Your intrepid PAXsims editors have just finished attending the NATO “Countering Hybrid Threats” conference/experiment in Tallinn. It was an excellent meeting, with impressive people (well, other than us), good discussion, and stunningly efficient conference organization—all held in a fascinating , beautiful, and very welcoming city. We both took pages and pages of notes, and will post something in the next few days on both the subject matter and the scenario-driven experiment format that was adopted for the event.
In the meantime, as we participated in a full week of discussions we couldn’t help but be reminded of the extraordinary amount of time that military, diplomatic, aid, NGO, academic, and other professionals can spend on developing, debating, modifying, and remodifying their professional language. That observation, of course, inevitably led to a quick game design… Jargon Wars.
While the version presented below is intended for NATO ACT CHT meetings, the template can easily be modified for World Bank consultative groups, academic conferences, diplomatic parleys, NGO retreats, and similar exercises. Why, you might even say it is a whole dynamic repurposeable interactive gaming system!
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Jargon Wars is a two player game in which you attempt to score points by building and using jargon, while at the same time defending yourself from the jargon of your opponent with counter-jargon. Playing the game requires a deck of playing cards, including both jokers. If you’re playing with a deck of Estonian Explosive Ordnance Disposal cards provided by a local friend and fellow-traveller from Small Wars Journal, each side starts with ten extra points. That has no actual effect on game play, but is very cool.
During the game, a player will hold a hand of up to 5 cards, hidden from their opponent. As the game progresses there will also be a discard pile.
Each player will also have up two small groups of cards known as jargon or counter-jargon groups. Each group consists of up to three RED cards and one BLACK card. If the black card is a CLUB, the group is said to be a jargon. If the black card is a SPADE, it is said to be a counter-jargon. If a group contains no red cards or no black cards, or too many red or black cards, it is said to be unintelligible. Each jargon or counter-jargon is usually face-down, but may be examined at any time by the owning player. At various points in the game a player might have zero, one, or two groups in play, which might be all jargons, all counter-jargons, or one of each.
The game is played until the last card is drawn from the deck.
Start the game by dealing each player 5 cards. In turn, each player may then carry out one of the following actions:
- Move a single card into or out of one of their groups (or establish a group if you don’t yet have two of them).
- Discard a card from their hand and draw a new one from the deck.
- Randomly exchange a card from their hand with one from their opponent’s hand.
If at the end of their turn a player has less than 5 cards in their hand, they draw one card from the deck. There are also two types of special cards:
- JOKER: As soon as this is played from a hand onto the discard pile, take all current groups, shuffle them together, and play the cards back to the players (starting with the phasing player). As the card is received a player must immediately assign it, face-up, to a group. This may, of course, result in the formation of unintelligible jargon.
- ACE: When played from a hand onto the discard pile there is an immediate scoring round.
The game is scored whenever an ACE is played, and immediately when the last card is drawn and the game ends.
Each side calculates the value of its jargons and counter-jargons using the following formula for each group:
- (sum of red card values) x (black card value)
If a pile lacks at least one red and one black card, or if it has too many cards of one type, it is unintelligible and counts zero. Otherwise, the value of each card (and the term it represents) is determined using the following chart:
||diplomatic or political (1)*
||military or security (1)*
||social or economic (1)*
||information or intelligence (1)*
As noted earlier, the ACE and JOKER cards have special functions and hence have no scoring value. In recognition of 3D and whole-of-government approaches, DIME, PMSEII, and similar schemas, any jargon that contains three of the four terms marked * counts triple value.
Explaining the walrus reference would require more information than PAXsims is able to provide at this time. For further details, contact David Becker, Senior Research Fellow (and Large Animal Analogy SME) at the Center for Complex Operations.
Having worked out the value of each group, the players then separately compare the value of their jargon group to their opponent’s counter-jargon, if any. If a player has more than one counter-jargon group, always use the one with the highest score.
If the value of the jargon is higher than that of the counter-jargon, then the exchange scores 5 points for the former plus the points difference between the two piles. If the counter-jargon group is worth more, the jargon earns no points. In short, counter-jargon blocks jargon from scoring.
Both players then discard their groups, and the game continues. If there are no more cards remaining in the deck, after the final scoring round the player with the most points wins.
Seeking to develop your own context-specific individualized dynamic game revision? It’s easy enough—just substitute some of the terms on the scoring chart above.
- World Bank: Try such classics as gender-sensitive, environmental, infrastructure, structural, pilot (RED) and projects, programs, initiatives, fora, fund, consultations, review, adjustment, and evaluation (BLACK).
- NGO: In addition to those above, grass-roots, consultative, stakeholder, humanitarian, civil society, human rights, equity (RED) and response, empowerment, and committee (BLACK) would work well.
- Academics: Try adding post-, sociological, quantitative, comparative, historical, dynamic, conceptual, theoretical (RED) and concept, theory, approach, synthesis, and study (BLACK).
- IT/Cyber: Switch in such terms as digital, on-line, encrypted, synchronous, parallel, super- (RED) and software, platform, code, processor, media, and game (BLACK).
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The following game—played as a joint World Bank/McGill University collaborative, culturally-embedded learning exercise in a pub in Tallinn under the watchful eye of a blonde Estonian barmaid with a (plastic) sidearm—illustrates Jargon Wars in action.
Each round the players variously drew cards or placed them into their jargon groups. When an ACE was played, of course, a scoring round was commenced.
SCORING ROUND 1
Gary had prepared a Next-Generation Mixed Joint Challenge ((2+2+2) x2 = 12) to which Rex had only an incomplete, and hence unintelligible (0) counter-jargon. Gary thus scored 17 (12-0+5) points.
Rex offered an Agile Global Threat ((2+2) x3 = 12) to which Gary had only an incomplete, and hence unintelligible (0) counter-jargon. Rex thus also scored 17 (12-0+5) points.
SCORING ROUND 2
Gary put together a formidable Cooperative Hybrid Bio-Adversary ((2+4+2) x 3 = 24), to which Rex could only offer an ineffectual Robust Diplomatic Capstone Concept ((2+1+3) x 2 = 12). Gary scored 17 (24-12+5) points.
Rex. however, had been preparing his own rhetorical assault, and unleashed a Comprehensive Cyber Threat ((4+3) x 3 = 21), which easily overwhelmed Gary’s Effective Virtual Social Assessment ((2+2+1) x 2 = 10), netting Rex some 16 (21-10+5) points.
SCORING ROUND 3
Gary revealed a New Emerging Force ((1+2) x 2 = 6), but it is easily neutralized by Rex’s Adaptive Walrus (2 x 4 =8).
No sooner have the tusks settled, moreover, when Rex advanced a Complex Dilemma (2 x 3 =6), which devastated Gary’s pathetic Security Intelligence Cell ((1+1) x 2 = 4), thus bringing Rex 7 (6-4+5) more points.
With no more cards left in the deck the game is over. Rex has earned 40 points to Gary’s 34, and emerged as the winner!