tomwham.com/stuff.html)

I hope you find this one interesting!

eokampsnip

Western half of map. Note new layout of “4 boxes”.

 

eokactrsnip

Section of counter sheet. Yes, I am crude. Thanks to Tom Mouat and his Mapsymbs fonts!

The Other 9/11

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43 years ago today, the government of Chile was overthrown by its own armed forces in a coup d’etat.

cl73ctrsample

Coming soon, perhaps, to a small/ very small/ ludicrously tiny publisher, a mini-game by me on that topic, designed late last year. Samples shown.