PAXsims

Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Wargame Designers Series: Peter Perla

As part of their Wargame Designers Series, Columbia Games interviews Peter Perla (author of the seminal Art of Wargaming).

Reminder: Ottawa workshop on serious games for policy analysis (November 22-23)

Here is a reminder that on November 22-23 I will be conducting a two day professional development workshop on serious games for policy analysis and capacity-building in Ottawa. The course will provide an overview of how games might enhance foresight, innovation, and policy-development, and will include an introduction to various game approaches, design, and facilitation techniques.

Notice - NPSIA-PT&D's Practical Certificate in Serious Games for Policy Analysis and Capacity-Building workshop - Nov 2018

You will find further details and registration information at the link here.

Simulation and gaming miscellany, 16 September 2018

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

PAXsims

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Landpower: GAAT has been made available for free in print-and-play format, via BoardGameGeek.

Landpower: GAAT (the Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Turkey scenario) is a wargame designed by LTC Patrick Schoof at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College and used for instruction in academic year 2018.

Landpower is designed to drive both sides to plan and conduct sequential operations in a large scale combat environment. Many parts of shaping and combat are intentionally abstracted to allow the intended training audience to focus on appropriate decisions at the division echelon as a division commander and staff. The mechanics of the game are intentionally minimized above and below the echelon of decision. A well-planned operation with its events synchronized usually works most of the time. A poorly planned large scale operation will likely result in failure. Friction is intentionally built in! Landpower was designed to meet educational learning objectives while still being able to stand alone as a wargame. Because of this, most of the instructions ask the reader to treat the conduct of it as an exercise. In the classroom, Landpower is not about the game, but rather the discussion the wargame elicits.

The exercise is conducted over a series of days. Each day is broken down into four, six-hour turns. During the turns each side will have opportunities to conduct operations to achieve their side’s objectives.

The scenario in Landpower is conducted mostly in Azerbaijan based on the GAAT (Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Turkey) terrain. Each hex is roughly 6.5km across. The terrain has been abstracted for the division echelon of decision with consideration given to possible second order effects of a particular feature’s inclusion or exclusion from the exercise. For example, the terrain at 39°56’42.3″N 48°21’00.4″E was treated as urban, and the northwest-southeast road was omitted because it would not change operations, though the bridge was retained.

Elsewhere at BGG, Eric Walters comments:

Glad to see this finally available on Board Game Geek–thanks to U.S. Army CGSC. For the DoD crowd, it’s also available via milBook on the Serious Games group.

The die-hard wargamers will be honestly not very impressed with what they see; it’s a very, very basic tactical move and shoot game, with supporting arms/Multi-Domain warfare handled via the use of cards. But understand that most of the officers have never even seen a board wargame, much less played one, and it’s a good entry-level venue to learn how to execute tactical courses of action in an admittedly crude way. Things we take for granted as board wargamers are completely new to most of the officers. It’s also not hard to want to “bolt on” other things onto the basic game, such as Armenian organizations, a Marine Expeditionary Brigade, etc.

Best of all, it’s relatively uncomplicated as far as wargames go and plays quite fast!

Regarding the debate on how useful the game is, much depends on the desired learning outcomes. As a faculty member of U.S. Army Command and General Staff College (as well as a long-experienced wargamer), it fills the bill for what we need for the classes we teach. That said, I can understand why someone would say, “That’s it? That’s all there is?” Yes, there should be more. Absolutely. But we as faculty are constrained by the amount of hours devoted to particular subjects, so we typically move on to other fields of study mandated to us. Our hope is that our officers are sufficiently intrigued so that they’ll continue investigations into a deeper understanding through self-study. It doesn’t happen often, but it occasionally does happen. It’s a fair criticism to say that there’s not enough reinforcement and enhancement of such experiences, both within the school and beyond it.

PAXsims

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All of the conference presentations from the recent Connections UK 2018 professional wargaming conference are now available from the Connections UK website.

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PAXsims

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The latest issue of the Journal of Defense Modeling and Simulation 15, 4 (October 2018) is now available online.

PAXsims

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The Military Operations Research Society will be holding a Cyberspace Wargaming and Analytics workshop on 23-25 October 2018 at MITRE Corporation (McLean, VA):

The primary objective of the workshop is to collaborate on data, models and wargaming best practices plus lessons for current cyberspace wargames and operations. This includes describing the current state, clarifying gaps and developing solutions for cyberspace operations data, models and wargaming. This event is FREE to US Government Civilian and Active Duty personnel.

The workshops are geared to span the spectrum of wargaming experience from the novice wargamer, who want to increase their knowledge of wargaming techniques in the training working groups, to master game designers, who want to share and increase the wargaming body of knowledge within a cyber context.

The keynote speaker will be John T. Hanley Jr., Ph.D. Dr. Hanley is currently an independent consultant working on strategic studies and gaming. He served as the Deputy Director for Strategy Management in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence during the period March 2010 to March 2012. His responsibilities included developing a strategic assessment process to inform top-down guidance and create shared vision, values and strategies within the Intelligence Community, bringing strategic thinking to strategy-to-budget processes, and leading the Galileo Program to promote and reward innovation within the IC. For his full bio, visit http://www.mors.org/Events/Special-Meetings/Cyberspace-Wargaming.

There will also be a game night at the DoubleTree by Hilton McLean Tysons in place of the traditional special meeting social. This event will allow attendees not only the opportunity to socialize but also games and techniques in a fun, inviting setting to add to their repertoire. The game night will be $15. Game night attendees will be provided light fare and a cash bar is available as well. Attendees can expect a number of wargames at various levels. These will include single play/opponent games as well team or multiplayer games.

For further information and registration, go to MORS website.

PAXsims

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A new (German) Eurogame entitled Manitoba is drawing fire in Canada for its depiction of First Nations culture. CBC News reports:

A totem pole in Manitoba? German board game accused of stereotypical portrayal of Indigenous people

Board game called Manitoba features depictions that are inaccurate and offensive, game enthusiast says

“Manitoba” is a product of German company DLP Games. Some Manitobans are upset about the game’s stereotypical ideas of Indigenous people. (DLP Games )

A German board game called Manitoba is drawing a lot of criticism for the way it portrays the culture of Indigenous Peoples in Canada.

The game, called Manitoba, is a product of DLP Games.

“This game is set in the Canadian province of Manitoba with its green hills and majestic mountains, large lakes, endless prairies and forests,” the English-language version of the game’s instructions state.

“It deals with the life of the inhabitants in harmony with the different seasons and the capriciousness of nature.

“Players represent different clans of the Cree Indians, taking care of the material progress as well as of the spiritual development of the clan. At the end of autumn, all clans finally come together to determine the new chief from the clan that has progressed the furthest!”

Ross says the game’s artwork is problematic as it’s an inaccurate depiction of indigenous peoples in Manitoba. (DLP Games )

The artwork accompanying the game includes images of a totem pole and other imagery that is not part the cultures of Manitoba’s Indigenous Peoples.

The game has drawn heavy criticism on the BoardGameGeek online forum.

Governor General’s Award-winning writer Ian Ross is an Indigenous board game enthusiast and the founder of the Winnipeg Board Game Club.

Though the artwork is problematic, what some people have found most troubling is the game’s portrayal of Indigenous spirituality, he told CBC News.

“I think for some people, that’s the real sticky point, the thing they find most egregious, is the commodification of our culture,” he said….

You’ll find the full article at the link above.

The issue of cultural representation in boardgames is an interesting and sometimes controversial one, and—time permitting—is something we hope to return to with a broader discussion at PAXsims in the future. If you might want to contribute, let us know.

PAXsims

Jentery Sayers is teaching a course on “paper computers” —board games—at the University of Victoria this fall:

This seminar follows that low-tech disposition. We’ll survey the pasts of paper computers and their entanglements with literature. We’ll visit Special Collections to study some pertinent media, such as artists’ books, moveable books, machine-woven books, miniatures, cards, boards, and zines. Then you’ll select an “-ism” (e.g., imagism, constructivism, or thingism) and use it to prototype a tabletop game. We’ll discuss the dynamics that bridge aesthetics with mechanics, including how games rehearse legacies of colonialism and capital accumulation. What alternatives exist, and how are they made?

We’ll play some games as we go, and read a smidgen of fiction and history, too.
From week to week, we’ll ground it all in design practices: bookbinding, 3D modelling, fabricating, and playtesting, for example. Various guest speakers will join us. By the end, you should develop a palpable sense of how this becomes that with a computer—but without running culture in the background.

h/t former UVic wargaming club colleague Brian Train

PAXsims

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Continuing with Brian Train references, he is the guest in an excellent recent episode of the Harold on Games podcast.

THIS podcast is singularly composed of an interview with prolific game designer and insurgent provacator, Brian Train. We will discuss the myriad of games he brought with him to ConSimWorld Expo and his future plans.

PAXsims

The dates for the Connections Oz wargaming conference have been confirmed: 10-12 December in the Hatchery at the University of Technology, Sydney. More details here.

PAXsims

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More from Down Under—the Australian Army’s professional development website The Cove contains another quick decision exercise: Takistan Raid.

PAXsims

A recent business article the Financial Post discusses “war game techniques to get you through this age of disruption.” Judging from the image they use to illustrate the piece, some of these involve the use of a sword.

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PAXsims

Patrick Ruestchmann has provided a revised map and player aid for Tim Price’s Earthquake! matrix game. You’ll find the files appended here. Many thanks, Patrick!

PAXsims

In-stride adjudication (Connections 2018 working group report)

Stephen Downes-Martin has pulled together a 187 page (!) report on in-stride adjudication from the papers and discussion presented at the Connections US 2018 conference. You can download it here.

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WATU wargame report

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On September 8, volunteers from the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory, the Royal Navy, the Royal Canadian Navy, and PAXsims paid homage to what may have been the most consequential wargaming of World War Two: the work of the Western Approaches Tactical Unit. WATU contributed greatly the development of anti-submarine tactics, and also taught more than five thousand British and allied escort officers during the war. Most of those wargamers were women too.

The event was hosted by the Western Approaches war museum and held in the map room of the wartime headquarters of Western Approaches Command: an underground bunker beneath the Exchange Building (Derby House) in Liverpool. During the war, WATU had operated from an upper floor.

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Setting up the plotting map. The screens on the right prevent the escort commanders from seeing the map, except when permitted to peek through small visors. Red filters in these prevent them from seeing the U-boat tracks.

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The plot viewed through the visor. U-boat tracks are not visible.

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The screen from above, with the tables for the escort commanders beyond.

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Nefarious U-boat commander Tom Mouat (Defence Academy of the UK/PAXsims).

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Some of our lovely simulated Wrens.

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Pre-game briefing.

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The WATU wargame underway. The convoy, escort, and U-boat positions are being plotted on the floor, while escort commanders plan their next moves beyond the screens.

The game started with U-305 (U1 on the plotting floor, commanded by your scribe) having penetrated the escort screen on the surface at night, and attacking from within the convoy. One ship went down, and I ordered my vessel to submerge to periscope depth and to turn slightly to run under the convoy.

Meanwhile, U-501 (U2) approached on the surface from outside the screen, hoping to attack while the escorts were distracted.

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The U-boat commanders smile as they celebrate their first sinking of a merchantman.

Alas—or fortunately, depending on your perspective—it wasn’t to be so. As soon as the first ship was hit HMCS Ottawa (L3) made a high-speed dash into the convoy, and ran straight into the still-submerging U1, which it had not yet spotted. The damage was enough to force U1 to the surface. I ordered my submarine to run close alongside the Canadian destroyer, hoping her guns would not be able to depress sufficiently to engage my much smaller vessel. My own 88mm deck gun fired into the escort at close range, and a spread of my remaining bow torpedos damaged HMS Starling (L1) as she approached to assist. However, soon U1 began to sink. I ordered the Enigma machine and codebooks thrown overboard, and we abandoned ship.

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Image of a WWII WATU wargame in progress. Note the plotting of the convoy, escorts, and submarines on the floor, as well as the screens.

 

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WWII WATU wargame in progress. Wrens point out ships and current situation for officers viewing through screen.

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Meanwhile, U2 fired a spread of torpedos into the convoy, sinking one freighter. Its lookouts failed to notice a Royal Navy destroyer (O1) bearing down her through the dark night until it was almost too late, however. Fregattenkapitän Mouat ordered a crash dive, which was soon followed by the thunderous explosions of depth charges overhead. With a drive shaft damaged, the wily Moaut ordered that oil be vented and rubbish discharged through the torpedo tubes to suggest his vessel had been destroyed. HMS Vanquisher was having none of that, however, and continued to drop depth charges. U2 would eventually be sunk with all hands.

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U1 sunk, U2 under attack.

As this was ongoing, U3 (Brynen) approached from the front of the convoy submerged, while U4 (Mouat) proceeded on the surface well ahead of the convoy to report its location to Kriegsmarine headquarters back in Germany. These transmissions were picked up by HF/DF (High Frequency Direction Finding), and minutes later U4 itself was spotted on radar by HMCS Orillia (P1). Mouat turned slowly, and then proceeded south at top speed, hoping thereby to draw off escorts before eventually submerging and doubling back.

U3 continued to creep forward, until it was within 1500 yards of the convoy. It then fired two pairs of torpedoes from its forward tubes. A short while later hydrophones reported more explosions as two merchantmen were hit. The wolfpack had now sunk four ships in the convoy, and damaged two escorts.

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The plot. U4 (bottom) has just begun its dash south with escorts in pursuit. The white markers indicate the depth charges dropped by O1 on U2, while U3 is nearby, having just fired torpedoes and turned.

…and there we had to finish as the day came to an end.

We all had a terrific time, and the 130 visitors who passed through the museum while the wargame was underway seemed to find it all very interesting too. It was particularly gratifying to meet with the daughter and granddaughter of wartime wargaming WATU Wren officer Laura Janet Howes.

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The daughter (right) of WRNS officer Laura Janet Howes poses with a card summarizing her mother’s wartime career.

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The commander of HMS Vanquisher points to the last resting place of U2.

Enormous thanks are due to the Dstl team that made this all happen, and especially Sally David and Paul Strong. Emma Stringfellow (Big Heritage) and the rest of the Western Approaches museum staff were terrific hosts, happily putting up with twenty or so of us moving things around, talking loudly, and even playing ASDIC noises and dive alarms. The screens produced by Alfred Chow (Maker of Things) were perfect for the task. Steve Cowan recreated the HMS Tactician/WATU crest, which was emblazoned on the shirts of many of the wargaming crew, and on commemorative mugs available in the Western Approaches gift shop.

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I would like to personally thank Cmdr Jeffrey McRae (Royal Canadian Navy) from joining with the Royal Navy in marking the occasion, and taking on the role of an escort commander (HMCS St Croix). Some five hundred Canadian naval officers were among those trained by WATU during WWII, and a similar tactical training unit (modelled on WATU) was established in Halifax in 1943.IMG_0297 copy.jpg

The WATU wargame is an excellent tool for teaching about wargaming, operations, research, the Battle of the Atlantic, and the contribution of women during WWII. Visitor after visitor expressed how interesting it was, and how analysis, gaming, and outthinking an opponent all converged in the kind of work WATU did. I certainly hope this becomes at annual event at the museum, and the Dstl and RN volunteers who made it happen are able to organize similar events elsewhere in the UK.

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The Dstl/RN/RCN/Defence Academy/PAXsims crew, including nefarious U-boat captains Mouat and Brynen.

Finally, if you are in or visiting the Liverpool area, go and see the Western Approaches museum (where, for a limited time, you can get your very own HMS Tactician/WATU mug). They’ve done a terrific job rennovating the facility, and it is well worth a trip.

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RN officers demonstrate appropriate protocol for carrying a simulated Wren.

Registration is now open for the Serious Games Forum 2018

SGF-advert2_edited-2.pngRegistration is now open for the Serious Games Forum 2018, to be held at the War College in Paris on 3 December 2018.

This free event will bring together military, civil and academic professionals using Serious Games to share their ideas and experience. Debates with our wide range of speakers will give you a better understanding of theses tools.

Designers and users of theses games can take this opportunity to expand their network and share ideas.

Find out more about Serious Games through practice. Experiment by yourself a wide range of Serious Games on many subjects, from security and crisis management to business strategy.

Connections UK 2018 conference report

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Photo credit: Anthony Sharman (@Ant_Sharman)

The Connections UK 2018 professional wargaming conference concluded yesterday, and a very excellent conference it was. The event was hosted by the Department of War Studies at King’s College London, and cosponsored by the Defence Academy of the UK and the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory. Around two hundred people were in attendance this year, making it the second largest conference of its kind ever (with Connections US having taken first spot earlier this year).

Tuesday, 4 September

As is tradition with Connections UK, the first day gave participants the option of either attending a day-long introduction to wargaming for beginners course (ably taught by Tom Mouat and Jerry Elsmore), or taking part in a megagame designed by Jim Wallman. The former included hands-on experience with Battlegroup Krieggspiel, a commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) game, and a matrix game. The megagame was A Green and Pleasant Land, examining British national resilience in the face of mounting crisis and a hostile adversary employing the tools of hybrid warfare.

Together with about a hundred others, I opted for the megagame, facilitating the game as  Control for the Red Cell—a team of nefarious simulated Russians trying to destabilize the UK against the backdrop of a crisis in the Baltics and NATO mobilization. Led by the nefarious Phil Pournelle (doing his best Vladimir Putin imitation), the Read Team used social media to aggravate political tensions, secretly funded alt-right demonstrations, and engaged in sporadic arson attacks—hoping to overwhelm the overstretched British police. There was also quite a lot of hacking, including an extraction of interesting financial information from the Trump Organization, and sabotage of the Automatic Identification System (AIS) used for maritime navigation.

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The British Prime Minister speaks to the cabinet and other officials. Photo credit: Jim Wallman/Stone Paper Scissors.

The vast majority of players assumed the roles of various British government departments and officials, trying to deal with a plethora of incidents. Most incidents were simply random events that had nothing to do with Russia, but even those that were connected were rarely linked back to Moscow.

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Russian plotting underway.

There were, however, some exceptions. A GRU agent who had been hiring neo-Nazi thugs to torch British mosques was arrested by the Metropolitan Police. Even more serious, a Spetsnaz mission to sabotage Royal Navy vessels in Portsmouth was detected and blocked—ultimately resulting in the arrest of the Russian special forces. This occurred amid growing military tensions in Europe. When the British cabinet twice relocated to a secure bunker outside London—once as a continuity-of-govermnment drill, the second time in response to the discovery of Russian listening devices at Number 10 and the cabinet offices—Russia grew fearful that this might be early warning of an impending NATO first strike.

A last-minute telephone call between the Russian President and British Prime Minister (which hilariously took 10 minutes to arrange because of poor cell reception, even though the principals were in adjacent rooms) deescalated things. British mobilization went well, and the North Atlantic Council seemed near-unanimous on supporting an Article Five response in support of their Baltic allies—although the British PM seems to have offered to pull back forces, which was seen by the Russians as a major accomplishment. Bob Cordery offers his own perspective on his blog Wargaming Miscellany:

As tensions rose, so did the level of problems that we had to find solutions to. The discovery of listening devices in the Cabinet Room and the arrest of a four-man team of Speznatz in Portsmouth precipitated matters, and we – the Cabinet – moved to the secure bunker, along with representatives (usually the PUS) of the ministerial teams. I think that I shocked my Cabinet colleagues when I ordered that all means – however extreme they might be – should be used to extract information from the captured Russian Special Forces Team. I asked that it be done by contractors and that it should take place outside the UK. I then told the Cabinet that this was a decision that I alone would make, and that they bore no responsibility for it.

As events moved close and closer to the possibility of open conflict with the Russians, I received a message that the President of the Russian Federation wished to speak to me on the telephone. There then proceeded to be what can only be described as a farcical situation. Although he was physically in an adjoining room, the phone link just would not work properly. At one point I said ‘Hello, Vladimir’ … and was greeted by a recorded announcement that the person I wanted to talk to was not available and that I could leave a message after the tone! (One hopes that in real-life, this could not happen!)

Once we did manage to talk, we were able to de-escalate the situation, with both sides agreeing to pull back … although I suspect that we withdrew more than they did! At this point the game ended, and we moved to the de-brief.

A Green and Distant Land was not intended to be a hyper-realistic simulation of British emergency preparedness. Rather, it was intended as a conference ice-breaker, an opportunity to network, and a demonstrator for various gaming techniques. This it did very well, and there were several game elements that I am likely to steal borrow from Jim in my own future game designs.

Wednesday, 5 September

Day 2 of Connections UK—and the first day of conference panels and presentations—started off with a formal welcome from Wyn Bowen, Head of the School of Security Studies at King’s College London. Conference coorganizer Graham Longley-Brown (LBS) then outlined the conference programme..

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Graham Longley-Brown discusses the wargaming process and the structure of the conference.

Graham noted that this had been designed around the cycle of wargaming, as identified in the UK Defence Wargaming Handbook:

  • Initiation
  • Design (to a purpose)
  • Development (and playtesting)
  • Execution (and facilitation)
  • Validation
  • Refinement

He noted a number of areas in which he felt that wargame project management and validation was much more advanced in the US than in the UK and elsewhere.

This was followed by a session on wargame design, introduced and chaired by Matt Caffrey (US Air Force Material Command).

Phil Sabin (King’s College London) talked about dilemmas and trade-offs in wargame design. These include:

  • the dilemmas faced by designers (rigid vs open rules/adjudication, open vs hidden information, detail vs abstraction, complexity vs accessibility, manual vs digital, and luck vs skill);
  • the need to capture real world-dilemmas (such as resource scarcity and prioritization, attack vs defence, concentration vs dispersion, efficiency vs surprise/unpredictability, boldness vs caution, inherent cost-benefit trade-offs, cooperation vs self-interest);
  • incorporating these into a game by providing players with choices and options.

Dilemmas may be rooted in incalculability (the sheer number of possible approaches), uncertainty (for example, hidden information), and incommensurability. Wargames also have the potential to reveal previously unidentified dilemmas and elicit creative approaches.

Game designer Brian Train spoke on game design as a form of journalism, focusing on “news games.” He noted that while the scholarly literature on such games has largely focused on digital games, there is a rich tradition of manual games that have editorial/advocacy/social awareness or documentary/educational/informative content. His earliest example was a 1791 roll-and-move game of the French Revolution. Another example was Occupation, a game that was secretly produced during WWII on German-occupied Jersey. Today, TerrorBull Gamesis well-known for its satirical and educational games. Brian also discussed the Strategy & Tactics model of games coupled with accompanying magazine analysis. Finally, Brian addressed the rapid development of games to explore contemporary or ongoing conflicts.

Anna Nettleship addressed challenges in wargame design. In historical games, she noted, one must abstract real events in-game mechanics, and to do so in a way that remains appropriately playable for the players. The game design, rules, and supporting material must communicate effectively with the player. The game system should incentivize appropriate play. She stressed the importance of intensive playtesting in identifying weaknesses and fixing them. Regarding future conflict simulations, she noted the importance of linking the game design to design objectives. Players need to think how they can best get players to act within their game roles.

During subsequent discussion, several audience members raised the challenges of wargaming future conflict, including hybrid warfare. Phil highlighted the need to couple the lessons of the past with an appreciation of the possible effects of technological change as well as leaving scope for innovative play by players. Brian stressed the importance of exploring how different actors might exploit various mechanisms of hybrid warfare, even if the game is necessarily speculative. Anna and Phil also noted that wargames can be useful in telling us what might happen, even if there can be no certainty the games are indeed predictive.

The next series of presentations, chaired by Graham Longley-Brown, examined wargame development.

Col Richard Taylor (British Army) and Nigel Paling (UK MoD) spoke on analysis in experimentation wargaming, looking at the EX SPECTACULAR STRIKE wargames. These examined how the new British STRIKE brigade might operate in contemporary European high-intensity operations. They emphasized that capabilities cannot be characterized solely in terms of modelling and simulation of equipment, since much depends on the development of innovative tactics and approaches. A bespoke wargame is thus needed, rather than simply using existing collective training systems, and an integrated analysis and experimentation “campaign” is required. The Rapid Campaign Analysis Toolset (RCAT) was used to explore the relevant questions, using a standard defence scenario. The STRIKE! Manual game was developed by Dstl and employed to explore higher resolution assessment of tactics and alternative approaches. The games highlighted the asymmetric value of unpredictability, that speed of assembly allows you to fight faster, that multi-domain integration is key, dispersion and “swarming” can enhance tempo, and that self-reliance enhances reach and flexibility, but is dependent on austerity, mobility, and accuracy. They noted that accurate assumptions are critical for credible outputs, wargaming offers insight into the human element, and that a “safe to fail” environment is useful—since one often learns the most from “losing.”

Nick Reynolds spoke about developing the KCL crisis simulation, an annual weekend crisis game run by KCL students. Many participants had significant prior professional experience in defence and related areas. The simulation has tried to move beyond a model UN negotiation model, and enhance the wargaming and other simulated operational elements. Free kriegsspiel adjudication was used. His comments on the dangers of “breaking immersion” during the game. He felt that free kriegsspiel in inappropriate for complex operations (although I’m not sure I entirely agree—adjudication in Brynania is largely free kriegsspiel, and I would argue that it especially well-suited for complex POL-MIL games). Key to his presentation was the importance of managing the flow of information and game decisions in a large, complex game. He also noted the importance of signally public relations, political, legal, and similar non-tangible considerations and constraints, in order the prevent the game from devolving into an unrealistic hard power “hyper-realism”

Dave Manley (UK MoD) reviewed the High Northseries of nested games. The project grew out of Connections UK 2017 conference, and the interest in future arctic issues by the Development, Concepts and Doctrine Centre. A matrix game was used to explore strategic and political issues, RCAT was used to explore operational issues, and the ASUW game was used to explore tactical issues. He helpfully identified a series of risks, difficulties, and mitigations. One was the necessity of keeping players on (analytical) target, which was mitigated by the game controller nudging and “critical thinker” SME comments. Another was unexpected flow-down factors, where a higher-level game would introduce issues and challenges that needed to then be incorporated into a lower-level game. Free kriegsspiel seemed most appropriate for the higher level game, becoming more rigid in the more operational and tactical games. One observation that came out of the games was the unlikelihood of open military confrontation in the High Arctic.

Highly regarded wargame designer (and former CIA instructor) Volko Ruhnke spoke about model calibration. He started with the challenge of building harpsichords at home to highlight how to develop a finely tuned instrument, noting that tuning is a different skill than both design and play. He differentiated between calibration (model outputs are useful for intended purpose) and accuracy(the model reflects real-world dynamics)—essentially, processes of validation and verification. He ran a quick live-action game that was, in essence, a pandemic model.

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Volko Ruhnke discusses wargame calibration.

He then used this to highlight how, by changing the rules and rates and tweaking the model, rather different outcomes would result. There is value in “bracketing the target” by making adjustments that both overrepresent and underrepresent the desired effect, thereby enabling one to narrow down the required changes. In response to questions, he noted that calibration occurs throughout the design and playtest process.

The broader panel discussion addressed how to engage involuntary players who did not choose to, and may not want to, play—for example, military personnel assigned to a wargame. Questions were raised about how to recruit appropriate players, especially for the Red cell in an analytical game. Panelists highlighted the value of innovative and diverse opponents. In concluding comments, Graham underscored the importance of scenario development, and warned against pre-scripted scenarios that heavily constrain player choice

Lunch followed, and the first session of the Connections Game Fair, with twenty or so games on display,. These ranged from a Dstl hybrid warfare matrix game and their STRIKE! battlegroup board game, to a Swedish National Defence University operational-level game, through to Brian Train’s Second Lebanon War and a game on Future Artillery Concepts. A second session followed in the evening.

Juliette Le Ménahèze, Harrison Brewer, and I ran two games of We Are Coming, Ninevehour wargame-in-development of Iraqi operations against Daesh in West Mosul (2017). I’ll post a full update on the playtesting to PAXsims in the near future.

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Demonstrating Playing We Are Coming, Nineveh.. Photo credit: Harrison Brewer.

Unfortunately, because I was busy overseeing bitter street-fighting in West Mosul, I did not get much of a chance to look at the others.

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Mike Young demonstrates the STRIKE! wargame from Dstl. Photo credit: Tom Mouat.

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James Halstead and Fog on the Somme. Photo credit: Tom Mouat.

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Brian Train demonstrates Second Lebanon War. Photo credit: Tom Mouat.

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Tom Mouat’s Section Commander. Photo credit: Tom Mouat.

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The WATU wargame was also on display (photo credits: Katie Bramwell).

The other activity of Day 2 was a keynote address by Volko Ruhnke and Brian Train.

Volko spoke about wargames and systems thinking, reprising many of his comments from Connections US in July. He identified various sources of analytical surprise—deliberate hostile action, tectonic shifts, and system shifts in which the dynamics of complex systems interact to produce major change. From this he went on to explore the challenge of modelling complex systems, noting both that such models are inevitably simplified and full or errors—yet also essential to make some sense of the world. He emphasized the importance of harvesting the wisdom of crowds and incorporating diversity. Wargames capture a particular model, often in a way that is accessible to players. Rigid games have very explicit model specification but may be too bound. Open games incorporate opportunities for innovation, but the model is often much less clear. Matrix games are a hybrid approach, which incorporate flexibility and leverage the expertise of participants. Computation and agent-based modelling can offer considerable insight into outcomes of complex systems, but the underlying model may not be accessible (and the user interface may be very important to allow the user to know what is going on). Volko also offered advice on game development, much of which hinged on the importance of repeated playtesting and encouraging feedback and critique.

A stimulating on-stage conversation between Volko and Brian followed, examining the question of creativity. Martin Mull once said that “writing about music is like dancing about architecture,” making the point that you also need to listen to and experience music. Brian amended this to remark that “Game design is like dancing through architecture,” allowing one to experience the flow and form—although one also needs to game too. Brian’s usual design process isn’t always linear, but it is iterative. He has to have some initial interest. There then follows a period of incubation, which is followed in turn by moments of insight and inspiration during which the game subsystems develop. There are usually lots of ideas, and over time the bad ones get thrown out and the good ones are refined. Novelty is something which always attracts him to game topics and designs. At the same time, designs often borrow and adapt mechanisms pioneered by others in other games. Brian admitted to a certain degree of imposter syndrome at times, feeling that his work is less elegant or otherwise not as good as games designed by others (a remarkable admission from one of the world’s leading and most innovative wargame designers). The question and answer period followed, much of which focused on their favourite game systems and mechanics. It was a terrific session and format.

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Volko Ruhnke and Brian Train. Picture credit: Tom Mouat.

Thursday, 6 September

The final day began with a panel on wargame execution, chaired by Howard Body (UK MoD).

Aggie Hirst (KCL) spoke about play as pedagogy, examining the use of wargames for educational and training purposes in the US DoD military. She emphasized three main themes: play as a pedagogical tool, the role of immersion and player agency, and the value of critical thinking and “dialectical play.” She raised the question of whether immersion can interfere with learning, to the extent that reflexivity is undermined and players become objects, rather than subjects, of the game. It is important to use games to teach how to think, not what to think. This may involve punctuating immersion, thereby ensuring that players are engaged in a dialectic with the game. Her research will ultimately be published as a book (to which I am certainly looking forward).

Next, Erik Elgersma (FrieslandCampina) spoke on wargaming as a hidden driver behind cheese market victories, highlighting the value of business wargamimg, whereby potential commercial courses of action are stress-tested. This approach serves as a team-building process that ultimately enhances capabilities. Participants start by playing Red, outlining the objectives and strategy of a commercial competitor. Having done this, they develop and then test their own plans from a Blue perspective. He stressed the importance of recruiting a strong project leader, choosing a suitable topic/scenario, ensuring commitment and support from principals, and ensuring the wargame has a clear focus. Good timing is important—wargames can be premature or stale, with limited shelf-life. A good team of participants is important, as is a good organizational culture in the room that encourages everyone to voice ideas. Good preparations (such as suitable pre-reads) pay off. Analysis and reporting must be clear, and not ambiguous. The findings need to be effectively integrated into business strategy. Finally, he stressed communications, communications, communications.

Erik also mentioned how things can go off the rails, through poor representation of reality, hidden (political or organizational) agendas, or a mismatch between the game and the authority of participants. In the later question period, he noted that cheese marketeers are as vulnerable to mirror-image biases as any other analysts or game participants.

Karl Selke (Group W) presented on empowering defense wargaming through automation, focusing on the Standard Wargame Integration Facilitation Toolkit (SWIFT) produced for the US Department of Defense. The software captures all aspects of the game. A user builds their game space (map/board), including layers and overlays, and builds their units and assets. The game can be adjudicated externally or can be automated. He discussed some of the expectations and challenges when developing and promoting technological supports and solutions.\

Appropriately enough, digital wargame and wargame support tools were on display during the coffee and lunch breaks. These included SWIFT, as well as a Dstl demonstration on adapting augmented and virtual reality tools; NSC and iNet; Conductrr and TeamXp; and several games from Slitherine and Matrix Games.

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Using SWIFT to display, document, and facilitate a wargame.

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VR tools in wargaming.

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Conductrr on display.

The next panel, chaired by Brian Train, explored wargame validation.

LtCol Neil Stevens (British Army) and LtCol Ranald Shepherd (British Army) discussed selecting, playing, and assessing a commercial off-the-shelf wargame (in this case, A Distant Plain). They discussed how to convince the players that a COTS wargame was worth their time. After playing, participants reported that A Distant Plain had given them better appreciation of the broader context of counter-insurgency in Afghanistan (4.2/5.0 in a post-game survey), although it was somewhat less effective in offering insight into COIN warfare (3.78). Positive effects were noted in terms of practicing risk-taking, decision-making, and collaboration. Overall the exercise scored high (4.67) as an overall experience, both in terms of learning and enjoyment. 

John Curry (History of Wargaming Project) talked about wargaming and reality: a case study of the Ukrainian crisis, 2014-present. He questioned whether wargames had always had the positive effects reported. The interwar US Naval War College wargames, for example, were rather different from the way naval engagements were actually fought during WWII. He also quickly reviewed several wargames on modern warfare used for training during the Cold War era. There was not only significant variation in their assumptions, but also were wrong in some respects, or missed key issues (such as Soviet supply constraints).

He used such observations as a preamble to examination the Ukrainian war. Fighting has highlighted the value of UAVs and indirect fire. MANPADS proved effective against rotary assets. Tanks remained powerful on the battlefield. Matrix games, he suggested, had limits in anticipating black swans and future developments such as encountered in the Ukraine. Some pre-crisis board games (such as Millennium Wars: Ukraine) placed too much emphasis on large formations, or otherwise failed to predict important developments. Digital games often made inappropriate assumptions too. John stressed that wargaming does have value, but that appropriate caution needed to be exercised in using them to anticipate future military challenges. In response to questions, he called for more research on what games proved prescient, and why. In a follow-up question I asked how we avoid demonstrating the value or weakness of wargaming by cherry-picking vignettes. He (quite rightly) responded by stressing the need to more systematically survey wargame outputs.

Another comment noted that the benefit of wargames is also the cognitive development it encourages, quite apart from tactical/operational/strategic insights. It was also noted by panelists that wargames may contribute to networking and agility that proves of value when the unexpected is encountered. Also, the problem in some cases may be one of how game lessons are interpreted, (mis)applied, or missed, rather than the game itself.

Phil Pournelle (LTSG) looked at refinement of wargames throughout the wargaming lifecycle. He emphasized that game methodology needs to be matched to the questions being asked, and what the designer or sponsor thinks about a game is not always what the audience (or the sponsors’ boss) thinks. Games need to be supported by a joint planning process prior to the game, and teams will have to adjust plans as they interact with adversaries. Insights from the game should then inform refinement of the next game. He also discussed capturing lessons, through rapporteurs, surveys, hotwash, and structured analytical techniques—and the strengths and weaknesses of each. He noted the particular value of critical event analysis to understand game trajectories and their drivers. These critical events may generate questions for future examination.

Phil also discussed the Defense Wargame Alignment Group (DWAG) in the US Department of Defense, including the role of the Wargame Incentive Fund and Wargame Repository. In subsequent discussion, Phil stressed the importance of playing games widely to develop wargame design skills, and to acquaint oneself with the various techniques, methods, and game mechanics that are available.

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Phil Pournelle highlights the strengths and weaknesses of different wargaming approaches.

LtGen Sir David Capewell offered a (retired) senior officer’s perspective in a presentation on wargaming to win in a volatile future. He stressed the value of wargaming as a method for fostering critical thinking skills. He argued that we are in the midst of a new and emerging geostrategic environment, characterized by the emergence of new issues and dynamics. He underscored the changing information environment, the challenged posed by (volatile) adversaries, and the “hybrid conundrum” whereby it is difficult to know how to respond to irregular challenges. He suggested that it was difficult to find Red Team players that could effectively represent this.

There was much here I agreed with, and it was good to have such a senior (former) officer speaking to the group to offer a wargame-user’s perspective. However, it is also important to move beyond catch-phrases. Some aspects of change, it seemed to me, were overemphasized: geopolitics has always been complex and dynamic, especially outside the Cold War paradigm. Much of what is termed hybrid warfare is composed of tools and approaches that have been in use for decades, even centuries. I am not suggesting that there is nothing new—there absolutely is. However, what is key is to determine what has changed (irregular actors using UAVs) and what has not (massed artillery fires kill infantry), in a context of both continuity and innovation.

For me, the most important contribution of the presentation was to underscore the need for wargame designers to wrap their games in appropriate jargon if they are to attract the attention of some senior decision-makers.

In the subsequent question and answer, Sir Capewell was asked if he had ever changed his mind as the result of a wargame. He said he had. In the case of Afghanistan, wargames suggested that troops could be disengaged quickly and quietly at night, rather than having to first reinforce forward. He also pointed to the 2014 West Africa Ebola crisis, where wargaming highlighted the importance of cultural practice (notably body-washing and handling) in limiting the spread of disease. I found this a somewhat interesting response, given that this was understood by many public health professionals well before the epidemic, the issue being noted (for example) in humanitarian guidance sponsored by the UK Department for International Development in 2002. This suggests that planning wargames for senior staff may actually serve an educational function too, flagging issues that they might otherwise fail to appreciate from briefing or other materials.

After lunch, a panel chaired by Colin Marston (Dstl) discussed various issues of wargame analysis. I was one of the panelists, so my notes here are a little more hurried.

LtCol Rob Burks (US Army) spoke on US/DoD best and worst practices. He warned of the challenges posed by wargame teams without the necessary skills, unclear objectives and questions, and weak data collection and management plans. He stressed the importance of dialogue with the sponsor to clarify objectives and key questions, noting that while you can’t always get what you want, if you try sometime you find you get what you need. He stressed the importance of playtesting—and not only playtesting the game design, but the data collection and analysis plan too. Knowing who the players are is important, before the game design is finished. He also noted that games are at risk of being sidetracked, and that contingency plans and parking lots can be useful tools in game facilitation (“let’s park that issue now and get back to it later” so that you can focus on main issue).

Peter Williams (DST) addressed designing analytical games with a view to successful data capture, management, and analysis. He outlined a holistic wargame design process, whereby understanding the client problem leads on to designing an appropriate wargame, collecting good data, undertaking good analysis to produce good answers. He emphasized the value of break-point analysis, which seeks to determine where and when the capability of force X is likely to work, and why—and the point at which it is no longer effective. A wargame needs to enable smart people to be smart (and innovative and devious),  and the tools need to be present in the game to allow them to do this.

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Peter Williams discusses the holistic wargame process/

I delivered my report on the DIRE STRAITS experiment from Connections 2017, addressing cognitive bias in wargame analysis (slides here). This was similar to the presentation I made in July at the Connections US conference. Our findings suggested that different analytical teams assigned to report on the same wargame might reach very different conclusions. Various types of cognitive bias (such as confirmation bias) might be responsible for this. The implication was that greater attention needed to be paid to how game analysis was developed and aggregated, including the possible use of a Red Team analytical cell to provide a possibly alternative perspective on the findings.

The next session of the conference was an informal panel discussion on wargame facilitation, featuring Tom Mouat, Jim Wallman, and Paul Strong (Dstl), and myself. Various questions had been gathered from conference participants over the past two days, and Graham-Longley Brown acted as questioner. Some important issues were raised, including dealing with difficult players, the dangers of assuming a too-active role, and various mistakes we had made in the past.

Finally, it fell to Phil Sabin (KCL) to make some concluding comments on the conference. The main thrust of his remarks was the need to increase the diversity of the wargaming community, in terms of gender, ethnic and national background, age, and experience. Connections UK did very well in attracting an international audience, with participants from 19 different countries. Judging from the sixty or so people who opted for the introduction to wargaming course, the conference also did well at bringing newcomers into the community. Half or more of those in attendance were not hobby wargamers, highlighting how effective Connections UK has been in expanding the community beyond the usual gaming geeks.

Regarding gender, however, there remains considerable room for improvement. By my rough estimate, around 10-15% of participants (and fewer than 5% of presenters and panel chairs) were women—a somewhat lower proportion than at American version. This is, of course, an issue we have discussed before at PAXsims, and to the organizers’ credit the issue was raised and recognized repeatedly. Half of the PAXsims contingent (comprising myself and Tom Mouat, plus research associates Harrison Brewer, Kia Kouyoumjian, and Juliette Le Ménahèze, and volunteer Keiko Ivinson) were women, so I would like to think we made our own modest contribution in that direction.

Overall, it was a very productive and stimulating three days. Having attended Connections US in July, it is interesting to reflect on the subtle differences between the two events. The focus and composition of the latter can vary a little depending on where it is held, but in general there are significantly more serving military folks with wargaming somewhere in their job descriptions or on their to-do lists. Connections UK seems to attract more with POL-MIL interests, as well as gamers who have some position or interaction with government but aren’t necessarily doing much official gaming. Given that US defence expenditures are around 13 times higher than those of Britain, that is to be expected. There is also a certain eccentricity to many British (hobby) wargamers that affects the official side too—I’m not sure that the UK megagame opener would necessarily translate well to a US professional setting. The US conference often delves deeper into issues of methodology (in part because of the efforts of people like Yuna Wong and Stephen Downes-Martin to deepen the intellectual and research foundations of wargaming). However, many UK (and European) wargamers are operating in more austere resource environments, and in some cases things that work in well-funded US wargames may be less feasible elsewhere in NATO and beyond.

 

UPDATE: the conference presentations are all now available at the Connections UK website.

Review: The Pentagon’s Urban COIN Wargame (1966)

John Curry, ed., The Pentagon’s Urban COIN Wargame (1966) (History of Wargaming Project, 2018). 100pp. £12.95pb.

pentagonurbancoincover.gifIn this volume John Curry has republished the rules of URB-COIN, an urban counter-insurgency game designed by Abt Associates for the Advanced Research Projects Agency (US Department of Defense) in the mid-1960s—and a very quirky game it is too. Set in a generic city in a generic country, it combines find-the-secret-players mechanics (such as found in games like Werewolf or Secret Hitler) with the large-scale interaction of a megagame. Players represent government officials, police, and ordinary citizens (upper class bankers and lawyers; middle class managers and shopkeepers; and lower class clerks, waiters, utility workers, railway employees, and the unemployed). Some of the government employees and ordinary citizens are secret insurgents as well, while others are secret police agents. Each player has a certain amount of money and white (population) chips, and some players also have blue (police) chips or red (arms and bombs) chips. Play is continuous, with every 20 minutes representing a “day,”

URB-COIN was one of a series of POL-MIL wargames developed for ARPA at this time, including AGILE-COIN (a rural insurgency game) and POLITICA. These games had some value for training and encouraging critical reflection on issues of insurgency/counter-insurgency, but cannot really be thought of as sophisticated analytical tools, and never saw widespread use. In a January 1966 playtest of URB-COIN at the US Air Force Academy, 60% of participants rated it “better” than other training techniques, with the greatest value being the exploration “alternative tactical and strategic approaches.”

The Abt Associates report on URB-COIN can be found (for free) here, via the Defense Technical Information Center. The History of Wargaming Project publication is essentially a reprint of that same report, together with a foreword, a brief discussion of other counterinsurgency games, and a bibliography.

Connections UK approaches!

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The Connections UK professional wargaming conference at King’s College London is fast approaching on 4-6 September, and several of the PAXsims team will be there: myself and Tom Mouat, plus research associates Harrison Brewer, Juliette Le Ménahèze, and Kia Kouyoumjian. Be sure to say hello!

Among other things, I’ll be talking about cognitive challenges in wargame analysis, and Tom and I will be taking part in a panel session on game facilitation.

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As for games, Harrison and Juliette will be running demonstration games of We Are Coming, Nineveh!, a tactical/operational-level game of the Iraqi government campaign to liberate western Mosul from the forces of Daesh in February-July 2017. Tom will be demonstrating Section Commander, a small-unit role-playing game intended to explore tactics, techniques, procedures, and equipment selection.

Oh, and have you been dying to buy a copy of AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game but didn’t want to pay postage to the UK? Email me before I leave, and I’ll put one (maximum) in my luggage for you.

Jane’s Intelligence Review on matrix gaming

The September issue of Jane’s Intelligence Review has an excellent article by Neil Ashdown assessing matrix games as an analytical tool.

Key points

  • Matrix games are comparatively simple wargames, emphasising creativity and original thought, which have been used by a range of government agencies and militaries.
  • These games are focused on the participants’ intentions, which makes them better suited for analysing political-military strategy and novel or obscure subjects, such as cyber security.
  • However, this technique is unsuitable for analysing granular tactical scenarios, and the games’ relatively low cost and complexity can reduce their attractiveness.

 

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I would like to thank Neil and JIR for making it available (pdf copy at the link above) to PAXsims readers. If you are interested in reading more about the technique, there are many matrix gaming articles available here at PAXsims, the History of Wargaming Project has just published the Matrix Game Handbook, and you can purchase the Matrix Game Construction Kit (MaGCK) User Guide as a downloadable pdf.

The STRIKE! Battlegroup Tactical Wargame

STRIKE is a wargame developed at the UK Defence Science and Technology Laboratory for the British Army, to enable them to examine novel tactical concepts to use with the UK’s new Strike brigade. The following piece was shared with PAXsims by STRIKE’s chief developer, Mike Young.


The British Army is being equipped with a new generation of fighting vehicles that will provide the core combat elements within the new Strike Brigades.  The vehicles are an 8 wheeled infantry transport platform known as the Mechanised Infantry Vehicle (“MIV”) and a family of vehicles based around the AJAX platform.  The British Army was keen to understand how the Strike Brigade would perform on the battlefield so commissioned a series of manual wargames to examine their operational effectiveness.  I facilitated at these wargames and produced the STRIKE! wargame as a result.

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STRIKE! is a detailed tactical level game, based around one inch square counters each representing a platoon of 3 or 4 vehicles. There are counters to represent all the fighting elements of the Strike Brigade as well as an Armoured Infantry Brigade on the Blue side, and a full mechanised brigade and an airborne battalion on the Red side.  The game also represents helicopter and engineering assets and, if required, has an alternative Red ORBAT with less sophisticated equipment.  Three large hex maps of different terrain types have been produced to go with the game along with a scenario booklet, enabling many different tactical situations to be examined.  The hexes on the map represent an area 500 metres across, and each game turn represents half an hour of real time.

The counters display a unit ID, movement, firepower and protection details.  A detailed set of rules is provided, although after a PowerPoint brief  the players were able play the game using a single A4 quick reference sheet to calculate combat results.

The reaction to the game was extremely positive and enthusiastic, with all six copies of the game being eagerly received by the customer.

As the customer said:

It is absolutely AWESOME. I am so pleased. They had it manufactured professionally and have written fantastically clear rules, crib cards, notes, ORBAT sheets etc. They have missed nothing. Thank you very much indeed for organising the project. This is going to be hugely helpful for the Brigade and I hope that we will be able to spread the word across the Armoured Infantry Brigades too.

Capt H J B Jordan LG | SO3 Experimentation | STRIKE Experimentation Group

We expect the British Army to make great use of this new analytical game that Dstl has developed, and look forward to designing and facilitating many more wargames with them in the future.

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Getting ready for the WATU wargame

The Western Approaches war museum (Liverpool) has announced it:

The components are being made:

And, if you can’t wait, you can always try out the BBC’s Western Approaches Tactical Unit online browser game (requires Flash) from a few years ago.

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Defense One: Better wargaming is helping the US military navigate a turbulent era

DefenseOne.jpegDefense One features an article by COL Garrett Heath (Studies, Analysis, and Gaming Division at the Pentagon Joint Staff) and Oleg Svet (senior defense analyst, STAG) reviewing US Department of Defense efforts over the past three years to revitalize and expand wargaming. The piece includes an update on both the Pentagon’s wargame repository and the  Warfighting Incentive Fund grants.

The Repository has already proven its worth and will continue to benefit future generations of wargamers. WIF’s annual $10 million has enabled wargames that otherwise would not have occurred, revealed critical gaps, supported 3-star and above decision-making, and contributed to finding solutions to vulnerabilities that the Department was not previously aware of.

At present, the demand for WIF funding exceeds the supply, and its administrators will strive to select the best games that support decision making by the department’s senior leaders, explore its most pressing challenges, and support the National Defense Strategy. Wargames are uniquely positioned to foster judicious decision-making, especially among senior defense leaders, because by design they incorporate active adversaries, the effects of partners and allies, and the use of disruptive technological within the operational landscape. In other words, they simulate a truer-to-life depiction of future wars than other types of analytical activities cannot. Analytical wargames achieve outcomes that in the real world would endanger lives and possibly cost untold sums; stress-test commonly-accepted concepts of operation; allow participants to design innovative solutions to mitigate risks; and ultimately enable our nation to stay ahead of our adversaries. Senior leaders and action officers alike know the unique value of analytical wargames, and it is vital that they have the resources and the tools they need to take advantage of this practice.

You’ll find the full article here.

h/t Nigel Jordan-Barber

DRDC: Investigating wargaming and capability based planning

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Back in January, Murray Dixson and Fred Ma at Defence Research and Development Canada published a valuable paper entitled An Investigation into Wargaming Methods to Enhance Capability Based Planning. This is a summary of a DRDC project in which “Several wargaming methods are investigated as possible ways to enhance the Capability Based Planning (CBP) process in the areas of capability requirements identification and force planning scenario validation”

The concept behind the methodology was to begin the exploration of wargaming methods with several game styles chosen based on the knowledge and experience of the SPORT [Strategic Planning Operational Research Team] staff, and in parallel, build familiarity over the period of the work with wargaming methods through literature reviews and exposure to the wargaming community. The relevant wargaming community exists primarily amongst the five eyes allies through forums such as (but not limited to) the “Connections” wargaming conferences and the Military Operations Research Society (MORS) workshops and conferences [16][17].

The knowledge gained from the literature and the wargaming community influenced possible adjustments to the methods chosen as the explorations proceeded. There was an implicit feedback loop in place where the knowledge and experience gained from each game iteration was used to decide on the next steps of the testing which involved either running more iterations of the game or choosing another game type.

Ideally, the methodology was intended to include these elements:

  1. Try out several game styles to see if any had any particular advantages for CBP in terms of the issues observed and discussed in the previous section
  2. Run several iterations of each game style to generate some (limited) statistics from which informative or indicative trends might emerge
  3. Run multiple game iterations with different groups of players to try and obtain a broader range of inputs and experiences with playing the games
  4. Compare the wargame outputs to those from the JCPTs [Joint Capability Planning Team] and draw conclusions about whether the wargaming methods tested showed any potential benefit for addressing the issues discussed earlier with CBP

The games used in the study included ISIS Crisis and several other matrix games; the Rapid Campaign Assessment Toolset (RCAT, developed by the UK Defence Science and Technology Laboratory and Cranfield University); and PAXsims’ very own AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game. It should be noted, of course, that  these were not necessarily designed to support Capability Based Planning—rather, DRDC was playtesting them for more basic insight as to whether a particular sort of game approach might contribute to capability requirements identification and force planning scenario validation.

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The study’s conclusions were as follows:

In this work, we explored several wargaming techniques as a way to mitigate some of the concerns and observations originating from previous cycles of CBP. There was concern that the capability analyses in Phase 2 could become too narrowly focussed and that the planning scenarios may not be adequately validated before the JCPT capability analysis. The properties of table top wargames lend themselves to addressing problems like this because they immerse players in the scenario in a way not possible by simply reading a scenario narrative from a document. The resulting experiential learning provides a richer experience for the player, which translates into a more holistically encompassing view and understanding of the key elements of the scenario.

We therefore investigated the potential of tabletop wargames to enhance the identification of capabilities under CBP and to act as a scenario validation mechanism. We developed a hypothesis that wargaming would enhance capability identification through the broader understanding of the scenario and also through a better understanding of the driving factors therein.

The number of game styles and trials was limited, as was the range of backgrounds of the players that were able to participate. Nonetheless, three styles of game (a traditional tabletop game (RCAT), matrix games and a commercial game) were examined, and nine trials spread across them were run.

From the limited data, we saw clear indications that playing the games would be an effective way of checking the consistency and believability of a scenario, thus providing a validation mechanism.

The data indicated that by playing the games, players felt that they had a better sense of the key drivers of the scenarios. We interpreted that finding to be an indication that wargaming, through the concept of experiential learning, could provide JCPT members with a broader understanding of an FDS which logically should reduce the risk of them becoming too narrowly focussed in their capability assessments. However, the results were assessed as inconclusive with respect to the application of wargaming to directly identifying capability needs. A key contributor to this result was that we were not able to test a game that was properly designed for that purpose, as there wasn’t enough time and people to do a best-practices “design-test-run” game development cycle.

Although the time and personnel resource constraints did not allow for testing additional game styles or running more iterations, it was clear that the game styles tested are feasible and reasonable choices for future use, given the levels of resources that are available now and that are expected in the future. Similarly, it was not possible to conduct a comparison of the utility of the wargaming method with that of the current CBP model, which employs the OPP; hence, this too remains an open question.

At the level of granularity of strategic planning, tabletop wargaming has potential as a supporting element of scenario design and qualitative analysis. It brings together the knowledge embedded in the game design with the knowledge of participants (players, facilitators/adjudicators, control personnel) in order to explore plausible courses of events resulting from decisions made from the perspectives of the various roles. It can reveal nuances that are not obvious from scenario descriptions alone, and can illuminate relevant and driving factors associated with a scenario. It is not a method to statistically characterise selectively defined quantifications for a scenario.

To summarise the findings above, although the data from our trials is rather limited, we believe that there is evidence to support the hypothesis that wargaming can improve scenario validation. However, we judge the data to be inconclusive on whether it would improve capability identification.

Organising wargames always requires time and people resources. The amount is dictated by the scale and complexity of the game. The present work demonstrated that games suitable for the tasks in this project are feasible within our resource constraints. However, obtaining players on an ongoing basis, new or not, can present a challenge for which senior leadership support will be needed if it is to be met. Despite these challenges, a reasonable selection of game styles and scenarios was explored in this work and we had success (albeit limited) with bringing in players with diverse backgrounds.

A strength of wargaming is that game styles can be highly varied to suit different purposes, e.g., exploring plausible outcomes, scenario validation, familiarising planners with driving factors and training. In our trials, wargaming illuminated the dynamics that drive a scenario, uncovered logical inconsistencies (applicable to scenario validation), and sometimes revealed an unanticipated course of events. Applying wargaming to scenario validation should improve scenario design, while the insights into the driving factors would inform JCPT analyses, e.g., formulation of CoAs, required capabilities, MoC assessments, and capability delivery options.

In the end, this work revealed that none of the game designs trialled were optimally suited for explicit identification of capabilities. In the designs trialled, capability requirements were mostly implied by player CoAs and would have to be explicitly identified via a post hoc analysis. Although the Baseline matrix game did explicitly ask players about capability requirements, the ones identified were, in our view, not significantly different from those observed from a JCPT analysis; hence, the game design would need changes to guide players toward more innovative ideas.

We note that capabilities at tiers 2 and 3 in the JCF are defined to be generic, technology-independent, and thus enduring. Hence, it may be uncommon to identify wholly new capability requirements at that level, though any that are identified would certainly be informative. We expect that these would likely arise from an unanticipated course of events and/or CoAs. In contrast to tiers 2 and 3 capabilities, we noticed that players often thought in terms of, and identified, finer grain capabilities more readily (i.e., those tied to specific technologies, platforms, or assets), along with circumstantial factors that determine what capabilities make sense, at least in part.

Based on the limitations experienced in executing our wargames, it is possible that identification of CoAs and capabilities can be improved by mixing players from diverse backgrounds to enhance synergy, e.g., including relevant geopolitical expertise, operational experience, and futurist backgrounds. More open-ended games, e.g., Matrix style, have the flexibility to leverage the greater knowledge and ideas. In view of the challenges in obtaining players, this could be treated as an ideal to capitalise on, if it can be realised, and if it makes sense for the particular CBP phase in which a wargame is conducted.

Distilling wargaming wisdom at Dstl

The following report has been cleared for release by the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (public release identifier DSTL/PUB110424).


 

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The legendary Dstl coin holds off RED forces on the outskirts of a small village.

At the end of June I spent a very pleasant week at the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory in Portsdown West (Portsmouth), discussing various topics with members of the wargaming team there and others. I made similar visits in 2016 and 2017, and—as with the earlier occasions—this trip was very stimulating, productive, and enjoyable.

Monday

Day 1 of my visit started with a presentation on wargaming and forecasting (slides/pdf). Wargamers often intone that “wargamers are not predictions,” largely so that clients and participants will not hold games to an unreasonable standard of predictive accuracy. However, while wargames do not generate detailed findings about the future, they do contain an element of prediction in that they are usually intended to explore plausible futures. Assessing that a future scenario is plausible is, after all, an act of forecasting in itself.

Dstl Forecasting

Given this, the literature on political forecasting offers some guidance as to how games might be better configured to increase foresight. I also suggested that wargames were best used as an adjunct to other forecasting methods (helping us to identify key junctures, challenge assumptions, and encourage discussion) rather than a method in and of themselves.

This was followed by a second presentation on ethical challenges in wargaming (slides/pdf). Here I addressed three major themes:

  • The use of serious games to teach about ethical decision-making, the laws of armed conflict, and similar topics.
  • The use of games to explore the dynamics of mass atrocity and human rights abuses, so that we might develop appropriate policy responses.
  • Finally, I discussed some of the ethical issues that might arise in game design and facilitation.

I was especially pleased with this presentation, since it raised issues that have not been discussed much within the professional community. How should games address sensitive issues such as religion and ethnicity? How can a game explore topics like torture, mass atrocity, or sexual and gender-based violence without having adverse effects on participants who may have had personal traumatic experience of such things? What is our ethical obligation to produce high quality games, given the implications of our work for policy or war-fighting? What is our obligation to produce games that have positive moral effects—and what should we do if we believe a game design might be put to unethical purposes? Interestingly, I was not the only one in attendance who had refused work from a client because we were uncomfortable with who might be using a game and what it might be used it for. (This is, of course, a rather more difficult choice if working on wargame design as a government employee.)

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Much of the latter part of the session involved case studies to which members of the audience were invited to respond. How does one deal with player humour that might be seen as insensitive or offensive by some, given the game scenario? How does one incorporate issues of (countering) sexual exploitation and violence in wargames given the possible effects on players who have experienced the same in their personal or professional lives?

Next, came a session devoted to gaming indirect social media and cyber effects (slides/pdf). I started off by warning that not everything is new under the sun, and that communities and combatants alike have always leveraged new information and communication technologies to enhance their influence and effect. Certainly, the digital age had made it easier to do this, and to reach more people faster than ever before. However, the magnitude of this change might sometimes be exaggerated.

Dstl Social Media Cyber

Maj. Tom Mouat (Defence Academy of the UK) and I then moved on to discussing a variety of interesting games and game mechanics that might be adapted to explore such issues. These included:

 

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Demonstrating influence dynamics in Hostage Negotiator.

Tuesday

The second day of my visit largely involved me participating in, and commenting on, other people’s wargames, which is always an enjoyable task. In the morning, our focus was matrix gaming. I made a quick presentation on the status of the Matrix Game Construction Kit, then Tom facilitated a session of the High North matrix game. This went very well, with Russia, the US and Canada all using environmental concerns to project their regulatory influence well beyond their established Exclusive Economic Zones. Chinese efforts to meddle in a Greenland independence referendum went badly wrong, while “the spirit of capitalism” pursued a variety of economic opportunities as the polar ice cap slowly receded due to global climate change. The session provided ample opportunities to discuss both matrix game design and game facilitation.

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Gaming the “High North.”

After lunch, we discussed support for RAF wargaming. As part of this, Flt. Lt. Colin Bell (RAF) demonstrated three educational games he has developed for training cadets. I particularly enjoyed his air logistics games (in which players must move personnel and supplies using a variety of air assets to various locations, in response to randomly-drawn mission cards), and a game that explored mission planning and execution for offensive and defensive air operations. Playing a few turns of the latter, we lost a few Typhoons in our fighter sweep ahead of our main force but came out slightly ahead in air-to-air engagement. A heavy concentration of radar targets suggested an impending inbound enemy attack on our air defence command centre, so we ordered two other fighter groups to reposition themselves to respond. Meanwhile, we had two strike packages headed towards our target—an enemy destroyer, docked in port—when the game had to be brought to an early end.

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RAF wargaming—teaching about air logistics.

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More RAF wargaming. Strike package inbound!

Wednesday

Day three of my visit involved a morning spent at Dstl’s annual historical analysis symposium. My own paper explored strategic communications, signaling, and deterrence in the specific context of Syrian use of chemical weapons (slides/pdf). Here I drew upon both the scholarly literature on deterrence and the findings of wargames to suggest how it is that what one side regards as a robust signal of capability and credible commitment might be seen rather differently by the recipient—in part because each side operates in a very different organizational and political context.

Dstl Communications

Wednesday evening was spent at the mess of HMS Excellent, the Royal Navy “stone frigate” (shore establishment) on Whale Island, Portsmouth. After dinner, not surprisingly, we all turned our attention to some less serious gaming. While some of the group plotted to assassinate Hitler in Black Orchestra, the rest of us played Bloc by Bloc. I’m happy to report that fascism had a bad day: Hitler went down in the former game, while in the latter a progressive revolutionary coalition of workers, students, anarcho-neighbours, and prisoners brought down the repressive state system.

Thursday

The fourth day of my trip was wholly devoted to a day-long workshop on wargame adjudication (slides/pdf). In the morning, Tom and I started with a presentation on the topic, drawing upon our own experience. Adjudication runs along a spectrum from rigid (rules-based) to free kriegsspiel, with matrix games and hybrid approaches somewhere in between. Adjudication also varies depending on whether game play is turn-based, continuous, or a mix of these.

I suggested that wargame facilitators and adjudicators stand astride two essential mandates, sometimes complementary, but also sometimes in tension: that of the technician (committed to attaining the technical goals of the game) and the theatre director (responsible for bringing alive the imaginary world of the game narrative).

After lunch, we collectively discussed two recent Dstl games and the adjudication challenges each had presented. We then broke into smaller groups, and discussed how we might address a number of game adjudication vignettes:

  • Dealing with an adjudication error in combat resolution. Do you rewind the game, admit the error but press ahead regardless, or hide the mistake from the players?
  • What sort of adjudication would be most appropriate for a game intended to examine security planning for a forthcoming high-profile diplomatic visit, and why?
  • How should one deal with a (more senior, male) SME who is persistently pestering a (junior, female) player with criticisms of the game system?
  • How might adjudication approaches be configured to better withstand sponsor pressure to reach predetermined conclusions?

Interestingly, almost all of the participants felt that an adjudicator should cover up a minor error during a game if the mistake had no major game-changing effects and if informing players would “break the bubble” of narrative engagement—only disclosing the glitch after the game was over, depending on the participants and client. I concur and have done it myself, but I know others who don’t and wouldn’t. The issue was one that was further debated at the Connections US wargaming conference a few weeks later, during a session on in-stride adjudication.

Friday

The last day of my visit involved a trip to the Maritime Warfare School at HMS Collingwoodfor a playtest of the Western Approaches Tactical Unit naval escort game. PAXsims has extensively covered the work that Paul Strong and Sally David have done on WATU and its impressive contribution to World War Two naval tactics and training, and it was an absolute delight to see how it all worked.

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Playtesting the WATU wargame.

During the playtest, I commanded one of the Type-VII U-boats attacking a convoy headed from Liverpool to Halifax. I did well, using the darkness to maneuver within the convoy formation and torpedoing three merchantmen before ordering a deep dive and hard turn to port to evade the now-alerted escorts. Initial depth charges fell well wide of their mark, but a couple of escorts did manage to ping my boat with ASDIC and had turned course towards us.

Just then, explosions at the far side of the convoy signaled that another German submarine had found its prey—hopefully distracting them while I dived even deeper and headed to the rear of the convoy. My intention was to surface once the action had passed me by, and then use my deck gun to finish off any damaged ships that were straggling behind the main formation.

We had to bring the game to an end at this point, but I must say it went well for an initial playtest. I think all of us who were there were very proud to be recreating a great moment in wargaming history. Sally Davis has also written up a brief account, which I have also posted to PAXsims.

The WATU wargame will be demonstrated at King’s College London in September, during the Connections UK wargaming conference, and shortly after that in a special session at the Western Approaches Museum in Liverpool. I am especially looking forward to the latter—an opportunity to conduct a WATU game in the very rooms used to command the North Atlantic convoys during WWII.

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Before I left, Dstl presented me with both one of their rare challenge coins (see picture at top) and a copy of  their STRIKE! Battlegroup Tactical Wargame. Dstl has developed this manual wargame for the British Army to help it examine how the Strike Brigade would perform on the battlefield—we will be providing more detail on the game in a future PAXsims article. At McGill University I intend to use STRIKE in my conflict simulation course next year to illustrate fundamental elements of basic wargame design (such terrain and capability modelling), so you may see some after action reports here too.

 

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