PAXsims

Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Brynen: #Wargaming unpredictable adversaries (and unreliable allies)

SB2.pngAs part of a week of articles on wargaming, the Strategy Bridge today features a piece by me on “#Wargaming Unpredictable Adversaries (and Unreliable Allies).”

One challenge in wargaming, and especially political-military (POL-MIL) games, is how to best model the behavior of unpredictable, even apparently irrational, foes. Is the mercurial behavior of North Korea’s “Supreme Leader” Kim Jong-un, Boko Haram in northern Nigeria, or Joseph Kony of the Lord’s Resistance Army truly irrational, or is it a simply the product of a very different set of interests and objectives sustained by a very different world-view? To what extent do seemingly erratic aspects of their strategic behavior derive instead from factors we don’t understand well, such as internal politics or decision-making process? It has been well established since the POL-MIL wargaming of the 1950s and 1960s that actions that one actor believes to be rational signals of intent or deterrence are often entirely misunderstood by their intended recipient, in large part because they are deeply shaped by internal decision making processes that opponents fail to appreciate or understand.[i] How do we incorporate this into wargames when, almost by definition, we do not fully understand what is going on?

This ongoing methodological challenge has acquired greater significance in the context of recent political changes in the United States. Leaving issues of political partisanship aside, it is clear that many US allies find the new Administration of President Donald Trump to be unpredictable—to the point of posing a potential threat to their countries’ core national interests.[ii] Harsh campaign rhetoric, a seemingly chaotic foreign policy making process, mixed signals, and the propensity of the President to express his thoughts in provocative tweets have left many allied policymakers scrambling to develop contingency plans in case long-established US positions or commitments are no longer credible.[iii] Indeed, even those members of the US State Department charged with reassuring nervous US partners express frustration that they are often unclear as to what American policy is on any given day.[iv] The result has been an increasing interest in some allied countries in gaming the US as a potentially unreliable military-diplomatic ally, or even—on some non-military issues, like trade or climate change—as a political adversary….

Comments are welcomed.

McDermott: Psychology, #Wargames, and the Duel

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Strategy Bridge kicks off a week of wargaming articles with a piece by Thomas McDermott entitled “In the Mind of the Enemy: Psychology, #Wargames, and the Duel.” McDermott is Director of the Cove, the Australian Army’s professional development network.

In war the duel should be all.  My experience, however, is that too often it is not.  The article will discuss how linear doctrine, a lack of understanding of psychology, and ultimately poor strategy leads to a situation where ‘plans’ become an end in themselves, and not a means to win the duel.  It will suggest two ways to address this problem; the establishment of the field of psychology as a pillar of the modern profession of arms, and a reinvestment in the art of the wargame.

It’s an excellent start to the series, and well worth reading.

Simulation and gaming miscellany, 26 March 2017

wordle260317.pngIt may be a week or more before I am able to post much of anything to PAXsims—McGill University’s annual Brynania civil war simulation starts on Monday, involving 120 players and 73 hours of game play spread over 8 days. The class will generate around 12,000 email messages for me to read, which is why I’ll be more than a little busy

You’ll find an article on the simulation here, and a TV Mcgill video here.

Before all that organized chaos is unleashed, however, here is a quick collection of items on conflict simulation and serious (and not-so-serious) games that may be of interest to PAXsims readers.

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The McGill International Review is published by the International Relations Students’ Association of McGill (IRSAM), who were cosponsors of our recent War in Binni megagame. The ly recently published an interview with me on using simulation games in the classroom:

Though intrinsically fun on their own, he stresses that, as a learning tool, they serve a purpose and, as such, ought to be used to enhance course material. In Peacebuilding, for instance, it is difficult to convey, through readings and lecture, how challenging it is to repatriate refugees or run transitional elections. On paper, much of the theory behind peacebuilding makes sense, yet it is harder to understand how exactly and why the carefully designed plans may fall apart through competing interests. One can certainly read and attempt to theoretically understand why challenges to the peacebuilding process may arise and for what reasons, but there is a level of understanding and appreciation that can be achieved more effectively by having students run into those problems in a simulated setting and experience them first-hand. By contrast, other classes, such as Developing Areas/ Middle East (POLI 340), don’t feature simulations. The volume of information in the course, coupled with how much more easily concepts can be conveyed through lecture or readings, renders simulations more useless than useful.

PAXsims

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Strategy Bridge will be featuring a number of articles on the methodology and strategic importance of wargaming next week, and indeed throughout 2017. They are also looking for contributions:

This latest series on #wargaming will spend this week analyzing that process and assess factors that may be overlooked. The Strategy Bridge has lined up a broad community of subject matter experts and stakeholders to explore several types of wargames to spark a conversation not only about how we design war games, but also about how we communicate the critical lessons learned.

The #wargaming series will continue beyond the next week with map exercises in the tradition of Moltke the Elder and the “Great General Staff,” but updated for the operational and strategic realities facing today’s warfighters across the globe. These will be published on the third week of each month for the next year.

We hope you join this conversation on how best to employ the art and science of wargames to support, prepare, and develop strategic thinkers. If you have ideas to share, we invite you to submit your pieces to The Strategy Bridge and engage with us on Twitter @Strategy_Bridge.

At some point my own thoughts on “Wargaming unpredictable adversaries (and unreliable allies)” will be appearing as part of the series. It’s hard to imagine why that has suddenly become relevant

PAXsims

A recent panel discussion at the South by Southwest (SXSW) conference resulted in the appearance of several media articles on the use of card and boardgames at the CIA.

CNN, for example, reported:

Dungeons and Dragons, Pokémon card games and role-playing games are more than entertainment — they’re inspiration for the CIA.

David Clopper, senior collection analyst with 16 years’ experience at the CIA, also serves as a game maker for the agency. From card games to board games, Clopper creates games to train CIA staffers including intelligence officers and political analysts for real-world situations.

“Gaming is part of the human condition. Why not take advantage of that and incorporate into the way we learn?” Clopper said Sunday at a games-themed panel discussion at the South by Southwest Interactive technology festival. Clopper and other CIA officers discussed how the agency uses games to teach strategy, intelligence gathering and collaboration.

lso speaking on the panel was Volko Ruhnke, who is an intelligence educator at the CIA and a freelance game designer. Ruhnke said he is particularly interested in one type of game: a simulation tabletop game to train analysts and help with analytic tasks. It could help forecast complex situations by forcing players to handle multiple scenarios simultaneously.

Similarly, at Gizmodo:

The Central Intelligence Agency needs to make sure its operatives are at the top of their game, so maybe it shouldn’t be a surprise games have become one of the agency’s most popular training tools?

At this year’s SXSW, the CIA debuted a series of internal training board games, card games, and RPGs that are used to train officers in the art of intelligence gathering and problem-solving. These include Collection, a Pandemic-like board game where analysts collaborate to solve international crises, and Collection Deck, a card game where mazes and monsters are replaced by satellite photos and government red tape. There’s also one where you try to capture El Chapo, which teaches collaboration with other law enforcement agencies.

According to CIA Senior Collection Analyst David Clopper, who first started developing the program in 2008, the board games are a creative way to quiz officers on their vast pool of knowledge and problem-solving skills. These games are basically one long Google interview quiz—they’re tough, detailed, and unforgiving. They also encourage players to work together toward a common goal, a necessary skill in intelligence gathering.

PAXsims

Earlier this month Georgetown University held its annual National Security Crisis Law simulation—this time with a contingent of Canadian law students participating too:

Georgetown Law’s National Security Crisis Law simulation — the equivalent of a final exam for students in Professor Laura Donohue and Alan Cohn’s National Security Crisis Law Class — went international in Spring 2017. For the first time, Canadian national security lawyers and students from the University of Ottawa and Osgoode Hall Law Schools joined this fast-paced and purposefully chaotic Georgetown tradition, held at the Law Center March 3 and 4.

While the real Canadian Prime Minister and National Security Advisor couldn’t be there, Mylène Bouzigon and Jennifer Poirer from the Canadian Department of Justice stepped into those roles admirably. The Canadian students, meanwhile, did an excellent job portraying Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Minister of Defense, Minister of Health, Commissioner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and others. The Georgetown Law students, along with a team from Penn Law, played U.S. state and federal officials.

Together, the students dealt with legal and factual issues ranging from pandemic disease and natural disaster to cyber attacks on the critical infrastructure.  A “Control Team” of more than 40 alumni who work in the national security field were central to the simulation’s success.

“Before, the simulation was U.S.-centric. Now we have the border issues. We have events north and south with repercussions for each country.  And we have joint operations,” Donohue explained. “This has also given us a rich opportunity to compare how different countries interpret international law, and how those differences play out in terms of negotiations and policy decisions.”

PAXsims

On March 27, the folks at MMOWGLI (Massive Multiplayer Online Wargame Leveraging the Internet) will be running a simulation/crowdsource discussion on future challenges facing the US Navy. If you wish to take part there may still be time to sign up.

This game is not about the humans vs. the computers, rather it imagines the U.S. Navy as the world moves towards the two singularities provided in the Call to Action Video.  Our hope is that the ideas you produce are about how humans and computers can work better together so that the Kurzweil singularity (Singularity 1) is beneficial to both instead of causing humanity to be left behind.

Similarly, we don’t see the complexity described in Singularity 2 as a bad thing. We’re looking for organizational ideas that embrace complexity and allow the U.S. Navy to excel in that complex environment.  The metaphor of a tidal wave of change can be viewed as something that will swamp us if we are not careful, but we’re looking for ideas that will allow us to ride that wave and harness its potential and energy to use it as a way to propel us forwards.

Finally, the two singularities are presented in a “yin-yang” type format, whereby players may contribute to one or both columns.  However, we feel that there may be times when the singularities will merge, work together and/or impact one another.  While we’re not explicitly asking you to make this connection, please keep it in mind when you move onto the second phase of the mmowgli.

PAXsims

On March 1, David Shiplak (RAND Center for Gaming) testified to the Committee on Armed Services, Subcommittee on Tactical Air and Land Forces of the US House of Representatives on “Deterring Russian Aggression in the Baltic States: What it Takes to Win.”

RAND has conducted a series of war games—more than 20, over a period now approaching three years—that have demonstrated that NATO’s current posture is woefully inadequate to resist a Russian attack on the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. We had participants from throughout the U.S. defense and intelligence communities at these war games, as well as our NATO allies. In no case have they been able to keep Russian forces from the Estonian capital of Tallinn or the Latvian capital of Riga for more than 60 hours; in some cases, NATO’s defeat has been written into history in a day and a half. Such an outcome would leave the United States and NATO with no good options, Russia potentially re-established as the dominant strategic actor in Central Europe, NATO collapsed, and the trans-Atlantic security bond in tatters. It would make a failure of nearly 75 years of bipartisan American efforts to sustain the security of Europe, which Democrats and Republicans alike, since Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower, have understood to be vital to the safety and prosperity of the United States.

The first step towards winning eventually is not losing right now, which would be NATO’s current fate. So, NATO needs to be able to stay in the game. The minimum requirement for deterrence by denial along NATO’s frontier with Russia is not to offer Moscow a vision of an easy strategic victory—the chance to register a fait accompli against minimal resistance. While on any given day, the Russian leadership may not be tempted to seize even such tempting low- hanging fruit, the challenge NATO confronts is not successfully to deter on an average day; it is to deter on the one day out of a thousand, or 5,000, when Moscow, for whatever reason, sees the prospect of a crushing win over its most dangerous adversary as an attractive prospect.

The requirements for this are nontrivial, but hardly overwhelming. RAND analysis indicates that a force of about seven brigades, including, importantly three armor-heavy brigades—armor brigade combat teams (ABCTs), in U.S. Army parlance—in addition to the national defense forces of the Baltic states, and properly supported with fires, fixed- and rotary-wing aviation, engineering, logistics, and other enablers, and with adequate headquarters capacity for planning and command can prevent the fait accompli.3 To be very specific, this force—present and ready to fight at the outset of hostilities—can, if properly employed, enforce an operational pause on a Russian ground force of up to 40–50 battalion tactical groups (BTGs), while retaining sufficiently large lodgments outside Tallinn and Riga to protect them from the bulk of Russian artillery.

You’ll find a RAND video summary here.

PAXsims

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A forthcoming issue of the Journal of Defense Modeling and Simulation: Applications, Methodology, Technology contains an article by Kathleen CarleyGeoffrey Morgan, and Michael Lanham on “Deterring the development and use of nuclear weapons: A multi-level modeling approach.”

We describe a multi-country, multi-stakeholder model for the accrual and use of nuclear weapons and illustrate the model’s value for addressing nuclear weapon proliferation issues using an historic Pacific Rim scenario. We instantiate the agent-based dynamic-network model for information and belief diffusion using data from subject matter experts and data mined from open source news documents. We present the techniques that supported model instantiation. A key feature of this model and these techniques is enabling rapid model reuse through the ability to instantiate at two levels: generically and for specific cases. We demonstrate these generic and specific cases using a scenario regarding North Korea’s interest in nuclear weapons and the resulting impact on the Pacific Rim circa 2014—that is, prior to the fourth and fifth nuclear weapons test by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. A key feature of this model is that it uses two levels of network interaction—country level and stakeholder level—thus supporting the inclusion of non-state actors and the assessment of complex scenarios. Using this model, we conducted virtual experiments in which we assessed the impact of alternative courses of action on the overall force posture and desire to develop and use nuclear weapons.

PAXsims

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The ICONS Project is looking for a strategic gaming intern in the Washington DC area:

Do you know of a student who is looking for an internship in the Washington, DC area this summer? We are looking for an upper-level undergraduate or a graduate level intern for the summer 2017 semester. Students help us by researching and updating current simulations, curating resources for our research library, and supporting our marketing and outreach initiatives. ICONS participates with the broader START internship program, which provides enrichment events and networking opportunities. Please encourage any interested students to apply via this link by April 4th.

PAXsims

The latest edition of the always-excellent Extra Credits series of gaming videos addresses the issue of politics in games (and cultural media more general):

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A great many articles and handbooks on educational gaming argue for the approach with reference to how it engages various student “learning styles.” I’m happy to see a recent open letter to The Guardian by eminent scholars highlighting how little scientific foundation there is to all this:

Thirty eminent academics from the worlds of neuroscience, education and psychology have signed a letter to the Guardian voicing their concern about the popularity of the learning style approach among some teachers.

They say it is ineffective, a waste of resources and potentially even damaging as it can lead to a fixed approach that could impair pupils’ potential to apply or adapt themselves to different ways of learning.

The group opposes the theory that learning is more effective if pupils are taught using an individual approach identified as their personal “learning style”. Some pupils, for example, are identified as having a “listening” style and could therefore be taught with storytelling and discussion rather than written exercises.

The letter describes that approach as “one of a number of common neuromyths that do nothing to enhance education”. It is signed by Steven Pinker, Johnstone family professor of psychology at Harvard University; Dorothy Bishop, professor of developmental neuropsychology at the University of Oxford; and leading neuroscientist Prof Uta Frith of University College London among others.

PAXsims

 

p01l9krq.jpgEarlier this year BBC Radio 4 broadcast Red and Blue, a series of three dramas by Philip Palmer “about military consultant Bradley Shoreham who creates war games for training purposes.”

Episode 1: Sacrifice

Shoreham’s challenging training scenario places Yorkshire at the centre of a global pandemic alert. Its credibility rests on thesuccessful recruitment of the formidable Dr. Hoffman.

Episode 2: Ransomware

Under constant threat from hackers, financial institutions take cyber-security very seriously. A City hedge fund has hired war-gaming expert Bradley Shoreham to test its networks in a planned exercise. Although barely computer literate himself, Shoreham has prepared a whole box of cyber tricks to do battle with the firm’s IT experts. And he’s prepared to play dirty in order to demonstrate how a multi-million pound business can be brought to its knees.

Episode 3: Shadow

Tom Wilson runs an oil rig in the North Sea. It’s a challenging job at the best of times. But today he’s being put through his paces by wargame exercise writer Bradley Shoreham who has invented all manner of crises to push him and his crew to the limit and beyond.

Unfortunately it isn’t currently available on iPlayer. An earlier series was broadcast in 2013.

PAXsims

Connections (US) 2017

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Matt Caffrey and Tim Wilkie have sent around the following announcement regarding the forthcoming Connections (US) interdisciplinary wargaming conference:

Colleagues,

Please save 1-4 August to participate in Connections US 2017, at Quantico Marine Corps Base (MCB), VA.  Please ensure your boss and colleagues who cannot participate in person reserve the morning of Friday, 4 August to connect to our out brief.

Connections is a free, annual, interdisciplinary, wargame conference.  Connections purpose is to bring together practitioners of wargaming from the military, government, defense industry, commercial, and academic communities to advance and sustain the art, science, and application of wargaming.  Each year it is hosted by a different DoD organizations, such as Air University and the National Defense University.  This year’s Connections will be hosted by the Marine Corp Combat Development Center.  Our theme for 2017 is advancing wargaming and analysis as distinct yet complimentary tools.

Day 0 of Connections (Tuesday, 1 August) will include a spectrum of seminars on the morning, with some appropriate to those new to the field and others of value to masters of the craft.  In the afternoon there will be large wargames allowing all to apply what they learned in the morning.

Day 1 will include our keynote speaker, speaker panels on each wargaming community (defense, commercial and academic) and will conclude with a set of Game Labs, again with options appropriate to every experience level.

Day 2 will include a panel on emerging wargame applications and three working groups on; wargaming and analysis, wargame education and wargaming and innovation.

Day 3 will consist of out briefs on the findings of the entire conference.  Remote participation is encouraged.

Again, mark 1-4 August on your calendar and plan to join us at Connections US.

For more information contact us or simply go to our web site at Connections-wargaming.com.

See you at Connections,

Matt Caffrey
Tim Wilkie

Co-Chairs
Connections US 2017

 

McGill AFTERSHOCK tournament 2017

One of the challenges with using a boardgame in the classroom is how to accommodate a large number of players. AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis game is no different in this respect. It is designed for 4 players, and if players double or triple up on each team, you can fit 8-12 in a game. However if your class is larger, you have to find another approach: for example, running multiple games in parallel (as we have done for the Canadian Disaster and Humanitarian Response Training Programme), or running one game with a new group of students assuming the player roles each turn (as has been done at the University of New South Wales).

My own POLI 450 (Peacebuilding) course at McGill has around one hundred students in it, and the approach I have used is to conduct an after-school AFTERSHOCK tournament, with players competing to secure the highest group (Relief Points) and individual team (Operations Points) scores for bonus marks. This is fairly easy to do in POLI 450, since 10% of the course grade is based on class participation, a requirement that students can fulfill by taking part in online discussions, attending relevant campus lectures, taking part in McMUN (McGill model UN)—or participating in games like AFTERSHOCK.

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Members of an NGO team, upon realizing that they had forgotten to assign staff to an important task.

 

This year the games ran in the evening, taking about 2.5 hours (15 minutes rules briefing, a 2 hour times game, and 15+ minutes of debrief/discussion). Within a matter of hours of me announcing the tournament, four teams of 8 students had formed, representing about a third of the class. Indeed, I would have had one or two more teams if I had been willing to run more than four games. It should be noted that 23 of the 32 players were female, further evidence—as if any were needed—that women are just as happy to play conflict,  policy, or crisis games if the environment is right.

In all four games the At-Risk cards in each district were placed in a pre-arranged order, as were the cards in the Event deck. While this did not eliminate all random variation across the games (since Coordination cards cannot be prearranged and must be randomly drawn), it eliminated much of it and assured a more-or-less level playing field whereby each group was facing a similar degree of challenge. It also allowed me to make certain that particular cards or effects would make an appearance in the game, so that they could be used as teachable moments.

The scores across the four games are shown below. The shade of green indicates how well each group or team did. In one of the games (#1) the players won quite comfortably, in one they lost fairly substantially (#4), and in two others they only just came out ahead in the closing stages of the game (#2, #3). This is a fairly typical distribution of outcomes. I probably could have made the games a little harder—although perhaps this means everyone had been listening to my class lectures on the importance of humanitarian coordination.

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The tournament format went well, and I will certainly be using a similar format again next year. The only possible drawback was spending four evenings on campus outside classroom hours, running games—but the participants were so enthusiastic and engaged that I frankly had a lot of fun doing it!

Simulation & Gaming (April 2017)

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The latest edition of Simulation & Gaming 48, 2 (April 2017) is now available online.

Editorial

Simulation and Gaming can be Used to Determine Validity While Engaging in Collaborative Environments
Timothy C. Clapper

Articles

Oasistan
Martin de Jong, Harald Warmelink

We’re Just Playing
Mike P. Cook, Matthew Gremo, Ryan Morgan

Assessing Gaming Simulation Validity for Training Traffic Controllers
G. van Lankveld, E. Sehic, J. C. Lo, S. A. Meijer  

Construct Development and Validation in Game-Based Research
Michael D. Coovert, Jennifer Winner, Winston Bennett

Governments Should Play Games
Lobna Hassan

Gaming Material Ready to Use

Simulating a Climate Engineering Crisis
Nils Matzner, Robert Herrenbrück

What is a megagame?

John Mizon has put together a very useful video on “what is a megagame?,” in which he explores the player interaction, immersion, and emergent gameplay that characterize the genre. It even features a few seconds from our own recent War in Binni game!

You’ll find more of John’s megagame videos here. A great deal of insight into designing and running a megagame can also be found at Jim Wallman’s No Game Survives blog.

“Terror in Tilberg” matrix game

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A recent visit to the Netherlands by one of the PAXsims editors led to the development of Terror in Tilberg, a matrix game exploring the possible impact of a terror attack in the run up to that country’s 2017 elections.

The players in the game are as follows:

  1. local jihadists (“Hofstadt Network”)
  2. Dutch Government
  3. Saudi Arabia
  4. Right wing neo-Nazis (“New Thule”)
  5. Dutch Emergency Services
  6. Geert Wilders
  7. Russia

The results of one game were as follows:

  • On occasions both the Islamic Terrorists and the Right-Wing Terrorists were perfectly happy with their opponent’s actions
  • The Coalition Government often found itself arguing against its own political interests.
  • The Security Services were very good at reacting to an attack afterwards, but felt unable to act proactively without legislation and techniques that put them against the Liberal policies of the Government.
  • Geert Wilders found himself at odds with a significant proportion of the Right-Wing terrorist actions.

The upshot of the game was that Geert Wilders won the most seats, but failed to secure an overall majority (only just) and the other political parties refused to join him in a coalition. It was a close-run thing, but the Netherlands remained a liberal democracy.

You’ll find the scenario description and game materials here (.pdf). To play it, you’ll need some general familiarity with matrix games.

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SciTech Futures brainstorming

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CanGames 2017

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CanGames 2017 will be held this year, as usual, over the Victoria Day holiday (19-21 May 2017) at the Rideau Curling Club in Ottawa. You’ll find my report from last year here.

I’ll be there again this year, running two sessions of a 28mm zombie apocalypse skirmish scenario, Flight from the Apocalypse. If you’re attending, drop by and say hello!

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None of this, of course, is really about serious conflict simulation—its just a free plug for an enjoyable local (war)gaming hobby event.

Unless, of course, the world is overrun with zombies…

“Blue Mountain” Army ROTC conducts training at US Army War College

The following item has been contributed by Malcolm D. Parrish, FSR III/VBS3 – Warfighter FOCUS, Tapestry Solutions. Photos by SSG Joshua Balog.


 

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On 23 February 2017, the US Army War College hosted the “Blue Mountain” Army ROTC battalion for training using the Virtual Battlespace 3 (VBS3) simulation tool. The Blue Mountain Battalion is headquartered at Dickinson College in Carlisle Pennsylvania. The cadet trainees for this exercise were Junior (MS-3’s) students from Dickinson College, Gettysburg College, Millersville University, and Penn State Harrisburg. The coordination with the Blue Mountain Battalion began in December when LTC Joseph L. Wyszynski, the Dickinson Professor of Military Science, attended a demonstration of VBS3 in the Strategic Simulations Division (SSD) computer lab. After the demonstration, LTC Wyszynski agreed that the VBS3 simulation could enhance the training of the cadets and agreed on further collaboration with the Army War College.

BM2.pngThe SSD is part of the Center for Strategic Leadership (CSL) at the Army War College. The CSL and SSD normally focus on strategic-level wargames, educating senior military and civilian leaders. However, over a year ago SSD began to formulate new ways to incorporate simulations and wargames into classrooms at the Army War College. One of the ideas included using VBS3 as a tool to capture realistic video that would be included into scenarios for the students. An unseen benefit of this was the opportunity to partner with the Blue Mountain Battalion as VBS3 was originally developed, not for video creation, but as a flexible simulation training solution for tactical-level scenario training.

BM3.pngIn the 23 February training event, 13 cadets under the leadership of CPT Edward Park (Assistant Professor of Military Science) conducted squad-level training utilizing VBS3 to further develop skills required to complete the US Army Cadet Command’s Leader Development and Assessment Course (LDAC) this summer at Ft Knox, Kentucky. The LDAC training is the most important training event for an Army ROTC cadet or National Guard Officer Candidate according to Cadet Command.

The training began at 6:30 AM with a train-up session that allowed the Cadets to learn the “buttonology” of the VBS3 system before conducting their first virtual battle drill- “react to an ambush (near)”. During the rest of the morning training session, the Cadets were able to execute this battle drill twice – with marked improvement after each attempt.

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One of the benefits of training with VBS3 is the cadet’s ability to conduct training on the same simulated terrain that they will use during LDAC. Every aspect of the terrain, elevation, vegetation, man-made objects to include the sounds of birds and mosquitoes are replicated. “It’s the next best thing to live training” commented COL Bill Jones, Director of the SSD. Jones went on to say “… nothing will ever replace live training. What this type of exercise allows you to do, is enter a live training event at a higher level of proficiency”.

During live training, Cadre control most of the variables – friendly, neutral, and enemy. This includes adversaries’ reaction and casualty adjudication. In VBS3, artificial intelligence within the simulation replicates those controls. This includes the possibility of wounds and even death for a cadet. Just as in actual combat, in the VBS3 simulation, “the enemy gets a vote”.

Dwayne Parrish

Simple UN Security Council rules

During our recent War in Binni megagame, we encountered an issue that often arises in POL-MIL games: we were missing part of the UN Security Council. In this case, all five veto-wielding permanent (P5) members were represented by players: China, France, Russia, United Kingdom, United States. Of the ten rotating non-permanent members, however, we only had two actually represented by players: Nigeria and Guinea.

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Members of the UN Security Council check the latest news from Binni via the live Global News Network Twitter feed.

One way of dealing with this is to simply reduce the size of the Security Council, and the changing the real-world UNSC voting roles (nine affirmative votes and no P5 vetoes) to something proportional to the size of the group. This is the way I do things in the Brynania peacebuilding simulation, for example.

In this case, however, we wanted more for the various UN ambassadors to do during the game, and we also wanted to highlight that even the powerful P5 members need broader support for anything to happen. Consequently the non-player members of the Security Council were represented by cards. Each card listed the issues that mattered to that country. When one of those issues was addressed well in a statement by a UN ambassador, the UN Control team would dice to see whether the card (and that state’s vote) would pass to the ambassador concerned. To reflect existing global alliances and relationships, some non-played countries were more easily influenced by some than others.

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In addition, at the start of each turn the various UN ambassadors could secretly use influence cards and foreign aid funds in an attempt to obtain a die roll bonus when attemping to secure non-player country votes.

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I was a little worried that the mechanism might result in a stilted debate process whereby UN ambassadors made speeches, stopped to await a die roll by Control, then continued. That, however, didn’t happen. On the contrary, UNSC debates were lively and fluid.

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Members of the UN Security Council debate the war in Binni.

You’ll find the materials here, should you wish to modify them for use in your own game:

Gaming foreign policy (at GAC)

I spend today in Ottawa, where I delivered a talk at Global Affairs Canada on “Gaming foreign policy.” About thirty folks attended, mainly from GAC, but also from the Department of National Defense, Defence Research and Development Canada, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, the intelligence community, and elsewhere. Indeed, it may have been the largest all-of-government meeting on analytical gaming in Canadian history! The session was sponsored by the Foreign Policy Research Division.

You’ll find the slides I used in my presentation here—although many of them aren’t all that self-explanatory.

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The talk was broadly similar to those that I have given previously to the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the US State Department. There were, however, a number of really interesting questions raised by participants, not all of which I had time to fully answer because of the duration of the event (and a delay in starting due to a faulty VGA cable):

  1. What contribution can serious gaming make to forecasting (i.e., likely outcomes over the next 3 to 6 months, 12 to 18 months)?
  2. Can gaming help us to identify or explore possible “black-swans” and high-risk, low-probability events and scenarios?
  3. How can games address cross-cutting and multidisciplinary issues (i.e., requiring a “whole of GAC/Government of Canada” approach, coordination and coherence
  4. Can gaming explore sequencing questions (security, humanitarian, development, political and governance) and challenges associated with addressing non-linear, complex interactions and actions (such as but not limited to intercultural understanding between different world views and approaches)?
  5. How can serious gaming techniques help us to develop resilient and adaptable systems that can cope with the unforeseen?
  6. How do we address issues of apparently “irrational behaviour” by foes (or friends)? Are any actors truly irrational, or do they simply have other interests, objectives, and worldviews?

As I head back to Montréal on the train, here are some initial thoughts or additional comments on these:

  1. Most (war)gamers are inclined to protest that “games are not predictions.” It is certainly true that no single game can be considered to reliably predict the future, and they should not be held to this standard. We also know that once we go much beyond 6 months out, the accuracy of predictions (both inside and outside the intelligence community) begins to drop off sharply. Still, I have always thought that “we don’t predict” caveats are a bit of a dodge, intended to shield game designers/facilitators from criticism when reality turns out differently, as it often will. Most games, after all, are only useful to the extent that they describe a plausible set of future outcomes, and the assessment of plausibility is inherently a predictive endeavour. A well-designed game can certainly help to illuminate such questions as how an actor or actors might act under certain set of circumstances; what variables might affect outcomes; what indicators might provide an early warning of important developments; and what trends should be watched carefully.
  2. By definition, true “black swans” cannot be predicted since they lie outside our prior experience. However games can help us to identify low probability/high impact actions or events, and the circumstances under which they might come to pass. They can also be used to “stress test” capabilities, policies, and programmes to understand how they might fare when faced with such challenges, and what might be done to enhance resilience, adaptability, and agility.
  3. Games can be outstanding at exploring the challenges of policy coordination. The Brynania peacebuilding simulation I run at McGill each year does this, and it is the central theme of AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game. In addition to modelling and illuminating the problems of interagency, interdisciplinary, and coalition action, the process of playing interagency games with interagency participants can build networks of contacts, rapport, and understanding that can be very useful when a real crisis hits.
  4. The challenge here is one of what you are trying to do. It is hard to model very complex systems, especially when the underlying causal connections are poorly understood. For that reasons, there are real limitations to the validity of game findings. On the other hand, games (and, even more so, the discussions that games generate during and after) can enhance insight into the sorts of issues that might arise, and how these might be better addressed. Again, I think there is quite a lot of this in the Brynania simulation.
  5. This is another variation of the question “How can games help us to predict the difficult-to-predict (#1-2) and develop systems and approaches that might respond to foreseen and unforeseen policy challenges (#3-4)?” It was probably the single biggest theme running through the question and answer period. I think it is possible to train for agility, and to encourage personnel to think through possible second- and third-order effects of what they do. This isn’t reflexive “if X happens, do Y” training, but rather “if faced with a new challenge, this is how we might develop the required analytical frameworks and institutional capacities necessary to deal with it” preparation.
  6. Watch this space. We’ve already started a discussion on gaming unpredictable opponents and unreliable allies here at PAXsims, and I hope to write something substantial on it soon. It is perhaps telling that a significant number of participants in the discussion today felt this issue was of renewed urgency in light of recent global developments.

It all seemed to go very well.

There was a great deal on interest in follow-up and continuing the discussion. I’ll be speaking with a number of GAC colleagues and other son this in the days ahead, and who knows—we may even have some games to run in a few months as a result.

Discussion welcome: (war)gaming the US as ally and adversary

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I’ll be giving some thought over the next week to “(war)gaming the US as ally and adversary,” for a piece I hope to write soon. I have always been interested in how we model actors with murky or complex decision-making processes, as well as actors who may at times appear irrational (North Korea for example, or Qaddafi’s Libya). How much of this is simply different worldviews and interests, and how much of it is truly non-rational? How can pol-mil wargames best generate policy responses that reflect ideology, confirmation bias, pride, narcissism, bureaucratic infighting, and other non-realist determinants of strategic or operational behaviour?

In particular, in the coming months and years those of us outside the US who do national security gaming may need to consider:

  • How best to model unpredictable US behaviour (say, wavering alliance commitments) or behaviours that veer between supportive and threatening.
  • How best to model the US as a partial adversary or threat to national interests (for example, on trade policy, or liberal democracy).
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No this isn’t a real tweet.

Any ideas are welcome in the comments section.

Reflections on (another) McGill megagame

Last year (in)famous megagame designer Jim Wallman made a trip to frozen Montréal to run New World Order 2035 at McGill University, with some one hundred or so players taking part. It was a big success.

Last week Jim made a return visit for War in Binni, this year’s McGill megagame. Again, approximately one hundred persons participated in the day-long event, most of them McGill students. The event was cosponsored by PAXsims, the International Relations Students’ Association of McGill (IRSAM), and the McGill Political Science Students’ Association (PSSA).

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War in Binni has been run several times before elsewhere, notably at last year’s Connections UK interdisciplinary wargaming conference at King’s College London. The theme of a civil war in a fictional country in West Africa was of particular interest to students, including those in my POLI 450 and POLI 650 peacebuilding courses. We’ll be running our own even larger, week-long Brynania civil war simulation later in the term. However, unlike the Connections/KCL version, the game at McGill included a significant “weird science” component, with a touch of both Lovecraft and Indiana Jones. The event was held in excellent space New Residence Hall, including a large ballroom, two conference rooms, a foyer (and cloakroom), an integrated audio and data projectors. The staff were helpful as ever.

I should also note that almost half (41%) of our our participants were women—and, moreover, they all paid to participate. This was similar to last year. Those who argue that women are somehow uninterested in political-military gaming clearly have no idea what they are talking about.


We started off with a basic orientation to the game from Jim. Rules and maps had been posted online before the game, and individual role briefings had been emailed to all players about a week beforehand.

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Action at the map table, as the Clewgists celebrate a victory.

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Map Control (me), pointing.

While the government, various rebel groups, and regional actors vied for territory and influence, shady international arms dealers sold weapons to the highest bidder, the UN Security Council met in emergency sessions, and humanitarian aid workers struggled to cope with a growing flood of refugees.

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The United Nations Security Council meets.

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Heavy fighting takes a heavy toll on civilians, forcing many to flee.

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The Clewgists mourn the destruction of their sacred grove by a rival militia.

Three archaeological digs were also at work in the war-torn country. These soon uncovered increasingly unusual findings. These included evidence of alien technology, and various occult items with mysterious powers.

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An archaeologist briefs the French ambassador.

Little did the players know that, hidden among the participants were a small group of secret cultists. This group managed to obtain key objects from the digs, perform a dark ritual, and summon an Elder God of unspeakable power. The huge creature appeared atop Mount Clewg, and began to rampage through the country, destroying everything in its path.

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An extradimensional creature appears atop Mount Clewg.

The international community responded with a barrage of cruise missile attacks and bombing strikes, but these did minimal damage. Researchers at McGill University utilized one of their archaeological finds to slow the thing’s progress. Regional powers revealed that they had all been secretly researching WMD, and unleashed chemical weapons and radiological missiles. However it was the Kingdom of Gao, in alliance with Christian and Muslim rebel groups and the local Clewgist tribal insurgents, that inflicted the most damage, severely damaging the creature with an alien death ray before a suicidal charge by the Clewgists destroyed the evil abomination.

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Militias (and Gao) unite to destroy the terror.

As all this was happening, the government of Binni—afflicted by plummeting domestic political support and the assassination of the President—finally agreed on peace terms with the main opposition alliance. Peace had come… but at what cost? And what does the future hold for Binni?


Overall I thought that Binni went even better than NWO 2035. There were, perhaps, several reasons for this.

First, everyone seemed to internalize their roles very quickly, and game play was generally credible and “realistic” (or as realistic as it can be in a game featuring alien technology and an Elder God).

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The Global (later, Galactic) News Network at work.

Second, our Global News Network team did a terrific job of getting information out to the players. The GNN website contained a few in-depth stories, most of which had been written in advance by the Control team to be released during the initial game turns.  Most news was carried on the GNN Twitter feed. Special “breaking news” announcements were made over the audio system, sometimes only a few seconds after the event had occurred. The GNN team also did an excellent job of investigative reporting, using covert reporters and in-country teams to considerable effect. They resisted the temptation to report rumours as facts, or believe or print everything they were told.

I know from previous large games how important the media role is. It also requires players who understand their importance in the game process (acting, in some senses, as an element of the Control team), and enjoy acting as journalists: verifying, investigating, uncover secrets, and breaking important stories.

Third, War in Binni had fewer rules than NWO 2035, and game systems were generally more simple and straight-forward. This allowed players to focus on role-playing and interaction rather than understanding rules, and facilitated the sort of creative, emergent gameplay that is at the heart of a successful megagame.

We’re already thinking ahead to next year’s game, which will (in view of the player enthusiasm it generated) continue the “Binni” theme.

GTB Logo 01.jpgThe Republic of Binni has been through incredible times and is now is recovering from the traumatic events of the ‘War In Binni’ – the previous McGill Megagame.  The country’s civil war ended when the repressive government collapsed soon after the assassination of the hated President Ancongo.  Under a new constitution, semi-autonomous Christian, Muslim, and Clewgist provinces were established in the south, east, and west of the country, all led by a weak federal government headed by former members of the opposition alliance. The Hand of God insurgency has been suppressed—but its supporters lurk in the shadows, plotting acts of terror.

In addition to the major political changes it has experienced, Binni was also the nexus of a series of remarkable events that has challenged humanity’s understanding of the Universe.  Ancient alien structures have been uncovered, and a powerful transdimensional entity was brought into our world causing havoc and destruction before being destroyed itself. Shortly after the creature was vanquished, several rifts appeared in the time-space continuum in the surrounding area. These gateways seem to connect to alien worlds and other dimensions. There is no telling what remarkable discoveries are waiting to be made—or what terrible entities might use the portals to threaten Earth itself.

In ‘Gateway to Binni’ rival factions and the government must try to build a stable nation and find ways of addressing some deep-seated communal tensions.  Meanwhile the country has become of even greater interest to the international community, as regional and great powers consider the potential power and perils of the transdimensional gateways. Can the factions in Binni leverage that interest into direct benefit for themselves and their supporters? And just who ended up with all those mysterious alien artifacts dug up during the War in Binni—and what do they actually do?

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