Friday, July 1, 2011

Spain, PC wargames, Barcelona, and other news

As you can tell from this week's podcast, we're back after a short break. I'm totally to blame for missing one of our regular recording windows, but I had very good reasons. First, I was in Barcelona for business, and then stayed for a few more days on vacation. (More on that later.) And, it was the regular end-of-the-quarter mayhem, during which myself and my peers at Forrester Research are pushing hard to finish research reports and consulting projects before the end of the month.

Since I download to my iPad practically everything that looks interesting, I tried out Stitcher, the multi-platform, hybrid Internet radio/podcast app that has been advertising a lot on NPR lately. I registered the I've Been Diced! podcast there, for anyone who switches to that as their preferred app. (I've also been experimenting with iCatcher, which gives you the option of downloading or streaming podcasts to which you subscribe.)

As I mentioned on the podcast this week, I've been learning The Operational Art Of War III. If that sentence sounds as though I'm learning a language instead of a PC-based wargame toolkit, you wouldn't be far from the truth. Once you get a handle on the game, it's a rewarding experience, particularly given the gazillion scenarios available for it. However, learning it is a lot like a night class covering Serbian for beginners.

Maybe I'll write something longer about TOAW, but for now, let me just say that it's harder than it should be to start. No game ever reveals itself completely on the first play, and the part that's often obscure is the step beyond the basic mechanics. You can read the rules and understand how to play Combat Commander, for example, but it will take a couple of games before you can assess how risky your planned attack will be.

That's where I am now, having played the Arracourt scenario several times, switching between the Americans and Germans. I've fought the computer to a draw, and even pulled out a minor victory once. But jumpin' Jehosephat, the interface and documentation did not help.

I hadn't been to Spain, and I feel that I still haven't, at least the part we normally consider to be Spain. Catalonia definitely has its own identity, starting with the Catalan language, which is different enough from Spanish that my high school Spanish lessons did me little good.

We stayed in the center of the old medieval city, the Barri Gòtic. It was very touristy, but heck, we were tourists. If you're a history buff, Barcelona is a fascinating place. Tons of interesting medieval details, and a surprising amount of the original Roman settlement still visible, from a section of the original wall (shown here) to the ruins of the downtown area that you can visit in the bottom level of the City Museum.

Taking a drive up the Costa Brava was a great idea, since we got to see a few other fascinating things. If you're ever in the area, take the time to see Empúries, an amazingly well-preserved ancient town, first settled by the Greeks, and then by the Romans. Both settlements are excavated, and both are chock full of fascinating things, from tiled floors to the water filtration system, from the Roman forum to the Greek jetty.

I strongly recommend taking the time to read about Barcelona, Catalonia, and Spain in general before going. Otherwise, you'll miss a lot. For example, at the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, the residents of Barcelona successfully resisted the Falangist seizure of power. Visiting the Place Sant Jaume, the square in front of the old city hall and police station, is a little different experience when you've heard that's where the local military commander, ordered by his Nationalist superiors to fire on any Republicans, had the field guns loaded with blanks.

There's an element of games in my day job, as a computer industry analyst. Game-like exercises, serious games, are seeing some adoption in software development teams as tools for understanding customers and making better decisions. You can see my slides here, if you're interested at all. (Serious games have applicability outside of software development, but that just happens to be my research coverage.)

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