Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Gaming foreign policy (at the FSI)


On Monday I spent the day at the George P. Shultz National Foreign Affairs Training Center in Alexandria, VA, where the Foreign Service Institute trains State Department personnel and others.

The Institute’s programs include training for the professional development of Foreign Service administrative, consular, economic/commercial, political, and public diplomacy officers; for specialists in the fields of information management, office management, security, and medical practitioners and nurses; for Foreign Service Nationals who work at U.S. posts around the world; and for Civil Service employees of the State Department and other agencies. Ranging in length from one day to two years, courses are designed to promote successful performance in each professional assignment, to ease the adjustment to other countries and cultures, and to enhance the leadership and management capabilities of the U.S. foreign affairs community.

This is the second time in two months that I’ve had the opportunity to speak to foreign ministry personnel about the potential use of games-based methods for both training and analysis—in September, I also made a presentation at the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office. This time I offered an overview of the why, what, and how of foreign policy simulation and gaming, and then took some of the participants through games of both AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game and the ISIS Crisis matrix game. You’ll find the slides I used in my presentation here..


In the game of AFTERSHOCK, the score initially plunged deep into the negatives. However,  effective priority-setting and coordination during mid-game play ultimately resulted in a  very solid victory (especially for the apparently very popular government of Carana).

Our game of ISIS Crisis reflected the current situation, with Iraqi and Kurdish forces undertaking operations against ISIS in Mosul. These made gradual progress, but were slowed by ISIS use of chemical IEDs, a scandal over Iranian arms shipments to Iraq, and an Iraqi cabinet crisis that resulted in the return of Nouri al-Maliki to the position of Prime Minister of Iraq—much to the dismay of Iraqi Sunnis, Washington, and Tehran alike. Despite pledges that Shiite militias would not play a role in the Mosul campaign, they did so anyway—aggravating sectarian tensions. ISIS sought to organize simultaneous mass casualty attacks in the US, but the FBI managed to insert an informant among the plotters and arrested everyone involved before the attacks could be carried out. The game ended with ISIS still in Mosul, and military operations still underway. Afterwards much of the discussion focused on how best to debrief matrix games so as to best attain the desired learning outcomes.

Many thanks are due to Walker Hardy and the FSI for organizing and hosting my visit.

A simple planning game

On Thursday, as part of my talk at Duke University on gaming peace and conflict issues in the Middle East, I ran through a couple of turns of ISIS Crisis to demonstrate how a matrix game functions. That led to an interesting post-presentation discussion with one of the attendees, a US special forces officer, on how a matrix game might be used to generate vignettes for tactical exercises or problem-solving discussions.

Today I had a had a discussion over coffee in Alexandria, VA with Ratiba Tauti-Cherif, who specializes in planning, monitoring and evaluation of aid and peacebuilding programmes. She was interested in how a game might be used in a training context to develop local capacity in this area. Here too it seemed to me that a hybrid approach involving some matrix game elements could be quite effective.


The results of those two discussions can be seen above, in what—for the want of a better name—I’m calling a simple planning game. It essentially works like this:

Participants are given problem to be addressed, whether it is an aid program to designed and implement, or a military objective to be achieved, or something else.

  1. The  major steps or benchmarks to achieve the desired outcome are pre-identified by the instructor (represented above by the arrows marked Steps #1-3). These might be the primary elements of the planning, monitoring, and evaluation process for an aid project, for example, or the key stages in the Military Decision Making Process, or even a series of tactical challenges as part of a broader operation.
  2. Participants are divided into groups, representing real life actors. In a development context these might be local NGOs, the private sector, local and national government, donor agencies, and so forth. In a military context these might represent some combination of staff roles and units/capabilities. One member from each group is temporarily assigned to the Red Team.
  3. The members of the Red Team identify an obstacle appropriate to the current stage of the game, and explain how  it could derail the process or operation. The various player groups then discuss ways in which this obstacle could be overcome, and offer their ideas. As in a typical matrix game, each good argument or idea generated by the participants generates a +1 die roll bonus, while each solid argument from the Red Team imposes a -1 penalty. A d6 is rolled, and the marker is advanced (or retreated) the appropriate number of positions down the track (indicated by blue squares on the image above). This processes is repeated until the participants reach the next major step/task.

    Example: The participants are trying to design and implement a project to address high maternal death rates in a developing country. The Red Team argues that conservative religious leaders might be suspicious or hostile to outside efforts to address pregnancy and child-birth (-1 modifier). The aid actors respond by suggesting outreach to national religious leaders (+1) as well as engagement with community leaders in local areas (+1). The players roll a 4, which with a net +1 modifier advances them a total of five spaces towards their first major task.

  4. When the participants arrive at a major step/task, they are given a relevant group activity or practical exercise to complete before returning to the game. In an aid game this might be a outlining a strategy for stakeholder consultation, for example; in a military game it might be developing a proposed Course of Action.
  5. Members of the previous Red Team go back to their original actor teams, and a new Red Team is formed with new members. As before, the Red Team identifies an obstacle, other players try to overcome it, a d6 is rolled and modified, and the marker continues towards the next major step/task.
  6. The session ends when the players have reached the desired endpoint.

Organizing a session in this way allows a variety of individual topics and learning objectives to be integrated into a single coherent narrative. A skilled facilitator would be able to subtly adjust the pace of the game so that everything remains on schedule, thus addressing the time constraints of an organized course. Teams might even be given a limited number of deus ex machina or lucky break cards—things like extra resources, appeals to senior leaders , or a serendipitous meeting with a key interlocutor—that allow them to overcome obstacles that would otherwise bog down gameplay.

Facilitators would also be able to  modify the degree of challenge during the game so that it remains appropriate for the participants, and to make sure that everyone feels able to contribute. The game and argument/counter-argument components should help to keep everyone energized and engaged.

Since players would rotate through temporary service as a member of the Read Team, they would  gain experience both in identifying potential obstacles and in finding creative ways of overcoming them.One could instead have experienced staff or subject matter experts serve as the Red Team. This would add to the credibility of the the Red Team’s objections and ideas, although at the cost of exposing everyone to the experience of red teaming in policy planning.

If the outputs from each group activity were integrated into a single final product—for example, a Powerpoint presentation, report, or brief-back—players would hopefully come away from it all with a sense of real substantive accomplishment. In a larger group with multiple facilitators, one could even run the simple planning game as a competition, with an award given to the group that most effectively masters the process and generates high quality outputs from each of the group exercises.

Want to give this approach a try in your own training program or classroom? Contact me, and (if my time permits) I would be happy to help you customize it for your needs.

Gaming talks at Duke University


Today I have been a guest of colleagues at Duke University, giving a couple of talks on serious games.


Discussing the design of AFTERSHOCK.

The first was a session with students from an interdisciplinary seminar on “Games and Culture: Politics, Pleasure and Pedagogy,” where I discussed Designing AFTERSHOCK. In this I drew upon an earlier presentation to Dstl on designing a humanitarian assistance/disaster relief game, as well as my keynote address to Connections UK 2016 on the social science of gaming and a talk at the RAND gaming Center on semi-cooperative games.

In the evening I spoke on Gaming in Support of the (late) Middle East Peace Process. You’ll find the slides for that talk here.


I would like to express my gratitude to Shai Ginsburg and Leo Ching for inviting me to Duke and their generous hospitality, and to the students and other participants for very productive and stimulating discussions.


Demonstrating ISIS CRISIS.

MORS livestream: US DEPSECDEF Robert Work on wargaming


The Military Operations Research Society will be livestream an keynote address by US Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert O. Work to the MORS special meeting on wargaming on Thursday, October from 14:15to 15:15.

You can view the livestream here.

Robert Work’s February 2015 memo on the need to reinvigorate wargaming can be found here on PAXsims.

Noise in the gray zone: more findings from an Atlantic Council crisis simulation

Gray zone title.png

Today I made a presentation to members of a US Department of Defense Strategic Multi-Layer Assessment group that is exploring so-called “gray zone” conflict, drawing upon some insights generated by the June 2016 Atlantic Council crisis simulation on US engagement in the Middle East. According the working definition used by the SMA team, the “gray zone” can be understood in the following terms:

The Gray Zone is a conceptual space between peace and war, occurring when actors purposefully use multiple elements of power to achieve political- security objectives with activities that are ambiguous or cloud attribution and exceed the threshold of ordinary competition, yet fall below the level of large-scale direct military conflict, and threaten US and allied interests by challenging, undermining, or violating international customs, norms, or laws

The Atlantic Council game was intended to examine US policy and regional stability, not “gray zone” conflict per se. Nonetheless, the participants certainly made use of myriad methods-other-than-(open) war: terrorism, support for armed non-state groups, cyber attacks, weapons-smuggling, information and influence campaigns, and so forth.

After a brief summary of the Atlantic Council game design and outcomes, I made several key points:

  • The parties were prone to interpret background conflict “noise”—accidents, actions by third parties—as deliberate “gray zone” warfare by a regional adversary. In the case of the Atlantic Council game, a car-bomb attack against the Iranian Embassy in Beirut was widely seen by the Iranian team as Saudi-backed revenge for Iranian actions in Syria (in fact, the Saudis were not involved in the attack, which was conducted by Syrian jihadists), while a clash between Iranian and KSA naval forces in the Gulf was viewed by both sides as a deliberate provocation by the other (whereas it was simply the accidental result of aggressive maritime maneuvering in disputed waters by local naval commanders).
  • Although the parties sometimes used “gray zone” activities to intimidate, deter, or otherwise signal their adversaries, those signals were often poorly understood—in part because signalling is often misunderstood in contexts of tension and conflict, but also because of the very ambiguity of such actions.
  • Routine actions were often reinterpreted in light of other developments. In the Atlantic Council game, for example, rising Saudi-Iranian tensions led the former to view the latter as upping the stakes in Yemen, while the latter was largely continuing on a business-as-usual basis in terms of moderate levels of support for the Houthi rebels.
  • Third parties often sought to further muddy the waters through actions in the “gray zone” intended to manipulate the perceptions of key actors. In the Atlantic Council game, for example, the ISIS team was happy to escalate Sunni-Shiite tensions so as to encourage greater Saudi-Iranian confrontation.
  • The very moral and legal ambiguity of the “gray zone” contributes to problems of threat perception and assessment. The US and Gulf teams regarded stepped-up support for Syrian opposition forces as a legitimate way of countering aggressive Iranian ambitions. By contrast, the Iranian team considered themselves as a status quo power, supporting a longstanding Syrian ally threatened by illegal, externally-backed subversion and insurgency.

Gray zone 1.jpg

I’m not a big fan of the “gray zone” concept, partly because I think it is so ambiguous, and partly because I think it simply describes a quite common aspect of statecraft and conflict rather than anything strikingly new. Viewing the Atlantic Council game through the “gray zone” lens generated another insight, however: the very real danger that paradigms create their own reality, and may serve to frame events in ways that distort their actual causes, intentions, and implications. Rather like looking for monsters under your bed at night, it is all too easy to misperceive the shadows of the so-called “gray zone”—all the more so because some of them actually are monsters.

Gray zone 2.png

Gray zone 3.png

You’ll find the full set of slides from my presentation here.

Duke University: “Gaming in support of the Middle East peace process” (October 20)

On October 20 I’ll be speaking at Duke University on the topic of gaming in support of the Middle East peace process. There’s not really a “Middle East peace process” any more, of course—but hopefully the gaming stuff will be interesting!


You’ll find additional details here. Among the games I will be discussing are:

I’ll also say a little about using gaming approaches to address other Middle East conflicts, including the ISIS Crisis matrix game, the  Syrian refugees in Lebanon educational simulation (2015), and the recent Atlantic Council crisis game on US engagement in the Middle East (2016).

2016 NATO urban wargame: first impressions


Scott Kinner (Marine Corps Tactics and Operations Group) recently returned from participating in the 2016 NATO Urban Operations Wargame that was held 28 September to 7 October at the NATO Defense College in Rome:

The wargame utilized personnel from 18 member countries, dividing them into four brigade teams, each of which worked a MEB-level problem set placed in a 2035, smart city, of 5.7 million people.

The wargame addressed offensive, defensive, stability, and expeditionary activities using three vignettes; joint forcible entry into an urban area, offensive and defensive actions to defeat an enemy in an urban area, and transition to host nation government. The brigade teams analyzed proposed 2035 capabilities, and discovered new ones, by fighting each vignette twice – first as today’s force against a 2035 enemy, and then again with 2035 capabilities.

While the wargame would have identified capability requirements and gaps, the presence of Marines proved instrumental in maximizing the event’s potential. This presence, to include a substantial number of practitioners from the Operating Forces, allowed the Marine Corps to fully exploit the game and develop a draft operating concept for the urban environment that will nest under the Marine Operating Concept and join the rest of the Marine Corps family of operating concepts….

You’ll find Scott’s full unclassified “first impressions” report here (pdf).

More information on the wargame can be found at the website of the NATO Modelling and Simulation Centre of Excellence, while broader background information on NATO’s current urbanization project can be found at the NATO ACT website.

h/t Scott Kinner 

RAND video on (wargaming) Russia and the Baltics

RAND has released a short, glossy video outlining the findings of the many wargames they have run examining a potential Russian invasion of the Baltic republics. You’ll find it on their Facebook page, as well as below.

Their original January 2016 report can be found on the RAND website here.

For the findings of a later CNAS crisis game on Baltic security (and some discussion of the differences between the two game approaches and their respective findings), see the discussion at PAXsims here.

Last Turn Madness: Jim Wallman on megagames


The latest edition of the podcast Last Turn Madness has an excellent interview with evil genius Jim Wallman of Megagame Makers on the history, design, and future of megagaming. Megagames are large mass-participation games on both historical and fictional topics that use minimalist rules and instead emphasize developing narrative, player interaction, and emergent game play. Jim designed and ran the New World Order 2035 megagame we held at McGill earlier this year.

Among the many interesting issues explored in the conversation are the changing demographics of megagame participation, and the ways in which this has influenced both game design and play. Jim also discusses the central importance of narrative engagement, his “less is more” game design philosophy, the role of the Control team, and how to encourage player creativity without allowing them to exploit loopholes or break a game’s basic assumptions and reality. His serious game work is addressed too, with mentions of both the Connections UK professional wargaming conference (where he ran a game on the civil war in Binni) and PAXsims.


Jim Wallman at work at the New World Order 2035 megagame (McGill University).

Jim also mentions the the forthcoming “Wide-Area Megagame” that will be held in early July 2017. The scenario for this will be a massive crisis in a fictionalized United States, involving multiple simultaneous linked games played in cities across the UK. We’ll be participating in this from Montreal too, playing the role of neighbouring “Northland.” If you’re in the Montreal area, are interested in participating, and don’t mind getting up very, very early in the morning (we’ll be playing on UK time), drop me a line!

h/t Ben Moores

C-WAM: Center for Army Analysis Wargaming Analysis Model

At GovTechWorks, Michael Peck has a very interesting article on the Center for Army Analysis Wargaming Analysis Model, or C-WAM:

Computers continue to revolutionize modern warfare, not the least of when it comes to putting battle plans to the test. Devise the scenario, feed it into the computer and out spews detailed estimates of risk, supply consumption and more.

But as it turns out, that there’s nothing like pitting humans against humans – at least to get the kinks out of a plan to begin with.

Indeed, Pentagon leaders right up to the deputy secretary of defense are using a house-built Army board game – complete with outcome tables and standard dice – to spot the flaws in battle plans before crunching the numbers with modern computing. Just as manned aircraft and drones can team to form a highly effective partnership, computer models linked to board games can bring out the best qualities of both.

The Army calls its board game C-WAM – short for the Center for Army Analysis Wargaming Analysis Model. Games pit (friendly) Blue versus (enemy) Red forces and results are fed into the Joint Integrated Contingency Model (JICM), a powerful computer simulation that analyzes plans and calculates losses and supply consumption.

First developed eight years ago, C-WAM is increasingly popular and has been used by Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work, a well-known vigorous advocate for analytical wargaming as well as the Joint Staff, multiple Combatant Commands (COCOMs) including Pacific (PACOM) and European (EUROCOM) commands, and other major component commands, such as U.S. Pacific Fleet and Pacific Air Forces and U.S. Air Forces Europe.

The game has also been used to test potential effectiveness of new weapons during the acquisition process.

“Demand is far outstripping our capacity at this point,” says C-WAM creator Daniel Mahoney III, a campaign analyst for Center for Army Analysis at Fort Belvoir, Va. “We turn people down now for wargaming requests.”

Understanding the Game

Physically, C-WAM consists of a tabletop map typically about five-feet long and four-feet wide. Players maneuver their pieces (representing brigades) across the map, just like in any other tabletop game. The digital Battle Tracker– a simple computer database — rolls digital dice and tracks losses, supplies and so on. If they prefer, players may also choose to use conventional physical dice.

The Blue and Red teams are each led by a commander-in-chief and supported by ground, air and naval commanders. A White Cell umpire, supported by a few more people to run the Battle Tracker, oversees the game as it plays out. …

What’s more, Michael has gone a step further, and obtained a copy of the C-WAM rule book. You’ll find it here.

This detailed  April 2016 presentation on C-WAM by Daniel Mahoney to the MORS wargaming community of practice may also be of interest.

h/t Michael Peck

Simulation and gaming miscellany, 2 October 2016


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


A recent article in The Guardian offers an extensive discussion of “the rise and rise of tabletop gaming.”

We may now live in a world of Facebook, Pokémon Go, Netflix and iPads, but board-gaming is booming. Even the early 20th-century games explosion, which gave us such hardy perennials as Monopoly, Cluedo and Scrabble, has nothing on the current surge. Market research group NPD, which claims to measure around 70% of the UK toy trade, has recorded a 20% rise during the past year in the sales of tabletop games (including card and dice games, war games played with miniature figures and role-play titles such as Dungeons & Dragons, in which players imagine themselves as heroic warriors and wizards in imaginary, fantasy worlds)….

I’m pleased to see that my favourite central London games shop, the Orc’s Nest, gets a mention.


If you play Dungeons & Dragons, be warned—”demons are out to destroy you!”

or so says Pat Robertson of the 700 Club.

Having played D&D since the very (boxed, three booklet) beginning, I have long found it to not only be fun and enjoyable, but also a way to develop interpersonal, narrative, and analytical skills. Experience in running a D&D or other RPG game is also a very good way of developing game facilitation skills—indeed, as I’ve previously suggested at PAXsims, being a RPG gamemaster may be better preparation for professional wargame or policy game facilitation than being a traditional hex-and-counter board hobbyist wargamer.

Has D&D or another roleplaying game contributed to your own professional game facilitation or design skills? If so, email me some comments on the subject and we will feature the responses in a future PAXsims post.


A couple of weeks ago Ars Technica featured an article on the “explosive growth of the 300 player megagame.”

There’s a new kind of hybrid game doing the rounds that marries the large scale politicking of live-action roleplaying (LARPs) with the focused, often crunchy mechanics of an economic game. It’s played with dozens, even hundreds of players, it takes a whole day, and it has a clumsy sobriquet that perfectly encapsulates its grand ambition: the “megagame.”

Megagames have no strict definition, but here’s an outline of the (pretty typical) first one that I tried two years ago. Strange alien forces mass near the earth, alarming the world’s governments. Multiple teams of three-to-six players represent various nations, and teams take on roles like diplomats or military leaders. Each team plays its own straightforward game of economics to balance a country’s budget, fund the military, and direct scientific research.

These aspects of the game are all managed in “private play areas” depicting each country, but players also meet in more public areas to coordinate international strategic planning or to discuss diplomatic goals. They pore over a map of the world showing the movements of their armies and air forces. They huddle around a table that represents the UN. They forge alliances, compete to seize alien technology, and perform acts of espionage.

Occasionally a referee steps in to clarify a ruling or to announce a new event. Alien craft have been sighted on the Moon! Terrorists have kidnapped a head of state! Earthquakes! Perhaps there’s even a message from the aliens—who are played by another team of people kept separate from the action but nevertheless allowed to watch everything as the nations of earth banter and bicker.

This is Watch the Skies, only one kind of megagame, but so far the most popular. It’s enjoying replays and reinterpretations everywhere from Aberdeen to Australia. If your personal preference isn’t for the extraterrestrial, other megagames cover everything from military scenarios to Machiavellian historical intrigue. What they all have in common is a focus on social dynamics, independent referees who guide play and introduce new events, and a sense of scale that puts Diplomacy to shame.

They also share a lineage. UK-based Megagame Makers has been designing and playing these games for decades, long before Watch the Skies found breakout success. A key designer throughout much of this period has been Jim Wallman, and when I speak to him over Skype to ask the secret of a megagame’s success, I discover he has recently returned from a game in Canada and is consulting with the British military on simulating conflict scenarios….

You can read the full piece at the link above.

As for that “Jim Wallman” character, he was last seen in Canada running the New World Order 2035  megagame at McGill University, speaking at the Connections North wargaming miniconference, and leading a group of uncooperative juvenile Mooseketeers to safety during the zombie apocalypse….


Jim Wallman in action at McGill University.


Staff from the Strategic Simulations Division recently briefed MG Rapp, Commandant for the US Army War College, on matrix games—using the Kaliningrad 2017 game as an example.


For additional details of the game, see this earlier PAXsims report by LTC David Barsness and Michelle Angert, as well as this playtest report from National Defense University.


If you have played AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game, but haven’t rated or reviewed it at BoardGameGeek or The Game Crafter, please do—we welcome the feedback!



He posted it back in early September, following the Connections UK conference, but we’ve been slow on updates: go and read Paul Vebber’s comments and presentation on wargaming and technology innovation at the Wargaming Connection blog.


A Wargamer’s Needful Things is a collaborative blog by Jason Rimmer, Mike Wall, and  Robert Peterson that offers game reviews and thoughtful commentary on the wargaming hobby. They also have a current contest to win a free copy of a new book by Rick Priestly and John Lambshead, Tabletop Wargames: A Designers’ and Writers’ Handbook (Pen & Sword Publishing, 2016).

h/t Peter Perla, who won’t appreciate the extra competition to win! 


The draft programme for the 2017 Connections Oz interdisciplinary wargaming conference (5-6 December, University of Melbourne) has now been posted.

I wish I was attending—I participated last year and found it very productive (and enjoyable) indeed.


The 2016 North American Simulation and Gaming Association annual conference will be held on October 26-29 in Bloomington, Indiana. You’ll find further details at the NASAGA website.

Nine-dash Line: A South China Sea matrix game

The following game was developed by PAXsims associator editor Tom Mouat.



Nine-dash Line is a game of regional competition and cooperation in the South China Sea. It uses a matrix game mechanism, an approach we’ve discussed extensively here at PAXsims. The game’s title, of course, refers to China’s maritime and territorial claims in the area.

The game was developed for two reasons: The first was to generate a contemporary game in a regional potential flashpoint that I hadn’t done before; and the second was to get some understanding of the region prior to a visit to the Defence Academy by a senior Vietnamese delegation. As has been discussed before, the act of designing a game generates a greater understanding of the situation even before the players are included. This was no exception as I was surprised just how little I knew (despite participating in an FPDA exercise a few years ago).

We ran the game recently and, since it was set in the contemporary situation, the US Presidential election featured part way through the game. We diced for the result with a 58% chance of a Clinton victory (able to be modified by arguments) with the result that she won a clear victory. It will be interesting to see if this matrix game was accurate in this respect in November.


This game featured a number of random event cards, which worked well with the players, but we elected to modify the narrative and effect of the cards as best met the situation of the individual circumstances at the time. For example, in a previous turn the USA had successfully argued for an oil survey vessel operating in support of the Philippines Government and in the following turn the “Oil Discovery!” Card came up. This was too good an opportunity to miss, so the USA was permitted an additional argument to determine the extent of the oil discovery.

We also elected to try the idea of providing a more general background briefing for the players and requiring them to identify their own objectives over the coming months of game play.

The game went as follows:

  • Turn 1: A typhoon hit the area of the Spratly Islands and the coast of the Philippines, with considerable destruction and loss of life. China deployed naval ships to the area, supported by a Malaysian hospital ship and a repair vessel. The US Navy also carried out humanitarian assistance along the Philippines Coast, but the Philippine President took the opportunity to attack drug operations in coastal cities. The Vietnam Government successfully invited the Russian Navy for joint exercises off Cam Ranh Bay and Taiwan dispatched a repair ship to their lone outpost in the Spratly Islands.
  • Turn 2: There was a dispute between Pilipino fishermen and Taiwan resulting in damage to the Pilipino vessel, cut nets, and serious injury to one of the crew. The Taiwan Government quickly defused the situation by escorting the vessel away from Taiwanese claimed waters and paying compensation to the owners. The Russian / Vietnamese joint exercise was a great success and was accompanied by a political initiative to increase Russian involvement in Cam Hanh Bay. Chinese and US Navy submarines shadowed the exercise, gaining valuable intelligence. The Philippines took advantage of Chinese efforts being concentrated on the Vietnamese and the ongoing repair efforts in the Spratly Islands, to re-establish a lighthouse in Scarborough Shoal.
  • Turn 3: The Taiwan government was embarrassed by their repair vessel running aground in spectacular fashion, in the glare of media attention, near Taiping Island. Efforts to rescue the ship were a fiasco and their standing in international media was something of a joke.  Clinton won the US election convincingly and took the opportunity to sponsor oil survey ships in Filipino waters in an effort to improve relations even more with the Philippines President. At this point Malaysia took the chance (with clandestine help from the Chinese) to launch a cyber-attack on the Vietnamese and Soviet exercise. This was spectacularly successful, knocking out both nations’ air defence radar systems for an extended period, but there were unforeseen second-order effects that impacted on the US submarine and civilian shipping navigation systems. China attempted to covertly establish some deep ocean facilities for their submarine force north of the Spratly Islands.
  • Turn 4: Oil was discovered by the US survey vessels and the value of Filipino investments rose sharply with the news. Chinese and Vietnamese survey ships closed in on the area (carefully outside the 200nm Philippines exclusive economic zone), but the Vietnamese ship had technical problems and had to turn back. Taiwan finally manage to repair the Taiping Island facility. The Malaysians had embedded in the code of their cyber-attack subtle and sophisticated hints that the origin of the attack was the Philippines. This was successful with the Vietnamese and Russians, but the US NSA was more cautious in apportioning blame. The US Navy located and identified all of the Chinese deep ocean facilities.
  • Turn 5: Media attention switched to Germany where a hacking attack on one of Europe’s largest healthcare insurance providers leaked the confidential medical records of some 2.7 million European citizens. With events escalating in the area and Russian involvement, the USA called an international summit to discuss the crisis and we ended the game there.

The game was a lot of fun and easy to adjudicate. Sadly, we were playing without any detailed expertise in the area, but nevertheless we felt that it had helped us to begin to understand the geography, capabilities and issues of the region, and was valuable educationally.

Tom Mouat

BOMBER! —a game about targeting and ethics in war


PAXsims associate editor Tom Mouat recently put the finishing touches on BOMBER!, a quick and simple game intended to “promote discussion about military bombing, asymmetric warfare, political ideals, deception and ethical/humanitarian behaviour.”

This game is designed to be played with small groups of students, preferably 3 per side in each group, as a classroom activity taking no more than 45 minutes, followed by a post-game discussion taking another 45 minutes. The game itself is relatively simple and is based on a modified version of the children’s game “Battleships” so should be easily accessible to students.

You’ll find all the necessary materials at the link above.

Workshop on history and games (Glasgow School of Art)

The Glasgow School of Art (Digital Design Studio) will be holding a workshop on history and games on 29 September 2016:

The main goal of this workshop is to give a state-of-the-art picture of Serious Games in Education, in particular in the learning domain of history, and to identify further opportunities of using digital or analogue games as a teaching tool in this domain, but also more widely. This workshop aims to reach out to various stakeholders and experts in education, game design, game development, and systems development. The format of the workshop will be: short, overview-style presentations and game demos to start with, followed by activity and discussion sessions in game design and serious mod.

This workshop 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….

You’ll find full details here.

h/t Philip Sabin

Connections NL 2016 report


The following report was provided for PAXsims by Hans Steensma, Bas Kreuger, Swen Stoop, and Anja van der Hulst.



Defending the Netherlands.

After a marvellous Connections UK, Connections NL was also exciting and fun. For the third time we got together in a fortress of the New Dutch Water Line. This Line, together with the Amsterdam Defence Line, is a 19th century defence system with a circumference of 215 kilometre, encompassing the cities of Amsterdam and Utrecht. It protects the western part of our country, with our harbours and the seat of government. This massive system of fortifications is formed by at least 105 fortresses, 6 fortified towns and two castles. The strength of the defence is in its ability to inundate large tracts of land between fortifications. A very Dutch experience indeed.

Connections NL has a broad scope and includes members from the business community, the crisis management, and education communities. Consequently we had quite a diverse group of attendants.


Matt Caffrey was our guest of honour and he did a great Wargaming 101 session and Q&A sessions afterwards. Mark Stoop showed more of his scenario based policy gaming for very senior leadership, we reported on the current developments in wargaming and we did a lot of hands-on gaming with our 55 attendees.


Our students eagerly listening to Matt Caffrey discuss wargaming.

In the hands-on sessions, there was a special presentation by a team of Marine lieutenants (ex midshipmen). They told us the harrowing story behind the wargame Matruska that they created and hosted this spring at the naval academy. When they started designing this game, they had no experience at all with wargaming and within a month they created a modern crisis game that was remotely based on the Cuban crisis, with a total communication black-out that confronted leadership at the naval base in Den Helder with some really nasty decisions that might have had substantial political repercussions. They also showed us how perceptions can be deceiving. A good grasp of reality, sound decision making and excellent command guidance helped the players avoid ultimate disaster: going to war over a jealous husband.


Hands-on with Matt at the TNO Game Lab.

The second day was a more intimate hands-on session at the Dutch Defence research facility of TNO. We thoroughly enjoyed playing AFTERSHOCK, Command Modern Air Naval Operations, a Port Safety and Security game under development, and the re-design of a refugee game made by Jim Wallman. The redesign effort was oriented at highlighting the influence and importance of ethics in the resolution of the refugee crisis.

Since we started with the try-out in 2014, and the real first Connections NL in 2015, the Netherlands has also been infected by the US and UK surge of enthusiasm for wargaming. We see many interesting developments within wargaming in the Netherlands. The military schools are (re) introducing wargaming and we see a fair amount of spin-off to the business community. With the education community following at a distance, games are slowly gaining traction.



Next year we will again host the seminar in one of those awesome fortresses, and it will be your chance to visit and be part of them. As part of our maritime trading heritage our second native language is English. So even though Connections NL is oriented at awakening wargaming in the Netherlands, we welcome guests from abroad and make them feel welcome.

Although Connections NL is a lot smaller and less seasoned than Connections UK or US, it might still be interesting to an international audience, precisely for our trading culture, inviting participants from business, government and education as well as the military. Come over next year and help us build the broader base for the employment of wargaming.

For more information on Connections NL visit our website. Also recommended is a good report by a distinguished participant from Belgium.


Matt’s “Wargaming 101” summarized.

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