Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Crisis Response – from your brains to print ready

Typical card from Crisis Response

A sample card from the game. You can draw this and 50+ other cards and use them to save lives in Crisis Response.

While preparing a short elective course on strategic coordination in crisis response, I was inspired by our discussion at Connections on the Haiti GameLab design challenge and started putting together a very simple card game that I’m currently calling Crisis Response (though other name suggestions welcome!). During a whirlwind week of travel (and a few moments of rare relaxation), I managed to playtest the design with five different groups (some policymakers during the course, some colleagues at work, and some other friends).Some quick reflections on what we’ve learned so far playing the game:

Coordination is difficult – Beyond just deciding who plays what cards, the game also reflects other coordination challenges: Different timelines (the foreign military leaves after five rounds), different capacities of actors (who draw from different decks), sequencing issues and the trade-off between investment in future capacity and current delivery. Even with really good gamers, coordinating and planning as much as possible, we’ve made a few mistakes that really hurt us later in game.

And people don’t make coordination any easier on themselves – While I don’t give very much instruction on how the group should play together (other than not letting them take back a card that has been played), it is interesting to watch players:

  • resist sharing their cards (many naturally keep them face down and need to be told by other players to share),
  • play cards quickly because they can do something and contribute, even when it would be better for other actors to play the same card,
  • resist playing cards because others tell them to do it (interpersonal dynamics affect even game play, project that on to real life),
  • ignore the effects of other people getting knocked out of the game until it is far too late – in one of the games, players actually laughed at the national government when it was knocked out because needs hadn’t been met – only to complain three turns later that they couldn’t play enough cards…

It is useful:  Having people play a game, think about the cards they are playing and the dynamics of the game, think about how they would improve next time (everyone, so far, has been interested in playing a second time, though time often didn’t permit), and why the game was designed as it was, has led to some thoughtful discussions about the challenges faced in coordination (see quote below) and a better understanding of the roles, capacities and objectives of the actors involved in crisis response.

I was the foreign military, and though I could’ve done anything, I realized halfway through that I needed to let the national government do what it could or it wouldn’t work – course participant

I don’t consider this at all a “finished” design – curious to hear what PaxSims readers think of it and would recommend.  One thing it is definitely missing right now is instructive and flavor text – the italics included on a few cards is representative, but would be great to hear from SMEs on a sentence or two for each card, what should each card teach?  Obviously, the game could be developed in a lot of directions, including a development expansion we discussed, which might help us all to better understand the tensions between coordination humanitarian response and development.

You can print everything from the PDFs linked below (you’ll need around 125 3″ x 5″ note cards, have a few extra onhand in case you have printer feeding errors). You’ll also need 3 friends so you can play all four roles (NGOs, national government, foreign military, UN) and some markers (I use little plastic blue counting cubes) to represent supplies.


Playing Cards – Humanitarian, Security and Diplomacy Decks, Role Cards and Cardbacks

Needs and Insecurity Cards 


3 responses to “Crisis Response – from your brains to print ready

  1. brtrain 13/09/2012 at 2:11 pm

    Good work Gary!
    I will ahve to give this a try when I crawl out from under revising the things I was showing at Connections….

  2. Gary Milante 05/09/2012 at 9:07 pm

    Thanks, yes, I think it turned out well. I’ve got two other guinea pigs here in DC lined up to test it out, too.

    I should mention that there is some assembly required:

    The chart at the back of the rules shows how many cards there are of each type in the Diplomacy (D), Security (S) and Humanitarian (H) decks. So, you’ll need to print one entire set of the actual playing cards and then quite a few duplicates of many of the cards (14 survey/analysis cards, for example). Then make the Humanitarian, Security and Diplomacy decks themselves with the combination of cards shown in the chart and feed them through to print their card backs on them.

    For the Needs, Insecurity and Role cards, you only need one of each, fed through with the proper backs if you are particular about the polish of the cards, like me :)

    Yes, I through extra cubes in, just for people to stack!

  3. Rex Brynen 05/09/2012 at 10:49 am

    Excellent stuff, Gary—I can’t wait to try it out, and will probably use it in POLI 450 next term. (Of course, I can’t help butI notice that you designed a game that potentially involves stackable cubes…)

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