Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Monthly Archives: April 2010

innovative game mechanics and conflict/development simulation

I’ve just posted this set of questions over at ConsimWorld, but I’ll post it here too in case Paxsims readers who are also gamers have any reflections to share on the issue:

I’ve been reflecting recently on the last 30 years or so of wargaming–miniatures, boardgames, and electronics alike–and the important innovations over that period. Has gaming become qualitatively better, or are we reinventing the wheel? With regard to the latter, there’s no value judgement implied. It might be that the “wheel” already works well enough, and certainly no reason to innovate for innovation’s sake alone!

Regards miniature gaming, there was a shift away from a complex focus on the supposed performance of slightly different weapons systems in the 1970s and 1980s, to greater attention to command and control issues thereafter. This was exemplified, for example, by the transition in Ancients from WRG’s 6th and 7th editions to DBA/DBM. In some ways these simplifications led to much more realistic battles, characterized by friction and decided by generalship. In other cases, however, the effect was to render games even less realistic. I’m thinking here of many sets of modern company/battalion level wargame rules, where the failure to make a command rolls can result (for example) in a platoon suddenly halting in the middle of an open field, and where the quite important differences between modern weapons systems seem to vanish. (I have to say, I haven’t really found a set of modern rules that I think get the playability/detail/command/weapons-performance balance right, and I still use a set of 30 year old WRG 1950-85 rules with house updates for newer weapons systems).

In boardgames, we’ve certainly seen dramatic structural changes in an industry that was dominated in its heyday by SPI and AH, and where now smaller game companies, CAD for maps, counters, and professional-looking rules production, and internet-based ordering/distribution have become commonplace. However, have there been any major innovations in game mechanics and play? If so, what games have changed the way we thing about simulations?

Finally, what can we say about computer wargames? (I’m on less firm experiential ground here, since I use a Mac and most computer wargames are never ported outside a PC platform.) Obviously, technological advances in processor power (driving better AI and more complexity) and graphics capability have had major effects. But have we seen design innovations that have or will change the way we wargame?

The issue arises in part because I’ve been thinking about game mechanics and their potential usefulness for the sort of conflict and development simulations that we deal with here on the blog. That question, of course, is a broader one than just looking to wargame design for inspiration: it applies to to role-playing games, and there may even be some aspects of customizable card games and even other game formats that could be usefully adapted for teaching and training on fragile and conflict-affected countries.

Thoughts, anyone?

(Image at right with apologies to Magic: The Gathering. I am sorely tempted, however, to develop a humorous development assistance CCG just for the fun of it…)

SIM 2010 on TVMcGill

I still need to post some comments and reflections on the most recent run of the Brynania civil war/peacebuilding simulation at McGill University—at the moment, end-of-term marking is taking priority. However, TVMcGill has put together a brief video overview of the strife in Equatorial Cyberspace. It certainly gives a good sense of how intensely engaged the class of one hundred students becomes in the simulation process…

MCSG Seeks Game Designs and Articles

The following announcement was posted to ConsimWorld earlier this year, and we’ve been asked by Brian Train to repost it here:

MCSG Seeks Game Designs and Articles

Modern Conflict Studies Group, LLC. (MCSG) is currently seeking content for future projects. If you have an interest in writing or designing/developing simulations on modern warfare topics, please read on. This will be for an audience that includes the Defense Department and the professional modeling and simulations community as well as the general wargaming community.

We are currently seeking articles on the following general or related topics:


  • Afghanistan
  • Iraq
  • Sudan
  • Middle East
  • Africa
  • Central/South America
  • Asia
  • Cyberwar
  • Netcentric Warfare
  • Irregular Warfare
  • Littoral operations
  • Space based warfare
  • Energy
  • Logistical support for expeditionary forces
  • Drug and Human Trafficking
  • Other areas or subjects important to the defense and policy community

We also seek pieces on:

  • Professional Wargame Design
  • Operations research and related concepts
  • Approaches to wargaming specific defense issues that are less well understood, such
  • as insurgency, economic warfare, lawfare, and cyberwar

Shorter pieces:

  • Book reviews
  • Game reviews (computer, board, virtual, etc.)
  • News pieces on current defense related events, hardware, software, technology, etc.


We will reply to your submission with final acceptance, rejection, or revision request within 30 days.

Payment and rights:

MCSG will pay 8 cents per word on final acceptance. MCSG will retain first publication rights only, and must be cited as original publisher for any subsequent publication.


Modern Conflict Studies Group, LLC. is also seeking game designs on modern conflict. Novel, original, and unconventional topics and approaches are encouraged. See article topics, above, for ideas on the types of subjects we are interested in, but do not feel limited by that list. We are looking for intensive simulations that may include the full spectrum of modern warfare weaponry, tactics, operations and doctrine.


1. Design document. The design document describes the scale, design approach, and game systems to be utilized in depth. This document will be subject to a revise and resubmit process.

2. Initial prototype submission. Once the design document is accepted, a game prototype is to be submitted for evaluation. This process is, again, subject to a revise and resubmit process for purposes of development and playtesting.

3. Final prototype submission. A final prototype, incorporating all changes and revisions from the previous process is required to complete the contract for payment.

Payment and rights:

MCSG will pay a flat fee of $2000.00 upon acceptance of the final prototype. MCSG will retain all rights to the game in perpetuity, including publication rights in other forms.

Please submit all queries to MCSG at

Thank you for your interest.

The MCSG Team

If you’re interested, contact MCSG at the email address above.

10th Annual “Reacting to the Past” Summer Institute

The folks at Barnard College will be holding their 10th annual “Reacting to the Past” summer institute in June:

We hope you will join us for the tenth annual “Reacting to the Past” Summer Institute at Barnard College (NY), June 10-13, 2010! This year’s program includes twelve game tracks, ranging from The Threshold of Democracy: Athens in 403 B.C. and Defining a Nation: India, 1945 to new games in development on “America’s Founding: The Constitutional Convention”, “Kentucky 1861: a Nation in the Balance,” “Living History in 1894 Korea: The Kabo Reforms”, and “Modernism vs. Traditionalism: Art in Paris, 1888-89.” Details are available online at The priority registration deadline is May 10, 2010.


Faculty interested in exploring their special interests and concerns with others in the “Reacting” community are invited to propose a concurrent session at the annual institute. Plenary and concurrent sessions allow participants to engage in discussions of a more general character on student motivation, teaching, liberal arts education, and the problems and possibilities of the “Reacting” pedagogy. Concurrent sessions will be roughly 85 minutes in length and are intended for an audience of 25 to 40 participants. We welcome submissions in a variety of formats, including hands-on workshops, presentations, and discussion panels. Collaborative proposals among faculty from multiple institutions are highly encouraged. Please visit here for details. The proposal deadline is April 31, 2010.

latest news on the USIP OSP

A couple of pieces of news from the Open Simulation Platform project at the United States Institute of Peace.

First, they now have their own webpage, which you’ll find here.

Second, about 80 high school students have been in about a dozen simulations that utilize the USIP OSP technology at The Bishop’s School in California. You’ll find more information on their Peaceconferencing project here.

h/t Skip Cole


We’re pleased to post the following announcement on behalf of ALLIES, detailing their forthcoming 2nd Annual Field Exercise in Stability Operations:

ALLIES (Alliance Linking Leaders in Education and the Services), a student group at Tufts University in Boston, is hosting the 2nd Annual Field Exercise in Stability Operations (FIELDEX) this April at P&L Paintball. And we, a group of undergraduates studying stability operations, civil-military affairs, and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq (among other things), are leading a collaborative effort with a MALD candidate at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy to simulate the harsh realities that face actors in Afghanistan. Participants in our simulation will role play as one of these actors: Host Nation Security Forces, Coalition forces, Insurgents, local villagers, and civilians (NGO/UN workers and journalists).

The scenario begins as coalition forces are about to enter the town for the first time. Provincial elections, are also about to take place throughout the fictitious country (based off of Afghanistan) very soon. An incumbent and challenger candidate will be running for a position in the elections to represent the village, and villagers will be given the chance to actually vote for their favorite candidate towards the end. As the scenario progresses, coalition forces will be working to win villagers’ hearts and minds by stabilizing and improving their village while dealing with inflammatory insurgent actions. At the same time, insurgents will be attempting to undermine their efforts, the election, and recruit villagers to their cause. UN workers, part of UNAMA, will be responsible for administering elections. Briefing periods are scheduled in after every scenario to check in on how each actor feels and why they responded to certain events or injects they way they did and recap on lessons learned.

Our view is that it’s one thing to talk about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq from the safety of the classroom setting, but experiencing the realities on the ground, even in a simulated setting, adds a whole new level of understanding. Participants will have a unique opportunity to develop a deeper understanding about the repercussions of stability operations from the ground-level and how such operations might be tweaked to work more effectively. Our overarching aim is to introduce students to the operational realities that they will face as future leaders in military, civilian, government, and non-governmental organizations (and perhaps to have a little fun at the same time!)

If you have any questions, comments, or ideas we are happy to hear them! For more information click on these links: (article about last year’s counterinsurgency exercise) (Simulation website) (ALLIES website; undergraduate organization that discusses issues related to Civil-Military affairs)

It looks excellent–as did last year’s exercise.

Connections 2010 reports

A few weeks ago we mentioned the Connections 2010 conference on interdisciplinary wargaming. Now that its over, you’ll find conference reports here (by Eric Walters on ConSimWorld) and here (by Brant Guillory on GrogNews). As might be expected, there was considerable discussion of how to game insurgency/counterinsurgency, including the “non-kinetic” (political, social, development) dimensions.

h/t: Brant at Small Wars Journal

more on the Brookings Iran simulation

Two quick links regarding the Brookings Institutions December 2009 simulation of an Israeli strike on Iran:

*The milgeek in me is a little dubious about feasibility of the military scenario (“using a refueling base hastily set up in the Saudi Arabian desert without Saudi knowledge”) —it is one thing to refuel C-130s and helicopters in the desert as the Americans attempted in Operation Eagle Claw in 1980 (which, of course, went rather badly)… it is quite another thing with large numbers of modern high-performance strike aircraft in a country with quite good AWACS radar coverage. Still the simulation was largely about the politics, so it doesn’t much matter.

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