Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Daily Archives: 29/06/2010

InfoChess, and permutations of classic games

Classic games sometimes offer interesting possibilities for both teaching and modification. On the one hand, they’re easy to play and the rules are well-known. On the other hand, reflection on the rules or rule variation can illuminate some really interesting issues. The multiplayer boardgame Risk is one such example—I have one colleague, Prof. David Romano, who has had undergraduate students play through a game and desconstruct the rules and game outcome from the perspective of international relations theory. (I also developed a somewhat satirical version of Risk based on Iraqi politics that I play with graduate students and colleagues at McGill, although for entertainment rather than education.)

One particularly interesting case of modifying a classic game for educational purposes is InfoChess, “a chess variant designed to simulate the relationship between what is known and what remains unknown in conflict, and to stimulate a deeper appreciation of the interaction between the informational domain and more traditional military affairs.” One version of the game—described in this ruleset here—allows players to obscure the identities of pieces, eliminate pieces at a distance (via “psyops”), or make an opponent skip a move (via ‘electronic warfare”). More complex versions are possible, and the game can be played both face-to-face with a (modified) conventional chess set, or is also available as computer software (see picture at right). The InfoChess approach also allows the game to be tweaked to address different types of problems. Bryan Karabaich, for example, passed on a variant that tries to capture some of the dilemmas of contemporary asymmetric warfare (such as contemporary counterinsurgency operations):

  • White has a  full roster of pieces.  Rules of engagement are that he cannot take Black Bishops.  Checkmate constitutes winning.
  • Black is given King, 8 (or 13) pawns and two bishops.  ROE are to capture any four White pieces and request negotiations.  If White accepts negotiations, Black wins.

(If one wanted the game to even more closely match recent events regarding Afghanistan, I suppose one could even allow for a Knight to be replaced when he makes unflattering comments to Rolling Stone about the King and Queen.) In his paper “So a Wargamer and a Black Swan Walk into a Bar…“, Peter Perla—who knows a thing or two about wargames—describes one game of InfoChess as “the best representation of the cognitive aspects of asymmetric warfare and information operations that I have ever seen. It was all about understanding the mental models of the key decisionmakers, and how to exploit them to win.”

For those of you are interested in reading more, you find additional information on InfoChess here, here,  here, and here. And no, the picture at the very top isn’t InfoChess, it’s just plain old chess—but seemed appropriate!

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