Sunday, 19 June 2016

Zones of Control: Yet another progress report

I was determined to finish reading this book, even though I did find some of the content really challenging now that my intellectual powers are on the wane thanks to my increasing age!

  • Gaming the Nonkinetic by Rex Brynen
  • Inhabited Models and Irregular Warfare Games: An Approach to Educational and Analytical Gaming at the US Department of Defense by Elizabeth M. Bartels
  • Chess, Go, and Vietnam: Gaming Modern Insurgency by Brian Train and Volko Ruhnke
  • Irregular Warfare: The Kobayashi Maru of the Wargaming World by Yuna Huh Wong
  • A Mighty Fortress is Our God: When Military Action Meets Religious Strife by Ed Beach
  • Cultural Wargaming: Understanding Cross-Cultural Communications Using Wargames by Jim Wallman
The work of Rex Brynen is well-known, and his opening article explores the relationship between kinetic wargaming (i.e. the actions required to destroy the enemy) and nonkinetic wargaming (i.e. the political, economic, and social measures that can be used to achieve objectives), and the growth of the latter's importance in recent years ... in no small part due to the work done by Professor Bynen at McGill University!

Elizabeth M. Bartels' contribution makes great use of the term 'instantiate', which I understand to mean a model (i.e. wargame) that represents something or is an example of it. Once I had grasped that, what she wrote made a lot more sense to me than it had the first time a read this section of the book.

Having taken part in a number of counter insurgency wargames over the years, I was very interested to read Brian Train and Volko Ruhnke's article. It certainly emphasised the need for game designers to fully understand 'the interplay of overlapping but not identical incentives' when framing victory conditions and the 'dissimilar capabilities to pursue those incentives' when framing the conflict resolution mechanisms. As an added bonus, the rules for Brian Train's Guerrilla Checkers are included in the article.

I used to enjoy watching STAR TREK, and immediately recognised the name Kobayashi Maru when I read it in the title of Yuna Huh Wong's contribution. (The Kobayashi Maru scenario is a no-win test which students at Starfleet Academy are subjected to.) Her conclusions are that winning an irregular warfare wargame is impossible, but that by trying to win (and losing), players can learn valuable lessons by asking themselves how and why they went wrong ... just as long as they realise that they could never have won.

Although in his article he cites the impact of religious strife in three wargames he has designed (Here I stand, Virgin Queen, and Gods and Kings, Ed Beach is really using religious strife as an example of a non-military layer within a game that interacts and changes the military layer. This is something that I have come across in some of the matrix games and campaigns that I have taken part in, and have always found that it added complexity and a degree of realism that would otherwise have been missing.

I remember attending Andy Callan's session at the first ever COW where he put forward the concept of 'Cultural Wargaming'. Jim Wallman also attended that session, and his contribution shows how far the concept has developed since 1980. He explains that in cultural wargames the designer uses the scenario to expose the player's assumptions (these are spoken assumptions, implicit assumptions, unspoken assumptions, and hidden assumptions) and these are reflected in the way in which the game is structured and players are briefed. Furthermore, as an example, he has included an outline of Barwick Green: An Everyday tale of Country Folk within his contribution, and it makes it very clear what a cultural wargame is.

  • Wargaming (as) Literature by Esther MacCallum-Stewart
  • Tristram Shandy: Toby and Trim’s Wargames and the Bowling Green by Bill McDonald
  • Third Reich and The Third Reich by John Prados
  • How Star Fleet Battles Happened by Stephen V. Cole
  • Total Global Domination: Games Workshop and Warhammer 40,000 by Ian Sturrock and James Wallis
  • When the Drums Begin to Roll by Larry Brom
  • War Re-created: Twentieth-Century War Reenactors and the Private Event by Jenny Thompson
Esther MacCallum-Stewart's opening article looks at wargames - in their broadest sense - and how they have been depicted in and/or influenced certain types of literature, whilst at the same time being influenced by that literature. She also compares the often negative and/or simplistic depiction of wargames with the often positive and/or complex way in which chess is depicted in literature. Her conclusion is of particular interest, as it confronts some of the reasons why wargaming as a pursuit is still regards by many as being something negative, whereas chess – and some other games – is not. Her last sentence sums up the main thrust of her article: 'It would be heartening to think that as games in general become more culturally accepted, their representation in popular texts will increase in complexity.'

I must admit to never having read TRISTRAM SHANDY. I've tried on at least two occasions, but I never seemed to penetrate very far into the text. Having read Bill McDonald's article about it, I might try again, but somehow I think that the text will still remain impenetrable to me! Mind you, having read this section of the book, I probably no longer need to read it as his explanation of the plot and the reasoning behind the recreation of the sieges that take place therein is very extensive.

I actually do have the novel THE THIRD REICH on my 'to read' list, having recently read a brief online synopsis of this novel about the playing of a wargame. Now that I have seen John Prados' contribution to this book, the novel has moved up my list. Stephen V. Cole's description of how the STAR TREK stories generated a desire to create Star Fleet Battles, and how the latter grew into such a large venture, is an interesting expose of the way in which one form of literature can spark creativeness in the field of game design.

Ian Sturrock and James Wallis's contribution is a history of Games Workshop and probably its most famous creation, Warhammer 40,000. I had always considered the latter to be very derivative, and having read this article I can see that its development has been highly influenced by a large number of science fiction and other sources. The authors also include two descriptions of the same scenario fought using the first edition of the rules and the seventh edition. This seems to prove that the latest iteration of the rules better matches Games Workshop's desire to create 'a shared experience' and a game narrative in which all the players are involved.

The late Larry Brom's contribution was – in fact – the first thing that I read when I opened this book. His description of the origins and development of his rules, The Sword and The Flame (know universally as TSATF) is not only easy to read but also a testament to the reason why the rules have been so highly regarded for such a long period ... and will continue to be so as long as there are wargamers who want (in his words) to 'get the same thrill and visual spectacle that I got from a movie screen when gaming with my toy soldiers on a tabletop.'

Reenactment is an area of military history with which my only contact has been to watch reenactors at various history events (e.g. the annual War and Peace Show). These have ranged from Anglo-Saxon warriors, through the era of Napoleon and the two World Wars, and up to the Balkan Wars that resulted from the breakup of former Yugoslavia. Jenny Thompson's article examines in some depth the types of reenactment they take part in, the reasoning behind what they do, and their constant quest to 'get things right'.

  • War, Mathematics, and Simulation: Drones and (Losing) Control of Battlespace by Patrick Crogan
  • How to Sell Wargames to the Non-Wargamer by Michael Peck
  • Wargaming the Cyber Frontier by Joseph Miranda
  • The Unfulfilled Promise of Digital Wargames by Greg Costikyan
  • Civilian Casualties: Shifting Perspective in This War of Mine by Kacper Kwiatkowski
  • Practicing a New Wargame by Mary Flanagan
By the end of Patrick Crogan's opening article I had begun to have serious concerns about the picture he was creating of the future. It makes for disturbing reading ... but it serves as a warning that we should heed.

Michael Peck's short but interesting contribution makes a number of very valid points about why historical wargaming needs to be 'sold' to a wider group of people. As he says in his final paragraph, 'Historical wargaming will never appeal to everybody. But it will appeal to some, and that's enough. It is a window on the past. Now is the time to open the curtains.'

In his contribution, Joseph Miranda begins by outlining the impact of new technologies in an era when asymmetric warfare was on the increase and at a time when he was attempting to design wargames that reflected the changes that were occurring. He cites numerous examples of wargames that were designed to incorporate elements of cyberwarfare, ending with New World Order Battle: Kiev which is about the recent conflict in the Ukraine. Interestingly he mentions that in that game the players have the ability to mount cyber attacks on the enemy, and that these can reduce the superiority enjoyed by that enemy. The result could be that a unit equipped with and highly reliant upon twenty-first-century electronic systems would suddenly find itself having to improvise some sort of replacements for the now-lost systems, and that their lower-tech opponent might be able to use the ensuing hiatus to gain the upper hand.

Greg Costikyan makes some very cogent arguments for why computer-based wargames are better that board wargames ... and then explains why they have not achieved the sort of game design breakthroughs that were hoped of them. He argues that although there have been some developments in game design thanks to the advent of computers, most computer-based wargames have yet to exploit their potential in wholly novel styles of game.

I must admit that I had not heard of Kacper Kwiatkowski's work before reading the article that he wrote, but I was immediately struck by the way that the videogame he has designed (This War of Mine) turns the normal understanding of what a wargame is on its head by creating a game that concentrates on how civilians are affected by and try to survive a war.

Mary Flanagan's contribution begins by developing the argument that wargaming is currently too engaged in trying to simulate conflict, whether it is platoon vs. platoon, division vs. division, or country vs. country. She proposes that alternative wargames should be examined that 'express the different ways we might begin to see contemporary global challenges, incorporating different modes of problem solving, aesthetics, and nonviolent conflict resolution'.

That concludes my review of ZONES OF CONTROL. As I wrote some time ago, it is not a book that one could describe as 'not put downable', but now that I have finished reading it, I firmly believe that it is going to be a work to which wargamers and wargame designers will refer for many years to come.


  1. This sounds like a very interesting book. Even the fragments you mention have had me looking up such wonders as "guerilla checkers". As I wargame less, the more I tend to read about it. Still, I have the whole Summer now.

    1. Stephen Briddon,

      It is an interesting book, and I recommend it to anyone with a deep interest in the design and application of wargaming.

      Have a great summer!

      All the best,


  2. Thanks for the extended reviews Bob- they make for an excellent summary of the book. One that I shall aim to buy sooner rather than later.



    1. Pete.,

      It is not the easiest book to read ... but I think that you will find reading it worth the effort.

      All the best,


  3. I'm glad that you found parts of the book excellent, Bob.
    And I hope you will give Guerrilla Checkers a try!

    1. Brian Train,

      I found some parts - yours included - more accessible than others. Thanks for your excellent contribution ... and I will try your rules ASAP!

      All the best,


    2. You're very welcome Bob... Richard Barbrook suggested I should retitle it "Partisan Draughts" if I wanted it to see any action on your side of the ocean!

    3. Brian Train,

      Richard Barbrook is right; it is a better name for our side of the pond!

      All the best,


  4. I also read the book - and it kept me laying awake at night ... see my blogpost:

    1. Phil Dutré,

      I have read your review and can see why you have come to the conclusions that you have. In fact I was so impressed by what you wrote that I have drawn it to the attention of a wider audience via the Wargame Developments Facebook page.

      All the best,