Next War: Lebanon; Topological Differences

Next, some impressions of playing Next War: Lebanon, the Decision Games’s version of 3LW, published in Modern Warfare, issue 13

Starting a magazine game by first having to overlook rules ambiguities is both familiar and annoying. I have no nostalgia for the feeling. Before getting to the confusing cross references, rendered incoherent by subsequent revisions (there are no “Disrupted” markers in NWL; setup instructions can’t be executed with provided counter mix), you have to get past the map. For some mysterious reason a hex grid has been imposed over the terrain. Since I’m a cartographer by trade, I must remark the topology between the two versions is different. True, wargames often succeed or fail by close attention to such detail, but the game-stopping problem is the ambiguity of Israel’s depiction. There is no differentiation, as there is in 3LW, with Israel’s reserve area or between named border areas.

Relative topologies with the number of paths to and from each node. 3LW (left) NWL (right). While it is still three spaces to Tyre, the Shaqra area and Tyre itself are richer nodes, favoring the defender by making freedom of movement harder to control. Similar constraining/expanding effects can be seen in northern Lebanon and along the Syrian border.

 

 

The internationally recognized border, so visible on the 3LW map is completely absent on the NWL one. This doesn’t seem like an improvement on the original and has caused experienced wargamers to reject playing it out of hand. So, on balance, pleasing readership with a cosmetic and unnecessary hex grid doesn’t seem like much of a win. A more careful development of the original map would have been to make the line of the Litani river explicit, adding a few cosmetic touches (with no game effect) to edify the reader.

I think I can anticipate a commercial logic behind the hex grid – a gridded map is what wargamers expect to see. Yet why use it and then have an undivided Syria, an ambiguously divided Israel, featuring both hexes on the regular grid, an attached ambiguous space, and two place names labelling a contiguous space? This is just the first of trivial seeming changes which, in the ensemble, weaken the story the designer was trying to tell.

If changes like the hex grid are so trivial, why make them in the first place? Especially if they come at cost of introducing confusion that did not exist before?

 

Camp Bowie 1918, Preliminary Visualization

Looking north-west, toward Rivercrest and the West Fork of the Trinity River

Here’s a preliminary 3D model of my work for the Military Museum of Fort Worth. You can see the approximate locations (accurate to within a meter) of all the camp buildings, circa 1919, superimposed on the familiar Google Streets layer for contemporary Fort Worth.

A new model will fill in the trench that is perceptible when looking east down I30.

I will do further work to fill in the I30 trench in the digital elevation model. I plan to use the USGS LiDAR point cloud for North Texas to improve the precision of the underlying model and perform a TIN interpolation to fill in the trench, working from period contours. Final rendering to be done in Sketchup, skinned from period photography.

If you’re in the DFW area, you could do no better than to discover the local military heritage and history delivered by this gem of a museum. Like every good museum in Fort Worth (Amon Carter and Kimbell Art Museums) it is found right off Seventh Street. Also note that this realization was accomplished with data from Tarrant County Archives, NARA, FW Public Library and the collections of private individuals.

Click for a manipulable model.

Camp Bowie, 1917

My hometown, Fort Worth, Texas. Well, the west side of town, anyway.

You would think I would know my way around after forty some-odd years. The above was the most difficult georeferencing project I’ve done. I grew up in the woody part to the north west. If you look at period photographs of Fort Worth there aren’t any trees, however. There are barely any houses. Only a few of the stately homes survive. The only vestige of Camp Bowie (1917-18) that I can remember was, perhaps, the Prevost Street water tank, which was taken down around 1995. It’s a parking lot now, but locals will remember the place for the news stand that used to be there called “Under the Tower.” It used to be the only place on the west side of town (or anywhere in town?) you could buy an edition of the New York Times or Le Monde.

The project is to create a 3D visualization of the army camp which was created to train the 36th Infantry Division for France after its withdrawal from the Mexican border in 1916. It is challenging because all of the streets in Fort Worth were dirt back then. What permanency persists in the road grid owes to the cadastral parcels. Interstate 30 cuts right through the middle. All the streets that were laid on a parallel azimuth to Camp Bowie Boulevard (then Arlington Heights Boulevard) are gone. It is interesting to imagine my high school’s playing field serving as a parade ground for the 141st Infantry Regiment.

Two Depictions of Military Geography of Southern Lebanon

Schematic of military geography in 3LW and the older Lebanon ’82. The same area is depicted with the summary effect for combat in similar sectors. What a difference a basic assumption can make!

 

I’ve been working rather hard on an article about game development, particularly magazine game development, for a good while now, taking Brian Train’s Third Lebanon War and Decision Games’s Next War: Lebanon as an occasion.  I won’t belabor you with a quote before I’ve rendered my work a little more coherent. The above image compares 3LW to a third, much more traditional hex-and-counter game. The article is meant to be an appeal to improve games criticism  such that the coherence of the geographies (and many other aspects) are more seriously treated analysed. I suppose the public for this is rather small–and even within that tiny arena this would probably be considered pedantic. But the geographer and cartographer in me can’t be kept down.

I’m also working just about as hard on a chapter for Chris Engle’s upcoming book on matrix games. Both of these are going to take me into January before revisions are finished. I’ll get back to posting on FTGU design soon thereafter. Remember to drop me a message if you’re going to be in North Texas over the holiday season. I’ll be travelling with an FTGU counterset. Watch this space.

Armored Feint, Scenario Design, Part III

The game map doesn't depict the actual terrain over which the attack took place.
The game map doesn’t depict the actual terrain over which the attack took place. (Orange arrow is the notional axis of advance; the blue is the historical one). So the scenario will be moved about 250 yards to the east. North to left in all images.
Here's the aerial photo from which the map was drawn.
Here’s the aerial photo from which the map was drawn.
Scenario map
The game map of the same area. As there is no breach like the one shown in Middleton’s map, a scenario specific rule is in order. Thus all woods hexes become orchard, which will permit the tanks to maneuver.
The long, open rising corridors along the real route of attack.
The long, open rising corridors along the real route of attack, vic. 2-3 hex rows west of the map end. Indicative of the steady rise out of the creek bottom toward the intersection on the Lithaire road. Brendan Clark is walking SSE.

 

Man proposes; nature disposes

Projects 2016-17
Yes, I know “Le Inquietud” isn’t Spanish. My brain needs a good long rest. So did my bisabeulo’s, evidently, who seemed to name properties after his mood on that day.

My Master’s defense, for better or worse, happens this week. So I’ve taken a moment out to look at my research priorities for the coming year. Think of it as my effort to get around the postpartum period. Little of this will get done should somehow I beat the odds in the French labor markets and actually find a job.

I haven’t prioritized anything yet, by From the Ground Up (FTGU) is what I start working on this Wednesday. Unless of course I’m asked to do more cartography for my Master’s. (I think, though, the department is anxious to see me awarded my degree; I can feel a wind at my back, for better or worse.) Lots of travel and project management stuff to deal with here, so I thought I would give readers a heads up, especially should they might have free time for playtesting.

Any interested playtesters should know they have two options. By October we will have an updated VASSAL module. For those of you allergic to VASSAL or who can’t be bothered with computers, a playtest kit will be available. Unfortunately, developing on spec means that you will have to pay for it. However, I have physical copies of the counters which will be available from Print N Play games, and they are worth the expense. Contact me for details.

I am attempting to coordinate with the Military Museum of Fort Worth for an afternoon and evening where Chris Mata, the playtest honcho, and I can present the game in person and get in a bit of play. I hope the curator will have an opening in the museum’s holiday schedule.

I regret nothing! Except missing Connections UK this year.

One Klick Out of Whack

Current game map projected upon aerial photograph. The red box to be covered in the revision.
Current game map projected upon aerial photograph. The red box to be covered in the revision.

Ely’s maps are off. My vision came from them and from eyewitness accounts. I have the usual photographs from 1947. I have an overlay, but that just gave me the battalion boundaries. I visited the ground in 2013. I talked with Henri Levaufre. I read a few accounts. Sèves was not a victory nor was it a defeat that merited analysis, for whatever reason.

My first map was of 1/358’s AO. There is so little history to support it. There was a house that burned. And a veteran who remembered it. Henri Levaufre thought the man was at the limit of of first battalion’s advance. I couldn’t find anything in the archive. Henri’s own maps were vague. The land there is private from the Sèves side.

Ely’s maps are off in a funny way. They are of second battalion’s area, the river, the ford, the farm, and a few hedgerows beyond. The surrender site is on them. I thought I understood where that was in 2013. Ely’s distances are deeper than they should have been. Perhaps because the ground was so hard to take the distances seem longer to those who were there. I couldn’t fit their accounts to the ground. What you need is an officer who had a recent look at a map. But whatever notions that officer might have had don’t seem to have survived whatever happened next. The big picture got torn up or is still resting is some drawer in Maryland.

Henri shared some parts of it with me. The overlays, his own cartography. The intelligence overlay shows German antitank defenses oriented on the ford. To cross it at least two guns must have been destroyed. Every American accounts says a marsh. There is no notion of an armored assault. But there is talk of the river’s rise, of swimming in the dark under fire. Henri has mapped this ground for more than forty years. And Henri has never seen the Sèves rise more than twenty centimeters. Second battalion’s commander surrendered. Memories are more precise wherever objectives are achieved. He showed us his notes on which positions he assumed were American, which where German, and which were shared over the course of the two days. You get a sense for maximum advances, but not who was where when. We began our walk on the other side, in first battalion’s area. It is not a marsh. The ground is solid and stable. As is the gravel in the streambed. There are no steep-grade transitions up the far bank. It is the same story on the other side, in second battalion’s area. I have no record of 712th Tank Battalion conducting any route reconnaissance. The Germans defenses were correctly deployed, though they were a surprise to me.

But my initial map is nearly one klick out of whack. The ford was obviously not the only way across, or even the main one. The sedimentary profile was just better. No further information came out on first battalion’s fight. One day, I’ll come across the field order, the operational overlays. It is hard to see what the US was trying to achieve. I want this to be a good game, to highlight what I think is most important. The record speaks of failure in shifty ways. It often uses passive voice to better inter those presumed guilty. The winners are given greater agency. That alone is the definition of victory in linguistic terms, come to think of it. Bad things just happen at random in other accounts, like these, at Sèves. Anyway, a complete redraw is in order.

12 June 2016

GRB_vicN28.11
Brendan and Florent push out to the road ~150 meters forward
Brendan and Florent, vicinity N28.11, pushing out to the road leading to Les Surelles. The bocage to their left on the game map was torn out sometime after 1947 and the rooftops of the farmhouse can be seen above the bordering hedges. Unlike in the photo, corn was not planted here in 1944, according to Mr. Levavasseur, but wheat which would have stood just under a meter high, judging by other wheatfields observed in the AOI. (Observations made exactly 72 years to the date).

There are few better ways of advancing creative projects than walking and thinking as you go. Except walking and thinking with like-minded companions like developer Brendan Clark and fellow cartographer Florent Desse-Engrand. Over the week, we visited all four AOIs in the game and compared actual topography with my maps. I’m very pleased with my initial work; it was particularly gratifying to see Brendan pull out the game map to navigate, although he had a choice.

Brendan and I talked game design quite a bit, both with respect to FTGU but also to a larger-scale game I’ve been calling “Omega”, as it represents the last HIC WW2 game I want to do. “Beyond Omega” might have been a suitably ridiculous name for the subsequent project until until, in a flash of inspiration, brought on by Brendan’s mention of Alice in Wonderland I came up with “Nine Rabbit Heads in a Box.” Why 9RHB? Because it’s way better than eight and who ever heard of ten?

Read Right Up

Capture
Visualization of the area of operations for 2/357 Infantry Regiment, 12-15 June 1944. Click through for a manipulable 3D view.

 

Here are the points of interest for the field visit to Gourbesville. Pushing them to my GPS unit I realize how much work went into pulling this information together. And how much time I’ve spent looking at this odd little corner of Normandy. There were so many sources consulted just to pull together this handful of POIs. Only last year did I come across a hen’s tooth — a facsimile of the divisional G2 report for 357IR’s sector. So I’ve been able to draw in two German lines of resistance. I note this accords with GEN William DePuy’s remark about the German defenses being oriented toward the south east. Which is interesting for at least two reasons. First, 2/357IR did not come up against 1057/91 Luftlanding division’s center of gravity. Not nearly. The first battalion of 357 did go down into that valley to the west of Amfreville and DePuy was there to witness their failure, an event which informed his later activities as creator and commander of TRADOC. Secondly, 91 Luft retired in relatively good order, if greatly reduced. By 14 June 90ID G2 reports capturing prisoners from 920, -21, and -22/243ID who were presumably able to conduct a relief in place in spite of the attentions of the entire 90ID falling upon them.

Oh, we’ll be staying about 300 meters north of the German mortar positions marked on the map. I’m hoping they won’t keep me up.