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Subject: BGG Wargame Designer Of The Month: Brian Train rss

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Brian Train
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Oh yes, I am definitely coming!
The game design event looks very interesting (though ultimately it depends on the subject).
I will be demonstrating/showing some new game designs too, hope to make a presentation at one of the panels but need to confirm the topic first.
Looking forward to seeing you again!

Brian
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Sam H
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Kingdaddy wrote:
And he's both a gentleman and a scholar...

http://ivebeendiced.blogspot.com/2011/07/ive-been-diced-epis...


Got to listen to that podcast yesterday, very interesting conversation. Thanks for linking it here.

In that interview, you talk about giving gamers "surprises", or, when simulating COIN operations, finding ways for players to not really know how well they are doing. Is that possible without adding layers and layers of complexity and chrome?

I really enjoy the chaos and narrative that the political phase in Triumph of Chaos adds to the game. Unfortunately, this great mechanic comes at a price of greatly increased play time and complexity. Games like ¡Arriba España! on the other hand, manage to incorporate the political feel, but with a much lower complexity level.

Random event tables are a way of doing this, but once players have read the possible events, they can plan for them. The surprise is no longer the event, but when the event happens. Same thing is true with CDGs. Once a game has been played a few times, there are not many surprises left.

One of the advantages of board wargames, as opposed to computer games, is that players get to see everything that is "under the hood". Isn't this advantage also a disadvantage when trying to incorporate "surprises" or "hidden effects" for gamers.

In the podcast, you also mention a game about guerilla warfare on Crete (can't remember the name) using an updated version of "Shining Path". Any news on this game? Need anyone to playtest? whistle
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Brian Train
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Hi Sam!
Thanks for listening to the podcast.

Yes, I think it's possible to give gamers "surprises", or to conceal from them how well or poorly they are doing, and the ideal way to do it would be without layers of complexity and chrome. That's the challenge given to the game designer. And I haven't quite figured it out yet.

I'm a fan of letting players themselves provide the surprises and chaos to each other, and not relying on an autonomous process of processes to drop things out for them to deal with. That's the problem of random events: too many of them, or too many strong, game-changing events, give the players the feeling that they are fighting the game's systems, and not each other. Some people who commented on my game Redguard thought I had gone too far down this route, that chaos itself was running the game. I'm not sure about that, but the impression I wanted to implant in players' heads was the feeling of being embroiled in a vast process that was only partly controllable. Anyway, obviously mileage varied.

I think I'll always prefer manual games to computer games precesisely because it is possible to look under the hood and see what's there, and to suss out the relationships between the game's many moving parts the designer intended (or at least, what he thought he wanted to create). Then you can change bits you don't like, if you're up to it, or possibly ignore them altogether. For example, most of my games have some kind of random events table in them, and in most of them players can forego having random events altoghether. The game will of course play differently, but in most cases these random events are not the underpinning of the game itself. Some players are like that; they want little or no uncertainty in what might happen, as they work out the Perfect Plan. These people are related to the sorts of people who look under the hood for the purpose of taking bits of the game apart, to treat it as an intricate puzzle to be broken. You certainly can't please everyone.

The game I mentioned on the podcast was "EOKA". It's a game on the Cyprus Emergency: from 1955-59 the British colonial government resisted an urban guerrilla warfare campaign by Greek and Cypriot terrorists to boot them out and gain "enosis": political union with Greece. It's an interesting situation in an interesting setting, and no one has ever done a game on the conflict before. Something may be happening on the publishing front before very long; if it does, I will likely create a BGG entry for it (though I don't like doing so until the thing has actually been published, there's a lot of vapourware on BGG already). Contact me separately if you would like some more details or to look at some components.

Brian
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brant G
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so how do you resolve the notions of doctrine/training with the actual actions on the ground during a COIN fight or small war?

Do you just wave your hand over it and let the players do whatever they want, no matter how counterfactual? Or do you need some sort of governing mechanism that looks at when/how units can/should perform certain actions?
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Brian Train
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Good question Brant. You always ask good ones.

Doctrine and methods do change during a COIN campaign, it's true, and the national/strategic level at which I have shown the action in many of my COIN designs is one where such changes aren't always apparent. But I have tried to reflect this in a number of ways in different games:

Troop quality - Troops can be trained to be more effective at what they do. I used this in Tupamaro, Shining Path: The Struggle for Peru and a couple of unpublished designs (Kandahar and EOKA). You spend effort and time on this and Recruit quality troops, who give you penalties when they go on operations, eventually become Elite troops who react faster and more effectively. This gradation was also built into the different ratings used by the French units in Algeria: The War of Independence 1954-1962 - the French player can mobilize a lot of standard French (conscript) troops who are good at securing large areas, but the fighting is done by the paras and Foreign Legion elite troops.

Unit modes - In Algeria: The War of Independence 1954-1962 French divisions can adopt concentrated or dispersed modes. French units can also be airmobilized, but it's very expensive to obtain and maintain the helicopter points to do this for more than a few units, so you can't have a counterfactual "Army of the Clouds". In Greek Civil War the insurgent player has a choice at a certain point to switch from guerrilla to conventional mode - this allows him to create brigades that will fight against the Greek Army on almost equal terms, this was done historically for political more than military reasons and they paid for it, but in the game a player could make this switch if he did manage to gain the upper hand militarily.

Idiot rules - I don't always use these, but sometimes temporary limits on actions should be set to model an initial lack of response to an insurgency (because usually these are first dealt with as policing problems, and only later as military ones), and not to turn the clock too far forward for the insurgent so he has a chance to set up his forces the way he wants and not to go too far down the historical route. This is an optional bur recommended rule in Algeria: The War of Independence 1954-1962.

Brian
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brant G
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ltmurnau wrote:
Good question Brant. You always ask good ones.


uh, thanks blush

I hope all this fame hasn't gone too your head too much to still give us a guest article for www.grognews.com someday!


++++++++++++++++


What's a hypothetical/counter-factual/alt-history game you'd love to put together, and why?
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Brian Train
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The last thing I want in life is a swelled head. It makes it difficult to think.

There are lots of counterfactual/alt-hist/hypothetical games I would like to do. These were the kinds of topics that interested me from the get-go when I started wargaming. Besides the generic ones like Power Play and Civil Power, I've done:
Land of the Free
Freikorps
War Plan: Crimson
Balkan Gambit
though the last one hasn't seen the light of day yet, probably this summer.
These were all fun to do, and actually the OB research for the last two was more challenging than for a historical campaign, since I was trying to construct some semi-plausible situations.

What such topics would I like to explore? Lemme think...

One game proposal SPI ran in its S&T feedback many issues ago (thnk it was around #50) was for a game called Twentieth Century, which was a game about development and conflict on the planet as a whole throughout 20C. I thought it would be interesting to see how certain historical events or trends could "cascade", or not as the case would be. For example, in Totaler Krieg! there was a big set of tables where you rolled one after another to set up the situation for a variant WW2. Rolls on chronologically earlier tables affected rolls on later ones, so you could end up with situations like a Russian Czarist Empire preparing to march against a Bolshevik Germany (though most variations were not that extreme). [ETA: these are the "Random Campaign Game rules and tables, a very inspired piece of work by Alan Emrich]. There have been a few Civ-style games like this, e.g. Material World or maybe even Attack!, but not quite what I would like to see.

Following on from that, I would like to design the ultimate time travel game. I've collected a few titles in that genre and it's a great subject but the perfect game on it eludes me (suggestions?).

NATO, Nukes & Nazis was World War II sent 50 years into the future. I thought it would be neat to send it 50-75 years into the past, with some weirdo alternative technologies (I thought of this long before all the nerdy kids started dressing up all tweedy and going to "steampunk" conventions). I think Lock n' Load is doing something like this at the tactical level with Steam and Steel.

I've been working on a number of hypothetical games with generic settings. Upstream I mentioned Third Lebanon War, Virtualia, Kandahar, and District Commander. I would also like to take a good look at modern urban combat - something with lots of choices and variations, but not overloaded with detail and process like Cityfight: Modern Combat in the Urban Environment.

And I will try to get something together for Grognews. I promise.

Thanks!

Brian







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Neal Durando
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ltmurnau wrote:
I would also like to take a good look at modern urban combat - something with lots of choices and variations, but not overloaded with detail and process like Cityfight: Modern Combat in the Urban Environment.


Did you get a chance to look at [thing=91010]Phantom Fury[/thing]?
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Brian Train
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It looks interesting and it's on my "wannit wannit wannit" list, but no one is trading or even selling it for a reasonable price.

Brian
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brant G
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some kind words on Summer Lightning

http://talk.consimworld.com/WebX?14@@.1dd16563/10208

Given that many of your other games have been about obscure topics (or even hypothetical ones), what made you want to tackle the Nazi invasion of Poland?
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Brian Train
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Yeah, that was very nice of him!

In 2006 Mark Walker approached me with the proposition that LnL publish one of my games. At first, we tried it on with an announcement for Balkan Gambit, but they didn't produce any preliminary artwork for map or counters, so there was nothing for buyers to look at - it never made it to the P500 list so in 2008 we taked about doing something else.

Thinking to build on the success Peter Bogdasarian had had with his operational games of Totensonntag and Corps Command: Dawn's Early Light, we talked about campaign level games - among other topics we batted back and forth were France 1940, Operation Cobra or Goodwood, Manchuria 1945 (which was to be the original platform for the system used in Autumn Mist: The Battle of the Bulge, Balkan Gambit and Summer Lightning: The Invasion of Poland 1939, but I still haven't gotten around to doing it yet) or Poland 1939.

I opted for Poland 1939 because Decision Games had just released their two-mapper game COBRA: The Normandy Campaign in S&T magazine, and France 1940 would have been too crowded a situation for the component size we were considering - the terrain in Poland was more open, the action a bit more mobile than in the other two campaigns. Also, it was a campaign that had a definite beginning and end point. And no one had done a Poland game in years. I wanted to do a Poland game with a lot of variations in it to show that the campaign was not as one-sided as many gamers think it was - as I pointed out frequently in notes and ad copy, the Poles managed to kill over 15,000 Germans in six weeks, not exactly a walkover), and while German victory was likely inevitable things could have gone very differently from the way they did historically. As Marco Arnaudo pointed out in his video review of the game (http://boardgamegeek.com/video/7118/summer-lightning-the-inv...), there is a certain fascination in conducting a desperate defense well, even if the outcome is pretty certain.

What also helped to tip the scales was that Poland 39 is a better known campaign than Manchuria 45, and and after all if this was going on the P500 scheme it would have to generate actual customer interest in order for it to appear at all. And even at that, it took almost two years for enough of that interest to be generated where Mark thought he could pull the pin, in late 2010/early 2011.

I'll admit I go for obscure topics, I always have, even before I got into designing. The research is a challenge, I feel I have some freedom to apply different systems and wacky rules, there's novelty value - ultimately for me it's not about commercial success, it's about carrying out a complex project in a creative way. And where we say "obscure", I think we mean "obscure to board wargamers, who are mostly Americans". These people know a LOT more of history and its applications than other, less maladjusted folks, but some of the topics I've tried to make game models of were great social and political upheavals that were very significant to the people involved at the time but haven't registered on American gamer radar scopes - e.g. Redguard and Battle for China (first edition).

As for the hypothetical topics, most of them are for fun and imagination, e.g. Land of the Free, War Plan: Crimson and Freikorps. The two other hypothetical topics I've done, Balkan Gambit and the as-yet-unpublished Third Lebanon war game I mentioned, I did to show that these would have been Bad Ideas anyway.

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Brian Train
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Well, thanks everyone - it's been fun!

Thank you
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for choosing me.

Brian Train
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Hunga Dunga
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Thank YOU, Mr. Train!

May's Wargame Designer of the Month is going to be delayed a week since the designer is on vacation this week!
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Wendell
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Hungadunga wrote:
Thank YOU, Mr. Train!

May's Wargame Designer of the Month is going to be delayed a week since the designer is on vacation this week!


Did he get approval for that?
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