Yesterday Gary Milante and I ran a couple of demonstration games of AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game at the Center for Technology and National Security Policy at National Defense University in Washington DC. David Becker—who had served as the Stabilization Coordinator at the US Embassy in Haiti during the 2010 earthquake, and who was one of the original resource people for the project—was in attendance too. It was nice to bring the game back to NDU, since AFTERSHOCK has its origins in the Connections interdisciplinary wargaming conference “game lab” held there in 2012. They had even set up a nice display poster to welcome us!
Gary and the welcome poster—I think we were both jealous they had a large format colour printer so readily to hand.
After a short orientation to the design philosophy of the game, and an equally short overview of how game play works, we then threw everyone into the deep end with two games of eight players each. In general we find that confusion and even a bit of chaos at the start of game play helps generate an appropriate atmosphere. After all, a catastrophic earthquake has just struck!
In the game I facilitated the group was initially overwhelmed by the scale of the disaster, but soon began to get a handle on things. The international military “Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief Task Force” focused on opening up the port and airport, thereby allowing an adequate number of relief supplies to flow into the country. The NGO team proved especially good at planning ahead, while the UN played a major role in supporting a relief-to-development transition through infrastructure repairs in the latter part of the game. Cluster meetings were used to coordinate humanitarian response. The local government often took a lead in suggesting collective priorities.
The group discusses how best to allocate scarce human and material resources.
The players were rather slower to recognize the importance of buttressing the already shaky government of Carana, however. Towards the end, some social unrest had even begun to appear.
President Becker and Vice-President Fox of Carana review conditions in their earthquake-ravaged country.
Fortunately, effective relief operations—coupled my a last-minute public information campaign by the government—helped to stabilize the situation, and the players all achieved a victory.
The players in the other game were less fortunate. They had an incredibly unlikely draw of cards in the initial turns, and ultimately triggered the -30 relief points “instant lose” condition. They continued to play, however, so that they could explore the game mechanics.
Conditions were especially severe in Gary’s game. Of course, natural disasters aren’t fair, and some are much worse than others.
I hope the participants found the experience useful and enjoyable—we certainly had a great time running the games.
(For more information on AFTERSHOCK, click the tab at the top of the page.)