Paddy Griffith’s Counterinsurgency Wargames – out now!


John Curry, through his “History of Wargaming” project, has for several years now been bringing out a combination of old, long out-of-print and quite new books and material on wargaming, both hobby and professional.

Paddy Griffith was a prolific designer with a foot in both these worlds. He was a lecturer in Military History at Royal Military Academy Sandhurst for many years, and created several board wargames (collected in “A Book of Sandhurst Wargames”) and many sets of miniatures wargaming rules. He also expanded the genre of “sprawling wargames”: very large-scale tabletop games played by teams of players to game out big battles.

John Curry has been rescuing a lot of Paddy Griffith’s work from potential eternal obscurity, and releasing it via the print-on-demand and ePub routes (Lulu, Amazon, Kindle, etc.).

Here is one of those items: Paddy Griffith’s Counterinsurgency Wargames, a set of three games dealing with counterinsurgency as it was then understood in the late 1970s, designed by Griffith while he was at Sandhurst. Two of the games are suitable for committee play by small groups, the third is the setup for a large exercise involving over 250 people and an entire class of Sandhurst cadets.

The Kindle edition went on sale last week, as did the paper edition. See the link below for a preview of the Kindle from Amazon ($9.95).

And here is the link to order the paper product: £12.95 plus shipping.

Now, I am telling you all this not just because it is an interesting book and subject in its own right, but also because I got to write the foreword! This was a new experience for me and I found it challenging to write, as it deals with the development of official British doctrine over the years.

Here’s a review on the Paxsims blog:

First review of Zones of Control sighted…

… and it’s a positive one.

Not that I was all that worried, mind you!

My contributor’s copy hasn’t arrived yet; perhaps this week.

Struggle for Kandahar: the rest of the story


“Struggle for Kandahar”, an article I wrote in early 2015 giving a history of the most recent fighting in Kandahar Province, was published in #21 of Modern War magazine, appearing at the end of 2015. An 800 word sidebar I had written on the Afghan National Security Forces was omitted. I reproduce it here, since it’s unlikely to see the light of day otherwise.

Also, here in PDF format is a small situation map I made that also did not run, related to Operation HAMKARI conducted in 2010.

Oct 2010 sit



Afghan National Army

As of 2014 there were about 170,000 members of the Afghan National Army (ANA). The actual number fluctuates considerably during each year as recruits arrive and deserters leave. It is organized into six regional commands or Corps, each one responsible for a section of the country, with a seventh divisional command responsible for the security of Kabul.

The 205th Corps is responsible for Kandahar, Zabul, Daykundi and Uruzgan provinces. It was established in the summer of 2004. The Corps consists of four brigades, a commando battalion, and transport aviation and logistical support elements. Each brigade consists of three infantry kandaks (battalions) of about 600 men each plus a fourth that serves as a training and replacement unit, a combat support battalion with heavy weapons (mortars or artillery), and a combat services support battalion.

Corps HQ, 205 commando battalion, and support depot (Kandahar Airfield)
1 Brigade (Kandahar Airfield)
2 Brigade (Qalat, Zabul province)
3 Brigade (Zhari district)
4 Brigade (Tarin Kowt, Uruzgan province)

Afghan National Police (ANP)

As of 2014 there were about 150,000 members of the various agencies of the Afghan National Police. Problems of desertion and recruitment are even more acute in the ANP than in the Army, and are compounded by severe rates of corruption, drug abuse, poor discipline and theft.

The Afghan Uniformed Police (AUP)

The AUP is the main law enforcement agency. It is responsible for regular policing at the provincial and district levels. It is organized into six regional commands, with each regional command further divided into provincial and district commands. Ideally a district contains anywhere from 50 to 200 policemen depending on its size and civilian population, but many districts have little or no effective police presence.

Afghan Border Police (ABP)

The ABP is responsible for providing border security, surveillance, and control, including the prevention of smuggling, drug trafficking, and cross-border movement of insurgents. It is divided into Border Zones that correspond with the Army and Police Regional Commands, then further into Border Companies of about 150 men each.

Afghan National Civil Order Police (ANCOP)

This force was created in 2006 as a higher-trained force designed to keep order in the cities, and to act as a better equipped quick reaction force to support the other police forces. It is organized along distinctly military lines into brigades and battalions (urban type, which are like SWAT units, and rural type which are more mobile and trained for patrolling). Discipline, pay and morale are better than in most ANP units.

Arbakai: Afghan Local Police (ALP), Afghan National Auxiliary Police (ANAP), Afghan Public Protection Force (APPF), Afghan Public Protection Police (AP3), Afghan Social Outreach Program (ASOP), Community Defense Forces (CDF), Community Defense Initiative (CDI)/ Local Defense Initiative (LDI), Interim Security for Critical Infrastructure (ISCI)

Localized armed groups, from tribal armies to private security companies, criminal gangs, and proto-insurgents, have long been the scourge of Afghanistan’s civilian population. The general term for these groups in Pashto is “arbakai”, or militia.

As the Coalition lengthened its stay in Afghanistan after the 2001-02 intervention, and the security situation worsened, it became policy to create more of these forces. Paragraph 3-125 of Section 3 of Chapter 3 of the United States Field Manual FM 3-24 Counterinsurgency says: “If adequate HN [Host Nation] security forces are not available, units should consider hiring and training local paramilitary forces to secure the cleared village or neighborhood. Not only do the members of the paramilitary have a stake in their area’s security, they also receive a wage. Providing jobs stimulates the economy. Having a job improves morale and allows locals to become a potential member of the local governmental process.”

All of the above named organizations were created, maintained, and eventually shut down by either the American command or ISAF, except for the Afghan Local Police which is the latest and so far the largest of these forces. It was created in the summer of 2010 and had a 2014 strength of (very approximately) 30,000. It exhibits the same faults as each of the other organizations that preceded it: its membership is not properly vetted; it is poorly trained, paid and supported; and its members have been found guilty of numerous and systematic human rights abuses and criminal activities (that is, against people who do not have weapons). There is little to distinguish these militiamen from the warlord groups and criminal gangs except a badge and a small regular salary; in fact, many ALP have themselves been members of such groups in the past. The ALP also presents a soft target to the Taliban insurgents, who regularly infiltrate ALP units to steal weapons and equipment. The ALP was also involved in several “green on blue” incidents in 2012, when ALP members turned their weapons on their trainers or fellow members.


Introducing Colonial Twilight on InsideGMT

CT banner1

Image from GMT Games pre-order page, using French anti-war poster.

About 1,500 words introducing Colonial Twilight and its gizmos over on the InsideGMT blog:

Check it out!

“Zones of Control” is out!

ZOC book cover

Hurrah, MIT Press has released Zones of Control, the massive (848 pages!) anthology on wargaming edited by Pat Harrigan and Matt Kirschenbaum! Here’s the blurb:

Games with military themes date back to antiquity, and yet they are curiously neglected in much of the academic and trade literature on games and game history. This volume fills that gap, providing a diverse set of perspectives on wargaming’s past, present, and future. In Zones of Control, contributors consider wargames played for entertainment, education, and military planning, in terms of design, critical analysis, and historical contexts. They consider both digital and especially tabletop games, most of which cover specific historical conflicts or are grounded in recognizable real-world geopolitics. Game designers and players will find the historical and critical contexts often missing from design and hobby literature; military analysts will find connections to game design and the humanities; and academics will find documentation and critique of a sophisticated body of cultural work in which the complexity of military conflict is represented in ludic systems and procedures.

Each section begins with a long anchoring chapter by an established authority, which is followed by a variety of shorter pieces both analytic and anecdotal. Topics include the history of playing at war; operations research and systems design; wargaming and military history; wargaming’s ethics and politics; gaming irregular and non-kinetic warfare; and wargames as artistic practice.

Contributors: Jeremy Antley, Richard Barbrook, Elizabeth M. Bartels, Ed Beach, Larry Bond, Larry Brom, Lee Brimmicombe-Wood, Rex Brynen, Matthew B. Caffrey, Jr., Luke Caldwell, Catherine Cavagnaro, Robert M. Citino, Laurent Closier, Stephen V. Cole, Brian Conley, Greg Costikyan, Patrick Crogan, John Curry, James F. Dunnigan, Robert J. Elder, Lisa Faden, Mary Flanagan, John A. Foley, Alexander R. Galloway, Sharon Ghamari-Tabrizi, Don R. Gilman, A. Scott Glancy, Troy Goodfellow, Jack Greene, Mark Herman, Kacper Kwiatkowski, Tim Lenoir, David Levinthal, Alexander H. Levis, Henry Lowood, Elizabeth Losh, Esther MacCallum-Stewart, Rob MacDougall, Mark Mahaffey, Bill McDonald, Brien J. Miller, Joseph Miranda, Soraya Murray, Tetsuya Nakamura, Michael Peck, Peter P. Perla, Jon Peterson, John Prados, Ted S. Raicer, Volko Ruhnke, Philip Sabin, Thomas C. Schelling, Marcus Schulzke, Miguel Sicart, Rachel Simmons, Ian Sturrock, Jenny Thompson, John Tiller, J. R. Tracy, Brian Train, Russell Vane, Charles Vasey, Andrew Wackerfuss, James Wallis, James Wallman, Yuna Huh Wong

Can’t wait to read this, meanwhile excerpts are available for viewing via GoogleBooks:

Obtain your copy through; in Canada, Chapters also has it (or place a special order through your accommodating local independent bookseller – they’ll appreciate it).

Happy happy joy joy!


Balkan Gambit… the rest of it


Yesterday I got both my subscriber copy and my designer’s copies of Strategy and Tactics magazine #298, containing Balkan Gambit, my game on the Mediterranean invasions of 1943-45 that weren’t.

Unlike the previous three projects with Decision Games (Greek Civil War, redux Next War in Lebanon, redux S&T 296 (Korean War Battles) is here…), this one came out relatively unscathed. A couple or three points, though:

  1. The Designer’s Notes, which explained many of the assumptions about how units were shown in the game, were cut for reasons of length (S&T magazine games have a maximum rules length of 16 pages, and there seems to be an unwritten rule that there be some unrelated photographic illustrations included in those pages to make the layout look nicer). If anyone’s interested, I post them below.
  2. A few fairly minor bits of errata, save for some important clarification about game length and dispersed mode partisans. Also below.
  3. I also wrote the lead article in the magazine on Allied deception operations in the Mediterranean in World War Two. Articles in the magazine do not have a maximum page length, but they are supposed to top out at around 5,000 words (except when they’re longer). A 1,700 word sidebar on Allied deception in the Mediterranean that gave a lot of background information on the formations cited in the rest of the article did not run. Here it is: train_balkangambit unitsidebar_s&t
  4. A final bonus item: an alt-alt-hist scenario that takes place in 1950 where forces of the USSR and Soviet-allied countries invade Yugoslavia to spank Tito’s deviationist bottom. Apparently actual plans were made to do this but were shelved when the Greek Civil War ended and the Korean War broke out, diverting everyone’s attention for a while… long enough until Stalin could shuffle off. This wasn’t meant to run in the magazine but I put it together anyway. Get it here: Balkan Gambit 1950 scenario

Thanks and I hope you enjoy the game.


Designers’ Notes

One of the great what-ifs of World War II in the Mediterranean theatre was the possibility of an Allied invasion of Greece and/or Yugoslavia after clearing the German and Italian armies from North Africa. Winston Churchill was famous for his advocacy of attacking the “soft underbelly” of Europe in this way. In history, the logistical and political difficulties were rife and the Allies did nothing of the kind until Operation MANNA, the liberation of Greece in October 1944, after the German garrison was already withdrawing into Yugoslavia.

But to Hitler and the German High Command, it was always a possibility and made them vulnerable to several Allied deception plans, which have been used as the basis for the 1943 and 1944 scenarios in this game (The book and movie” The Man Who Never Was” concern themselves with Operation MINCEMEAT, one of the deception plans for the invasion of Sicily). In response to these plans, the Germans held several critical troop formations in northern Italy and Yugoslavia in readiness for invasions that never came, when they would have been much more useful somewhere else. In a sense, the scenarios in the game reflect the fantasies of both sides.

Order of Battle Notes

One of the problems in designing a wargame on a campaign that never happened, and in some sense was never meant to happen, is to construct a plausible Order of Battle (OOB) of the troops who could have fought in it. This is even worse when that campaign is set in the Balkans, a theatre of war that saw a bewildering variety of small, exotic and often improvised units. The approach taken in this game was to discount the presence of many of these “ant” units, due to counter mix limits and their negligible effect on the overall campaign.

Many “divisions” are shown in the game as brigades instead because of the Victory in Normandy game system used – an understrength division has to be shown as a non-divisional unit as it gets only one “shot” in combat, as opposed to a full division which gets two (and has two steps of strength).

Western Allies: Because the 1943 and 1944 scenarios are rooted in deception plans, using formations that either never existed or had their roles played by much smaller organizations, much of the Allied OOB consists of fictitious units. The only real divisions in the British OOB are the 5th and 50th Infantry Divisions. The American and Canadian units shown in the game all existed and served in Italy (even the 10th Mountain Division, which did not arrive in Italy until the end of 1944) and the Soviet units are all actual formations that remained in Yugoslavia after the battle for Beograd in October 1944.

Bulgarians: All of the eight units shown in the Bulgarian OOB carried the title of “division” but the five numbered 22 and above were units that were raised later in the war and were not as well equipped or trained as the lower-numbered units. Hence they are shown as brigades.

Collaborators: These are shown in the game as a collection of poor quality infantry brigades, in rough proportion to the numbers that were raised. The Croatian Army was substantially reorganized several times but this did not change its overall effectiveness much (at least, not against people with guns) and this detail has been left out of the game.

Germans: The occupation of the Balkans absorbed a large number of German divisions, but the few that were of good quality stayed only for a short time before being called away. An example is the elite 1st Panzer Division, which historically was sent to Greece from June to September of 1943, in response to Operation MINCEMEAT! The 1st Mountain Division was also deployed for brief periods on anti-partisan duties. Another high quality unit, the 22nd Infantry Division, appears in the 1945 scenario – this is the Luftlande or Air Landing Division, which had been garrisoning Crete and was withdrawn to the mainland in late 1944. At this time it was one of the strongest (or at any rate least damaged) divisions left in the region, and still had most of its transport.

Besides a collection of fortress infantry and several light infantry or motorized units, Brandenburger commandos, and a Luftwaffe field division of repurposed airmen, the German OOB also includes a number of generic infantry brigades – these represent amalgamations of the many security, police, replacement and training units the Germans maintained for rear area security, garrisons and guarding lines of communication.

A note on the Waffen-SS units, placed here under the German section though many of the formations were composed of “ethnic Germans” or collaborators. The 13th “Handschar” (Croatian), 14th “Galicia” (Ukrainian), 18th “Horst Wessel”, 21st “Skanderbeg” (Albanian), and 24th “Karstjager” were nominally divisions but are shown in the game as motorized or light infantry brigades. They did not operate as complete divisions – components were sent off prematurely to form battlegroups in other areas or they never reached sufficient levels of men, motivation or equipment. The 4th and 7th SS divisions did perform as such, though – the 4th was a “Polizei Panzer-Grenadier” division specializing in anti-partisan operations, and the 7th “Prinz Eugen” was a quality mountain infantry unit. The 18th SS light infantry regiment is an SS Police Mountain regiment, which was an effective anti-partisan unit.

Italians: With the exception of the 1st “Taurinense” mountain division, the Italian divisions garrisoning the Balkans were two-regiment units stripped of artillery, transport and quality recruits. Hence they are all shown in game terms as brigades, though they carry the matching division numbers.

Polish: The 7th Infantry Division was a deception unit. When it, along with the (real) 2nd Armoured Division were included in the OOB for Operation ZEPPELIN, there was a diplomatic incident when Marshal Tito learned of their planned mission to land at Durres and drive inland to Tirane. He objected very strongly to Slavic troops landing in the Balkans, and unfortunately could not be told that this was all a deception, since his headquarters was full of spies. So while the Allied planners deceived him that the Poles had been removed from the operation, they also continued to deceive the Germans that they were still in. The actual invasion of Southern France happened before anyone got to compare notes.

Yugoslavs: For simplicity, the Partisan light infantry units are not numbered and are rated identically as brigades – again, they carried the honourifics of “Proletarian” or “Assault” divisions, but they did not have enough supporting arms or training in large unit operations to function as divisions in game terms.

Errata and clarifications


4.0 All scenarios are 20 turns long (this was in the rules I sent to DG, but instead they put in language about “last turn”, implying they have variable lengths.).

6.3: Dispersed mode partisans may co-exist with enemy units. This is explicit in 10.3 (c) and implied in 12.1.

9.4 Axis supply sources: should also specify Austrian territory for map edge exit hexes. (In my original map, Austria did not appear but the S&T map artist added 8 hex rows of territory to the north of the original map, so it’s there now.)

12.15: The combat example paragraph should be deleted as it refers to a superseded combat method. Clarification: Croatian, Chetnik, German light infantry and SS units count DOUBLE their CF whenever firing on dispersed mode partisan type units. (German infantry divisions 369, 373 and 392 are treated as Croatian for this purpose only, but are otherwise treated as if they were German Army units.)

13.1 If it is the end of the 20th turn of the scenario, yada yada… (again, all scenarios are 20 turns long – this was in the rules I sent to DG, yada yada)

13.6: Not errata, but the “Force 10 From Navarone” rule was not my idea… a bit of supra-fictional whimsy added in development.

1943 Scenario:

The restrictions on Greek guerrillas noted in the 1944 scenario should also be applied in the 1943 scenario.

1944 Scenario:

The German 104th light infantry division (3-4) should set up in Greece, not Serbia.

German optional reinforcements: There should be only one 3-6 motorized infantry regiment, the 15th.


The British 12th Corps Support Unit should be numbered the 3rd. Not important to play of the game, and the 3rd Corps never actually existed anyway .

The 18th SS motorized infantry (3-6) should be a brigade, not a division (as noted above, this is the “Horst Wessel” Panzer-Grenadier Division; at this time it was about half strength and was still lacking equipment). This is the only counter erratum that matters, and then not even that much; the unit counter has only one step of strength.

The German 375th infantry division (4-3) appearing in the 1944 scenario should be the 367th. (In history, the 367th was formed in late 1943 from elements of the 330th Division (destroyed earlier) and other units, and was kept in Croatia until it was sent to the Eastern Front in the spring of 1944. In the game, the division is instead held in Croatia, awaiting developments. Again, not important to play of the game.)

From YAAH! #2: Thinking About and Through Abstract Games

The second issue of YAAH! magazine is out, containing three abstract games by me (Army of Shadows, Guerrilla Checkers, Uprising). I also wrote a short simple article on the think-value of abstract games, these in particular, hooked to Ben Franklin’s love of chess. It’s partly adapted from a presentation I gave at Connections-UK in 2013.

Hope you find it interesting!


Thinking About and Through Abstract Games

 – by Brian Train

Benjamin Franklin loved Chess. He was always up for a game. In the illustration, the year is 1774 and he is playing with Caroline Howe, sister of Admiral Lord Richard Howe and General William Howe, who would command British forces during the American Revolutionary War.

He loved chess so much that in 1786 he wrote an essay on it, called “The Morals of Chess”:

 “The Game of Chess is not merely an idle amusement; several very valuable qualities of the mind, useful in the course of human life, are to be acquired and strengthened by it, so as to become habits ready on all occasions; for life is a kind of Chess, in which we have often points to gain, and competitors or adversaries to contend with, and in which there is a vast variety of good and ill events, that are, in some degree, the effect of prudence, or the want of it.

By playing at Chess then, we may learn: 1st, Foresight, which looks a little into futurity, and considers the consequences that may attend an action … 2nd, Circumspection, which surveys the whole Chess-board, or scene of action: – the relation of the several Pieces, and their situations; … 3rd, Caution, not to make our moves too hastily….”

In this short piece I would like to talk about Army of Shadows, Guerrilla Checkers and Uprising as examples of abstract games to discuss in light of the points Ben Franklin raised, and their value in developing other skills.

But first, some history: in 2011 I was invited to visit the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) in Monterey, California to discuss a project to develop part of a website that would support the Regional Defense Combating Terrorism Fellowship Program (CTFP). Under the CTFP, officers of foreign militaries attend training and courses, both in their own country or at centres in the United States, to give them the capability to build, manage, and sustain their own counter-terrorism programs.

One challenge with any training is to make it stick with the student, and make the student stick with it. Programs like the CTFP are intended to build an international and constantly developing network, and it is vital to keep alumni talking and in contact with each other. The NPS, as a major centre for delivering training under the CTFP, was developing the Global Education and Collaboration Community Online (GlobalECCO) website, to support students and alumni of the program. Besides print and visual resources on various aspects of combating terrorism, the website would feature a gaming portal. Current and former students and faculty of the CTFP would be able to play strategy games online to foster camaraderie through friendly and competitive play, and broaden and improve specific thinking skills. It would also be a resource for faculty to use to supplement their classes.

The first principle of game-based learning is that the game used should teach simple, basic principles and dynamics quickly, in an interesting way. Everything else is either additional detail or gets in the way of this. In discussing with faculty and staff of the NPS what sort of games to develop for the website, we felt that by providing a combination of simple games with deep strategy, we would have the best chance of creating experiences for the players that would let them get on with the mental contest. We did not want them to struggle with the language of the rules, or a difficult and detailed user interface for an attempted “simulation” that could also be carrying unintended ideological or cultural baggage.

We chose Guerrilla Checkers for the site because it combined two well-known classical games with simple mechanics into something new, with surprisingly deep strategy. I designed this game in 2010. I had been working with some other people on an Afghanistan game, and about oh-dark-I-don’t-want-to-look-at-the-clock one morning I was staring at the ceiling and thinking about the insurgents and counterinsurgents there. Both sides, while occupying the same section of the world at the same time, nevertheless approached the physical terrain (ridges, gullies, roads) and the human terrain (villages, tribes, relationships) in completely different ways. Why not have a game where the two sides are playing with quite different pieces working in quite different ways, but are using the same board with the same ultimate aim of neutralizing the enemy? There are not many abstract games like this, but I liked the idea of asymmetry between players, and Army of Shadows and Uprising would follow on with this concept.

We also agreed we wanted a game for the site that highlighted the essential mismatches between the antagonists in an insurgency: low information vs. high information, and low power vs. high power. I discussed this with Michael Freeman, a faculty member at NPS, and went away to create Army of Shadows and Uprising – two very different design takes on this general idea.

Both games have some common threads between them:

  • First, the concept of the board as an empty symmetrical surface, with the ultimate objective at its centre. The Nexus and Capital represent a concentration or “peak” of power or legitimacy for the State, and so have to be defended; meanwhile, the rebel or insurgent moves in from the political/organizational – not geographical – “hinterland” to occupy it through processes of stealth and growth.
  • Both games are forced to a climax if the Rebel player is to win; in Army of Shadows, he has to dominate the space around the Capital, and in Uprising he must declare the Revolution and dismantle the State (by eliminating all Agents).
  • Both games are “single-blind” games where the Insurgent player can see all and make moves accordingly, and the State player can discover information only through Interrogation and probes.
  • The essential asymmetry of forces – few but unkillable State pieces or Agents (that is, until the Revolution), and numerous but fragile Insurgents – is also emphasized in both games. An uncommon touch is giving the State player a choice of what to do in both games when he captures an Insurgent piece. He can either kill it right away, removing it from the game, or keep it prisoner, which will give him some additional advantages – though there is a slight chance that a prisoner will escape!

Army of Shadows was implemented for the website under the name Asymmetric Warfare. Besides Guerrilla Checkers, the site also features InfoChess (a Chess variant designed by John Arquilla, another faculty member at NPS) and several less abstract games on the spread of ideologies, financing of terrorist networks, and the stability vs. legitimacy dilemma faced by governments confronting domestic insurgencies. Meanwhile, I continued to give away copies of Guerrilla Checkers and Uprising I had made myself, at game conventions and conferences I went to.

Value of abstract games

Now, back to Ben Franklin. He understood that games help us to think about how the world works in new ways, and to change perspectives. Every society plays games; play itself is a universal human experience. This is one reason why games give us so many metaphors in every language.

Games are there not just to amuse; they are used to instruct, teach and otherwise mold brains. Abstract games have been used as teaching tools and intellectual exercises for military students and professional officers, for centuries. And in civil society, developing skill at Chess, Go or other “deep” games was once considered part of a gentleman’s education.

There is an established body of research on cognitive development and improvement through playing Chess and other abstract games. The quote by Benjamin Franklin illustrates three of the abstract thinking and cognitive skills developed by Chess: foresight, circumspection, and caution. The same could be claimed, to a greater or lesser degree, by nearly any abstract strategy game, and to these I would add other skills such as:

  • Strength of memory, pattern recognition, and pattern manipulation. The game of Go is one of the world’s oldest games. It features undifferentiated pieces and an empty board that has pieces placed on it during the course of play. Guerrilla Checkers of course borrows from this for the Guerrilla side, and from Checkers for the mechanics of the COIN player’s movement and multiple-capture ability. To play either of these classic board games well, you have to be able to recognize classical patterns and arrangements of pieces, just as much as you have to learn combinations in Chess. Meanwhile, Army of Shadows requires memory skills on the part of the State player.
  • An ability to create and reason through alternatives, and to take action without complete information. During play of any of these games, there will always be a wide choice of possible moves, and you have to exercise your judgement about which one is optimal. Army of Shadows and Uprising are games where incomplete information is central to play: players must exercise their decision-making skills with this limitation, to discover or deceive the opponent. (Oddly enough, no one seems to have thought of retrofitting the idea of hidden information to classic Chess until “double-blind” Chess, also known as Kriegspiel Chess, was introduced about 1895.)
  • The mental flexibility necessary to appreciate asymmetry in situations, that is, to be able to flip roles mentally and play from another’s perspective. All three of these abstract games rely on an asymmetrical balance of forces at the beginning, and in each game the players win in different ways. The teaching point is to demonstrate that battles are seldom if ever symmetrical, in force structure or objective. They also play quickly enough that within an hour you can play one or more pairs of games where you switch roles.

All of these skills are critical to creative problem solving. What more could you ask of the development of a leader, analyst, or other decision maker – or for that matter, your own brain?

Next War in Lebanon, redux

Well, it happened AGAIN (refer to Greek Civil War, redux).

Constant Readers will recall that I sent “Third Lebanon War”, my original game design on a near-future Israeli invasion of southern Lebanon to defeat Hezbollah, in to Decision Games at the end of 2011. DG asked me several months later, in early 2012, to redesign the combat system, which also required some changes to other systems in the game. So I did, and that was the last I heard of it.

Rules: AGAIN, they made a number of major rules changes between 2012 and now, without my knowledge. Besides discarding the new combat system I had to work out for them in the original revision, there are a number of fundamental changes made, that make nonsense of my original points and emphases in designing the game, especially the victory conditions. There are also substantial errata and contradictions in the game-as-published, where they did an incomplete/inconsistent job in making these new changes.

Counters: besides going from a total of 228 to 176 counters, they have changed the unit ratings on some but not all Israeli units, and added some units. Counter layout is completely different. Insurgent unit counter mix completely different (cut it from 43 to 26 units, and changed all the ratings). And there are 18 new counters representing a deck of playing cards: 4 suits, 1-10, Jack, Queen, King, and an Ace for good measure, though it could also be another “1” – they don’t specify).

Map: my original map of 23 irregular areas is now 23 giant hexagons, with most (but not all) of the adjacencies preserved. Each hex now has a “Disrupted” square in it, which I guess is like a time-out box – it’s not made clear in the rules.

I do not agree with these changes, and my name is still attached to this.

Part of the publishing agreement a designer signs with Decision Games reads: “Decision is responsible for the development, graphics and publication of the Game. Decision is free to edit, develop, and make other changes it deems necessary for publication of the Game. Decision has final approval for all materials utilized in publishing the Game. Designer incurs no obligation for any of these, other than those specified above. Decision agrees to credit Designer in the published game rules.”

So, AGAIN, they have done their part in the above. The first time this happened, I felt uncomfortable publicly disagreeing with the publisher, and held my tongue for a bit. But I am also uncomfortable standing behind this game in its published form with my name on it; the final sentence in the above quote now has a new complexion for me.

Now, at this point I have two options. I think I will exercise both of them.


I thought that they might have left the counters and map alone, as happened with Greek Civil War, so you could just drop in the replacement rules. That’s not going to work this time. So, as I did before with Greek Civil War, I am making the REVISED rules and charts I submitted in early 2012 available here for download, so that players can play the REVISED game in the manner I originally revised it. You will also need to print out the set of counters (2 sheets, front and back), mount them and cut them out, and play with the rules etc. provided here.


NextLebwar charts v2

NextLebwarCRT v2

NextLeb OOB mats v2

NextLebwar rules v2 19 Mar 12

The map is still useful if you ignore the Disrupted penalty box, and restore the adjacencies that were dropped between my submitted map and this big hexfield one. It’s important because of the effect of the rule on Hez raids into Israel.

In the original version:

  • Al Naqurah and Rmaich are adjacent to Nahariyyah;
  • Rmaich and Bint Jubail are adjacent to Avivim; and
  • Bint Jubail, Al Tabbayah, and Marjayoun are adjacent to Quryat Shemona.
    The Israeli Sanctuary is contained within Avivim and so is not adjacent to any Lebanese area.

So you could mimic these relations by drawing a line at the bottom of the south vertex of Rmaich off the edge of the map to give a limit to Nahariyya, and another line off the eastern edge of Bint Jubail to make the adjacencies with Quryat Shemona obvious.
Then put in a black border on the northwest hexsides of Avivim and Israeli Sanctuary (with Shaqra and Bint Jubail, respectively) to show these are blocked and not adjacent.
Will look like crap but will show what’s adjacent to what.

Edited to Add: The inestimable Ken from Japan has made a very nice and professional-looking Japanese-language translation of the v2 rules to Next War in Lebanon (the original revised version, with step reduction and 1d6 CRT). And here they are! Arigato gozaimasu Ken, o-tsukaresama deshita!

NextLebwar rules v2 JPN


I plan to eventually publish and sell in DTP format the “original original” version of the game, as I designed it in 2011 and first submitted to Decision Games, under the BTR Games mark and title “Third Lebanon War”.

But in the meantime, I am making the files for this very first version available here, FREE. This is what I wanted to have run in the magazine; I’ve made a few edits relating to differences in the game’s physical components. You can still use the map from the magazine (ignore the Disrupted boxes), or use a smaller one I have made.

Free Games! page (scroll down to Third Lebanon War entry)

I realize that few of the total number of people who receive or buy copies of this game will read this; I wish I could explain to them but this is none of my doing. All I can do is offer them two free print-and-play game kits to change the game they paid for to something like what I intended.

A Distant Plain in the WaPo Magazine

In this week’s Washington Post Magazine: an interesting, well-written piece by Jason Albert on A Distant Plain that also touches on other subjects.

I understand there were significant editorial cuts and changes after Jason submitted his story, both for length and content, which accounts for the complete absence of the co-designer’s name…or that there was even a co-designer at all.

Never mind, such is the fate of authors everywhere: to suffer at the hands of tin-eared, flint-brained editors. It’s still a good piece on Volko Ruhnke and his work, and respectful of the hobby – articles on serious manual games that both appear in the mainstream press and go beyond “hey lookit dem egghead weirdos” are rare indeed.

I Tawt I Taw A Coup d’etat

i tawt i taw a coup

(image: Paul Mavrides)

I’ve written a piece for Dr. Rex Brynen’s serious gaming blog Paxsims: a survey article on civilian wargame designs on the coup d’etat.

The coup d’etat is a long-standing interest of mine, but not one that’s generally shared, it seems.