Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Daily Archives: 24/08/2015

Simulation and gaming miscellany, 24 August 2015


Some items on conflict simulation and serious (and not-so-serious) games that may be of interest to PAXsims readers. Corinne Goldberger assisted with this latest edition.


Shaun McMillan is a high school teacher who, together with his students, has designed a political science roleplaying game to explore the dynamics of international relations:

ALLIANCE is a political science simulation created by my high school game design students and I to help young people understand the dynamics of working towards world peace. In the game as many as 60 players role play as world leaders of 20 different nation teams to try and solve multiple geo-political crises, trade, and develop their nations. They learn first hand the importance of diplomacy, the necessity for self-defense, international interdependency, and cooperation.

The game can be played as a board game by as few as 5 players, or expanded into a megagame by 60 players. The game borrows key elements from Buckminster Fuller’s World Game, John Hunter’s World Peace Game, Settlers of Catan’s trading mechanics, and Archipelago’s economic mechanics. We also developed our own war mechanics. The students have freedom to maneuver economically, militarily, or technologically together or against other teams. There is also a lot of room for open creative ideas in the course of the game so that the students are not limited to conventional problem solving strategies.

You’ll find more details in the video below, and on his website Drawalot.



The FiveThirtyEight website discusses how crowdfunding Is driving a multimillion dollar board game renaissance:

Kickstarter and other funding platforms like Indiegogo play two roles in the board game universe.

First, they are a handy way to gauge the market’s willingness to pre-order a game. Designers show up, explain their game idea on a Web page, often with photos and a video, and ask for pledges. That lets a designer learn, in real time, what the demand for his game is. If the fundraising goal is met, the game is made. And in return for a significant pledge — $50, say — donors typically get a copy of the game.

Second, they are democratizing tools. Internet crowdfunding has done the same thing for game designers that blogging platforms did for writers: turned them into publishers. In the absence of outlets like Kickstarter, designers would have to pitch games to traditional brick-and-mortar publishers. Those publishers would then typically have control over a game — they could tweak its theme, its artwork and its marketing campaign. Self-publishers can retain control.

These dual roles have led to a flurry of board game activity on Kickstarter in the past few years. Thousands of new games have been funded, and the subject matter of the games is broad, in part because of low startup costs. David Gallagher, the site’s director of communications, told me that a board game project might need as little as $500 to get off the ground — much less than a video game hardware project, for example.


In further evidence of the growing attention to boardgaming and wargaming in the media, the Wall Street Journal ran a piece on August 14 on “Game Makers’ Quest to Capture the ‘Fog of War’.

When it comes to war, the question for game makers has always been: How much should they try to capture the full complexity of battle—and at what cost to fun?

The topic is interesting, and at the core of all simulation gaming. Unfortunately the article doesn’t go beyond RISK and Memoir ’44—not even Axis and Allies or Wings of War gets a mention (arguably both more “realistic” than Memoir ’44, much as I enjoy the latter).


The University of Minnesota will be holding its 2015 Humanitarian Crisis Simulation on  11-13 September  2015.

The Humanitarian Crisis Simulation is a 48-hour experience that is designed to immerse participants in an environment typical of humanitarian crises. The exercise begins with interactive sessions that cover important concepts, core standards, and best practices in humanitarian aid. The simulation will equip participants with knowledge, experience and skills that will assist them in working in any humanitarian crisis.

Participants are then divided into interdisciplinary teams representing multiple emergency response (ER) teams. ER teams must apply their skills and knowledge to assess a fictional area experiencing a humanitarian crisis. They will be expected to develop a plan to address the many problems of the region, including malnutrition, poor infrastructure, insecurity and violations of human rights. ER teams will experience living conditions that are common for professionals working in these conditions.

The exercise is developed and administered by professionals with extensive experience in humanitarian crisis management. The framework for the simulation is based on the Sphere standards for best practices in Humanitarian Aid with a special emphasis on the management of medical issues.

You’ll find more information at the link above.


The Active Learning in Political Science blog raises the tricky of issue of assessing the impact of simulations on learning outcomes. Students can self-assess the effectiveness of a simulation, but this is fraught with methodological problems. For a start, students may rate a simulation highly because they enjoyed it, not because they learned a great deal. Such an approach does not give any indication how much students would have learned through lectures or some more traditional non-experiential teaching approach. It also doesn’t assess how many wrong lessons students derived from the simulation, compared to alternative techniques.

The best way of undertaking assessment, of course, is some approximation of a randomized control trial, whereby one class is exposed to the technique and another class of similar students is taught with more traditional means. As Michelle Giacobbe Allendoerfer notes, however, this is rarely very popular with students:

During one of our planning meetings, my collaborators and I discussed this idea. We were all struck, however, by the lingering question: if we think simulations are such a great teaching technique, why only give half the students this opportunity? Does the value of demonstrating effectiveness (if that is, indeed, what the control vs. treatment experience would have shown) trump providing all students the enriching experience?

Beyond that, the logistics of teaching two classes the same for most of the semester, but doing something different for the final three days (when the simulation will run) is burdensome. The classes would be imbalanced not simply because one had the simulation and the other didn’t, but because the control class would have three days of material or activities that the treatment class wouldn’t. What would I do in those three days that would be fair to both classes, while not contaminating the results of the assessment comparison?

Finally, the students in the program, although in different classes, will still live in the same dorm and know each other. No doubt, they will compare their class experiences. If the simulation is great, the students in the control class may feel left out (and, although unlikely, if the simulation is a flop, those students will feel as if they got the short end of the straw).

After some discussion, we settled on running the simulation in both classes.  Now I must brainstorm other ways to assess its effectiveness.


Navid Khonsari, an Iranian-born Canadian game designer who has worked on titles from Grand Theft Auto to Max Payne, cofounded and iNK Stories and is now developing a game based on the 1979 Iranian revolution. You’ll find a lengthy—and very interesting—interview at Kill Screen.


Last but by no means least, a few years ago posted a series of “honest names for famous toys” that featured retitled boxes for some gaming and toy classics. I hadn’t seen it before, and some of them are pretty good, so go have a look here.


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