PAXsims

Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Monthly Archives: October 2015

ISIS Crisis at MIGS

1445365552992Yesterday, Tom Fisher and I ran a game of the ISIS Crisis matrix game at the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies at Concordia University. Partly the purpose of the game was to explore the challenges involved in mass atrocity prevention in Iraq. Even more so, however, we wanted to give MIGS some experience with the method in case they found it of use in their training, research, or outreach activities.

Once again, the complex situation in Iraq was reduced to six key sets of actors:

  • “Islamic State”/ISIS
  • (Shi’ite-dominated) Iraqi central government of Prime Minister Haider al-Abidi (very ably played by Concordia colleague Ahmed al-Rawi)
  • Kurdish Regional Government (also, at times, playing the role of the Syrian Kurds/PYD)
  • Sunni “opposition” (representing tribal leaders and other non-ISIS Sunni political figures in Iraq)
  • Iran
  • United States

A lot went on during the game, almost all of it mirroring actual development in the region or options under active consideration by one or more of the parties.

Introducing the players to matrix gaming.

Introducing the players to matrix gaming.

Prime Minister al-Abidi sought to reach out to the Sunni minority, while seeking to build a Sunni “National Guard” to operate against ISIL in Sunni areas. While quite genuine in this, he faced serious constraints: the Sunni opposition was suspicious, and also faced the threat of ISIL reprisals. Efforts by the Prime Minister to deliver on promises were constrained by the machinations of rival Shiite politicians, most notably former Prime Minister Nour al-Maliki. The government’s attempt to modify current de-Baathification legislation failed in parliament, damaging the Prime Minister’s credibility with his Sunni interlocutors. Perhaps most damaging to his efforts was a decision to use Shiite militias to augment Iraqi Army units in the battle to regain control of Ramadi. While the militias substantially enhanced combat power and contributed to some military success, they also engaging in several atrocities against local Sunnis. The Iraqi army did ultimately succeed in mobilizing one Sunni National Guard “brigade,” but this was later shattered in further fighting around Ramadi.

Iraqi forces have taken Ramadi, but are demoralized and deterred from exerting effective control by a campaign of IEDs, snipers, and ambushes. ISIS would later recapture the city (again).

Iraqi forces have taken Ramadi, but are demoralized and deterred from exerting effective control by a campaign of IEDs, snipers, and ambushes. ISIS would later recapture the city (again).

The Sunni opposition decided quite early that they would tilt towards the government—provided that they received adequate rewards for doing so. The United States and Saudi Arabia offered arms and money. However, such moves led to a series of warnings from ISIS. Finally, when one tribe took a number of ISIS hostages and militias near Ramadi took action against local ISIS forces, the latter decided that it was time to make a very public demonstration of their power. Some tribal militias were crushed, and others joined ISIS out of self-preservation. Atrocities by Shiite militias and the Iraqi government’s close relations with Iran didn’t help the credibility of Sunni leaders trying to align with Baghdad.

The US announces stepped-up assistance for anti-ISIS Sunni tribes.

The US announces stepped-up assistance for anti-ISIS Sunni tribes.

The United States, concerned at the threat posed by ISIS, increased its assistance to local allies in an effort to push them back. This included the deployment of JTACs (forward air controllers), air support, and additional US special forces to buttress the Kurds. However, a premature Kurdish offensive towards Mosul went disastrously wrong, resulting in four American military personnel being captured by ISIS. This created pressure for US military escalation. One US prisoner was executed for a grisly ISIS propaganda video. However, the CIA managed to obtain information on where the remaining prisoners were being held in Raqqa, and a risky raid by US Navy Seals was successful in freeing them.

Iran provided arms, advisors, and other support for the Baghdad government and Kurds alike, matching the US as the two rivals sought to offset each other’s influence. The Kurds had initially been reluctant to take too much support from Tehran, but this attitude soon changed after their failed Mosul offensive. In one case Iran successfully conducted a covert attack against US advisors in Baghdad, which was then blamed on ISIS.

The KRG offensive goes badly wrong, and several US personnel embedded with Kurdish units are taken prisoner. ISIS recaptures Mosul dam. With KRG permission, Iran deploys some IRGC assets to Irbil to aid in the city's defence.

The KRG offensive goes badly wrong, and several US personnel embedded with Kurdish units are taken prisoner. ISIS recaptures Mosul dam. With KRG permission, Iran deploys some IRGC assets to Irbil to aid in the city’s defence.

ISIS had its most success in exploiting the mistakes or failures of others, or rapidly responding to their opponents’ initiatives and finding new vulnerabilities or courses of action. Throughout the game, there was frequent fighting on the Mosul-Irbil front (with control of Mosul Dam changing hands several times), and on the Raqqa-Hassakeh front in Syria. ISIS also made some effort to make gains in Aleppo at the expense of other Syrian opposition groups. It skillfully exploited US and Iranian support for Baghdad, the capture of US personnel, and the behaviour of the Shiite militias to rally support from both local Sunnis and foreign fighters. It also punished Sunni defectors harshly, crushing rebellious tribes when they showed too much willingness to work with the central government.

The ISIS player standing behind the Sunni opposition. Shortly thereafter he would unleash a punitive campaign against pro-Baghdad tribes.

The ISIS player standing behind the Sunni opposition. Shortly thereafter he would unleash a punitive campaign against pro-Baghdad tribes.

Overall, the game highlighted several key dynamics of the current situation in Iraq:

  • The constraints of Iraqi capacity and local politics, and the difficulty that the central government has in undertaking major reforms and military campaigns alike. The fight against ISIS is far from the only thing going on in the country.
  • The difficult position of Iraqi Sunnis, perched uncomfortably between an unpopular Shiite-dominated Iraqi central government and a brutal ISIS.
  • The risk to the Kurds of assuming a more assertive military role.
  • The difficulty that both Iran and the US face in using their assets and influence to affect substantial change on the ground—as well as the extent to which their rivalry affects the effectiveness of their support for allies. The US hostage crisis also highlighted the risk of more “boots on the ground.”
  • The intrinsic difficulty that the parties have in pursuing a sustained and coherent strategy, given the frequency and ease with which the actions of others or unanticipated events distract from campaign plans. In the game, efforts by the US and Iran to support a systematic Iraqi military effort towards Mosul with Kurdish and Sunni tribal support were constantly derailed by problems of coordination, US-Iranian rivalry, Shiite militia atrocities, Iraqi domestic politics, unreliable allies, and ISIS counterattacks in other areas (notably in Ramadi and towards Hassakeh in Syria).

Overall, the game ended with the Sunni opposition/tribes—a key pillar of US strategy—even weaker than they had started. The military situation was largely stalemated, with the offensive towards Mosul stalled. Ramadi was recaptured by the Iraqi Army, but they were unable to ever exert effective control. The US had stepped up its level of military engagement, but with little fundamental effect. ISIS faced severe difficulty in expanding its geographic control, but benefitted from a flow of local recruits and foreign fighters to offset its losses from Iraqi and coalition military activity—indeed, by the end it had actually augmented its capacity.

Most fundamentally, the game strongly suggested that there is no “magic bullet” in Iraq that delivers rapid victory over ISIS—only a difficult, costly, slogging campaign that mixes incremental gains with periodic reverses.

Zones of Control

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Zones of Control: Perspectives on Wargaming, coedited by Pat Harrigan and Matthew G. Kirschenbaum, will be published by The MIT Press in the spring of 2016. The book contains more than sixty contributions by scholars, game designers, and practitioners—including two chapters from us (Rex Brynen, Ellie Bartels) here at PAXsims:

Editors’ Introduction

  • Pat Harrigan and Matthew G. Kirschenbaum

Foreword: The Paper Time Machine Goes Electric

  • James F. Dunnigan

PART I: PAPER WARS 

1 A Game Out of All Proportions: How a Hobby Miniaturized War

  • Jon Peterson

2 The History of Wargaming Project

  • John Curry

3 The Fundamental Gap between Tabletop Simulation Games and the “Truth”

  • Tetsuya Nakamura

4 Fleet Admiral: Tracing One Element in the Evolution of a Game Design

  • Jack Greene

5 The Wild Blue Yonder: Representing Air Warfare in Games

  • Lee Brimmicombe-Wood

6 Historical Aesthetics in Mapmaking

  • Mark Mahaffey

7 The “I” in Team: War and Combat in Tabletop Role-Playing Games

  • A. Scott Glancy

PART II: WAR ENGINES 

8 War Engines: Wargames as Systems from the Tabletop to the Computer

  • Henry Lowood

9 The Engine of Wargaming

  • Matthew B. Caffrey Jr.

10 Design for Effect: The “Common Language” of Advanced Squad Leader

  • J. R. Tracy

11 Combat Commander: Time to Throw Your Plan Away

  • John A. Foley

12 Empire of the Sun: The Next Evolution of the Card-Driven Game Engine

  • Mark Herman

13 The Paths of Glory Lead but to the Gaming Table

  • Ted S. Raicer

14 A New Kind of History: The Culture of Wargame Scenario Design Communities

  • Troy Goodfellow

PART III: OPERATIONS 

15 Operations Research, Systems Analysis, and Wargaming: Riding the Cycle of Research

  • Peter P. Perla

16 The Application of Statistical and Forensics validation to Simulation Modeling in Wargames

  • Brien J. Miller

17 Goal-Driven Design and Napoleon’s Triumph

  • Rachel Simmons

18 Harpoon: An Original Serious Game

  • Don R. Gilman

19 The Development and Application of the Real-Time Air Power Wargame Simulation Modern Air Power

  • John Tiller and Catherine Cavagnaro

20 Red vs. Blue

  • Thomas C. Schelling

21 Hypergaming

  • Russell Vane

PART IV: THE BLEEDING EDGE 

22 Wargaming Futures: Naturalizing the New American Way of War

  • Luke Caldwell and Tim Lenoir

23 Creating Persian Incursion

  • Larry Bond

24 Modeling the Second Battle of Fallujah

  • Laurent Closier

25 Playing with Toy Soldiers: Authenticity and Metagaming in World War I video Games

  • Andrew Wackerfuss

26 America’s Army

  • Marcus Schulzke

27 We the Soldiers: Player Complicity and Ethical Gameplay in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare

  • Miguel Sicart

28 Upending Militarized Masculinity in Spec Ops: The Line

  • Soraya Murray

PART V: SYSTEMS AND SITUATIONS

29 Wargames as Writing Systems

  • Sharon Ghamari-Tabrizi

30 Playing Defense: Gender, Just War, and Game Design

  • Elizabeth Losh

31 Debord’s Nostalgic Algorithm

  • Alexander R. Galloway

32 The Ludic Science Club Crosses the Berezina

  • Richard Barbrook

33 War Games

  • David Levinthal

34 Troubling the Magic Circle: Miniature War in Iraq

  • Brian Conley

PART VI: THE WAR ROOM 

35 Wargames as an Academic Instrument

  • Philip Sabin

36 Lessons from the Hexagon: Wargames and the Military Historian

  • Robert M. Citino

37 Simulation Literacy: The Case for Wargames in the History Classroom

  • Rob MacDougall and Lisa Faden

38 The Amateur Designer: For Fun and Profit

  • Charles Vasey

39 Struggling with Deep Play: Utilizing Twilight Struggle for Historical Inquiry

  • Jeremy Antley

40 Model-Driven Military Wargame Design and Evaluation

  • Alexander H. Levis and Robert J. Elder

PART VII: IRREGULARITIES

41 Gaming the Nonkinetic

  • Rex Brynen

42 Inhabited Models and Irregular Warfare Games: An Approach to Educational and Analytical Gaming at the US Department of Defense

  • Elizabeth M. Bartels

43 Chess, Go, and Vietnam: Gaming Modern Insurgency

  • Brian Train and Volko Ruhnke

44 Irregular Warfare: The Kobayashi Maru of the Wargaming World

  • Yuna Huh Wong

45 A Mighty Fortress is Our God: When Military Action Meets Religious Strife

  • Ed Beach

46 Cultural Wargaming: Understanding Cross-Cultural Communications Using Wargames

  • Jim Wallman

PART VIII: OTHER THEATERS

47 Wargaming (as) Literature 555

  • Esther MacCallum-Stewart

48 Tristram Shandy: Toby and Trim’s Wargames and the Bowling Green

  • Bill McDonald

49 Third Reich and The Third Reich

  • John Prados

50 How Star Fleet Battles Happened

  • Stephen V. Cole

51 Total Global Domination: Games Workshop and Warhammer 40,000

  • Ian Sturrock and James Wallis

52 When the Drums Begin to Roll

  • Larry Brom

53 War Re-created: Twentieth-Century War Reenactors and the Private Event

  • Jenny Thompson

PART IX: FIGHT THE FUTURE

54 War, Mathematics, and Simulation: Drones and (Losing) Control of Battlespace

  • Patrick Crogan

55 How to Sell Wargames to the Non-Wargamer

  • Michael Peck

56 Wargaming the Cyber Frontier

  • Joseph Miranda

57 The Unfulfilled Promise of Digital Wargames

  • Greg Costikyan

58 Civilian Casualties: Shifting Perspective in This War of Mine

  • Kacper Kwiatkowski

59 Practicing a New Wargame

  • Mary Flanagan

Zones of Control can now be preordered from Amazon.

CFP: Game Studies special issue on “WAR/GAME”

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The online journal Game Studies has issued a call for papers for a special Issue on “WAR/GAME,” to be edited by Holger Pötzsch and Phil Hammond:

Video games are an important sector of the global entertainment industry and AAA titles often have budgets and audiences similar to those of major Hollywood productions. Many of the commercially most successful games are war-themed titles that play out in what are framed as authentic real-world settings inspired by historical events. Parallel to this development, significant changes have occurred in the way Western industrialized nations wage actual wars. It has been argued that postmodern war increasingly resembles a videogame and that this form of mediatization fundamentally changes how wars are justified, perceived, experienced, and waged. This, and other postulated connections between war games and actual wars merit critical scholarly attention and scrutiny.

This special issue of Game Studies interrogates the relations between games and war. Particular attention will be directed to digital games, but submissions dealing with board games, tabletop roleplaying games, and others are also welcome. We invite contributions that approach the war/game relationship from various theoretical and methodological vantage points. Interdisciplinary studies fall within the purview of the issue as do articles exploring the field from the point of view of distinct disciplinary traditions. Analysis and criticism of particular games or genres are equally welcome, as are empirical studies of players and player cultures, investigations of the political economy of games and gaming, theoretical inquiries into the socio-cultural roles and functions of games, or studies of the tensions between game forms and re-appropriative practices of play, for example. Possible topics include, but are not limited to:

  • The aesthetics of war games
  • Interconnections between the games industry, players, and the military
  • The relation of war games to historical knowledge, beliefs and attitudes
  • The history of war games and war gaming
  • War games and embodiment
  • Critical war game design and serious war games
  • Transgressive dimensions of war games and war gaming
  • The role of games in the mediatization and cultural framing of war
  • War games, minorities, and marginalization

Please consult the Game Studies submission guidelines before submitting your paper—only fully formatted articles will be considered for review. The deadline for submission is 1 December 2015. The issue will be published in December 2016.

h/t Nikola Adamus 

Simulation and gaming miscellany, 23 October 2015

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Some recent items on conflict simulation and serious (and not-so-serious) gaming that may be of interest to PAXsims readers. Corinne Goldberger and Ryan Kuhns contributed material for this latest edition.

PAXsims

1510_n-square_g4c_banner_634pxThe N Square Challenge is offering a $10,000 prize for the best idea for a game on nuclear proliferation:

Nuclear proliferation remains one of the most vexing and complex issues of our time. Though the Cold War ended long ago, today’s nuclear security situation is more volatile than ever.

But with such a huge challenge comes an even bigger opportunity for innovation, and who better to tackle this issue than the gaming community, known for their creativity and collaborative problem solving. A new design competition is calling on innovators to save the world, in real life, by inspiring creative solutions and novel approaches that foster greater understanding of nuclear proliferation and its related safety and security challenges.

Games for Change is looking for ideas for games that address the risk of nuclear weapons.

The N Square Challenge is a $10,000 game design competition, sponsored by N Square, a two-year pilot working to inspire nuclear safety solutions.

The challenge invites anyone, anywhere, to conceptualize a game that will engage and educate players about the dynamics of nuclear weapons risk. No prior game design experience or subject matter expertise is required. You supply the idea, and we’ll design the game.

The winning design idea will receive a $10,000 cash prize!

The deadline for submissions is November 13. You’ll find further details here and here.

N Square is a collaborative effort between five of the largest peace and security funders in the United States: The Carnegie Corporation of New York, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Ploughshares Fund, and the Skoll Global Threats Fund.

PAXsims

Asymmetric Games is a website devoted to experimental strategy games. Their most recent offering examines rebuilding a post-apocalyptic America:

Asymmetric Warfare: Nation Building USA is a game that explores the complexity of conflicts that occur in failed states. Rather than look at a current conflict in a country where the basic functions of government have broken down (Somalia, Afghanistan, Syria, etc.), this game assumes that the United States is recovering from a debilitating plague. To stop the spread of the plague, the US government had to put the US population under a prolonged quarantine and nuke a few cities where the plague was out of control. Forcing people to stay indoors for several weeks, in turn, caused the economy to collapse. Larger areas of the country have collapsed into anarchy, and millions of refugees are fleeing the fallout of the nuclear strikes. The US has become a failed state. You play a bankrupt US government, and you must reassert control over and rebuild the nation.

Below you’ll find a video highlighting the Asymmetric Games engine used in an earlier game, Baltic Gambit:

PAXsims

Rogue State is a digital game newly released on Steam:

Assume control of a Middle Eastern country recovering from a violent revolution. It is up to you: Forge alliances, grow your economy, invade your neighbors, or pacify your population. Rogue State is a geopolitical strategy game that will force you to always stay one step ahead of your rivals to survive.

PAXsims

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Rumour has it that a well-known British wargamer (and occasional PAXsims contributor) was recently spotted in China too.

China is taking its wargaming and military exercises more seriously, according to Defense News:

China has greatly increased the realism of its Army training, attempting to improve readiness and interoperability, and unearth operational weaknesses.

These trends demonstrate the People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) rising self-confidence in dealing with a variety of scenarios beyond its traditional focus of a conflict with Taiwan, analysts said.

Since 2006, the PLA has increased the number of trans-regional exercises, particularly units moving from one military region (MR) to another for training, said Roy Kamphausen, senior vice president for research at the National Bureau of Asian Research.

The PLA has made three key improvements in land warfare exercises, said Li Xiaobing, author of the book “A History of the Modern Chinese Army.”

First, the PLA has moved the exercises out of their training fields like the one in the Beijing region and into actual battlegrounds, including some remote, frontier areas like those in Tibet and Xinjiang.

Second, the exercises have become more practical in terms of real war conditions, such as command, communication and long-distance logistics.

“They even traveled long distance to Russia for a joint land exercise,” he said.

Third, the blue army or enemy force is now better prepared and stronger than the red army or PLA.

“The red army has to fight harder and smarter rather than expecting a guaranteed victory,” Li said. Li once served in the PLA and is now a professor at the University of Central Oklahoma.

However:

Li said weaknesses of the recent land exercises remind people of the institutional problems of the PLA.

“Politics still has a role in the exercises, including site selection, commander appointments and battle designs,” he said. Problems include economic issues: “Some units were asked to use old weapons before their retirement and ammunition before the expiration dates.”

For more on wargaming in China, see Devin Ellis’ recent presentation on the topic at Connections UK 2015 (video below).

PAXsims

Mark Herman—designer of We The PeopleEmpire of the Sun, Fire in the Lake, Churchill and many other wargames–recently had an AMA (‘ask me anything”) on Reddit. You can read the questions and answers in the Hex and Counter subreddit.

PAXsims

live-like-a-refugee-for-a-weekend-in-rural-ohio-511-body-image-1444867210-size_1000In Ohio, Dr. Jeff Cook organizes an annual Refugee Weekend that aims to Refugee Weekend—an “immersion experience modeled on different refugee situations from around the world.” The event lasts two days and nights:

During one of my more memorable weekends in college, I fled a group of bandits trying to steal my belongings, plucked a scrawny chicken, watched a sheep get slaughtered so we could eat, and narrowly avoided frostbite after spending all day and night outside. In Ohio. In the middle of winter. The experience was called Refugee Weekend, an overnight class exercise meant to show our group of Midwestern, middle-class millennials just what it meant to exist on the margins. It was so cold that I melted the sole of my Army-issue borrowed boot as I tried to get warm at a campfire. Then a group of masked bandits raided camp, again, and I hobbled on an unevenly melted boot for the rest of the night. The hellish experience began on Friday afternoon, and ended in the early hours of Sunday morning—if only real-world refugees had that luxury.

Read more about it at VICE.

On a similar theme, the Webster University Journal reports on another refugee simulation:

The refugee experience tested the students both mentally and physically, just like a real refugee scenario. 

Sara Banoura, a journalism student and member of the Palestinian Solidarity Movement in St. Louis, said she was skeptical when she first read about the simulation. She said she did not know how close to reality it was. 

Banoura said the reflections made by those who participated reassured her that the refugee simulation has the potential to change hearts on and off campus. 

“The Syrian situation is eye-opening to every other refugee situation,” Banoura said. “It’s not just about politics, it’s about humanity.”

PAXsims

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The latest issue of PS: Political Science & Politics 48, 4 (October 2015) contains an article by Kyle Haynes on “Simulating the Bargaining Model of War.”

This article outlines a classroom simulation for teaching the bargaining model of war. This model has become one of the most important theories of international conflict, but the technical notation often used to illustrate it is troublesome for some students. I describe a simple card game that can be integrated into a broader strategy for conveying the bargaining model’s core insights. I also highlight ways in which the game can be modified to focus on different aspects of the model’s logic.

PAXsims

The Journal of Games Criticism is seeking submissions for its January 2016 issue.
The Journal of Games Criticism (JGC) is a non-profit, peer-reviewed, open-access journal which aims to respond to these cultural artifacts by extending the range of authors to include both traditional academics and popular bloggers. The journal strives to be a producer of feed-forward approaches to video games criticism with a focus on influencing gamer culture, the design and writing of video games, and the social understanding of video games and video games criticism.
This issue’s submission deadline is November 15, 2015. See here for submissions guidelines.
PAXsims

…one crowdfunded video game project has stood out to me as a model for cultivating an audience and then effectively meeting its expectations—not to mention delivering a great game in the process. It’s Prison Architectwhich has raised more than $19 million through crowdfunding. Game designers and companies alike would benefit from studying its success.

In Prison Architect, an ambitious business/management simulation from British developer Introversion Software, players design and manage their own penal colony. It wasn’t funded through Kickstarter but through Valve’s game distribution platform Steam, whose “Early Access” program required that Introversion deliver a playable experience before anyone could even donate money. Consequently, Prison Architect’s concept had to be sufficiently fleshed out and coherent to yield a minimal prototype before its creators could ask anyone for money. Second, after releasing that prototype in 2012 Introversion updated the game almost every month with new features and functionality in order to get ongoing feedback from the funders. And third, Introversion never promised more than it could deliver—quite the opposite.

After being available for three years as an open, prerelease “alpha,” Prison Architectwas officially released two weeks ago and appears destined for long-term cult success….

PAXsims

While not exactly connected with conflict, it is all about simulation—so I’ll slip in a quick plug for McGill University’s  Steinberg Centre for Simulation and Interactive Learning, which supports simulated training in the health sciences.

Since its inception in 2006 the Centre has been an important part of the training of health care students and practitioners, having hosted over 110,000 learner visits, more than 60,000 of which have occurred in the past four years. The Centre’s academic team provides simulation-based training to students from McGill’s schools of medicine, nursing, physiotherapy and occupational therapy, communication sciences and disorders, and dietetics and human nutrition, as well as to non-McGill health care professionals and to industry.

Using sophisticated simulation technology, life-like mannequins and professional actors as patients, among other tools, the Centre’s users are able to practice a variety of skills from suturing to ultrasound to bedside manner to crisis resource management, clinical decision-making and interprofessional health care.

You can read more about it in the McGill Reporter.

PAXsims at the Royal Military College of Canada

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On Monday I was at the Royal Military College of Canada in Kingston for a day of conflict simulation and gaming-related activities. I started off with a presentation that explored the value of simulation/gaming in the classroom, some possible methods and approaches, and suggestions as to best practices. You’ll find a pdf version of all of the slides here.

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This was followed with a display of a few commercial (manual) wargames that illustrated the breadth of material on contemporary conflict, including Algeria, LabyrinthA Distant Plain, BCT Kandahar, Kandahar, Decision: IraqPersian Incursion, and others.

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AFTERSHOCK at RMCC.

Next I ran a session of AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game. The players were a little overwhelmed at first with the devastation that the earthquake had inflicted upon Carana, but eventually got on top of the situation. The multilateral military Humanitarian Assistance/Disaster Relief Task Force (HADR-TF) did an especially good job—before departing the country accompanied by pronouncements of “Mission Accomplished.” Collectively, all of the players achieved a narrow victory by the end of the two-hour game.

Members of HADR-TF withdraw from Galassi, the capital city of Carana, after three months of earthquake relief operations.

Members of HADR-TF withdraw from Galassi, the capital city of Carana, after three months of earthquake relief operations.

Finally, the evening saw a dozen players participate in an ISIS Crisis matrix game. Iran aggressively sought to displace the US as it supported the Iraqi government against ISIS, to the point of trying to broker Russian air operations in support of the Baghdad government. The US, not surprisingly, pulled in the other direction. Indeed, the dynamic very closely mirrored what was actually going on as we played.

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Headlines in the media, two days after the ISIS Crisis game.

As the squabbling continued, the Iraqis prepare for an assault on ISIS-held Ramadi. However, this was preempted by a surprise ISIS attack on Fallujah that saw government forces routed. Alarmed by this, Tehran dispatched additional advisors, air support, and even a contingent of Revolutionary Guards to Baghdad to bolster the government.

Throughout, the Shi’ite-dominated Baghdad government had made political overtures to Iraqi Sunnis, but these were generally seen as too little, too late. The deployment of limited Iranian forces to Baghdad only further poisoned Sunni-Shi’ite relations.

In the north, ISIS and the Kurds skirmished both in the Raqqa-Hassakeh area (Syria) and east of Mosul (Iraq). The former was inconclusive. In the latter case, however, Kurdish operations went badly wrong towards the end, resulting in heavy Kurdish losses.

Another recent real-world headline that closely mirrored our game of ISIS Crisis.

Another real-world headline that closely mirrored our game of ISIS Crisis.

Meanwhile, Sunni tribal leaders perfected the art of fence-sitting. They successfully approached Saudi Arabia for funding as the non-ISIS Sunni alternative, but then contributed funds to ISIS when the Kurds tried to move towards Mosul. They took no steps against ISIS, yet convinced the Jordanians to extend arms and training, building the nucleus of a small force that might one day intervene against ISIS in western Anbar province. While critical to building a more cohesive Iraq, they had little incentive to align decisively with one side or the other—a move that would bring certain retribution from others.

As for ISIS, they ended the game with some tactical battlefield victories and some strategic gains in the information war. They, however, were also feeling a bit hemmed in: coalition and Iranian support made it difficult to make large, sustained gains in Iraq, while the fluid civil war in Syria presented both threats and opportunities. In the end they decided for a flexible approach of safeguarding their core interests and territory, strengthening their global appeal, while being prepared to rapidly exploit military and political mistakes by others.

The operational situation shortly before the surprise ISIS attack on Fallujah.

The operational situation following the surprise ISIS attack on Fallujah.

All-in-all, it was an excellent day. So too was the next day, when I presented an unrelated talk (on “Underpredicting the Arab Spring”) at the Centre for International and Defence Policy, Queen’s University. A number of opportunities for simulation/gaming collaboration with both RMCC and CIDP were identified, which we hope to build upon in the future.

Coming up soon: a game of ISIS Crisis hosted by the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies at Concordia University on October 26, a trip to Missouri State University for a talk (and a game of AFTERSHOCK) on October 30, and another presentation on simulation and gaming at the University of Ottawa on November 23.

ICONS Project seeks researcher/simulation developer

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Dear Readers,

I’ve not been posting much lately. In part due to the fact that I am under an extremely heavy workload. The good news, is that the ICONS Project is adding staff, so I should soon have a lot of time back! I encourage anyone in the PAXsims community who is interested in joining the Project to consider applying here and/or passing this notice on to your communities of interest.

The ICONS Project seeks a Researcher and Simulation Developer to support the ICONS Project’s growing portfolio of simulation-based research, education, and professional training programs. A substantial portion of this position’s time will be devoted to supporting projects looking at U.S. strategic planning and decision-making in the field of international relations and security.

The open position will join the Project’s simulation development team, reporting to the director of the Policy & Research program. Duties will include simulation design and writing, simulation maintenance, project management, research and development and instructional materials and tools, and technical support and customer service.

The position will be directly supervised by the ICONS Project Associate Director. The candidate will report to the ICONS Project’s lead simulation developer on overall creative matters, and to the appropriate principal investigator or program head on specific projects. The ICONS Project has a long history of growth and innovation, and we welcome applicants who are looking for an opportunity to shape and expand a position over time.

Best consideration date is October 27. The sooner we fill this role, the sooner I can turn to another “On Methods” posting…

Devin Ellis

Teaching professional wargaming

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Over the last few years I have attended several “introduction to wargaming” courses intended for professional audiences, including sessions at Connections US, Connections UK, MORS, and elsewhere. Based on that experience I thought it might be useful to offer some thoughts on best and not-so-best practices. These comments should certainly NOT be seen as criticism of any particular presentation, session, course, or organization. Instead they are intended as a contribution to more effectively introducing neophyte wargamers to the art and science of professional national security gaming.

Moreover, these are just one perspective. I strongly encourage others to add their own thoughts in the comments section below!

Teaching wargaming: best practices

  • Clear and central emphasis on establishing and clarifying the purposes of a game. Unlike hobby gaming, professional gaming isn’t undertaken for its own purposes. Rather, it is undertaken to address a problem (whether it is a set of research or planning questions, or to offer experiential practice, or to meet particular training and educational objectives). We also need to be clear that a game is not always the best approach to a problem. Professional gaming has to be underpinned by a willingness to acknowledge our limitations, and push back against clients and sponsors who may want precooked results.
  • Address potential intellectual baggage. Those new to professional gaming often come with some preconceptions that need to be explicitly or implicitly addressed. There may be doubts as to its utility—or, perhaps, uncritical enthusiasm. Participants may be to strong an attachment to their own prior gaming experience. Modelling and simulations folks, or those with a background in digital gaming, may be inclined to want to see computers everywhere. Those whose only experience of professional wargaming in the military is that of seminar games or complex kinetic models may view anything different as rather dubious. Hobby gamers may assume that a manual, map-hex-and-unit-counters approach trumps all else, or may otherwise emphasize the “game” part over the instructional or analytical purpose.
  • Encourage a “toolset” approach to gaming. There is no single way to wargame. Rather, the gaming tools that are (or are not) utilized should depend on purpose and resources (time, participants, space, materials). There are also all sorts of hybrid possibilities, where game mechanics are used in conjunction with other discussion or analysis approaches.
  • Attention to the intangibles. In addition to methodology and science, be sure to examine topics such as narrative engagement, player dynamics, social engineering of teams and participants, and all the other “art” of wargaming.
  • Attention to wargame analysis and integration. How will game outputs be recorded, assessed, and analyzed? Beyond this, how does the game fit into the broader (analytical or educational) process, and how can this be fostered? Participants need to understand that professional gaming is almost always part of a much bigger picture.
  • Identification of useful dos, don’ts, and handy approaches for dealing with common problems, challenges, and obstacles. It is often very helpful to hear how other professional gamers have dealt with similar problems, especially if this is presented in such a way as to enable general lessons to be drawn.
  • Lively but clearly-structured lecture style, mixing some periods of sustained presentation with opportunities for questions, discussions, and breakout activities. It should be noted that just as not all good lecturers are good game designers, not all experienced wargamers are great lecturers.
  • Make sure any sample or demonstration game is relevant to the instructional purpose. Games can be fun, but enjoyment does not necessarily correlate with learning outcomes. If you’re teaching analysts about how to analyze a wargame, choose a wargame that is simple, not-to-“gamey” in its mechanisms, and clearly illustrates the value of opposed play and subsequent assessment.

Teaching wargaming: not-so-good (and worst) practices

  • Suboptimal mix of experienced and neophyte gamers. While new gamers will undoubtedly benefit from hearing the comments and ideas of more experienced gamers, an “introductory” course that is too full of experienced wargamers may deter newbies from asking questions, or may be too easily diverted into complex issues or reminiscing over old “war” (game) stories.
  • Meandering. Experienced participants can pick the gems out of a stream-of-consciousness presentation. New learners will have a much more difficult time doing so. Short anecdotes are useful if the illustrate key points, but otherwise can be distraction—no matter how amusing. Lecturers aren’t the only ones who meander: attendee comments can throw a presentation off course too if instructors aren’t careful.
  • Bad powerpoint. There is now growing evidence that poorly-designed powerpoint has adverse cognitive and learning effects. Powerpoint should not be filled with bullet points, dense text, a plethora of boxes and columns, frequent illustrative cartoons, and so forth. It should clearly summarize key points in a logical order, present key definitions, and display graphic data (charts, pictures of things that have to be seen).
  • Reusing old presentations. Only do this if the previous presentation was focused on the topic you need for teaching. Otherwise, design a fresh presentation for the specific educational purpose.
  • Too many references to hobby games, and frequent reminiscing the grand old days of Avalon Hill and SPI. This tendency has several interrelated problems. It excludes non-hobby gamers who have no idea what the presenter is talking about. It also places excess weight on hex-and-CRT wargaming, which is only one of many possible gaming tools and approaches in a professional gaming toolkit. While there is no doubt that hobby wargaming has a great many strengths, it also risks becoming something of a guild that stifles rather than promotes gaming innovation.

Simulation and gaming miscellany, 14 October 2015

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Some recent items on conflict simulation and serious (and not-so-serious) gaming that may be of interest to PAXsims readers. Ryan Kuhns contributed to this latest edition.

PAXsims

Strategic Crisis Simulations

Strategic Crisis Simulations will be holding its next simulation, Rising Tides: A Simulation of Regional Crisis and Territorial Competition in the East China Sea, on 7 November 2015 at George Washington University:

The East China Sea is one of the most contested regions in the existing geopolitical climate. A small body of water, whose mass is dwarfed by the world’s oceans, the East China Sea is hotly divided, with overlapping claims by four different regional actors: Japan, China, Taiwan, and South Korea. Though the exact territorial claims vary from state to state, all actors have held firm in their demands, and recent aggressive expansionism has once more brought the East China Sea to the forefront of geopolitical focus. This tension is fueled by the immense strategic and economic value of the region: the East China Sea is home to an abundance of marine life, rich fishing grounds, vast natural gas reserves, and several highly strategic trade arteries, all of which are integral to the economies to the surrounding regional actors. These attributes combine to make the East China Sea one of the most economically valuable, and strategically advantageous, oceanic regions in the world.

This simulation will examine the complex maze that actors must negotiate when dealing with the tense social, political, and military dilemmas currently occurring in the East China Sea. Participants will assume the roles of influential policymakers, and must work with both state and non-state regional actors to execute comprehensive and multilateral government responses to issues ranging from great power politics, piracy, and natural resource conflicts; to state bargaining dilemmas, humanitarian assistance, and collective action problems. Participants will have the unique opportunity to grapple with serious questions of national interest through the eyes of the government of the United States and the People’s Republic of China as they are divided into teams in order to develop their respective policies and agendas. Participants will need to develop strategies in line with their team’s objectives to manage a variety of crises and react to actions from other teams. Whether through the Politburo or the National Security Council; the Pentagon or Central Military Commission; the Ministry of State Security or the Central Intelligence Agency; participants will be challenged to work together to develop policy solutions for the complex myriad of issues that will determine the fate of the East China Sea.

PAXsims

USIPAlso in Washington DC, the United States Institute of Peace will be offering a course United Nations Peacekeeping Today: Why it Matters on 2-4 November 2015:

By the end of this course, participants will understand:

  • The new and challenging environment that confronts UN peace operations, including asymmetrical warfare, terrorist operations, drone surveillance, and organized crime.
  • The planning and implementation of modern peace operations, including the roles played by the Security Council, NATO, EU, AU, troop contributing countries and the United States.
  • The key issues confronting UN peacekeeping and the recommendations of the High Level Panel’s Report and the Presidential Summit for going forward.
  • The planning of a peace operation through interactive role play with a diverse group of well-informed fellow professionals.

The course includes a simulation/role-play exercise on planning for a fictional UN Mission in Equatorial Kundu (UNIMEK). More information is available at the link above.

PAXsims

The latest (Summer/Fall 2015) newsletter of the American Political Science Association political science education section, The Political Science Educator, contains a short article on AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game:

After the earthquake that devastated the capital, aid was slow to reach the slums of District 3. Poor coordination resulted in duplication of effort in some areas, and shortages of essential aid supplies in others. The port and airport remained severely damaged, creating transportation bottlenecks. The latest reports suggested a cholera outbreak too. It was no surprise that social unrest was growing.

The vignette above is drawn from AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game. AFTERSHOCK was developed for classroom use to highlight the challenges of multilateral coordination in the context of a natural disasters or complex humanitarian emergencies. The game has spread well beyond its initial use at McGill University, and has been taken adopted for professional training of aid workers, peacekeeping personnel, and military officers. This article briefly describes the genesis of the project, the development and production of the game, and some thoughts about using it in the classroom.

You read the whole thing here.

PAXsims

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The NATO website briefly summarizes a North Atlantic Council crisis simulation for European university students held in Forli, Italy last week:

“How does the North Atlantic Council (NAC) respond to an emerging crisis situation?”

That was the question posed to 28 students from leading European Universities from throughout Europe, including Cork, Dublin, Bath, Lisbon, Palermo, Istanbul and Pavia, as well as the European University Institute in Florence, in a realistic re-enactment of a NAC session.

Based on the Memorandum of Understanding with NATO, the University of Bologna, School of Political Sciences, hosted the 9th North Atlantic Council Simulation (NATO Model Event) in Forli, Italy, 8-9 October 2015.

During the NAC simulation, the students explored, discussed and seek resolution to a fictitious scenario, led by Lieutenant Colonel Alfonso Alvarez, Commander Matteo Minelli and supported by Ms Tracey Cheasley, Mr Nicola Nasuti, Ms Cristina Siserman from Allied Command Transformation Strategic Plans & Policy Branch (ACT SPP) and Lieutenant Commander Dave Jones from ACT StratCom.

As an evaluation, the students participating to the event stressed that the realism of the discussions, decision-making and eventual consensus on actions, cannot be overstated and that they are very glad to be able to take part in this simulation.

Finally, Lieutenant Colonel Alvarez mentioned his gratitude to return to the University of Bologna to stage the NATO Model Event this year.”The Sala del Consiglio, Fondazione Cassa Dei Risparmi Di Forli is a perfect venue for the event and we are welcomed here with most gracious hospitality. It is a real honour to showcase our NAC simulation here at the university with such enthusiastic and well-prepared students.” he added.

As part of SACT’s Educational Outreach programme, NATO Model Events are held in Turkey, Italy and the USA throughout the year to help students and faculty members learn more about NATO and to understand more about the countries that they represent and that make up the Alliance.

PAXsims

A recent article by Quintin Smith in The Guardian highlights those aspects of the boardgaming experience that digital games cannot truly replicate.

Surely there’s nothing a board game can do that a video game can’t do better, right?

After all, board games are so limited. You have to fit them on a table, and make them out of real, tangible stuff. Video games can do whatever you can imagine!

And the best video games should already be stealing from board games. I think game designers ought to be out-and-out burglars, pausing their larceny only to remix and rethink the latest haul of ideas.

But there are also things that make board and card games great that can’t be stolen. At least, not yet. Those elements that exist only within the sphere of real-life cards, smiles and dining room tables.

He goes on to identify three characteristics of boardgames that are hard to replicate with artificial intelligence or in a digital environment: bluffing, physicality, and ownership. (Be sure to read the readers’ comments too for further thoughtful discussion on the topic.)

PAXsims

According to research highlighted in the New Scientist, the placebo effect works in videogames too:

Even in virtual worlds, life is what you make of it. A study has found that gamers have more fun when they think a video game has been updated with fancy new features – even when that’s not true.

Paul Cairns, a professor of human-computer interaction at the University of York, UK, wondered if the placebo effect translates into the world of video games after watching a TV programme about how a sugar pill had improved cyclists’ performance.

“People have a preconception that a little round white pill that doesn’t taste nice will have a certain effect on their physiology,” says Cairns. “It’s changing your perceptions of the world around you in some profound way.”

To test their idea, he and colleague Alena Denisova asked 21 people to play two rounds of Don’t Starve, an adventure game in which the player must collect objects using a map in order to survive.

In the first round, the researchers told the players that the map would be randomly generated. In the second, they said it would be controlled by an “adaptive AI” that could change the map based on the player’s skill level. After each round, the players filled out a survey.

In fact, neither game used AI – both versions of the game were identically random. But when players thought that they were playing with AI, they rated the game as more immersive and more entertaining. Some thought the game was harder with AI, others found it easier – but no one found it equally challenging.

“The adaptive AI put me in a safer environment and seemed to present me with resources as needed,” said one player.

“It reduces the time of exploring the map, which makes the game more enjoyable,” said another.

A different experimental design, with 40 new subjects, confirmed the effect. This time, half of the players were put in a control group and told that the game was random, while the other half thought the game had built-in AI….

PAXsims

Ahmed Moussa is a controversial Egyptian television host known for his strong support for former Egyptian dictator Husni Mubarak. He’s also a strong supporter of Russian intervention in Syria, and recently broadcast apparent satellite images that showed Russian helicopters at work, hunting down terrorists…

…except that it was actually imagery from the 2010 video game Apache: Air Assault.

PAXsims

Pocket Tactics, which reviews  iOS and Android games, is taking over The Wargame. They also will soon be launching a new site, Strategy Gamer, devoted to stragey games on all digital platforms as well as tabletops. As a result, they’re looking for writers and game reviewers:

If you want to join Dave and Kelsey and the gang, now’s the time — the first call for writers we’ve put out since 2012. We’re looking for reviewers to do 2 to 3 (paid!) reviews per month. We’re also looking for another news writer, somebody who can write funny, insightful news posts most weekdays — also a paid gig.

You’ll find more on how to apply here.

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Connections UK 2015 slides, audio, and video

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The slides, audio, and video from September’s Connections UK wargaming conference has now been posted to the Connections UK website.

Yes, that's me live-blogging on my laptop at Connections UK.

Yes, that’s me live-blogging on my laptop in the audience at Connections UK.

In addition, you’ll also find a summary of the conference at Bob Cordery’s blog Wargaming Miscellany.

Simulation and gaming miscellany, 8 October 2015

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Some recent items on conflict simulation and serious (and not-so-serious) gaming that may be of interest to PAXsims readers. Nikola Adamus, Ryan Kuhns, Christian Palmer, and Swen Stoop contributed items to this latest edition.

PAXsims

Vol48 N3The current (September 2015) issue of Phalanx—the journal of the Military Operations Research Society—has an article by Virginia “Robbin” Beall (Office of the Deputy Chief of Naval Operations) on “Defense innovation through wargaming.” Highlighting the recent US DoD emphasis on reinvigorating wargaming, she warns that “some of the wargaming in the Department of Defense is not done well and has no or little lasting impact.” She goes on to highlight three areas for improvement: game design, game adjudication, and appropriate application of analytic techniques. I’ve excerpted some of her key comments below.

Game Design

Many games appear to depend upon the notion that if you just get the right players together in a room, you will achieve the desired intellectual breakthroughs. This approach underestimates the importance of game design and does the players a disservice.

If the objectives of the game are too broad or ill defined, the likely game outcomes are either vague generalities or obvious solutions, no matter how talented the players may be. It may not be apparent to players or stakeholders that the game was poorly designed until it is too late to recover.

Rigorous attention to game design in a manner that forces the players to confront one or two essential dilemmas can focus that talent on specific areas of deficiency that may lead to innovative strategic or operational approaches or technological solutions.

Game Adjudication

Some form of adjudication is often necessary to keep games progressing, and a game timeline is generally not compatible with the real-time use of rigorous quantitative modeling and simulation. For that reason, most games are adjudicated either through simpler quantitative methods or by BOGSAT (bunch of guys and gals sitting around a table). Both of those approaches, like any other analytic endeavor, need to begin with the basic tenets of good research:

  • a review best performed by reaching out to an extensive network of analysts to understand what previous work has been conducted; and
  • unyielding technical rigor in fully understanding the technical capabilities of assets or technologies examined.

Too often these basic research steps are shortchanged.

I would suggest that an overarching principle for adjudication is, as with the Hippocratic Oath, to above all else, do no harm. Players may be taking a single day away from commanding the same units that are represented in the game. Decision makers may be formulating the arguments for or against an investment. Poorly conducted adjudication creates a risk of leaving players with a fundamentally mistaken belief in the viability of a CONOPS, tactic, system, or technology and in doing so, fails to advance the state-of-the-art of our knowledge base or support good decisions.

Appropriate Application of Analytic Techniques

It will be tempting in an environment where there is an intense focus on wargaming to assume that it is always the analytic technique of choice.

However, as analysts we should realize that no single technique is suited to addressing all problems or questions. As the members of the defense community with the most comprehensive training and knowledge in analytic techniques, it is up to us to lead the discussion on what the appropriate analytic technique should be for a given application.

Her article is very similar to the presentation she made at the recent MORS special meeting on professional gaming, and is well worth reading in full.

PAXsims

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Although PAXsims wasn’t able to attend the recent Connections Netherlands interdisciplinary wargaming conference last month, Swen Stoop has kindly passed on a summary prepared by the organizers (as well as some artistic impressions by Yuen Yen).

You’ll find further details at the Connections NL website, including a few of the conference presentations.

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PAXsims

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My PAXsims coeditor Devin Ellis quite literally posted a report on JadedAid while I was typing this, so go see what he said. You’ll find more on the game at Foreign Policy, The Guardian, and WhyDev. Via YouTube you can also hear co-creater Jessica Heinzelman talk about the genesis of the game at Nerd Night Phnom Penh.

PAXsims

At Nautilus, Jonathon Keats asks “Could war games replace the real thing?” His starting point is Buckminster Fuller’s proposal for a global peace game as a tool for conflict resolution and international cooperation:

As the Vietnam conflict spiraled out of control, Fuller had a solution. His idea was simple: Instead of playing secret war games deep inside the Pentagon, the United States should host a world peace game out in the open. The concept was an elaboration on his proposal to build a geoscope inside the U.S. Pavilion of the 1964 World’s Fair. An animated Dymaxion world map would show all the resources on the planet, as well as all human and natural activity, from troop deployment to ocean currents. On this map, the world’s leaders and citizens of all nations would be invited to publicly wage peace. He cast the world game as a political system, a completely democratic alternative to voting in which people collectively played out potential solutions to shared problems.

“The objective of the game would be to explore for ways to make it possible for anybody and everybody in the human family to enjoy the total earth without any human interfering with any other human and without any human gaining advantage at the expense of another,” Fuller wrote. “To win the World Game everybody must be made physically successful. Everybody must win.”

He then offers a broader overview of the development of modern wargaming, ultimately suggesting that modern synthetic and digital worlds might now make Fuller’s dream possible:

Crucially, these virtual worlds would not be neutral backdrops in the vein of Second Life. Like SimCity and war games, they’d be logically rigorous and internally consistent. There’d be causality and consequences, and there’d be tension, drawn out by constraints such as limited resources and time pressure. Also like SimCity and war games, these virtual worlds would be simplified, model worlds with deliberate and explicit compromises tailored to the topics being gamed. There could be many permutations, so that none inadvertently becomes authoritative. The only real guideline for setting variables would be to adjust them to breed what Wright has described as “life at the edge of chaos.”

Within these worlds, scenarios could be played out by the massive multiplicity of globally networked gamers. Players wouldn’t need to be designated red or blue, but could simply be themselves, self-organizing into larger factions as happens in many MMOs. Scenarios could be crises and opportunities. Imagine a global financial meltdown that destroys the value of all government-issued currencies, provoking the United Nations to issue a “globo” as an emergency unit of exchange. Would the globo be adopted, or would private currencies quash it? And what would be the consequences as the economy got rebuilt? A single universal currency might be a stabilizing force, binding the economic interests of people and nations, or it could be destabilizing on account of its scale and complexity. It could promote peace or provoke war. Games allowing players to collaborate and compete their way out of crisis would serve as crowdsourced simulations, each different, none decisive, all informative.

As the number of players increased through the evolution of world gaming, the outcomes of these games would inform an increasingly large proportion of the planet. At a certain stage, if the numbers became great enough, gameplay would verge on reality—and even merge into reality—because players would collectively accumulate sufficient anticipatory experience to play their part in the real world more wisely. Whole aspects of game-generated infrastructure—such as in-game non-governmental organizations and businesses—could be readily exported since the essential relationships would have already been built. Games would also serve as richly informative polls, revealing public opinion to politicians.

Or they could play a more direct goal in governance. One of Fuller’s ideas—that gaming could serve as an alternative to voting—could potentially be realized with a plurality of people gaming national and global eventualities. For any given issue, different proposals could be gamed in parallel. As some games collapsed, gamers would be able to join more viable games until the most gameable proposal was played through by all. That game would be a surrogate ballot, the majority position within the game serving as a legislatively or diplomatically binding decision. Provided that citizens consented from the start, it would be fully compatible with democratic principles—and could break the gridlock undermining modern democracies.

When Fuller presented the world game as a method of reckoning how to achieve world peace, he wasn’t ambitious enough. The act of gaming must make peace in its own right. Operating at the scale of reality, the game that everybody wins must build our future world.

PAXsims

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One of the challenges we encountered when publishing AFTERSHOCK was finding images for the game that weren’t restricted by copyright or the need to pay royalties. In our case the folks at the UN photo archives, United Nations Development Programme, and World Food Programme helped us out by making photographs available.

Another new and useful source for game images would be Konflictkam:

Konflictcam is a free and independent new media site dedicated to curating and archiving images related to human conflict and presenting them to the public in a transparent and accessible manner. We were founded in the summer of 2014 by a group of young professionals passionate about history, politics, human rights and conflict resolution. Recognizing the absence of a platform dedicated to the systematic curation of global conflict imagery, past and present, the Konflictcam platform was developed with the aim of filling that void. In our capacity as a non-profit, apolitical public archive, we hope to build awareness of the critical events shaping our world and encourage users to gain a broader understanding of human conflict.

Many of the images are covered by a Creative Commons license, and are available for reuse within the terms specified by the original image owner.

PAXsims

This is the Police is a game being developed by Weappy Studio in which you try to survive as a corrupt chief of police amid a morass of crime and seedy local politics.

This Is the Police is a strategy/adventure game set in a city spiraling the drain. You’ll come face to face with the ugly underbelly of Freeburg, taking the role of gritty Police Chief Jack Boyd (portrayed by Jon St. John, the voice of Duke Nukem).

Immerse yourself in a controversial tale of corruption, crime, and political intrigue. Manage your staff, respond to emergencies, and investigate crimes in a city on the brink of chaos. The mafia underworld maneuvers behind the scenes, sinking their claws ever deeper into the city, even as the mayor is ready to exploit every situation to his political advantage — even if it means hanging his police chief out to dry, or plunging the city into riots and protest. Choose your approach to each situation as it unfolds. Sometimes you’ll be responding to a developing crisis at a crime scene, or negotiating with Freeburg’s crime bosses. Sometimes you’ll find yourself dodging questions in the press room, or even the occasional cross-examination in the witness box. Can you keep this pressure cooker from exploding, at least for long enough to stash away a nice retirement nest egg? Or will you land yourself behind bars — or worse?

It seems to be intended more as a (Sim City-meets Tropico-meets Grand Theft Auto) game than social commentary, but it is an unusual project nonetheless.

PAXsims

economistMeanwhile in the yet-another-mainstream-media-article-on-the-renaissance-of-boardgaming department, The Economist (3 October 2015) features an article on, well, the renaissance of boardgaming:

The market for such “hobby games” is booming. ICv2, a consulting firm, reckons it is worth $880m a year in America and Canada alone. “We’ve seen double-digit annual growth for the past half-decade,” says Milton Griepp, ICv2’s boss. Some of the games at Spiel will be aimed at children, but grown-ups are doing most of the buying. There is something for every taste, from “Fluxx”, a lighthearted card game whose rules change with every card played, to “Power Grid”, a fiendishly tricky business game featuring aspiring electricity tycoons, to all-day chin-scratchers such as “Twilight Imperium” (pictured), a game of galactic civilisation-building.

Steve Buckmaster of Esdevium Games, a British distributor, says that far from diverting people, video games—especially ones on smartphones—have brought gaming to a larger audience. App versions of popular games often boost sales of their physical counterparts. The internet has helped fans organise get-togethers, tournaments and the like, while crowdfunding websites such as Kickstarter have made life easier for aspiring designers. They, in turn, are integrating computers into their games. “X-COM”, a board-game tie-in to a popular video-game series, uses a smartphone app that takes the role of the incoming aliens which players must battle on the table top.

Meanwhile bricks-and-mortar game stores have adapted, running tournaments and providing the face-to-face sociability that online gaming lacks. And with “Game of Thrones” on TVs everywhere and cinemas packed with superhero films, the general triumph of what used to be mocked as “nerd culture” has made the fantasy and sci-fi themes featured in many games less of a turn-off. Not every analogue pastime is suffering in the digital age.

PAXsims

In a not entirely dissimilar vein, Wired magazine thinks the media still owes Dungeons & Dragons an apology:

TODAY DUNGEONS & Dragons is flying high, gushed over by movie stars like Vin Diesel and Wil WheatonDan Harmon plays D&D live onstage, and popular podcasts like Nerd PokerCritical Hit, and The Adventure Zone take listeners on regular D&D adventures.

But David Ewalt, author of the recent book Of Dice and Men, remembers when things were different. When he first started gaming, back in the early ’80s, the very idea of fantasy role-playing terrified parents and teachers.

PAXsims

Want to know what Brian Train is working on? It’s not all counterinsurgency! Check out his summary of forthcoming wargame designs at Ludic Futurism.

Cards Against Humanit… arian Aid. Really.

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For those of you cynics out there who have been waiting for the gamification of the aid world’s dysfunction – wait no more. We give you: Jaded Aid the satirical card game based on Cards Against Humanity (TM), but with cards specific to appalling corruption, malfeasance, abuse, failure, and greed from the realm of development assistance.

So far the cards remain under development, but the article is worth a read, if for nothing other than two gems:

  1. the idea came about at Board Room, the wonderful but absurdly elitist Dupont Circle board game bar (when the Bank has you grounded you have to get your Catan fix somewhere, right?).
  2. The initial kickstarter was oversubscribed within 24 hours. That’s how disillusioned the development community is… OK, and how much fun they are willing to have at their own expense.

PAXSIMs promises that when the “Jaded Aid” CAH pack is released, the associate editors will convene some DC testing sessions and post a review on the blog.

CFP: CUNY Games Festival 2016

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The City University of New York will be holding a one day games festival on 22 January 2016, focussing on the role of games in higher education:

The CUNY Games Festival is a one day conference on game-based pedagogies in higher education. Participants include faculty, researchers, graduate and undergraduate students, and game designers. Both CUNY and non-CUNY participation is welcome.

With the growing maturity of game-based learning in higher education comes a new set of questions. The focus has shifted from whether games are appropriate for higher education to how games can be best used to bring real pedagogical benefits and encourage student-centered education.

This conference seeks to address current topics in game-based learning for higher education. Consequently, all submissions must address the guidelines established by the Conference Theme and Rubric. Topics may include, but are not limited to:

  • What problems need to be addressed in higher education, and how might game-based learning address those problems?
  • How might game-based learning mediate these problems if other solutions are present?
  • How do these solutions generalize across learners, disciplines, and campuses?
  • What possibilities are there for educators to not only create/implement games for learning but also to utilize/alter/subvert commercial games for learning?
  • What differences do we see in digital versus non-digital game-based learning? What affordances or barriers are inherent in each?

The deadline for paper submission proposals is October 15. You’ll find more information here.

h/t Ben Foldy 

Conflict simulation and gaming at RMCC

Later this month I’ll be speaking about conflict simulation and gaming in the classroom at the Royal Military College of Canada in Kingston. While the sessions aren’t open to the public, if you’re an educator or military professional in the Kingston area and would like to take part, email me and I’ll see if it can be arranged.

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USAID saves Carana!

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Today (thanks to Matheu Schwenk) I had an opportunity to run a  demonstration game of AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game with some staff from USAID’s Office for US Foreign Disaster Assistance.

Yet again, of course, the poor country of Carana was struck by another devastating earthquake—something which seems to happen with alarming regularity. However, OFDA’s experienced staff were quick to respond!

USAID prepositions life-saving banana as they prepare to respond to the disaster.

USAID staff pre-position a life-saving banana as they prepare to respond to the disaster.

The teams assessed what critical supplies were needed in what districts of the capital. Transportation bottlenecks at the port and airport were promptly addressed by the Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief Task Force (HADR-TF), which arrived, fixed things, brought lots of stuff, airlifted supplies for the NGOs… and then declared “Mission Accomplished,” departing Carana with much military fanfare.

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HADR-TF on the march!

The government of Carana mobilized government workers and local civil society, with the President issuing a series of inspiration public statements (albeit several weeks into the crisis). The Minister of the Interior was quick to address incipient social unrest. The UN and NGOs helped to support a smooth transition from relief to development as the emergency phase was followed by a prolonged period of early recovery. The UN was particularly effective at responding to an outbreak of cholera in the slums of District 3.

Following the session we discussed the ways in which games could be used as educational and training tools, and the particular adaptability of manual gaming formats to a wide variety of needs. I certainly enjoyed myself, and I hope everyone else did too.

Report: MORS special meeting on professional gaming

PGW IconThe recent Military Operations Research Society (MORS) special meeting on professional gaming set itself the following task:

The meeting will produce initial content for a Professional Gaming Practitioner’s Handbook and bring together members of the community of practice to consider best practices, design, existing applications and appropriate analytic methodologies in an effort to codify the fundamentals of game design and analysis. The meeting is designed for information exchange and participant exposure to professional practice.

The main conference started off on Monday with several plenary presentations.

George Akst (Senior Analyst, Marine Corps Combat Development Command) highlighted the value of wargaming as a midpoint between large exercises and operations research analysis. Wargames are, he suggested, are generally a single/deterministic (n=1) approach to a stochastic problem, illuminating one possible plausible scenario. He pointed to the value of wargaming in identifying capability gaps, developing doctrine, and experiential training and learning. They can also help narrow the scope of problems for subsequent (OR) analysis. He also noted weaknesses in many wargames: analytical follow-through, adjudication rules and procedures. Operations analysis can address some of these shortcomings by bringing additional analytical rigour, including sensitivity analysis. Analysts should be integrated into the process early to make the combination of wargaming and OR analysis most effective. I thought it was a useful presentation on the strengths and weaknesses of analytic gaming, although I would prefer to see as gaming as a tool in the analytical toolset, rather than something performed by the gaming tribe to which OR analysts must somehow relate.

Robbin Beall (Head, Campaign Analysis and Modeling at Assessment Division, Office of the Deputy Chief of Naval Operations) stressed the growing appreciation of wargaming as a tool to help identify innovative approaches (and to weed out those that may be less useful). She also identified three areas of concern:

  1. More attention need to be devoted to innovation in gaming and game design. Designers need to be smarter, effectively pinning players into the puzzle they are expected to address. A cadre of good game designers needs to be fostered within DoD. This year’s US Navy Title X game is an example of greater innovation, with a traditionally large and monolithic game being broken into a series of smaller, more highly focused games.
  2. Adjudication remains a challenge. If a game has weak adjudication, the game fails and participants leave with a wrong impression.
  3. Despite the current renewed emphasis on wargaming, it needs to be remembered that wargaming is only one tool in the analytical toolbox. Games are not always the best approach.

E.B. Vandiver III, former Director of the Center for Army Analysis, delivered the keynote address. He focused many of his comments on CAA experience and some of the problems of wargaming. He summarized some of the most common objections to wargaming: it is too subjective, too qualitative, they aren’t repeatable, they learning effects overwhelm functional effects, and they are too time-consuming and resource intensive.

He also discussed the development of a training wargame at CAA to train junior analysts with little or no background in military history or the military decision-making process. The initial version was too complex, so they designed a new, simpler, faster, and more strategic game—but never ran it, because they were tasked to develop a front end analysis for a new Korea operations plan (building in part on the prior game development).

He also discussed using games in 2006-07 to analyze the security force requirements of the Iraqi government in the context of the US withdrawal from that country. The questions asked required specific answers: force size, deployment, and so forth. A computer-assisted, open player game was developed, based on research, COIN doctrine, data on violent acts, and assumptions vetted by the sponsor. The processes highlighted the value of participation from the actual theatre, that there was a need to address speed, efficiency, and errors in the game process; and that the game really required a precursor training game. The game was later refined and used for drawdown risk assessment and a range of other questions. It was even modified top examine Afghan drawdown risks.

Overall he suggested that many or most of the shortcomings of gaming could be mitigated.

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Given the abject failures of the Iraqi security forces in recent years, it would have been useful to more fully discuss why the games Vandiver described fell so short of anticipating these shortcomings. I would argue that the poor performance of the ISF has more to do with leadership, patronage, corruption, morale, sectarian polarization, and internal politics and similar social and political “intangibles” than it has with capabilities, deployment, or formal organization. I asked Vandiver about this, and he responded that the games had not explored political context and effects, or even force motivation and morale. To my mind, that’s rather like wargaming without physical terrain or weather or visibility effects, and underscores Beall’s point about the need for more innovative approaches to gaming. (As one colleague noted in a side-comment, hobby wargame rules have long addressed morale issues, so it isn’t exactly an impossible challenge.)

Mark Gallagher (Studies and Analyses, Assessments and Lessons Learned/A9, USAF) emphasized the human-in-the-loop, adversarial character of wargaming, and suggested it ought to be seen as part of analytics. He distinguished it from military exercises. He argued that the “single output” nature of wargaming didn’t necessary limit its usefulness. The particular decision points in games can be examined, for example.

Bill Lademan (Director, Wargaming Division, Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory) made a very lively presentation in which highlighted in the ways “next generation” wargaming could be done better. He noted that the Marine Corps will be developing a state-of-the art wargaming center (adjacent to their intel facilities, to enable access to TS/SCI SAP material). He stressed the need to “wargame at the speed of thought,” rather than being handcuffed by developing powerpoint presentations. Knowledge needs to be “maneuvered, not managed,” in a way that effectively addresses problems. He emphasized human intellectual input into wargaming, and was critical of relying on computers. Analysis, he suggested, was all about the decomposition of a problem and striving for precision. Wargaming, he argued, was about many variables, and what emerges from their dynamic interaction with player decision-making: “what comes out the soup” of a complex situation.

Addressing the purposes of the MORS special meeting, Lademan expressed the view that wargaming should not be preoccupied with achieving rigour and repeatability, in which the manipulation of data becomes a substitute for wisdom.

He pointed at length to the Vietnam War, where “analysis replaced strategy” and failed to appreciate that the war was not about kill ratios but rather about winning over people. Later, the bodycount became the analytical measure of success. The disagreed that wargaming ‘was an analytical methodology,” arguing it was an assessment methodology. Analysis, he argued, was about exact conclusions, while wargaming (and assessment) is about a judgment. “Assessment is to analysis the way philosophy is to science,” he suggested. He disagreed that wargaming struggled for acceptance. Wargaming, he argued “isn’t broken”—and efforts to fix it with greater supposed analytical rigour would be counterproductive, since it could squeeze out creativity. Because of human learning and cognition, wargames are never truly repeatable. They’ll also never be rigorous, and models will never be adequate.

It was a powerful and stimulating presentation, and a credit to the bluntness for which the Marine Corps is known. It was also something of a riposte to the earlier OR-focused comments by Akst and Beall. In a dialectic sense I suppose the clash of views of useful. Or, perhaps, Lademan’s comments only reinforced the view in some of the OR community that gaming is a sort of nebulous witchcraft claiming insight into the free will and the human soul. Towards the end of his comments he offered more conciliatory comments, calling for a productive union of wargaming and analysis where each offset the weaknesses of the other.

I enjoyed it a great deal, but I’m concerned by the absolutism of some of it. Analysis and gaming, I think, have very fuzzy boundaries. Drawing sharp dichotomies between quantitative and qualitative analysis is counterproductive. Sharpening tribal divisions around these issues only contributes to hedgehogism.

Wargaming for analysis within DoD

Wargaming for analysis within DoD (from the back of the room).

After lunch an OSD panel discussion examined “wargaming for analysis within DoD.” The session was chaired by Mike Ottenberg, and featured the quad chairs for the current initiative on wargaming and innovation: COL Mark Gorak (OSD CAPE), Jacob Heim (OSD Policy), COL Neil Fitzpatrick (JS J8 SAGD), and CDR Phil Pournelle (ONA). Among the many points that were made:

  • Small games are often more useful than large, complex ones for some purposes. (Phil)
  • “Blackbox” modeling and simulation can alienate players from a game, as they are unable to understand cause-effect connections. (Phil)
  • The professional military education process needs to develop wargaming experience and skills. (Phil)
  • The style and design of a game needs to be selected according to the problem to be addressed. (Phil)
  • In the past, the senior leadership hasn’t necessarily seen their questions and priorities being addressed by wargaming. (Mark)
  • Given the natural biases of the services and the combatant commands, how can gaming help to develop DoD-wide perspective and priorities? (Mark)
  • Wargaming needs to explore left and right boundaries of issues. (Mark)
  • When inputting data into the new (OSD CAPE-managed) wargame repository, please put greater thought into significant key insights generated. (Mark)
  • SAGD is high demand for POL-MIL games, for clients such as the NSC. (Neil)
  • The next DoD-wide wargaming summit is scheduled for early November.
  • There appears to be less capacity within D0D for multi-move, adjudicated games with an active Red side. (Jake)
  • The DEPSECDEF is especially interested in games that offer insight into key challenges as well as programmatic issues. (Jake)
  • How wargaming initiatives by the services will be integrated with DoD-wide efforts? (Mike) The first step is dialogue, and trying to understand what is going on out there, and who is doing what. The DoD wargame repository is one important element of this. (Neil) Most current games address the “big five” potential adversaries—it is important to examine how to develop insights and synergies across those wargames. While resisting the temptation to impose a single set of metrics to assess the utility of games, there is a need to think about how to differentiate a good game from a bad one. (Mark)
  • How should best practices be recognized, taught, and promulgated within DoD? (Mike) We don’t want to be in a situation where a formal standard is established and wargamers are “certified.” Instead we need to invest in analysts and PME. (Phil) We also need to also educate sponsors. (Jake)
  • One audience comment challenged the anti-quantitative thrust of Lademan’s earlier comments. Phil warned about the false precisions of much M&S work.

Following these plenary sessions, we broke into several working groups:

My hotel roommate (and former fellow UVic wargaming club alumnus) Brian Train and I served as cochairs/facilitators for WG8, along with Joe Saur (Georgia Tech Research Institute), Eric Greenburg (JHUAPL) and Clyde Smithson (JHUAPL). This was primarily intended as a continuation of yesterday’s training course intended to further develop wargame design skills by actually designing a wargame.

Working Group 8 at work.

On Wednesday we started the day with another plenary address by Robbin Beall, this time on “challenges in design and execution of wargames.” She identified several of these:

  • insufficient initial research
    • lack of situation awareness of similar or complimentary supporting analytic efforts
    • lack of authoritative data on capabilities
  • flawed game design
    • overly broad scope leading to shallow conclusions
    • lack of innovation
    • failure to focus players
  • unsound basis for adjudication
    • linked to shortcomings in initial research
    • conclusions reached on anecdotal evidence
    • lack of qualified subject matter experts
    • overly simplistic wargaming tools
  • team/player issues
    • player fear of failure
    • game too short for team cohesion
    • one or two strong personalities dominate game play
  • no objective post-game evaluation of game effectiveness

I thought her points were excellent. Her final point is a particularly important one: far too much of the serious games community—wargamers included—are far too willing to assess the value of the game based on anecdotes, game enjoyment, or the designers’ own confirmatory self-evaluation.

She also discussed the synergies between wargaming and quantitative analysis. Game objectives, she suggested, should be set to utilize the particular strengths of wargaming. Game designs should focus players on a limited number of dilemmas unresolved by previous analysis. Game execution should inform players with what is known from previous analytic efforts. Game adjudication should mine what goes on in the analysis world to support adjudication decisions. Finally game lessons should be determined and new ideas should be incorporated into quantitative analysis.

The implicit thrust of some of her comments seemed to be to frame wargames as adjunct to quantitative operations research, addressing those areas that quantitative analysis could not easily answer. I would tend to view things rather more broadly, arguing for qualitative research as a more equal partner, and also suggesting that findings are most robust when they are triangulated by variety of methods. Indeed, much of the discussion at MORS has struck me as akin to the quantitative vs qualitative skirmishes that afflicted political science a decade ago, but which in that case have now largely been superseded by widespread appreciation of mixed and plural methods.

Interestingly, the one wargame she did praise—a simple, apparently largely conceptual game that modeled a basic guns/butter or kinetic/nonkinetic tradeoff—doesn’t appear to have been particularly rigorous by OR standards or anchored in research and data, but rather intended as a spur to discussion and reflection.

Much of the rest of the day was spend with the working groups. In WG8 the participants divided into two groups:

  • One group (Marcus Tregenza, Shawn Zackey, Christophe McCray, and Bob Turner, aided by WG cochair Eric Greenburg) set about designing a naval platform and technology acquisition game.
  • The other (Stacie Pettyjohn, David Maxwell, John Montonye, Stephen Mackey, aided by Brian Train and I) decided to develop a game that would explore how ISIL balances its strategic options, and how it might respond to coalition efforts in Iraq and elsewhere.

In the afternoon there was also a games expo. PAXsims had a display booth, featuring AFTERSHOCK, ISIS Crisis, and various other simulations I’ve run at McGill and elsewhere.

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The MORS game expo.

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AFTERSHOCK, with Brian Train in the background displaying his many game creations.

I also had an extensive discussion with Stephen Ho (Dstl) about the potential impact of llamas on modern special forces operations. This is clearly an area ripe for exploration through good game design.

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Special forces combat llamas, one of the great military topics yet to be gamed.

The final afternoon we all reassembled to hear brief-backs from each of the working groups.

  • WG2 (wargame objectives). The group emphasized the importance of initial problem identification and research design. They also addressed educational wargame objectives. There was substantial discussion of the relationship with game sponsors, and what to do about sponsors who don’t know what they want, who want a game to address a non-gameable problem, or who are inclined to micro-manage. A long list of “wargame pathologies” were identified.
  • WG3/7 (game design, development, and execution). They reviewed the typical game design process: concept development; research; identification of game elements; building components, prototyping, and initial rules concepts; playtesting; finalizing components… and only after all this, the game itself. Feedback and critical evaluation needs to be continuous throughout all steps of the process. They also noted that analysis must be persistent through the design process, and that execution considerations need to be incorporated into the design and development process.
  • WG4 (data collection, analysis, and tools). The group ran through a revised and abbreviated version of the ZEFRA wargame, which was used to spur a discussion of data collection and analysis issues. Among other issues, they argued that the analysis team needed to specify player requirements (qualifications and other characteristics); the value of a GICOD (“good idea cut-off date”); to consider constraints, limitations, and assumptions; and the need to regularly review collection during the event. The game design and game analysis teams should be an integrated part of an overall project team, rather than entirely separate. The Data Collection and Management Plan (DCMP) should specify what data will be collected on each issue and sub-issue of interest; where in the scenario the data might be generated; what methods and tools will be used; and when during the game such collection needs to occur. If data looks wonky, corrective action should be taken sooner rather than later. A list of tools that can assist in data collection and analysis can be found here.
  • WG 5 (adjudication). The group reiterated Robbin Beall’s point that adjudicators should “do no harm.” Adjudicators need to be facilitators too, need to communicate with players to reduce frustration. Adjudication issues are often intimately tied to game design. Adjudicators need to be well trained and prepared, aware of the dangers of overtasking. Players must feel their choices make a difference. Overall the WG suggested it was hard to identify universal best practices.
  • WG 6 (aligning games with other studies). This group explored how to best integrate various decision analysis methods with wargames, especially in the context of various “wicked problems.”

As for our own WG 8 (quick turn-around game design) presentation, Bob Leonhart presented some overall impressions from our collective game design efforts. He noted how time pressures sparked considerable energy and enthusiasm. He also underscored how much one learns about a topic from designing, and not simply, a game. The two game design groups then presented their games.

In Buying Victory: Budget Battle Wargame the Red and Blue sides invest in hulls and various (surface, subsurface, and air) technologies. Mature technologies are cheaper and safer investments, while potentially more effective future technologies involve more time, risk, and resources. The combat power of the Red and Blue fleets then confront each other three times during the game to determine the overall winner.

Buying Victory: Budget Battle Wargame

Buying Victory: Budget Battle Wargame

Countering ISIL: The Board Game pitted ISIL against a US-led coalition. ISIL has six possible lines of kinetic operation:

  • In the Anbar/Fallujah/Ramadi area, against the Iraq security forces
  • In the Baji/Takrit/Samarra area, also against the Iraqi security forces
  • In the Irbil/Kirkuk area, against the (Iraqi) Kurdish Regional Government
  • In northeastern Syria/Kobane/Hassakeh, against the Syrian Kurds
  • In Aleppo province, against various rival Syrian armed groups
  • Around Damascus, against the Syrian Army.

It also has two possible non-kinetic lines of operation:

  • Building governance, which generates resources and helps to respond to potential governance challenges in the events deck.
  • Building prestige, which helps attract recruits and facilitates international terrorism.

The design was partly inspired by the solitaire States of Siege games by Victory Points Games, although in our case the system is adversarial and provides players with a far more complex set of options and constraints.

Players start the game by selecting several game objectives from a list of possible options. Subsequent game play is very straightforward, consisting of four sequential phases:

  • Event phase, in which an event card is drawn. This may present the players with challenges or opportunities, or otherwise affect game play.
  • Resource phase. ISIL gain recruits and resources from control of territory, effective governance of the “caliphate,” and prestige which attracts supporters and donations. The coalition gains material resources at a steady rate, but political capital is only slowly replaced.
  • Card selection phase. The players select five cards to play from a large deck of possible options. Most have a cost associated with their play: resources and/or recruits for ISIL cards; resources and/or political capital for the coalition.
  • Card play phase. The players take turns playing their cards, each of which has an effect (and possibly an associated die score to succeed). Some cards may be played to augment the effects of other cards, or complicate those of an opponent. Still others represent key decisions or investments in major initiatives, which are prerequisites to the play of other cards in the future. When both players have run out of cards or choose to pass, the next turn begins.

We took a video of one turn of game play, which you’ll find below. Overall I thought it was an excellent design, and if time allows I may put some further work into developing it, in conjunction with other members of the team.

The MORS special meeting on professional gaming ended with thoughts from the synthesis group, members of which had floated from WG to WG during the meeting. With regard to WG8, the synthesis group (and in particular, Richard Phares, who had been the primary synthesis group spy in our midst) quite rightly pointed to the differences between wargame design for serious purpose versus wargaming for fun. They also noted that game designs are living things that can evolve over time, the key linkage between research and game mechanics, and the critical value of repeated playtesting.

Overall I thought it was an excellent conference. While I regretted missing out on the discussions in the various working groups, I very much enjoyed the design work in WG8, and certainly benefitted from the excellent plenary sessions. MORS—and even more so chief organizer Scott Simpkins (JHUAPL)—did outstanding work. I look forward to the wargaming handbook that should eventually emerge from this effort.

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