PAXsims is pleased to present some recent items on conflict simulation and serious (and not-so-serious) games that may be of interest to our readers.
The Connections (US) interdisciplinary wargaming conference is currently underway at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama. While we won’t be live-blogging the event, we do hope to past a conference report after it is finished courtesy of ace PAXsims investigative reporter, Tom Mouat.
Meanwhile August 15 is the registration deadline for Connections UK, which will be held at King’s College London on 6-8 September 2016.
US Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work will be the keynote speaker at the forthcoming MORS special meeting on wargaming (17-20 October, in Alexandria VA). You’ll find more details here.
The BBC is planning to bring back Time Commanders—the television series where ordinary people team up to wargame historic battles—and they are looking for participants:
Age limit: Applicants must be aged 18 years of age and over.
Please get in touch for more information or to apply for series 3 of Time Commanders.
Please tell us who would be in your team, how you know each other, and what it is about appearing on Time Commanders that appeals to you. Why would you make a successful team? Could you beat history’s greatest generals? What skills do you have that would help you to victory?
Phone number: 0141 331 6427
Email address: email@example.com
14 Royal Crescent
Closing date: Thursday 1st September
The original series ran from 2003 to 2005 (and you’ll find many episodes on YouTube)
At the US Naval Institute blog, Robert Kozloski discusses “building the naval battle lab.”
The naval services have led at wargaming for decades. Over the past few years, improvementsto analytical methods have resulted in game outcomes informing organizational decision-making processes. However, we must not lose sight of the fact that wargaming, and gameplay in general, serves as an excellent leadership development tool. In essence, traditional wargaming is a competition among participants based on a scenario that is conducted in a turn-based manner. They make people think and solve problems. This same process is easily replicated, repeated and expanded by using a virtual environment.
Virtual wargaming offers many advantages over traditional simulations. Consider popular online games such as World of Warcraft or Call of Duty. These games are played by millions of networked participants around the world every day. Fundamentally, they are designed to pose tactical problems to players who have a set of options from which to select. This interaction presents an incredible opportunity both to learn and collect useful data on military decision making.
In the future, for example, tactical problem X could be posed to a large and diverse group of naval officers in a virtual game format. From their answers, it would be possible to determine that a certain percentage would chose option Y, while others would chose option Z. This data could then influence policy changes or improve training and education programs, using any observed shortfalls. Further, if this virtual environment is shared with other services and coalition partners, it will be possible to determine the effect service and national culture has on tactical decision making.
Another advantage of virtual gaming is its ability to draw upon the expertise of the crowd to solve challenging problems. This is contrary to the norm of giving only a few elite players the opportunity to participate in large-scale events. Virtual environments are also more accommodating to various personality types and better for overcoming the power dynamics and hierarchies associated with the traditional approach to military wargaming.
Not surprisingly, his unbridled enthusiasm for technological solutions provoked some eye-rolling among advocates of (cheaper, more transparent, more easily modified) manual wargames. However, I think it is important not to see this in either/or terms: provided you don’t break the bank acquiring shiny but unhelpful technological capabilities, there’s no reason why you can’t push the envelope of computer modelling, distributed network play, and user interface AND, at the same time, represent that manual methods have a variety of comparative advantages too.
Crisis Theory is a free/donate-to-download game that explores the crisis of capitalist accumulation for the standpoint of Marxist theory. You’ll find it here.
A recent guest post by Kyle Hanes at the Active Learning in Political Science blog explores using a simulation to examine the bargaining model of war.
At his Tiny Tin Men blog, Phil Dutré offers some thoughts on the recent edited volume Zones of Control: Perspectives on Wargaming. He highlights what he sees as the differences between the hobby and professional wargaming:
…the book blew me off my socks. In some of the chapters, people make the explicit link between hobby wargaming and professional wargaming – although the hobby wargames mentioned in this context usually are the hex-and-counter type, not the toy soldier type. I have argued before in several discussions (e.g. on TMP), that there is not much of a link between both, exactly because the design aims are different. I never understood the wargamers who claim that a (board) wargame designed for entertainment actually is a serious tool to train for war. “Really? You can learn to command an army by playing Tactics 2?” Nevertheless, in various online discussion, this point is always made. I often think this is because the confusion people have about the name “wargame”, and leave out the adjectives “hobby”, “training”, “miniature, “board” or “professional”. After all, when discussing football, isn’t it important one specifies whether one is talking about European or American football, or mini-football, foosball, or a football computer game? Sure, it’s all football, but why discuss it as if it’s all the same thing?
So, if there is indeed a strong connection between professional and hobby wargaming, and if we have professional wargame designers who clearly know their stuff, then what the hell on earth are hobby miniature wargame designers thinking they’re doing? Shouldn’t we leave the game design to the professionals? Or should we as gaming enthusiasts all start reading the academic articles and use whatever insights the professionals have developed? Are those insights even transferable to hobby games to begin with?
I lay awake for some nights pondering this very question. I do like writing my own rules for miniature wargaming, testing the game out with my friends, or sending in articles about our games to the glossy miniature wargaming journals. I like playing with my toy soldiers. On the other hand, as an academic, I know there’s this world of difference between tackling a problem academically or fixing it at the hobby level. So how is a hobby like miniature wargaming perceived by serious wargame designers? Simple child’s play? Noise in the wargaming universe? Should we – as miniature wargamers – simply stop pretending we are doing anything more than just playing a simple game? (In fact, I do think we are just playing a game inspired by military history – but there’s this neverending discussion that it’s always something more, and people get confused …)
After a couple of days, I started thinking about the unique assets of miniature wargaming, that I couldn’t see being present in professional wargaming, and I became somewhat more relaxed:
- The visual spectacle! For me, *miniature* wargaming has always been about the toy soldiers. Moving toys around the table is a large part of the attractiveness of the hobby, as is the modeling aspect that is linked to this.
- Elegant gaming mechanics! Miniature wargaming is a game, and games design is focused around designing elegant and playable mechanics using dice, rulers, cards, … as well as around producing plausible results.
- History, not training for actual war! Miniature wargaming most often is involved with historic subjects, not something wargames designed for training the military are really considering.
- Fantasy and Scifi and Imaginations! Many popular miniature wargames explore alternate universes, and care little about training or historic plausibility.
- Storytelling! In the end, a good wargame is telling a story inspired by military history. One could even make a point this is the most important point of our hobby.
So, I slowly reverted back to my original stance. Yes, there are many genres of wargaming – all called wargaming :-) But in the end, I do not see much similarities between wargaming as used by professionals and recreational wargaming as played by hobbyists. Sure, there might be the occasional game or gaming engine that can serve both audiences, but I think those are the exception rather than the rule.
It’s an interesting discussion, and one that comes up at times in professional wargaming threads at BoardGameGeek.
Regarding Phil’s final points, I wouldn’t underestimate the value of elegant rules in many professional games. Familiarity with hobby gaming also provides a mental library of game mechanics that can be adopted to more serious purposes. Moreover, I certainly think, as Ed McGrady and Peter Perla have convincingly argued, that narrative engagement—that is to say, effective storytelling—is an essential part of why wargaming works.
At the same time, there are differences. Slavish attachment to the conventions of one type of wargaming can blind one to what may be the requirements of another: analytical games should be about analysis, educational games should be about learning, and successful hobby games are largely about fun (although many hobbyists would prize a degree of historical realism as part of the factors that enjoyment of a game). The point is to design for purpose, and consider various gaming techniques as tools in a toolkit rather than invariable recipes.
Don’t forget that the first expansion set for AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game is now available from The Game Crafter. We’ve also lowered the price of the main AFTERSHOCK game too!