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Subject: Geek of the Week #241 - Brian Train rss

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Matthew Nadelhaft
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Following my Jimmy-Carter-like period as Geek of the Week (short and not very popular, but hopefully remembered with some fondness later on by a handful fo people), I'm cohosing as the next GotW a fellow microgame enthusiast and designer, (and, I just noticed, another Einsturzende Neubauten fan!) Brian Train. Here's what Brian has to say about himnself:

Quote:
I have been playing wargames since 1979, when I was 15 years old. My introduction came when my favourite uncle sent me a copy of Tactics II for Christmas. I don't think my parents ever forgave him.

I have been designing games since 1991. As far as I know, I was the first or only one to design games (at least in English) on many of the subjects or situations I have chosen (e.g. the Chinese Cultural Revolution, the Algerian War, the 1848 revolutions, Latin American guerrilla wars, etc. etc.). I am very interested in the area where politics and the military cross paths, and like to design games on asymmetrical conflicts with a large amount of politics in them.

I have a large collection, but not a lot a lot of time to play right now. Much of my collection serves as a reference library, but there are still a lot of games I'd like to enjoy as games too. Some of my favourites are Minuteman, King of the Tabletop, Battle for Germany, The Awful Green Things From Outer Space, Go, The Creature That Ate Sheboygan, Nicaragua, Beda Fomm, Ogre, Melee, and Raid!


I'll start things off for brian with some questions about his work.

Brian, welcome to GotW-hood, and I hope your reign goes well. You've created and publsiehd several games about offbeat subjects, including the fabulous Battle of Seattle. Did you live in Seattle at the time of those vents, and if you did, could you give us your perspective on them? if you didn't, what moved you to create that game?

One of your least traditional games has to be Paranoid Delusions, your entry in the third Microgame design Contest. Consiering how unique, innovative, and charming it is, I should probaly be thankful that nobody ever got around to judging the competition. Tell us what possessed you to design such a game, and how you managed to marry the mechanincs to the subject.

As an independant creator, where do you stand on creator's rights? how do or would you feel about people phocopying and or distributing works of yours, or bits of those works. You remember the thing from the Microgame Mailing List: "I've lost the rules to such-and-such game; could anyone send me a photocopy/scan?"

Your historical games span a remarkable variety of locales and periods. Are you a student of hisory, or do you do selective research when you decide on a game topic? How do you become interested, in the first place, in a particular conflict or subject for a game?

Your list of favourite games is an ecclectic mix of hsitorical and fantastical. What are your exemplars from each genre, and could you tell us why? is there a reason you've designed predominantly historical games?

What published game, designed by someone else, do you most wish you had designed, and why? What would you change, if you did?

What is your ideal scale/size of game - in the size of its packaging, the length of play, and the price tag?

What is the great, undesigned - and possibly never-to-be-designed - game lurking in your mind right now?

And, if you'll forgive me, are you ever tempted to design a train game?

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Alfred
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Maybe you two should get together and design a "Einstuerzende Neubauten" game. I just know there's a game inthere.

Congrats on GW!
(to you both; I seemed to have missed last week's festivities)
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Wendell
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Brian Train
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Congrats!

I see the SPI and wargamer microbadges - what was your favorite SPI game?
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Colin Hunter
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Congrats Brian!

Obviously a man of character, you are a go fan and a wargamer

Also I'm a big fan of Algeria, I picked it up a few years ago, very clever little design.

I really like more obscure topics, what makes you interested in the out of the way stuff?

What broader principle/concepts do you keep in mind for your designs?

What is your favourite game you have designed?

Who is your favourite wargame designer?

I'll think of more later, great GotW pick!

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Congratulations to someone who FINALLY recommends the United States Postal service!

Question: How do you feel about the USPS reverting to a five day delivery week and eliminating Saturday service?

Cheers on your week!

DJD...
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Brian Foster
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Congrats Brian. It's so inspiring to see a Brian serving as the Geek of the Week!

Cheers,

Brian
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David Kahnt
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bboppr wrote:
Congrats Brian. It's so inspiring to see a Brian serving as the Geek of the Week!

Cheers,

Brian


He's not the GoW, he's a very naughty boy.

Nah, just joking.

Congrats.

-DK
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DKahnt wrote:
bboppr wrote:
Congrats Brian. It's so inspiring to see a Brian serving as the Geek of the Week!

Cheers,

Brian


He's not the GoW, he's a very naughty boy.

Nah, just joking.

Congrats.

-DK


Always look on the bright side of life....




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Brian, how often are you referred to as Brain Train? Do you mind if we call you Brain Train? Do you ever get called Brian Trian? Is that preferable to Brain Train?
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Alfred Wallace
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A magnificent choice! Good to see one of my favorite designers get a turn in the spotlight...

No questions, frankly, other than when the next offering sees the light of day.
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Hunga Dunga
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Congratulations, Brian!

Have you ever thought of designing block games?
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Der Das wrote:
Maybe you two should get together and design a "Einstuerzende Neubauten" game. I just know there's a game in there.

Congrats on GW!
(to you both; I seemed to have missed last week's festivities)



A Neubauten game......lets see..that would be interesting....collecting the right instruments from factory and construction company dumpsters....I could see the challenge in that. Race against the clock to make sure Depeche Kamode doesn't steal your music.

Or perhaps it could be a unique instrument trading game? As long as it is not a trivial pursuit game.

Perhaps an apocalyptic game based on some of the common themes in their songs. Or better yet tearing down old buildings and creating new objects out of them.
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Brian Train
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Hi Matt, and thank you so much for picking me for Geek of the Week. I've been on BGG.com since 2004, I guess almost as long as the GotW phenomenon.

Thanks also for your questions:

You've created and publsiehd several games about offbeat subjects, including the fabulous Battle of Seattle. Did you live in Seattle at the time of those vents, and if you did, could you give us your perspective on them? if you didn't, what moved you to create that game?
I live in Victoria, British Columbia, a short but expensive ferry ride from Seattle. At the time of the "events", I was laid up with a broken leg (the aftermath of being run over by an '86 Subaru in a crosswalk - this accident not only changed my perspective on many things in my life, it also permitted the completion of several game designs). If I had been able to go, I would have liked to have witnessed it. As for why I designed the game, I have always been interested in urban riots and civil disorder. One of my first games was Civil Power, a generic tactical game about riot making and breaking. I included scenarios in that game about things like the Los Angeles riots. I thought about just writing another scenario for the game at the time, but then thought I ought to try a larger-scale game similar to what Joe Miranda had done with his game L.A. Lawless.

One of your least traditional games has to be Paranoid Delusions, your entry in the third Microgame design Contest. Consiering how unique, innovative, and charming it is, I should probaly be thankful that nobody ever got around to judging the competition. Tell us what possessed you to design such a game, and how you managed to marry the mechanincs to the subject.

Hey, I thought we called that one a tie! (Full disclosure: there were only two entries in the contest, and Matt's was the other one. Also, that was 2006 and now it's 2010 - isn't it time for the fourth Design Contest?) I'm glad you liked the game - I liked the idea, but always thought it was missing something in the execution. Coming up with the idea was the hard part - I remember pacing around, thinking I wanted to do soemthing different that did not look or act like the kind of map-and-counter games I had been doing, nor did I want to do a strictly card game. Again, I've always been interested in weird paranoid fiction and conspiracy stuff (the theorists are often, but not always, more interesting than the theories), as you can see by the Thomas Pynchon quote that introduces the game rules, so I thought, why not try something like the plot of such a fiction in game form. In the game, players have to do a bit of deduction, and the tension in the game is supplied by having to balance actions taken in the gmae against their own fraying mental state - that's pretty standard, but I kind of liked the device where players are both the hiders and the seekers, and can actually do well out of attacking themselves.

As an independant creator, where do you stand on creator's rights? how do or would you feel about people phocopying and or distributing works of yours, or bits of those works. You remember the thing from the Microgame Mailing List: "I've lost the rules to such-and-such game; could anyone send me a photocopy/scan?"
Obviously I, like most people involved in game designing, make almost no money at it, and have few prospects of ever doing so. It follows that I don't lose much, either, so that disposes of the "bread-snatched-from-my-mouth" argument. But I do resent my ideas being taken and used without credit or attribution, especially when I do a lot of work that I then release for free, e.g. variants and expansions for my own or other's games, or complete games (Battle of Seattle, Paranoid Delusions, and Finnish Civil War). I'm happy when other people ask me for advice, or give me some credit for an idea that inspired them - Ben Madison, for example, namechecks me in a couple of his games and I appreciate that. As for copying and distributing bits of my games, not the complete items, that's not complete thievery and I'm not that upset about it. I don't mind people making Cyberboard or Vassal versions of my games either, but again, I do like to be asked so I have some idea of what's going on. I was concerned when I was approached a while ago about putting digital versions of some of my games up for sale, and thought it would hurt sales of the hard-copy version - turns out it can actually help sales of the physical product, as some people download the digital copy and make one on their own, then decide they want to play the version with the better components, so they buy the "real" one!

Your historical games span a remarkable variety of locales and periods. Are you a student of hisory, or do you do selective research when you decide on a game topic? How do you become interested, in the first place, in a particular conflict or subject for a game?
I love military history and I always have. I'm interested in the area where politics and the military cross paths, especially in the 20th century. And finally, I have always had a taste for playing games on obscure topics. So, an attractive topic for me would be something that combines all three - and the ideas can come from many places. A couple of my games (Tupamaro, Land of the Free) actually came from the "feedback" section of old copies of Strategy and Tactics magazine, where game proposals were floated (and usually not picked up). Sometimes it's a form of creative procrastination - I've been writing historical articles for S&T since 1993, and sometimes a game will fall out of the research I did for the article - this happened with Shining Path: The Struggle for Peru, and two other games that have not yet been published - one on the 1848 European revolutions and one on the 1947-49 Greek Civil War.

Your list of favourite games is an ecclectic mix of hsitorical and fantastical. What are your exemplars from each genre, and could you tell us why?
I have some favourite designers - Joe Miranda, Tom Wham, and James Dunnigan, to name three - and I like their approaches and innovations, and certainly their sense of humour! I llisted the ones I did because both the subject matter was interesting to me and the games were pelasant to play - a certain amount of nostalgia for my misspent youth is there, too.

Is there a reason you've designed predominantly historical games?
I guess it's easiest to do the research on something that has already happened, and its impact on its environment has been assessed. I have designed a few games on things that never happened but could have, at least to the point that staff exercises were done on them (Balkan Gambit, War Plan: Crimson, Freikorps), and those were interesting projects. But a lot of my titles, on counterinsurgency and irregular warfare, are on contemporary topics, or relate to contemporary concerns, and are attempts for me (and maybe others) to come to an understanding about their impacts on our society. This aspect of civilian wargaming is, in my view, both full of potential and sadly neglected - very few people are doing this sort of thing.

What published game, designed by someone else, do you most wish you had designed, and why? What would you change, if you did?
I started designing games because no one was designing on the sort of subjects I wanted to see, or because I wanted to make my own interpretation of a particular conflict. I don't know if I've ever wanted to do a complete overhaul of someone else's design, though I have put together some extensive variants of other people's games so as to bend their already existing systems to cover different conflicts http://www.islandnet.com/~ltmurnau/text/gamescen.htm. Good question, though!

What is your ideal scale/size of game - in the size of its packaging, the length of play, and the price tag?
I didn't have a lot of money to spend on games when I first got into the hobby, and so have always traveled "economy class". I really liked the old "Series 120" games Game Deisnger's Workshop used to put out. They were interesting problems, were well and clearly presented graphically, had some depth and potential for repeat play, and had a good price. I also liked the Metagaming Microgames - very cheap, and some classic games were published, but some of them were just too simple to stand up to serious analysis. But for $2.95 each, it wasn't near as much a disappointment.

What is the great, undesigned - and possibly never-to-be-designed - game lurking in your mind right now?
I have lots of ideas. Inevitably many fo them will never see the light of day. But right now I am interested in the problem of urban counterinsurgency - definitely the battlefield of now and the future - and would like to work out a game on that topic that's not too fiddly to play, is intensely involving, and has something to teach.

And, if you'll forgive me, are you ever tempted to design a train game?
Uh, no. Nope. Not a bit. And that's not what my name means, anyway.

Thanks for all the questions! I enjoyed answering them.

Brian
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Brian Train
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Thanks for the question Wendell. I don't know if I have an all-time favourite SPI game - they put out so much good stuff on so many topics. My top three would probably include The Creature That Ate Sheboygan, Battle for Germany, and Minuteman: The Second American Revolution, because they are all fun to play and had some great basic ideas in them. There are others I admire for their ideas but the play experience is not as good, for example Tito and The Plot to Assassinate Hitler.
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Brian Train
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Thanks Colin!

Obviously a man of character, you are a go fan and a wargamer. Also I'm a big fan of Algeria, I picked it up a few years ago, very clever little design.
I learned Go when I lived in Japan (1990-92). I'm still fascinated by this game; it grabbed me in a way Chess never did. I'm glad you like Algeria.

I really like more obscure topics, what makes you interested in the out of the way stuff?
You know, I think sometimes the way we mean "obscure" wrt wargame topics is akin to "relatively unknown to most American gamers" (I know you're from Australia and I don't mean to tar you with the same brush; the fact is that this hobby is dominated by Americans - nothing inherently bad about that but it does set certain parameters for notoriety and commercial success.) I've designed games on the 1848 revolutions and the Chinese Cultural Revolution (Redguard), both of which were wrenching, extremely violent social and political events far-reaching in their ultimate effects, and I'm the only one (or one of a very few) who has tried to model the topic. So yes, part of what attracts me to out of the way stuff is because it is out of the way, yet still important.

What broader principle/concepts do you keep in mind for your designs?
I like asymmetry. I'm happiest when I've put together something where both players are striving for different things, hopefully in different ways, to the point where they feel they are playing different games on the same map! I don't know if I've ever quite reached that point, though. I like interactivity; downtime should be avoided. And, while I am aware that most games are played solitaire, I like limited intelligence and fog of war.

What is your favourite game you have designed?
Gee, that's like asking which of your children disappoints you the least... I suppose my favourites are the "system family" of mission-oriented, area-movement, irregular warfare games I've done: Tupamaro, Shining Path, Somalia, Algeria, Greek Civil War and Kandahar.

Who is your favourite wargame designer?
My favourite currently working designer is Joe Miranda. People have remarked on the similarity of our topic choices and treatments, and I appreciate that.

I'll think of more later, great GotW pick!
Any time!
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Brian Train
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Hi Dave,

Congratulations to someone who FINALLY recommends the United States Postal service!
I recommend this because I live in Canada and trade a lot of games. The US Postal Service is cheapest and things usually arrive without incident. Anything that is sent to Canada via FedEx or some other courier service is subject to mandatory examination, extra fees and more paperwork - usually this translates into at least an extra week or two of delay, fees of at least $25-30, and requires me to travel to obscure industrial zones on the outskirts of town to sigh things. I don't care for any of that.

Question: How do you feel about the USPS reverting to a five day delivery week and eliminating Saturday service?
We haven't had Saturday postal service in Canada in years. I'm sorry you lost it, but I suppose you'll get used to it - with the Post Office you take what you can get.
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Brian Train
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I'm taking these in the spirit in which I am sure they are offered.

Brian, how often are you referred to as Brain Train?
Sometimes. It usually happens once.

Do you mind if we call you Brain Train?
Why yes, yes I do mind.

Do you ever get called Brian Trian?
Once my name was misspelled that way as the byline to an article I wrote for S&T. Again, that happened once.

Is that preferable to Brain Train?
No, no it is not.
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Brian Train
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Alfred! How have you been? I've missed your blog.

I have three games due to come out some time this year, maybe more:
Green Beret
Summer Lightning: The Invasion of Poland 1939
Balkan Gambit
Greek Civil War
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Brian Train
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I like the idea of limited intelligence and fog of war, and I've played a few block games - I like the idea. But I've never gone there, probably because making the components would be a pain in the arse.
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Brian Train
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A Neubauten game......lets see..that would be interesting....collecting the right instruments from factory and construction company dumpsters....I could see the challenge in that. Race against the clock to make sure Depeche Kamode doesn't steal your music.

Or perhaps it could be a unique instrument trading game? As long as it is not a trivial pursuit game.

Perhaps an apocalyptic game based on some of the common themes in their songs. Or better yet tearing down old buildings and creating new objects out of them.


Ha! A Neubuaten game is just crazy enough to work. But I agree it would have to be based on some different principles than other games in this genre.

Hat-tip, by the way, to the Noisy Boys of Berlin who have just celebrated their 30th anniversary!!!

Brian
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Brian Train
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I went for five years continuously, 2003 to 2007. I saw a lot of pretty interesting and way-out things, but my most significant experience happened the first time I went.

I first heard of Burning Man in the mid 90s, when someone gave me an old copy of Wired magazine containing Bruce Sterling's account of his visit to the Man. I thought it was quite something and was toying with the idea, but had no idea of how to get there or who to go with. Then, at the end of 1998, a car ran over me and put the kybosh on doing much of anything for the five years. 2003 was the first summer where I could think of doing something like this after all the surgeries etc.....

Anyway, I got there, and after three or four days was visiting a "theme camp", to say hi to someone I had met at a friend's party a year or two before. I was telling her the story I'm telling you now, when a woman who had been spinning a practice poi weight or something in the background came up to me and said, "I don’t know how you’re going to take this, but I’m Sarah." At first the name and face didn’t register and I said, "Take off your sunglasses." And yes, it was the very woman who had run over me and crushed my leg five years before.

We hadn't talked or anything in the years since the accident because lawyers and insurance companies were involved, but, we were reconciled inside of two minutes - there was nothing to forgive really, as it had been an accident. I don’t believe in any Higher Authority or guiding intelligence, I deal in possibilities and probabilities. But this meeting was on a pretty low order of probability, and it gave both of us the one thing we (or at least I) hadn’t gotten out of the whole dreary mess - closure. This was the best possible rehabilitation I could have gotten out of the trip, and exceeded my expectations by far. Burners say people come home from the playa changed; I don’t know if this is always true but I know that trip changed me.
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haraggan wrote:


Congratulations, Brian. You've joined an elite club (of which I am a member) which in no way resembles the Conservative Party.

cool

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Brian Train
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No Don, I like it a lot less too.
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Congratulations, Brian! You are my hero, so I must say I do feel you becoming GotW is more than just - in fact it is rather belated!

My question to you is do you do a lot of good deeds like gift-sending a game (based on Your Holy Grail)?

Once more belatedly, but I'd like to thank you - it was a very meaningful gift and much appreciated!
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Brian Train
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Oh, you're the one who got that copy of History of the World! I hope you enjoyed it. Well, I like to do good deeds - like every hobby, gaming survives on a lot of good will and mutual assistance - but I suppose mostly it's throwing in little extras on game trades or taking a bath on postage costs. It all evens out in the end, I think.
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