PAXsims

Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Distilling wargaming wisdom at Dstl

The following report has been cleared for release by the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (public release identifier DSTL/PUB110424).


 

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The legendary Dstl coin holds off RED forces on the outskirts of a small village.

At the end of June I spent a very pleasant week at the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory in Portsdown West (Portsmouth), discussing various topics with members of the wargaming team there and others. I made similar visits in 2016 and 2017, and—as with the earlier occasions—this trip was very stimulating, productive, and enjoyable.

Monday

Day 1 of my visit started with a presentation on wargaming and forecasting (slides/pdf). Wargamers often intone that “wargamers are not predictions,” largely so that clients and participants will not hold games to an unreasonable standard of predictive accuracy. However, while wargames do not generate detailed findings about the future, they do contain an element of prediction in that they are usually intended to explore plausible futures. Assessing that a future scenario is plausible is, after all, an act of forecasting in itself.

Dstl Forecasting

Given this, the literature on political forecasting offers some guidance as to how games might be better configured to increase foresight. I also suggested that wargames were best used as an adjunct to other forecasting methods (helping us to identify key junctures, challenge assumptions, and encourage discussion) rather than a method in and of themselves.

This was followed by a second presentation on ethical challenges in wargaming (slides/pdf). Here I addressed three major themes:

  • The use of serious games to teach about ethical decision-making, the laws of armed conflict, and similar topics.
  • The use of games to explore the dynamics of mass atrocity and human rights abuses, so that we might develop appropriate policy responses.
  • Finally, I discussed some of the ethical issues that might arise in game design and facilitation.

I was especially pleased with this presentation, since it raised issues that have not been discussed much within the professional community. How should games address sensitive issues such as religion and ethnicity? How can a game explore topics like torture, mass atrocity, or sexual and gender-based violence without having adverse effects on participants who may have had personal traumatic experience of such things? What is our ethical obligation to produce high quality games, given the implications of our work for policy or war-fighting? What is our obligation to produce games that have positive moral effects—and what should we do if we believe a game design might be put to unethical purposes? Interestingly, I was not the only one in attendance who had refused work from a client because we were uncomfortable with who might be using a game and what it might be used it for. (This is, of course, a rather more difficult choice if working on wargame design as a government employee.)

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Much of the latter part of the session involved case studies to which members of the audience were invited to respond. How does one deal with player humour that might be seen as insensitive or offensive by some, given the game scenario? How does one incorporate issues of (countering) sexual exploitation and violence in wargames given the possible effects on players who have experienced the same in their personal or professional lives?

Next, came a session devoted to gaming indirect social media and cyber effects (slides/pdf). I started off by warning that not everything is new under the sun, and that communities and combatants alike have always leveraged new information and communication technologies to enhance their influence and effect. Certainly, the digital age had made it easier to do this, and to reach more people faster than ever before. However, the magnitude of this change might sometimes be exaggerated.

Dstl Social Media Cyber

Maj. Tom Mouat (Defence Academy of the UK) and I then moved on to discussing a variety of interesting games and game mechanics that might be adapted to explore such issues. These included:

 

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Demonstrating influence dynamics in Hostage Negotiator.

Tuesday

The second day of my visit largely involved me participating in, and commenting on, other people’s wargames, which is always an enjoyable task. In the morning, our focus was matrix gaming. I made a quick presentation on the status of the Matrix Game Construction Kit, then Tom facilitated a session of the High North matrix game. This went very well, with Russia, the US and Canada all using environmental concerns to project their regulatory influence well beyond their established Exclusive Economic Zones. Chinese efforts to meddle in a Greenland independence referendum went badly wrong, while “the spirit of capitalism” pursued a variety of economic opportunities as the polar ice cap slowly receded due to global climate change. The session provided ample opportunities to discuss both matrix game design and game facilitation.

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Gaming the “High North.”

After lunch, we discussed support for RAF wargaming. As part of this, Flt. Lt. Colin Bell (RAF) demonstrated three educational games he has developed for training cadets. I particularly enjoyed his air logistics games (in which players must move personnel and supplies using a variety of air assets to various locations, in response to randomly-drawn mission cards), and a game that explored mission planning and execution for offensive and defensive air operations. Playing a few turns of the latter, we lost a few Typhoons in our fighter sweep ahead of our main force but came out slightly ahead in air-to-air engagement. A heavy concentration of radar targets suggested an impending inbound enemy attack on our air defence command centre, so we ordered two other fighter groups to reposition themselves to respond. Meanwhile, we had two strike packages headed towards our target—an enemy destroyer, docked in port—when the game had to be brought to an early end.

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RAF wargaming—teaching about air logistics.

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More RAF wargaming. Strike package inbound!

Wednesday

Day three of my visit involved a morning spent at Dstl’s annual historical analysis symposium. My own paper explored strategic communications, signaling, and deterrence in the specific context of Syrian use of chemical weapons (slides/pdf). Here I drew upon both the scholarly literature on deterrence and the findings of wargames to suggest how it is that what one side regards as a robust signal of capability and credible commitment might be seen rather differently by the recipient—in part because each side operates in a very different organizational and political context.

Dstl Communications

Wednesday evening was spent at the mess of HMS Excellent, the Royal Navy “stone frigate” (shore establishment) on Whale Island, Portsmouth. After dinner, not surprisingly, we all turned our attention to some less serious gaming. While some of the group plotted to assassinate Hitler in Black Orchestra, the rest of us played Bloc by Bloc. I’m happy to report that fascism had a bad day: Hitler went down in the former game, while in the latter a progressive revolutionary coalition of workers, students, anarcho-neighbours, and prisoners brought down the repressive state system.

Thursday

The fourth day of my trip was wholly devoted to a day-long workshop on wargame adjudication (slides/pdf). In the morning, Tom and I started with a presentation on the topic, drawing upon our own experience. Adjudication runs along a spectrum from rigid (rules-based) to free kriegsspiel, with matrix games and hybrid approaches somewhere in between. Adjudication also varies depending on whether game play is turn-based, continuous, or a mix of these.

I suggested that wargame facilitators and adjudicators stand astride two essential mandates, sometimes complementary, but also sometimes in tension: that of the technician (committed to attaining the technical goals of the game) and the theatre director (responsible for bringing alive the imaginary world of the game narrative).

After lunch, we collectively discussed two recent Dstl games and the adjudication challenges each had presented. We then broke into smaller groups, and discussed how we might address a number of game adjudication vignettes:

  • Dealing with an adjudication error in combat resolution. Do you rewind the game, admit the error but press ahead regardless, or hide the mistake from the players?
  • What sort of adjudication would be most appropriate for a game intended to examine security planning for a forthcoming high-profile diplomatic visit, and why?
  • How should one deal with a (more senior, male) SME who is persistently pestering a (junior, female) player with criticisms of the game system?
  • How might adjudication approaches be configured to better withstand sponsor pressure to reach predetermined conclusions?

Interestingly, almost all of the participants felt that an adjudicator should cover up a minor error during a game if the mistake had no major game-changing effects and if informing players would “break the bubble” of narrative engagement—only disclosing the glitch after the game was over, depending on the participants and client. I concur and have done it myself, but I know others who don’t and wouldn’t. The issue was one that was further debated at the Connections US wargaming conference a few weeks later, during a session on in-stride adjudication.

Friday

The last day of my visit involved a trip to the Maritime Warfare School at HMS Collingwoodfor a playtest of the Western Approaches Tactical Unit naval escort game. PAXsims has extensively covered the work that Paul Strong and Sally David have done on WATU and its impressive contribution to World War Two naval tactics and training, and it was an absolute delight to see how it all worked.

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Playtesting the WATU wargame.

During the playtest, I commanded one of the Type-VII U-boats attacking a convoy headed from Liverpool to Halifax. I did well, using the darkness to maneuver within the convoy formation and torpedoing three merchantmen before ordering a deep dive and hard turn to port to evade the now-alerted escorts. Initial depth charges fell well wide of their mark, but a couple of escorts did manage to ping my boat with ASDIC and had turned course towards us.

Just then, explosions at the far side of the convoy signaled that another German submarine had found its prey—hopefully distracting them while I dived even deeper and headed to the rear of the convoy. My intention was to surface once the action had passed me by, and then use my deck gun to finish off any damaged ships that were straggling behind the main formation.

We had to bring the game to an end at this point, but I must say it went well for an initial playtest. I think all of us who were there were very proud to be recreating a great moment in wargaming history. Sally Davis has also written up a brief account, which I have also posted to PAXsims.

The WATU wargame will be demonstrated at King’s College London in September, during the Connections UK wargaming conference, and shortly after that in a special session at the Western Approaches Museum in Liverpool. I am especially looking forward to the latter—an opportunity to conduct a WATU game in the very rooms used to command the North Atlantic convoys during WWII.

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Before I left, Dstl presented me with both one of their rare challenge coins (see picture at top) and a copy of  their STRIKE! Battlegroup Tactical Wargame. Dstl has developed this manual wargame for the British Army to help it examine how the Strike Brigade would perform on the battlefield—we will be providing more detail on the game in a future PAXsims article. At McGill University I intend to use STRIKE in my conflict simulation course next year to illustrate fundamental elements of basic wargame design (such terrain and capability modelling), so you may see some after action reports here too.

 

Wargaming Wrens redux

The following report was prepared for PAXsims by Sally Davis and has been cleared for release by the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (public release identifier DSTL/PUB110424). All photos are © IWM or © Crown Copyright.


In late June, a small invasion force landed at HMS Collingwood to test-play a recreation of ‘the game‘ used to teach convoy escort tactics at the Western Approaches Tactical Unit during 1942-45.

It was rather good fun! Rex Brynen and Tom Mouat played the dastardly U-Boat captains, sank a handful of convoy ships and were on the verge of a depth-chargey-comeuppance when we ran out of time. Here’s the after-action debrief.

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Left, above: The RCN tactical table at HMCS Stadacona, Halifax (which adopted the WATU game for Canadian naval training).

Right, above: The Dstl tactical table at HMS Warspite, early on in the game.

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Left, above: WATU 2nd Officer Wren Jean Laidlaw tells Lt Cdr Tooley-Hawkins, “You’re here, sir, and Jerry just sank your battleship!”

Right, above: The Dstl peeping experiment: our escort commander player (centre, between the screens) is looking at the map through a red filter, rendering the U-Boat tracks invisible. We don’t think WATU used red filters, but their screens and peep-holes achieved a similar effect.

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Left, above: The convoy has just altered course to port. Rex’s U-Boat is right in the middle of the convoy, the white markers are where our gallant escorts depth-charged him, but he went deep and evaded damage. The red straight-line in from the bottom right is Tom’s U-Boat creeping in on the surface, hoping to take advantage of a poor look-out at the other end of the action!

Right, above: A few more turns and we’d have something similar to the original game.

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The Dstl “Wrens.”

Next stop(s): the Connections UK professional wargaming conference (London) on the 5th September, and the Western Approaches Museum (Liverpool) on the 8th September. A huge shout out to everyone who played, helped with the pre-play-test-testing, or has expressed an interested in the Liverpool event!

How can we avoid risky and dishonesty shifts in seminar wargames?

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Stephen Downes-Martin has written up the discussion from another Connections game lab session, this time on How can we avoid risky and dishonesty shifts in seminar wargames?

The group identified three research questions and identified and discusses nine ways that the risky and (dis)honest shifts could be baselined, measured, controlled or mitigated.

Two Behavior Shifts During Small Group Discussions

The (Dis)honesty Shift

Research indicates “that there is a stronger inclination to behave immorally in groups than individually,” resulting in group decisions that are less honest than the individuals would tolerate on their own. “Dishonest” in the context of the research means the group decisions break or skirt the ethical rules of the organization and societal norms, involve cheating and lying. Furthermore, the group discussions tend to shift the individuals’ post-discussion norms of honest behavior towards dishonest. First the discussion tends to challenge the honesty norm, then inattention to one’s own moral standards (during the actual discussion) and categorization malleability (the range in which dishonesty can occur without triggering self-assessment and self-examination) create the effect that “people can cheat, but their behaviors, which they would usually consider dishonest do not bear negatively on their self-concept (they are not forced to update their self-concept)”. The research indicates that it is the small group communication that causes the shift towards dishonesty that enables group members to coordinate on dishonest actions and change their beliefs about honest behavior”. The group members “establish a new norm regarding (dis)honest behavior”. Appeals to ethics standards seem to be effective in the short term [Mazar et al] but there is little evidence for long term effectiveness.

The Risky Shift

Research into risky or cautious shifts during group discussion looks at whether and when a group decision shifts to be riskier or more cautious than the decision that the individuals would have made on their own. One element driving the shift appears to be who bears the consequences of the decision – the group members, people the group members know (colleagues, friends, family), or people the group members do not know. There is evidence that individuals tend to be myopically risk averse when making decisions for themselves. Research indicates however that “risk preferences are attenuated when making decisions for other people: risk-averse participants take more risk for others whereas risk seeking participants take less.” Whether the group shows a risky shift or a cautious shift depends on the culture from which the group is drawn and the size of the shift seems to depend on the degree of empathy the group feels for those who will bear the consequences and risks of the decision.

Research into leadership shows that “responsibility aversion” is driven by a desire for more “certainty about what constitutes the best choice when others’ welfare is affected”, that individuals “who are less responsibility averse have higher questionnaire-based and real-life leadership scores” and do not seek more certainty when making decisions that are risky for others than they seek when making decisions that are risky for themselves alone. However, this research says nothing about the starting risk-seeking or risk-avoiding preference of the decision making leader.

See the full paper (link above) for further discussion, including the footnotes (which have been removed from the excerpt above).

Simulation and gaming miscellany, 11 August 2018

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PAXsims is pleased to offer some recent items on conflict simulation and serious (and not-so-serious) gaming that may be of interest to our readers. Anders Russell and David Becker suggested material for this latest edition.

Like what you’re reading? You can always support the work of PAXsims via Patreon.

PAXsims

Save the date! The next Connections US professional wargaming conference will be held on 13-16 August 2019 at the US Army War College in Carlisle, PA.

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Also, don’t forget about the Connections North wargaming conference to be held in Montréal on 16 February 2019.

PAXsims

Highway-to-Seoul-768x437.pngThe Australian Army’s professional development website, The Cove, features a piece by Major Edward Farren (British Army) on using the Commercial Off The Shelf (COTS) PC game Wargame Red Dragon at Royal Military Academy Sandhurst

Being the commander of a rehabilitation platoon could easily be viewed as an undesirable posting. All my soldiers were unable, through injury or sickness, to participate in the full range of training that I was used to running as an infantry officer. The post also naturally comes with a heavier burden of medical, welfare and policy bureaucracy which must be learnt, if not entirely mastered, in order to promote the recovery of the platoon. The nature of a rehabilitation platoon, however, makes it ideal for conceptual development. Indeed the minds of the broken (no disrespect intended) are in desperate need of stimulation and focus to avoid fixating on their plight, often prolonging their recovery and, for some, triggering their intention to leave the service altogether. The format for a typical day would see the troops under dedicated physiotherapists and injury specialists in the morning so by the time I got them for afternoon lessons they were generally fatigued. Therefore, the more practical I could make the lessons, and the more interaction involved generally, the better the outcome. The example in this article is but one iteration of a series of practical professional military education (PME) activities, largely centred on the use of wargaming, I employed to teach my soldiers. Those that came before me, and those that followed me, not doubt did things differently. That is, of course, their prerogative and the pleasure of one’s own command. I do not seek to compare methods, only to share what I consider to be an effective technique that others could replicate and improve upon.

Birth of an idea

Walking into the lines after duty one evening I discovered several of my charges playing a commercial PC game ‘Wargame Red Dragon’ in some form of multiplayer engagement. There was an electric sense of competition and associated bragging rights for the winner. Some casual enquiries revealed who the ‘best’ players of this little clique were. After a short discussion I had their support for using the simulation to train them in the upcoming Defensive Doctrine module. I decided that the best way to incorporate the simulation was as a CPX timed to assess conceptual understanding of defensive doctrine taught by traditional methods….

You’ll find the rest of the article here.

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PAXsims

Are you a teacher who wants some ideas on how to set up and run a gaming club at your high school? Look no further than On Sean’s Table.

This was year 16 for the Games Club I run at my high school. It reflected the trend in the larger gaming community: numbers were up overall, girls attended almost as much as boys, and the preferred type of game shifted decidedly from cardboard, dice, and counter to games focussed on more social interaction.

His blog has featured several other posts on high school gaming, including how he set it up, and what the best games are to have available for student play.

PAXsims

This is Not a Drill is an Australian Broadcasting Corporation television show that uses a seminar game/scenario discussion format to explore contemporary challenges, such as a crisis in the South China Sea or cybersecurity.

Recent episodes can be found on YouTube.

PAXsims

Shortly after last month’s Helsinki Summit (and its aftermath), the Washington Post ran a piece on Twilight Struggle–”perhaps the best board game ever.

In 2018, of course, Twilight Struggle — with its re-creation of a world in which the United States and Russia locked horns — is closer to describing current reality than at any point since it was released. “It definitely feels relevant now,” says Ananda Gupta, 41, who invented the game with Matthews. “All you’d need to do is add a few more cards and you could just extend it to today. … If I had a mind to, I’m confident we could do a Cold War game along the lines of the current one that’s happening.”

Indeed, in various online forums, fans of the game have taken to inventing their own contemporary cards, like one addressing President Trump’s abandonment of our European allies to court Vladimir Putin; that card removes the game’s blue-colored U.S. influence markers in Europe to provide an opening for Russian red ones. The anonymous fan who created the card named it “The Art of the Deal.”

The article discusses more than the game, and also touches upon the current renaissance of board gaming.

PAXsims

Reminder: Carleton University in Ottawa will be offering a two-day course on serious games on 22-23 November 2018.

Notice - NPSIA-PT&D's Practical Certificate in Serious Games for Policy Analysis and Capacity-Building workshop - Nov 2018

If all goes according to plan, I will be joined by two special international guests—one a well-known British wargamer and PAXsims associate editor, the other an American wargamer and occasional PAXsims contributor. I won’t tell you who they are yet, but here’s a hint…

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How can we credibly wargame cyber at an unclassified level?

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The frighteningly-efficient Stephen Downes-Martin has been kind enough to pass on a game lab report from the recent Connections US 2018 wargaming conference on “How can we credibly wargame cyber at an unclassified level?”  (pdf).

A small minority of cyber experts with wargaming and research experience have security clearances. If cyber operations are researched and gamed only at high levels of classification, then we limit our use of the intellectual capital of the United States and Allies and put at risk our ability to gain edge over our adversaries. We must find ways to wargame cyber[1]at the unclassified level while dealing with information security dangers to best use the skills within academia, business and the gaming community. During the Connections US Wargaming Conference 2018 a small group of interested people gathered for about an hour to discuss the question:

“How can we credibly wargame cyber at an unclassified level?”

The group concluded that it is possible to wargame cyber credibly and usefully at the unclassified level and proposed eight methods for doing so. The group also suggested it is first necessary to demonstrate and socialize this idea by gaming the trade-offs between the classification level and the value gained from wargaming cyber.

[1]“Wargaming cyber” and “gaming cyber” are loose terms which group deliberately left as such to encourage divergent thinking and to avoid becoming too specific.

Connections Oz 2018

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This year’s Connections Australasia professional wargaming conference will be held on 10-12 December 2018 at the University of Technology Sydney.

You’ll find further information and updates at the Connections Oz blog.

Mapmaker (the gerrymandering game) on Kickstarter

Three siblings from a gerrymandered district in Austin, Texas have a game project on Kickstarter that may interest the political scientists (and political hacks) among you: Mapmaker: The Gerrymandering Game:

In Mapmaker: The Gerrymandering Game, you are a mapmaker, which means you make maps… and determine who wins elections. Can you crack and pack voters? Can you scheme and strategize? Can you create unfair, lopsided, strangely shaped districts that will guarantee your party’s victory? Gerrymandering with friends and family (when it doesn’t affect real voters) is a whole lot of fun.

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The Kickstarter expires on August 7, and can be found here.

You’ll find some preview videos below.

The Matrix Games Handbook now available

IMG_0031.jpgThe History of Wargaming Project has just published The Matrix Games Handbook: Professional Applications from Education to Analysis and Wargaming. Edited by John Curry, Chris Engle, and Peter Perla, the 303 page volume is packed with matrix gaming goodness:

Section 1: The History of Matrix Games.

  • The Early Days of Matrix Games in the UK by Bob Cordery
  • The American History of Matrix Games by Chris Engle.
  • The Rise of Professional Matrix Games by Tim Price.

Section 2: Practical Advice

  • Running Matrix Games by Tim Price
  • Checklist by Tim Price
  • Sample Game: Baltic Challenge: NATO and Russian posturing in the Baltic Sea
  • The Australian Perspective by Todd Mason

Section 3: The Theory of Matrix Games

  • Walking in the Dark: An Allegory of Knowledge by Chris Engle
  • The Intellectual Underpinnings of Matrix Games by Chris Engle
  • Verbal Algorithms and the Human Machine by Chris Engle
  • Emerging Themes from the Matrix Game Based Narrative Methodology by John Curry

Section 4: Matrix Games and Education

  • Gaming Multi-Agency Responses by Helen Mitchard
  • Using Matrix Games in the Classroom by Dorian Love.
  • Effective Learning at the Swedish Defence University by Johan Elg
  • Language Training by Neal Durando
  • Reflections on Military Language Training by Jose Anibal Ortiz Manrique

Section 5: The Professional Application of Matrix Games

  • Gaming the Wars of the Future by Chris Engle
  • Operations Research Tools by Ben Taylor
  • Building Boyd Snowmobiles: Matrix Games as a Creative Catalyst for Developing Innovative Technology by Paul Vebber.
  • ISIS Crisis: Using a Matrix Game to Explore Contemporary Conflict by Rex Brynen

The Matrix Game handbook sells for £14.95, and is available from the History of Wargaming Project website.

 

Adjudication in matrix games

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A Game Lab session at the recent Connections US wargaming conference examined the different methods of adjudicating the outcomes of arguments put forward in matrix games,  with an eye to examining which methods might be preferred more than others in different circumstances.

The current guidance for assessing arguments in Matrix Games, contained in the MaGCK User Guide[1] is as follows:

Consensus. Some players prefer to reach agreement on the most likely outcome of the declared ACTION. This can work well in highly cooperative games but can be more difficult to implement in cases where actors have conflicting or opposing goals.

Umpired. Once PROs and CONs have been identified it might be left up to an umpire (or White Cell or Control group) to determine what happens. This has the advantage that the game outcomes can be aligned with research or doctrine, or nudged along a path that maximizes their educational value. It can also be useful when the players themselves have only limited knowledge of the game subject matter. However, having a third party determine success and failure can make the game seem rather scripted. If players may attribute the outcome of the game to obtuse or heavy-handed umpiring rather than to their own decisions and interaction with their fellow participants then much of its value may be lost.

Weighted Probabilities. This system of adjudication places a great deal of emphasis on the arguments put forward by the players, while introducing the element of chance. It is slightly more complicated than the previous systems. There is also risk that some professional audiences may recoil at the sight of dice—associating these more with children’s games than serious conflict simulation and gaming[2]. In this system 2 six-sided dice are used, with a score of 7 or more being required to succeed, with each strong and credible PRO argument counting as a +1 dice roll modifier, and each strong and credible CON counting as a -1, with especially high or low results representing more extreme outcomes. This also provides a “narrative bias” to the game as a score of 7 is actually a 58.3% chance of success and helps contribute to the evolving story.

Voting. The success and outcome of actions can be determined by a vote among participants. This can either be a straight majority vote, or the odds of an ACTION can be assessed by the distribution of votes. In the latter case, if 75% of participants think an action might succeed, then it has a 75% chance of success, and percentile dice or some other form of random number generation is used to determine this. Alternatively, players can each be asked to assess the chances of success, and these can be averaged. In analytical games, this provides potentially valuable insight into how participants rate the chances of a particular course of action. Voting systems do risk players metagaming, however—that is, voting not based on their honest assessment of the ACTION and its chances of success, but rather to affect the probability assigned to it to advantage themselves within the game.

Mean/Median Probability. Alternatively, players or teams can each be asked to assess the chances of success, and these can be averaged. In analytical games, this provides potentially valuable insight into how participants rate the chances of a particular course of action. Although not included in MaGCK, there is an add-on set of estimative probability cards which can be used for this purpose. Following discussion, players or teams simply select the card from their hand that, in their view, best represents the probability of an ACTION’s success. These are then averaged (whether by calculating the mathematical mean of all cards played, or by using the value of the median card), and percentage dice are used to determine success or failure.

Discussion

The most popular method for assessment is that of using Weighted Probabilities as this reflects the early widespread use of matrix games in the hobby community. As a method, it is inherently understood by anyone with any familiarity with games and is relatively easy to explain for those without. It is fast and provides the adjudicator more licence in influencing the pace of the game to ensure it doesn’t get bogged down in excessive debate.

The main concern from those present in the Game Lab session in Connections US 2018, was that this, and all the alternatives above, failed to specifically address to one of the academic underpinnings of matrix games, that of crowdsourcing[3] the results.

Based on Surowiecki’s popular book, there are a number of elements required to form a “wise crowd”:
Description

Criteria
Diversity of opinion Each person should have private information even if it’s just an eccentric interpretation of the known facts.
Independence People’s opinions aren’t determined by the opinions of those around them.
Decentralization People are able to specialize and draw on local knowledge.
Aggregation Some mechanism exists for turning private judgments into a collective decision.

As the MaGCK User Guide already covers crowdsourcing ideas from diverse participants[4], it was felt that the element of aggregation would be best served by the use of Estimative Probability cards[5]. These are available from the Game Crafter, but  a set of print-and-play cards can be found here that have the same utility. It was generally felt that this was a more accurate method to leverage the work on crowdsourcing, as well as making the resulting probability more accessible and acceptable to the participants. The terms on the cards also reflect those commonly used in the intelligence community[6]. It also follows that the participants in the Estimative Probability method should be from all those present and not just be limited to the specific roles in the matrix game.

Oinas-Kukkonen has made a number of conjectures based on Surowiecki’s work[7], asserting that “too much communication can make the group as a whole less intelligent,” which we can address by the encouraging relatively quick moves, and the intention to avoid too much detailed debate following a player’s argument. This means the game can have a reasonable number of moves, requiring that the participants to have to live with the consequences of their actions made earlier in the game. I would suggest at least six moves, to allow for two cycles of Action-Reaction-Counter Action by the players. I would therefore recommend, at least for high level policy and analytical games, that the Estimative Probability method is used in future.

The procedure should be, following the arguments, to have all participants with their own deck of cards, and assess the probability of success independently and without discussion. They should then all reveal them simultaneously to the facilitator for adjudication. My preference would be to select the MODE or the MEDIAN of the results, rather than the MEAN as it is quicker and avoids lengthy arithmetic. Excessive outliers can then be discussed quickly.

It should be noted that, when using percentage dice to determine the final result, it is usually best to be consistent in expressing exactly what the dice roll is for (the success of the argument) and what score is needed with participants who are not gamers (e.g. “A 70% chance of success, which is a score on the dice between 1 and 70”). There is evidence that participants perceive “a 70% chance of success” differently to “a 30% chance of failure” despite their mathematical equivalence[8], so consistency in expression is advised.


[1] MaGCK User Guide at https://www.thegamecrafter.com/games/pdf-only-magck-matrix-game-construction-kit-user-guide

[2] Edwards, Nicholas. 2014. What Considerations Exist in the Design of the Elements of Chance and Uncertainty in Wargames Utilised for Educational and Training Purposes? MA thesis, Department of War Studies. King’s College London.

[3] Surowiecki, James. 2004. The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many Are Smarter Than the Few and How Collective Wisdom Shapes Business, Economies, Societies and Nations. Doubleday.

[4] 1.0 Introduction to Matrix Gaming, in MaGCK User Guide, 2017, p7.

[5] MaGCK Estimative Probability Cards at https://www.thegamecrafter.com/games/magck-deck-1.

[6] Sherman Kent, 1964. “Words of Estimative Probability,” Studies in Intelligence (Fall), via CIA website.

[7] Oinas-Kukkonen, Harri (2008). Network analysis and crowds of people as sources of new organisational knowledge. In A. Koohang et al. (eds), Knowledge Management: Theoretical Foundation. Informing Science Press, pp. 173-189.

[8] Hohle, Sigrid Møyner & Teigen, Karl Halvor. More than 50% or Less than 70% Chance: Pragmatic Implications of Single‐Bound Probability Estimates. 2017. Behavioural Decision Making, Volume31, Issue1, pp 138-150.

Mason: The history and future of wargaming

Roger Mason has an article on “Wargaming: It’s History and Future” in the Journal of Intelligence, Security, and Public Affairs 20, 2 (2018).

Wargames have captured the imagination of persons seeking a competitive edge over their opponents. For over a thousand years people have used games to analyze problems, develop solutions, and train problem solvers. This paper reviews critical developments and innovations in the history of wargames. Wargames provide an opportunity to test hypotheses, offer alternatives, solve problems, and stimulate innovation. Wargames continue to offer opportunities to understand pos- sible future states and develop compatible decision models

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You’ll find the full piece here.

You can find more of Roger’s thoughts on wargaming, threat assessment, security training, and crisis management at his LECMgt blog.

Crisis in South East Europe 2023

Scenario-156x234mm-WEBBack in May, the Centre for Science and Security Studies at King’s College London published a Crisis in South East Europe 2023 scenario for use in wargames, table-top exercises and classroom simulations (link).

The scenario was designed to provide a means through which to think through the potential impact of disruptive technologies, such as missile defence, on any future integrated conflict involving NATO and Russia and, by direct implication, on strategic stability in Europe and the evolution of the wider international security environment. Importantly, the scenario also provides the basis for a more general consideration of how crises and integrated, all-domain conflict between NATO and Russia could potentially evolve in southeast Europe.

The southeast Europe scenario was the second of two scenarios developed by Ivanka Barzashka for a project examining how missile defences may affect nuclear deterrence and stability in the evolving strategic environment. Project adviser Ivan Oelrich and King’s doctoral researchers Johan Elg and Marion Messmer contributed to the scenario’s intelligence reports. The project was funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York under its initiative to explore disruptive technologies and nuclear stability.

The scenarios key assumptions are:

  1. By 2023, the United States, Russia and NATO have all acknowledged a new era of strategic competition involving major powers.
  2. Global economic growth has enabled increases in defence spending and military modernisation.
  3. Six years of “America first” have produced intended results in the form of improved military readiness and morale, and new military capabilities for both the US and its allies.
  4. Russia has pursued a course consistent with its current security strategy and military doctrine and has met its stated armaments targets.
  5. NATO has continued to adapt and strengthen deterrence and defence against Russia beyond the 2016 Warsaw Summit decisions.
  6. Ukraine has continued on a pro-Western path and has modernised its military, resulting in a renewed ambition to regain control of “occupied territories”.
  7. Turkey has had an ambivalent relationship with the West: support for NATO, opposition toward specific NATO member policies and closer cooperation with Russia.
  8. New advanced conventional capabilities, cyber offence and counter-space weapons have been fielded by all sides.
  9. The US, NATO and Russia have made no major changes to nuclear capabilities beyond current plans, but the INF Treaty and New START are no longer in play.
  10. The US and NATO seek protection against Russian cruise and ballistic missile threats to Europe and make progress in deploying those capabilities.

Including in the package are briefing and background materials for the United States, NATO, and Russian teams. The scenario package does not provide rules or procedures for running the scenario—that is up to you.

h/t Ivanka Barzashka

 

UPDATE: Need a map so you can run this as a matrix game, using the Matrix Game Construction Kit? Tom Mouat has kindly provided one for the Ukraine (pdf):

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A tiled version can be found here.

Review: GridlockED

GridlockED. The Game Crafter, 2018. Project leader: Teresa Chan. $89.99.

Back in 2016 PAXsims reviewed Healthy Heart Hospital, a rather tongue-in-cheek hobby boardgame about managing staff and treating patients in a for-profit hospital. GridlockED is also about patient management in a busy hospital, but with a rather more serious purpose. Developed by a team of faculty members, researchers, and students at the Division of Emergency Medicine at McMaster University, it is designed to teach medical students and others serious lessons about triage, patient flow, and treatment. This article from the journal Academic Medicine explains the thinking behind the game.

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The goal of the game is to survive 8 turns and accumulate 500 points (from admitting and discharging patients) without suffering more than two patient safety adverse events. A number of patient cards are drawn randomly each turn. Each present a patient’s symptoms, and the medical steps necessary to address these so that they can be sent home or admitted for ongoing treatment. CTAS (Canadian Triage and Acuity Scale) Category 1 and 2 patients must be stabilized quickly before additional examination or treatment can occur. CTAS 3-5 patients can wait in the Waiting Room until staff and appropriate beds are available. The patient descriptions are excellent—we certainly learned a great deal about emergency room procedures.

The players start with a four nurses, a doctor, resident, radiologist, and consultant. Points can be expended on additional staff or beds as ward upgrades. Random events in the patient deck through unexpected challenges (for example, a needle-stick injury to a staff member) and the occasional bonus (such as a grateful former patient bringing treats!).

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The game includes the main game board and waiting room; patient, event, and staff cards; dry erase markers; and staff pawns—all very nicely produced. A brief quickstart guide explains some key game procedures, and an online video (below) provides a longer introduction.

The absence of a comprehensive rule set was our only major quibble with the game. The printed guide omits some key information, and it is awkward to advance through the video in search of a rule explanation which may or may not be there. We had a few specific questions:

Must a staff member complete all their actions before another staff member may act? Or can you switch back and forth between staff until all staff actions have been expended? (They may swap back and forth.)

When rolling for additional patients on some turns, do you simply add d6 patients to the base number indicated? (Yes, just add the score of the die.)

When spending an action to move a patient, must the nurse token move with the patient? (No, just move the patient.)

Card E15 mentions a “Observation Zone,” which doesn’t exist on the game board. (This should read “Intermediate Zone.”)

The video seems to show the players with 300 points on Turn 1. Do they start with some points? (No they don’t—the video is a little ambiguous.)

However, as you can see from the answers above, Teresa and the GridlockED team were quick in responding to our email queries—clearly they are used to dealing with emergencies. Revised rules are in the works, and will appear in a future version of the game.

All-in-all, GridlockED has much to offer as a pedagogical tool for medical training. It also nicely illustrates how a relatively simple board game can be used to explore practical real-world challenges.

 

 

We Are Coming, Nineveh!

We Are Coming, Nineveh! is a tactical/operational-level game of the Iraqi government campaign to liberate the western area of the city of Mosul from the forces of Daesh between 19 February and 9 July 2017. This was one of the largest and most difficult urban operations of the post-WWII era, and marked a major defeat for Daesh and its so-called “Islamic State.”

The game was first designed by (PAXsims research associates) Juliette Le Ménahèze and Harrison Brewer as their project for a conflict simulation design course at McGill University. Subsequently, (renowned counter-insurgency game designer) Brian Train and (PAXsims senior editor and Middle East scholar) Rex Brynen joined the team too. A commercial publisher has already expressed strong interest, and we plan to have a final prototype of the game to them by the end of 2018.

The zonal map depicts the major areas of west Mosul, including the densely-built Old City where Daesh forces made their last stand. Units each represent 100 or so Daesh fighters, or and battalion-sized units of the Iraqi Army, Ministry of the Interior, and elite Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS). Cards are used to indicate defensive preparations, air and indirect fire support, special weapons, and various other capabilities. Each turn represents approximately two weeks of gruelling combat.

The use of blocks maintains uncertainty and the “fog of war.” The game combines a simple, intuitive, but highly effective system for movement and combat with a number of innovative game elements:

  • Before the operation starts, players choose a number of special capability cards—reflecting their planning and preparations for this long-awaited battle. Should Iraqi government forces deploy large amounts of air and artillery support, or might this cause excessive destruction in Iraq’s second largest city? Should they bring in additional ground forces, or invest in better training for those they have? What about the volunteer Shi’ite militias of the Popular Mobilization Forces—will these be used in the largely Sunni city? Will Daesh invest in more and larger improvised explosive devices? Will they pre-position bomb factories and arms caches, or perhaps a media production facility to publicize their accomplishments? What surprises might they have in store: home-made drones, primitive chemical weapons, or a network of tunnels under the city? No two games will be the same.
  • During each turn, event cards can be triggered at any time by either player. Some of these indicate the growing collateral damage done to the city and its people. Others generate tactical vignettes. Troops can get lost in the maze of small streets, communications can break down, and commanders can be faced with difficult moral and operational choices.
  • Unlike most wargames where there is a single measure for victory or loss, We Are Coming Nineveh assesses three key aspectsof the campaign: the speed at which the operation is completed, the casualties suffered by Iraqi government forces, and the collateral damage done to Mosul. One might outperform the historical case, capturing the Old City faster—but at a terrible civilian cost.

The game is thus able to combine low complexity (and hence be accessible to even neophyte wargamers) with a rich and detailed treatment of this important battle. A typical game lasts approximately 3 hours.

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Playtesting the current version of the game, with a revised map, event, and capability cards. Units of the Iraqi Army’s 9th division (brown) have advanced to the west (right above), cutting off the remaining supply route for Daesh. The latter has largely retreated to the Old City, where the narrow alleys and dense urban terrain offers tactical advantages. To the south (top), Daesh veterans have counterattacked, throwing back some Federal Police and Emergency Response Division troops in disarray. Meanwhile, elite Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS) forces prepare to advance into the Old City itself. A Daesh IED factory there provides a constant supply of Improvised Explosive Devices for the defenders, while a prepositioned Arms  Cache has reduced the effects of supply lines being severed. Coalition air and artillery support has been important in supporting the Iraqi advance so far, but is unlikely to be available for fire support missions in heavily-populated urban areas.

 

Supporting PAXsims

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PAXsims is a volunteer, non-profit project. We do have a few expenses from time to time, however—Wordpress hosting, the CONNECTIONS NORTH annual conference, and support for various PAXsims gaming projects.

Some regular readers have asked how they can help, so we have set up a Patreon page where you can now make a small monthly donation. Any funds received will go to supporting our work on conflict simulation and serious gaming—and the creation of more great content on the website.

Lindybeige on WATU

Nikolas Lloyd—better known as popular military historian Lindybeige on YouTube—has produce a video on the important wargaming of the Western Approaches Tactical Unit during WWII.

Here on PAXsims you can read Paul Strong’s paper on WATU, as well as about the WATU wargame recreation that we will be conducting (with Dstl and the Royal Navy Maritime Warfare Centre) at the Western Approaches museum in Liverpool on September 8.

h/t Peter Perla

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