PAXsims

Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Connections UK 2015 confirmed for 8-10 September 2015

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The 2015 edition of the now annual Connections UK interdisciplinary wargaming conference have been announced for 8-10 September 2015, at King’s College London. Day 1 is likely to involve a full or half day of introductory and possible advanced classes in wargaming, while days 2 and 3 will be devoted to plenary discussions, panels, a breakout session, and a hands-on games fair.

Further details will be announced as they become available on the Connections UK website. For information on the conference in 2013 and 2014, see our earlier PAXsims reports. I’ll be there again in 2015!

Rubel: Wargaming for Innovation

innovationmindset-paulhsuAt the Information Dissemination blog, Captain Robert C. “Barney” Rubel—former Dean of the Center for Naval Warfare Studies at the Naval War College—addresses how to reinvigorated wargaming so as to better support innovation within the US defence establishment.

In a recent department-wide memo announcing the Defense Innovation Initiative, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel calls for accelerating innovation throughout DoD.  Among other elements of the program, “A reinvigorated wargaming effort will develop and test alternative ways of achieving our strategic objectives and help us think more clearly about the future security environment.” The Secretary’s use of the word “reinvigorated” implies that some aspects of the current wargaming program, whether in DoD proper or throughout the Services, requires improvement.  Since each of the Services has in place a robust program of wargaming, the Secretary either is calling for additional effort in the joint and OSD arenas or is leery of the objectivity of Service gaming and wants more oversight of the process.  Whatever the Secretary’s true intent, an effort to improve wargaming support to innovation will face any number of pitfalls.  Just throwing money at the problem almost guarantees failure.  If this initiative is to bear fruit, wargames must be conducted under the proper circumstances by the right people using correct techniques. Although not specifically called for by the memo, the implied task for the Secretary and his staff will be to establish a DoD-wide policy and strategy on wargaming. This article will set forth some considerations and principles for doing so.

Read the rest of his thoughts here.

UNICEF: Our video game idea caused a walkout

An interesting video game pitch was recently made at a Washington DC gaming convention. Or was it?

In an effort to raise awareness of the situation of children in South Sudan, UNICEF embarked on an unusual kind of campaign.

We sent an actor, a film crew and two South Sudanese youth to a major video game convention in Washington, D.C., and we were given a keynote address slot to pitch an exciting new video game to an audience of gaming enthusiasts

The gamers in the room were real, as were their reactions and the footage that we captured for this short film.

In 2014, disasters and crises have affected children in many parts of the world.

In South Sudan, which only a few years ago celebrated its independence, food crisis and conflict during the past year have had deadly consequences for children.

Raising awareness is just one step toward helping the children of South Sudan, who are living every day in a life-or-death situation, and it is not a game.

You can watch the video below, and find out more about the situation of children in South Sudan here.

Simulation and gaming miscellany, 12 December 2014

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Some recent items on conflict simulation and serious gaming that may be if interest to PAXsims readers:

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Looking for that little something to make your next military exercise or tactical drill more realistic? Tom Mouat recently shared a picture from the I/ITSEC military modelling, training, and simulation conference that showed products from SensoryCo, a company that specializes in visual, tactile, and olfactory effects for both serious and entertainment purposes. After all, what game is complete with the odour of vomit?

You’ll find a full list of their odours (which include “bad breath,” “Middle East cooking,” and sarin, among many others)  here.

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g59-LibertyDeath-P500-1The sixth game in the GMT Games COIN series—Liberty or Death: The American Insurrection—is now available for pre-order on their P500 list. You’ll find PAXsims reviews of previous instalments here.

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The US Navy has announced that it will be constructing a number of “small surface combatants,” based on the less-than-successful hull of the littoral combat ship. Back in October, Kyle Mizokami used the PC game Command: Modern Naval/Air Operations to examine how the LCS would fare against a Chinese destroyer and corvette. Bottom line up front: the US vessels don’t survive the (simulated) encounter. You can read all about it at War is Boring.

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guardianboardgamesThe Guardian has run a series a of articles celebrating that “board games are back.”

Tell most people that you’re a “gamer” nowadays and they’ll subconsciously add the prefix “video”. But while digital games are grudgingly acknowledged as part of the entertainment mainstream, the past decade has also seen unexpected growth in an industry that many assumed would become redundant in the era of screens: tabletop board games.

Sales are still dwarfed by the latest PC and console blockbusters, but the past four years have seen board game purchases rise by between 25% and 40% annually. Thousands of new titles are released each year, and the top games sell millions of copies.

To successive generations raised on the Mega Drive, PlayStation and iPhone, the concept of sitting around a table rolling dice and moving pieces may seem positively archaic. But beyond mass-market titles like Monopoly and Guess Who, a community of independent designers and publishers has been steadily producing innovative, exciting and beautiful games offering experiences beyond even those of the most sophisticated gaming hardware.

Owen Duffy argues that this is “Board games’ golden age: sociable, brilliant and driven by the internet.” In the Observer (via the Guardian website) also Will Freeman examines “why board games are making a comeback.” The Guardian’s Tech Weekly podcast discusses if the”board-game revival [is] down to computer games’ popularity?” Games writer Ellie Gibbons notes that “board games don’t just bring us together – they remind us how to play.” Alex Hern shows “how the boundary between board and video games is blurring.” There is also a profile of “12 board games to make you a better person,” and Guardian writers pick their favourites with advice on how to start your own collection.

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On a similar note, back in June the sports and popular culture blog Grantland featured an article on Diplomacy, “The Board Game of the Alpha Nerds.” We didn’t notice it at the time so we’re posting it now.

Diplomacy

Military Operations Research Society 83rd annual symposium (June 2015)

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The 83rd annual symposium of the Military Operations Research Society will be held in Alexandria, VA on 22-25 June 2015. As usual, there will be a considerable number of panels on wargaming, modelling and simulation, and related topics.

Submission of abstracts opened on 1 December (until 15 March). Symposium registration will open on 7 January. As usual, some sessions will be classified, and either NOFORNed (restricted to US citizens) or open to pre-cleared FVEY participants too.

Further information is available at the MORS website. For a summary of the 82nd symposium, see the following PAXsims reports:

Thomas Schelling on POLMIL wargames

schellingNobel Prize winner Thomas Schelling—who played an important role in the early development of political-military (POLMIL) wargames during the late 1950s and early 1960s, while at RAND—delivered the keynote address at the Connections 2014 conference in July 2014. The audio of his presentation is now available as a podcast here (the audio quality is uneven for the first 20s, but then improves).

After you’ve listened to his presentation, it is well worth reading Crisis Games 27 Years Later: Plus c’est déjà vu, a RAND reproduction of a lengthy 1964 exchange of internal communications between Robert Levine, Thomas Schelling, and William Jones on the strengths and weaknesses of crisis games as an experiential and analytical tool. Levine is skeptical and cautious, while Schelling (as in his talk) argues they have considerable value when used properly.

h/t Yuna Wong

Gaming the Syrian Civil War, Part 4

Alex Langer is a McGill University political science undergraduate student who designing a wargame of the current Syrian civil war as a course project. He’ll be posting his ideas on PAXsims from time to time as a sort of “developer diary.” You can access all of the parts of the series here.

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What a ride it’s been! I started this semester knowing almost nothing about game design, and now I think about games –other peoples’ games, Road to Damascus, and ideas for new political science problems to simulate– all the time. Making Road to Damascus has been an amazing experience, in many ways the highlight of my four years at McGill. I’d like to thank Professor Brynen for the opportunity to work on this project, as well as endless guidance and enthusiasm. I’d also like to thank all of the playtesters (Tom, June, Eric, Ecem, Jason, Vanessa, and others) who volunteered their time and energy to work through this game with me.

With term coming to an end this will be my final post about my game. I will go through our second playtest, discussing some of the tweaked game mechanics and what still needs to be perfected. Then, I will talk about how my game ‘fits’ the Syrian conflict as a simulation and possibly as a learning tool.

The Second Playtest

We held another playtest last Friday, which went well. The rule changes from last time had been implemented, and a new map made things much easier to see. While due to my own errors the player aid cards were distinctly unhelpful, the game still ran fairly smoothly.

Early in the game. Kurdish nationalist (white) are building up in strength al-Hasakah, the nucleus of what they hope will be their future autonomous area or independent state. The FSA and Islamic Front focus on Aleppo and Hama.

Early in the game. Kurdish nationalists (white) are building up in strength al-Hasakah, the nucleus of what they hope will be their future autonomous area or independent state. Later they will forge very close relations with the Kurdish Regional Government in Iraq, allowing them to recruit from among refugees there. The FSA and Islamic Front initially focus on Aleppo, Idlib, and Hama.

The game started with a regime offensive, supported by airstrikes, which cleared out the city of Aleppo and degraded rebel capacity in the surrounding province. In the face of a major government buildup, rebel players withdrew or were wiped out. Heavy fighting there and in Idlib province, combined with harsh winter weather, cause immense damage and forced tens of thousands of Syrians across the border into Turkey. This was represented by Refugee counters, which now appear in neighbouring countries when Death and Destruction occurs are placed in border provinces. These countries become ‘playable’ spaces for Rebel factions with Supporting relations, enabling rebel commanders to slip across the border and recruit an army among the refugees, as each Refugee counter counts as an independent rebel unit.

Unlike in our first playtest, the rebel players –particularly the Kurdish Nationalists- made an effort to court international and domestic actors for support; this was made easier by the reduced threshold necessary to change opinion. Mobilization of Syria’s Kurds against the regime caused the quiet emergence of a large rebel force in Aleppo, which had major impacts later in the game. By contrast, repeated regime attempts to court Sunnis failed; had they succeeded, the opposition would have rapidly begun to run out of forces.

Initially, it appeared as though the regime was headed for victory: rebel forces controlled a number of provinces, particularly in the northeast, but remained weak in the most populated and important areas near Damascus and Aleppo. A new Revolution! card, “Geneva Conference”, allowed the government to manipulate peace talks (which prevented fighting without paying a price in international support) to steady itself, then mount an air campaign to reduce rebel forces in Hama.

Eventually though, as an alliance between the FSA and Islamic Front was struck, the tide began to turn. Syrian forces lost control over Idlib, then Homs province. Indoctrinated and heavily armed FSA forces advanced south into Rif Damascus, while Islamist guerrillas cut the main highway in Homs province. This prevented the capital from being reinforced by troops from Aleppo, leaving Damascus to fend for itself. As the regime lost control over the capital city itself, the desperate Government player unleashed chemical weapons, slaughtering rebel forces but depopulating the country’s most valuable city. Islamist forces soon arrived in Rif Damascus, reinforcing the rebel offensive.

The Syrian Army (red) and National Defence Force militias (orange, yellow) have regained control of Damascus—but at the cost of considerable collateral damage (grey rubble).

The Syrian Army (red), led by the elite Presidential Guard (star) and supported by National Defence Force militias (orange, yellow) have regained control of Damascus—but at the cost of considerable collateral damage (grey rubble).

As the game drew to a close though, the most dramatic events were about to occur. The FSA and Islamic Front, quiet in the country’s south until now, marched in and seized control, recruiting independent rebel forces to consolidate their power. Rebel forces marched over the mountains into the Alawi-dominated coastal strip, taking advantage of weak government preparation. In the north, Kurdish forces, planning for months and recruiting Kurdish refugees from Iraqi Kurdistan, mounted a lighting assault into the city of Aleppo. There, they recruited independent rebel brigades and seized control of the country’s now-largest city, raising the Kurdish Rising Sun banner from the captured city hall. With this final move, the Kurdish Nationalists –due to their bonuses for controlling territories with Kurdish populations and a victory points card for ‘Kurdish Self-Rule’, won the game.

Famed Kurdish commander Vanessa Sunahara leads her forces into Aleppo to challenge the regime garrison there. A growing number of refugees can be seen over the border in Turkey.

Famed commander Vanessa leads Kurdish forces and local allies in Aleppo to challenge the regime garrison there. A growing number of refugees can be seen over the border in Turkey.

Conclusions: Modeling the Syrian Civil War

I believe that Road to Damascus, while stylized and simplified, fits the dynamics of the Syrian Civil War quite well. It captures the messiness, grinding attrition and sudden bursts of activity that characterize the war. Combat tends to take the form of harassment and ambushes from rebels, with the government relying on airstrikes and shifting their capable combat units from province to province to mop up rebel fighters. Combat also realistically produces immense destruction: multiple players over both playtests referenced the much-mocked Vietnam War saying, “We had to destroy the village to save it.” The tragic nature of the Syrian Civil War, with regime and rebel forces fighting over a devastated, broken and partially depopulated land, was sadly (but accurately) reproduced by the game.

Road to Damascus also effectively simulates the struggles that both sides in the war face. Diplomacy, both with the Syrian people and the international community, is difficult. In both playtests, rebel players struggled to mobilize the population against the regime, while the regime struggled to convince Sunnis to side with the Ba’ath Party and Assad family. The FSA twice gained the momentary support of the Western Powers in the second playtest, before the West lost interest in its cause due to atrocities by rebel fighters or the beginning of a crisis in Ukraine. The frustration with these events was palpable from the FSA player. All rebel players grew to fear airstrikes, dreading the government turn. Meanwhile, the government player appeared beleaguered and complained of feeling under siege. While putting someone in the place of Bashar al-Assad or Abu-Bakr al-Baghdadi may have ethical consequences, the psychological dynamics of the game, with its grinding warfare and constant shortage of military resources on all sides, seemed to work well.

While Road to Damascus works well as a simulation of the conflict, there are likely some issues of its use as a learning tool. First are the ethical ramifications of simulating an ongoing conflict. While I have enjoyed this project, I recognize that playing a ‘game’ of a war people are currently dying in and suffering through may be seen as in poor taste or unethical. Additionally, while the game simulates the war well, it is built as a simulation and fun wargame first and a learning tool second: there is not a ton of informational content in the game. While it might be useful for people already learning about the war, it is probably not ideal as a tool on its own.

In conclusion, Road to Damascus has been a great learning experience, and something I plan to continue working on and perfecting. I hope you have all enjoyed following my journey in gaming the Syrian Civil War.

Simulation and gaming miscellany, 1 December 2014

kriegsspielSome recent conflict simulation and serious gaming items that may be of interest to PAXsims readers:

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Maydan is a tactical board game project based on the 2013-14 Euromaidan protests in the Ukraine that is currently seeking to raise development and production funds on Kickstarter. In the four player game each player assumes the role of a group of activists seeking to overthrow the “Tyrant” and their “Berkut” (Ukrainian special police) fighters. Players must cooperate to seize buildings in Kiev, and ultimately take control of the Verkhovna Rada (Supreme Council of the Ukraine). If government forces overrun their camp, or if the level of government alarm because so great as to provoke a military clampdown.

You’ll find more on the game at War is Boring.

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iran_071514In an article at Foreign Policy magazine, Nancy Gallagher examines the willingness of the Iranian and US publics to accept a compromise deal on Iran’s nuclear capacity. In the case of Iran, this flexibility was explored through a public opinion survey. In the case of the American public, the article draws upon the results of a decision-making simulation:

In July, the Center for International and Security Studies and the Program for Public Consultation ran a decision-making simulation in which 748 randomly selected Americans were given a carefully vetted background briefing about the negotiations with Iran. They were then handed arguments drawn from congressional debates presenting them with two options: Respondents could decide to continue seeking a deal that places partial limits on Iran’s nuclear program and increases transparency in return for some sanctions relief, or they could decide to end negotiations and impose more sanctions in a renewed effort to stop Iranian enrichment altogether.

Large majorities of participants found all arguments for and against both options to be at least somewhat persuasive. But when asked which option they would recommend, 61 percent (including 62 percent of the Republicans) chose the compromise deal, while only 35 percent wanted to end negotiations and impose new sanctions by pressuring other countries to cut their economic relations with Iran, in hope of finally persuading Tehran to completely stop all uranium enrichment.

You will find a fuller report by on “Steven Kull, Nancy Gallagher, Clay Ramsay, and Evan Lewis on “Americans on Negotiations with Iran: A Policymaking Simulation” at the Center for International and Security Studies at the University of Maryland website. The simulation was not interactive,  nor did it involve group interaction—rather, participants were separately given briefing materials, and then asked to indicate their policy preferences.

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At IGN, Richard Wordsworth reflects on “the changing face of [digital] war games.” He examines the way in which traditional first person shooters are now being complimented by games that give a grittier portrayal of the brutality of war, focusing on Spec Ops: The Line and This War of Mine (previously reviewed at PAXsims):

This War of Mine and Spec Ops are perhaps as much products of their times as Modern Warfare was back in 2007. In the seven years since CoD 4 changed the direction of shooters on PS3 and Xbox 360, we’re more critical of war and more aware of its costs. From a multiplayer standpoint, the big franchises are still unassailable. But when it comes to the stories shooters tell, the worldviews they ask us to adopt and the linear, unquestioning paths they ask us to tread, the lone Western soldier defending the motherland against nebulous foreign baddies is, happily, looking more and more last-gen. 

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The New York Times had an article by Chris Suellentrop on November 23 that discussed advances and developments in interactive digital story-telling, focusing in particular on the recent release of Dragon Age: Inquisition.

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Back in June, the blog of the Italian Political Science Association featured a short article on “learning through simulation games” by  

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Today is the last day for discounted registration for the American Political Science Association’s annual Teaching & Learning Conference, to be held in Washington, DC on 16-18 December 2015.

Review: This War of Mine

PAXsims asked Dr. James Sterrett, Deputy Chief of the Digital Leader Development Center’s Simulations Division at the U.S. Army Command & General Staff College, to review the recent digital game This War of Mine. The review reflects his personal views only, not those of CGSC, the Army, or the United States government.

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Hungry, tired, and depressed, Pavle reloads the rat traps in the hopes of catching a meal.

Perhaps we should have expected this game from 11 Bit Studios, a Polish game company previously best known for inverting the conventions of the tower defense genre in Anomaly: Warzone Earth. In This War of Mine, 11 Bit again turns convention on its head. Instead of controlling combatants, This War of Mine puts you in control of a small group of civilians trying to survive in the besieged city of Pogoren. In place of pretty explosions and adrenaline, This War of Mine delivers a bleak, somber that game may not be fun in the traditional sense, nor is it perfect; but it is an outstanding effort at using a game to make players experience and reflect on a (hopefully) unfamiliar situation.

Your task is to survive the siege, assigning each person in your group various tasks – generally maintenance and preparation by day, and sleeping, guarding your shelter, or scavenging by night. Survival demands maintaining a teetering balance between the need to eat, the need to stay warm, the need to stay safe, the need to stay sane – and the need to gather more materials to enable the other tasks. Whomever is scavenging or guarding at night will be tired the next day, but if you don’t scavenge you won’t be able to get food. Hungry, tired, cold people get sick more easily. Sick, tired, hungry, cold, and/or depressed people are less effective at their tasks – and if left too long, the sickness, hunger, cold, or depression will lead to death. Food, medicine, fuel, and comfort items such as books or cigarettes, are difficult to come by. In This War of Mine, gaining the ability to trap rats for food can mean the difference between survival and death, and you may come to deeply resent your caffeine and nicotine addicts as they consume valuable trade items to slake their chemical dependencies.

No one is feeling very well, but someone has to go out and scavenge more supplies tonight...

No one is feeling very well, but someone has to go out and scavenge for more supplies tonight…

The daylight hours spent in the shelter are generally slow and contemplative, interspersed by occasional events as people come to your door. Some seek to trade, some want to join your group, some want help with their problems – asking for you to give some of your tiny store of food or medicine to help them survive. At night, you control the one scavenger, in the place you chose to go. Depending on the location and its inhabitants, you may be able to scavenge freely, trade, or you may wind up in a fight. Combat is simple, fast-paced, and unforgiving, yet understated enough that even victories feel like survival, not empowerment. You may choose to initiate combat, trying to beat or murder your way through the other civilians or even the soldiers, bandits, and militiamen. However, not only is death sudden and final, it also costs you whatever stuff that person was carrying, including their extraordinarily scarce weaponry. In addition, while successful violence will get you access to more stuff and thus enable your survival, most characters become depressed by murder, especially of other civilians. Depressed, they are less effective, and may eventually commit suicide. Moreover, the game appears to react to your actions. Your violence seems to make the nighttime raids on your shelter (played offscreen) more violent, and can render vital peaceful people, such as the traders in the Central Square, hostile. Likewise, those dilemmas during the daytime can come back to you as well; people whom you helped with food or medicine are likely to return the favor, randomly, when they have a surplus. In This War of Mine, violence is an answer, but it has its costs.

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The house has been raided by looters!

I am not an expert on societies in cities under siege (including the game’s clear inspirations, Sarajevo and Warsaw), but This War of Mine seems initially to imply a complete societal breakdown, with bandits everywhere and the player potentially joining their ranks as people comb the city for resources. However, in a long game, scavenging meets its limits, when all the sites have either been picked over or are too heavily defended to attack. At that point, continued survival depends on a social network, fragile though it may be. Neighbors you helped may still help you. People whom you have established trading relations with will still be there, and the time I succeeded in surviving the game, it was trading that got me through. In this subtle way, This War of Mine reinforces the importance of cooperation with groups outside your own, and mingles a slight note of hope into its overall tone of desperation.

Some are kids at the door, asking for help. Can you spare some precious medical supplies for them?

Kids at the door, asking for help. Would you spare some precious medical supplies for them?

Even its apparent flaws seem deliberate and work to its advantage. The daytime ticks by too slowly, yet that reinforces the boredom of being cooped up, hiding from snipers. The game has no tutorial, yet the player’s initial confusion reflects the confusion most of us would feel if we were suddenly plunged into such a situation.

Overall, This War of Mine is remarkably successful at being an engrossing game that involves violence yet avoids making the situation seem remotely appealing.

This War of Mine is my current pick for the best game of 2014.

I doubt I will be able to forget the games I’ve played in it.

I don’t know if I will ever want to play it again after finishing this review.

That paradoxical combination is 11 Bit Studios’ triumph.

Trading moonshine and jewelry for much-needed supplies.

Trading moonshine and jewelry for much-needed supplies.

Classroom Use

Turning away from playing the game as a game, could it be useful in a classroom? Leaving specific questions of its fidelity to real sieges to others more versed in the topic….

Yes: This War of Mine could certainly serve as a spark for political science or history discussions on the experience of civilians in wartime; it has done so with both my wife and my son. Having students compare their decisions could also help drive discussions in ethics, leadership, and the laws of war. Students are unlikely to forget the game or the subsequent discussion.

Maybe: While it would be a powerful concrete experience, This War of Mine is not a fast game to play. Surviving a 42-day siege took me around 6 hours. Some of the subtleties in the interactions between player’s choices and the game won’t necessarily come out in a single playthrough, not least because I suspect most people’s first playthrough ends in disaster before those interactions can fully come to light. As a result, This War of Mine is not a game that could be used during class time. Whether the time spent in homework creates sufficient overall benefit, through driving discussion, will depend on the specific learning objectives of the program of instruction.

James Sterrett

Devin Ellis joins PAXsims

image001PAXsims is pleased to announce the appointment of Devin Ellis as an associate editor of the website. Devin is a faculty research associate in the Department of Government and Politics at the University of Maryland, and the Policy & Research Program Director for the ICONS Project – a simulation research and training program in the University’s Center for International Development and Conflict Management. He is an Affiliate Researcher at the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START), and a member of the CSIS Pacific Forum Young Leaders program. Ellis is a policy analyst by training, specializing in East Asian security issues and crisis management. He has designed or consulted on simulation and gaming projects for USAID, the World Bank, DHS, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the Brookings Institution, CSIS, the Office of Personnel Management, NDU, START, the Kennedy School of Government, the Fletcher School of Diplomacy, several Fortune 100 corporations, and various parts of DOD including the Joint Staff, OSD, and PACOM. He has previously contributed to PAXsims.

Simulation articles in International Studies Perspectives (November 2014)

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The latest issue of International Studies Perspectives 15, 4 (November 2014) has a large number of articles on simulation and serious gaming in international relations and political science. Several of these have previously been noted on PAXsims when they first appeared in “early view”.

Simulation Games in Teaching International Relations: Insights from a Multi-Day, Multi-Stage, Multi-Issue Simulation on Cyprus
  • Emre Hatipoglu, Meltem Müftüler-Baç and Teri Murphy

Simulating the European Union: Reflections on Module Design

  • Anwen Elias

Teaching Diplomacy by Other Means: Using an Outside-of-Class Simulation to Teach International Relations Theory

  • Dave Bridge and Simon Radford

National Security Council: Simulating Decision-making Dilemmas in Real Time

  • Jonathan M. DiCicco

The Drama of International Relations: A South China Sea Simulation

  • Tanya Kempston and Nicholas Thomas

The Dalig and Vadan Exercise: Teaching Students about Strategy and the Challenges of Friction and Fog

  • Victor Asal, Lewis Griffith and Marcus Schulzke

Assessing the Impact of Role Play Simulations on Learning in Canadian and US Classrooms

  • Mary Pettenger, Douglas West and Niki Young

Learning about Conflict and Negotiations through Computer Simulations: The Case of PeaceMaker

  • Esra Cuhadar and Ronit Kampf

Stimulating Learning by Simulating Politics: Teaching Simulation Design in the Undergraduate Context

  • Sara M. Glasgow

Virtual Worlds Can Be Dangerous: Using Ready-Made Computer Simulations for Teaching International Relations

  • Gustavo Carvalho

Misusing Virtual Worlds Can Be Dangerous: A Response to Carvalho

  • Jonathan W. Keller

Rejoinder to “Misusing Virtual Worlds Can Be Dangerous: A Response to Carvalho”

  • Gustavo Carvalho

Ellie Bartels joins PAXsims

bartelsPAXsims is pleased to announce the appointment of Elizabeth “Ellie” Bartels as an associate editor of the website. Ellie is Senior Associate at Caerus Associates focused on leveraging social science methodologies to improve wargaming and national security analysis. Prior to joining Caerus, Ellie led teams to design educational and analytical strategic wargames at the National Defense University. She specializes in games to improve participants’ understanding of strategy in irregular and asymmetric warfare environments, and their effects on populations. She has previously contributed to PAXsims.

Ellie can be followed on Twitter at @elliebartels.

Brynania in the news

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The McGill Tribune recently published an article by Caity Hui on innovative teaching techniques at McGill University. Among the examples profiled is my own peacebuilding simulation in POLI 450/650:

…New developments impacting departments and faculties at McGill continue to push the boundaries of teaching and learning. From peace negotiation simulations to crowdsourcing science, these initiatives are not only enhancing students’ learning experiences, but also generating a host of novel ideas and involvement outside the classroom.

Political science Professor Rex Brynen, for instance, has been pioneering a unique approach to teaching peace-building in his course POLI 450. Popularly known as “Sim Week,” the students within the course are exposed to a weeklong civil war simulation within the fictitious land of Brynania. The students take on various roles to explore issues from the civil war associated with peace building.

“The challenge of the simulation is to negotiate and implement a peace agreement without it all falling apart,” Brynen explained. “It’s very intense, in semi-real time, taking place both face-to-face and electronically—by email, chat, or Skype.”

Initially designed for a class of 25 students, Brynen’s simulation has expanded over the years to encompass around 100 undergraduates. While other courses at McGill run simulation negotiations, this weeklong event takes on a significantly larger scale than any other class at the university.

“The class generates up to 15,000 emails during the simulation—all of which I have to read,” said Brynen. “Most students become very engaged with it.”

Beyond breaking up the monotony of a lecture-based course, the purpose of Sim Week is to provide students with the opportunity to apply their skills acquired in the class to a real-life situation. Brynen explained that for students working in areas like international development or conflict resolution, it is particularly important to have an experiential component integrated into students’ education, whether in the form of internships, field study, or—in the case of POLI 450—simulations.

“One of the challenges in teaching this topic is that it is very easy to read stuff on how you are supposed to negotiate peace agreements,” Brynen said. “In practice, however, it is highly complex and dynamic, characterized by mixed motives, imperfect information, and many second and third order effects.”

Brynen emphasized that while lectures provide students with the knowledge and foundations to develop peace-building policies, these more passive learning styles do not recreate the complexities that occur in a realistic experience.

“Lectures and text are great and wonderful things,” Brynen said, “But the simulation is really designed to bring home the stuff that lectures don’t bring home well.”

The majority of comments each year following Sim Week echo Brynen’s observations.

“You do so much theorizing and writing [in the course],” said Jake Heller to Tv McGill, a participant in the 2010 rendition of the simulation. “It was really refreshing to sit down at the table with someone and negotiate and apply a lot of the things that I have learned in some of the classes.”

Despite the advantages of this new resource as a teaching tool, Brynen cautions that simulation-based learning is not a one-size-fits-all paradigm. Depending on the course, lectures provide opportunities for professors to quickly cover large volumes of information in a logical fashion.

“It would be challenging to run a simulation for a class of 600 students,” Brynen said. “[POLI 450] has a lot of games because the course focuses on a lot of operational issues, and games give an experiential sense of those. Conversely, my Middle East politics class has no games in it and I don’t plan on introducing them because the lectures serve better at covering the material.”

While POLI 450’s simulation stands as a novel learning tool within the McGill community, teaching styles across faculties are paralleling this cross training through various other avenues….

You’ll find the full article here.

Girls Got Game game design contest

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Ares Magazine and One Small Step Games have extended the deadline for their current competition for female science fiction and fantasy boardgame designers to 31 January 2015:

The Ares team hopes to publish a game from the contest in the fourth issue of the magazine. “Our plan is to highlight a number of science fiction and fantasy fiction stories written by women in the fiction line up for that issue,” says Executive Editor Carmen Andres. “Wrapping the magazine around a challenging and exciting game designed by a woman would strengthen the package.”

Designers receive $1000 if a game is chosen for publication.

Designers are free to use any format and components they choose, but Anderson notes that the purpose of the contests is to find games to publish in Ares.  Extra credit will be given to designs that use the components of games that run in the magazine.

The contest runs until midnight January 31, 2015. If more than eight designs are received, a runner up will be selected to receive $25. Entrants are limited to women.

Contest information, component guidelines, and the online entry form are on the website of Ares Magazine.

h/t Brant Guillory

CounterFact magazine

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The first issue of CounterFact magazine is now available, published by One Small Step Games.

CounterFact magazine is a journal of professional and commercial wargaming. It is published approximately four times per year on an “as ready” basis. Each issue contains articles on professional and commercial wargaming to include game analysis, commentary, polemology, and provocative pieces on conflict and design theory. Also included in each issue is a manual wargame, usually consisting of a tabloid map-sheet, a sheet of playing pieces, and a rules booklet.

The first issue includes a critical analysis by Jon Compton of Breaking the Chains (Compass Games, 2014), in which he assesses the insight the game offers into future Sino-American conflict in the South China Sea. Game designer John Gorkowski then offers a rebuttal.

Cover01The issue also contains a very nitpicky, negative review of At Nueve Chapelle (White Dog Games, 2012) by the game’s own graphic artist. There’s a piece on “Wargaming by the Rules of War,” that offers a satirical take on the Red Cross movement’s efforts to have video games more accurately reflect the role of international humanitarian law in modern warfare. (Personally, I didn’t find it that funny or on-target, given what the ICRC and American Red Cross are actually trying to do. However, I’m a bit of an IHL nerd.)

A preview is offered of the forthcoming American Civil War game Huzzah! (One Small Step 2014). Finally, the issue contains a  game (120 counter, 11″x17″ map) of the fighting at the Mule Shoe Salient during the Battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse (1864) during the American Civil War. This uses also Huzzah’s “Rebel Yell Light” rules. Since I haven’t played it yet, I can’t really comment on the game or rules.

Overall, I thought CounterFact was a worthy initiative, but one with uneven content that is still very much in search of its niche, voice, and identity. I very much like the idea of well-informed debates over game design and game philosophy that draw on both game reviews and informed assessment of historical or future conflict. Despite its title, there is no consistent focus on games as a rigorous method of counterfactual analysis in CounterFact, other than in the very general sense that all historical conflict simulations embody this to a greater or lesser degree.

Big Board Gaming had somewhat similar impressions of the first issue—for that review, see below.

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