Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Monthly Archives: May 2013

Review: Masters of the World

Review by David Brynen

Similar to its predecessor, Rulers of Nations, Eversim’s Masters of the World (Geopolitical Simulator 3) is an ambitious game that lets the player run a country—indeed, pretty much any country in the world today—however they want. Between the two games the premise and the bulk of the game is largely unchanged. In Masters of the World you play as the head of the government of a country and make a vast array of domestic and foreign policy choices. The game can be played in two major ways: in a sandbox mode, or in a series of scenarios that typically mirror real-world situations. The new version adds more policy and construction choices, allows players to simultaneously control more than one country (thus enabling coalition play), and significantly improves the graphics and player interface.

While the game’s attention to detail remains impressive, the game unfortunately falls flat in some areas. Indeed, in some regards it is a small step back from the earlier Rulers of Nations.

There is little doubt that once again the biggest bright spot of the game is the amount of freedom that is given to players. Your choices in the game can be as minor as determining percentage of the budget you spend on the country’s football program or can be as important as authorizing the use of nuclear weapons against another country. The degree of freedom in the game is also represented by the ability to once again play as either traditional powers or smaller nations. The ability to play with over 150 countries presents the player with a large amount of variety between games. As an example, in my first two playthroughs I began with two wealthy democratic nations: the Netherlands and Canada, where in both cases I made it my goal to fight growing debt while combating terrorism. In another game I then successfully applied Keynesian economics in an emerging Ghana, and in my last playtest I played as Qatar where I attempted to change the country’s restrictive social policies. Each game was very different as I was presented with a different variety of problems in each country, something that made each of my four games unique. The replay value is thus considerable.

screenshot_1From a domestic politics point of view the game is  fairly accurate and realistic. Segments of society will generally react the way that one might expect in real life. In particular when crafting public policy Masters of the World nicely captures the notion of trade-offs. In real-world politics it is rare that a policy decision will be universally accepted. An example of this that I had encountered is that one of my first decisions as Prime Minister of Canada was attempting to raise the country’s retirement age. Unsurprisingly, my decision to change the age of retirement from 65 to 66 resulted in public protests and I saw a sharp decline in my popularity index. Another instance of the game’s embedded trade offs was as President of Ghana, when I tried to combat the alarmingly high crime rate in the country by allowing ID checks and installing security cameras. Although this made many people in my country feel safer, it also angered the country’s small yet loud libertarian voting block, who believed that I was infringing on their freedoms.

Although much of Masters of the World feels largely unchanged from Rulers of Nations, one improvement on the new version is that the popularity indicator seems to be a lot more predictable when compared to the one found in the earlier version of the game. In Rulers of Nations the popularity indicator was sometimes strangely volatile and would greatly fluctuate for little apparent reason. In my review of the earlier version of the game, I pointed out how starting World War III strangely improved my popularity while playing realistically (making small economic changes) often reduced my popularity. Masters of the World has seemingly fixed this problem.

While the domestic aspect of the game is strong, unfortunately the Masters of the World’s foreign policy model seemed weaker than its predecessor. While the game does once again present options like signing economic deals and creating military alliances, criticism can be leveled at how frequently interstate wars erupt. Adding to the problem is that when a war begins the player is given no reason as to why the war began, which makes it impossible to know the motives behind these all too frequent conflicts.

In one of my playthroughs within four years of game time I had eight wars break out. If I was playing as a nation near one of these conflicts, I imagine this would make the game virtually unplayable. While some of these wars were plausible (Georgia-Russia and Japan-North Korea), many of these wars were laughably unrealistic. For instance Venezuela and France have gone to war every time in each of my games which led me to believe that this bizarre conflict might be scripted. In addition Cuba and Mexico have also gone to war on numerous occasions and Japan and Russia once fought in a recreation of the Russo-Japanese War. The funniest, however, was one conflict I read about on the game’s community discussion board where a player recounted how the United Kingdom had attacked the Isle of Man.

While it should be noted Masters of the World was not designed to be a war simulator, the military aspect of the game is also seemingly broken. For example, in one of my games Georgia was able to successfully attack Russia for well over a year without Russia attacking back. The Georgian army  even managed to completely decimate Sochi, the site of the 2014 Winter Olympics, without any repercussions from the Russian Army.

Although one can set the pre-game meter to “less warmongering”, this seems to do little to reduce the amount of wars in the game. A player could turn wars”off” altogether, but this would also be unrealistic.

The game supporters multiplayer online play, although I didn’t try this. It also allows substantial player customization, and there is a quite active modding community.

In fairness, part of my disappointment with Masters of the World may stem from my enjoyment of its predecessor, and my expectation that the new version would be a substantial improvement. Certainly Masters of the World remains a fun game to play. It nicely captures many of the dilemmas faced by politicians when determining public policy. Unfortunately, those who enjoy modelling of real-world politics will likely find that the weaknesses in the game’s foreign policy system hold it back from being truly great.

Canadian Disaster and Humanitarian Response course: In the danger zone

The Canadian Broadcast Corporation flagship news programme “The National” featured this excellent report on the recent Canadian Disaster and Humanitarian Response course:

Simulations miscellany, 22 May 2013

Some recent (and not so recent) simulation-related news that might be of interest:

* * *

It would appear that it been a good month or so for simulated disaster. The Harvard Humanitarian Initiative held their annual disaster simulation on April 26-28. In Toronto, the Canadian Disaster and Humanitarian Response Training Program took place May 8-19, including a simulated complex humanitarian crisis in Simlandia. The University of Denver will be having its crisis simulation exercise on May 26-27.

We’ve reported previously on the creative use of games by the Red Cross/Red Crescent Climate Centre. However, we entirely missed mentioning the recent “Paying for Predictions” online game competition (now closed), or the November 2012 report of the Pardee Center Task Force on Games for a New Climate (a joint project of the Red Cross/Red Crescent Climate Centre and Boston University’s Frederick S. Pardee Center for the Study of the Longer-Range Future).

The Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre will be hosting the 2013 The West Africa Peacebuilding Institute in Accra, Ghana on 2-20 September 2013. Roleplays and simulations will be an important part of the curriculum.

The United States Institute of Peace, as usual, has a number of forthcoming conflict-related courses that involve simulation and role-play components.

The US website of Médecins Sans Frontières now features a virtual refugee camp.

Simulations and their use in the humanitarian sector


This guest post has been written for PAXsims by David Hockaday of the Emergency Capacity Building Project.

Simulations and their use in the humanitarian sector

The Emergency Capacity Building Project (The ECB Project) [1] is a collaboration among six of the world’s largest International Non-Governmental Organisations (INGOs) and is specifically designed to improve the skills and competencies of the national staff of the six participating agencies and other stakeholders at the national level. This skills improvement process is called “capacity building”. The ECB Project has been working over the past six years to build the capacity of national staff to carry out faster and more effective emergency responses.

There are many approaches to capacity building national staff which the ECB Project has used. This includes training on a specific standard or tool, hosting learning workshops or learning events, and organising real time evaluations, after action reviews and simulations.

Simulations and drills are used in all walks of life to test and prepare specific skills and competencies – whether it is for the emergency services, health professionals, military or airline pilots – and the humanitarian sector is no different. Simulations provide an excellent opportunity to build relationships, test individual competencies and provide a safe learning space for participants to try out new behaviours or approaches.

ECB-Project-case-study-simualting-the-worst--front-cover_cropped89118The ECB Project recently finalised a collaborative simulation case study with other key stakeholders in the humanitarian sector, which yielded some interesting conclusions.

Perhaps of most significance was the implicit finding that simulations are increasingly recognized by NGOs, the United Nations (UN), donors, governments and the broader humanitarian community as a highly effective and engaging way of increasing disaster preparedness and building staff capacity.

As a result significant progress has been made in the humanitarian community in the way that simulations have been resourced, prioritized and used as a preparedness tool – from the creation of the ECB Project’s Simulation Administrators Guide, to the development of the United Nations Inter-Agency Emergency Simulation guidebook (UN-IAES) and the more recently drafted Local Government simulation piloted by the Philippine National Disaster Management Agency with assistance from the World Food Programme.

In addition, the United Nations Inter Agency Standing Committee (UN-IASC) developed a roster of trained simulation experts which is available for use by others within the humanitarian community.

These are all good examples of how the sector is increasingly professionalising, codifying and sharing resources and guidance on simulation design and implementation.

The most interesting finding from a human resource perspective was that across the board and without fail, simulations present an excellent opportunity for relationship and trust building. Relationships and trust are so critical in humanitarian responses and can be the difference between failed and successful coordination, and in turn can determine the ultimate success or otherwise of the overall response. The fundamental objective of the simulation in a humanitarian context is to ultimately pre-position relationships, in the same way that I/NGOs might try to pre-position vital stocks of mosquito nets, water purification equipment or sanitation kits.

The study found that there were four common reasons or objectives for holding a simulation:

  1. To identify the skills of an individual staff member that need to be strengthened before an actual disaster occurs.
  2. To develop and practice preparedness and contingency plans.
  3. To develop and practice organisational preparedness and relationships.
  4. To build organisational capacity.


While the stakeholders and organisations involved across the six simulations varied greatly (for example from a simulation held in Madagascar at the national level involving national government officials, UN officials and other key stakeholders, to a simulation held in a disaster vulnerable community in the Philippines, with community members and local NGO staff) the study revealed that successful simulation designs shared four common key elements:

  1. Trained and skilled facilitators.
  2. Injects [2] to help move the fictional scenario along and to test different components of planning, preparation, and coordination.
  3. A debriefing session held after completing the simulation where the key lessons from the event are captured.
  4. The development of an action plan, (individual, organisational or institutional) that outlines how the capacity or skills gaps identified during the simulation and debrief, will be addressed.

The study also revealed four common lessons about implementing successful simulations.

  1. Choosing the right simulation for the context (i.e. simulating a cyclone response in a cyclone vulnerable location helped to provide realism),
  2. Ensuring the right people and stakeholders are in the room,
  3. That good planning improves a simulation
  4. And that management commitment and appropriate budgetary support are also key factors in a successful simulation

kenyasimFor managers within the humanitarian community there are valid concerns about increasing frequency of disasters [3] and growing impact on human life and economic systems [4]. This means that being well prepared for an emergency response in a timely and effective manner is even more critical for reducing the impact of the disaster, saving lives, and ensuring a smoother recovery.

In this respect simulations offer humanitarian managers an excellent tool to develop staff skills and capacity, test procedures and contingency plans, build relationships and trust and bring a greater degree of predictability into humanitarian planning and response.

To see the full case study in detail, please click this link ECB Project Simulation Case Study: simulating the worst to prepare the best. For more information and resources on ECB Project simulations please visit

[1] The Emergency Capacity Building Project is a collaboration, now nearing the end of its second phase (2008 – 2013), between six of the world’s largest International Non-Governmental organisations CARE, CRS, Mercy Corps, Oxfam, Save the Children and World Vision. The purpose is to improve the speed, quality and effectiveness of emergency response through targeted staff capacity building initiatives.

[2] A “direct inject” is a stimulus or catalyst provided by the simulation administrator to provoke a response or reaction from simulation participants. Direct injects can come from e-mails, telephone calls, situation reports, disaster data, role players and actors. An “indirect inject” is catalysed by participants following their preparedness plans, contingency plans or standard operating procedures

[3] United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). Session Concept Paper “World Conference on Disaster Reduction.” January 2005. Pg 1.

[4] Guha-Sapir D, Vos F, Below R, with Ponserre S. Annual Disaster Statistical Review 2011: The Numbers and Trends. Brussels: CRED; 2012


UPDATE: The report is now also available in French and Spanish.

JPSE: Bringing Interactive Simulations into the Political Science Classroom

JPSEThe latest issue of the Journal of Political Science Education 9, 2 (2013) is a thematic issue devoted to “Bringing Interactive Simulations into the Political Science Classroom.” There is a lot of interest within:

  • Editors’ Introduction to the Thematic Issue: Bringing Interactive Simulations into the Political Science Classroom
    • Victor Asal, Nina A. Kollars, Chad Raymond & Amanda M. Rosen
  • Constructing International Relations Simulations: Examining the Pedagogy of IR Simulations Through a Constructivist Learning Theory Lens
    • Victor Asal & Jayson Kratoville

  • Simulations as Active Assessment?: Typologizing by Purpose and Source
    • Nina A. Kollars & Amanda M. Rosen

  • Assessment in Simulations
    • Chad Raymond & Simon Usherwood

  • Using Blackboard to Increase Student Learning and Assessment Outcomes in a Congressional Simulation
    • A. Lanethea Mathews & Alexandra LaTronica-Herb

  • Bureaucratic Politics and Decision Making Under Uncertainty in a National Security Crisis: Assessing the Effects of International Relations Theory and the Learning Impact of Role-Playing Simulation at the U.S. Naval Academy
    • Nikolaos Biziouras

  • Student Perceptions of a Role-Playing Simulation in an Introductory International Relations Course
    • Sean P. Giovanello, Jason A. Kirk & Mileah K. Kromer

  • Political Simulations Using Excel
    • Steven F. Jackson

  • Using a Virtual History Conference to Teach the Iraq War
    • Bruce Gilley
  • The Politics of School District Budgeting: Using Simulations to Enhance Student Learning
    • Daniel Wakelee & Tiina Itkonen

  • Book Review: Review of Making Civics Count: Citizenship Education for a New Generation
    • Jessica Feezell

The Journal of Political Science Education is sponsored by the Political Science Education Section of the American Political Science Association.

Military Operations Research Society 81.2 Symposium


After the original version of the 81st MORS symposium had to be postponed because of US budget sequestration, it is now reborn as version 81.2, to be held in Alexandra, Virginia on 17-20 June. As usual, it contains a working group devoted to wargame methods:

WG 30 – Wargaming

Wargames are used as one means of supporting senior Department of Defense and national security decision makers. Wargaming is also found in training curricula in military school houses, in businesses, and in university courses. Most wargames are structured to address specific issues, such as current or future National Security challenges. Their outcomes tend to be of the qualitative nature, but still of substantial interest to Defense leadership. There is an intense interest to apply quantitative tools to these games, so that analytical techniques can then be applied. During a MORS Special Meeting in October 2007, issues concerning wargame design, structure, data, information, and metrics, why and how modeling and simulation could be used in support of a wargame, and the integration of wargame results with external quantitative analyses were discussed and debated. During the past symposia, the Working Group examined quantitative outputs from several different game designs, results and techniques.

Wargames are attractive to decision makers because of the human interaction between those who have a vested interest in the issues at hand. The narratives derived from a game are sometimes more important than the raw data. Relating these narratives to quantitative analysis is a challenge, but may reap immense benefits to the users of wargames.

The emphasis of Working Group (WG) 30 presentations is game design and structure, information used in and data collected from different games, tools used to present information to players and to capture data, use of models and simulations to supplement game play, and techniques, methodologies, or processes that enable the use of external quantitative analyses after the game is completed. Factors that may be considered are the type of game, number of players, use of groups, use of a control cell, any technologies examined in the game, data collection techniques, in game analysis methodologies, or any post game analysis methodologies.

WG 30 is interested in ways to improve gaming to include immersion of the players into the game environment, the ability to rapidly adjudicate player actions, and the design of games to adapt to examination of new topics (new threats, environments, technologies) as they occur. This WG encourages the development of ways to provide quantitative analysis of a generally non-quantitative proceeding. The WG solicits innovative ideas that will spawn discourse and invite game designers to include “hooks” for those ideas in their game structure that will in turn provide decision makers with more data to consider post game. WG 30 encourages presentations on both completed work and work in progress.

You too can play "where's FORN?" See if you can tell which is the uncleared American and which is the cleared ally!

You too can play “Where’s FORN?” See if you can tell which is the uncleared American and which is the cleared US ally!

There are also working groups on modelling and simulations, computational advances in operations research, and other related topics.

New this year, MORS is permitting security-cleared members of the Five Eyes community (UK-Canada-Australia-New Zealand) to attend the unclassified sessions, although the classified presentations will continue to be NOFORN (“no foreigners”). It is a puzzle to me why non-Americans need clearance and Americans don’t, but at least it is an improvement on previous years.

Further conference information and registration forms can be found at the MORS website.

Connections 2013 registration now open


Registration is now open for the Connections 2013 interdisciplinary wargaming conference, which will be held this year on 22-25 July at Tec^Edge Innovation and Collaboration Center in Dayton, Ohio.

Theme: Enhancing Wargaming Support to Budget Decisions

Given the uncertainty over future US Department of Defense budgets as well as stresses on government, academic and commercial budgets world wide Connections has probably never had a more timely theme.  Connections will explore this theme through keynotes, speaker panels, demos and a game design lab – culminating in the reports of working groups.

The registration form for the conference can be found here.

Wargaming North Korea

North Korean soldiers in undisclosed location

Following on from the success of my earlier (and still ongoing) listing of recent Iran-related wargames and crisis simulation, I have now started a list of North Korea-related games  at the Wargaming Connection blog. Suggestions regarding any additional items for inclusion are welcome (although not this one, as fun as it was).

See also our earlier PAXsims post on gaming a new Korean war.

Student interactive simulation-writing in political science

A storyboard in development.

A storyboard in development.

A few months back we mentioned Inklewriter here on the blog, a ” free tool designed to allow anyone to write and publish interactive stories.” This term I had a chance to try it out for class assignments, specifically as an alternative option for the group research paper assignment in my POLI 450 (Peacebuilding) course at McGill University. Usually this paper takes the form of a “best practices” analysis of a common peacebuilding challenges, such as dealing with the demobilization and reintegration of ex-combatants, the return of refugees and internally displaced persons, or donor coordination. For those who decided to go the Inklewriter route, they were told to develop an interactive story or adventure that would serve to illustrate best practices, explore particular sets of operational challenges, or otherwise illuminate the material we had covered in class in an educational way. Because of the experimental nature of the assignment, they were asked to submit both a development diary documenting the design process, as well as the Inklewriter project itself. They were also given a two-week extension.

Four groups (about 15% of the class) opted to try their hand at Inklewriter. All, I think, did a very good job—especially since they were working in uncharted territory for the course. All four groups volunteered to have their projects posted to PAXsims, so you’ll find each of them below, together with their design notes.

One of the storyboards in development.

Another storyboard in development (and gradually taking over someone’s room).

All groups found storyboarding  a complex yet illuminating plot line with multiple decision points to be a challenge—especially since the various choices presented to the reader/player had to be subtle and non-obvious. After all, there’s little point in an interactive story if the decision points are all a choice between something obviously sensible, and something obviously stupid. There were some minor quirks in the software which, at times, made it a little difficult to work with—although everyone overcame these without any help from me. The biggest challenge, I think, was having to write interactive stories about field operations in fragile and conflict-affected countries when few if any of the students had spent any time dealing with such issues in real life. Experienced aid workers, diplomats, and peacekeepers might therefore have some quibbles about how particular institutions or processes portrayed in each assignment (and these are the raw assignments too, as submitted for grading and without any subsequent tweaks). The bigger picture here is the way in which this medium can be used to create vignettes and scenarios, and the ways in which the generation of these encourage students to undertake research, think about causal relations and critical junctures, and portray them in interactive form. None of the students had any prior simulation-writing experience.


Humanitarian Negotiation with Armed Groups (design notes)

  • by Tiphaine Monroe, Toader Mateoc, Taylor Steele, and Bushra Ebadi 

This project explores the difficult of securing humanitarian access in areas of ongoing armed violence, building upon the Guidelines on Humanitarian Negotiations with Armed Groups (2006) developed by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. One interesting innovation by this group was introducing an element of chance into the outcomes. Since the software doesn’t allow for it, they achieved this through the simple solution of occasionally having the reader roll a six-sided die.

In this simulation, you are a senior member of the OCHA, and you have the task of developing and implementing a proposal to ameliorate the humanitarian crisis in the United Federation of Petrichor, a nation riven by civil discord on the continent of Northern Tiffleton.

Petrichor is a former Western colony that has enjoyed independence since 1956, but due to simmering ethnic tensions stemming from colonial times, the country has fallen into periodic chaos. Currently, the country is suffering from episodic fighting with occasional breaks in the violence, mostly between the government led by President Martin Steed-Asprey, leading industrialist, and the rebel group Minabwa led by Damocles Lafleur, son of a farming family that had their land confiscated by the government in an earlier episode of ethnic tension.

The colonial power only dealt with the President’s rebel group; as such, the rebels’ original motivations were to have increased political representation and to have more equitably distributed economic growth, but the conflict itself has led to further deep-seated racism and enmity between the two groups. Further adding to complications, the two groups are also divided by separate religions, though this does not form the basis of the conflict. You will discover more information after you make contact with your intermediary throughout the following adventure.

Before you begin, we recommend that you have on hand both the OCHA manual on humanitarian negotiations with armed groups, specifically the worksheet for mapping characteristics of armed groups, as well as one six-sided die.

At certain points in this game, despite your best efforts, the result will be at least partially up to chance, much like real life. We wish you patience and success as you navigate the complex field of humanitarian negotiations!


Hard to Handle: A DDR Story (design notes)

by Daniel Stysis, Jess De Santi and Kegan Chang

This simulation addresses many of the challenges of disarmament, demobilization,  and reintegration programmes, including cheating, female combatants, and the need to find suitable civilian employment for ex-combatants. It also captures some of the never-ending meetings, coordination challenges, stakeholder consultations, and confidence-building requirements of peacebuilding by forcing the player to meet with many different actors—often more than once—before achieving their goals.

The country of Badnok has recently been the subject of a major civil war. The Gand, a minority ethnic group in the country, founded a resistance movement against the dominant ethnic Lothan ethnic group. Naming themselves the Gand Liberation Front, they fought the regular army for nine bloody years, with both sides committing major human rights violations. Now, however, mutual exhaustion by both sides has allowed a peace treaty to be brokered, and it will be necessary for aid agencies and the United Nations to help set Badnok on the road to peace.

You are the head of cantonment camp 18, located outside of Basin City, a mid-sized city located somewhat inland from the coast. As part of the peace agreement, armed groups are voluntarily surrendering themselves to the process of disarmament, demobilisation, and reintegration.

Your responsibilities entail the running of the camp itself while securing possible avenues for employment for the demobilised soldiers at your camp. You must also attend coordination meetings with other NGOs operating in the area and as part of the service delivery team at your own camp. Finally, you must report back to your superiors at headquarters.

Aleppo: The Mother of All Battles (design notes)

by Tracy Atieh, Alexander Arguete Iskender, Thibault Charpentier, and Louise Duflot

Here the reader/player is just trying to survive, as the Syrian civil war rages around them. It isn’t always clear what the best choice: flee, or stay in place? Join a side, or stay neutral? When death comes, it comes as suddenly, and finally, as a sniper’s bullet.

You have chosen to play under Ahmad Munzer, also known as Abu Omar. You are married with Leila and are the father of three children: your elderly son Omar age 12; your daughter Nour age 10, and your youngest Karim.

You live in the Eastern district of Tariq al-Bab, and work in the Souk al-Madina market, the largest covered market in the world, where you sell clothing. As 80% of Aleppo’s population, you are part of the Sunni majority.

The uprising began on 15 March 2011 with popular demonstrations that grew nationwide by April 2011, but Aleppo remained largely uninvolved in the anti-government protest. However, you can feel the tension escalating around you. You know it´s getting closer… All you can do is continue with your daily life


You have chosen to play with the Haddad family living in Homs, in the Hamidiya neighbourhood. Your name is Rida, you are 43 years old, you are Christian. You have 2 children (1 daughter of 13 years old named Yasmina and 1 son of 17 years old named Zein). Your wife’s name is Sima.

Like every morning, you drive your children to school before going to work. You have two ways to get there, the fastest and the safest, which one do you choose?


Chaos in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (design notes)

by Kushal Ismael, Joya Mukherjee, Regan Johnston

In this simulation, the player/reader must try to deal with various challenges arising from M23 militia activity in the North Kivu region of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The reader is given the option of playing through the story as two quite different characters. Also, the simulation recognizes that perfection is rarely achieved in the field: a player needs to only succeed two out of three times for the mission to be deemed a “success.”

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has been plagued by decades of violence. Millions have been displaced or have died as a result of the conflict between the Congelese Government and various groups of rebels. 5.4 million lives have been lost since 1998. 2.4 million people have become displaced and 1,152 women were raped daily (2012)….

The history of this story begins in 2008 when the violence intensified and a new rebel group, M23, formed.

One of the main IDP camps in region is Mugunga III, run by the UN in North Kivu, a few kilometers west of the large city of Goma. 30,000 IDPs reside in the camp, with more coming in each day as they flee the violence. The camp’s demographics include thousands of rape victims, ex combatants, and former child soldiers. Conditions in Mugunga III are deplorable as rebels have broken into the camp several times, stealing the limited food rations that Mugunga III has.

These are just some of the notable problems you will have to deal with in your adventure.


UN Field Officer: You are the head of Mugunga III, responsible for reporting to UN headquarters in Kinshasa on the conditions at the camp. You have worked here since 2009 and you hope to finish your service on good terms. You are responsible for coordinating relief efforts between the various NGOs that work at the camp as well as ensuring that relations with the local government remain on good terms.

Radio Okapi Journalist: You are responsible for writing stories from Mugunga III to broadcast on Radio Okapi. You are one of 200 staff of Radio Okapi, which is funded by the United Nations and Hirondelle, a Swiss news agency.

 * * *

What did students think of the assignment? The feedback I received was  overwhelmingly positive:

We definitely think that it should be an option for future classes. Maybe there should be a few more constraints around the project, just make sure groups are working along the way and together. We had a great experience working on the game together and we learned a lot. We know that future classes would definitely enjoy this project and perhaps even find new software that could enhance the conflict simulation further.

All in all, I’d recommend it as an option – I think that it’s entirely possible a group will be able to come up with a better project if they can learn from our mistakes. The only recommendation I would really make is just ensuring that they have a chance to look through the projects this year for an idea of what to expect.

I think the assignment was a very engaging and thorough learning experience, it took us a long time but really deepened our understanding of the situation and was therefore very insightful so keeping it as an assignment option for the course would be a great idea since the format is also very flexible and any kind of games can be created.

Regarding the option of having this as an assignment option, I highly recommend it. It gives the students the opportunity of approaching civil conflicts from a different point of view.

In comparison with the group paper, the games really gives you the opportunity of working together and not just dividing the parts. Because of the nature of the software, constant communication is needed because:

  1. Even if in theory it coud be used in several computers at the same time, the software glitches.
  2. The software doesn’t give you the opportunity of adding new parts.

I learned a lot from this assignment. It required not only the ability to solve problems relating to conflict, but also an understanding of how conflict in and of itself might arise. I believe that students in future classes might gain quite a bit from this.

 I think offering the project to future students would be useful (it may be best to make them choose a narrow topic and have them start at the very beginning of the semester). I don’t know if other options are available, but a more friendly software could make the process more efficient.

Working on this game was very exhilarating, and although the software wasn’t easy to use from time to time, I’m sure the four of us were able to gain a lot from it. Just like in the class SIM, we really identified to our character, and – in a way – his fight for survival became ours.

I really believe you should offer this assignment option to future poli450 students. It gave us the opportunity to be creative – something we generally don’t find in other polisci classes.

Given the quality of the output and the feedback I received, I certainly will be making this an option for future classes.

h/t Many thanks to POLI 450 students for making their assignments available for the blog.

Game for Peace: Progressive Education in Peace Operations


As part of its “OnlineFirst” service, the Journal of Defense Modeling and Simulation has just published a piece by Christopher J. Nannini, Jeffrey Alan Appleget, and Alejandro Hernandez of the Naval Postgraduate School on “Game for Peace: Progressive Education in Peace Operations.” For those interested in the use of simulations for peacekeeping training, the article is very useful reading.

We present a modeling and simulation approach that clearly increases the efficacy of training and education efforts for peace support operations. Our discussion involves how a computer simulation, the Peace Support Operations Model, is integrated into a training and education venue in Kyrgyzstan for a “Game for Peace.” On September 12–23, 2011 members of NATO’s Partnership for Peace Training and Education Centers collaborated to instruct a United Nations’ Peacekeeping Operations course at the Kyrgyz Separate Rifle Battalion in Bujum, Kyrgyzstan. Phase II of the course was also conducted on October 17–21, 2011 for members of the Peacekeeping Brigade of the Kazakhstan Army (KAZBRIG) in Almaty, Kazakhstan. Although such courses are a mainstay in NATO support in preparing member nations for peace support operations, the application of a computer simulation is unique. We relate the decision to use a computer simulation to support the training event and provide an overview of the methodology for planning and executing the game. Insights from the game about training and educating future peacekeepers and lessons for using computer simulations are instructive for future efforts and mark the way to leverage the advantages of computer simulations.

The article itself discusses how the Peace Support Operations Model has been adapted for use by the United States Partnership for Peace Training and Education Center:

The developers of the PSOM define two levels of decision-making within the game structure: the Strategic Interaction Process (SIP) and the Operational Game.17 The SIP provides a framework by which the political and diplomatic dimensions can be integrated into the exercise to shape the overall strategic environment. The Operational Game describes the process by which game participants make decisions, assign actions to units, evaluate observed changes and effects seen within the simulated environment, and modify unit actions in follow-on decision cycles as the game progresses.

In 2010, the developers identified several potential applications for the PSOM.11 We demonstrate one of the applications, education and training, to support the educational goals of the USPTC and its partners with the Game for Peace during the PKO course in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. The educational goals for the course are as follows:

  • introduce the application of the Military Decision Making Process (MDMP) in PKOs;
  • improve knowledge and skills for applying the MDMP in preparation for and execution of complex PKOs;
  • demonstrate the ability to apply tactical and operational knowledge in a multi-dimensional, complex peacekeeping environment as a member of a battalion or brigade-level staff;
  • demonstrate the ability to plan and deploy units in a PKO;
  • plan and assess the short-term impact of a UN PKO in multi-dimensional, complex PKOs;
  • plan and assess the long-term impact of a UN PKO in multi-dimensional, complex PKOs.

To create the Game for Peace, we selected the Operational Game process as described by the PSOM developers. We modified the process in order to create an exercise that would engage the Kyrgyz and Kazakh military officers and allow them to practice and explore staff decision-making and analysis for a UN PKO.

Participants assume the role of staff officers during the deployment of a UN peacekeeping force to the fictional country of Yellowstone:

During the exercise, students play the role of brigade- level staff members deployed as a UN peacekeeping force consisting of three brigade-sized elements. The students enter into the exercise with the forces deployed to the fictitious country of Yellowstone following a second deployment as part of a Relief in Place (RIP).

At the beginning of the game, students assess prepared COAs reflecting unit tasks and commander’s intent as outlined in a baseline operational plan for the scenario. As the exercise progresses, students prepare and assess their own COAs. Instructors present COAs in an abbreviated MDMP. This adjustment to the MDMP allowed students to focus on unit locations, mission, intent, and activities associated with PKOs. In this manner students have the time to assess the COAs using selected measures of effectiveness (MOEs) from the PSOM.

The students evaluate the COAs with respect to five MOEs: security of the population; availability of humanitarian aid; legitimacy of the government; level of criminality within the region: and infrastructure. As the students analyze the COAs, they consider unit activities and desired effects in terms of first-, second-, and third- order effects. A first-order effect is a direct result of an action, with no intermediate consequences between the action and the effect. Additional outcomes that are caused by a first-order effect are known as second- and third- order effects. Consideration of second- and third-order effects during the planning process can help peacekeepers develop more effective and flexible plans.

The Game for Peace consists of several sub-events that, when executed in sequence by the training team, create a week-long, dynamic educational experience. The Game for Peace cycle consists of an introduction to the scenario by the training team, student preparation, several turns of the game, and an After Action Review (AAR).


The authors’ overall assessment of the initiative is very positive:

The Game for Peace offers a modeling and simulation approach that clearly increases the efficacy of training and education efforts for PSOs. The instructor team diversity and expertise created a robust educational experience that enhanced the learning environment for the game participants. The PSOM generated real-time, quantifiable MOEs based on students’ decisions, which facilitated interactive discussion of effects and knowledge assimilation. Emphasis on secondary and tertiary effects elevated key learning points from tactical to operational and strategic insights. Insights from the game about training and educating future peacekeepers and lessons for using computer simulations mark the way to leverage the use of computer simulations to significantly improve the educational outcomes, and core competencies for PSOs.

It might have been useful to have seen more discussion of the comparative advantages—and disadvantages—of using a computer-based/driven simulation rather than a more traditional command post exercise. On the one hand, using the PSOM in this way certainly generates more feedback data faster than a CPX might. On the other hand, that data may be of a form that is rather less like the “real thing,” or otherwise less tweakable. One also risks losing some of the element of human interaction, especially in politically complex multinational operations. (They did build in a student “red team” playing an insurgent opposition, which seems a good move). In most PKOs the actual military peacekeeping mission is a rather marginal humanitarian actor, with the real work in this area done by host governments, autonomous UN specialized agencies, and NGOs. It isn’t clear how much the training model built this into the process either.

The full article is behind the Sage paywall, so you’ll need a JDMS subscription to read it. However you’ll find powerpoint presentations covering some of the same ground here and here.

Roleplay simulations and the challenge of modern SBTNs

450x300_q75One of the key challenges facing militaries around the world is how to deal with adaptive, asymmetrical, hybrid adversaries who adopt cutting-edge 5th generation warfare methods to smuggle subversive literature in their clothing. During recent exercises at the Kogalniceanu Military Base in Romania, members of the US Marine Corps Black Sea Rotational Force 13  developed innovative training methods to deal with such challenges, such as the danger posed by  “shoe-borne terroristic notes” (or SBTNs, in military parlance):

The training simulates an evacuation hub where Marines participating as role players passed through an entry control point, a security station, an additional screening station and then an evacuation simulation.

“This entry control point (ECP) is a crucial point to the evacuation site,” said Gunnery Sgt. Jose Reese, the acting company first sergeant for the Logistics Combat Element, and a St. Louis, Missouri native. “These Marines and sailors encounter all types of people and have to screen them to determine they bring no threat to anyone inside the site.”

The Marines who were working inside the ECP did not know what to expect. Some role players were just normal citizens, while some had bombs, contraband and terroristic notes inside their shoes.

I think we can all sleep safer knowing the (simulated) shoes of the free world are so well guarded.

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