Coming soon: interview with Radio War Nerd

I spent a very pleasant time today talking about my game designs with Mark Ames and Gary Brecher, who run the Radio War Nerd podcast. It should be up and available soon!

Watch this space….

Meanwhile,

Patreon page that supports the podcast: https://www.patreon.com/radiowarnerd

Facebook page that supports the chatter (also, a lot of interesting posts and questions on their own, it’s quite an eclectic crowd) https://www.facebook.com/people/Gary-Brecher/100009407541064

Twitter, for those who tweet https://twitter.com/TheWarNerd

Podcast: I’ve been Diced! ep 78

I’ve Been Diced! episode 78: Brian Train on newsgames, little wars, and simulation

Not long ago Tom Grant had an interview with me for his long-running podcast I’ve Been Diced!

Have a listen! I duck out about 1 hour 23 min, and Tom carries on and amplifies some of the points we talked about, particularly games vs. simulations, far more articulately than I’ve ever been able to. He even makes a Borges reference!

This is episode 78; I was on the podcast once before, back in 2011 for episode 20 where we talked about revolutionary and asymmetrical warfare. Here we are ten years later, still talking about irregular wars and simulating them, though I have more titles (and a new fixation, analog newsgames) under my belt.

I’ve Been Diced! episode 20: Brian Train on wargames about revolutionary and asymmetric warfare

Brief Border Wars: Volume II now available for pre-order!

I did a Compass Games broadcast with John Kranz tonight.

Big announcement: volume II of Brief Border Wars is now available for pre-order from Compass Games!

Get it now for the “pay later” price of $54.00!

I talk about the game for about 30 minutes on the video above, and the ad copy at the link below will tell you more and show you the maps, counters and cover artwork, very ably done by Knut Grunitz.

Brief Border Wars 2 (Pay Later)

The four games in Volume II are:

1913: Second Balkan War
The division of lands given up by the Ottoman Empire at the end of the First Balkan War was soon the subject of squabbles between the allied nations that had defeated the Empire. Bulgaria decided to grab as much of this territory as it could by a surprise attack on June 30, 1913 against Serbia and Greece. The offensive by their more powerful army soon petered out due to poor logistical depth and bad coordination, then in mid-July Romanian and Ottoman forces crossed Bulgaria’s borders. This made Bulgaria sue for peace but if the Bulgarian player has seized enough territory and made significant diplomatic assurances, they will have a better position in the negotiations.

1919: The Seven-Day War
The Duchy of Teschen (Cieszyn in Polish) was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until the end of the war. The two new countries of Czechoslovakia and Poland both laid claim to the territory on historic and ethnic grounds; more urgently, both countries desperately needed the land because of its large coal deposits and valuable mines, as well as the important iron and steel works at Trinec. On January 23, 1919, Czechoslovakia invaded to seize control of as much of the region as they could to stop Poland’s efforts to claim sovereignty over it. After seven days of fighting, the Entente nations forced a ceasefire and the two antagonists signed an agreement establishing a border at the Olza River, dividing the city of Cieszyn.

1939: The Nomonhan Incident
Also called the Battle of Khalkin Gol, this border clash between Japanese and Soviet forces in a remote part of the Mongolian grasslands had an impact on the development of the Second World War in the Pacific all out of proportion to the numbers involved. The game covers the early to mid-July 1939 period, the only time frame in which the Japanese Army could have succeeded in overpowering the local Soviet forces and establishing their claim to the zone between the Soviet claimed boundary and the Halha River. The attack provoked extensive reinforcements for the Soviet 57th Corps and their counteroffensive in August under the command of General Georgi Zhukov discouraged the Japanese Empire from contemplating further attacks on Mongolia or the USSR.

1940: The Italo-Greek War
This game covers the first two months of the Italian invasion of Greece in the fall and winter of 1940. Hardly anything went right for the Italians; chaotic logistics and poor communication nullified their great advantage in men and machines and their offensive was halted and then thrown back into Albania by the determined Greek forces. Could you have done better than Mussolini?

bbw2-gamebox-top-062022

Consim Game Jam #2: 19-21 August 2022

NOF18juncloseup

(everything starts with a prototype)

http://consimgamejam.com/

Consim Game Jam is a so-far-annual event where small groups of people from all over the world get together to create a wargame prototype, from start to finish, in 72 hours!

The last one was in October 2021 and the given theme was “Recycle an existing COIN game”. That is, using the physical components of a published GMT COIN system game, create a new design. This event shook 15 submissions out of the Idea Tree, and they are impressive in their variety and imagination.

http://consimgamejam.com/edition-1-submissions/

Now, the next one is scheduled for the weekend of August 19-21, 2022!

Theme hasn’t been announced yet, as far as I can find.

Go to the link at the top of the post, and/or register at this link to get further details.

http://consimgamejam.com/register/

I won’t be in this one, but I cannot wait to hear the theme and see what comes of this second exercise.

Logistical listicle @ RMN and ACD

Battle Lab ~ Defining “Logistics” for Wargames

At Armchair Dragoons today, Brant Guillory posts about logistics could be shown in wargames but aren’t (but don’t always have to be). I cannot improve on what he has to say here! Freebird!

https://rockymountainnavy.com/2022/03/09/wargame-wednesday-wheres-my-supply

And earlier, over at the Rocky Mountain Navy blog, a good piece on logistics treatment and examples of supply rules in modern-period wargames… the handwavy, the ambitious-but-fundamentally-spineless, and the just-don’t-go-there. Also, would the famous 40 km long traffic jam north of Kyiv happen in a civilian wargame? Answer: no it wouldn’t, because trucks are magic and unit commanders are smart and disciplined. Offhand, the only wargame I can recall that dealt seriously with the amount of road space a unit on the march took up was SPI’s East Front game Lost Battles, from 1971; also, some Bulge games have rules about traffic jams and occasionally someone insists you cannot just drive one division through another division.

Go and have a look at it, it also cites the logistical articles I had pointed out in previous posts that described the supply problems the Russians would run into if they invaded (however, I presented these as arguments against them doing an invasion, but that’s now moot).

But more to the point he illustrated the article with this map which is far more descriptive than the scary massive red and stripey zones and plunging arrows we see on TV and other media. It points out the nature of the mostly empty modern battlefield, the “line and dot” nature of an advance into enemy territory and an evocation of the long logistical tail the advance needs for its sustenance.

Actually, most military campaign maps from almost any period should be drawn like this; they should look like duelling plates of spaghetti.

551248a9-43d1-4384-9ac9-d7c96f07ebd9

Podcast: Armchair Dragoons

https://www.armchairdragoons.com/podcast/mentioned-in-dispatches-season-8-ep-6-looking-back-at-wargames-on-ukraine

Brant Guillory invited me on his regular podcast Mentioned in Dispatches recently.

Together with his regular partner in broadcasting Mike, we talk about games postulating war in Ukraine and how they seem to be largely inapplicable, or got it wrong.

I did Ukrainian Crisis in 2014 of course; and Brant designed Orange Crush, an operational level kinetic combat game about action around Lviv, in 2007.

But we talk about other things too….

Ukrainian Crisis: tableflip

tableflip 2014 400x400

Why I am not writing a 2022 scenario for Ukrainian Crisis

Well, I admit I was wrong.
After all, I’m not a freakin’ wizard.

I maintain though, that a 2022 scenario for this game would have been out of place anyway, for an overt invasion of Ukraine on this scale and extent is an admission that the other two sub-games have been lost, and in this case perhaps not even seriously played.

In that sense it’s a tableflip, and I still don’t see a point in constructing a scenario for that; find a different game.

And as I have said in the previous post, if somebody wants a war, they will get it… and now there is one, and it will be a disaster for all concerned.

There were many ways to accomplish Russian objectives; this is a poor one, possibly the worst course they could try.

And now that the table has been flipped and the pieces are headed for the floor, at this point I would not even try to guess the ultimate outcome.

One Facebook group I read is “Radio War Nerd”, a follow-on from the very entertaining and insightful War Nerd columns written over the years by “Gary Brecher”. One of the administrators is Mark Ames, who has posted the following today: 

When you’re wrong, you’re wrong.

 

I was wrong about Putin’s strategic intentions, wrong with a good crowd that’s been very useful to me over many years, and continue to be — people like exiled dissident journalists Leonid Bershidsky and Leonid Ragozin, along with a lot of other Russians and gone-native Russia-watchers who got this wrong. We — I — held to assumptions based on watching, reporting, researching, living in & thinking about Russia over the past few decades. (I should say that we all disagree on a lot of stuff, the Leonids for example are far more viscerally anti-Kremlin than I, and more sympathetic to the Maidan revolution, but none of us believed this is the sort of thing that fits Putin’s profile). Anyway, those assumptions no longer work, and I’m not going to pretend I’ve already got it figured out which assumptions will work from here on out.

 

 
This time it’s the very worst ghouls who got it right for once in their sleazy careers, after getting everything wrong without fail since the start of the century. There’s Robert Kagan, Vicky Nuland’s husband, who just published a big piece a couple of days ago in the WaPo about the impending mass invasion. Normally I’d take that as the final proof that Putin was about to do the very opposite of what Kagan predicted—if Kagan predicts invasion, experience says it really means Putin is about to quit the Kremlin to join Code Pink. The Kagan Clan and the Atlantic Council get paid for being wrong, but I suspect they’ll get extra bonuses from their sponsors for getting something right for once (and for helping catalyze the current shitshow by designing Biden’s hawkish Ukraine policy a year ago, which we’ve gone over).

 

God knows I don’t want to absolve Putin in any way here. It’s true that the US and NATO are big partners in this nightmare; they’ve done all they could to provoke a crisis assuming they could slowly creep and bleed it out, and when the Kremlin gave extra- serious signals last year that something big would happen, Biden responded with the same feckless diplomacy and distracted attention that’s characterized his Admin’s zombified domestic political program, whatever’s left of it anyway. I think Putin, who has clearly built up a volcano’s worth of grievances, understood Biden’s feckless inertia as an active fuck you, and Putin was clearly waiting for just that. He wants to bomb big, and Ukraine is the live demonstration board. Putin has all the “agency” imaginable here. He could have chosen a whole range of responses, none of them pretty, but none of them anywhere near as violent and dangerous and widespread as this one. This is what he wants; the US provoked, but it’s Putin, and very much not-metonymy Putin but Putin with his supporters, who is bombing the shit out of Ukraine. My family has good friends in Kiev; one of my wife’s best friends is huddling with her 3 children in their apartment as I’m writing this, too afraid to go out to the nearest bomb shelter, and her ex-husband is too afraid to come help with the children, he’s huddling in his apartment building. Most of my wife’s close friends from Moscow came from Ukraine, so it’s just hard to fathom. Полный пиздец.

The world is going to be a much much worse place for everyone. No lessons will be learned. Or rather, only the worst lessons will be learned, by and for the worst people. US intelligence credibility restored; neocon credibility restored; progressive agendas, such as they were still possible, gone; the GOP is going to pillory Biden and the Dems as weak, as taken advantage of by Putin, turning Russiagate on its ugly head. NATO’s gonna get very extra NATO. Ukraine is fucked. The worse, the worse-er, all around.

 

 

This invasion didn’t come from nothing, but I thought there would be more of something else before this. Mea culpa.

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

[Edited 24 February 2022 –

Obviously, I was wrong.

See: Ukrainian Crisis: tableflip]

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.