Interview: designing political-military games

Last year I did an interview about my games and thoughts about game design with the group “Anti-Imperialist Action Ireland” (because they asked nicely). I prefer to do interviews by email but they would have liked a live event, so we compromised by having a computer voice read the transcript quickly while a Terry Gilliam drawing wobbled its jaw up and down.

If this is too alarming an image for you, you can read the transcript at anti-imperialist-action-ireland.com/blog/2022/01/03/political-military-board-game-design-with-brian-train/

Why I am not writing a 2022 scenario for Ukrainian Crisis

Putins einmarsch 2022

ACHTUNG! RUSSISCHE PANZER VOR!

For the last few weeks if not months there has been a steadily frantic series of articles and other pieces in the Western media about an imminent and huge invasion of Ukraine by Russia, by a massing of up to 175,000 troops on the border (cf. New York Times). The above cartoonish map from the German magazine BILD shows you how it would all roll out.

I have read only a few half-intelligent or at least measured pieces on the subject so far; here are two that I would bother to bring to anyone’s attention.

The first is

https://warontherocks.com/2021/11/feeding-the-bear-a-closer-look-at-russian-army-logistics

The first is from War on the Rocks, and while it does not dismiss the chance of an overt Russian invasion outright it does take a semi-realistic look at the ability of the Russian forces to launch and sustain such an operation (also, vs. Poland or the Baltics). Short answer is, yes if they wanted, but not far and not for long.

(The piece also invokes that Baltic war game that RAND ran five years ago that had Russia seizing all three Baltic states within three days. I’m very reticent about generalizing the findings of that RAND wargame, even if it did have a hex map and counters. Some of its questionable assumptions and omissions are summarized here):  http://talk.consimworld.com/WebX?233@@.1ddb6d55/161!enclosure=.1ddbe25c

The second is

https://valdaiclub.com/a/highlights/war-between-russia-and-ukraine-a-basic-scenario

The Valdai Discussion Club is, as fairly as one can put it, a Russian think tank that sometimes stands in for an endorsement or occasionally testing out of Russian government thinking and policy on foreign affairs and world events. It’s easy to dismiss its outputs as Putin propaganda or even sinister maskirovka but the linked article lists some pretty basic and logical points and consequences for why Russia would not and should not invade Ukraine.

That War on the Rocks article is the only Western media thing I’ve seen that actually stopped to crunch the numbers. All the rest of this is drum-beating, ritual dances for whatever tribe of analysts/ journalists the writer belongs to, and stupid little arrows on a cartoon map. At this point it seems to serve both sides much better to put on the best show they can in the event that something might happen, than it is for anything to actually happen.

Anyway, all of this is to say that I do not intend to write any kind of update or scenario for 2022 for Ukrainian Crisis. The game was best fitted to cover the first six months of the 2014 crisis until the First Minsk Agreement. And while its mechanisms are quite flexible and adaptable to other conflicts, it’s not worth the effort to try and update so many of its component parts for this go-round… and anyway, as the game not so quietly points out, a large overt military invasion is a signal that you have already lost the sub-games in its other two dimensions (even more so if the invasion is launched in response to a large-scale deliberate Ukrainian offensive on the LPR and DPR).

Perhaps I am wrong about this. If some nation genuinely wants a border war, it can at least start one but I doubt it will prove much more than most other border wars ever have. In the meantime, you can go back to 2014 and see what you could have done back then: Free Games!

[ETA: Another article along the same lines – not enough trucks – by David Axe (War is Boring) appeared in Forbes magazine: https://www.forbes.com/sites/davidaxe/2022/01/13/the-russian-army-doesnt-have-enough-trucks-to-defeat-ukraine-fast ]

Hiding in plain sight: connecting commercial and professional wargames

December 7, 2021 – John Curry gives a great talk to the Georgetown University Wargaming Society on the connections between the commercial (or hobby) wargame world and professional wargaming.

The talk is focused on the theme of how the hobby have influenced developments in professional gaming. Highlighting that the hobby games introduced concepts such as tabletop landscape, miniatures and political gaming. I then outline the wargaming evangelists who have influenced the direction of professional gaming, with the examples of HG Wells, Donald Featherstone, Colonel Dupuy, James Dunnigan and Paddy Griffith. I will then demonstrate how Matrix Games and Confrontational Analysis has spawned a whole series of professional wargames. My analysis suggests that professional gaming should openly acknowledge the need to borrow good practise from other disciplines, as well as the hobby sector. The world is facing critical threats and games are being played to help inform decision making and prepare leaders. If developments from hobby wargaming can improve the value of these professional games, this is of potential benefit to us all.

Nothing I want to argue about in here!

There is a fair amount of historical development/narrative so you might want to skip ahead if you are already familiar with the Big Names, but his talk is only about 47 minutes – he spends the last half hour fielding some very good questions.

Updated: Quads That Never Were

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Back in 2003 I wrote a piece for Simulacrum magazine on SPI Quadrigames that were proposed but never published. Today was a rainy day and I went through my collection of MOVES magazine to comb the Feedback sections for more Quads That Never Were, to add to the piece.

I found 47 in all!

Here is a link to the updated article. I hope you find it interesting!

NEVERQDS 2021

More on the Urban Warfare Planners Course

The US Army’s First Urban Warfare Planners Course

(photo: Modern War Institute website)

A couple of weeks ago I posted a news item on the first ever Urban Warfare Planners Course, run by the staff of the 40th Infantry Division in California. News you can use

The Urban Warfare Project at the US Military Academy, Modern Warfare Institute has posted a very good podcast where they interviewed BG Robert Wooldridge, deputy commanding general for support about this first course – how it came about, what it is intended to do, and where they want it to go. Normally I do not have the time or patience to listen to podcasts but I did this one. You should too!

https://mwi.usma.edu/the-us-armys-first-urban-warfare-planners-course/

Podcast includes just a few tantalizing details of the tabletop exercise they ran, facilitated by LTC Luke Gygax (yes, the son of That Gygax, he serves in the California National Guard) on the adventures of a multinational task force engaging in combat operations in a dense urban area against a peer enemy. Factions included US forces, Allied forces, Civilians, the Enemy, and a Criminal element. Dice were rolled and chaos ensued!

This is inspiring me to return to work on an idea I had a while ago, the Scaleable Urban Combat Kriegsspiel… I had thought about the District Commander system could be useful as a manual system the Army could use for tabletop exercises, and it quite likely is, but perhaps I could work out something even easier to get into than District Commander Maracas. I easily forget how far these manual games lie outside “ordinary” people’s experience and frame of reference.

[ETA: A later post about their thoughts on offering the course, and what they plan to do next: https://mwi.usma.edu/what-we-learned-creating-the-armys-first-urban-planners-course]

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