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.

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Watch the Skies Megagame at Birmingham.

I know I said I’d do this post earlier this week but I’ve been full of cold and snot….

 

Friday night saw me headed down to Birmingham with Paul to act as control for his version of Jim Wallman’s CLICKY ‘Watch the Skies’ which he was running through his own Story Living Games CLICKY rather than Pennine Megagames CLICKY. For those of you not in the know ‘Watch the Skies’ was the megagame that really catapulted the format into the hobby consciousness when a video was made by the you tubers ‘Shut up and Sit down’, they went to the first run through of the game that was put on by Megagame Makers CLICKY. The game spawned several sequels by Jim, getting bigger each time. The game is available to buy through gym and consequently many games of it have now been run around the world.

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Paul had altered the backstory and a few of the mechanics for his run through but having not played any of the earlier iterations, or seen and of the original game materials I can’t comment much on what the differences are. Five countries were played in the Birmingham game: Germany, Russia, China, Brazil and the USA along with a UN team, a one- man band press team and a two player Alien team. The basic story was that the Aliens had been using Earth as a testing ground for researching diseases and were coming back to see how things were progressing now that Humanity was developing space flight. They were to assess mankind to see if it was suitable for inclusion in the Star Federation, an Ofstead- ing of humanity if you will, this was to be accomplished by setting tasks for the players to do (not that they knew they were being watched in such a way). Parallel to this a demented Scientist at the WHO was trying to off a third of humanity to save it, mild mannered World Health Organisation by day, leader of the 12 Monkeys by night sort of things. In between this there were all sort of wars and confrontations between countries, shoot downs of alien saucers, trade deals and other typical megagame activities going on.

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My job in all this was to run the science game. Each country had a science player who was to research different technologies to aid their team. This was done by spending research tokens to buy playing cards then placing runs down to advance down the tech tree. Once they had got to the bottom that technology was available to the team. Every other turn the science players voted between themselves to award a Nobel prize for the best research that year (turns were 6 months long).

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After a slow start due to a lack of funds, it cost money as well as cards to progress down the tech tree, the players quickly got into the swing of things and co-operation rather than competition seemed to be the order of the day with the players swapping cards to help each other quite freely. Actual completed technologies were swapped much less frequently and co-operative researches rarer still, the joint US/German/ Brazilian space station very nearly came to fruition by the end of the game.

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The scientist had a secondary task to try and cure the diseases spread by the demented WHO scientist (played in our game by Tom). To do this Paul used the mechanism from the old logic game mastermind CLICKY; it proved to be a popular addition distracting President’s from important UN business on one occasion.

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The game ran really well, smaller ones often do- we had 25 players and 4 control, everybody seemed to really enjoy it. In the customary post game summing up the alien pair went last and delivered their damming verdict on humanity: requires improvement. They would return in 18 months with new challenges to test us again.

 

After the game it was the usual decamp to a local pub to talk through the games events and relive the highlights with the players.

 

Cheers,

 

Pete.

Urban Nightmare: State of Chaos- the first ever Wide Area Megagame. 1/7/17.

Last weekend saw the first event of its kind a ‘wide area megagame’, simply put this saw multiple venues each put on the same megagame all at the same time with interaction between each game possible. Jim Wallman of Megagame Makers came up with the concept and scenario, a monumental expansion of earlier game designs of his, and bravely decided to make the experiment happen. The scenario saw a zombie outbreak hit modern day USA; each venue hosted a game representing a single state, whilst in London there was a game set at the Federal level that was linked to all the other games concerning itself with shuttling resources about. In all there were at least 500 players in 11 locations in 5 countries (1 game each in Canada, Holland and Belgium, 2 in the USA and the remainder in the UK), it goes without saying that to have simultaneous gameplay with time differences the players in the Americas had to get up rather early. Each state was made up of several cities, each with their own police, emergency services and Mayor, state police and National Guard as well as a State Governor. In additional there were a few players taking on the role of Federal Liaison linking them to the Federal game in London.

Pennine Megagames decided to host two of the games rather than just one. I was originally slated to be a city control for Leeds but due to a personnel change I ended up going down to Birmingham to act as WAMCOM (Wide Area Megagame COMmunications) control, I had the job of co-ordinating any game information that had to flow from my game to any other and vice versa. The meant I had a much better idea of what was happening in the rest of the game but surprisingly little of the detail of the Birmingham game. Accordingly, I can only give an account of how I felt the game ran rather than the detail of the happenings within the state of Shawnee (basically Kentucky). For a better insider’s look, you’d be best off heading to Facebook and reading the player’s reports on there.

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The players seemed to get into their roles with gusto, with separate cities there was much politicking going on as there were state wide elections to be considered while trying to stop the zombie outbreak.  Unlike the previous Urban Nightmare games this one had an open map meaning the players had to interact with the rules directly and there was a lot less hidden information about zombie numbers and strengths. In the other games, the zombies were played and human directed but given the Birmingham game had relatively little control so the zombie spread was administered by them, I think that this made the job of the Shawnee players a bit easier than that of the other games.

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From the emails that I got in the early part of the day the zombies hit hard, many cities declared a state of emergency (necessary to call in state assets) after only a few turns of the game. This didn’t surprise me that much as I had helped to play test the game before hand and new that they had the potential to get out of control very quickly unless the players were very aggressive early on. After a few cities had fallen states were announcing a state of emergency so they could get access to federal help; Shawnee was the last state to declare a state of emergency. I did write little notes to keep our political control team up to date with the nationwide state of play, these were then passed on to the press team player, the media played an important part of the game, necessary in any game set in the present day really, these became known as the post-its of doom as I never had any good news to pass on. Not sure how many made it to the players as I know that most of the new generated was to do with our own state.

You can read the press reports that the game generated here: http://unsoc.net/

By the middle of the afternoon several of the states were in mass panic with cities completely overrun with zombies and in some cases completely abandoned to their fate, in comparison the Birmingham players were doing well. Rumours abounded of other state’s governors being hunted down and arrested as well as one state being taken over by a National Guard coup (there were rumours at this point of a nuclear weapon being used, I’m not sure one was but I did see a picture of a release form allowing the use of unconventional weapons signed by a state governor. I’m not sure what the federal team were up to but a great deal of military hardware was released to them along with all manner of experimental medical equipment. In the end, I think a cure had been developed and then aerosolised and was being prepared to be spread out over the states. This came at a terrible price to both lives and infrastructure of the affect states through the four days of game time.

Overall, I think the first Wide Area Megagame was a great success, credit should go to Jim Wallman for putting it all together, also to the control and players around the world. A few technical issues popped up but not enough to break the game. For one I struggled to get access to the relevant game server through the firewall of the school hall’s wifi. We ended up having to use a mobile phone hot spot for the duration of the game. At an individual venue level, I think that the game worked better being multiple cities in a state rather than the previous games of Urban Nightmare that I’ve played that were just based around a zombie outbreak in a single city in one state

It was great to go on something of a megagame road trip to a new part of the country and see some new faces. Hopefully they’ll make it up to Manchester at least for future games.

Will there be another Wide Area Megagame? Who knows but I’d like to be involved if there is based on my experiences of this one. Everyone in Birmingham had a great time and it was great hearing all the individual game stories in the pub afterwards.

Cheers,

 

Pete.

http://www.penninemegagames.co.uk/

http://www.megagame-makers.org.uk/

Dungeons Of Yendor.

In the middle of August some 80 or so gamers met up in Manchester to play one of the latest games by noted designer Jim Wallman. Set within his established setting of Yendor (I believe this was the third or foruth megagame to be run in its environs) the King is fed up with parties of adventurers going down to the dungeon and causing trouble as well as the troublesome Orcs (free folk in this game) raiding out of them.Accodingly the King’s army has been tasked to clear the dungeons on mass.

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The game saw teams of players taken on the roles of the King’s army with their allied factions of Elves and Free folk as well as wizards decsend in to the dungeon; it was inhabited by teams or players representing factions that become increasingly monstrous the further down you went.

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My role was as control for the Free  Folk allied to the King’s army so my perception of the game is pretty much limited to that position. The Free folk did send one detachment with the main body of the King’s army but their main force seemed to be content to try to force its own path through the dungeon, engaging in some pretty big pitched battles with the dungeon dwelling Free Folk along the way. For army sized units to go dungeoneering you need to factor in a fairrly substantial logistical element. This really was the crux of the game and a faliure to really grasp this seemed to lead to some inital frustration with the players. That said all the players seemed to get into the game well; the number of players in costume was higher than normal too.

Given my role there were parts of the game, especially concerning the deeper parts of the dungeon that I was unaware of, something involving plastecine monsters, until one materialized on the surface attacking some Free Folk. After what was the best attended Pennine megagame to date we all went to the pub for the usual informal debrief.

 

Cheers,

 

Pete.

 

 

 

 

 

Some heavy metal comes forth from the Shed.

These were the last  of the 1/72nd vehicles that brought me up to my total for the quarter- see last post.

First up a Dragon Models M103 heavy tank. A great kit to build, and the single colour paint job went well too. Serving from the fifties to the early seventies it will make an interesting opponent to my IS3s.

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A Model Collect TOS1, basically the Katyusha from WW2 updated with Thermobaric warheads and mounted on a tank chassis, in this case a T72. They first saw operational testing in the Soviet war in Afghanistan then further use in Chechnya.

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Last but not least we have an S and S models Jagdpanzer Kanone in resin, I acquired this one from ebay a while ago. Seems like the tank hunters design lived on a bit longer after WW2, the 90mm gun of its was a rmed with soon became obsolete; the chassis were converted to carry Anti tank guided missiles instead.

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This trio should make for some interesting additions to my post war games.

 

Cheers,

 

Pete.

Urban Nightmare and the Control Seminar- Zombies a go go:

Urban Nightmare and the Control Seminar- Zombies a go go:

Pennine megagames hosted a rerun of Jim Wallman’s Ubran Nightmare game in Leeds. A crisis management game where the players run different components of Romero city and its surrounding state (The game is based on the ’60s riots in Detroit, Michigan). With teams as diverse as experimental scientists, Emergency services and Federal level special ops it was a heady mix of teams in a semi co operative fight against the game mechanics.

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My role was to be the control to the rather Gung- Ho National Guard time. They were intent on killing as many Zombies as possible as quickly as possible and certainly kept me busy that day running their orders from the team table to the main map.

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Tim who hran the game did a great job of trying to modernise Jim’s design which I think is coming up for being 20 years old now but there was still some clunkiness in its mechanisms that let the game down. Still all the players seemed to enjoy it which is the main thing.

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Jim ran a quick Control Seminar in Huddersfield as a master class in how to be an umpire/ control. To illustrate this he used a quick little game Folkstone Nightmare. The 15 or so of us there quickly got stuck in and I think we all learnt something that we will take forward to future games.

Cheers,

Pete.

http://www.penninemegagames.co.uk/

http://www.megagame-makers.org.uk/

Three weekends of Megagaming

Firstly apologies for the paucity of posts. I’ve been busy with postgrad work. Also with megagaming which is the topic of this post.

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Firstly Peninne Megagamers put on their first full home grown game: A Very British Civil War which was run in Manchester. Based on the popular alternative history gaming project (long story short: Edward VIII refuses to abdicate causing chaos and he invites Mosley to form a government, civil war starts between Socialst, Royalist, Fascist and Anglican factions) we had the four major factions battling over the Pennines from Liverpool to Hull, York to Chesterfield.

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Each faction had a number of players split by region and role. Military commanders moved forces on the main map and fought occassional battles whilst the political players played a seperate game trying to influence the population of each area with rallies and marches. Ideally this activity was controlled by the overall leaders so that when a military player took control of a town the population had already been won over to that faction’s cause. Control of the towns and cities meant extra income allowing the purchasing of bigger armies etc.

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My role in the game was as a military umpire. Whilst armies were moved on a main open map the actual battles too place on a gridded board. With four battle boards ready the three military umpires (John, Rupert and myself) were expecting plenty of business but other than selling massive amounts of ammo we were fairly quiet. A few changes that would increase the number of battle in the game were discussed post game and I’m sure they’ll be worked in to future games.

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The mixture of political, military and diplomatic roles seems to mean that there was something for everyone and all the players seemed to of had a good time.

The following weekend saw Paul, Rupert and I go to the Hammerhead Wargames show in Newark to run a demonstration of Rupert’s forthcoming Jena game, given that the Napoleonic period is not something I know much about I swotted up with an Osprey the night before. The game is similar to the VBCW one in that players move unit on one map then go off to a seperate battle board to fight out and battles. The biggest difference is that the moves in the Jena are done on a double blind system to really get that fog of war that is often hard to replicate in table top games.

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We had a good run through of the game at the show. It was pleasing to see one young lad wander over to see what is Dad was doing then get into the game himself. Being the only map based game amongst all the table top games made us stand out and hopefully it has resulted in extra interest and players for the game.

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A fortnight after Hammerhead it was myself and Simon’s turn to demo a game. A the Triples show in Sheffield we ran through our Korean Chosin game to drum up some interest.Simon had done a superb job with the map and I knocked up some counters with his help. I bought some flags to add a bit of colour to our table

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Different to the above games it is a true double blind game with both moves and combat being resolved by umpires who then feed back the results to the players. Although we only let the punters at Triples play the US Marines on the day as we presented a stripped down version of the game. Again those who played the game seemed to have a great time and it was encouraging to see younger gamers pick up the ideas of the game (there being no rules to learn) and get into the spirit of things. It was nice to be asked by another show’s organiser to put on a similar game at his event, must have liked what he saw.

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Please look at the following links to register for either game – and the Urban Nightmare and Dungeons of Yendor games that are upcoming too.

 

http://www.penninemegagames.co.uk/

http://www.penninemegagames.co.uk/the-jena-campaign.html

http://www.penninemegagames.co.uk/the-chosin-few.html

 

Cheers,

 

Pete.