PAXsims

Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Simulation and gaming miscellany, 9 December 2018

wordle091218.pngPAXsims is pleased to present some recent items on conflict simulation and serious (and not-so-serious) gaming that may be of interest to our readers.

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On December 4 the King’s College London Wargaming Network held its inaugural event, a lecture by Peter Perla on “The Art and Science of Wargaming in an Era of Strategic Competition.” You can listen to a recording of here lecture here.

For updates, follow the KCL Wargaming Network on Twitter,

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Slitherine’s counterinsurgency/stabilization game Afghanistan ’11 was removed from the Apple Store last week for reportedly violating the a prohibition on depicting “a specific government or other real entity as the enemies.”

This is not the first time Apple’s ban on real-world conflicts has been controversial. As discussed previously at PAXsims, a Syria-themed game was removed in 2013.

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A report by the US Naval War College discusses a recent cyber wargame:

More than 70 academics, students and military thinkers gathered at U.S. Naval War College on Nov. 16 to participate in the first war game put on by the college’s new Cyber and Innovation Policy Institute.

It was unique for a cyber event. The game was less about how operations occur in cyberspace and more about examining how people react in a crisis that includes cyberspace threats, organizers said.

Also, the contents were at an unclassified level, rare for a cyber war game, and the event included a wide variety of players, including members of the Naval War College Foundation and students from Newport’s Salve Regina University.

“This game is really designed to understand the link between cyber, conventional and nuclear military operations,” said retired Adm. Scott Swift, the event’s keynote speaker.

“It’s not about cyber operations and how those operations affect cyberspace, but instead why and when cyber operations matter to strategic choices that are made outside of the cyber domain,” said Swift, a former U.S. Pacific Fleet commander who is now a fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The players were given a fictional scenario in which a neighboring country invaded a contested border region.

Cyberattacks played a role, and nuclear weapons were a factor. Participants in the breakout groups were assigned to act as cabinet members.

Jacquelyn Schneider, assistant professor in the Strategic and Operational Research Department, was the lead organizer. Her work at the college focuses on political psychology and how technology affects the human dimension of decision-making.

“This is the very beginning of a project that explores not just decisions in crises but experiments with different types of war games,” Schneider said.

“This looks at how does cyberspace interact with the really high-end levers of national power, and then how does that affect, on the macro level, the chance that states end up going to war and the types of war they fight,” she said.

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2018-11-08 18.14.47.jpgOn November 8, staff from the US Naval War College staged a refight of the Battle of Jutland (1916) at the National Maritime Museum in London. You’ll find the US NWC report on the event here.

You’ll also find much fuller reports on the event by Bob Cordery at the Wargaming Miscellany blog, and by David Manley at his blog Don’t Throw Bloody Spears at Me (from which we’ve stolen the photograph on the left).

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On September 28, staff at RAND’s Pittsburgh office held an “education policy game night,” in which community members were asked how they would cut the budget of a hypothetical high school:

How would a group of community leaders choose to cut a high school’s budget by 4 percent? And what would happen if parents or teachers held the red pen instead?

The RAND Corporation’s Pittsburgh office held a game night to find out. The game at hand was “Let’s Improve Tanner High School!,” an education policy exercise designed to help researchers understand how interested parties with different perspectives might tackle school improvement challenges—and help them learn about what drives those decisions.

RAND has a long history of using games to better understand human decisionmaking in relation to public policy. Since the 1950s, RAND has developed and conducted tabletop wargames with policymakers and others to help improve national security decisionmaking, but its gaming repertoire has been recently expanded to social economic policy. “Let’s Improve Tanner High School!” is the first RAND game to focus on education policy, and it made its public debut on Sept. 28.

Participants were grouped by their real-life roles—parents, teachers, school leaders, business leaders, and community leaders.

Darleen Opfer, a RAND vice president and director of its Education and Labor research division, explained the game’s premise. Celia Gomez, an associate policy researcher, and Brian Stecher, an adjunct senior social scientist, led the teams through the game.

Two rounds were played, with a different scenario affecting the fictional Tanner High School each time. In an interview, Gomez said “this is not a game with pieces or a board—there aren’t a lot of visuals—the game is really about ideas and dialogue.”

In the first round, each group was asked how they would accommodate a 4 percent cut in funding. During the 15 minutes the teams had to come up with a plan, the room filled with the sound of shuffling paper and muffled conversation as players read through the school’s current budget, demographic information, academic performance, and other data. When the time came to announce their decisions, no two solutions were the same.

Some suggested external partnerships to provide services that would be lost due to staff cuts. Others proposed non-traditional ways the school could make additional money such as selling education facilities to a developer or asking community leaders to voluntarily advise and mentor students.

During the “spotlight” step, teams were asked to refine their ideas and consider how they might overcome the biggest obstacles to their plans. “In this round, we like to encourage interactions,” Stecher said while inviting participants to share their thoughts with the room.

Once the five groups had announced their final plans, it was time to vote. Participants each had two plastic-chip game pieces to award to any team except their own. The team with the most chips won. Gomez instructed players to base their votes on which teams had the best idea, the best discussion point, or the most helpful feedback.

The school leaders won the first round. They had proposed reducing professional services staff by $255,939 and shifting those responsibilities to existing staff. The rest of the needed cuts would come from eliminating four paraprofessional educator positions.

In the second challenge, teams were given a scenario in which students planned a walkout after a teacher allegedly made a racially charged remark to a student. The groups were asked to come up with an immediate plan while an ongoing investigation is taking place.

The school leaders won this round, too, with a solution that engaged each group represented in the room. The plan involved providing language for homeroom teachers so they could acknowledge the situation and give students a constructive way to be heard. Boycotting class would not be allowed for student safety reasons. And the school would host a meeting to inform parents and the community at large about the situation.

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The latest issue of the Journal of Political Science Education 14, 4 (2018) contains a couple of pieces of possible interest to those who design and use educational games.

An article by Joseph Brown (University of Massachusetts) addresses “Efficient, Adaptable Simulations: A Case Study of a Climate Negotiation Game.”

Instructors may be reluctant to adopt simulations because of time, labor, or material constraints, or perceived incompatibility with large classes. In fact, simple games can cover multiple key concepts with minimal time and effort by the instructor. Simple games are also adaptable to other topics and classes, including large lectures. This article presents a simulation in which students negotiate a global greenhouse gas reduction agreement. Three scenarios model basic climate change mitigation, follow-on agreements for climate stabilization, and the surprise withdrawal of signatories after a domestic leadership turnover (e.g., the 2016 U.S. presidential election). The simulation teaches key concepts such as anarchy, collective action, preference divergence, and commitment problems. Concepts such as institutions, identity, and levels of analysis arise organically from game play. The exercise has extremely low cost and setup time. It can be run in 15 minutes or extended for a full class period. The game may also be repurposed to simulate other bargaining or collective action issues. This case study shows that simulations can be efficient and adaptable. Instructors can create their own simple games to enhance comprehension of key concepts.

Carolyn Shaw (Wichita State University) and Bob Switky (Sonoma State University) look at “Designing and Using Simulations in the International Relations Classroom.”

The value of simulations in the classroom is well established, and there are numerous publications that feature specific role-play exercises that can readily be introduced into the classroom. Frequently, however, instructors would like to design their own simulations to fit their specific learning objectives for a class, but don’t know where to start. This article lays out a series of structural and design questions for instructors to consider in order to craft their own simulations. We recognize that there is no singularly “best” way to design simulations, so this article focuses on the key components of simulations and explores different possibilities for each of these components depending on the desired goals of the instructor. We begin with the basics of class size, topic selection, learning objectives, length, and timing. Next, we discuss the design parameters—including the nature of student interaction, desired output, background information, role-specific instructions, and a timeline for the phases of the simulation. We move on to considerations about the actual running of the simulation, and wrap up with reflections on debriefing, grading, and assessment. By stepping through the design questions that are summarized in the Appendix, any instructor, experienced or new to role-playing, can develop a custom simulation to help meet the learning objectives for their courses.

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An article by Ralph Clem at the Texas National Security Review last month examines “Military Exercises as Geopolitical Messaging in the NATO-Russia Dynamic: Reassurance, Deterrence, and (In)stability.” While exercises are usually quite highly scripted and hence are one rarely proper wargames, it makes for interesting reading.

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Image credit: Edward Castronova.

Could you use a modified version of Volko Ruhnke’s Andean Abyss (GMT Games) to depict a future civil war in the United States? Why, I suppose you could.

The U.S. midterm election next week feels like one of the most important in a generation. We need to get out and vote. And after it’s over, we need to accept the election result. If we do not, then we could sink into a civil war that so many people are talking about. And that is what Edward “Ted” Castronova fears.

Castronova is a video game professor at Indiana University, and he became famous for writing about synthetic worlds and the economies in online games like EverQuest. Worried about the polarization of American politics, Castronova has created 2040 American Abyss: A Simulation of America’s Next Civil War. He tested it with his students and made it as realistic as possible. Rather than thinking of this as cool game about a miserable topic, he sees it as preventive, or teaching people about such a war would be devastating and have no winners. It is not a partisan game.

Should you? I’m not so sure. It’s hard to see, in this case, what the game would deliver that couldn’t be better (and more seriously) delivered through lectures and class discussion. After all, while political polarization in US politics is a very real thing, collapse into full-scale civil war seems implausible in the extreme.

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In early November, British Conservative Party members of the European Parliament tweeted a picture of themselves laughing as they played a Brexit game. They soon deleted the tweet when the political backlash rolled in.

Now, with Prime Minister Theresa May facing an impending defeat of her Brexit plan in the House of Commons, ministerial resignations and a possible split in the Conservative Party, and the very real possibility of a catastrophic “hard” Brexit departure from the European Union (or, possibly, elections or a second referendum), it must all seem even less amusing.

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The Winter 2019 conference of the Reacting to the Past consortium will be held on 18-19 January 2019 at the University of Georgia on the theme of “Reacting to the Past and Gaming: Revolutionizing Higher Education.” Other forthcoming conferences are:

  • January 15-16, 2019: Regional  Conference at University of Maine, Farmington
  • March 2019: Regional Conference at California State University, Northridge
  • March 29-30, 2019: Regional Conference at High Point University 
  • July 10-12, 2019: Regional Conference at Texas Lutheran University

For more information, consult their website.

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The 2019 Games for Change Festival will be held in New York on June 17-19. G4C is currently soliciting proposals for panels, sessions, and demonstrations.

Details can be found on the G4C2019 website.

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According to a recent article in the Toronto Star, “women are taking on the world of Dungeons and Dragons.”

The 44-year-old Dungeons and Dragons brand had its best year in 2017, and 2018 is poised to be even better. Between 10 and 15 million people play the game globally, according to publisher Wizards of the Coast. While much of that growth stems from the prominence of DnD in shows like Stranger Things and a growing group of A-list stars – like Vin Diesel – who love to role play, at least part of that surge can be attributed to women. Today, one in three, or 39 per cent, of players are female, up from 20 per cent in 2012.

Part of that growth comes from the visibility of female players in online streaming services like Twitch and YouTube, says Benjamin Woo, assistant professor in the school of journalism and communications at Carleton University, and author of Get a Life: The Social Worlds of Geek Culture.

As it becomes more common to watch campaigns unfold online (on camera, the host — called the dungeon master — builds out the story narrative and the players think up how to respond, rolling 20-sided die to determine their success or failure), channels like Girls Guts Glory or MissClicks put women front and centre, and showcase that the game can be welcoming to ladies. “(As a woman) it used to be you had to be invited in by someone and there was this secret society, a boy’s club aura (to the game),” Woo says. “Now, there’s representation on screen.”

Wizards has also tried to make the game more inclusive by ditching the stereotypical scantily clad female depictions….

You’ll find the full article at the link above.

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While on the subject of D&D, a report by KQED notes that the role-playing game “cultivates a range of social-emotional skills, which can lay the foundation for improved learning.”

David Simkins, a professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology, is an expert on games and learning. His research indicates that role-playing games (RPGs) can boost learning and stimulate intellectual curiosity and growth.

Dungeons & Dragons, and other narrative role playing games of its kind, provide many opportunities for learning,” said Simkins. “Participation in narrative role play can open up interests in topics such as mathematics, science, history, culture, ethics, critical reading, and media production. When D&D and its cousins are played in an inviting, encouraging, compassionate, and intellectually engaged environment, play opens the door to truly amazing possibilities for learning.”

 

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A few weeks ago, I posted my account of the recent workshop I taught on “Serious Games for Policy Analysis and Capacity-Building” at Carleton University in Ottawa. One of the participants, Matt Stevens of Lessons Learned Simulation and Training, has now posted his own review. He has nice things to say!

The course was rich in history, provided extensive examples of modern applications of simulations and wargaming to multiple contexts, and supplied practical tools for building and applying simulations and serious games in the “complex, uncertain environments” to which they are suited.

Rex brought together a wide range of best practices for design and delivery, collected and collated from across the industry and heavily supported by his own practical experience—I would strongly recommend taking a look at his slides, as there are few opportunities to find such a wealth of practical resources on professional simulations in one place. In the coming weeks I expect to highlight a few take-aways and taxonomies raised during the course.

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The Armchair Dragoons website features an interview with Justin Williamson and MAJ David Clayton, two student at the US Army Command & General Staff College, on their recent wargame design experiences at CGSC.

The US Army Command & General Staff College (CGSC) recently launched a new program for students there to pursue an interest in game and sims for training purposes, and end up with a Masters Degree at the end of it all.  We’ve got a more detailed conversation coming up with Dr James Sterrett, who oversees the program, but for now, we thought we’d have a chat with a few of the students who recently completed their degrees and are now back in circulation in the Army, equipped with a wider toolbox of gaming experience.

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Students at Georgetown University in Qatar recent took part in a crisis simulation on the Syrian conflict.

“This is an unparalleled hands-on experiential learning activity for our students, giving them an understanding of what it takes to bring people with very different views to the table to resolve a conflict. These are critical life skills no matter which career path they pursue,” explained Dr. Christine Schiwietz, GU-Q assistant dean for academic affairs. Schiwietz co-organizes the simulation with James Seevers, director of studies at Georgetown University’s Institute for the Study of Diplomacy in Washington, D.C.

During the course of one week, 28 GU-Q students attended a series of preparatory workshops including modules on the introduction to diplomacy and negotiation theory in advance of the simulation, which culminated in a day of bilateral and multilateral meetings. Working in teams, they sought to resolve key issues around the fate of the current regime and the opposition, the future of the Kurds, and the presence of foreign military troops.

“We’ve done a series of simulations with students here in Doha over the years. I thought this was one of the very best ones in terms of their level of preparation and their engagement with the issues,” commented Seevers. “The diverse nationalities and background of the student body at GU-Q brings different perspectives to the negotiations.”

Further details can be found at al-Bawaba.

Elsewhere in the Gulf, The National reports that “the inaugural Abu Dhabi Diplomacy Conference, known as Diplocon, will feature talks, workshops and a “future diplomats peacegame” — a crisis simulation designed to test the readiness of diplomats in the field.” Diplocon was held on November 1-15, and the conference website can be found here.

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The forthcoming Civilization 6 expansion Gathering Storm will address the challenge of climate change—not as a political statement, but because it’s real.

“No, I don’t think that’s about making a political statement,” said lead producer, Dennis Shirk. “We just like to have our gameplay reflect current science.”

“We did do our background research on trying to figure out where the global temperature has been over the last 150 years and what types of factors influence it,” continued lead designer Ed Beach. “So we feel like we don’t have to make a political statement, but we can take the common wisdom of the vast majority of the science community and embed that in the game and that becomes something really interesting for players to be able to engage with.”

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Review: Rebel Inc.

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Review of: Rebel Inc. Ndemic Creations, 2018. USD$1.99 on iTunes App Store (coming soon to Android)

Rebel Inc. is a nifty little insurgency and stabilization simulator, set in a fictionalized version of Afghanistan. Playing as a provincial governor, one must balance kinetic military operations with a variety of aid, development, administrative, and political initiatives. If all goes well and the insurgents are stalemated they will eventually enter into peace talks. If those talks are then successful and the country is stabilized, the player wins. If the government’s reputation falls too low, however, external commitment wavers and stabilization ultimately fails.

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The game starts with the most important thing in any stabilization operation: choosing an inspiring name.

There is much that can go wrong. To start with, the insurgents—much like the real thing—are elusive and cunning. Attacking them may have little lasting effect, unless proper cordon-and search operations are used to prevent them from melting away into surrounding districts. Military outposts, local militias, police, and checkpoints may slow their spread. UAVs (drones) are very useful for collecting intelligence, while air strikes are a powerful tool that can backfire if heavy civilian casualties result. Foreign troops are most effective, but their commitment is not unlimited and they might also annoy the local population. Local forces take longer to train and deploy, but are essential in the long term.

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The rebels expand the area under their control.

Aid projects first require stakeholder consultations, and basic projects tend to unlock other, more complex ones in the same sector. Improving transportation infrastructure may assist in speeding the roll-out of new projects. Rule of law initiatives and democratic reforms can be useful too. However, aid projects are limited by available resources. Try to implement too much, too fast and inflation will increase—and with it the price of future projects. Increased spending also creates growing opportunities for corruption, which in turn can weaken political support. Anti-corruption measures are essential to avoid a vicious cycle of an increasingly corrupt and failing state.

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Civilian projects include basic health, education, and water/sanitation projects, transportation and other infrastructure, and and various economic initiatives.

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The government can invest in aid facilitation, administration, information, political and legal reforms, and policing, among others.

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A variety of additional military capabilities can be obtained for host nation forces (green) and their foreign allies (blue).

Different maps present different challenges. There are also several different possible governors, each with different strengths and weaknesses. The Warlord’s militia may seem a cheap and easy way to go after the insurgents, for example—but they often demand more money or start abusing the local population.

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The game provides players with plenty of information on this page, on the main map, and in periodic news updates.

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Development efforts are paying off!

While there are a number of things one could quibble about regarding the representation of insurgency here, Rebel Inc. is a surprisingly sophisticated treatment, superior to many commercial board games and even better than some of the stabilization training software I have seen in government use. The interface is clean, the controls are intuitive, and players are provided with substantial feedback on how they are doing and why. Plus it currently has an impressive 4.8/5 rating on iTunes, only costs $1.99, and can be played on your phone! What’s not to like? Indeed, I’m impressed enough that I’ll be assigning it in my Peacebuilding class next year.

 

They’re baaaaack! AFTERSHOCK and MaGCK at The Game Crafter

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AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game.

Having been unavailable for a few weeks, we are happy to report that The Game Crafter has new supplies of game pieces in stock and it is once again possible to order AFTERSHOCK and the Matrix Game Construction Kit.

Get yours while they last!

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The ISIS  CRISIS scenario from the Matrix Game Construction Kit.

 

Serious gaming with (post) secondary students: civil war at a cégep

The following piece was written for PAXsims by Jano Bourgeois (Collège Jean-de-Brébeuf), in collaboration with Daniel Beauregard.


Can you adapt a complex civil war simulation like Rex Brynen’s Brynania to an audience without specific conflict resolution/peacebuilding training? Is it possible to do it and have them perform it seriously and learn out of it? Those were the questions I had in mind when I decided to try, a few years ago, to introduce a Brynania-like civil war simulation for a cégep (secondary) course.

What is a C.É.G.E.P.?

In the province of Quebec (Canada), there is an intermediate education-level between high school and university. It is called a cégep (general and professional college). For pre-university programs, like the social science program in which I teach, the level is more or less equivalent to first year-university, although the disciplines studied are much more diverse. It is a general training in literature, philosophy, economics, psychology, history and sometimes political science, anthropology or sociology.

To my knowledge, there are no peacebuilding courses at the cégep level. However, there is an end of 2ndyear course named “Integrative activity” that has students apply what they have learned in two disciplines (such as economics, politics, history, anthropology, etc.) in a new context. A former student of mine, now a Ph.D. in cultural studies, once told me that he had read an academic paper mentioning that insurgent leaders had, on average, the equivalent of a cégep education (I never found this paper, if anyone knows about it I would love to get the reference!). For me, this was the trigger: my students could seriously simulate a civil war because they had the same educational attainment as many insurgent leaders (granted, this might not be true and I have no evidence to back me up, but I just needed an excuse to try something like Brynania).

What we do

Basically, the whole thing is a simplified Brynania civil war. There is a fictional setting in which the civil war is waged in a hybrid between roleplaying game and strategic wargame. My setting is called Brébouvie because it is taught at Brébeuf College.

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Figure 1: Map of Brébouvie, 2016.

Each student received a role to embody, resources to manage, and objectives to fulfill. Among these roles, we had the cabinet of the war-torn country, various rebel leaders, members of the civil society, neighbouring States, UN Security Council member states, humanitarian NGOs, international and local journalists, etc. Brynania heavily influenced the first edition because I had the opportunity to personify the Minister of Finance of the Brynanian government during my B.A. at McGill. Over time, I adapted the model to my pedagogical needs.

Having run this simulation over the past few years, I must say that students consider it extremely demanding and difficult… and they just love it! For the fall 2017 semester, 53% of the students, in a confidential and anonymous evaluation of the class, indicated that they had a “very high interest” in the course.  A usual comment is that it is too much work and way too engaging, but that they would not have it any other way. Eventually, a history teacher, Daniel Beauregard, who also teaches the integration activity course, joined me in this project. He brought refreshing ideas to the practice.

From a pedagogical point of view, my students do well in applying what they learned, especially in economics, political science, anthropology, sociology and history, to conduct credible operations on the ground. At the end of the semester, they must hand in a formal paper to summarize what previously acquired knowledge was useful and how they used it to fulfill their role during the simulation. Most of them manage to make the links between their college training and the actual conduct of a civil war. As a bonus, they learn how to make (or fail to make) decisions in a stressful and imperfect informational environment.

Obviously the depth of the student performance is not as thorough as the one attained with 3rdyear university students: treaties signed do not always respect the Vienna Convention on the Law of the Treaties, refugee camps management doesn’t go into the specific details of finding the right spot to avoid landslide and freshwater contamination, UN Security Council resolutions use “responsibility to protect” quite liberally. Overall, one has to remember that they are unspecialized cégep students, not professionals.

Our innovation

We tried many formulas for the simulation: in class only, in class and online for 12 hours a day over a 10 days period, email only, using matrix gaming mechanisms, using an actual board to move pieces, using only virtual maps, using a wiki, Moodle, or a blog to share information, etc.

However, our major innovation, the one for which I am proudest, is the way in which we now have the students build the conflict setting.

The idea is to start with a blank map and to add layers of complexity in cooperation with the students. We add natural resources, linguistic and ethnic zones, national and internal borders, religious zones of influence, trade routes, etc. We also write the history of the various states, insurgent groups and institutions present in the zone. We create the political regimes and their institutions, the state and structures of the economies, the relations with powerful States such as Russia, China, the United States, the United Kingdom and France, etc.

For each element added to the setting, students must justify it using a historical precedent or refer to a social science model or theory. The effect of this procedure is twofold: it forces them to go back to history and what they have learned in different disciplines and it makes the setting easier to understand without long hours of study.

Here is, visually, how my colleague Daniel Beauregard proceeds. First, he provides students with a blank map.

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Figure 2: Blank map, 2018.

The class then adds geographic features.

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Figure 3: Adding geographic features, 2018.

Next, political boundaries and ethnic groups are also added.

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Figure 4: Adding political and ethnic features, 2018.

The map is refined with trade routes and other details.

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Figure 5: Final round of mapmaking, 2018.

He finally prints a map and uses Matrix Gaming Construction Kit (MagCK) tokens and markers to manage the simulation.

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Figure 6: Printed map with tokens on it, 2018.

I would recommend this practice to engage students in the simulation as soon as the instructor is comfortable with the general way of running a simulation.

Concluding remarks

Can you adapt a complex civil war simulation like Brynen’s Brynania to a younger audience without specific conflict resolution/peacebuilding training? The answer is a resounding yes.

Is it possible to expect for cégep students the same level of performance as professionals or graduate students? Obviously not.

Is it possible to obtain a serious performance and generate learning? Again, yes without a doubt.

One of the advantages of serious simulations is that it somehow self adjusts to the level of the participants. In my view, it is a powerful and flexible pedagogical tool worth exploring.

 

Jano Bourgeois teaches political science at Collège Jean-de-Brébeuf, Montréal.
Daniel Beauregard teaches history at Collège Jean-de-Brébeuf, Montréal.

 

We Are Coming, Nineveh! game development update

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One of the playtest copies.

Lately we have had a chance to run more playtest games of We Are Coming Nineveh, the tactical/operational-level wargame of the 2017 Mosul campaign being developed by Juliette Le Ménahèze, Harrison Brewer, Brian Train, and myself for Nuts! Publishing. It’s all coming along nicely, and feedback has been very positive indeed.

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Playtesting at Connections UK. Juliette looks on as Phil Pournelle advances Iraqi forces towards the Old City. War is thirsty work.

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More playtesting at Connections UK.

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Counter Terrorism Service and Emergency Response Division troops break into the heavily-defended Old City. To the west and north, units of the Iraqi Army’s 9th Armoured and 16th Infantry Divisions close a circle of steel around their foe.

The (area movement) map and (block-based) combat system are working very well: they are fast and intuitive, and nicely model the tempo of the actual campaign. Consequently, most of our recent tweaks involve Capability cards and Event cards.

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A game is about to begin at McGill University. Daesh has deployed most of its veteran units to the Old City, while using a screen of militia and IEDs to slow and disrupt the ISF offensive. If the ISF can cut the roads to the west and north it will hamper Daesh resupply.

The former represent what it is each side chooses to bring to the fight, above and beyond their core units. In the case of Daesh (ISIS), this includes such things as:

  • arms caches
  • IED factories
  • a media production centre
  • mortars
  • snipers
  • technicals
  • makeshift drones
  • tunnel networks and “stay behind” forces
  • primitive chemical weapons
  • “mouseholes” and fortifications
  • additional Improvised Explosive Devices of various sort
  • human shields
  • child soldiers
  • MANPADS
  • better infantry training
  • local spy networks
  • smuggling networks

As for the Iraqi security Forces, they can call upon (amongst other things):

  • additional military units (16th Infantry Division, Popular Mobilization Forces)
  • Coalition air and artillery support, as well as UAVs (drones) and forward observers
  • Coalition training
  • Iranian advisors
  • Iraqi air and artillery support
  • HUMINT (human intelligence)
  • SIGINT (signals intelligence)
  • enhanced EOD (explosive ordnance disposal) capability
  • additional ISR (intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance) assets
  • tighter Rules of Engagement (to reduce collateral damage)
  • expanded humanitarian assistance operations
  • field hospital
  • improved logistics
  • improved coordination
  • airmobile and river-crossing operations
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Prior to deployment, Brian considers what additional capabilities he wants for the forthcoming battle.

Each side is given 30 points to spend on such capabilities before the game starts, and they can tailor their expenditure to suit their campaign plan and preferred tactics. This dramatically enhances the replay value of We Are Coming, Nineveh!, since every game can be very different depending on how Daesh has chosen to defend its positions and what assets and capabilities the Iraqi side chooses to deploy.

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The ISF gets lucky break: human intelligence (HUMINT) reveals the location of a senior Daesh military commander, who is promptly killed in a daring strike by Iraqi attack helicopters.

The Event cards are triggered by dice tolls during ground combat. Some generate collateral damage, especially when fighting is taking place in the densely-packed Old City. Some reflect the challenges of military operations in urban terrain: troops might get lost, pause to recover casualties, encountered unexploded ordnance, or have other encounters. Others present various tactical vignettes. Do you risk accepting the surrender of Daesh fighters, knowing there might be a suicide bomber amongst them? Do you open fire on the vehicle travelling towards your checkpoint? Does an officer risk death to rescue a child caught in the crossfire? Finally, still other cards reward success or capabilities—if the ISF has invested in improved coordination, for example, they’ll encounter fewer problems when Iraqi Army, Interior Ministry, or Counter Terrorism Service (“Golden Division”) forces attempt joint operations.

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Iraqi forces (green) clear the last Daesh units (black) out of the Old City. In this case, the ISF minimized indirect fires and air support, and instead invested in better training and logistics. Their careful campaign was slower than the real one, but kept casualties and collateral damage down.

Victory is determined by three metrics: the time it takes to liberate Mosul, the casualties taken by the ISF, and the collateral damage (both physical and political) inflicted on the city. At the start of the game, each side secretly nominates the metric that it wishes to emphasize in its political messaging. We have also built in a system of narrative description, allowing players to gauge their progress against the real military campaign.

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Juliette, Brian, Rex, and Harrison.

We hope to have the main game finalized by the end of December, at which point we will deliver it to Nuts! for further development We are also developing a solitaire system to allow solo play, but that will take a few months more of work. Keep your eye on PAXsims for further details!
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Teaching serious games at Carleton University

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My colleagues at Carleton University recently hosted me in Ottawa for two days to teach a professional development workshop on “Serious Games for Policy Development and Capacity Building” for the Office of Professional Training and Development at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs. I’m happy to report that it all seemed to go very well.

The eighteen students in the workshop varied widely in terms of past experience, ranging from game designers and professional wargamers to those new to serious gaming. The group’s backgrounds and interests were equally varied: national defence, public safety, international development, peacebuilding, housing policy, employment and social development, and communications.

While much of what I had to say was pitched at an introductory level, none of the more experienced folks seemed too bored. Indeed, they were all very generous in offering their ideas and insights to the group.

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Talking about serious games.

On the first day, I provided an overview of how games have been used to better understand public policy and national security challenges, drawing upon both historical cases and my own serious gaming experience. We then moved on to look at a range of key issue areas, including:

  • setting objectives
  • resources and infrastructure
  • approaches
  • scenarios and roles
  • models, rules, and procedures
  • players
  • game control, facilitation, and data collection
  • prebriefing and debriefing
  • analysis

After lunch we discussed seminar and matrix games. To illustrate the latter, we played through a few turns of the Reckoning of Vultures scenario from the Matrix Game Construction Kit. While hopefully not too directly related to anyone’s official duties—the game involves  a dying President and coup plotting by his would-be successors in the fictional Republic of Matrixia—it nicely highlighted the ways in which matrix games can encourage both innovative thinking and critical analysis. It was also rather fun, for the participants turned out to be a rather cunning and devious lot!

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Plotting and counter-plotting in Matrixia.

That evening, about a dozen of us from the workshop congregated downtown for dinner and casual gaming at The Loft Board Game Lounge.

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Gaming at The Loft.

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AFTERSHOCK underway.

The following day we discussed interactive narrative (“choose your own adventure”) games, a variety of advanced gaming techniques, gaming pathologies, online resources, and materials and graphics.

Game Lab.pngWe also held a “game lab” session in which workshop participants were broken into three groups and asked to develop a serious game proposal. Three very good sets of ideas soon emerged:

  • An election game, highlight the role of contemporary media in influencing key political demographics.
  • A foresight and brainstorming (matrix) game, exploring the positive and negative effects of artificial intelligence on differing groups and sectors in Canada (business, workers, the tech sector, government).
  • A matrix game exploring the public policy, urban development, economic, and planning issues around the proposed effort to move the Ottawa Senators hockey team to a new arena in the LeBreton Flats area near downtown.

We then discussed the strengths and weaknesses of each proposal, offering suggestions on how the preliminary design might be further refined.

The workshop ended with a broader discussion, and few final observations. For those who are interested, the full set of workshop slides can be downloaded here (81MB pdf).

The participants were all enthusiastic and brimming with ideas, which made it a really enjoyable two days. I’m very grateful to Bryan Henderson of NPSIA-PT&D who organized the workshop. Special thanks are also due to fellow PAXsims editors Tom Fisher and Major Tom Mouat (Defence Academy of the UK), and to Colonel Jerry Hall (US Army). Tom, Tom, and Jerry not only facilitated the various game lab sessions on the second day, but the four of us also shared a single large suite at Les Suites Hotel—temporarily rendering it something of extra-dimensional nexus of global matrix gaming experience.

Stephen Downes-Martin joins PAXsims as associate editor

I am pleased to announce that Dr. Stephen Downes-Martin is joining PAXsims as one of our associate editors.

Stephen Downes-Martin.jpegDr Stephen Downes-Martin is a Research Fellow at the US Naval War College and is an independent scholar researching theory and practice of wargaming and other methods to support decision makers at the strategic, operational and tactical levels of warfare and business. A research focus is “Puppet Mastery”, how to manipulate such methods to deceive decision makers, how decision makers misuse such methods to deceive themselves, how to detect such attempts and protect decision makers from them. He has a PhD in relativistic quantum field theory from London University, a Master of Advanced Studies in Mathematics from Cambridge University, and a Masters (with Distinction) in National Security and Strategic Studies from the Naval War College. His full bio, publications list and downloads are available here.

Stephen has been tireless in encouraging, supporting, and sometimes lambasting the wargaming community to pay great attention to sponsor-designer relations, player dynamics, game analysis, and methodology more generally. He has been instrumental in several recent major collaborative projects, including the 2017 MORS working group report on the validity and utility of wargaming, a Connections Game Lab report on “How can we credibly wargame cyber at an unclassified level?” (2018), another Game Lab report on “How can we avoid risky and dishonesty shifts in seminar wargames?“(2018), and a truly epic Connections working group report on in-stride adjudication (2018). Stephen will also be one of the featured speakers at the February 2019 Connections North interdisciplinary wargaming conference in Montreal. We’re pleased to have him on board.

GMS Journal for Medical Education: Using AFTERSHOCK to teach about disaster medicine

The latest issue of the GMS Journal for Medical Education 35, 4 (2018) contains an article by Simon Drees, Karin Geffert and myself on “Crisis on the game board – a novel approach to teach medical students about disaster medicine,” in which we discuss the use of AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game to teach German medical students about humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.

The result of the workshops’ evaluation was very positive. A large majority of participants was overall satisfied with the event and all its components. Almost all participants found the level of difficulty to be appropriate. This is consistent with the findings of other AFTERSHOCK participant surveys, which we outlined in the project description [7], [8], [9], [10]. Although participants in these workshops came from very different contexts (WHO, military), they gave similarly positive ratings regarding their overall satisfaction, the level of complexity and the design of the game. The low-to-medium level of prior knowledge in our survey represents the sort of target audience for which AFTERSHOCK was designed. We saw very engaged participants during the workshops, with small group sizes and enough time for a proper introduction and debriefing being crucial to success. We disagree with the suggestion to distribute the rules beforehand or to perform a “test-run”. Experience in other settings mentioned above suggests that this is not necessarily very helpful: when players are provided the rules in advance they may feel a need to fully master them in advance. Introducing elements of the game as they become relevant during game play appears to work much better. Moreover, a limited degree of initial player confusion and uncertainty is also a valuable teaching tool: the immediate aftermath of a disaster, after all, is also characterized by uncertainty and limited information. Oral and written feedback also highlighted the importance of embedding the simulation within a more extensive course on disaster medicine to complement it with more theoretical background knowledge. Although we are confident that we achieved our main goal of providing our participants with a basic understanding of disaster medicine and humanitarian aid, especially regarding its complexities in practice, we agree with this assessment. It is also consistent with the scholarship on serious games, which stresses both the importance of integrating various course elements and value of debriefing sessions, which serve to highlight and contextualize games-based learning [11].

Conclusion

Board games such as “AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game” are well-suited tools to simulate the complexity of humanitarian assistance. They provide opportunities to apply theoretical knowledge about disaster medicine in practice while experiencing the challenges of a dynamic environment. This and their high acceptance rate among students makes them suitable for use in medical education. To ensure long term learning, simulations should always be accompanied by theoretical coursework and effective debriefing.

GMS Journal for Medical Education is the official journal of the Gesellschaft für Medizinische Ausbildung (German Association for Medical Education). You can find the English version of the article here, and the German version here. AFTERSHOCK is available from The Game Crafter (although at the time of posting they are waiting on some components to arrive before they can fill new orders).

Bartels: Building A Pipeline Of Wargaming Talent

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At War on the Rocks, Ellie Bartels (RAND) discusses “Building A Pipeline Of Wargaming Talent: A Two-Track Solution.” In it she argues the need to educate neophyte and mid-career (war)gamers, and also to educate sponsors, clients and managers about best practices and using games most effectively.

For gaming to help prepare the Department of Defense for the future, different types of wargame education are needed, aimed at different communities. Deep study of games is required for game designers to develop mastery. For those who work alongside these experts, in roles ranging from sponsor to subject matter expert, short courses may be a valuable addition to existing government educational institutions, most notably the military schoolhouses. Building up a new generation of experts, and giving civilian and military partners the tools to ask the right questions and provide information to designers is key to building more high-quality games. Without these pipelines, the existing cadre of designers will not be able to keep up with demand, leaving the department unprepared for the future.

It’s an excellent piece, and well worth reading (and not just because Ellie is one of our associate editors).

CONNECTIONS NORTH 2019

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Registration is now open for the CONNECTIONS NORTH interdisciplinary wargaming conference, to be held at McGill University in Montréal on Saturday, 16 February 2019. The conference is intended for national security professionals, academics and educators, humanitarian and development workers, diplomats,  community activists, game designers, and others interested in conflict simulation and serious gaming.

This announcement is also a call for presentations for the conference. Proposals should be sent to the conference organizer, Rex Brynen.

Further details on CONNECTIONS NORTH are available at the link above. The conference Facebook page can be found here. The following day (February 17) we will also be holding the annual McGill megagame, APOCALYPSE NORTH.

For details of the 2018 CONNECTIONS NORTH conference, see the report at PAXsims.

 

McGill megagame 2019: APOCALYPSE NORTH

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On 17 February 2019, PAXsims will be running its fourth annual megagame at McGill University: APOCALYPSE NORTH—a game of emergency response, national survival, and federal-provincial politics during a zombie armageddon.

The United States is descending into chaos as it is overrun by mindless undead abominations. Can the federal government, provinces, and municipal officials mobilize and coordinate the necessary resources to save Canada from the murderous zombie menace from the south?  

Approximately one hundred participants will assume the roles of federal and provincial politicians, the Canadian Armed Forces, the RCMP, Canadian Border Services Agency, the Coast Guard, Public Health Agency of Canada, the Ontario Provincial Police, the Sûreté du Québec, local mayors, police and fire chiefs, hospital officials, scientists, First Nations and community leaders, the media—and even local franchisees of a national doughnut chain.

Tickets for the event may be purchased via Eventbrite. APOCALYPSE NORTH can also be found on Facebook here.

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As with all McGill megagames, we’re playing this for fun. Nevertheless, the emergency preparedness aspects of the game will be quite realistic, combining elements of a refugee crisis with pandemic response, national defence, and public safety. Grrr arghhh, eh?

For details of the New World Order 2035 megagame held at McGill in February 2016, check out the reports at PAXsims, as well as this article published in the McGill International Review. For the WAR IN BINNI megagame held at McGill in February 2017, see this PAXsims report. For the DIRE STRAITS megagame held in 2018, you’ll find a report here.

APOCALYPSE NORTH is cosponsored by the McGill International Development Studies Students’ Association.

 

IDSSASSA

2019 International Teaching and Learning Conference

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The 2019 International Teaching and Learning Conference will take place on 17-19 June 2019 in Brighton, UK. The conference sponsored by the Political Science Association, the the British International Studies Association, the European Consortium for Political Research, and the American Political Science Association. The theme of the conference is teaching politics in an era of populism.

This conference aims to provide a forum in which political science educators from different countries and contexts can come together to explore these challenges and share their experiences and teaching practices. We welcome contributions which explore the challenges faced in national, international, or comparative contexts. We also welcome different approaches to understanding populism and the challenges that it may present to political science educators in different contexts.

The rise of populism across North America and Europe in recent decades presents a range of challenges to the teaching of political science and international relations in the universities and colleges. At one level, our curriculum must develop to cover new forms of political activity, the rise of new parties and movements, and new forms of political and government behaviour. But the challenges go beyond simply the content of what we teach. In a political culture in which expertise and established standards of evidence are devalued, political science educators can find themselves portrayed as mere peddlers of opinion and ideology. A range of questions arise, including:

  • Can or should political science education be ‘politically neutral’? Should we nurture values of democracy, equality, and citizenship and, if so, how?
  • How can we support students in developing knowledge, understanding and skills relating to the complex nature of politics, society and government? What role might different approaches to teaching such as simulations, civic engagement and other pedagogies play?
  • What are the challenges of constructing a curriculum and developing learning resources in a period of rapid and sometime dramatic political change?
  • How can we collaborate across different national and educational contexts to support critical learning in political science and international relations? What best practices are there for collaboration in both pedagogical research and cross-cultural classroom experiences?
  • Are there practices or pedagogies from other disciplines that can be adopted or adapted to address these issues?

Guide for Authors/Presenters/Panel Convenors

We welcome proposals for the following categories:

  • Papers. Individual papers reporting research findings, providing a critical account of practice, or assessing the current state of teaching and learning in the field.
  • Panels. Panel submissions should consist of four to five papers relating to a coherent theme. We particularly welcome panels that take cross-national perspectives.
  • Interactive workshops. Proposals to run sessions that provide participants with a structured opportunity to explore a challenging area of political science education in a collaborative session.
  • Short talks. We invite proposals for short 10 minute talks in the style of TED Talks, that present a concise summary of an argument or an idea related to the conference theme.
  • Roundtables. We invite proposals from individuals who would be interested in participating in a roundtable discussion on one of the conference themes.
  • Open stream. To encourage innovative approaches to developing learning, the open stream invites any proposal for an activity that is designed to facilitate critical inquiry addressing the conference theme.

All proposals for panels or workshops should give consideration to gender balance and the promotion of equality and diversity. The standard time for panels and workshops will be 90 minutes.

The deadline for paper and other conference proposals is November 19. You’ll find full submission and registration details at the link above.

AFTERSHOCK at the Université de Technologie de Troyes

The following game summary was provided by Gilles Deleuze, a sessional lecturer at UTT.


This session was organized as part of the 2nd year of Master IMSGA (Master Ingénierie et Management en Sécurité Globale Appliquée), and the “Crisis Management” chair of the UTT (Université de Technologie), in the Grand Est region of France. The 12 students have a background in industrial safety, political science, firefighting.

This was the first time AFTERSHOCK was used in a training course in UTT, and probably in France. The aim was to focus on importance of coordination, logistics and communication during emergency management. At another level, it was an opportunity for a discussion about serious gaming and its benefits in the Master IMSGA and training for Crisis Management.

French rules translation and aids were used. Two tables were organized in parallel. On one table, the facilitation was done by a peer, with some experience of the game. Eventually, there were some misunderstanding of the rules, and the facilitator proposed to stop the game at turn 2 and join the other table

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10.00 : Start, 10.30:  Turn 2, 10.50 : Turn 3, 11.25 : Turn 4, 12.00 : Break, 13.00: Restart Turn 5, 13.30 : Turn 6, 13.45 : End of session

At the other table,  the facilitation was done by the session lecturer, with experience of the game. After a round for explanation, the game went right.

The root causes of the success, are the high lelel of coordination since the beginning, especially between UN and HADR-TF, the strategy of Carana, investing a lot on clusters, which permitted to draw valuable coordination cards, and a some luck, as very few district resolutions were drawn at the beginning, especially for the semi rural area, which was voluntary left aside in the emergency policy. Also the players took care of media attention.

The debriefing led to following conclusions and proposals for an efficient use of Aftershock in the Master IMSGA at UTT

  • Require a gamemaster with experience dedicated to each table.
  • Not very fun at the beginning, then the players liked the challenge to achieve together the success of the mission.
  • Prefer to learn by playing rather than reading the rule book (too complex and long to read before the game, maximum 10 pages for a rule set in this context).
  • The game highlights the importance of cooperation. The players were very cooperative and succeded with an high margin
  • Realistic, good level of modeling of logistics issues, but a price to pay in complexity
  • Good for an initiation to crisis management before an exercice with more actors and software based simulator done during the Masters.
  • The « hardware » support permitted more interaction between players and a global view of the situation compared to a software based simulator
  • Strong agreement to continue in the next year courses especially before the large scale crisis exercise.

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Playtesting Viva La Revolution

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Today I had an opportunity to playtest a beta version of Viva la Revolution, a simple but enjoyable and effective counterinsurgency board game being developed by Ed Farren. As the screenshots will reveal, the game was played via Table Top Simulator (Steam)—necessary since I’m in Montreal, while Ed is currently deployed to Kabul.

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The game depicts a fictional Latin American country, pitting the government against rebel forces. The map depicts one central capital city, and eight outlying regions. The territory of the latter consists of small towns, farmland, and dense jungle. The game metrics track four strategic objectives: control of regions, support in rural population centres, legitimacy (based on a variety of factors, including the number of various types of units, as well as the political effects of air strikes, terrorism, and drug labs), and finally control of the capital. The rebels need to win in all four categories before the game ends. The government is just trying to hang on.

Judging from the title (revolution not revolución) the insurgents are a group of rebellious  anglophones.

The game turn starts with a random event. These are not entirely random, in that players have some choice as to which event occurs.

Next, the rebel player takes two actions from a menu of five choices:

  1. construct/collapse drug lab (which funds insurgent mobilization)
  2. create two new insurgent units
  3. move two insurgent units (with possible combat)
  4. upgrade one insurgent unit to guerillas
  5. move one guerrilla or regular unit (with possible combat)

In addition, they may undertake an optional act of terrorism.

The government then takes one action from their own menu of possible actions:

  1. deliver relief supplies (thereby counteracting effects of terrorism)
  2. move two police or two army units (with possible combat)
  3. train one new police unit
  4. upgrade one police unit to an army unit
  5. upgrade one army unit to a guards unit

The government may also undertake an optional airstrike, if they wish.

Units have different combat ratings for jungle, rural (farmland and towns), and urban terrain. Police and insurgent units may not leave their own region.

The rules include extensive design notes. Ed credits David Kershaw’s Irish Freedom and Brian Train’s Guerilla Checkers for inspiration.

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Turn 1: All looks relatively quiet, but insurgents are lurking in the distant jungle. This is the classic first stage of a Maoist-type insurgency.

Playing as the government, my primary strategy was to mobilize as many police units as possible to hold rural areas, and then upgrading police in the capital to better quality army units. Ed’s insurgents sprouted like revolutionary mushrooms in the jungle, where he also hid a drug lab or two. The insurgents were then upgraded and began to take on my police units in the more populated rural areas, sometimes being driven back, but other times overrunning my positions. Since victory in combat gives the rebels a free unit upgrade, the gradual effect of these victories was to improve the quality of the revolutionary army through captured weapons and battlefield experience.

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Turn 5. I’ve already lost control of Santiago, Rio Nochas, Esturia, Chi Machura, and Los Ablos. However the rural towns (and hence the roads into the capital) are still held by police garrisons. We’re on to the second stage of the insurgency, as the guerrillas expand the territory under their control.

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Turn 11. The rebel army continues to grow, although most of the rural population centres are still under government control.

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Turn 16. Caring little for political legitimacy, the government militarizes the capital and conducts frequent airstrikes. More and more of the rebel units have been upgraded to guerrilla or regular status—preparing for the third stage of an insurgency, engaging in semi-regular combat against government forces and major urban areas.

It was all very Maoist, as more and more of the countryside gradually came under the rebel control, slowly surrounding the capital. Airstrikes sometimes slowed the rebel advance, but at the cost of government legitimacy. However, my mobilization in the capital (aided by a well-timed event card) made it a difficult nut to crack. I managed to hold on to the end, and squeak a narrow victory—but only just.

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Turn 20: While the government has had some success with a counter-offensive to the south, army units sent to New Spain and Santa Maria have been destroyed. Although this has left the defences of the capital severely weakened, it is the last turn—so the government wins (barely).

Ed provided some end-of-game statistics:

Casualties:
  • Rebels: Insurgents x 8 Guerrillas x 8 Regulars x 2
  • Government: Police x 7 Army x 5
Other Stats:
  • Acts of Terrorism x 5 (3 thwarted by security forces)
  • Air Strikes x 10 (around 60% successful)
  • Drug Labs constructed x 2
  • Relief supplies delivered x 0
  • US intervention/aid to Govt = none
  • State assistance to rebels = none
  • Natural disasters = 1
  • Regions abandoned = 0
  • Elections held = 0
  • Coups = 0
  • Desertions = 0
  • Defections = 1
  • Riots = 0
  • Peace Talks = 1
  • Rebel attacks on capital = 1
  • Maximum Govt Army strength = 5
  • Maximum Govt Police strength = 12
  • Maximum Govt Guards strength = 0
  • Maximum Rebel Regulars strength = 3
  • Maximum Rebel Guerrilla strength = 6
  • Maximum Rebel Insurgent strength = 10

I thought it all played intuitively and smoothly, and the progression of the insurgency certainly fitted the classic model. We discussed a few tweaks, for example introducing a “planning” action that would enable a player to take an extra action in the next term. This would enable more organized offensive and counter-offensives, better matching the battle rhythm of most military campaigns.

Much of our discussion focus on the event cards. In my view, such cards should never be so powerful as to decisively shift the balance of the game, which would lead players to attribute a game outcome to blind luck. (In Viva la Revolution, event cards are only semi-random, in that players have often have a choice as to which of two cards is triggered.) In a game of this sort, five major types of card effects are possible:

  • Minor unexpected events. These can enhance narrative engagement, spice up game play with unforeseen twists, or include other fun little elements.
  • Consequences, whereby players are punished or rewarded for having undertaken certain types of actions. Heavy use of air strikes or terrorism might spawn a reaction from international human rights groups, for example.
  • Interesting choices. For example, a random natural disaster might present both players with the option of reassigning some units to humanitarian assistance—losing them for combat purposes, but gaining legitimacy.
  • Investments—these are “tech tree” type cards, whereby the play of one card might trigger or increase the effect of another later card. “Foreign diplomacy,” for example, might enable later play of “foreign aid,” or investment in “human intelligence” might help one side spring an “ambush” later on.
  • Catch-up mechanisms—that is, cards that reward the losing player. Such mechanisms are common in hobby/entertainment games, where you don’t want one player pulling so far ahead early on that their opponent is doomed to turn after turn of futile play.
  • Snowball mechanisms—that is, cards that reward success. These should be used sparingly in games designed for entertainment purposes, since they contribute to the problem of insurmountable leads described above. However, real world insurgency and counterinsurgency is heavily shaped by cascading effects. Insurgent victories, for example, can intimidate government supporters, sway fence-sitters, and attract new recruits. Similarly, major government victories can deter support for the opposition.

In a game like this, moreover, one could reconfigure the event card deck depending on the audience and purpose of the game. Playing Viva la Revolution for fun? Then you want more catch-up cards and fewer snowball cards, and quite a few amusing minor events. Using it for training purposes? Then you want more snowball cards (because that’s the way the insurgency works), more investment cards (because these allow players to strategize more), and appropriate consequence cards (to highlight the costs of doing things wrong, violating the laws of armed conflict, and so forth). In the latter case, it is especially important that the game design incentivize the kind of behaviours and choices that you are trying to teach.

If you’re interested, you can see the game at the Steam link above. Ed has also set up a BoardGame Geek page, to which he will be uploading game rules and print-and-play files.

 

Connections 2019 wargaming conference — Call for presentations

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Connections 2019 will be hosted by the U.S. Army War College at the Army Heritage and Education Center in Carlisle, PA, 13-16 August 2019.

Connections is an interdisciplinary wargaming conference that has been held annually since 1993, with the mission of advancing and preserving the art, science, and application of wargaming.  Connections participants come from all elements of the wargaming discipline, and include those in the military, government, academic, private sector, and commercial hobbyist fields.  By providing a forum for practitioners to share insights and best practices, Connections works to improve gaming as a tool for research, analysis, education, and policy.

Presentations on any aspect of professional wargaming are welcome.  The 2019 conference theme is Futures of Wargaming, and with that in mind, presentations on wargaming future events, advances in wargaming techniques, wargaming to train future leaders, and related topics are especially encouraged.

Please submit your proposal via the Google Form at this link (which contains additional information).

It is by no means necessary to have attended a previous Connections conference to participate as a speaker.  More information about past Connections events and current updates on the status of planning for Connections 2019 can be found at the conference website: https://connections-wargaming.com/

Feel free to pass this along to those who you think might be interested, including posting this in appropriate places online.  For additional information or any questions or concerns, please contact Tim Wilkie (National Defense University).

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