Friday, 30 November 2012

List of Best Wargaming Experiences

I recently had a most excellent wargaming experience. This led me to think about other great wargaming experiences I had had. The ones that inspired me and motivated me to be the gamer I am now.

So in a rough chronological order, my list of best wargaming experiences:

1. Reading the introduction to "Battles with Model Soldiers" by Donald Featherstone when I was about 10. Thinking about that moment still inspires me to want to play wargames.

2. My first role-playing game with a couple of mates, Ian Basford and Richard Bargh. I still recall the utter rapture I had imagining and creating a world in which we played the game. I was about 18.

3. Umpiring a role-playing game for a friend, Richard Bargh, in which he undertook a quest. I had sketched out some ideas, but found during the game that I was able to improvise and tell a story and lay clues for my gaming partner to pick up on. I remember feeling so empowered, so creative and so proud. He was so impressed with the game he told his father about it, as if he had actually done it.

4. Playing in Brian Cameron' game of consequences at my first COW in about 1991. I was taking part in developing an inspiring new approach to gaming. The game called for political and personal skills of oratory, diplomacy and obstinacy.

5. Playing in an exhibition Kriegsspiel run by Bill Leeson and Arthur Harman at a London wargame conference. The sheer feeling of this is what command and control must have been like, limited information, message writing, confusion, fear, indecision and exhilaration.

6. Being General Gallieni in Jon Casey's "Home Before the Leaves Fall" megagame. I had no input from any umpire. My vision of the game came from game reports from players reporting back their impressions of things they could not see. So it was as damn near to the real thing that a game can get.

7. Getting involved in a heated argument between myself as the USAF Bomber Commander and a US Army General because of my poor phone manner. This was during one of the large World War 2 megagames by Jim Wallman, played in the old Camberley Staff College rooms. I left the room after the argument with my comrade in arms, thinking, "that is that last time my air force will support HIS army." The insight into the emotional business that Command in war is like was stunning. I stopped, gobsmacked, total insight into Command.

8. Running the first of my two megagames in 1999, "Shamless and Impudent Lords". I stood there watching everyone get on with my game, everyone playing my game, using my rules and getting involved with my concepts. And I realised the game that I had lived with for about a year was no longer my baby.

9. Playing a board game in Vevey, Switzerland. The game was some strategic historical game about power and territory grabbing, I forget the name of the game. The main point was that I conducted the entire game in French, from the rules explanation, through to the player interactions and negotiations.

10. Sitting in a closed-down Armoured Personnel Carrier (a Mowag Piranha) with a team of 6 playing a networked bridge simulator game, Artemis. Utter immersion. Utter concentration. I was the engineer and spent the game "fiddling" with the engines and had no idea what was happening outside of my "engine room" other than handling requests for more power.


More role-playing experiences.

11. As an umpire I ran a long running Silesian campaign. One of the party, a charismatic priest, wanted to lead a mission to negotiate with the Mongol leaders. This was in 1240, Mongol recce teams had been sighted on the Polish / Ukrainian border. The team persisted in this ill-stared mission. And when they realised they Mongols listened but dismissed their diplomacy the team tried to assassinate the Montol leaders, knowing it meant certain death.

12. Listening to two players, Mark and Julie, discussing, or arguing about why Julie's character had had an abortion without telling Mark's character - the father of the child - about it.

13. My friend John Watkins ran a special game for my character Gaunte, Yelmalian Rune Priest / Lord, as part of my wedding present.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Stuxnet - An information warfare munition

I was inspired by the reports about Stuxnet. This is the worm that managed to disrupt the Iranian nuclear industry. Most point the finger at the security forces of Israel and the USA. The Stuxnet has been credited as the first real information warfare munition.

I have been sketching ideas for Stuxnet on and off for about a year now. I usually get bogged down in the minutiae of worms, virus, penetrations, shields, DOS etc. The other day I had an inspiration

Stuxnet concept

1 - Each side has a several organisations that require protecting from information warfare attack.

2 - These organisations are generated randomly from a list or prepared from a historic (or near future) scenario.

3 - Each organisation has a computer network that could make it vulnerable to attack, but is necessary for it to work.

4 - A random method spreads certain known and unknown vulnerabilities between the organisations. Again this could be scenario based or an abstract setup, but the player will not know all of their vulnerabilities - use some face-down card method to distribute these, note, some will be hoaxes or false.

5 - Each side then selects its targets from the enemy's list of organisations. This is their secret target list. In an abstract game, a points system can be used. The enemy has to try and find out what is being attacked.

6 - The game starts.

Players spend their resources on

- patching known vulnerabilities
- finding unknown vulnerabilities
- improving security mesaures - human
- improving security measures - computer
- identifying target security measures
- developing attacks against specified computer security measures
- developing attacks against specified human security measures
- developing zero-day vulnerabilities - blue sky research
- human spying

Remember, attacking a computer network is not just about hacks and clever programming, there is a lot of old fashioned human spying.

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Air combat - Second World War

I have been thinking about how air combat is represented in wargames,

I recently played in Rob Cooper's "End of the Beginning" (EotB), a Megagame Makers game.

This was a game about the battle of El Alamein, 1942, between the Allied and the Axis Armies. The smallest unit on the board was a battalion, and the team players were at the Corps level. We played 11 turns, each representing a day and there were about 40 players, arranged in hierarchical teams, from a GHQ to the Corps HQs.

My role in the game was the Logistics Commander for the entire Axis forces. I worked very closely with the Axis air forces to counter any attack on our vulnerable supply lines. Working with the air team was essential for the safeguarding of our supplies.

EotB Air Combat Rules

I asked to see the rules for the air combat after the game and was sent a copy. As I read them I wondered if a little more complexity in the rules would be reasonable to add certain critical aspects of air warfare to the game but without overly complicating the rules. Always the nub of rules design: always prefer simplicity and elegance in rules to too much detail and chrome.

The design was a very simple one in EotB. Each squadron had two combat factors: air-to-air and ground attack. The order of combat resolution simulated the fighter's aggressive fighter on fighter doctrine, and the vulnerability of unescorted bombers. So all air-to-air factors were calculated in each area and the ratio worked out and dice rolled. An overwhelming attack would damage several fighter units and also turn away and damage some of the bombers. A less good attack would damage some fighters and give the bombers a minus factor on their bombing runs. And weak attacks would merely damage some fighters on both sides, more on the weaker side.

This is all good and easy to do especially when there are two umpires under a lot of time pressure to process orders, calculate results and feed this into the main ground map and feed it back to the players.

I felt it lacked a level of complexity that was required to give a more realistic result. The test is, can this level be borne and still have a rapid turn around of results during the game. As I said this should be at the nub of all wargames and games.

Suggested Modifications to EotB Air Combat Rules

1. Range. The areas of operations in the game should give a benefit to a force that was operating near its bases. These "defending" squadrons would have a better reserve of fuel to enable them to be engaged for longer or even to return for another sortie.

2. Obsolete planes. Although the number in the air-to-air combat factor is easy to calculate something needs to be done to account for the disparity in fighter quality. For example the Italians were still flying slow biplane fighters, Fiat CR.42, and these should be heavily penalised if they meet superior types of fighters like a Spitfire or a Hurricane.

3. Unescorted bombers. Any unescorted bombers caught by decent fighters should receive heavy losses. Unless the fighters are particularly poor and the bombers particularly good.


Point 1 above - the benefit of range for defending air forces - is relatively easy to work on the map. Each area is marked with an bonus for the each particular air force.

The point about obsolete planes is harder to add into the game, easily. Perhaps particularly vulnerable fighters or bombers should be marked as such. If they are in a mixed force any damage should be given to them first before other types. If a force is made up of a majority of obsolete fighters or bombers a minus factor should be added to the dice roll for that force.

Any attack on unescorted bombers will receive a bonus to the attacking fighters.