ltmurnau: (Default)
 I just got back from ten days in London!

Copiously illustrated account on my game design blog, since main purpose of visit was to attend conference on professional wargaming.
I got to role-play Kim Jong Un, saw where Throbbing Gristle used to live and work, went to a puppet play, and traveled to far-off Dagenham.

Check it out!
ltmurnau: (CX)
Believe it or not, I am here most days for a quick troll through my Friends page.
But I don't post much anymore, obviously - mostly because I am busy doing stuff that I would be posting about, if I posted more.

Aki made it through his bridging semester program and now he is in 3rd Year of Mechanical Engineering!
He's finding it a lot of work, but I think it's coming together for him and he can see the purpose of it, unlike the Shakespeare they made him swallow in high school.
They have them working on projects, he is doing one with a team where they are developing a way to 3-D print custom braces for children with club feet.
He's also 21 now, how did that happen....

Game designing takes up a lot of my outside-work time, my blog on that is at .
I never did figure out a way to feed entries from there to here, I should just do it manually but I am not sure who would be looking at it.

Current projects, since the last time I talked about them, include games on the following in no particular order:

- the French-Algerian War of 1954-62 (two games actually, using completely different systems: one large one with lavish production and wooden bits, another one a revision of an earlier design)
- the Battle of the Bulge (revision of earlier design, published 11/15)
- a set of 3 battles from the first year of the Korean War (published 11/15, mangled by publisher's "development" team)
- the 1973 coup in Chile
- the Slovak-Hungarian War of March, 1939
- the invasion of Canada by the United States, 193? (revision of earlier design)
- the Polish-Soviet War, 1920 (revision of earlier design)
- the Cyprus Emergency, 1955-59
- Binh Dinh province (central coast of Vietnam, 1969; did this one up a while ago for a history professor at Nipissing University for students in his course on 20C wars and revolutions to play)
- the 1943-45 Allied invasions of Greece and Yugoslavia that weren't (two games actually, using completely different systems; one from the publisher that mangled my work (though they seem to have not mangled it too much this time, it's still the last work I will ever send them) and one I published myself)
- the Finnish Civil War of 1918

People want me to talk about my work too, which I find extremely difficult to do... I mean, I can talk technique, but as to what value there is in it, or what makes some thing better than another thing - I can't be articulate.

But week after next I am going to Washington DC to talk to people at RAND Corporation about what I do, and how it might help them in what they do... a very unexpected offshoot of a conference I went to last September that featured a workshop on quick game design that I helped facilitate.

Then in mid-March, UVic has an event on gaming ( and I will be showing some of my work and maybe talking about it.

Then at the end of March, I am going to the American Popular Culture Association's national meeting in Seattle, to present a paper on... well, here's my abstract:

Bored of War

Board wargames, or manual military simulation games, are a form of civilian entertainment that peaked commercially in the 1980s but continue today as a small press, near-DIY activity. They remain one of Western culture’s most complex analog artifacts, rich in their ability to generate narrative and explore historical possibilities.

However, only a very small number of published civilian wargames address the dominant modes of actual post-World War Two conflict: irregular war and counterinsurgency. This paper will explore the cultural reasons for this absent focus, explain the social and political utility of these games as a means of interrogating and critiquing contemporary conflicts, and present specific games in this field as examples of “critical play” (Flanagan, 2009).

See what I mean about being inarticulate?
This is a big conference, with thousands of presentations... and the Game Studies area is quite new, with only about 100 presentations. But all of them are about digital games - their design, the sociology of people who play them, etc. - except for 3: my presentation, and 2 presentations on role-playing games.
I feel no one will have the vaguest idea what I am talking about, much less care, even if I could make myself understood.
But Lianne is making a presentation (on horror films) in much better company... I've never been to a conference quite like this before.

And then in April, trying to work through arrangements to visit the Army War College in Carlisle PA to do some facilitated play of my Algeria game, to match with a screening of The Battle of Algiers.
I wonder what the Army officers there will make of that one.

Then in June, to Tempe AZ for the annual Consimworld Expo, for more showing of work and meeting with publishers.

It took 25 years to get to this point, I don't mind being so busy but again, it's hard to write about this stuff in the larger sense.

Oh, and I have something in a book too: this spring will see a game studies anthology come out from MIT Press:
It's the first time any of my writing has been in an actual book!

Anyway, this is in large part what I have been doing instead of posting.
I will try to pop in here more often, if only to leave links.
ltmurnau: (CX)
[Reposted here from my game design blog with some additions, well cut-and-pasted since I don't think I can automatically repost to LJ from Wordpress. Eh, anyway...]

Earlier this year I was contacted by Marc Guenette who wanted to know if I wanted to be one of the Guests of Honour at Stack Academie, an annual wargaming conference in Montreal. Gee, would I!

I went to Montreal a day or two early, on Tuesday April 30, since I had not been in the city for 24 years and wanted some time to look around. I flew Air Canada and everything went suspiciously smoothly, to the point where I even arrived a few minutes early. I took the 747 bus from Trudeau Airport (what was once called Dorval), it runs about every 7 minutes or less most of the day, very convenient though you have to buy a transit daypass – $9.00 but that’s 24 hours on the whole transit system, other parts of which you will probably need to use to get to your destination. However, I didn’t because the hotel (an otherwise unremarkable Comfort Inn) was right downtown – just around the corner from the 747 bus stop, 1 ½ blocks from the Berri-UQAM Metro stop, and 2 blocks from St. Catherines Street, the main drag for restaurants shops and bars.

Montreal after 24 years seemed much as I remembered it (which is barely, as I was more interested at the time in my then girlfriend, who was doing electrical engineering at McGill). Half of it is being torn down or rebuilt, and the other half is being measured for the same treatment. There was a heatwave, and it was sunny and 22-27 degrees all week long. And me without shorts, in fact at the last minute I decided not to pack my cardigan (however, two guys at the con told me that two years before there had been pouring rain and wet snow on the streets).

Wednesday I did a little bit of shopping, at some Army surplus stores on St.-Laurent and at Le Valet de Coeur (Jack of Hearts), a good wargame store not far up the street. I even found a few old DTP quality titles of mine, from Schutze Games (Pusan Perimeter, Somalia), still in the old comic book bags. I got a couple of back issues of Vae Victis, a French wargaming magazine with interesting games in it, a copy of Battle for Hill 218, a simple card abstract game, and two little finger puppet characters they were selling near the cash register. They were all kinds of historical characters like Edison, Leonardo and some others, but there were also others like Hannah Arendt, Frida Kahlo, Spinoza etc.. The little Michel Foucault puppet was especially funny, but I got a Che Guevara for Lianne and a George Orwell for me, so they can have mild disagreements. Anyway, a neat store. Here is George in my office, looking as happy as he ever did in life.

Wednesday night I went out to Bar Passeport, ( which has not one but two EBM/Industrial/Goth nights! One on Wednesday is more EBM/industrial (e.g. Funker Vogt, And One, Eisenfunk) and less well attended than the one on Saturday. I don't go out to bars much except for Circuit Breaker and when seeking out such nights when I'm in a different city, but one thing I did notice is people being tied into their mobile devices, even saw one guy dancing by himself on the floor with his beer in one hand and his mobile in the other, absorbed in whatever was coming in over it....

Thursday I spent the afternoon and evening at the Interuniversity Consortium for Arab and Middle Eastern Studies (, where Rex Brynen (of Paxsims blog fame) is one of the Directors. He had set up a micro-armour game that he umpired, while six of us directed the forces of Natonia (guy called Tom) and East Norkea (me) in the “Battle of the Namgang River”. A shot of one of the tank battalions heading down the road into the "Cauldron of Death":

A full account with pictures is at . It was tremendous fun, even though I lost most of my command in a huge Natonian ambush. Even worse was a missed chance to take out his two tank unit commanders by infiltrating East Norkean commandos, who lofted RPG rounds onto the tops of their tanks, only to see the rounds fizzle and misfire (I rolled two 1s in succession, the only thing that could have saved their collective bacon!). It was very kind of Rex to arrange this, as he and I had first met 30 years ago while he was doing at history degree at the University of Victoria and I was a high school student who would go to the weekly meetings of the Gaming Club there. We would have these massive micro-armour battles, usually with Rex’s models, but as he collected mostly Warsaw Pact stuff we usually played Russian vs. Chinese. (Actually, we were playing with some of the same models and terrain from back then!)

Friday was the beginning of the convention, and we got right down to it – the other guest of honour was Volko Ruhnke, who ran games of Cuba Libre, his COIN system game of the Cuban Revolution, while I ran games of A Distant Plain. I also demonstrated Kandahar (in its present configuration with the District Commander engine under the hood), 1848 (a rarely-seen because rarely-requested game on the European revolutions of that year) and Dios o Federacion (card game on post-Chavez Venezuela). Even got in a few playtest turns of the last one. A Distant Plain was a big hit, a lot of people stopped by to look and we even had one young fellow who had never played before but still managed to pull off a quick win by the Coalition, a difficult thing in this game – he moved in lightly, manufactured a lot of popular consent for the Afghan Government, and pulled out, ending the Western role in the war in 2004!

I met a lot of people who I had only corresponded with online, through Boardgamegeek or Consimworld, so it was great to put names to faces – also to see people again after some time, like Volko, Michel Boucher and Barry Setser. I came away with some excellent ideas for future game projects and extensions or fixes to ones I am testing now. I wish these events were at least a week long, so I could have conversations of appropriate length with everyone I wanted to talk to. Jean-Francois Tremblay, a re-enactor when he is not instructing at UQAM, showed up in period gear to play Volko's game Wilderness War:

Saturday night we went out to Le Pied de Cochon, a very popular (you have to make reservations a month or two ahead) restaurant with most of the menu devoted to pork products (one favourite special is “Pig’s Head For Two”, at market price though I did not think price fluctuations for such a commodity would be extreme) and the remnant devoted to other meats (another great favourite is “Duck in a Can”, and that’s just what it is). Even my French onion soup had most of a small pork chop in it, it seemed. I paid a bit much for what I got, since there were several bottles of wine on the table I did not drink from, but it was still a worthwhile experience… probably never pass that way again.

After dinner I went out to Bar Passeport again, music led off with some good Goth oldies (Siouxsie, Sisters of Mercy) but soon gravitated towards newer stuff (though they also played some Laibach!).

Sunday I had breakfast with Rex, Volko and his wife Jill (it was the weekend of their 22nd wedding anniversary) and got back in time to finish packing and head out to the airport. Again, things went smoothly and we even landed 48 minutes early in Victoria (they asked us over the PA to remember this the next time they were late).

It was a great week and I was honoured to be asked to come by Marc, who was a fantastic and generous host, taking time to talk with me even though he was run off his feet with convention business and real-life business. Merci a tous!

ltmurnau: (Default)
DATE: 9 August, 2012

SUBJECT: After Action Report – Exercise CONNECTIONS 2012

FROM: Brian Train

TO: Dear Readers

CC: Dear Linkers


CONNECTIONS is an annual conference on civilian and military wargaming. 2012 marked the 19th consecutive year this conference had been held. This year the conference was hosted by the Centre for Applied Strategic Learning (CASL), a department of the National Defense University located at Fort McNair, Washington DC. The general purpose of the action was for this writer to deploy from home station in Victoria, Canada, participate in the Connections 2012 annual wargaming conference with host nation (HN) personnel in Washington DC, and to redeploy to Victoria.

Key tasks during the exercise were to:

- Attend and participate in presentations and discussions during the conference;
- Meet new people and strengthen connections with prior acquaintances;
- Conduct a major “show and tell” of the relevant design work I have been doing over the last year;
- Facilitate a working group in the Game Lab event, wherein conference participants collectively discussed the opening stages of how to design an educational game on a disaster response situation (for these purposes, the [REDACTED]).


This exercise was conducted in five phases:

(i) Pre-deployment Phase: 1 June – 16 July 2012

In the pre-deployment phase, the focus of training was on logistical preparations for deployment and redeployment, and preparing game designs for the “game demos” part of the conference. Some time was spent doing preliminary reading and planning for the Game Lab event.

(ii) Deployment Phase: 17 July – 22 July 2012

17 July – On arrival at the Victoria Airport at 0dark30, it was discovered that the flight to Los Angeles was cancelled. After considerable time spent waiting in line and with an agent, emplaned for Vancouver BC, where I sat for several hours before emplaning for San Francisco, followed by a flight to Los Angeles. Arrived over six hours late; however, the rail portion of the deployment was the following day so there was no worry about making a connection.

18-20 July – travel to Union Station in Los Angeles to catch the afternoon train to Chicago, called the Southwest Chief. Travelling with Joe Miranda (editor of Strategy and Tactics, World at War and Modern War magazines, the world’s most prolific wargame designer, bon vivant, raconteur and inveterate punster). I’d never taken a long train trip before. Accommodation on the train was a roomette, which consisted of two chairs facing each other that converted into a bed at night, while a second bunk could be swung down from the ceiling. It was awfully hot so it was not easy to get enough sleep. And finally, 28 miles short of Chicago after travelling over 2,600 miles from Los Angeles, the engine packed it in – I think we just ran out of gas but it’s Amtrak, they don’t have to explain what happened. We waited three hours in a stifling hot car that we could not leave with no power and windows that did not open, until they sent out an engine to push us into Chicago very slowly.

Me and Joe Miranda in "Albakoikee", NM

After a pre-planned night and day in Chicago, we took the train the rest of the way to Washington DC. After crossing the Mississippi everything was much greener and bumpier than the West, which looked fairly badly affected by the drought. The hotel in Washington was a block from the Navy Yard Metro stop, which was convenient, and a bit more than a mile from the National Defense University. We usually caught rides though, as it was over 95 degrees and humid all the time we were there it would have been a pretty hot walk.

(iii) Employment Phase: 23 July – 26 July 2012

Conduct of the conference at National Defense University, Washington DC. I’ve outlined the entire agenda, with comments and rambling from my notes (in italics) on the parts I attended.


Day 4, Thursday, 26 July, Marshall Hall 155

This was largely Working Groups outbriefs and the best part, the Connections “Hot Wash” discussion. See 3. Lessons Learned.

(iv) Redeployment Phase: 26 July – 29 July 2012

Spent Thursday and Friday walking around Washington with Joe Miranda. Thursday afternoon we went to the Dupont Circle area to scope out a nightclub that was going to have some kind of Goth night, and spent some time at a nicely stocked, very cheap bookstore that was right next door. Later walked around in Georgetown and had lunch there. That night we went back to the club (Phase 1), but the club remained shut even after 2200, so we walked back towards downtown, passing by the White House at midnight – there was one small light glowing there, as if the President had gotten up in the middle of the night and left the bathroom light on. All the Metros were shut down it was so late, so in the end we got a taxi back and went to bed about 0130.

Friday we walked around looking at many monuments, and I went into the Smithsonian (well, the one that is dedicated to American history, there are about five other Smithsonians) for a short while. Quite unexpectedly at the Lincoln Memorial we ran into Callie Cummins and Chris Cummins Jr., of Decision Games, who had been at the conference to sell a few games.

Saturday I saw Joe to Union Station as he was catching the train all the way back to Los Angeles, and then took the train out to Maryland, where I was met by Volko Ruhnke. We played a few turns of A Distant Plain and had a nice dinner with him and his wife. Got back later and finished packing and moving items around various bags, as I usually do before travelling.

Sunday 29 July, returned by air to Victoria, Canada. Dulles Airport is a LONG way out of the city! Original plan was to go home via Chicago and Calgary, but flight was cancelled due to mechanical breakdown. After several hours delay, I got on a flight to San Francisco, then Victoria, which saw the return home several hours late, and with no luggage (this followed the next day).

(v) Recovery Phase: 30 July 2012 onwards

Post-exercise repairs, cleaning, maintenance and critiques. Begin work on post-conference tasks. See 5.


As always, there were lots of suggestions and lively discussion in the Hot Wash section of the conference. Some of them included:



The conference itself was an unqualified success – the only drawback was that there were so many excellent presentations, it was difficult to choose which to attend and which to pass up.

Approximately [REDACTED] people, mostly from the Beltway region but also from Canada, the European Union, and Singapore, participated. Portions of the conference were livestreamed on the Internet through the [REDACTED], and some speakers took part through videoconferencing.

Less successful were the deployment and redeployment phases – movement plans were drastically revised each way, due to circumstances beyond the unit’s control. However, the effects of the changes were mitigated by having extra “down time” incorporated into travel plans to begin with. And packing lighter would have been a help, as it would have allowed my bag to stay with me! I also found it difficult to sleep on the train due to the heat and motion, so arrived in Washington without adequate rest. It was certainly intersting to take a long train trip like this, but I'm not sure I would do it again.


I have a number of things to do, read and revise as a result of this conference. Also, much of the rest of the year will be taken up with playtesting and refining A Distant Plain. More details [REDACTED].

Thanks for reading.


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