Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Recent simulation and gaming articles, 15 August 2019


PAXsims is pleased to present a selection of recently-published articles on simulation and serious gaming. We will start doing this regularly, in addition to our periodic “simulation and gaming miscellany” updates. Some of these may not address peacebuilding, conflict, or development issues at all, but have been included because of the broader perspective they offer on games-based education or analysis.

Articles may be gated/paywalled and not accessible without institutional access to the publication.

McDarby G, Reynolds L, Zibwowa Z, et al, “The global pool of simulation exercise materials in health emergency preparedness and response: a scoping review with a health system perspective.” 

Simulation Exercises (SimEx) are an established tool in defence and allied security sectors, applied extensively in health security initiatives under national or international legislative requirements, particularly the International Health Regulations (2005). There is, however, a paucity of information on SimEx application to test the functionality of health systems alongside emergency preparedness, response and recovery. Given the important implications health services resilience has for the protection and improvement of human life, this scoping review was undertaken to determine how the publicly available body of existing global SimEx materials considers health systems, together with health security functions in the event of disruptive emergencies.

The global review identified 668 articles from literature and 73 products from institutional sources. Relevant screening identified 51 materials suitable to examine from a health system lens using the six health system building blocks as per the WHO Health System Framework. Eight materials were identified for further examination of their ability to test health system functionality from a resilience perspective.

SimEx are an effective approach used extensively within health security and emergency response sectors but is not yet adequately used to test health system resilience. Currently available SimEx materials lack an integrated health system perspective and have a limited focus on the quality of services delivered within the context of response to a public health emergency. The materials do not focus on the ability of systems to effectively maintain core services during response.

Without adjustment of the scope and focus, currently available SimEx materials do not have the capacity to test health systems to support the development of resilient health systems. Dedicated SimEx materials are urgently needed to fill this gap and harness their potential as an operational tool to contribute to improvements in health systems. They can act as effective global goods to allow testing of different functional aspects of health systems and service delivery alongside emergency preparedness and response.

The work was conducted within the scope of the Tackling Deadly Diseases in Africa Programme, funded by the UK Department for International Development, which seeks to strengthen collaboration between the health system and health security clusters to promote health security and build resilient health systems.


Virginia C. Muckler, Christine Thomas, “Exploring Suspension of Disbelief Among Graduate and Undergraduate Nursing Students,” Clinical Simulation in Nursing 35 (2019).


The nature and process of suspending disbelief is complex, subjective, and has not been well researched in clinical simulation.


A descriptive phenomenological approach with semistructured interviews explored student experiences of suspending disbelief during simulation-based learning.


Among the 18 (69%) graduate students and 8 (31%) undergraduate students, three themes emerged from participant narratives including (1) frame of mind, (2) environment, and (3) tempo. Subthemes of frame of mind included cognitive focus, apprehension, and confidence.


Understanding nursing students’ lived experiences of suspending disbelief can enhance the educator’s ability to design and facilitate effective simulation, student development, and suspension of disbelief.


  • Suspension of disbelief is complex, subjective, and underresearched.
  • Frame of mind or mindset influences suspension of disbelief.
  • Cognitive focus, apprehension, and confidence affect suspension of disbelief.
  • Functional equipment enhances the environment and suspension of disbelief.
  • Scenario progression without interruption promotes suspension of disbelief.


Louis P. Halamek, Robert Cady, and Michael Sterling, “Using briefing, simulation and debriefing to improve human and system performance,” Seminars in Perinatology (prepublication 2019).

Safety, effectiveness and efficiency are keys to performance in all high-risk industries; healthcare is no exception, and neonatal-perinatal medicine is one of the highest risk subspecialties within healthcare. Briefing, simulation and debriefing are methods used by professionals in high-risk industries to reduce the overall risk to life and enhance the safety of the human beings involved in receiving and delivering the services provided by those industries. Although relatively new to neonatal-perinatal medicine, briefing, simulation and debriefing are being practiced with increasing frequency and have become embedded in training exercises such as the Neonatal Resuscitation Program (NRP) of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). This chapter will define these terms and offer examples as to how they are used in high-risk activities including neonatal-perinatal medicine.


Sundeep Kaur Varaich, “Effectiveness of Simulation in Addressing Stigma,” PhD dissrtation, University of Northern Colorado, May 2019.

Mental health stigma hinders quality nursing care. The aim of this quasi- experimental study was to test if simulation was effective for addressing stigma in nursing education and evaluating student attitudes towards psychiatric conditions. A sample of eight-nine undergraduate nursing students were assigned to a control or treatment group and participated in either a chronic health challenge scenario or a mental health scenario to test the effectiveness of using a mental health simulation to address stigmatizing attitudes. Day’s Mental Illness Stigma Scale was used as the data collection tool for the post-test to measure students’ stigmatizing perceptions in relation to their assigned scenario. This scale was completed by the students immediately after the simulation and approximately three months after participating in the simulation scenario to evaluate change in perceptions. Analysis of mean scores revealed that students participating in the mental health scenario demonstrated more stigmatizing attitudes overall except related to the subscale for anxiety toward mental illness, for which the control group showed more stigmatizing attitudes. These findings indicate a need for further research into the use of simulation as an educational approach and the possibility of modifying this approach for effectively addressing mental health stigma.

(Emphasis added–this research shows a simulation experience potentially causing undesirable learning outcomes.)

Review: Building Blocks of Tabletop Game Design

BBTGDcover.jpgGeoffrey Engelstein and Isaac Shalev, Building Blocks of Tabletop Game Design (Boca Raton: CRC Press, 2020). 491pp. USD$63.96 paperback.


Engelstein and Isaac Shalev have put together what is, in essence, a very useful encyclopedia of the main mechanisms in tabletop game design. The volume outlines no fewer than 194 different approaches, broken down into thirteen different categories:

  1. Game structures
  2. Turn order and structure terminology
  3. Actions
  4. Resolution
  5. Game end and victory
  6. Uncertainty
  7. Economics
  8. Auctions
  9. Worker Placement
  10. Movement
  11. Area Control
  12. Set collection
  13. Card mechanisms

For each they provide a description and graphic representation of the mechanism and a summary of its strengths, weakness, and game consequences. They also discuss  some representative games in which the mechanism is used. Entries are typically 2-3 pages long each, as shown below.

The descriptions are clear and readily comprehensible, even for gaming neophytes, while the discussions offer insight that more experienced game designers will also find useful.

Were this excellent volume a little cheaper I would certainly use it as a supplementary text for my conflict simulation design course at McGill University. I will, however, certainly be using it as a course resource. It is also available as a much cheaper e-book rental format.

Save the date: McGill megagame 2020

The 5th annual McGill megagame will be held at McGill University, Montréal on Sunday, 16 February 2020.

The 2020 McGill megagame will be ATLANTIC RIM.

Atlantic Rim.jpeg

A mysterious meteor shower has struck the Atlantic coast of North America. Many coastal communities, including parts of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, have been devastated by the resulting tsunami.

Police, fire departments, medical services, municipal workers, Canadian Armed Forces personnel, and the Coast Guard are mobilizing to address the emergency. Roads are damaged. The electrical grid has been shattered. Hospitals are overwhelmed. Survivors are fleeing to safety.

Can local, provincial, and federal officials coordinate an effective response?

Will Atlantic Canada rise to the challenge? And are they prepared for what might now be lurking in the Grand Banks?

Registration information will be posted to PAXsims in November/December.

Call for papers: CONNECTIONS NORTH 2020 wargaming conference


The CONNECTIONS NORTH 2020 professional wargaming conference will be held at McGill University, Montreal on Saturday, 15 February 2020.

CONNECTIONS NORTH is a one-day conference devoted to conflict simulation. It is intended for national security professionals, researchers, educators, game designers, university students, and others interested in the field of wargaming and other serious games.

Registration details will be posted to PAXsims in December. In the meantime, we welcome paper and panel proposals. These should be sent to Rex Brynen (

Details of previous conferences (and the CONNECTIONS NORTH digital community) can be found here.

As is tradition, the annual McGill megagame—a separate and rather less serious event—will be held on the following day.

Armchair Dragoons on the “culture wars”

DragoonsLogoHEADER-1A special issue of Armchair Dragoons’ Mentioned in Dispatches podcast features Brant Guillory, Matt Kirschenbaum, and myself discussing recent controversies on representation and diversity in the wargaming hobby.

For some background, see these previous reports at PAXsims:

There is also a longer list of articles linked at Armchair Dragoons.

And before anyone comments, yes we were all painfully aware of the irony of three middle-aged white guys discussing diversity in the hobby—sadly, many of the other gamers Brant reached out were unavailable. If you’ve got something you would like to contribute to the debate (especially if you’re a female, LGBTQ, or other minority wargamer) please drop us a line—PAXsims is always looking for material on this and other topics.


Picture credit: Origin.

13th annual NATO Operations Research & Analysis Conference

NATO Headquarters Supreme Allied Commander Transformation (ACT) and the Science and Technology Organization (STO) will be holding the 13th annual NATO Operations Research and Analysis (OR&A) Conference in Ottawa, Canada on 7 to 9 October 2019.

The 2019 theme is Challenges for NATO OR&A in a Changing Global Security Environment. The conference will kick off with a number of keynote addresses and continue in five streams:

  1. Strategic Decision Making
  2. Wargaming
  3. Methodology
  4. Data Driven Analysis
  5. Analysis in Operations

This is a professional conference, is open to participants with expertise in military operations research and professional wargaming/serious games. On Monday and Tuesday there are a series of wargaming panels. On Wednesday there are two optional full-day workshops: one involves participation in a hybrid, multi-domain wargame and the other (led by yours truly) explores wargaming best practices.

Further details can be found here. Registration is via the NATO STO events website. The conference will be conducted at an unclassified level.

Lacey: Teaching operational maneuver

The following piece has been contributed by Dr. James Lacey, Professor of Strategic Studies at the Marine Corps War College and author of the recently-released The Washington War: FDR’s Inner Circle and the Politics of Power That Won World War II.


Picture credit: War on the Rocks


For well over five decades the U.S. Military has ruled the tactical battlefield. While much of this tactical superiority is explained by superior military technology, it mostly reflects the literally thousands of “set and reps” tactical leaders receive in training events, professional military educations system (PME), and actual combat. We have highly capable and rapidly adaptive tactical units because, to a degree unequaled in other militaries, U.S forces really do train as they fight. As such, the battlefield is a familiar place, and given virtually any situation, an American combat leader can instantly reach into his memory to retrieve a similar circumstance from training.

This capacity of “instantaneous pattern recognition” is what keeps leaders from freezing in combat. So, although every training or combat situation has its own unique elements, effective training almost always creates sufficient similarities for experienced leaders to draw upon a stored “mental template” to rapidly build, in their mind’s eye, an accurate picture of the fight, and to immediately start making decisions. It is during home station training, while at training centers, on deployments, and in classrooms that our tactical leaders get the “sets and reps” they require to “see” the battlefield and react rapidly and appropriately, while under the stress of combat.

Unfortunately, none, or precious little, of this level of preparation exists at the operational level and above. While we are fantastic at fighting battalions and regiments/BCTs, the skills necessary to fight a dozen or two dozen BCTs as a coherent whole in a swirling maneuver battlefield have atrophied. If Multi-Domain Battle is going to become a battlefield reality, we must once again teach senior leaders how to fight battles, campaigns, and wars above the BCT level. Further, rising senior leaders need to relearn the art of combining a series of battles into combinations of war-winning campaigns.

Some may argue that PME accomplishes this at the ILE level.  And admittedly, there are some small pockets where the rudiments of what is necessary are still being taught, but, for the most part, ILE (and related) institutions no longer teach operational maneuver.  Instead they teach the “process.” Told to get ‘Force A’ to ‘Objective X’, an ILE graduate can layout courses of action, and present a plan to move along ‘Axis Y or Z’ to arrive at the objective. They can also do much of the detailed staff planning necessary to make such a move possible. What they cannot tell you is whether “Objective X” was the right place to assault in the first place.

I first noted that our senior officers had no idea about how to ‘think about or conduct’ an operational battle while attending various Service wargames. For instance, in one major game the scenario called for US and NATO troops to retake the Baltics, currently occupied by Russian forces. The solution that a room full of field grade officers arrived at was to send the attacking force straight north from Poland. The predictable enemy response was to launch the 1stGuards Tank Army into the attacking force’s unprotected flanks and rear – obliterating the four NATO divisions.

This only confirms something that has disturbed me ever since I began employing wargames in War College classrooms. To help the students master the mechanics of these complex games I bring in local civilians with years of operational and strategic level wargaming experience… but no military experience. In every case, no matter the time-period, or the game level (strategic or operational), the war college students are consistently outclassed by civilian hobbyists – it is not even close. This holds true even after the students have played the game a few times and fully understand the game rules and mechanics.  Time and again, my students are out-thought by civilians with no military experience or education.

This does not mean that civilian wargamers would be effective on a real battlefield.  In truth, few of them could lead a platoon out of a paper bag and most of them would seize-up if confronted by a real combat situation.  Moreover, wargamers lack the experienced-based judgement that is a product of years of training and combat experience.  When one plays a wargame, every unit has a set of assigned numbers, which typically everyone knows at the start of the game. For instance, unit counters will typically have their strength, speed of movement, and other factors printed on them. So, when a friendly unit runs into an enemy unit one can quickly calculate relative strengths and with a glance at the game’s combat results table instantly know the probability of success of any engagement.  In real life things are never that easy.  A unit’s strength is always a judgement call that must be made by an experienced commander. Moreover, this judgement (a mental number) is constantly changing as the battlefield situation evolves.  For instance, a battalion commander might mentally consider his best company a “10” on a scale of 1 to 10.  But, maybe he will assign that same company a “6” after it has been in prolonged combat for 72-hours without a rest… and reduce it further to a “4” or lower if it has lost a few key leaders. If he manages to rotate the company out of the line for 48-hours rest he may, once again, elevate it to a “7”, and then make it an “8” based on getting some quality replacements. In combat commanders are continually assessing their units and judging their relative effectiveness; no one is giving them that number.  Moreover, the best commanders are doing the same thing when they judge the relative combat power of their battlefield opponents.

At the operational level of war, the capacity to make such judgements are the result of years (decades) of accumulated experience. This is why the judgement of wargamers cannot be applied in an actual combat environment. Still, wargames remain the only way to “simulate” war at the operational level and above, short of training maneuvers on a scale no one is willing to pay for. And despite the shortcomings of wargames and civilian wargamers as military leaders, a singular truth remains; at the strategic and operational level, civilian wargamers display a capacity for “instant pattern recognition” that very few field grade officers can match. In most cases, a civilian wargamer requires only a cursory glance at a map and a rudimentary understanding of the game mechanics and objectives to comprehend the entire situation and decide on a course of action. Similarly, I can set up actual operational or strategic situations from World War II (or any past war) on a map and the civilian wargamers will come up with a plan of action in a fraction of the time it takes most professional military officers.

The answer appears simple; our PME systems must wed its students’ undoubted tactical expertise, leadership abilities, and judgement to the “instant” operational and strategic “pattern recognition” that many civilian wargamers possess. Getting there, however, is not going to be easy, as it means undertaking a major curriculum upheaval within almost every PME institution at the ILE level and above.

For over a decade-and-a-half, field grade PME institutions have been focused on teaching leaders how to integrate an all of government approach to fighting COIN conflicts. Given the global situation – almost all of the nation’s landpower engaged in two COIN fights – this was undoubtedly the right thing to do. But, while we were fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, the world refused to sit still. As we rise our sights above the COIN fight we find ourselves confronting two global military powers, each capable of meeting U.S. forces on the battlefield as peer competitors. It took nearly a decade to get the right people within PME to transform our institutions into COIN academies. Unfortunately, our potential peer-level opponents are unlikely to allow us that much time to realign curriculums back toward operational maneuver.

At this level of warfare civilian wargamers have a tremendous intellectual lead over most military professionals, as they typically have thousands more strategic and operational “reps and sets” than the average field grade officer. Our nation has been served well by company, battalion and brigade level leaders who, because of enduring thousands of “tactical reps”, have repeatedly proven themselves demonstrably superior to their battlefield opponents.  After two decades of training and combat experience we can be reasonably sure that a lieutenant-colonel confronted with almost any tactical situation (real or simulated) will think quickly, move rapidly, and act decisively; all because he has a stored “mental template” to work from. But, unless they are self-taught, military leaders are given few, if any, “reps and sets” at the operational level. Consequently, when confronted with an operational or strategic level problem, their capacity for rapid and decisive action vanishes.

The second great advantage civilian wargamers have over most military professionals is a deep grounding in history, particularly military history. That this advantage exists is somewhat surprising, as military officers are told from the start of their careers that they need to read widely and deeply into all aspects of military history. Unfortunately, disturbingly few bother to do so.

Almost every wargame hobbyist I have met is a walking encyclopedia of historical knowledge. Sit down to play one in a simulation of the Battle of Gettysburg and you will discover that they not only know the big events of the battle; most of them can also tell you what time and from what direction each of Hill’s and Ewell’s brigades arrived on the first day.  But their knowledge usually goes far deeper than such minutiae. Over numerous discussions, I have discovered that they are almost always well-read on the politics, diplomacy, and economics behind any strategic game or simulation. In fact, when it comes to discussing history the average wargamer of my experience can hold his own with any War College faculty member.

Consequently, when a wargame hobbyist examines a new operational or strategic situation he draws upon a huge reservoir of knowledge to contextualize and understand what he is looking at. In short, he has thousands of “mental templates” in his head that help him make sense of even the most complex situations. Moreover, they also have a very good idea of what others have done in similar situations – what worked and what failed.  On the other hand, the typical field grade officer, bereft of the opportunity to develop such “mental templates”, views every situation they are exposed to (and that is way too few) as something totally new… and every approach as novel.

As we begin to reform and realign PME our first question must be: how do we take tactically proficient proven leaders and turn them into – to use an old term – maneuverists? There really is only a single answer; it is the same one that that made them masters of the tactical battlefield. We must increase the number of operational and strategic “reps and sets” they are exposed too. This is the only way to instill in our future senior leaders the “instant pattern recognition” necessary to make them outstanding operational commanders and strategic thinkers.

There are, regrettably, no quick fixes for this problem, as there is no crash course that will give senior leaders the thousands of operational or strategic “reps” they require. Moreover, while most would agree that a leader’s progress toward higher levels of operational and strategic comprehension should start early in their careers, this has always proven a bridge too far. Besides, this is the time when young leaders must focus on the basics of the profession, learning how to lead, and becoming tactical masters.  We can, however, certainly do much better in placing more operational maneuver wargaming and simulations at the ILE level. And then using the war colleges to reinforce these initial “reps and sets”.

I am not advocating turning the “entire” curriculum over to wargaming/simulations and other forms of experiential learning, but they can and should become the “centerpiece” of operational level and strategic education. As Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work and Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Paul Selva have written: “Should we instead think about using wargames that explore joint multidimensional combat operations to pursue our JPME objectives? Building school curriculums around wargaming might help spark innovation and inculcate the entire Joint Force with a better appreciation and understanding of trans-regional, cross-domain, multidimensional combat.” Only by placing our future senior commanders within a series of operational and strategic situations can they begin building the “mental templates” and decision-making skills necessary for success on the maneuver battlefields of the 21stcentury. Time spent on often useless electives would be much better used running a series of operational and strategic exercises (or other experiential learning events) that will teach as well as challenge students at the higher levels of warfare.

The second part of the solution is to finally get serious about teaching military history to future strategic leaders. By this, I mean history writ large, in a program where military history is the focus, but also includes the political, economic, and diplomatic contexts in which conflicts are conducted.  It is no longer sufficient to create a booklist and hope officers read it (most do not). A professional reading program must be instituted and enforced (not talked about) at every level. At its best, such a program would eschew lists of required books, in favor of something akin to study guides. For instance, an officer desiring to develop a better understanding of the American Civil War, would be able to access a 2 or 3-page guide that lists a number of books he can choose from, depending on what his current emphasis of study is.

Where would I like us to get to? As a start, I would hope that every field grade officer would have the knowledge to reply to General Bernard Law Montgomery’s request for three courses of action to take Arnhem with: “Sir, should we not first consider taking Antwerp?

If you have no idea what the above analogy references, or you don’t know why “Antwerp” is the right answer then your study of military history is sadly deficient.  Get to work on that.

James Lacey
ME - 2


Undeniable Victory (Ottawa edition)


How do you serve a dictator?

Undeniable Victory is a serious megagame built around the political, strategic, and tactical challenges of the Iran-Iraq war, 1980-1988—and still the highest-rated megagame of the decade in the UK. Ottawa MegaGames is partnering with Lessons Learned Simulations and Training to host Ben Moores, the designer of Undeniable Victory, co-host of the Last Turn Madness podcast, and one of the original Megagame Makers of the United Kingdom.

Ben has previously discussed the game design here at PAXsims.

Players can take roles in the ruling councils of either state, in their respective militaries, or the international arena hoping to influence the course of the war to their own advantage.

In 1980, Saddam’s Hussein’s Ba’athist Iraq invaded Ayatollah Khomeini’s revolutionary Iran. Saddam hoped to take advantage of an Iran weakened by revolution, with the goal of cementing Iraq’s ascendancy in the region. The result instead was a vicious stalemate between two largely inexperienced armies, indelibly marked on both sides by the egos of the two dictators, Saddam and Khomeini. How would you respond to their demands?

And here are the key details:

Wargaming and its place in PME


War on the Rocks has just published a piece by Carrie Lee and Bill Lewis of the US Air War College entitled “Wargaming Has a Place, But is No Panacea for Professional Military Education.”

The school year is about to start, and not just for the kids. Senior-level professional military education is about to begin a new academic year, with new classes of students from across the services preparing to embark upon ten months of education that is meant to elevate their thinking from the operational and tactical to the strategic level. In the two years since the release of the National Defense Strategy (and the now-infamous paragraph that declared professional military education to be “stagnant”), a heated debate has emerged on the pages of this website about the best ways to accomplish the mission of professional military education. Suggestions for improvement have spanned the gamut, from teaching students to be good staffers to introducing diversity — both in the faculty and the curriculum — to improving the ways in which we assess strategic competency. Others have pushed back, pointing out that professional military education already is highly responsive to change and warning about the dangers of the “good idea fairy.” In April, James Lacy of the Marine War College proposed another solution: All professional military education institutions should include board game wargaming as a part of their curriculum.

While this recommendation may hold appeal with those who are explicitly focused on military history and operational art, Lacey’s proposal is both short-sighted and misses the importance of diversity in professional military education — both between service colleges and in the curriculum itself. There is little doubt that experiential learning can be a valuable part of any education, including professional military education. But it also comes in many forms, all of which have benefits and costs. If the mission of professional military education is to educate the next generation of senior leaders about the strategic level of war and expose them to the tools they will need to succeed at that level, then we must use a variety of methods across the service colleges, rather than defaulting to a series of one-size-fits-all solutions.

They conclude:

In order to best educate and prepare our students for this complex and challenging environment, a variety of tools are necessary, and “one size fits all” solutions may do more harm than good. There are many types of immersive programs that can be employed to achieve a broad range of learning objectives. We should strive to view our curriculum not as a checklist of required activities but instead as a wholistic educational experience.

Lee and Lewis are right, of course, that serious gaming is not some magic educational bullet. It takes times. Not all wargames are fit for educational purpose, even if they work well as hobby or analytical games. Academic schedules are crowded, and you can only do so much. There are many teaching techniques available. There is even overwhelming evidence that simulations, when used poorly, can do educational damage.

That being said, I’m not sure they really offer a great deal of guidance in what should be used when and in what ways, how this relates to other teaching techniques, and how we know we measure the effectiveness of all this.

Jim Lacey, who the authors critique as a point of departure, was quick to post a response to Facebook (reproduced here with permission):

Well it is not every day my approach to teaching strategic studies is called “shortsighted” by folks who apparently have no idea what I do. But, I suppose it is always an easy-out to set up a strawman – no matter how it departs from reality – as a foil to base an article upon .

In any event, it may have helped if you had read my earlier article on the topic

But in hopes of increasing your understanding of how we educate MCWAR students, please allow me to offer the following.. During the course of the year MCWAR students participate in a number of experiential events, including:

  • Conducting several staff rides, including Yorktown, the Overland Campaign, Gettysburg, Antietam, and Normandy. – FYI, the students also go on a two week trip to either Europe and Asia to immerse themselves in current issues
  • Engaging in multiple simulations (as you describe them). This includes participating in two multi-day geopolitical simulation at Tufts and Georgetown universities. Moreover, we employ a number of in-house simulations throughout a spectrum of historical, current, and future related topics.
  • I would dare say we also employ a large number of models (as you describe them) throughout the year.
  • When it comes to wargaming MCWAR employs the entire gamut: seminar games, matrix games, board games, computer assisted games, etc.
  • Engage in a number of simulations and wargames based on future scenarios against China, Russia, and Iran, which feed directly into ongoing concept development and Title 10 wargames
  • We also use boardgames, but they remain both a subset of our overall curriculum and a subset of our experiential learning program.

In any event, boardgames are never used in isolation. Let me give one example.

As part of our military history curriculum we examine the Civil War. The structure of that program breaks down as follows:

  1. The students are given a set of readings to finish before they enter the classroom
  2. They are then directed to a website I am developing, where they can listen to lectures from some of the best Civil War historians in the nation.
  3. They are also given CDs so that they can listen to other lectures in their cars
  4. Then, once they have absorbed this material, we conduct our seminar sessions. We only have two seminars at MCWAR…. So I break each of them into two parts and conduct a series of seminars with only 7-8 folks in each (as close to an Oxford tutorial as I can get).
  5. After all of this we conduct a board wargame. I run 3-4 wargames at the same time, so all of the students can fully participate. I have local community volunteers (long-time wargamers) sitting at each game to take care of the game mechanics, so that the students can focus on strategic decisions
  6. Then, when all of that is done, the class goes on their staff rides.

I am always looking for way to improve, and am hopeful that you can suggest ways I can do so.

In any event, I just wanted to clear the air and correct any misperceptions you and your co-author have as to how MCWAR sets-up its curriculum, as well as my approach to teaching and the use of wargames. Of course, a much of this could have been easily cleared-up with a phone call or an e-mail before you went to print. But, moving on… if there is anything I can do to assist your efforts to increase and enhance the use of modeling, simulations, and wargaming – or any other experiential learning methodology – at the Air War College, please do not hesitate to ask.

Thank you for your time and comments. I look forward to learning more about the Air Force conducts experiential learning.

This isn’t the first such debate. I’m not sure is should even be a debate, however. Rather, it points to the value of a common-sense “toolkit” approach to serious gaming. Wargames are tools. Sometimes they may be the best tool for the job. Sometimes there are better tools. Sometimes they are a pretty bad fit. Almost always, they need to be used in conjunction with other techniques.

Wargaming as an academic discipline


P1110648a.jpgThe following piece has been contributed to PAXsims by Dr. Aggie Hirst (left), Lecturer in International Relations Theory and Methods in the Department of War Studies at King’s College London.


Wargaming as an Academic Discipline

On 16th January 2019, Dr. Yuna Wong spoke to an audience of policymakers, scholars, practitioners, educators, and students about the establishment of an academic field of Wargaming, in the second public lecture of the King’s Wargaming Network’s inaugural series. The King’s Wargaming Network (KWN) was established in the School of Security Studies at King’s College London in 2018 as a global hub for the theory and practice of wargaming, drawing together a diverse range of academics, professionals, and stakeholders from War Studies, International Relations, defence, policy, industry, and civil society with an interest in the topic. In response to the currently diffuse and ad hoc character of wargames research and practice, the KNW seeks to take a leading role in the development of an integrated, globally recognised academic discipline in which knowledge about wargaming may be produced, preserved, and transmitted.

In her talk, Dr Wong set out a series of pathways, possibilities, and pitfalls associated with the establishment of such a field. Her comments built upon discussions held earlier the same day in the first meeting of the KWN’s Academic Working Group, comprised of leading figures in the professional wargaming community. She addressed the questions: Why do we need an academic discipline of Wargaming? What concrete steps can be taken in the short and medium terms to establish such a discipline? What obstacles might be faced in this endeavour? Below I provide an overview of Dr Wong’s comments and suggest some key critical contributions that academics can make in the current wargaming renaissance.

Beginning with the oft-cited DoD-wide memos issued in 2014 and 2015 by then Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel and Deputy Bob Work, a renaissance in US military wargaming is currently underway.[1] Indeed, in what Dr Peter Perla has called the ‘sine wave of popularity’[2], professional wargaming is also enjoying renewed interest across government, business, third sector, and hobby spheres. The origins of this renaissance in the military can be traced to the priorities outlined in the Third Offset Strategy (3OS),[3]and associated Defence Innovation Initiative (DII), launched by Hagel and Work, which identified wargaming as a key method by means of which US strategic advantage might be maintained in an environment of narrowing technological superiority. Spanning areas as diverse as education and training, research and analysis, doctrinal innovation, operational concepts, and procurement, military wargaming, its proponents claim, can mitigate the structural uncertainly and complexity of the current security and operational environments. It can do this by allowing players to ‘climb inside’[4] scenarios and explore individual and collective decision-making practices. In this way, they assert, wargaming can facilitate institutional learning and assist with future planning by examining the human domain of contemporary conflict in ways quantitative Operations Research (OR) cannot.

This renewed attention, and the accompanying increase in funding, has led to the establishment of new agencies and working groups, such the Defense Wargaming Alignment Group (DWAG), a series of Military Operations Research Society (MORS) special meetings,[5] a classified wargaming repository housed in the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD), and the publication of several handbooks and manuals outlining the value-added and best practice standards of military wargaming.[6] A small but committed wargaming community of practice (CoP) has capitalised on this renewed interest and is currently seeking ways to further proliferate its remit and mandate in DoD.

As part of this endeavour, the issue of the establishment of a dedicated academic field of Wargaming has been raised. As Dr Wong noted, while the practice of wargaming is proliferating, the scholarly study of the field remains limited and ad hoc. This is in part because almost all professional wargamers are first and foremost practitioners, whose work focuses on designing, facilitating, and analysing games from the perspective of a particular institution, objective, or stakeholder. These commitments often prevent them from conducting broader studies of the field. Accordingly, Dr Wong identified a series of practical and intellectual reasons why the establishment of an academic discipline comprising interested parties from with and beyond the wargaming CoP is desirable.

First, such a field would tackle the complex task of properly conceptualising and theorising wargaming, both as a method and an object of inquiry. As Peter Perla’s opening KWN public lecture in December 2018 set out[7], and to which KWN Co-Director Ivanka Barzashka responded earlier this year[8], practitioners variously view wargaming as an art, a science, or a craft, and opinion varies widely on its proper epistemological assumptions, its relationship to modelling/simulation/OR, and whether or not it should (continue to) be integrated with digital technologies. Without seeking to reduce this diversity, an academic field would play a central role in formalising these debates and pushing forward analyses through testing and mutual critique.

Second, an academic field would serve to train and qualify people to create, facilitate, and effectively analyse wargames, serving to professionalise the field and formally accredit practitioners. This would also help to open up the often opaque pathways via which wargamers can develop their skills from novice to journeyman to master, a shift which is all the more important as pressures to diversify the field in terms of gender, age, ethnicity and so forth are brought to bear.

Third, such a field would be less vulnerable to changes in government, administration, funding priorities, and individual preferences than are the military and consultancy institutions in which the CoP tend to be housed. While the acquisition of academic research funding is always a challenge, stability for the practice and study of wargaming could be generated through such grants and the establishment of undergraduate and postgraduate programmes, provided a sufficient job market persists.

Forth, because it would comprise a focus on both applied and theoretical dimensions of wargaming, a dedicated field could act as a bridge between government/policy and the academy, filling the policy-relevance gap with which academics frequently struggle.

Fifth, such a discipline could function to draw together the existing rich but disparate research in a range of fields focusing on, and relevant to, wargaming. Dr Wong mentioned in particular the applicability of research in Organisational, Educational, Experimental, Social, and Military Psychology as well as advances in Education, Sociology, Applied Anthropology, and Brain and Cognitive Sciences. Uniting these discrete areas within an interdisciplinary field of Wargaming would serve to make the best use of existing research and develop new collaborative projects and funding bids.

Finally, an academic field would provide a context within which non-practitioner voices could study and evaluate gaming from political, social, ethical, and economic perspectives. An academic field of Wargaming, like any healthy discipline, should contain a plurality of approaches, foci, and interests. It should attract scholars, students, and practitioners from across of wide range of backgrounds, and comprise those for whom wargaming is a method of research and/or teaching, and those for whom it is an object of study. Furthermore, it should include seasoned pioneers and practitioners as well as those new to the field, and those offering critiques of existing artefacts, traditions, and practices.

In addition to these reasons for establishing a Wargaming discipline, Dr Wong noted the need for robust empirical studies to settle the debate surrounding wargames’ efficacy. While anecdotal evidence of its popularity and utility abounds, little concrete evidence that wargaming is superior – whether defined in terms of engagement, retention, results, or some other metric – to conventional teaching, training, and research methods currently exists. Academic research could play a vital role here by conducting multi-year studies with control groups to establish whether and how wargames really do facilitate unique and improved teaching and/or research.

Moving beyond this debate, the academic study of wargaming has the capacity to explore not only why wargaming works[9] but also how it works, and with what consequences. In other words, the debate could fruitfully be expanded from efficacy to effects. Similarly, scholars could move from evaluating wargaming and its effects in positivist terms to using post-positivist social science approaches, something also noted by Dr Wong in her talk. In particular, the rise of ‘critical’ and ‘deconstructive’ thinking as a military priority invites an analysis of the different uses of these terms and methods by post-positivist scholars in the civilian academy, who are interested in critiquing rather than promoting the current global order. Moreover, the challenges posed by the wargaming CoP to the modelling and simulations practitioners in the OR community parallel in interesting, and hitherto under-researched, ways the challenges posed by post-positivist scholarship to the quantitative and objective aspirations of positivist social science. This line of inquiry would open new pathways surrounding the enduring question of the validation and verification of wargames.

In addition, and as also noted by Dr Wong, an academic field of Wargaming would facilitate the analysis of wargaming beyond DoD. In addition to gaming in the fields of health, first responders, child and adult education, advertising, jobs and skills training, housing, and social engagement, a host of grassroots groups are currently developing and repurposing games in areas as diverse as political contestation[10] and veterans’ community-building and suicide prevention[11].

Finally, and I would argue crucially, the wargaming CoP has paid very little attention to the question of the impacts of wargaming on those taught and trained with them. Most professional wargamers are confident that because people find wargaming fun, it is a welcome break from conventional classroom and field methods. And yet important questions remain unanswered, and oftentimes unasked, about the state of immersion generated in play and the circumvention of critical reasoning than this state entails. One interesting line of inquiry, then, is the apparent paradox that wargaming simultaneously promotes and restricts critical thinking in players, and the distribution of these tendencies across the rank spectrum of service members.

While advances in wargaming design, research, and execution are widespread, a lack of scholarly integration limits our understanding of these activities. And although a promising body of scholarly work on wargaming is emerging, it has yet to be drawn together to develop best practice guidance for research and teaching. In addition, little research exists which critically evaluates professional wargaming. As Dr Wong set out in her talk, there have been at least two attempts in recent years to establish an academic wargaming program in the DC metro area, but these have yet to be realised. With the rise of recreational gaming as the leading mode of entertainment in the current digital age, there has never been a better time to study gaming. While researchers in the Social Sciences have explored the videogame phenomenon in some depth, the study of professional gaming—both digital and manual—remains in its infancy. Whether through the establishment of a dedicated academic field of Wargaming, or by means of interdisciplinary work conducted across established fields, research examining how wargaming works and with what consequences for strategy, operations, and trainees is of key import in the current security environment.

Aggie Hirst 


[1] Chuck Hagel, “The Defense Innovation Initiative”, Department of Defence Memorandum, 2014; Bob Work, “Wargaming and Innovation”, Department of Defense Memorandum, 2015.

[2] Peter P. Perla, in Philip Pournelle (ed.), MORS Wargaming Special Meeting October 2016: Final Report, p. 87.

[3] Bob Work, “The Third US Offset Strategy and Its Implications for Partners and Allies”, 2015; Bob Work, “The Third Offset Strategy”, Speech at the Reagan Defense Forum, 2015.

[4] Brian Train and Volko Ruhnke, “Chess, Go, and Vietnam”, in Pat Harrigan and Matthew G. Kirschenbaum (eds.), Zones of Control: Perspectives on Wargaming (Cambridge; London: MIT Press, 2016), p. 526.

[5] Philip Pournelle (ed.), MORS Wargaming Special Meeting October 2016: Final Report; Phillip Pournelle and Holly Deaton (eds.), MORS Wargaming III Special Meeting October 2017: Report, 2018.

[6] Joint Publication 5.0, ‘Joint Planning’, 16 June 2017, jp5_0_20171606.pdf; TRADOC, “The Applied Critical Thinking Handbook”, 2015; James Markley, “Strategic Wargaming Series Handbook”, United States Army War College, 2015.

[7] Peter P. Perla, ‘“The Art and Science of Wargaming to Innovate and Educate in an Era of Strategic Competition”: KWN Public Lecture, December 2018,

[8] Ivanka Barzashka, “Wargaming: How to Turn Vogue into Science”, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 15 March 2019:

[9] Peter P. Perla and Ed McGrady, ‘Why Wargaming Works’, Naval War College Review64, no. 3 (2011): 111–30.

[10] See for example the group Class Wargames:

[11] Leading this field is the veterans’ group Stack-Up.Org:



Unexpected side effects of wargaming

At the Imperator Vespasian YouTube wargaming channel, there is an unfortunate tale of how wargaming A Very British Civil War (a 1930s alternative history that sees the rise of a fascist government in Britain) got one young man reported to the police for suspicious extremist activity via the Prevent counter-radicalizationprogramme.

It all ended up alright in the end, with the police dismissing the school’s concerns. Still, while one understands teachers being concerned at a student’s sudden interest in fascist paraphernalia, there does seem to have been a major shortage of common sense in this case.

The Prevent initiative has been controversial from the outset, although those who have been innocently caught up in the reporting system have tended to be Muslims.

In 2017/18 there were 7,318 referrals under the system, of which 33% were made by schools. 57% were under age 21, and 87% were male.  Of those reported, 44% were reported for suspected Islamist extremist, and 18% for suspected right wing extremism. 42% were investigated and no further action was required (and thus might be considered “false positives”—people who who incorrectly reported).


NYT: Should Board Gamers Play the Roles of Racists, Slavers and Nazis?

NYTdraper.pngYesterday, the New York Times featured a thoughtful article by Kevin Draper on the growing debate within gaming communities regarding representation. The point of the departure was the controversy over Scramble for Africa, a colonialism-themed Eurogame that GMT Games was to publish, but later withdrew (see here for previous coverage of PAXsims).

In the continuing explosion of tabletop board gaming, there are numerous World War II games in which players get to be Nazis. There are American Civil War games in which players take the role of the Confederacy. Some of these games confront the victims of the Holocaust and enslaved people head on; most don’t, though of course they’re right there if players choose to look.

But even poorly designed games with war themes often get the benefit of the doubt. They are generally created and played by people deeply interested in history. They prize accuracy over fun. Most games in this genre are accompanied by extensive reading lists and explanations; players often treat them as a way to learn that is more engaging than just reading a book.

Scramble for Africa was a new strategy game — what is called a “eurogame,” to contrast the genre with war games and more confrontational luck-based American board games. In it, the player would “take the role of one of six European powers with an eye toward exploring the unknown interior of Africa, discovering land and natural resources,” as the game’s description put it.

And with that, Scramble for Africa became board gaming’s entree into the very particular, sometimes confusing and very of-the-moment culture wars of 2019.

My favourite part of the piece is a comment by game designer Cole Wehrle:

The board game hobby — especially in the United States — is overwhelmingly white and male, though, anecdotally, that seems to be changing. Mr. Wehrle and Mr. Reuss said they see more women and people of color playing games and attending board game conventions.

The ranks of board game designers, however, is changing more slowly. According to one study, 94 percent of the designers for the top 100 ranked games on BoardGameGeek were white men. This perhaps explains the viewpoint many games take. Their designers can more readily identify with the European colonizers, and not the colonized.

As long as Americans and Europeans dominate board gaming, themes of colonialism will likely abound. “You can make a game about anything, but you have to be responsible for the things you make,” said Mr. Wehrle, the designer.

Mr. Wehrle described board games as “little sympathy engines” because players directly embody a role. Designers should question whom they have players sympathize with, and why, but he believes they should still make games with difficult themes. “There is value to letting players sympathize with a position that is morally objectionable, as long as it has some larger payoff,” he said.

While the New York Times article is simply reporting on very real debates within the gaming community itself (and certainly did not urge censorship or indeed any particular position), the reaction in several online wargaming fora was predictably and depressingly hostile. Some were quick to decry this as yet another attempt by “Social Justice Warriors,” “Marxists,” or “globalists” to take away their beloved military-themed cardboard.

For another take on this issue, see our June report on wargaming and representation, wherein a piece in Vice by Rob Zacny provoked a similar barrage of angry online discussion.

European Conference on Cyber Warfare and Security: wargaming papers


The latest edition of the European Conference on Cyber Warfare and Security (July 2019) contains several papers that address aspects of wargaming. Here is just a sample. It’s all gated, so you’ll need institutional access to ProQuest or EBSCO to read it.


Ormrod, David; Scott, Keith; Scheinman, Lynn; Kodalle, Thorsten; Sample, Char; et al., “The Persuasion Game: Developing a Serious Game Based Model for Information Warfare and Influence Studies.”

In an age of hybrid, asymmetric, and non-linear conflict, the role of Information Operations has become ever more important; this paper presents a study of a recent research project. The project examined ways of better enabling stakeholders to respond to the increasing use of influence in warfare, hybrid conflict, competition, and the realms of hard and soft politics. An international and cross-sector research group drawing on military, government, and academic expertise from seven different countries met in October 2018 to understand the best way to wargame influence. In the space of four weeks, the group worked towards the successful achievement of their initial goal; the creation of an influence wargaming community supported by a modular wargaming package and development roadmap. This paper introduces the context which has led to the establishment of the multi-national, multi-disciplinary team; discusses the reasons for employing serious gaming as a research tool for studying influence; outlines the development of the project of its initial four-week span; and summarises the initial key findings and directions for further research. The use of wargaming as a training and research tool is familiar in both the military and civil contexts; the project discussed here presents a truly innovative approach to influence studies, and shows the benefits of an interdisciplinary, cross-domain research team. The final section introduces a new influence wargaming framework that has emerged from the study.

Ormrod, David; and Scott, Keith, “Strategic Foresight and Resilience Through Cyber-Wargaming.”

Cyber-capabilities provide nation and non-nation state actors, including criminal organisations and individuals, with the ability to project power and influence across borders and into critical infrastructure, corporate networks and military systems with relative anonymity and impunity. Employed on their own or as part of a broader influence activity, cyberattacks can use vulnerabilities within networked and digitally-enabled systems to create opportunities to undertake a variety of malicious actions, including the theft of intellectual property or financial data, engage in aspects of hybrid warfare or undertake the destruction and/or disabling of physical property that is network connected. Traditionally, strategic and military planners have undertaken wargaming as a means of anticipating potential outcomes relating to system vulnerabilities and failures, as a means of optimizing a system of systems and increasing resilience. However, cyberwargaming as a strategic planning activity has suffered conceptual and practical problems due to the disconnect between technological design and the conceptual models used for physical systems and critical infrastructure. Traditional concepts such as time, which have generally been easily represented within wargames, are much more difficult to represent in the cyber domain. The lack of suitable models has led to two different approaches; a focus on the operational and technical through red teaming and cyber exercises, or a focus on the strategic through executive table-top activities and matrix wargames. Cyber-wargaming is an iterative approach to optimizing the information security posture of an organisation, whilst simultaneously increasing the knowledge of the participants about their environment. Cyber-wargaming ensures the organisation evolves as a collective and has an opportunity to engage in a safe way with potential risks and threats. This paper proposes a unique cyber-wargaming model which seeks to achieve strategic foresight and increase the resilience of the system of systems. The model provides organisations and individuals with a way of understanding vulnerabilities across the systems of systems within cyber-space, in a way that facilitates understanding of the fundamental risks to an organisation. The cyber-wargaming model proposed by this paper will allow participants to reduce risk, enhance understanding and increase collaboration to address the fundamental socio-technical issues they must address to succeed. This unique approach extends on existing assurance programs and governance frameworks, by recognizing the role of the malicious actor, incorporating a view of the cyber-ecosystem and aligning strategic organizational imperatives with information and communication technology security programs.

Thorsten Kodalle; Char Sample; David Ormrod; and Keith Scott, “Thoughts About a General Theory of Influence in a DIME/PMESII/ASCOP/IRC2 Model.”

The leading question of this paper is: “How would influence warfare (“iWar”) work and how can we simulate it?” The paper discusses foundational aspects of atheory and model of influence warfare by discussing a framework built along the DIME/PMESII/ASCOP dimension forming a prism with three axes. The DIME concept groups the many instruments of power a nation state can muster into four categories: Diplomacy, Information, Military and Economy. PMESII describes the operational environment in six domains: Political, Military, Economic, Social, Information and Infrastructure. ASCOPE is used in counter insurgency (COIN) environments to analyze the cultural and human environment (aka the “human terrain”) and encompasses Areas, Structures, Capabilities, Organization, People and Events. In addition, the model reflects about aspects of information collection requirements (ICR) and information capabilities requirements (ICR) – hence DIME/PMESII/ASCOP/ICR2. This model was developed from an influence wargame that was conducted in October 2018. This paper introduces basic methodical questions around model building in general and puts a special focus on building a framework for the problem space ofinfluence/information/hybrid warfare takes its shape in. The article tries to describe mechanisms and principles in the information/influence space using cross discipline terminology (e.g. physics, chemistry and literature). On a more advanced level this article contributes to the Human, Social, Culture, Behavior (HSCB) models and community. One goal is to establish an academic, multinational and whole of government influence wargamer community. This paper introduces the idea of the perception field understood as a molecule of a story or narrative that influences an observer. This molecule can be drawn as aselection of vectors that can be built inside the DIME/PMESII/ASCOP prism. Each vector can be influenced by a shielding or shaping action. These ideas were explored in this influence wargame.

Hjalmarsson, Sara, “Live-Action Role-Play as a Scenario-Based Training Tool for Security and Emergency Services.”

Appropriate training and knowledge development is highly relevant to leaders and security professionals in the fields of information warfare and counter-terrorism. Scenario-based training methodology has a long history among military, law enforcement, emergency services and the private sector. It is recognised as an effective method for preparing leaders to make critical decisions under pressure. Over time, several models have been developed to illustrate its components and characteristics. Live-Action Role-Play (LARP) has been defined as a unique art form that, like scenario-based training, can only be experienced as it is being created. It is an international phenomenon with a diverse range of styles and characteristics. The current leading-edge developments occur in the Nordic countries (Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Norway). Although LARP is primarily used for entertaining games, the art form bears significant resemblance to scenario-based training and could be adapted for authentic tasking exercises. LARP contrasts with scenario-based training in its use of persona within a variable narrative engine and a context that includes many layers of complexity. Educational Live-Action Role-Play, known as Edu-LARP, has been integrated into the Danish school system via Østerskov Efterskole, a boarding school for students aged 14-17 that follows the Danish national curriculum. LARP participants are already being used in training exercises for emergency services due to their dynamic improvisation skills and cost-effectiveness. Experienced organisers and participants could contribute their ability to generate scenarios, work with uncertainty and “think like the enemy, without becoming the enemy.” to the design and execution of training exercises. Additionally, they could contribute to scenario generation for scenarios involving a high level of uncertainty, such as terrorist attacks and critical infrastructure incidents. LARP events themselves could also be adapted to the training needs and attributes of the audience, creating training that fully engages the trainee and results in improved learning outcomes. As in the case of scenario-based training, the use of LARP, LARP participants and LARP organisers must be implemented appropriately for them to be effective. This implies, for example, that participants and organisers must be experienced. It also implies that LARP used for training purposes would demand an appropriate narrative engine, educational framework and level of complexity suitable to the audience. Although this paper identifies that there is significant potential in the LARP art form, it also recommends that further research be conducted to explore the relevance of different styles, aspects relating to effective implementation and possible other uses of the art form.

Rege, Aunshul; Adams, Joe. “The Need for More Sophisticated Cyber-Physical Systems War Gaming Exercises.”

Cyber-physical systems (CPS) are highly integrated into critical infrastructures. These systems execute automated control of physical equipment in transportation networks, nuclear plants, water and gas distribution networks, and power plants. CPSs offer a unique cybersecurity challenge as cyberattacks against CPSs adversely affect public services (e.g., WannaCry attacks in Europe), research facilities (e.g., STUXNET), or transportation services (e.g., OnionDog’s attack on South Korea). It is critical to train and educate operators, owners, and users of CPSs on how these systems are subjected to cyberattacks; how to defend CPSs in real time; how to manage limited employee and monetary resources during and after cyberattacks; and how to better manage system confidentiality, integrity, and availability. Real-time CPS cybersecurity exercises serve as ideal training platforms. This paper reviews existing CPS cybersecurity red team-blue-team exercises (RTBTEs) conducted in USA. This paper highlights the many benefits of these exercises, such as understanding real-time attacks and defense, testing and validating security models, and also understanding human behavior of both attackers and defenders. While these are important contributions, they focus on a small subset of CPSs inside particular infrastructures within condensed temporal frameworks. Collectively, these factors approximate the reality of CPS cyberattacks, which take longer, are more sophisticated, and target multiple, connected infrastructures. This paper thus argues for a more sophisticated CPS wargame hosted in an environment more representative of reality. An advanced training environment is being constructed at Camp Grayling Michigan in collaboration with public industry and government agencies.

Labuschagne, William Aubrey; Eloff, Mariki, “The Effectiveness of Online Gaming as Part of a Security Awareness Program.”

Using cyberspace to conduct business and personal duties has become ubiquitous to an interconnected society. The use of information technology has provided humanity with a platform to evolve and contribute to the advancement of society. However duality also exists within the realm of cyberspace as shown by the expanding threats originating from cyber criminals who uses the information superhighway for nefarious purposes. Companies usually invest large amounts of money in the implementation of hardware and software controls to deter and prevent attacks on assets within these establishments. For example firewalls and anti-virus software are updated as threats evolve. In spite of these controls the weakest link in this security chain is still the human element whose actions can be considered as erratic and unpredictable thus posing a threat to the security of the organization. Security awareness programs aim to equip users of cyberspace with the necessary knowledge to identify and mitigate threats emanating from these platforms, including the Internet. Numerous security awareness frameworks exist which prescribes the required steps to design and implement an efficient and effective security awareness program. An understanding of the different steps is required to develop and customize such a program for a specific environment. Furthermore different methods which include training, newsletters and websites are used to deliver the security awareness content to the participants. The nature of these methods could be ineffective and be considered mundane and strenuous to the participants who do not always have the technical background in information technology, which, in turn could threaten the success of the implemented program. Therefore a proficient solution should be considered to attract and captivate a diverse group of employees when doing security awareness training. Moreover the effectiveness of these programs should be measured with the application of metrics defined within security awareness programs. This paper discusses the implementation and findings of a security awareness program. The aim of the security awareness program was to determine the effectiveness of using online gaming as an information security knowledge delivery method to enhance the efficacy of the participant’s awareness to identify and mitigate threats encountered within cyberspace. Subsequently the paper proposes improvements to the design of the security awareness program used during the study.

Blumbergs, Bernhards; Ottis, Rain; Vaarandi, Risto, “Crossed Swords: A Cyber Red Team Oriented Technical Exercise.”

This paper describes the use-case of international technical cyber exercise “Crossed Swords” aimed at training the NATO nation cyber red teams within a responsive cyber defence scenario. This exercise plays a full-spectrum cyber operation, incorporates novel red teaming techniques, tools, tactics and procedures (TTTPs), assesses team design and management, trains the skills for target information system covert infiltration, precision take-down, cyberattack attribution, and considers legal implications. Exercise developers and participants have confirmed the learning benefits, significant improvements in understanding the employed TTTPs, cyber-kinetic interaction, stealthy computer network infiltration and full-spectrum cyber operation execution.

Rege, Aunshul; Adams, Joe; Parker, Edward; Singer, Brian; Masceri, Nicholas; et al., “Using Cyber-Security Exercises to Study Adversarial Intrusion Chains, Decision-Making, and Group Dynamics.”

Increasingly adversaries are becoming more sophisticated and persistent in their cyber-attacks against critical infrastructures. Traditional incident management is response-driven, which is ineffective and costly, especially in countering adaptive adversaries. The security community has argued for a paradigm shift towards proactive and anticipatory cybersecurity. Defenders thus need to understand adaptive behaviors and dynamic decision-making processes of adversaries. Using a cyber-adversarial intrusion-chain model and empirical evidence of observations done at a force on force (“paintball”) exercise held at the 2015 North American International Cyber Summit (NAICS), this paper argues that understanding how adversaries adapt at various points in the intrusion chain is crucial in profiling adversaries and developing anticipatory cybersecurity measures. Specifically, this paper highlights the human aspects of cyber-attacks, with three specific objectives: (i) providing a preliminary temporal assessment of the cyber-attack process, (ii) understanding adversarial decision-making, cyber-attack disruptions and corresponding adaptability, and (iii) comprehending group dynamics, such as structure and interdependencies; cohesiveness and conflict; and division of labor.

Atlantic Council: Avenues for Conflict in the Gulf matrix game

Avenues_for_Conflict_in_the_GulfThe Atlantic Council has a released a new report detailing three Gulf crisis matrix games, recently conducted by John Watts, that explore how conflict might take place between Iran and Saudi Arabia:

The Gulf remains one of the most strategically critical regions in the world. Its stability and security have global implications, yet are far from certain. Along with the Arabia Foundation, the Atlantic Council’s Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security believes a convergence of trends in the region has created an inflection point, meaning actions today could have historic and long-lasting consequences.

Consequently, the Atlantic Council and the Arabia Foundation partnered to host a matrix game simulation with the intent to challenge commonly held assumptions of US and regional policymakers about the possibility for conflict in the Gulf, and plausible, but underappreciated, conventional and unconventional Iranian military options. The game recognized that Iran faces increasing pressure domestically and internationally, while simultaneously perceiving a historic opportunity to reshape regional dynamics through multiple regional conflicts. This convergence creates conditions that could lead to a strategic shock, and which warrant serious consideration. Moreover, throughout the region, shifting dynamics are creating new and unpredictable alignments in national interests among a variety of actors.

Because of the current uncertainty and diverse possible future permutations, the game sought to run multiple iterations of the same scenario, in order to explore a range of potential outcomes that would be deter- mined by the decisions of each key actor.

You will find further details and the main findings of the study at the report linked above. Particularly noteworthy is the heavy of covert, proxy, and “grey zone” tactics and the desire of both sides to avoid major direct armed conflict. This is also a rare case of a think-tank running multiple iterations of a game to more fully explore the problem space, so kudos to John and the Atlantic Council (together with the recently-defunct Arabia Foundation) for doing it that way. The token chips look like they might have come from the Matrix Game Construction Kit too!

Atlantic CouncilGulf.png

For an earlier 2016 game exploring crisis stability in the Gulf (in which John was also involved), see this Atlantic Council report and this PAXsims methodological note.

Finally, if you want to try your own hand at exploring tensions in the Gulf , have a look at A “Horrible, One-sided Deal,” a US-Iran matrix game we posted to PAXsims last month.

Connections Oz 2019


The Connections Oz (professional wargaming in Australiasia) conference will be held in Canberra on 27-29 November 2019.

For additional details (when available), visit the Connections Oz website or contact the organizers.

Connections global

Also, if you plan on attending and would be willing to write up a post-conference report for PAXsims, drop us a line.



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