Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Monthly Archives: May 2015

Discussing political simulations and gaming at the University of Exeter

Today I spent an enjoyable afternoon discussing simulations and serious games in the classroom at the University of Exeter, in a workshop organized by Prof. Mick Dumper of the Department of Politics. Slide01 In my own talk I first situated the value from using simulations. Here my bottom line was that while simulations are not always more effective than more conventional teaching techniques, they offer an opportunity for “intellectual cross-training,” can be highly engaging, and are particularly good for exploring policy processes, coordination challenges, mixed and adversarial agendas, and decision-making with imperfect information. Slide02Slide03 I then discussed examples of several different approaches to using games and simulations:

  • quick and simple in class games/simulations
  • assigning commercial games os reading or review assignments
  • roleplay and negotiation simulations
  • “game shows” for large classes
  • matrix games
  • custom-designed boardgames
  • student-designed games
  • complex and hybrid games

I went on to offer some thoughts on “best practices” for simulation/game use in an educational setting: Slide23 Slide24 Slide25 Slide26Finally I said a few words about the use of simulations for research and policy analysis. You can find the full presentation (pdf) here. Next, myself and several Exeter faculty members (Duncan Russell, Amy McKay, Sandra Kroger, and Mick Dumper, who also use simulations to explore topics ranging from global climate change negotiations to the EU, lobbying the US Congress, and the Arab-Israeli conflict) held a broader discussion with the audience on the topic.

Finally, a group of us played a game of AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game. I’m happy to report that, after initial setbacks—including transportation bottlenecks, a major aftershock, flooding due to heavy rains, and a severe outbreak of cholera—everyone pulled together well and won the game.

World Factory: interactive theatre/gaming as social commentary

World Factory New Wolsey Theatre... Ipswich Showing from Thu 23 — Thu 30 Apr Made in China.  Sold in Britain. Worn by you.  From the factory floor to the catwalk, from Shanghai to London, World Factory weaves together stories of people connected by the global textile industry.  Riffing on our awareness of mass production and vulture capitalism, Zoë Svendsen and Simon Daw invite you to play a provocative game. Which card will you draw? Will you be an ethical factory owner?  Or will profits always come first? In the rag trade, can anyone ever really win? Featuring stunning video and a powerful score, World Factory is a thought-provoking investigation of fast fashion. photograph by David Sandison +44 7710 576 445 +44 208 979 6745

World Factory is an interactive play/audience participation game (currently playing at the Young Vic in London until June 6) in which theatre-goers are challenged to run a textile factory in China. As they do so, they are faced with a series of challenges about pay and working conditions.

Metis' World Factory

The Guardian has an excellent review by their economics editor, Paul Mason:

The choices were stark: sack a third of our workforce or cut their wages by a third. After a short board meeting we cut their wages, assured they would survive and that, with a bit of cajoling, they would return to our sweatshop in Shenzhen after their two-week break.

But that was only the start. In Zoe Svendsen’s play World Factory at the Young Vic, the audience becomes the cast. Sixteen teams sit around factory desks playing out a carefully constructed game that requires you to run a clothing factory in China. How to deal with a troublemaker? How to dupe the buyers from ethical retail brands? What to do about the ever-present problem of clients that do not pay? Because the choices are binary they are rarely palatable. But what shocked me – and has surprised the theatre – is the capacity of perfectly decent, liberal hipsters on London’s south bank to become ruthless capitalists when seated at the boardroom table.

The classic problem presented by the game is one all managers face: short-term issues, usually involving cashflow, versus the long-term challenge of nurturing your workforce and your client base. Despite the fact that a public-address system was blaring out, in English and Chinese, that “your workforce is your vital asset” our assembled young professionals repeatedly had to be cajoled not to treat them like dirt.

And because the theatre captures data on every choice by every team, for every performance, I know we were not alone. The aggregated flowchart reveals that every audience, on every night, veers towards money and away from ethics.

Svendsen says: “Most people who were given the choice to raise wages – having cut them – did not. There is a route in the decision-tree that will only get played if people pursue a particularly ethical response, but very few people end up there. What we’ve realised is that it is not just the profit motive but also prudence, the need to survive at all costs, that pushes people in the game to go down more capitalist routes.”

In short, many people have no idea what running a business actually means in the 21st century. Yes, suppliers – from East Anglia to Shanghai – will try to break your ethical codes; but most of those giant firms’ commitment to good practice, and environmental sustainability, is real. And yes, the money is all important. But real businesses will take losses, go into debt and pay workers to stay idle in order to maintain the long-term relationships vital in a globalised economy.

Why do so many decent people, when asked to pretend they’re CEOs, become tyrants from central casting? Part of the answer is: capitalism subjects us to economic rationality. It forces us to see ourselves as cashflow generators, profit centres or interest-bearing assets. But that idea is always in conflict with something else: the non-economic priorities of human beings, and the need to sustain the environment. Though World Factory, as a play, is designed to show us the parallels between 19th-century Manchester and 21st-century China, it subtly illustrates what has changed….

Also in The Guardian, their theatre critic describes it as:

Beautifully facilitated by a cast of four, who act like croupiers, dealing each table a new card with a developing scenario and a binary choice, the show is like a speedily played boardgame. Yes, there’s a lack of nuance in the choices offered, and the breakneck speed at which the scenario unfolds doesn’t really allow for reasoned discussion. It sometimes all feels a little earnest and lacks a sense of drama. But it’s sociable, exhaustingly good fun and it would work particularly well with young people, as it clearly connects actions to consequences, and tots up the real cost of cheap clothes in the high street – both to people and the planet.

And in The Independent:

This engaging project from Company of Angels and political theatre group METIS presents uneasy facts about the global textile industry in the form of an interactive monopoly-style game.

In a breeze block-built room, the audience is divided into teams and tasked with running an imaginary factory in China for one year. Equipped only with a file of Chinese workers’ profiles, fake money and playing cards with a choice of two options per card, the teams are faced with dilemmas like whether they should pay below the living wage or cut their staff to save money.

Four digital projections on each wall show real factory footage and interviews with  textile factory workers while the ‘game’ takes place. Four actors play several roles, representing different sides of the textile debate, interacting with the teams and acting as factory managers and offering a potted history of how we became a global consumerist society, with speeches from Reagan, Thatcher and Deng Xiaoping on wealth creation and free trade, but there’s enough fun interaction to stop this from feeling like a lecture.

As each answer the teams give leads to another question, the consequences of their decisions is revealed. The cumulative effect of these decisions (265 made in total, we’re told) leads the audience to see how difficult it is to make clothes in a way that benefits consumers, workers and the planet.

The Financial Times too has positive things to say too.

John Nash, 1928-2015

1e2a622f90John Nash—one of the great intellectual figures in the development modern game theory—died today in a car crash in New Jersey. According to the New York Times:

John F. Nash Jr., a mathematician who shared a Nobel Prize in 1994 for work that greatly extended the reach and power of modern economic theory and whose decades-long descent into severe mental illness and eventual recovery were the subject of a book and a 2001 film, both titled “A Beautiful Mind,” was killed, along with his wife, in a car crash on Saturday in New Jersey. He was 86.

Dr. Nash was widely regarded as one of the great mathematicians of the 20th century, known for the originality of his thinking and for his fearlessness in wrestling down problems so difficult few others dared tackle them. A one-sentence letter written in support of his application to Princeton’s doctoral program in math said simply, “This man is a genius.”

“John’s remarkable achievements inspired generations of mathematicians, economists and scientists,’’ the president of Princeton, Christopher L. Eisgruber, said, “and the story of his life with Alicia moved millions of readers and moviegoers who marveled at their courage in the face of daunting challenges.”

Russell Crowe, who portrayed Dr. Nash in “A Beautiful Mind,” tweeted that he was “stunned,” by his death. “An amazing partnership,” he wrote. “Beautiful minds, beautiful hearts.”

Dr. Nash’s theory of noncooperative games, published in 1950 and known as Nash equilibrium, provided a conceptually simple but powerful mathematical tool for analyzing a wide range of competitive situations, from corporate rivalries to legislative decision making. Dr. Nash’s approach is now pervasive in economics and throughout the social sciences and is applied routinely in other fields, like evolutionary biology.

Harold W. Kuhn, an emeritus professor of mathematics at Princeton and a longtime friend and colleague of Dr. Nash’s who died in 2014, said, “I think honestly that there have been really not that many great ideas in the 20th century in economics and maybe, among the top 10, his equilibrium would be among them.” An economist, Roger Myerson of the University of Chicago, went further, comparing the impact of Nash equilibrium on economics “to that of the discovery of the DNA double helix in the biological sciences.”

In game theory Nash was particularly known for the Nash equilibrium, a solution in non-cooperative games in which neither player can improve their pay-off by unilaterally changing strategies. In prisoner’s dilemma, for example, an outcome wherein both parties choose to defect forms a stable Nash equilibrium because both are better off by choosing that strategy regardless of what the other party chooses. In this case, however, when parties choose to defect they also fail to obtain the maximum possible payoff (cooperate/cooperate).

video source: Khan Academy

A heavily fictionalized version of John Nash’s life (and his struggles with schizophrenia) were featured in the movie A Beautiful Mind.

PAXsims at ISCRAM 2015

ISCRAM 2015 logo

I have just arrived here in picturesque Kristiansand Norway, to attend the annual Conference on Information Systems for Crisis Response and Management (ISCRAM). At the moment the weather is very. ahem, ‘Norwegian Seaside’ (read 50 degrees F, with cool rain blowing in off the ocean, and dense fog), but I’m excited to here. As Rex noted earlier, the association has added a new Serious Gaming track to the conference this year, and I will be delivering a paper on a training simulation ICONS developed in conjunction with some crisis communication experts and the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START) for the US Department of Homeland Security. I am also very much looking forward to many of the panels in the Analytical Modeling and Simulation track.

I plan to post at least once this week with updates and worthy information for the community of interest. Check out the Conference Proceedings and comment on this post or drop me an email if there’s a paper you would really like live reporting on, or an author I should approach for more information.

From ‘The Norwegian Riviera’

On choosing wargame participants


The  Journal of Defense Modeling and Simulation: Applications, Methodology, Technology (gated) features a forthcoming article by Nathaniel D Bastian, Louis Boguchwal, Zachary Langhans, and Daniel Evans that proposes “A multi-criteria, network analytic approach to war game participant selection.”

A critical component of the military war game planning process is selecting who should participate, as these participants heavily influence war game outcomes. These outcomes directly impact both strategic and operational decision-making and defense planning, shaping both future defense policy and budget. In this paper, we propose a novel team selection algorithm and decision-support tool combining methods from multiple criteria decision analysis and network analytics to select and visualize a group of war game participants. This method accounts for the diverse requirements of the decision-maker. The results are not only applicable to war games, but also to any team selection domain, such as employee hiring and college admissions.

More specifically:

[W]e develop and implement a multi-criteria network analytic decision-support model for war game participant selection and visualization. The potential participants and ‘‘ideal participants’’ will be included in the network, but instead of examining social relationships between participants, we consider a person’s ties to their attributes. An attribute is a characteristic of an individual that can include areas of professional expertise, academic background, military experience, and languages spoken. In our network model, each person is connected to his or her own attributes, which helps define them for the purposes of team selection. This creates a bipartite network (two- mode matrix), which has two types of nodes: people and attributes. In addition, the ‘‘ideal participants’’ are constructed using a set of attributes based on the needs of the war game. With a complete set of potential participants and ‘‘ideal participants,’’ we create a network visualization that displays both the people and their attributes.

idealpersonfig1My concern with such an approach is that it views ideal wargame participants almost entirely through their nominal expertise in knowledge domains, and with little reference to other key factors that might shape their value and behaviour in a game context (rank/influence, social and professional network, style/personality, and even competence within their identified areas of expertise). In other words, not all experts in math, history, academia, and the military will be of equal value: you may also want individuals who are in a position to carry the lessons of the game to broader audiences, who are likely to be bold (or cautious) in their play, who are in a position to challenge established wisdom, or who collaborate well. Qualitative research in small game settings certainly highlights that such social engineering of participants can have substantial effects on game outcomes, and there is every reason to believe this can be true in much larger games too.

That being said, there seems to be inadequate attention in the field to how participants ought to be selected for a game. The Naval War College’s otherwise excellent War Gamers Handbook, for example, simply says: “Based on the game’s purpose and objectives, special expertise is often required to perform player roles. Game design provides the initial concept for the numbers, types, and years of experience for each player role, but this initial idea is confirmed or modified during the development phase. Some player roles may be added or reduced based on testing results.” (p.25). Peter Perla’s seminal The Art of Wargaming discusses player behaviour and engagement, but says little about optimal player selection. Stephen Downes-Martin has examined the impact that senior players can have on wargame directors and design, but who those players are is treated as largely exogenous to the process.

All in all, it seems to be a question to which more attention could be usefully devoted.

Simulations miscellany, 21 May 2015


Some recent items on conflict simulation and serious games that might be of interest to PAXsims readers:

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Peter Perla’s recent article on “Work – ing” Wargaming has sparked much discussion among wargaming professionals, most notably at Phil Sabin’s Simulating War online discussion group. That in turn has spurred Paul Vebber to offer his own extensive thoughts on the subject, in a blog post at Wargaming Connection: “Wargaming – Does “better” mean more Art, or more Science?

Science is indeed a part of wargaming, but we must resist calls to scientism for our tool to prove its worth to those ready to embrace it. There is also art. Powerful art. Art that can greatly complicate efforts to use a “systematically organized body of knowledge on a particular subject”, but is nonetheless of critical importance to “goodness”. In the various discussions of Dr. Perla’s paper, many have described how to make games “good”. There are as many definitions of “good” as people weighing in. There is good design process. There are innovative and elegant game designs. Some are historically evocative, others effective in achieving specific purposes. I offer another – value. How does a game produce value? One measure is how it changes the way we think about things. I difficult thing to measure because it is a thing we experience, but to give in the idea that if we can’t measure something, it must not be important, or useful, or valuable, is to give in the scientism.

It is must-read stuff for anyone involved in the field.

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Have you registered yet for the 2015 Connections interdisciplinary wargaming conference, to be held at National Defense University in Washington DC on on 27-30 July 2015? PAXsims will be there!

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Red Team Journal will be offering a two-hour online introductory course on, well, red teaming:

We are pleased to announce that our first two-hour online mini-course in the Becoming Odysseus series is now open for registration. In the course, titled “Framing the Red Team Engagement,” we introduce our high-level red teaming process model and address the challenge of incorporating your stakeholders’ problems, goals, and metrics in your design—all with the aim of helping you maintain a systems view while promoting analytical transparency. We add frames of reference, stakeholder modeling, and objectives trees to your red teaming toolkit. The course is designed for both beginning and experienced red teamers from all domains. To register, go to our WebEx Training Center page and find the course listed on 4 June. Registration terms and conditions are listed here and again at registration. The cost per individual is $149.

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Students at the University of Portsmouth recently completed a three-day disaster relief and crisis communication simulation, wherein “participants had to respond to a scenario where there had been an earthquake in a region that has a history of political conflict and deteriorating infrastructure, with existing humanitarian concerns.” You’ll find further details here.

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In a recent 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:

This paper presents an analysis of the Ukrainian crisis of 2014 through the lens of the Theory of Moves as formalized by [Willson, S.J., (1998), Long-term Behavior in the Theory of Moves, Theory and Decision, vol. 45, no. 3, pp. 201–240]. It derives the equilibrium (ultimate outcome) states under various assumptions about Western and Russian preferences over outcomes. The “paths” of their generation, i.e., the sequences of strategic choices made by each side, are also explored, casting light on the structure of incentives guiding behavior in the conflict, and perhaps predicting what the actual outcome will be when the world moves beyond this crisis. Incomplete information on preferences prevents derivation of a unique prediction of the outcome of the crisis, but the analysis enables us to substantially narrow the range of possibilities.

You’ll find further discussion of their findings in an article at Bloomberg View.

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At the History of Wargaming Project blog, John Curry considers future directions for the project. Feel free to contribute to the conversation there.

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Interested in MegaGames? You may find this discussion on Reddit of interest. If you don’t know what they are, have a look at this article in The Independent.

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At the BBC News magazine, Dominic Lawson (President of the English Chess Federation) asks: “Has chess got anything to do with war?

So it seems fitting that one of my guests on the third series of Across the Board – in which I have interviewed eminent chess enthusiasts and the odd world champion while playing a game against them – is the military historian Antony Beevor.

Beevor’s books on the World War Two battles of Stalingrad and Berlin have sold in their millions across the globe, but his first career was as a British army cavalry regiment officer. And since he is also a passionately keen chess player, I was intrigued to know if he thought that great generals were like chess grandmasters – brilliant strategists of iron logic.

“Generals would love that parallel and they tend to see themselves in that way. But the truth is very far from that,” says Beevor. His point is that battle is indescribably chaotic, with luck and chance playing a large role in any outcome.

And he makes an additional point: “In modern warfare the idea of total victory is now almost irrelevant. You’ve won – and then you lose the victory in a short space of time. Look at Iraq.”

At Politico, Michael Peck discusses the hidden—and ometimes not so hidden—politics of video games:

Games and gamers inevitably reflect the values of their times. If today’s video games are laden with violence and frenetic with high-tech weapons, that is the nature of the society that created them.

But do games change their societies? Rivers of ink have been spilled over whether violence in video games leads to the real thing. Whether the link is true or not, a genre that started with harmlessly batting around a virtual ping-pong ball in the 1970s game Pong, now requires games to carry age ratings to shield children from virtual gore. Some politicians have even called for warning labels that would treat video games like tobacco and alcohol.

Games can be  criticized for being too violent, or a brain-dead waste of time. But they are not usually criticized for being political. Games are entertainment, not politics, right?

Bin Laden’s bookshelf: the gaming connection revealed!

Today the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a report on some of the reading material Osama bin Laden had on his (digital) bookshelves in Abottabad when he was killed by US special forces.


One of those items will be of particular interest to gamers: a saved webpage from the geek culture business website noting that some conspiracy theorists had claimed that the “Steve Jackson Games’ Illuminati New World Order card game foretold the attacks on the World Trade Center.”



And there you have it. Doubtless there will be further releases from the US intelligence community revealing that al-Qa’ida was also interested in jihadi Munchkins and giant cybernetic tanks.

Innovation, Art, and Professional Standards in Gaming

Late last week, Peter Perla released a pre-publication copy of his most recent paper responding to the recent high level Pentagon interest in gaming as a means of innovation. Perla lays out his vision for how we can take advantage of this moment without allowing gaming at its laziest and least productive to take over. For Perla, good gaming for innovation (what I’ve called “discovery gaming” in other pieces) depends on competition between players. As a result, innovated design is far less important than design that enables strong communication and competition to result in creativity.

This isn’t the first time that the argument has been made to treat gaming more like an art than a science (The Art of Wargaming is called that just to riff on Sun Tzu after all). Art vs. science is also a standing debate between gamers that erupts at least once a year. In the past, I’ve viewed these debates primarily through the lens of what they tell us about how we teach and learn to game—too often science produces a cookie-cutter template while art produces unreliable mentoring.

However this time around, perhaps influenced by my current focus on game design, I’m noticing a different thread in the art vs. science debate: how do we evaluate if a game is good?

Perla argues “Real wargaming is about the conflict of human wills confronting each other in a dynamic decision-making and story-living environment” and “It is this process of competitive challenge and creativity that can produce insights and identify innovative solutions to both known and newly discovered problems.” He also calls on current practitioner to speak out to identify bad games to build up quality control that the field does not always have.

Taken together, these lines suggest that the quality of a game can be determined by the quality of the intellectual output, and that judgement can be rendered based on experience and expertise. But when applied to the environment in which games are created, these become very problematic very quickly.

Professional games are almost never built only to achieve the goals of the designer. Instead, the reality of national security gaming is that game designers work for game sponsors, who evaluate our work to determine both what lines of research to continue, and which of our findings to base policy decisions on.

Given that it is these sponsors who evaluate our work, how might they apply Peter’s standards? I worry that these standards place too much weight on the output of the game. I’ve seen too many “innovative” outcomes in games that are really just the result of ignoring the constraints that shape the real work. Unless the context of the game’s design, and how it replicates the real world problem set of interest is taken into full account, lots of time and energy will be expended on analyzing (or even executing) half-baked ideas.

I also worry that the reliance on the community of gamers to identify good and bad games sets up worrying dynamics. As Peter notes, not all folks currently making national security games are doing a good job. While Peter points to some strong communities that have sprung up, they are hardly monolithic in how they approach, practice, or assess games. What’s more, the field is so fractured that even the most inclusive of these groups can hardly claim to encompass all the good gamers out there. So then how are sponsor to choice which voices in the professional community to base their standard on?

All of this brings me back around to the need for standard for rigorous design. I absolutely agree that a rigid, “systematized” set of game designs cannot work. But adhering to good research design method and standards of evidence can offer us some basic standards that can be applied to all design types, and are accessible to our sponsors as well as practitioner. This may not in and of themselves be enough to guarantee a great game, but it will prevent many bad ones.

Wargaming Connection: Peter Perla on “Work – ing” Wargaming

pic1761812-1The Wargaming Connection blog has an excellent piece by Peter Perla reflecting on the recent renewed attention to wargaming within the US Department of Defense:

Over the past six months, wargaming has experienced a surge of attention among defense professionals. This upsurge was spurred in large part by a memo from Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel in November and especially a follow-on memo from Deputy Secretary of Defense (DepSecDef) Robert Work just this February. This high-level interest may be new, but serious, professional wargaming has been practiced for nearly 200 years. Sometimes it has pointed the way toward success. Too often it has been oversold by charlatans, abused by the cynical, and ignored by those who most need to learn from the insights it can provide. Today we face a critical historic inflection point. We can’t afford to screw up this opportunity. It’s time to get wargaming right. It’s too important not to.

After a thoughtful discussion of the many challenges involved in reinvigorating wargaming within the DoD, he concludes with four sets of recommendations:

First, the leadership must recognize that wargaming is a distinct tool—related to and building on both operations research and systems analysis but not a subset of either. That means realizing that the ORSA community is not the locus of wargaming expertise; indeed, that it is often the main impediment to wargaming’s best use. This is particularly the case with regard to the bloated software-contractor infrastructure supporting the department’s modeling and simulation bureaucracy. (Can you spell JWARS?)

Second, as such a distinct tool—as a discipline in itself—wargaming needs a home of its own on a par with the established advocates of M&S. That is not to say that it requires the sort of top heavy bureaucracy created by McNamara’s Whiz Kids. Wargamers are used to leveraging talent to make up for small numbers. No, what wargaming needs is a well-placed and carefully selected team of experts with direct access to and trust from the leadership. And by experts I mean not only experts at designing and playing wargames, but also experts at understanding and playing the REAL games of departmental and Washington bureaucratic politics. An office similar to but much smaller than CAPE is a solution worth considering. How about the office of Wargaming Application and Research?

Third, DoD needs to populate such an office with wargaming professionals who have lived with and practiced wargaming, and so intimately understand its strengths and weaknesses. Such experts exist today within the department and among all the services, as well as within the FFRDC and contractor community. But too often they have labored in isolation, separated by walls of organizational competition or classification. There have been self-generated attempts to break down these walls and connect the gamers to each other. The eponymous Connections Conference—begun in the United States in 1992 and in the past few years spawning “franchises” in the United Kingdom, Australia and the Netherlands— is a key nexus for wargaming and it deserves strong and explicit support, attention, and participation from both DepSecDef and SecDef. The wargamers who attend these Connections conferences, the wargaming community of practice started recently in the Military Operations Research Society, and the professional wargaming organizations at the various War Colleges and National Defense University are sources of the latent talent in the community, waiting and hoping to be called upon to energize innovation.

Fourth, the department as a whole—and we wargamers specifically, as the experts—need to understand just what we mean by “innovation” and how wargaming can help generate innovative solutions to real-world problems. It is not enough to create wargames that use innovative techniques and employ innovative designs. What we seek are innovative results, new insights, or new ideas stemming from such games. Innovation comes from inspiring and empowering people to draw deeply from within their own talents and experience. Wargames challenge players to go beyond their talents and experience to come up with innovative ways to overcome living opponents during the game, opponents who are striving to do the same to them. It is this process of competitive challenge and creativity that can produce insights and identify innovative solutions to both known and newly discovered problems.

Go read the whole thing here.


AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game returned today to the classroom of the Canadian Humanitarian and Disaster Response Training Program at McGill University. This time we had 18 students participating in three simultaneous games.


For added realism the fire alarm rang—twice—during set up. Unlike our Chilean colleagues, we didn’t arrange it, but it certainly helped to get everyone in the mood.

IMG_0058Eventually, however, we were able to move on to our fictional earthquake in Carana and start the game(s).


All three teams achieved positive outcomes, with Team 3 doing very well indeed in addressing the crisis, and Teams 1 and 2 managing to achieve narrower success.


Student feedback was again very positive:


We’ll be running several demonstration games of AFTERSHOCK in the coming months:

  • Ottawa on May 17 (at CanGames)
  • Exeter, UK on May 27 (at the University of Exeter)
  • Washington DC in late June (TBC) and again in late July (at the Connections interdisciplinary wargaming conference)
  • London, UK in early September (at the Connections UK interdisciplinary wargaming conference)
  • Springfield, Missouri (at Missouri State University) in the fall (date to be confirmed).

If you are interested in learning more about the game or arranging a demonstration, please contact us.

Towards a history of professional wargaming – Kriegsspiel-related research at Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg

Dr. Jorit Wintjes kindly provided this summary for PAXsims of research that they are undertaking at at Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg on the history of early Kriegsspiel and related topics.

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When a few years ago the Digital Humanities (DH) program was established at Würzburg University, the decision was made to push the boundaries of what was then mainly (though of course not exclusively) a text-orientated subject in order to include a wider variety of humanities-related topics. As a result, students of the DH BA and MA programs at Würzburg come into contact with topics as diverse as digital cartography, GIS referencing of archaeological data, advanced image procession technology used by papyrologists – and conflict simulation.

In the history department, we ancient historians had already before the establishment of the DH program experimented with the employment of political and conflict simulation in class. Results were promising, so when it was our turn to contribute to the fledgling DH program, we decided to concentrate on simulations. As a consequence, we offer at the moment two courses on simulations are now an integral part of the Würzburg DH programs and are also open to interested History students.

More on the Würzburg DH program can be found here. For a very brief overview over the ancient history contribution see here.

Currently, we offer a general introduction to conflict simulation, usually ending in an actual war game, as well as an advanced course concentrating on specific issues like wargames-related statistics, issues of computer modelling, KI etc.

While we initially concentrated on the establishment of the teaching program, contributing also to the research profile of the program seemed rather logical as the next step. For that – and for the foreseeable future – we decided to establish a research group on the history of professional wargaming. This is currently still very much in its infancy, and we are still a long way from our initial goal, that is providing a definite history of professional wargaming for the 1812/24 to 1914 period, yet there has already been some progress.

So far, we have focussed on three different issues – first, the “prehistory” of the Kriegsspiel. This is usually understood to include pre-Reiswitz wargames only for completeness’ sake, yet a closer look at Reiswitz not only shows that the connection between Reiswitz and his predecessors is much deeper than usually acknowledged (after all, he calls his game “a Helwig-type game”!) but also that far from being the lone genius who was suddenly struck by inspiration, designing wargames was in fact something of a fashion in the late 18th and very early 19th century – evidently, the Kriegsspiel is not the result of the “new spirit” of the post-1806 reforms in Prussia. Also, research in the very early history of the Kriegsspiel as turned up evidence for the use of the term Kriegsspiel for a simulative military game already in the latter half of the 16th century – which may mean that there is some need for rethinking about what happened before the two Silesian Barons.

The first output – planned output, I should say – of this research is an annotated edition of Reiswitz’ 1812 Kriegsspiel. As its introduction is highly valuable for anyone researching the history of professional wargaming in general and the Kriegsspiel in particular, we felt there is enough justification to produce such an edition – and the way things happen, it was supposed to appear in September, but will probably only see the light early next year.

The second issue currently occupying much of our mind – partly because it has direct relevance to how we use rulesets in class – is the issue of the “Free Kriegsspiel” in Germany. The orthodoxy here is that “traditional” Kriegsspiel all but came to an end in the early 1870s, with everybody “seeing the light” after Meckel’s and Verdy du Vernois’ publications. While this may well have been the case, one should be aware of the fact that this interpretation rests to some extent on an enormously influential publication by Konstantin von Altrock – who was about as ardent a supporter of the “Free Kriegsspiel” as they come, so one might take his testimony with a small amount of the proverbial salt. In fact, our ongoing attempt at locating and collecting all surviving pre-1914 rulesets has shown that even after 1880 rulesets appeared that heavily depended on the use of dice – and were apparently pretty successful.

Finally, we have started to take a somewhat “digital” approach to the rules, inspired originally by the statement of Georg Heinrich von Reisswitz to have based his data on the weapons testing data published by Scharnhorst in 1813. The general idea here is to analyse the statistics behind the rulesets, comparing them both to each other and to “real life” data. It is interesting to note, for example, that in the 1824 rules, artillery firing canister is pretty deadly, going beyond the data published by Scharnhorst (well, Reisswitz was an artillery officer after all…). This was noted and corrected in the 1828 supplement, and during the following decades Prussian and German rulesets often make mention of corrections in the tables accompanying the rulesets. Given the technological progress during the 19th century it would be interesting to see how they incorporated both technological and tactical advances into the rules.

As I said, it is all still very much in its infancy. Given however that the general circumstances for doing wargames research are currently very favourable here at Würzburg, we hope to produce at least some interesting results in the future.

PD Dr. Jorit Wintjes 

US Navy Secretary calls for greater attention to wargaming in USN and USMC

In a memo sent to the Chief of Naval Operations and the Commandant of the Marine Corps on May 5, US Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus has called upon the USN and USMC to “evolve our approach to wargaming so that it contemplates the future challenges our Sailors and Marines will encounter, and the types of decisions they must make.” The memo lays out a series of steps to be taken, and emphasizes that “Diversity of thought is fundamental to game design and execution. Using the inventive thinking of the [Department of the Navy] workforce – from all ranks, backgrounds, and professional and academic communities – we will create solutions to complex problems and significantly enhance the outcome of games.”



The memo reflects a general push within the US Department of Defence to renew its commitment to innovative, high-quality wargaming, as directed by Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work in a DoD-wide memo on “wargaming an innovation” issued in February.

Role-play games and simulations in International Relations

REDC33The latest issue of the Revista Española de Desarrollo y Cooperación (Spanish Review of Development and Cooperation) No. 35 (Winter 2015) is largely devoted to “educational innovations in international relations and international cooperation for development.” Most of the contributions (in English or Spanish) address the use of games and simulations:

Role-play games and simulations in International Relations: an overview

  • Rex Brynen

La distribución del poder en la sociedad internacional: una aproximación a través de un juego de simulación

  • Pablo Pareja Alcaraz

Negociaciones comerciales en el marco de la OMC

  • Margarita Billón

Gestión de crisis internacionales

  • Javier Jordán Enamorado y José Antonio Peña Ramos

Economía política y Relaciones Internacionales: negociando el presupuesto de la Unión Europea con un juego de rol

  • Alonso e Igor Filibi

Simulations and their use in the humanitarian sector

  • David Hockaday

Climate ethics: the theatre of the oppressed meets ethics roundtables

  • Raymond Anthony

Agro-food democracy role game: exploring the eu decision-making processes for non human biotechnologies

  • Leire Escajedo y Mertxe de Renobales Scheifler

La transformación de las relaciones de género a través de dinámicas participativas

  • Leticia Bendelac Gordon

La simulación computacional en Relaciones Internacionales: aplicación de Sistemas Expertos para el análisis y la predicción de conflictos

  • Nina Wormer

I’ve linked above to my own piece in the journal on role-play games and simulations in international relations:

Games and simulations have long been used for both policy analysis and teaching of International Relations. After a brief overview of the field, this article focuses on their employment as a pedagogical tool in the International Relations classroom, highlighting both the various approaches and best practices for their use.

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