PAXsims

Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

“Flattening the Curve” matrix game report

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Tim Price has been kind enough to pass on this report from a recent play of the Flattening the Curve matrix game.


 

Last night I managed to get 11 volunteers together to play a distributed version of Flattening the Curve over Zoom. It was an interesting and frustrating experience, but I thought it might be worthwhile sharing it with you.

Technology

We used Zoom for the video chat. We felt it was very important to be able to speak and see each other and Zoom has a simple and intuitive mosaic screen setup that is particularly useful for the Facilitator. The surround to the image is highlighted to show the current speaker, interrupters are shown with a highlighted line under them, and their names appear under their faces (really very useful indeed). Of particular interest for running a Matrix Game, it is possible to sent private messages to named individuals using the chat function in the application. It was also stable for the 3hrs we played.

We used Google Slides for the game map (see here). With the map itself as the background image and a number of counters imported as images onto the map (and left outside the slide boundary), so everyone could see and collaboratively move the counters if necessary. It is useful to duplicate the last slide for every turn, so you have a record of the map after each turn, and that also allows a run through at the end as an After Action Review.

Finally, we used Mentimeter  to be able to carry out the “Estimative Probability” method of adjudication.FTC1.png

When using Estimative Probability players or teams are asked to assess the chances of success of an argument, and these are aggregated to reveal the “Crowd Sourced” chance of success. In analytical games, this provides potentially valuable insight into how participants rate the chances of a particular course of action. Following discussion, players select the option on the Mentimeter slide which, in their view, best represents the probability of the argument’s success. These are displayed immediately to the Facilitator, but not to the players, so it is using hidden voting. It is generally felt that this is a more accurate method to leverage the work on Crowd Sourcing, as well as making the resulting probability more accessible and acceptable to the participants. The terms on the slide also reflected those commonly used in the intelligence community.

The advantage with Mentimeter over other poll and voting systems is that it is free, feedback is instant, and you can use a single slide for all the Matrix Arguments, because you can re-set the results each time. Of course, if you want to have a record of the results, you will have to buy the upgraded version, or save a screenshot each turn (which is a pain).

Running the Game

As is normally the case with video conferences, we had the usual difficulties getting everyone onto the Zoom, with sensible names displayed instead of “Owner’s iPad”, so the start was a little delayed. I had put out a Loom video with a short introduction about Matrix Games, but inevitably a few of the players hadn’t been able to view it, so we were delayed starting as I had to explain how the game would play.

As the game went on, I modified the map (based on some helpful collaboration with TNO in the Netherlands), to make it easier to follow. The revised map is here:

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The game played perfectly well, but at a slower pace that if it had been face to face, and it was certainly more tiring for me as the Facilitator. The inter-turn negotiation between team members and other teams was carried out using Whatsapp:  and Whatsapp Web so was private to the other players.

Results

We were time limited and were only able to have 11 participants in the end – but it was mainly a trial to see if running a Matrix Game remotely is at all possible. We got a few insights from the game, one of which I will share – as we all go into working from home full-time and are switching to remote working, we end up downloading all sorts of software and applications that we would never have normally dealt with. This increases the threat surface for cyber-attacks by an order of magnitude, so correct digital hygiene is going to be as important as washing your hands.

Post-Game Predictions

Following the game, we quickly did a couple of polls, hopefully better informed by the experience of the game:

  • Each participant was asked to give me their MOST IMPORTANT thing that would happen over the next month (please note the definition of “thing” was left deliberately vague so the players could decide for themselves what it meant).
  • They were then asked to vote on which of these was the MOST LIKELY thing to happen.

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  • Next, each participant was asked to give me their MOST IMPORTANT long-term consequence of Coronavirus.
  • They were then asked to vote on which of these was the MOST LIKELY thing to happen.

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Conclusion

It is possible to run a Matrix Game remotely, but it is very tiring for the Facilitator and takes much longer than you thought it would.

The right choice of technology can make a real difference – so mandated standards and corporate choices may well have an impact on the experience. This means that practicing, as I was, while waiting for the corporate roll out of their platform of choice might end up especially frustrating, when I am unable to do something that I know a free app on the internet will let me. But downloading all those free apps and trying them out could be dangerous, because the bad guys are definitely out to get you…


For more resources on the pandemic, see our COVID-19 serious gaming resources page.

Armchair Dragoons: Megagaming a pandemic?

 

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The s podcast has an interview with me on (not-so-serious) megagaming of pandemic response—in this case, the zombie apocalypse.

Rex Brynen takes some time out of his academic pandemic survival preparations to chat with us about megagames as a whole, but with a specific focus on a recent one that was (conveniently!) played in a former Canadian government nuclear command bunker and dealt with….

wait for it…

international response to a global pandemic!

And of course, Tim Horton’s factors prominently into the crisis response.

Rex also takes the time to talk with us about planning megagames, what sort of subjects make for good ones, and adopting them to distributed play.  Looking for more information about megagames?

You can listen to it here.

Aplatir la courbe

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Antoine Bourguilleau has developed a French translation and adaptation of Tim Price’s Flattening the Curve COVID-19 matrix game. In this revised version of the game, the UK and US actors are replaced by France and Germany.

Aplatir la Courbe contains an overview of the pandemic, guidance on running a matrix game, and briefings sheets for the major actors. For other game materials—notably the game display and markers—download the original (UK) version.

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For more resources on the pandemic, see our COVID-19 serious gaming resources page.

WHO COVID-19 training exercise

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The World Health Organization has made available a simulation exercise on COVID-19.

To support countries’ preparedness effort on the COVID-19  outbreak, WHO`s Department of Health Security and Preparedness has developed various COVID-19  tabletop exercise (SimEx) packages. This includes:

  1. A Generic Covid19 SimEx to examine and strengthen existing plans, procedures and capabilities to manage an imported case of 2019-nCov and targets the health authorities at the national level.
  2. A Health facility & IPC SimEx that is based on the Core Components of Infection Prevention and Control Programmes at the National and Acute Care Facility Level.
  3. A Point of Entry (POE) SimEx to examine and strengthen existing plans, procedures and capabilities at the main airport (POE).

The simulation package consists of different elements including:

  • PowerPoint presentations to support the facilitation of the exercise and its subsequent debriefing
  • A participants’ guide and a facilitators’ guide to explain what is expected from the different people involved in the preparation and running of the exercise.
  • A set of reference documents and technical guidance on 2019-nCov

The package highlights clearly where some minor adaptions are needed to make the simulation country-specific and more relevant to the participants.


For more resources on the pandemic, see our COVID-19 serious gaming resources page.

GUWS: Gaming the Non-Kinetic (May 13)

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The George University Wargaming Society will be hosting an online presentation on gaming the non-kinetic at 18h00 ET on May 13. The presenter is none other than… me.

This presentation will discuss the use of (war)gaming techniques to explore issues other than war, ranging from humanitarian response to pandemics, peace negotiations and peace operations.

Rex Brynen is Professor of Political Science at McGill University, and author or editor of a dozen books on various aspects of Middle East politics. He is also senior editor of the conflict simulation website PAXsims (www.PAXsims.org). Prof. Brynen has designed policy games for various government agencies and international organizations, as well as in support of Middle East peace negotiations. He is currently a senior wargaming advisor to the Canadian Joint Warfare Centre.

You can register for the (free) event via Eventbrite.

CIMSEC: Sebastian Bae on wargaming at Georgetown University (and elsewhere)

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The latest issue of the CIMSEC podcast Sea Control (#166) features Sebastian Bae discussing his wargaming course at Georgetown University and many other things as well.

Sebastian Bae (@SebastianBae) joins Jared (@jwsc03) to discuss his own development as a wargamer and designer, the genesis for Georgetown University’s new wargaming program, the Georgetown University Wargaming Society, the explosion of wargaming in both the academic world and Department of Defense and what he’s learned in his first year of teaching. One editor’s note: Nick Murray was identified as working for the Naval Postgraduate School during the podcast. He works for the Naval War College.

You can listen to it here.

Engle: COVID-19 hospital matrix gaming ideas

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Chris Engle, the inventor of matrix gaming, has passed on some ideas for a COVID 19 general hospital simulation. We are pleased to post them below.

The world is facing a pandemic. It is testing our systems to the extreme. Maximizing utilization of resources is all important. This requires the following.

  • Effective intelligence
  • Pre-planning
  • Pre-deployment of resources
  • Public policy to slow the spread of the illness
  • Maintenance of public order
  • Distribution of goods and services
  • Medical treatment as needed
  • Maintenance of front line essential workers
  • Evaluation of effectiveness and alteration of intervention
  • Data-based decision making on when to return to normal

It is a highly complicated situation that is in a constant state of flux. Simulating this in a timely meaningful way is a huge challenge.

What follows is a simple, inexpensive, easily run, quick to initiate simulation that might be helpful. The game is about a general hospital in a moderate sized city in Middle America: imagine it being in a city of 100 to 250 thousand people. Or it might be in one district of a much larger city. The players are healthcare providers, administrators, and other stakeholders. The game consists of play sessions of around 10 participants each engaging problems and solutions, and the problems that flow from them. Sessions last between 30 tp 120 minutes and can be done by phone, video, email, or in person. The game requires a facilitator/moderator/host who does not have to be an expert. Their job is to encourage people to participate.

The Matrix Game

General Hospital is run using a Matrix Game. This is a type of game that uses words and discussion rather than numbers and mathematical algorithms to track what happens, The approach has been used since the 1980’s as a planning/training tool in a variety of fields. Chris Engle, a psychiatric social worker, invented Matrix Games in 1988. Games consist of players making statements about what they think happens next in a given situation. They are narrating events, which they make up out of their imagination. The session is a conversation between participants. The outcome of sessions is a list of brainstormed problems and solutions, with some indication about which ones are more or less likely to happen. The complete rules of the game are as follows’ The host of the event starts the session by stating a problem. They then ask the players “What happens next?” The host then allows the players to speak. The host’s remaining job is to encourage people to speak, to recap what is said, to help players through the technical rules, to occasionally re-ask the question, and to wrap the game up on time. The players make things happen by jumping in as the spirit moves them to say what happens next. This might be an event, a plan, or another problem. Whatever the player says automatically happens, it is part of the story. Other players may jump in and add to this or they may alter it or even say that something else happens instead. These also automatically happen, and overwrite the first statement. If a player says something that people think is unlikely to happen they may ask the player to roll for it. The player must then roll a six sided die. On a roll of 1 to 3, the event does not happen and cannot be repeated in this game. On a roll of 4 to 6 the event does happen and cannot be overwritten, As many players as wish may ask a player to roll and the player must pass each roll to have their event happen. This is evidence or how unlikely people believe certain moves are.

The game ends when the starting problem is solved or when the players run out of time.

Dice rolls are never required and it is not uncommon for there to be sessions without any rolls. The ideas that players come up with will range far from their areas of responsibility and expertise. They will identify problems and interventions that touch on society at large. Some input will even be silly and fantastical. All this is allowed because with each statement, the players open up a little more which makes it possible for them to speak and share incites that will help. To this end, it is helpful for top leaders to say little or nothing in games since they may overly influence participants.

Debriefing

It is vitally important for time be given after each session for the players to talk about and summarize what they learned. This cements lessons. This can be done by the players talking to one another or by the game host recapping events and highlighting the important points. These recaps should then be passed back to the administrators and decision makers who sponsored the event so they can make use of the intelligence for planning purposes.

Participants

Any health professional or stakeholder in decision making can usefully participate in Matrix Game sessions. They do not need any simulation expertise or area knowledge beyond what they already have. All they need to know before the event is that they are going to participate in a low key, planning meeting that will give them deeper knowledge of the big picture of the present problem and how they fit into it.

Using Technology

Matrix Games are usually played in face to face sessions. But they work just as well as email/text messages. They also work in phone meetings or video conferences. The medium is unimportant, and because the game consists of conversations between players, there is no need for expensive computer programs or equipment. This approach can be implemented in a high tech city or a village with no paved roads. One advantage of using video or email is the potential to have a record of each game. These records form a data set that can be analyzed at a later date using computational models.

On Use of this Game

Permission is granted for any person, institution, or company to use this game and the Matrix Game approach in general for planning and training purposes. The only request is that they cite that Matrix Games were invented by Chris Engle in 1988. Please pass this document onto any and all people you know who might be helped by it.

Note for Facilitators

People are naturally shy when it comes to making things up. It is helpful to start the game by asking each player to say one thing that people in their role would do in the face of the presenting problem. Once that is done the ice is broken and the host can take a more backseat approach.

The facilitator is responsible for establishing and maintaining a good work environment. If players engage in abusive or intimidating behavior, it is the facilitator’s job to intervene and establish order. There can be no useful work accomplished without a good working environment. It is okay for participants to say little or nothing is a game. When they do this they are being the audience. They still learn from the event and may come up with the most useful observations during debriefing because they were looking at it in a bigger picture way.

The facilitator does not have to be an expert in technical subject matter. It is perfectly acceptable and expected that they will not know certain details. This allows them to model how to ask questions and listen to answers. The facilitator does need to be an outward going person who will engage the players actively. Aside from encouraging people, the facilitator is also a player. But they need to not take too much role in the game so that they do not unduly influence play. The facilitator needs to gather up all materials from the game and return them to the administrator who sponsored the event. This may involve writing a short report.

Lastly, end sessions promptly. Make certain there is time to do debriefing within the time of the meeting. Healthcare worker are very busy, especially now, and will appreciate meetings that end on time. Overstepping their time will reduce how much they take away from it. A good opening problem to start a game is: “The coronavirus is coming. We need to deal with it. How do we prevent a disaster?”

Chris Engle


PAXsims offers substantial resources on various matrix games, including the Flattening the Curve matrix game scenario, game icons (if you are using physical displays), and the Matrix Game Construction Kit.

See also our COVID-19 serious gaming resources page.

MORS “Emergency Response to Disease Gaming Course”

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“In this two-day, class we will focus on the application of professional games to the problems associated with disease response. We will cover pandemic response games, both national and international. We will also examine problems of novel or unique organisms, biological warfare and terrorism, and public health response. The objective throughout the class will be to identify unique or challenging aspects involved in designing games involving disease response. We will also incorporate emerging lessons from the current pandemic response into our discussions.”

For full details see:
https://www.mors.org/Events/Courses/Gaming-Emergency-Response-to-Disease-Course

C3i Magazine: COVID-19 Scenario for Pandemic

While the board game Pandemic makes no claim to be a serious game, it can certainly is the most popular game ever on the subject of epidemic disease. Now, courtesy of C3i Magazine,  there is a scenario available that allows you to adapt the game to play the current COVID-19 pandemic.

C3i Magazine is proud to present Trevor Bender’s COVID-19 Scenario for the strategy boardgame1366004204.jpg Pandemic

The scenario introduces a new Action – Social Distancing – which allows players to explore the costs and benefits of this activity in a cooperative game environment, perhaps giving additional reason to what we are doing in society during the coronavirus pandemic of 2020

You can download your free copy here.


For more resources on the pandemic, see our COVID-19 serious gaming resources page.

KWN: Online Workshop on Wargaming the Pandemic

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The King’s Wargaming Network has announced details of their forthcoming online workshop on “Wargaming the Pandemic.”

King’s Wargaming Network is convening an online workshop on 1-2 April 2020 from 12:30 to 17:00 GMT to understand how wargaming methods:

(1) have contributed to research and education of health-related crises,

(2) could be used to understand the short and long-term effects of the current pandemic and how to address them,

(3) could be used to educate and train decision makers and the public.

We are grateful to those who have submitted abstracts. We have an impressive lineup of 20 presenters, including McGill University, University of St Andrews, University of Maryland Advanced Research Laboratory for Intelligence and Security, Université Clermont Auvergne, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Columbia University, Marine Corp University, European Centre for Exellence for Countering Hybrid Threats, Stimson Centre, Mexican Navy Centre for Higher Learning, Netherlands Defence Research Organisation, Global Affairs Canada and industry.

Presentations will feature past and proposed new projects examining the impacts of the pandemic on a range issues, including economic, social (e.g. healthcare, volunteerism and gender equality), political (e.g. regional cooperation in Europe and South East Asia) and military (e.g. hybrid warfare and cyber threats) factors.

Please note that space is very limited and priority will be given to presenters, policymakers and funders.

To register, you will need email the King’s Wargaming Network at wargaming@kcl.ac.uk. If space is still available they will provide the registration link and password.

The draft agenda can be found here.


For more resources on the pandemic, see our COVID-19 serious gaming resources page.

Virtual paradox: how digital war has reinvigorated analogue wargaming

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The soon-to-be-launched journal Digital War has published an (online first) article by yours truly on the utility of analogue wargaming in examining the challenges of warfare in the digital age.

War has become increasingly digital, manifest in the development and deployment of new capabilities in cyber, uncrewed and remote systems, automation, robotics, sensors, communications, data collection and processing, and artificial intelligence. The wargames used to explore such technologies, however, have seen a renaissance of manual and analogue techniques. This article explores this apparent paradox, suggesting that analogue methods have often proven to be more flexible, creative, and responsive than their digital counterparts in addressing emerging modes of warfare.

Warfare has become increasingly digital. Militaries around the world are developing, deploying, and employing new capabilities in cyber, uncrewed and remote systems, automation, robotics, sensors, communications, data collection and processing, and even artificial intelligence. The wargames used by governments to explore such technologies, however, have seen a renaissance of manual and analogue techniques. What explains this apparent paradox?

This article will explore three reasons why analogue gaming techniques have proven useful for exploring digital war: timeliness, transparency, and creativity. It will then examine how the field of professional wargaming might develop in the years ahead. To contextualize all of that, however, it is useful to discuss wargaming itself. How and why militaries use games to understand the deadly business of warfare?

You can read the full thing at the link above. For more on the journal, see the Digital War website.

Gaming the supermarket supply chain: pandemic edition

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H-E-B is an American privately held supermarket chain based in San Antonio, Texas, with more than 350 stores throughout the U.S. state of Texas, as well as in northeast Mexico. An article today in Texas Monthly discusses how they prepared for the COVID-19 pandemic—using, among other things, tabletop exercises.

On January 15, Wuhan’s Municipal Health Commission announced that the novel coronavirus was spreading via human-to-human transmission. 

Justen Noakes: So when did we start looking at the coronavirus? Probably the second week in January, when it started popping up in China as an issue. We’ve got interests in the global sourcing world, and we started getting reports on how it was impacting things in China, so we started watching it closely at that point. We decided to take a harder look at how to implement the plan we developed in 2009 into a tabletop exercise. On February 2, we dusted it off and compared the plan we had versus what we were seeing in China, and started working on step one pretty heavily.

Craig Boyan: Starting in January, we’ve been in close contact with several retailers and suppliers around the world. As this has started to emerge, we’ve been in close contact with retailers in China, starting with what happened in Wuhan in the early couple of months, and what kind of lessons they learned. Over the last couple of months, [we’ve been] in close contact with some of our Italian retailers and suppliers, understanding how things have evolved in Italy and now in Spain, talking to those countries that are ahead of us in the curve. We’ve been in daily contact, understanding the pace and the change and the need for product, and how things have progressed in each of those countries.

Justen Noakes: We modeled what had been taking place in China from a transmission perspective, as well as impact. As the number of illnesses and the number of deaths were increasing, obviously the Chinese government was taking some steps to protect their citizens, so we basically mirrored what that might look like. We also took an approach to what we saw during H1N1 in 2009, and later got on top of it. Our example was if we were to get an outbreak, specifically in the Houston area, how would we manage that, and how would we respond with our current resources, as well as what resource opportunities would we have.

Craig Boyan: Chinese retailers have sent some pretty thorough information about what happened in the early days of the outbreak: how did that affect grocery and retail, how did that affect employees and how people were addressing sanitization and social distancing, how quarantine has affected the supply chain, how shopping behavior changed as the virus progressed, how did companies work to serve communities with total lockdowns, and what action steps those businesses wish they had done early in the cycle to get ahead of it.

The important take-away here is NOT the use of serious games for pandemic preparedness, but rather how serious games were one part of a much broader analytical process. This involved lessons-learned from previous emergencies, qualitative and quantitative data analysis, and crowd-sourcing ideas and inputs—plus an agile process of making decisions. It many ways it reminds me of the successes of the Royal Navy’s  Western Approaches Tactical Unit during WW2. This didn’t just involve wargaming anti-submarine warfare, but also gaining insight from statistical analysis of convoy losses, qualitative interviews with escort commanders, multiple intelligence sources, subject matter expertise—all embedded in an institutional context that was responsive to their findings.


For more resources on the pandemic, see our COVID-19 serious gaming resources page.

New date and location for Connections US 2020 Wargaming Conference

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Due to new Naval wide (which includes the USMC) base access regulations following shootings at Navy bases USMC Quantico has had to disinvite Connections US 2020. Connections US 2020 will now be hosted by CNA in Arlington, VA, August 11-14, 2020. Note the one week shift to the right. For more details go to the Connections website at https://connections-wargaming.com/

Megagaming emergency response

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ATLANTIC RIM

As readers of PAXsims will know, over the past few years we have run several full day emergency response megagames in Montreal and Ottawa: APOCALYPSE NORTH (simulating a zombie pandemic threat to Quebec and Ontario from south of the border) and ATLANTIC RIM (giant creatures attack Atlantic Canada):

None of these games was meant to be serious, of course—as the after action reports above make clear, we play them for fun. However, the underlying game models can certainly be modified for more serious purposes.

If you would like a copy of my ATLANTIC RIM Design Notes to inspire you in your own megagame design, I’m happy to send them to you in exchange for a donation of any amount to the World Health Organization COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund. Just make a donation, then email me with the receipt to receive the design notes (pdf). I’m happy to provide tips on adapting the game approach for your needs too.

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Please note that the Design Notes were not written for an external audience. Instead, this was our internal reference document.  As a result, they do not include all game mechanics nor game materials (such as the maps, science quests, or hospital displays) you require to run a game. They probably still contain a few typos too! Still, at 51 pages long there is quite a bit there to inspire you.

For other inspiration, check out the Jim Wallman’s games at Stone Paper Scissors. The APOCALYPSE NORTH series were modifications of his original URBAN NIGHTMARE megagame, which he has since updated. His GREEN AND PLEASANT LAND national resilience megagame (which he ran at Connections UK 2018) is also very relevant.

Finally, see our ever-growing PAXsims COVID-19 serious gaming resources page.

Atlantic Rim

1.0 GENERAL INTRODUCTION
1.1 Scenario
1.2 Key Game Components and Concepts
1.3 Key Roles and Challenges
2.0 GAME SEQUENCE
2.1 Schedule
2.2 Sequence
3.0 KAIJU
4.0 MOVEMENT, RESILIENCE, AND SPECIAL ACTIONS
4.1 Impediments
4.2 Aircraft
4.3 Transporting Units
4.4 Submarines
5.0 REPORTS, SEARCH, AND DETECTION
5.1 Rumours
6.0 INCIDENTS
6.1 Damage
6.2 Resolving Incidents
6.3 Fires
7.0 COMBAT
7. 1 Collateral Damage
8.0 CASUALTIES AND MEDICAL TREATMENT
8.1 Transporting casualties
8.2 Treating casualties
8.3 Autopsies
9.0 CORPORATION(S)
9.1 The Irving Group
9.2 Maritime Commerce
9.3 Oil Platforms
9.4 Stock Market
10.0 UTILITIES AND ELECTRICAL DISTRIBUTION
10.1 Electrical Generation and Distribution
10.2 Electrical Generation Facilities
10.3 Regional Electrical Demand
11.0 DIPLOMACY
11.1 Territorial Waters and Exclusive Economic Zone
12.0 SCIENCE
12.1 Science Teams
12.2 Scientific Samples
13.0 MOBILIZATION AND REINFORCEMENTS
13.1 Deploying to the Crisis Zone
13.3 SAR and Training Units
13.3 Foreign Forces
14.0 PANIC
APPENDIX A: KAIJU
APPENDIX B: UNITS
APPENDIX C: SCENARIO SET-UP

GUWS: Ruhnke on “How to design a COIN wargame”

The Georgetown University Wargame Society recently hosted an online lecture by wargame designer Volko Ruhnke on “How to Design a COIN Wargame.” If you missed it you can watch the entire thing on YouTube.

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