Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Monthly Archives: April 2016

The Game of Thrones… at the US Army War College


How better to train US military officers to deal with a treacherous world of war, shifting alliances, and political intrigue than have them wargame the struggle for supremacy in Westeros? As part of its current strategic wargame series, the US Army War College will be hosting The Game of Thrones boardgame:

Test your wits and strategic insights … and in doing so, learn how the game relates to International Relations Theory.

If you’re a Game of Thrones fan – or have just heard about it – you’ll know it’s a dramatic struggle for power.   In this board-based simulation, you’ll formulate strategy by understanding interests, executing diplomacy, and apply international relations theories.

Game of Thrones is part of the CSL series  of serious games or simulations — enhancing the student experience by using optional game events (afternoon/evening) that are tied to the curriculum.

Participants will take part in pre-game discussion, to outline the game and expectations, as well as a post-game AAR.

You’ll find additional information on the event here.

h/t Jerry Hall 

Matrix games for language training

The following report was contributed by Major Tom Mouat, Directing Staff officer responsible for Modelling and Simulation at the Defence Academy of the UK.

Recently in the Defence Academy of the UK, the Defence Culture and Language Centre approached the Simulation Department for some help and advice about the possibility of assisting them with some activities that could provide help with language training.

Initially they were thinking of a high-tech virtual-reality simulation based offering, something like the excellent capability offered by companies such as Alelo. We were able to advise them on that (the problem isn’t in the software, which really is very good, but in the support and maintenance of the computer suite necessary to run the system), but also to let them know that there are a number of alternate possibilities offered by simulation that could help.

One simple example was to take the first-person shooter game, VBS2, by BISim, and set up a simple two player game. One players would be the UAV operator flying over a town and guiding the other player, driving a vehicle through the town to a defined rendezvous, over the radio. The route would have different obstacles and even obvious IEDs to avoid, and the two players would communicate to each other in order to direct the vehicle to its target. Simple and fun.

The other possibility was to use the matrix game system to run a game. Matrix games are run with the players taking it in turns to use verbal “arguments” to advance their position in the game and, if the arguments were made in the language being trained in, it could provide a fun alternative to conventional classroom training and give context to the use of the language in a mildly competitive setting.

The scenario chosen for the trial was a deliberately “cartoon” fictitious setting of a south American republic, complete with a Drug Baron, Army Commander, Village Elder and corrupt Police. One of the young men from a local village had been kidnapped after being a little too vocal in his criticism of the local Drug Baron, and the Army and Police had been tasked to ensure his safe return.

San Splendido V2.jpg

The game was simplified from the normal matrix game format in that, providing the players could make themselves understood, their argument would automatically succeed, unless there were obvious reasons why they might not.

Lessons learned:

  • It took much longer for each player to make their argument than I expected. They were trying in a foreign language and I wildly over-estimated their capability. This means that the game would probably not really be suitable for large classes and the other players might have become disengaged, were it not for the fact that the instructor chose one of the other players at random to translate the argument back into English for me each turn. This really worked and helped to bring out all the misunderstandings in syntax and grammar by the students themselves.
  • The players enjoyed the occasional use of the dice to resolve arguments and keep the game moving. It made it more of a fun game and less of a serious chore.
  • The instructor did some preparatory work with the students, getting them to look at the construction of possible arguments and the names for the counters in the rule booklet. This worked very well and allowed the students to check with their notes if they forgot something.
  • As has been mentioned numerous times with regard to matrix games – the counters available effect the direction that play is taken. While we had a good number of counters that covered many possibilities, after the playtest I would like to add additional counters for emotions, money/wealth and support for one faction or another (Happy, Sad, Fear, Anger, Trust, Police Support, etc.).
  • It proved useful to force the players to describe locations on the map, either descriptively or using the grid system which made the players have to use numbers.

In the event the game went very well and came to a natural conclusion within the 90 minutes allocated. The trial will be extended in the future with more realistic settings (which sadly I shall not be able to share with PAXsims readers).

All the files and the large scale map are available here.

Simulation and gaming miscellany, 22 April 2016


We are pleased to present some recent items on conflict simulation and serious (and not-so-serious) games that may be of interest to our readers. PAXsims research associate Christian Palmer provided material for this latest edition.


9780262033992.jpgIt’s here!

Zones of Control—the truly awesome compendium on wargaming edited by Pat Harrigan and Matthew Kirschenbaum—has now been published, and is being shipped from the MIT Press warehouses as you read this.

Games with military themes date back to antiquity, and yet they are curiously neglected in much of the academic and trade literature on games and game history. This volume fills that gap, providing a diverse set of perspectives on wargaming’s past, present, and future. In Zones of Control, contributors consider wargames played for entertainment, education, and military planning, in terms of design, critical analysis, and historical contexts. They consider both digital and especially tabletop games, most of which cover specific historical conflicts or are grounded in recognizable real-world geopolitics. Game designers and players will find the historical and critical contexts often missing from design and hobby literature; military analysts will find connections to game design and the humanities; and academics will find documentation and critique of a sophisticated body of cultural work in which the complexity of military conflict is represented in ludic systems and procedures.

Each section begins with a long anchoring chapter by an established authority, which is followed by a variety of shorter pieces both analytic and anecdotal. Topics include the history of playing at war; operations research and systems design; wargaming and military history; wargaming’s ethics and politics; gaming irregular and non-kinetic warfare; and wargames as artistic practice.


Jeremy Antley, Richard Barbrook, Elizabeth M. Bartels, Ed Beach, Larry Bond, Larry Brom, Lee Brimmicombe-Wood, Rex Brynen, Matthew B. Caffrey, Jr., Luke Caldwell, Catherine Cavagnaro, Robert M. Citino, Laurent Closier, Stephen V. Cole, Brian Conley, Greg Costikyan, Patrick Crogan, John Curry, James F. Dunnigan, Robert J. Elder, Lisa Faden, Mary Flanagan, John A. Foley, Alexander R. Galloway, Sharon Ghamari-Tabrizi, Don R. Gilman, A. Scott Glancy, Troy Goodfellow, Jack Greene, Mark Herman, Kacper Kwiatkowski, Tim Lenoir, David Levinthal, Alexander H. Levis, Henry Lowood, Elizabeth Losh, Esther MacCallum-Stewart, Rob MacDougall, Mark Mahaffey, Bill McDonald, Brien J. Miller, Joseph Miranda, Soraya Murray, Tetsuya Nakamura, Michael Peck, Peter P. Perla, Jon Peterson, John Prados, Ted S. Raicer, Volko Ruhnke, Philip Sabin, Thomas C. Schelling, Marcus Schulzke, Miguel Sicart, Rachel Simmons, Ian Sturrock, Jenny Thompson, John Tiller, J. R. Tracy, Brian Train, Russell Vane, Charles Vasey, Andrew Wackerfuss, James Wallis, James Wallman, Yuna Huh Wong

You’ll find further information at the MIT Press website, and a full table of contents for the volume was previously posted on PAXsims. You can also read excerpts via Google books.



Last week War on the Rocks ran a piece by Joshua Jones on support for decision-makers through wargaming:

For those who believe that wargaming is a useful and important tool in defense decision-making, we should think about how to best communicate its benefits to this next group of leaders. While those who see value in wargaming might hold different views of the various roles of wargaming, we likely agree that it matters, meaning that it can help DOD better accomplish its mission while minimizing the costs in lives, money, and time. To this end, there are three reasons why a senior DOD official should be interested in wargaming and willing to commit his or her precious time to the endeavor: It helps leaders make decisions, it reduces the number of “unknown unknowns,” and it can overcome stovepiping.



The most recent issue of the Journal of Political Science Education 12, 1 (January-March 2016) contains an article by Nilay Saiya on “The Statecraft Simulation and Foreign Policy Attitudes Among Undergraduate Students.”

Professors of international relations are increasingly realizing that simulations can be a fun and effective way of teaching the complexities of the field to their students. One popular simulation that has emerged in recent years—the Statecraft simulation—is now used by more than 190 colleges and universities worldwide. Despite Statecraft’s popularity, however, little scholarship has attempted to assess its impact on learning objectives and students’ perceptions of the real world. This article attempts to help fill that void by evaluating Statecraft’s influence on foreign policy attitudes among undergraduate students. It finds that, while participation in Statecraft did not generally change students’ foreign policy preferences, it did have the effect of inducing foreign policy moderation among students who were initially very hawkish or dovish in their foreign policy orientations. The most important individual characteristics predicting foreign policy attitudes include a student’s political orientation and interest in the Statecraft simulation itself. The article concludes with some potential avenues for future research.



In the latest issue of PS: Political Science & Politics 49, 2 (April 2016), Mark Nance, Gabriele Suder and Abigail Hall provide an overview of “Negotiating the Transatlantic Relationship: An International, Interdisciplinary Simulation of a Real-World Negotiation.”

This article analyzes the effectiveness of an international, interdisciplinary simulation of an ongoing trade negotiation. It thoroughly describes the simulation, provides links to background information for public use, and offers suggestions on ways to further strengthen the learning outcomes achieved.



The Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies will be holding a professional training programme on the prevention of mass atrocities on 1-3 June 2016 in Montreal. The course will include a three hour session (facilitated by me) on simulating mass atrocity prevention, in which we’ll be using a matrix game to explore conflict dynamics and policy challenges.


In The Telegraph, Roccardo Cocciani of the student-run King’s College London Crisis Team discusses a recent simulation of rising tensions with China and with North Korea.


The political simulation/game Democracy 3: Africa (Positech Games) has been released on Steam:

Democracy 3: Africa is the new standalone ‘re-imagining’ of the hit political strategy game ‘Democracy 3’. Set entirely in countries on the continent of Africa, D3:A puts you in charge of these countries and challenges you to stay in power whilst fixing each country’s problems, improving the quality of life for your electorate, and steering them towards greater prosperity.

This turn-based political strategy game uses a unique icon-driven interface to help you navigate the most complex political and economic simulation ever seen in a computer game, custom-built on its own proprietary neural network. Democracy 3: Africa simulates the myriad interactions between voters, policies, economic and political variables, political parties and the various situations that develop over time.

The political settings for each country aren’t very accurate: as leader of Tunisia, for example, I enjoyed growing oil production but faced a challenge from militant armed feminists (who ultimately assassinated me!). Many of the policy choices seem rather European or unrealistic.

Still, it’s nice to see a political game set in a non-Western setting and it can be a fun (and very challenging) play experience.


AFTERSHOCK back in stock!


AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game has been unavailable for the past few weeks because the publisher (The Game Crafter) had temporarily run out of one of the game components.

I’m happy to announce that the piece is is back in stock and the game is available again. Order soon, though, before they run out of anything else!

Participants sought for WWII gameplay study


PAXsims is posting the following announcement on behalf of Desiree Bruce, a PhD student at Capella University who is undertaking a study of educational gaming.

Compelling games begin with compelling gameplay.  Synthesizing the writings of Chris Crawford, Andrew Rollings, David Morris, Richard Rouse, Katie Salen, and Eric Zimmerman, gameplay can be described as the iterative interactions of player intentions expressed within the design constraints of the game and the impact those expressions have on the game environment. According to these authors, gameplay is at the heart of video games as designed experiences, accounting for their engagement, immersion, and intrinsic motivation toward game mastery.  More than one noted that while poor usability, interfaces, graphics, and sound may otherwise ruin perfectly good gameplay, nothing can resurrect poor gameplay.  Yet, even as recent as last year, Raph Koster said educational games and serious games are usually boring, echoing a persistent reputation decades old.  Some evidence suggests that game designers, instructional designers, and subject matter experts may think about or understand gameplay differently, often diverging in design objectives and suggestions at gameplay.

Desiree Bruce, MS, is conducting PhD dissertation research to explore gameplay from the perspective of instructional designers, game designers, and World War II content experts to further knowledge that could assist in the design of educational video games that succeed as both games and learning.  Experts in instructional design, game design, and World War II subject matter are invited to provide their voice, opinions, and experiences in four stages of data collection.  The researcher respects your time and will make every effort to minimize the intrusion.  Information about the study and an application to participate are available at

Lacey on wargaming in the classroom

MCWAR.jpgJames Lacey has an excellent piece in War on the Rocks today on his use of historical wargaming in the classroom at the Marine Corps War College:

The results, so far, have exceeded all of my expectations. For six or more hours at a sitting, classes remain focused on the strategic choices before them, as they try to best an enemy as quick-thinking and adaptive as they are. Every turn presents strategic options and dilemmas that have to be rapidly discussed and decided on. As there are never enough resources, time and again hard choices have to be made. Every war college administrator can wax eloquently about their school’s mission to enhance their students’ critical thinking skills. But they then subject those same students to a year of mind-numbing classroom seminars that rarely, if ever, allow them to practice those skills that each college claims as its raison de`etre. Well, wargaming, in addition to helping students comprehend the subject material, also allows them an unparalleled opportunity to repeatedly practice decisive critical thinking. Moreover, it does so in a way where the effects of both good and bad decisions are almost immediately apparent.

At the end of each wargame, students walked away with a new appreciation of the historical circumstances of the period and the events they had read about and discussed in class. And even though all wargames are an abstract of actual events, I am sure that no student exposed to historical gaming will ever again read about the Peloponnesian War without thinking about Sicily’s wheat, the crucial importance of holding the Isthmus of Corinth, or what could have been done with a bit more Persian silver in the coffers of one side or the other’s treasury. Similarly, the next time one of this year’s students reads about Lee and Grant in 1864, they will also be thinking about how the truly decisive actions took place out west. For, as it was during the actual conflict, in every game the students played, Grant’s role was to pin down the Army of Northern Virginia, while the western armies ripped out the economic heart of the Confederacy.

In fact, I was astounded at the number of students who approached me after the Civil War exercise to mention that despite having studied the Civil War before, this was the first time they realized that the war was won in the west. I could go on for another few thousand words discussing other revelations students experienced through gaming and simulations, but the key point is that these experiential learning experiences linger in students’ minds for a very long time. I once asked my seminars how many of them had discussed the games and their results with their spouses. Every hand went up. I am quite sure that very few of them ever discussed one of my lectures with their spouses.

He goes on to discuss what he needed to make it happen (enough time in the teaching schedule), how to overcome problems of game complexity (including support from the local hobby wargaming community), the need for adequate debrief time, the dangers of critiquing student play, and what he plans to do in the future. The piece is essential reading for anyone interested in the educational use of wargames, especially in professional military education.

Connections 2016 wargaming conference


This year’s Connections (US) interdisciplinary wargaming conference will be held at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama on 9-12 August 2016:

Connections US 2016 will be held 9-12 August at Maxwell AFB, AL. This will be our first Connections at Maxwell since 2001.  As our first Connections in 1993 was hosted at Maxwell this year is a little like coming home. Given the Secretary of Defense level interest at achieving a 3rd Offset Strategy through innovation and the Deputy Secretary of Defense personal involvement in catalyzing innovation through reinvigorated wargaming, this year’s Connections will likely be one of our most important. Connections 2016 theme is advancing Wargaming As A Catalyst For Innovation.  We will provide a range of day 1 seminars, some appropriate for those with zero knowledge of wargames (so they can better understand the balance of the conference) while other seminars are geared to community veterans.  As always we will have out keynote speakers, speaker panels, game lab and working groups.

Other than the cost of getting to Montgomery, Connections 2016 will be exceptionally low cost.  Again this year there is not registration fee.  Very good rooms are available on base at very good prices.  These rooms are located so close to our venue, the LeMay Center Wargaming Institute, that no transportation is needed once on base. While our program extents through lunch each day the LeMay Center Wargaming Institute can provide lunches and snacks at very reasonable prices.

Please also consider participating in Connections UK 2016.  It will be held, 6-8 September, at Kings College London.  While similar to Connections US in several ways it has the advantage of a location with train travel distance of most of Europe.  Hence the speakers and the participants are several times more “international” then at Connections US.

There are also excellent Connections interdisciplinary wargame conferences in Australia and the Netherlands.  While these are more national conferences, participating is an excellent way to learn about their approach to wargaming.

To learn more about the conference, visit the Connections (US) website.

There are also separate websites for the Connections UK, Connections Australia, and Connections Netherlands conferences. In Canada we held a small Connections North miniconference earlier this year, which we may repeat and expand in 2017.

For a summary of previous Connections conferences, check the PAXsims archive.

Simulation and gaming miscellany, 13 April 2016


PAXsims is pleased to present some recent items on conflict simulation and serious (and not-so-serious) gaming that may be of interest to our readers. Ryan Kuhns contributed material for this latest edition.


JDMS header

The April 2016 issue of the Journal of Defense Modeling and Simulation: Applications, Methodology, Technology features an article by Nathaniel D Bastian, Louis Boguchwal, Zachary Langhans, and Daniel Evans on “A multi-criteria, network analytic approach to war game participant selection.”

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



Red Team Journal recently undertook an informal survey of red teaming jobs:


You’ll find the full results here.




At GrogHeads, Brant Guillory offers his no-holds-barred take on the recent debate over women and (war)gaming. It’s an excellent piece, and well worth a read.


On a somewhat similar topic, the popular online survival game Rust now randomly assigns players to be male or female, and doesn’t allow them to change either their gender or physical appearance. This has generated complaints from some male gamers, who seem to be uncomfortable playing as women.

Read more about it at  Motherboard, Quartzand Polygon.


The US Army has introduced a new training videogame that “will put company, battalion and brigade commanders in the hot seat to deal with sexual assault and harassment in their ranks.”


According to the Army’s press release:

The ELITE-SHARP CTT takes advantage of the successes of the ELITE Lite counseling tool in that it provides a standardized avatar for students to interact with and gives everyone the same experience every time. Additionally, Pavlichko said, like with the counseling tool, the ELITE-SHARP CTT diverges from the “old paradigm” of training, which involves a prepackaged slide deck, videos and classroom discussion, and instead provides younger officers with something they are more familiar with — gaming.

“So, we’re getting away from non-professional role players and just getting beaten to death with slide shows, and making it more engaging,” Pavlichko said. “Plus, for a lot of younger people, gaming is kind of innate and organic to them, so they understand it right away. The predominance of Soldiers coming into the Army at this point have a pretty robust gaming experience behind them.”

The game will be available on the Army’s MILGAMING website at


At his blog, David Eaves reflects on how player strategy in the game Werewolf “can teach us about trust, security and rational choices in communities that are, or are at risk of, being infiltrated by a threat.”

There are, however, a number of interesting lessons that come out of Werewolf that make it a fun tool for thinking about trust, organization and cooperation. And many strategies – including some that are quite ruthless – are quite rational under these conditions….

You can read more here.

h/t James Sterrett


Killbox is a 2015 game/project designed to provoke critical reflection about armed drones and the “war on terror.”

Killbox is a two player online game and interactive installation that critically explores the nature of drone warfare, its complexities and consequences. It is an experience which explores the use of technology to transform and extend political and military power, and the abstraction of killing through virtualisation. Killbox, involves audiences in a fictionalized interactive experience in virtual environments based on documented drones strikes in Northern Pakistan. The work is an international collaboration between U.S. based artist/activist, Joseph DeLappe and Scotland-based artists and game developers, Malath Abbas, Tom Demajo and Albert Elwin.

At GamerTrouble, Amanda Philips offers some thoughts, which largely focus on the gameplay experience.

As for me, I was rather underwhelmed: part of the game seems largely predicated on the notion that drones are rendering war more remote and anonymous, desensitizing operators to the killing they undertake. In fact, because UAV operators often closely follow targets with high-resolution sensors to determine “pattern of life” and make identifications, they’re arguably as close to the consequences of their actions as many military personnel (and indeed, appear to suffer from post-traumatic stress at much the same rate as aircraft pilots flying conventional combat missions).


Wargame_[space] is a blog about games, game design, and history. We’ve added it to our blogroll.



We really should link to the Defence Linguistics blog more often, because it has some excellent material. Recent posts address various conflict simulation design issues, as well as a brief summary of Brian Train’s Kandahar.



Last week we posted Peter Perla’s account of the recent wargaming workshop at the US Army War College—including a session on how the ancient game of Go might illuminate aspects of Chinese strategic behaviour.

Since then the blog of the American Go Association has offered more on the subject, summarizing an earlier seminar at the US AWC:

The seminar was the idea of Colonel Jack Pritchard, Chief of the Strategic Wargaming Division of the War College. Colonel Pritchard, who had never played go, became intrigued by references to the game in literature on military and political strategy, including a monograph written by Dr. Lai titled “Learning from the Stones: A Go Approach to Mastering China’s Strategic Concept, Shi” as well as Lai’s recent article “China’s Moves and Countermoves in the Asia Pacific,” Parameters, Spring 2015. Col. Pritchard
asked a member of his staff, Lieutenant Colonel Donald Travis, to organize a seminar that would introduce the game to other officers and civilians closely associated with the War College and affiliated programs.

LTC Travis, who has played go with the Carlisle Go Club, planned the event in consultation with Lai and two other Carlisle go players, Dr. Howard Warshaw and Dr. Fred Baldwin (above, right). The result was a four-hour session, divided between lectures and actual play.  Dr. Baldwin opened with a brief history of go from its Chinese origins to the present, emphasizing its appeal to strategic thinkers. Then, Dr. Lai applied go concepts more specifically to Chinese geopolitical aims. Dr. Warshaw followed this up with an explanation of the rules of go and fielded questions on go basics, including capturing, life-and-death, and scoring.

During the second half of the seminar, the officers and other go neophytes played against each other on 9×9 and 13×13 boards, during which Warshaw, Baldwin, Lai and four other frequent Carlisle-area players were available to answer questions.  Warshaw and Baldwin noted that the officers grasped the basics quickly, especially considering that none of them had ever played the game before.



A digital version of the highly-rated boardgame Twilight Struggle has (finally) been released today on Steam in beta version for both PCs and Macs. I’m looking forward to trying it out!

Also, an article at AV Club examines Cold War-themed games.



A recent debate at the American Museum of Natural History asked “are we living in a computer simulation?” As Scientific American reports:

If you, me and every person and thing in the cosmos were actually characters in some giant computer game, we would not necessarily know it. The idea that the universe is a simulation sounds more like the plot of “The Matrix,” but it is also a legitimate scientific hypothesis. Researchers pondered the controversial notion Tuesday at the annual Isaac Asimov Memorial Debate here at the American Museum of Natural History.

Moderator Neil deGrasse Tyson, director of the museum’s Hayden Planetarium, put the odds at 50-50 that our entire existence is a program on someone else’s hard drive. “I think the likelihood may be very high,” he said. He noted the gap between human and chimpanzee intelligence, despite the fact that we share more than 98 percent of our DNA. Somewhere out there could be a being whose intelligence is that much greater than our own. “We would be drooling, blithering idiots in their presence,” he said. “If that’s the case, it is easy for me to imagine that everything in our lives is just a creation of some other entity for their entertainment.”

Such existential-sounding hypotheses often tend to be essentially untestable, but some researchers think they could find experimental evidence that we are living in a computer game. One idea is that the programmers might cut corners to make the simulation easier to run. “If there is an underlying simulation of the universe that has the problem of finite computational resources, just as we do, then the laws of physics have to be put on a finite set of points in a finite volume,” said Zohreh Davoudi, a physicist at MIT. “Then we go back and see what kind of signatures we find that tell us we started from non-continuous spacetime.” That evidence might come, for example, in the form of an unusual distribution of energies among the cosmic rays hitting Earth that suggests spacetime is not continuous, but made of discrete points. “That’s the kind of evidence that would convince me as a physicist,” Gates said. Yet proving the opposite—that the universe is real—might be harder. “You’re not going to get proof that we’re not in a simulation, because any evidence that we get could be simulated,” Chalmers said.


Former US Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor is encouraging the use of digital games to teach civic literacy. According to the New York Times:

Justice O’Connor is behind an animated civics education game called Win the White House, whose latest edition was recently released. The game has been played by more than 250,000 students just this month and is barnstorming its way through middle schools across the United States.

In the game — timed to this election cycle — students take on the role of imaginary presidential candidates who must learn how to compete civilly against opponents with divergent views on issues like immigration and gun control.

That Justice O’Connor would become an interactive game enthusiast may seem unexpected. Until a few years ago, she had never watched a video game — let alone played one.

“I was one of the uneducated adults,” she joked in a recent telephone interview from her home in Phoenix. Speaking of the learning objective of Win the White House, she explained, “We have to have a system that allows young people to approach problem solving from many different viewpoints.”

Justice O’Connor became involved in digital games after retiring from the Supreme Court in 2006. She started iCivics, a nonprofit civics education group, in 2009.

The group has since released 19 free online games, along with accompanying lesson plans, with the idea of making civics education less about rote learning and more about giving middle school students an animated glimpse into how different branches of government and the Constitution work. About 3.2 million students played iCivics games last year, the group said.

One rather hopes, however, that the game doesn’t mirror this year’s US presidential race too closely…


CNAS crisis-games Baltic security

logo_cnas_print.pngA few months ago RAND released a report based on tabletop wargames they had undertaken of a hypothetical Russian invasion of the Baltic republics. This month the Center for a New American Security has released its own report on Baltic security, based on a crisis game they conducted last month:

In an effort to better prepare both sides of the Atlantic to grapple with such challenges, the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) conducted a tabletop exercise (TTX) in Washington in February 2016. Spanning two days, the TTX, titled Assured Resolve, featured nearly 50 high-level participants from Europe and the United States, enabling current and former officials to identify gaps in strategy, statecraft, and capabilities. The purpose of the exercise was twofold: to explore assumptions about possible national and multinational responses to future Russian provocations and to examine in real time the threshold for action on the part of international organizations such as NATO and national capitals.

Participants were divided into five teams: the U.S. government, NATO, and the Nordics, as well as the fictitious countries of Baltia and Grosland (the aggressor). These two latter teams were intended to reflect the current dynamics between the Baltic states and Russia, respectively. All five teams were presented with three sequential moves designed to climb the escalation ladder during the two days of the exercise.

As the CNAS press release notes, the game was conducted as a three move seminar game:

Move One began with lower-level conflict inside Baltia that featured a Groslandian incitement and strategic communications campaign to test Western responses to the provocative actions. To determine the viability of bilateral Nordic partnerships with the Baltic states and broader regional dynamics, Move Two presented participants with three near-simultaneous incidents: Groslandian threats to cut of energy supplies to Baltia paired with a Groslandian cyber provocation in the face of oil price disputes between the two countries and the unintentional downing of a European commercial airliner (caused by a Groslandian jet that had turned of its transponder on a probing mission). Finally, Move Three introduced a conventional but accidental military conflict after Groslandian troops entered Baltian territory during a training exercise and Baltian troops tried to arrest them. Teams met in two-hour blocks for each move, developing their responses and interacting with one another through face-to-face meetings. At the end of each two-hour block, participants convened as a group to share insights, responses, and challenges with each individual move.

Overall, “the results of this two-day exercise were surprising and highlighted the need for Europe and the United States to revisit core assumptions about European security.”

Assured Resolve identified a number of areas for improvement in terms of NATO’s strategy and cohesiveness in the face of surprise aggression.  Among the key insights, the report touches on future force posture in Central and Eastern Europe, the lack of allied capabilities to counter Russian Anti Access/Area Denial tactics, and the value of relationships with Alliance partners, more specifically, Sweden and Finland. The authors present a series of recommendation, including the need for a new transatlantic strategy resting on the three pillars of unity, deterrence and resilience; an increase in NATO’s exercises; a strengthening of conventional deterrence capabilities; and greater investment in intelligence, space and cyber capabilities. The report also stresses the need for both the EU and NATO to break the longstanding impasse on cooperation in order to focus on resilience.

I’m not sure how “surprising” any of that is for those who have followed discussion of European security in recent years, especially in the wake of Russian actions in Ukraine (and before that, Georgia), annexation of the Crimea, and earlier (2007) cyber attacks on Estonia.


However in many ways the findings of the CNAS crisis game nicely complement those of the earlier RAND study. Indeed, the two offset each other’s largely unavoidable methodological weaknesses.

The RAND study was a traditional force-on-force wargame that focused terrain, combat assets and capabilities, mobility, air superiority, and out-of-theatre reinforcement. It was criticized for some by limiting the Western response to Russian aggression to the use of military measures in the European context—a somewhat unfair criticism, since the sole purpose of the game was to determine how long Baltic forces could resist and how well the rest of NATO could support them.

In contrast, the CNAS study was a focused on broader crisis response, including diplomatic, economic, and other non-kinetic capabilities. I’m not a fan of seminar games for a number of reasons—in particular, they tend to be less interactive and dynamic than a real-world crisis—and there is usually a stark limit to how much granular insight they can offer into military operations. However they do allow one to look at the complex politics of alliance response across the DIME (diplomatic, information, military, economic) spectrum.

On a somewhat different note, I was bemused to see that the CNAS game semi-disguised the Baltic republics and Russia by naming them Baltia and Grosland in the simulation. Some years ago I was at an unclassified NATO conference in Estonia where we all warned by local security officials that agents of a hostile intelligence agency had been spotted in the conference hotel trying to eavesdrop on conversations. A smiling Estonian intelligence official told us all that while diplomatic sensitivity precluded him from identifying the nationality of these suspicious individuals, “I can tell you that they are from a country that borders both Estonia and Japan.”

h/t David Becker 

The return of wargaming?


Is this wargaming’s MacArthur (“I have returned”) moment? 


At GovTechWorks, Michael Peck provides an overview of the US Department of Defense’s renewed focus on expanding and invigorating wargaming:

Over the past year, at least four directives from the highest levels of the Department of Defense (DoD) and the services, including a February 2015 memo from Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work, called for more wargaming.

“I was concerned the Department’s ability to test concepts, capabilities and plans using simulation as well as other techniques, had atrophied,” Work said by email to GovTechWorks. “While resetting and reconstituting the Joint Force after so many years of war, we needed to turn our attention toward numerous emerging challenges to U.S. global leadership.

“In this dynamic environment, Department leaders are making important programmatic decisions to meet those challenges. Wargaming is an important means of informing those decisions and spurring innovation.”

The Pentagon requested more than $55 million for wargaming for fiscal 2017, and more than $525 million over the five-year Future Years Defense Program spending plan.

The new attention has wargame experts not just pleased, but amazed. “Wargaming has gone through periods of popularity and disfavor, but I have never seen in the past 40 years any situation like this with the senior leadership,” says Peter Perla, senior research scientist with the Center for Naval Analyses (CNA) and a leading wargaming expert.

You’ll find Michael’s full article here.

For additional background, see also:

Incidentally, the MacArthur-returning-to-the-Philippines image above might also contain a lesson about the dangers of being too ambitious: the General was removed from command in Korea in April 1951 for failing to failing to recognize the limits of his own role. Understanding what analytical gaming doesn’t do well is an essential part of refining its ability to deliver what it can do well.

h/t Marc Guenette  

Harassment in gaming


Graphic by Tom Mouat.

Recently PAXsims explored some of the barriers to women in wargaming. While our initial focus was on professional educational and analytical gaming (a topic we’ve explored before), discussion soon moved on to address those factors that might deter women from entering or enjoying the wargaming hobby. It’s fair to say that I was taken aback by the vitriol that was generated by some hobbyists when I suggested more female wargamers would be a desirable thing. (Conversely, the professional national security gamers who commented universally agreed.)

Since then, a Tumblr post by Emily Garland entitled “Tabletop Gaming has a White Male Terrorism Problem” has sparked much discussion in the boardgame and RPG communities. It details her experiences of harassment, sexism, and gender-based intimidation, including a successful sexual harassment case she brought against the gaming shop where she once worked. You’ll find some very thoughtful discussion of the issues she raises in this very long thread in the forums, at the Ferrett Steinmetz blog, and in an excellent article by Aja Romano at VOX which should be read by everyone in the gaming community.

Sadly, debate on the topic at BoardGameGeek was much less helpful and was ultimately locked down by the moderators, while some the sexist responses on wargaming forums are too depressing to even link.



This isn’t new—FLOOD! was released back in 2014 or so, as part of a larger package of educational resources—but well worth looking at: a game on flood mitigation and emergency response by CAFOD, the official aid agency of the Catholic Church in England and Wales. The game was developed by  Terrorbull Games, an iconoclastic game developer known for War on Terror: The Boardgame, The Hen Commandments (“chicken-based, religion-building party game”), and Crunch (an international finance game for “utter bankers”), among others.

Flood main page

FLOOD! is nicely put together. Players are faced with having to balance between immediate response actions (evacuating, protecting, or rescuing the affected population, or building flood barriers) and more strategic enabling initiatives (fund-rasing, developing local partnerships, or on-the-ground-assessment). Resources are limited, as is time.

The game comes with a Powerpoint that walks the players through each turn, and a full game can be played in about half an hour. The game is intended for secondary school school audiences aged 13 or older, but—since it is fast and easy to play—could also work well with university or other participants as an ice-breaker or to spark discussion.

You’ll find the game and other educational resources here (CAFOD), and additional information on the game design here (Terrorbull).

For other games that examine floods and similar emergencies, see:

h/t Tom Mouat 

Simulation & Gaming, April 2016


The latest issue of Simulation & Gaming 47, 2 (April 2016) is now available. This issue features a selection of papers first delivered at the International Simulation and Gaming Association’s (ISAGA) 2014 conference.

Symposium issue:
45th ISAGA Conference, July 2014, Dornbirn, Austria (Part 1)


Thoughts on the DoD wargaming workshop at the Army War College


The following report has been written for PAXsims by Peter Perla. 


On March 16 and 17 I attended a special Wargaming Workshop sponsored by DoD (specifically, OSD CAPE) and held at the Army War College’s Center for Strategic Leadership. After a series of senior-level wargaming “summits” and working-level meetings of the Defense Wargaming Alignment Group (DWAG), this was the first “official” meeting of those who might be considered a core group of Wargaming practitioners. A primary goal of the meeting was to establish more direct communication between the practitioners and the Pentagon staff supporting the Deputy Secretary of Defense’s (DSD) efforts to “reinvigorate” wargaming within the department.

To that end, the meeting kicked off with a keynote by Mr. Greg Grant of the DSD’s office. Greg had a major role in helping to develop the key article by DSD Work and VCJCS Gen. Paul Selva. He spoke at some length about the DSD’s priorities and how he sees wargaming fitting into his effort to develop what he is calling the “third offset strategy.” Comparing today’s evolving security environment to the period between the world wars, Mr. Grant articulated once more the DSD’s belief that the countries most successful during World War II were those who best used wargaming as part of an integrated cycle of research, learning, and innovation to navigate that period of technological and geopolitical instability and to prepare for wartime realities.

When DSD kicked off his renewed emphasis on wargaming about this time last year, he initially characterized the department’s use of wargaming as “atrophied.” His call for a thorough review of wargaming activities surprised him by revealing pockets of robust and quality wargaming he was unaware of at the time. In the midst of this ongoing review and collection of wargaming information into “the repository” of on-line information, the deputy has reoriented efforts to address two problems in his thrust to use wargames to restore Joint combined arms warfare expertise in the Department and invigorate and encourage bottom-up innovation within the Department.

Grant characterized DSD’s definition of these problems as follows:

  • “As currently structured, wargaming has no meaningful effect on the programming and budgeting process – there isn’t a direct link between insights derived from wargames and Department actions”
  • Wargaming is “not doing enough to stimulate innovation and new thinking about the future security environment and new ways of warfighting.”

Hence the importance of the third offset. Much ink and many electrons have been spent arguing about just what that term means. According to Grant, at its heart it is aimed at “bolstering conventional deterrence against nuclear armed great powers”who are narrowing the lead the United States has had in precision weaponry and the tactical and operational use of that lead to achieve strategic ends. The goal is to find the “right combination of technologies and operational and organizational constructs to achieve decisive operational advantage and thus bolster conventional deterrence.

In approaching this problem, the DSD “sees wargaming as an intellectual thought experiment to free ourselves of current operational concepts and think about new concepts, new ways of warfighting.” He “wants to use wargaming to explore new military ways that may create operational dilemmas for potential adversaries – that’s what the 3rd Offset Strategy is all about – how do you put an adversary on the horns of multiple dilemmas?

The keynote concluded by challenging the wargaming community to help the leadership explore evolving operational challenges and break out of a “Phase 0 mindset” to address the real warfigthing problems of Phase 3. We need to help bring senior leaders to the game table so that they can see beyond today’s bureaucratic imperatives to understand better the context and needs of future warfare and “increase their engagement in product development and approval.” To that end, DSD and VCJCS have instituted regular senior-level wargames, as well as provided funding to support innovative game ideas. It is up to the community to meet those challenges.

After this call to arms, the meeting settled down to a series of information briefings. The main group, where I sat, met in the primary auditorium and was treated to the full range of briefings. A second group composed of modeling and simulation experts met one floor below. They watched many of the presentations, particularly the keynote and morning discussions, via a video hookup. Their afternoon session focused on modeling and simulation demonstrations and presentations.

One of the key components of the DSD strategy to engage the wargaming community more effectively is the repository of wargaming activities. Several presenters described the nature of the repository and how the raw data submitted by the sponsors of games is organized, managed, and “curated.” The importance of the repository to the Pentagon bureaucratic processes is hard to overstate. For example, it is the source of regular monthly reports to senior leaders about upcoming wargames, as well as identifying key high-level insights from past wargames. These presentations triggered a great deal of discussion from the participants, who expressed their skepticism about the real value of a rigid format for data and what many perceived as a mechanistic approach to selecting what information the senior leaders received.

The morning concluded with two presentations. First was a short review by OSD Policy of the DSD’s guidance to the wargaming community and his top priorities, this time at the classified level. This was followed by an outline of the Senior Wargame Series from the perspective of the J-8 office conducting them. During lunch, there were several displays of computer and tabletop games to inform the participants about the range of gaming applications. The afternoon was devoted to a long string of more or less short presentations from various participants about what their organizations were up to. The day concluded with a social at a tavern on base, followed by a “real” game session at a nearby game café, neither of which your intrepid reporter attended.

The second day of the conference began with an intriguing presentation by Professor David Lai of the Army War College. He discussed the differing cultural perspectives of the West and Asia, particularly China, through the lens of comparing chess and Go. We are all familiar with how many wargames use a hexagon overlay on a geographic map; Lai showed how a different perspective is revealed by overlaying maps of East Asia and the Western Pacific, or the entire Eastern Hemisphere, with a Go grid. This perspective for interpreting military, political, and economic actions through the mentality of a Go player is a fascinating alternative to our usual wargamer’s outlook of chess-like moves.

We spent the bulk of day two in several working groups focused on a range of issues

  • Modeling and simulation
  • Decision support in exploring innovation, gaps, and challenges
  • Education (the one in which I participated)
  • Design and methods.

The M&S group met in a different room for the entire conference and addressed two major issues: “tools,” writ large, to support wargaming and wargaming as a teaching method in joint professional military education (JPME). M&S sub groups reviewed data, visualization and adjudication tools. Those discussions raised several issues, many of which centered on expanding the scope of the wargame repository beyond its current focus of supporting the DSD to a tool that would also support wargame practitioners. Useful additions to the repository would fully describe available tools for education, data collection and analysis, visualization, and adjudication. Many organizations have tools that may be of use to others but not all have been entered into the existing repository. The repository could also be expanded to contain more wargame support services such as data sets, wargame training resources, definitions, support to JPME, and other items. Moreover, an unclassified, access controlled version of the repository containing tools and services could potentially be of use to those DoD wargame practitioners without access to the more restricted classified networks.

The discussion in the education sub-group in which I participated ranged across applications of wargaming throughout the life-cycle of a member of the military, especially the career of officers. We discussed not only the use of wargaming to help educate learners in their professional skills, but also how to help teach them more about the creation and use of gaming in their own work. We ended up laying out a progression of the use and teaching of wargaming in two “tracks” aligned with a career. The central thrust was that all needed to be exposed to wargaming at the tactical level in the earliest stages of their careers, partly to allow those with deeper interest to self identify. Those who wanted to learn more could pursue specific billets and training opportunities to develop a specified skill rating in wargaming. They could transition back into the mainstream as teachers or expert practitioners of wargaming, particularly at the operational level of war, helping to educate the mid-level officers. A cadre of such wargaming experts would then progress into even higher skill levels to become the true subject matter experts in applying wargames in support of senior leaders. Similar discussions occurred in the education sub group of the M&S group, with even more detailed discussion of specific military functional areas and civilian professional skill areas that personnel could pursue to qualify as professional wargamers. Although at a very early stage of development, our notions were well received and overlapped with the thoughts of other groups. As a result, the CAPE sponsor of the meeting stated that this was one of the two ideas from the conference he planned to to present to DSD for possible action.

The second such idea flowed from the work of the design and methods group, presented by well known Connections and MORS Wargaming COP participant Jon Compton. Despite initial strong reservations, the group recommended that DoD establish some sort of Senior Wargaming Advisor for the DSD, backed by a small staff and with the remit to speak truth to power about the good, bad, and ugly of the DoD Wargaming enterprise. There was much discussion of how such an office might be created, and some good ideas were put into play. Hopefully the DSD will see both the value of such an effort and the political and bureaucratic means for implementing it.

Several other good points were raised by both the decision support group and the M&S group. I am less comfortable discussing these ideas in this forum, but I expect variants of them will be appearing in future Connections Conferences and subsequent wargaming workshops of this type. There is already discussion of a follow-up meeting this coming Fall (hopefully preceding the election).

Peter Perla

“Power Broker” urban design game competition


A competition has been launched to design a video or boardgame based on the life of urban planner Robert Moses:

Clocking in at 1,336 pages, Robert Caro’s The Power Broker is a monumental biography capturing the life and works of Robert Moses (1888–1981), the controversial master urban planner of New York responsible for the construction of many major landmarks including Lincoln Center, the United Nations, and the Triborough Bridge, among many others.

The biography is notable for capturing the complex (and brutal) political, social, economic, and architectural dynamics surrounding Moses’ achievements and the often ambiguous legacy he left on the city. In its length, detail, awesomeness, and difficulty of completion, it is the Infinite Jest of non-fiction.

Today, we are launching a competition that challenges game designers to adapt The Power Broker into a playable, interactive form that preserves the flavor and themes of the written work, while leveraging the unique opportunities the game medium provides.

There will be three prizes up for grabs in this competition:

  • Grand Prize: The best game as judged by the Prize Committee will be awarded $2,000, and will take home the coveted Robert Moses Cup.
  • Runner Up (Video Game): The best video game runner-up as judged by the Prize Committee will be awarded $500.
  • Runner Up (Tabletop): The best tabletop game runner-up as judged by the Prize Committee will be awarded $500.

Those wishing to take part in the competition must register by April 29. Games must be submitted for judging by July 29.

You’ll find full details here.

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