Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Monthly Archives: July 2013

PAXsims nominated for CSR wargaming award!

As voting continues for this year’s Charles S. Roberts Awards, we’re very flattered to see that PAXsims has been included among the nominees in the “Best amateur game magazine” category.

If you haven’t done so , you can still vote for your favourite wargames, game magazines, and articles here. Voting closes on July 29.

Connections 2013 AAR

Pulp-O-Mizer_Cover_Image-2PAXsims special correspondent Devin Hayes Ellis (Program Director, Policy & Research, ICONS Project) has provided the following report on the Connections 2013 interdisciplinary wargaming conference, which wrapped up yesterday.


Connections 2013 happened despite the enormous pressures of sequestration, thanks to the heroic effort of a lot of the longtime organizers of the conference (key people to thank this year include as always Matt Caffrey, but also Tim Wilkie and Merle Robinson for so much logistical wizardry). The conference was a good time, as always, and many familiar faces were there – some on permissive TDY, many on their own dime. Crucially, Connections continued to attract a strong international audience with groups from Canada, Sweden, the UK and Germany on hand to enjoy the balmy Ohio weather.

The stripped down agenda of the conference – due to attendance and the available facilities – precluded some of the usual features like large demo sessions and simultaneous panel tracks. But there were some excellent talks, and the smaller than usual scale (plus most everyone eating and spending the evenings together) fostered making new contacts – always a key part of Connections.

The working group on a more enduring Connections web presence did resolve to try to make the materials from both this year and last year available more quickly and in a more accessible manner, so you should soon have a chance to check out the key notes and panels that took place. A personal highlight for me was hearing from Tom Allen, the Deputy Director for Studies and Analysis (J8) at the Joint Staff. Dr. Allen is a strong supporter of gaming – I recently had a chance to visit the J8 wargaming space in the Pentagon which has a larger footprint than many of the OSD policy shops – and he spoke encouragingly about the need to continue gaming as a crucial activity in the current time of budget retrenchment. He emphasized that the changes occurring across the defense community would call more than ever for insightful planning, some of which should be supported by gaming. Simultaneously he stressed the need for that planning to be smart about resources – and noted that expertise from people in the gaming and simulation community would be valuable to finding efficient, effective and economical tools and methods for supporting that goal. Several times he mentioned looking to ‘our community’ for proactive ideas. We’ll see if he can operationalize that.

Other highlights included wisdom from Peter Perla, a great panel on gaming the deep future, some insight on what goes on behind the doors at the vaunted/controversial Office of Net Assessment, and a really, really cool spreadsheet on costing naval ship buying over the next few decades (I know we are the definition of nerds). Hopefully it will all be available soon in one form or another. Stay tuned to the Connections website.

Lastly, I’ll say we get a victory point for new conversions: at least two people announced at the end of the conference that they had come as serious gaming skeptics and had been converted to believers by their time at Connections 2013. Look forward to seeing you all next year at Quantico.

Devin Hayes Ellis

simulations miscellany, Connections diaspora edition


The Connections 2013 interdisciplinary wargaming conference is currently underway, and I know that several PAXsims readers who weren’t able to travel to Dayton, Ohio are, like me, following it all by VTC or dial-in. For those of you who are interested in listening in, it may not be too late to contact Tim Wilkie for the remote connection information. You can also find the conference presentation slides here, and we’ll also try to recruit some participants to send in their own impressions.

The Connections conference extends through to July 25.

Meanwhile, in other conflict simulation and serious games related news:

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John Curry at the History of Wargaming project discusses why the UK Conference of Wargamers is the best model for a conference—and the worst.

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The folks at MMOWGLI have prepared a couple of papers for the  NPS Acquisition Research Symposium, 2013, focusing on Innovating Naval Business Using a War Game and Improving DoD Energy Efficiency: Combining MMOWGLI Social-Media Brainstorming With Lexical Link Analysis (LLA) to Strengthen the Defense Acquisition Process.

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The latest issue of the Journal of Simulation 7, 3 (August 2013) is out, devoted to agent-based modelling. Of particular interest is an article by Xavier Rubio-Campillo, Jose María Cel, and Jose María and Francesc Xavier Hernández Cardona of the Barcelona Supercomputing Centre and Universitat de Barcelona. In it they used agent-based modelling to examine the development of new infantry tactics during the early eighteenth century—a rare application of this computational technique to military history:

Computational models have been extensively used in military operations research, but they are rarely seen in military history studies. The introduction of this technique has potential benefits for the study of past conflicts. This paper presents an agent-based model (ABM) designed to help understand European military tactics during the eighteenth century, in particular during the War of the Spanish Succession. We use a computer simulation to evaluate the main variables that affect infantry performance in the battlefield, according to primary sources. The results show that the choice of a particular firing system was not as important as most historians state. In particular, it cannot be the only explanation for the superiority of Allied armies. The final discussion shows how ABM can be used to interpret historical data, and explores under which conditions the hypotheses generated from the study of primary accounts could be valid.

Also of interest is previous work by these researchers on using agent-based models to support battlefield archaeology and using spatial analysis to better understand combined arms warfare in the Spanish Civil War.

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33AA651E-C639-481A-97EA-15E537446268_mw1024_n_sOne of the challenges that agent-based modellers have not yet turned their analytical attentions to is how to prevent Russian all-girl punk bands from conducting protests in Russian Orthodox churches. Fortunately, that challenge has been taken up by some Russian programmers, who have released the game Don’t Let Pussy Riot Into The Cathedral. According to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty:

A video game was showcased at a recent Russian Orthodox youth festival in Moscow that encourages players to “kill” members of the feminist punk-rock collective Pussy Riot.

In the game, “Don’t Let Pussy Riot Into The Cathedral,” players use an Orthodox cross to snuff out the balaclava-clad women before they enter a domed white church.

Throughout the game, Pussy Riot’s “Punk Prayer For Putin,” which some of them performed in Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral in February 2012, earning three of them jail terms, plays in the background.

When the Pussy Rioters enter the church in the game, they reappear atop the church with horns on. The building gradually falls into disrepair and ominous clouds gather.

A version of the game, which used the name “Inquisition,” was posted online late last year.

I think almost all of the press reporting on this has it completely wrong—the game is clearly satirical, as evidenced by the overweight priests, luxury car, absolutions for sale, and the expensive watch that serves as the load screen (a reference to this). If the game was on display at the youth festival, either someone didn’t understand the humour or it was a very clever piece of performance art.

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At his Sources and Methods blog, Kris Wheaton (Mercyhurst University) discusses Hnefatafl, the ancient Viking game Every intelligence professional should play:

1001689_277186405754085_2142739834_nToday, only dedicated tabletop gamers have ever heard of it and many of them have never had a chance to play the game.  That is a shame for it’s an extraordinary game with a number of lessons embedded in it for the curious intelligence professional.  For example:

  • It is an asymmetric game.  As you can see from the board above, one side starts in the center and the other side surrounds it on all four sides.  One side outnumbers the other by about 2:1.  The sides even have different victory conditions (the player with the pieces in the center need to get the “King”, the large playing piece in the middle of the board, to one of the corners.  The other player is trying to capture the King).  It is not too hard to see a game such as this one incorporated into courses, classes or discussions of asymmetric warfare.
  • It is a conflict simulation.  Most historians agree that there were relatively few large-scale battles involving Vikings. Instead, most of the time, combat resulted from raiding activities.  Hnefatafl seems to reflect the worst case scenario for a Viking raider:  Cut off from your boats and outnumbered 2:1.
  • It provides a deep lesson in strategic thinking.  Lessons in both the strategy of the central position (hundred of years before Napoleon made it famous) and in the relative value of interior vs. exterior lines of communication are embedded in this game.

What makes this game even more fascinating for me is what it teaches implicitly – that is, what are the lessons it teaches the players without the players knowing that they are learning?  Furthermore, what does this tell us about the Viking culture?

But wait, there’s more! Kris will be producing a version of the game through his new company, Sources and Methods Games—a version featuring Vikings and… Cthulhu.

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Every wargamer needs a laser pointer. It is essential when discussing a map, and useful for those lengthy powerpoint presentations during the briefing and debriefing. Miniature gamers often use them to confirm line of sight on the table-top battlefield. Boardgamers can use them to keep the cat away.

Given that.. what could be cooler than pointers that look like sharks… with frickin’ laser beams attached to their heads? Available at ThinkGeek.

Voting open for the 2012 Charles S. Roberts wargaming awards


Voting is now open for the Charles S. Roberts Awards for excellence in wargame design, in nineteen different categories:

  • Best Ancient to Napoleonic Era Board Wargame
  • Best Post-Napoleonic to Pre-World War 2 Era Board Wargame
  • Best World War 2 Era Board Wargame
  • Best Post-WW2 Era Board Wargame
  • Best Pre-20th Century Era Computer Wargame
  • Best 20th Century Era – Modern Computer Wargame
  • Best Science-Fiction or Fantasy Board Wargame
  • Best Science-Fiction or Fantasy Computer Wargame
  • Best Magazine Game
  • Best Desktop Published (DTP) / Print-and-Play / Postcard Game
  • Best Expansion or Supplement for an Existing Game
  • Best Board Game Graphics
  • Best Computer Game Graphics
  • Best Professional Game Magazine
  • Best Amateur Game Magazine
  • Best Historical/Scenario Article
  • Best Game Review or Analysis Article
  • James F. Dunnigan Design Elegance Award
  • Clausewitz Award HALL OF FAME

To vote, click the link above.



Review: Andean Abyss

Andean Abyss: Insurgency and Counterinsurgency in Colombia. GMT Games, 2012. Game designer: Volko Ruhnke. $75.00.

pic1381149_mdAndean Abyss was released last year to much acclaim, and indeed is currently ranked as one of the top forty wargames of all time by members of BoardGameGeek. I recently played a game with a group that included three political science graduate students, one of whom is Colombian, another of whom taught in Colombia on a Fulbright Fellowship, and all of whom specialize in the study of intra-state conflict. Joining us was a professional game designer who develops simulations on money laundering, terrorism, and corruption for financial intelligence and anti-corruption agencies. It was as tough a bunch of critics as I could possibly assemble, given the topic.

The bottom-line verdict up front: everyone loved it. But before we get to that, let’s first look at the game design, and then move on to explore its possible use in an educational setting.

Game Contents and Play

Andean Abyss is a four player game of insurgency and counterinsurgency in Colombia, in which players assume the role of the government, the leftist guerillas of the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC), right-wing paramilitaries of the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC), or the drug cartels. The game can also be played with less than four, and even has a fully-developed solitaire version. In our case there were actually five of us, with two forming a sort of collective revolutionary leadership of the FARC. Since much of the game revolves around plotting, fleeting alliances, and political expediency, the more the merrier.


The game includes a 22″ x 34″ mounted game board, 170 wooden markers, a set of cardboard markers, a deck of 76 cards, player aids, and dice. You can find the rules online at the GMT website, and videos describing game play can be found both there and at BoardGameGeek.

The cards are the central mechanism of the game (see below). Each may be played for its event (which often comes in two versions, either helping or harming a player), or to enable an operation to be played. Each card has a symbol for each of the four players across the top. The first player indicated gets to decide first whether they will play the card for its event value, perform an operation (or operations), or pass. Up to two players can act on a given card, and if a player acts in one turn they usually lose their ability to act on the next card. Since two cards are face-up at any one time (the current card, and the next card), it is vital to plan ahead. You won’t win this war by making it up as you go along.


Each actor has a slightly different mix of actions they can perform. The government may train forces, patrol, conduct sweep operations, or undertake assaults against previously-identified guerrilla units. The various non-state actors can rally support, march, attack, or terrorize. Each actor also has special activities that they might be able to conduct as well: air lift operations, airstrikes, or drug eradication in the case of the government, and ambush, extortion, kidnapping, assassination, drug cultivation, and drug processing depending on the particular insurgent. One can quibble about the way some of these choices are structured. I wasn’t entirely convinced of the logic of separating the government’s “sweep” operation (which identifies underground insurgents but doesn’t eliminate them) from the “assault” operation (which kills them), since in practice both things generally occur together. Political hearts-and-minds activity by the government (“civic action”) occurs in conjunction with the “train” operation, while it might have been better separated out as a separate operation type. While the FARC can use “terror” to mobilize opposition to the government, it has fewer opportunities to build support through the more positive “agitation” (equivalent to the government’s civic action). However, these quibbles are minor. Overall, the game system works very well.

Operations generally cost resources, so players also need to pay attention to their financing. The government must keep the major highways and oil pipelines free from sabotage, or their income will drop. They may also benefit from US and other aid—especially if they seek to eradicate drug cultivation. The insurgents can variously generate resources from extortion, kidnapping, and drugs.


Pinky-promising with a drug lord. Not that either of us trusted the other in the slightest!

The victory conditions for each player are very different. The government and FARC each need to maximize their degree of popular support. The AUC needs to weaken the FARC. The cartels need to establish bases and earn money. While the players can wheel and deal as much as they want (and trade resources and drug shipments as they do), in the end only one player wins. The game is scored and reset, government troops return to cities and bases, and a new Colombian administration with slightly different policies might be elected, each time a “propaganda” card comes up in the deck. At this point, a player can win. Otherwise,  the game is ends when the last propaganda card comes up, and the player closest to their victory conditions wins. The cartels might have something of an advantage if the game goes this long—after all, they benefit from keeping the country in chaos.

In our game, the FARC spurned an early deal with the drug cartels, which cost them heavily. Every other player was briefly in a winning position at some point. In the latter part of the game, the government and drug cartel agreed not to target each other, allowing the former to concentrate efforts on regaining control of, and political support in, former FARC-held areas while the latter grew rich on drug proceeds. They planned to double-cross each other, of course–but the final propaganda card came up before the drug lords could be cut down to size, and they ultimately won the game.

Instructional Potential

Our playtest group ran the gamut from a boardgaming neophyte to those with considerable experience. I, however, was the only one who had played Andean Abyss before. Everyone picked it up quickly. The game lasted closer to six hours than the four suggested on the box, although that was in part a function of new players, a two-person team, and the obligatory break for Angela’s pizza. The rules are clearly written, and the playbook does a very good job of walking a player through a few sample turns, summarizing player capabilities and priorities, and explaining the design choices made in the game, That being said, I don’t think this is a game that non-gamer students could simply be told to play as a course assignment. Instead, one would need to either directly facilitate games (which is difficult in all but the smallest classes), use a “train-the-trainer” strategy of recruiting students to help other students play the game, or make it an optional assignment or project for the most highly motivated. Game time is obviously too long for in-classroom use. One could, however, have a single ongoing game through a multiweek course, with multi-student teams representing each actor, and a few moves each day.

The key question, however, is not how easily game play can be adapted to the instructional constraints of audience and available time, but whether the game actually offers useful insight into modern Colombian political history, insurgency, counter-insurgency, and similar topics. Here I think that it is a little less self-explanatory than a previous Volko Ruhnke-designed game, Labyrinth, which focused on the post-9/11 “global war on terror.” Most audiences—outside Colombia, at least—would be unfamiliar with many of the events summarized on the event cards, whether it be “limpieza social” (“social cleansing”) killings, the assassination of special prosecutors María del Rosario Silva Ríos and Carlos Arturo Pinto Bohórquez, or Policía Nacional chief General Rosso José Serrano Caden. I also found that the very clever card mechanism—which I liked a lot—drew so much attention that the insurgency itself was a little overshadowed at times. For that reason, this is a game that would require a lot of briefing and debriefing in an educational setting.

It should be noted that, during our playtest, none of the players had any objection to the general depiction of the Colombian conflict. On the contrary, my money laundering expert was pleased to find he could use narco subs and cross-border drug-processing labs, while the players with the most expertise on Colombia were impressed at the appearance of historical events (“We get FARC zones? Cool!”), even if—as with most card-based games—not all events occurred in historical order or with similar effect.

Concluding Thoughts

Andean Abyss wasn’t designed as an instructional tool to explore counterinsurgency, but rather as a boardgame for conflict simulation hobbyists. As a game, it rocks. It is well-balanced, enjoyable, and features a very elegant card-based system at its heart. The replay value is high too, since the card system guarantees that each game is quite different. I strongly recommend it. Indeed, it is probably my favourite insurgency-themed boardgame of all time, with the possible exception of Freedom in the Galaxy (SPI, 1979).

SPQRWallp-FORUM(RBM)ssThe design is also the first of several in what GMT Games bills as its “COIN Series.” A Distant Plain (an Afghanistan conflict simulation codesigned by PAXsims contributor Brian Train) is currently in production and will be shipping soon, as is Cuba Libre (a game of the 1957-58 Cuban revolution, codesigned by Jeff Grossman). A fourth game in the series focusing on the Vietnam war, Fire in the Lake, is currently in development, codesigned by Mark Herman.

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Update—The Quick Play Version

Volko Rohnke has kindly passed on the quick play scenario for Andean Abyss, previously published in C3I Magazine #26 (2012).

Quick-Play Scenario

by Volko Ruhnke

This setup allows for completion of a game of Andean Abyss in less than half the usual time and is well suited to introduce new players to the COIN Series system. It depicts, roughly, the Pastrana and early Uribe eras, the middle portion of the period of Colombian history covered in the full game.

Deck Preparation: Shuffle the 72 Event cards and deal face down 4 piles of 6 cards each (24 Event cards total). Set the rest aside—they may not be inspected and will not be used. Shuffle a Propaganda card each into the 2nd and 4th piles, then stack the piles into a draw deck, 1st pile on top, 4th pile on the bottom. The remaining 2 Propaganda cards are not used.

Game Board: Set up forces and markers per rule 2.1 (see Rules of Play page 14 and the images on the map). Then modify the set up as follows—

  • Medellín: Add 4 Cartels Guerrillas and 1 Cartels Base.
  • Cali: Place Active Support. Remove the Cartels Guerrilla and Base. Add 4 Police.
  • Bogotá: Add 6 Troops.
  • Santander-Boyacá: Add 1 AUC Base.
  • Arauca-Casanare: Remove Opposition (the space starts Neutral). Add 1 AUC Guerrilla.
  • Meta West: Place a FARC Zone. Add 4 FARC Guerrillas.
  • Huila-Tolima: Place Active Opposition. Add 3 FARC Guerrillas, 2 AUC Guerrillas, and 1 Cartels Base.
  • Vaupés: Add 2 FARC Guerrillas.
  • Edge Track: Adjust Resources to AUC 5, FARC 10, Cartels 20, Government 30; Opposition+Bases to 22; and Total Support to 56. (Leave Aid at 9.)
  • El Presidente: Advance to Pastrana.
  • Propaganda: Skip the Victory Phase (6.1) of the first Propaganda Round—Factions cannot win until the second (last) Propaganda card.

Flip the first card and have at it! Be aware that, with far less time for development of board position than in the full game, different strategies may be needed! – vfr 

Stepping up the Game in Raleigh – conclusion report

We had a few beers on the evening before the last day of the course, as simulation leaders and facilitators will do. We were considering how far the syndicates have come and where we wanted them to go. We agreed that the teams were playing it safe and that most of the participants needed more challenge. At the same time, we didn’t want to lose people who were still learning basic concepts of the comprehensive approach. How to push the participants’ game to the next level, late in the game and without losing some of the players, with only two hours left of exercise?

As you’ll recall, though things had been going from horrible to very horrible for a long time in Raleigh, the precipitating event for the scenario was a dirty bomb that exploded on a passenger plane, killing all aboard and many in the terminal. That passenger plane was a national carrier for a major (world?, hegemonic?, super-?) power in the Atlantic, one that had long committed policy to eliminating all WMD threats.

To step up the game, we (coaches, facilitators, senior mentors) decided that a power like that might respond unilaterally, indeed, we figured such a power in our fictional world might have a predilection for going alone. So we introduced a whole new element, including time pressure and some new outputs for the last scenario session:

SOF have been inserted over night, fleets have been mobilized, marines are on the way and will arrive in less than 48 hours. It is a punitive action and will not be pretty, it is not expected to have any permanent, positive effect on development in Raleigh. You, advisors to the NATO SG, must take what you’ve deduced about the the underlying causes of the decline of the country and prepare a short (max four slide, five minute) briefing to the NATO SG on why/how a comprehensive approach should be undertaken – something the SG could use for an informal discussion with the President of the superpower. If convincing it might just avert a further destabilizing invasion or redirect it into something more positive. You have two hours, go and prepare this briefing.

20130714-120616.jpgIt was a bold experiment, I commend Sandy and the other coaches for risk-taking. It could’ve easily been too much to ask and there were times, in my group at least, where the resolve was flagging. They still needed to build a coherent vision for their plan and with this change up we were forcing them to do that and polish it into something short and presentable to senior policymakers, make it catchy and compelling.

It was an unmitigated success. We got all four teams to present extremely high energy, short presentations with lots of clash from our senior advisors acting as SG and military command. I’ll repeat that, we got four high energy, short presentations in which the entire room was interested/engaged on the fourth day of a long and complicated training course – we did not get rambling 20 slide presentations with several asides about the process. No one was checking their blackberry during this final session – it was that good.

And this carried right into the debrief, rather than “another thing we have to do”, Sandy very ably pivoted the discussion right from the substance to the process, because people still wanted to talk and share (and still had their dopamine and adrenaline going). I was delighted to see a simulation deliver like this, using the fictional storytelling to drive participants to really step up their game. Kudos to my NATO hosts for another successful delivery of the CA course.


Simulations miscellany, 11 July 2013

Various bits of recent simulation and serious games-related news that may be of interest to PAXsims readers:

Dice Cartoon

The Training & Simulation Journal is no more, with publication having been ended by its publisher, Gannett.  (h/t Mike Peck) Presumably, though, occasional reporting on military simulation will continue to appear in Defense News.

Dice Cartoon

In this era of budget-cutting, does the military need to use more manual boardgames? Robert Hossal thinks so. (h/t Robert Hossal)

Dice Cartoon

Interested in history and gaming? The excellent academic blog Play the Past is looking for contributors.

Dice Cartoon

According to an article posted by the British Psychological Society, a simulation/experiment conducted earlier this year at the London Science Museum has shown that the stress brought on by a zombie apocalypse would likely cause you to make bad tactical decisions:

You’re in a room full of lumbering zombies and you want to get out quick. Here’s a tip: the stress of the situation will make you favour the exit that you’re most familiar with even if that’s the busiest way out. Give yourself a better chance by checking that there isn’t a quieter way to escape the flesh-munchers.

This is the lesson from a study conducted by researchers at the ZombieLab event held at London’s Science Museum earlier this year.Nikolai Bode and Edward Codling presented 185 participants (90 women; average age 25) with a computer simulation showing a top-down view of a corridor and a zombie-filled room with two available doorways on opposite sides.

“Our approach has revealed what can only be described as nonrational human decision making under the influence of the motivational, potentially stress-inducing, treatment,” said Bode and Codling. “We suggest that in evacuations with higher stress levels evacuees will be more likely to use known exit routes and less able or willing to adapt their route choices, even if this results in longer evacuation times.”

An obvious weakness of the research is that it was based on a computer simulation. Bode and Codling acknowledged this and said their approach presented a mid-way between purely theoretical studies and real-life evacuation drills. Another criticism is with the believability of the horror scenario – if the zombies were rushing to exit the room, why follow them?

These findings would certainly help to explain much of the stupid behaviour of survivors in both The Walking Dead and World War Z.

Dice Cartoon

Back in 2010, Lee Sheldon at Indiana University ran his course on multiplayer game design as if it were a multiplayer roleplaying game, with students divided into competing guilds and earning experience points for various tasks that translated into their overall course grade. Earlier this year he shared his thoughts on “designing coursework as a game” in a talk at the ATLAS (Alliance for Technology, Learning and Society) Institute of the University of Colorado – Boulder. (video below)

Thoughts on facilitating someone else’s simulation

20130710-181205.jpgWe determined a few years back that our family crest should read “What you oughtta do…” – (in Latin: quid te oporteat facere – what you must do, but I actually prefer the English or American if you like, which is more a suggestiopn). My brother and I (and my folks) simply can’t eat at a restaurant, stay at a hotel or visit a website without coming up with some improvement or suggestion for making it better – I am sure it is quite annoying to people who are just going about their job. As a result, it isn’t easy for me to facilitate a simulation for someone else and thought I’d post some reflections from the experience for consideration.

I’m acting as one of the “syndicate coaches” for the Raleigh Simulation in the NATO Comprehensive Approach Awareness Course, an effort to teach NATO officers on designing a strategic response to complex challenges like fragility and instability. The fictional country of Raleigh (New Zealand dropped in the middle of the Atlantic) is beset by secessionist rebels, overwhelmed by organized crime and trafficking, overrun by migrants heading from Africa to Europe and, yesterday, the world’s newest target of anti-globalization terrorism in the form of a passenger jet blown up at the airport and a popular Minister killed in a suspicious plane downing. The NATO Secretary General has determined that the environment is too complex for a simple military response and has asked a small group of advisors (course participants divided into four parallel syndicates) to put together an assessment of the crisis, possible steps that could be taken by both national and international actors to improve the conditions in Raleigh and avoid it descending into a failed state.

The exercise itself is not dissimilar from the Carana exercise we use for our strategic planning course at the Bank as identifying “Lines of Operation” is the military equivalent of identifying post-conflict needs and the kind of strategic planning necessary for a multi-donor/ integrated/ joint (comprehensive approach) response to a problem. At the end of the week, syndicates prepare presentations of their work and there is a peer and expert advisor (generals, ambassadors) review of the work.

There are lots of things that the simulation designers have done well and I don’t want my thoughts here to be read as criticisms, rather as observations. Also, to their credit, I’ve been given a lot of latitude for interpreting instructions and freedom in coaching my syndicate. Running someone else’s simulation, though, I’m very conscious of what I’d do differently and the freedom we (I include Rex and other contributors on this site) enjoy as simulation designer/leads. Here are a few reflections from this side of the design table:

20130710-190103.jpgIdentity: Our group spent some time cycling through their findings and recommendations because they weren’t sure “who they are” – are they themselves brought together to advise or are they senior NATO advisors or are they non-aligned global advisors thinking about recommendations for the NATO Secretary General? It turned out the latter was the answer, but I wonder whether roles and some background information for each of the participants would’ve avoided this confusion? Often designers avoid role play, especially with professionals who are not expected to “play along” but roles are very useful for motivating discussions and avoid the downtime. I’ve never heard a complaint about a simulation having “too much role playing” but maybe others have?

Structure and Workload: It just doesn’t stop – my group has produced a dozen flip chart sheets and nearly 30 slides over 2 days and they are still going. Part of this comes from the template from the simulation design, open ended questions with no limits on the answers. This results in little censoring. I personally prefer a more structured exercise with clear outputs in small stages, but this approach produces a lot more output and allows more free-thinking. Two versions of an issues assessment reflect some of that output – the circle ended up being a very useful way for the group to show the relationship between root drivers of conflict, issues and impacts on the population (and not all the way I would’ve done it).

20130710-181222.jpgStatic vs Dynamic: The background history and documentation for Raleigh is deep and richly textured and there are a variety of interesting and complex global, regional and national stakeholders, so there is plenty of immersion in the simulation. There were questions early on whether there would be inserts during the simulation, and the leaders hinted that there might be, but there were none, and nobody complained. It is, after all a lot of work and changing conditions and new and changing information could be very distracting from the strategic exercise. Again, I would do it differently, but maybe this is the right way to cover all this ground.

These are just some reflections from a fictional island state. As I said earlier, they aren’t criticisms, just reflections on design choices for your consideration.




CASL: Alternative perspectives in gaming (31 July 2013)

caslWe’re pleased to see that CASL is continuing its series of publicly-available lectures on professional political-military gaming. Here’s the latest:

The Center for Applied Strategic Learning at National Defense University is pleased to invite you to join us for another session of our “Lectures on Strategic Gaming” on July 31st at 1130-1230 US Eastern.  Our speaker will be Ms. Deirdre Hollingshed (CASL, National Defense University), presenting “Alternative Perspectives in Gaming”.  As part of our efforts to reach a broad segment of the gaming community, the series will be conducted in a distributed environment.  The event on July 31st will be held as a teleconference.  The presentation will then be publically available from the
CASL website at (which has had some technical issues of late which we are working to resolve) or our youtube channel at

For those who have not joined us for this series in the past, the aim of the lectures is to create a resource for educating gamers on best practices outside of the dominant mentorship training methodology. The resulting library of presentations will help to bring gaming expertise and lessons-learned out of isolation and ensure they are accessible to a wider community.  Access to past presentation is available at both of the links above.

To participate in the teleconference on July 31st, please RSVP to in order to receive call-in information and supporting slides.  We also encourage you to circulate this invitation to others interested in gaming (particularly those newer to the field).

Please let me know if you have any questions (my co-host Katie Dusek is on leave and will not be answering emails regularly during this time).

Heading back to Raleigh and Fjordland

I am in Brussels and have been invited back to the troubled island of Raleigh by NATO and will be facilitating one of the syndicates over the next few days, more from the mid-Atlantic, Internet permitting.

Zaytoun, the little refugee


Zaytoun, the little refugee is a project by a group of Arab and Western “artists, writers, programmers, documentalists, and researchers” to produce a video game about the situation of Palestinian refugees in Syria.

the purpose of the project is to gain an understanding of the situation of palestinian refugees who are now joined by exiled syrians. our intention is to inform on the basic lines of the conflict at play, the major players, the interests that lay behind each of their positions, the history of the people´s whose lives are being put on hold, violently interjected due to causes that are greater than themselves. To reveal part of the complexity of the struggle taking place recognizing that it goes far beyond the traditional labels of the old order: imperialists vs. freedom fighters. For too long have dictators legitimized their tyranny based on outside threats of oppression, imperialist forces threatening to take over the destiny of a people´s history, but, What good is their protection if it is offered on condition that the people surrender that same freedom the Authority claims to be protecting? Examples of this kind of hypocrisy can be seen all over the world, and is in no way limited to countries of the Arab World or to those of the so called Third World.

The game, which hasn’t yet been fully developed or released, takes the form of a richly-illustrated and animated interactive story about the challenges facing a Palestinian refugee in the Yarmouk district of Damascus:

Zaytoun is a Palestinian refugee boy from Yarmouk Camp, south of Damascus, Syria,and home to the largest population of Palestinian refugees in the country. after 65  years of  exile, of living in a world without a land to call their own , and two years trying to resist being moved from their home once again, his family decides to leave the camp due to fear that the Syrian Security Forces will besiege it without allowing any food or resources to enter the Camp. however, on the morning they had planned to leave, Zaytoun wakes up  too early  and sneaks outside to say one last goodbye to his friend. suddenly  the syrian regime army begins to bomb the camp. it gets too dangerous to stay outside, Zaytoun runs to his friend’s house, where he gets stuck till the next day. when he gets back to his house, the next morning, he finds that little is left, the walls have been destroyed and no one from his family is in sight. he looks around and finds no answer, only a piece of paper with a note inside > Go to Yarmouk School, we meet you there.

but again, at the school, no one is to be found.

Zaytoun is then confronted with a series of choices: where to go? back to the camp, head to the border? but which one? who to talk to, and what to say? with the help of a series of documents, and maps, including a map of Syria with information on the state of roads, cities, hospitals, etc, he must make the decision on where to go, and what to say to the people he finds. Whether he is able to leave certain locations or not, depends on him being able to correctly (?) answer questions concerning his history and that of his fellow Syrians and Palestinians.


What we intend with this blog and the interactive story of Zaytoun, the little refugee from Yarmouk, is to transmit the information of the situation in a non-traditional format, exploring new forms of communication and exposition, and in this way, hopefully reaching a non-traditional public, in an attempt to broaden the spectrum of individuals who are informed on the situation. we are conscious of the complexity of reality and aware of the dangers of simplification and misrepresentation, and will do our best to not fall in their traps. our intention is not to lay a rigid or static statement concerning the people making history in this conflict, but to contribute another story, other eyes and words to the happening.

Three Realms of Conflict that the game wants to inform about:

  1. The history of Palestinian refugees & their location
  2. The Syrian Revolution
  3. The subsequent displacement of Palestinian refugees from Syria and the political and humanitarian conditions they face when reaching any of the bordering countries (Lebanon, Occupied Palestine, Jordan, Iraq, and Turkey)

You’ll find further coverage of the project at Global Voices. Those interested in the use of digital games and interactive stories to raise awareness of refugee issues might also be interested in also having a look at UNHCR’s My Life as a Refugee, or the Aleppo: The Mother of All Battles which was developed by students in my POLI 450 (Peacebuilding) class..

A (simulated) earthquake at Sapir Academic College in Israel

Shay Hershkovitz (Department of Information & Knowledge Management, University of Haifa and School of Communication, Sapir Academic College) has passed on the following report of a recent disaster simulation he led:

* * *

On May 27 2013, 150 students from the School of Communications at Sapir College took part in a simulation dealt with a severe earthquake in the southern Israeli city of Eilat.

The purpose of the simulation was to allow students to experience with communication practices, such as journalism, television, radio, digital communication, and marketing communication. The simulation created a realistic environment that gave the students a firsthand experience in the context of crisis management. In addition, it exposed students to the job of professionals in the field and tied them directly to various issues.

The plot of the simulation dealt with a major earthquake in Southern Israel’s Gulf of Eilat that caused heavy damage and over 1,000 fatalities. The simulation began 10 days following the earthquake when most of the victims were already evacuated. The government has begun restoration efforts while a public uproar started to point fingers and blame several government officials.

The Simulation was planned by 25, top of their class, students. It was led by a Sapir college lecturer Dr. Shay Hershkovitz, who is also Vice President of Research and Strategy at Linx and an expert in simulation design and competitive intelligence. The simulation design was based on thorough research of similar disasters, geological issues, knowledge of search and rescue officials in Israel and much more. The 25 students created the background information, designed the necessary material, planned the mission of the simulation and were responsible for marketing among fellow student in the school of communications. The simulation also included senior professionals from government offices, search and rescue forces, the military, local authorizes and the media.

As mentioned earlier, the simulation included 150 students from the Communications department. They were divided into groups according to their field of study including: written, radio and television Journalism, digital communication, marketing communication and general studies. They conducted press conferences  and covered them, interviewed government office officials and ran in-depth journalistic inquiries. In addition, they developed PR programs for government offices whose image was damaged, designed marketing plans aimed to rehabilitate tourism, and established public protest groups.

The simulation ran on social networks such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, as well as a special website that was built by the students running the simulation. The school’s digital journal and local radio station also took part in the simulation, which was covered by the local media (below).

Shay Hershkovitz 

Wargaming information at the LBS website

Graham Longley-Brown is a very thoughtful analyst and practitioner of professional wargaming. He has a number of recent items at his LBS website that might be of interest:

There are a number of new posts on my website that, as people interested in professional wargaming, I think you will find useful and/or interesting. I’ve been busier than usual over the last few months so haven’t sent out regular updates as I’ve published new insights and observations or made new resources available.

Have a look at:

  1. New UK Course of Action Wargaming, Rehearsal of Doctrine Drills and Red Teaming doctrine. This is in the new UK Staff Officers’ Handbook (SOHB), but in condensed form. My original text contains important detail that has been omitted from the SOHB version for sake of brevity. I can’t say I’m happy with this editing but it was out of my hands. I’ve therefore made the full version available to download at
  2. UK DCDC Red Teaming Guide, Jan 13, link for download at (second post down)
  3. Links to useful professional wargaming resources on the internet. See (fourth post down)
  4. The importance of the Test Exercise when developing a wargame. See (fifth blog down)
  5. The pros and cons of 1-sided vs 2-sided wargames. See (third blog down)
  6. Reasons why an execution phase is so important (as opposed to just planning). See (fourth blog down)
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