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Sunday, 9 September 2018

Professional Wargaming Reaches Escape Velocity in the UK


UK Connections 2018, the professional wargaming conference

Around the western world, there are a series of professional wargaming conferences where the great and the good of that world gather to talk and play games. Involving a complex mix of games and traditional lectures; the conferences aim to promote and develop the use of wargames for education, training and learning. The UK one is held in London at Kings College London in September each year. The History of Wargaming Project has offered me some insights into this growing community, as they routinely ask questions as they buy books from the ever-growing publication list.

Just a few years ago, if you assembled those directly involved in professional wargaming in the UK around a large table, perhaps 6 large pizzas (with stuffed crust) and some garlic bread would have fed them all. Until perhaps 12 months ago, it was possible to more or less keep track of the main professional wargamers in the UK, what they were focussed on and how this work was progressing. This is no longer possible.

DSTL, the scientific arm of the MOD, has a wargaming team and has other staff that also use wargames on occasion. However, there are now wargamers scattered throughout the MOD, individuals and small clusters, working on a range of wargames. The RAF, Navy and the Army have wargaming teams. Individual serving officers, including in the reserves, use wargames on occasions, as just another teaching method. The Defence Academy and Cranfield University use games. The number of academics using wargames for teaching history, international relations, peace and reconstruction studies and business studies is now many dozens, probably over a hundred. Kings College London, sensing financial opportunity, is in the processing of establishing a wargaming centre. Business is using games for financial advantage. Cyber wargames are routine. Emergency planners use them all the time, for example with the emergency services, hospitals and local authorities.

There is now a pool of commercial talent to support professional wargames in the UK, notably computer software from SCS and Matrix/ Slitherine Games. Both of these companies are of a scale to be dynamic and respond to customer needs.

There is a growing pool of accessible wargaming literature and wargames for people to take up and learn from without consulting the existing wargaming community.

Even more shocking is the rise of European professional wargaming, in particular Germany, France, Sweden and boardgames in Spain. They are not just following the lead of the UK and North America, but are building on the former’s games to make their own purpose-built products. I would suggest that these European countries are rapidly developing their own professional wargaming culture that while not completely separate, is more like a distant cousin. I will give just one example, Urban Operations, designed by Sebastien de Peyret. This is published by a French gaming company, Nuts. It is a detailed modern Fighting in Built Up Areas game that is far in advance anything I have seen in from the UK and North America (https://www.nutspublishing.com/eshop/our-games).

My first conclusion is that UK professional wargaming now has a critical mass and so the method will not disappear. It is too well ingrained as a valuable tool to be neglected. As General Sharpe said, once people feel they have permission, their pre-existing inclinations are released and they can move ahead. My second conclusion is the scale of the development means it is impossible for any one individual to blithely assert they have a good working knowledge of professional wargaming. It is now just too diverse. So, if you meet anyone who says they know all about UK professional wargaming, remember, they don’t.

Wednesday, 25 July 2018

New book! The Pentagon Urban COIN Wargame 1966

This is an early example of an early professional counter insurgency game written for the Pentagon to explore gaming an uprising in an urban area.
 
The game is a multi-player megagame representing a growing urban crisis. The government have their police and the general support of the population. The key is to position the guards at the threatened critical urban infrastructure to increase the chance of detecting bomb threats. They also have their secret police to attempt to discover who the insurgents are.
 
The players representing the public have roles from factory owners to middle class shop keepers.
 
They have to maintain their income, in the face the growing insurgent threat. At the end of the game, they decide the winner by pledging their support either to the government or the insurgents.
 
The insurgents have to try and sway the population, but at the same time, disrupting the cities economy. Of course, they can only do this if they remain undiscovered.
 
Included are detailed briefings for the government, the public and the insurgents. The book also contains after action reviews from the games, along with an analysis of 20 key uprisings.  
 
This book is published by the History of Wargaming Project as part of its ongoing efforts to document professional wargaming.

Wednesday, 18 July 2018

New book: The Matrix Games Handbook: Professional Applications from Education to Analysis and Wargaming


 
This is the latest book to be published by the History of Wargaming Project
Matrix Games are an established way of running seminar type narrative games in the professional environment. This handbook is the most comprehensive set of papers to date on their use in education, training, research and innovation.
The book starts by exploring the origins of Matrix Games, with contributions on the development of the method.

The second section of the book has a sample game about NATO and Russian posturing on the Baltic Sea. Many wargames explore war in this contested area of sea, but a Matrix Game is used to explore a conflict short of kinetic.
In the theory section, some of the underpinning philosophy of Matrix Games is outlined by Chris Engle, the inventor of the method. Along with some of the emerging themes from using narrative based games.

Education has applied the technique of Matrix Games in teaching. This section includes examples from around the world from language training to military education.
The final section outlines more applications of Matrix Games including operational analysis problems, innovation and using a Matrix Game to explore contemporary conflict by Professor Rex Brynen.

The chapters include

Section 1: The History of Matrix Games

The Early Days of Matrix Games in the UK by Bob Cordery

The American History of Matrix Games by Chris Engle     

The Rise of Professional Matrix Games by Tim Price

Section 2: Practical Advice          

Running Matrix Games by Tim Price

Checklist by Tim Price    

Sample Game: Baltic Challenge: NATO and Russian posturing in the Baltic Sea     

The Australian Perspective by Todd Mason          

Section 3: The Theory of Matrix Games

Walking in the Dark: An Allegory of Knowledge by Chris Engle     

The Intellectual Underpinnings of Matrix Games by Chris Engle   

Verbal Algorithms and the Human Machine by Chris Engle            

Emerging Themes from the Matrix Game Based Narrative Methodology by John Curry    

Section 4: Matrix Games and Education

Gaming Multi-Agency Responses by Helen Mitchard       

Using Matrix Games in the Classroom by Dorian Love

Effective Learning at the Swedish Defence University by Johan Elg

Language Training by Neal Durando

Reflections on Military Language Training by Jose Anibal Ortiz Manrique

Section 5: The Professional Application of Matrix Games

Gaming the Wars of the Future by Chris Engle

Operations Research Tools by Ben Taylor

Building Boyd Snowmobiles: Matrix Games as a Creative Catalyst for Developing Innovative Technology by Paul Vebber

Using a Matrix Game to Explore Contemporary Conflict by Rex Brynen    

Further Reading
 

Monday, 4 June 2018

Wargaming and UK culture

Wargaming used to be an obscure hobby, but now the UK's population has some awareness of wargaming.
The evidence for this:

The BBC mentions wargames once a month- in the context of cyber wargames e.g. in City of London, military wargames e.g. gaming threat to Baltic Republics.
Over 90% of the 24 to 38 years olds (so called Millennials, Generation Y, Gen Next, were aware of role-playing e.g. Dungeons and Dragons). Sales of Dungeons and Dragons are seeing resurgence.

Practically all large business  run business wargames (i.e. business continuity exercises).

Many UK bookshops sell Euro type board games that are certainly in the wargaming space.

The UK Health Service, local government and public utilities, run wargames in the form of emergency planning exercises at least annually.

Games Workshop and Warhammer are a high street brand image- currently valued at £962 million.
A local wargaming show at Devizes (which is a rural area of Wiltshire, UK) had attendence of 1,100 people.

Wargaming seems to be established in the UK as a cultural norm. Who could have predicted that ten years ago?

Tuesday, 8 May 2018

The Civil Wars of Wargaming Part II- the cost

Having established the fact that many of the early wargamers were at war with each other in a loud, aggressive and often abusive manner, what were the consequences? When wargaming emerged in the 1970’s as a new hobby, it was considered by some a potential educational tool. One to transform the study of history, politics and international relations. If you played a committee game in French, it could be used in language classes. However, this was not to be. From my random sample of correspondence in the History of Wargaming Project archive, I found that teachers, academics, several clergy and historians had unfortunate encounters with the hobby during the 1970's.

They went along to their local club and were soundly thrashed by competition gamers who were interested in the rules and winning, and with scant regard for history. Perhaps they even took pleasure in shredding an interested academic just to demonstrate that the academic clearly knew nothing about history (and therefore did not deserve their job). These professionals, who could have been champions of the hobby, became the reverse and the hobby suffered. Even RMAS got rid of its wargaming club due its treatment of visiting senior officers and academics.

Fortunately, the hobby has largely changed. There is the competition set, but most wargamers at most clubs play games, enjoy chatting about some history and sometimes they win. At large conventions, there are the battles to win fought by uncommunicative wargamers, but most people putting on a game are happy to stop to chat about the game, the rules, the scenery, the makes of figures etc. Stop by the Society of Ancient’s stand at a show and the people manning the stand will be happy to discuss the detail of ancient warfare with knowledge equal to any undergraduate on an ancient history degree.  These ‘average’ wargamers have finally managed to overcome the historical stigma of the competition gamers of the 1970’s. Wargames are flowing into the curriculum at all levels.

During WWII the Fletcher Pratt game in New York was visited by the Admiral of the South Atlantic and his staff. They took command of one side and their fleet of 45 ships started to get hammered by the female curtain makers on the either side. They were up against a profession that estimated distances in inches for a job. Although only a game, an admiral and his staff + his team of 40, losing a naval wargame would not be a good idea. So, Inga Pratt (her husband being on a carrier in the Pacific) grabbed the RN destroy captain from the bar. The captain took command of the destroyers on the admiral’s side and launched a brilliant and devasting torpedo attack. The Admiral’s side won. Honour and face was saved. Perhaps this tale gives some idea why the fletcher Pratt Naval game attracted 200+ people in the evening in war time New York. Modern hobby wargaming could learn something from this historical example.

Friday, 16 March 2018

Target for Tonight: Wargaming Lancaster Bomber Raids Against Germany 1942-1944


 
A game for 1 to 6 players about the experience of flying bombing missions over Germany 1942-44.

The RAF and the USAAF dropped 1.6 billion tons of bombs on Germany between 1939 and 1945. The impact on the German war machine was huge, but so was the cost. Over 55,500 Bomber Command crew lost their lives during this campaign.

Each morning the weather and moon state were suitable, target(s) were selected by Bomber Command. Often the orders included the phrase ‘Maximum Effort’ that meant all bombers that had crews were to be part of the attack. A complex series of steps were then initiated to ensure the bombers were in the air, over the target at the appointed hour to deliver their bombs in the shortest possible time. Concentration of the bomber stream was designed to overwhelm the enemy defences.

The game allows the player to assemble their crew, select their target and go through the various stages of the mission. From take-off, over the enemy coast, through the flak zones and onto the target. Key to returning home was avoiding the enemy night-fighters.

The rules are embedded in historical research and include briefings, aide-memoires, maps and period material. Playing the game aims to help the player(s) understand the experience of the crews of Bomber Command a little better.

This book is published by the History of Wargaming Project as an example of experiential learning in the form of a hobby wargame.

The book is available from link and will available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble etc in due course.

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

The Civil Wars of Early Wargaming


The History of Wargaming Project has accrued one of the largest archives of private correspondence from the early days of hobby wargaming 1960-1990. As I continue to collate and digitise the material, I find myself feeling bewildered how wargaming ever managed to survive long enough to become the minority, but well-known and established hobby it is today. It is known by those interested in the development of the hobby, that there were major clashes such as Tony Bath v Don Featherstone, Fred Jane v RN, magazine editor X with Y, American A with American B, etc. Many of the key personalities in early wargaming were at war with each other for intellectual supremacy and hobby domination. They were rude, vitriolic, harsh and unreasonable.
I now realised why Don Featherstone kept his distance from WD and some innovations in the hobby; they would have consumed his time and energy and Don’s key contribution to the hobby of books would have been heavily impacted.

Paddy Griffith was a key innovator in wargaming and military history who inspired many to develop new and interesting ways of wargaming. Paddy launched WD in response to the demise of Don Featherstone’s Wargamer’s Newsletter (Don as was bribed to cease publication, but that is another story). However, Paddy was then on the receiving end of a regular diatribe from random people around the world. Many were just seeking his advice or accessing his vast knowledge based in his head (as this was before Google and the Internet), but some were venting their anger and he was just caught in the cross fire. I am amazed he was so tolerant of their correspondence.
John Davis was a key instigator of large games. He took Don Featherstone’s efforts and made them workable command post type exercises. This was along with Paddy, David Candler and others. In 1981 John Davis ran a mega game on Crete and Paddy then received many complimentary letters about the game, but many less complimentary.

I am still not quite sure why Paddy became the focus for these controversies and I am equally perplexed why he spent hundreds of hours typing his letters in response to them. I am certain that the time he devoted to these less productive correspondences significantly impacted on the amount of time he had to make his major and lasting contributions to wargaming and military history.  
If anyone thinks I am exaggerating about the letter driven civil wars of wargaming, here is an example of a letter sent to Paddy about the Crete mega game that was led by John Davis.

“This is not a critique but a bitch against some of the things that I felt were wrong in the mini-campaign played on Sunday 15 September.  As a member of the German planning staff I was involved in the campaign for a number of weeks prior to the game itself.  We were congratulated on the planning papers produced but I feel that this was only to be expected as we had an experienced group of players writing the overall plan and the tactical assault plans, Pete Merritt laboured under particularly difficult circumstances having to change his plan at the last minute.  It became obvious however that many of the Umpires had not read, or had not had the time to read, these papers in detail and this continued on the day as a number of orders/plans were not implemented properly by the Umpires, the best case being the deaf, dumb, blind and invisible Italian submarine which was a result of two misread orders.
We built a certain level of detail into our orders and these did not seem to come out at the time the Umpires did their calculations, this was a problem particularly felt by our Air player, Mike Horah, who commented that it did not seem to matter whether he put in an 80 aircraft strike or 8 groups of 10 aircraft, I will not elaborate on this point but there is a difference when the aircraft are sent in as a 'cab rank’ for continuous aircover and the ground players are not informed of their availability.  There seemed to be a total lack of understanding of airborne operations on the part of the Umpires and this was particularly noticeable in the scatter of battalions during the assault operations. 
During 1005 sorties flown by the transports on the two assault operations only 1 aircraft was shot down and two damaged which would indicate very light opposition to the actual drop and yet 2 Bn's, 1 on each lift, were dropped directly onto airfields, which are clearly defined and not their drop zones, and 1 complete Bn. was dropped in the sea. We pointed out to the Umpires that all our drops were in daylight but we still lost a complete Bn. during a frenzied period of aquatic sport.

This lack of understanding also reared its ugly head amongst our opponents when at the debrief one of them, who shall remain nameless but works at RMA Sandhurst, stated that it would take para's 6 hours to organise on the ground (if this is true why were so many para units used during W.W.II?) and he had been led to believe that 6 to 1 odds were required to eject his men from prepared positions (when most para attacks in reality were against the odds and a high proportion of them successful).  If I had been told this prior to the game I would have had serious reservations about going to Crete.  I could expand on these points, and many more, but this must not turn into a book of the game of the plan of …
This is beginning to sound like sour grapes but in fact we won, I think.  In conclusion, I must apologise to one of our juniors, at one point I received a message timed 0950 am from one Umpire and this was followed by his arrival as the runner for another Umpire to tell me it was 2000, he was then forced to retreat pursued by a stream of abuse.  I apologise and thank him and the other juniors for their endeavours through the day.

These lessons are that Umpire teams must be properly prepared, briefed and organised, they must co-ordinate their work and be seen to be working smoothly.  Also, it is an asset if they understand the subject/problem under consideration and have at least an equal knowledge to the players so that they can reason out a situation and subsequently justify the result from a position of relative security.  I do not believe that Umpire decisions should be justified by statements similar to "I'm the Umpire here, so tough".   Also, from what I heard at the debrief it sounded as though the Umpires used dice to an alarming extent.”

Tuesday, 30 January 2018

Small Wars: New Perspectives on Wargaming Counter Insurgency on the Tabletop

This is a new book by David Wayne Thomas, with a chapter by John Armatys.


The author has been a wargamer since the 1970s, member of Wargame Developments and a serious rule writer since the early 1990s. His longstanding interest in asymmetric warfare led him to develop a series of wargames to reflect the individual characteristics of such conflicts. This is his first book published through The History of Wargaming Project. 
The topic of counter Insurgency is under represented in table top hobby wargames. The relatively few sets of rules in this area have nearly all focused on the tactical level combat.  All except one of these sets of rules are written to portray the operational/ campaign level situation. Using card based systems, these games are particularly suitable for the solo wargamer.

These games are not ‘fair’; they each aim to give the wargamer a greater understanding of the particular conflicts they represent. From the sands of the Sahara, to the Mountains of Afghanistan, they place the wargamer in the position of command; facing an elusive enemy.
The games include:
     Boots on the Ground: Company Level Actions in the early 21st. Century
     An Isolated Outpost: Six Months in the Sahara
     Eight Years in a Distant Country: Soviet involvement in Afghanistan
     Ovambo: Counter- insurgency in South West Africa
     Good Morning Vietnam: LBJ’s War 1965-68
     Flying Column: The Irish Troubles 1920-21

It can be purchased here            Link

This book is published by the History of Wargaming Project as an example of recent innovation in hobby wargames.

The next book to go to print is a WWII bomber game, Target for Tonight, also by David Wayne Thomas. Link

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Duke Seifried and the Developmnent of American Wargaming


Uncle Duke is one of those larger than life characters who helped develop miniature wargaming in the United States. The Jack Scruby Award (1995) summarised him as an American original, an entrepreneur and business man, a master sculptor, designer, and painter, a rule writer, publisher, and historian, a master showman, salesman, and advocate. He was also a good friend of Donald Featherstone.
  
It is impossible to discuss the development of early American miniature wargaming without discussing Duke and the many people he collaborated with over the years. This book is a celebration of his contribution.
 
The book includes:
  • The Jack Scruby Award 1995 citation. 
  • The MWAN tribute of 1989 by Hal Thinglum.
  • Early memories of American miniature wargaming and reflections by Duke and his lifelong friend Jim Getz.
  • Many previously unpublished photographs of early games.
  • The book also includes two complete key sets of rules that were a huge influence on American wargaming:
  • Melee (1960) by Duke.
  • Napoleonique: A Miniature Wargame Strategic- Tactical Manoeuvre in the Napoleonic Era (1979) Written by Jim Getz with the assistance of Duke Seifried.
This book is published by the History of Wargaming Project as part of ongoing efforts to document the development of wargaming.

Friday, 5 January 2018

Next 6 months in the History of Wargaming Project


I have a professional interest in gaming counter insurgency (COIN) and have published Paddy Griffith’s Counter Insurgency Wargames (1980) in 2016. I looked around and some hobby gamers have been doing some interesting stuff about gaming COIN on the table top, so I will shortly publish Small Wars: New Perspectives on Wargaming Counter Insurgency on the Tabletop.

The Matrix game methodology has made a huge impact in professional wargaming circles, so I am editing a handbook on the subject, working with Chris Engle and Peter Perla to produce a more academic examination of the theory and practise of matrix games.

I occasionally publish a non-wargaming book. The one this year is going to be one on an epic road trip around the USA that visited every Vietnam memorial.

I want to publish more books for the solo wargamer. I have done Donald Featherstone's Solo Wargaming and Donald Featherstone's Battle Notes for Wargamers Solo Wargaming Edition. The next one is going to be a solo game about a WWII bombing mission.

I have been interested in naval wargames for a long time and at last I aim to publish a book about the great naval wargames of the America navy prior to WWII. I thought the material has been lost, but now it has survived. It just needs collating and publishing.

I also want to finish a book A Practical Guide to Medieval Warfare, covering the real detail. Of course, this will include 3 new sets of rules to illustrate various aspects of our understanding.

Of course, I also have various authors such as Phil Dunn, Charlie Wesencraft, Stuart Asquith who all have new stuff that needs to get into print. In the background I am continuing to digitise, sort and collate huge archives of wargaming material, which will no doubt lead to further books. I guess this explains why I do not tweet much.