PAXsims

Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Registration open for Connections US 2019

A message from Tim Wilkie (National Defense University):

This year’s Connections conference will be hosted by the Army War College and held at the Army Heritage and Education Center (AHEC) in Carlisle, PA, August 13-16.   Since 1993, Connections has brought together practitioners from all aspects of the wargaming field to learn from each other, share best practices, and grow the discipline.  We seek to “advance and preserve the art, science, and application of wargaming,” and we do so through a variety of events at each year’s conference, including speaker panels, workshops, working groups, game demonstrations and playtests, and more.  We welcome every background: military and civilian, educators and analysts, government and commercial hobbyist press, U.S. and international.  Our participants use gaming for research, analysis, education, and to inform policy, and there is much that we can learn from one another.

On behalf of my conference co-chair and the founder of the Connections conference, Matt Caffrey, I am pleased to announce that registration for Connections 2019 is now open.  You can reach the registration form from the conference website.

The website also contains additional information about the conference, including the draft agenda, directions, hotel information, and more.

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McGill end-of-term gaming update 2019

Classes are now over for the Winter 2019 term at McGill University, and it is exam-and-grading season. I have also now had a chance to review the various projects produced in my conflict simulation course (POLI 422). There are many very interesting and well-executed game designs.

The course was supported this year by Dr. Ben Taylor from Defence Research and Development Canada. The students and I were very grateful for his assistance.

 

ADVANCED OPERATIONS

Advanced Operations is a two map blind/closed game of tactical urban operations at the platoon level. The map depicts an urban neighbourhood, including vantage points, doorways, fields of fire, street clutter, and multi-story buildings. The basic combat system is straight-forward, intuitive, and quite effective. The Blue player can equip themselves before a mission with a range of new technologies and capabilities in order to assess their impact on urban tactics, ranging from small drones to power-assisted armour to robots (all based on weapons in development of field-testing).

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CARTEL

Cartel is a multi-player game examining the drug trade in Mexico, focusing on the era of large criminal syndicates. Players generate money through smuggling drugs from Central/South America into the United States and from other illegal activities. To move drugs through the country, however, they need to establish control and influence over a chain of key cities, and once the drugs have been delivered need to launder their illicit proceeds. The winner is the drug lord who amasses the most luxury items. However, be careful: as your notoriety grows, you become more of a target (and might even be arrested and extradited to the United States).

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FALLEN REPUBLIC

Fallen Republic is a semi-cooperative game in which South Korea, the United States and China struggle to stabilize North Korea after the collapse of the communist regime there. To do so they need to provide security, deliver food and medical supplies to needy populations, build local public administration, restart the economy, and win local popular support. Asymmetrical and semi-secret victory conditions can make it difficult to cooperate, while a fourth player—Chaos, representing all the fog, friction, and wicked problems of stabilization operations —wins by preventing the others from achieving their objectives.

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INTELLIGENCE COLLECTION

Intelligence Collection explores the ISTAR (Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition, Reconnaissance) and HUMINT requirements of counterinsurgency campaigns. It is a three map closed game, meaning that players only know the location of their own assets and enemy assets they have detected. Various Red actions, such as training insurgents, bomb-making, and smuggling—all have detection probabilities attached, which in turn are affected by patrolling, HUMINT collection, and other Blue actions. Interrogation of captured insurgents may also reveal information, such as who recruited them or where they were trained.

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LITTLE GREEN MEN

Little Green Men examines the war in Ukraine, and Russian hybrid warfare. The game combines both map-based area movement/combat with card-based policy initiatives. Russia needs to be careful that it’ support for opposition forces doesn’t become too obvious, or it risks stepped-up NATO assistance to the Kiev government.

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MELTDOWN

As the Arctic ice slowly melts, Canada, the US, Russia, the Scandinavian countries, and China are faced with new challenges and threats. Should new oil, mining, and fisheries resources be exploited? How should this be balanced against environmental management? What are the implications of transpolar shipping? Meltdown is both competitive and semi-cooperative—at the end of the game, the more heavily the Arctic is being exploited, the larger the chance of ecological collapse. The game allows for players to collectively change the game rules during play, through the mechanism of the Arctic Council. The map mechanic is cool too—as the ice melts you remove blocs of it from the game board, revealing the now-accessible resources beneath.

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MISSION RECONSTRUCTION

Mosul has been liberated by ISIS control, and the Baghdad government must reconstruct the areas of northern and western Iraq ravaged by the extremist group. However, ISIS seeks to disrupt such efforts, mobilize new recruits, rebuild its forces, and undermine local security. In MISSION RECONSTRUCTION the two sides each select their actions from a menu of options each turn. Event cards may also produce other crises that must be resolved if the stability of the country and the legitimacy of the government is to be enhanced.

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This is the first time I’ve taught the course as a lecture course, with 31 students—last year it was run as a seminar with only nine, which gave me more opportunity to work with a smaller number of game projects. It is also ambitious to fit it all into one term—Phil Sabin’s former wargaming module at King’s College London was a full year graduate course. Nevertheless, I think things generally worked well.

This year the teams were groups of five. Next year I think I’ll reduce that to four. While larger teams means more human resources to work on game design and playtesting, it also aggravates coordination and communication problems. I’ll also introduce a system whereby student evaluate the relative contribution of other team members. I have never been fond of these since they can be abused, but I think it will be worthwhile on balance. While most groups worked well, there were a few that generated complaints that a member wasn’t pulling their weight.

Despite constant nagging from me that the teams needed to move rapidly to prototyping and hence playtesting, I think all but one of the groups wished they had started on their project earlier than they did. Indeed, some did not do so until shortly before their interim “status report” was due. Next year I’ll require two such reports, with one of them even earlier in the term.

Finally, I’m pleased to announce that the 2019 Defence Research and Development Canada wargame design award (awarded by DRDC to the best project in the class) went to the team that produced ADVANCED OPERATIONS. Well done!

 

Simulation and gaming miscellnary, 22 April 2019

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PAXsims is pleased to present some recent items on conflict simulation and serious games that might be of interest to our viewers.

PAXsims

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At War on the Rocks, James Lacey examines the use of wargames to explore contemporary great power politics:

The United States can win World War III, but it’s going to be ugly and it better end quick, or everyone starts looking for the nuclear trigger.

:That is the verdict of a Marine Corps War College wargame I organized that allowed students to fight a multiple great state conflict last week. To set the stage, the students were given an eight-year road-to-war, during which time Russia seized the Baltics and all of Ukraine. Consequently, the scenario starts with a surging Russia threatening Poland. Similar to 1939, Poland became the catalyst that finally focused NATO’s attention on the looming Russian threat, leading to a massing of both NATO and Russian forces on the new Eastern Front. China begins the scenario in the midst of a debt-related financial crisis and plans to use America’s distraction with Russia to grab Taiwan and focus popular discontent outward. And Kim Jong-un, ever the opportunist, decides that the time has arrived to unify the Korean peninsula under his rule. For purposes of the wargame, each of these events occurred simultaneously.

Teams were allowed to invest in advance in capabilities and emerging technologies:

The wargames were played by six student teams, or approximately five persons each. There were three red teams, representing Russia, China, and North Korea; combatting three blue teams representing Taiwan, Indo-Pacific Command (Korea conflict) and European Command. All of these teams were permitted to coordinate their activities both before the conflict and during. Interestingly, although it was not part of the original player organization the Blue side found it necessary to have a player take on the role of the Joint Staff, to better coordinate global activities.

Prior to the wargame, the students were given a list of approximately 75 items they could invest in that would give them certain advantages during the game. Nearly everything was on the table, from buying an additional carrier or brigade combat team, to taking a shot at getting quantum computing technology to work. Each team was given $200 billion dollars to invest, with the Russians and Chinese being forced to split their funding. Every team invested heavily in hypersonic technology, cyber (offensive and defensive), space, and lasers. The U.S. team also invested a large sum in directed diplomacy. If they had not done so, Germany and two other NATO nations would not have shown up for the fight in Poland. Showing a deepening understanding of the crucial importance of logistics, both red and blue teams used their limited lasers to defend ports and major logistical centers.

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The games were adapted from GMT Games’ Next War series:

For those interested, the games used are all part of GMT’s Next War Series, designed by Mitchell Land and Greg Billingsley. I have found these commercial games are far more sophisticated and truer to what we expect future combat to look like than anything being used by RAND, which employs rules and methods designed for Simulations Publication, Inc. (SPI) games in the 1970s. But they are not alone in this, as most of the Department of Defense’s wargaming community is decades behind commercial game publishers when it comes to designing realistic games. In fact, if I was to fault the Next War series for anything, it is that it may be overly realistic and therefore very complex and difficult to master, and time consuming to play. Thankfully, the designer has agreed to produce a simplified rule-set that will allow for more student iterations without sacrificing realism.

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At the Navy Times, David Banks (American University) discusses how “War games shed light on real strategies.”

War games are useful intellectual aids because they force players to make decisions under pressure. While people may intellectually understand a problem, gaming forces them to think even harder.

As the Nobel Prize-winning economist Thomas Schelling put it, “one thing a person cannot do, no matter how rigorous his analysis or heroic his imagination, is to draw up a list of things that would never occur to him.”

By facing off against opponents over a well-designed war game, people can come to see how political and military structures interact and appreciate the trade-offs and complications that come with making decisions in a competitive environment.

He goes on to identify a few of his favourite games, ranking each for complexity and playing time: Washington’s War, 13 Days, Combat Commander: Europe, A Distant Plain, Twilight Struggle,

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The latest Strategy Bridge podcast features Ellie Bartels (RAND) discussing wargaming and national security decision-making.

Over the past several years there has been a renewed interest in using gaming as a method to investigate national security decision making, explore policy and strategy options, and gain experience as practitioners. In this episode of the Strategy Bridge Podcast, we talk with Elizabeth Bartels about how wargames are designed, the differences in approaching gaming as an art and a science, and how games are used to think creatively about global competition. Bartels is a PhD candidate studying national security policy gaming at the Pardee RAND Graduate School. 

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How can a simulation help students to better understand gender and interational relations? At the Active Learning in Political Science blog Susan Allen (University of Mississippi) has some ideas.

This semester I am teaching a course on gender and international politics for the first time. The first half of the course examines gender and representation, while the second half explores gender in international politics. I aimed to bridge these two sections with a simulation that I created on child marriage—something currently on the agenda of the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights and a likely topic at the Convention for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) this summer.

Students have been working in groups by regions of the world to expand their knowledge base beyond their own experiences. For the simulation, they became spokespersons for their designated regions. As additional preparation, students read about CEDAW and an excerpt from Women, Politics, and Power by Paxton and Hughes. I did not inform them beforehand of the particular issue that would be discussed as part of the simulation, other than to say that the activity would resemble a communication from CEDAW….

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The mainstream media seems to have almost daily pieces these days on the resurgence of Dungeons & Dragons. One thing noted in most pieces is how much more inclusive the game has become, with a large and growing proportion of female players.

I’ve long argued that D&D is a terrific way of refining a broad range of creative, leadership, and team skills—including developing wargame design and facilitation.

Simulation and gaming miscellany, 18 April 2019

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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. Many thanks to Aaron Davis and others for suggesting material for this latest edition.

PAXsims

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Poor Berylia. The country is under attack from hostile powers who “launch coordinated attacks against the country’s civilian communications infrastructure, causing disruptions in water purification systems, the power grid, 4G public safety networks and other essential services” —undermining recent elections and sparking civil unrest.

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As an article in Fifth Domain notes, this was the scenario for Locked Shields 2019, a recent NATO cyber exercise:

The drill, dubbed Locked Shields 2019, is billed as a “live-fire” event, which means all actions by six teams of competing network defenders will have immediate effects in the game-like environment.

More than 1,000 cybersecurity experts are expected to participate in the exercise, coordinated from Tallinn, Estonia, by NATO’s Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence. The organization has its headquarters in the Estonian capital.

Additional government organizers include the Estonian Defence Forces, the Finnish Defense Forces, U.S. European Command and the National Security Research Institute of the Republic of Korea.

A NATO team built around the alliance’s Communications and Information Agency, NCI, is the defending champion at this year’s Locked Shields event.

Following a series of cyberattacks against Estonia’s financial sector and communications nodes in 2007, the country has become a leading cybersecurity force within the alliance. Estonian officials have blamed the Russian government for the attacks, which Moscow has denied.

According to a press release from the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence, the team from France won the competition.

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PAXsims

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The North American Simulation and Gaming Association’s 2019 conference will be held in Chicago on 6-9 July 2019, on the theme of “PLAY TO PERFORM: Using Games, Simulations, and other Activities to Improve Performance.”

Our Conference begins with three pre-conference sessions. Each spearheads a certification program. Participants can just attend a pre-con or continue taking five additionally aligned break-out sessions and completing a post-program applied evaluation to earn a certificate of achievement.

  • GAMIFICATION: Turning the Everyday into Play
  • APPLIED IMPROV FACILITATION BOOTCAMP (Facilitated by our Friends from the Applied Improv Network)
  • USING READILY AVAILABLE COMMERCIAL TOYS AND GAMES AS LEARNING PLATFORMS

The conference itself will have three thematic tracks, organizing each of the break-out sessions (33 planned sessions altogether). Track One focuses on DESIGNing games and activities. Track Two on DELIVERing games and activitiesand Track Three on EVALUATing how well they worked at driving performance.

You’ll find the conference website here.

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July will be busy! Serious Play conferences will be held in Montréal on 10-12 July 2019, and in Orlando on 24-26 July 2019. More details here.

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..and don’t forget, of course, that the Connections US professional wargaming conference will be held this year on 13-16 August 2019 at the US Army War College in Carlisle, PA. Details here.

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At last month’s International Studies Association conference, Ellie Bartels presented a paper on an “Archetype of Information Produced by Analytical Games.”

This paper argues that for policy gaming to be more impactful in research communities, it must be better able to expose the logic of design and analysis to outside scrutiny. Because policy games differ in key ways from mainstream research techniques in the social sciences, we must develop a gaming-specific set of logics to do this work. This paper presents a set of archetypical types of information that can be generated from a game, based on an iterated expert validation approach. It then delves into the logic of each—detailing what differentiates each type from the others and discussing typical tradeoffs make in the design of games of each type.

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GMT Games recently cancelled a game on their P500 preorder list, Scramble for Africa.

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The decision soon sparked a heated debate. Some argued that the company acted appropriately, cancelling a potential game that failed to treat a sensitive subject with appropriate sensitivity. Others screamed censorship. At Board Game Geek, David Dockter (Herr Dr), summarized what was then 29 pages of sometimes angry postings. Several threads got locked down.

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For a particularly thoughtful account of the game, debate, and broader issues, see Jon Bolding’s article at Waypoint, “A Cancelled Board Game Revealed How Colonialism Inspires and Haunts Games.”

PAXsims

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Immersed is a gaming podcast with a  difference:

Immersed dives into board games and how they create unique experiences for players based on real-world settings. Each episode, we examine a single game and how that game’s mechanics reflect its theme. We talk to the games’ designers, but also to subject-matter experts who tell interesting stories about the games’ settings. We also incorporate live-play audio, but always in the service of a larger documentary-style story.

We aim to bring professional-level production quality to the show, with a storytelling style and polish that hasn’t been done in board game podcasting before. We’ve released three episodes so far on a monthly schedule, with our first season scheduled to last 10 episodes.

You’ll find it here, at Cardboard Edison.

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1551897325538.jpgNorman Friedman’s book Winning a Future War: War Gaming and Victory in the Pacific War (2018) is available as a free download from the US Navy’s Naval History and Heritage Command.

Between 1919 and 1941, the U.S. Navy transformed itself from a powerful if unsophisticated force into the fleet that would win a two-ocean war, from a fleet in which the battleship dominated to one based on carrier strike groups. The great puzzle of U.S. naval history is how this was accomplished. Well-known naval analyst Norman Friedman trenchantly argues that war gaming at the U.S. Naval War College made an enormous, and perhaps decisive, contribution. For much of the inter-war period, the Naval War College was the Navy’s primary think tank. War gaming was the means the college used to test alternative strategies, tactics, evolving naval aviation, and warship types in a way that the Navy’s full-scale exercises could not. The think tank perspective taken by this book is a new way of looking at the inter-war Naval War College and the war games that formed the core of its curriculum. Although the influence of both the Naval War College’s gaming and of the college itself declined after 1933, most of the key decisions shaping the wartime U.S. Navy had already been taken. The two most important ones were on the role of naval aviation and the form the U.S. war plan against Japan ultimately assumed. As shown here, U.S. naval commanders successfully applied the lessons learned from war gaming to victorious operations in World War II.

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A British soldier was charged last month for going rogue in a computer game, according to the Daily Telegraph:

A soldier has been formally charged after “losing his rag” during a virtual battlefield exercise and killing his comrades.

The Edinburgh-based Army rifleman is believed to be the first soldier to be punished under UK military law for offences in a virtual scenario rather than in real life.

He is said to have been fed-up with being stuck at a computer rather than training outside.

A source from 3rd Battalion, the Rifles told the Mail on Sunday: “We’d spent two weeks sitting in front of laptops pretending we were in a really hostile urban environment – I’d challenge anyone to take it seriously for that long.

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How can boardgames help us better understand the possible effects of climate change?  Janette Kim has a few ideas:

Janette Kim started designing board games about climate change after working on scenario planning with her architecture students at Colombia University–and seeing that the typical process, which architects and many cities use to make decisions, was fairly boring. Board games brought the scenarios to life. “They’re great at mixing together a lot of complexity and making that visible,” says Kim, who now teaches at California College of the Arts and leads the Urban Works Agency, a research lab at the school that looks at the use of architectural design on social justice issues, sustainability, and economic resilience in cities. A series of the games developed by Kim and her students, called Win-Win, is now in an exhibit at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco.

In a Monopoly-like game called The Other 99%, each player is a real estate developer, but one player starts with three times more money than the others–and as sea level rises, they can afford to build on higher ground. The other players have more votes; every other round, everyone discusses whether to build a levy and who will pay for it. “You basically see how risk associated with your properties influences your decision-making and your tendency to either seek short-term profit or long-term profit,” she says.

In Bartertown, a game that imagines a world without money, players trade favors and share resources to deal with the impacts of climate change. The game was commissioned by The Bay Area Conservation and Development Commission for use in public meetings and with agency partners; the commission wanted to explore the idea of social resilience. Each player starts out in a different part of the Bay with different everyday activities to accomplish, and then has to start collaborating with other players when things go wrong–say, you have to get to work, but flooding has taken out your commute, so you have to make a trade with another player to stay at their home, closer to your office. “You start to see how people’s lives entwine with each other,” Kim says.

Delirious D.C. looks at the challenge of relocating buildings because of sea level rise. One player represents the federal government, which has many buildings in risky floodplains in D.C., and the other represents local citizens in the city. The local player might want to build housing or create parks; the federal player might want to relocate the FBI or the Smithsonian. Each tries to build up as much territory as they can while blocking the other player, and can earn extra points by convincing the other player that new combined institutions–like the F.B.I.R.S.–make sense as a new way to make use of limited space.

n Flip This Hood, a checkers-like game based on East Oakland, neighbors are pitted against the owners of a sports stadium and major sports teams. “The game basically studied the way that the Coliseum either benefits or does not benefit the neighborhood of local residents,” says Kim. Each player tries to reach the other side of the board first, through actions that range from building a public art piece to eviction or squatting on the other player’s property.

A game called In It Together, also based on the East Bay, gives each player the identity of a different stakeholder–such as a developer, a resident, or local wildlife. As climate change impacts the community, they have to decide when to collaborate or compete….

You’ll find the full article at Fast Company.

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Graduate students at the University of Stirling recently wargamed crisis escalation in the Ukraine—and NATO’s response.

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You’ll find their conclusions at The Conversation.

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What has the Serious Games Network been up to in France? Playing the ISIS CRISIS matrix game at the École Militaire!

Matt Caffrey’s “On Wargaming” available as free download

Matt Caffrey’s long-awaited book On Wargaming: How Wargames Have Shaped History and How They May Shape the Future is now available from the US Naval War College Press. What’s more, it’s available as a free download.

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If you want a hard copy, that can be purchased from the US Government Bookstore.

Pandemic response matrix game

The following report was provided for PAXsims by Dr. Ben Taylor, Strategic Planning Operations Research Team, Defence Research and Development Canada (DRDC) Centre for Operational Research and Analysis (CORA). His research interests include the utility of games to support strategic planning.


 

On 1 March 2019 Global Affairs Canada hosted a matrix game in Ottawa as part of a research effort into the utility of games to inform policy development. The chosen topic was to explore issues surrounding preparedness for a natural catastrophe, exemplified by an influenza pandemic. A second goal was to explore how a game could capture gender-based policy making. The game was set 20 years into the future.

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The game was designed over a series of teleconferences with the author working with the game sponsor and external academic subject matter experts. A fairly conventional matrix game structure was used but some innovative features are shared here:

  • To avoid players getting distracted by real-world details we used a map of the world from ca 200 million years ago divided into generic regions: Westland (advanced liberal democracies), Eastland (centralised authoritarian states) and Southland (disadvantaged developing states). Selected real-world cities were placed in appropriate locations within this geography, essentially “playing themselves” to provide players with familiar anchor points.
  • The three regions were represented by nation state actors and these were supplemented with proxies for the World Health Organisation and Médecins sans Frontières and also a private medical research foundation associated with a major pharmaceutical company. Players were provided with briefing sheets explain their resources, aims, sensitivities and relationships with other actors.
  • The first turn was taken up by an international disaster preparedness conference set some years before the pandemic. This allowed the players to get into their roles and to start discussions between themselves. At the end of discussions each actor was allowed one standard matrix argument about an outcome from the conference. This mechanism effectively gave the players the opportunity for a precursor argument before the crisis struck, although at this stage they didn’t know what was going to happen, or where.
  • Some volunteer players were brought in who had some experience of matrix games, if not expertise in the game subject. They were distributed among the teams, which typically comprised three players.
  • The spread of the outbreak was largely pre-determined with maps prepared in advance showing the state of the pandemic in each turn. Adjustments could be made if player actions were deemed to have significantly altered the course of events. Each turn was also supported with a collage of news stories and social media messages to provide context and to subtly remind players of issues that they could be taking into consideration. Some humour was injected into the new items, with Ottawa’s (currently in 2019) delayed light rail system deemed to be still behind schedule in 20 years’ time.

Overall the game elements worked as intended. A few participants had first-hand experience of health emergencies and suggested that the behaviours of the teams and the priorities that they selected were very realistic. A number of participants also commented upon the quality of the role-play and the utility of the news injects and briefing materials in keeping the players in-role. The presence of some experienced players paid dividends as most teams were quickly able to express their actions in the matrix game argument format. This is frequently the biggest challenge for first-time players and the combination of subject matter experts and gamers working together was effective. As designer and facilitator the most reassuring feedback was the palpable sense of disappointment in the room when it was announced that there was to be no next turn after some six hours of activity.

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Ben Taylor

Stringer: Advancing the UK’s analytical tools to address strategic competition and modern deterrence post-Brexit (via KWN)

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Air Marshal Edward Stringer, the Director General of Joint Force Development and the Defence Academy of the UK, will be speaking at King’s College London today (April 2) at 1900 BST—and the King’s Wargaming Network will be livestreaming the event on its YouTube channel.

Air Marshal Edward Stringer, the Director General of Joint Force Development and the Defence Academy, will kickstart the week with a public lecture, part of the WN’s inaugural wargaming lecture series. He will discuss the need for a reinvigorated wargaming effort in the UK and among NATO allies to support robust analysis and innovation in the context of the new strategic challenges facing the alliance. In this lecture he will discuss three sets of questions:

  1. What new analytical requirements does the changing security environment present to the UK and its allies? What is the value of wargaming as part of the broader analytical toolkit in meeting these requirements?
  2. What has the UK done to reinvigorate wargaming as a tool for strategic and operational analysis?
  3. How should the current practice of wargaming adapt to meet the new policy requirements? What could the policy, professional wargaming and academic communities do to further the utility of wargaming?

Professor Wyn Bowen, head of the School of Security Studies, will deliver welcome remarks. Ivanka Barzashka, founder and co-director of the Wargaming Network, will chair the lecture.

 

CNA Talks: Playing a Wargame

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CNA’s occasional podcast series discusses how to play a wargame.

In part two of our occasional series on wargaming, CNA’s chief wargame designer Jeremy Sepinsky returns, accompanied by Chris Steinitz, director of CNA’s North Korea program, to discuss what it’s like to play a CNA Wargame. Jeremy describes the different players in a wargame, emphasizing the value of people with operational experience who can accurately represent how military leaders would make decisions. Jeremy and Chris lay out the differences between playing Blue team and Red team. They also take us down the “road to war,” describing how the wargaming team lays out the scenario that starts the game.  Finally, Chris and Jeremy take us though the player’s decisions and how the results of a turn are adjudicated.

Twenty years of civil war in Brynania

Yes, it’s that time again: at McGill University we are once again gearing up to fight—and hopefully resolve—the ongoing civil war in Brynania.

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As you might expect after so many years of fighting, Brynania is littered with mines, IEDs, and UXO.

The Brynania simulation was first launched in 1998 as a component of my POLI 450/650 course on peacebuilding. It features around one hundred participants assuming the role of governments, rebels, UN agencies, NGOs, civil society, the media, and others for up to twelve hours a day, over a full week of play. Each day of real-time represents a month in Brynania, allowing us to explore war, peace negotiations, humanitarian assistance, refugee flows—and‚ possibly‚ peacekeeping operations, transitional elections, and some post-conflict development too. Over the years, we have seen a variety of outcomes.

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Students have contributed a wealth of background material on the conflict and the region. It’s also been the subject of a couple of short documentaries/reports, and served as an experimental testbed for two PhD theses.

The workload in running the simulation is a bit overwhelming—I  end up spending around 16 hours a day on it, reading 10-15,000 emails and monitoring other electronic communications. Overwhelmingly, students are energetic, innovative, and dedicated.

This year’s simulation runs from March 27 to April 3. Needless to say, I won’t get much chance to update PAXsims until it is all over. Unfortunately it is rather hard to follow from afar, although you may catch sight of the warring parties trash-talking each other on Twitter (#Brynania)

 

Simulation and gaming miscellany, 17 March 2019

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PAXsims is pleased to offer some recent items on conflict simulation and serious (and not-so-serious) games that may be of interest to our readers. Mark Jones Jr and Gilles Roy contributed material for this latest edition.

Know of anything we might include? Pass it on!

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logo.pngThe Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists features an article by Ivanka Barzashka (King’s College London) on “Wargaming: how to turn vogue into science.” 

Wargaming to-date has been practised more as an art than a science. And professional wargamers design, conduct and analyse games in predominantly classified environments. This approach has led to the wide acceptance of wargaming as a method for training and development of operational concepts in the defense community. It has also confined the production of wargames to a small professional community of experts who have honed their skills through the wargaming master-apprentice guild system.

Analytical wargaming needs to be scientific. If wargaming tools are to underpin evidence-based analysis that informs national security and defense policy, wargames should adhere to scientific standards. Wargame producers should follow the requirements of good academic and good intelligence analysis. As former National Intelligence Council chair Tom Fingar writes, “the standard for performance [in intelligence analysis] can be no lower and arguably should be higher than those” in academic disciplines. That’s because the impacts of intelligence analysis can be “far more consequential.” The same goes for wargaming analysis.

PAXsims

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Are you in the London (UK) area and interested in taking part in a wargame-based research project?  King’s’ Wargaming Network is collaborating with the Project on Nuclear Gaming (comprising researchers from the University of California – Berkeley, Sandia National Labs and Lawrence Livermore National Lab) in the execution of a table-top gaming event at King’s College London.

We are seeking individuals at least 18 years old to participate in the half-day gaming event on 3 April 2019. You can sign up for the morning session (09:00 to 12:30) or the afternoon session (13:30 to 17:00).

The purpose of the study is to investigate the strategic stability of countries in the context of different capabilities.

The player slots are limited. Please sign-up by 20 March 2019 here.

Participation in this study involves:

  • Playing a game with others that will take approximately 1-2 hours.
  • Potentially being interviewed by members of the research team.
  • Answering a questionnaire.

To sign up as a player, fill out the player registration form.

For questions about the study, please contact the principal investigator, Dr. Kiran Lakkaraju at klakkar@sandia.gov.

PAXsims

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PS: Political Science and Politics 52, 1 (January 2019) contains an article by Courtey J. Fung on “Negotiating the Nuclear and Humanitarian Crisis on the Korean Peninsula: A Simulation and Teaching Guide.”

This article describes a simulation scenario based on of-the-minute thinking about the Korean Peninsula crisis. The scenario highlights the tradeoffs and difficulties in addressing the nuclear and humanitarian crisis, tasking students to negotiate to reach consensus on track I and track II levels. Students are negotiators, gaining experience and exposure to key international relations and political science concepts through active learning. An optional media-teams and press-conference component also is discussed. The scenario, grading rubric, and supplemental materials are included to give instructors a resource that is easily modified across groups varying in size, ability, and composition.

PAXsims

Amid the chaos of Brexit, The Guardian reports that the European Union “wargamed” the fall of Prime Minister Theresa May’s government.

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It doesn’t sound like an actual wargame, however—more like a scenario discussion.

PAXsims

Back in January, The Guardian also reported that “a Russian toymaker has released a board game called Our Guys in Salisbury, featuring the same cities in Europe visited by the GRU agents accused of carrying out last year’s nerve agent attack.”

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It looks about as well-designed as the actual attack, which left both targets alive, one bystander dead, and resulted in the identification of the agents involved and sanctions against Moscow. There is also no word yet on whether the game allows players to uncover the identities of hundreds of GRU agents through social media, vehicle registration, and other sloppy tradecraft and OPSEC.

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PAXsims

31HETZePLAL._BO1,204,203,200_.jpgAt the Journal of Peace Education, Ludwig Gelot explores “Training for peace, conscientization through university simulation.”

Incomplete and insufficient university programmes in the field of Peace and Conflict Resolution have led to an important gap in knowledge, skills and abilities (KSA) among peacebuilders and peacekeepers. In theory, experiential learning through problem-based learning (PBL) and simulations should be able to address this gap. This article explores the opportunities and limits of this pedagogical approach to educating peace actors using the case of the Carana simulation delivered at Linné University (LNU), Sweden. Using mixed-methods, this article confirms the added- value of PBL in the development of KSAs but identifies challenges peculiar to the field of Peace and Conflict Studies that limit its effects. PBL has a clear added-value for the development of skills in learners with a consistent development of professional skills. It can be used to foster conscientization as a precursor to transforming societies towards nonviolence and justice.

PAXsims

University of Edinburgh Law School postgraduate student Phoebe Warren writes about her participation in the a peace process simulation, “Building Inclusive Dialogue in Danaan.”

[Peace Settlements Research Programme] researchers Laura Wise and Kathryn Nash, along with Rebecca Smyth and Robert Macdonald, organised and facilitated the Building Inclusive Dialogue in Danaan simulation, designed by Inclusive Security, an organisation that promotes comprehensive stakeholder participation in peace processes, and particularly the participation of women. One week prior to the simulation, I received a series of general briefing materials regarding the fake country for which I would serve as the Minister of Interior and lead negotiator during peace negotiations and talks, as well as confidential information about my character’s motivations and ambitions. I particularly appreciated the details about the background, education, and family – these are considerations that most certainly colour politicians’ actions (and inactions). Having learned from my mistakes in past simulations, I spent a couple of hours on the night before the event mapping out tactics, key interests, and potential allies in order to make the best use of my time during the game. I felt relatively prepared and ready to take part in one of my favourite (and niche!) hobbies early the next morning….

You’ll find the rest of here account at the Global Justice Blog.

Phoebe also mentions her previous participation in the Brynania peacebuilding simulation during her studies at McGill University:

In my final year at McGill University, I participated in a week-long, war-to-peace simulation that changed my life. The experience was intensely stressful but immensely gratifying, as I was able to combine everything learned in four years of political science courses, and ultimately led me to undertake a degree here at the University of Edinburgh.

PAXsims

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Lessons Learned Simulation and Training recently delivered a professional development course on “Urban Refugees in the Humanitarian System” at York University in Toronto. This included a half day simulation.

You’ll find their account of how it all went at the Lessons Learned website.

PAXsims

The University of Pennsylvania Law School recently partnered with the  U.S. Army War College’s Center for Strategic Leadership to conduct a two-day international strategic crisis and negotiation exercise.

Seventy-five students, organized into eight teams and each representing a different nation, will engage in a complex and broad geopolitical crisis centered around the South China Sea. The teams will negotiate with their counterparts at a simulated United Nations-mandated peace conference, where they will be tasked to resolve a challenging international dispute with diplomatic, informational, military, legal, and economic factors at play.

You’ll find additional details here.

PAXsims

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The Australian Army’s professional development website The Cove has posted another quick decision exercise: UAV Incident.

You are the Section Commander of a security team currently supporting a Construction Engineer element finishing off repairs to a local school. You are purely providing local security at the job site and security on the move when transiting from your combat team (CT) forward operating base (FOB) and the school.

Given that it is now the final plumbing and electrical tasks for the job, you only have 4 engineer personnel (2 x Plumbers and 2 x Electricians) with you, as well as an interpreter to speak with the school officials and 6 locally employed labourers when required. In order to move this group and your section, you have 2 x PMV, which are currently parked astride the school compound.

Currently you have a have a fire team securing the actual job site within the school. You have a piquet in each of the vehicles covering East and West respectively down the main route which are the most likely approach routes for insurgents or anti-Government elements.

The rest of your Platoon is on CT quick reaction force (QRF) duties at the FOB which is 12km to the North of your current location. You are set to return to the FOB at 1730h.

As you are preparing your confirmatory orders to return back to the FOB in about 30 minutes, you first hear and then see an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) whine overhead from southeast to northwest at a very low height. As it passes overhead you hear the whine cut out and it dives towards the ground. Although you hear no impact due to traffic noise, you are confident that it has just crashed about 500 – 600 metres to the North West of your location. You take a quick bearing towards where you think it would have landed given its glide path.

You immediately contact the CT HQ and inform them of your observation.They immediately confirm to you  that the only battlegroup UAV operating today is still airborne, but will checkwith other Coalition force elements.

Minutes later they contact you and indicate that another force’s UAV has been lost in your area. They have given a projected impact zone of the UAV which conforms to your observations and have requested your team’s assistance in recovering it.

PAXsims

RAND_RR2850RAND recently published a Conceptual Design for a Multiplayer Security Force Assistance Strategy Game, developed by Elizabeth M. Bartels, Christopher S. Chivvis, Adam R. Grissom, and Stacie L. Pettyjohn.

The authors explain the conceptual underpinnings and basic rules for a RAND-designed security force assistance strategy game. The game is a tool to explore the potential benefits and risks of different security force assistance strategies under different conditions. The game engine draws on empirical evidence and best practices and, thus, can be applied in many contexts.

Key Findings

  • The Security Force Assistance Game is a portfolio game in which players decide how to invest in the capabilities of different partner forces in order to achieve objectives.
  • Twelve principles of security force assistance were identified from empirical literature and used to build an adjudication tool to project plausible operational outcomes from player investments. Changes in the strategic relationship between actors caused by operational shifts in relative capability were adjudicated based on expert judgement.
  • This game allows structured comparison of different SFA strategies, enabling players and sponsors to consider the potential benefits and risks of different courses of action.

Recommendations

  • The Security Force Assistance Game can be adapted to look at SFA in other countries or to create a strategy for SFA investments across multiple nations.
  • Future games can benefit from using “live” teams of experts to represent recipient nation decisionmaking; exploring SFA in a competitive marketplace with multiple possible investors; subdividing the U.S team to better reflect competing objects and constraints; playing further into the future by including more turns; and requiring materiel investments to be sustained.

PAXsims

The Deep Mind blog discusses the development of Artificial Intelligence systems able to beat human players in real-time strategy games.

Games have been used for decades as an important way to test and evaluate the performance of artificial intelligence systems. As capabilities have increased, the research community has sought games with increasing complexity that capture different elements of intelligence required to solve scientific and real-world problems. In recent years, StarCraft, considered to be one of the most challenging Real-Time Strategy (RTS) games and one of the longest-played esports of all time, has emerged by consensus as a “grand challenge” for AI research.

h/t Mark Jones Jr.

PAXsims

If you took part in the recent CONNECTIONS NORTH wargaming conference and/or APOCALYPSE NORTH megagame at McGill university, there are now additional pictures of both events available courtesy of Gilles Roy. A sample of these is presented below, but there are many more at the link.

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CFP: NATO 13th Operations Research and Analysis Conference

 

The NATO 13th Operations Research and Analysis Conference will be held in Ottawa on 7-8 October 2019. The conference is cosponsored by Supreme Allied Commander Transformation and the Science and Technology Organization, and is open to all NATO nations, STO Enhanced Opportunity Partners (Australia, Finland and Sweden) and Partnership for Peace nations.

The 2019 theme is “Challenges for NATO OR&A in a Changing Global Security Environment”. The conference will kick off with a number of keynote addresses and proceed through various streams. The Programme Committee welcomes papers that address the conference theme from different perspectives. Papers describing emerging techniques and approaches as well as case studies of analysis undertaken are equally welcome. Based on the submission of abstracts, the PC will group papers for the conduct of running parallel sessions.

The organizers have issued a call for papers.  Potential presenters are asked to submit an abstract by June 1. To have the widest distribution possible, they ask that presented material should preferably be unclassified.

 

Strategic wargaming week at King’s

April 2-5 is “strategic wargaming week” at King’s College London, with a series of events planned.

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For notice of this and other events, follow the King’s Wargaming Network on Twitter.

A week of wargaming in Norfolk (VA)

53313375_10103972961974287_1294889127430324224_n.jpegMaj Tom Mouat (Defence Academy of the UK) and I just finished up teaching a week-long wargaming  course for NATO Allied Command Transformation in Norfolk, VA.

The topics covered in the course included:

The slides (pdf) from my lectures can be found at the links above, while Tom has collected all his together here.

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The original plan. We ended up moving a few of the sessions around.

We also played a number of games, intended to demonstrate various approaches:

Several additional games were played as optional activities in the evening: Urban Kriegspiel, AFTERSHOCK, Black Orchestra, and We Are Coming, Nineveh.

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Platoon Attack.

 

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Planning an airstrike in Strike Package.

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Urban Kriegsspiel.

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Briefing the Gulf Crisis seminar game.

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The Gulf Crisis seminar game underway.

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Section Commander 2018.

 

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Black Orchestra.

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Hitler is dead! (Black Orchestra)

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We Are Coming, Nineveh.

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Daesh (ISIS) makes its last stand in the ruins of the Grand Mosque of al-Nuri in We Are Coming, Nineveh.

On the last day, we challenged the participants to develop their own wargames on the topic of the Syrian civil war. (This topic, it should be noted, was put forwards by us as an interesting one for game design purposes and not suggested in any way by NATO ACT). The group then formed into four teams, each of which produced very interesting and very different designs.

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Gaming the Syrian civil war.

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Gaming the Syrian civil war.

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Gaming the Syrian civil war.

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Gaming the Syrian civil war.

  • A seminar/negotiations game, primarily intended to teach junior foreign service officers about negotiations.
  • An educational boardgame on Syrian, Iranian, and Russian efforts to safeguard the Asad regime.
  • One mixed methods project that involved an initial alternatives futures exercise, which was then followed by games exploring critical junctures.
  • A matrix game exploring regional and international geopolitics in Syria.

On the last day we even played a few turns of the latter of these. This was followed by a general discussion and feedback.

if we do the course again, we will need to think about the balance between lectures and demonstrations. Participants really enjoyed the opportunity to game, and asked for more integration of insights, teachable moments, and explanation into the gaming sessions. On the other hand, the lectures provide a vehicle for packing in a lot of information. Overall, however, feedback seem to be very positive. We certainly enjoyed ourselves!

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Connections UK 2019 update

PAXsims is pleased to provide Connections UK update, via Graham Longley-Brown. The 2019 Connections UK conference will be held on 3-5 September 2019 at King’s College London. Registration will open in early summer.

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Many thanks to all of you who completed the Connections UK 2018 feedback survey. This is a fantastic 61% response rate; we have analysed feedback from 132 attendees out of the 216 that attended Connections UK 2018 and, as ever, based the 2019 conference on your suggestions. The resulting conference outline is below. Please note the dates Tuesday 3 – Thursday 5 September 2019 in your diary. I will send you registration details presently. More details of Connections UK, including all previous presentations, can be found at http://professionalwargaming.co.uk/index.html If you do not wish to be on this email distribution list, please let me know and your name will be removed from further announcements relating to Connections UK.

 

Connections UK 2019

While the purpose of the conference remains the same (advance and preserve the art, science and application of wargaming), there are some necessary and significant administrative changes, and we are altering the format slightly in line with your suggestions. Notable survey results that have led to this include:

  • 98% of respondents found the 2018 conference very valuable or valuable. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it; the general structure and approach of the conference are sound.
  • 56% of respondents had not attended Connections UK previously. We are attracting many new people.
  • 60% of respondents would like more parallel sessions offering differing levels of discussion. This is a key result that will shape the 2019 conference.
  • 91% of respondents found the conference length just right. We will again run a three-day event.
  • The most frequently occurring requests were for:
    • An extended Introduction to Wargaming course, interleaved with other conference activities.
    • More hands-on gaming, show-casing a wide variety of wargame types. This as well as the usual Games Fair, which rated very well.
    • A shorter megagame, and this as one of several alternative games played on Day 1.
    • Plenary sessions on the topics shown in the table below.
    • Concurrent ‘Deep Dive’ masterclasses into the topics shown in the table below.
    • Separate ‘streams’ on automation, and analysis & data capture.

 

Changes

The main changes will be:

  • Cost and food. In order to avoid a substantial catering and facilities surcharge that would push up the conference cost to well over £300, we will:
    • Provide no meals. Rather, the KCL cafeteria will operate on a pay-as-you-dine basis. You can, of course, bring your own packed meals or pop out to the many local eateries. Drinks during breaks will be provided.
    • Charge for one ticket, which will cover all three days. The cost will be as low as we can make it to cover the basic administrative and facilities charges. We do not know the final price yet, but expect it to be under £100 – but please note this is TBC.
  • The Introduction to Wargaming Course will be run by Tom Mouat on Days 1 and 2 of the conference.
  • Day 1 will include a smaller megagame as one of a number of games and formats, all running in parallel.
  • Simultaneous Deep Dives and streams, so you will have to choose which to attend. There will still be central plenaries, which everyone attends, and lots of time for coffee-fuelled networking.

 

Ideas, please

The scope of Connections UK is expanding. We would appreciate your suggestions for the following – but please note that, as a paying conference, we must maintain a reasonable level of quality. It would also help if you could suggest definitive ideas, rather than vague (“Why don’t you think about…”) notions that need a lot of work to flesh out.

  • Automated methods, models and tools that support wargames, especially data capture & analysis.
  • Games for Day 1 that involve 15 – 20 (+) players that you can bring and run. We have four (including the megagame), and probably need another eight.
  • Games for the Day 2 Games Fair that involve approximately 6 – 12 players. Prof Phil Sabin will coordinate this, as usual, but please start thinking about games that demonstrate the breadth of types of wargame, including computer-assisted and computerised games.
  • Gaming beyond Defence. This will be a Day 3 plenary session. Please suggest good speakers who can talk to the ‘gaming’ in ‘wargaming’ beyond a Defence context.
  • Space games.

 

Conference details

  • Connections UK purpose. Advance and preserve the art, science and application of wargaming.
  • Dates. Tuesday 3 – Thursday 5 September 2019.
  • Venue. Kings College London, The Strand, London, UK.
  • Cost: TBC but as low as possible, and one ticket for all three days.
  • Key note speakers: Dr Lynette Nusbacher and the Head of the UK MOD Development, Concepts and Doctrine Centre (DCDC).
    • Dr Lynette Nusbacher (Nusbacher Associates) is an expert on horizon scanning and strategy. She served as an officer in the British and Canadian Armies, and was part of the team that created two of the UK’s National Security Strategies and set up Britain’s National Security Council. She has been Senior Lecturer in War Studies, Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, Head of the Strategic Horizons Unit in the UK Cabinet Office and the Devil’s Advocate in Britain’s Joint Intelligence Organisation. She has a background in red teaming, devil’s advocacy and structured methods of analysis. Web: http://nusbacher.com  Twitter: @Nusbacher
    • Head DCDC oversaw the publication of the 2017 MOD Wargaming Handbook. Other responsibilities include concept development, capability planning, Training Requirements Authority, senior responsible officer of a large equipment programme and programme leadership to deliver future capability change for over 23% of the British Army, including interfaces with Industry. Twitter: https://mobile.twitter.com/Director
  • Outline. Details remain TBC, but the conference structure should look like that shown below.

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Alas, poor Windsor: An APOCALYPSE NORTH megagame report

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On February 17, some one hundred participants took part in the fourth annual McGill megagame, APOCALYPSE NORTH.

The United States is descending into chaos as it is overrun by mindless undead abominations. Can Canada survive the murderous zombie menace from the south? Can Ottawa, Québec, and Ontario overcome their differences in time?

Players assumed the roles of federal and provincial politicians, military commanders, local mayors, police and fire chiefs, public health officials, scientists, First Nations leaders, the media, and even local franchisees of a national doughnut chain. A description of the roles and some basic game mechanics can be found here.

APOCALYPSE NORTH was a non-profit event organized by PAXsims and cosponsored by the McGill Political Science Students’ Association (PSSA), International Development Student’s Association (IDSSA) and Sociology Students Association (SSA). Tim Hortons even threw in some free stuff too!

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A History of the Apocalypse

The zombie outbreak had started a few weeks earlier, at—where else—the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta. It soon started spreading across the United States. Random acts of violence by once law-abiding citizens caused growing fear, leading several states to declare a state of emergency and call out the National Guard. UN military personnel were deployed to protect critical national infrastructure. Growing numbers of frightened refugees began to arrive in Canada. Most were simply refugees, but some were armed survivalists who were reluctant to part with their weapons in the midst of a possible undead armageddon. Still others were infected, and might become zombies at any time.

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The federal government moved fairly quickly to declare an emergency under the Emergencies Act on Day 2, thereby hastening the mobilization of both civilian and military assets. Later Ottawa also closed Canadian airspace to American aircraft, although several flights landed nonetheless.

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A federal cabinet meeting underway.

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Federal officials and Canadian Forces commanders discuss the growing crisis.

However, in southwest Ontario (Windsor – London), the Niagara peninsula (Niagara – Hamilton), and St. Laurent (Cornwall – Châteauguay – Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu), local officials complained that Ottawa was slow in deploy resources. The Ontario and Québec governments joined the chorus of criticism, which became a frequent theme of periodic live CBC news reports. All this was much to the annoyance of the commander of Canadian Special Operations Forces Command, who was busy airlifting in teams from Joint Task Force 2  and the Canadian Special Operations Regiment to deal with zombie incursions across the border from upstate New York and Vermont.

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Players (and yours truly) busy at the national map.

Not so far away, Fort Drum—home of the US 10th Mountain Division—was overrun. Unable to obtain prior permission from Canadian authorities, a quick-thinking commander for the 10th Aviation Regiment evacuated survivors by helicopter to Cornwall, Ontario. Thereafter, these US choppers would prove invaluable in ferrying casualties and personnel around the area.

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The game underway.

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Buffalo and Detroit fell, increasing the number of refugees—and zombies—entering Canada. Some arrived in Sault Ste-Marie, escorted by the elements of the Michigan National Guard 107th Engineer Battalion and remnants of the Michigan state police. They were sent back to the US, where a refugee camp was established.

Things were at their worst in Windsor. The city hall was overrun, and the mayor and police chief had to flee for their lives. They regrouped at Windsor airport, which was cleared of zombies. With much of southwest Ontario overrun, a massive airlift was undettaken to evacuate refugees to safer areas.

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Police and reservists respond to zombie infestations in Niagara.

In Sarnia, a fire caused a massive explosion of the various chemical and fuel tanks there.

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Zombie spreading through southwest Ontario. A 5 alarm fire can be seen in Sarnia (bottom left).

South of the border, Mar-a-Lago was overrun and contact was lost with President Trump. Vice President Pence thus assumed the reigns of power. The US Embassy in Ottawa received information that one group of CDC scientists, led by famed microbiologist Ernest Zrump, were holed up at Atlanta airport. Could Canada rescue them? They might prove invaluable in the search for a cure.

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The crisis grows.

Canada’s elite JTF2 special forces undertook the mission. While they successfully entered the airport terminal, the sound of breaching charges and gunfire soon attracted hordes of undead to their location. They, and the CDC scientists, were lost.

At the Niagara and St. Laurent maps, refugee camps were established for American arrivals, several of them equipped with quarantine facilities and security. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the World Health Organization (WHO) provided useful technical advice.  Another refugee camp was established on the outskirts of Toronto to accommodate the large number of refugees arriving there. The city of Montreal proved especially adept at dealing with the occasional zombie washed down the St. Lawrence River, while refugees were screened and escorted to nearby camps.

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Québec officials discuss the crisis.

The Public Health Agency of Canada was busy working towards a cure. Progress was slow, however, and hampered by poor coordination. The First Nations had information that the zombie plague was endemic to North America, and identified the location of an ancient, pre-colonial zombie burial pit that might contain vital clues. However, it was in a zombie infested area southwest of London, Ontario, and no one was able to reach it. Brilliant McGill University microbiologist Dr. Josephine Brant, herself of Mohawk ancestry, diligently worked on a cure.

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Mohawk militia protect the Akwesasne (and St. Regis) reserves, while the CBSA secures Cornwall despite a major fire there. To the north, local police, OPP, RCMP and Canadian military units deal with zombie infestations.

 

Meanwhile, Tim Hortons—which, unbeknownst to players, was not just a doughnut chain, but also a secret zombie-fighting organization—was working on countermeasures. It also sought to keep its various retail outlets open, providing doughnuts, ice caps, and coffee to hard-working emergency service personnel. At one point, a suspicious federal government considered nationalizing the company, but backed off when it became clear the move would encounter significant political opposition.

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This particular Tim Hortons was overrun by the undead.

Federal-provincial tensions reached the point that Ontario and Quebec announced the formation of a “New Canada” that would assume the lead in fighting the apocalypse. However, this made little difference on the ground, where RCMP and Canadian Forces units continued to adhere to instructions from Ottawa. (The Canadian Border Services Agency and Coast Guard rather hedged their bets.)

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The Prime Minister (right), in discussions with the Quebec and Ontario premiers.

Another complication was provided by the growing number of American survivalist militia in Canada, led by the mysterious “Colonel X.” While these fought the zombie hordes, they also seized Owen Sound and the Bruce nuclear power plant, hoping to establish there a new, heavily fortified society that could withstand the apocalypse. When talks failed, they were forcibly disarmed by the Royal Canadian Regiment and other Canadian military units in a rather bloody fight.

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Zombies infest Sault-Ste-Marie, Sudbury, and Barrie. Col. X and her militia have briefly taken over Owen Sound.

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Washington DC was overrun. New York and Boston fell too. In far-away Los Angeles, Nancy Pelosi was sworn in as President.

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Dick Danger (right) makes an appearance.

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The strategic map, late in the game. The Bruce nuclear facility has been recaptured, but Colonel X is still hiding in the woods nearby. Zombies are advancing eastwards from Sault-Ste-Marie. Canadian forces are assisting Vermont (which is almost Canadian anyway).

No account of the crisis would be complete, of course, without mention of Dick Danger, famed star of the presciently-named reality television show Apocalypse: Survival. Dick toured afflicted areas, lent his own special brand of help, and even took part in a national television appeal for calm.

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Dick Danger drops by Tim Hortons.

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The US military attaché consults with the Canadian Chief of the Defence Staff as the American ambassador looks on.

And after seven hours of play, it all came to an end. Large areas of southwest and northwest Ontario had been overrun by the undead. Things were rather better in Niagara and south of the St. Lawrence, however. Indeed, Ottawa authorized elements of the Royal 22e Régiment to proceed south of the border to Burlington, Vermont, where they successfully worked with Vermont and New York National Guard units to establish a zombie-free safe haven.

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City officials in Montreal coped well with the apocalypse.

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Southwest Ontario under siege.

Game Mechanics and Reflections

Overall, things worked very well. We should have done a post-game survey, but forgot to prepare one. Nevertheless, participant feedback has been positive.

The game rules were a modified version of the Northland rules we had used back in July 2017, which in turn were a modification of Jim Wallman’s Urban Nightmare: State of Chaos rules used in the rest of that wide area megagame. It would have been nice to have finished the modified rules and other game materials a little more in advance, and to have had more time to work through things with the Control team (and made it a little larger) but every did an excellent job of adjudicating on the fly.

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The St. Laurent map.

The maps were area movement maps produced via graphic arts wizard Tom Fisher, with some 3D elements (zombies, buildings, forests) added for visual appeal and clarity. I thought they looked great. Our two game currencies were megabucks and Canadian smug self-righteousness cards, or Smuggies. The latter were frankly adorable.

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Police, fire, and medical units deploy to protect Hamilton, Ontario.

Thanks to the technical wizardry of Tim Furlong, we had a television (webcam) studio set up in a nearby location, live-streaming news reports to the main room. This worked brilliantly, the CBC team were great, and players soon were eager to give interviews. I think it’s the first time this has been done in a megagame quite like this.

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A live CBC news broadcast.

We divided the room with tables into Blue (local) and Red (national/provincial) zones, and players were limited to their half of the room unless they either had a purple badge or played a travel authorization card. Everyone could also meet in the foyer and meeting rooms. This caused a few minor traffic flow problems, but generally achieved the desired effect of creating information discontinuities.

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The science/quest/investigation subgames (several of them developed by Vince Carpini) worked very well in most cases. Fuller player briefings would have been helpful—I simply ran out of game preparation time—but, with one exception, everyone unlocked all of the plot elements available to them (generally by collecting cards or doing things, which would then get them a new envelope with new tasks—much like an apocalyptic scavenger hunt). Overall, most players seemed very busy most of the time, although there were one or two who could have been given additional late-game challenges.

Because we didn’t have much playtest time, our “zombiemeisters” acted as a balancing mechanism, adding in extra challenges where appropriate, and backing off when players were overwhelmed.

Already we’re thinking ahead to next year. While there are many possibilities, I’m rather attracted to running a sequel game fifty years on, in a post-apocalyptic Great Lakes region….

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Many thanks to everyone—players, Control team, and others‚ who made the game a success. Thanks too to Jim Wallman and Kevin Farnworth for the pics.

 

 

 

 

 

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