Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Monthly Archives: April 2011

G4C 2011

The eighth annual Games for Change Festival will be held in New York on 20-22 June 2011, featuring speakers, panels, game demonstrations, awards, and more. Further information is available at the G4C website.

Deconstructing Kandahar

In the discussion that followed our review of Brian Train’s wargame Algeria last July, Brian mentioned that he had developed an (as-yet-unpublished) game on the contemporary counter-insurgency campaign in southern Afghanistan. Kandahar builds on some of the game mechanics he has used in Algeria and a few other small games he has designed (Tupamaro, Shining Path, Somalia), but with multiple players and considerably more complexity.

That discussion, in turn, led to a couple of recent class assignments based around student playtesting of Kandahar.

  • Four students in my undergraduate class on peacebuilding at McGill University (POLI 450) opted to write a team research paper on the simulation of insurgency and counter-insurgency. The group played a number of insurgency-themed games (Algeria, Liberia: Descent into Hell, Battle for Baghdad, Labyrinth, and Kandahar), and then wrote a lengthy review essay on the challenges of modelling these sorts of political and military processes.
  • Glenn Gibson, who had previously taken the graduate version of my peacebuilding course (POLI 650), used Kandahar as part of the focus for her Honours thesis. This was a two-part assignment: she wrote a long paper assessing actual Canadian counterinsurgency efforts in and around Kandahar since 2006, and she also wrote a shorter playtest review of Brian’s game.

Glenn has kindly agreed to allow me to post her review of Kandahar here. As an added bonus. Brian has then written up a response to Glenn’s evaluation, which you can read here. Taken together they offer interesting insight into the challenges, trade-offs, and approaches that can be taken to simulating as something as complex as COIN efforts in southern Afghanstan within the context of a playable game.

Overall, I was pleased with the outcome of both experiments. The team research paper approach had the advantage that it guaranteed a pool of players to play each of the games, including Kandahar. Glenn’s solo assignment, on the other hand, allowed her to delve into the history and dynamics of ISAF and Canadian operations in considerable detail, and then use that to inform her analysis of the game.

If any readers have an suitable simulation in development that they would like to see undergo evaluation by a future student playtest group, drop me a line and we’ll see if something can be worked out.

Poniske: Reflections on “Hearts & Minds”

We asked John Poniske, the designer of the recently-reviewed Vietnam wargame Hearts and Minds, to contribute  some reflections on the game’s design and approach. Faster than the 1st Cavalry air-assaulting into a hot LZ, he emailed us back with a contribution. Thanks, John!

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I thought your review interesting and balanced. However, I was stung that you saw a lack of excitement in the game. From the very beginning, I wanted to insert as much frustration into the game as possible … for both sides. Here I thought we’d achieved it. Every time I sit down to play, I can never quite do what I want to do as the Americans because of those blasted “black pajama boys.” As Uncle Ho, I am often stymied as to where to attack because hefty US concentrations seem to always check my most promising plans.

 A bit about the early stages of the Hearts and Minds design. I originally wanted to create a Vietnam based game along the line of WE THE PEOPLE (Among my most favorite games – kudoes to Mark Herman). At the same time I wanted a simple approach that would woo both the casual and the hardened gamer. I also wanted to do what Mark did in WtP, and introduce as much historical nuance into the game as possible. Stan taught me I had a long way to go there.

 GMT was at first interested but took a pass when they realized the multideck approach would tie up a developer too long. Worthington snapped it up and assigned a new developer, Stan Hilinski. Stan is a wonderful guy. He knew little about the war but dove in with both feet and researched the hell out of the war. He now knows considerably more about our involvement in Southeast Asia than I ever will. On the other hand, he took the game down a different path than I would have – ultimately a better path.

I was intent on simplicity. Stan was intent on historicity (as much as can be allowed in a game of this scale) We disagreed, we argued but in the end, I think that Stan’s version is superior to my original vision. The campaign cards are entirely his, as is the period flavor of the cards you alluded to and so are the government collapse rules. I still disagree with his giving the ability of the VC to abandon a province to escape the allies. I still contend that local insurgents stayed local and were loathe to abandon the local support they enjoyed. Still, it’s a minor point.

I was particularly keen on your comments regarding HaM’s instructional value. I am a teacher myself and believe that board games can be a valuable tool in a teacher’s bag of tricks, particularly a social studies teacher. I in fact just sold a game to high school social studies teacher who used HaM as an integral portion of her lesson. Games allow students a tactile learning base from which to feel as if they are experiencing history.

Thanks again for your kind words. Hey, keep an eye on two of my current preorder projects: LINCOLN’S WAR, a card-driven design based on the impact of politics on the American Civil War; and MAORI WARS, the first gaming approach to the British settlement of New Zealand in the face of their most implacable foe – the Maori Warrior. Also on tap is my unique approach to the slave uprisings on Haiti ,1792-1802 (ala Toussaint Louverture) called BLACK EAGLES. This will be the first treatment of the slave uprisings which encompassed the surprising defeat of Napoleon’s veteran legions. Further information on these designs can be found on BoardGameGeek.

John Poniske

PAXsims game and simulation review policy

As some may have noticed, we’ve posted a new PAXsims game and simulation review policy. It’s pretty simple: if you have produced a game or simulation on peace and conflict issues that you think might have broader educational value and you would like to have reviewed, feel free to send it on and we’ll review it as soon as the we have the chance to try it. We’ll even offer you a chance to contribute your own commentary on the game/simulation design to the blog.

As always, we also welcome notice of new publications, articles, conferences, and other simulation-related news that we can share here. You’ll find our contact information on the “About PAXsims” page above.

Review: Hearts and Minds (Vietnam, 1965-75)

Hearts and Minds. Worthington Games, 2010. Game designer: John Poniske. Game developer: Stan Hilinski. $49.95

As with all game evaluations on PaxSims, this review will examine both game play as well as the question of potential adaptability for educational purposes.

Game Contents and Play

Hearts and Minds is a card-driven, map-based strategy game that covers up to ten years of the Vietnam War, from the growth of US involvement in the mid-1960s through to the “Vietnamization” of the conflict and withdrawal of US troops in the early 1970s. Movement is zonal, with the (25.5″ x 11″) map board showing most of the provinces of South Vietnam, plus the border areas of North Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. Military forces from South Vietnam (ARVN), the US, Korea, other allies, the Viet Cong (VC), North Vietnam (NVA), Cambodia (royalist and Khmer Rouge) and Laos (royalist and Pathet Lao) are represented. All units are abstracted, with most representing generic (untried or veteran) regular infantry, plus some additional artillery, armour, helicopters, and naval support units. (Click images below to enlarge.)

The “Red” (communist) and “Blue” (allied) players alternately play a card out of their hand, with four rounds of such card play representing a year in the conflict. As with several card-driven games, each card indicates both a resource point value and a possible event. Resource points are used to “buy” the event on the card (ranging from the Paris Peace Talks to a visit by Jane Fonda) and/or to enable movement, combat, and shifts in the political control of provinces. Combat is straight-forward, undertaken by totalling combat factors, adding a die-roll, and consulting a combat results table. VC units may also ambush allied players entering their zones.

Each year, South Vietnam is at risk of a military coup if its combat losses are high (and exceed the number of pacified provinces), although this risk can be offset through the expenditure of resource points to prop up the shaky Saigon government. A coup has effects on combat units (all ARVN units become “untried” again) and on ARVN deployment. As in the real war, the Ho Chi Minh trail plays a key role, allowing NVA units to slip into South Vietnam from border areas of Laos and Cambodia. After 1969, cards on both sides give players the option of escalating the war in these neighbouring countries.

Victory in the Hearts and Minds is achieved either by securing control of a certain number of provinces, or by achieving a certain number of hawk/dove points. Some of the cards are “campaign cards” that facilitate combat operations in one or more regions of the country and also yield bonus hawk/dove points for control of the area. More generally, the allied player also loses points for taking US casualties, as well as when the Red player gains control of too many South Vietnamese provinces, or when a South Vietnamese coup occurs.

Casualties therefore have political as well as military consequences. Although both sides receive replacements from year to year, high US losses will rapidly bleed political support for the war, while heavy ARVN losses will destabilize the South. The North gets quite high numbers of replacements, making it difficult to secure a military victory through attrition alone. Famously, military analyst Col. Harry Summers is said to have remarked in 1974 to a NVA officer “You never defeated us in the field” —to which the latter is said to have responded, “That may be true. It is also irrelevant.” In Hearts and Minds too, the Red player can lose battle after battle yet still win the war.

Because VC units are more effective at gaining political control, and are replaced more slowly, targeting these can be more effective. They are often able to evade contact, however, and slip away to other areas. Key to victory is careful use of the campaign cards, which if used to greatest effect should be preceded by some stockpiling of resource points as well as moving units into appropriate jumping-off positions for the impending military operations. The Tet Offensive card can be particularly devastating if Red uses it well. It is a gamble, however: if things go poorly, Red can find his NVA troops chewed up by superior allied firepower and his VC infrastructure in the south devastated.

The rules are fairly well organized (although some important information is to be found in the playbook or players’ charts), and the game plays quite easily. We weren’t entirely happy with the combat system (which depends on differentials rather than ratios), and it seemed a bit odd that US forces were more mobile but no more effective than ARVN or NVA troops. Also, the lack of any combat steps (units are either alive or dead), together with the replacements and reinforcements system used in the game, results in whole units being eliminated—only to (re)appear in large numbers again at the start of the new year. A smoother and more incremental system of losses and replacements would have added to a more realistic sense of historical flow. Pacification can only be undertaken by US units and yet has more positive effect on regime stability than anything the South Vietnamese can do for themselves, which runs rather counter to most COIN assumptions.  Conversely, we did rather like the “fog of war” built into the way VC units are used: deployed face-down on the map, some of them are not guerillas at all but rather “bad intel” that generates a random event when revealed.

Overall, Hearts and Minds is certainly a very solid, well-designed game. For some reason we couldn’t quite put our finger on (and despite the Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, and Creedence Clearwater Revival we had on as soundtrack in the background) our playtest game lacked a certain excitement. Most of that was probably probably personal taste and/or the dynamics of that particular game, however—it certainly has a high rating (8.0/10) on GameBoardGeek, and it is certainly a game I intend to play again.

Instructional Potential

Because the game mechanisms are quite straightforward, Hearts and Minds is likely to be more playable by gaming neophytes than other larger and more complex wargames. (you’ll also find a rules summary and after action report form on BoardGameGeek that could be quite useful in a classroom setting.) The game does highlight the importance of political factors (through the use of hawk/dove points, the process of political control and “pacification” of provinces, and the endemic political weakness of the South Vietnamese government), as well as the pressures that caused a wider regionalization of the war into Cambodia and Laos. All of this would provide openings for discussion in the classroom. The cards depict key events of the era, which could also be explored with students. Unlike Labyrinth, there is no more detailed explanation of these included other than the brief text on the card itself. It would be fairly easy, however, to put a study guide together that offered additional information.

The rules and cards in the game tend to somewhat tilt the play in certain directions, and provide only limited opportunities to explore alternative strategies. There is no lasting way to strength South Vietnamese governance so as to undercut the underlying appeal of the insurgency, for example—while the Blue may “pacify” provinces, this renders Saigon less vulnerable to a coup rather impacting on the ability of the VC to recruit cadres or exert political control. Equally, there is no political cost to the collateral damage that would inevitably accompany Blue military actions. The possibility of implementing a stepped-up CORDS-type civic action programme would have provided an interesting “what if” option, especially viewed through the lens of the contemporary debate between “COINdinistas and “COINtras” over the relative merit of population-centric and enemy-centric counterinsurgency strategies. Diplomatic options in the game are limited to a  few event cards with modest effects—there is little scope to influence regional or other foreign policies, to step-up coercive force against the North (as with the Linebacker raids), or otherwise seek to reshape the broader political context within which the war was fought.

Of course, no game can contain everything, and from an instructional point-of-view it doesn’t need to. Students could be encouraged to propose house rules and game modifications, based on their own research into the dynamics of the conflict. Believe that host country efforts are essential to building legitimacy? Allow ARVN units to engage in pacification. Think that local attitudes matter to COIN operations? Perhaps NVA/VC units should suffer a penalty when fighting in pacified areas. Want to model more substantial US efforts to strengthen South Vietnamese governance? Allow some stability to cumulate over time, rather than resetting the coup marker to zero each new year. Want to reflect the impact of US domestic politics on the war? Have the status hawk/dove marker somehow affect the cost of US replacements or the pace of reinforcements. The possibilities are endless, and each proposed tweak of the game system could be made into a class discussion and learning experience. More broadly, the sorts of choices made by the designer, examined against the history of the conflict, can be used to encourage student reflection on what policy options would have been available to US, Vietnamese, and other decision-makers in this era and with what possible effects.

Concluding Thoughts

While not my favourite insurgency-based game, Hearts and Minds does have good potential in an instructional setting because of its straight-forward game mechanics, relatively clear rules, and appropriate level of abstraction. It is probably best played after students have read some of the major works on the conflict, thus enabling them to compare those portrayals with the one offered by the game. In reflecting on the similarities and divergences, students can thereby be encouraged to develop their own thoughts as to the the key social, political, and military dynamics of the Vietnam conflict, as well as the lessons that might be drawn from this for a broader understanding of guerilla campaigns, insurgency/counterinsurgency, stabilization operations, and regionalized warfare.

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Update: John Poniske, the designer of Hearts and Minds, has contributed some thoughts of his own on the game and the use of games in educational settings. You’ll find them here.

Gamifying (online) Jihad?

A recent article in Foreign Affairs entitled “The World of Holy Warcraft” examines the increasing gamification of online jihadist forums and websites through the use of various incentive mechanisms (achievement badges, avatars, the ability of users to rate postings, and so forth):

Gamification is purely an appeal to psychology, the principle that competition matters more than fun. When knowledge or experience is given a point value, it can be measured and compared through giving out badges and levels, statuses and prizes.

Hard-line Islamist sites have been increasingly building in gamified elements to their forums. “Reputation points” are the most common of these. Users can now earn status for the messages they post and the quality of the messages as judged by other members. In many of the forums, members can only receive points after they have posted a certain number of messages, enticing users to post more messages more quickly. Points can result in an array of seemingly trivial rewards, including a change in the color of a member’s username, the ability to display an avatar, access to private groups, and even a change in status level from, say, “peasant” to “VIP.” In the context of the gamified system, however, these paltry incentives really matter.

“The real reason I implemented [reputation points] is so we can weed-out useful posts from useless,” explained an administrator of the Islamic Awakening forum who goes by the username “Expergefactionist.” Virtually every Islamist hard-line forum now has adopted a points-based system, as have some non-Islamist hard-line forums: On Stormfront, for instance, a popular white supremacist forum, users earn points for their posts that can add up to earned statuses ranging from “will be famous soon enough” to “has a reputation beyond repute.”

Given that the piece is by Jarret Brachman and Alix Livine—both excellent analysts of online jihadist social media—it is certainly well worth a read. There’s also an interview with Brachman on the same subject at Fast Company.

While I think the article usefully highlights the ways in which technology and innovations in interface design can be used by Warhammer enthusiasts, counter-insurgents, owners of Siberian huskies, and the supporter of violent non-state armed groups alike, I must admit that it also spurred a few nagging concerns about the broader excitement out there in the games and social media community about “gamification.”

Nagging Doubt #1: Are incentive mechanisms always best thought of through the lens of “games”? When I take part in a panel discussion and the audience nods in agreement (or laughs at a joke) I certainly take it as a positive and encouraging gesture. There may even be a competitive element with other panelists. But is it a game? Or simply a much deeper part of collective social interaction? Are all positive feedback loops “games”—even when participants aren’t particularly thinking of them in a competitive fashion? Does labelling this “gamification” in the context of social media actually risk missing or distorting some of what is going on here?

Nagging Doubt #2: Is there much comparative research on the effects of incentive mechanisms on participation in online fora? Does gamification count for much, or is its effect rather marginal compared to other things, like graphic design, intuitive layout, policing by moderators to weed out the trolls, the quality of participants, the quality of supporting materials (data and other resources), and so forth? I regularly participate in three professional fora and a half dozen game and hobby-related ones, and certainly in my case there is absolutely no correlations between the “gamification” of the site and the frequency of my participation.

Nagging Doubt #3: When terms like “gamification” become this trendy I worry a little. I can’t help it—I’m an iconoclast at heart (which probably explains nagging doubts #1 and #2).

Clearly, the increasing use of formalized incentive structures in online discussion fora or other social media raises a number of interesting questions. However, Judd Antin and Elizabeth Churchill have noted, the topic has been studied very little to date in any rigorous sort of way:

Although badges are in widespread use in social media, relatively little research has been devoted to understanding how or why they are valuable and useful. While badges can be fun and interesting, these qualities do not inherently produce social engagement or enhance motivation.


We must begin by examining the premise that badging systems are engaging and motivational for all. Evidence suggests that badges are not universally appreciated, understood, or attended to. For example, Montola and colleagues implemented badges in a photo sharing service and found that many users did not appreciate them and were worried that badges would create counterproductive usage patterns. Our own in- progress research on FourSquare indicates that most users find only some types of badges interesting or motivational. Furthermore, just as some have questioned whether badges are actually counter- productive as game mechanics, the “corruption effects of extrinsic incentives”  could make some badges harmful to intrinsic motivation.

Together, these findings demand a program of systematic research into the dynamics of badges in social media systems. [References removed—click the link above to read them.]

Chris Hecker raised the question at GDC 2010 (discussed here and here) of whether achievement awards could in some contexts actually be harmful to game design (and, presumably, social fora too) by leading participants to focus on extrinsic rewards (such as winning a new badge, title, or “thumb-ups” for other forum users) rather than intrinsic ones (in the case of jihadist forums, discussion for its own intellectual and political value). Certainly there is a literature in social psychology that suggests that extrinsic rewards can either encourage or discourage intrinsic motivations, and might even result inferior output over time. Given that translating online discussion to militant jihadist action presumably requires quite high degrees of intrinsic motivation, the cognitive complexities at work here are quite important.

None of which is to say, of course, that I think Brachman and Livine were wrong to flag the issue. It is certainly interesting, and it might even be significant. It is to say, however, that evidence of increasing gamification in social media is not, in and of itself, evidence that such gamification is having any particular effect.

h/t Ora Szekely

Origins War College 2011

The annual Origins Game Fair will be held in Columbus, Ohio on 22-26 June 2011. One of the many, many events at Origins is the “Origins War College,” a mixture of lectures, panels, and special events focused on military history and current events.

The preliminary activity grid for the War College is now available over at Grog News, courtesy of Brant Guillory.

John Hunter TED talk

John Hunter, whose World Peace Game for primary school students has been mentioned before on PaxSims, recent delivered a TED talk on his work. It is now available on the TED blog.

Simulating Middle East peace initiatives

Track4, (who organize “simulations for students/universities, mediators, diplomats and policy makers or other professionals working in the field of conflict resolution, communities directly involved in conflict, and corporate and non-profit organizations”) conducted a simulation last week based on a possible “Obama Initiative” to address the Israel/Palestine conflict. Columnist Jonathan Freedland, who was one of the participants, has an extensive account in The Guardian today:

I spent much of last week being a Palestinian. And not just any Palestinian. I was the man charged with negotiating their future. Over the course of two full days I was Saeb Erekat, longtime (and now caretaker) negotiations chief of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, facing off against an Israeli team led by one of Binyamin Netanyahu’s closest confidants. Behind closed doors, and under the watchful eye of Barack Obama’s handpicked envoy, George Mitchell, we argued and haggled over the knottiest issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – seeking to find common ground on questions of rights, refugees and recognition as well as security and sovereignty.

I succeeded in extracting from the Israelis an acceptance that the states of Palestine and Israel will be separated by a border reflecting the 1967 lines, more or less, and that Jerusalem will serve as the capital of both nations. Which I considered a rather good week’s work.

Strictly speaking, the names above should all come wrapped in quotation marks. For I was playing the role of Erekat in an elaborate simulation game – alongside a dozen or so people whose professional lives are steeped in the conflict, whether as diplomats, NGO officials, scholars or journalists, from both inside and outside the region. Participants were asked to step outside their comfort zone.

The scheme is the brainchild of an American academic, Natasha Gill, who calls it “Track 4” to distinguish it from the three more conventional tracks of diplomacy: those involving government-to-government talks, civil society, or people-to-people encounters. Her aim is not to have a “peacenik lovefest”, in which each side learns to empathise with the other, but rather to understand the dynamics, and difficulties, of the negotiations themselves.

Freedland’s column notes the way in which the simulation highlighted competing narratives of victimhood, the effects of power asymmetries, the dynamics of negotiations, and the key role of the US:

The “Palestinians” walk into the room regarding themselves as the aggrieved, injured party. They are the underdog, the occupied people, and that gives them the immediate moral high ground.

The Israelis have a narrative involving dispossession and suffering too, but it tends to relate to the past, even if it is the relatively recent past. They are unavoidably cast as the stronger party, the one that wants to hold on to what it has, the one that has to say no. What is more, the “Israelis” soon realise that their cards consist of tangible assets – starting with land – which they are being asked to give up for abstract declarations – on, for example, recognition of Israel – from people they hardly trust. This mismatch eventually feeds their resentment and makes them dig in their heels.

These were valuable lessons in themselves, but the exercise taught something much deeper. Within hours, I noticed that I was becoming fixated on scoring points rather than solving problems. I had a troublesome member of the delegation, constantly positioning himself as more radical, more faithful to the cause – reminding me of the political price I would pay if I compromised too much. This constrained me.

I also realised that the key audience was not really the Israelis across the table – it was the Americans at the head that mattered. It was their text I wanted to influence. In this context, the omission of some phrase the Israelis wanted counted as a victory: it made more sense to avoid an issue than to solve it.

If this is how I behaved after less than 24 hours, no wonder the two sides act the way they do. Gradually I became aware of the enormous gulf that separates those of us who view the conflict from afar – whether from our perch on liberal newspapers or in well-meaning thinktanks – from those who have actually to solve the problem. From this distance, the solution might seem painfully obvious: any cool-headed moderate can see where the midpoint between the two sides lies. But that is to reckon without the pressures on the negotiators within their own team, from a public opinion always ready to cry sell-out, and from the US. And that’s even before you get to the demands of the other side.

The article also highlights the important connection between role assignment and the intent of the simulation. Who plays whom should, in large part, be shaped by the point of the exercise. In this case, participants appear to have been assigned to the delegation that least accorded with their background and political preferences:

…my fellow “Palestinian” negotiators included an Israeli citizen who is a full-time advocate for his country, a senior official of a pro-Israel charity, and a top figure from the Jewish Chronicle. Representing Israel were two Palestinians – one a citizen of the US, the other a citizen of Israel – and two luminaries of London-based NGOs with long experience of the occupied territories.

Doing things in this way allows the simulator to encourage participants to reexamine their preconceptions and develop greater empathy for concerns, fears, and priorities of the “other side.” The major drawback, of course, is that teams may behave less realistically (for example, by being more willing to compromise on key issues) than would be the case if they were played by partisans sharing the ideological and political preferences of their role. Track4’s simulation seems to have rather cleverly attenuated this latter effect, however, by using experienced advisors for each side:  “both teams could call on coaches – one Israeli, one Palestinian – who had served as negotiators at high-level peace talks.” Presumably they helped anchor the behaviour of each team in the actual political and negotiating constraints faced by their real-life counterparts.

We’ll look forward to hearing more about Track4 simulations in the future.

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Also on the issue of the Arab-Israeli conflict, the Israeli comedy show Eretz Nehederet offered its own simulated insights last November, in a skit based on the Angry Birds video game:

Sadly, it does rather seem to reflect the likely prospects for a negotiated peace agreement at the moment….

Managing the “Rizk” of climate change

Many belated PaxSims apologies to Adam at the London Science Museum (where I spent many happy hours as a teen), because I only just spotted this feedback from a couple of months ago:

Hi guys, It’s Adam here from the London Science Museum. Hope all is well with you and PaxSims. We’ve just launched our brand new online Flash game, called Rizk. It would be awesome if you featured / reviewed it as well.

Visually influenced by sci-fi posters of the 50’s and 60’s, we created an original risk strategy game set on an alien world where players must find and develop resources to nurture and protect their mother plant whilst defending it from indigenous threats. Every action you take affects the level of risk to your plant and hence there is no perfect strategy for completing the game’s 20 levels. RIZK builds on the classic tower defence model in that you expend wealth (coins) to invest in defenders to mitigate against threats of varying impacts. RIZK, however, is played from a 2-D, side-on perspective much like a platformer. As a result of the 2-D side-on perspective to the game, the enemy’s paths of movement are more varied than a traditional tower defence game. This also allowed us to create very intricate worlds right from the first level. This unique game is launched as a part of Climate Changing… the Science Museum’s three-year series of thought-provoking events, exhibitions and installations. The game is all about understanding risk and its relation to our climate.

The game was designed by Playerthree, and launched back in December 2010.

Rizk is a beautifully-rendered, fluid, and very-engaging game. The game’s commentary about resource scarcity and the environmental consequences of natural resource extraction are subtle—perhaps a little too subtle at times, given the likely attention span of the youthful demographic that it presumably targets. On the other hand, I’m sure it must pull folks onto the Science Museum’s website, where there is a great deal of additional information available.

Give your own green thumbs a try, and see how you do! (For those of you with less patience or an unrelenting propensity to kill houseplants let alone alien flora, you’ll find level walkthroughs available online here.)

Position: Professor of Serious Gaming for Complex Multi-Actor Systems, Decision-and Policy Making

Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands is currently advertising a tenure-track vacancy for a Professor of Serious Gaming for Complex Multi-Actor Systems, Decision-and Policy Making:

Applicants should have a PhD degree in a relevant field of social science, such as policy sciences, organization and management, policy analysis, or systems analysis. He/she should have proven experience as an independent and productive researcher as demonstrated by publications in scientific journals relevant to the research area. She/he should be well embedded in the international scientific community of gaming-simulation, policy sciences and policy analysis, and infrastructures. The candidate preferably has proven experience with relevant quantitative, qualitative and design research methods, and demonstrable affinity for the integrated sociotechnical systems approach to infrastructure systems as practiced at the TPM faculty. He/she preferably also has a multidisciplinary research attitude, a track record in multidisciplinary research collaboration and excellent communication skills.

More information is available on the Digital Games Research Association website.

8th International Summer School in Gaming and Simulation

The 8th International Summer School in Gaming and Simulation will be held 6-13 August 2011 at the Viljandi Culture Academy, in Viljandi, Estonia, on the theme of “Designing Simulation Games for Education and Training.” The Summer School is jointly sponsored by the International Simulation And Gaming Association, the Swiss Austrian German Simulation And Gaming Association, and the University of Tartu.

Further details are available at the link above.

CFP: International Journal of Role-Playing

The online International Journal of Role-Playing is now accepting submissions for its third issue, due to be published in Winter 2011.

The International Journal of Role-Playing invites researchers, designers, developers, academics, artists and others involved in the growing field of research related to role-playing to submit articles. The IJRP is a peer-reviewed journal, and welcomes submissions from any sphere of interest, knowledge network, research field or de-development sector that directly or indirectly relates to role-playing interests.

Potential topics include but are certainly not limited to the following:

  • Role-playing games, e.g. frameworks, storytelling and graphics; art, design and creative industry
  • Role-playing culture, psychology, media, economics, and sociology
  • Role-playing technology, surveys, vocabulary, training and education
  • Other aspects of role-playing and related research and development

The International Journal of Role-Playing is a biannual international journal that covers all aspects of role-playing, irrespective of the medium, platform or intent. The IJRP specifically aims to act as the focal point, for pushing the limits of role-playing knowledge, and to improve sharing of knowledge across the knowledge networks involved with role-playing- and related work, notably the industry, the academia and the arts. The journal will encourage the exchange of ideas and experiences, and will be a free, online forum where knowledge can be harvested. In realizing that the knowledge networks involved with role-playing- and related work are based in a variety of interest spheres, which write and publish their work in different ways, the IJRP will accommodate the knowledge sharing principles of the various networks.

The deadline for submissions is 1 August 2011. Further details can be found at the IJRP website.

forthcoming USIP SENSE simulation

The United States Institute of Peace will be conducting a three day run of its SENSE (Strategic Economic Needs and Security Exercise) simulation on 26-28 April 2011. SENSE is a computer-facilitated simulation that focuses on negotiations and decision-making in a post-conflict environment:

Over the course of three days, SENSE models the conditions in an imaginary country (“Akrona”) that is emerging from a destructive internal conflict. Players representing government officials, private firms, civil society, and international actors must identify, coordinate, and integrate economic, social, political, and military policies to foster recovery and reconstruction. SENSE participants must integrate all of these challenges; develop and decide on options; and deal with the consequences (both intended and unintended) of those decisions. Breakfast and lunch will be provided; participants must commit to the full three-day simulation.

The simulation is free, but preregistration is required. Further information (and an online application form) can be found here. For further information you can also contact Jeff Krentel at (202) 429-4701 or

Connections 2011

Connections is the only annual wargaming conference that brings together all three major elements of the field: military, commercial, and academic. This year it will be held 1-4 August at National Defense University, in Washington DC.

2011 is the 200th anniversary of modern wargaming… In keeping with this anniversary the theme of Connections 2011 is “The Next 200 Years of Wargaming – Expanding Our Scope” For example, Connections 2011 will explore how wargaming can evolve to effectively explore; science & technology alternatives, optimizing tooth and tail mix, orchestrating all of government responses. We explore this theme through; keynotes, four panels, three working groups, demos and a playtest…. Still, many believe the most valuable element of Connections is the chance to meet leaders from across the branches of wargaming.

You’ll find further information at the Connections website. I’m certainly hoping to attend.

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