PAXsims

Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Monthly Archives: October 2016

Baltic Challenge matrix game

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Tom Mouat has put the final touches on the Baltic Challenge matrix game, developed at the recent MORS special meeting on wargaming. The game involves the following actors/players:

  • Russian dissident groups in the Baltic States.
  •   The Baltic States (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania).
  •   Russia.
  •   Poland.
  •   The USA.
  •   The Nordic States (Sweden and Finland).
  •   NATO (other than the USA).

You can download the files here.

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MORS wargaming AAR

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On 17-20 October 2016 the Military Operations Research Society held a special meeting on wargaming. PAXsims’ very own Tom Mouat was there both to help facilitate the event and to bring us the report below.

Additional details from regular PAXsims reader Paul Vebber follow after Tom’s report.


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I was privileged to be invited, along with colleagues from the UK Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl), to the MORS Wargaming Special Meeting on 17 to 21 October 2016 in Alexandria, VA. Rex couldn’t make it, so again I was deputised to provide PAXSims readers with a report.

It was clear in the lead-up to the event that this was to be a more in-depth look at a few things, rather than the usual conference offering of a shallow look at a large number of things. This was unusual and I’m not entirely sure that it provided the best fit for the stated aims for the workshop:

  • How best incorporate rigorous and well-designed wargaming into the department’s larger analytical and acquisition focus.
  • As the demand for wargaming continues to grow we need to increase the pool of wargamers and wargame designers to meet those needs now and into the future.

If you were a beginner, unsure as to the role and range of wargame tools and techniques, you might have got lucky in choosing the workshop sessions that met your requirements; but if you weren’t it is perfectly possible you would get stuck in a session unsuitable for your needs. This wasn’t helped by the descriptions issued prior to the event being a little less than clear and a number of session being classified and NOFORN (no foreigners). This was exacerbated when there were a number of last minute changes to programme aims, the sessions and their classification.

I had originally intended to look at a number of the sessions and provide assistance to the “Project Cassandra, Envisioning Possible Futures” session. However one of the wargaming sessions (when I say “sessions” it was actually four half-day sessions spread over three days) had the organisation running it (US Army Training and Doctrine Command/TRADOC pull out. I was invited to stand in and run the session on matrix gaming instead—which I was delighted to do.

Travel and subsistence budgets being what they are, the cheapest flights from the UK are on a Saturday, giving us the bonus of recovering from jetlag as well as the opportunity to do some additional professional development in visiting the battlefield of Gettysburg. This is a quite outstanding battlefield, well preserved and with an excellent visitor centre. There are a large number of different lessons that can be gained from looking at details of the large battle, over the two days of the fighting. The Dstl staff, led by their own historian, took advantage of this. Sadly I was unable to participate as I was doing last minute preparation for the sessions.

The hotel recommended for the event was excellent and ideally placed for the subsequent events which were held in the hotel and at the nearby Institute for Defence Analysis (IDA).

Monday, 17 October 2016

The first day included a course, “Wargaming Introduction and Theory,” run by Dr Peter Perla and Dr Ed McGrady, which lasted all day. In addition, a shorter course, “Executive Overview of Military Wargaming,”  was run by Mike Garrambone. I attended the first of these because the UK Defence Academy is intending to run its own “Introduction to Wargaming” course, and watching how two of the foremost experts in the field do it was likely to be extremely educational.

Peter Perla started and covered wargaming history, from the earliest games and models used for training and education, through to the birth of modern wargaming. This included Kriegsspiel, Johann Hellwig’s wargame, the introduction of geomorphic maps, real topographic mapping and the use of experienced umpires in order to reduce complexity and include military common sense. He also covered the rise of the hobby game, sparked off by H G Wells’ Little Wars; the crossover from RAND’s use of hexagons to regularise movement; and the game company Avalon Hill and its success in publishing games for the hobby market.

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Peter Perla reviews the evolution of wargaming.

The course went on to cover the rise of wargaming as a fundamental part of the analytical process in the inter-war years, particularly in the US Navy War College. This is probably one of the most innovative periods of concept and doctrine development which helped shape the conflict to come, not just in the USA but also among the German General Staff.

I noted that from this period that there were two observations that emerged from these wargames:

  • Some people are dicks.
  • Innovation takes time.

Some of the participants in the wargaming process are unable to see the value of exploring a situation or problem through a game, fail to take it seriously and behave inappropriately. This is not helpful, but wargame facilitators need to be aware of this, and develop mitigating strategies to deal with it or valuable opportunities will be lost. (I would also offer that this phenomenon is not limited to manual wargaming – computer simulation is also afflicted with personnel who seem unable to grasp what the process is trying to achieve and are negative or disruptive, however well run the game.)

Innovation is not a simple process with a short timescale. It takes time to breed the open minded and intelligent organisational culture where ideas are valued from wherever they arise and where change is embraced. It is only from this basis that sustained advances can be generated and genuine advantage realised.

We then moved on to Dr Ed McGrady who covered the theory of games, how they work, what approaches work best and the human response to games. He started with a warning that, while efforts are improving, there is still no proper epistemology of wargaming and no coherent theoretical treatment—especially of manual games although there is a reasonable amount of work dealing with computer games.

Diversity in this area is a challenge and there is no simple one definition to cover all wargames.

He went on to cover the elements that make up a game, wargames vs peace games, what is not a wargame and some of the foundations of the concept of “play.” In many professional and analytical games the designers seem to want to eliminate the “play” aspects of the wargame. This is wrong, fails to get buy-in to the process, followed by a lack of understanding of the problem space and ultimately results in a bad game.He covered the elements of play, the role of making them enjoyable in a defence analytical context, their internal structure and most importantly the psychological and neurological concept of narrative (leading to engagement, and the “entre deux”, the in-between space where disbelief is suspended and insights are gained).

This included the significant observation: Lunch is important! If you are going to the time and effort in order to involve the participants in a game, where future possibilities are envisaged, disbelief suspended, and the players fully engaged, it is foolhardy to jeopardise the event by refusing to provide lunch—forcing participants to disperse, lose the game immersion and focus, and ultimately much of the value of the process.

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Some of my notes from “Wargaming: Theory and Introduction.”

I have made many pages of notes, including the dramaturgical aspects of games, the concept of “flow”, games vs simulations, hard vs soft assumptions, the big questions about the effect games have, sociological work, and theoretical principles. Indeed, it was all much too much to be able to present a coherent commentary here without significant additional thought and the risk of boring you!

Which brings me to a concern. This was not really an introduction to wargaming. Instead, it was a masterclass in the theoretical underpinnings of the art, that included some really deep stuff. I found the day incredibly useful (and I am anxiously awaiting copies of the slides because I’m afraid that my hurried notes may well have missed something), but I am also a wargaming practitioner of many years, including running and designing games used by defence as well as the wider community. I suspect that a novice, seeking an initial understanding, might well become lost and confused…

…until they decided to demonstrate what they meant, by the use of the matrix game “Lasgah Pol” dealing with peacekeeping operations in Afghanistan (available as part of Matrix Games for Modern Wargaming). Since I designed the game , and was asked to demonstrate an example move, they are obviously geniuses!.

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Tuesday, 18 October 2016

This was the start of the special event proper, and followed the more usual format of a plenary keynote and panel sessions until shortly after lunch.

Following introductions and the US national anthem, we started with a keynote from Andrew Marshall, former advisor to the Secretary of Defence for Net Assessment. At first glance it looked like the organisers were rolling out someone from an earlier era, but he quickly contradicted that impression, demonstrating sharp and timely insight. He gave a brief history of the Office of Net Assessment and pointed out that reading long papers on a subject can take time and are likely to only explore the subject from a single point of view. Games, in contrast, were very quick at distilling issues to their essential fundamentals, but he also underlined the importance of a proper opposition (the Red players).

An example he gave was dealing with the Strategic Bomber programme. This was during the Cold War—strategic bombers were expensive compared to ballistic missiles, and there were calls to make cuts in the bomber fleet. Looking at the problems through a series of wargames demonstrated that the bomber fleet forced the enemy to invest in large quantities of air defence weapons. Since the enemy was resource limited, this was advantageous to the US. On the other hand, cutting the bomber fleet would permit an enemy to switch in investment from weapon systems that were essentially of limited use, to areas that would present more of a threat. This lead to the conclusion that when thinking about a subject it is often essential to look widely at the problem to ensure a holistic solution

Marshall also pointed out, from his vast experience, that if you want innovation you should select the best players and if you want good games you should use the best facilitators. Choose the best for the most important problems.

This was followed by the Defense Wargaming Alignment Group (DWAG) Quad Chair panel. This covered the initiative resulting from DEPSECDEF Robert Work’s February 2015 memo to institute a repository for wargames and their reports. It currently includes some 550 high level games on a wide range of topics, as well as including funding for additional games and wargaming projects (including funding the US DOD and foreign government attendance at the MORS event). They issue a monthly report including a listing of upcoming games, highlighting previous games that are in the depository, the usual statistics about the depository, and other areas about DOD wargaming.

I was initially very cynical about the value of such a depository, but it appears to have access at the highest levels and is being managed effectively. I was particularly impressed by the definite focus on innovation, increasing the decision space for the leadership, and the particular emphasis on “so what?”—that is, proper explanation of the value of the work done and links to real change. Of course, the repository is a US-only classified capability, but it certainly sounds useful. I’m now jealous!

The panel also covered the intriguing idea of using wargames to educate members of Congress. This was, of course, difficult, and would probably have to focus on their direct staff, but it still looks like a really good idea. They also mentioned the lack of value gained from games that generated obvious conclusions: “Don’t tell me we have a lack of a particular resource —we already know that. Tell me what you did to compensate for it and did it work!” which is, of course, intrinsically more useful.

The Services Panel followed, with a number of useful observations:

  • An understanding that putting on more, smaller sized, games helps frame specific problems.
  • Wargames and quantitative analysis are not enemies – they are complimentary, depending on each other.
  • There needs to be robust cost modelling in games – stop inventing stuff with ridiculously cheap costs.
  • Wargames help frame a problem properly for greater understanding (a recurring theme across the ages).
  • Wargaming as a discipline encourages plagiarism – get the best ideas to work for you from anywhere.

I was interested to see the Department of Homeland Security present, happy to learn from the mistakes of others and present with a sense of humour. They hope to avoid the OODA loop problem where it ends up as “Observe, Overreact, Destroy, Apologize,” instead of what it is meant to be.

The Combatant Commands were next and I was impressed at the real efforts to reinvigorate wargaming after decades of decline. It was acknowledged that the efforts were a little patchy in places, but equally there seemed to be a real appreciation of the value to be gained.

This was followed by the Allies panel, with contributions from the UK, Holland, Sweden and Canada. These showed that wargaming efforts were in place in each nation, even if at a vastly different level of effort to the USA. The UK chose to highlight the essential work of Dstl and the Connections UK conference, and Canada mentioned publishing a wargaming doctrine publication, something the UK are also working on.

Lastly we had a panel on Red Teaming from specialists in that discipline. They were initially surprised to be invited and explained the aim of Red Teaming is to get “better decisions and better plans”, through knowing oneself, mitigating group think, fostering empathy and through applied critical thinking.

Working Groups, Courses and Wargames

At this point we broke up into smaller groups to spend the rest of Tuesday, all day Wednesday and Thursday morning in our respective session. Because of this I lost sight of what else was going on, although Paul Vebber provides some additional insight at the end of this report.

The sessions were:

  • Working Group 1: Analytic Process with Paul Davis and Matt Caffrey. Classified. NOFORN.
  • Working Group 2: Communication and Implementation, with Paul Vebber.
  • Working Group 3: Adjudication, with Tim Wilkie.
  • Course 2: Red Teaming, with Steven Rotkoff.
  • Course 3: Structured Analytic Techniques, with Joseph Cyrulik.
  • Wargame 1: Project Cassandra – Envisioning Possible Futures, with Yuna Wong.
  • Wargame 2: Phase Zero Baltic Operations with Scott Simpkins. Not Classified, but NOFORN.
  • Wargame 3. Matrix Gaming, with Tom Mouat.
  • Synthesis Group: This was an oversight group with Peter Perla looking for common themes and best practices.

 

Matrix Wargaming

Since I had 4 sessions of about 4 hours each, and one of the benefits of matrix gaming is that games are quick to design and play, we did a different game in each session.

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Matrix game materials ready for play.

We started the game with a presentation on matrix wargames looking at different approaches and the value of roleplay in predicting the outcome of conflict. This was followed with “Kazhdyy Gorod” a game about a city in a former Soviet state on the border with Russia.

The game started extremely well, with everything looking on track to being sorted out with the minimum of trouble or bloodshed. Well, that was until the Chief of Police acted against orders from the Mayor, who promptly assassinated her in a scene of the finest “Godfather” tradition in front of the rest of the city council. Chaos ensued (not least for the facilitator) but soon resolved itself with the Rebels kidnapping and murdering the Mayor, the Militia Commander sitting neatly on the fence and the Protest Leader ably supported by the power of international media (in the shape of the Press player) being elected the new Mayor of the city.

I was quite shocked and wondered if anyone was going to turn up for the following session after the adjudication difficulties, but with hindsight it was a good stress test of the system and showed the participants that the game can cope with wild play.

Wednesday, 19 September 2016

The following morning began with a short presentation on my guidance tips for facilitating Matrix Games, followed by the Cyber game “All Your Secrets Are Belong To Us“, a game about stealing the next generation stealth fighter plans.

This game went extremely well with very good participation all around and it was quite rewarding to see that the flow of the narrative was appreciated by the players. This meant the consequential requirement of detailed formal adjudication was much reduced, now that the players were more familiar with the game and gameplay.

That afternoon, after another short presentation, this time on some facilitator techniques that could be helpful for facilitators, we decided to design and run a complete matrix game on a subject chosen by the participants within the time available.

Baltic Challenge

The subject chosen was the current crisis in the Baltic States, especially as we had a Swedish and Dutch participant in the group. The game was entitled “Baltic Challenge” and the game design followed the following steps:

  • Define the game scope: modelling the current crisis in the Baltic States.
  • Define the “Actors” involved in the crisis and the order of play.
  • Define the Objectives for the Actors (simple bullet point objectives).
  • Design possible “triggers” as pre-conditions to possibly upset the current equilibrium.
  • Generate a suitable visualisation (map) for the area.
  • Allocate markers representing effects in the game (DIME/PMESII/FRIS).

We had a long discussion about who to represent as players (required to influence the game) as opposed to being mainly there to be influenced by others. In the end, we chose the following “Actors”:

  • Russian separatists in the Baltic States.
  • The Baltic State Governments as a single actor:
    • Estonia
    • Latvia
    • Lithuania
  • Poland as a separate actor.
  • The USA as a separate actor.
  • The Nordic States as a single actor:
    • Sweden
    • Finland
  • NATO

We generated the objectives for each party quickly and then commenced play. A number of possible “triggers” were also discussed:

  • Iskander deployment to Kaliningrad.
  • Russian troop movements on the border.
  • An economic report demonstrating ethnic disadvantages for Russian speakers in the Baltic States.
  • Airspace violations.
  • Soviet fleet manoeuvres in the Baltic.
  • Soviet ship breakdown on the way to Kaliningrad (assumed Iskander missiles and S-400 air defences on board).

The preferred option was a mix of an economic report indicating Russian speakers have a justified grievance and the Soviet resupply ship breaking down off Tallinn on the Estonian coast.

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A later version of the “Baltic Challenge” map.

The game worked very well, highlighting a large number of points to the participants that they were unaware of. The chief insights from the game were that the Baltic States may well try to “do the right thing” for the Russian speaking minority, but they were largely pawns in the game between Russia and the West. There were a number of treaties that affected the participants (the 1997 Founding Act, EU sanctions against Russia, and NATO relations with Sweden) that were important and needed to be understood. The fact that Poland has a right-wing government keen to demonstrate that it will not be bullied by Russia might not necessarily be a good thing as NATO depended on Poland to play a key role in the area and felt limited in the sort of pressure it could bring to bear.

It was also noted that the Inkander missiles, with a range of 500km, may violate the Intermediate-range Nuclear Force (INF) Treaty (missiles with a range of 500-5,500km) and there was speculation as to why the USA or NATO governments have not challenged Russia about them. The following morning, this was the subject of a Wall Street Journal article, neatly showing the game was on the right track highlighting this issue.

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Gaming the headlines!

We felt that the game would have benefitted (as would any game) from a specialist subject matter expert in the region to assist the facilitator with the briefings, objectives, consequence management, and adjudication but nevertheless we felt that three hours of work had demonstrated the value of the game and wider regional understanding.

The game is now available via a link at PAXsims.

Thursday, 20 September 2016

On the final day, we elected to have a game run by the participants as, given the level of experience they had achieved with the game process and mechanics, they should be able to run and facilitate their own game. The game chosen was “ISIS Crisis“, with updated briefing and dispositions to reflect the current situation.

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Playing ISIS Crisis.

The pre-game discussion indicated a strong feeling that if the game was to be wider than just Iraq, it needed the involvement of Turkish and Russian actors, even at risk of slowing down play, so these roles were included.

The game ran well, even if the most up to date developments were not reflected in the initial set up. The inclusion of Russian and Turkish actors, did change the balance of the game and showed just how far things had changed in the years since the game was designed. It was felt that it would benefit from updated quality briefings for these actors to match the other briefings.

Closing Plenary Sessions

Finally, there was a closing session in which back brief were given on the different workshops, courses and wargames as well as a keynote by DEPSECDEF Robert Work.

The Deputy Secretary of Defence commenced his remarks with the inevitable senior officer’s joke and seemed, at least initially, to be a straightforward explanation of what he was trying to achieve. After a few minutes though, when he had warmed to his subject, the presentation was transformed into an inspiring call to arms that was quite different to the usual rhetoric. Having your DEPSECDEF being quite so disarmingly clear that he wakes up every day thinking of ways that he can mess up the plans of potential adversaries was a breath of fresh air from someone who clearly knows his stuff. He gets my vote and I’m not even an American.

The final thing that stuck in my mind was the realisation that we are facing a new “inter-war period” with all the implications that this brings, and that we need to develop new ways and means to give decision makers strategic choices for the future.

I am looking forward to seeing the presentations being posted on the MORS website so that I can have an understanding of what went on in the other sessions.

Friday, 21 September 2016

The following day the UK delegation (Dstl and I) visited the Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) at John Hopkins University in order to take a look at the work of APL and the Collaborative Analysis Centre. This was an utterly inspiring visit, generating a raft of ideas and possibilities.

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Visiting JHU APL.

The MORS event continued with additional sessions about Research Design by Dr John Compton, but sadly we were unable to attend those.

Summary

Despite the minor administration problems, mainly affecting us foreigners, the trip was extremely worthwhile. Being able to practice my craft with experienced and knowledgeable participants at this level was very valuable for my personal development and a significant contribution to the UK Defence Academy plans for the future.

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I got a shiny MORS challenge coin too!

I still have reservations as to the value for an inexperienced beginner in this subject area, given the level at which many of the instructional participants were operating. This needs to be addressed if we are to generate replacements for the increasingly old expertise we have in the field (myself included).

Tom Mouat


 

Additional Details from Paul Vebber:

I was a co-chair for a working group looking at the issues of “Communication and Implementation” and the relationship of those issues with technology. First, what information needs to move within the “game world” and between the players? Second, what information needs to move between the game world and players and the adjudicators? Third, what what information needs to move out of the “game world” to the observers and analysts?

Ed McGrady and I sliced the group of about 30 we had into subgroups a couple different ways, and discussed these issues in the context of the sort of problems they typically used wargaming techniques to explore. We then focused on two different types of games—Ed the more POL-MIL type, and I a more high tactical/ low operational—and walked through a game design exercise considering where it made sense to use technologies of different levels of sophistication in this communication focused design approach.

Interestingly the team looking at the more qualitative POL-MIL type of game went “high order” on technology to address the “inside the game world” communication issues linking large numbers of players dealing with a high degree of “interactional complexity”.

The group dealing with a more operational problem (exploring the decision space associated with maintaining a long term—many weeks to a few months—naval presence in a location where an ambiguous adversary occasionally lobs missiles at you, or potentially threatens you by other means, AND you have to deal with other emergent operational requirements nearby) started with a “low tech” representation that developed into a card-driven board game.

Despite initial thoughts that some fairly sophisticated M&S tools may be required, it turned out the tech requirements were more about communicating between the game world of manual game play and observer/analysts to capture situational information about why decisions were made and the risk calculus was assessed. The “high fidelity M&S” tools were then used in analysis efforts fed by information from the game and did not have to integrated into the gameplay directly.

This provided a simpler, quicker playing game which feeds M&S efforts focused on digging into the “structural complexity” of weapon system interaction in a well understood operational context that is emergent from and traceable to player decision making.

There were two other working groups, three opportunities to play in different types of games, and five different classes. Check the MORS website for more info on those events—I’m not sure how much of the material and outbriefs will be made available, my understanding is at least some of it will be.

Paul Vebber

Gaming foreign policy (at the FSI)

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On Monday I spent the day at the George P. Shultz National Foreign Affairs Training Center in Alexandria, VA, where the Foreign Service Institute trains State Department personnel and others.

The Institute’s programs include training for the professional development of Foreign Service administrative, consular, economic/commercial, political, and public diplomacy officers; for specialists in the fields of information management, office management, security, and medical practitioners and nurses; for Foreign Service Nationals who work at U.S. posts around the world; and for Civil Service employees of the State Department and other agencies. Ranging in length from one day to two years, courses are designed to promote successful performance in each professional assignment, to ease the adjustment to other countries and cultures, and to enhance the leadership and management capabilities of the U.S. foreign affairs community.

This is the second time in two months that I’ve had the opportunity to speak to foreign ministry personnel about the potential use of games-based methods for both training and analysis—in September, I also made a presentation at the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office. This time I offered an overview of the why, what, and how of foreign policy simulation and gaming, and then took some of the participants through games of both AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game and the ISIS Crisis matrix game. You’ll find the slides I used in my presentation here..

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In the game of AFTERSHOCK, the score initially plunged deep into the negatives. However,  effective priority-setting and coordination during mid-game play ultimately resulted in a  very solid victory (especially for the apparently very popular government of Carana).

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The Government of Carana rushes large numbers of security personnel to District 2 to deal with mounting social unrest.

Our game of ISIS Crisis reflected the current situation, with Iraqi and Kurdish forces undertaking operations against ISIS in Mosul. These made gradual progress, but were slowed by ISIS use of chemical IEDs, a scandal over Iranian arms shipments to Iraq, and an Iraqi cabinet crisis that resulted in the return of Nouri al-Maliki to the position of Prime Minister of Iraq—much to the dismay of Iraqi Sunnis, Washington, and Tehran alike. Despite pledges that Shiite militias would not play a role in the Mosul campaign, they did so anyway—aggravating sectarian tensions. ISIS sought to organize simultaneous mass casualty attacks in the US, but the FBI managed to insert an informant among the plotters and arrested everyone involved before the attacks could be carried out. The game ended with ISIS still in Mosul, and military operations still underway. Afterwards much of the discussion focused on how best to debrief matrix games so as to best attain the desired learning outcomes.

Many thanks are due to Walker Hardy and the FSI for organizing and hosting my visit.

A simple planning game

On Thursday, as part of my talk at Duke University on gaming peace and conflict issues in the Middle East, I ran through a couple of turns of ISIS Crisis to demonstrate how a matrix game functions. That led to an interesting post-presentation discussion with one of the attendees, a US special forces officer, on how a matrix game might be used to generate vignettes for tactical exercises or problem-solving discussions.

Today I had a had a discussion over coffee in Alexandria, VA with Ratiba Tauti-Cherif, who specializes in planning, monitoring and evaluation of aid and peacebuilding programmes. She was interested in how a game might be used in a training context to develop local capacity in this area. Here too it seemed to me that a hybrid approach involving some matrix game elements could be quite effective.

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The results of those two discussions can be seen above, in what—for the want of a better name—I’m calling a simple planning game. It essentially works like this:

Participants are given problem to be addressed, whether it is an aid program to designed and implement, or a military objective to be achieved, or something else.

  1. The  major steps or benchmarks to achieve the desired outcome are pre-identified by the instructor (represented above by the arrows marked Steps #1-3). These might be the primary elements of the planning, monitoring, and evaluation process for an aid project, for example, or the key stages in the Military Decision Making Process, or even a series of tactical challenges as part of a broader operation.
  2. Participants are divided into groups, representing real life actors. In a development context these might be local NGOs, the private sector, local and national government, donor agencies, and so forth. In a military context these might represent some combination of staff roles and units/capabilities. One member from each group is temporarily assigned to the Red Team.
  3. The members of the Red Team identify an obstacle appropriate to the current stage of the game, and explain how  it could derail the process or operation. The various player groups then discuss ways in which this obstacle could be overcome, and offer their ideas. As in a typical matrix game, each good argument or idea generated by the participants generates a +1 die roll bonus, while each solid argument from the Red Team imposes a -1 penalty. A d6 is rolled, and the marker is advanced (or retreated) the appropriate number of positions down the track (indicated by blue squares on the image above). This processes is repeated until the participants reach the next major step/task.

    Example: The participants are trying to design and implement a project to address high maternal death rates in a developing country. The Red Team argues that conservative religious leaders might be suspicious or hostile to outside efforts to address pregnancy and child-birth (-1 modifier). The aid actors respond by suggesting outreach to national religious leaders (+1) as well as engagement with community leaders in local areas (+1). The players roll a 4, which with a net +1 modifier advances them a total of five spaces towards their first major task.

  4. When the participants arrive at a major step/task, they are given a relevant group activity or practical exercise to complete before returning to the game. In an aid game this might be a outlining a strategy for stakeholder consultation, for example; in a military game it might be developing a proposed Course of Action.
  5. Members of the previous Red Team go back to their original actor teams, and a new Red Team is formed with new members. As before, the Red Team identifies an obstacle, other players try to overcome it, a d6 is rolled and modified, and the marker continues towards the next major step/task.
  6. The session ends when the players have reached the desired endpoint.

Organizing a session in this way allows a variety of individual topics and learning objectives to be integrated into a single coherent narrative. A skilled facilitator would be able to subtly adjust the pace of the game so that everything remains on schedule, thus addressing the time constraints of an organized course. Teams might even be given a limited number of deus ex machina or lucky break cards—things like extra resources, appeals to senior leaders , or a serendipitous meeting with a key interlocutor—that allow them to overcome obstacles that would otherwise bog down gameplay.

Facilitators would also be able to  modify the degree of challenge during the game so that it remains appropriate for the participants, and to make sure that everyone feels able to contribute. The game and argument/counter-argument components should help to keep everyone energized and engaged.

Since players would rotate through temporary service as a member of the Read Team, they would  gain experience both in identifying potential obstacles and in finding creative ways of overcoming them.One could instead have experienced staff or subject matter experts serve as the Red Team. This would add to the credibility of the the Red Team’s objections and ideas, although at the cost of exposing everyone to the experience of red teaming in policy planning.

If the outputs from each group activity were integrated into a single final product—for example, a Powerpoint presentation, report, or brief-back—players would hopefully come away from it all with a sense of real substantive accomplishment. In a larger group with multiple facilitators, one could even run the simple planning game as a competition, with an award given to the group that most effectively masters the process and generates high quality outputs from each of the group exercises.

Want to give this approach a try in your own training program or classroom? Contact me, and (if my time permits) I would be happy to help you customize it for your needs.

Gaming talks at Duke University

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Today I have been a guest of colleagues at Duke University, giving a couple of talks on serious games.

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Discussing the design of AFTERSHOCK.

The first was a session with students from an interdisciplinary seminar on “Games and Culture: Politics, Pleasure and Pedagogy,” where I discussed Designing AFTERSHOCK. In this I drew upon an earlier presentation to Dstl on designing a humanitarian assistance/disaster relief game, as well as my keynote address to Connections UK 2016 on the social science of gaming and a talk at the RAND gaming Center on semi-cooperative games.

In the evening I spoke on Gaming in Support of the (late) Middle East Peace Process. You’ll find the slides for that talk here.

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I would like to express my gratitude to Shai Ginsburg and Leo Ching for inviting me to Duke and their generous hospitality, and to the students and other participants for very productive and stimulating discussions.

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Demonstrating ISIS CRISIS.

MORS livestream: US DEPSECDEF Robert Work on wargaming

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The Military Operations Research Society will be livestream an keynote address by US Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert O. Work to the MORS special meeting on wargaming on Thursday, October from 14:15to 15:15.

You can view the livestream here.

Robert Work’s February 2015 memo on the need to reinvigorate wargaming can be found here on PAXsims.

Noise in the gray zone: more findings from an Atlantic Council crisis simulation

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Today I made a presentation to members of a US Department of Defense Strategic Multi-Layer Assessment group that is exploring so-called “gray zone” conflict, drawing upon some insights generated by the June 2016 Atlantic Council crisis simulation on US engagement in the Middle East. According the working definition used by the SMA team, the “gray zone” can be understood in the following terms:

The Gray Zone is a conceptual space between peace and war, occurring when actors purposefully use multiple elements of power to achieve political- security objectives with activities that are ambiguous or cloud attribution and exceed the threshold of ordinary competition, yet fall below the level of large-scale direct military conflict, and threaten US and allied interests by challenging, undermining, or violating international customs, norms, or laws

The Atlantic Council game was intended to examine US policy and regional stability, not “gray zone” conflict per se. Nonetheless, the participants certainly made use of myriad methods-other-than-(open) war: terrorism, support for armed non-state groups, cyber attacks, weapons-smuggling, information and influence campaigns, and so forth.

After a brief summary of the Atlantic Council game design and outcomes, I made several key points:

  • The parties were prone to interpret background conflict “noise”—accidents, actions by third parties—as deliberate “gray zone” warfare by a regional adversary. In the case of the Atlantic Council game, a car-bomb attack against the Iranian Embassy in Beirut was widely seen by the Iranian team as Saudi-backed revenge for Iranian actions in Syria (in fact, the Saudis were not involved in the attack, which was conducted by Syrian jihadists), while a clash between Iranian and KSA naval forces in the Gulf was viewed by both sides as a deliberate provocation by the other (whereas it was simply the accidental result of aggressive maritime maneuvering in disputed waters by local naval commanders).
  • Although the parties sometimes used “gray zone” activities to intimidate, deter, or otherwise signal their adversaries, those signals were often poorly understood—in part because signalling is often misunderstood in contexts of tension and conflict, but also because of the very ambiguity of such actions.
  • Routine actions were often reinterpreted in light of other developments. In the Atlantic Council game, for example, rising Saudi-Iranian tensions led the former to view the latter as upping the stakes in Yemen, while the latter was largely continuing on a business-as-usual basis in terms of moderate levels of support for the Houthi rebels.
  • Third parties often sought to further muddy the waters through actions in the “gray zone” intended to manipulate the perceptions of key actors. In the Atlantic Council game, for example, the ISIS team was happy to escalate Sunni-Shiite tensions so as to encourage greater Saudi-Iranian confrontation.
  • The very moral and legal ambiguity of the “gray zone” contributes to problems of threat perception and assessment. The US and Gulf teams regarded stepped-up support for Syrian opposition forces as a legitimate way of countering aggressive Iranian ambitions. By contrast, the Iranian team considered themselves as a status quo power, supporting a longstanding Syrian ally threatened by illegal, externally-backed subversion and insurgency.

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I’m not a big fan of the “gray zone” concept, partly because I think it is so ambiguous, and partly because I think it simply describes a quite common aspect of statecraft and conflict rather than anything strikingly new. Viewing the Atlantic Council game through the “gray zone” lens generated another insight, however: the very real danger that paradigms create their own reality, and may serve to frame events in ways that distort their actual causes, intentions, and implications. Rather like looking for monsters under your bed at night, it is all too easy to misperceive the shadows of the so-called “gray zone”—all the more so because some of them actually are monsters.

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You’ll find the full set of slides from my presentation here.

Duke University: “Gaming in support of the Middle East peace process” (October 20)

On October 20 I’ll be speaking at Duke University on the topic of gaming in support of the Middle East peace process. There’s not really a “Middle East peace process” any more, of course—but hopefully the gaming stuff will be interesting!

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You’ll find additional details here. Among the games I will be discussing are:

I’ll also say a little about using gaming approaches to address other Middle East conflicts, including the ISIS Crisis matrix game, the  Syrian refugees in Lebanon educational simulation (2015), and the recent Atlantic Council crisis game on US engagement in the Middle East (2016).

2016 NATO urban wargame: first impressions

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Scott Kinner (Marine Corps Tactics and Operations Group) recently returned from participating in the 2016 NATO Urban Operations Wargame that was held 28 September to 7 October at the NATO Defense College in Rome:

The wargame utilized personnel from 18 member countries, dividing them into four brigade teams, each of which worked a MEB-level problem set placed in a 2035, smart city, of 5.7 million people.

The wargame addressed offensive, defensive, stability, and expeditionary activities using three vignettes; joint forcible entry into an urban area, offensive and defensive actions to defeat an enemy in an urban area, and transition to host nation government. The brigade teams analyzed proposed 2035 capabilities, and discovered new ones, by fighting each vignette twice – first as today’s force against a 2035 enemy, and then again with 2035 capabilities.

While the wargame would have identified capability requirements and gaps, the presence of Marines proved instrumental in maximizing the event’s potential. This presence, to include a substantial number of practitioners from the Operating Forces, allowed the Marine Corps to fully exploit the game and develop a draft operating concept for the urban environment that will nest under the Marine Operating Concept and join the rest of the Marine Corps family of operating concepts….

You’ll find Scott’s full unclassified “first impressions” report here (pdf).

More information on the wargame can be found at the website of the NATO Modelling and Simulation Centre of Excellence, while broader background information on NATO’s current urbanization project can be found at the NATO ACT website.

h/t Scott Kinner 

RAND video on (wargaming) Russia and the Baltics

RAND has released a short, glossy video outlining the findings of the many wargames they have run examining a potential Russian invasion of the Baltic republics. You’ll find it on their Facebook page, as well as below.

Their original January 2016 report can be found on the RAND website here.

For the findings of a later CNAS crisis game on Baltic security (and some discussion of the differences between the two game approaches and their respective findings), see the discussion at PAXsims here.

Last Turn Madness: Jim Wallman on megagames

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The latest edition of the podcast Last Turn Madness has an excellent interview with evil genius Jim Wallman of Megagame Makers on the history, design, and future of megagaming. Megagames are large mass-participation games on both historical and fictional topics that use minimalist rules and instead emphasize developing narrative, player interaction, and emergent game play. Jim designed and ran the New World Order 2035 megagame we held at McGill earlier this year.

Among the many interesting issues explored in the conversation are the changing demographics of megagame participation, and the ways in which this has influenced both game design and play. Jim also discusses the central importance of narrative engagement, his “less is more” game design philosophy, the role of the Control team, and how to encourage player creativity without allowing them to exploit loopholes or break a game’s basic assumptions and reality. His serious game work is addressed too, with mentions of both the Connections UK professional wargaming conference (where he ran a game on the civil war in Binni) and PAXsims.

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Jim Wallman at work at the New World Order 2035 megagame (McGill University).

Jim also mentions the the forthcoming “Wide-Area Megagame” that will be held in early July 2017. The scenario for this will be a massive crisis in a fictionalized United States, involving multiple simultaneous linked games played in cities across the UK. We’ll be participating in this from Montreal too, playing the role of neighbouring “Northland.” If you’re in the Montreal area, are interested in participating, and don’t mind getting up very, very early in the morning (we’ll be playing on UK time), drop me a line!

h/t Ben Moores

C-WAM: Center for Army Analysis Wargaming Analysis Model

At GovTechWorks, Michael Peck has a very interesting article on the Center for Army Analysis Wargaming Analysis Model, or C-WAM:

Computers continue to revolutionize modern warfare, not the least of when it comes to putting battle plans to the test. Devise the scenario, feed it into the computer and out spews detailed estimates of risk, supply consumption and more.

But as it turns out, that there’s nothing like pitting humans against humans – at least to get the kinks out of a plan to begin with.

Indeed, Pentagon leaders right up to the deputy secretary of defense are using a house-built Army board game – complete with outcome tables and standard dice – to spot the flaws in battle plans before crunching the numbers with modern computing. Just as manned aircraft and drones can team to form a highly effective partnership, computer models linked to board games can bring out the best qualities of both.

The Army calls its board game C-WAM – short for the Center for Army Analysis Wargaming Analysis Model. Games pit (friendly) Blue versus (enemy) Red forces and results are fed into the Joint Integrated Contingency Model (JICM), a powerful computer simulation that analyzes plans and calculates losses and supply consumption.

First developed eight years ago, C-WAM is increasingly popular and has been used by Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work, a well-known vigorous advocate for analytical wargaming as well as the Joint Staff, multiple Combatant Commands (COCOMs) including Pacific (PACOM) and European (EUROCOM) commands, and other major component commands, such as U.S. Pacific Fleet and Pacific Air Forces and U.S. Air Forces Europe.

The game has also been used to test potential effectiveness of new weapons during the acquisition process.

“Demand is far outstripping our capacity at this point,” says C-WAM creator Daniel Mahoney III, a campaign analyst for Center for Army Analysis at Fort Belvoir, Va. “We turn people down now for wargaming requests.”

Understanding the Game

Physically, C-WAM consists of a tabletop map typically about five-feet long and four-feet wide. Players maneuver their pieces (representing brigades) across the map, just like in any other tabletop game. The digital Battle Tracker– a simple computer database — rolls digital dice and tracks losses, supplies and so on. If they prefer, players may also choose to use conventional physical dice.

The Blue and Red teams are each led by a commander-in-chief and supported by ground, air and naval commanders. A White Cell umpire, supported by a few more people to run the Battle Tracker, oversees the game as it plays out. …

What’s more, Michael has gone a step further, and obtained a copy of the C-WAM rule book. You’ll find it here.

This detailed  April 2016 presentation on C-WAM by Daniel Mahoney to the MORS wargaming community of practice may also be of interest.

h/t Michael Peck

Simulation and gaming miscellany, 2 October 2016

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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.

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A recent article in The Guardian offers an extensive discussion of “the rise and rise of tabletop gaming.”

We may now live in a world of Facebook, Pokémon Go, Netflix and iPads, but board-gaming is booming. Even the early 20th-century games explosion, which gave us such hardy perennials as Monopoly, Cluedo and Scrabble, has nothing on the current surge. Market research group NPD, which claims to measure around 70% of the UK toy trade, has recorded a 20% rise during the past year in the sales of tabletop games (including card and dice games, war games played with miniature figures and role-play titles such as Dungeons & Dragons, in which players imagine themselves as heroic warriors and wizards in imaginary, fantasy worlds)….

I’m pleased to see that my favourite central London games shop, the Orc’s Nest, gets a mention.

PAXsims

If you play Dungeons & Dragons, be warned—”demons are out to destroy you!”

or so says Pat Robertson of the 700 Club.

Having played D&D since the very (boxed, three booklet) beginning, I have long found it to not only be fun and enjoyable, but also a way to develop interpersonal, narrative, and analytical skills. Experience in running a D&D or other RPG game is also a very good way of developing game facilitation skills—indeed, as I’ve previously suggested at PAXsims, being a RPG gamemaster may be better preparation for professional wargame or policy game facilitation than being a traditional hex-and-counter board hobbyist wargamer.

Has D&D or another roleplaying game contributed to your own professional game facilitation or design skills? If so, email me some comments on the subject and we will feature the responses in a future PAXsims post.

PAXsims

A couple of weeks ago Ars Technica featured an article on the “explosive growth of the 300 player megagame.”

There’s a new kind of hybrid game doing the rounds that marries the large scale politicking of live-action roleplaying (LARPs) with the focused, often crunchy mechanics of an economic game. It’s played with dozens, even hundreds of players, it takes a whole day, and it has a clumsy sobriquet that perfectly encapsulates its grand ambition: the “megagame.”

Megagames have no strict definition, but here’s an outline of the (pretty typical) first one that I tried two years ago. Strange alien forces mass near the earth, alarming the world’s governments. Multiple teams of three-to-six players represent various nations, and teams take on roles like diplomats or military leaders. Each team plays its own straightforward game of economics to balance a country’s budget, fund the military, and direct scientific research.

These aspects of the game are all managed in “private play areas” depicting each country, but players also meet in more public areas to coordinate international strategic planning or to discuss diplomatic goals. They pore over a map of the world showing the movements of their armies and air forces. They huddle around a table that represents the UN. They forge alliances, compete to seize alien technology, and perform acts of espionage.

Occasionally a referee steps in to clarify a ruling or to announce a new event. Alien craft have been sighted on the Moon! Terrorists have kidnapped a head of state! Earthquakes! Perhaps there’s even a message from the aliens—who are played by another team of people kept separate from the action but nevertheless allowed to watch everything as the nations of earth banter and bicker.

This is Watch the Skies, only one kind of megagame, but so far the most popular. It’s enjoying replays and reinterpretations everywhere from Aberdeen to Australia. If your personal preference isn’t for the extraterrestrial, other megagames cover everything from military scenarios to Machiavellian historical intrigue. What they all have in common is a focus on social dynamics, independent referees who guide play and introduce new events, and a sense of scale that puts Diplomacy to shame.

They also share a lineage. UK-based Megagame Makers has been designing and playing these games for decades, long before Watch the Skies found breakout success. A key designer throughout much of this period has been Jim Wallman, and when I speak to him over Skype to ask the secret of a megagame’s success, I discover he has recently returned from a game in Canada and is consulting with the British military on simulating conflict scenarios….

You can read the full piece at the link above.

As for that “Jim Wallman” character, he was last seen in Canada running the New World Order 2035  megagame at McGill University, speaking at the Connections North wargaming miniconference, and leading a group of uncooperative juvenile Mooseketeers to safety during the zombie apocalypse….

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Jim Wallman in action at McGill University.

PAXsims

Staff from the Strategic Simulations Division recently briefed MG Rapp, Commandant for the US Army War College, on matrix games—using the Kaliningrad 2017 game as an example.

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For additional details of the game, see this earlier PAXsims report by LTC David Barsness and Michelle Angert, as well as this playtest report from National Defense University.

PAXsims

If you have played AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game, but haven’t rated or reviewed it at BoardGameGeek or The Game Crafter, please do—we welcome the feedback!

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PAXsims

He posted it back in early September, following the Connections UK conference, but we’ve been slow on updates: go and read Paul Vebber’s comments and presentation on wargaming and technology innovation at the Wargaming Connection blog.

PAXsims

A Wargamer’s Needful Things is a collaborative blog by Jason Rimmer, Mike Wall, and  Robert Peterson that offers game reviews and thoughtful commentary on the wargaming hobby. They also have a current contest to win a free copy of a new book by Rick Priestly and John Lambshead, Tabletop Wargames: A Designers’ and Writers’ Handbook (Pen & Sword Publishing, 2016).

h/t Peter Perla, who won’t appreciate the extra competition to win! 

PAXsims

The draft programme for the 2017 Connections Oz interdisciplinary wargaming conference (5-6 December, University of Melbourne) has now been posted.

I wish I was attending—I participated last year and found it very productive (and enjoyable) indeed.

PAXsims

The 2016 North American Simulation and Gaming Association annual conference will be held on October 26-29 in Bloomington, Indiana. You’ll find further details at the NASAGA website.

Nine-dash Line: A South China Sea matrix game

The following game was developed by PAXsims associator editor Tom Mouat.


 

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Nine-dash Line is a game of regional competition and cooperation in the South China Sea. It uses a matrix game mechanism, an approach we’ve discussed extensively here at PAXsims. The game’s title, of course, refers to China’s maritime and territorial claims in the area.

The game was developed for two reasons: The first was to generate a contemporary game in a regional potential flashpoint that I hadn’t done before; and the second was to get some understanding of the region prior to a visit to the Defence Academy by a senior Vietnamese delegation. As has been discussed before, the act of designing a game generates a greater understanding of the situation even before the players are included. This was no exception as I was surprised just how little I knew (despite participating in an FPDA exercise a few years ago).

We ran the game recently and, since it was set in the contemporary situation, the US Presidential election featured part way through the game. We diced for the result with a 58% chance of a Clinton victory (able to be modified by arguments) with the result that she won a clear victory. It will be interesting to see if this matrix game was accurate in this respect in November.

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This game featured a number of random event cards, which worked well with the players, but we elected to modify the narrative and effect of the cards as best met the situation of the individual circumstances at the time. For example, in a previous turn the USA had successfully argued for an oil survey vessel operating in support of the Philippines Government and in the following turn the “Oil Discovery!” Card came up. This was too good an opportunity to miss, so the USA was permitted an additional argument to determine the extent of the oil discovery.

We also elected to try the idea of providing a more general background briefing for the players and requiring them to identify their own objectives over the coming months of game play.

The game went as follows:

  • Turn 1: A typhoon hit the area of the Spratly Islands and the coast of the Philippines, with considerable destruction and loss of life. China deployed naval ships to the area, supported by a Malaysian hospital ship and a repair vessel. The US Navy also carried out humanitarian assistance along the Philippines Coast, but the Philippine President took the opportunity to attack drug operations in coastal cities. The Vietnam Government successfully invited the Russian Navy for joint exercises off Cam Ranh Bay and Taiwan dispatched a repair ship to their lone outpost in the Spratly Islands.
  • Turn 2: There was a dispute between Pilipino fishermen and Taiwan resulting in damage to the Pilipino vessel, cut nets, and serious injury to one of the crew. The Taiwan Government quickly defused the situation by escorting the vessel away from Taiwanese claimed waters and paying compensation to the owners. The Russian / Vietnamese joint exercise was a great success and was accompanied by a political initiative to increase Russian involvement in Cam Hanh Bay. Chinese and US Navy submarines shadowed the exercise, gaining valuable intelligence. The Philippines took advantage of Chinese efforts being concentrated on the Vietnamese and the ongoing repair efforts in the Spratly Islands, to re-establish a lighthouse in Scarborough Shoal.
  • Turn 3: The Taiwan government was embarrassed by their repair vessel running aground in spectacular fashion, in the glare of media attention, near Taiping Island. Efforts to rescue the ship were a fiasco and their standing in international media was something of a joke.  Clinton won the US election convincingly and took the opportunity to sponsor oil survey ships in Filipino waters in an effort to improve relations even more with the Philippines President. At this point Malaysia took the chance (with clandestine help from the Chinese) to launch a cyber-attack on the Vietnamese and Soviet exercise. This was spectacularly successful, knocking out both nations’ air defence radar systems for an extended period, but there were unforeseen second-order effects that impacted on the US submarine and civilian shipping navigation systems. China attempted to covertly establish some deep ocean facilities for their submarine force north of the Spratly Islands.
  • Turn 4: Oil was discovered by the US survey vessels and the value of Filipino investments rose sharply with the news. Chinese and Vietnamese survey ships closed in on the area (carefully outside the 200nm Philippines exclusive economic zone), but the Vietnamese ship had technical problems and had to turn back. Taiwan finally manage to repair the Taiping Island facility. The Malaysians had embedded in the code of their cyber-attack subtle and sophisticated hints that the origin of the attack was the Philippines. This was successful with the Vietnamese and Russians, but the US NSA was more cautious in apportioning blame. The US Navy located and identified all of the Chinese deep ocean facilities.
  • Turn 5: Media attention switched to Germany where a hacking attack on one of Europe’s largest healthcare insurance providers leaked the confidential medical records of some 2.7 million European citizens. With events escalating in the area and Russian involvement, the USA called an international summit to discuss the crisis and we ended the game there.

The game was a lot of fun and easy to adjudicate. Sadly, we were playing without any detailed expertise in the area, but nevertheless we felt that it had helped us to begin to understand the geography, capabilities and issues of the region, and was valuable educationally.

Tom Mouat

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