Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Daily Archives: 22/04/2016

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.


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