PAXsims

Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Wargaming positions at Dstl

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The UK Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) is looking for three people to join their wargaming team:

These job opportunities are open to UK nationals only and are not open to candidates who hold a dual nationality. The closing date for applications is Sunday, January 14.

The Dstl wargaming team are a terrific bunch, and do some really great work. You’ll find accounts of my visits there here and here.

(Note: we’re just posting the job opportunities on behalf of Dstl, and cannot respond to queries regarding them.)

 

MORS: Validity and utility of wargaming

 

Stephen Downes-Martin (organizer and chair of Working Group 2 at the October 2017 Military Operations Research Society special meeting on wargaming) has passed on to PAXsims the group’s extensive (173 page) report on the Validity and Utility of Wargaming (pdf). It is an outstanding piece of work, and should be essential reading for anyone working in the field. I’ll certainly be assigning it as required reading in my small conflict simulation design seminar next term.MORS Wargaming Meeting 2017 Working Group 2 Final Report 20171208 (dragged).jpg

In part because of the structure of the MORS working groups, the report tends to devote more attention to game design and execution than it does to game analysis and interpretation. One of the interesting issues to arise out of the DIRE STRAITS experiment in September, however, was that different groups of analysts can both assess the validity/utility of a game differently, and draw different sets of lessons from the same wargame event.
Building on the excellent work of Stephen and his WG2 team, this is a challenge that I hope to explore more fully at the Connections US wargaming conference in July 2018—conditional, of course, on acceptance of my presentation proposal!

Matrix Game Construction Kit User Guide

The User Guide for MaGCK is now available as a downloadable pdf from The Game Crafter for only $14.99.

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This is not the full Matrix Game Construction Kit, which you’ll find here. However, the User Guide contains extensive information on how to design, and play, matrix games.

  • 1.0 Introduction to Matrix Gaming
    • 1.1 Using MaGCK
  • 2.0 Playing Matrix Games
    • 2.1 Actions, Arguments, and Counterarguments
    • 2.2 Determining Outcomes
    • 2.3 Preparatory and Secret Actions
    • 2.4 Ongoing Effects
    • 2.5 Spendable Bonuses
    • 2.6 Privileged Arguments
  • 3.0 Maps, Tokens, and Other Matrix Game Elements
  • 4.0 Levels of Protection, Big Projects, and Planning
  • 5.0 Player Interaction
    • 5.1 Announcements
    • 5.2 Negotiations
    • 5.3 Order of Play
  • 6.0 Combat Resolution
    • 6.1 SCRUD
    • 6.2 The Efect of Winning and Losing
    • 6.3 Killer Arguments
  • 7.0 Elections and Other Contests
  • 8.0 Consequence Management
  • 9.0 Common Issues and Helpful Hints
    • 9.1 ACTIONs That Aren’t Actions
    • 9.2 Talking Too Much
    • 9.3 Doing Too Much
    • 9.4 Magical Conjuring
    • 9.5 Representing Time
    • 9.6 Goals
    • 9.7 Social Engineering
    • 9.8 Problem Participants
    • 9.9 Influential Seniors
  • 10.0 Playing ISIS Crisis and A Reckoning of Vultures
  • 11.0 Advanced Matrix Gaming
    • 11.1 Event cards
    • 11.2 Limiting Information
    • 11.3 Multiple Actions
    • 11.4 Larger or Distributed Groups
    • 11.5 Hybrid Games
    • 11.6 Data Collection and Debriefs
  • 12.0 Designing Your Own Matrix Games
  • 13.0 Concluding Comments
  • 14.0 Dedication and Acknowledgements

Duffelblog on “Counterinsurgency”

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The satirical military website Duffelblog today reports on a  “Realistic new ‘Counterinsurgency’ video game lets you watch troops fuck up until you’re fired.”

An upcoming real-time strategy game is designed to let you watch your troops fuck up until you’re fired, sources confirmed today.

Titled Counterinsurgency, the debut video game from Seattle-based Green Wood Studios breaks new ground by pulling players into a protracted campaign mode with virtually no way to win. During this time, you — playing as the Theater Commander — get to witness gross mismanagement and malfeasance on the part of your subordinates until you are replaced.

“Most RTS games are about achieving measurable objectives, such as destroying the enemy team or acquiring key resources,” said Jerry Cevalos, the lead game designer, during an interview at GWS. “We went the opposite direction by instating a nebulous end-game of installing and sustaining a democracy.”

This part will certainly sound familiar for anyone who has followed the seemingly endless COIN campaigns in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere:

According to a preview of the game, despite having superior forces and materiel on the player’s side, things quickly go haywire after the campaign begins. Faulty intelligence gained from tortured prisoners leads to a missile obliterating a wedding, killing 23 unarmed civilians and a CIA asset. A shadowy, Russian-backed cartel quickly gains recruits from the angry populace, and the Red Phoenix Army is born.

Numerous pre-scripted and dynamic real-time events wreak further havoc on your command, from vehicle-borne IEDs blowing up civilians and gate guards, to special ops raids killing the wrong people, to soldiers disobeying orders or going on murder-sprees.

“You could be in the middle of stability operations in a nearby province, and a disillusioned soldier will desert his post or leak classified documents,” Cevalos explained, referring to unscripted incidents that can happen during gameplay. “And don’t be surprised if your best troops with fleshed-out skill trees quit the military and get replaced with inept morons.”

Making things worse, the insurgents are often indistinguishable from neutral non-playable characters, making accidental civilian deaths practically unavoidable. This problem is compounded by vindictive locals falsely accusing their rivals of being guerrillas, while others have no interest in ratting out their insurgent friends and family. All of these contribute to the loss of Confidence Points and bring your command tenure to its inevitable demise.

“Whether it’s sending Special Forces to train people who will later try to kill them or arresting a dozen Marines in a drug and prostitution sting, we intend to make this the most realistic RTS to date,” Cevalos added.

Call for Papers: Connections 2018 wargaming conference

Connections 2018 will be held at National Defense University in Washington, DC, July 17-20.

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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.  This year, the Connections conference returns to National Defense University, and as a result, any presentations related to the use of gaming for adult education are especially encouraged.

Please submit your proposal via the Google Form at this 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 2018 can be found at the conference website.

Feel free to pass this along to those who you think might be interested, including posting this in appropriate places online.  For additional information or any questions or concerns, please contact me at timothy.wilkie@ndu.edu.

Timothy Wilkie
Research Fellow
Center for Applied Strategic Learning (CASL)
National Defense University

Game design challenges in building a megagame simulation of the Iran-Iraq War

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 This discussion of the recent Undeniable Victory megagame is provided by Ben Moores. Ben is a Senior Analyst at IHSMarkit Janes information group responsible for tracking and forecasting military requirements with an expertise in global defence industry, military exports and regional security. He is a sought after defence media commentator and has a BA and MA in War Studies and Defence Analysis respectively.


 

Undeniable Victory was a recently-run 70 player megagame that explored the military, political and international elements of the Iran-Iraq war over the course of a full day. This article will look at the design considerations and challenges of making a game about a relatively obscure, prolonged, multi-theatre conflict driven by domestic political conflicts and dominated by static warfare.

The base game structure was two teams broken into three core functions and three individual factions. The first function was the council game, the players representing the inner circle of the supreme leader. The second was the HQ game in which players would define strategy for each of their areas of operation. The third function was the operational level wargame. The core game design challenge was to ensure that decision at any one level had a meaningful repercussion at another level. This meant linking together a series of different mechanics and player structures.

This article is going to examine the following challenges and design considerations:

  • Relating Council mechanics to a wider game
  • Making a factional system relevant
  • Integrating domestic politics and morale
  • Building a foreign affairs model
  • Scaling a procurement model
  • Scoping out HQ backseat driving
  • Providing operational decisions in a static military environment
  • Restricting intelligence for improved decision making process plausibility
  • Implementing the evolution of military doctrine and capability
  • Connecting an air model to a wider game
  • Building a naval game for any eventuality
  • Sources and material considerations
  • Post game analysis
  • What happened on the day

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Supreme Leader’s Henchmen: Relating Council Mechanics to a Wider Game

The first challenge was how to represent an imperfect political system led by a leader whose personal goals don’t always match the team goals. The solution was to implement a “Hitlers henchman” structure. This is a game in which the leader is played by control and the team have a sub game to influence the leader to adopt their particular idea via set agenda tokens. The leader gave top level advice and guidance but was quite happy for the various players to get on with their ministerial roles. Each minister role had a “station”, a mechanic that allowed them to make actual decisions.

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Rather than having players  try to convince the control played supreme leader to adopt their ideas the agenda token system allowed some debate backed up with a mechanical structure. Agendas  allowed council players to overrule others, adjust war goals and strategy, replace other players and change the structure of government. This was effectively determined by a bluffing card play mechanic, in which the factions had to figure out how to allocate their hand of cards to which agenda in order to achieve their goals and block others.

Factional Drivers: Making a Factional System Relevant

Another significant challenge was representing the internal politics and the significant changes that occurred during the war. The Tikriti faction replaced the Ba’ath structure in Iraq and the Conservatives pushed  out the other ideological wings in Iran. The solution was to group all players into one of three team factions each representing the various political wings of each team. The factions could attempt to change the type of government, control the government branches and change the players within those elements. Furthermore the military structure was also split between various military types; such as the Regular, Popular and Republican Guard for Iraq. Council and HQ players could try to back their particular military wing and ensure that it got the best reinforcements and wasn’t held responsible for battlefield failings. This created significant pressure on the operational level players throughout the day and led to a series of tensions and imperfect strategic decisions that occasionally led to players or a policy being changed.

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Image credit: Jim Wallman.

Who Do We Blame This Time? Integrating Domestic Politics and Morale

In both Iran and Iraq there were significant domestic challenges during the era with a number of political groups forming to oppose both sides. Representing this with players or control would have been difficult. Many of these groups would never be able to find common discussion ground with the radical government structures and were too different to fit into the core game structure. The approach I took was to abstract this by having the interior minister choose a major domestic faction (Kurds, political minorities or economic elites) to blame every year, adding resentment chips that could eventually spill over into an incident. Players could reduce the chances of an incident by allocating resources to alleviate the pressure or instead allocate chips to the opposing team to to increase the pressure on them. Each of the domestic factions would have to pass a test at the end of each turn to see if there had been a major incident by rolling a number greater than the resentment chip number. These incidents could either lead to Kurdish forces appearing on the operational level map, Political minorities disrupting various parts of the game by random card draw and economic elites would reduce the long term economic income.

The only alternative to placing domestic resentment chips was to galvanize the country in a “Grand Offensive”, publically announcing an enemy target that they would take and hold or suffer morale damage.

No One Likes Us And We Don’t Care: Building a Foreign Affairs Model

The challenge for foreign powers with a stake in the war was that there wasn’t enough of a game for players to play the various other countries that were associated with the war without seriously increasing the scope of an already complicated game. It was decided that external countries would be played by dedicated control; we were fortunate in that we had a number of regional and subject matter experts who were available to support this. I had considered running a parallel club level discussion game covering all the other countries to provide material and a decision tree but recent publications had closely examined the international considerations and provided in-depth material to draw from.

Foreign relations were tracked by a chart that showed the relative relations for both Iran and Iraq with each of the nations the game tracked. A significant design decision was selecting the countries. Firstly all the major potential arms suppliers with an international interest in the region were represented and divided into two groups; imperialists (USA, USSR) and colonialists (UK, France, Italy and Germany). Then the immediate regional countries with a direct interest in the conflict were represented and grouped together (Syria, Saudi, UAE, Kuwait, Qatar, and Turkey). Finally, Israel was also included.

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The status of each relationship gave a particular benefit or disadvantage. For example; Turkish relations impacted Kurdish stability, USSR could supply equipment and Saudi Arabia could lend money. Furthermore relative relations with each group allowed both Iran and Iraq to claim leadership in opposing Imperialism, Colonialism, Zionism and wider regional support which gave a benefit to domestic morale. The mechanic was that there was a trade-off between morale and various political advantages/disadvantages and arms procurement.

Having control generate each and every country relationship wasn’t possible due to time, player and information pressures. Instead approximately 80 pre-prepared events were introduced into the council game with various optional responses that impacted relations, morale and domestic resentment. Whilst these were resolved by the council teams on an annual basis the plan was that the foreign affairs control would interject as the narrative evolved. So there was a structure from which emerging narratives would emerge that the foreign control could handle in more depth such as the hostage crisis, arms deals with Israel or Lebanon complexities.

 Drinking the Cup of Poison: End Game Considerations

The end game was challenging as planning for the unknown in a particularly mechanical fashion wasn’t possible. Therefore the driver for peace was a collapse in domestic morale. As the game progressed the oil price fell dramatically which creates a guns versus butter decision. Once one team’s morale hit rock bottom they could suffer desertions, reach accommodation with the enemy or appeal for international intervention to end the conflict. Using the metrics we had of morale, international relations and the military situation we were able to use experienced control facilitators to start to place pressure on the teams to bring the conflict to a ceasefire. It wasn’t possible to fully explore a negotiated settlement as it would have included only a  small number of players.

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Image credit: Jim Wallman.

Arms Dealers Paradise: Scaling a Procurement Model

The challenge for procurement was capturing a level of arms sourcing granularity that interfaced with the operational level game but was simple enough to keep track of with limited control to oversee it. The game had to be able to capture procurement and the impact that foreign policy had on this. Whilst radical foreign policy led to increased domestic morale it increasingly cut players off from advanced arms supplies and, crucially, spare parts. Advanced weapons and specialist capabilities could only be acquired from Europe, USA or the USSR. As relations degraded countries would be reluctant to sell arms and then increasingly spare parts for existing weapons degrading their capability further.  China and North Korea would sell to either country regardless of the political situation and, although their equipment tended to be of very poor quality, this meant that neither team was ever entirely cut off from arms supply.

Another problem I initially had was trying to connect the right amount of money for procurement. To make the council financial game manageable within the time limits I made the cubes USD3 billion a piece but this was a large sum for the procurement system so they broke that money down into units of USD100 million which worked well when buying equipment at a brigade and squadron level.

There were 107 different types of procurement choices in the game ranging from chemical weapons, T-72s, MANPADS, improved shipyards, MiG-19s and hovercraft and this tied in with the squadron/ brigade/ ship level operational level game. Each piece of equipment or capability could only be sourced from a particular country and some elements only in limited numbers. Each piece was tracked for initial purchase cost, a generic spares cost and a specific origin source. This was manageable at a player level and worked well.

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Image credit: Jim Wallman

The structure meant that the dedicated procurement player arguably had too much power, the council minister who was jointly responsible was often too busy with factional matters. This meant that there was often too little oversight which led to some unexpected but interesting procurements, including some very interesting back room arms deals as the game progressed resulting force structures and arms sources changing in fascinating and plausible ways. Maybe involving the wider HQ player base in the decision making process would have been useful.

 Implementing The Unimplementable: Scoping out HQ Backseat Driving

The HQ game challenge was not having them as back seat drivers for the operational level game but as strategic goal setters. I addressed this by having them unable to visit the operational maps for most of the game and issuing geographic maps without the movement areas on them. This meant that the orders they gave and the information they received were not always perfect. This was compounded as air support worked through a slightly different HQ channel. The downside was that the HQ players were reliant on the operational players providing them with information and if that information was not provided they had a limited game.

If I were to run it again then I would need to look at involving the HQ players in the procurement game or having a simple logistics game that they could resolve between themselves that impacted the operational level and perhaps the opposing HQ.  This could impact the operational level players in such a way that the players were keen to come to the HQ. Although part of the problem was the success of the factional system, operational players were very reluctant to share any bad news for fear of being demoted or removed by the council as part of a factional dispute.

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Image credit: Jim Wallman

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Image credit: Jim Wallman

Delusions of Manoeuvre: Providing Operational Decisions in a Static Military Environment

There were a number of challenges in creating an operational level wargame that was dominated by static warfare, with imperfect, evolving military capabilities over an extended time frame.

I decided very early on that I would not capture exact formation nomenclature as over the course of the war there was a huge amount of change and the effort required to capture the exact nature of each formation nomenclature wouldn’t provide any increase in plausibility (the audience not being experts) or realism (due to the protracted nature of the conflict).

In regards to time relative to action I had to consider that there multiple game domains in each team including; a council game (seven players representing the inner trusted circle), a joint military headquarters game (seven players representing the various theatre commanders, procurement team) and the joint chief of staff. The three military games (land, sea and air) had to be on a similar timeline but the HQ game and the Council game could run on looser timelines that coincided at certain points.

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Image credit: Jim Wallman

It is neither realistic nor engaging that military stalemate and lack of operational manoeuvre options in a game design mean there is nothing for players to do or plan for. This is a particular challenge in a strategic trench warfare environment. So when it came to handling time I wanted to create a design that kept players engaged in a decision making process even when there were no options for manoeuvre or attack.

For the military games I initially decided that I didn’t want fixed turns I wanted activations determined by logistics driven at an HQ level. The concept being that the various front players would be at various stages of “readiness” and that the long periods of historic inaction could be skipped through until a particular front was able to activate because the logistic resources were in place to enable them to do so. The problem was I couldn’t mesh that idea with the opening stages of the conflict or with the air game. It also meant that I still had to have some sort of turn system at an HQ level to determine when logistics became available. This still left me with the time challenge so I reverted to a proven process of drawing random player activation chits. This worked very well on the day because it provides definitive clarity on who can act and when but I will continue to investigate the initial idea.

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Image credit: Jim Wallman

Dancing In the Dark: Restricting Intelligence for Improved Decision-making Process Plausibility

When it came to the operational design in a static trench warfare situation it was important that intelligence was very limited. Traditional closed map games create a much more realistic military intelligence challenge but they also tend to require lots of control, can be slow and can create confusion for player options. So the challenge was to capture imperfect intelligence information that could be managed by the players in an easy manner.

The solution was to hide force structures. Each operational player controlled a small corps, with divisions represented on the table but with the brigades (the smallest game element captured) within stacked on player’s individual command sheet. These were hidden behind a foam board that was on the map table. This allowed control and players to quickly reveal information when requested, resolve missions in short order and worked enormously well on the day with lots of imperfect decisions being made.

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Image credit: Jim Wallman

Learning Lessons The Hard Way: Implementing the Evolution of Military Doctrine and Capability

Addressing evolving military doctrinal capabilities, as opposed to technical or force capabilities, over an extended conflict was another challenge. The solution I adopted was to implement a learning curve system called combat lessons. Combat lessons were effectively rules exceptions that were awarded primarily for failing in a combat. To avoid unnecessary complexity the control would give out a sticker that that would adhere to the command sheet. Combat lessons didn’t give bonuses but evolved the rules giving players new capabilities; changing how the various types of forces performed in different periods of the game. Players were only aware of the type of lessons as they learnt them, creating an evolving dynamic.

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Image credit: Jim Wallman

Finally, ensuring that players had actions even when they couldn’t manoeuvre was critically important to both realism and player enjoyment. Doing nothing couldn’t be an option. So each player had a list of various missions and postures that they could adopt on a divisional basis that would give them combat and intelligence advantages relative to the opposition in the short and long term.

 The Air Blame Game: Connecting an Air Model to a Wider Game

The air war had to be fairly abstract considering the duration of the conflict. I wanted to capture strategic operations, ground support, air defence, air superiority and maritime operations. As the turns (called seasons) were effectively six months each this meant that the air war had to represent a series of engagements and support missions.

Representing air fields in the game was difficult, there were many of them and it added a level of detail and complexity to the maps that related to range. The problem with range is that it’s not a fixed amount; it’s relative to the mission and load out. However, air field attacks did play a notable element during the war so eventually I introduced them as a holding box in which air defences could be placed.

I also made the air force responsible for air defence in all rear areas for two reasons. Firstly, whilst not entirely accurate it did mean that the game had someone who was responsible for allocating air and ground based assets to defend infrastructure. This also meant that players were largely distracted by the operational air war and repeated the historic errors of the conflict in failing to allocate resources to strategic assets.

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Image credit: Jim Wallman

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Image credit: John Mizon

Carrier Death Ride: Building a Naval game for any Eventuality

The naval game challenge was to capture operations over an extended period that meshed with air power and created interesting decisions. In addition it had to capture the internationalization of the war if one side were to start successfully blockading the enemy and disrupting regional trade. Finally the system had to be detailed enough to represent combat between individual missile boats, evolving maritime air power and a potential death ride against modern carrier groups. It also had to represent hidden movement and imperfect force structures.

I resolved the imperfect force structure requirement by having a refit system that meant that a certain fraction of the previously deployed ships had to be put aside at the end of each season. Furthermore deploying forces into an area didn’t always guarantee that they were able to enter combat, they had to roll to enter combat reflecting what forces might have been available in a particular battle.

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The naval part of the game arguably failed to be engaging enough, whilst it functioned and provided a very realistic result it didn’t provide enough player decisions, rather just a lot of dice rolling. Fundamentally the map needed to be bigger to allow more areas for manoeuvre.

Books and Games: Sources and Material Considerations

The Iran-Iraq war has been relatively well covered by a number of books in recent years after an absence of much published material over the past twenty years. We now have a much better understanding of the internal dynamics of the Iraqi military command (thanks to Kevin Woods) and the Iranian political infighting (thanks to Pierre Razoux). However, there are only two commercially available games on the era; Ignorant Armies, an old school hex game and the very recent Bloody Dawns, a more modern abstracted card driven game written by Pierre Razoux. Neither game was suitable for adaption or inspiration for a megagame. This game was a culmination of a twenty year interest in the war and trips to the region to understand more. Unfortunately political tensions and sensitivities continue to make it challenging to access and understand the conflict in more depth.

Post Game Analysis

The game was largely successful with players being engaged enough to be arguing about who had won two days later and what if things had been done differently. The game was run with 68 people who didn’t know anything about the conflict but the war but the briefing materials and the game chrome (provided by control roleplaying and the events) meant that the participants made era appropriate decisions and considerations. Many of the players were megagmers, not war gamers, and some of them, including me, don’t enjoy traditional wargames. So part of the game consideration and design process was to figure out how to make a wargame interesting to someone who isn’t interested in traditional wargames. Part of that was relatively easy as we cast people according to their interest as we knew it but providing interesting, stressful, time pressurized dilemmas is harder.

Over the past decade I’ve increasingly drifted away from most commercial wargames because I don’t believe that actually resemble or simulate conflict in any meaningful manner. In part the design of this game incorporated the core ingredients that I believe are missing from games that claim to be about war, primarily imperfect intelligence and strategic directives that conflict with operational necessities.

I’ve been ribbed for observing that both sides made major strategic errors but in reflection I’m now very pleased about this because the game was designed to induce imperfect strategic decision making and in that I clearly succeeded without forcing poor decisions making upon players.

The History Of A Ball? What Happened on the Day

The game followed a plausibly historical pattern with Iraq striking out to take the Southern Iranian oil infrastructure and central and northern border regions. Caution left the Iraqi’s fairly short of their objectives but failing to guard the Iraqi Al Faw area almost trapped the navy and led to a series of extremely costly counter attack to regain it from Revolutionary Guard forces. By 1983 Iran had gone on the offensive in the Northern and central regions and a series of battle of attrition slowly pushed back Iraqi forces. Meanwhile in the South, after the initial confusion and repeated leadership changes, Iraqi forces had captured the key border cities of Khorramshahr and Abadan and even briefly took the key oil hub city of Ahwaz.

The Iranians initially got the better of things at sea damaging Iraqi off shore terminals but Iraqi procurements of Airborne ASuW assets in the form of Mirage’s, Super Frelons and Exocets wreaked havoc amongst Iranian platforms. An unapproved Iranian blockade of the Hormuz Straits dramatically escalated the international presence in the region drawing in large US naval forces that formed a critical end game component. Iran naval forces were building “kamikaze” speed boat forces by the end whilst the Iraqi navy had effectively ceased to exist as a fighting force.

By 1982 the Iranians had largely established air superiority and began to attack prestige targets in Iraq including Saddam’s Dam in Mosul and Saddam’s Palace which caused political chaos as an increasingly enraged Saddam lashed out at his council who in turn sought scape goats in the form of the air ministry which increasingly resembled a revolving door. However, large scale procurements in an extremely wide range of air platforms meant the air war continued unabated right until the end when a large successful Iraqi raid on the main Iranian exporting terminal at Kharg was a decisive moment in pushing the Iranians to consider a cease fire.

Both sides had focused on high end procurements over social subsidies which by 1986 began to draw both sides into a morale end game. Furthermore Kurdish forces were able to establish themselves on the Turkish border and around Mosul and caused significant disruption to Iraqi forces and oil fields.

By 1987 the Iranians had been able to break out of the mountains to the outskirts of the Northern Iraqi oil towns of Kirkuk and Mosul, had an armoured division within a season of Baghdad and had stabilized, but not recaptured the Southern border areas. (although they had no immediate chance of retaking them). However, by this point the Iraqi council had realized that they were not able to stabilize the front or domestic morale and had made major political concessions in exchange for US political patronage and around USD21 billion to keep them in the war.

A successful US strike on Kharg followed by the dramatic second Iraqi air strike and a general decline in Iranian morale led to Iran reluctantly accepting the unacceptable in a ceasefire at the end of 1987. Immediate stabbed in-the-back theories began to circulate amongst front line commanders.

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Slightly stunned Iranian players hear that Iraq has taken US patronage. Image credit: Becky Ladley

Ben Moores

CATALEXIT matrix game

CATALEXIT.jpgIn his report on the recent Connections Netherlands 2017 wargaming conference, Tom Mouat mentioned the CATALEXIT matrix game development by conference participants during a matrix game design workshop.

This is a Matrix Game intended to explore the issues and options surrounding the 2017 Spanish constitutional crisis, in the run up to Regional Elections on 21 December 17 to appoint a new Catalan Parliament following the suspension of the previous Parliament . It is the product of only a few hours exploratory game design taken from the Connections Netherlands 20 17 conference on 14 Nov 2017.

You’ll find the rules and briefing materials here.

Connections NL 2017 AAR

PAXsims’s very own Tom Moaut recently attended the Connections Netherlands 2017 professional wargaming conference, and has written up the following report. You’ll also find some slides from the event here, courtesy of Hans Steensma.


 

This year I had the privilege of being invited to the Connections Netherlands conference, which took place on 13 and 14 Nov 17 at Fort 1881 in the Hook of Holland on Day 1 and in the TNO Defence and Security facility in Soesterberg on Day 2. The whole conference was in English for the benefit of international visitors (!).

The custom for Connections NL is to hold their conferences at one of the historic forts that dot the country. Fort 1881 is housed in the former armoured fortress in Hoek van Holland. Originally built in the New Waterway to defend the Rotterdam region, the building dates from 1881. The fortress is of brick construction, featuring over 3km of galleries, passages and stairs, with a complex and sophisticated system for managing the sea water, tides, drinking water and effluent in the depths of the fortification. The fresh water facilities are still operating so well that there are plans to use the 22,000 litres in the reservoir to make their own beer. The fortress is well maintained and the tour we had was fascinating, especially the two dovecotes dedicated to communication with Rotterdam and The Hague.

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The Conference had about 50 international delegates and was sponsored by SAGANET, the Dutch association for simulation and gaming professionals (not to be confused with SAGANet, a science based outreach programme based on the works and ideals of the astronomer Carl Sagan).

The conference was a mix of presentations and live gaming, with the presentations given in one of the larger chambers situated under the position of one of the main batteries, and with the gaming sessions in one of the barrack rooms.

The conference opened with a keynote presentation from Major Tom Mouat, the Directing Staff Officer for Simulation and Modelling from the Defence Academy of the UK. Since that is me, I find it a little awkward to report on my own presentation – but I’ll try! I covered the characteristics of successful wargames while deciding to avoid the trap of trying to define “wargaming”. Most of this was taken from the recently published UK Defence Wargaming Handbook (I must admit to feeling a little strange to actually be quoting “doctrine”, but it is actually useful). I covered a few of the recent initiatives that are a result of efforts to address the UK government decision making shortcomings identified in the Iraq Enquiry, but devoted most of my time to talking about Matrix Games and the evidence for the superiority of group estimation and role-play in predicting the outcome of conflict situations. Since at least some of the organisers were from a scientific research establishment, I felt that it was appropriate…

This was followed by a presentation by Bas Kreuger on the history of wargaming, which included a moment on Rodney, Douglas, Clark and the “breaking of the line” at the Battle of the Saintes in 1782 and some interesting detail on the Dutch Warterlinie defensive works.

Jim Wallman then followed this up with possibly the fastest example of a megagame, by taking all the participants into another room, splitting them up into teams representing the state actors in the contemporary Baltic region and playing a representative turn. This was followed by an explanation of the Dire Straits Megagame played at Connections UK 2017 (and to be played again in late February 2018 at McGill University). This certainly got everyone on their feet, moving around and talking to each other and was a great icebreaker.

Then we had an excellent presentation by Ivo de Nooijer (RU Leiden) on “Lijnenspel”; experiential learning using seminar wargaming, for children of about 11 years old. The game was set in Flatland (an excellent way of avoiding emotional entanglements) and dealt with issues of non-linear communication, refugees, negotiation and small-town politics. I found the insight from the game, that children were concerned that many promises were made in the simulation but few were honoured, and they wanted to know “how adults solved the problem” (!), to be absolutely fascinating. The goals of the game were to demonstrate that team effectiveness is determined by individuals; to focus attention on the “us vs them” debate, to provide an understanding of the role of elections, and of the role of a national government. This looked to be a really interesting game and I look forward to seeing a report about it later.

We then had, what was for me, the most fascinating presentation of the conference: Erik Elgersma (Friesland Campina) giving a presentation about business wargaming. This was a complete revelation as to the level and commitment that the organisation put into the use of wargaming to generate a business advantage. They even include a programme to train successors in order to ensure business continuity and preserve experience and expertise (something sadly lacking in most military communities). The presentation was candid and comprehensive, including detail on strategies tried in the past that didn’t work and what was learned from them. I was quite embarrassed to have to reveal that an organisation making cheese was better organised in wargaming than the British Army.

Diederik Stolk (Goldsworthy Stolk & associates) followed this up with a presentation on rapid wargame development and covering two case studies: The recruiting of students into the Reserve Forces and a training game for senior civil servants and members of the Dutch Parliament. The process, while not necessarily what I would call especially rapid, was refreshing and the products sufficiently different from what I expected, that I was intrigued. The game design looked and felt bespoke to the problem and the audience. The presentation of components, and the delivery of briefing materials and rules as a newspaper, was inspired (and one that I shall exploit!).

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I particularly liked his rule of thumb that a game needs a minimum of 3 playtests to ensure a properly playable game, but a repeatable game to be played with the same audience needs a minimum of 10 playtests. Sadly, the time and resources permitted to the last few wargaming I have been involved with recently did not permit this.

This was followed by an excellent dinner in the Officer Mess building, located outside the fortress.

Following dinner, we played some demonstration games:

  • Baltic Challenge Matrix Game – Tom Mouat/Anja v.d. Hulst
  • Wargaming in the British Army – Jim Wallman
  • MBT (Main Battle Tank), Open Source Intelligence with Wargaming – Swen Stoop
  • Conflict of Heroes: Guadalcanal – introductory board wargame: Bas Kreuger

On Day 2 we reconvened at the TNO facilities in Soesterberg. This was slightly unfortunate as the mix of participants was mostly different from Day 1 and I think that it might make for a better experience overall to have the conference as a 2-Day event at a single location. Whether this is financially viable or practical, of course, is another question.

The day started off with a presentation specifically on matrix gaming by me, followed up with an introductory Matrix game about a Drug Baron in a fictitious (and deliberate caricature) of a South American state. The game is used for language training in the Defence Language School in the UK and is a useful introduction. I was helped in the session by Jim Wallman offering a slightly different perspective, as someone required to deliver such games as part of his business. This reminded me that I need to watch other people deliver matrix games, in order to gain insights as to how they facilitate the games. For too long I have been the lone de-facto “expert” on matrix games in the UK, and I am only too aware that this limits my professional development. Now that these games are being exploited more widely, I need to take the opportunities to benefit from how others solve issues that arise…

Other players, more experienced in matrix Games, ran through with Anja van der Hulst, the Baltic Challenge game.

This was followed after lunch by a design session.

Jim Wallman ran a session in which resilience was examined through the lens of the different political, police, emergency and social actors in a major container port, when faced with a major problem.

I ran a session in which the participants elected to look at the emerging situation in Catalonia: CatalExit! In the few hours we had, we managed to examine the topic, take an initial look at the actors involved, and then run through a few game turns in order to see if there were any structural flaws. The actors we came up with were essentially the Government of Catalonia, the pro-independence “Catalan Republic”, and the pro-Spanish population in the Catalan Region; mirrored by the Spanish Government, the right-wing Spanish Nationalists and the left wing Spanish Socialists. We also added an additional actor representing Russia, promoting destabilisation and extremism.

The game worked pretty well, highlighting the dangers of extremism and the fragile nature of the political crisis. There appeared to us to be a large number of opportunities for dangerous mistakes that could easily lead to extremist violence. Messaging, timing and communication were all very difficult and open to manipulation by all concerned, especially foreign actors like Russia.

Some statistics: Total attendees: 55: (of which 6 were Female (11%):

  •   Government 15
  •   Business 14
  •   Education/Students 4
  •   Organisation 4
  •   Photographer 1
  •   Others 11

Overall the conference was a great success. The location for Day 1 and the quality of the other speakers was simply excellent. I am very grateful for the invitation to attend and I hope to be able to come back next year!

Tom Moaut

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Wargaming NATO Eastern Flank: asking the right questions

The following piece has been contributed to PAXsims by Natalia Wojtowicz of the NATO Civil-Military Cooperation Centre of Excellence. In it, she asks whether wargames focused solely on military response to a Russian conventional attack against NATO might be missing key elements of the picture: alliance resolve, population attitudes, non-kinetic and hybrid operations, crisis management, and conflict mitigation.


Wargaming is largely an intellectual exercise: posing dilemmas before we need to face them in reality. It needs to challenge notions, assumptions and ways of acting. It is about heads making decisions. The problem with NATO Eastern Flank is that we already prepared the answers. We have not given any thought to the question we are posing.[1]

Protracted fighting in Ukraine and annexation of Crimea has awaken the contingency planning for collective defence in NATO. Newly discovered sense of urgency has taken us back to thinking of East-West divide and Cold War times. The question which simulations are currently posing is: How to win the war with Russia? The critical assumption made is that there will be escalation and that the war will be decided by military victory.

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In September, the ZAPAD 2017 military exercise involved large numbers of Russian and Belarus forces. Image source: Sputnik.

The build-up in forces, readiness and narratives has been compared to the Cold War levels.[2] That is exactly the case in point for the question in mind: did the Cold War end as we have simulated it? Was it achieved with final battle between East and West? Was it readiness and tactical brilliance that dissolved Soviet Union? No. It crumbled under population resistance, organized social movements and political craft. Looking backwards might not always provide us with way forward – after all, the world took more than one twisted turn in the last 27 years.[3] Looking South and East of NATO to the destabilized zones, clearly the population has been the trigger for the tensions, the target of the operation and the mobilized force used to achieve political aims.

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Canadian soldiers with NATO’s enhanced Forward Presence Battlegroup Latvia coordinate a plan with a Polish tank commander. Image source: Canadian Armed Forces.

RAND Corporation has wargamed the Russian invasion on the Baltics, promptly concluding that NATO would be left with very limited options, all of them bad.[4] The answer based on the military potential can be calculated with a high degree of accuracy. If we treat the confrontation as blue (friendly) versus red (enemy) forces, simple Lancaster equations would suffice. A counterargument against this predictions is that we have seen different use of force in the East, especially with regards to Ukraine. We also saw different decisive force in the East considerably earlier, which rendered the predictions useless – fall of the Soviet Union.

Second consideration should be given to the objective of NATO. It has been founded for the collective security, which enshrines two elements: territory and population. We can safely conclude that NATO territory is not under attack (despite intense wargaming aimed at Northern-Eastern borders). On the other hand, we can also easily enumerate attacks which targeted population. This leads to the need for adaptation: first in thinking, second in the environment we nurture and third in responses we can employ.

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Meeting of NATO Ministers of Defence – Brussels, 8 and 9 November 2017. Image source: NATO.

Think of it as a deck of cards. Even simplest two-player game starts with a goal. For NATO, this goal is to preserve peace by preparing for war. It is of utter importance not to confuse this two. The end is the peace and the mean is the military alliance. The ends and means have been mixed – we are wargaming the military confrontation to prove our peace objectives. This translates to having two cards instead of a deck of 52 – peacetime and all-out war. If you look to the enemy, it is testing this resolve – where is the line in the sand that pushes NATO to war. Can I destabilize the situation without collective response? The example of cyber-attack on Estonia following the removal of Soviet monuments in 2007 has shown Russia is playing their cards on the whole spectrum. NATO has regained its stance, confirming that cyber-attack can be recognized as a trigger for an Article 5 (collective defence). The problem is, this declaration followed in 2014. Adaptation rate was slower than the testing resolve. It also did not offer proportionate response options, which need to be available at first in the wargame, and eventually in reality.

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LOCKED SHIELDS 2017 cyberdefence exercise in Estonia. Image source: NATO CCDCOE.

What has not been recognized is that Ukraine has not fallen prey to all-out conventional attack – what NATO has named as the “hybrid warfare”, the Russian doctrine has labelled as New Generation Warfare. Putting the terminology aside, it has become apparent and urgent that different forces are at play. The question, which needs to be to starting point for NATO Eastern Flank wargaming is: how to prevent war with Russia?

To this question, new cards can be created, bridging the gap between all-peace and all-war. If we retreat to reality as the live laboratory, additional non-kinetic capabilities come to mind and people stand in the way of clinical strike. Our prepared answers do not fit the questions – raised readiness and posturing at the Eastern Flank can represent the cards needed to win the military confrontation with Russia. To prevent the war, we need proportionate response to testing of NATO resolve, means that enshrine population from attacks below Article 5 threshold and most importantly, full-deck-of-cards concept of security. In short, we must ask the right question: how to keep the peace, not how to win the war.


[1] Along several wargaming sessions on NATO platforms and independent simulations, the defence of Eastern Flank has been mostly based on military means, e.g. Potomac Foundation Hegemon Simulator.

[2] This rhetoric of intensified military exercises has been visible in NATO and Russian media. See, for example, this report in the Guardian.

[3] Counting the year 1989/1990 as the decisive time of Soviet Union dissolution.

[4] Reinforcing NATO Deterrence at Eastern Flank, full report available here.

Syria, lies, and video games: Russian MoD edition

Well, the Russian government is at it again—that is, using modified images from video games as part of their propaganda efforts. In this case, they released images of supposed US-ISIS collaboration:

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Except, one of these was actually a modified screenshot from the mobile phone game AC-130 Gunship Simulator:

The other pictures were fakes too, drawn from videos of other incidents. The excellent open source intelligence website Bellingcat has the full story.

This isn’t the first time Russia has done this—as we previously reported at PAXsims, back in May 2016 the Russian Embassy in London used screenshots from the game Command & Conquer: Generals to illustrate false allegations of chemical weapons shipments to the Syrian opposition. (The “image used for illustration purposes” disclaimer on the tweet wasn’t added until AFTER the internet had caught them out.)

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The actual story of ISIS forces withdrawing from Raqqa has been covered very well indeed by the BBC. As for Russian chemical weapons allegations? Well, the recently leaked report of the OPCW-UN’s Joint Investigative Mechanism found that Syria was almost certainly responsible for the April 2017 use of sarin nerve gas at Khan Shaykhun. A similar conclusion has also been reached by the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria.

Simulation and gaming miscellany, 12 November 2017

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PAXsims is pleased to present a number of items on conflict simulation and serious (and not-so-serious) gaming that may be of interest to our readers.

Have any material for us to include in a future edition? Send it on!

PAXsims

DARPA—the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency—recently issued a request for information (DARPA-SN-18-06) for a “Foundations for Strategic Mechanism Design.”

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Defense Sciences Office (DSO) is requesting information on mathematical and algorithmic foundations for the practical design and assessment of strategic mechanisms. Of ultimate interest are capabilities to strategically assess and manage the actions of state and non-state actors utilizing a mixture of economic, diplomatic, social, and military options. Development of strategic mechanisms will require the integration of recent advances in game theory, behavioral economics, computer science, and artificial intelligence.

Definitions that are relevant for responding to the RFI are:

  • Mechanism design: The art of designing the rules of a game to achieve a specific

    desired outcome1 and can be viewed as a game theoretic “inverse problem.”

  • Mechanisms are protocols to incent collective decision making among self-interested agents2 and common examples are auctions and voting schemes.
  • Strategic mechanisms are defined here as structures and rules engineered to achieve desired strategic outcomes such as deterrence or coercion.

    Currently, the tools to meaningfully assess the likelihood or viability of strategic actions are limited to combinations of wargaming and modeling. Each of these tools has multiple limitations. Wargaming at the strategic level is decision centric and heavily dependent on both priming of the players and the question construction to elicit meaningful responses. Even when successful, defining strategies that can achieve objectives requires repeated assessment of scenarios that must be carefully constructed. This wargaming “art” can be complemented by modeling methods to capture details that may influence decision makers (e.g., relative combat power of military assets), but principled inclusion of relevant factors such as adversarial reasoning, information warfare, and economic incentives is lacking. Given the changing nature of conflict3, consideration of these factors is critical.

Defense Systems offers an explanation of what this is supposed to be:

DARPA’s Foundations for Strategic Mechanism Design wants to see whether it’s possible to devise a better high-level wargame that will prevent the U.S. from being surprised by the actions of an adversary, or enable the U.S. to surprise an opponent with its own actions. However, the game that DARPA envisions is the opposite of the usual Pentagon simulation: while most military war gaming aims to determine how a given plan might work out if implemented, DARPA wants a game with a predetermined outcome. The game is there to tell the military how to achieve it.

“We would want to shift from a ‘simulation’ mindset to thinking about the creation of the rules of the game itself,” DARPA spokesman Jared Adams told Defense Systems. “For someone that has done a lot of war gaming, this is the hardest part: designing the scenario, objectives and rules of the players to explore certain decisions in an intelligent way. We want to do the inverse problem: given a desired set of strategic outcomes, could you define the rules of the game in such a way that the decisions will lead to that?”

This isn’t a new technique. In some versions of alternative futures analysis or “backcasting,” analysts are asked to work backwards from assigned outcomes to determine the most plausible paths whereby that outcome might occur. Done well, they help to identify inflection points, critical junctures, key drivers/variables, and possible warning indicators. It can also be useful to help establish what needs to happen for a particular policy end-state to be achieved.

Usually this is done by an analysts, analytical team, or discussed in a seminar/BOGSAT setting, not run as a kind of reverse-engineered computational (war)game. To be frank, having taken part in such analysis, I’m not convinced a game would add much compared to a well-run group discussion. However, DARPA is all about experimenting with new approaches, technologies, and capabilities, so it will be interesting to see what they come up with.

h/t Michael Peck, and ensuing Facebook discussion with Christopher Weuve and Eric Monroe Walters .PAXsims

According to The Telegraph, “The German army has war-gamed the break up of the European Union in study of security crises that could face the country by  2040.”

No, not exactly. If one actually checks out the original report in Der Spiegel, the Germany military has simply produced a strategic forecasting product similar to the US National Intelligence Council Global Trends studies or the UK Ministry of Defence Global Strategic Trends reports. Some of the scenarios in it are rosy. Others are not (via Google translate).

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In the sixth scenario, the worst (“the EU in disintegration and Germany in reactive mode”), Bundeswehr strategists assume a “multiple confrontation”. The future projection describes a world in which the international order erodes after “decades of instability”, the value systems worldwide diverge and globalization is stopped.

“EU enlargement has been largely abandoned, more states have left the community, and Europe has lost global competitiveness in many areas,” the authors write. “The increasingly disorderly, sometimes chaotic and conflict-prone world has dramatically changed the security environment of Germany and Europe.”

The Guardian describes the report as “contingency plans,” which is overstating things a bit too. Such forecasting exercises are usually intended to spark critical thought, and may impact policy in a very indirect way, but fall short of “planning” in any meaningful sense.

From the Der Spiegel report there is no evidence that anything was wargamed at all. The scenarios would, however, certainly make interesting settings to explore using wargaming methods.

PAXsims

At The American Conservative, Harry Kazianis warns that he fought a war against Iran—and it ended badly:

Back in 2013, a group of my colleagues did a series of wargames on what would happen if Iran and America ended up in a conflict. Held at a secret location in think-tank land here in D.C., we sketched out the various possible pathways to conflict, what each side’s war aims and strategy would be, and how such a conflict could end. While the game was conducted off the record, considering where U.S.-Iran relations seem to be headed, my fellow wargamers have allowed me to share the details of one of three scenarios in an effort to promote a better understanding of the risks involved if the bombs really do start falling.

In the most intense of our three-day wargaming scenarios, we looked at a situation in 2020 where U.S.-Iranian relations had been souring for several years. Both sides are jockeying for position over a geopolitical chessboard stretching from Lebanon all the way to Afghanistan. In this scenario, Tehran is becoming increasingly upset over U.S. naval forces building up and exercising in the Persian Gulf. To make its displeasure known, Iran decides to test a salvo of intermediate range missiles that fly far into the Indian Ocean—with an ICBM test looming in the next few months. The situation then gets infinitely more complex when U.S. intelligence is tipped off that a second barrage of missile tests is being prepped, and destroys them in mid-flight thanks to U.S. missile defenses in the area.

Our wargame begins when Tehran responds, deciding to conduct large-scale naval exercises near the Strait of Hormuz. Iran also declares a naval exclusion zone, which essentially closes the important waterway for what would be a week of training drills—all to show off Tehran’s growing military power and ability to roil oil markets.

You’ll find more details at the link above.

PAXsims

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The most recent Foreign Policy magazine PeaceGame, produced in cooperation with the Emirates Diplomatic Academy and Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, was aimed not at experts and policy-makers, but budding young diplomats. According to the press release from FP:

The Future Diplomats PeaceGame brought together a select group of students of leading diplomatic academies from 21 countries and five continents. Looking to emerging foreign-policy challenges, the Future Diplomats PeaceGame took on the topic of cyber threats. Mohammed Al Dhaheri, one of the participants in the PeaceGame, said: “Being part of this event for the first time proved to be a revelation. I was able to appreciate and experience first-hand the challenges in dealing with people with different perspectives. It taught me that an understanding of varied world views is critical to finding a common space where we can cooperate to arrive at a solution that works for all of us.”

The first day of the event was dedicated to training with some of the leading experts in cybersecurity, defense, and diplomacy. Sessions focused on the critical issues in this rapidly evolving field of international relations, with a special emphasis on the interaction with broader foreign-policy challenges.

On Day 2, the Future Diplomats took on the role of key international stakeholders, navigating a series of simulated cyber events with the potential to escalate into full-blown conflict that required them to explore ways in which they could advance their country’s interests while achieving a peaceful outcome. The moderated discussions were presided over by a panel that combined decades of experience at the highest levels in both cybersecurity and diplomacy, providing expert commentary and context throughout the proceedings.

PAXsims

Also at Foreign Policy, a recent article by Benjamin Soloway looks at Project Azriel, a “first person shooter zombie-themed video game cognitive trainer tough enough to build fluid intelligence without boring you to death.”

Deanna Terzian, the president of CurriculaWorks, says the goal of the game is to “enter-train” its users. Other developers, she says, have tried including cognitive training tasks in games, but without weaving them in at a fundamental level.

“What we’ve done is we’ve integrated the cognitive training into the gameplay so when you are shooting the zombies you are actually using the mental set switching tasks,” she told Foreign Policy in an interview. “You’re using your mind to determine which weapon to use in order to take down the zombies as they’re coming at you.”

So, the question is, can you make cognitive training fun by weaving in a hunt for zombies? The company is trying to create a game that will convince players to do “something that is arduous but good for them,” Terzian says. “That’s part of our development philosophy: We like to add a spoonful of sugar to do things that are good for you.”

The game is currently available in early-access edition on Steam.

PAXsims

The Ohio State National Security Crisis Simulation recently ran a two-day series of crisis games.

The simulation places law, policy, intelligence, military, and communications students in their respective roles. It begins with the world as it is. Students draw on everything they have learned so far in their education as they respond in real time to new inputs from the Simulation Control Team, and dynamically to decisions by other players. Together with an elite group of seasoned practitioners in top roles–including federal judges, legislators, and retired generals–students must work as parts of multi-profession teams and use multi-institution processes to solve problems ripped from the headlines. The simulation’s architects present the players with realistic dilemmas and pressures of time, personality, information, consequence, and ethics. Ultimately, the exercise’s outcomes are determined by player decisions.

This year “students averted nuclear war, passed a congressional spending bill and halted an armed insurrection. And learned some valuable lessons.” You’ll find more details here, courtesy of Ohio State News.

PAXsims

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The 15th annual American Political Science Association Teaching & Learning Conference will be held in Baltimore on 2-4 February 2018. As usual, the conference will include a simulation and gaming track.

Simulations and Games
Simulations and games can immerse students in an environment that enables them to experience the decision-making processes of real-world political actors. Examples include in-person and online role-play scenarios like the Model European Union and ICONS, off-the-shelf board games, Reacting to the Past, and exercises that model subjects like poverty, institutions of government, and ethnic conflict. This track will examine topics such as the effects of gamification of course content on student motivation and engagement, cognitive and affective outcomes from simulations and games in comparison to other teaching techniques, and the contexts in which the use of simulations and games makes sense for the instructor.

PAXsims

Back in August, the long-running Extra Credits series produced a video on peace games, and the role that games might play in promoting cooperation and positive interaction. We forgot to post it at the time, but here it is now.

PAXsims

Simulation & Gaming (December 2017)

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The latest edition of Simulation & Gaming 48, 6 (December 2017) is now available.

 

Editorial


 

Articles


 

Gaming Material Ready to Use


AFTERSHOCK and WFP

As many readers will know, all profits from the sale of AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game are donated to the World Food Programme and other United Nations humanitarian agencies. We’re happy to report that those contributions now total some $2,000.

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You too can donate to WFP here.

If you want to buy your own copy of AFTERSHOCK, you will find it at The Game Crafter

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DIRE STRAITS at McGill

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It’s official—Jim Wallman and I will be running a version of the DIRE STRAITS megagame at McGill University on Sunday, 25 February 2018.

McGill University’s third annual megagame, DIRE STRAITS, is set in the year 2020. It explores crisis stability in East and Southeast Asia in the context of an unpredictable Trump Admintration, growing Chinese strategic power, and multiple regional crises.

How will the region and the world deal with the challenge of North Korean nuclear weapons? Will China consolidate its hold over the South China Sea? How might relations between Beijing and Taiwan develop if the latter decides to adopt a more independent path? And how will the White House—beset by scandal, factional infighting, and an angry, unpredictable President—respond?

Approximately one hundred participants will assume the roles of national decision-makers, diplomats, military commanders, intelligence analysts, international organizations, journalists, and others.

 

Tickets can be purchased through Eventbrite. Discounted “early-bird” tickets are available through to January 1.

You’ll find a Facebook page for the event here. A BBC News report on the original DIRE STRAITS game (held at King’s College London in September) can be found here.

Above: Images from DIRE STRAITS at King’s College London, September 2017.

Australian Army Wargaming Conference

On October 17, Headquarters Forces Command (HQ FORCOMD) held the Australian Army Wargaming Conference at Victoria Barracks, Sydney. Presentations from that conference can now be seen online via The Cove (the Australian Army’s open-access professional development website) and YouTube.

Opening address by MAJGEN Mick Krause.

MAJGEN Krause (himself a hobby wargamer) stresses the importance of genuine competition—something that wargaming can offer. The “essence of tactics,” he suggested, is creativity—but assessment for promotion tends to emphasize binary yes/no, pass/fail measurements. He expressed concern that most wargames currently in use in the Australian Army tend to emphasize attrition, and underrepresent the human factors that shape military outcomes. Consequence, they fail to teach the “very essence of our profession.” Wargaming helps players to visualize tactics and experience some of the cognitive stress of warfare. Wargames need to be realistic, easy to use (if they are to be used, and used repeatedly), and teach good tactics (demonstrating combined arms effects in the battle space).

It’s an excellent and inspiring presentation, and there is useful discussion in the Q&A period too.

LTCOL Nick Bosio on “Johnny, Timmy and Spike” Enhancing Decision Making Through Gaming.”

LTCOL Bosio discussed how wargaming can contribute to decision-making. He focuses on three issues: the breadth of available games, why people game, and how humans make decisions. Drawing upon one typology of player types—”Spike” (who loves to win), “Timmy” (who enjoys the game narrative), and “Johnny” (the contrarian)—he goes on to discuss how gaming can contribute to the development of underlying cognitive skills and heuristics. Gaming against a live opponent may contribute to better cost/benefit analysis. I particularly enjoyed his discussion of why “Timmy” skills are important—namely that campaigns are a “story” of lethal and non-lethal effects that must be combined to alter an opponent’s perceptions and will. Timmy-types may be able to rise above functional specializations to better understand this broader picture.

PAXsim’s very own ISIS CRISIS, now available as part of the Matrix Game Construction Kit (MaGCK), gets a mention too.

SGT Tyron Casey introduces the Australian Defence Force Wargaming Association (ADFWGA).

SGT Casey offered an overview of the Australian Defence Force Wargaming Association, which was first established in 2009/10 by military personnel who enjoy (hobby) wargaming. Today it has some 270 members. The ADFWA promotes hobby wargaming as way of developing tactically-relevant skills, organizes events, and raises funds for charity. ADFWA also encourages the chain-of-command to support wargaming activities by their personnel.


I’m not sure if it was mentioned at the conference, but this is probably a good time to also remind any Australian readers that the Connections Oz 2017 wargaming conference will be held on 11-13 December at the University of Melbourne. I was fortunate to attend a couple of years ago, and had a great time.

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