ISIS Crisis at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst
The following summary of the game has been provided by Tom Mouat (Defence Academy of the UK). For other games, see here and here. (Note: the game scenario is intended to familiarize players with the methodology, not as any sort of official examination of the conflict with ISIS.)
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We had another go at running the ISIS Crisis Game on 25 February, courtesy of the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst (RMAS) Wargames Club, and taking place in the wonderfully atmospheric surrounding of one of the historic rooms. We had 11 participants, most of whom were academics and a few military.
The game followed a briefing on “Wargaming Effects”, including the research showing that role-play can be a more accurate predictor of outcomes (on average) than individual experts or Game Theory. They were provided with updated briefings provided by Professor Rex Brynen (which also included “starting conditions” which were already “established facts” in the game, such as the endemic inefficiency of the Iraqi Army) and were ready to go after a few minutes to read into their roles.
The thing I found particularly interesting in this game is that the players immediately starting doing off-table deals with each other. It could be that the academics were more comfortable with the idea of role-play or it might have been that I had unconsciously emphasised that aspect of play during the briefing – but normally it takes a while before players think out of the box like that.
- Turn 1: The USA pressure the Iraqis to attack Fallujah (to dismay of the Prime Minister!), Iran trains Shia militia in the south, ISIL captures a few soldiers and terrorises the Iraqi forces opposite Fallujah with propaganda videos, The Prime Minister halts the offensive and tells troops to dig in, the Sunni Opposition joins in with ISIL in Fallujah, and the Kurds move up to outskirts of Mosul.
- Turn 2: USA deploys SF in support of the Kurds around Mosul, Iran trains more Shia militia, ISIL increase recruiting (which becomes a standing argument), the Prime Minister withdraws forces from Fallujah, the Sunni Opposition recruit in Fallujah (in the face of the obvious threat), and the Kurds reinforce the units around Mosul with Peshmerga.
- Turn 3: USA deploys B52s to Kuwait ready to support attacks on Mosul with precision weapons, Iran sends military advisers to Baghdad to support Iraqi units (with the support of the Iraqi Prime Minister), ISIL attempts to capture Kurd troops for a propaganda video and fail spectacularly in the attempt (and are captured themselves), the Prime Minister cuts a local deal with Sunni Opposition and withdraws troops from Ramadi, the Sunni Opposition recruit local “self-protection forces” in Ramadi, and the Kurds finally launch their offensive on Mosul (supported by large numbers of US Special Forces and B52s with precision weapons).
- Turn 4: In this game I allowed ISIL to change the turn order during the game to represent their ability to shake things up a bit. They chose to exercise this on this turn and they launch a spectacular in France (using suicide bombers on a Paris landmark) and increased foreign recruiting and support, the USA sends aid in cash and humanitarian aid to Sunni groups, Iran pumps money into the Iraqi government using cheap loans, the Prime Minister authorises aid distribution centres and “camps” in Sunni areas in an effort to placate the Sunnis, the Sunni Opposition come to agreement with UK SF patrols to ensure they are not targeted, and the Kurds are winning in Mosul and take the opportunity to reinforce Kirkuk.
- Turn 5: The USA puts pressure on the UK to intervene in Jordan in support of the Jordanian Government (with a mix of bribery to do with the Joint Strike Fighter and threats) (so the UK deploys a liaison team to Amman), Iranian advisers and Iraqi troops move into Falluja, this time with the support of the Prime Minister, ISIS capture Dair Az-Zaur in Syria, the Sunni Opposition join ISIL to defend Falluja, and the Kurds drive ISIL out of Mosul but don’t follow up and remain in Kurdish areas.
- At the game end, Falluja looks messy and the Iraqi offensive isn’t going anywhere. The Kurds are happy but ISIL finish the game with more forces than when they started – and they have come to the conclusion that if they leave the Kurds alone the Kurds will leave them alone. Iran has managed to comprehensively penetrate the Iraqi Government and Armed Forces, the Iraqi Prime Minister has lots of money and feels more comfortable about the situation since the game start, the Sunni Opposition are conflicted and the USA doesn’t really know what is going on…
In the end I was very pleased. We had generated a credible narrative about the future situation unfolding and I was reasonably happy that the players had stuck to their briefing objectives. I had excellent help from a couple of my MSc students (which is why I can give a report). I felt the game ran smoothly, helped a lot by previous experience and the insights provided by some of the contributions by Professor Rex Brynen and the essays on Matrix Games kindly provided by previous players, such as Ben Taylor’s excellent “Towards Serious Matrix Games” and Paul Vebber’s presentation on “Narrative Games and Story Arcs“.
I feel that there is a now a need for some sort of “Matrix Game” companion book, making those essays accessible, as well as a few other insights from other events (such as how to run a 50-player Cyber Defence Matrix Game!).