PAXsims

Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

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?

Simulation and gaming miscellany, 19 February 2017

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It has been a busy month, and as a consequence we are a bit behind on updates. So here (at last) is the latest issue of simulations and gaming miscellany, filled with items on serious and not-so-serious gaming that may be of interest to PAXsims readers.

James Sterrett suggested material for this latest edition.

PAXsims

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It’s official! The next Connections UK interdisciplinary wargaming conference will be held at King’s College London on 5-7 September 2017. I plan to be there.

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The Connections US wargaming conference will be held this year in Quantico, VA on 1-4 August 2017.

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PAXsims

The Military Operations Research Society will be extending the 85th MORS Symposium abstract submission deadline to 10 March 2017.

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PAXsims

The website for the 2017 North American Simulation and Gaming Association is now live. The deadline for conference proposals is 31 March 2017.

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PAXsims

The Canadian military has issued guidelines to assist peacekeepers in dealing with child soldiers. To support such training, students at  Dalhousie University have developed a game on the topic, in cooperation with the Romeo Dallaire Child Soldier Initiative.

It’s a written training manual given interactive life, and it’s the brainchild of a group of informatics students at the Halifax school.

Developed over three semesters by 11 students, the game is set to be tested with peacekeepers in the field as part of training offered by Dalhousie’s Romeo Dallaire Child Soldier Initiative.

Josh Boyter, who works with the Dallaire initiative, said the game is designed so it can be deployed in some of the most difficult hotspots around the world without having to utilize the Internet or wireless connections.

“This game can sit on a USB key,” said Boyter.

“It’s all locally based, so as long as they have a browser on their laptop . . . the game won’t break. It’s purely designed to be as robust as possible.”

Boyter said his organization plans to give the game to the first child protection adviser to be attached to an African Union peacekeeping mission. The adviser will use it to help train soldiers and police.

“We are really excited to see how it actually is going to help in terms of our ultimate mission, which is to end the use of child soldiers,” he said.

The game presents a range of scenarios and roles in which child soldiers could be encountered, including as spies or even suicide bombers. Each scenario presents a list of choices for dealing with the child soldier and the game user is ultimately told whether those choices are right or wrong.

PAXsims

Ars Technica reports on an effort in Berlin to use boardgames to bring newly-arrived refugees and Germans closer together:

At the shelter I frequent most, a children’s worker named Robin spends many afternoons playing games with the kids. He teaches them the German classic Mensch, Ärgere Dich Nicht, a best-selling variant of Parcheesi. It has become one of their favorites.

My friend Karin, who publishes games for businesses, wants to donate some games for the refugees. She gives me black-and-white Parcheesi boards that can be colored in by the children, and we pick out various colors of pawns and dice to include with each board.

When I pull out the game boards at the shelter the following week, the children enjoy choosing their pawns. Then they get right to work, adding color to their boards with the markers and colored pencils I bring with me. When finished, they cannot believe that the games are theirs to keep. I assure them that they are—and suddenly find myself in the middle of a group hug.

Later, I ask my friend Thorsten—who works for the large Berlin publisher who makes Mensch Ärgere Dich Nicht—if the company would be able to donate any games as Christmas presents for the children. He packs a large box, which I supplement with a few extra chess sets and some games that designer Néstor sent me. My family joins me in wrapping and distributing them.

This happens on a very special night, as the refugees are finally moving to “container apartments” after a full year of bunk beds and bedsheet partitions in a converted indoor basketball court. We are invited to share food and join in a dance, and the children’s eyes light up when they receive a game of their very own.

But the gifts are more than just games. They are reminders of the times we shared together every week over the past year, and the promise of more to come.

PAXsims

Following their very successful Simnovate conference in May 2016, the Steinberg Centre for Simulation and Interactive Learning at McGill University will be holding another Simnovate event in Montreal on 29 March 2017:

Our four work groups, i.e. patient safety, medical technologies, global health, and pervasive learning, have come together, and with outputs from the youth innovation and costs of innovation panel, produced a series of high quality manuscripts. These will be published in a special issue of BMJ Simulation and Technology Enhanced Learning, to be publicly launched at the Mar 29 event.

We are extremely pleased to have Dr. Russell Gruen, Director of the Nanyang Institute of Technology in Health and Medicine in Singapore, Dr. Nick Sevdalis, Editor-in-Chief of BMJ Simulation and Technology Enhanced Learning, and Ms. Katrine Kirk, Danish Patient Safety Champion, join us in Montreal for the event. We also have the pleasure of hosting Assistant Deputy Minister Marie-Josée Blais, Ministry of Economy, Science and Innovation, Province of Quebec, as well as many of the original invitees to the May 2016 event, to encourage and propagate further discussion, dissemination and implementation of the simnovate mission.

The event commences at 1:30pm, with a series of keynotes, panel sessions and discussions, followed by a cocktail reception for networking and further follow-up.

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PAXsimsPolygon recently reported on UNESCO’s interest in the power of gaming to promote empathy, understanding, and positive social change:

For lots of gamers, the power of the medium is its ability to place us in the shoes of other people, making tough choices that we’d otherwise never need to contemplate.

But how does that message of power and opportunity spread outwards, away from the mostly indie games that address serious issues, and the relatively small number of people who celebrate these noble efforts?

He’s also the author of a new report commissioned by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) which seeks to find ways in which games can be used to foster empathy and understanding around the world. The report was commissioned by UNESCO subsidiary the Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Education for Peace.

WP_cover.pngDarvasi’s report — Empathy, Perspective and Complicity: How Digital Games can support Peace Education and Conflict Resolution — focuses on academic studies into how so-called “serious games” can alter perspectives and create cognitive empathy.

“Perspective-taking helps negotiate social complexities, diminish biases, improve inter-group attitudes, and encourage a view of outgroups as more self-like,” states the report. “The potential to positively impact attitudes with digital games is not only rooted in their ability to grant perspective, but also in their potency as instruments of persuasion.”

“If you read the literature on conflict resolution, perspective-taking is very important in order to reconcile opposing points of view,” says Darvasi. “It’s difficult to have empathy if you can’t put yourself into somebody else’s perspective. Video games allow you to assume perspectives in an embodied form.

“When you watch the news or a documentary, you might not feel connected to the issue. But video games immerse you in the action. Your actions have consequences within the game and therefore there’s a greater emotional and cognitive investment.”

PAXsims

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The latest update to Power & Revolution: Geopolitical Simulator 4 was released by Eversim on January 20, to coincide with the inauguration of US President Donald Trump:

Donald Trump’s Challenge : play as the new chief executive of the United States and strive to keep your campaign promises on issues such as reducing the tax burden, stimulating the economy or the fight against illegal immigration… all while avoiding bankrupting the nation and maintaining your approval ratings with the end goal of being reelected for a second term in 202

War in Syria and Iraq 2017 : play as one or several warring factions in the new conflict map configuration updated as of the beginning of 2017 and strive to emerge victorious or put an end to hostilities. NB : the conflict scenarios from the beginning of 2016 will still be playable.

Gross National Happiness : improve the quality of life for your people by implementing reforms and try to raise your country’s global ranking.

French Election 2017 : play as one of the candidates in the French national elections or even the current chief of state and run a campaign, manage your budget, establish your campaign platform, participate in debates and try to get elected (or reelected) to the highest office.

Before you all ask, PAXsims has no information on whether the update includes dubious connections with Russian intelligence, immigration and refugee bans, “fake news”, bizarre press conferences, arguments over the size of crowds on the Mall, or turmoil in the National Security Council.

PAXsims

In early January, a not-exactly-secret ICONS simulation was mentioned in the New York Times article on US support for the Baltic states:

The intelligence also informs planning in Washington. In October, the military’s Joint Staff conducted a three-day confidential simulation exercise involving four possible situations in Latvia in which Russia used drones, cyberwarfare and media manipulation.

We’re told the event wasn’t classified at all, simply held under Chatham House Rules.

PAXsims

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In March 2017 Hollandspiele will be releasing two Brian Train wargames-in-one:

Ukrainian Crisis will be much the same as the PnP version available now here, except that the Resource cards will be chits (they can’t print up that many cards), the game length is increased to 9 turns and there are a few extra units, for variety and to fill up the counter sheet.

Even better, this will be half of a two-game package… the other game will be the mini-game The Little War, on the brief Slovak-Hungarian border war of March 1939! This one uses only 30 counters and a deck of ordinary playing cards to drive the action. I designed this one last year.

You can find out more at Brian’s blog, Ludic Futurism.

PAXsims

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A recent article in the Journal of the American Medical Association Neurology by Janina Krell-Roesch, Prashanthi Vemuri, and Anna Pink suggests that playing games can significantly reduce the risk of new-onset mild cognitive impairment:

Question  Does engaging in a mentally stimulating activity in old age associate with neurocognitive function?

Findings  In this population-based cohort study, 1929 cognitively normal participants 70 years or older were followed for approximately 4 years. The following activities were associated with significant decreased risk of new-onset mild cognitive impairment: computer use, craft activities, social activities, and playing games.

Meaning  Engaging in a mentally stimulating activity even in late life may decrease the risk of mild cognitive impairment.

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PAXsims

GrogHeads

Recently Brant Guillory at GrogHeads interviewed James Sterrett of the US Army Command & General Staff College about how hobby wargaming is making its way (back) into professional military ranks. You’ll find the whole thing here.

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PAXsims

Jim Wallman’s No Game Survives… blog on megagames continues to have lots of interesting content, including this handy “can it be megagamed” flow chart.

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Jim was recently hopped across the Atlantic to Montréal to run a megagame at McGill University, War in Binni. I’ll be writing up a game report soon.

PAXsims

PETA is concerned that so many Games Workshop Warhammer figures appear to be wearing fur:

The grimdark, battle-hardened warriors are known for their martial prowess – but wearing the skins of dead animals doesn’t take any skill.

Indeed, nothing on the bloody battlefields of Warhammer’s conflict-ravaged universe could match the terrible reality that foxes, minks, rabbits, and other living beings experience at the hands of the fur trade. Those killed for their fur typically first endure a bleak life inside a tiny, filthy wire cage before being electrocuted, drowned, or even skinned alive. Or they may be in the wild, minding their own business, when they get caught in a horrific bone-crushing steel-jaw trap – often languishing for days before eventually dying from starvation, dehydration, or blood loss.

PETA has written to Games Workshop CEO Kevin Rountree asking that the leading British miniature war-gaming brand ban “fur” garments from all Warhammer characters. While we appreciate that they are fictional, draping them in what looks like a replica of a dead animal sends the message that wearing fur is acceptable – when, in fact, it has no more place in 2017 than it would in the year 40,000.

This, of course, provoked much outrage, sarcasm, derision, mirth, and discussion among Warhammer players.

…which, PETA later admitted, was kind of what they were aiming for:

We’re laughing, too! For the cost of a postage stamp, our website has received record traffic – and the people who were prompted to visit our site by this story can’t have missed the prominently featured eyewitness footage showing that animals in real life are electrocuted, drowned, and sometimes even skinned alive for their fur.

Here’s a little secret: we know that Warhammer characters are fictional, and we’re not losing sleep worrying about what Leman Russ or the other miniatures are “wearing”. We are, however, lying awake at night thinking of ways to make people aware that real animals who are raised for their fur, skin, or flesh are suffering every day. We’ll sleep a little more easily tonight knowing that we’ve managed to get nearly a quarter of a million people (and counting!) to visit PETA.org.uk in the days since we sent our letter, because – whatever their reason for doing so – they’ll now know more about the cruelty behind fur.

So by all means, have a laugh at this campaign – you can even laugh at us – but please remember that the fur industry is a living hell for animals. If that bothers you, and it should, please share our fur exposés with your friends and family.

Well played, PETA, well played.

PAXsims

Last but certainly not least, PAXsims is very pleased to report that we’ve now had more that 500,000 page views and 200,000 visitors to the website. We’re also well on track to making 2017 our best year ever. Many thanks to our readers and contributors to making it possible!

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AFTERSHOCK at Pennsylvania State University

The following report on a recent game of AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game at Pennsylvania State University is provided by Nick LaLone.


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For the past two semesters, I have had the opportunity to run AFTERSHOCK for a crisis informatics course here at Pennsylvania State University’s Information Sciences and Technology program. The IST program is not international relations, political science, or social science focused in any way. Instead, this class focuses on the use of information and communication technologies and how those ICTs support crisis management. To that end, the use of AFTERSHOCK was meant to offer these students a glimpse at the various bottlenecks and pitfalls that crisis responders must deal with as a response evolves.

Through that lens, we gathered these 20 students in a conference room and sat them down to play – five students to a team. I began by explaining the goal of the game, the major players, their motivations, and ended with the sequence of a turn. Given that explanation, play began. In total, the room learned how to play the game in less than 30 minutes.

The following caveats should be noted:

  1. The players were told that if they were not participating in the cluster that they could not communicate with the other teams. This was done by placing them inside another room if they were not there. Sadly, no players actually did this.
  2. I stacked the deck for the first turn. The cards I chose were:
    • Landslides – a card that allowed me to talk about the Frontier.
    • Things Change – a card that allowed me to talk about Needs Assessments.
    • Infrastructure Breakdown, which allowed me to talk about the difference between supplies and infrastructure.
  3. The first turn ended with “Trying Times.” This card resolves the highest risk card on the board. I suggested throughout the first 3 turns that players try to meet needs according to the number of people listed on the card and the number of relief points that card represented. My hope was that this would generate some competition and the students would prioritize rescuing according to “big numbers.”

Over the course of 2 hours, we played through 4 turns or through 2 weeks of response efforts. While it was not a complete game, it was enough to see the game take shape and the players start to recognize their roles.

At the beginning of the game, the 4 representative teams – the host country, the humanitarian coalition (HADR-TF), the United Nations, and the Non-Government Organizations – were pretty much all at the same place in terms of the knowledge of the game and the knowledge of what they needed to do. This quickly changed as the first turn ended. By the second turn, the media played a significant role within the game. In AFTERSHOCK the media begin with their cameras pointed at the administrative district or District 1. However, the Infrastructure Breakdown card allowed the players to move the media. The United Nations decided to move the media to a place that benefited them and only them – to district 4 or the middle class areas. The media would remain here for the rest of the game. On their first turn, the United Nations players asked,

“So you get points if the media is watching but what happens if they aren’t there and you save all those people?”

To which we replied,

“You know that you did a fantastic job saving all those people! The response effort as a whole becomes more stable.”

To that answer, the UN and NGO player began to concentrate on “Media Outreach.” The UN did this by distributing teams and resources wherever the media was in addition to maintaining a presence within the Media Outreach portion of the cluster. The NGO player, who was stuck without any ability to import resources due to few infrastructure being placed at the airport or dock until turn 3, sat inside the “Media Outreach” box giving themselves points for the duration of the game. It was not until week 2 – 3 turns into the game – that the NGOs began to send resources out into the field. Instead, they concentrated on placing individuals inside the “Rescue” boxes on the districts. This way, the NGOs would be represented should the media move. This tactic worked well for them as at the end of the game, the NGO was well ahead of everyone else in terms of Operations Points.

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At the end of the game, we asked the room what they thought of the game. Overall, they liked what they played. They felt that the tensions were realistic even if the act of what they were doing was not. They felt a little distressed that they began to think about what they were doing in terms of points. The selfishness of what they were doing left them quite shocked. From my perspective as a facilitator, they were noticing that their role as leaders of a particular organization was clouding their ideas about what it was that they were doing. Along those lines, I didn’t start using the expansion cards until Week 2. I have a feeling if I had started using them at the beginning of the game, things would have been very different as the expansion cards concentrate on empathy and vulnerability instead of simply numbers.

Along with that selfishness, they also notice that they didn’t speak to other teams. Each turn, the active player would walk up to the game board to discuss their move. When each team was at the table discussing their possibilities, the other teams whispered among themselves what they’d like to do. Often, they ignored most of what the active player said.

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As facilitator, I tried to get them to work more together but it only really occurred once when the Carana player drew the Coordination Card that allowed them to resolve an event at the end of their turn. The Carana group fared the worst out of all of the players as they were the target of Locally Engaged Staff as well as inundated with mostly Shelter for the duration of the game. At one point, they stood at the front of the table looking at the UN and the NGOs in the Media Outreach box and said something to the effect of,

“You know, we should put someone there to force them to actually play the game.”

The role of the media in this game influenced what the players did far more than any game I have played, solo, team-based, or with my wife. That it came to matter for a room full of students in a technology-based course was not surprising.

PaxSims concentrates on wargame and simulation use within those disciplines that concern themselves with conflict, peacebuilding, and development. However, there is incredible opportunity outside those realms with AFTERSHOCK Rex’s game a unique opportunity for teaching and learning. The tensions, the randomized interaction between the groups, and multi-dimensional thought processes the game requires will loosen up that undergraduate fear of speaking aloud. AFTERSHOCK will help your students see unique perspectives that cannot be taught or learned in a book.

Nick LaLone 

Talk: Insights from Cyber Wargaming at Newport

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The Joint Staff, J39 Office of Strategic Multilayer Assessment will host a talk at 1400 ET, January 26 by Jacquelyn Schneider from the Center of Naval Warfare Studies will discuss, Cyber and Crisis Escalation: Insights from Wargaming.

To call in to the talk, dial: 866-712-4038; then passcode:  60114984#.

Jacquelyn G. Schneider is an Instructor in the Center for Naval Warfare Studies and a core faculty member of the Center for Cyber Conflict Studies. Her research focuses on the intersection of technology, national security, and political psychology with a special interest in cyber, unmanned technologies, and Northeast Asia. Her work has appeared in print in Journal of Conflict Resolution and Strategic Studies Quarterly, and on-line at War on the Rocks, The Washington Post, The National Interest, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, and The Center for a New American Security. Jacquelyn is an active member of the defense policy community with previous adjunct positions at RAND and the Center for a New American Security. She previously served as an active duty Air Force officer in South Korea and Japan and is currently a reservist assigned to U.S. Cyber Command.  She holds a B.A. in Economics-Political Science from Columbia University, an M.A. in Political Science from Arizona State University, and is a PhD Candidate at George Washington University.

Slides and paper here:

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