Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Monthly Archives: June 2013

Assessing simulation effectiveness in Brynania


Back in 20120, Michael King and I asked students in my POLI 450 (Peacebuilding) course about the learning effectiveness of the Brynania civil war simulation. I never did get around to do much with the results, so I have posted them below. I’ve highlighted the largest learning effects in green, and the smallest in red.

Sim2010ResultsAs you can see, students reported learning in every single area we asked about. Learning was highest in those areas related to process and operational constraints (that is, the bureaucratic politics,  “friction” and “fog of war/peace”)—precisely those areas that it is hardest to explore through conventional lectures and readings. Students also overwhelmingly reported that a week of simulation was more valuable to them than a week of readings or lectures. Very importantly, however, they saw the experiential learning of the simulation as being complimentary with the more conventionally-delivered course material, synergistically improving their understanding of prior course readings. As I noted in a previous post, there were no statistically significant gender differences in learning.

Self-reported learning effects were smallest in those areas that related to the development of personal skills like leadership, time management, or empathy (although even here there was agreement that the simulation had delivered some learning). In addition to data above, we had also asked students to self-assess their skills in such areas both pre- and post-simulation. That part of the study revealed no substantial, statistically-significant changes.

In interpreting the data, some caveats are in order:

  • First, this is self-reported learning, not learning that has been assessed by some more objective measure like exam results. There is some evidence that self-reported measures may overstated the effectiveness of simulation-based methods, especially when these are assessed in the immediate aftermath of a simulation that students have enjoyed.
  • Second, these findings hold true for this simulation and these (highly-motivated) students. While they do provide further evidence of the general value of simulation methods, other simulations and audiences could well report significantly different effects.
  • Third, simulation-based learning cannot really be separated from the broader curriculum in which it is embedded. We know, for example, that the simulation debrief plays an essential role in good learning outcomes. In addition, however, learning outcomes are likely enhanced when the simulation and non-simulation material are designed to compliment and synergize each other.

A final thing we did in the questionnaire was to assess whether simulation participation had any measurable effect of student career goals. Here there were suggestions of a very slight decline in interest in legal or military careers, but generally no significant effect.

Gender and simulation participation

Simpsons-model-UNFrom time to time I’ve had several anecdotal discussions with both students and colleagues about the ways in which participation in classroom simulations might be affected by gender. In my annual classroom civil war simulation we once asked an array of pre- and post-simulation questions designed to measure self-reported learning outcomes, and found no significant gender-based differences. I’ve also collectively asked the class  whether they think gender shaped participant behaviour. Both men and women tend to split 50/50 on the issue, with around half saying there are significant gender-based differences in simulation styles and participation, and about half disagreeing. I really should study it more systematically in the future.

A new article in the Journal of Political Science Education 9, 3 (2013) by Richard Coughlin on “Gender and Negotiation in Model UN Role-Playing Simulations” does just that. His finding are as follows:

This article reports on the relationship between gender and participation at the 2010 Southwest Florida Model United Nations (SWFLMUN). Three major findings emerge from this research: (1) Even though more females participated in the SWFLMUN than males, males accounted for most of the speeches and played more decisive roles in the formulation of the committee resolutions; (2) male and female delegates employed similar negotiating styles; and (3) surveys administered to delegates suggest that males and females derived about the same amount of satisfaction from the conference but that males, paradoxically, were more likely to report barriers to participation than females. These results leave the impression that gender is a significant, but unremarked factor in shaping participation. These findings are discussed with respect to a normative conception of Model UN (MUN) as a mode of global citizenship. MUN is designed to overcome national ethnocentrism by affirming the existence of multiple perspectives on world issues and by establishing a deliberative process through which these different interests and perspectives can be negotiated. The results of this research, however, suggest that gender stereotypes may alter the kind of political socialization that is both expressed and reproduced through MUN. Substantive inequalities associated with these stereotypes may be infecting formally inclusive public spheres—such as MUN—with the effect of coding politics as a competitive, male domain.

India’s proposed Counter-Terrorism Operations Planning Tool and Wargaming System

India CT sim

Earlier this year the Indian Army’s Wargaming Development Centre (WARDEC) issued a request for proposals for a Counter-Terrorism Operations Planning Tool and Wargaming System. According to the RFP “[t]he aim of the Counter Terrorism Operational Planning Tool and Wargaming System is to aid unit commanders in operational planning and to train sub-unit commanders in planning and execution of various Operations in Counter Terrorism (CT) environment.” Other key features of the system would be:

The package will be based on actual area of Operations in a 1:5,000 scale digitised map with option to switch to 1:50,000 and 1:250,000 scale maps, provided by WARDEC. The software will have the facility of incorporating satellite images and air photographs.

[T]he package would be fielded at WARDEC and in the actual Area of Operations of an Infantry Brigade/Sector Headquarters.

The Operational Planning tool is intended to be used both in a standalone and networked mode based on a LAN configuration.

The training audience are required to be trained in planning and execution of various operations in CT environment based on “painted” situations.

The level of game play would be from the battalion down to platoon level. However, the Exercise Control (EXCON) of the game would be from a terminal, dedicated for Exercise Director, who will represent the Brigade Headquarters….

(a) BlueForces. The resolution level for Blue Forces would be down to sub section/Operational Team level for input of orders. All activities below a Team level would be depicted and resolved based on sets of Combat Rules embedded in the system. The behaviour and activity pattern of a single soldier would be modelled in the back end and aggregated to that of an Operational Team comprising 6-8 soldiers. The players would, however, play the game based on this lowest entity of an Operational Team.

(b) Terrorists. The resolution level for terrorists would be individual terrorist

EXCON would be able to set intangible factors like training, leadership, morale, fatigue, fear, support of local population, etc. These factors would have effect on the combat outcome of the forces

The aspect of civilians would be played as an EXCON function. The aspects to be played from the civilians graphical user interface would be:-

  1. (i)  Assisting terrorists.
  2. (ii)  Act as informers to security forces/terrorists (OGWs).
  3. (iii)  Act as human shield during security forces operations.
  4. (iv)  Mass gatherings.
  5. (v)  Blockades.

The closing date on the RFP was back in April. However, Colonel Sameer Chauhan (Senior Fellow, Center for Land Warfare Studies, New Delhi) is currently undertaking research on simulation-based training requirements in the Indian Army, and passed on the RFP with a request for thoughts and feedback from the broader professional wargaming community. If you have any comments, feel free to leave them here, or email him directly.

Wargaming and academia


Academic wargaming?

From time to time I find myself involved in some version of a “why doesn’t wargaming get more academic respect” discussion, the most recent version of which has been via the Simulating War Yahoo group. Phil Sabin sparked the discussion by noting:

On Friday, I gave a short talk to a research symposium at King’s College about the challenges of using controversial methodologies like counterfactualism and conflict simulation. These challenges have been brought home to me even further recently through concerns that my books and articles on wargaming cannot safely be submitted to the forthcoming assessment of university research lest the assessors turn out to be sceptics, as so many academics are. We will be discussing this controversy and stigmatisation further at the final panel of Connections UK. It was interesting that the questions on Friday focused heavily on the ethics of wargaming – a salutary reminder that the uninitiated see our activities from a very different perspective.

It all has a rather let’s-hide-Harry-Potter-under-the-stairs feel to it, with UK academic assessors apparently playing the role of the Dursleys. Is it indicative of a bigger problem?

Here I think we need to distinguish between serious games and simulations (including conflict simulations) as a teaching technique, and conflict simulations as a research methodology.

Simulations and academic teaching

With regard to teaching,  I don’t think there is substantial resistance to the use of simulations as an instructional technique in most of academia. Indeed, in some social science disciplines (including political science), most undergraduate students will do a simulations or two at some point in their studies. In my own department at McGill University, I include simulation in three of my  courses, and Phil Sabin’s excellent book on Simulating Conflict: Studying Conflict Through Simulation Games is required reading in one of my conflict-related graduate seminars;  Vincent Pouliot runs a negotiation simulation in his course on contemporary diplomacy;  Juliet Johnson incorporates a role play simulation into her Russian politics class; and Christa Scholtz does so in her teaching on federalism. Just down the street at Concordia University, Julian Schofield manages to include one or more  simulations in much of his teaching on international relations and strategic studies. McGill alumna Ora Szekely‘s classroom simulation of strategic interaction during the Egyptian revolution (which first appeared here at PAXsims) will be published in a forthcoming issue of the academic journal Simulation & Gaming. The professional/teaching journal of the American Political Science Association, PS: Political Science & Politics,  frequently has articles on classroom conflict simulation, while APSA’s annual Teaching & Learning Conference has so many simulation-related paper presentations they’ve had to establish to two separate conference tracks for them. There are several books by academic publishers with classroom simulation materials (like this and this), as well as online simulations designed for classroom use. In the field of history, the Reacting to the Past series of classroom historical role-playing simulations is now up to nine published volumes (with many more on the way), is used in scores of colleges and universities, and even has regular national and regional academic conferences. Journals on higher education frequently contain articles assessing the educational effectiveness of simulations.

There are, I think, three major obstacles to even greater simulation use in university teaching:

  1. Lack of expertise and familiarity by the instructor. Off-the-shelf simulations may not be entirely appropriate for a particular class, while designing your own can be quite daunting, especially for instructors who aren’t hobby gamers of some sort in their private lives.
  2. Time-effectiveness—that is, a simulation may use up too much scarce student contact time, or may require much more prior effort by the instructor to organize compared with a standard lecture.
  3. Classroom size. Simulations are much harder to manage in large classrooms.

Classroom time is a particularly serious constraint. In North America, the average one semester course involves around 35-45 contact hours in the classroom, or 15 hours per week across all of a student’s classes for students with a full-time course load. In the UK, the weekly average is similar. While the “sage on a stage” method of teaching is sometime derided, lecturing is a very efficient way of getting lots of information across to students in the relatively short time you have them in your classroom. There is thus an opportunity cost involved in running a simulation in terms of a corresponding loss of lecture time. In two of my regularly-taught courses I don’t use simulations at all because they would simply be less effective in conveying what I what to convey in the limited time I have available.

A further challenge is presented by large classroom size. It can be very hard running a simulation with classes that may have over a hundred students in them: doing them in the classroom would be chaos, while assigning them as homework requires very simple simulations that students can easily play at home. Digital simulations might make this easier, but these suffer from limited customizability.

In the specific case of wargames (rather than simulations in general),  one reason they are so little used is that military strategy—and even less so military tactics—are simply rarely taught at university. Most years my own university has precisely zero courses on military history and warfare (as opposed to the history of militarized conflicts). Similarly, my own department’s several courses on war treat it in the context of international relations theory (crisis behaviour, deterrence theory, balance of power and power transition models, and so forth) and don’t really explore issues of strategic or operational art. Within the field of history, scholarship in recent decades has swung away from focusing on great generals and great battles, and instead emphasizes either the social and economic context of conflict, or the lived and everyday experience of war. Consequently, most students of, say, European history never really examine why and how Napoleon won at Austerlitz or why and how the Germans lost at Stalingrad.

This is not, it should be added, a critique of social or political history—approaches that I greatly value, and draw upon in my own work. I do, however, think it is also useful for students to know how wars are fought and won. Indeed, the inability to learn such things at school is a frequent complaint from those of my students who wish to go on to conflict-related careers.

Wargaming and academic analysis

Although the distinction sometimes get lost in  “why doesn’t wargaming get any (academic) respect?” discussions, Phil’s main point concerned the use of wargames for analytical rather than educational purposes. Here I think the picture is more mixed.

Certainly one does not see traditional wargaming being used as an academic research method to understand conflict dynamics and outcomes. In both Simulating War and his earlier book Lost Battles: Reconstructing the Great Clashes of the Ancient World, Phil highlights the extent to which wargaming, done properly, is a systematic process of modelling conflict dynamics, and how that essentially theoretical model can then be systematically applied to answer historical or contemporary conflict puzzles. While governments understand this—hence the millions and billions they spend on their own professional wargaming—few academics would even think of it as an available and viable methodology, or have any training in how to do it.

Having said that, however, one does increasingly find recognition that games (broadly understood) can be used to explore the “outcome space” of social phenomenon. Game theorists do this theoretically (and have been strikingly successful in popularizing their analyses). Agent-based modellers do it, often on game-theoretic foundations. A very rapidly growing number of behavioural scientists do it experimentally, and get published in top journals. Data from my own civil war simulation was recently used by a PhD student at McGill as the partial basis for his doctoral thesis in psychology. This broader and growing academic recognition of games-as-analysis could be used to leverage greater progress in demonstrating the potential value of wargaming as a technique of scholarly  analysis.

To do so, however, will probably require several other things. It will require greater attention to methodology itself, the “how to” of wargaming and analysis—especially with regard to issues of model validation. It will require better instrumentation and measuring of games. It will require particular attention to developing rigorous standards of qualitative interpretation, especially in social science fields that have taken an increasingly quantitative term. It may also require greater cross-fertilization between those who do qualitative and quantitative conflict analysis. Finally, it will also need articles to start appearing in mainstream scholarly journals, or, even a special issue of an well-regarded academic journal devoted to the topic–assuming, of course, one could find an adequate number of scholars even able to contribute.

simulations miscellany, 27 June 2013


The graphic above is from Karl reMarks, a witty blog on Middle East politics and culture by Karl Sharro. The items below may also be of interest to PAXsims readers.

* * *

Ellen E. Deason, Yael Efron, Ranse William Howell, Sanda Kaufman, Joel Lee, and Sharon Press have assembled their collective wisdom on debriefing simulations exercises in “Debriefing the Debrief”  (Ohio State Public Law Working Paper No. 202, April 2013).

The debriefing process is a critical element of simulation exercises, which are a common technique used in negotiation and mediation education. The debriefing step provides the opportunity for self- and group-reflection that enables students to turn a “game” into a learning experience. This chapter considers this aspect of negotiation pedagogy from both theoretical and practical perspectives. It emphasizes the importance of developing goals, not only for each exercise, but for each debrief. It outlines the characteristics of an effective debrief, contrasting an inductive approach with a deductive approach. Based on the authors’ experience in multiple teaching and training settings, the chapter identifies common challenges to debriefing and suggests ways to approach them, including ideas for designing debriefing structures. As an organizing technique, it provides a series of functional steps for conducting a debrief. The chapter concludes with a section on ideas for tailoring debriefing for the context of university education and executive workshops and for specific audiences based on the academic discipline, background of participants, native language, and culture.

* * *

Coordination-meeting-at-the-OPM,-URCS-table---Simualtion,-kampala,-June-2013-300x226The Emergency Capacity Building Project provides a brief update from a multi-agency simulation held in Uganda earlier this month.

The simulation was supported by the ECB Project following a request from consortium partners in Uganda, including the Office of the Prime Minister and UN agencies.

The aims of the simulation were:

  • to test national coordination mechanisms
  • to test communication between stakeholders
  • to test capacity to respond to floods and landslides
  • to draw lessons that could support real life responses

Over forty participants attended the simulation, including representatives from UN agencies, INGOs and the Office of the Prime Minister. Following the simulation, a plan of action was agreed upon which addresses the areas identified during the event that need improvement.


simulations miscellany, 26 June 2013


Some recent simulation and serious games-related material that might be of interest to PAXsims readers:

* * *

Box_FrontKris Wheaton, who teaches intelligence studies at Mercyhurst College, has developed a game designed to teach players about cognitive bias—The Mind’s Lie.

Inspired by the announcement of Intelligence Advanced Research Project Agency’s Sirius Program a couple of years ago, I set out to design a tabletop (i.e. card) game that would help people learn more about cognitive biases and hopefully learn to limit the effects of some of the worst of them.

My first two attempts were … OK … but I couldn’t quite get them to work.  Either they took too long to play or playtesting suggested that the learning effects were too small.

One day, though, it hit me – a design that was both manageable in terms of time and had good evidence to suggest that it would teach people not only how to identify bias situations in real life but also to apply effective strategies for mitigating the effects of those biases!  In short, I had a good game with proven mechanics and a testable hypothesis — I was off to the races!

This summer (finally), I am taking my best design, The Mind’s Lie, on the road to actually test it….

You’ll find more detail at the blog link above. We hope to playtest and review a copy at PAXsims in the coming months.

* * *

Defense News has featured several recent report of interest to the serious gaming community:

* * *

Phil Sabin delivered a presentation last month at the 6th Historical Analysis for Defence and Security Symposium on “Wargame Modelling of Past Conflicts in Preparing for Future Contingencies.” You’ll find it (and other presentations from the conference) at the link.

* * *

Matt Caffrey and Tim Wilkie offer an update on the forthcoming Connections 2012 interdisciplinary wargaming conference:

Fellow participants in Connections 2012,

By now I hope each of you have learned of our preparations for Connections 2013.  Still we are E-mailing you for two reasons.

First, as a failsafe to make absolutely sure all our 2012 participants had received the work on this year’s Connections.

Second, and more importantly, we are writing to ask your help to spread the word on Connections 2013.  We need your help to reach people who we fear decided after sequestration hit they would be unable to go TDY hence participate in Connections 2013.  As you can see below, we have NOT been able to provide the full Connections experience virtually, but we have made a fair part of the conference available via VTC and call in.  We also need your help reaching people who never considered attending Connections but could call in for key elements.  For example, folks new to wargaming should find it very beneficial to call into Monday’s tutorial.

So, if you have not already seen it please read the below, then spread the word.

* * *

Remember the old beer commercial, great taste vs. less filling?  The Connections team has worked very hard this year to make Connections 2013 both worth participating in and easy to participate in, even during this time of sequestration.  Through their efforts, chances are you should and you can participate.

We have a great agenda this year.  Those new to wargaming can learn enough through the Monday afternoon tutorials to benefit from the balance of Connections.  Our keynotes speakers are among our best ever; Dr. Thomas Allen, Deputy Director, Studies and Analysis, Joint Staff (via VTC), Dr. Peter Perla, author The Art of Wargaming and lead for wargaming at CNA and Col Chris Froehlich, Chief Strategic Planning Division, HQ AFMC. Other speaker panels will deal with wargaming in support of planning, programing and budgeting, as well as the effective wargaming of the far future. This year NATO will be conducting a Game Lab examining the utility of manual wargaming in both leadership training and rapid prototyping.  As always, Connections 2013 will include wargame demos, working groups and networking opportunities.

We have gone to great lengths to make Connections accessible even in the face of sequestration.  This year we have no official military sponsor and no conference fee. So, meals and refreshments will be “no host” and any speaker who would have required funding to speak in person will speak via VTC.

For those who cannot attend in person, virtual participation via remote access (both VTC and a call-in phone number) will be available for some portions of the program.  While participating via VTC or phone will not enable participation in the NATO game lab, demos, working groups, and other highly interactive elements of the program, much of the remainder will be accessible virtually.  See the attached agenda for which elements are scheduled to be accessible virtually. These elements are in italics.

The Connections experience is first and foremost about collaboration and idea sharing among the professional community and developing the professional connections among wargamers. Little if any of this can be accomplished over VTC or telephone.  Still, much can be learn remotely, especially by those new to the field.  We also hope as many people as possible will get a taste of the Connections by participating virtually this year, to whet their appetite for in person participation during Connections 2014 and beyond.

To learn more and/or register please go to CONNECTIONS-WARGAMING.COM.  There should be an element of Connections relevant to your mission and a method of
participation within your resources.  Connections 2013 is more relevant/easier to participate, a way to increase your wargame effectiveness, even in this time of sequestration.

Hoping to see (or at least hear) you at Connections.

Matt Caffrey
Tim Wilkie
Connections 2013 Co-Chairs

The form for registering as a virtual participant can be found here.

Virtual MORS: Train on “Developments in Commercial Insurgency Wargames”

It is the second day of the Military Operations Research Society (MORS) 81.1 Virtual Symposium , and Brian Train has just delivered a very useful overview of recent developments in the wargaming of insurgency and counterinsurgency within the commercial/hobby sector.

Ploughing in the COIN Field: Developments in Commercial Insurgency Wargames  

COINfieldWhatever their medium, wargames produced for a professional military audience are different in their intention, focus and execution from those produced for the civilian market. And yet, professional military gaming, which started 200 years ago as a training aid, did spawn the “commercial” market for civilian hobby gamers in the 1960s. There has always been a certain level of overlap between the two worlds, with examples both of comercial games used by the military, and of civilianized versions of military games repackaged and released onto the open market. The purpose of this presentation is to talk about manual wargames on irregular warfare topics that have appeared on the commercial market, the challenges of designing and playing them (and getting them played), and the possible uses and insights they may hold for the professional wargaming community.

In the presentation, Brian suggested that COIN games had not historically been very popular among hobbyists, because the topic itself was morally ambiguous and unglamorous; variables are difficult to quantify; both the conflicts themselves and the games that address them involve asymmetric situations with unfamiliar  mechanics; and because such wars involve abstracted play of a nebulous conflict with no clear endpoint. HE suggested that hobby gamers can be quite conservative in accepting the new and unusual game mechanics necessary to model irregular warfare.

He also highlighted what he saw as the main elements of a good COIN game design, namely that the game show the relative importance of the various factors shaping outcomes; that it feature asymmetry of means, methods, objectives and information; that there be transparent assumptions and mechanisms (one of the shortcomings of computer games, in Brian’s view); and that it be mutable. He emphasized that such games are not meant to be strongly definitive or predictive, but ideally they should stimulate discussion.

The presentation generated some interesting questions from the audience.

  • What is the social science body of knowledge embodied in these games? Wargames encode a framework and body of knowledge about the domain, but if the assumptions are wrong, mistraining may result.  Immersive training is known to especially bad in this regard, as wrong lessons are learned very vividly.
  • DoD has struggle to build COIN operations research models. The general conclusion is that the responses and impacts are almost completely depend on the situation. Do you agree? Can wargames help fill the lack of quantitative COIN models?
  • The games can engage some reward mechanisms, and so they can train a person towards rewarded behaivors. What are the advantages and dangers in terms of counter insurgency games with red team option?
  •  Do agent-based models have a role in conducting analysis or ability to be utilized as part of a COIN game?
  • Can you expand a bit on the game design trade-offs between playability versus accuracy in the commercial sector?

You can download Brian’s presentation slides here. Much of the presentation involved analysis of the various games featured on the slides. That analysis isn’t in the slides themselves, however, so we’ll post the recording if and when it becomes available. In the meantime, you can also check out Brian’s useful list of links at

Virtual MORS: Bartels on “Can your game multi-task?”

The Military Operations Research Society (MORS) 81.1 Virtual Symposium started today, with online presentations on a broad range of topics. As I post this, Ellie Bartels (National Defence University) has just finished presenting an especially interesting paper, cowritten with NDU colleague Deirdre Hollingshed, on “Doing More With Less: Can Your Game Multi-task?” (click the link to download the full set of slides).

Ellie started by noting that games can serve several purposes: education, training, discovery, and analysis.


The conventional wisdom in the field has generally been that games should be designed with a single one of these purposes if they are to be most effective.


However, she argued that there may be  value in mixed games that simultaneously undertake different tasks, involving rather different groups of participants. She explored this by recounting the case of “Exercise Scattered Light,” a four-day, four move , dual purpose (education/policy) game that examined policy issues related to security and stabilization in Mali and the larger Sahel region.


Overall, and despite some limited drawbacks, she suggested that the approach had proved quite productive and useful. She also noted that in an era where budgetary austerity limits game participation, enabling a broader range of potential participants might also have a practical value too.


I was struck by the parallels between her mixed game approach and the similar mixed approach that we used for the UNRWA humanitarian policy simulation at the University of Exeter earlier this year. In that case we had a mix of both graduate students and senior subject matter experts. I asked Ellie whether she had found the mixed approach had altered the interpersonal dynamics of the exercise in any way:

 Q: I recently ran a game for senior leadership of a UN humanitarian organization that very much fitted in your mixed game model—in this case, a mix of graduate students and SMEs/policymakers organized in competing teams in a process that had both analytic and educational purposes. We found that the energy of the students really pushed the SMEs to work even harder (in part because they didn’t want to be “beaten” by the juniors). How did you find the psychological dynamics were altered by the mixed game (and participant) approach?

Ellie noted that this effect was likely limited in “Scattered Light” because of the format they had adopted:

A: I think there was a different dynamic here because they had different roles, The students were much more resource constrained (per reality) and in some ways the policy makers ignored student strategy until prompted. I think more exchange between the two groups would have helped but we were aiming for a cooperative rather than competitive dynamic in tone so that may also have impacted performance.

Overall, it was an excellent and well-delivered case study in professional gaming, and I’ll try to link to the recording when it becomes available. The DCO online meeting software also seemed to work well too—I certainly hope MORS continues to offer this option in future.

UK MoD Red Teaming Guide (second edition)

RTGcoverNot all serious policy/analytical games involve full-blown red teaming, and certainly not all red teaming involves games. However, there often is a substantial overlap between the two, which is why the latest edition of the UK Ministry of Defence Red Teaming Guide (2013) makes for useful reading.

A red team is a team that is formed with the objective of subjecting an organisation’s plans, programmes, ideas and assumptions to rigorous analysis and challenge. Red teaming is the work performed by the red team in identifying and assessing, inter alia, assumptions, alternative options, vulnerabilities, limitations and risks for that organisation.[2] Red teaming is a tool set. Using it will provide the end user (commander, leader, or manager) with a more robust baseline for decision making.


Review: Somali Pirates

MW003-2Somali Pirates. Decision Games/Modern War magazine/Strategy & Tactics Press, 2013. Designer: Joe Miranda. $30.00 (including magazine).

* * *

The real-world problem of Somalia-based piracy poses a number of interesting policy challenges. Over the years, the international response to such piracy has included expanded multinational naval patrols, improved communication and coordination, the outfitting commercial ships with anti-boarding devices and pirate-proof citadels (to which a crew can retreat, disable the ship, and await rescue), the deployment of armed private security personnel onboard ships (once the legal issues involved in doing so were resolved); securing the agreement of regional states to prosecute captured pirates; and various other measures. From time to time various naval forces do occasionally open fire on pirate boats or mount rescue operations, but these are comparatively rare.

Such efforts have been increasingly successful. In 2012 Somali pirate attacks dropped to a three-year low, and they are much lower still so far this year (see below).

Overview Piracy Incidents CN 30 Apr 13_Page_1

Source: NATO Shipping Centre (2013).

However, the often rather dull policy initiatives that make for effective anti-pirate measures do not necessarily make for a good game. In an effort to make things more interesting, therefore, the Somali Pirates game included in the January/February 2013 edition of Modern War magazine imagines a near-future in which Somali pirate warlords have grown much more powerful, and the international response is much more muscular. No outfitting freighters with high-pressure hoses or hiding in a safe-room here: instead, the Coalition player employs naval assets, combat aircraft, UAVs, Special Forces, larger ground forces, the CIA, private contractors, oil workers, and even a potentially sizeable Chinese military contingent as s/he competes against the three regional pirate factions (plus al-Qa’ida) controlled by their opponent. The game presumes the continued existence of a weak Somali federal government, but doesn’t separately include the current autonomous governments of Puntland or Somaliland, nor does it permit African Union forces to start the game in Somalia as part of the current AMISOM mission. Oil politics plays a role in the game, with potential oil-producing regions of somewhat greater value—something that has started to be a factor in real Somali politics. By contrast, there is no attention to Somali aid, humanitarian, or development issues beyond a couple of possible AFRICOM Provincial Reconstruction Teams, which simply act as asymmetric combat units.

This isn’t the first time that the Somali pirate issue has been dressed up by someone to make a better game challenge—much the same was done by the Naval Postgraduate School for their 2011 playtest of MMOWGLI.


Military assets from Somali Pirates, indicating kinetic combat, (asymmetric combat), and movement factors respectively.

The game itself features a 22″ x 34″ map of Somalia and the Horn of Africa, depicting a number of linked regional movement zones. Each zone has  a predominate terrain type (clear, rough, urban, or sea), a main box for units that are in the open, and an “underground” box for units that are in hiding. Combat units have both movement values and both kinetic and asymmetric combat ratings. The latter are used when undertaking a range of special actions, including piracy, terrorism, counterinsurgency operations, or attacks on high-value targets. “Netwar” points represent public opinion/political support, and are also used as victory points. They are won and lost through control of territory or  military operations, and can be spent to mobilize forces or purchase random “Netwar chits.” The latter provide a player with intelligence capabilities (essential for targeting underground units) or special game opportunities. The difficulty of coordinating coalition warfare is nicely modelled by requiring a player to generally move and attack with each faction or national contingent separately.

While the game may not model the Somali pirate issue very well, I did like the overall game system which seem adaptable to a variety of settings, and which makes its next appearance in the  Decision Iraq (recently published in the July/August 2013 edition of Modern War magazine). There were a few rules that it would be useful to modify. In particular, it seemed slightly odd that pirate bases could spring up even in areas that the Coalition had garrisoned, provided there was at least one pirate unit underground there. It might also have been appropriate to limit most Coalition use of airpower in urban areas, or at least assign some cost in Netwar points for using it in that way.


Game turn 5. After the Coalition defeat at Mudug, the surviving oil engineers have retreated to Garacao. The stand-off continues in Mogadishu Central, while US special forces conduct operations in Puntland and Coalition naval units hunt covert pirate units at sea.

In our game, pirate units overran part of Mogadishu before US Navy and Marine reinforcements stabilized the situation there. African Union forces advanced north from Kenya, capturing Kismayo (just as they recently did in September 2012).

Units of the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa pushed out a little from their base in Djibouti, but al-Qa’ida activity limited their advance. Backed by airpower, units of the Joint Special Operations Task Force seized a number of coastal ports from the pirates, and were then reinforced by follow-on forces from US AFRICOM. When AFRICOM forces pushed inland to relieve besieged oil workers in Mudug, however, they were set upon by a large combined pirate force, suffering heavy casualties and a major political reversal.

At sea, Coalition naval forces had difficult identifying “underground” pirate raiding ships, and so generally concentrated on restricting their movement. The game ended in a draw.

The one serious problem we encountered during our game was the tremendously powerful effect of a few of the Netwar chits, notably “Tactical Edge”:

Do one of the following: (1) Double the Kinetic value of all friendly units in one combat. Or: (2) Add “one” to the Kinetic value of each friendly unit in one combat (including those with a zero value).

Since doubling kinetic strength can dramatically affect the outcome of battles, and since major victories and defeats can have a large effect on the players’ Netwar points, the latter part of our game largely devolved into buying up many (face-down) Netwar chits to guarantee receiving “Tactical Edge,” playing the chit, buying it back again the next turn, and so on. This created a sense that the game largely hinged on possession each turn of one or two key chits, rather than strategic acumen. We would recommend that the chit be reduced in strength, for example by making it a one column shift on the combat results table instead. A few more ISR (intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance) chits in the counter-mix would be useful too, as would some chits representing the security measures undertaken by commercial shipping. If time allows, I might even put together an optional expanded set of Netwar cards to replace the chit set in the game.

Overall, Somali Pirates is an enjoyable medium-low complexity wargame, playable in about three hours. I wouldn’t recommend it for educational purposes on the Somali piracy issue, given the extent to which its representation of Somali politics, amplified pirate threat, and heavy kinetic focus all diverge from the actual dynamics of contemporary Somali piracy. However, the game system is both easily modified and easily transposed to other situations of mixed regular and irregular warfare, so it would be a useful to use to with students to explore issues of wargame mechanics and design.

* * *

Further reading:


Simulations miscellany, D-Day edition

Some 69 years ago, Allied paratroopers were were over France jumping into darkness, while British, US, and Canadian forces were approaching the beaches in Normandy. There’s no particular D-Day content to this week’s simulation miscellany, but it does all provide  excuse to post a clip a from The Longest Day.

* * *

At GrogHeads, they have an interview with COL(R) Matt Caffrey of the US Air Force Research Labs wargaming office at at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio.  Matt is also the organizer behind the Connections interdisciplinary wargaming conference

* * *

bildeDefense News has an article on the Culture Awareness for Military Operations trainer, developed by Apitima for the US Office of Naval Research:

Aptima’s Culture Awareness for Military Operations trainer, or CAMO, focuses on teaching students how to recognize and assess culture more broadly rather than providing detailed instructions on how to deal with a specific populace.

“If there has been one trend, one push, it’s been towards the development of these general competencies and less on the nuts and bolts of a specific culture,” said Alex Walker, Aptima’s program manager for the project.

Born from a classroom course for Marines and under development for the Office of Naval Research, the computer-based training is interactive, distributable and aims at higher-level thought processes.

The CAMO course addresses five dimensions of culture: environment, economy, social structure, political structure and belief system. In each category, users go through three kinds of instruction aimed at helping Marines understand second- and third-order effects of their actions.

“We need to get them to learn how to think about cultural situations, how to interact with a culture, how to pull out the information they need for their interactions, regardless of the specific context of the situation,” Walker said.

I strongly endorse the approach that this simulation/training software appears to be taking, namely to develop general intercultural competencies and empathies rather than niche single-culture-specific knowledge such as what hand to shake, what fork to use, and what big cultural faux pas to avoid. People will often forgive the visiting foreigner for getting local customs wrong. However, being an insensitive jerk will get you in trouble pretty much everywhere on the planet, especially when you are a foreigner carrying a gun.

Somewhat confusingly, there seems to have been another completely unrelated “Cultural Awareness in Military Operation”s project undertaken by the Norwegians in 2010-2011, based on scenarios using a virtual setting in Second Life. This appears to have gone in the opposite direction from the US version, focusing on very particular Afghanistan scenarios such as how to act towards women and how to observe local customs.

#NASAGAchat: Anastasia Salter on “Narrative in Games and Sims” (June 11)

The North American Simulation and Gaming Association has organized an online discussion with Anastasia Salter (University of Baltimore) on “Narrative in Games and Sims,” to be held via Twitter from 21:00 to 22:00 (EDT) on June 11.

Next week we will be welcoming Anastasia Salter to #NASAGAchat! She will be coming to chat with us and answer our questions about narratives in games and simulations – a topic she has been spending time on as part of her research into digital narratives. Anastasia is also presenting the ARG design workshop at NASAGA this year, so we will also talk about design of narrative driven experiences.

Come ready to talk about or listen to the stories we experience, the stories we tell about games and simulations, and how to incorporate narratives into your own designs!

You’ll find archived tweets from the previous #NASAGAchat on “Alternate Realities in Games and Sims” here.

Review: Hunter, World Peace and Other 4th-Grade Achievements

John Hunter, World Peace and Other 4th-Grade Achievements (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013). $25.00 hardcover.

worldpeaceThis is very much a book about inspiration: the inspiration that led educator John Hunter to develop a complex game of international politics playable by an entire class of schoolchildren, and of the inspiration that his students have evidentally found in playing his “World Peace Game” over the years. In this book he discusses the development of the simulation, offers vignettes of student participation, and even recounts some of his battles with school administrators who were more concerned with “teaching to the test” than developing critical thinking and cooperative problem-solving skills in his pupils.

In the World Peace Game, students assume the role of decision-makers in four or five very different countries, ranging from rich and powerful to poor and weak. Some also play the role of United Nations or World Bank officials, international arms dealers, or even the “weather goddess” who adjudicates some key events. Games go on for days, or are even played out over several weeks.

Readers will not find a detailed discussion of the rules of Hunter’s game in this book, however, nor are they provided with a great deal of technical advice on how to develop the mechanics of their own version. Instead, his focus is largely on the intellectual journey of personal self-discovery that the game is meant to encourage. In this regard, he identifies seven stages through which his players generally progress over the days and weeks of play. The first is that of overload and failure, as  students wrestle with some fifty real-world problems embedded in the game, including resource scarcity, environmental degradation, global inequality and development, national self-determination, non-state armed groups, the threat of nuclear war. Almost inevitably, they must confront failure as rivalries emerge and initial plans go awry. In doing so, however, he hopes they acquire greater personal understanding of their own strengths, weaknesses, and potentialities, as well as the contributions of others. This leads on to improved collaboration, and then that point where something will “click,” a breakthrough will be made in resolving some major challenges, and this will lead on to a flow in which the children enthusiastically embrace the challenge of overcoming new obstacles. Finally, and most importantly, there comes the application of understanding, whereby the players learn how to apply the skills honed in the game in a broader sense—and in so doing, derive a broader sense of empowerment.

Although the university students with whom I typically run simulation are considerably older than the primary and early secondary school children that the World Peace Game was designed for, I was struck by a number of parallels. Like Hunter, I too immerse my students in an initially overwhelming fictional world of myriad real-world challenges. I too find that initial failure is common, but that students find ways of cooperating and push themselves to develop new, innovative ways of overcoming obstacles. In debriefs and post-simulation testing, participants stress the extent to which the process had helped to develop personal skills as well as expanding their understanding of issues. In the ongoing debate between the art and science of game design, Hunter very much comes across as an artist, for whom weaving an engaging narrative and leveraging an empathetic understanding of his players are central to a successful exercise.

At times, World Peace and Other 4th-Grade Achievements can be almost too positive in its tone, and the use of quote marks for statements by children that couldn’t possibly be recalled verbatim by the author can be a little annoying. Nevertheless, educators thinking of introducing simulation methods in the classroom will find much of value in this book. Experienced game designers will enjoy the vignettes, both for the infectious joy of young learning they reflect and because more than a few will remind them of game players past—even much older and more experienced ones.

* * *

Additional information on the World Peace Game can be found at the World Peace Game Foundation, in John Hunter’s TED talk , and in the documentary World Peace and Other 4th-Grade Achievements, excerpted below.

%d bloggers like this: