Book Review #12: Hamilton Part 2

Alexander Hamilton, the West Indian upstart central to America’s founding, found himself out of power with the election of John Adams in 1797 as the second U.S. President. The rivalry of the two men would lead to the self-destruction of the Federalists and a generation of Jeffersonian Republicans occupying the presidency. Adams resented Hamilton’s influence over the Federalists, and the perception of Hamilton’s interference in the policies of his administration. For his part, Adams created friction within the Federalists through his detached and arrogant manner. Ron Chernow describes Hamilton’s descent in detail.

real patriots and fake news

Chernow describes one of the most fascinating aspects of the political combat of the time: the widespread use of fake news, particularly to attack Hamilton as a corrupt aristocrat scheming to install a monarchy in the United States. Thomas Jefferson, even as Secretary of State under George Washington while Hamilton served as Secretary of Treasury, funded through government money a newspaper to disparage Hamilton with outlandish insults and conspiracies.

Not one to shy from challenge, Hamilton expended a significant amount of effort to dispel these assaults, writing extensively in the papers about his conduct and that of his opposition. He faced accusations about his birthplace, his behavior during the Revolutionary War (where he served as General Washington’s aide, essential to the organization and performance of the Continental Army), and the laying of the foundation of the American System as a means to enrich himself. How he managed this combined with his official duties is a wonder; Chernow notes Hamilton’s unparalleled industriousness throughout the book. Although Hamilton had his vices, pride being  chief among them, he never wavered from his commitment to the country’s success. By the time he neared his untimely death, he had significant debt (though not bankrupt) and was generally cash poor. He relied on his income from his private practice as a lawyer.

While out of power, Hamilton continued to influence the direction of the Federalists, despite the intense and personal battle with Jefferson and James Madison. This brought him into direct conflict with Adams first, and finally Aaron Burr. The enmity between Adams and Hamilton resulted in the latter’s eventual political isolation, as he passionately waged war against Adams no matter the political cost. Whatever Hamilton’s faults, he always fought on principle.

The fate of the duel

Duel between Burr and Hamilton

Hamilton never trusted Burr, and opposed the latter’s attempt to run on the Federalist ticket for President. Hamilton preferred his long-time rival Jefferson than his own party’s Burr because of Burr’s reputation as a manipulative self-interested politician. Burr went so far as to undermine the Federalist’s power in New York to ingratiate himself with the Jeffersonians, resulting his election as Vice President under Jefferson himself.

By 1804, both men had recognized the end of their political careers approached. Hamilton had been alienated from the Federalists because of his rivalry with Adams, while Burr recognized that both Federalists and Jeffersonians had a strong distaste for him. Expecting to be dropped during the upcoming presidential election, Burr engineered a duel with Hamilton in the hopes of restoring his honor by claiming to be an aggrieved party by one of Hamilton’s alleged insults.

Hamilton entered into this fateful dance – with all the negotiations and pomp and circumstance of setting up the duel – with some malaise. He maintained his faith with the ritual despite the recent death of his oldest son to a recent duel. Chernow speculates that Hamilton intended to intentionally misfire to demonstrate his high character and turn Burr’s ploy against him.

Whatever the intentions, Burr’s shot mortally wounded Hamilton, who died the next day. Although essential to the Revolutionary War’s outcome and the design and implementation of the Constitution, Hamilton’s death left his legacy largely in the hands of his rivals, who expressed no sadness over the loss.

But in credit to his undertaken and his integrity, his wife Eliza advocated his cause for another 50 years, while the country he helped establish would become the world’s leader in democratic governance, wealth, technology, and education.



Hero of the Soviet Union Developer Note #11: Alpha Testing #2

After some substantial rules revisions as a result of the first alpha test conducted last month, I’m ready to embark upon the second test. This test includes a restructured Operations Segment, a more substantive tactics system, and some other new features.

the making of a hero

At the core of Hero of the Soviet Union is the solitary Red Army Soldier. To keep track of the Soldier’s abilities and experiences, the Soldier Aid includes the Soldier Layout (formerly on the Campaign Board), the Home Front, and Comrades. The Home Front shows the status of the Soldier’s spouse and family, the Party, and the Country. It also includes persistent events that may last for the duration of an operation or even the whole campaign. In this round of alpha testing, the Soldier is Mikhail Olegovich Ivanov, a vagrant from Gorky turned into a well-connected Chekist. Each trait provides affects attributes and skills differently, as shown on the example Soldier Aid.

Soldier Aid

In this case, as a Chekist Ivanov receives higher pay and can participate in special missions otherwise not available during the Battle Segment. Additionally, being Well-Connected, he receives a free starting Comrade and can make requests during the Operations Segment for provisions, weapons, or assignments (a free re-roll).

Comrades is feature newly introduced during this round of play-testing. These are fellow Red Army squad-mates with which the Soldier has developed a special bond. There will be at least 30 such characters. To track relations, equipment, and abilities, the player will simply place the appropriate markers on the Comrade card. Some actions and events, such as a sweep of arrests by the secret police, may introduce new Comrades or remove existing ones.

The great patriotic war

With the Soldier Layout now removed from the Campaign Board, the Operations Map now takes its place. Previously, the Operations Segment was rigidly structured sequentially, which removed an element of control from the player and also made the game fairly predictable.

But war is chaos, so now the Operations Segment is conducted on the Operations Map, which has seven different locations. At each location, the Soldier can conduct specific actions that may affect the squad and Comrades, skills, promotions, equipment, morale, and other traits. The number of actions is limited before the start of the next Battle Segment. Additionally, after movement from one space to another, the play draws an Event card, of which there are currently 120. These events may be a NKVD interrogation, a German ambush or assault, (thus starting the battle segment earlier than expected), or the discovery of a hidden cache of vodka. Some events are conditional, and the effects can be either temporary or permanent. Does the NKVD suspect you of desertion while you were foraging for rations because corrupt officers stole your food? Is your unit assigned to an upcoming major offensive with men and materiel pouring in? The events do not only affect the Soldier – they can also affect Comrades, the next Battle Segment, or even the whole operation. Players will have to weigh the risks of their decisions off the battlefield as much as on it.

Campaign Board

Additionally, the Battle Segment map was changed from hexes to squares to maximize space on the board. The placement of terrain remains the same: random terrain tile draws from a mix determined by the battle’s location. The tactics system also includes some new nuances, such as night combat and illumination, smoke, a detection mechanic, and even anti-tank dogs.

The changes described above only capture a small portion of the underlying engine driving the design in an effort to capture the terrifying experience of a soldier at war.

Upcoming Books: 3rd Quarter 2018

For the upcoming quarter, I’ve mixed up my selection some and am excited by the diversity of subjects covered in the current batch of books. I recently finished a string of political and military history books, including Hamilton, The Ghost Warriors, and Algeria: France’s Undeclared War. The tranches I read typically don’t have any particular theme to them, but usually relate to current interests at the time.

The Rise and fall of the dinosaurs

I recently listened to an interview of Steve Brusatte on NPR’s 1A, and his passion for the subject renewed my interest in dinosaurs. It helped that Jurassic World 2 had recently released, and I realized that about 90% of my dinosaur knowledge came from that franchise. The timing seemed right to learn about the real dinosaurs that roamed the earth 65 million years ago.




Firearms dramatically changed the course of history. More than that, the AK-47, and its successors, have featured prominently in the struggles and conflicts of the 20th and 21st centuries. One country even has the AK-47 on its flag. This book promises to tell the story of that gun and how it has influenced the world today.




The Pentagon’s brain

Burrowed within the bureaucracy of the Pentagon, scientists, some of whom the public might  describe as ‘mad’, conjure fascinating next generation technology for use in America’s future wars. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has played a leading role in ensure America’s technological dominance. Yes! I would like to know more.




   The billion dollar spy

David Hoffman wrote another exciting book, The Dead Hand, about Russia’s semi-autonomous nuclear launch system. So, seeing his name as the author of a true-espionage story immediately sparks interest. As relations between the U.S. and Russia ebb and flow between tense and “holy sh*t”, a story about the experiences of the people in the wilderness of mirrors is aptly appropriate.




No – this is not a novelization of that quirky and amazing first-person shooter about vault-hunters. This is about the history of the Ukrainian nation, which was thrust into international spotlight when its people revolted against corruption in the Maiden. I hope to learn a little more about the importance of Ukraine to Russia and to Europe, and why we should be concerned about the conflict today.



Private empire

Energy politics drive a considerable portion of American and international (in)security, and ExxonMobil drives a considerable portion of energy politics. I first heard about this when Rex Tillerson, a former ExxonMobil chief executive, when he was nominated as America’s top diplomat. This book should provide insight into the world from which he came.




Russia’s war

More than twenty million Soviet citizens died during the world’s most cruel and bloody conflict in World War II’s Eastern Front. The titanic struggle between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union cost Germany 80% of its total war casualties and redefined the global order. Richard Overy invites us to witness, in a small and detached way, that epic contest that still echoes today.




Who is he? Where did he come from? Reza Aslan tells that story in this history of God. I first heard about this on the Crooked Conversation podcast when Ana Marie Cox interviewed Aslan. No single idea has more shaped human philosophy, behavior, and attitudes than God, and all that followed from it.

Hero of the Soviet Union Developer Note #10: Alpha Testing Evaluation

Soviet Victory Day Parade, May, 1945

Last week, I completed the first round of Alpha Testing for Hero of the Soviet Union. The test consisted of character creation, one Operations Segment, and one Battle Segment. The purpose of the practice was to flush out gaps in the rules system.

The most significant change to the system will be converting the Battle Map from hexes to squares. These squares may be aligned or off-set. This change is necessary to maximize the space of the Battle Map, as hexes would lead to unused space. I don’t anticipate this negatively affecting the tactical portion of the game. The squares are 1×1 inch (the counters are .625in x .625in), making the Battle Segment space 192 square inches. The new terrain tiles themselves are 4×4 inches, meaning 12 tiles are placed per battle. With 60 terrain tiles, each with 4 sides, there are millions of random combinations that can be made, guaranteeing a different experience each time.

Game Board v.2

Additionally, the board has some new features: campaign year, campaign season, a box for tactical reserves, and trackers for activated units and losses during the Battle Segment. These features will help facilitate game play.

Other changes include:

– consumption of rations at the end of each Battle Segment with an exhaustion penalty if no rations are available

– Line of sight rules

– mechanism for random placement of friendly and enemy units

– smoke and detection rules

– artillery and pre-bombardment effects

– Battle Segment end conditions

Future War #2: War without Clausewitz

Is this the future of warfare?

The world is on the cusp of a technological revolution. Several emerging technologies, including but not limited to artificial intelligence, quantum computing, additive manufacturing, and bio-technology, promise to overturn our cherished assumptions about political and economic reality. It should come as no surprise that it will also challenge our understanding of warfare.

Western military thinking frames warfare within the parameters of 18th century theorist Carl von Clausewitz. Although an oversimplification of his ideas, generally speaking Clausewitz framed warfare as a political instrument to be used by a state in pursuit of limited objectives. This idea has more or less held up to experience, even with the atrocities of the World Wars and the explosion of insurgencies and terrorist movements worldwide.

Additionally, the overwhelming number of modern military theorists hold firmly that technological change drives revolutions in military affairs, rather than the underlying political-economic conditions that give rise to conflict in the first place. Yet when placed within the framework of Clausewitz, all weapons of war serve the same purpose and the change in warfare is in its conduct, not in its character.

Emerging technology can radically alter that precept by fundamentally shifting the political and economic groundwork. What happens to the state when automation causes mass unemployment? What happens to command and control when artificial intelligence makes better and quicker decisions than humans? What happens to national security when any one person can create (or become) a weapon of mass destruction? The response should not be to so narrowly define warfare that it becomes useless. Instead, we should actively think about war without Clausewitz.

We should ask ourselves: what does war look like when not organized by the state for limited political objectives?

Hero of the Soviet Union Developer Note #9: Alpha Testing

Battle of Stalingrad

This month, I started the alpha testing phase of Hero of the Soviet Union. I expect this process to take a one to two months before inviting selected persons to start beta testing the concepts and mechanics. I will be keeping a journal detailing some of the insights gained from the testing process, such as which mechanics need to be modified, introduced, or removed. I printed the components in black and white and pasted them to cardboard. This makes a sturdy prototype as well as lets me see the designs developed using Gravit Designer.

The test campaign started with the main scenario, which begins with the German invasion of the Soviet Union in June, 1941. For this campaign, the soldier is Sergey Evgenievich Petrov, who is an educated farmer and hunter. This means he has additional “Sniper” and “Forager” skill.

For comparison, you can see below the game board developed in Gravit Designer and the printed prototype. The prototype is actually not to scale, as I misprinted it too small.

Game Board version 1.0

On the printed prototype, you can see the placement of several markers and counters, including the Commander cards, the soldier’s attributes and equipment, and the current location of the front. One of the features to be added will be a year/month tracker.

The prototype campaign board

Because of the sizing issue, the terrain tiles were placed next to the board. The game is designed so that the tiles will be placed on the numbered markers on the board. When starting a new battle, the player will randomly draw 20 tiles from a pile of up to 60, resulting in a different layout each time. The terrain mix will be determined by the location of the front.

In the scenario below, the Germans are attacking into a Soviet fortified village. The selection and placement of units at the start of a battle are also randomly determined. A battle unfolds through Mission Cards, which contain three Orders each. Both Soviet and German commanders have Initiative and Command Ratings. The Initiative Rating determines how many Mission Cards will be drawn per turn while the Command Rating decides how many units will be affected by card. The player starts with the first Order and activates eligible units up to the Command Rating. If there are not sufficient units, then the player proceeds until the second Order, and so on until the card is exhausted. This minimizes the amount of time the player spends manipulating the bot.

The Germans attack, June 1941

Between each turn, the player will activate their soldier. The player can do up to two actions, which can be movement, using their weapon, or some kind of special action. If necessary, the player can also decide to Flee.

Tough decisions ahead for Pvt Petrov

The image above depicts the third turn of the first battle.  A Panzer III with supporting infantry are advancing on the player’s position (which also has an objective marker). One Soviet soldier was already killed in action while another is suppressed (the “sup” counter). The player’s soldier is not armed with an anti-tank weapons, so moving to a better defensive position or fleeing are looking like the only options.

Fall of the Kaiserrech Developer Note #12: Updated Prototype Map

In Fall of the Kaiserreich, three players battle for control of the fate of the German Nation starting with the 1918 Spring Offensive and ending with the conclusion of the German Revolution of 1919. During this time, players mobilize militias, key leaders, and political power to seize control of the cities, government, and ultimately the future of the German Empire.

In the prototype map below, which will be used for play-testing, you will see several key mechanics of the game: namely, the political administrations of Germany, the West Front (at the top), the Imperial Government, the status of the political parties (controlled by the players), and several other boxes. The numbered track at the bottom keeps count of various in-game metrics, including Allied Power (used to determine the armistice terms), the resources of the various factions, and the amount of militancy (used to measure escalation).

Prototype Map

The political map itself consists of a consolidated number of Germany’s cities and states, each with two numbers identifying population and economic value. Each faction has tailored victory conditions and resources, meaning that the players will have to prioritize which cities and states they want to control.

Book Review #11: Algeria: The Undeclared War

It’s been some time since I last wrote a book review. Algeria: The Undeclared War by Martin Evans is a fitting choice for the continuation of book reviews, as I recently finished playing a game of Colonial Twilight by Brian Train which depicts the struggle between the French Government and the National Liberation Front (FLN).  The war itself proved to be one of the most violent consequences of decolonization and decisively marked a new era of national liberation.

The making of war

Evans studiously traces the development of the war back to France’s conquest of Algeria in 1830. Algeria held a unique place in French politics, as the government considered it a department of the mother country rather than an overseas territory. Unlike British settlerism and Spanish Catholic evangelicalism,  the principle of integration supposedly guided French colonialism. Despite disrupting and to some extent dismantling the social structures already in place in Algeria, the French nominally offered citizenship to varying classes of Muslims. The sectarian tinkering and false promises would eventually manifest in revolt.

By World War II, the population of Algeria consisted of Muslim Algerians, French Pieds-Noirs (ethnic French born in Algeria), and Algerian Jews. Pied-Noir sympathy for the Vichy Government after the fall of Paris to Nazi Germany dismayed both Muslim Algerians and, as would later prove important, further separated the perceived interests of metropolitan France from French Algeria.

The return of French authority after World War II and the general trend of decolonization in Africa and elsewhere mobilized Algerian nationalism. Modest efforts to fulfill promises of integration did not allay Algerian resentment. Labor strikes and terrorist attacks increased in number as the French government struggled to maintain control over the erupting country. Repression, including the Setif massacre that killed over 1,000 Muslims, further fueled animosity. The National Liberation Front (FLN) eventually emerged as the dominant faction in the burgeoning resistance, subduing competing political parties and militias.

The wretched of the earth

The war started in November, 1954 when the FLN launched a series of spectacular terrorist attacks targeting the government and military. The FLN demanded unconditional and immediate independence of Algeria, which the French government, unwilling to relent after the loss of Indochina, refused.The Battle of Philippeville in 1955 marked a turning point in the war. The FLN openly attacked Pied-Noir civilians, massacring families with very obscene methods. The French Army responded indiscriminately against Muslim civilians, killing hundreds. The cycle of reprisals further alienated the Muslim population from the French government. Additionally, desirous of retaining a territory considered a core part of France, the government mobilized hundreds of thousands of reservists against public wishes, finally bringing the war to the mainland.

The FLN launched simultaneous campaigns of insurgency in the countryside and terrorism in the cities, killing French soldiers, policemen, political officials, and civilians. The FLN also targeted moderate Muslims, and sometimes forced non-participant Muslims to kill their French associates under pain of death. For their part, the French government used a strategy of indiscriminate executions, collective punishment, and torture to repress the revolt. During the Battle of Algiers, the French Army isolated and then searched bloc by block the Muslim quarter of the city to root out FLN cells. Successive French governments refused to contemplate the independence of Algeria, and both sides continued to bleed profusely as the war dragged on.

France also faced increased isolation abroad, as it violently fought against the trend of national liberation. The United States refused to support France’s war in Algeria out of fear that it would alienate African populations and drive them into an alliance with the Soviet Union. French efforts to keep the subject out of the United Nations failed.

By 1958, the war caused such instability in France, that the government feared a military coup by disenchanted generals and their troopers. This paved the way for presidency of Charles De Gaulle, the hero of World War II. De Gaulle offered the promise of resolution. But after several failed initiatives, De Gaulle realized that the only way to end the war was by accepting Algerian independence. Only he had the political support and national respect to bring this about. Nevertheless, the military and Pied Noirs felt betrayed. Several military officers started an underground insurgency of Pied Noirs that killed French policemen, schools, and hospitals and even attempted to assassinate De Gaulle himself. This violence against French by French only strengthened the resolve of metropolitan France to end the war as soon as possible.

National liberation

In April 1962, over 90% of the French electorate approved of Algeria’s self-determination. The end of the war triggered a mass exodus of Pied Noirs to France. Muslims that supported the French government, facing certain death at the hands of a victorious and vengeful FLN, were not offered the same opportunity for asylum. In manner cases, sympathetic French soldiers and officers smuggled Muslim cooperators and the families out of the country.

The war inflicted heavy losses on the Algerian population. It left the country desolate and destitute. Three hundred thousand Algerian dead equaled in proportion to France’s losses in World War I against Imperial Germany. The end of the war marked the pitiful and agonizing death of colonialism.

Revolt of the Wretched: Propaganda Round #3

France and the FLN sign the peace agreement, 1962

The End Game

Having seized the initiative by destroying the FLN stronghold outside of Algiers, the French Army moved quickly to reduce FLN positions elsewhere. The superior mobility of the French military did not allow for a resource poor FLN to effectively counter-attack. The concentration of FLN guerrillas allowed the Army to severely punish the insurgency, whereas a more dispersed movement may have survived the onslaught.

While the Government used the Army to strike FLN bases, it used auxiliary forces and bases to secure other rural provinces. The FLN managed to rebuild some of its strength in the Western zones, threatening Government control and influence, but it proved too little to reverse the momentum gained by the Government.  By the time the third Propaganda Card appeared, the Government had enough points to declare victory.

State of play at the end of Propaganda Round #3

Lessons learned

The Government succeeded because it pursued a relentless, but deliberate, strategy to mass combat power at decisive locations and to leverage its greater resources effectively. It faced a significant setback in the second round because it over-relied on Algerian and Police forces, which led to the loss of Algiers on more than one occasion.

However, once the Government managed to concentrate its military forces and direct it at concentrated FLN targets, it seized the initiative and effectively broke the back of the insurgency. The FLN lost because it prematurely moved to the Third Phase of Insurgency by attempting a conventional war . This allowed Government forces to decide on the guerillas and destroy them in close combat.

Had the FLN capitalized on its inherent fluidity, it could have challenged the Government across a broader range of zones, as it did during the second round, and reduced the Government’s ability to control and influence provinces. This would have required the Government to expend more resources on clearing operations, preventing it from building support in the countryside.

As one of the earliest post World War II insurgency conflicts, the Algerian War helped define theoretical understanding of both insurgency and counter-insurgency. Some of the earned-by-blood lessons learned from that bloody conflict emerge in an abstract way in Colonial Twilight. It was not the first, and would not be the last, revolt of the wretched.