PAXsims

Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Request for submissions: The Commandant’s gaming list

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Leaders of many institutions have produced “Reading Lists” of great books for students and workers to gain insights and understanding into the situations portrayed. They are also put forward to illustrate the values and ethos of the organisation to subordinates and employees alike.

A (very comprehensive) example for the US Marine Corps is here.

The idea of this survey is to generate a “Games List“, recommended by military, government and academic professionals, for exactly the same purpose. In addition, it is to intended educate participants about the value of games.

This is not just restricted to historical subjects. Allegorical, fantasy, abstract and science-fiction game subjects are often extremely useful in illustrating specific things – so don’t rule out space or zombie games – after all the Commandant of the US Marine Corps (CMC) recommends Starship Troopers and, in the past, World War Z to students.

Please don’t limit yourself to board games, there are extremely useful PC games as well (the CMC currently recommends the book Ready Player One, about a computer game).

The intention will be to publish the list on the PAXsims blog to be shared in the community.

You can complete the survey as many times as you like, but for only one game title each time.

Finally, and most importantly, please don’t just recommend your favourite game. It needs to be a game that has something to say about that particular conflict or serves to illustrate particular values of the organisation or insights about the participants.

The questions you’ll be asked are:

  • What is the name of the game?
  • Where can I get a copy?
  • What period or type of game does the game represent?
  • What sorts of insights and understanding should they get from the game?
  • Do you have any other comments about the game? (optional)
  • Contact Details (optional)

The survey is here (click image below):

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The average time for completion is less than 3 minutes.

We will vet your submissions ruthlessly. Games needing many participants, or degrees in history, statistics and English literature, or taking days to complete are unlikely to be useful. Games that are 2-player, easy to pick up and understand, and playable in an hour or so are more likely to be viewed more favourably. Therefore, Advanced Squad Leader and Twilight Imperium (with the Shattered Empire expansion for 8 players) probably don’t need to be included…

Tom Mouat 

AFTERSHOCK review at GrogHeads

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At GrogHeads, Brant Guillory takes a look at AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game.

The first tremors hit Carana around 415 in the morning, local time. The capital was just stirring as many laborers were hurrying through their pre-dawn meals before shuffling out of their small houses to arrive at work by sunrise. The full brunt of the earthquake arrive 20 minutes or so later, and the devastation was described by at least one news outlet as “biblical.” The nations tenuous infrastructure, barely a patchwork to begin with, had no chance against the fury unleashed by the Earth’s shifting tectonic plates as bridges crumbled, roads buckled, water pipes tore apart like paper, and the electrical grid shut down, ending any communication that was out of shouting distance.

Help was slow in arriving. Certainly the help wanted to arrive, but the routes into the country – the limited airport, the ramshackle seaport, and inland border – were never ideal under perfect circumstances, and these were not perfect circumstances. The local population certainly had a will to survive, but lacked critical supplies for medical care, safe water, and food & shelter. The world mobilized to help.

And the help began to arrive, a multi-headed hydra of organizations, services, expertise, and agendas. Usually cooperative, occasionally antagonistic, and always under the steady gaze of the worlds’ TV cameras, the various organizations rolled up their sleeves to start the long, hard slog of restoring the basic necessities of life to Carana….

You’ll find the full piece here.

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If you want to see the game in action, I’ll be running a game at Peace Direct (in London UK) on September 4,  and another at the Connections UK professional wargaming conference on September 5 (during the “informal games session” after dinner). AFTERSHOCK also be a featured game at the MORS Worgaming Workshop III.

A listing of forthcoming demonstration and participation games can be found here.

If the game is sold out at The Game Crafter, try again a few weeks later. They are a print-on-demand publisher, and occasionally run out of components.

Workshop on “simulated peacebuilding”

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I’m happy to announce that I’ll be conducting a small workshop on “simulated peacebuilding: an introduction to serious games for education, training, and policy analysis” in London (UK) on 4 September 2017. The event is being organized by Peace Direct.

Peace Direct is delighted to host a workshop on “simulated peacebuilding”, with Professor Rex Brynen on 4 September 2017.

Rex Brynen is Professor of Political Science at McGill University, specializing in peacebuilding, strategic analysis, and Middle East politics. He is also senior editor of the conflict simulation/peacebuilding website PAXsims (http://www.paxsims.org), and designer of AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game.

“Simulated Peacebuilding” – presentation and discussion: 16.00 – 17.00.

There will be a one-hour presentation and discussion on the role of games in peacebuilding education, training, and policy analysis (16.00 – 17.00).

AFTERSHOCK demonstration: 17.00 – 19.30

After the presentation and discussion, Rex will lead a demonstration of AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game. AFTERSHOCK is a boardgame that explores the interagency cooperation needed to address the emergency and early recovery phase of a complex humanitarian crisis.

Spaces are strictly limited so registration is required. Please email Ruairi Nolan if you are interested in attending: Ruairi.nolan@peacedirect.org

Please confirm if you wish to attend the presentation only, or both the presentation and demonstration. (Spaces for the demonstration are limited to a maximum of 12 people).

The workshop will take place at Peace Direct’s office in London.

Full details can be found here.

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Peace Direct, First Floor, 1 King Edward’s Road, London, E9 7SF

Connections 2017 AAR

By Major Tom Mouat (UK Army). All views expressed herein are personal ones.


 

This year saw a welcome return of the Connections wargaming conference to the US Marine Corps base at Quantico, Virginia. The event took place in the General Alfred M. Gray Marine Corps Research Center Conference Wing—really excellent facilities, and great on-base administration. The Connections website can be found here, and the 2017 programme is here.

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Sadly, the restrictions and increased security, while less onerous than attempting to get to Maxwell Airforce Base last year, were still a significant hurdle preventing at least two European delegates from attending. Fortunately for me, the excellent support from the British Embassy and the admin staff at my home base meant the necessary paperwork was completed in time. I was also slightly alarmed to find that my NATO travel order was not sufficient alone to get me through US Customs any more, but I had to have a valid passport as well (last year I travelled without my passport because I packed my wife’s passport by mistake). Good to know in future.

I elected to travel over the weekend in order to make use of budget air fares and to recover a little from jetlag – but also to visit the simply excellent National Museum of the Marine Corps nearby. This is an extremely good museum, with free entry and is expanding every year.

This year’s theme at Connections was advancing wargaming and analysis as distinct yet complimentary tools.

Day 1

Following the usual admin and safety stuff, this started with a Wargaming 101 from Matt Caffrey. Every time Matt gives his “Wargaming 101” brief it is new and different, tailored to the conference theme and full of useful information, along with some of the old faithful points that are well worth repeating (such as: “Wargaming as a way of training allows people to practice their decision-making in a safe-to-fail environment, creating “Virtual Veterans” in their profession”).

This year took a slightly more focussed look at the analysis elements, covering Defence Secretary Robert McNamara’s drive for a “bigger bang for our buck”, General Wallace in Iraq and even President Ronald Regan’s admission that he found wargaming “useful”. He also mentioned an excellent quote that I shall steal and re-use: “Wargaming is like a powerful drug; used wisely it can do great good, but it can also do great harm”. He stressed the importance of using wargaming to communicate and clarify input on alternative resource allocations as well as a powerful tool for organisational development.

One of the most useful explanations for me, as a foreigner, was his simple explanation of the US Defence Planning Systems wargames. This helped clarify slides which I had seen in the past, but were simply covered with meaningless three and four-letter acronyms (JOPES? PPBS? JSPS?).

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He also covered the wargaming cycle, but this time with an emphasis on the need for evidence and understanding of concepts with which to inform investment decisions for future investment. Finally, he covered the area of “confidence in wargames” and prediction. Wargames are seldom spot-on in their predictions, but if the wargame was properly designed they are mostly close enough to have practical utility– but badly designed games (such as where the sponsor has insisted they want a “wargame to prove I need more of a specific thing”); can generate wrong or misleading results. The principal elements that affect confidence in the outcomes are those games are dealing with “wicked problems”, as well as in the quality of planning leading up to a game and execution of the game itself.

Effective use of games can help us make more effective decisions, secure funds and better prepare today’s and tomorrow’s leaders.” Matt Caffrey 2017.

This was followed by two seminar sessions on one of three topics:

  • Wargaming in Professional Military Education Roundtable.
  • The Marine Corps Gazette Tactical Decision Games.
  • Confrontation Analysis.

Sadly, I was unable to attend the roundtable session as I was really interested in the other two sessions. The Marine Corps Tactical Decision Games have always fascinated me. I am also interested in the relatively new field of Confrontation Analysis, as I have attended a couple of games using this method.

Tactical Decision Games (TDGs) are tactical scenarios presented in text format with a map, presenting some background and a tactical dilemma/predicament. They are intended to allow users to practice decision-making and explore tactical principles. They were first included in Lt Col John F Schmidt’s “Enemy over the Bridge” scenario in the Marine Corps Gazette (April 1990), and have been included to a greater or lesser degree ever since.

The archive of TDGs are here,  but you need to be a member of the Marine Corps Association and Foundation ($35 pa) to read some of the older editions.

Colonel Chris Woodbridge (Ret), the current editor of the Gazette, explained that the TDG was in essence a “single turn wargame”. The intention of including these games in the Marine Corps Gazette was to cover a number of things:

  • What does “manoeuvre warfare” look like on the ground?
  • How do we teach it in a practical manner?
  • Cognitive skills.
  • Promote discussion of warfighting experience.
  • Practice decision-making under time pressure.

They work best under time constraints and in front of peers (with the worry about public embarrassment providing a real incentive). They also work best in force-on force scenarios rather than in the qualitative nuances of “people’s war”. He also mentioned a book (including many of the solutions to the problems) called Mastering Tactics published in 1994. There was a lot of interest in a book of these problems from those present, rather than using the website, and it is possible that additional volumes could be produced in the future. Additional plans include improving the user interface for those wishing to submit solutions (currently it has a PowerPoint file with tactical graphics in it as well as a “guidebook” with a summary of Battalion weapons, ORBAT and map graphics).

Some of these TDGs are a little difficult for the non-Marine to understand with their abbreviations and non-NATO symbology, but several of my friends have found it useful to have a selected few examples in their pockets for down-time on the range or while stuck in inevitable transport delays. They get people thinking, especially because they are deliberately dilemmas, rather than leading to an obvious solution, and so provoke debate.

Confrontation Analysis is an operational analysis technique used to structure, understand and think through multi-party interactions such as negotiations. It is the underpinning mathematical basis of drama theory.

As John Curry, editor of the History of Wargaming Project, explained the essence of the game is to identify dilemmas between the various actors in a confrontation and then propose alternative options to help explore ways to mitigate these dilemmas. The game evolves over time in a structured way with these additional options and stated positions of the parties.

There is a lot of material available on confrontation analysis, as a simple Google search will reveal – much of it dense and hideously complex. This Wikipedia article provides an overview.

The UK DSTL analyst, Mike Young, has been a leading proponent of confrontation analysis and has recently published The Confrontation Analysis Handbook: How to Resolve Confrontations by Eliminating Dilemmas. There is also a written submission to the UK Defence Committee available on “How to Understand, Plan, and Forecast Future Politics: Evidence to Support the use of Role Playing Workshops using Confrontation Analysis.

I have found that while this is a very useful technique, it has considerable cognitive barriers to initial understanding as part of a wargame. This hurdle was a real problem in the few games I was part of several years ago, and probably contributed to its remaining below the radar since then. This was swiftly identified by the audience and it was freely admitted by John that further work was needed in this area. The book publication is an attempt to make the game technique more accessible and the spreadsheet tool used is available for free download with it.

I don’t think John managed to make the explanation of the technique “clear and simple”, but he certainly managed to draw attention to what is potentially another tool in the Pol/Mil strategy toolkit. Personally, I feel that if you thought that matrix games need an experienced facilitator, confrontation analysis will probably need a real expert…

Following lunch, we travelled over to the Breckinridge Hall for some wargame demonstrations, poster sessions and facilitated events (although the only poster was one for the Matrix Game Construction Kit.

Wargame Demonstrations

I decided this year to take a different game design with me (as a change from taking a matrix game). The game was Bomber!, an educational game designed to promote discussion about military bombing, asymmetric warfare, political ideals, deception and ethical/humanitarian behaviour.

C2017bThe game was specifically designed for education and to promote discussion in the classroom and, while it was intended for use in the UK MOD Air Warfare Centre, it has had the most use at the Westminster University, Politics Department in central London.

The game ran very well with most of the discussion points coming out easily (and with such an audience I would expect that). The asymmetrical nature of the game was appreciated, although the “Advanced Western Side” caught on quickly about what was happening and managed to secure a rare victory in what was a deliberately imbalanced scenario.

The experience participants also came up with really useful additions to the game, which I have incorporated.

All the material for the game is available here.

There was a wide variety of games going on and nice to see Victory Games putting on a stand (and having a game about my favourite episode in history – the exploits of General Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck, the “Lion of Africa”, in German East Africa).

Of particular interest to me was a game put on by Maj Abe Goepfert from the US Army College Strategic Simulations Division, at Carlisle Barracks. This was a matrix game about the South China Sea. What was especially fascinating was that it had been developed quite independently from the game of the area that I had designed (the Nine Dash Line), and had removed much of the unnecessary additional features that I felt had marred an earlier game designed by the Army War College on the Baltic least year. The game was almost identical to my design (save for having a role for Indonesia, rather than Taiwan) despite being developed independently, which said to me that the matrix game system has matured to a point where it can be run without specialist prior experience. It was also successfully run with over 300 players in 23 simultaneous games!

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My demonstration was over quite quickly and I was able to sit down with personnel from the National Guard Bureau, Joint Training and Exercise Division. This is an example of where attendance at conferences like Connections can be so valuable. They grilled me for well over an hour about my experiences of running and designing Matrix Games and I hope I was able to let them have some free “consultancy” about the subject (this being 50% of my role in the UK). I also got the chance to sketch out a design for Earthquake! A natural disaster matrix game that I hope to be able to share on PAXsims at a later date.

Day 2

Day 2 kicked off with a short presentation by Bill Lademan about the future plans for the MSMC Wargaming Division. He was concerned about the apparent divide between OA and Wargaming (hence this year’s theme) and wanted to outline plans for the new Wargaming Centre and the home of the Marine Corps. This was to be a $150-170M investment, but there was some considerable work to be done in planning to ensure that they get exactly what they want.

The purpose of the Wargaming Centre is to:

  • Carry out wargaming at Secret and above.
  • Inform budget decisions.
  • Ensure interoperability.
  • Help with the demand signal for wargaming.
  • Help the next generation of innovation.

The development certainly looks exciting and I was particularly interested in an effort to add support tools for what is essentially a manual process. There would be electronic and computerised support – but the wargames themselves would be very much human-centred and involve open “white box” processes. This was levied with a concern about technology overload and they plan a 3-year series of experiments before they actually start building anything.

Keynote Address – Peter Perla

This keynote was billed as Peter’s retirement address as, while he still wishes to remain engaged with wargaming, Peter is finally retiring (again) from his day job. Before Peter was allowed to step up to the podium, however, he was presented with a “Lifetime Achievement Award”, which turned out to be a banana (with much mirth and hilarity) since the trophy had yet to arrive. (The banana was replaced later in the conference with the formal trophy, a large chess piece – a Knight – mounted on a plinth). This was closely followed be a surprise video message from the Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral John M Richardson, thanking Peter for his service and contribution.

Peter’s address covered a wide range of topics taking as its theme a conversation with John Curry about “magic predictive wargames” as well as the Conference theme about Wargaming and analysis. He started with an early conversation he had with Trevor Dupuy about the usefulness of wargaming for prediction, where Dupuy point out that “if wargaming was useless for prediction, what was the point of doing it?”

This led to quoting Barney Ruble of NWC’s Center for Naval Warfare Studies that Wargames are indicative and that they “speak to us in whispers about potentials” and, of course, Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s book on Black Swans. What do we mean by prediction? How can anything be incapable of prediction? Ed McGrady’s point about the differences between “precision” (meaning consistency) and “accuracy” (meaning how close to being right) was also mentioned because games tend to be more accurate than precise…

coinAnother point, well made, was the consideration of the “sample” space being examined, such as taking the toss of a coin. You might be tempted to think there were only two alternatives, heads or tails, with a 50% chance of each; but in fact, there is about a 1 in 6000 chance of it landing on its edge.  (and with the new chunky British £1 coin a much larger chance I would imagine).

Game do not predict the future, humans do and, as Roger Mason is credited with saying “They narrow the set of possible futures and the value is narrowing that set of possible outcomes.”

Peter’s presentation (here) was excellent—any presentation with pictures of the PAXsims team in it gets my vote—and I look forward to seeing the slides (and stealing many of them) in due course!

This was followed by the Defence Wargaming Panel, with Drs Ed McGrady, Jon Compton, and Margaret McCown. This panel was also very good, avoiding the expected wiring diagrams and organisational backgrounds, and instead covering useful things like the games used for many purposes within the Defense Community. Of special note was the Office of Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation (CAPE) Strategic Analysis and Gaming Division (also known as the “Buck Rogers Committee”), where gaming had to have defendable results. This usually means that they are always well researched and result in a series of games (usually 8) in order to generate robust results (but take a long time and are expensive).

Ed McGrady made some very good points about the need to build a community of Wargaming to get better results for the future. The danger of a lack of consistency and skill, and the particular danger of hiring retired senior officers with an axe to grind. He also highlighted the problems with a fascination with technology, and pointed out that a good story is the best and most powerful tool.

Next up was the Game Lab with three possible options:

  • Introduction to Wargaming with Joe Saur
  • Advanced Naval Wargame Design with Paul Vebber.
  • “Gamers’ Circle” (similar to a “Writers’ Circle”) Wargame Design Workshop.

I elected to go to the “Gamers’ Circle” as I wanted to be able to get a look at a number of different ideas, despite my interest in both of the other topics. In this session, we took a look at games to examine Artificial Intelligence with Dr Yuna Wong, a policy researcher at RAND and professor at the Pardee RAND Graduate School. Following the inevitable discussion as to the real nature of what we mean by AI (e.g. “actual AI” involving some form of emergent neural networks as opposed to merely complex “If, Then, Else” process systems) and a nice set of comments on the ethics of having useful “Bright Slave” computers and opposed highly dangerous “Moriarty Class” AIs; we set to generating a list of possible uses of AIs for Defence purposes.

Yuna wanted to follow a proper methodology to examine the problem, but time was against us, so we forged ahead as best we could under her guidance and came up with the items below:

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This discussion really did demonstrate the value of a diverse set of participants (including civilians) as there was clear evidence of “group think” from the military taking part. The idea of internet based-AI and “AI in a box” that you take to a problem to plug it in for analysis purposes (such as a city power grid) was something very different to the sort of discussions I have been involved with in the past.

I really liked the idea of “Route Proving AI” – mixing driverless cars with the Husky vehicle mounted mine detection system.

With the help of others, I was able to come up with a “one-shot” (non-repeatable to the same audience) game that could be useful in the classroom for discussing AI and Cyber-related topics. I also hope to be able to share this with PAXsims shortly.

This was followed by the Commercial Wargaming Panel, with Dr Web Ewell, Dr Chris Cummins, Uwe Eickert and Dr James Sterrett. Commercial wargames can be seen as “part-task trainers for professional wargames” and I also enjoyed this panel (although, again, I did not expect to) with insights into morale coming from the miniatures community, and call to arms from Uwe for simple, approachable rules (with no “rule exceptions”), engaging mechanics, with little or no “waiting time”; and attractive, easy to handle, components. With regard to the use of computer games for Defense, there was the admission that 90% were crap and of the 10%, 90% of those had nothing readily relevant for defense.

Games mentioned of note were: Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear! (board game), Supply Lines of the American Revolution: The Northern Theater (board game) and Burden of Command (tactical leadership PC game).

This was followed by Wargame Playtesting (and pizza!) in Breckenridge Hall.

Day 3

This started with the International Panel with Scott Chambers, Hans Steensma, John Curry, Dr Hiro Akutsu and myself. John Curry gave a very good presentation, living up to his admission to being controversial (there was much I agreed with and much I didn’t – but it was good to provoke debate), Dr Akutsu gave a presentation about the high level games (definitely not using the word “war”) taking place in Japan. He also gave the best (and most succinct) answer to a leading question about “Whether Japan is gaming the possible options with relation to the leadership or military organisation of the Democratic People Republic of Korea”:  “Yes”.

This was followed by Dr Norman Friedman presenting on the US Navy Wargaming in the Inter-War Period. This was a fascinating presentation which highlighted the difficulties with academic understanding of wargaming, where games were themselves very difficult to preserve, as opposed to papers which were easy; giving rise to a dearth of actual Wargaming material, submerged in a sea of paper articles. He pointed out the importance of Newport being a “safe to fail” environment with “Chatham House rules” and effective security. This was an organisation where the teaching was conducted with everyone together (the instructors were mainly the same rank as the students), teaching them how to think against opposition and the students themselves were researchers into the problems being studied.

Some failures were highlighted, such as the understand of the role of fanatical bravery (Kamikaze), political factors largely left out and important economic factors being ignored. There were particular successes, such as the experiments to increase existing carrier capacity, carriers designed to be repaired, circular cruiser formations, the pipeline for replacement pilot training as well as the need for amphibious and ASW capabilities.

Next was a talk from Matt Caffrey on Wargaming Impacts.  His central theme was the question of whether wargaming provides an “edge” in warfighting. He illustrated his talk with comments on the Wars of German Unification, better quality wargaming and in greater depth, after WW1 and the decrease in Wargaming following WW2. His talk was illustrated with a number of good anecdotes, but I fear this was not the compelling evidence needed for the operational analysts in the audience.

We then had Keynote 2 with Dr John Hanley on the topic of Advancing Wargaming and Analysis as Distinct yet Complimentary Tools. This was an interesting talk, if a little hard to follow at times. I liked the thought process that took the number of possible states available to a game of Rock-Paper-Scissors (236) and worked out that in a force on force engagement using a computer the size of the Universe and computing for the length of time since the Big Bang, it would only be possible to fully analyse the totality of 12 participants. The conclusion being that there is no analytic way to calculate all possible alternatives to a problem, so wargaming is needed.

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This was then followed by three Working Groups:

  • Wargaming and Analysis with Yuna Wong and Bill Lademan.
  • Wargaming for an Innovation Edge with Matt Caffrey and Tim Moench.
  • Educating Wargamers with James Sterrett, Joe Saur and Tim Wilkie.

I elected to go to the Educating Wargamers session as it was squarely in my area of interest. It turned out to include Wargames for Education as well, which made the session even better. It was conducted with a number of practiced staff presenting their experiences and advice on the subject before a general discussion.

This was one of the best sessions for me, so engaging that I forgot to take notes most of the time. There were some general guidelines, however, that came out:

  • Boardgame Geek (BGG) is your friend.
  • Don’t use a game with a BGG rating of less than 7, unless you wrote it.
  • End the game before someone wins (avoiding the “I lost therefore the game is crap” reaction).
  • Make sure the game is really simple.
  • Make sure you can run the game in the time (half the time for the game, the rest for the discussion).
  • You can use a YouTube training video as homework the night before – but be careful!
  • We need a “Wargaming for Dummies” instruction guide spelling out how to do it.

The result was that all present wanted to get a “bibliography” of commercial games for education. I volunteered to put such a thing together and publish the list, along with PAXSims, so expect a questionnaire in your inbox at a later date.

Day 4

The final day saw reports on the Working Groups.

Wargaming and Analysis divided into 6 sub-groups:

  • Concerns about Battle Damage fixation and no real focus on plan analysis.
  • Attempts to do more analysis with fewer resources.
  • Connecting the beginning and end states with a coherent narrative.
  • Analysis baked into the entire process.
  • Quantification of morale and competence.
  • synchronizing requirements between various organisations in the acquisition process.

There was a general understanding that analysis is integral and essential to the process, but not easy to achieve and especially difficult in games that focus on “soft” issues. There was a recognition that there was a tendency to measure what is easy to measure, with scant regard to the overall importance.

The Wargaming for an Innovation Edge session concluded that wargaming was good for innovation and, while not every problem is solvable, wargaming can be used to help provide mitigation. “Wargames are a wind-tunnel for innovation” (can you tell the Air Force was involved?).

This was followed by the Synthesis Group with the task of providing a summary report for the sponsors. This was run by the inimitable Dr Stephen “I may be an asshole, but that doesn’t make me wrong” Downes-Martin in his usual arresting style. If you don’t pass your slide packs to Tim Wilkie as soon as possible, you will be in trouble…

We then had Closing Remarks and the Hot Wash.

The Connection 2017 is due to take place on or about 17 to 20 July 2018 at the National Defense University in Washington. This will be a problem for foreigners like me, as currently special access clearance is required to enter the facility, and obtaining authority to travel to Washington is always an issue due to the expense of accommodation and the perception of a conference taking place in the US Capital.

Overall this year’s Connections was the best yet for me. Quantico is easy to get to, yet far enough away from the capital to make the business case easy. The facilities are excellent and the Marine Corps ethos is similar to the UK military, so I feel right at home.

There were hardly any “eyesight tests by organisational wiring diagrams”, few impenetrable slides full of US defense-specific abbreviations and no propaganda presentations about what particular organisations are doing or planning to do in the future. It was squarely on-message and, noting the comments I made last year about the scale and narrow specialisation of some areas of US wargaming needing repeated visits to make sense of it all, this was the first Connections that I would whole-heartedly recommend to a first-timer.

It still has a little “folksy charm” where the programme doesn’t quite spell out what is happening in the evenings where the more reticent participant might get left behind and miss out, but overall it was the best Connections yet!

Tom Mouat

 

UK MoD: Wargaming Handbook

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The Development, Concepts and Doctrine Centre of the UK Ministry of Defence has just issued their new 98 page Wargaming Handbook—and it is available as a free download.

In the preface, the Vice Chief of the Defence Staff notes:

Wargaming is a powerful tool. I am convinced that it can deliver better understanding and critical thinking, foresight, genuinely informed decision-making and innovation. Sir John Chilcot’s report highlighted
these very themes. I have also been struck by how important wargaming is becoming among many of our allies and partners. It allows those involved to experiment and learn from their experiences in a ‘safe-to-fail’ environment.

I wish to reinvigorate wargaming in Defence to restore it as part of our DNA. Historically the UK military was accomplished at wargaming but this culture has largely been lost. Where it exists, it is ad hoc and uncoordinated, with demand outstripping existing expertise. We must seek to regenerate this culture and the associated skills among our people – military and civilian alike – at all levels and in all areas of our business. This effort requires everyone’s participation and encouragement, but particularly at senior levels.

The Wargaming Handbook is the first publication of its type in Defence. It is an important element of this initiative and a key resource for us all. I commend it to you.

The Handbook contains chapters on:

  • Introducing wargaming (Chapter 1)
  • Wargaming fundamentals (Chapter 2)
  • Wargaming types, variants and contexts (Chapter 3)
  • Wargaming process (Chapter 4)

…plus annexes on “Applying wargaming to Defence problems” and “Further reading and information.” It is extremely instructive reading, and will certainly be a seminal resource in the professional wargaming community for many years to come.

PAXsims gets a few mentions too!

Simulation & Gaming, August 2017

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The latest issue of Simulation & Gaming 48, 4 (August 2017) is now available.

 

Editorial


Articles


Design Case Study


Onward to Victory with Dstl!

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Some of the wargaming team at HMS Victory (left to right: Paul Strong, Mike Bagwell, Colin Marston, me, James Bennett, Mike Young and Major Tom Mouat).

Public release identifier DSTL/PUB103767

In mid-July I was fortunate to spend the better part of a week with the (UK) Defence Science and Technology Laboratory wargaming team at Dstl Portsdown West, near Portsmouth. As with my visit last year, I had a very enjoyable and productive time, exchanging views, discussing challenges and approaches, and generally benefitting from their broad experience. The schedule and pdfs of all my slides are provided below. (The videos have no sound, and are just another way to present the slides.)

20170728_PAXsims Agenda

Monday: Presentations

On the first day of my visit I made four presentations, each of which was followed by broader discussion with the group in attendance. The first of these examined wargaming as an educational (vs analytical) tool [pdf]. In this I discussed the strengths—and potential weaknesses–of serious gaming as an educational and training tool. I emphasized that educational outcomes depended not just on a game’s design, but also how it was used, and how it related to course objectives—the debate over the Statecraft international relations simulation being a case in point. I highlighted four general types of educational games, which I termed “pathway,” “strategy, “perspective,” and ‘fog and friction” games. I noted how the design of these differed from analytical games intended to answer one or more research questions. However, while games should certainly be designed for their intended purpose, I also suggested that practical realities (including limited resources) meant that it might sometimes be necessary or desirable to conduct dual-purpose games that have both analytical and educational dimensions. Much of the rest of the discussion focused on how best to do this without adversely compromising either aspect.

My second presentation [pdf] looked at wargaming unpredictable adversaries (and unreliable allies)—a topic of growing importance given the challenges of global terrorism, North Korean missile and nuclear weapon development, the current crisis in the Gulf Cooperation Council, and similar challenges, coupled with the complications posed by uncertainty in US policy under the Trump Administration, plus Brexit in the European context. Much of my talk drew upon ideas I first raised in an article on the topic at The Strategy Bridge in March. I discussed several possible approaches to representing unpredictability/unreliability in a game, including scripting, stochastic (random) behaviour, responsive variables (with stochastic elements), using the white cell, and two (or more) level games.

After that, attention turned to gaming the semi-cooperative [pdf]. Here we explored the challenge of designing games that are cooperative but retain plenty of room for competition, poor coordination, and friction. This can be done, of course, with game mechanics that offer tangible rewards for both sets of behaviours, such as the dual metric system of (cooperative) “relief points” and (individual) “organization points” in AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game. However, I suggested, there are limits to such a utility-maximizing, game theoretical treatment. Designers should also emphasize a psychological approach, whereby player engagement with the game narrative, imperfect information and communication, time pressures, game facilitation, and other methods are used to internalize sources of potential disagreement among the various participants.

The final presentation for the first day explored wargames as experiments [pdf ]. Here I suggested that wargames were rarely proper experiments: idiosyncratic variations between players, the limited number of iterations possible (often only one), and the complex, highly contingent nature of outcomes, all weighed against true experimentation. Nonetheless, some quasi-experimental designs were possible, and wargaming was extremely useful both as a way to generate questions for further study and in the context of efforts to triangulate findings using mixed methods. I pointed to a few techniques that might be used.

I also suggested that we needed more research on wargaming methodologies. One possible way of encouraging this would be to have an annual game design challenge, wherein wargamers would be invited to submit wargames exploring a set topic. This would allow methods and outcomes to be compared. (As Paul Strong pointed out to me, this is something the Society of Ancients already does in the hobby arena, annually refighting an ancient battle using a number of different rule sets.) A Dstl challenge for Connections UK 2018, perhaps?

 

Tuesday: Matrix Gaming and MaGCK

Most of the next two and a half days were taken up with a workshop on basic and advanced matrix game techniques [pdf], including an overview of the Matrix Game Construction Kit (MaGCK) prototype. For this I was joined by Major Tom Mouat (Defence Academy of the UK), a fellow member of the MaGCK design team. We both found it very useful to get some feedback on the kit and its contents. Most of suggestions we received will be incorporated into the final production version, which will be launched at the Connections UK professional wargaming conference in September.

Day 2 also featured a presentation on gaming foreign policy [pdf]. This examined the value of serious gaming for training and policy analysis, and reviewed some of the work colleagues and I had done over the years gaming various aspects of conflict and peacebuilding in the Middle East.

At the end of the day we sat down to play A Reckoning of Vultures, one of the sample matrix games included in MaGCK:

A Reckoning of Vultures is set in the capital of the fictional Republic of Matrixia.

There, in the ornate Presidential Palace, surrounded by his most loyal Presidential Guards, the President-for-Life is on his death-bed—and various power-hungry factions are jostling to take power themselves.

Once the President passes, competition between these would-be successors will escalate to open conflict, until the Central Committee of the Ruling Party can meet and agree on a new leader

The Central Security and Intelligence Directorate (CSID) are Matrixia’s shadowy—and much-feared—secret police, responsible for maintaining a close watch on both dissidents and potential rival power centres within the regime. Although lacking large numbers of armed personnel, covert CSID operatives are well-placed to blackmail, influence, sabotage, subvert, or spy.

The Matrixian Armed Forces can call upon large numbers of military personnel located in three major military bases around the capital. Inter-service rivalries and the influence of other factions may mean, however, that not all MAF units are loyal or obey orders.

The Ministry of the Interior has authority over police and emergency services personnel in the capital. Although MoI units are well-positioned across the city, most are inferior in combat capability to those of the regular military.

Much of what happens in Matrixia is manipulated by a group of rich and powerful Oligarchs, who both control much of the business sector and have deep ties to the country’s major criminal syndicates. Although they have only a few private security guards and mercenaries to safeguard their position, they have considerable wealth that can be used further their political ambitions.

The National Union of Toilers represents the downtrodden workers of the country. NUT hopes to mobilize the masses and advance their political agenda through strikes, demonstrations, and direct action. If they can arm some of their followers and form a workers’ militia, they could become very powerful indeed.

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Things heat up in the capital of Matrixia (left to right: me, Colin Marston, Mike Larner and Major Tom Mouat).

In this particular case, our game involved a dead President (of course); student protests, which were soon crushed by hired thugs; an amphibious landing by MAF marines to wrest control of the port; a failed airborne landing at the worker-controlled oil refinery; a spectacularly unsuccessful jailbreak (in which unguarded prisoners preferred to stay in their cells than follow the revolutionary NUT leader); sabotage of the Ministry of Information communications system; bombing of the civilian airport by government jets; a dramatic face-off outside the Presidential Palace, in which tanks were vanquished by protesters (presumably through moral suasion rather than any sort of inherent anti-armour capability); and a closely fought vote for supremacy in the Central Committee of the Ruling Party. While it was all good fun, the scenario—as intended—demonstrated a variety of different matrix game techniques. Moreover, it was possible to relate most of the game events to real life coups and succession struggles in Syria, Egypt, Turkey, and elsewhere.

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There was pointing too. No wargame is complete without much high-quality pointing.

 

Wednesday: More matrix gaming, and a dockyard tour

For me, one of the most interesting part of the programme was the opportunity to develop a matrix wargame from scratch with members of the Dstl staff, as a way of exploring matrix gaming and game design more broadly. The choice of topic was left up to me, so as a Middle East analyst I chose a possible future conflict between Israel and Hizbullah. After an overview of key aspects of the issue [pdf], we all set to work for a couple of hours. The result was a game design with four actors (Israel, Hizbullah, the Lebanese government, and civilians fleeing the fighting). Reflecting the complex, multi-sided character of Lebanese politics, the Lebanese government randomly determined each turn whether its actions reflected a common national interest, or the interests of a particular political or sectarian group. The civilian player represented the interests of Israeli and Lebanese civilians alike, and their actions offered an interesting way to model the safety-seeking behavior of local populations in wartime.

During peacetime phase, Israel and Hizbullah would each take one action each per turn, while the Lebanese government and civilians could take one action total during the entire phase. Once major fighting started, Israel and Hizbullah received two actions per turn (one military, one non-military), while the Lebanese government and civilians received one each. The war would continue until a ceasefire was agreed to by the parties, or the domestic support level of one of the belligerents fell to zero.

After all this it was down to Portsmouth, where we went on a specially-arranged tour of HMS St. Albans, a Type-23 Royal Navy frigate. Members of the crew were very ­informative—especially the watch officer who showed us around, and the senior engineering rating who offered a detailed look around the engineering control room and engine room (my first opportunity to get up close and personal with a Rolls-Royce Marine Spey gas turbine). The Dstl team later presented me with a copy of the ship’s crest—a lovely gift, even more so because it had been signed by everyone. We also had some time to see HMS Victory at the Historic Dockyard. Appropriately enough, dinner that evening was at the officer’s mess at HMS Nelson (Her Majesty’s Naval Base, Portsmouth), where–in the best traditions of the empire–it was curry night.

Finally, I spent a couple of hours that night, putting together a playable version of our prototype Israel-Hizbullah game, writing up rules and player briefings and using components from MaGCK.

 

Thursday: Playtesting and game design

The morning of Day 4, we playtested the Israel-Hizbullah matrix game. The game featured two distinct phases. The first depicted growing tensions, with a major arms build-up by Hizbullah, Israeli bombing of one particularly significant weapons shipment through Syria, the successful Israeli assassination of a senior Hizbullah military commander, and an ominous border incident. A system of random event cards left players the option of initiating conflict (at a political cost), or waiting for events to make it inevitable.

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The Israel-Hizbullag game being playtested. The white tokens are all civilians at risk, controlled by the civilian team. The map was made by simply drawing on an acetate overlay of a Lebanon map, while all other components were quickly assembled using MaGCK: Matrix Game Construction Kit.

Finally, the war came. Israel, which had already called up a substantial number of reservists for a planned military exercise, crossed the Lebanese border on a wide front, hoping to destroy most of the estimated 150,000 rockets Hizbullah had amassed in southern Lebanon. Going was slow, however, with Hizbullah forces making good use of the terrain, minefields, bunkers, ATGMs, and the combat experience it had gained in the 2006 war, the Syrian civil war, and elsewhere. However, most efforts by the Shiite militia to score a major propaganda victory—for example, by downing an IDF helicopter laden with troops—were largely unsuccessful.

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Contemplating the situation in Lebanon (left to right: Lt Cdr James Winsor, Stephen Ho and Ben Short).

The Lebanese government pressed for a ceasefire, and was ultimately successful in seeing a draft resolution tabled at the United Nations Security Council with the support of Russia, China, and the European Union. The Trump Administration, however, was sympathetic to the Israeli operation, and vetoed the resolution to give the IDF more time to achieve its objectives.

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Tom Mouat’s notes from the Israel-Hizbullah game.

There we had to end the playtest–Israel was narrowly ahead on points, but Shiite support for Hizbullah was high, and there was little evidence that the group had suffered a fundamental setback.

Later that day I made my final presentation for the week, on gaming corruption [pdf]. I differentiated between three levels at which corruption might be represented in a game: as a complicating factor largely beyond the control of players (represented by some limit or random event); as significant secondary dynamic that players could interact with and affect (as in Mission Zhobia);  and finally as the primary focus of the game. In the case of the latter I drew upon the serious games that Tom Fisher has developed for the World Bank and Egmont Group on money-laundering and anti-corruption efforts.

Last but far from least, the final part of Thursday was spent in an extended discussion of possible design elements for a project that Dstl is currently working on. I can’t disclose the topic or participants, but can say that our discussion addressed a variety interesting issues regarding:

  • in-game communication, including the constraints imposed by classified material
  • using the red cell in a way that both offers red “the freedom to win,” yet assures that game stays on course for its analytical or experiential purpose
  • employing subject matter experts (and keeping them sufficiently busy and engaged)
  • determining the level of military fidelity necessary (and deciding what of this should be communicated to the players)
  • the use and abuse of marker tracks and metrics
  • generating narrative engagement and immersion

 


 

With that, my visit to Dstl came to an end. It was enormously valuable to me to have had the opportunity to share ideas and insights with such a talented group of wargamers and defence analysts—and in a casual setting conducive to frank discussion, innovation, more than a few cups of tea, and a great deal of fun. I’m very grateful to Colin Marston and the rest of the team for their hospitality, as well as their support for the MaGCK project.

For those of you who want to try A Reckoning of Vultures or the Israel-Hizbullah War 201? matrix games, we will be running both during the games fair at Connections UK in September.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Review: This War of Mine (board game)

This War of Mine. Awaken Realms/Galakta/11 Bit Studios, 2017. Designers: Michał Oracz, Jakub Wiśniewski.

Back in 2014, James Sterrett contributed to PAXsims a very positive review of the computer game This War of Mine, which had then just been published by 11-Bit Studios. I played it quite a bit too, and—while having some reservations about how it depicted civilian life during a civil war—also found it innovative, thoughtful, and haunting.

pic3315915_md.jpgIn 2016 a board game version was announced on Kickstarter, and was fully funded by enthusiastic supporters in a matter of hours. The game design was completed earlier this year, the game printed and shipped, and my eagerly-awaited copy arrived in the mail a couple of weeks ago.

Thus it was, with a couple of friends and considerable anticipation, that we set off to try to survive in the ruins of an anonymous city devastated by civil war.

The game is designed so that it can be set up and played without reading a rule book in advance—indeed, there is no “rule book” as such, but rather a journal (which walks you through your choices in each phase) and various options outlined on the various cards and in the game script. This certainly makes the game easy to play, even with neophyte players. On the other hand, it can be easier to forget or overlook a rule, since they aren’t systematically collected in a single place.

The overall feel of game play is very similar to the digital original. In the morning, after a random event, you assign your characters to various tasks: exploring and fixing up your shelter, building new fixtures (such as beds, a stove, a workshop, or water collection system), and performing other daily menial tasks. Each character needs to get enough to eat and drink and sleep, and also keep his or her spirits up.  Too much hunger, wounds, illness, or misery will result in a character leaving the shelter, dying, or even committing suicide. Players cooperatively control all of the characters, with the role of lead player shifting at various points in the game sequence. Different characters have different degree of prowess (which largely affects combat) and empathy (which favourably affects interaction with non-player characters, but which might result in greater vulnerability to misery), as well as unique needs and capabilities.

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When dusk comes, characters can be assigned to scavenge in the city. Various locations become eligible to visit as the game progresses, and an ingenious system of exploration cards and a “choose your own adventure” -type script guarantees that every visit is both different and potentially dangerous. Often players face difficult moral choices, such as stealing whether to steal desperately-needed supplies from other survivors or help others at risk to themselves. Acting in an immoral way might secure more material resources, but can also exact a significant psychological toll. Players might have various encounters while out in the city, whether traders or those with more hostile intent.

Meanwhile, back at the shelter, the remaining characters can be assigned either to sleep (thereby ridding themselves of any fatigue) or stand guard duty against periodic night raids by bandits and others.

Finally, at dawn, the health of characters is adjusted (including the ravages of an increasingly cold winter), narrative and fate cards are drawn, and a new morning begins.

The full campaign game involves three chapters, each of which involves about 2 hours of play. We completed most of the first two chapters before time ran out and we had to call an end to the session.

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The game board.

Overall, the designers have done a good job at creating a narrative of a dark, grinding, struggle for survival. The excellent game art and high-quality components certainly contribute to the sense of devastation and desperation. I did find that gameplay became rather repetitious after a while, but this was probably in part result of playing for almost four hours continuously. Consequently, I suspect that the game is better played in a series of separate, single-chapter sessions. A pad of record-keeping sheets is supplied to make it easy to record where one partial game ends and the next chapter begins.

As with the digital original of the game, I did have some reservations about how the game depicts the human fabric of war-affected societies. In most civil wars, residents do not scavenge in ruins at night (a particularly dangerous time), nor in most cases are they faced with nightly bandit raids in major cities. Instead, makeshift markets and services do function, and neighbourhoods and extended families provide vital networks of support. Indeed, having worked in war zones and with refugees, I am usually struck not so much by a descent into Hobbesian social violence of all-against-all but rather by the remarkable power of altruism and social solidarity. In this sense, the game borrows a little too much from the post-apocalyptic fantasy genre—a sort of civil war version of The Walking Dead, minus the zombiesthan from the actual lived experience of civilians during wartime.

If the game is being played for its gaming value, this matters little. If it is being used in an instructional setting, the similarities and differences between the game’s depiction of civil war and other (autobiographical and historical) accounts could make for interesting material in a debriefing assignment or a post-game classroom discussion. Although designed for solo or cooperative play by up to six players, it could easily be adapted for much larger groups.

As to our playtest game, we continually teetered on the brink of disaster. Among our original group of characters, only Anton, the former professor of mathematics, had survived. Boris, a warehouse worker, had been unable to take it the pressure. Emilia, a lawyer, had died. Those who had joined the shelter later were no more lucky. Emira, who had suffered poverty and homelessness long before the war started, and whose ability to find food for the shelter had been invaluable, had been lost too. As for Arica, Anton had no idea what had happened to her. She had left one night to scavenge for supplies—and had never returned.

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Anton, alone in the house.

And so Anton remained. The last of his precious books had been burned to heat the shelter against the encroaching winter. He was low on supplies. He didn’t even have the energy clear the rubble from the back rooms or patch the holes in the building, through which both chill winds and looters entered.  If only this cursed war would end…


UPDATE: You’ll find a very good review of the game by Jasenko Pasic, who lived through the siege of Sarajevo as a child, at BoardGameGeek.

 

 

 

“One Belt, One Road” matrix game

We are pleased to feature this report on the One Belt, One Road matrix game developed by COL Jerry Hall. The report below was written by Ryan Carragher, a Boston College student, ROTC member, and intern at the US Army War College. We are grateful to Jerry for sharing the complete set of rules and to LTC Joseph Chretien (US Army War College) for passing all of this on to us.


“One Belt, One Road” (OBOR-MG), a new matrix game developed by Colonel (COL) Jerry Hall, United States Army, focuses on China’s One Belt, One Road (OBOR) plan for trade expansion and growth.  The game is a six-player game, with teams of China, Russia, India, the European Union, the United States, and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). With China’s influence expanding, it is up to the other teams to either determine how to counter China, or find a way to grow with them. The game’s scenario begins in the present day and advances three to five years each round, which replicates China’s end goal of completing OBOR by 2050.

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COL Jerry Hall discussing the rules of OBOR-MG

The goals and objectives of OBOR-MG are to explore where China’s OBOR plan may take the world over the course of the next few decades, to expose players to the growth of China through trade, and to force players to think of ways that China can be countered.   Within the context of the game, agreed upon trade routes must be invested in to be established, and new trade routes can be planned and opened.  More directly, the game requires players to use their National Elements of Power (DIME-Diplomacy, Information, Military, and Economic) to exert influence throughout the globe.  In doing so, the game requires players to manage multiple different mechanisms of foreign relations.  This forces players to expand their thinking at the strategic level.  Military leaders playing must consider the diplomatic, economic and information alternatives, while other government officials playing the game must consider the military options as well.   This aspect of the game allows it to accomplish its objective of being an effective tool for strategy development and analysis, to test different courses of action, to determine potential U.S. national interests, and to explore potential outcomes of China’s trade expansion.  The OBOR-MG game is extremely versatile in its intended audience.  Indeed, it is a useful tool for not only military leaders and organizations but also civilian leaders to test and expand strategic plans as well as for students studying any of the countries and regions involved.

The game was built using lessons learned from past matrix games developed at the Center for Strategic Leadership at the U.S. Army War College.  COL Hall recognized the need for a matrix game revolving around China’s planned growth in order to better educate students and leaders on how the future can be handled.  Furthermore, he thought it was vital to include all aspects of the National Elements of Power, as had been done in previous matrix games, such as the South China Sea and Kaliningrad.

A new design element in this game comes in the form of each player having multiple chits (moves for each element of power) per turn.  This allows for a more accurate representation of each player countries’ strengths in individual fields.  For example, China begins the game with three economic chits, and one chit for Diplomacy, Military, and Information.  This is indicative of the enormous amount of investment China is dedicating to the development of trade routes in order to advance its growth.  The United States begins with two diplomacy, military, and economic chits, as well as one information chit.  This shows the fact that the United States has diplomatic and military power in the region, but is not investing as much as China.

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One of the trackers in OBOR-MG used to track open corridors.

OBOR-MG goes one step further in allowing each payer to play a chit in response to another player’s move, directly after the player makes the move.  This allows other players to modify the dice roll by opposing the action with their pieces and making the roll more difficult, or by supporting it and therefore lessening the required role.  By adding this facet to the game, COL Hall made OBOR-MG a more realistic test of foreign policy, as players must manage their elements of power in the most effective way possible and have the ability to respond to opponents’ actions in real time.  In the game’s development stages, COL Hall also refined the mechanism by which countries gain economic chits.  Emphasizing the economic value of the trade routes, countries through which the route travels, upon the route’s completion, increase the number of economic chits they receive at the beginning of each round.  Countries that invest in the routes but are not located along them receive an increase in influence in the region of their investment.  This aspect of the game’s development is vital, as it accurately recreates the incentive for competing powers to invest in spots that will not show immediate economic gains but will further their long term goals.

OBOR-MG was play-tested extensively by the Strategic Simulations Division at the Center for Strategic Leadership.  This play testing recognized the value of players’ ability to make multiple moves and respond to their opponents.  It also brought about minor changes in the numbers of chits given to each player at the start of the game.  For example, China’s economic chits at the start were reduced from four to three, and the United States’ was increased from one to two.  These small changes were made to make the game as reflective of the real world situation as possible.  The play testing also shed light on areas in which the game could expand due to players’ actions.  For example, the European Union and ASEAN can now develop military chits by working with other players or by establishing a military force through “big” actions – projects that may take multiple turns or chits to accomplish.  This rule allows for players to greatly expand the possibilities of what they can do, but in a way that reflects potential real-world developments.  With this ability, players are now more capable of testing potential strategies by different countries.

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Playtesting the game.

China’s “One Belt One Road” plan has the potential to drastically change the economic world and world power balance, if it is as successful as China expects it to be by 2050.  This game has the potential to provide the United States and its global partners a road map on how best to counter China, or how to join them.  COL Hall’s OBOR-MG provides a well-developed platform for leaders to test new strategies and for enterprising students to learn about the future of trade, power, and global politics.

Ryan Carragher

 

Simulation and gaming miscellany, 26 July 2017

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PAXsims is pleased to present some recent items on conflict simulation and serious (and not-so-serious) gaming that may be of interest to our readers—and we don’t care who you love, or what gender you identify as.

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The Strategy Bridge recently featured an article by MAJ GEN Charles A. Flynn and CAPT Lorenzo Ruiz entitled “Beyond Checkers and Chess: What Junior Leaders Can Do to Develop Strategic Thinking.”

To better explore the value of developing strategic understanding in junior leaders, this article explores flaws in strategic thinking by looking at the game of chess, a game of perfect information, a single objective, defined territory, and no regard for the state of the board after victory. Next, it looks at how the Chinese game of Wei Ch’i can offer solutions for framing a better way of thinking strategically: by focusing on positions of advantage, working with uncertainty, and linking efforts to achieve end-state conditions. Using the lessons of Wei Ch’i, we then look at how the U.S. Army’s operational variables can help us identify comparative advantages and how thinking with strategic empathy helps us understand adversaries and solve the right problems.[6] Finally, we discuss the importance of senior leaders in shaping the problem-solving skills of the next generation of strategic leaders.

The article also introduces formal, rational choice game theory as another lens through which to view strategic issues.

I don’t disagree with their main argument:

Chess may be good to sharpen the tactical mind, but strategy requires setting conditions beyond the battlefield, identifying comparative advantages by analyzing adversarial interactions, seeking positional advantage in the physical, informational, and electromagnetic environments, and contributing efforts to achieve political objectives. By recognizing what drives our adversaries’ actions we can more accurately apply diplomacy to keep the peace, but when required out think and outmaneuver enemies in times of war. We can use tools like the operational variables to identify conditions and interactions, the “Five Whys” to perform root-cause analysis ensuring we are solving the right problems, and game theory to improve our strategic empathy. The tacticization of strategy must be reversed. Junior leaders must start early and view their tactical actions with a strategic mind. These are just some suggestions that can help leaders at all levels avoid the strategic failures of our past.

However, while chess is a poor analogy for challenges of military strategy, I’m not sure that Wei Ch’i (Go) is much better—it may have more potential moves, but it also is a game of perfect information, devoid of the fog and friction of both wartime and peacetime strategic interaction. There is a reason, after all, why Clausewitz suggested that card games were the best parallel, given their uncertainty, imperfect information, and need to balance uncertain risk and opportunity.

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More fundamentally, however, it is important to get away from the rather frequent habit of trying to characterize national strategic characteristics through stereotypical national games.

Sure, it is easy and fun to do:

  • The Chinese play Go (and this explains their sneaky creation of islands encircling ever larger parts of the South China Sea)!
  • Middle Easterners play backgammon —which explains why ISIS builds its sanctuaries in far-away corners!
  • The British imported Chutes and Ladders (Snakes and Ladders) from India, and added to it some pious moralizing about British values, which is why PM Cameron gambled on an EU referendum and they’ve now fallen into the pit of Brexit!
  • Gonggi, a traditional Korean children’s game, involves throwing stones in the air—much like testing nuclear-capable ballistic missiles!
  • Russian matryoshka nesting dolls can collude perfectly!
  • Americans invented Monopoly, which tells you all you need to know about capitalist neoimperialism!

…except there is very little evidence that either game playing or national strategy varies in such simplistic ways. Indeed, the social science evidence is rather stronger that military officers play games rather like other military officers and rather unlike civilians, that youth may play differently than their elders, and that everyone plays differently if you reframe the game in different terms. Moreover, strategy is a multilevel game, wherein organizational process and domestic politics can be significant determinants of geopolitical behaviour.

PAXsims

At Foreign Policy, Paul McLeary reports on major NATO and Russian military exercises:

Tens of thousands of troops are on the move from the Baltic to the Black Sea, as NATO and Russia open up a series of massive military exercises the size of which the continent hasn’t seen since the Cold War.

Both sides claim the drills, which involve aircraft, warships, tanks and artillery, are purely defensive in nature. But it is clear the exercises are also meant to show off new capabilities and technologies, and display not only the strength of alliances, but how swiftly troops and heavy equipment can move to squash a threat at the frontier.

PAXsims

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Bury Me, My Love is a mobile game to be released on IOS and Android in September 2017 that depicts the challenges facing Syrian refugees:

Description

Bury me, my Love is a text-message-based game about Nour, a Syrian migrant trying to find her way to Europe. Her husband Majd remained in Syria; he will attempt, through a messaging app, to advise her as best he can so that she reaches her destination safely.

History

Bury me, my Love is a “reality-inspired game,” a documented fiction which draws inspiration directly from real-world events. The original idea stems from an article written by Le Monde.fr journalist Lucie Soullier that tells the story of Dana, a young Syrian woman who fled her country and is now living in Germany.

The article offers an insight into Syrian migrants journey through their use of WhatsApp. Indeed, cell phone has become a vital tool for Syrian trying to reach Europe, as it allows them to take useful pieces of advice and to be supported by their relatives. Thus, it appeared relevant to Florent Maurin, game designer and founder of The Pixel Hunt, to create a game that replicates the interface of a messaging app. In Bury me, my Love, you will have to help and support a Syrian migrant called Nour through text messages, emojis and even selfies.

Bury me, my Love is developed by The Pixel Hunt and Figs and co-produced by ARTE. Its story is co-written by Florent Maurin and journalist Pierre Corbinais (the creator of reference websites l’Oujevipo and Shake That Button), with the help of Dana and Lucie who are editorial consultants on the project. Thanks to these two women, Bury me, my Love can recreate the experience of a migrant woman on her way from Syria to Europe as realistically as possible.

“Bury me, my love” is an arabic expression meaning “Take care”, “Don’t even think about dying before I do”. You might say it to a loved one before going separate ways. That’s what Majd said to his wife Nour when she hit the road to Europe.

Drawing inspiration from real-time interactive fictions as well as the growing popularity of the WhatsApp messenger, Bury me, my Love is allowing the player to walk in Majd’s shoes. Armed only with his cell phone, Majd will have to support his loved one through some of the most difficult times of her life. How will he help Nour overcome the difficulties she encounters? He will be able to track her progress as she moves from one city to the next, and together they will have to make choices that could have dire consequences.

Bury me, my Love benefits from a financial help allowed by the Fonds d’Aide au Jeu Vidéo of the Centre National du Cinéma (the French Ministry of Culture’s national agency for moving images).

Bury me, my Love is a “reality-inspired game,” a documented fiction which draws inspiration directly from real-world events. The original idea stems from an article written by Le Monde.fr journalist Lucie Soullier that tells the story of Dana, a young Syrian woman who fled her country and is now living in Germany.

The article offers an insight into Syrian migrants journey through their use of WhatsApp. Indeed, cell phone has become a vital tool for Syrian trying to reach Europe, as it allows them to take useful pieces of advice and to be supported by their relatives. Thus, it appeared relevant to Florent Maurin, game designer and founder of The Pixel Hunt, to create a game that replicates the interface of a messaging app. In Bury me, my Love, you will have to help and support a Syrian migrant called Nour through text messages, emojis and even selfies.

Bury me, my Love is developed by The Pixel Hunt and Figs and co-produced by ARTE. Its story is co-written by Florent Maurin and journalist Pierre Corbinais (the creator of reference websites l’Oujevipo and Shake That Button), with the help of Dana and Lucie who are editorial consultants on the project. Thanks to these two women, Bury me, my Love can recreate the experience of a migrant woman on her way from Syria to Europe as realistically as possible.

“Bury me, my love” is an arabic expression meaning “Take care”, “Don’t even think about dying before I do”. You might say it to a loved one before going separate ways. That’s what Majd said to his wife Nour when she hit the road to Europe.

Drawing inspiration from real-time interactive fictions as well as the growing popularity of the WhatsApp messenger, Bury me, my Love is allowing the player to walk in Majd’s shoes. Armed only with his cell phone, Majd will have to support his loved one through some of the most difficult times of her life. How will he help Nour overcome the difficulties she encounters? He will be able to track her progress as she moves from one city to the next, and together they will have to make choices that could have dire consequences.

Bury me, my Love benefits from a financial help allowed by the Fonds d’Aide au Jeu Vidéo of the Centre National du Cinéma (the French Ministry of Culture’s national agency for moving images).

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On a somewhat similar note, the VRefugees project seeks to build empathy for the plight of refugees through virtual reality.

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JoLT (a collaboration between American University’s GameLab and School of Communication) has developed Factitiousa “Fake News” browser game, designed to test a player’s ability to distinguish real and false news stories.

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The full programme for the October 2017 annual conference of the North American Simulation and Gaming Association (NASAGA) is now available.

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The latest edition of the podcast Last Turn Madness discusses the recent Urban Nightmare: State of Chaos megagame with game designer Jim Wallman. Even if the zombie apocalypse isn’t your thing, the session offers plenty of insight into wide-area or distributed gaming, involving multiple, simultaneous linked game locations.

MORS wargaming workshop III

The Military Operations Research Society will be holding its third wargaming workshop on 17-19 October 2017 at the DoD’s Mark Center in Alexandria, Virginia.

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You’ll find additional details at the MORS website.


Note that access to the Mark Center by non-US nationals will require submission of a visit request well in advance of the event, even to attend the unclassified sessions. MORS is working on a process to streamline this, which will be announced closer to the date.

Since most embassies will only process visit paperwork for their citizens if they are on official business, non-Americans may be out of luck if they hope to attend in a private or academic capacity (whether or not one holds security clearances).

Taps: CAPT Todd Kauderer

Howard-Kauderer-1499764860.pngWith great regret we pause to note the passing of Todd Kauderer. Todd was a stalwart of the wargaming community, and a friend and mentor to many. He had a distinguished career in the United States Navy, as a civilian employee of the Department of Defense, and as one of the chief wargamers at the Johns Hopkins APL. Of all Todd’s many admirable qualities, one we will most miss was his boundless enthusiasm. Despite being an old hand, with a lustrous CV, he was always first in line to show a new recruit the ropes; always signing up for every new demo and half-baked idea. Todd was an inspiration in his vocation and his avocation. The middle of three generations of proud service to the U.S. military, he also spent his free time assembling one of the great 15mm scale miniature collections, and helping the rest of us be more accurate and more relevant. He gave his technical expertise and encyclopedic knowledge as generously as he could, and he never lost his love for the work. The last time I spoke to him he was still plotting what team might be assembled to steal the NIC wargaming contract from SAIC. His loss will be deeply felt.

http://www.navintpro.org/taps/2017/07/13/taps-todd-kauderer/

 

US AWC: Wargaming in the classroom poster

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AFTERSHOCK in London

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Live in London (UK) and want to try out AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game? There’s now (or soon will be) a copy available to play at the Draughts Board Game Café.

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Simulation and gaming miscellany, July 4 edition

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Happy July 4th, American readers! To mark the occasion, PAXsims is pleased to bring you some recent items on conflict simulations and serious (and not-so-serious) gaming.

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Polygon recently featured a piece on “The art and craft of making board games for the CIA,” looking at the design work of Volko Ruhnke.

Featured in the piece are several pictures of Kingpin:

A good example of the kind of work that he does is a project called Kingpin: The Hunt for El Chapo, which he co-designed with another instructor in the Defense Intelligence Agency. Kingpin uses the historical details of the capture of Sinaloa drug cartel leader Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán as well as some fictional elements to create a challenging, asymmetrical game.

Kingpin is an adversarial game where one side plays the role of law enforcement and the other plays the role of Guzmán’s own handlers and associates. The goal is to teach analysts about the use of intelligence resources in tracking someone down.

The game revolves around hidden information, with each side playing on their own hidden game board behind a screen. El Chapo’s team is constantly moving around inside Mexico trying to evade the law, but the cartel leader has certain tastes and expectations. He’s not just willing to sit inside a hole somewhere and is interested in leading an active, social lifestyle. Law enforcement has to use that against him. In the classroom the game is played twice, with students taking turns playing on both sides of the table.

h/t Marc Guenette

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Hans-Wolfgang Lodi (Heriot-Watt University) has started a LinkedIn group on “History & Games” to support efforts to use digital and board games in education and to bring together people interested in his work on the JominiEngine.

The JominiEngine is an emerging, distributed, scalable game engine for historical massive multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs). Core game and system design principles of this engine are historical accuracy of the game model and scalability of the system to large numbers of players. The intended application domain is education in history, to provide an “interactive history“ experience. Specifically, the engine has been instantiated to a concrete game, Overlord: Age of Magna Carta, a game set on mainland Britain in the time period of 1194-1225.

The implementation of the game engine focuses on modularity, extensibility and scalability, so that it can be instantiated for different time periods, and extended to also cover different application domains. We therefore view this game engine as a “motherboard“ for developing educational tools with varying topic areas and learning objectives. Technically outstanding features of the implementation are the use of Riak as a non-SQL database and of C# as a programming language.

You’ll find the group here.

In addition, on July 14 there will be an event on serious gaming in Edinburgh:

Where: Blackwells Bookshop Edinburgh South Bridge, 53-59 South Bridge
When: Friday 14th July, 2017 (5:30pm-9:00pm)
Web: http://www.macs.hw.ac.uk/~hwloidl/Projects/JominiEngine/workshop17.html

Learn about Serious Games and play some historical games to learn about history

The main goal of this event is to give an overview of the use of Serious Games in Education, in particular in the learning domain of history, and to experience some historical games through live gameplay sessions. This event aims to bring together various stakeholders and experts in education, game design, game development, and systems development, as well as anyone with a general interest in historical games. The format of the workshop will be: short, overview-style presentations and game demos to start with. The main part of the event will be several game-play events running in parallel to give participants an opportunity to try some games, and finally a discussion session reflecting on the experience from the game-play sessions. A list of games on offer will be posted here closer to the event.

This event is part of a longer-term effort in the development of a game engine, the JominiEngine as a practical teaching tool in the domain of history education. We hope to build a community of interested partners out of this workshop and solicit input for the further development of the engine and for the setting of priorities. For further information, check out the poster, the slides and the papers on the publications section of the main web page for the JominiEngine.

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Frostpunk is forthcoming city-building survival sim from the 11 Bit Studio, the same people who brought us This War of Mine.

Rock Paper Shotgun offers a preview:

In the first week, we put the children to work. They weren’t forced into dangerous jobs, so we told ourselves, but when you’re living on the brink of extinction, what work is truly safe? One afternoon, a man collecting coal complained of numbness in his arm. Frostbite had taken hold. We could have left him to die but instead we opted for an experimental treatment.

He lost the arm and he’s no longer capable of contributing to our dying society. One more mouth to feed with no body of work beneath it. What should we do?

Though it’s a science fiction story, set in a frozen future barely capable of sustaining human life, it shares some of that previous title’s contemporary concerns. Climate change is the obvious one, this being a world undone by a dramatic temperature shift, but as you dig into the details, there are questions about equality, labour and the scarcity of natural resources that make the crater-town of Frostpunk an unhappy microcosm of just about every society you might choose to name.

It’s also an icy cocktail of cinematic and real world inspirations: the crash of Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 (filmed as Alive), Aron Ralston’s Utahmputation (filmed as 127 Hours) and Captain America and the railway children (filmed as Snowpiercer), among many others. There’s also a rich vein of Victoriana, but not simply in the [Blank]Punk sense; here there are shadows of the workhouse and Blake’s ‘weeping chimneysweep.’ The beating hea(r)t of the generator that keeps these people alive is also the new birth of an industrial age, and the factories and mines operate on blood and sweat.

Your job is not just to plan, it’s to inspire, or at least to ensure that hope doesn’t die out. It’s as vital to survival as the flames of the generator and how unusual it is to see Discontent and Hope listed as gauges of success. There are more conventional resources as well, particularly coal in the early stages, but you’re trying to support life rather than mere existence.

Frostpunk is a difficult game. Not in terms of the challenge it presents but in the way it is marrying two distinct genres and forcing bleak decision-making that is tied to its systems rather than its narrative. There is a story to uncover, which will presumably tell us something about how the world came to be as it is, and whether anything like a happy ending is possible. You can learn a little about the world beyond your crater by sending out expeditions, and through balloon-related observation, but the generator is home. And home is where the heart breaks.

h/t James Sterrett

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According to Breaking Defence, US Pacific Command wants and additional $49 million “for “multi-domain battle exercises,” wargames testing a new Army-led concept for future warfare against high-tech adversaries.”

That’s Russia and China to rest of us.

h/t Mark Wallace

PAXsims

Back in May, before the British general election, New Statesman ran the Conservative Party manifesto through the politics simulation/game Democracy 3. You can find out the results here.

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Apparently actual Nazis and white supremacists are upset at the portrayal of Nazis in the trailer for the forthcoming first-person shooter, Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus.

Awww.

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On a final note, I’ll be spending next week discussing wargames with Her Majesty’s loyal subjects at the UK Defence Science and Technology Laboratory. The trip to Dstl provides a golden opportunity to show off the MaGCK (Matrix Game Construction Kit) prototype and to double the size of my Dstl Portsdown West mug collection.

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I’ll post a (suitably-vetted) report to PAXsims upon my return.

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