Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Simulation and gaming miscellany, Valentine’s Day 2020 edition


No one loves conflict simulation and serious (and not-so-serious) games more than us here at PAXsims, so here is a selection of recent items that may be of interest to our readers.

We have been a bit slow in posting recently because some of us have been busy preparing for the Connections North conference tomorrow and the ATLANTIC RIM McGill megagame on Sunday. Full reports will follow, of course!

Scott Cooper, Aaron Danis, and Mark Jones Jr. suggested material for this latest edition. We often repost stuff we first see on Brian Train’s Ludic Futurism blog too. See something interesting we might include in future miscellany? Let us know!



RED HORIZON: Force and Diplomacy in Eurasia is an immersive global crisis exercise incubated at the Negotiation Task Force of the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies, Harvard University. It will take place 4-6 December 2020.

RED HORIZON provides seasoned and emerging leaders from national security, academia, and industry with a unique training space to push their negotiation and decision-making skills to the next level.

You will be assigned to a team (U.S., China, Russia, or NATO) and receive a confidential briefing that outlines your objectives. Your realistic actor profile is created from data-driven research, informed by political trends across the Eurasian sphere and the Indo-Pacific. You conclude the exercise with a scenario debrief led by Negotiation Task Force experts.

​Upon completion of the three-day workshop, you will receive an official Certificate of Completion issued by the Negotiation Task Force of the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies at Harvard University.

Registration is not yet open, but you can find additional details at their website.



The US Naval War College website features an interview with Shawn Burns on their “war-gaming fundamentals” course.

For the sixth year, the U.S. Naval War College is holding a war game fundamentals course to teach the war-gaming skills that the college uses to help decision-makers shape the future Navy.

War-gaming is a time-honored role of the college, founded in 1884 as a place of teaching and research on naval issues. Currently, the college’s War Gaming Department, under the umbrella of the Center for Naval Warfare Studies, will conduct as many as eight major war games this fiscal year on behalf of the Navy and the U.S. Department of Defense.

Professor Shawn Burns sat down to discuss the Jan. 13-17 war-gaming fundamentals course, one of the rare War Gaming Department activities in the year that is unclassified. A retired Marine Corps helicopter pilot, Burns is director of the course. He also literally wrote the book on war-gaming, a slim volume called “War Gamers’ Handbook, A Guide for Professional War Gamers.”


In Time magazine, Simon Parkin discusses the important work of the Western Approaches Tactical Unit during World War II.

Using the floor as a giant board, the Western Approaches Tactical Unit, or WATU, would design a game that approximated a wolfpack attack on a convoy in the Atlantic. One team would play as the escort commanders, the other as the U-boat captains. They would take turns to make their moves, firing torpedoes, dropping depth charges, the U-boats diving and surfacing to make their attacks, the escort ships wheeling around in great arcs as each side hunted the other.

These games would be based on real battles that occurred at sea to allow participants to see why the escort commanders acted the way that they did, and whether they might have lost fewer convoy ships and sunk more U-boats had they done things differently….

His book A Game of Birds and Wolves went on sale in the US last month.


ABC News reports that three months before the current 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) outbreak, researchers simulated a global pandemic:

It began in healthy looking pigs: a new coronavirus, spreading insidiously within herds.

Farmers were the first to fall victim, succumbing to respiratory illnesses, ranging from mild, flu-like symptoms to severe pneumonia.

Flights were cancelled as the world’s sharpest minds searched in vain for a vaccine.

But it was too late. Within six months, the virus had spread around the globe. A year later, 65 million people were dead.

Unlike the most recent coronavirus outbreak, however, you probably haven’t heard of this pandemic.

That’s because it was all a simulation — developed some three months before Wuhan, China became the epicentre of a global crisis.

You can out more about the Event 201 pandemic crisis simulation at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security website.



The Marine Corps offers an update on its “invigorated approach to wargaming” in the Marine Corps Gazette:

…the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab (MCWL) is aggressively leaning into modernizing its wargaming tools, enhancing near-term capabilities, and working with Marine Corps Systems Command to develop the future Wargaming Center capabilities. This will be a multi-year effort.

In the near term, our wargaming efforts are focused on meeting assessment requirements associated with the Commandant’s new force design. The fiscal year 2020 wargame program was adjusted to orient completely on force design within the context of specified scenarios….

To support these multiple wargaming efforts, MCWL is developing a set of new tools to apply to both wargaming and analysis. It is important to note, given wargaming’s emphasis on human decision making, there remains a role for table-top wargames that enable rapid player orientation and situational awareness, flexible execution, swift adjudication, and immersive matrixed discussions. In the past, the Wargaming Division lacked a standard table-top wargaming system. During this past year, a new system called the Operation- al Wargame System was developed and was used to support the General Officer Warfighting Program and the Pacific Surprise wargame executed in October 2019….

Table-top wargames by themselves are insufficient to meet analytic require- ments. Computer-based wargames and M&S tools capitalize on computing power and databases to deliver greater wargaming rigor and quantitative analysis. Flexible and adaptable wargames that leverage the latest technology and populated with authoritative data are needed. In the near term, both the Wargaming Division and Krulak Center are leveraging the commercial wargame Command Professional Edition as a computer-based wargame tool to enhance the rigor behind testing player decisions and to deliver quantitative outputs….

These tools are available today. However, the Marine Corps has its sights set on making a revolutionary step forward in wargaming tools and analysis capabilities. In his planning guidance, the Commandant put a stake in the ground on building a new Marine Corps Wargaming Center…. This Wargaming Center will dra-matically expand the Marine Corps’ wargaming staff from around 20 to over 150. It will also merge wargaming and operations analysis associated with future force development and operations plan assessment into one organization.



Red Powell—who, in addition to being a Captain and currently attending the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, is an avid and very successful Warhammer 40K player—discusses serious wargaming with the folks at the Armchair Dragoon.


At the Conversations with Tyler podcast, Reid Hoffman discusses how wargames helped develop his appreciation for strategy and tactics more broadly.

When Reid Hoffman creates a handle for some new network or system, his usual choice is “Quixotic.” At an early age, his love of tabletop games inspired him to think of life as a heroic journey, where people come together in order to accomplish lofty things. This framing also prompted him to consider the rules and systems that guide society — and how you might improve them by identifying key points of leverage.

At first, he thought he’d become an academic and work with ideas as one of those Archimedean levers. But he ended up focusing on technology instead, helping to build PayPal, LinkedIn, and now many other ventures as an investor at Greylock Partners. But he still thinks ideas are important and tries to employ a “full toolset” when trying to shift systems.


At the end of last year, wargame designer Harold Buchanan posted a list of the 11 most influential wargame designs of the past decade. Here it is.


At the Conducttr blog, Robert Pratten suggests that you “ditch crisis exercises with PowerPoint.” He makes a short but terrific analogy, so I’m going to post the entire thing (emphasis added):

Crisis management exercises with PowerPoint will only get you so far. Let me explain.

Watch out for pedestrians. It’s an obvious precaution but illustrates there’s more to driving a car than physical mastery of the pedals.

I was late 16 when dad taught me to drive in Asda’s car park in Beckton. It was always late at night – no cars, no people – and always no ice and no rain.

By the time I took my first lesson on a proper road, I could already control the car but developing a road sense has taken a lifetime of driving on real roads in real conditions. That’s why insurance for young drivers is so high and why crisis exercises with PowerPoint won’t prepare you for real-world conditions.

Driving with an instructor is not like driving in real life. Especially when you’re a teenager in East Ham and driving means your first taste of freedom: laughing so hard with mates that you’re fighting to see through tears, changing cassette tapes on the move and shouting out the window to people on the pavement you recognise. All these real-world, real-life distractions and stresses have everything to do with being a safe pair of hands behind the wheel and very little to do with passing the driving test.

Think about this when you prepare for your next crisis exercise with Powerpoint. If you want to build a team you can trust then your exercises need to be realistic – you need to inject adventure and you need to be simulating real-world conditions. Simulation stimulates deep learning whereas crisis management exercises with PowerPoint can only muster surface learning at best.

If you’re still doing crisis exercises using only PowerPoint then you’re still in Asda’s car park. 


Playing Oppression is a forthcoming book by Mary Flanagan and Mikael Jakobsson, to be published by MIT Press.

What does the history of colonialism-themed board games look like, and what can it tell us about the situation today? What does it mean to present these historical moments in such a lavish form and then let these artifacts serve as centerpieces to gather around for social interaction at board game cafes, meetups, and conventions? By bringing in the history and materiality of the playing activity into critical readings of these games, the authors offer a new perspective on the narratives that are being simulated and reenacted and the casting of player into colonialist roles.

Orderly Adventures

In service to the forthcoming book, Playing Oppression, we have been playing various board games which use colonialist themes. As of April 2019, we have played over 150 titles and our collection has grown to over 250 board games, card games, party games, and war games that depict colonialist themes. The title for this project comes from an idea that euro games offer some of the excitement of the periods they depict (sails, discovery, heroism, fame, and fortune) but not too much through their gameplay and physical pieces, by hiding the bloody end of the sword and only engaging with foreign cultures as passive representations that can be neatly sorted into a box between plays.

Creating Counter-Colonial Games

As part of our research, we have engaged in workshops with people from the lands in which these colonial games take place, as a means to unpack the colonialist endeavor and place it in context to games’ representation of these cultures and issues of importance to modern members of these cultures. Workshops follow action research and participatory design methodologies. The focus of these workshops is to encourage participants game design practices, provide methods they can take away for use in their own work, and to inform our understanding of issues resulting from colonialist practices.

You will find more on the project at the MIT Game Lab.


On a somewhat similar subject, at Vice Matthew Gault discusses How Tabletop RPGs Are Being Reclaimed From Bigots and Jerks.

When tabletop role-playing game developer Evil Hat Productions announced it had included a content warning on page six of its recently released Fate of Cthulhu game. Many folks praised Evil Hat, but there was also the now predictable tide of hateful bullshit.

Fate of Cthulhu is an RPG where players take on the role of time travelers trying to stop a Cthulhu-style apocalypse. It’s inspired by the works of H.P. Lovecraft, who was racist and anti-semitic—vehemently racist and anti-semitic. Because of that, Evil Hat Productions is publishing a content warning on page six of Fate of Cthulhu that calls out the author, and highlights the work of writers of color who’ve reexamined and reinterpreted the author’s work.


Mission 1.5 is a “mobile game” developed by the United Nations Development Programme to heighten awareness on climate change. According to UN News:

Mission 1.5 takes its name from the collective effort to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius, as agreed by world leaders meeting in Paris in 2015.

Described as the world’s biggest survey of public opinion on climate change, it aims to give 20 million people a chance to have their say. A previous survey ahead of the Paris talks canvassed 10,000 people in 76 countries.

Players will take on the role of climate policymakers who make decisions to meet the 1.5 degree goal.

Afterwards, they will vote on key climate actions that they would like to see adopted. The data will be analyzed and delivered to Governments.

As the description suggests, it isn’t really a game at all, but rather a glorified online poll. Moreover, the better choices are all a bit too simplistic and obvious as you can see below.


Yes, sure, let’s build buildings right along the coastline.

I’m not really a fan of this sort of “gamewashing” of an advocacy campaign (or “gamepaign”)—and I think UNDP missed a chance to encourage public engagement with some of the complexities and challenging trade-offs of climate change mitigation policy.


Remember that the North American Simulation and Gaming Association annual conference will be held in Montréal on 21-24 October 2020.

I’ll be delivering a keynote presentation on gaming the (former) Middle East peace process.


The deadline to submit an abstract/proposal for the Military Operations Research Society 88th annual symposium is March 2. The conference will  be held 15-18 June 2020 at the US Coast Guard Academy. Additional details here.



This one from the Institute for World Politics should have been posted some months ago: IWP intern summer gaming workshop results in conference presentation (at the Connections US conference). Better late than never!

Connections UK 2020


Feedback from the Connections UK 2019 interdisciplinary wargaming conference included:

“I didn’t think it was possible, but the conference again improved.”

“A very well organised professional event.”

“It was a great conference.  As I’m new to the community, the speakers and attendees made me feel very welcome.”

“Really interesting and useful for first-timers.”

“This was awesome!’

“👍 See you at Connections UK 2020!”

“A better venue, please, and structured networking events.”

Connections UK is evolving, with some significant changes ahead.


Date and venue. Connections UK 2020 will be hosted between 8th to 10th September at the University of Nottingham, in their brand-new Teaching and Learning Building. See the Connections UK website  for an overview. The Teaching and Learning Building comprises a plethora of co-located meeting spaces, including a 300-seat auditorium and multiple breakout areas for networking and game play. The building is within easy reach of a range of accommodation options, and it has free car parking. Nottingham is a fantastic location, with excellent national and international transport links and a wealth of culture to explore and leverage, including being an ‘industry cluster’ for gaming companies, traditional and hi-tech.


Purpose and approach. The purpose of Connections UK is to advance and sustain the art, science and application of wargaming. We do this by bringing together wargamers – and those who are keen to learn about wargaming – from across the whole world. As a community, we share best practices, showcase relevant emerging technologies – and we network.

We have carefully examined your feedback from the 2019 conference, which has prompted us to focus on the following at the 2020 event:

  • Learning-by-doing, with games and ‘deep dives’ that cater for wargaming newcomers and provide opportunities for practitioners to practise their art.
  • Community-building, by explicitly addressing issues such as diversity and inclusion and next-generation planning.
  • Governance in Defence and across government.
  • Social events and networking opportunities, making the most of the centralised venue and nearby accommodation.

Programme. We have also drawn on the feedback from our 2019 conference to shape the programme for Connections UK 2020. A detailed programme will follow once speakers start to fall into place, but key events and topics will include:

  • Educational activities for both beginners and mid-career practitioners.
  • Technology stands, demonstrating the latest relevant technologies.
  • A panel comprising individuals from academia who are using wargaming.
  • Deep dives on topics such as:
    • Wargaming the future.
    • Wargaming the past.
    • Non-Defence-related wargaming.
    • Analysing wargame findings.
    • Recreational game design.
    • The RAND perspective on current and future US wargaming initiatives.
  • A Games Fair.
  • Social events and informal gaming sessions.

Programme updates will be posted on the Connections UK website.

Cost. The cost of a 3-day ticket will be around £225. This includes lunch (served in the Technology and Learning Building) and refreshments each day.

Accommodation. This is not included in the ticket price, but there are excellent options:

  • Student en-suite accommodation (£60 per night bed and breakfast), which is a three-minute stroll from the Technology and Learning Building.
  • The De Vere Orchard Hotel, equally close to the main venue.
  • The De Vere Jubilee Conference Centre, located on the Jubilee Campus about three-quarters of a mile from the venue.
  • The Travelodge Nottingham Wollaton Park, located about a mile from the venue.

Evening meals and socialising. We have booked a central dining hall, which is suitable for both eating and gaming, and has a bar. The price of an evening meal is £20.

Registration and booking. We will let you know how to register, and when, in due course. We will also tell you how to book accommodation.

Points of contact and further information. See the Connections UK website for updates . Please send general questions to and administrative queries to

Privacy. Connections UK is GDPR compliant. Please see further details on the website.

We look forward to welcoming you at Connections UK in Nottingham. Save the date 8th – 10th September 2020 and note the location.

Serious Games Forum 2020 report

The following report was prepared for PAXsims by Clara Ruestchmann.


The second edition of the Serious Games Forum—the French version of the Connections series of wargaming conferences—was held on the 27th of January at the War College in Paris. Organized by Serious Games Network-France, the event gathered more than 250 attendees, hosted five conferences and six workshops packed in one day.

The conference was based on the same model as the first edition, with plenaries in the morning, games and workshops in the afternoon and a “gaming hackathon” during the day. Apart from the increasing number of attendees (+25%),  more students (defence-security and management mostly) took part and there a larger proportion of women (27%). There was also all-day participation of journalists coming from Le Monde, Le Figaro, and Agence France Presse, a 4-star Army General, and new partners such as Air Force School, CASDEN bank, My-Serious-Game digital training companies.

Morning Plenaries

After an introduction by Patrick Ruestchmann, president of Serious Games Network-France, who welcomed the many speakers coming from France as well as the UK, US, Belgium, Switzerland, Netherlands, Caroline Brandao (French Red Cross) and Colonel Sébastien de Peyret (Army) were invited on stage to launch the first conference regarding the opportunities resulting in the use of games. Defense journalist Meriadec Raffray helped run the morning plenaries.


The first panel started with Caroline Brandao, in charge of the humanitarian international law in the legal department of the French Red Cross, offered an overview of the use of serious games in her organization. The Red Cross developed several games in order to address the issues surrounding the violations of international humanitarian rights. Some games were coming from the gaming hackathon held during the first edition Forum. These games address both the internal training of the Red Cross organization and outsiders such as military corps or college / students. The Red Cross tends to include new technologies in serious games, creates partnership with the video game industry (e.g. Fortnite) and turns to the use of virtual reality. One of their latest projects aims to raise awareness regarding the reunification of families after a crisis (in case of armed conflicts as well as natural catastrophes) using VR to simulate situations and help prepare and train rescuers.

Colonel Sébastien de Peyret, responsible for the Army BattleLab is also the designer Urban Operations. For Sébastien, it is crucial that the player is placed in a position of decisions making in a restricted time scale/period. Only the player has a restricted knowledge of his action’s consequences as well as the unexpected hazards generated by a situation. It is essential to be facing an opponent in the game in order to oppose a real adversary’s intelligence and to gain experience. The goal isn’t to learn how to navigate the rules but to adapt to its opponents. Most importantly, Sébastien insisted on the After Action Review to analyze the game session afterwards in order to add critical views, identify the risks that have been taken and the mistakes committed in the safe environment of the game.

Both speakers pointed out this essential element: game mechanisms in serious games and wargaming are reflective supports of strategic and critical thinking of a given situation, still they are predictive tools.

The second conference introduced Matthew B. Caffrey Jr. (USAF Research Lab) who questioned how serious games can help comprehend the dynamics of conflicts. From the initial spark with the very first Connections US 26 years ago to his last book On Wargaming, Matthew developed the idea that wargaming helps make decisions more quickly and more effectively. It also helps identify the problems which should be paid attention to. If a computer program simulating a crisis can be run very fast and multiple times in order to see the different possible outcomes, in wargames the outcomes depend on the actions of others. Therefore, it can bring light to many different aspects of conflict dynamics, not only in terms of military efficiency but also in terms of economic, social or political outcomes. Matthew gave an introductory thank you to French audience, pointing out our long history as allies in time of despair.

The third panel questioned the perspectives in the future of wargaming with analysts Sarah Grand-Clement and James Black of RAND Europe. After giving an overview of their organization in the gaming community, the panelists pointed out that games can be used in a variety of ways : as analytical tool (to help think about possible futures), as stress-testing strategies (providing scenarios in a safe environment to try out situations), as policy decisions supervisors (to ensure that policy makers and decisions are adapter to the complexity of reality) or as an interactive experience (in order to allow people to educate, train and engage with the issues at hand).


RAND conducts a variety of different games, from strategic exercises for senior decisions makers (with a 3-years contract with the UK Royal College of Defense Studies), to regionally focused games to understand emerging treats and opportunities (with a game questioning threats to international cooperation and security in the Arctic) as well as table-top exercises to explore future scenarios for emergency situations (with for example the European Union CDP -capability development plan) and applications of gaming techniques to non-defense sectors (with the government of Estonia to help understand and prevent cybercrime).

According to Sarah and James, gaming remains relevant to address complex defense and security questions but needs to continue evolving, in terms of technology and application fields, in order to stay relevant. Finally, they mentioned that, beyond technologies issues, there are social issues about how to democratize gaming so that new generations will be able to take hold of it and adapt it to their problematics. Sarah and James suggest the need to expand gaming beyond the defense community, to encourage younger people to engage in gaming and to increase diversity in gaming

The fourth conference introduced Lieutenant-Colonel Arnaud de Peretti, Pierre Razoux and Christophe Maresca around the question of how to talk about games in your organizations.


Pierre Razoux, research director at the IRSEM, suggested that serious games encourage a player to put him/herself in someone else’s head, thereby helping them to better understand their reasoning. He suggested games need to be as accessible as possible when introduced in a professional or educational context. The game must be fairly quickly explained for participants coming from different backgrounds and experiences.

Arnaud de Peretti, army officer currently analyzing operations in the Middle East, is also the game designer behind Normandy 1944 for iPad (Wars and Battles) and is working on a new game about The Hundred Years War with Asynchron. He postulated that wargames help to visualize and concretize tensions both inside the army (navy, army and air force) and with the opponent. He suggested that wargames have the potential to integrate a diplomatic component, even though diplomats are still most often missing from wargaming sessions.

Christophe Maresca, Gendarmerie Nationale Colonel and presently operation chief of the Region Île de France, co-edited the game Krise with Pytharec, on the problematics of public order in an urban environment. The game scenario reproduces the tragic events at the Arc de Triomphe with the Yellow Vests movement and Black Blocs violent protesters. Christophe brought focus on the danger of eurocentrism in the creation of games and what can be called the “cognitive distortion” which requires to bring to the light beforehand the possible distortions that exist with both the creator of the game and the players.

Ending the morning with a fifth session, Ivanka Barzashka (King’s College London) talked about the wargaming network started a year ago. Last year Professor Philip Sabin gave his insight, along the ones from Major Tom Mouat, regarding this soon-to-be initiative. Created in 2018 at KCL, the Wargaming Network aims to improve tools to address defence challenges and is representative of the UK’s efforts to reinvigorate wargaming. The network deploys convening functions (workshops, lectures), supports individual staff project, creates programs for analytical wargaming (in order to train students and experts), supports external partners and look for social networking evolutions by bringing communities together such as academics and policy makers. With her more academic background, Ivanka argued that moving wargaming more into the academic direction and bringing together the learning and pedagogical purpose and the innovations and research possibilities of wargaming is essential.

On to gaming

The afternoon gave the attendees opportunities to participate to 6 workshops :

  1. Gaming Antimicrobial Resistance, by RAND Europe
  2. Demos of Digital Training (ipad / PC), by My-Serious-Game
  3. Game Design, by Pascal Bernard (among many others, designer of Time of Legends: Joan of Arc
  4. Learning Strategy with games with Philippe Lepinard (University Paris-Est-Créteil, Economical Sciences) and some of his (quite) young students, Enguerrand Ducourtil with Krise by Pytharec (public order), Patrick Ruestchmannwith Resilience (public policies and crisis management), Sébastien de Peyret with Urban Operations by Nuts! and Pierre Razoux with FITNA by Nuts!
  5. CyberWar Megagame, designed by David Delbarre, putting into conflicts nations, GAFAM (Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft), NGOs, and others.
  6. Cyber simulations of attacks against a bank network with Luc Mensah (ISE-Systems) and Hacklihood boardgame with David Noury.


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Second Gaming Hackathon

Throughout the day, two teams of Pantheon-Sorbonne students were asked to produce a draft for a game regarding near-Space topics. Those games should address defense, environmental or economic issues. Antoine Bourguilleau, author of a soon-to-be release book on the history of wargaming, managed the two groups in order to get the best results in only a few hours. The jury of this Gaming Hackthon (Caroline Brandao, Matthew Caffrey, Christophe Mareseca) gave its appreciation of the projects the two teams came up with. Students presented their projects, prizes were given and this event slot led us to the end of the day.


Toward next year

For the closure of the Forum, General Jean-Christophe Cardamone (vice-director for the Institut des Hautes Etudes de Défense Nationale) gave a encouraging speech with emphasis on the increasing popularity of serious gaming / wargaming among various professional sectors as well as the recognition of efforts such as Decision Defense (a wide audience game for the new take on the National Service, by Pytharec) or Matrix-game like Paris 2024 (Olympics and Paralympics in Paris) with the General Secretary for National Defense.

Overall, first edition of this Connections-France was a test to assess the interest of French organizations toward serious gaming. Second edition gives us full green signal to continue and expand, with contacts in Belgium, Switzerland, Netherlands and Germany. National press coverage is already very positive, which give Serious Games Network-France good exposure in order to prepare the next step.

Post-Conference Survey

Still on-going at this date (Feb 2nd), the results gathered about 29% replies with observations for the future edition :

  • 36% rated the content as ‘excellent’ and 41% rated as ‘very good’, 14% as ‘good’, 9% as ‘average’
  • 70% want more gaming time
  • 60% suggest a 2-Days forum
  • Topics suggestion for upcoming event loom toward economic warfare, AI, cybersecurity, education, social and humanitarian topics
  • Most attendee’s suggestions ask for more meet and greet with participants / speakers.

Dictionary of Basic Military Terms — A Soviet View

If anyone is interested here is a good quality PDF (6.6Mb) of the English translation of this document, #9 in the Soviet Military Thought Series.

Simulation & Gaming (February 2020)


The latest issue of Simulation & Gaming 51, 1 (February 2020) is now available.


  • A Tribute to Some of Our Pioneers, Past and Present as We Move Beyond 50 Years With Simulation & Gaming
    • Timothy C. Clapper
  • Acknowledgment of Reviewers of Simulation & Gaming for 2019


  • The Evolution of Simulation-Based Learning Across the Disciplines, 1965–2018: A Science Map of the Literature
    • Philip Hallinger and Ray Wang
  • Do Badges Affect Intrinsic Motivation in Introductory Programming Students?
    • Lisa Facey-Shaw, Marcus Specht, Peter van Rosmalen, and Jeanette Bartley-Bryan
  • Video Game Pursuit (VGPu) Scale Development: Designing and Validating a Scale With Implications for Game-Based Learning and Assessment
    • Diana R. Sanchez and Markus Langer
  • Health$en$eTM: Developing a Board Game on Value-based Healthcare Financing
    • Harold Tan, Yap Chun Wei, Heng Wei Yun, Koh Eng Hui Joan, Ho Wai Yee, and Lim Yee Juan


Strategic decisions with simulations (conference)

TUHH19-320.pngOn 19 March 2020, the Technischen Universität Hamburg, in conjunction with the German Institute for Defence and Strategic Studies (GIDS) and the Führungsakademie der Bundeswehr (German Command and Staff College) will be holding a conference on Zukunftsorientierte Steuerung – Strategische Entscheidungen mit Simulationen fundiert treffen (Future-oriented control – making strategic decisions with simulations).

Further information can be found at the link.

NATO OR&A conference proceedings


The proceedings of the 2019 NATO Operations Research & Analysis conference have now been published on the NATO STO website. These include a number of wargaming presentation (including a keynote address by Stephen Downes Martin).

Most of the papers are open access, but a few are marked are marked NATO Unclassified (Releasable to PFP and Australia). To access those files you will need STO log-in credentials.

We published a report on the conference at PAXsims back in October.

David and DeRosa: Wargaming Contested Narratives in an Age of Bewilderment


At The Strategy Bridge, Arnel P. David and John DeRosa discuss “Wargaming Contested Narratives in an Age of Bewilderment.”

The Contested Narratives Wargame builds on the assertions from Peter Perla and Ed McGrady that wargames “embod[y] two types of narrative: the presented narrative, which is what we call the written or given narrative, created by the game’s designers; and the constructed narrative, which is developed through the actions, statements, and decisions of the game’s participants.”[1] Over the course of the game, select participants shared presented narratives (pre-scripted stories) to amplify or dampen adversary and friendly narratives. Participants then moved between tables developing constructed narratives (revised scripts) amidst the various contested narratives. Using the World Café method, a professionally and nationally diverse group of participants took turns sharing stories of national resilience against malign influence wherein the pre-scripted presented narratives contest for resonance.

The World Café is an exploratory method, designed by Juanita Brown and David Isaacs, that elicits communication patterns.[2] Set in a café-like environment with multiple tables, participants are invited to sit in small groups with participants from other nations. A facilitator initiates the conversation with a narrative prompt to the entire room—“share a story about national resilience,” for example. Then the participants engage in multiple rounds of storytelling. Paper tablecloths and colored pens allow participants to scribble and take notes creating artifacts for later review. As participants move around the room, narratives begin to circulate. Contestation emerges as designated players introduce stories scripted prior to the wargame from an adversary’s perspective. At the end of several rounds, Dr. John DeRosa—game designer, lead facilitator, and one of the authors—led discussions with the participants to find the l’entre deux, the between place, of presented and constructed narratives circulating within the room. In this sense, the process seeks to reveal if elements of the pre-scripted narratives (like those representing the adversary) appear in the revised scripts developed within the wargame.

Two key insights emerged. First, stories coupled with symbols construct powerfully resonant narratives. Second, unlike the linear action-counteraction-reaction model of traditional wargames, methods like the World Café can effectively mimic the complexity of the human dimension.

More at the link above.

h/t Mark Jones Jr.

Exploit Small Group Dynamics During Analysis to Support the Decision You Want


I gave the above keynote speech to the 13th NATO Operations Research and Analysis Conference last October, in which I described an “analysis process design” game as a thought experiment about how pathologies of small group discussions can be deliberately used to distort decisions following analysis. The thought experiment game can be applied I suspect to any process, including wargames, that includes small group discussions.

The paper is now downloadable (pdf) from the NATO Science and Technology Organization website.


Serious Games Forum 2020 (Paris)

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The next Serious Games Forum—the French version of the Connections wargaming conferences—will take place on January 27 at the École Militaire in Paris. Over two hundred participants attended last year.

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Further information and registration details can be found at the link above. For details of the previous conference in December 2018, see this PAXsims report by Juliette Le Ménahèze.

Connections US 2020 Wargaming Conference – Call for Presentations

Connections 2020 will be hosted by the Wargaming Division of the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory in Quantico, VA, August 4-7.

Connections is an interdisciplinary wargaming conference that has been held annually since 1993, with the mission of advancing and preserving the art, science, and application of wargaming. Connections participants come from all elements of the wargaming discipline, and include those in the military, government, academic, private sector, and commercial hobbyist fields. By providing a forum for practitioners to share insights and best practices, Connections works to improve gaming as a tool for research, analysis, education, and policy.

Presentations on any aspect of professional wargaming are welcome. The 2020 conference theme is Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning in Wargaming, and with that in mind, presentations on applying current and emerging AI/ML capabilities to increase the value of wargaming (or using wargaming to better understand the implications of advances in AI/ML) are especially encouraged.

However, any presentations related to wargaming will receive full consideration. The Connections agenda is a mix of content related to the year’s theme and other topics of interest to wargaming practitioners.

Please submit your proposal via the Google Form at the following link (which contains additional information):

It is by no means necessary to have attended a previous Connections conference to participate as a speaker. More information about past Connections events and current updates on the status of planning for Connections 2020 can be found at the conference website:

For additional information or any questions or concerns, please contact Timothy Wilkie at

MORS certificate course in cyber wargaming


The Military Operations Research Society is conducting a certificate course on from 27-31 January 2020 at the MORS office in Arlington, VA.

How do we go about understanding operational and policy decisions about cyber?  They involve a complex mix of human decisions, technical capabilities, and social interactions.  As we have seen from recent events, peoples’ reaction to cyber can be as important as the capability.

One way government and industry professionals go about understanding the complex linkages in cyber operations is through gaming.  Games allow you to bring together all of these diverse aspects of cyber policy.  Games place people in decision-making roles during a simulated real-world problem—historical, contemporary or projected into the future.  These “professional games” are used by decision-makers within government, industry and academia to examine policy issues and potential outcomes.   They also allow operational professionals to assess requirements, plan budgets, and practice response procedures.  Professional games on cyber policy and operations are run by a variety of agencies as part of an effort to develop national strategies, permissions, and capabilities.

In this course we examine the challenges of gaming cyber.  How do you develop games that address the challenges associated with cyber?  Why are cyber games inherently difficult to do well, and how do you match technical layers of game play with the operational and strategic layers?  What is the role of computer simulation in cyber games, and how do cyber games differ from exercises?  How do you assess player actions given the potential political, social, and technical impacts of game play?

We will do this through a combination of lectures and practical exercises.  Lectures will focus on games and game design, along with the application of game design to cyber issues.   We need to understand how to think about cyber technology and processes in order to build effective games.  So cyber security will be discussed in this course: but this is not a course on cyber security.  Practical exercises will give students the chance to experience different types of cyber gaming, with the expectation that students will research, design, and present their own cyber game as part of the course.

Successful students will learn how game design can be used to address challenges of cyber operations and policy.  They will build an understanding of how to represent cyber capabilities in games, as well as build games directly addressing cyber operations.  The goal is for students to become aware of the gaming tools available for cyber, and to begin to associate specific game techniques with various cyber gaming requirements.

It’s pretty pricey, though, at up to USD$3000 (!). Details and registration at the link above.

Fielder: Reflections on teaching wargame design


At War on the Rocks today, James “Pigeon” fielder discusses how to teach wargame design, drawing on his experience at the U.S. Air Force Academy.

I founded my course on three pillars: defining wargames, objective-based design, and learning outcomes over winning. First, I took a blend of James Dunnigan, John Curry and Peter Perla, Phil Sabin, and my own caffeinated madness to define wargaming as “a synthetic decision making test under conditions of uncertainty against thinking opponents, which generates insights but not proven outcomes, engages multiple learning types, and builds team cohesion in a risk-free environment.” Second, I enshrined the primacy of the objective. Put bluntly, without objectives you don’t have a professional game. Although we briefly discussed creating sandbox environments for generating ideas in the absence of objectives, sandbox design at best strays into teaching group facilitation (albeit game refereeing itself is a form of facilitation), and at worst enshrining poorly structured and long-winded BOGSATs as legitimate analysis tools. Finally, neither the U.S. Strategic Command wargame nor the National Reconnaissance wargame included absolute and predetermined winners. Both U.S. Strategic Command and the National Reconnaissance Office faced unmitigated disaster every time they bellied up to the table. The best learning comes from understanding failure, correcting mistakes, and revising strategies, not from sponsors patting themselves on the back. Summoning Millennium Challenge 2002’s chained and howling ghost, gaming with the sole intent to win, prove, and prop up ideas is an exercise in false future bargaining with real lives and materiel.

He cleverly had his cadets design games for real sponsors:

I divided the class into two eight-cadet teams respectively for U.S. Strategic Command and the National Reconnaissance Office. The sponsors and I initiated dialogue, but from that point the games were entirely cadet driven. The teams interviewed the sponsors for objectives, determined how to measure the objectives, prototyped and play-tested their games, and ultimately delivered effective tools for addressing sponsor requirements. Meaning, of course, the games generated more questions than answers: better to ask the questions at the table before bargaining with a real opponent or launching a new military service.

There’s a lot more besides that, including a discussion of the wargame design literature, as well as material on psychological roots and sociological narratives of gaming. James also discusses the importance of learning-through-play.

Go read the entire piece at the link at the top of the page.

2019 PAXsims readers’ survey results


The results of our 2019 PAXsims reader’s survey are now in. Many thanks to those who took the time to answer our questions.

Half (51.2%) of respondents report that they visit PAXsims daily or weekly, while 52.5% report that they visit monthly. Only 6.3% visit less frequently.

Most of our readers are middle-aged and—overwhelmingly—male. We are only reaching a much smaller proportion of those in their teens or twenties who might be interested in, or entering, the field of serious gaming.

Age Percentage
1-17 0.6%
18-25 4.8%
26-35 14.3%
36-64 70.8%
65 or older 9.5%

Although the proportion of non-male readers has increased since our last survey a few years ago (when it was a mere 1%), there’s still much room for improvement. Women make up half of my POLI 452 (Conflict Simulation) course at McGill this term, so there’s no shortage of women interested in the topic. However, this demographic is not particularly accessible through the 98% male wargaming hobby, which has often been rather unwelcoming. Instead, an interest in gaming as social science or policy analysis might be the better hook to introduce a new and more diverse generation to the art and science of serious gaming.

Gender Percentage
Male 93.9%
Female 4.3%
Non-binary/other 1.8%

We wll be further discussing this issue of “expanding the community” at this year’s Connections North interdisciplinary wargaming conference in Montréal on 15 February 2020.

In terms of occupation, about a quarter of our readers are in education (as teachers or students), and another quarter are in or directly support the military.

Occupation Percentage
Educator (post-secondary) 16.3%
Educator (K-12) 3.1%
Students (post-secondary) 3.6%
Students (K-12) 0.5%
Military (active/reserve) 11.7%
Military (contractor) 11.2%
Intelligence community 3.6%
Diplomacy 0.5%
Other government employees 8.2%
Humanitarian assistance/development 1.5%
Journalism 1.5%
Professional game designers 12.2%
Other 26.0%

A majority of out visitors seem to be hobby gamers, as well as serious gamers. Slightly more use serious games for education/training compared to analysis.

  Use serious games for education. Use serious games for analysis. Play games for fun.
Often 29.6% 20.0% 57.9%
Sometimes 36.5% 31.6% 33.3%
Rarely 19.5% 27.7% 8.8%
Never 14.5% 20.7% 0%

Slightly over half of respondents (51%) prefer manual games, 11% prefer digital games, and the remainder like both equally (38%).

Among gaming conference attended, hobby gaming conferences come first, followed by the various Connections professional wargaming conferences, and the Military Operations Research Society annual symposium. I/ITSEC and the major social science academic conferences place lower.

Finally, what our readers you like to see more of? Pretty much what we have been doing, it seems. In order of popularity:

  1. professional wargaming
  2. teaching with games and simulations
  3. other serious games
  4. professional development
  5. gaming hobby
  6. game reviews
  7. not-so-serious gaming articles

And so it is, onwards into 2020!

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