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The War College: wargames, history, and learning

Welcome. This thread can act as a general catch-all for wargames discussion, recommendations, and reflections. It can also be a place to discuss history, conflict simulation, and game design theory. As well, it’s a place to ask for or recommend history books, podcasts, and articles only marginally barbwired into wargaming itself. It can connect to a wide variety of interests, and this thread has room for them. Its main theme, of course, is wargames but more generally the interaction of the hobby with the development of learning and innovation. Enjoy.


A brief personal narrative attends my introduction. I firmly believe in the value of context, particularly when embarking on introspective, wide-ranging conversation. I also believe that wargames and wargaming provide a fertile, broad, and at times deeply personal topic.

I’ve always loved learning. It’s one of my favorite things to do, and easily my favorite thing about board gaming. Because the hobby is so broad, I can learn something new basically any time I want to. But recently I became restless. I was learning arbitrarily, playing solely the inventory of other people’s game collections, hemmed in by other people’s tastes; entertained, but unfulfilled. I had homework to do. Traditionally homework is a chore, but research is awesome if you like what you’re looking up. I got caught up in it, and now, daily, I look forward to getting back to it. It’s a hobby within a hobby.

Last autumn I found my way to Matt Thrower’s column. It sparked a kind of gamer rennaissance in the sense of reviving hybernating interests and enrichment through learning. I’d grown up painting 40k miniatures while listening to Bolt Thrower’s ‘IV Crusade,’ but it never made it to the table. I didn’t have the money, the community, the exposure, or the wherewithal to stick to it. I can’t even explain it, it just sort of happened. A Dark Ages analogy is silly, but now it’s back and well-rested. I am at heart a wargamer, but I didn’t really know that until recently. I’ve come full circle. I’ve learned something I feel like I’ve always known.

When I’m learning, a feedback cycle can occur, and once that momentum is initiated, it’s pretty difficult to slow down again. The boat is in the water. Sekigahara was my ideal introduction to wargames. It’s beautiful. It’s challenging. It’s asymmetrical. It’s elegant. It has so many qualities that I was craving, it was basically love at first sight and that’s not exaggeration. But at that point, I was focused on the game itself. What endeared me to it most, and truly what solidified my appreciation for wargame design as a culture, was the several pages of historical context at the back of the rulebook. I wasn’t used to game designers taking that much care in providing any backdrop at all, atmosphere reducing to disappointingly questionable flavor text. The more I looked into the genre, the more I found out about the culture of research and niche appreciations and personal approach and the innovations involved in the development of simulationist mechanics. It was amazing! It transcended intellectual curiosity puzzles and went in a completely different direction and I was enamored.

I’ve bought some other wargames since then, e.g., Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear 2ed (almost entirely because it has the solo expansion and BOY am I glad I did that), but the decision most relevant to the spirit of this thread is also the most recent. Last week I was on the fence about buying Falling Sky: The Gallic Revolt Against Caesar. I had been hemming and hawing about exploring the COIN system, the content was interesting and the system has gotten nothing but praise, but still I was shying away from it like some balking horse. Completely unrelatedly, during some down time at work I figured I’d check out Hardcore History by Dan Carlin. What did I find there but an episode called “The Celtic Holocaust” which turned out to cover that exact conflict. I never knew the Romans built forts when they camped, or earthworks to counter height disparaties, or what a 1 pounder was or that it was so dreadfully feared. I learned all kinds of stuff! I ordered the P500 reprint of the game on hour 4 of the podcast.

I’m listening to his series on WW1 now, and it’s stoking my excitement as I look forward to receiving the centenary edition of Richard Borg’s The Great War with PSC Games. I go back and forth between reading about history and reading about wargames, each refining and expanding my search through the other, enriching the immersion that wargames are so surprisingly good at producing. War is a poignant, powerful, arresting subject with lots of conflicting emotions attached to it. That’s also one of the things that appeals to me so much about this branch of the hobby, and likely one of the main reasons I know I’ll never put it down. Fulfillment, introspection, entertainment, and freedom to roam in a truly inexhaustable field of study and play.

I’m sure you’ve encountered things like this in your own life, and have stories to tell about the positive feedback cycle that’s almost impossible to avoid when you get the boat in the water and explore in your own directions.

– Dedicated to Matt Thrower for catalyzing the sea change of how I spend my free time. And to Paul Dean whose willingness to allow us a peek through a dusty window into his youth through his moving, poetic reflections on his formative experiences inspired my desire to write this post at all.

_Edited March 17 to introduce the thread properly. Cheers.

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A really interesting perspective on learning - and it’s something we seem to forget in this day and age because of the digital revolution. Everything is online and connected and thus we forget how the human mind learn best.

A positive feedback cycle is very important way of learning and how that goes around from person to person is different - but you seem to have found a nice one here. I’m actually exploring this topic a bit in regards to educating new Air traffic controllers and how to maybe implement boardgames in conjuction with theory before throwing new students into the deep end of the pool on the simulator and later real life traffic.

I’ve tried a board game on a refresher course designed for emergency training with pilots. It was quite simple, but it simulated the descision making on a semi-normal flight day from a to b. It was very interesting to see that it is very seldom real life is a perfect world and how little bumps on the road can have major implications later.

Just my two cents - enjoyed reading your post and it got me thinking.

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Before I reply, I want to add that my original post did not make the intention of the thread very clear. It’s a place to discuss learning and games within the context of wargames, but I don’t want to exclude branches of converation that diverge from historical combat, as in the case of the intriguing prospect proposed by @Hierra. I’d say this thread has more to do with personal explorations and games involved in education, although history and wargaming were the impetus.

I encourage people to post links to blogs (like I’ll be doing periodically) where people talk about gaming, education, and general inspiration; discuss things they’ve learned whilst gaming (like Dan Carlin saying in his podcast Kings of Kings that playing Hoplite soliders was pretty boring, but in reality they were really interesting and highly effective, but that playing the Persians was really interesting because they were a largely conglomerate army allowing fighters from different portions of their empire to fight in the ways they were good at already), and hopefully branch off into general historical and annecdotal discussions, thus supporting the titular theme of being a gateway to learning. The “rules” of this thread are to be assumed to be generous.

@Hierra, I think that’s a great idea. Care to go into more detail on how the game would work? I’m almost positive I’m not the only one who hasn’t clue 1 about how that profoundly esoteric profession works.

Simulations, particularly consim but it’s more broad than that, are becoming my favorite sort of game design because the theme dictates how the game plays. I’d love to see what an air controller simulation would be like. That seems like it could even be a series of games, not just a single catch-all. A simplified step by step introduction to the concepts (pieces on the board and time to think about your move) leading up to some kind of real-time cooperative game one step this side of a digital simulator. Sounds really outstanding, plus fun for people who aren’t on that career path as well. Feel free to post any updates, concepts, or sketches in this thread.

This from Volko Ruhnke about his new Levy & Campaign series, beginning with the upcoming Nevsky.

Each of the first four volumes of Levy&Campaign that I intend is set somewhere on the periphery of Medieval Europe, because these frontiers offer the most interesting cultural asymmetries to explore that affected military operations.

Here on the Baltic frontier, for example, we get to see not just the general feudal system in action but the organization attributes of a crusading order of warrior monks pitted against the Eastern-influenced Russian city states. We get Western castle-building and trebuchets against Asiatic horse archers.

I started with this particular corner of the medieval world in part because my ancestry is from nearby (East Prussia), and in part because of Prokofiev and Eisenstein. The more I read into it, the more fascinating its military activities became. For example, there was a great deal of campaigning during winter in this part of the world, owing to the paucity of roadways and, I suspect, prevalence of marsh land–once everything froze, military movement became easier, even if provisioning became tougher. So sleds a key military asset. I wanted to explore how that played out…

Regarding politics, the game system includes the role of higher authorities that might levy the most powerful lords but not themselves do the fighting. In most settings, that might be a king or emperor. But here we have a Papal Legate on the Teutonic side, and Novgorod’s city council, the veche (image shows Veche of Pskov by Vasnetsov), for the Russians: each serves an ultimately similar function in mobilizing the campaign, but in very different ways that the players will explore.

The upshot is that Levy&Campaign Volume II is guaranteed to offer strikingly different problems, along with the perennial campaign challenges like how to feed your army.

Cheers! Volko
(http://talk.consimworld.com/WebX/.1dded6eb/1)
(http://www.gmtgames.com/p-696-nevsky-teutons-and-rus-in-collision-1240-1242.aspx)

I love logistics in games. I actually made a career change into mental health administration almost entirely because of how huge an effect I was noticing proper logistics having in the history I was reading. It’s insane to me that during WW1 both the Germans and the French were laying down custom railway lines. That said, it can add an enormous amount of time to a game, but in a way I don’t care a bit. Empty mouths can’t fight, or shouldn’t be allowed to by designers anyway.

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Changed the thread’s title for a more generalized approach.

You got some very interesting insigths Grimdork, which makes me want to dig deeper into wargames in the future. It’s fun how putting it all into perspective makes it even more interesting. Question: is there a war game out there based on Sun Tzu’s Art of War?

Yeah, I would very much like to elaborate on my idea, as it’s a product I’m trying to make availble for the public as well.

Currently it’s called “In Control” and it’s a game based on the life of a Tower Air Traffic controllers job. I work both as a tower and approach controller (radar) and radar control is a hard nut to crack in a 2D boardgame - this is much better simulated on apps for your iPhone. To make it work boardgame wise I think the price of the product would skyrocket due to the way to simulate the aircraft climbing and descending all over the place. Maybe ii’s a product for a later time and would definitly be a kickstarter product as it seem very expensive products has a way of living there. The “final” controller part of the approach would actually be more feasible which I’ll explain later.

As the concept is now for “In control” I’m trying to find a way of the very controlled but still somewhat randomized nature of what we do as air traffic controllers. Because it is a very controlled environment but we’re still subject to all kinds of things we can’t control such as weather, minor incidents and emergencies. Currently I’m considering a parallel Runway setup with a crossing runway very similar to Copenhagen Kastrup - as this is the place I’m intimately familiar with. Of course it was to be somehow simplified. You can see the layout here

Currently I’m working on the scenario based setup, which will have a basic setup and the still be randomized due to the nature arrivals and departures are going to work. In the beginning of each round the group (1-4 players) roll a dice to determine whether a minor incident will occur this round or an emergency. Then depending on those roles the group will determine who goes first (There’s a Departure controller, Arrival Controller, Ground Controller and a Appron Controller). Then they take turn doling out “clearances”. There’s a limit to how many per round they can take - I’m thinking a system close to what they did in the Conan Boardgame and are going to do with the Batman game. You earn an efficiency, safety and service score to determine how well the group is doing overall.

I am considering a realtime turn with all doing the stuff at the same time, I am considering a continous story mode with difficulty ramping up - but first I have to determine whether the rules and mechanics are working. I’m constructing an AI for the aircraft both in air and on ground and are looking into different methods of making the clearances work in a semi-realistic way. Currently it’s mostly mindgames as I’m writing other stuff as well, but in a month or so I will begin prototyping with my normal gaming group consisting of a pilot and two colleagues.

A short word of the roles of the different ATC-roles:
Arrival: basicly determing the spacing on the approaching aircraft, as well a clear them to land on the arriving runway.
Departure: Determing the optimal departure sequence as well as looking into spacing in the immediate departure sector so there will be adequat spacing.
Ground: moving the aircraft with maximum efficiency and safety on ground away from active runways.
Appron: taking the aicraft to and from the gates with maximum safety and efficience
Safety and effiency are major concerns in the industry and I believe this should be a major consideration in the game.

Some of it sounds a bit dry but I think it can be a very intense experience when it plays with the random elements, runway changes, weather changes, clearing of snow and all the other elements that plays into airtraffic controllers very adaptable to different situations. I think it will be a very fun mixture of the random elements and adapting Euro game style to the ever changing strategic situation.

And on the note of the final controller:
This is the easiest radar part to simulate as the major concern is speed control and all aircraft have the same goal of decending towards the runway - so this will work pretty well in a 2-d boardgame simulation. But it won’t be incorporated in the first edition of the game, maybe it will be an expansion if the game ever comes to be released.

End rand for now.

You might find this link from many moons ago interesting.

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Hail, grognard.

Thanks very much, @Boydesian for posting that. I do indeed find that interesting.

Are there any blogs or online magazines you find worth reading for the history? I’m beginning to wander the Blog Moor, and it’s … rough terrain. Also, do you like operations games, and what would you recommend. I’m not sure there are a ton of them available, which is one of the reasons I’m looking forward to trying Nevsky.

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That handbook is a really good resource. I’m very much a “ground-up” learner, and it’s really important to have access to the basics and see material build off of that rather than rely on shorthand.

I had a look through the considerable list that the handbook came from, too. Quite a haul of information and theory.

http://www.professionalwargaming.co.uk/Downloads.html

For those of you unfamiliar with that long list of really interesting stuff, it’s from the website of Connections UK, a wargaming conference. Not convention … conference. The list features titles like (italics are quotes from the site):

“US Deputy Secretary of Defence Memo: Wargaming and Innovation.”
“The Western Approaches Tactical Unit by Paul Strong.” One of the most important wargames in history - game that ran for most of WW2, training Convoy Escort Commanders and defeating the U-Boat menace.
“Revitalizing Wargaming is Necessary to Be Prepared for Future Wars.” Article by Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work and Gen. Paul Selva.

As well as many others on more direct and practical wargame design theory, etc. So some of that’s what I’ll be reading on next week’s plane ride.

Cheers, @Boydesian.

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I just saw this, and my first thought was, “I need to tell @Boydesian!” But he found it on his own, I was too late.

When it comes to wargames, especially historical ones, he’d be my go-to guy.

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I like https://paxsims.wordpress.com/ which approaches the subject from a professional / academic perspective.

Also http://www.consimworld.com/ which is a hobbyist site that has good reviews.

https://theplayersaid.com/ Is a good one too.

Addendum: PAXsims also has great articles and links too numerous to mention.

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Thanks, grognard. Good leads. Lots to explore in all three. Paxsims will be getting many eyeball hours. I just read the latest article, the McGill update on the political science class and their peacebuilding simulation. What a rad class. My political science class sucked!

On that topic, I’m intrigued to see what the COIN does with pacifist factions. I recently preordered Gandhi to both try it out and to vote with my dollars in support of interesting new directions. I love buying games that contain a fork in the road.

On that subject, in the interview I linked above, Volko Ruhnke goes into his appreciation for what’s become of the COIN system now that a variety of design teams have gotten to work with it, including the recent introduction of non-violent insurgencies. Interestingly, he emphasizes that the most recent volumes have not developed sequentially, but independently, branching off in slightly different directions both from each other and from the original idea of what was possible. The system has left the nest, so to speak, and I look forward to seeing what happens.

That interview is really cool. Volko goes into the themes of the Levy & Campaign series, focusing on asymmetrical conflicts that had temporary or limited fighter availability (mercenaries, short-contract soldiers, etc.) and included significant disparities between the fighting styles, all of which created volitility in the logistical aspects of the campaigns, thus lending the games their operational bent. Additionally, he talks a little about his design process, saying not only does he read everything about the history of the conflict and the cultural history he can get his hands on, but he also tries as much as possible to immerse himself in the music and in the food when he can.

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Mark Herman knows … a lot. With his 1991 solitaire design Peloponnesian War getting an upgraded re-release (aka “the GMT treatment”), Herman has put together two girthsome pieces for InsideGMT on the war’s gnarly history and the idiosyncrasies of his simulation’s gameplay. Check them out here:

Part 1: What Was Old is New Again! – http://www.insidegmt.com/?p=20267
Part 2: What Are the Opponents’ Objectives? – http://www.insidegmt.com/?p=20463

The game is currently on the P500 list.

Seems the appropriate place to mention that after a few games of Here I stand, I’ve finally bought a copy of Diarmud MacCulloch’s history of the reformation: Europe’s house divided. Hoping it’s as much a banger as the reviews have led me to believe.

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NEAT. Please let us know how it goes. I don’t know anything about the reformation, so my interest is piqued.

Was it the game that made you interested, or was the interest there and the game envigorated it?

Hello everybody. Here’s a link to a short video concerning the history of Kriegsspiel. It’s quite interesting.

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I am going try to get a certificate in Wargaming from MORS https://www.mors.org/Events/Certificate-in-Wargaming in November. I’ll try to post updates in here on my studies and also try to more aggressively play my Wargame backlog.

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My word that’s quite expensive.

Wargaming is serious business.:sunglasses:

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I look forward to any updates you post.