Quotulatiousness

February 10, 2018

US military will disrupt GPS signals in western states during certain periods of the Red Flag wargames

Filed under: Military, Technology, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

For much of February — and in some places, well into March — the US military will be jamming signals from the Global Positioning System as part of training exercises over vast swaths of the Western United States, as well as in smaller areas surrounding major military facilities across the US.

[…]

The jamming will be restricted for the most part to periods between 11pm and 2am Eastern Time. This is when commercial air traffic is at its least dense, so the impact on air travel should be negligible. But the exact times may vary. And jamming tests for other exercises during the same period — including some at or off the coast of Navy nuclear sub bases at Bangor in Washington and Kings Bay, Georgia — may have an impact on commercial shipping and fishing vessels.

Red Flag 18-1 includes participants from all four service branches of the Department of Defense, as well as units of the British Royal Air Force and the Royal Australian Air Force. “[This] primarily is a strike package focused training venue,” said Colonel Michael Mathes, commander of the 414th Combat Training Squadron at Nellis. But while strike packages — practice bombing missions and stand-off missile attacks — are the end product, the exercise also includes a “cyber” component, in which the adversary team will attempt to disrupt operations through everything from phishing emails to electronic warfare.

More information at Ars Technica.

June 16, 2016

Silent Victory now available in wargame format

Filed under: Books, Gaming, History — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

I’m currently reading this two-volume history of the US Navy’s submarines in the Pacific during WW2 by Clay Blair, Jr., so I was interested to see this review of a wargame covering this exact conflict:

Consim Press has published a fantastic solo player wargame in Silent Victory: U.S. Submarines in the Pacific, 1941-1945. With game design by Gregory M. Smith, Silent Victory offers a little bit of everything for someone looking for an immersive, historical naval wargame that is easy to play yet detailed enough to be fulfilling for an advanced gamer.

It covers one of the biggest problems American sub commanders faced for the first two years of the war:

For every torpedo you fire, you’ll roll a 1d6 dice for a dud. Roll a 1 or 2, well, you are out of luck. It might have hit, but it didn’t explode. Dud. This happened to me at least three times in two patrols. It was a fact — the U.S. Navy had a torpedo problem. Clay Blair Jr.’s magisterial book Silent Victory: The U.S. Submarine War against Japan made this clear:

    “…[T}he submarine force was hobbled by defective torpedoes. Developed in peacetime but never realistically tested against targets, the U.S. submarine torpedo was believed to be one of the most lethal weapons in the history of naval warfare. It had two exploders, a regular one that detonated it on contact with the side of an enemy ship and a very secret “magnetic exploder” that would detonate it beneath the keel of a ship without contact. After the war began, submariners discovered the hard way that the torpedo did not run steadily at the depth set into its controls and often went much deeper than designed, too deep for the magnetic exploder to work.”

Blair notes that not until late 1943 would the U.S. Navy fix the numerous torpedo problems.

Actually, the depth control issue was only the start of the problem. Once enough sub skippers had complained to their chain of command that the torpedoes were running too deep, and were able to get a few of them tested to prove it, then other problems became apparent. Even if the torpedo ran at the correct depth, the magnetic exploder would not reliably trigger the warhead when it passed under an enemy ship. The German and British submarine services had also developed similar exploders, but had abandoned them after wartime testing proved them to be ineffective. US Navy submarine admirals would not be convinced, so it took much longer for the sub captains to get permission to de-activate the magnetic exploders and use the contact exploders instead.

Unbelievably, it now became clear that there were also problems with the contact exploder as well, so even if it hit the side of the target it might not explode. American torpedoes had a significantly smaller warhead than those of other navies, because it had been expected that the magnetic exploder detonating below the keel of an enemy ship would be sufficient to break the back of the target and sink it. When used as ordinary torpedoes, it often took three or four hits to guarantee a sinking even on a merchant ship. Warships, having better compartmentalization, were even tougher to sink without lucky shots that hit fuel or ammunition compartments.

There are three reasons why this game succeeds.

First, historical accuracy. From the problems with torpedoes, to the detailed lists of Japanese merchant and capital ships, or to the specific weapons load out of each U.S. submarine in WWII, it is all there. The makers of this game did not cut any corners. They did their homework and tried, I think successfully, to incorporate significant historical facts into the gameplay.

Second, a risk/reward based gameplay experience. Every decision you make — from the torpedoes you use to deciding if you want to attack submerged and at close or long distance — incurs risk. There are numerous tradeoffs. For instance, you can attack from long distance submerged, but you suffer a roll modifier and risk not hitting your target. Or, you can be aggressive, and attack at close range, surfaced at night, which may increase your chance of hit but also increase your chance of detection. It just depends.

Finally, simple game rules. Complicated games are no fun to play. As a player, I don’t want to spend 10 minutes looking up rule after rule in a rulebook the size of a encyclopedia. In Silent Victory, the designers have done us a favor. The rules are clearly written and extensive, and after a single read through I referred to them occasionally. But more important, the combat mat has the dice roll encounter procedures printed on it, all within easy view. Also, the other mats all have reference numbers and clearly identify which dice should be rolled for what effects. It is all right there on the mats. This makes for a fun, smooth playing experience. And finally, if I were add another reason why this game is worth your money, it is the game’s replay value. You can conduct numerous patrols and no two patrols will ever be the same.

Silent Victory is a fun naval wargame that will appeal to the novice or expert gamer – and maybe you’ll learn something along the way.

April 28, 2016

Wargaming at the Marine Corps War College

Filed under: Gaming, Military, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Professor James Lacey explains why he introduced commercial wargames into his curriculum for USMC officers at the war college:

As every team plotted their strategic “ends,” students soon realized that neither side had the resources — “means” — to do everything they wanted. Strategic decisions quickly became a matter of tradeoffs, as the competitors struggled to find the “ways” to secure sufficient “means” to achieve their objectives (“ends”). For the first time, students were able to examine the strategic options of the Peloponnesian War within the strictures that limited the actual participants in that struggle.

Remarkably, four of the five Athenian teams actually attacked Syracuse on Sicily’s east coast! As they were all aware that such a course had led to an Athenian disaster 2,500 years before, I queried them about their decision. Their replies were the same: Each had noted that the Persians were stirring, which meant there was a growing threat to Athens’ supply of wheat from the Black Sea. As there was an abundance of wheat near Syracuse, each Athenian team decided to secure it as a second food source (and simultaneously deny it to Sparta and its allies) in the event the wheat from the Black Sea was lost to them. Along the way, two of the teams secured Pylos so as to raise helot revolts that would damage the Spartan breadbasket. Two of the teams also ended revolts in Corcyra, which secured that island’s fleet for Athenian purposes, and had the practical effect of blockading Corinth. So, it turns out there were a number of good strategic reasons for Athens to attack Syracuse. Who knew? Certainly not any War College graduate over the past few decades.

All of these courses of action were thoroughly discussed by each team, as were Spartan counter moves. For the first time in my six years at the Marine Corps War College, I was convinced that the students actually understood the range of strategies and options Thucydides wrote about. In the following days, I was stopped dozens of times by students who wanted discuss other options they might have employed, and, even better, to compare their decisions to what actually happened. A number of students told me they were still thinking about various options and decisions weeks later. I assure you that no one even spent even a car ride home thinking about my Thucydides lectures.

[…]

At the end of each wargame, students walked away with a new appreciation of the historical circumstances of the period and the events they had read about and discussed in class. And even though all wargames are an abstract of actual events, I am sure that no student exposed to historical gaming will ever again read about the Peloponnesian War without thinking about Sicily’s wheat, the crucial importance of holding the Isthmus of Corinth, or what could have been done with a bit more Persian silver in the coffers of one side or the other’s treasury. Similarly, the next time one of this year’s students reads about Lee and Grant in 1864, they will also be thinking about how the truly decisive actions took place out west. For, as it was during the actual conflict, in every game the students played, Grant’s role was to pin down the Army of Northern Virginia, while the western armies ripped out the economic heart of the Confederacy.

In fact, I was astounded at the number of students who approached me after the Civil War exercise to mention that despite having studied the Civil War before, this was the first time they realized that the war was won in the west. I could go on for another few thousand words discussing other revelations students experienced through gaming and simulations, but the key point is that these experiential learning experiences linger in students’ minds for a very long time. I once asked my seminars how many of them had discussed the games and their results with their spouses. Every hand went up. I am quite sure that very few of them ever discussed one of my lectures with their spouses.

April 13, 2016

The bureaucracy will always be with us

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Europe, Military — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Strategy Page recounts some of the recent the bureaucratic snags between NATO countries in eastern Europe when troops need to cross inter-alliance borders:

In early 2015 Operation Dragoon Ride rolled through Central Europe to send a message to Russians. From March 20th to April 1st, an US Army squadron returning from Atlantic Resolve NATO exercises took an unusual route back to its base in Germany, after spending three months in training facilities in Poland, Lithuania and Estonia. The unit involved was the 3rd Squadron (battalion) of the 2nd American Cavalry Regiment. This unit refers to itself as dragoons (an ancient term for horse mounted infantry) and the movement operation was called Dragoon Ride and the apparent reason for it was to demonstrate to the locals as well as the Russians that American armored units could reach the East European NATO nations by road, as well as by ship, aircraft or rail. Dragoon Ride purposely rode close to the Russian border, often in full view of Russians and Russian media. The American troops frequently stopped in towns and villages so the locals could meet their allies, take pictures and quietly enjoy the pain this demonstration was causing the increasingly aggressive Russians.

But what was not publicized, and what the Russian government knew full well, was that this road movement took the efforts of hundreds of unseen troops and bureaucrats to deal with the paperwork. For all of 2015 it required nearly 6,000 travel documents to be prepared, filed and approved to get foreign military vehicles across East European borders. Some of these documents take several weeks to get approved and operations like Dragoon Ride required hundreds of them and nearly as many NATO local government personnel were involved with this paperwork as were actually participating (500 troops) in the actual Dragoon Ride (of 120 vehicles). While all these rules and approvals would not stop invading Russians they would, in theory, slow down reinforces from the West.

The pile of paperwork and weeks required to handle it were used as very concrete evidence to persuade the East European nations to streamline the process, a lot, or have themselves to blame if reinforcements did not arrive in a timely fashion. As usual a compromise was worked out. Thus eight NFIUs (NATO Force Integration Units) were organized, each consisting of 40 troops trained and equipped to handle the paperwork and traffic control measures required to get military convoys across eastern borders as quickly as possible. The NFIU work out of embassies and stay in constant touch with the border control bureaucracies of the East European nations involved. NFIUs also arrange for rest areas and resupply for the convoys.

January 23, 2016

World of Warships – How To Not Suck

Filed under: Gaming, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Published on 20 Jun 2015

If I said to you “What’s Port?” and your answer is “A fortified wine from Portugal served by the Wardroom Steward at Mess Dinners” you’re either a Royal Naval Officer or someone who could probably benefit from watching this video. There’s no cure for being a Royal Naval Officer, but the cure for sucking at World of Warships is just one click away.

July 7, 2015

World of Warships open beta

Filed under: Gaming, History, Military, WW2 — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

I’ve been keeping an eye on World of Warships, if only due to the renderings of the various ships (as a kid, I used to love the diagrams of ships in publications like Purnell’s History of the Second World War). I doubt I have the time to play the game very much, but I’ll probably sign up for the open beta which began last week.

At Massively Overpowered, MJ Guthrie talks to the developers:

Immersion. That’s not a word you often hear associated with lobby-based PvP games. But in the case of World of Warships, the third title in Wargaming’s WWII-era trilogy, it’s more than just fitting; it’s defining. Although not a battle simulation, WoWS offers a genuinely immersive experience thanks to the historical authenticity and the level of detail in both the audio and visual departments. You’ve heard the devil is in the details? Well that’s where the immersion is, too. And now that open beta has started, more players are finally able to dive in and experience this for themselves.

To learn more about how the development team achieved such a high level of immersion, I went to the source: I visited Wargaming’s headquarters in St. Petersburg and talked with the devs who create everything you see and hear in the game. And after watching the creation process in action, I appreciated the ambiance all the more when I jumped in for a hands-on in the closed beta.

Accuracy must take second place to what the players say they want, however:

Sounds really start to shine through once you turn the music down. Although the game’s smart music slider suppresses it when you fire, try clicking it off sometime to focus on the many ambient sounds. Tohtash said that the team has already added “about 3,000″ different sounds to the game. Players will actually hear different metallic sounds from the engines and hulls when the ships change speeds and from the guns when they fire. Engines have four different sound elements (engine, turbine, resonance, and post effects), and guns have three (attack, body, and echo or tail), which combine with recoil, load, and double echo. Using the various elements, the team took care to make different caliber of guns have different sounds. On top of all the types of sounds is the fact that they are positional, changing depending on what view players are in. If your camera is too close to the gun, you will get ringing in your ears after the shot!

Artillery sounds in World of Warships are something that diverges from historical accuracy. The team has access to reference videos, but focus groups have not wanted the more accurate gunfire sounds; they favor big booming ones. Tohtash admitted that actual sounds alone are a bit dry, but once effects such as implementing the bass and the full range of frequencies are added in, the sound is richer and fuller.

June 20, 2015

If World War III had broken out in 1955

Filed under: History, Military, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Mark Stout looks at what a global nuclear war might have looked like merely ten years after the first nuclear weapons were used to end the Second World War:

Those of us who came of age in the late Cold War imagined that if a nuclear war came it would be The End of Everything. By contrast, those who came of age after the Cold War never thought there’d be a nuclear war at all. With Putin’s military forces on the loose in Ukraine and all around Europe, the chance of war by miscalculation, even a nuclear war is rising. What would such a war look like? With the world situation vastly different from the late Cold War and with nuclear arsenals much smaller, it would probably not be a brief nuclear exchange but something more limited, albeit still horrific.

Perhaps such a war would be like one that the U.S. government imagined in 1955. In June of that year, the government conducted a massive relocation exercise called Operation Alert in cities across the country. A British Pathé newsreel tells the story in breathless shorthand. As part of the exercise, the State Department moved key personnel to an above-ground location at the foot of the Shenandoah Mountains in Front Royal, Virginia that now belongs to the Smithsonian Institution. There, according to records held at the National Archives, they practiced how they would continue to conduct the business of the department in case of World War III.

Among other documents, the Archives holds “Situation Report #1,” issued by the State Department’s intelligence arm on D+1 of the war game. It is an interesting artifact of the time. In 1955 nuclear arsenals on both sides of the Iron Curtain were much smaller than they became later and intercontinental ballistic missiles did not exist. Thus, the Soviet ability to strike the U.S. homeland was also much more limited and the “war” unfolded much more slowly than it would have even ten years later. As a result, the imaginary war of June 1955 combined attributes of World War II as well as the World War III that haunted us in the 1980s.

May 20, 2015

Ask what “Red Team” can do for you

Filed under: Military, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 05:00

At Strategy Page, a look at the “Red Team revolution”:

Red Teams came out of wargaming. There, the “Red” team represented the enemy, while the “Blue” team played the good guys. Beginning in the late 1970s the U.S. Army adopted a form of wargaming based on historical models but where commanders are presented with very realistic situations for future battles. This was applying to wargames the old phrase, “train as you fight, and fight as you train.” But in addition to providing more realistic games for training, this style of wargames also made it possible to analyze war plans as never before. In the past, your war plans didn’t really get a workout until you were in combat against a real, live Red Team (the enemy). The new wrinkle was that it was now easier to have your own people provide an effective, if not perfect, Red Team experience because of all those officers with wargame experience.

So now the senior commanders of the U.S. Army have been sending Red Teams around to the major commands, to play devil’s advocate to whatever war plans senior commanders and their staffs have come up with. It’s not new, really. The concept of “devil’s advocate” has been around for a long time. But now the army has institutionalized it and used more powerful techniques (wargaming) to implement it.

This all began back in the 1980s, when realistic wargaming was catching on, especially among the students at the Command and General Staff School (C&GSS) and the Army War College AWC). The younger officers at the C&GSS were particularly enthusiastic, and they came to be known as the “Jedi Knights,” mainly because the analytic skills obtained from playing lots of wargames, gave them a seemingly magical ability to find flaws in war plans. That’s what the Red Teams are all about, Jedi Knights on steroids. Since then the Staff School at Leavenworth has established courses for training Red Team members, some of the courses are 18 weeks long.

And what would the poor Red Team officers do when, as in Japanese wargaming before the Battle of Midway, the Blue force commanders “re-floated” most of the losses, thereby winning the game (but losing the war)? You don’t subordinate the Red Team to the local commander:

The Red Teams all report to the head of the army, which insures that none of the commanders they are working with try to pull rank. The Red Teams give the Chief of Staff of the army regular reports on how effective the many war plans developed in the army combat units are holding up to scrutiny, which is a unique capability in the military world.

April 15, 2015

Operation Sealion, wargamed by some of the original commanders

Filed under: Britain, Europe, Germany, History, Military, WW2 — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Strategy Page has a great summary of the German plan to invade Britain and the most likely outcome if the invasion had ever been attempted:

Operation Sealion, or, in the original German Unternehmen Seelöwe, is one of the most famous “what ifs” of the Twentieth Century.

On July 16, 1940, following the collapse of France, the Dunkerque evacuation, and the rejection of his peace overtures, Adolf Hitler issued Führer Directive No. 16, which initiated preparations for an invasion of Britain. At the time, it seemed to many that if Hitler had tried an offensive across the English Channel a defenseless Britain would inevitably fall. But was it so? What were Hitler’s chances?

In 1973 historian Paddy Griffith, just beginning his career as an instructor at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, decided to evaluate the chances of a successful German invasion of Britain by using a wargame.

Organization. Griffith’s wargame was much more than a board with a set of counters, a rule booklet, and some dice. It was a massive multiplayer game, which Griffith later wrote about in Sprawling Wargames. Based on traditional kriegsspiel methodology, the game involved several dozen players and umpires, all isolated from each other except by means of simulated signaling. Many of the players and umpires were veterans of the war from both sides. Among them were former wartime senior German officers such as Luftwaffe fighter Generalleutnant Adolf Galland and Kriegsmarine Vice Admiral Friedrich Ruge, as well as several men from both sides who had been lower ranking offices and later risen higher, including Christopher Foxley-Norris, who had commanded a fighter squadron during the Battle of Britain and rose to air chief marshal, Sir Edward Gueritz, a junior naval officer at the time who became a rear admiral, Heinz Trettner, who had served on the staff of the German airborne forces in 1940, rose to command a parachute division by war’s end, and later served as Inspector General of the post-war German air force, and Glyn Gilbert, a junior officer in one of the defending infantry battalions in 1941, who later rose to major general.

Each side was given the same forces, operational plans, and intelligence as it had in 1940. The game was based on the assumption that the Luftwaffe had still not won the battle for air supremacy over the Channel and southern England by the time the landings were scheduled to take place, in early September, which was in fact the case. The intelligence picture greatly favored the British, who had proven much better at securing information about the enemy’s plans and force than the Germans had on their own.

There’s even a mention of the (significant) Canadian contribution to the defence of Britain after Dunkirk:

The defending forces included the 1st Canadian Division (the most well-prepared division available, full strength and fully equipped, though without combat experience), plus the less-well prepared 2nd Canadian division and partial divisions from Australia and New Zealand.

Although I haven’t read Griffith’s book, my other readings on the subject align with the eventual outcome of the wargame:

Following the game the participants took part in a general analysis. Some interesting observations and conclusions were made. The British GHQ mobile reserve had not been engaged at all. In addition, casualties to the Royal Navy had been serious, but hardly devastating; of about 90 destroyers on hand, only five had been sunk and six seriously damaged, and only three of the three dozen cruisers had been lost, and three more heavily damaged.

Compare that to the actual Royal Navy losses during the evacuation of Crete — with little to no air support from the RAF, due to extreme distance from friendly airbases:

Attacks by German planes, mainly Ju-87s and Ju-88s, destroyed three British cruisers (HMS Gloucester, Fiji, and Calcutta) and three destroyers (HMS Kelly, Greyhound and Kashmir) between 22 May and 1 June. Italian bombers from 41 Gruppo sank one destroyer (Juno on 21 May and damaged another destroyer (Imperial) on 28 May beyond repair. The British were also forced to scuttle another destroyer (Hereward) on 29 May, that had been seriously damaged by German aircraft, and abandoned when Italian motor torpedo boats approached to deliver the coup de grâce.

Damage to the aircraft carrier HMS Formidable, the battleships HMS Warspite and Barham, the cruisers HMS Ajax, Dido, Orion, and HMAS Perth, the submarine HMS Rover, the destroyers HMS Kelvin and Nubian, kept these ships out of action for months. While at anchor in Suda Bay, northern Crete, the heavy cruiser HMS York was badly damaged by Italian explosive motor boats and beached on 26 March 1941. She was later wrecked by demolition charges and abandoned when Crete was evacuated in May. By 1 June the effective eastern Mediterranean strength of the Royal Navy had been reduced to two battleships and three cruisers to oppose the four battleships and eleven cruisers of the Italian Navy

And back to the Operation Sealion summary from Strategy Page:

All participants, German as well as British, agreed that the outcome was an accurate assessment of the probable result of an actual invasion.

Oddly, the Sandhurst wargame was designed on the basis of inaccurate information. Some time after the game, additional hitherto secret documents came to light, which revealed that the Germans probably had even less chance of success than they did in game. At the time the game was designed, the true extent of British “stay behind” forces, intended to conduct guerrilla operations in the rear of the invasion forces, and the sheer scale of defensive installations that had been erected across southern England in anticipation of an invasion were still classified; there were some 28,000 pill boxes, coastal batteries, strong points, blockhouses, anti-aircraft sites, and some other installations.

So assuming Hitler had for a time been serious about invading England, his decision to call it off was probably wise.

January 26, 2015

John Hill, RIP

Filed under: Gaming, Military — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 07:33

Gerald D. Swick on the death of one of the great wargame designers, the man who created Squad Leader:

Squad Leader game box

If there is a heaven just for game designers, it has a new archangel. John Hill, best known for designing the groundbreaking board wargame Squad Leader, passed away on January 12. He was inducted into The Game Manufacturers Association’s Academy of Adventure Gaming Arts & Design Hall of Fame in 1978; Squad Leader was inducted into the HoF in 2004.

His many boardgame designs include Jerusalem (1975), Battle for Hue (1973), Battle for Stalingrad (1980) and Tank Leader (1986 and 1987), but John was always a miniatures gamer at heart, and anyone who ever got to play a game on his magnificent game table considered themselves lucky. Squad Leader was originally intended to be a set of miniatures rules, but the publisher, Avalon Hill, asked him to convert it to a cardboard-counters boardgame design. His Civil War miniatures rules Johnny Reb were considered so significant that even Fire & Movement magazine, which primarily covered boardgames, published a major article on the JR system. Most recently John designed Across A Deadly Field, a set of big-battle Civil War rules, for Osprey. He completed additional books in the series for Osprey that have not yet been published.

July 20, 2014

Diplomacy – “the game that ruins friendships”

Filed under: Gaming — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 11:19

David Hill learns a very hard lesson about trusting English promises:

Diplomacy board

It was the summer of 1909. I was on the south coast of Spain. I remember it well because the season was almost over. Peace was within reach, I felt. There had been a vote to end the war, and the English had told me to support it. But the vote needed to be unanimous to pass, and it failed. The Russian, the Italian, they thought the English voted against it and that I had been lied to. Why should I believe them? The English and I had worked together against all of them for years now. Of course they’d want to sow distrust between us. Now time was ticking. I desperately wanted peace. I wasn’t sure my country would survive another couple of years, with or without England’s help. There wouldn’t be another vote until after the fall.

“Will you support my army in Spain this fall?” I asked.

“Nah. That ain’t happenin’,” the Englishman replied. A wave of dread came over me. He intended to betray me.

“How could you do this to me? After everything I’ve done for you.”

“I guess I’m just a hard muthafucka like that.”

And with that he walked away, leaving me standing in the hallway, mouth agape. He rejoined the other players at the board, who all stared at me, fury in their eyes. We told you so.

I used to spend a lot of time playing Diplomacy, but as I didn’t have enough real-life friends to want to lose a lot of them over a boardgame, I played postal Diplomacy (I even co-published a ‘zine for a while).

If you’ve ever heard of Diplomacy, chances are you know it as “the game that ruins friendships.” It’s also likely you’ve never finished an entire game. That’s because Diplomacy requires seven players and seven or eight hours to complete. Games played by postal mail, the way most played for the first 30 years of its existence, could take longer than a year to finish. Despite this, Diplomacy is one of the most popular strategic board games in history. Since its invention in 1954 by Harvard grad Allan B. Calhamer, Diplomacy has sold over 300,000 copies and was inducted into Games Magazine’s hall of fame alongside Monopoly, Clue, and Scrabble.

The game is incredibly simple. The game board is a map of 1914 Europe divided into 19 sea regions and 56 land regions, 34 of which contain what are known as “supply centers.” Each player plays as a major power (Austria-Hungary, Turkey, Italy, England, France, Russia, Germany) with three pieces on the board (four for Russia) known as “home supply centers.” Each piece can move one space at a time, and each piece has equal strength. When two pieces try to move to the same space, neither moves. If two pieces move to the same space but one of those pieces has “support” from a third piece, the piece with support will win the standoff and take the space. The goal is to control 18 supply centers, which rarely happens. What’s more common is for two or more players to agree to end the game in a draw. Aside from a few other special situations, that’s pretty much it for rules.

There are two things that make Diplomacy so unique and challenging. The first is that, unlike in most board games, players don’t take turns moving. Everyone writes down their moves and puts them in a box. The moves are then read aloud, every piece on the board moving simultaneously. The second is that prior to each move the players are given time to negotiate with each other, as a group or privately. The result is something like a cross between Risk, poker, and Survivor — with no dice or cards or cameras. There’s no element of luck. The only variable factor in the game is each player’s ability to convince others to do what they want. The core game mechanic, then, is negotiation. This is both what draws and repels people to Diplomacy in equal force; because when it comes to those negotiations, anything goes. And anything usually does.

January 10, 2014

Grognards Anonymous

Filed under: Gaming — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 09:59

Dan Hodges makes his wargaming confession:

I remember the morning I became a Grognard like it was yesterday. In reality it must have been back in 1978 or 1979. I’d always liked games with a war theme, my favourite being Escape From Colditz. Oh, the cold terror of drawing the Shoot To Kill card. But that was with little wooden counters that looked like bowling pins. It was fun, but you couldn’t really empathise with a bowling pin, even if he was supposed to be a downed Polish Spitfire pilot.

And then one birthday I opened a package that looked like a large book. But it was actually a game box, and it had the words “Squad Leader” on the side. So I opened it gingerly, and that’s when I first set eyes on Sergeant Hamblen.

Sergeant Hamblen came in the shape of a blue grey counter, about the size of your thumbnail. He was a German soldier. You could tell it straight away. He was in silhouette, but you could clearly make out his helmet and his boots and his backpack, and his machine gun. Sergeant Hamblen was no bowling pin, he was a warrior.

And next to him was all sorts of cool stuff. His squad. His long-range machine gun. His demolition charge. A tank! Sergeant Hamblen came with a tank! And then there were the boards. Six or seven hard mounted boards of buildings and forests and hedges and rivers and walls and trees, all in beautiful detail. This was where Sergeant Hamblen lived and fought. And now I was going to live and fight there as well.

So that was it, I was hooked. Me and Sergeant Hamblen spent the summer roaming all over the Eastern Front. He survived the Guards Counterattack. Stymied the Russian assault on Hill 621. OK, he was fighting for the wrong side. But he was a good German. I knew this, because the game was so detailed that the nasty Germans — the Nazis — came on special evil-looking black counters.

Although I played and enjoyed the original Squad Leader game (along with its expansion sets), eventually I fell behind and when Advanced Squad Leader came along, I didn’t buy it. I’d reached my limit on remembering and applying all the rules: Avalon Hill, the publisher, had chosen to write the rule books in “programmed learning” style, where you got the basic rules, then each scenario after that built on the rules you’d learned to add more complexity … and to supersede earlier simple rules with more complex ones. My interest was tailing off after the second expansion set (Crescendo of Doom) came along and the last expansion (GI: Anvil of Victory) finished me off. The Squad Leader system wasn’t a game — it was a lifestyle, and I didn’t have enough time to devote to it to keep all the modified rules in my head.

But although I didn’t know it at the time, my cardboard forces were fighting a losing battle. Time was against them. I was growing older. Computer games, music, football, videos, girls. In roughly that order they came to hold more of an attraction than Sergeant Hamblen and his comrades. So the battle-weary Sergeant sat on a shelf, slowly gathering dust. Not dying, just fading away, as old soldiers do.

I sold off a lot of my wargames after I got married … including some that might be worth a lot of money nowadays. I still have far too many sitting on the shelf in my office, gathering dust. I don’t want to get rid of them, but I also don’t have the time and patience to set them up any more.

August 7, 2013

What happens when you add MMO features to a classic turn-based game?

Filed under: Gaming, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 08:56

The answer, according to Jake Song and 2K Games, is Civilization Online:

Civilization Online concept art

You might have heard about a little project called Civilization Online, a new MMO in development based on the popular Civilization series of turn-based strategy games. You also might have heard that XL Games CEO Jake Song, of ArcheAge and Lineage fame, is overseeing the project as Executive Producer. But chances are, that’s really all you have heard. Until now, that is.

We had the opportunity to sit down with Song, XL Games Senior VP Jung Hwan Kim, and Producer Garrett Bittner from 2K Games to get the scoop on the project. Follow along for all the juicy details about building up civilizations in a new open world environment, including crafting, PvP, and more!

With Civilization Online being such a departure from his previous projects, I had to ask Song why the switch in genres? His answer came easily: He’s a big fan of the Civilization series. Actually, Song’s first response was: “Because there are too many fantasy games!” Then after a chuckle he talked about how he enjoyed the franchise. According to Bittner, from 2K Games’ perspective, Song was an obvious choice to ask to participate due to his high quality work as well as being a fan.

But even though the MMO is based on the series of strategy games, CO is not to be mistaken as simply an online version of turn-based warfare or a continuation of the canceled Facebook game. In fact, Civilization Online will definitely be a MMORPG, where players are a single character within the civilization — as opposed to, say, a unit of armies — and will influence a persistent and dynamic world by helping to advance their civilization through the ages.

April 30, 2013

QotD: Shades of Yamamoto

Filed under: Middle East, Military, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

While the results of the wargames are all well and good, El Reg hopes this won’t induce a sense of complacency. Wargames are just that — games — and reality is going to be much more unpleasant. As the 19th century Prussian military strategist Helmuth von Moltke the Elder noted, “No human acumen is able to see beyond the first battle.”

Barely a decade ago we saw this demonstrated with the Millennial Challenge in 2002 — a simulated land, sea, air and electronic online wargame against a fictional Middle Eastern country (somewhat like Iraq). It was intended to be the first test of the switched-on, network-centric warfare beloved by former US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and in practice it failed miserably.

The Red team, controlled by Marine Lieutenant General Paul Van Riper, refused to play ball — using motorcycle couriers and pre-arranged signals at evening prayers to trigger attacks on the Blue team forces rather than easily-tapped radio or wired signals. By the second day, Van Riper had sunk one aircraft carrier, ten cruisers, and five of six amphibious ships of the attacking force, and the $250m exercise was shut down and reset.

Iain Thomson, “NATO proclaimed winner of Locked Shield online wargame”, The Register, 2013-04-29

March 28, 2013

“Gaming in the 1970 and 80s felt a little like being into punk rock”

Filed under: Gaming, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 09:32

Explanation of the headline: gaming in the 70’s was like being into punk because it was very much an outsider interest, you had to go well out of your way to find it, and it was cool (at least to you, not so much to your family and non-gaming friends). Peter Bebergal finds online caches of some of the classic gaming magazines of the day:

The Internet Archive is one of the great treasures of the internet, housing content in every media; texts, video, audio. It’s also the home of the Wayback Machine, an archive of the Internet from 1996. I thought I had explored the site pretty thoroughly — at least according to my own interests — but recently came across runs of some of the great gaming magazines of the 1970s and 80s; The Space Gamer, Ares, Polyhedron, The General, and — temporarily — Dragon Magazine. These magazines represent not only the golden age of gaming, but expose the thrill and excitement of gaming when it was still new, still on the margins. It was a time when gaming still felt a little, dare I say, punk.

Today, finding members of your particular community of interest is a Google search away, but in the 1970s the only way to be in contact with others who shared interests was through magazines. For many gamers, even finding the games could be difficult. Discovering the gaming magazines revealed an active gaming industry that still maintained a sense of being on the vanguard.

The earliest issues show off their newsletter origins. The Space Gamer and The General started off on plain paper in black and white. Even the first issues of Dragon look like a teenager’s fanzine, but the enthusiasm and energy are infectious. Who couldn’t love the introduction of new monsters for your campaign such as the Gem Var, a creature composed entirely of gemstone and that cannot take damage from bladed weapons. The artists, editors and letter writers were the best friends you had never met. Gaming in the 1970 and 80s felt a little like being into punk rock. You knew it was offbeat, knew that outsiders didn’t get it, but you also knew that this was cool. Even the advertisements and listings of conventions expanded the universe of gaming a thousandfold. Not unlike ordering 45s of unknown bands from punk zines, was sending away for microgames, miniatures and supplements from tiny game publishers.

While I wasn’t as much into the early roleplaying games, I was very much into wargaming and that was in the “respectable” part of the gaming ghetto until the boom in RPGs pretty much took all the oxygen out of the room. Of course, even in the “respectable” area, there were the Napoleonic grognards and the frisson-of-insanity East Front fanatics

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