Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

ISIS Crisis at Geek & Sundry


First it was VICE News, then France Info, and now Geek & Sundry has published a piece discussing work by PAXsims and Defence Research and Development Canada on the ISIS Crisis game and the serious application of matrix gaming techniques.

In late 2014, DRDC tried out a game meant to help demonstrate various aspects of certain strategies called ISIS Crisis in order to see how these types of games influence the knowledge of the players of various factors that go into a single scenario. To simplify it, ISIS Crisis can be used to demonstrate and increase understanding of the complexity of many world conflicts, which have numerous factors that need to be addressed rather than a single solution. DRDC then released a report on their findings.

Built by McGill University, ISIS Crisis was designed using aspects of the current (end of 2014) conditions in the Middle East crisis involving ISIS. As Professor Rex Brynen, who helped develop ISIS Crisis,notes on his blog, the game wasn’t meant to strategize an actual attack on ISIS, it “just happened to be the scenario/game that was used to explore the methodology.”

It should be noted that Tom Mouat designed the materials used in the games, and Tom Fisher produced our local copy of the game. Chris Engle is the originator of matrix gaming.

3 responses to “ISIS Crisis at Geek & Sundry

  1. Charles Cameron 30/05/2016 at 11:49 pm

    Appreciated. I’ve now got your slides, look forward to seeing the book-chapter.

    One of your slides mentions “delicate balance between cooperative and adversarial play”. I came up with a game concept addressing that directly, but it would be best played by two decent SF writers who also happen to be well-matched at chess. The two players play a game of chess, to win, while explaining each move in turn fictionally in such a way that the narratives of their combined moves in sequence constitute, renga-like, a co-authored story — thus pitting the zero-sum motives of the chess game against the win-win possibiities of collaborative story telling.

    Again, thanks.

  2. Rex Brynen 30/05/2016 at 6:15 pm

    Matrix games have no fixed rules, other than a process for adjudicating outcomes based on the input and assessment of players. Consequently, a player is free to argue (for example) that morale or leadership issues affect the combat power of units, or that the imperative of territorial control will shape ISIS behaviour in particular ways. This approach is unlike the vast majority of (rules- and capabilities-based) games, and there are both advantages and disadvantages to such a free-form gaming approach.

    For a broader discussion of “gaming the non-kinetic,” have a look at my chapter in Pat Harrigan and Matthew G. Kirschenbaum, eds., Zones of Control: Perspectives on Wargaming (MIT Press, 2016):

  3. Charles Cameron 30/05/2016 at 6:08 pm

    Hu Dr Brynan:

    I have two questions for you about the generalized ISIS Crisis game-concept, I guess.

    The first has to do with the way ISIS “appeared” out of Zawahiri’s Jama’at, to include the splicing between ex-Baath and Salafists that occurred at Camp Bucca, and the splitting from AQ resulting in the Caliphate. How would games like ISIS Crisis be able to predict (at a strategic level) such splicings and splittings?

    The second, which is my perennial interest, is how games in this genre capture ideological shifts, eg from a leader-based (and arguably Mahdi-awaitng) system like AQ to a territory-based (and explicitly caliphal) system like IS?

    More generally, how do games in military and intelligence use today make sure that “morale” (to include cultural & theological factors, martyrdom, paradise, &c, but also the trauma & mental devastation of war, PTSD &c) are as fully represented as war’s measurable physical elements (troops, munitions, logistics, economics, &c)?

    I’m coming at all of this from the “games of ideas” side, with an awareness of my ignorance of the current state of war-gaming, and very little sense of how the two could be brought together either conceptually (in game design) or practically (in the form of contacts, conversations &c).

    If CvC isn’t completely off the mark in saying that in warfare, “the physical factors seem little more than the wooden hilt, while the moral factors are the precious metal, the real weapon, the finely-honed blade” — surely the gaming of those moral factors must be a matter of considerable interest?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: