Podcast: History and Games Lab, episode #12

Recently I sat down with Eduard Gafton, of the History and Games Laboratory at the University of Edinburgh, to talk about many things – we talk about the origins of some of my game designs and how I got into game design, and focus on Brief Border Wars and the issues involved in designing games on sensitive and controversial topics (A Distant Plain gets a look in, of course).

A great podcast and some very good questions came up!

I’m in very good company on this podcast… earlier guests in the series include Cole Wehrle, Tomislav Cipcic, Volko Ruhnke and Lewis Pulsipher.

https://player.fm/series/history-games-lab-podcast-university-of-edinburgh

Punched #3 out now

https://www.cardboardemperors.co.uk/punched-3

James Buckley of Cardboard Emperors has just put out #3 of Punched, his free online-only magazine on wargames and wargame culture. Contents include:

  • a feature article on five compact wargames that are really good (I’ve actually played three of them – Table Battles, Cousin’s War and 13 Days – and I agree)
  • the Mini Games series from Decision Games (IMO remarkable in its variety of subjects and the sameness of its treatments of same)
  • an article on Bonsai Games products (mostly designed by Yasushi Nakaguro) written by the entertaining Charles Vasey
  • an interview with Florent Coupeau of NUTS! Publishing (he makes a side mention of We Are Coming Nineveh)
  • an interesting article by Riccardo Massini on Napoleon Bonaparte as a “political” general (of course he was), and on the games that show his talent in this arena
  • and reviews of the Campaign Commander Series, Atlantic Chase, World War Africa, Battle for Kursk: The Tigers are Burning 1943, and Prophecy of Kings (TI4)

It’s World War Africa that attracts James’ attention (and mine! though as yet, I have no horizontal surface in my house to play it on, as The Great House Renos enter their 13th month), as in his editorial he discusses the termination of Modern War magazine.

I’m becoming ever more interested in magazine wargames. They often cover the less beaten path, and by their nature tend to be less complex and of lower counter density than big box games (a good thing, in my mind). Also importantly for me given the lack of shelf space in my stuffy London flat, I can fit five magazine zip lock games in the space that one larger production takes up.

The flip side is the games typically have much less time spent on design, play-testing and production, which can result in a fair number of duds and/or mountains of errata. Worth it though, I believe, for when something like World War Africa comes along.

So farewell Modern War magazine. It wasn’t in anyway modern in terms of graphic design, layout, or accessibility (probably a factor in it’s demise), but it sure produced some good games, and will be missed.

Well, I have my own take on why Modern War didn’t last and I do not agree that magazine wargames have more than their share of duds and errata… they do when they are cranked out in quantity by the one publisher that dominates the field (no names, no pack drill) and I think that rather spoils the impression for the remainder.

Anyway, go check out issue #3, it’s great!

“Cold War Gone Hot, Again” at Zones of Connection symposium

May be an image of chess and text that says 'ZONES OF CONNECTION BRADLEY TABLETOP GAMES SYMPOSIUM MAY 21sT & 22ND, 2021 Rensselaer BRADLEY EXPOSRREn Inc. University'

[ETA: better link to schedule here, plus registry link: https://dexposure.com/zoc2021sched.html

Link to twitch.tv room for the panel here: https://www.twitch.tv/dexboardroom1 ]

The schedule for the Zones of Connection: 21-22 May 2021 symposium has been roughed in and my panel is on Friday, May 21, 2030-2130 Eastern Daylight Time (UTC -4:00).

For people who want to listen in: see the twitch.tv links above; for anyone who wants to take part, things are handled through Discord (generally; Zoom if there is a screwup) and you can register at https://dexposure.com/zoc2021.html

Friday 8:30-9:30 

Room A

Title: The Cold War Gone Hot, Again: Retrofuturism or Futuristic Retro?

Participants: Brian Train

Style: Panel/Roundtable

Blurb:  In the 1980s a number of serious wargames on a hypothetical Third World War were published, exciting some interest at the time. Over the last 10 years or so there has been a second wave of newly designed wargames that study that same subject – the Soviet invasion of Europe in the mid-1980s that never happened. Nostalgia for an actual past that one remembers imperfectly is one thing. But nostalgic game design to commemorate a then-hypothetical future war that is now a fictional past is a strange inversion of historiography indeed, and an additional twist beyond the approach taken by the designers of Twilight Struggle. What kind of retrofuturism is it? Is it even retrofuturism at all?

Also,  the triumvirate behind the Eurowargames anthology will be holding a roundtable on the wargames connection between North American and European cultures.

[ETA: twitch.tv room for this session: https://www.twitch.tv/dexconcord  ]

Friday 1:00-2:00

Room C

Title: Speaking About Wargames, in Different Languages: A Comparison of Experiences as International Wargaming Content Creators

Participants: Jan Heinemann, Riccardo Masini, Fred Serval

Style: Roundtable

Blurb:  Coming from different cultural and national backgrounds, content creators Jan Heinemann (Germany), Riccardo Masini (Italy) and Fred Serval (France) have recently joined their common knowledge to coordinate a collection of essays about wargaming in Europe and its many new design trends all over the world. But what about their different experiences as wargaming content creators on YouTube and other social media, with different approaches and different groups of viewers? Together with other prominent international content creators, this roundtable aims at highlighting the peculiar features of speaking about wargames also to non-English speaking viewers: the related difficulties caused by the language barrier and the different historical heritages, the perks granted by cultural diversity and the related criticalities, the needs of the different publics, the choice of media and style, the most requested contents and the games that prove harder to introduce, sometimes for lack of interest on the topic and sometimes even for their controversial nature in other nations. An engaging and rarely seen comparison and mutual confrontation about what it means to speak about board wargaming, a hobby born in the United States in the 1950s, also to non-US players by non-US content creators in the 2020s. Showing once again how gaming can prove to be an important bridge and connection between different cultures.

I’m looking forward to seeing what these guys have to say!

CFP: Wargaming and the Military (Journal of Advanced Military Studies)

Found off H-net feed:

CFPs for the Journal of Advanced Military Studies: Wargaming and the Military

by Jason Gosnell

Call for Submissions for the Fall 2021 Journal of Advanced Military Studies (JAMS)

Marine Corps University Press publishes JAMS on topics of concern to the Marine Corps and the Department of Defense on international relations, political science, security studies, and political economics topics.

Our Fall 2021 issue will have a broadly construed theme:

Wargaming and the Military

This issue will address the past, present, and future state of wargaming and the military. The editors are interested in exploring the topic from a variety of perspectives, including the current status of wargaming and how the Services can prepare for tomorrow with innovative professional military education and wargaming. This exploration can include a historical analysis of wargaming and PME; an analysis of current military use of wargaming in an operational setting; and future wargaming concepts for PME and the battlefield. Article submissions are due by May 31.

The Journal of Advanced Military Studies is a peer-reviewed journal, and submissions should be 4,000–10,000 words, footnoted, and formatted according to Chicago Manual of Style (17th edition). Junior faculty and advanced graduate students are encouraged to submit. MCUP is also looking for book reviewers from international studies, political science, and contemporary history fields.

To receive a copy of the journal or to discuss an article idea or book review, please contact MCU_Press@usmcu.edu.

VCOW 2021: “Two Sides of the COIN”

goldblum

[Edited to add: VCOW talk slides my slides VCOW talk 2 feb  and my script. Thanks for listening in!]

I will be speaking at VCOW 2021: 1915-2000 (+0 GMT) Friday, February 5, 2021 via a Zoom meeting.

This is what they tell me I’ll be doing for about 45 minutes:

TWO SIDES OF THE COIN

In this presentation, Brian will speak briefly about his work in designing asymmetric games on irregular warfare and how this has contributed to the origin and development of the popular “GMT COIN” system. Brian co-designed A Distant Plain (Afghanistan 2003-13) with Volko Ruhnke and designed Colonial Twilight (Algeria 1954-62). His third game using this system, China’s War (China 1937-41), is currently under development.

I will be followed immediately thereafter by Pete Sizer, who frequently comments on this blog as “Pete S/SP”:

BOTH SIDES OF THE COIN: AN OVERVIEW OF COUNTERINSURGENCY GAMES

Based on research undertaken for a PhD this talk will look at the commonly fought but infrequently gamed issue of counterinsurgency and guerrilla warfare looking at those games that have tried to simulate this complicated environment.

Pete Sizer is a gamer of 30 years’ experience with an special interest in guerrilla warfare, counter insurgency and asymmetric warfare. He is currently doing a PhD in Wargaming at Bath Spa University, supervised by John Curry and Dr. Clifford Williamson.

Further details and how-to-join at https://wdvirtualcow.blogspot.com/ !

Remember this is UK time, so about 2 pm on the East Coast, and 11 am for me.

VCOW stands for Virtual Conference of Wargamers, the online version of the Conference of Wargamers, the annual event put on by my favourite crowd of madmen, the Wargame Developments (WD) organization.

Wargame Developments was founded at the first Conference of Wargamers, organized by Paddy Griffith in 1980 – so technically the event came before the organization that holds the event, but I believe they have had one every year since.  It includes among its members some of the most interesting people I have ever met, from the standpoint of either game design or generally bustin’ out with creativity and good humour: Bob Cordery, Jim Wallman, John Curry, Russell King, and the mysterious Tim Price.

For more information see: http://www.wargamedevelopments.org

Also have a look at the WD Handbook here, for an idea of just how creative these guys are: Wargame Developments Handbook

Also, Wargame Developments has published its magazine The Nugget (slang term for a d10) for a long time – they are up to issue #332 now. Each issue contains discussion of games, after action reports, occasionally rule sets and think-pieces on wargaming. Back issues may be viewed here:

http://www.wargamedevelopments.org/nugget.htm

The Zenobia Award

Mentor.

Signal boost for a worthy cause: the Zenobia Award.

Rex Brynen is a better writer, speaker and when it comes down to it thinker than I am so I will quote from his announcement:

“Historical board games are enjoyed by people from all walks of life, but their designers are predominately white men. The Zenobia Award hopes to change this by encouraging game submissions by people from marginalized groups. The Zenobia Award is not an ordinary design award. Promising applicants will receive mentorship on their designs from established industry designers, and the winners will receive help navigating the game publication process in addition to a cash prize.”

Daniel Thurot at Space-Biff! is also far more eloquent than I, at his post at https://spacebiff.com/2020/11/22/zenobia/

More details are all here: https://zenobiaaward.org so go and have a look.

I write a lot about my game designs on this blog, less often on politics, and only occasionally on the state of the hobby. But anyone who’s been in it for long soon susses out that just as there are definitely more “outputs” (published games) on certain topics than others, there are also more “inputs” (designers of published games) of a certain category than others – white, male, and older.

This is an observation, and hardly a profound one at that.

I don’t see anything nefarious about this situation. It was well known, Back In The Day, that this was a hobby that was generally indulged in by white, educated males… the Great Dunnigan remarked on this, particularly the gender imbalance, in the pages of SPI-era Strategy and Tactics many times, and often referred to the whole shootin’ match as “the hobby of the overeducated” – which back then largely also meant white and male.

I also don’t see anything particularly praiseworthy about this situation. It is also well known, Now, that many cylinders of this hobby’s engine have run on nostalgia fumes for a very long time, and many players and designers from Back In The Day are still with us, just older. That’s expected – time does march on – but society has marched on too and the audiences, actual and potential, for tabletop games are far different in gender, ethnicity, nationality and cultural outlook from 40 years ago.

I think it’s pretty simple: if you want to see the hobby continue to function, to encourage new ideas and explore different topics, to invite new people and their experiences into the fold, either help to spread the word yourself or consider contributing, either as a member of an underrepresented group or part of a team that includes such. It’s not about the prize (personally, I don’t see why money has to be be involved at all), it’s about the offer of help, advice and mentorship to people who want to become involved… which is something I have tried to extend to everyone who has approached me, as a designer (and in my day job).

If these things are not important to you, or you think they will happen by themselves, or you think that historical board games are not inherently political objects, then carry on as you have – this initiative doesn’t require anything of you, and I am sure you can find someone who will agree with you elsewhere. But I have never had time for self-appointed gatekeepers.

The Game Political

A very good piece on aspects of the current (and not so current) “keep politics out of my games” breast-beating, by Iain McAllister at the blog There Will Be Games.

https://therewillbe.games/articles-essays/7944-the-game-political

+1 for the House of Cards image!

So much of my design work has been and will continue to be overtly political, or at least about politics. And certainly designing a game, any game, is a creative and therefore a personally-political act.

And yes, I think the games themselves are works of art, and as such deep and very telling artifacts of popular culture to boot. And that popular culture that we all swim about in is changing – it’s always changing, but nowadays it is changing in ways that make many of the inhabitants of this niche of a niche of a niche uncomfortable. We must all ask ourselves where we draw our sense of identity from, and what parts of life we overtly tie it to.

The Game Political

The Game Political

Tthegiantbrain Updated July 23, 2020 

‘Don’t get Politics in my game’ goes out the cry. It rings out during debates over diversity, games set in less than savoury periods of history, and ideologies overt and subtle in the world of tabletop games. This voice is getting louder and louder as boardgames shake off the cloak of being a niche hobby and make their tentative way to a more mainstream audience. As the number of people playing boardgames grows, more and more questions are being asked of the creators intent: the message the game is trying to convey. On top of this we are waking up to the idea that maybe diverse genders, sexualties and people of colour should be seen more on front of boxes and behind the scenes at companies. More questions, more probing of the status quo.

Should these concerns be shoved aside for the sake of ‘just playing the game’? Isn’t such criticism fundamental to the growth of any art form? Let’s take a deep breath together, and dive into some murky depths.

Defining the issue

This is a thorny subject, so let’s establish some ground rules. First of all we need to look at what is being said by those who declare ‘Don’t bring politics into my games’ (or words to that effect). Turning for a moment to the Oxford English Dictionary for a definition:

Politics: relating to the ideas or strategies of a particular party or group

Fundamentally we are talking about ideas, and of course people are going to argue about them. Unfortunately a lot of the time what they are arguing for is the status quo, as if politics has never existed in boardgames until this moment.

Since we first started making art the act of creation is one that expresses ideas. Ideas of place, of people, of lived experiences. We cannot separate politics from the act of creation, as one influences the other. From hanging portraits in a gallery to the latest blockbuster, our creative acts are imbued with the ideas, and politics, of their creators.

A foundation for discussion

I think we can agree that Boardgames are a creative endeavour, and I have argued that the creative act by its very nature is political. It therefore follows that boardgames are political.

Why then do we have voices telling us to get politics out of boardgames? My experience of seeing this said generally comes in one of two cases: when a company seeks to include more diverse voices, art, or to represent a particular political point of view more overtly, or when the game is coming in for criticism. It is the latter that really interests me (though we will come back to the former).

Are they art?

We’ve established that boardgames are political due to being a creative act. Are they art? That is a much trickier question to answer with any certainty, so let me answer it from my own perspective so we can move on.

I think we all recognise that individual components of a boardgame can be recognised as art: the illustrations, miniature design, graphic design, writing (both technical and creative). Therefore the whole that is created out of these elements, can also be seen as an art form. Simplistic maybe, but as I said this is my point of view. I think boardgames are art.

Art that is never seen, experienced or consumed, is art without purpose. Art needs interpreted, it should have emotional impact. To me the greatest sin a piece of art can commit is to not move me at all. If I watch a film and my reaction is a shrug of the shoulders and ‘meh’, then it has not done its job. Even films I dislike have provoked a strong reaction at least. Art should provoke a reaction, even if it is just in one person. If it provokes a reaction, it is likely to receive criticism as well.

On the defensive

When something we love comes in for negative feedback, it can feel like an attack. We take it personally. I get that, I’ve been there myself. We rage against the idea that the thing we love is not perfect, and one of the ways that happens is to call foul on the idea of ‘bringing politics into games’. This seems to be especially the case when that criticism is to do with the treatment of different cultures, people of colour, and diverse genders in games.

Curiously you don’t see this happening when Twilight Struggle stood colossus like atop the BGG top 100. Twilight Struggle is a game about a literal political fight (the Cold War). Did anyone shout ‘Keep politics out of my games’ when this happened? No. No they didn’t. How many wargames are there? Think war isn’t political? Where are these angry voices everytime a new wargame hits the market? Silent as the grave. Watergate, a current favourite of mine, has had a rapturous reception across the critical spectrum. I don’t recall seeing a single person saying ‘get politics out of my games’ despite it being about a political scandal. The moment someone says ‘could we please have a non-sexualised female miniature’ or ‘what about representing people of colour in your art’ then it’s all loud hailers and signs.

I think I’ve amply demonstrated that these comments do not come from a place of wanting to get ‘politics’ out of games. It’s about prejudice. White prejudice to be exact. All white people have it, myself included. We are conditioned in a certain way of thinking about other cultures and societies in such a way that we must always ask questions of ourselves and the games we play. I’ve been doing my best to educate myself about the struggles black people have endured, and I recommend the documentaries ‘I am not your Negro’ and ‘13th’ as good places to start. I have also been reading ‘White Fragility’ by Robin DiAngelo and that has given me a lot to think about.

If we want the hobby to grow it must represent all people. I can find myself everywhere in the hobby because I am a white, CIS, straight male. If you are not that, then your representation in the hobby is poor, bordering on non-existent. This is changing, albeit slowly. If you are represented in the hobby, you can use your voice to lift up great examples of inclusive practices, to shout about the designers, artists, developers who do not fall into the norm of the hobby’s demographic. You don’t need to be an influencer or reviewer, every voice helps.

Asking questions of ourselves, being critical of our own choices and actions is paramount. Such a course keeps us honest and stops us slipping into the outright discrimination that is ever prevalent in our culture and the hobby. I hope to do better myself in the future, and where I can will endeavour to highlight voices from a different cultural background to my own, whatever form that culture takes.

A critical moment

As critics start to ask hard questions of the endless colonial themes, the lack of racial & gender diversity both on the front of the box and behind the scenes, we must be accepting of these questions. If we want the hobby to grow and expand, we must listen to diverse voices, for we will only be enriched and strengthened if we do. Now is not the time to be afraid of these questions.

It will be painful, there are choices to be made that may make us feel uncomfortable, but we can make those choices together, as a community. We can choose to lift up a diverse range of voices. We can choose to ignore those who would foster hate and division. We can choose to welcome the whole world to sit round a table with us and chuck some dice. But we must make the choice. We must actively choose these actions. If we do not then boardgames don’t deserve to grow at all.

(By the way, sorry if this piece looks weird – I am trying to use the new editor WordPress is foisting on us all, and it’s not going well!)

Brief Border Wars: shipping at last!

bbw-boxcover-1100px

https://www.compassgames.com/brief-border-wars.html

Available and shipping as of today!

Still shows price of $52 so perhaps you can order quickly and save a few dollars too!

As was briefly discussed in the recent interview with John Kranz, I have been mulling over another set of four conflicts… nothing succeeds like a sequel (which is rather idiotically self-referential, now that I think about it).

Interview with Compass Games, 5 June 2020

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

“At man in purple suit waving axe, one round, FIRE!” – CIVIL POWER now available for pre-order from Conflict Simulations Ltd.

civilpowerdraft.png

Preliminary cover design by Ray Weiss.

Now it can be told:

CIVIL POWER, one of the first games I designed, will be given a proper publication by Conflict Simulations Ltd.!

Constant Readers and obsessive ludographers will know that this game has already had a couple of editions: in 1996, as the issue game in #294 of Strategist, the newsletter of the Strategy Gaming Society, and more recently from my BTR Games. In both cases they were DTP level products where you had to copy out the counters and mount them on cardboard and cut out – or just stick them to cardboard and cut out – but in either case you had to do a little craft project first.

Conflict Simulations is going to release this as part of their “2140” series, with 140 back-printed counters and nice maps (by Ilya Kudriashov) in a small cardboard  box (about the same size as GDW used to use for the boxed editions of its Series 120 games, if you go back that far in the hobby).

As of today, the game is available for pre-order for $34.99 at:

https://www.consimsltd.com/shop/civil-power

Expected release is Q1 or Q2 of 2020, if’n the crick don’ rise… Meanwhile, here is the ad copy:

“In this critical hour we don’t need love, we need WEAPONS — the newest and best and most efficient weapons we can get our hands on. This is a time of extreme peril. The rising tide is almost on us….” – Raoul Duke

Civil Power is a game from Brian Train which models mass civil disorder, riots, raids, and other violent urban phenomena. One player will take command of the Police/local authorities while the other player takes command of the Mob. The game is asymmetrical in its means, motives and opportunities: the Police player has discipline, firepower and esoteric technology while the Mob player has outrage, numbers and Molotov cocktails. The Police must manage to contain and subdue the crowd through carefully distributed violence: the right amount will suppress or demoralize Mob forces, while too much will cause casualties costing the police victory points. The Mob player is less constrained but is also aware that a riot is a temporary thing.

Scenarios are included for several types of situations: riots (including a five-day Chicago 1968 campaign and a three-player Belfast 1975 scenario); raids (featuring a skirmish by the Berlin Wall); and gang warfare (including the 1992 Los Angeles riots, a Crips-Bloods gang war, and a 1944 Warsaw Uprising scenario). There are enough examples supplied that players will easily be able to design their own scenarios, inspired by the headlines of today and tomorrow.

Brian Train was inspired to design this game after reading “The Police Chief”, a particularly savage article by Hunter S. Thompson writing as “Raoul Duke, Master of Weaponry” about the inadequacy of equipment in the police armory to deal with civil disorder. We hope you, animated by the Spirit of Gonzo, will take the chance to explore his take on modern urban violence.

“When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.” – Raoul Duke

Civil Power includes:

2 8.5×11 geomorphic square-grid maps of an imaginary urban area
140 double-sided  counters
1 rulebook
Player aids & displays