Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Simulation and gaming miscellany, 11 May 2016


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


This War of Mine—the very successful digital game by 11 Bit Studios in which a player assumes the role of a civilian trying to survive the winter in a war-ravaged city—is going to be published by Awaken Realms in a boardgame version. The Kickstarter for the project is now live, and has received enthusiastic backing, with the project goals were reached in less than a day.


James Sterrett reviewed the original game very positively for PAXsims when it was released last year. I very much like it too, and have already pledged support for the project on Kickstarter.


Game designer extraordinaire (and sometimes totalitarian military dictator) Brian Train recently passed through Montreal as a guest of honour at the local Stack Academie gaming event, and to deliver a guest lecture on game design at the Université de Montréal. You’ll find a copy of his presentation here.


Brian also recently spoke at the US Army War College, where he tutored play of his forthcoming Algeria game Colonial Twilight.



At Red Team Journal, Mark Mateski discusses how red teams can understand the “operational code” of the actors they represent, and manifest this in game play or other red team activities.

Red teams are often expected to adopt an opponent’s operational code, although most red teams don’t directly employ the concept or term. For better or worse, the individual team members’ tacit knowledge regarding the opponent or competitor represents the sum of the red team’s operational code analysis. For example, a client might charter a red team to study a “cyber” problem from the perspective of a particular class of adversary, say, criminal hackers.6 The team would then employ its tacit knowledge of the cyber domain to view the problem from the perspective of the criminal hacker. In some cases, this may be sufficient. In most cases, however, value exists in at least roughly documenting the opponent’s code. Doing so brings hidden and perhaps varying assumptions to the surface, thereby encouraging the red team to refine and calibrate its perspective. It can help the team learn where its understanding is limited, where gaps exist, and how these gaps might be filled or otherwise addressed.

He also offers some important caveats about allowing an actor’s perceived operational code to over-determine their actions:

Complicating this approach are several real-world dynamics that can be both difficult to assess and difficult to overcome. One is the fact that uncertainty is inescapable. We can be more or less certain, but we must avoid the trap of believing that the operational code we posit is indeed the adversary’s “true” operational code, now and forever. Another is the fact that few adversaries are unitary and rational. What emerges as the perceived operational code might be (or probably is) the result of many stakeholder interactions and, at times, conflicts. Branding this result an “operational code” can mask these interactions and conflicts, which we should not do, at least fully. The challenge is then one of balancing the utility of a high-level model of the adversary’s operational code with the important understand of the stakeholders, concerns, and conflicts that move and shift behind the model. (All of which might conceivably be captured in the operational code.)

Additionally, operational codes might not apply in certain situations. These might include circumstances where one opponent or another chooses to act before thinking or sits on the horns of a dilemma where both options force the opponent to vary from his or her typical code. Finally, adversaries can at least attempt to project false signals regarding values, preferences, methods, and tactics. (In other words, deception might be an important aspect of their operational code.) Ideally, they would like us to operate under a mix of true and false assumptions regarding their code while they prepare to exploit our misperception. To close the circle, remember that we will always be operating under a mix of true and false assumptions. In short, proceed with caution whenever red teaming.

You can read Part 1 of his discussion here, with Part 2 to follow shortly.



The CIMSEC blog features a piece by LT Megan Mcculloch on “wargaming distributed lethality” in which she makes the case that the concept and capability can enhance both strategic deterrence and operational response, but requires considerable attention to planning and command:

Initially, my opinion of Distributed Lethality was that it was the current ‘flavor of the month,’ and I would pay more attention if it were still being discussed when I started Department Head School. This opinion changed dramatically when I participated as a Red Team member in an N96-sponsored game being developed by US Army, Air Force, and Indonesian Naval officers at the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) to test various Adaptive Force Packages (AFPs) designed to optimize the Distributed Lethality concept

The game was eye-opening on both the strategic value and execution challenges of Distributed Lethality. As one Red Team player described it, in this particular region and the given scenarios, Distributed Lethality was “operational deterrence with strategic ambiguity.” The game successfully showcased how the different AFPs give Distributed Lethality a greater level of flexibility and increase the options available to COCOMs across the range of military operations. The use of smaller ships also has implications for diplomatic as well as military engagement with partners, friends, and allies, possibly serving as an operational or strategic force multiplier.

The value of Distributed Lethality, as tested in this particular war game, was of operational value; however, it also added complexity to the planning for the Blue team. Not only are the logistical challenges greater with a more dispersed force, but in the scenario given, the blurring between Red combatants and fishing vessels, as well as the use of disabling unconventional tactics [iv]was effective and were more difficult for the operational commanders to counter due to the political or tactical ramifications of any given reaction. While increased strategic ambiguity and disaggregated forces are strengths of the concept, they are also a potential weak point. As we give greater responsibility to and increase opportunities for early command commanders to operate in highly ambiguous situations, they need to have been exposed to and have trained to several different types of hybrid warfare specific to their area of operations before taking command.


In an article at The Strategy Bridge, Daniel Sukman argues for conceptualizing an “institutional level of war” that would focus on promoting innovation, adaptability, effective inter-agency process, and all of the bureaucratic-institutional characteristics that contribute to effective warfighting at both the tactical and strategic levels.


Wargaming, he suggests, can play an important role in developing such institutional capacities:

…planning in the institution can mirror planning in the operational force. Within the Joint Operational Planning Process (JOPP), wargaming is a critical part of course of action (COA) comparison. Similar to the JOPP, wargaming at the institutional level of war assists in the determination future force structure, and the required capabilities the force needs to fight anticipated adversaries. Recently, Secretary Carter has taken steps to prioritize service wargaming. For example, the use of wargaming at the institutional level can identify what capabilities the force needs, from skilled cyber planners to artillery that can shoot faster and farther. Identification of facts and assumptions and other mission analysis steps can drive doctrine development, while elements of design can influence the development of institutional campaign plan and strategies.

I’m a little dubious about the conceptual merit of proliferating the levels of war. That being said, I do think—not surprising for a political scientist—that Sukman’s focus on how institutions constrain or enable effective action is an essential one, and I too think that gaming has much to offer in this regard. While policy gaming is reasonably well-developed on concept, procurement and portfolio issues, it is still in its infancy with regard to institutional change, knowledge management, and innovation incubation.


One response to “Simulation and gaming miscellany, 11 May 2016

  1. brtrain 21/05/2016 at 11:32 pm

    Sorry I missed you on this turn through Montreal Rex!
    Perhaps next year.

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