History to #Wargame – @gmtgames COIN Inspiration? Rebels at the Gate – From the Tonghak Uprising to the Sino-Japanese War in Korea, 1894

For tabletop wargamers, a popular game series in the past decade is GMT Games’ Counter Insurgency (COIN) Series. Starting in 2012 with Volko Ruhnke’s Andean Abyss – COIN Vol I , the system now (nearly) encompasses 14 volumes spanning conflicts from the past, present, and even future. I personally own two titles, Harold Buchanan’s Liberty or Death: The American Insurrection – COIN Vol. V and Brian Train’s Colonial Twilight: The French-Algerian War, 1954-62 – COIN Vol. VII with two more on order (Brian Train’s China War: 1937-1941 – COIN Vol. XII and J. Carmichael’s Red Dust Rebellion: The Martian Revolts – COIN Vol XIII). All of which means I have limited familiarity with the COIN system as a player and am far, far from being a COIN designer.

That said….

I recently read an article by Robert Neff called “Rebels At the Gate” in the May 1, 2021 edition of The Korean Times Online. The article discusses events from 1894 on the Korean peninsula focusing on a peasant rebellion that took place amidst the Sino-Japanese War. This passage in particular got me thinking about a possible game design:

The rebels ― identified as the Donghaks ― claimed to number several millions and had sworn to the death that they would rid the country of the foreign vermin. They didn’t in 1893 and, according to Sallie, they didn’t on September 15, 1894:

As a result of the threat, the “doors and windows were barred and the gates guarded by the legation soldiers but the night passed quietly and the excitement has entirely abated.”

However, the abatement was short lived. A few days later, Alice (Sallie’s sister who resided with the Sill family in Seoul), insisted she did not worry about the Chinese and Japanese soldiers rather “the danger now [in Seoul] is from the [Donghaks], Koreans who hate all foreigners and try to exterminate them whenever they can ― so a guard will be kept during the winter at least and perhaps longer.” A few days later she reported the rebels had advanced to a point about 50 kilometers south of Seoul. She insisted she was not worried and expressed the greatest confidence in the American marines guarding the legation in Seoul. 

The attack on Seoul never materialized. However, for the next couple of years, the regions outside Seoul were almost in a constant state of unrest.

Robert Neff, “Rebels at the Gate,” Korea TImes, May 1, 2021

It turns out that 1894 was an important year in Korean history. The book Korean History in Maps: From Prehistory to the Twenty-First Century (Michael Shin, Editor, Cambridge: Cambridge Univ Press, 2014) devotes an entire map titled, “The Year 1894: Gabo Peasants’ War, Sino-Japanese War” to this one year which shows not only significant battles but also the many peasant uprisings.

Korean History in Maps, p. 108

After reading Robert Neff’s article and looking at the 1894 map, the thought, “This really could be a COIN game” crossed my mind. Certainly, the historical events of 1894 are ripe for narrative exploration using the lens of a COIN game. One of the most powerful aspects of the COIN game system is the system’s ability to depict the interactions of multiple, often asymmetrically powered factions. In this case there are four factions:

  • Tonghak (aka Donghan) – “…the growing Christianity, the declining village economy, and certain government mismanagement led to the development of the strong anti-government and anti-foreign sentiments of the conservative Confucian literati as well as those of the Tonghak believers. The Tonghak had been seeking the legitimacy of their religion, exoneration of Ch’oe Che-u, the founder of the Tonghak sect, who was executed in 1864, and the prevention of the spread of foreign religion. At the same time, they were antagonized by illegal taxes which the local officials collected from the peasants.”1
  • Joseon (Korean Government) – “When the Tonghak Uprising became an open rebellion, the weak Korean government asked for Chinese help. Meanwhile, a truce was reached between the Tonghak rebels and the government…[which] issued a twelve-point reform program.”2
  • China – “The Chinese government whose aim was to strengthen its control over Korea sent an army of 3,000 soldiers and a naval force to Korea, violating the agreement which it had signed with the Japanese in April 1885.”3
  • Japan – “Meanwhile, the Japanese government concluded that it now had legitimate cause to fight a war with China, and the time was right. Consequently, it sent an army of 8,000 troops and a naval force to Korea.”4
  • Missionaries/Diplomats/Westerners – I don’t see these as a separate faction, but rather events or “terrain” that factions must be wary of.

These faction snippets can help define victory conditions, as well as thinking about the various Commands and Special Activities of each faction. At this point, my limited familiarity with COIN hinders me to design further but once I get another few games in house as examples I might be better suited to explore a possible design.

Focusing on the year 1894 also seems to make sense as that one year had a good ebb and flow of events. Broadly speaking, the year went though at least three distinct phases.

  • Gabo Peasant War Begins: Starting in January the first peasant uprisings in the South broke out. These uprisings spread into a full rebellion and by May troops from China and Japan arrived. At this point there was turmoil within the Korean government with palace intrigue in Seoul as a deposed king tried to place his son on the throne.
  • Sino-Japanese War Begins: By July, the Chinese and Japanese enter into open conflict. While the two outside powers fight, another peasant uprising begins which unites the Japanese and Daewongun Koreans (an alliance which eventually falters thanks to coup planning by the Daewongun). Interestingly, the Korean government fights alongside the Japanese against the rebels even as they try to implement reforms (carrot and stick approach?).
  • War Moves On/Peasant Rebellion Collapses: By November, the Chinese-Japanese fighting moves into Qing China and the peasant army is defeated with it’s main leader, Jeon Bongjin, captured. He was executed on April 24, 1895 just days after the Treaty of Shimonoseki ends the Sino-Japanese War and the tributary relationship between the Joseon and Qing dynasties.
Korean History in Maps, p. 109

Like I said, I’m no COIN game designer but this is a very interesting topic—and a great thought exercise.


Feature image from The History of Korea by Han Woo-Keun (Seoul: Eul-Yoo Publishing, 1970)

Footnotes:

1-4. Nahm, Andrew C., Introduction to Korean History and Culture, Seoul: Hollym, 1993, p. 158-162.

#Coronapocalypse #Wargame Month-in-Review (March 15 – April 15, 2020)

HERE IN THE COMMONWEALTH OF VIRGINIA the DECLARATION OF A STATE OF EMERGENCY DUE TO NOVEL CORONAVIRUS (COVID-19) was issued on March 12, 2020. For me the real Coronapocalypse started on March 15, the day before I started my new job. The onboarding was surreal; rushed to get people out soonest, walking into a deserted office, then being told to go home and telework when I don’t even have an office account. Although the teleworking eventually worked out, I still found myself at home more than expected. Looking to fill my time, gaming has been a part of my therapy to avoid going stir-crazy.

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In the first 30 days of my Coronapocalypse, I played 19 different games a total of 38 times. Looking at the list, I think many will be surprised to see Elena of Avalor: Flight of the Jaquins (Wonder Forge, 2017) as one of the top-played games. This of course is because we were helping our friends with taking care of their kids while they were working. Fortunately, it is not a bad game – for kids – and was an unexpected discovery (especially given that we purchased our copy for less than $5).

I am very happy that I got in multiple plays of Red Storm: The Air War Over Central Germany, 1987 (GMT Games, 2019). Getting time to do multiple plays allowed me to get deeper into the design and enjoyment. The same can be said about Enemy Coast Ahead: The Doolittle Raid (GMT Games, 2017) which had the bonus of being a dedicated solitaire design that was perfect for Coronapocalypse gaming. This multi-play approach also enabled me to rediscover Squadron Strike: Traveller (Ad Astra, 2018), a game which I had under-appreciated.

Given I am stuck working at home, I tried to find ways to mix my wargaming into “professional training.” So it came to be that Next War: Korea 2nd Editions (GMT Games, 2019) landed on the table. I also ordered a copy of the game poster from C3i Ops Center for my new office but, alas, the California shutdown stopped it from being sent just after the label was created.

As disruptive as the Coronapocalypse is, here in the RockyMountainNavy home we tried to keep some semblance of order. This included our Saturday Boardgaming Night with Azul: Summer Pavilion (Next Move Games, 2019), 878 Vikings (Academy Games, 2017), Enemies of Rome (Worthington Publishing, 2017), and Firefly: The Game (Gale Force Nine, 2013).

This month I also explored a few more solitaire gaming titles in my collection. I continue to insist that AuZtralia (Stronghold Games, 2018) is one of the best ‘waro’ games out there. I also got Mrs. Thatcher’s War: The Falklands, 1982 (White Dog Games, 2017) to the table right around the time the historical conflict started. Late in the month, my copy of Amerika Bomber: Evil Queen of the Skies (Compass Games, 2020) arrived. First impressions will be forthcoming.

Coronapocalypse also gave me the chance to play more one-on-one with the RockyMountainNavy Boys. RockyMountainNavy T continued his punishing win streak by besting me, again, in two plays of Hold the Line: The American Civil War (Worthington Publishing, 2019).

The game of the month was actually the last one I played. I pulled Patchwork (Mayfair Games, 2014) out to play with one of Mrs. RockyMountainNavy’s students. The box was still on the table later that night and I asked Mrs. RMN if she wanted to play. She said yes. You have to understand that Mrs. RMN is a strong advocate of gaming but she rarely plays herself. So we set up an played. She beat me handily (I actually had a negative score). I hope this is a harbinger of future gaming, especially with a title like Azul: Summer Pavilion.

How has your Coronapocalypse lock-down gaming gone?


Feature image courtesy laughingsquid.com

#Coronapocalypse #wargame #boardgame Update – or – #StayHome & #SupportLocalBusinesses

In my local area social distancing has been in force for about a week now.

Schools are closed thru mid-April.

Mass transit is “essential travel only.”

Office is teleworking to maximize social distancing.

The nature of my job does not lend itself well to social distancing as in-person ‘collaboration’ is a vital part of the business. The nature of our product is not also conducive to working from home. So my coworkers and I have to make do.

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Courtesy GMT Games

Luckily for me, gaming crosses both work and family. The past week I conducted ‘deep analysis’ of a conflict simulation involving the Korean Peninsula. Here I used Next War: Korea 2nd Ed (GMT Games, 2019) along with Next War: Series Supplement #1 (although I didn’t use the Cyber Warfare rules) and Next War: Series Supplement #2 to go in depth. I played two scenarios; a Standard Scenario to familiarize myself with the basics of the Next War game system and an Advanced Scenario to go more in depth. I didn’t really keep up on Victory Conditions as I mostly used the game to explore the order-of-battle and relative combat potential of the major combatants. I noted some professional qualms with a few rules; I will dig into those deeper at a later time. All in all a good ‘deep dive’ into the military situation on the Korean Peninsula. I also ordered a Next War: Korea poster from C3i Ops Center. I’m not sure it will arrive anytime soon as it looks like I just missed getting it shipped before the Coronavirus shutdown order in California started.

6HSa418vRrKP6Dyy%qokEgOn a more personal note, RockyMountainNavy T and I restarted our playthrough of all the scenarios in Hold the Line: The American Civil War (Worthington Publishing, 2019). We played two scenarios; Little Round Top and Chickamauga. This time RockyMountainNavy T took the Confederates while I took the Union. Didn’t matter; he still soundly trounced me at Little Round Top (0-7) and although I did better at Chickamauga (3-7) he continued his unbeaten streak. The game mechanics in the Hold the Line series definitely seem to favor the defender – in each game he has not only tenaciously defended his lines but also rolled quite well for Bonus Action Points and when attacking or making a Morale Roll. Myself on the other hand….

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Courtesy Worthington

One evening, the oldest Boy, Big A, joined us for a rare 4-player session of Enemies of Rome (Worthington Publishing, 2017). [EoR is on sale for $37.50…a real steal for a great family lite-waro] If there was one negative it was that Big A is not aware of our usual no cellphones at the table rule. He rarely plays a boardgame with us so rather than make it an issue I let it slide. After the game the other RMN Boys mentioned how distracted he was, missing changes in the game state and not thinking much about his moves. No wonder he placed last. We agreed that family boardgames are supposed to be for family togetherness and cellphones just distract.

azul-summer-pavilion-pre-order
Courtesy Next Move Games

I ordered Azul: Summer Pavilion (Next Move Games, 2019) from Miniatures Market for a family-friendly abstract boardgame. Mrs. RMN is occasionally helping take care of a few kids when their parents have to work. One of them, a fifth grader named Miss Courtney, is anxious to play boardgames. She is an only child but really enjoys sitting down at a table to play games. I think can tell she really craves the social interaction. She is also a great artist so a game like Azul should capture her imagination (much like Kingdomino from Blue Orange Games has already).

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Courtesy Folded Space

I also tried to help local retailers a bit this week. I visited our FLGS, Huzzah Hobbies, and picked up the Terraforming Mars: Folded Space Insert v2 (Folded Space, 2019). The RMN Boys also used the trip to stock up on paints and other supplies for their plastic model building hobby (looks like they have LOTS of time to work off a few projects – as I should too). I encourage everyone to do what you can for small local businesses during this challenging situation. For ourselves, when getting to-go food we are bypassing the chains and making a dedicated effort to use local Mom & Pop restaurants instead. Not only is the food better but you can also see how much they really appreciate your business. Further, the entire community will be better if they are around in the future!

#RPGThursday – Odds and Ends for the summer with #TravellerRPG and #T2K

I AM REENGAGING ON PLAYING RPGS after a long hiatus. The RockyMountainNavy Boys have fully embraced Cepheus Engine and we are mixing a RPG session into our normal weekend family game night. With that change I have started stalking publishers on DriveThruRPG again and making a few purchases.

The first book I picked up is Shipbook: Type S Scout Courier from Moon Toad Publishing. I belatedly realized this book is intended for Mongoose Traveller 1st Edition. That’s OK, Cepheus Engine grew out of MgT 1st Edition so it’s usable. My intent is to pass this along to the RockyMountainNavy Boys to use as inspiration. It’s such a classic Traveller RPG ship they deserve to see it in all it’s glory. Update – Yup, they definitely have latched onto this one for inspiration.

The second book I picked up is Moon Toad Publishing’s Shipbook: Type A Free Trader. Like the Scout, this is another “classic” Traveller RPG ship. Again, my intent is to pass this along to the RMN Boys for their inspiration.

Another item I picked up is a throwback to a much older game. I have impatiently awaited a Korean sourcebook for Twilight: 2000 and now the T2000 v1 Korean Peninsula Sourcebook is available. Having been stationed in Korea the first time in 1992, I must say that the data feels authentic to me. I have not played T2K in a long time but I may just have to set up an adventure.

One part of the Traveller RPG system I have always liked is that there are several min-games in the game. Like character generation. I really enjoy taking a collection of stats and skills and a bit of die rolling and making it into a living character. After the other night, the RMN Boys now understand my joy.

The RMN Boys and I sat down after dinner to roll up a few characters. Middle RMN Boy ended up with a character with low Education and low Social Status. He tried to get into the Marines, failed, and became a Drifter. He eventually did enlist in the Marines, but failed to reenlist and went back to being a Drifter. After three terms the character mustered out. Middle RMN was a bit frustrated. Younger RMN Boy had rolled up a Scout with a ship. This really wasn’t fair! I asked Middle RMN what skills the character had.

“Nothing. Just Driving-1.”

“Sounds like an Uber driver to me,” Youngest RMN said.

“Yeah, an Uber with Streetwise and a bit of Recon skill. Sounds like a good contact,” I said.

“Well, he was in the Marines. Maybe he was a friend of Little John,” said Middle RMN [Little John is another character Middle RMN rolled up before].

Before we knew it, we had fleshed out an entire backstory for our Uber driver. He is a Uber driver on “Planet Kool-Aid,” the Religious Dictatorship planet in the sector. By the time we were finished, Youngest RMN declared, “This is the coolest character ever!”

That’s the power of Traveller.


Feature image imgur.com

#ModelMonday – Academy in Korea

The RockyMountainNavy boys are visiting Korea this summer with Mom. Before they left, they asked what they should get. I recommended they look for plastic models since I know the the hobby is better supported there then home in the States. Looks like they hit the jackpot, but not how I expected.

The Boys had spent the day at the War Memorial of Korea. If you ever get the chance to go I highly recommend it as this is one of the best war museums I have ever been to. Yes, I place it right up there with the Imperial War Museums in London and above anything I have seen in the States.

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War Memorial of Korea – PKM 357 from the 2002 Second Battle of Yeonpyeong and the basis for the 2015 film Northern Limit Line is behind the Type-59 tank.

After the War Memorial, Mrs. RockyMountainNavy had business at Namdaemun Market. While waiting for their item they went into the Alpha Office Supply store. In Korea, Alpha is THE stationary store and the Namdemum location is 5 floors high. Apparently, they don’t just carry stationary and office supplies at this location.

IMG_0348Youngest RMN found a 1/72-scale Russian Navy SU-33 Flanker D. I think he got this one to compliment a 1/72-scale F-15 Eagle he already owns.

IMG_0347Middle RMN found this 1/35 scale German King Tiger (Last Production) kit too. The most amazing part is that both kits cost 20,000 won or less. That’s about $18.00. Even the best Amazon deal online is double that! Now, the RMN Boys know the prices of models (since they spend their own money to buy) and recognize these good prices. So the Boys are pestering Mom for another trip to Alpha before they leave. Mom is only half-heartedly resisting their pleas. I am sure the Boys will come home with at least one more model because Mom is actually very supportive of their hobby. She recognizes that building the models not only is good for their health (very relaxing) but also highly educational. It’s also a great way to spend a winter day when the weather outside is not good.

 

Threat Tuesday – What Models are Those?

Courtesy NK Leadership Watch

The Un’er – already famous for his toy tours inspection visits – toured a munitions expo in Pyongyang in mid-April. What I found interesting when looking at the pictures was the ships shown. As seen here, all these ships look to be from the US Navy. From left to right I make them out to be an Aegis destroyer, an Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigate, a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier, and on the far right a Spruance-class destroyer.  So what message was being delivered to the NorKs and what does this tell the world? I also note that if one views the KCNA propaganda film that was also released you can see NorK navy ships, but the scales are such that they look huge (indeed, they are built to be larger than the American ships). Is that the subtle message; the NorK navy is still “bigger and better” than others? Once again, I have to wonder just what “truth” is being fed to the Un’er and how his worldview is being shaped.

Threat Tuesday – NorK ICBM?

The NorKs remain defiant, even after their satellite launch attempt failed. A popular mantra in policy and press circles leading up to the space launch was that the NorKs can use space launch technology for offensive long-range ballistic missiles. The space launch failed and the NorKs are looking to regain lost face. So on April 15, guess what the Un’er rolls out at a big parade for Grand-Daddy?

Courtesy AP Photos (news.daylife.com)

A North Korean vehicle carrying a missile passes by during a mass military parade in Pyongyang’s Kim Il Sung Square to celebrate 100 years since the birth of the late North Korean founder Kim Il Sung on Sunday, April 15, 2012. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un delivered his first public televised speech Sunday, just two days after a failed rocket launch, portraying himself as a strong military chief unafraid of foreign powers during festivities meant to glorify his grandfather, North Korea founder Kim Il Sung. (AP Photo)

Oh, since the AP has basically been co-opted by the NorKs (see One Free Korea here) that caption is less-than-helpful and doesn’t tell the real story. Let’s see how Reuters captioned it:

State media film a rocket carried by a military vehicle during a military parade to celebrate the centenary of the birth of Kim Il-sung in Pyongyang April 15, 2012. South Korea’s Yonhap news agency and YTN TV later cited military sources and analysts as saying the rocket is a new long-range missile, presumed to be a ballistic missile with a range of 6,000 km (3,700 miles). (Reuters)

Joshua over at Arms Control Wonk posted the following details:

Those are two three-stage missiles carried on large, eight-axle vehicles. YTN describes them as being about 18 m long and about 2 m in diameter. That’s much smaller than the TD-2 — not bigger, as the Chosun Ilbo had claimed. (Really, who could imagine a mobile missile almost half the length of a football field?)

Courtesy Arms Control Wonk

Joshua also has an article up at 38 North that he wrote before the April 15 parade that talks about the NorKs getting ready to unveil a new ICBM. Good background information there.

Threat Tuesday – Countdown Continues….

AP Photo

This March 28, 2012 satellite image provided by DigitalGlobe shows North Korea’s Tongchang-ri Launch Facility on the nation’s northwest coast. The image appears to show preparations beginning for a long-range rocket launch in North Korea despite international objections. An analysis conducted for the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies says the image shows trucks and fuel tanks, and work underway on the gantry next to a mobile launch pad. (AP Photo)

Threat Tuesday – NorKs in Spaaaaace!

Those wacky NorKs are going to try again to put a satellite in orbit. Gotta give them credit; they certainly don’t seem to want to give up even after their failure in 2009. They also are apparently trying to be public about this one too. Something to do with “transparency” and being a “respectable” member of the international community. North Korea? Ha!

AP Photo

In this March 20, 2012, satellite image taken and provided by GeoEye, a satellite launch pad in Tongchang-ri, Cholsan County, North Pyongan Province, North Korea, is shown. North Korea last week announced that scientists will send a satellite into space in April on the back of a long-range rocket. (AP Photo)

AP Photo

WIDE VIEW OF TOK101 OF MARCH 23, 2012 – In this March 20, 2012, satellite image taken and provided by GeoEye, a satellite launch pad, a white strip near a junction of three roads seen in the middle, in Tongchang-ri, Cholsan County, North Pyongan Province, North Korea, is shown. North Korea last week announced that scientists will send a satellite into space in April on the back of a long-range rocket. (AP Photo)

NorK 2009 Launch (SatNews)

Press reports are saying this will be a Taepo Dong 2 SLV. This may be the same rocket that the NorKs tried to launch in 2009. The major difference this time is the likely launch trajectory; almost due south according to the NorKs. This trajectory means they don’t have to fly over Japan to get to orbit – a small technicality that has previously upset the Japanese – and is also very useful for an “earth observation” mission like the NorKs have proclaimed.

The problem is that the US and it’s allies don’t see the Taepo Dong 2 as an SLV, but rather as an ICBM. In 2009, the National Aerospace Intelligence Center (NASIC) published their Ballistic and Cruise Missile Threat Handbook where they made the case the Taepo Dong 2 is an ICBM. In particular, NASIC stated:

North Korea is developing the Taepo Dong 2 (TD-2) ICBM/SLV, which could reach the United States if developed
as an ICBM. Although both launches of the TD-2 ended in failure, the April 2009 flight demonstrated a more
complete performance than the July 2006 launch. North Korea’s continued progress in developing the TD-2 clearly
shows its determination to achieve long-range ballistic missile and space launch capabilities. The Taepo Dong 2
could be exported to other countries in the future.

That “export to other countries” is a worrisome part given the NorKs proclivity to sell arms to shadier nations of the world. The Taepo Dong 2 might be “old tech” but just how much technology do you need to lob a nuclear warhead at a city?

Threat Tuesday – KJU at Sea

Courtesy news.daylife.com

Seems like the Un’er has been visiting the Navy alot recently. First the East Coast, where he was regaled with stories of sinking American cruisers, and now on the West Coast.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un visits the Korean People’s Army Navy Unit 123 in an undisclosed location in this undated picture released by the North’s KCNA in Pyongyang March 10, 2012 (Rueters)

NK Leadership Watch has many more photos and breaks it down a bit more. KPA Navy Unit 123 is located on Cho’do (Cho Islet or Island). A quick check of GoogleEarth reveals several NorK naval platforms located here.

More importantly, this base feed combat power to the area of the Northern Limit Line, site of the Choenan sinking in March 2011. Given all the NorK rhetoric against South Korea, this visit has to be part of an overall propaganda campaign from Pyongyang.