VCOW 2021.

Last weekend I attended the Virtual Conference of Wargamers put on by the Wargames Developments group.  There have been COW events run annually since the early 80s but last year, because of covid19 it was run as a virtual conference over Zoom. That was such a success that they decided to run another virtual conference 6 months later. The conference was a mix of speakers giving lectures as well as gaming sessions; I had put myself down to give two talks. Games had to be prebooked in advance, with the weekly gaming sessions I’ve been having online with the Sheffield contingent of WD I had played a few of the games already. This meant that it simplified my choices somewhat.

Friday:

Before the conference proper started there was a virtual battlefield tour. An expat member of WD walked us through the Breacourt Manner battle where Lt. Winters took out German artillery on DDay- known to most people through the excellent Band of Brothers TV series. It was nice to see the pictures and videos used for the presentation; they gave a real sense of the nature of the flooded ground that characterised the area inland from Utah beach.

The conference kicked off with a talk on modern Counterinsurgency gaming by the always knowledgeable Brian Train. This was followed by me with my PhD student hat on giving a lecturer on the use and development of counterinsurgency games. I was fairly nervous following Brian given that I am at an early stage of my research and he pretty much is the authority on the subject having designed many games on the subject. I was quite pleased with how it went overall.

After those two talks I played in an excellent Traveller RPG set on a cargo freighter. I don’t get to roleplay much and sci fi roleplays even less, so I really enjoyed this one. It was a playtest for a module that should be released fairly soon. I intend, having now played it myself, to pick it up and give it a run for other in the not too distant future.

Saturday:

An early- ish start saw me at the computer to listen to my fellow PhD research Nick give a talk on tactical games. His talk was excellent and covered the analytical studies of low level combat very well.

I then followed this up with a talk on 3D printing for Wargamers. I didn’t try to be too fancy but just outlined what I had learnt in the year that I have had mine. It is clear from this blog how much use I’ve got out of it and the cost savings I’ve made, and I wanted to get that across to the fellow WD members.

I then played in a Napoleonic skirmish game using Table Top Simulator. As the name suggests TTS is a program that allows users to recreate a virtual table top that can be used for either miniatures of board games that can be manipulated just like a physical set up. The camera view for this skirmish game was kept fairly low down so you could only see what your character could see leading to a surprisingly tense game. It was great fun even if I kept getting my characters killed.

Following this I played in a planning game where, as part of the British team, we had to plan the defence of the Isle of Wight. The scenario was 1941 and the amphibious assault on the little island was to be a diversion for the main assault on mainland UK. I really like this sort of game, looking at maps and debating deployments. Once the planning was done the 2 German planning cells presented their plans and by way of assessing all of them, they were all quickly played out using a simple system.

Finally I played in a Operation Valkyrie game about the events of 20 July and the bomb plot against Hitler. For some reason in this I was oddly restrained to the point of timidity, my ‘good idea’ in the game coming too late to be implanted… still it was a fascinating game and one I learned quite a bit from.

Sunday:

The morning started with a fascinating talk on wargaming the 1960s- looking at different way that turbulent and important decade. Clearly, for a lot pf the attendees it was their childhood/ youth so there was a degree of nostalgia creeping in. I really enjoyed the group ideas part of this session.

The last game of the weekend was an excellent committee game. This time defending Estonia from cyber attack in a grey zone/ hybrid warfare type scenario. I love these sorts of games that could easily come from tomorrow’s newspaper headlines.

The weekend ended with the AGM.

All in all it was a great weekend’s event. The hosting and sessions were all of top quality and I can’t wait for the next one.

Cheers,

Pete.

Bargain price game mats.

Given the quality job Pix Art Printing clicky did with the game maps for my recent Case Blue megagame I decide that I put some more business their way. Several years ago I bought a few game maps from Wargames Vault clicky with the intention of printing them out onto paper and assembling them as a jigsaw. This didn’t work so well for various reason… but now there is Pix Art I decided to send them there to be printed. Using MS Publisher I added all the images together into one massive file and then waited for a special offer to be on to maximise my savings.

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In the End I got a 130cm by 350cm vinyl at printed for £30 including delivery from Italy.

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I got a 120cm square wasteland mat that will be ideal for any game set in the Middle East/ North Africa, as a point of comparison the going rate for a comparable sized mat by itself seems to be about £25.

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This 120cm by 60cm costal strip will be great for ampibious landing be it in WW2 or the Dark Ages, the textures should work for both 20 and 28mm sized figures.

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I added a few maps from my Print and Play board game collection- here we have maps for the Russo- Japanese War, WW1, fictional WW3 and right up to date with the War in Donbass.

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A slightly smaller urban mat- should be useful for some of the 40K figures I’ve painting recently.

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Finally I printed the map for use in Brian Train’s free urban COIN game: Maracas clicky

 

All in all I’m really pleased with this. They should last for ages and as they are easy to roll storage isn’t a problem either.

 

Cheers,

 

Pete.

 

 

Book Review: ‘The Pentagon’s Urban COIN Wargame (1966)’

It is well known that I’m a sucker for anything with COIN when it comes to games and books (and academic endeavours too) so when this book was released by John Curry’s History of Wargames Project clicky I ordered it straight away and similarly when I arrived I read it straight away…

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The book is a reprint for the archives of what is to all intents and purposes a megagame. The game that the Pentagon created was meant as a training tool to better understand urban insurgencies and to generate insights in those who may have to deal with them in the future.

The game has three sets of players: Government, insurgents and general population, the latter being split by socio- economic class. Initially the insurgents are hidden within the general population and are unknown to the Government, in a similar manner the Government has players hidden within the general population that are unknown to either the general population or the insurgents.

Play is split into 24hr long cycles with a day/night phase in which players have to do assigned task in certain parts of the city (such as go to work to get paid) or to keep up appearances if they are undercover. The game ends when certain victory conditions have been met; interestingly the general population can ‘win’ by increasing their personal wealth and backing the winning side on the final turn. The final turn not being announced in advance.

 

Being a serious military game there was a lot of record keeping built in. Players were expected to keep an accurate record of their locations visited within a turn, so it could be analysed later.

 

Although I’ve designed/ run a couple of games now and played/ controlled in many others I wouldn’t say that I’m an expert, but a few things do jump out at me. The insurgency is rather generic: given the era that the game came from it is assumed that the insurgencies is a communist one (the historical examples that are cited the majority are) or at least a war of national liberation that is using communist ideology to achieve that. Whilst more background would help player engagement and immersion with the setting and roleplaying opportunities it would also frame the responses of the government especially with how to approach ‘carrot’ rather than ‘stick’ responses to insurgent demands. It was interesting to see that there was a role for the press within the game; although this was referred to tangentially rather than explicitly.  The control forms seem like a lot of work to do and whilst they track the location of the player it doesn’t record the most important aspect: that of the social interactions of that player. It would be through such interactions that opinions would be formed and alliances made, especially for those players making up the general population.

 

One thing that really intrigued me was a comment in the introduction that a copy of these rules was found in Paddy Griffths’ own archive; for it was he who started megagaming as a recreational hobby (and then taken forward by Jim Wallman). Is the game the genesis of the modern hobby as we know it? Time and some more archive work may yet tell us….

I am tempted to try and get a game organised to try this out with a few players- I think 20 players would be a manageable number to recruit and test the game out properly.

 

Cheers,

 

Pete.