Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Monthly Archives: February 2013

Simulations, simulations, and more simulations

Yesterday in Foreign Policy magazine, Amy Zegart briefly recounts a recent two-day United Nations simulation conducted at Stanford for 160 undergraduates in an international security course. She also makes a broader (and convincing) argument for the value of simulation in university education, especially within political science.

Foreign-policy making is a contact sport. Universities need to do more and think harder about new ways of teaching students the full array of analytic and interpersonal skills they need to succeed at it. A good place to start is one simulation at a time.

Meanwhile, at the Information Dissemination blog Robert Farley provides a detailed account of the most recent crisis simulation held by the Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce at the University of Kentucky:

This year’s simulation involved thirty-three students, five faculty members, three graduates, and a massive criminal conspiracy to steal defense-related intellectual property from U.S. firms.

The design philosophy of the Patterson School simulation concentrates on developing difficult decision-making scenarios for students. Students make decisions under conditions of time pressure, asymmetric information, inter- and intra- group dynamics, and exhaustion. Each scenario begins with a realistic premise, and the teams have realistic motivations and goals. Simulation Control feels free to abstract from reality, however, in order to facilitate this decision-making environment. In this case, abstraction was doubly necessary because of the highly technical nature of the subject matter, as well as the secrecy that normally accompanies policy work on the question. Obviously, we could not ask students to develop worms or conduct DDoS attacks against other teams, although some did employ innovative techniques for stealing passwords, such as observing and recording carelessly placed post-it notes.

As for me, my own annual Brynania civil war simulation at McGill University is now a little over a month away.


(Virtually) bombing Iran and limits of (real) military power


Last Friday, I got together with “Mister X” (a government analyst specializing on Iran) and a group of McGill University graduate students to play a modified version of the board game Persian Incursion. The modifications were designed to approximate current real-world conditions, including the possibility of a “Syrian route” to Iran whereby Israel might exploit of the degradation of Syrian air defences caused by the ongoing civil war in that country.

So, how did it go? In order to keep players engaged, I had to cut a few corners. We used simplified target profiles, coupled with some of the quick strike rules that the game designers have released. Mission planning was rather rushed and a bit chaotic, and even then the Iranian side was left with little to do for extended periods of time while the Israelis plotted their attacks. (Fortunately, the Iranians were able to fill the time with a constant stream of political banter and the occasional fiery rhetoric condemning the Zionist entity.) Despite my efforts to speed things up, by the end of four hours of game play we were a little less than half way through the week that the game is designed to cover. Having as many eight players in the room at once certainly contributed to a certain degree of chaos, with the murky complexity of Iranian simulation decision-making often mirroring the dysfunctions of the real thing. If I were to do it again I would do a few things differently.

Nevertheless, I think things went well, and the participants seemed to have fun. I was certainly able to use the simulation process to generate discussion of a number of military and political/diplomatic aspects of a potential military confrontation between the two countries. The account below adds some atmospheric embellishment to the game as it unfolded, but nonetheless accurately reflects the strategic decision-making and calculations of the two sides.

* * *


At the beginning of the game the Israeli side decided to concentrate their attacks against Iran’s nuclear facilities, rather than undertaking a broader campaign against its oil and economic infrastructure. To facilitate this, they secretly converted several transport aircraft into additional air-to-air tankers. They also  modified some of their HARM missiles to home in on any GPS jammers that Iran might deploy at sensitive sites. Israel decided to launch its initial attack through Jordanian and Iraqi air space, but held open the possibility of using the Syrian route in future if diplomatic developments foreclosed other possibilities.

For its part, Iran did indeed deploy both GPS jammers and laser countermeasures at its nuclear sites. Aware of reports of Israeli jamming of Syria’s air defences in 2008 during Operation Orchard, as well as ongoing cyberattacks against its defence and nuclear facilities, the Iranians also heavily invested in electronic hardening of their own air defence network.

In Tehran, the Iranian leadership plots their diplomatic moves as an Israeli strike mission prepares to launch.

In Tehran, the Iranian leadership plots their diplomatic moves as an Israeli strike mission prepares to launch.

The game started with an initial Israeli strike against the Fordow underground uranium enrichment facility near Qom, the Natanz nuclear fuel enrichment facility, and Iran’s reactor and heavy water plant at Arak. More than 120 Israeli aircraft—four squadrons of F-16s, one squadron of F-15s, plus tankers and electronic warfare aircraft—took part. Although some aircraft were assigned to fighter sweeps ahead of the attacking force or to close escort of the strike packages, for most part the need to maximize the amount of ordnance that would be delivered meant that the Israeli strike aircraft were expected to self-escort. Suppression of Enemy Air Defence (SEAD) missions were plotted against key SAM sites.

The attack was generally very successful. Despite efforts to make their system more robust, Israeli EW took its toll on Iran’s air defence system. Two long-range S-200 (SA-5) surface-to-air missile batteries were destroyed, as were several of the medium-ranged systems defending particular targets. The GPS jammers were also eliminated using the modified HARMs. When the smoke cleared, Fordow had been completely destroyed. The deeply-buried and well-protected main centrifuge halls at Natanz were also destroyed, with Israeli F-15s having successfully “double-tapped” pairs of EGBU-28B bombs one after the other in the same locations so as to drill down through the concrete structure. Some secondary installations  at Natanz did survive, however. At Arak, more than two-thirds of the facility was destroyed.

About a dozen Iranian aircraft managed to intercept the Israeli force, but all were shot down well beyond visual range by the IAF, which enjoyed the advantage of much superior modern radar systems as well as the much greater range of the AIM-120C air-to-air missiles. However, one IRIAF F-14 pilot was able to target and destroy an F-16. While the Israeli pilot was killed—thus denying Iran the opportunity to parade him on television as a prisoner of war—the shoot-down was nonetheless a morale-builder for Tehran.

Members of the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force F-14 squadron that engaged the Israeli attack force on the first day of the war. The pilot responsible for downing an Israeli aircraft can be seen in the back row, centre.

Members of the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force F-14 squadron that engaged the Israeli attack force on the first day of the war. The pilot responsible for downing an Israeli aircraft can be seen in the back row, centre.

As the Israeli aircraft landed back at their bases, Iran also launched the first of what would be several retaliatory waves of attacks by Shahab 3 medium range ballistic missiles. The Supreme Leader, anxious to seize the moral high-ground, ordered that these not be targeted against civilians in Israeli cities, but rather in symbolic retribution against Israel’s own nuclear complex at Dimona. Less than half of the missiles made it through Israel’s layered ABM defences of Arrow-2 and Patriot PAC-3 interceptors. Those that did killed several lizards and damaged an ancillary building, but did little more.

Iran also responded to the Israeli attack with a barrage of angry statements and indignant diplomacy, putting particular pressure on Jordan in the hopes that it might deny its airspace to future Israeli attacks. Most countries, including the United States, seemed to be unhappy with Israel’s unilateral action. Unwilling to be drawn into the fighting, Washington refrained from deploying military assets (notably its Aegis-class cruisers) to buttress Israel’s own missile defences.

In order to increase the pressure on Tehran, Israel readied a second attack to finish off the nuclear facilities at Natanz and Arak, and to highlight to Iranian leaders the ability of the IAF to strike at will. Anxious to minimize its losses, aware that Iran had increased the alert status of several squadrons and redeployed several batteries of short-range SAMs to Natanz,  and with many fewer targets to strike than before, a much larger proportion of aircraft were assigned to SEAD, fighter suppression, and close escort. Secret Israeli entreaties to King Abdullah II assured that the operation, once more flown via Jordanian and Iraqi air space, was met with little other than verbal opposition from the Kingdom.


A second Israeli strike mission is en route, on the morning of D+2.

As the mission began, tragedy struck when one F-15 suffered mechanical failure and crashed into a residential neighbourhood in northern Israel. The rest of the  operation went flawlessly though, with the remaining facilities at Arak and Natanz completely destroyed. Israel’s jubilant leaders and public waited for Iran to concede to the IDF’s clear superiority, and agree to terminate its nuclear programme.


“So, how many Zionist aggressors does it take to screw in a lightbulb?”

Except that Iran didn’t. On the contrary, President Ahmadi-Nejad toured the smoking ruins of Natanz only hours after the Israeli warplanes had left, vowing that for every “peaceful civilian nuclear site destroyed by Zionist aggression” Iran would build “two more to replace it.” His opponents in the Iranian Majlis (parliament) immediately condemned his comments as a sign of weakness and insisted instead that at least three new facilities be built for every one destroyed by Israel. With domestic public opinion generally supportive, Iranian leaders seemed to be in no mood for compromise. On the contrary, another barrage of Shahab-3s were fired at Israel, this time lightly damaging the Ramat David air force base. The Supreme Leader seemed more upbeat than usual, joking with his aides during his public appearances.

The perplexed Israeli chief of staff reported to Prime Minister Netanyahu that the Iranians—unable to confront Israel effectively in the air—seemed to be “playing for a draw.” The PM, aware that international concern at Israel’s actions was growing, angrily banged his fist on the table in frustration. “A draw is not good enough! We need to strike them where it hurts, and force them to concede to our demands!” Mossad reported that the Iranians had likely been set back in their nuclear development efforts by between one and three years. One junior Foreign Ministry analyst in the room warned, however, that Tehran could respond to further Israeli strikes by escalating its own retaliation, or even deciding to press ahead and build nuclear weapons at all costs. Ironically, therefore, the attacks might actually hasten the emergence of a nuclear-armed foe.

The Prime Minister, having embarked on this course of action, didn’t want to hear it.

Instead, Israel’s strategy was revised. Plans for a strike against Iran’s fuel enrichment facility at Isfahan were put on hold, until such time as Iranian leaders and Iranian public had been made to feel the pain of Israeli attacks more directly. Emphasis was to be shifted to key economic and infrastructure targets instead.

There was some risk in this. Faced with a more direct challenge to regime stability, Tehran might escalate its response, either attempting to close the Straits of Hormuz or even encouraging Hizbullah to launch rocket attacks against Israel from Lebanon. The latter in particular would likely escalate into a major military confrontation, diverting IAF squadrons into fighting a different war much closer to home for many days or weeks.

The IDF examined, but the PM rejected, the option of launching a series of airstrikes against Iran’s oil refineries and terminals. This would require a large number of continuing air operations, an operational tempo that might begin to stretch IDF resources. Moreover, with every mission came the risk of losing an aircraft—thereby handing Tehran a propaganda victory. Iran might also be expected to politically exploit any overt shift by Israel to bombing civilian targets.

Instead, IDF special forces and Mossad, working in conjunction with the anti-regime Mojahedin-e-Khalq (MEK), were ordered to launch a series of covert sabotage operations against important infrastructure targets within the country. Three nights into the military campaign, the first of these struck an electrical generator complex near Tehran. Subsequently attacks hit oil pipelines and port facilities in the south.

Again, however, the attacks—while very successful in narrow military terms—failed to generate the desired political effects fast enough. Iranian public support for the regime’s positions remained relatively firm. Indeed, one attack rather backfired, causing Iranians to rally around the regime more closely.

* * *

…and that’s where, for lack of time, we had to leave it. The game demonstrated both the power of the Israeli military and its limits. The IAF could mount a mission into Iran and destroy its assigned targets. The IRIAF could do very little to stop this, and indeed had suffered almost two dozen planes shot down for the loss of just one Israeli jet. However, even with additional tanker support the IAF could not destroy Iran’s entire nuclear infrastructure in a single mission, necessitating a multi-day operation that increasingly concerned the international community. More to the point, the destruction of nuclear facilities did not necessarily guarantee that Iran would suspend its nuclear programmes—on the contrary, it might even redouble its commitment to this for reasons of both domestic politics and national security. The frustration of the Israeli team was palpable, as they executed near-flawless airstrikes, only to find their opponent bloody but unbowed. Faced with this, Israel decided to broaden the war, with unpredictable consequences.

One participant, briefly summarizing his take-away from the game, expressed it thus:

In terms of my experience, it really drove home the disparity in power [between the two sides] due to technological differences. Also, the complexity of planning a strike and balancing certainty of destruction with hitting more targets. Then, the fact that Israel’s military success barely made a dent against the Iranian regime until we subverted it by other means.

In addition to providing a rare opportunity to discuss the technical aspects of modern air warfare in a political science class, I was particularly pleased at the way in which the politics unfolded. The difficulty that the Israelis encountered in translating military superiority into achievement of desired political goals was rather reminiscent of the failures of political failures of Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon or the 2006 war with Hizbullah—or, for that matter, the US in Iraq and Afghanistan.

As for the “Syrian route,” we never had a chance to explore it since Jordan remained a viable option right until the end. However, the mere availability of the Syrian option certainly gave the Israeli side a sense of greater flexibility, since they knew that no matter what happened on the diplomatic front they could still strike against Iran.

Who would have won at the end? It is hard to say. The Iranians were certainly upbeat, even more so because they were slowly winning the diplomatic war as international concern grew at Israel’s actions. On the other hand, Israeli public opinion remained strongly supportive of their government throughout the crisis, while towards the last few turns there had been some slight deterioration of the Iranian position. If we had an opportunity to continue to play, the battle for Iranian public opinion would likely have emerged as a critical factor.

In the World of Simulations, Who Needs A Business Degree?

PAXsims is pleased to present some thoughts on the value of simulations in political science from Joe Jaeger, CEO of the online international relations simulation Statecraft.

* * *

When I first entered college I immediately started thinking about the degree I wanted to achieve. This, for the most part, was based on the career I wanted to pursue. At the time, I chose Political Science because I knew I either wanted to be a lawyer or a special agent for the FBI.

My parents immediately approached me recommending I pick a more technical degree. My first love is political science and I am truly fascinated by it, however, I chose to double major and pick up a business administration degree as well.

The fact of the matter is, a huge portion of employers in our economy are simply not interested in Political Science majors. They have the preconceived notion that the degree breeds thoughtful writers and researchers. These characteristics, while valuable, are not needed as much as the managers and problem solvers that many believe can be found in the business and economics fields.

NLP_negotiationsWhy is it that Political Science students don’t have the opportunity to problem solve and see the effect of their decisions as related to the political dynamics of a country and the world? These students learn about each regime change, every war, incredibly difficult decisions made by the president and cabinet members, and they research and make arguments as to the reason why these people made these decisions. Yet they are not given the chance to actually practice decision making in a way that the business community finds valuable.

As we operate and manage Statecraft, we see thousands of students every semester negotiating, budgeting, strategizing, preparing and implementing military campaigns, forging trade agreements, and problem solving on a weekly basis.  We hand-pick our interns from the best presidents we see using the simulation. In order to be successful in Statecraft a student needs to have an in-depth understanding of International Relations concepts, but they also need to be able to apply them to their country’s choices while leading their team in a highly competitive world where other countries are actively trying to sabotage their strategies. There was not one assignment or class activity throughout my entire business degree that required the intense strategizing, negotiating, and problem-solving that students in Statecraft must endure.

What most professors in the field don’t know is that many of same concepts taught in International Relations are actually taught in business. Take prospect theory for instance: everyone in our company has to learn many of the concepts students interact with every semester in International Relations. In learning about prospect theory our CFO said, “what is this finance term doing here?” In finance, prospect theory is the notion that people value gains and losses differently.


Mirror imaging can create a false impression to a business about the projected actions of another business, which can cause a potentially ineffective strategy. Compellence, Deterrence, problems of credible commitment, comparative vs. absolute advantage, tragedy of the commons, bureaucratic politics, the organizational process, group think/polarization, motivated bias, attribution bias, relative vs. absolute gains, shadow of the future, the prisoner’s dilemma, and countless others all are relevant business strategy concepts actually taught during the senior year of many business degree programs.

In sum, simulations give political science professors the opportunity to immerse students in experiences that will prepare them for a wide range of employment opportunities. The more simulations are used in the social sciences a greater the number of students will choose to major in a social science field.  We’ve already seen students put their accomplishments in Statecraft on their resume, and as a businessman I truly think they should!

Joe Jaeger

simulations miscellany, 25 February 2012

Taliban Chess

Some recent items that might be of interest to PAXsims readers:


A new thread on asymmetrical, insurgent, and irregular warfare has recently started up at BoardGameGeek, with 163 posts (and counting) over the last three days.


On that same theme, Robert Hossal continues his own reflection on the challenges of designing a generic insurgency  wargame at his SmartWar blog.


The University of Kentucky Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce conducts a major crisis simulation for student each year—and this year it addressed cybersecurity. You’ll find the simulation news blog here, and a history of past simulations (via Twitter links) here.

Washington’s birthday and those treacherous French

FOX News is, it would seem, a little miffed by the new downloadable content for the video game Assassin’s Creed III released by Ubisoft earlier this week. The Tyranny of King Washington posits an alternative universe in which, after the American revolution, George Washington becomes a power-hungry dictator.

What’s more—and here is the shocking part—Ubisoft is a French company.

A day after the United States honored George Washington, a French software company released a video game that depicts the first president as a tyrant who hangs people and must be assassinated.

You’ll find more bemused coverage of this at Kotaku, and a review of the actual DLC here at IGN.

(Pssst, don’t tell FOX that The Tyranny of King Washington was codeveloped here in Montréal. Unlike the French—who strongly supported the American Revolution with ships, guns, and thousands of troops—we tended to think of it as dangerously radical Protestant jihadism and/or treasonous rebellion against the British Crown.)

A useful article with which I completely disagree

Following a conversation over a few glasses of wine this last weekend about player types with Julie and my friends Aram and Deb, Aram sent along this article on GameDev about Bartle’s Taxonomy.  I really appreciate all the useful links in this article, but I think the author has rather missed the point.

Bartle's Diagram

Bartle’s Diagram of Player Types

No one expects that a “typology” of player types is going to perfectly reflect the variety of personalities in the “real world” of game players. Like all models, Bartle’s typology is a useful thought exercise for approximating the types of folks that play games.   It could be useful to designers who are wondering if they’ve missed anything glaringly obvious about their design or the players they are appealing to.  The conclusion that “Bartle’s player types theory mostly (and perhaps only) applies to MUD games” seems completely unfounded to me, it applies to other game and game types to the extent that it is a useful description of those who play that game.

In any event, the article is very useful for anyone thinking about game design and player types, so I recommend it for a quick refresher on recent thinking in gamification.

recent papers on political and conflict simulations

A number of recent papers have appeared online related to political and conflict simulations, most of them arising from this month’s APSA 2013 Teaching & Learning conference. Here is a quick summary of those most closely related to our interests here at PAXsims:

Alexander Cohen, Living Politics: Building a Semester-Long Simulation of International and Domestic Politics

Students learn by doing, but convincing them to ‘do’ is not always easy. While simulations can be an excellent tool for interpreting, discussing, and experiencing political concepts and ideas, they can only be successful if they engage the classroom. This paper seeks to help scholars construct increasingly immersive, relevant, and educational simulations by developing a conceptual framework for creating and running simulations. It is organized in three parts.

First, it offers a summary of a successful semester-long simulation of political behavior taught at a small liberal arts institution to non-political science majors. This course was organized into two-week thematic Units, which were in turn broken into halves. In the first half of each Unit, students learned in a traditional setting of reading, discussion, and lecture. In the second half, lessons and ideas were applied in weeklong simulations designed by the instructor. To accomplish this, students were permanently divided into groups of five which comprised ‘countries.’ Within these countries, each student was given a specialized role designed to suit their personality, such as military commander, artisan, or leader. These positions correlated to specific tasks within each simulation, as well as specific graded work that was rolled into a portfolio due the close of class. The nature of simulations varied from week to week. Countries were asked to confront a variety of challenges, including tackling domestic tragedies of the commons, designing regimes, attempting to build IGOs, and crafting political ideologies. Simulations were linked so that the outcome of one simulation affected outcomes in another. To heighten student interest and imagination, countries were also forced to contend with an ever-growing viral outbreak that transformed populations into zombies — an accessible proxy for any number of international and domestic crises with which governments regularly contend. By the second week of the course, the classroom resembled an international community — an ideal laboratory to explore questions of ideology, rationality, and strategy. The simultaneously cooperative and competitive aspects of simulations drove students to voluntarily form working groups out of class, develop complex propaganda campaigns, and continue to simulate events via e-mail between simulation weeks. Classroom engagement was extraordinary, student satisfaction very high, and student performance on exams and written assignments superlative.

Next, drawing on analysis of this successful experience, this paper presents a framework for understanding simulation. This framework stresses four elements: accountability, artistry, immersion, and incentives. This paper argues that successful simulation construction is heavily dependent upon properly incorporating these elements into scenario design. First, to help ensure initial engagement, students must be held accountable for their participation in a concrete and measurable way. Second, instructors should recall that simulations require imagination, and that imagination is best fostered through creative artistry in scenario design. Third, simulations are most effective when they are pervasive — everything from instructions, evaluations, gameplay, and classroom etiquette should be conducted within the language of that simulation. Finally, simulation designers are advised to focus upon incentive structures embedded within simulations as a simple but important way to channel student behavior.

Finally, this paper offers perspective on four successful strategies for managing simulations: adaptability, storytelling, consequences, and managing cooperation and conflict. In order to ensure productive simulation flow, instructors must be able to adapt to classroom mood. Some suggestions are offered to help instructors gauge classroom attitudes and adapt accordingly. As simulations progress, storytelling becomes increasingly important to maintain immersion; this paper provides advice on how to convert student work and actions into a cohesive and digestible storyline that is excellent fodder for serious discussion. Further, students are most deeply engaged when they feel that their actions in the simulated world have consequences, and so this paper provides examples of methods that make students feel that their decisions have impact. Finally, this paper offers some advice about managing cooperation and conflict — which, when balanced properly, are important tools to promote engagement as well as topics of learning in themselves.

Patricia Stapleton, War Games: Comparative and IR Theory Simulations

Theories of comparative politics and international relations are often presented in introductory courses to the subfields. Yet, with little to no prior knowledge of political science, undergraduate students struggle to grasp the theories in their abstract form. In-class role-playing and simulation activities can provide important context and real-world applications to political science theories. They also create other learning opportunities for students who have different learning styles. In this paper, I detail three activities that I have used in comparative and IR undergraduate courses: a comparative advantage simulation, a balance of power simulation, and a foreign policy advisement role-playing activity. In addition to reviewing the preparatory assignments and individual activity details, I explain the positive outcomes and learning objectives of all three. Finally, I address how I measure the effectiveness of such activities, as well as potential areas for improvement.

Daniel Beers, Policymaking in Post-Earthquake Haiti: A Real-Time Classroom Simulation

In this paper, I argue that real-time simulations – that is, simulations based on real world events that are still in progress – are a particularly effective form of classroom simulation, which capture the elements of urgency and uncertainty that are often missing from fictional or historical case study simulations. Specifically, I contend that real-time simulations help students to engage with the material in a more personal and immediate way than traditional role play exercises. Moreover, real-time simulations are realistically unpredictable, because the information that students use to make decisions is uncertain, incomplete and ever-changing. After discussing the theoretical benefits of real-time simulations, the paper describes an example from an undergraduate course on international development at Knox College, which focuses on the issue of international aid in post-earthquake Haiti. Based on the results of pre- and post-simulation surveys administered to participants in the course, I argue that real-time simulations like the one described here constitute a promising teaching tool for instructors of political science and international relations.

Joseph Roberts, Designing a New Simulation of Ethnic Conflict: Lessons Learned from the Trenches

For the fall semester 2010, the Politics of Ethnic Conflict course I taught used the Dacia Simulation, a simulation of ethnic conflict resolution created by Thomas Ambrosio of North Dakota State University. The student response was excellent in both the student evaluations after the course and in comments by students in debriefings. However, one of the issues that I discovered is that students needed, or wanted, additional information such as the geographic location of waterways, significant bodies of water, and other geographic formations that were not included in the Dacia Simulation. In preparing for a subsequent offering in the fall semester 2013, I decided that a new simulation was necessary that would incorporate the strategic geographic features and other modifications beyond those included in Dacia. The new simulation, “Bokhtikkari Nationalism in Assuwa: A Simulation of Conflict Resolution in an Ethnically Divided Society,” incorporates secessionist and irredentist ethnic conflict. The most important goal of the newsimulation is for students to create a stable environment and a peaceful resolution of that conflict. The simulation was based on an actual conflict. However, the details were hidden behind a fictional veil to encourage students to act within the boundaries of the simulation and not rely on their understanding of the real world scenario. This paper addresses the design process and an evaluation of the effectiveness of the simulation, including a student evaluation, of the effectiveness of the simulation.

David Bridge and Simon Redford, Teaching Diplomacy by Other Means: Using an Outside-of-Class Simulation to Teach International Relations Theory

In this article, we introduce the online version of the board game Diplomacy as a pedagogical tool to teach about the strengths and limitations of constructivism, liberalism, and realism. Beyond helping students learn about the three paradigms, the game has two additional benefits over traditional role-playing simulations. First, the online nature of the game allows it takes place outside of class, freeing up more class time and creating fewer opportunity costs for instructors who want to use simulations. Second, Diplomacy allows for a more straightforward method of assessment because it has clear rules that apply equally to all students. Plus, the online version provides a platform that gives instructors better insight into student participation. Using data, we show that students enjoyed the game, saw it as educational, and liked the fact that they played it outside of class. We conclude that online Diplomacy and outside-of-class simulations can be used as helpful tools to teach about international relations.

Joseph Roberts, Designing a New Simulation of Ethnic Conflict: Lessons Learned from the Trenches

For the fall semester 2010, the Politics of Ethnic Conflict course I taught used the Dacia Simulation, a simulation of ethnic conflict resolution created by Thomas Ambrosio of North Dakota State University. The student response was excellent in both the student evaluations after the course and in comments by students in debriefings. However, one of the issues that I discovered is that students needed, or wanted, additional information such as the geographic location of waterways, significant bodies of water, and other geographic formations that were not included in the Dacia Simulation. In preparing for a subsequent offering in the fall semester 2013, I decided that a new simulation was necessary that would incorporate the strategic geographic features and other modifications beyond those included in Dacia. The new simulation, “Bokhtikkari Nationalism in Assuwa: A Simulation of Conflict Resolution in an Ethnically Divided Society,” incorporates secessionist and irredentist ethnic conflict. The most important goal of the new simulation is for students to create a stable environment and a peaceful resolution of that conflict. The simulation was based on an actual conflict. However, the details were hidden behind a fictional veil to encourage students to act within the boundaries of the simulation and not rely on their understanding of the real world scenario. This paper addresses the design process and an evaluation of the effectiveness of the simulation, including a student evaluation, of the effectiveness of the simulation.

Amy Foster Rothbart, All the Classroom’s a Stage: Student Temperament and the Effectiveness of Role Playing Simulations

Assessment of the use of simulations in the classroom often focus on whether this technique is able to engage students in learning more deeply and therefore achieve gains in information retention, critical thinking, written and oral communication, problem solving, or the ability to understand complex systems and abstract concepts. Hidden by the measures of aggregate student achievement are the differences among students in their response to active learning methodologies. In particular, when simulations are used one might expect differences in both degree of enjoyment and in learning according to student personality traits, in particular their level of extroversion or introversion.

Using preliminary research on the use of a Reacting to the Past simulation game of political transition in post-apartheid South Africa in an introductory comparative politics class, this paper explores how simulation-based learning affects students differently. It examines in particular whether student success in and comfort with this simulation breaks down according to characteristics associated with introversion or extroversion assessed via student responses to a survey on their learning preferences. Ultimately, it considers how students who find simulation exercises more foreign to their learning style may be supported more effectively while engaging in them.

Tina Zappile, Can Online International Simulations Improve Global Awareness?

Research on the use of simulations to enhance global-specific student outcomes is linked to an overall effort to enhance global citizenship in the classroom. Phrases like globalizing and internationalizing have been increasingly included in strategic plans of higher education institutions. In addition, the movement towards assessment has introduced a variety of desired student outcomes, including global learning, education, or citizenship. This project relies on the popular International Communication & Negotiation Simulations (ICONS) international system simulation as a tool to improve global awareness as a student outcome. A set of survey tools adapted from similar research on the effect of online simulations on global empathy and learning in secondary education is used to assess changes in global awareness as a result of participation in this online simulation. In addition, this paper identifies key aspects of pedagogical design of simulations in support of that outcome and makes recommendations for further research linking simulations to student outcomes. Finally, the class evaluated for this project experienced major disruptions to their simulation experience, the direct impact of Superstorm Sandy and the unrelated death of a student in the class. This paper also includes successful strategies for dealing with serious disruptions in a way that enhances rather than hurts student experiences in simulations.

Matthew Woessner, Teaching with Simcity: Using Computer Games to Construct Dynamic Governance Simulations

One of the key challenges of teaching a college survey course like Introductory American Government, is the lack of interest on the part of students, many of whom take the course to satisfy a general education requirement. Recognizing that young people are fascinated by video games, I devised a governance simulation built on the popular video game SimCity. Although, the video game industry designed these sophisticated simulations to be played by a single participant, rather than a large group of players, I devised a simple set of rules that permit students to run these simulations collectively. The paper examines five factors that an instructor must account for if games like SimCity are to have real educational value. I argue that, if done properly, this in-class exercise provides a fun and interesting way to teach why democratic governance is so difficult.

Michael Allen Hunzeker, The Strategy Project

Strategy is central to political science. Wars, elections, treaties, and bargains – the outcomes we care most about turn on the strategies actors adopt to pursue their desired ends. Strategy is also one of the few political science concepts with widespread utility outside the classroom and the study of politics. Students who grasp what it means to act, compete, and cooperate strategically will have a decisive edge in the war room, boardroom, or courtroom.

Unfortunately, teachers who want to expose students to this critical way of thinking quickly find that there are few effective tools for doing so. This is especially true at the undergraduate level. From Clausewitz to Schelling, the canonical literature on strategy makes for dry reading. Game theory is similarly inaccessible to most college students (at least those without an abiding passion for math or deer hunting with Rousseau). Even contemporary national security strategy documents are a poor model for how to think strategically. They tend to read like a laundry list of goals and objectives. This overlooks the most important aspect of any strategic interaction: the other side has a say in the outcome too.

Two years ago a group of Princeton students began searching for a way to fill this gap. Working under the auspices of the University’s Center for International Security Studies (CISS), this team developed a simulation-based approach to strategic education. Since then their efforts have evolved into a coherent series of simulation exercises. One set of simulations teaches students about the bureaucratic obstacles to strategic action in a crisis. Another set focuses on grand strategy, helping students understand the challenges of investing today in the tools you need tomorrow. Both types are designed to be realistic yet accessible to the average undergraduate. To date over 225 undergraduate, masters, and doctoral students have participated in one of these simulations.

This paper recounts the origins of this initiative. It then describes the structure and results of the crisis simulation (as grand strategy simulation is still being refined). The goal is to share ideas with departments and research centers that are also interested in finding new ways to teach security studies and strategy. The key takeaway is that simulations are a low-cost, high yield way to fill an important gap while increasing student interest in the subject. In our experience they convey lessons of both theoretical and substantive value, doing so in a way that student-participants find more interesting and easier to remember than traditional lectures, readings, and discussions. They also attract students from a wide variety of disciplines and majors, including many with no prior exposure to the field.

Richard Arnold, Where’s the Diplomacy in Diplomacy? Using a Classic Board Game to Teach Introduction to International Relations

One of the challenges of teaching American undergraduates in an Introduction to International Relations course is finding a way to make topics and themes seem relevant to them. This paper recounts my experiences with the game “Diplomacy” in Introduction to International Relations. The game “Diplomacy” places students in the role of decision-makers in the international arena and simulates the international politics of pre-World War One Europe. As well as being a powerful simulation of the difficulties of International Relations, it also teaches students about one of the most debated wars in the history of the discipline.

Every time I have offered Introduction to International Relations, I have had students begin the class by playing two weeks of Diplomacy online (although earlier iterations had used the tabletop game). In the past, feedback from students has indicated that they both enjoyed the game and found it highly educational. In particular, students have a newfound appreciation for the complexities of the international arena. As well as exposing the website and how it may be used in an Introduction to International Relations course, this paper presents the first attempts to measure student learning quantitatively by administering a pre-test, post-test survey.

Jason Keiber, Dividing Up the Game: From Serial to Parallel Simulations

In-class simulations tend to involve all students in one pool of participants engaging in a single simulation. As an alternative to this ‘serial’ model of running one simulation at a time, the paper explores designing a ‘parallel’ model — running at least two versions of the same simulation simultaneously. The value-added of the parallel model is that students can learn from the differences they encounter within and across simulations. That is, students not only learn from the one simulation with which they are engaged, but they also benefit from a comparative analysis with their peers’ parallel simulations. The paper proposes ways to design-in differences and explores when and how to hold class discussions of the simulation. The paper includes an example simulation from the author’s experience and poses concerns regarding time management during a parallel simulation. To encourage instructors to think about their time commitments in conducting a parallel simulation the paper closes with a simple typology of different roles the instructor might take on — from a role of relative absence to that of a ‘game master’ which actively manages from outside and intervenes inside the simulation.

Chad Raymond, Can’t Get No (Dis)Satisfaction: The Statecraft Simulation’s Effect on Student Decision Making

Simulations are often employed as content-teaching tools in political science, but their effect on students’ reasoning skills is rarely assessed. This paper explores what effect the Statecraft simulation might have on the ability of undergraduate students to improve their decision-making abilities. As noted by the psychologist Daniel Kahneman (2012: 203), decisions are often evaluated on the basis of whether their outcomes are good or bad, not whether a sound reasoning process was used to reach them. A survey was administered at multiple points in an international relations course to gauge students’ satisfaction with the decision-making processes and outcomes in their respective teams during the Statecraft simulation. They also engaged in exercises in which their teams’ tentative plans were evaluated as if the plans had generated unfavorable outcomes after implementation. A comparison of students’ reactions to and achievements in Statecraft to survey and other data showed no obvious association between Statecraft and student perceptions of decision making.

simulations miscellany, 19 February 2013


Some recent items of possible interest to PAXsims readers:



Tom Grant interviews wargame designer Volko Ruhnke in the latest instalment of his I’ve been Diced podcast. Much of the discussion focusses on game modelling of insurgency and counterinsurgency, an issue that sustained a lively discussion when the the game Labyrinth first came out. Volko teaches intelligence analysis and Tom wrote his PhD thesis on counter-insurgency, so it is a particularly well-informed discussion.


According to Defense News, a proposed training simulation for US military chaplains may provoke a lawsuit:

A U.S. Army computer game to train military chaplains may bring down judicial rather than divine intervention. The Military Religious Freedom Foundation is vowing to stop the project, including possibly filing a lawsuit in federal court.

The simulation, tentatively named “Spiritual Triage,” is being created for the Army’s Chaplain Center and School at Fort Jackson, S.C., — but the school doesn’t want it.

“The school still hasn’t made any requests for the simulation, nor does it intend to at this point,” said spokeswoman Julia Simpkins.

Spiritual Triage is just beginning development at the Army’s Simulation and Training Technology Center (STTC), which awarded the contract to Orlando-based Engineering and Computer Simulations. Scheduled to be completed by September, Spiritual Triage is intended to expose chaplains and chaplain assistants to stressful situations such as ministering to dying soldiers.

“Non-player characters are used to elicit feelings and conditions that one may encounter, such as fear of death and dying, faith, guilt, separation, despair, grief, as well as physical trauma such as pain, burns, amputations, and disfigurement, to name only a few,” according to the ECS Web site.

Bill Pike, STTC’s science and technology manager for medical simulation research, said the idea came from various chaplains at the Army’s Research, Development and Engineering Command (RDECOM), which oversees STTC. The chaplains saw an existing ECS computer game called “vMedic” (formerly known as “Tactical Combat Casualty Care”), which trains Army combat medics, and told Pike that a game like that would be useful for training chaplains during mass casualty exercises….

dicedividerAlso in Defense News is a story on how “the Pentagon’s mandatory human trafficking course will be a testbed for an experimental virtual world.”

The Combating Traffic in Persons course was chosen first because it is high-volume: all Department of Defense military and civilian personnel must take the training, which takes about an hour to complete. There were 36,000 course completions last year.

The virtual world test will be conducted in the spring, before final evaluation by the Office of the Secretary of Defense for Personnel & Readiness. Users will take the normal CTIP course online, but when they come to the last of the eight training modules they will be unknowingly and seamlessly transferred to a virtual world.

CTIP is a mixture of multiple-choice questions, audio, and Flash video, including “some pretty graphic pictures” of what happens to women and children who are victims of human trafficking, Vozzo said. It is designed to acquaint users with Department of Defense regulations and policy regarding human trafficking. While the basic content of the course won’t change, how it is delivered and how the student will access it will be.

“It will be very similar to a MMO [massive multiplayer online] construct,” Vozzo said. “The virtual world does consist of an avatar that the student can maneuver to interact with various scenarios.”

“We are testing the hypothesis that a virtual world framework may be less expensive, may be more efficient, easier to develop and easier to sustain in the long run,” Vozzo said.


Earlier this month at Reddit, the question was asked “how have video games changed new [military] recruits?

Persian Incursion 2013

As I’ve noted in a couple of reviews (here and here), the game/rules engine in Persian Incursion provides a powerful combat model of an Israeli strike against Iran’s nuclear or oil facilities. As a manual, “cardboard” wargame it is also very easy to tweak. With that in mind, I’ll be running a version of the game this Friday at McGill University with some political science graduate students, plus an Iran analyst colleague. Although game-playing is part of the reason for doing so, I also want to use the session to explore some of the issues involved in any possible Iranian military action, and then collect some feedback on how useful participants found the process.

The game will be set in the here and now of 2013. This means that the initial opinion settings will mirror the current diplomatic environment, and the upgrades available to the players will be restricted to those that Israel and Iran might plausibly have obtained by March 2013.

Moreover, as detailed below, the Syrian civil war raises the possibility of an Israeli strike overflying Syrian airspace, rather than having to use the northern (Turkish), central (Jordanian), or southern (Saudi) route. The Syrian route would be risky, exploiting the relative weakness in Syrian SAM defences between Damascus and Homs as well as the severe degradation of Syria’s air force and integrated air defence system caused by two years of civil war. On the other hand, it would not depend on the political acquiescence of the country being overflown, an aspect which otherwise constrains potential Israeli use of other possible routes.

Syrian SAM defences, in 2010, with S-200 (SA-5) ranges shown in purple. Source: Sean O'Conner, Strategic SAM Deployment in Syria (click picture for link).

Above: Syrian SAM defences, in 2010, with long-ranged S-200 (SA-5) ranges shown in purple and the Damascus-Homs gap in medium-range systems readily apparent. Source: Sean O’Connor, Strategic SAM Deployment in Syria (click picture for link). Video below: Syrian rebels overrun a S-200 SAM site. Several early-warning sites may also have been destroyed.

Political Opinion

israelunThe following initial political opinion settings are used at the start of the game:

  • Iran -8
  • Israel +10
  • China -6
  • Jordan 0
  • Russia -3
  • Saudi Arabia/GCC 0
  • Turkey -1
  • UN/rest of world -2
  • USA +2

iranunThe “ally actions” listed in the rules (p. 11) include some rather unlikely possibilities. Consequently, they are replaced with the following:

  • China: If Iranian ally, Iran may purchase the GPS jammer or laser dazzlers upgrades for its nuclear facilities at a cost of 1 MP. 
  • Russia: If Iranian ally, Iran may purchase up to three S-300 batteries at 1 military point (MP) each; R27ER1 AAM upgrade for 1 MP.
  • Jordan: If Israeli ally, Iran suffers -10% penalty to terrorist attacks.
  • Saudi Arabia: If Israeli ally, provides covert support for Israeli strikes. Israel adds 10% to SAM suppression and +1 to CGI fighter rolls when using southern route.
  • UN/rest of world: Use rules as written.
  • US: If Israeli ally and Iran has attempted to close Strait of Hormuz, roll for US airstrike against Iran each turn (p. 11). If Iranian ally, game ends immediately as US diplomatic pressure forces Israel to halt its air campaign.

In the latter case, being an Iranian “ally” doesn’t, of course, mean that the US is actually allied with (or even friendly with) Iran—rather, it just signifies that the US is deeply opposed to Israeli actions.

Most of the “arms sales” rules are not used because, even if China or Russia were to sell Iran additional military hardware, they could not be fielded effectively in the timeframe covered by the game.

Other ally effects listed elsewhere (p. 27) still take effect.

Player Upgrades and Reinforcements

These are set as follows to reflect current real-world conditions, but with some potential for “unknown unknowns”:

  • The Iranian player may purchase any and all air defence systems upgrades, countermeasures/EW defences, additional Tor-M1 batteries, and up to one battalion of Sejil-2 MRBMs. Iran may also purchase EM-55 naval mines, although these do not represent any particular weapons system but rather an increased Iranian investment in combat systems for use in the Straits of Hormuz. Iran may not purchase Pantsyr S1E SAM/AAA batteries, S-300, Buk-M1, or HQ-9 SAM batteries, or any air-to-air missile upgrades.
  • The Israeli player may purchase all upgrades except AIM-120D AMRAAMs.
  • Neither player may gain extra-national reinforcements, although Israel can still benefit from ballistic missile defence assistance from US Aegis class cruisers under appropriate circumstances

Central Route

In the Persian Incursion rules, Jordan is assumed to be unwilling to intercept any IAF strike transiting its airspace. Instead, the US attitude is what counts—especially given (then) US control of Iraqi airspace.

jordanprotestsBy 2013, things have changed. The US no longer controls Iraqi airspace, and Iraq itself lacks the capability to effectively control or even monitor it. On the other hand, the “Arab Spring” has rendered the Hashemite monarchy in Jordan more sensitive to public criticism. Repeated Israeli overflights of Jordan could create serious domestic political problems for the regime. Israeli destabilization of Jordan, in turn, wouldn’t go over very well in Washington.

Indeed, under some extreme circumstances one can even imagine some limited Jordanian military response to Israeli actions. (If this seems farfetched, consider how Jordan entered the 1967 Arab-Israeli war—a war it knew it would lose—when it became clear that failure to do so would severely undermine the monarchy’s political position.)

Consequently, the following modified rule will be used:

Israel may overfly Jordan at any time if political opinion there is 0 (neutral) or better. However, whenever it does, Iran rolls 3 dice on the Jordanian opinion track, and one on the US track.

Syria Route Special Rules

Syrian rebel fighters pose on a destroyed tankUse the following procedure should the IAF choose to use the Syrian route, reflecting the need to deal with whatever functioning Syrian air defences are encountered en route.

The Syria route counts the same as the Central route for the purposes of tanker support and targets that can be struck.

  1. First, Israel may conduct a Suter EW/cyber attack against Syrian air defences.
  2. Next, roll a D100 for each of the five Syrian SA-200 long-range SAM batteries that cover the Israeli route. These have a 33% chance of being able engage in-bound Israeli aircraft, and 66% chance of engage out-bound (return) aircraft. A failure to obtain a sufficient result indicates that these batteries have been overrun by Syrian opposition forces, redeployed to other areas or duties, or are otherwise incapable of responding.
  3. The IAF may conduct SAM suppression missions as usual, or target them with airstrikes.
  4. Surviving Syrian SAM batteries may then engage Israeli aircraft.
  5. After this, dice on the GCI Fighter Table to see whether any Syrian aircraft are able to intercept, subtracting 3 from the result. The IAF may conduct fighter suppression missions. The Iranian player may not spend MP to augment Syrian air defences. The Israeli player gains +1 for every one (not two) MP spent on suppression of Syrian air defences.
  6. Roll D100 to determine the type of intercepting aircraft: 01-50 MiG 23MLD, 51-85 MiG-29, 86-100 MiG 25. The Iranian MiG 29 aircraft data card is also used for Syrian MiG 29s. (Jeff Dougherty kindly generated Syrian MiG 23 and MiG 25 weapons data for the scenario, which I’ve incorporated into these modified aircraft cards at right—click the image to download).

Persian Incursion Syrian MiGsUse of the Syrian route by the IAF would likely give Iran around 60-90 minutes of advance warning of the inbound strike packages. Subtract 5% from the effectiveness of IAF SAM suppression missions in Iran, and add 1 to the GCI Fighter Table when determining Iranian fighter interceptions.

Each time the Syrian route is used the Iranian player may roll 1 die against either the Russian, Chinese, or UN/rest of world opinion tracks.

One small (but non-zero) risk of using the Syrian route is that Damascus might launch its own retaliation against Israel, and that the situation could then escalate out of control.

If at any time the Israeli players rolls a natural 12 while conducting a SAM suppression, SAM strike, fighter suppression, or air-to-air engagement, Syria responds. Roll a d6:

  1. Syria vociferously condemns Israeli actions. Iran gains 1 PP (political point).
  2. Syria lends support to Iranian retaliation. Iran gains 1 MP (military point).
  3. Syria lends support to Iranian retaliation. Iran gains 1 IP (intelligence point).
  4. Syria organizes hasty terrorist attack against Israel next turn, 50% chance of success.
  5. Syria organizes major terrorist attack against Israel next turn, 80% chance of success.
  6. Syria launches limited missile strike next turn (treat as 6 ballistic missiles). If any of these hit with a die roll of natural 12, further escalation takes place. The game ends immediately as the IAF is retasked with striking Syrian chemical weapon facilities.


While Persian Incursion includes rules for Iranian-backed terrorism against Israel, this seems to represent small-scale bombings, infiltrations, international terrorism, or perhaps Palestinian Islamic Jihad being encouraged to fire a few rockets from Gaza. It certainly doesn’t address Hizbullah’s potential involvement in the conflict, with its arsenal of an estimated 30,000 rockets.

hizbullahI don’t think it is inevitable, or even particularly likely, that Hizbullah would become overtly involved  is Israeli-Iranian hostilities through large-scale attacks from Lebanon—doing so would be deeply unpopular in Lebanon, even among its Shiite constituency, and also leave the organization open to a major Israeli riposte. The slow collapse of the Asad regime in Syria has likely rendered Hizbullah even more risk-averse. However, if the Iranian regime were feeling especially vulnerable it could pressure Hizbullah to act, especially in the context of an extended Israeli military campaign.

Modelling this in the game is tricky, because a major Israeli-Hizbullah war would, in many ways, be an even bigger military operation than an Israeli attack on Iran.

If the Iranian political opinion track is at 7 or higher, or Israel has attacked this turn for a third or subsequent time during the game, Tehran may spend 2 PP and press Hizbullah to attack Israel in a substantial and direct way. The base chance of success of convincing Hizbullah is 50%, plus  10% for each additional 1 PP spent.

Once Hizbullah has entered the war, a “Lebanon War Phase” is added after the Strategic Events Phase in each morning turn for the duration of the game. Israel must commit at least 1 MP and 1 aircraft squadron to the war effort. It may allocate additional MP/IP and additional aircraft squadrons. After it has done so, roll 2D6.

  • Add 1 to the total for every 2 MP/IP allocated to the Lebanon campaign.
  • Add 1 each additional aircraft squadron.
  • Add 1 if Israel purchased an expanded Iron Dome system.

Because of the Syrian civil war Iran has little capability to assist or resupply Hizbullah during the fighting.

Consult the following table to ascertain the effects of the war that day:

  • 2: Hizbullah rockets rain down on northern Israel and points further south. Iran gains 3 PP, and may roll 4 dice on the Israeli opinion track (backfire 8). 
  • 3-4: Iran gains 2 PP, and may roll 3 dice on the Israeli opinion track (backfire 8). 
  • 5-6: Iran gains 1PP, and may roll 2 dice on the Israeli opinion track (backfire 8). 
  • 7-10: Iran may roll 1 dice on the Israeli opinion track (backfire 8). 
  • 9-10: The war generates greater Western support for Israel. Israel may roll one die on the US or UN/rest of world opinion track.
  • 11-12: Hizbullah casualties mount. Israel gains +1 to all future rolls on this table (this effect is cumulative).
  • 13+ : Hizbullah suffers severe damage. Iran loses 2 points (PP, MP, and/or IP—Iranian player’s choice), and Israel may roll 1 die on the Iranian opinion track.

Israeli aircraft allocated to Lebanon are assumed to be engaging in airstrikes during the morning and afternoon phases, and test for breakdowns at the end of the latter.

Other Rule Modifications

In general, we’ll be using the full rule set. However, use of  simplified target profiles makes mission planning much quicker, and also allows more effective use of the quick strike chart that the game designers have made available. Resolving aircraft breakdowns/repairs will speeded by using the additional charts for this developed for this.

Rather than treating SAM suppression missions from planned airstrikes at SAM sites as different things, any suppression mission that exceeds its necessary roll by 30% or more is assumed to have permanently destroyed the battery (in the case of older SAMs relying on a single radar system) or half the battery (with more modern SAMs with multiple radars). Players may still attack airfields.

Connections UK professional wargaming conference


The dates have now been confirmed for the inaugural Connections UK professional wargaming conference, which will be held at King’s College London on 3-4 September 2013:

Purpose. The purpose of the event will be to bring professional wargame practitioners together to share what we are doing and spread best practice. To quote Professor Phil Sabin (Kings College London): ‘the trouble is at present that there is too little awareness of what other individuals are doing, and we are losing in terms of mutual support and the sharing of good practice.’

Aim. The aim of Connections (US) is ‘To advance and sustain the art, science and application of wargaming.’ Connections (UK) will strive to do the same but the primary purpose of the initial event will be to learn what we all do and share best practice. A significant subsidiary purpose will be to discuss future events, their format and feasibility.

Target audience. We envisage a mix of: military wargame users; military wargaming practitioners (designers and analysts); and academics. Beyond that we see selected invitees from industry and recreational wargaming. Example organisations that might be interested include: Dstl, DCDC, The Defence Academy (e.g. JSCSCS, RCDS), the Warfare Centres, various universities, QinetiQ, Corda, GD etc. The key criterion for attendees is that you have something to say! We anticipate that, as wargame practitioners, everyone will have experiences and good practice to share; expect to be a speaker! We are working closely with our US colleagues’ and Peter Perla, Rex Brynen and Matt Caffrey have all expressed a desire to attend: all are world-class wargaming practitioners and it will be worth attending solely to hear what they say!

Duration. Two days seems ideal. This allows invaluable evening demo sessions and socialising and makes travelling worthwhile. Arrival on the evening of D-1 is anticipated with a meet and greet; then a gentlemanly start on D-Day, finishing about 1500 on D+1.

Cost. Connections UK is not a money-making enterprise; it is a service to the wargaming community. Charges will be as small as possible, sufficient to cover food, venue and whatever minimal administration is required.

Dates. The dates are confirmed as Tuesday 3rd September 2013 and Wednesday 4th September 2013.

Location. Kings College London.

Connections UK is an offshoot of the original Connections conference held annually in the US, organized by Matt Caffrey. As PAXsims readers will know, that conference is being held this year on 22-25 July at Tech^Edge, Wright Brothers Institute, 500 Springfield Pike, in Dayton, Ohio (Near Wright-Patterson AFB). I’m not sure I’ll get to Connections this year because of other obligations, but I am hoping to attend Connections UK.

Simulations and Games for the Classroom at TLC 2013


This year, parts of the American Political Science Association’s annual Teaching and Learning Conference will be streamed online. This will include a short course on Simulations and Games for the Classroom: Effective Strategies for Developing New Games and Refreshing Existing Material to be broadcast on Friday, February 8 from 8:30am to 12:30pm (PST).

You’ll find the link for this and other 2013 Teaching & Learning Conference remote participation sessions here.

Inklewriter and interactive (simulation) authoring

At the Chronicle of Higher Education today, Anastasia Slater has an article/review of Inklewriter, a free online app for interactive story-writing:

Last week, Inkle Studios released “Future Stories,” a curated collection of stories produced with its interactive story development tool. This slick iPad app features the tech behind Frankenstein, an interactive adaptation of Mary Shelley’s novel by Dave Morris. Play through any of these stories for a while and you’ll see everything from straightforward choices of action to complex moral dilemmas and experiments. You can also check out many experiments on the web, including Emily Short’s Holography–she’s also written some thoughts on inklewriter as a platform.

While Inform 7 (as discussed last week) uses a parser interface based on interpreting a broad range of user actions (get lamp, open door, look at book, etc.), Inklewriter uses an interaction model similar to ’80s Choose Your Own Adventure gamebooks, which recently came back into print and made the transition to eBooks. However, it goes beyond any of the simple page-shuffling models of those past books in part because it can keep track of decisions and variables from the user’s actions.

The resulting story is web-based, but you can pay a small additional amount ($10) to have the interactive story exported to a Kindle ebook with embedded links.

Having played around a little with it online, the system would have considerable potential for building serious educational and training modules, making it relatively easy to build text-based versions of something like the Inside the Haiti Earthquake with a series of branches choices that allows users to explore first, second, and third order consequences of various strategic or operational choices.

North Korea attacks the US (via Call of Duty MW3), and other digital plots

As Forbes reports today, North Korea has released a video in which a sleeping North Korean dreams of a missile attack upon the United States—with the video of the latter actually a cinematic lifted from the video game Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. You’ll find the video below—the video game component starts around 2:12.

According to AFP, the caption at this point declares that “Somewhere in the United States, black clouds of smoke are billowing. It seems that the nest of wickedness is ablaze.”

The video also features a North Korean space shuttle, and (perhaps most bizarrely) an instrumental version of that intimidating martial music, “We Are the World.”

Meanwhile, in Pakistan, Call of Duty: Black Ops II and Medal of Honor: Warfighter have been banned by the All Pakistan CD, DVD, Audio Cassette Traders and Manufacturers Association. According to a report by FOX News last month, the APCDACTM informed store owners that:

The Association has always boycotted these types of films and games. These (games) have been developed against the country’s national unity and sanctity. The games (Medal of Honor: Warfighter and Call of Duty: Black Ops II) have been developed against Pakistan, and the association has completely banned their sale. Shopkeepers are warned and will be responsible for the consequences if found purchasing or selling these games.

One Pakistani official interviewed for the report stated that ““These games are an effort to malign the minds of youth against Pakistan.”

al-Jazeera English also reports on the story below.

Games and history at reddit


Over at r/AskHistorians on reddit, this week’s Monday topic of conversation is “games and history.”

In the wake of many such posts over the past few days (weeks/months — let’s be serious here), and with an invitation of sorts having been extended to certain members of the major gaming communities on Reddit, we’re happy to offer this space today to discuss the many intersections between gaming and history.

Some possible topics to discuss include, but are not limited to:

  • The history of games and ludology generally
  • The use of games as a tool for teaching history
  • Pursuant to the above, which games are most accurate or useful?
  • What about otherwise?
  • Of possible particular interest: given that video games nowadays offer much greater scope for visual artistry than they did in the past — and, consequently, for greater possible accuracy of visual depiction — are there any older games that are nevertheless notable for their rigor and accuracy in spite of technological limitations?
  • Do those creating a game that takes place within a historical setting have the same duties as an historical researcher? The author of an historical novel? If they differ, how do they?
  • On a far more abstract level, of what value is game theory to the study of history?

These questions and more are open to discussion. We welcome any guests who may wish to contribute, but remind them — as we periodically remind all our readers — that /r/AskHistorians has a set of strictly-defined rules when it comes to posting. Please take a moment to read them before diving in! Moderation in the weekly project posts (such as today’s) is still somewhat lighter than usual, so everyone should be fine.

Get to it!

It might not be Monday any more, but the conversation continues.

MEJ: Gaming Middle East Conflicts

MEJ logo

One of the important challenges of promoting conflict simulation as a tool of analysis or experiential learning is that of broadening the conversation beyond the existing gaming community to other professional colleagues. Consequently, I’m very pleased that the latest issue of the Middle East Journal (Winter 2013) has published a review essay of mine that examines “gaming Middle East conflict” through lens of four fairly recent boardgames: Oil War—Iran Strikes, Persian Incursion, Battle for Baghdad, and Labyrinth.

The review can be found here (pdf posted with the permission of MEJ).

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