Book video review: Zones of Control

ZOC book cover

Or maybe it’s a video book review!

Two reviews of the Zones of Control anthology on Youtube: a lengthy one by the notorious Marco Arnaudo.

https://youtu.be/rF0_YiWzlBo

And a shorter one by the Bonding with Board Games group, who also do the HAMTAG (Half As Much, Twice As Good) show

https://youtu.be/mk0UhBAhku4

By the way, MIT Press is having a sale on this and every other book they carry until Monday!

You can get a copy of this for 40% off, or just thirty Yankbucks!

https://mitpress.mit.edu/zones-control

And be sure to look elsewhere in the Game Studies area, as there are some other very good titles there.

https://mitpress.mit.edu/category/discipline/game-studies

Eight pages of stuff and like always 95% of it is about digital games and gaming, but I have bought and liked:

  • Works of Game: on the Aesthetics of Game and Art, by John Sharp
  • Uncertainty in Games, by Greg Costikyan
  • The Well Played Game: a Player’s Philosophy by Bernard de Koven
  • Critical Play: Radical Game Design by Mary Flanagan (excellent book)
  • War Games: A History of War on Paper by Philipp von Hilgers

Use promocode GIVEBOOKS40 at checkout. Hurry, offer ends at midnight 11/27/2017!  (Discount applies to website purchase only.) Service is prompt and shipping is pretty reasonable too.

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An unexpected but very welcome comparison

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Over on Boardgamegeek.com I posted a link to the review on Armchair General (Review of Colonial Twilight in The Armchair General). In a reply to the ensuing thread, user Paul Heron wrote:

I feel I ought to point out that, while the tone of CT is certainly serious, it thankfully isn’t sanctimonious, earnest or po-faced.

In fact, a refreshing element of this game for me has been the flashes of humour in there (also to be found in some of Brian’s other designs, Ukrainian Crisis for one). For instance, the Jean Paul Sartre card with its tagline, ‘Either way, he and Albert Camus are no longer friends.’

While some may argue that humour is inappropriate in a wargame, unless the game as the whole is intended as satire (War on Terror), my view is that humour has always been a part of war, and not only as a ‘defense mechanism’ employed by soldiers and civilians.

Rather, humour/absurdity is in an odd way one of the intrinsic elements of war (and the literature of war seems to me to confirm this), part of its troubling strangeness, what novelist J.G. Ballard called the ‘casual surrealism of war’ (which probably more often is simply weird and jarring, rather than blackly humourous).

As the son of British ex-pats living in Shanghai when the Pacific War began, Ballard spent his early teens in a Japanese internment camp. In particular his experience, in the dog days of the war, of leaving the camp and exploring the devastated and largely abandoned city, seems to have left an especially vivid impression on him, informing all his subsequent writing (only a small portion of which – his 1984 novel Empire of the Sun for instance – is explicitly about war).

Incidentally, like the jokes that Brian sneaks into his games, much of Ballard’s writing is slyly humourous – ‘guerrilla humour’ as it were, rather than the more obvious sort that bludgeons you with massive frontal assaults (War on Terror again springs to mind).

Those who know me well, know that J.G. Ballard is one of my absolute favourite writers. This guy gets me!

(oh man, can this day get any better?)

 

Back From San Diego

Well, it was a pretty good conference!

This time, people seemed to have a slightly better idea of what I was talking about… here are my slides and text:

NPG body 8 apr (text)

News Paper Games 6 apr (slides)

I went to a number of interesting presentations too. There seemed to be not as many as the conference in Seattle last year, generally. This might be due to the time of year – someone on the panel I presented with came in the day before, and left the day after to get back to his classes – or due to geographical distances.

The game night was fun, and even catered (though I had already had a big dinner). I taught four people how to play Guerrilla Checkers, and sent them off with copies of their own.

We had pretty good weather too, a few degrees warmer than here but the sunlight was much more direct. Unfortunately, no time for touristy things except that we did get to the USS Midway museum just up the road from the hotel, and clambered around in the guts of an aircraft carrier for three hours. It was fun, I had never been in such a large ship, and the capper was the talking robot in the Captain’s cabin, in the likeness of Captain Larry Ernst, the last Captain of the Midway before it was finally decommissioned in 1991. Spooky video above.

I do regret not being able to get to Balboa Park, where all the museums are. The San Diego Museum of Man had an exhibit on the history of cannibalism, and just a few hundred yards away was the Marie Hitchcock Puppet Theatre! Two of my favourite topics… one would weep bitter tears at missing the combination of the two. Anyway, an excuse to go back to San Diego one day. (Image: the All Puppet Players, of Phoenix AZ)

Over at Hollandspiele: Designer’s Remarks on Ukrainian Crisis

Over at the Hollandspiele company blog, some more remarks and description by me on Ukrainian Crisis, which is coming out in the next 2-3 weeks:

https://hollandspiele.com/blogs/hollandazed-thoughts-ideas-and-miscellany/designers-remarks-on-ukrainian-crisis-by-brian-train

I’m really looking forward to this game’s first physical publication! Kind of running out of things to say about it, though – people should just play it, already.

Simulacrum back issues CD now available

chop

Friends,

I will be making copies of the final Simulacrum back issues CD available. It contains all 33 issues, in PDF.

Price is $45 US, which includes postage to anywhere in the world. Paypal to me at brian.train@gmail.com. All funds will go to John’s widow Fresca, the “Imprimatur Diaboli Advocati” as she was referred to in the masthead.

For reference, I went through all the issues and compiled an index of all the articles and games reviewed in each issue – it is here:

index-by-issue-and-game

Thanks for your interest.

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.

13emeStra11Jan2014-1

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 post on InsideGMT: Colonial Twilight Operations and Special Activities

bof-a

Over at the InsideGMT blog, about 3,000 words on the menus of Operations and Special Activities available to the two players.

http://www.insidegmt.com/?p=13712

In a couple of weeks I will write another post on the Propaganda Round sequence of play, and about the Pivotal Event cards each side has. After that, I don’t think there is much more to describe about this game!

Leaving tomorrow for BottosCon 2016, the annual wargame convention in saturated Surrey. Always a good time, and nice to meet so many people I often meet just once a year at this event.

Items I will be bringing with me for people to paw through and try include: Caudillo, Chile ’73, Colonial Twilight, EOKA, The Little War, and Red Horde 1920. Plus giveaway copies of Guerrilla Checkers and Uprising.