PAXsims

Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Leveraging games for strategic insight

Global Affairs Canada, Defence Research and Development Canada, and Connections North will host an online presentation on “Leveraging games for strategic insight” at 10:00am ET on Wednesday, July 15.

Rex Brynen (McGill University) will offer an introduction to the use of serious games to address a broad range of strategic challenges, whether in foreign affairs or other policy areas. He will discuss how games can build teams and crowd-source ideas; generate insight into the behaviours of stakeholders, allies and adversaries; anticipate challenges; and explore consequences. He will also discuss the role of organizational and bureaucratic factors in the encouraging, disseminating, and utilizing such insights.

Rex Brynen is Professor of Political Science at McGill University, where—in addition to his work on Middle East politics and peace operations—he teaches serious game design. He has served as an advisor at the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, as an intelligence analyst for the Privy Council Office, and as a consultant to the Department of National Defence, NATO, United Nations agencies, and others. He is also senior editor of the conflict simulation website PAXsims.

Global Affairs Canada, Foreign Policy Research and Foresight Division conducts independent research and analysis on foreign policy issues to support, inform and challenge Global Affairs Canada on priority and emerging international policy questions. Products are intended to better understand changes in our operating environment, provoke thought and discussion, and challenge our mental assumptions about the world and Canadian foreign policy.

Defence Research and Development Canada (DRDC) is the national leader in defence science and technology that develops and delivers new technical solutions and advice to the Department of National Defence, the Canadian Armed Forces, other federal departments, and the safety and security communities. DRDC is an Agency of the Department of National Defence and work with partners in academia, government and industry and with Canada’s allies.

Connections North is a community of practice devoted to the professional use of wargames (and other serious games) for education, training, and policy analysis in Canada. It is open to professional game designers, military and other government personnel, researchers, NGOs, and others associated with professional (war)gaming.

This is part of a new webinar discussion series focused on the growing strategic, professional policy gaming community of practice in Canada. Through informal virtual discussion and presentations, we look forward to sharing lessons learned from gaming experiences, and discussing topics such as game types, game design, and how gaming can be used as a tool for generating insights and analysis in support of policy development.

Space is limited and primarily limited to those within the Canadian policy and serious games community, or other strategic gaming professionals. If you would like an invitation (and webinar information), please contact Rex Brynen by July 12. (Members of the Connections North email list will have already received an invitation from GAC.)

Whence the Threat to Peace

During the 1980s the Pentagon issued a series of unclassified annual booklets titled Soviet Military Power” (the current post cold war version is “Russia Military Power”).

In retaliation the Soviet Defense Ministry issued “Whence the Threat to Peace” about US and NATO military build ups and which answered the question implied by its title with “the USA“.

Since I can’t find a copy of “Whence the Threat to Peace” online, I thought I’d scan my hard copy of the 1987 version and make available to any cold war wargamers who might be interested.

Pellegrino: Introduction to Matrix Games

Introduction to Matrix Games

Pete Pellegrino is a retired USN commander and former Naval Flight Officer, currently employed by Valiant Integrated Services supporting the US Naval War College’s War Gaming Department as lead for game design and adjudication and lecturing on game related topics for the department’s war gaming courses.  In addition to his work at the college since 2004, Pete has also conducted business games for Fortune 500 companies and consulted for major toy and game companies.

Pete kindly provided PAXsims with permission to share this video. The views expressed are those of the author and do not represent the official policy or position of any agency, organization, employer or company.

Pellegrino: Introduction to War Game Design

Introduction to War Game Design

Pete Pellegrino is a retired USN commander and former Naval Flight Officer, currently employed by Valiant Integrated Services supporting the US Naval War College’s War Gaming Department as lead for game design and adjudication and lecturing on game related topics for the department’s war gaming courses.  In addition to his work at the college since 2004, Pete has also conducted business games for Fortune 500 companies and consulted for major toy and game companies.

Pete kindly provided PAXsims with permission to share this video. The views expressed are those of the author and do not represent the official policy or position of any agency, organization, employer or company.

Connections 2020 reminder

RAND: Opportunities for Including the Information Environment in U.S. Marine Corps Wargames

RAND recently published a report by Christopher Paul, Yuna Huh Wong, and Elizabeth Bartels on Opportunities for Including the Information Environment in U.S. Marine Corps Wargames.

The U.S. Marine Corps and joint concepts and thinking increasingly emphasize the role of information in military operations—from maintaining situational awareness to influencing adversary decisionmaking and understanding the behaviors of noncombatant populations. At the same time, wargaming is enjoying renewed prominence in the defense community as a tool to explore potential future conflicts and shape strategy. Yet, the information environment (IE) remains underdeveloped and underrepresented in wargames, both in the Marine Corps and across the U.S. Department of Defense.

An examination of requirements, principles from military theory, current doctrine, and commercial gaming practices points to solutions and changes to game mechanics to better incorporate information considerations into wargame planning, development, and play in ways that can be customized according to available resources, capabilities, and goals. Recommendations target wargame sponsors, wargame designers, and those who are responsible for procuring new tools and recruiting personnel to support wargaming.

Operations in the IE play a role across the spectrum of conflict, and their effects and consequences extend beyond the IE. As the nature of conflict changes, it is critical that wargames reflect realities on the ground, supporting forces in using and defending against increasingly important information-based tools of warfare.

Their key findings…

The IE is receiving greater attention than ever from operational planners, but it has not universally found its way into wargaming.

•Information is playing an increasingly important role in military planning in the U.S. Marine Corps, across the U.S. Department of Defense, and among potential near-peer adversaries. These operational considerations include how certain types of information, misinformation, or sources of influence affect the decisions, beliefs, and behaviors of forces, military leaders, and noncombatants during a conflict or military campaign.

•Concurrently, wargaming has seen an increase in popularity as a method to explore future conflicts in a low-risk environment. However, these games have mostly retained traditional attrition-based models or focus on a small subset of information-related challenges, such as situational awareness or the fog of war.

…and recommendations:

• Everyone involved in wargaming should acknowledge the role of information in operations and seek to better represent the relevant aspects of the IE in games.

• Wargame sponsors should ensure that games serve a broader purpose of preparing forces for realistic operational scenarios, which will inevitably be influenced by the IE. This means emphasizing the role of the IE and its relevance to the game’s purpose at each stage of a game’s design and execution.

• Wargame designers should work with sponsors to identify options for incorporating the IE into games from the earliest stages of planning.

• Those who procure wargame capabilities, including game materials and technologies, should select tools that are able to represent all three spheres of conflict (morale, mental, and physical), a range of conditions that could affect a game’s outcome, and robust models of human dynamics, psychological factors, and information flows.

• Those responsible for recruiting personnel to support wargame design, testing, and execution or identifying subject-matter experts to assist with specific aspects of these tasks should ensure that these contributors have the requisite knowledge of the concepts and practices related to operations in the IE and that they stay current on changes in operational realities.

The need for diversity in wargaming

The following piece was written for PAXsims by Brandon Valeriano. Dr. Valeriano (PhD Vanderbilt University) is the Bren Chair of Military Innovation at the Marine Corps University. He also serves as Senior Advisor for the Cyber Solarium Commission and a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute. 

PAXsims is a proud cosponsor of the Derby House Principles, and this post is part of an ongoing discussion we hope to encourage on diversity and inclusion in wargaming. If you have something to contribute, get in touch!


My father was a proud Latino. I remember quite early on that I found an old button of his that had the phrase “we don’t need no stinkin’ badges.” It was from Blazing Saddles, a famous scene where the villain gathers up all the scum of the area to harass a local town, including the KKK. The Latinos took their place in line and rejected a need for law enforcement badges.  (The original quote is “we don’t need no badges. I don’t have to show you no stinking badges!” from the Treasure of Sierra Madre

My father explained that ownership of the phrase was a statement of pride, a statement of identify, and a statement of action. While the Latino community is often vilified, they more commonly known as industrious, innovative, and dedicated. The Black community in many ways has similar traits, pride, individuality, and drive. Overcoming negative stereotypes often is more about identifying with the positive rather than focusing on the negatives, therefore, “we don’t need no stinkin’ badges” became a statement of action and identity.  

We need action and awareness of identity issues now more than ever. The recent wave of protests over the death of George Floyd has unleashed an enormous amount of questioning and activism in all communities, and the wargaming community is no different. 

Statements of purpose are important, but action is more critical.  We can do no less because inclusive diversity is critical in the process of developing, testing, and engaging in wargames as a discipline. Perla famously applied the phrase, BOGSAT, “bunch of guys sitting around a table” to wargames. We should revise that statement to BOWGSAT, bunch of white guys sitting around a table. It is critical that wargames engage diverse populations because there should be an accurate reflection of reality in our games and because diversity is associated with better solutions to problems. 

If the purpose of wargames is to engage communities of interest, these communities need to reflect the diversity that is inherent in our political systems. The US military is an incredibly diverse body at the topline (although there are many problems with diversity and promotion). Understanding the application of strategy and tactics is imperative. If those that design, participate, and assess wargames are only from certain ethnic or gendered populations, much knowledge is lost. The process of communication and dissemination of the lessons from wargames requires diverse participation from all groups.  

Even more critical than representation is the need to include diverse populations in wargames because they increasingly are demonstrated to produce better outcomes. Diverse teams are required to solve problems because the groupthink is endemic to the wargaming community. We need people who will think outside the box, who will bring in new and innovative ideas, and who will seek to make the red team experience more real through a difference in play style. 

The goal should be to diversify the wargaming community through example and inclusion. I was literally pulled into the wargame community by hook and crook by my friend and co-author Ben Jensen. He has been working on wargames for over a decade at this point and rarely writes on the subject, preferring to just put things into action. We devised a wargame (or simulation) on national security decision making that has led our team to open new pathways in the field examining escalation pathways through technological innovation

We also helped devise the wargame the Cyberspace Solarium Commission used to evaluate its proposals, along with Nina Kollars and Erica Borghard. Our colleague and friend, Jacquelyn Schneider, devised the wargame that was used to kick off the Solarium Commission

The Krulak Center, my place of work, is incredibly diverse. Our current Director and Deputy Director are female, one is Black. Our incoming deputy director is Latino. Our key point person for wargames with Futures Command was a Latino Major who is now off working on his PhD. Many of our wargaming efforts are led by an Asian American former soldier and now academic. We have put diversity into action and are reaping the rewards. 

There has been a great amount of progress in the field of wargaming lately. With interest from Senior officials like former Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work and the current Marine Corps Commandant, initiatives are coming from the top that seek to transform the field.  Yet, we cannot become complacent and fall into the trap of performative diversity. Diversity must be put in action in a real concentrated way to have an impact on outcomes.

Every organization must ask themselves, what are they doing to promote diversity. Awareness is not enough; we need to move beyond simple token statements or “badges” of good feeling and produce action. How diverse is your organization? How diverse are those playing your game? Did you think about a diversity of perspectives and experiences in developing your game? 

Understanding the purpose and need for diversity is critical in our new era of awakening. While this movement was a long time coming, it is now time to put into practice what we have known academically for a long time. Diversity increases outcomes and it provides innovation though differences in thought. Every organization would be better served by recognizing the utility of listening to diverse voices and engaging the differences in perspective that produce enhanced outcomes. We have more than a moral obligation, we have a service obligation to promote solutions to the challenges facing our world through breaking the mold and seeking to value diversity. 

Brandon Valeriano

The COVID-19 game

This game below was created by Clay Dreslough, the designer and creator of Baseball Mogul.

Defence Academy of the UK calls for diversity and inclusion in professional wargaming

The Defence Academy of the United Kingdom is the latest sponsor of the Derby House Principles on diversity and inclusion in professional wargaming.

The Defence Academy is part of the Ministry of Defence. Our purpose is to develop the intellectual edge needed for success on operations and leadership in government. We deliver courses designed to unlock the cognitive skills of our students to expand their intellectual horizons and capacity. Our portfolio of long and short courses covers leadership, strategy, science and technology, and business skills.

Welcome aboard!

Cold War Soviet Military Planning Factors and Nomograms for Gaming

Anyone interested in wargaming the Cold War from a Soviet perspective or has a general interest in how the Soviets planned and the evolution of Russian military thought, might want to take a look at their planning factors and norms described in Chapter 5 of the Voroshilov Staff Academy Handbook of Lectures.

For logistics enthusiasts the Sustainability of the Soviet Army in Battle was produced by UK’s Soviet Studies Research Centre, a single source of how the Soviets planned sustainment. It took me a while to find and process , but this is a clean complete PDF that is text-searchable. Warning, it’s 734 pages and 27Mb (smallest I could compress it).

Note these resources do not necessarily describe how planning should have been done, they describe how the Soviets taught planning and might have fought.

RAND Center for Gaming supports the Derby House Principles

We are very happy to announce that the RAND Center for Gaming is the latest group of serious gamers to endorse the Derby House Principles on diversity and inclusion in professional wargaming.

The Center for Gaming promotes the use of games in research to improve decision-making across a wide range of policy areas. The Center supports the innovative application of gaming, the development of new gaming tools and techniques, and the evolution of existing forms and methods.

The RAND Centre for Gaming is not only a world leader in the development of serious games, but has also done much to support women and other underrepresented groups in professional wargaming.

If your organization would like more information on the Derby House Principles or would like to endorse them, email us here at PAXsims.

Nuts! Publishing endorses the Derby House Principles on diversity and inclusion in wargaming

We’re happy to announce that Nuts! Publishing is the latest gaming company or organization to endorse the Derby House Principles on diversity and inclusion in professional wargaming.

On a personal note, I’m especially happy to welcome Nuts! on board. I use their games (notably Urban Operations) in teaching wargame design. Moreover, they will be publishing We Are Coming Nineveh!, a game exploring the liberation of Mosul from ISIS control in 2017.

I am one of the codesigners of WACN, along with Juliette Le Ménahèze, Harrison Brewer and Brian Train. It was Juliette who first launched the project and drove it forward. Florent Coupeau at Nuts! has been really supportive and encouraging of her efforts as a new, female wargame designer. The Serious Games Network – France, another Derby House Principles signatory, has also been very encouraging to her.

Finally, for those who are wondering: while the pandemic has slowed down the publication schedule, WACN is still on track to be published next year.

Bending Lines: maps and data from distortion to deception

Since (most? all?) games use maps of some sort, geographic or topological, I thought this on-line exhibition at the Boston Public Library by the Leventhal Map & Education Center into how maps can be used to distort interpretation, sometimes nefariously (my main interest), would be of interest to the community. The wargame map and other visualizations of the game are another method for manipulating the players without appearing to do so.

Norman B. Leventhal Map & Education Center

“Because they seem to show the world how it “really is,” maps produce a powerful sense of trust and belief. But maps and data visualizations can never communicate a truth without any perspective at all. They are social objects whose meaning and power are produced by written and symbolic language and whose authority is determined by the institutions and contexts in which they circulate.”

“Some of the maps in this exhibition are deliberately nefarious, created by people or institutions who are trying to mislead or persuade. But for many of the others, the relationship between map and truth is more ambiguous. Some maps dim a certain type of truth in order to let another type of interpretation shine through, while others classify and categorize the world in ways that should raise our skepticism.”

Leventhal Map & Education Center

UK Fight Club endorses the Derby House Principles

UK Fight Club is the latest organization to endorse the Derby House Principles on diversity and inclusion in professional wargaming.

If your organization would like to join us too, email us.

After the Apex: A game of exit strategies from COVID-19

The following article was written for PAXsims by Ben Taylor (Defence Research and Development Canada) and Benjamin Williams (Professeur des Universités, IAE & CleRMa, Université Clermont Auvergne). The views expressed are those of the authors and do not represent the official policy or position of any agency, organization, employer or company.

For more on gaming the impact and aftermath of the pandemic, see the PAXsims COVID-19 serious gaming resources page.


The authors met through a workshop on Wargaming the Pandemic hosted by the King’s Wargaming Network that was held 1-2 April 2020. BW gave a presentation in which he set out an idea for a matrix game on the COVID-19 crisis that could be supported by quantitative epidemiological and economic models. BT had previous experience with matrix games and offered to collaborate on the idea. This project is therefore itself a product of the COVID-19 crisis as the authors are unlikely to have met or to have found a common project to work on without it.

We decided from the outset that we wanted to design a game that tackled the COVID-19 crisis in a country from the point after the initial lock-down measures had flattened the curve. This phase would require a balancing act by political leaders as they face challenges on three axes: economic, social and healthcare. We termed these the three frontlines of the battle against COVID-19. Our aim was for a game that would sensitise decision-makers to issues that they might face and one in which choices would be constrained by the cross-coupling between the frontlines; for example that returning people to work in offices would likely increase the rate of infection, or that a renewed lock-down would lead to public discontent. We also wanted to introduce some quantitative models to help elaborate upon the consequences of player actions.

We also decided that we did not want to build a detailed game around a specific country. Rather we wanted a tool that could be customised to any country. That required the game to have a generic framework to which national specific details could be added. For development purposes we settled upon the fictitious country of Bretonia which has a government structure like Canada and the economy of France. Our generic framework envisaged four players to represent key elements of the country; the national government, the lower tier governments, the business sector and the public health system. A fifth player, termed “The Crisis”, represents all other domestic groups, external actors and anything else that could happen to challenge the other players’ efforts. An example of the customisation necessary comes from different national approaches to healthcare funding. In Canada healthcare is a provincial responsibility, whereas in France it is mainly funded by the national government through the social security system. This difference would have to be represented in the roles and responsibilities of the two government players.

One of the first steps in designing the game was to develop an influence diagram that showed how various parts of the economy, business, government finances, social attitudes, the healthcare system and the pandemic itself are connected.  This provided the reassurance that everything that we wanted to be in scope was captured. The model also provided insight to where knock-on effects (positive or negative) might be felt, which would provide for consistent adjudication.  

We also built a dashboard that displays selected metrics grouped across the three front lines, a macroeconomic model, a model of the infection and fatalities and a slide deck for displaying new stories each turn. This latter part of the game was developed to provide some humour, some cultural flavour and to allow attention to be drawn to specific sectors of the economy. We also prepared a number of bad news stories to be injected if any of the economic or social metrics approached worrying levels.

Many design issues common to matrix games apply equally to this game. Among those that we encountered are:

  • The advantages of having players who have played matrix games before.
  • The need for subject matter experts to support adjudication if the results are to be realistic.
  • The challenges for players to switch between role-playing and becoming engaged participants in adjudicating arguments.
  • Whether the players should be left to solve the basic problem of opening the economy without triggering a spike in infections, or to subject them to additional external challenges, and in the latter whether it is best to script the injects or to have them occur randomly (the answer of course is “it depends”). 
  • The balancing act between allowing players to discuss the proposed actions in detail and curtailing discussion in order to speed up the game.

The game has been run twice with participants from Europe and Canada using a video conference link with supporting text chat facility, a Google slides deck to share news stories, and Google sheets to share the dashboard of metrics and to provide an online tool to capture the participants’ assessments of the likelihood of success of proposed actions. This setup worked very well and participants felt that they could communicate with each other and access the information that was required. There was agreement that the game largely felt right, but that play was slow. The supporting quantitative models were not used extensively. In particular the epidemiological model implemented according to formulation drawn from the literature produced counter-intuitive results and proved impossible to fit to the observed progress of the outbreak in Canada. This placed a particular burden upon the adjudicator to determine how to adjust the dashboard in response to player actions. 

Our next objective will be to design a discussion-based game without the matrix structure in order to compare the utility of the two gaming techniques in addressing the management of the COVID-19 crisis. 

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