Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Gaming the crisis in the Ukraine


UPDATED 29 December 2015.

I’ve pulled together a summary of recent and current wargame on the Ukraine, which I will update from time to time as new material becomes available. . If any readers have material to suggest, I would certainly welcome suggestions via the comments section, or by email.

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Game designer Brian Train has quickly put together a small print-and-play political-military of the Ukrainian crisis, entitled—appropriately enough—Ukrainian Crisis.

It is a fairly simple, free-form pol-mil game for two players that concentrates on the buildup and resolution of threatened territorial annexation by Russia.

An overt military invasion of Eastern Ukraine is possible and perhaps profitable, but not necessary for the Russian player to win the game. Meanwhile, the Ukrainian player desperately mobilizes to defend himself and build a coalition of allies to support him.

You can download it at Brian’s Ludic Futurism website here. He also discusses the Russian and Ukrainian order of battle in a subsequent post. There’s  a lively discussion of the game and possible revisions at ConSimWorld.

Brian’s game  has also generated some discussion among gamers in the region about the ethics and practicalities opt designing a game about a conflict that is still current (and which could go “hot”). See, for example, the discussion of the Russian gaming site Tesera (Google translated version here). Some seem to think that his game is more than a game, and indicative of broader policy or popular thinking on the crisis.

Brian has also posted (24/11/2014) updated rules to his website.

He has now (02/12/2015) posted completed new rules:

The game now concentrates specifically on the first 6 months of the crisis, from Yanukovytch’s departure in late February 2014 to about the time of the adoption of the first Minsk Protocol in September. This was the period in which a large and overt Russian military intervention might have taken place, and while violence continues in Ukraine, the main threat of a military invasion seems to have passed.

Two important changes to the game include: game is lengthened to 8 turns, and instead of there being a pre-invasion and invasion phase of the game either player can declare a Combat or a Strategic turn . This gives players a bit more time to fill out strategies, and fits with the stop-and-start nature of how the crisis played out militarily. Following on from this, the map has been revised slightly and the cards also have additional or changed functions.

Still no NATO units.

The latest files for the game are here, and links are also on the original page:


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Even before the crisis, Brant Guillory was (rather presciently!) in the process of producing an operational-level wargame of civil war in a future Ukraine, Next War I: Orange Crush – Civil War in the Ukraine . You can follow its development on BoardGameGeek or at the Bayonet Games website .


Following a series of contentious elections in which both sides accused the other of support from outside the country, the Ukraine began to fracture.   What started as competing protest marches in the streets rapidly escalated into a shooting war between the different factions.   When the President of the Ukraine finally ordered the Army to restore order, several units revolted, and the President appealed to NATO for assistance.

Ignoring Russian warnings against intervening, NATO provided a small UK-led force, which the Russians countered with a reinforced mechanized corps, plus reinforcements from their Belorussian allies.   The US sent their available forces to the Polish frontier, hoping that their deterrent effect would stabilize the situation.

The Ukrainian “Interventionists” (so named for their favorability toward Russian “intervention”) had organized their own fighting force around the two mechanized brigades (and assorted smaller units) that mutinied against the national command.   Russian operatives assisted in arming and organizing the “101 Brigade” from provinces near the border; other partisans throughout the Ukraine also took up arms on the Interventionist side.

The Ukrainian government incorporated their volunteers into the standing army, hoping to avoid any public relations backlash from having irregular forces on the battlefield, as they attempted to paint the conflict as a civil war in which the Russians were meddling and NATO were invited peacekeepers.

The first battles were joined near Lvov, as the Interventionists bypassed Kiev and pushed as far west as possible, hoping to prevent the NATO forces from establishing a bridgehead in the Ukraine. Russian and Belorussian reinforcements arrived from the north to try and flank the existing Ukrainian national forces before NATO could join the fight. The Americans were moving through Poland, but had concerns about the security of their supply lines.

Earlier this month Michael Peck gave a preproduction version of the game a try at Foreign Policy magazine.

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Finally, there is one already-published  game on the area set in the modern era, Millennium Wars: Ukraine, This was designed by Joe Miranda and published by One Small Step games in 2003:

Millennium Wars: Ukraine presents a possible invasion of Ukraine by Russia later this decade. Scenarios put the Russians in the roles of seizing oil, driving to the Black Sea, or pursuing fleeing rebels while NATO forces move to aid Ukraine. External political events can impact the ability of both sides to prosecute their desired strategies.

The BoardGameGeek page for the game can be found here. A 2014 update for the game will be available shortly from the publisher at the end of September 2014.


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Digital wargamers have been examining military conflict in the Crimea too. For example, have a look at Flashpoint Ukraine 2014, an impressively detailed current order of battle and scenario depicted by the Baloogan Campaign (@BalooganCamp) using the Command: Modern Air/Naval Operations platform by Matrix games.

OPERATION TIGER RIFLE examines an attempted NATO amphibious landing in the Crimea:

The Russian Federation has taken Crimea by force and within 48 hours a major NATO assault is planned. You must clear the way for the HW Bush to lead an amphibious assault group. Destruction of the 11th Anti-submarine Ship Brigade and (most importantly) the S-400 and Bastion ASM located near Sevastopol is required for the amphibious landing.

There is a lengthy discussion thread on this at the Matrix Games website.

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Tom Mouat has put together his own quick wargame of the Crisis in Crimea, which he has kindly passed on to PAXsims. This takes the form of a free-form “matrix game”:

Matrix games are different to normal Wargames. In most of those games you compare lists of statistics and peer at complicated books of rules containing someone else’s idea about what things are important, before rolling a dice. It takes a long time and can be very difficult to explain to a newcomer. Instead, in a Matrix Game you simply use words to describe why something should happen, the Umpire or the players (or both) decide how likely it is and you roll a dice. If you can say “This happens, for the following reasons…” you can play a Matrix Game.

The game involves up to six-players: Olexander Turchynov, Victor Yanukovych, Barak Obama, Vladimir Putin, the European Union and China

You’ll find the map here, and the guidelines, roles, and other supporting materials here. You’ll find it an interesting introduction to how a matrix game works (although you really need to see one in action to get a full understanding).

UkraineMap* * *

Kickstarter features a proposal for a tactical boardgame based on the 2013-14 Euromaidan protests in Kiev, pitting demonstrators against the authorities. You’ll find more details here. (The game has since been withdrawn.)

30c4ad27696033f01e157336813fdefb_large* * *

Majdan is a game of the Euromaidan protests by the Polish game company Symeo Games. According to the game summary at BoardGameGeek:

Majdan is trying to simulate events which took place in Ukraine in January and February 2014 during what is called an “Euromaidan”. The players create the political situation of this state on their own. Depending on their strategy, the paths of Ukrainians future may develop in many different ways. Nevertheless, it must be remembered that the moral loser will always be a faction which decided for the force solution fighting for control over districts as the first and allowing the blood to be spoiled.

The goal of each faction is to gain as many Victory Points as possible, i.e. retain the power in hands of Government and his supporters or to create a new government by the opposition.

Victory Points are scored by taking Control or getting Support in 25 districts, which differs in value. When two factions meet in one district there is a Struggle (for Support or Control). To win a Struggle, players use Cards which portrays means used to win: Masses (supporters of Government or Euromaidan), Militia, Berkut, Army, Specnaz, Media or Titushki. Cards have different values (value part of them is defined by a dice roll). For example, Media has value 5 in Struggle for Support, and 0 in Struggle for Control.

Players has several types of action to choose: get a Card, initiate a Struggle, influence a district, make an peace offer. 5 Actions made an Action Round. 6 Action Rounds makes an complete game (unless someone get to automatic victory earlier).

Majdan reimplements Pomarańczowa Rewolucja game – mechanics was slightly changed, as district values on the map. Cards was changed (new images and its quantity).

All changes were fit to the 2013/2014 political situation on Ukraine.

h/t Volko Ruhnke


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abrams-0_tnBattlefront has introduced Combat Mission: Black Sea, as part of its Combat Mission series:

Combat Mission: Black Sea is a military simulation depicting a fictional 2017 conflict between NATO and Russia in Ukraine. Following the events in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine in 2014, the Kiev government and Russia continue to clash over the status of the contested regions. This culminates several years later in a dramatic announcement by Ukraine that they will be joining NATO and the EU. Tensions explode as Russia perceives a direct threat to Russian citizens and deploy troops to the Ukrainian border again, while Western governments, welcoming a chance to expand NATO and EU influence eastward, mobilize as well. The escalation continues until the summer of 2017, when a large firefight erupts between Ukrainian and Russian troops in the Donetsk region. The next day fighting flares up on the border, and on a dark early morning in June 2017, pre-positioned Russian and NATO forces roll forward into Ukraine.

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The private sector intelligence and analysis firm Stratfor will be unveiling the results of a series of analytical wargames of the Ukraine crisis in March. You’ll find the introductory video to the series here, and some initial PAXsims thoughts here.

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The Polish gaming magazine Tactics & Strategy might be producing a game of the Ukraine crisis, Mariupol 2014-15. Their website is here.

1907590_807293999340390_6849495475835347588_n-2* * *

In an article in Peace Economics, Peace Science and Public Policy 21, 2 (April 2015), Richard E. Ericson and Lester A. Zeageroffer an analysis of strategic interaction in the Ukraine crisis through a game theoretic lens.

9 responses to “Gaming the crisis in the Ukraine

  1. brtrain 10/04/2017 at 3:21 pm

    Oh, and if you want to pay for a pre-made product instead of getting it free and providing the labour yourself, Ukrainian Crisis is now available as a boxed game from Hollandspiele:

    It comes packaged with The Little War, a mini-game on the short but spirited border war between Hungary and Slovakia in March 1939.

  2. Rex Brynen 18/12/2014 at 2:49 pm

    Volko: Thanks, I’ve now added it to the list.

  3. Volko 18/12/2014 at 1:23 pm

    Here’s one that I have obtained a copy of:

  4. brtrain 18/03/2014 at 1:58 pm

    (blush) sorry, meant to say “conquer Ukraine” at the end there, I have a cold and am even less lucid than normal….

  5. brtrain 18/03/2014 at 1:56 pm

    Thanks Rex, for posting the interesting exchange on I hope you do get some comments from Ukrainian and Russian readers, and post them.

    Traffic on my website is back to near-normal now.
    I think that most people went there, saw that a) it was a paper game and b) they would have to print it out and make it themselves, and then clicked away.
    I think perhaps seven or eight people might have made up the game.
    Revisions to the design continue, but I hope it was clear that that was how I offered it.

    The ethics of producing a wargame, even an experimental one like this, while the larger conflict it explores and takes different directions is actually going on pose better questions than the practicality of doing so.

    The latter has an obvious answer: It’s not practical! You’ll look like an idiot! Don’t do it! Wait! But there I go again.

    Cue the old arguments about how ghoulish and scab-pickingly weird the hobby of wargaming is, pretend we’ve listened to them again, and move on…
    I wrote in a post on CSW (got deleted for being off-topic, rightly so as it was in the wrong area) about how I don’t think you can produce a truly “neutral” wargame, no more than you can create a truly neutral novel, or play, or any creative work dealing with humans and human memory.
    You have to make choices, based on your judgement, which is fallible.
    Even the most “historical” wargames suffer from using historical records which themselves are the victims of accidental and deliberate distortion over the years.

    Thanks for the notice about the Flashpoint:Campaigns mod for Crimea.
    It’s apparent that some computer wargames can gin up scenarios for current events even faster – I spent several hours trying to get my simple area-movement paper map to come out right; the author for the scenario probably just went to Google Earth and dropped something in.

    I also note that of the games you’ve mentioned in the post (and I think we’ve got all of them now), mine is the only one that explicitly excludes participation of NATO forces – the other three are all devoted at least partly to the problems of introducing and fighting NATO troops, something that is in my view more far-fetched than Vladimir Putin looking to conquer half of the Crimea.

  6. Rex Brynen 18/03/2014 at 8:00 am

    Excellent–I’ll update the report to reflect that.

  7. Dimitris Dranidis 18/03/2014 at 6:17 am


    Command: Modern Air/Naval Operations was also used with great success to model both the current military balance in Ukraine and what-if escalation scenarios.
    See here:
    And the video series:

  8. Rex Brynen 17/03/2014 at 7:09 pm

    Wow, that is impressive…

  9. brtrain 17/03/2014 at 5:11 pm

    Thanks for the notice Rex!
    So far, not quite 16 hours after I posted it, nearly 800 visitors and over 1,200 views of that one page on my website. On a usual day I get like, two and eight. Ukraine, USA and Russian Federation all in the top three at about 300 views each, with Canada a distant fourth.
    But I’m not in this for the clicks….

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