PAXsims

Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Monthly Archives: July 2017

Review: This War of Mine (board game)

This War of Mine. Awaken Realms/Galakta/11 Bit Studios, 2017. Designers: Michał Oracz, Jakub Wiśniewski.

Back in 2014, James Sterrett contributed to PAXsims a very positive review of the computer game This War of Mine, which had then just been published by 11-Bit Studios. I played it quite a bit too, and—while having some reservations about how it depicted civilian life during a civil war—also found it innovative, thoughtful, and haunting.

pic3315915_md.jpgIn 2016 a board game version was announced on Kickstarter, and was fully funded by enthusiastic supporters in a matter of hours. The game design was completed earlier this year, the game printed and shipped, and my eagerly-awaited copy arrived in the mail a couple of weeks ago.

Thus it was, with a couple of friends and considerable anticipation, that we set off to try to survive in the ruins of an anonymous city devastated by civil war.

The game is designed so that it can be set up and played without reading a rule book in advance—indeed, there is no “rule book” as such, but rather a journal (which walks you through your choices in each phase) and various options outlined on the various cards and in the game script. This certainly makes the game easy to play, even with neophyte players. On the other hand, it can be easier to forget or overlook a rule, since they aren’t systematically collected in a single place.

The overall feel of game play is very similar to the digital original. In the morning, after a random event, you assign your characters to various tasks: exploring and fixing up your shelter, building new fixtures (such as beds, a stove, a workshop, or water collection system), and performing other daily menial tasks. Each character needs to get enough to eat and drink and sleep, and also keep his or her spirits up.  Too much hunger, wounds, illness, or misery will result in a character leaving the shelter, dying, or even committing suicide. Players cooperatively control all of the characters, with the role of lead player shifting at various points in the game sequence. Different characters have different degree of prowess (which largely affects combat) and empathy (which favourably affects interaction with non-player characters, but which might result in greater vulnerability to misery), as well as unique needs and capabilities.

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When dusk comes, characters can be assigned to scavenge in the city. Various locations become eligible to visit as the game progresses, and an ingenious system of exploration cards and a “choose your own adventure” -type script guarantees that every visit is both different and potentially dangerous. Often players face difficult moral choices, such as stealing whether to steal desperately-needed supplies from other survivors or help others at risk to themselves. Acting in an immoral way might secure more material resources, but can also exact a significant psychological toll. Players might have various encounters while out in the city, whether traders or those with more hostile intent.

Meanwhile, back at the shelter, the remaining characters can be assigned either to sleep (thereby ridding themselves of any fatigue) or stand guard duty against periodic night raids by bandits and others.

Finally, at dawn, the health of characters is adjusted (including the ravages of an increasingly cold winter), narrative and fate cards are drawn, and a new morning begins.

The full campaign game involves three chapters, each of which involves about 2 hours of play. We completed most of the first two chapters before time ran out and we had to call an end to the session.

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The game board.

Overall, the designers have done a good job at creating a narrative of a dark, grinding, struggle for survival. The excellent game art and high-quality components certainly contribute to the sense of devastation and desperation. I did find that gameplay became rather repetitious after a while, but this was probably in part result of playing for almost four hours continuously. Consequently, I suspect that the game is better played in a series of separate, single-chapter sessions. A pad of record-keeping sheets is supplied to make it easy to record where one partial game ends and the next chapter begins.

As with the digital original of the game, I did have some reservations about how the game depicts the human fabric of war-affected societies. In most civil wars, residents do not scavenge in ruins at night (a particularly dangerous time), nor in most cases are they faced with nightly bandit raids in major cities. Instead, makeshift markets and services do function, and neighbourhoods and extended families provide vital networks of support. Indeed, having worked in war zones and with refugees, I am usually struck not so much by a descent into Hobbesian social violence of all-against-all but rather by the remarkable power of altruism and social solidarity. In this sense, the game borrows a little too much from the post-apocalyptic fantasy genre—a sort of civil war version of The Walking Dead, minus the zombiesthan from the actual lived experience of civilians during wartime.

If the game is being played for its gaming value, this matters little. If it is being used in an instructional setting, the similarities and differences between the game’s depiction of civil war and other (autobiographical and historical) accounts could make for interesting material in a debriefing assignment or a post-game classroom discussion. Although designed for solo or cooperative play by up to six players, it could easily be adapted for much larger groups.

As to our playtest game, we continually teetered on the brink of disaster. Among our original group of characters, only Anton, the former professor of mathematics, had survived. Boris, a warehouse worker, had been unable to take it the pressure. Emilia, a lawyer, had died. Those who had joined the shelter later were no more lucky. Emira, who had suffered poverty and homelessness long before the war started, and whose ability to find food for the shelter had been invaluable, had been lost too. As for Arica, Anton had no idea what had happened to her. She had left one night to scavenge for supplies—and had never returned.

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Anton, alone in the house.

And so Anton remained. The last of his precious books had been burned to heat the shelter against the encroaching winter. He was low on supplies. He didn’t even have the energy clear the rubble from the back rooms or patch the holes in the building, through which both chill winds and looters entered.  If only this cursed war would end…


UPDATE: You’ll find a very good review of the game by Jasenko Pasic, who lived through the siege of Sarajevo as a child, at BoardGameGeek.

 

 

 

“One Belt, One Road” matrix game

We are pleased to feature this report on the One Belt, One Road matrix game developed by COL Jerry Hall. The report below was written by Ryan Carragher, a Boston College student, ROTC member, and intern at the US Army War College. We are grateful to Jerry for sharing the complete set of rules and to LTC Joseph Chretien (US Army War College) for passing all of this on to us.


“One Belt, One Road” (OBOR-MG), a new matrix game developed by Colonel (COL) Jerry Hall, United States Army, focuses on China’s One Belt, One Road (OBOR) plan for trade expansion and growth.  The game is a six-player game, with teams of China, Russia, India, the European Union, the United States, and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). With China’s influence expanding, it is up to the other teams to either determine how to counter China, or find a way to grow with them. The game’s scenario begins in the present day and advances three to five years each round, which replicates China’s end goal of completing OBOR by 2050.

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COL Jerry Hall discussing the rules of OBOR-MG

The goals and objectives of OBOR-MG are to explore where China’s OBOR plan may take the world over the course of the next few decades, to expose players to the growth of China through trade, and to force players to think of ways that China can be countered.   Within the context of the game, agreed upon trade routes must be invested in to be established, and new trade routes can be planned and opened.  More directly, the game requires players to use their National Elements of Power (DIME-Diplomacy, Information, Military, and Economic) to exert influence throughout the globe.  In doing so, the game requires players to manage multiple different mechanisms of foreign relations.  This forces players to expand their thinking at the strategic level.  Military leaders playing must consider the diplomatic, economic and information alternatives, while other government officials playing the game must consider the military options as well.   This aspect of the game allows it to accomplish its objective of being an effective tool for strategy development and analysis, to test different courses of action, to determine potential U.S. national interests, and to explore potential outcomes of China’s trade expansion.  The OBOR-MG game is extremely versatile in its intended audience.  Indeed, it is a useful tool for not only military leaders and organizations but also civilian leaders to test and expand strategic plans as well as for students studying any of the countries and regions involved.

The game was built using lessons learned from past matrix games developed at the Center for Strategic Leadership at the U.S. Army War College.  COL Hall recognized the need for a matrix game revolving around China’s planned growth in order to better educate students and leaders on how the future can be handled.  Furthermore, he thought it was vital to include all aspects of the National Elements of Power, as had been done in previous matrix games, such as the South China Sea and Kaliningrad.

A new design element in this game comes in the form of each player having multiple chits (moves for each element of power) per turn.  This allows for a more accurate representation of each player countries’ strengths in individual fields.  For example, China begins the game with three economic chits, and one chit for Diplomacy, Military, and Information.  This is indicative of the enormous amount of investment China is dedicating to the development of trade routes in order to advance its growth.  The United States begins with two diplomacy, military, and economic chits, as well as one information chit.  This shows the fact that the United States has diplomatic and military power in the region, but is not investing as much as China.

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One of the trackers in OBOR-MG used to track open corridors.

OBOR-MG goes one step further in allowing each payer to play a chit in response to another player’s move, directly after the player makes the move.  This allows other players to modify the dice roll by opposing the action with their pieces and making the roll more difficult, or by supporting it and therefore lessening the required role.  By adding this facet to the game, COL Hall made OBOR-MG a more realistic test of foreign policy, as players must manage their elements of power in the most effective way possible and have the ability to respond to opponents’ actions in real time.  In the game’s development stages, COL Hall also refined the mechanism by which countries gain economic chits.  Emphasizing the economic value of the trade routes, countries through which the route travels, upon the route’s completion, increase the number of economic chits they receive at the beginning of each round.  Countries that invest in the routes but are not located along them receive an increase in influence in the region of their investment.  This aspect of the game’s development is vital, as it accurately recreates the incentive for competing powers to invest in spots that will not show immediate economic gains but will further their long term goals.

OBOR-MG was play-tested extensively by the Strategic Simulations Division at the Center for Strategic Leadership.  This play testing recognized the value of players’ ability to make multiple moves and respond to their opponents.  It also brought about minor changes in the numbers of chits given to each player at the start of the game.  For example, China’s economic chits at the start were reduced from four to three, and the United States’ was increased from one to two.  These small changes were made to make the game as reflective of the real world situation as possible.  The play testing also shed light on areas in which the game could expand due to players’ actions.  For example, the European Union and ASEAN can now develop military chits by working with other players or by establishing a military force through “big” actions – projects that may take multiple turns or chits to accomplish.  This rule allows for players to greatly expand the possibilities of what they can do, but in a way that reflects potential real-world developments.  With this ability, players are now more capable of testing potential strategies by different countries.

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Playtesting the game.

China’s “One Belt One Road” plan has the potential to drastically change the economic world and world power balance, if it is as successful as China expects it to be by 2050.  This game has the potential to provide the United States and its global partners a road map on how best to counter China, or how to join them.  COL Hall’s OBOR-MG provides a well-developed platform for leaders to test new strategies and for enterprising students to learn about the future of trade, power, and global politics.

Ryan Carragher

 

Simulation and gaming miscellany, 26 July 2017

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PAXsims is pleased to present some recent items on conflict simulation and serious (and not-so-serious) gaming that may be of interest to our readers—and we don’t care who you love, or what gender you identify as.

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The Strategy Bridge recently featured an article by MAJ GEN Charles A. Flynn and CAPT Lorenzo Ruiz entitled “Beyond Checkers and Chess: What Junior Leaders Can Do to Develop Strategic Thinking.”

To better explore the value of developing strategic understanding in junior leaders, this article explores flaws in strategic thinking by looking at the game of chess, a game of perfect information, a single objective, defined territory, and no regard for the state of the board after victory. Next, it looks at how the Chinese game of Wei Ch’i can offer solutions for framing a better way of thinking strategically: by focusing on positions of advantage, working with uncertainty, and linking efforts to achieve end-state conditions. Using the lessons of Wei Ch’i, we then look at how the U.S. Army’s operational variables can help us identify comparative advantages and how thinking with strategic empathy helps us understand adversaries and solve the right problems.[6] Finally, we discuss the importance of senior leaders in shaping the problem-solving skills of the next generation of strategic leaders.

The article also introduces formal, rational choice game theory as another lens through which to view strategic issues.

I don’t disagree with their main argument:

Chess may be good to sharpen the tactical mind, but strategy requires setting conditions beyond the battlefield, identifying comparative advantages by analyzing adversarial interactions, seeking positional advantage in the physical, informational, and electromagnetic environments, and contributing efforts to achieve political objectives. By recognizing what drives our adversaries’ actions we can more accurately apply diplomacy to keep the peace, but when required out think and outmaneuver enemies in times of war. We can use tools like the operational variables to identify conditions and interactions, the “Five Whys” to perform root-cause analysis ensuring we are solving the right problems, and game theory to improve our strategic empathy. The tacticization of strategy must be reversed. Junior leaders must start early and view their tactical actions with a strategic mind. These are just some suggestions that can help leaders at all levels avoid the strategic failures of our past.

However, while chess is a poor analogy for challenges of military strategy, I’m not sure that Wei Ch’i (Go) is much better—it may have more potential moves, but it also is a game of perfect information, devoid of the fog and friction of both wartime and peacetime strategic interaction. There is a reason, after all, why Clausewitz suggested that card games were the best parallel, given their uncertainty, imperfect information, and need to balance uncertain risk and opportunity.

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More fundamentally, however, it is important to get away from the rather frequent habit of trying to characterize national strategic characteristics through stereotypical national games.

Sure, it is easy and fun to do:

  • The Chinese play Go (and this explains their sneaky creation of islands encircling ever larger parts of the South China Sea)!
  • Middle Easterners play backgammon —which explains why ISIS builds its sanctuaries in far-away corners!
  • The British imported Chutes and Ladders (Snakes and Ladders) from India, and added to it some pious moralizing about British values, which is why PM Cameron gambled on an EU referendum and they’ve now fallen into the pit of Brexit!
  • Gonggi, a traditional Korean children’s game, involves throwing stones in the air—much like testing nuclear-capable ballistic missiles!
  • Russian matryoshka nesting dolls can collude perfectly!
  • Americans invented Monopoly, which tells you all you need to know about capitalist neoimperialism!

…except there is very little evidence that either game playing or national strategy varies in such simplistic ways. Indeed, the social science evidence is rather stronger that military officers play games rather like other military officers and rather unlike civilians, that youth may play differently than their elders, and that everyone plays differently if you reframe the game in different terms. Moreover, strategy is a multilevel game, wherein organizational process and domestic politics can be significant determinants of geopolitical behaviour.

PAXsims

At Foreign Policy, Paul McLeary reports on major NATO and Russian military exercises:

Tens of thousands of troops are on the move from the Baltic to the Black Sea, as NATO and Russia open up a series of massive military exercises the size of which the continent hasn’t seen since the Cold War.

Both sides claim the drills, which involve aircraft, warships, tanks and artillery, are purely defensive in nature. But it is clear the exercises are also meant to show off new capabilities and technologies, and display not only the strength of alliances, but how swiftly troops and heavy equipment can move to squash a threat at the frontier.

PAXsims

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Bury Me, My Love is a mobile game to be released on IOS and Android in September 2017 that depicts the challenges facing Syrian refugees:

Description

Bury me, my Love is a text-message-based game about Nour, a Syrian migrant trying to find her way to Europe. Her husband Majd remained in Syria; he will attempt, through a messaging app, to advise her as best he can so that she reaches her destination safely.

History

Bury me, my Love is a “reality-inspired game,” a documented fiction which draws inspiration directly from real-world events. The original idea stems from an article written by Le Monde.fr journalist Lucie Soullier that tells the story of Dana, a young Syrian woman who fled her country and is now living in Germany.

The article offers an insight into Syrian migrants journey through their use of WhatsApp. Indeed, cell phone has become a vital tool for Syrian trying to reach Europe, as it allows them to take useful pieces of advice and to be supported by their relatives. Thus, it appeared relevant to Florent Maurin, game designer and founder of The Pixel Hunt, to create a game that replicates the interface of a messaging app. In Bury me, my Love, you will have to help and support a Syrian migrant called Nour through text messages, emojis and even selfies.

Bury me, my Love is developed by The Pixel Hunt and Figs and co-produced by ARTE. Its story is co-written by Florent Maurin and journalist Pierre Corbinais (the creator of reference websites l’Oujevipo and Shake That Button), with the help of Dana and Lucie who are editorial consultants on the project. Thanks to these two women, Bury me, my Love can recreate the experience of a migrant woman on her way from Syria to Europe as realistically as possible.

“Bury me, my love” is an arabic expression meaning “Take care”, “Don’t even think about dying before I do”. You might say it to a loved one before going separate ways. That’s what Majd said to his wife Nour when she hit the road to Europe.

Drawing inspiration from real-time interactive fictions as well as the growing popularity of the WhatsApp messenger, Bury me, my Love is allowing the player to walk in Majd’s shoes. Armed only with his cell phone, Majd will have to support his loved one through some of the most difficult times of her life. How will he help Nour overcome the difficulties she encounters? He will be able to track her progress as she moves from one city to the next, and together they will have to make choices that could have dire consequences.

Bury me, my Love benefits from a financial help allowed by the Fonds d’Aide au Jeu Vidéo of the Centre National du Cinéma (the French Ministry of Culture’s national agency for moving images).

Bury me, my Love is a “reality-inspired game,” a documented fiction which draws inspiration directly from real-world events. The original idea stems from an article written by Le Monde.fr journalist Lucie Soullier that tells the story of Dana, a young Syrian woman who fled her country and is now living in Germany.

The article offers an insight into Syrian migrants journey through their use of WhatsApp. Indeed, cell phone has become a vital tool for Syrian trying to reach Europe, as it allows them to take useful pieces of advice and to be supported by their relatives. Thus, it appeared relevant to Florent Maurin, game designer and founder of The Pixel Hunt, to create a game that replicates the interface of a messaging app. In Bury me, my Love, you will have to help and support a Syrian migrant called Nour through text messages, emojis and even selfies.

Bury me, my Love is developed by The Pixel Hunt and Figs and co-produced by ARTE. Its story is co-written by Florent Maurin and journalist Pierre Corbinais (the creator of reference websites l’Oujevipo and Shake That Button), with the help of Dana and Lucie who are editorial consultants on the project. Thanks to these two women, Bury me, my Love can recreate the experience of a migrant woman on her way from Syria to Europe as realistically as possible.

“Bury me, my love” is an arabic expression meaning “Take care”, “Don’t even think about dying before I do”. You might say it to a loved one before going separate ways. That’s what Majd said to his wife Nour when she hit the road to Europe.

Drawing inspiration from real-time interactive fictions as well as the growing popularity of the WhatsApp messenger, Bury me, my Love is allowing the player to walk in Majd’s shoes. Armed only with his cell phone, Majd will have to support his loved one through some of the most difficult times of her life. How will he help Nour overcome the difficulties she encounters? He will be able to track her progress as she moves from one city to the next, and together they will have to make choices that could have dire consequences.

Bury me, my Love benefits from a financial help allowed by the Fonds d’Aide au Jeu Vidéo of the Centre National du Cinéma (the French Ministry of Culture’s national agency for moving images).

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PAXsims

On a somewhat similar note, the VRefugees project seeks to build empathy for the plight of refugees through virtual reality.

PAXsims

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JoLT (a collaboration between American University’s GameLab and School of Communication) has developed Factitiousa “Fake News” browser game, designed to test a player’s ability to distinguish real and false news stories.

PAXsims

The full programme for the October 2017 annual conference of the North American Simulation and Gaming Association (NASAGA) is now available.

PAXsims

The latest edition of the podcast Last Turn Madness discusses the recent Urban Nightmare: State of Chaos megagame with game designer Jim Wallman. Even if the zombie apocalypse isn’t your thing, the session offers plenty of insight into wide-area or distributed gaming, involving multiple, simultaneous linked game locations.

MORS wargaming workshop III

The Military Operations Research Society will be holding its third wargaming workshop on 17-19 October 2017 at the DoD’s Mark Center in Alexandria, Virginia.

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You’ll find additional details at the MORS website.


Note that access to the Mark Center by non-US nationals will require submission of a visit request well in advance of the event, even to attend the unclassified sessions. MORS is working on a process to streamline this, which will be announced closer to the date.

Since most embassies will only process visit paperwork for their citizens if they are on official business, non-Americans may be out of luck if they hope to attend in a private or academic capacity (whether or not one holds security clearances).

Taps: CAPT Todd Kauderer

Howard-Kauderer-1499764860.pngWith great regret we pause to note the passing of Todd Kauderer. Todd was a stalwart of the wargaming community, and a friend and mentor to many. He had a distinguished career in the United States Navy, as a civilian employee of the Department of Defense, and as one of the chief wargamers at the Johns Hopkins APL. Of all Todd’s many admirable qualities, one we will most miss was his boundless enthusiasm. Despite being an old hand, with a lustrous CV, he was always first in line to show a new recruit the ropes; always signing up for every new demo and half-baked idea. Todd was an inspiration in his vocation and his avocation. The middle of three generations of proud service to the U.S. military, he also spent his free time assembling one of the great 15mm scale miniature collections, and helping the rest of us be more accurate and more relevant. He gave his technical expertise and encyclopedic knowledge as generously as he could, and he never lost his love for the work. The last time I spoke to him he was still plotting what team might be assembled to steal the NIC wargaming contract from SAIC. His loss will be deeply felt.

http://www.navintpro.org/taps/2017/07/13/taps-todd-kauderer/

 

US AWC: Wargaming in the classroom poster

Wargaming in the Classroom Flyer V2.jpgAdditional details can be found here.

AFTERSHOCK in London

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Live in London (UK) and want to try out AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game? There’s now (or soon will be) a copy available to play at the Draughts Board Game Café.

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Simulation and gaming miscellany, July 4 edition

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Happy July 4th, American readers! To mark the occasion, PAXsims is pleased to bring you some recent items on conflict simulations and serious (and not-so-serious) gaming.

PAXsims

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Polygon recently featured a piece on “The art and craft of making board games for the CIA,” looking at the design work of Volko Ruhnke.

Featured in the piece are several pictures of Kingpin:

A good example of the kind of work that he does is a project called Kingpin: The Hunt for El Chapo, which he co-designed with another instructor in the Defense Intelligence Agency. Kingpin uses the historical details of the capture of Sinaloa drug cartel leader Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán as well as some fictional elements to create a challenging, asymmetrical game.

Kingpin is an adversarial game where one side plays the role of law enforcement and the other plays the role of Guzmán’s own handlers and associates. The goal is to teach analysts about the use of intelligence resources in tracking someone down.

The game revolves around hidden information, with each side playing on their own hidden game board behind a screen. El Chapo’s team is constantly moving around inside Mexico trying to evade the law, but the cartel leader has certain tastes and expectations. He’s not just willing to sit inside a hole somewhere and is interested in leading an active, social lifestyle. Law enforcement has to use that against him. In the classroom the game is played twice, with students taking turns playing on both sides of the table.

h/t Marc Guenette

PAXsims

Hans-Wolfgang Lodi (Heriot-Watt University) has started a LinkedIn group on “History & Games” to support efforts to use digital and board games in education and to bring together people interested in his work on the JominiEngine.

The JominiEngine is an emerging, distributed, scalable game engine for historical massive multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs). Core game and system design principles of this engine are historical accuracy of the game model and scalability of the system to large numbers of players. The intended application domain is education in history, to provide an “interactive history“ experience. Specifically, the engine has been instantiated to a concrete game, Overlord: Age of Magna Carta, a game set on mainland Britain in the time period of 1194-1225.

The implementation of the game engine focuses on modularity, extensibility and scalability, so that it can be instantiated for different time periods, and extended to also cover different application domains. We therefore view this game engine as a “motherboard“ for developing educational tools with varying topic areas and learning objectives. Technically outstanding features of the implementation are the use of Riak as a non-SQL database and of C# as a programming language.

You’ll find the group here.

In addition, on July 14 there will be an event on serious gaming in Edinburgh:

Where: Blackwells Bookshop Edinburgh South Bridge, 53-59 South Bridge
When: Friday 14th July, 2017 (5:30pm-9:00pm)
Web: http://www.macs.hw.ac.uk/~hwloidl/Projects/JominiEngine/workshop17.html

Learn about Serious Games and play some historical games to learn about history

The main goal of this event is to give an overview of the use of Serious Games in Education, in particular in the learning domain of history, and to experience some historical games through live gameplay sessions. This event aims to bring together various stakeholders and experts in education, game design, game development, and systems development, as well as anyone with a general interest in historical games. The format of the workshop will be: short, overview-style presentations and game demos to start with. The main part of the event will be several game-play events running in parallel to give participants an opportunity to try some games, and finally a discussion session reflecting on the experience from the game-play sessions. A list of games on offer will be posted here closer to the event.

This event is part of a longer-term effort in the development of a game engine, the JominiEngine as a practical teaching tool in the domain of history education. We hope to build a community of interested partners out of this workshop and solicit input for the further development of the engine and for the setting of priorities. For further information, check out the poster, the slides and the papers on the publications section of the main web page for the JominiEngine.

PAXsims

Frostpunk is forthcoming city-building survival sim from the 11 Bit Studio, the same people who brought us This War of Mine.

Rock Paper Shotgun offers a preview:

In the first week, we put the children to work. They weren’t forced into dangerous jobs, so we told ourselves, but when you’re living on the brink of extinction, what work is truly safe? One afternoon, a man collecting coal complained of numbness in his arm. Frostbite had taken hold. We could have left him to die but instead we opted for an experimental treatment.

He lost the arm and he’s no longer capable of contributing to our dying society. One more mouth to feed with no body of work beneath it. What should we do?

Though it’s a science fiction story, set in a frozen future barely capable of sustaining human life, it shares some of that previous title’s contemporary concerns. Climate change is the obvious one, this being a world undone by a dramatic temperature shift, but as you dig into the details, there are questions about equality, labour and the scarcity of natural resources that make the crater-town of Frostpunk an unhappy microcosm of just about every society you might choose to name.

It’s also an icy cocktail of cinematic and real world inspirations: the crash of Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 (filmed as Alive), Aron Ralston’s Utahmputation (filmed as 127 Hours) and Captain America and the railway children (filmed as Snowpiercer), among many others. There’s also a rich vein of Victoriana, but not simply in the [Blank]Punk sense; here there are shadows of the workhouse and Blake’s ‘weeping chimneysweep.’ The beating hea(r)t of the generator that keeps these people alive is also the new birth of an industrial age, and the factories and mines operate on blood and sweat.

Your job is not just to plan, it’s to inspire, or at least to ensure that hope doesn’t die out. It’s as vital to survival as the flames of the generator and how unusual it is to see Discontent and Hope listed as gauges of success. There are more conventional resources as well, particularly coal in the early stages, but you’re trying to support life rather than mere existence.

Frostpunk is a difficult game. Not in terms of the challenge it presents but in the way it is marrying two distinct genres and forcing bleak decision-making that is tied to its systems rather than its narrative. There is a story to uncover, which will presumably tell us something about how the world came to be as it is, and whether anything like a happy ending is possible. You can learn a little about the world beyond your crater by sending out expeditions, and through balloon-related observation, but the generator is home. And home is where the heart breaks.

h/t James Sterrett

PAXsims

According to Breaking Defence, US Pacific Command wants and additional $49 million “for “multi-domain battle exercises,” wargames testing a new Army-led concept for future warfare against high-tech adversaries.”

That’s Russia and China to rest of us.

h/t Mark Wallace

PAXsims

Back in May, before the British general election, New Statesman ran the Conservative Party manifesto through the politics simulation/game Democracy 3. You can find out the results here.

PAXsims

Apparently actual Nazis and white supremacists are upset at the portrayal of Nazis in the trailer for the forthcoming first-person shooter, Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus.

Awww.

PAXsims

On a final note, I’ll be spending next week discussing wargames with Her Majesty’s loyal subjects at the UK Defence Science and Technology Laboratory. The trip to Dstl provides a golden opportunity to show off the MaGCK (Matrix Game Construction Kit) prototype and to double the size of my Dstl Portsdown West mug collection.

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I’ll post a (suitably-vetted) report to PAXsims upon my return.

PAXsims

 

Gaming the apocalypse: Northland edition

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A few hours ago the world’s first ever “wide-area megagame” ended. Urban Nightmare: State of Chaos concerned a growing zombie apocalypse in a fictionalized United States. It involved some five hundred or so players in 11 cities in five different countries: London, Birmingham, Bristol, Cambridge, Leeds, Southampton (UK); Brussels (Belgium); Nijmegen (Netherlands); New York, Austin (US); and finally our small band in Montréal. The games were simultaneous (which meant a 6:30am start time for us) and linked (so what happened in one game affected the others). While subject wasn’t a serious one, many of the game design elements could certainly be applied to more serious topics.

While the rules were generally identical across games, there were a number of innovations in the “Northland” (Montréal) game, as befitted our status as the neighbouring country. Communications between games was by email and a centralized website for local and national news. Our own game had three components: a strategic game involving federal and provincial players, and two city/regional games, one depicting the Windsor/St. Catharines area (adjacent to Buffalo) and depicting the London/Windsor/Sarnia area (adjacent to Detroit or “Romero City”) .

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The peaceful streets of St. Catharines, Ontario, on the eve of the apocalypse.

The day started off with growing numbers of refugees from South of the Border arriving in Windsor and Niagara, as well as other areas on Ontario from Sault Ste-Marie to Cornwall.[1]

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In Ottawa, PM Trustin Judeau photogenically ponders the growing crisis.

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Windsor police—outside a Tim Hortons doughnut shop, of course.

Recognizing the gravity of the situation, the federal government immediately declared a nationwide state of emergency, which speeded the mobilization of federal and provincial assets. Prime Trustin Judeau was dispatched to London to cheer up hospital patients with smiling selfies.

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Trustin Judeau at London Health Sciences Centre.

In Niagara, local authorities quickly established a quarantine center and refugee camp. Newly-arrived refugees were screened and escorted to the camp, while zombie infestations were cordoned off until they could be dealt with.

In southwest Ontario, however, things quickly went from bad to worse. A light aircraft crashed at London airport, causing several casualties and closing it for more than 8 hours. Failure to screen arriving refugees led to several outbreaks, and other zombies started to float into coastal areas of Lake Erie. Local authorities were slower to establish cordons, which allowed the virus to spread. It didn’t help that conditions were equally bad, or even worse, in neighbouring Romero City (Detroit) and much of the rest of Mishigamaa (Michigan):

Mayor Mayhew tried to rally his troops:

Mayor Callum Mayhew, speaking at London City Hall today, praised municipal preparations to combat the zombie menace, and encouraged city workers to “hold your ground!”

The Mayor went on to say “Sons and daughters of London, of Windsor, my brothers/sisters, I see in your eyes the same fear that would take the heart of me. A day may come when the courage of men and women fails, when we forsake our friends and break all bonds of fellowship, but it is not this day.”

He added, “An hour of undead and shattered riot shields, when the Age of Persons comes crashing down, but it is not this day! This day we fight. By all that you hold dear on this good Earth, I bid you stand, municipal employees of southwest Ontario!”

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Floaters! Undead abominations wash up on the northern shores of Lake Erie. The Munsee-Delaware (marked by the symbol in zone #49), Chippewa, Oneida, and other First Nations would do an admirable job of keeping their areas zombie-free.

When a small group of survivalists arrived by boat near Owen Sound and proceeded to shoot up the Bruce nuclear generating station, Acting Prime Minister Aaron Brennan ordered the closure of Canadian airspace to civilian traffic, and deployed Coast Guard units and Ontario Provincial Police helicopters to Lakes Ontario, Erie and Huron to interdict unauthorized boats trying to enter the country.[2] the importance of doing so was highlighted the next day when a lake freighter docked in a Northland port—only to disgorge a cargo of zombified crewmen. Only a quick response by the Northland Armed Forces prevented disaster.

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PM Trustin Judeau confers with Ontario provincial officials in Toronto. To the northwest, a small group of foreign survivalists fleeing from South of the Border asserts its so-called “Second Amendment right to loot nuclear power stations.”

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A classified map from the Pentagon, obtained after the crisis. Areas have been coded 1-5 for severity. As can be seen, large areas of Mishigamaa have been marked as lost.

Infected refugees led to a zombie outbreak in Sault Ste-Marie, but this was quickly suppressed by the timely arrival of elite JTF2 special forces and 427 Special Operations Aviation Squadron, operating from Ottawa and NFB (Northland Forces Base) Petawawa. Other outbreaks occurred elsewhere from time to time, but were quickly dealt with.

Despite interdicting some would-be arrivals, Northland did not turn its back on its southern cousins. A refugee camp and quarantine site was established at the Cornwall, Ontario border crossing, in cooperation with the Northland Red Cross. This was opened to displaced persons of all nationalities. The Northland Public Health Agency contacted federal officials South of the Border, and offered their assistance with research—including a sample of the Pithovirus Sibericum B zombie virus that had been isolated by pathologists at the Niagara Health Services hospital.

Perhaps most important, as soon as the mechanized infantry of the 1e battalion, Royal 22e Régiment had formed up at NFB Valcartier they were ordered to the border south of Montréal. Northland then offered to deploy these forces to assist the state of Adirondack, which had suffered serious zombie infestations in Albany and elsewhere. It took a while for federal and state officials to sort out the necessary permissions and command protocols, but the Northland contingent was eventually dispatched to secure Plattsburgh and support efforts to liberate Albany.

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Northland Armed Forces units wait for a green light to assist local Adirondack officials across the border. The Cornwall Refugee Reception Centre can be seen to the west. Local OPP, SQ, and RNMP police units stand ready to screen new arrivals and escort them to the camp. Members of the Joint Incident Response Unit, based out of NFB Trenton, have established quarantine facilities there to prevent infections spreading among the refugees. (The misspelling of “Plattsburgh” was a cunning ruse to fool zombie cartographers. Given the absence of zombie maps after the crisis, it appears to have worked.)

At Owen Sound, an Ontario Ministry of Health HAZMAT team responded, and—working with local engineers—was able to seal a small breach at the Bruce NGS that had vented some radioactive steam. On two occasions aircraft ignored the closure of Northland airspace, and attempted to land anyway. On both occasions the government decided not to shoot them down. The first, landing in Ottawa, turned out to be a young family in a desperate search for safe refuge. The second, arriving at Pearson International Airport in Toronto, was a group of armed survivalists. They refused to surrender their weapons and opened fire on airport security personnel, but were soon brought under control by reservists from the 48th Highlanders and Royal Regiment of Northland. The airport was closed for several hours as a result of this incident.

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Infected refugees lead to a zombie outbreak in Kitchener, Ontario—but it is soon dealt with by reservists from the Royal Highland Fusiliers. To the east, a large concentration of refugees can be seen at the Toronto Refugee Reception Centre, guarded by an OPP SWAT team. At the top left an Ontario Ministry of Health HAZMAT team checks radiation levels at the Bruce nuclear power plant, following the incident with survivalists there.

Meanwhile in southwest Ontario, increasingly concerned municipal authorities took the drastic decision to have firefighters to refill their tankers with gasoline from the Sarnia refinery, and turn this on the undead hordes.

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The London Fire Department warily try their new weapon, as Mayor Mayhew and Chief Islam look on approvingly.

This worked about as well as one might expect: a few hordes were singed, several firefighter units suffered serious casualties, and a lot more fires erupted—including one at the Sarnia refinery. This promptly exploded, causing a fireball and column of smoke that could be seen in neighbouring Mishigamaa. Mass panic gripped the city.

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Grrrr, arghhh

In Windsor, all seemed lost. Large numbers of refugees had gathered here from Romero City, their onward route to Toronto blocked by the zombie packs that prowled large sections of Highway 401.[3] Police units had become cut off. Small children cried as undead abominations crept ever closer. Although loud Nickelback music[4] succeeded in driving back the zombies in some areas, it was only a matter of time before Windsor was completely overrun.

Then they heard it. First came a series of loud explosions, as CF-18s of 425 Tactical Fighter Squadron began airstrikes on the largest concentrations of animated abominations. This was then followed by the dull thud of helicopters in the distance. Led personally by General Daryl Cartier, Chief of the Defence Staff, Direct Action Company A of the Northland Special Operations Regiment and 450 Tactical Helicopter Squadron undertook an airmobile assault to secure Windsor airport. Soon thereafter, the remainder of the regiment arrived, transported by CH-130s of 436 Transport Squadron.[5] They quickly took control of area and started to push back the undead.

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General Cartier looks on as reinforcements arrive to secure Windsor, Ontario.

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Pretty much everything in Sarnia is on fire (left) and airmobile Northland special forces secure Windsor (right).

In London, advance elements of Royal Northland Dragoons and Royal Northland Regiment started to arrive in the city, supported by reservists from 31 and 32 Brigade. As municipal police, fire, and reserve military forces (notably from the locally-based Windsor Regiment, Essex and Kent Scottish, and 1st Hussars) formed a cordon around the largest outbreaks, heavily armed regular troops began the counterattack. Additional mechanized infantry forces, this time from 2e battalion, Royal 22e Régiment, arrived a few hours later and began to push down the 401. Drawing upon the benefits of international research collaboration, a HAZMAT team from the Northland Public Health Agency began field trials of a new cure for the zombie virus. The early results were encouraging.

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The NPHA mobile lab deploys the experimental cure as the Mayor looks on (or, perhaps, at the fire down the road).

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A convoy of Vandoos advances down the 401 from London to Windsor, escorted by local police

It came not a moment too soon. NORAD and the Pentagon urgently informed the Northland government that Russian Tu-95 Bear and Tu-160 Blackjack nuclear-armed bombers were airborne, and might be headed southwards. All aircraft were re-tasked to intercept. In a tense call over secure communications, the Deputy Prime Minister and Chief of the Defence Staff agreed: the order would be given to engage any hostile armed aircraft entering Northland airspace…

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CF-18s of the Royal Northland Air Force streak northwards to intercept possible Russian bombers, “loaded for Bear”…


Reflections

We had far fewer players than we had initially planned for. A 6:30 am start on a national holiday (July 1 is Canada Day) is, it seems, a hard sell. However, everything went very well indeed. There were some communications issues—the central news website wasn’t always available due to server bandwidth problems (I couldn’t access it three-quarters of the time), and the email system could have functioned better. Busy players probably meant that not all of the information that could have flowed between games did flow between games. However, it was the apocalypse, so what do you expect?

Our small group had an absolutely terrific time. Unlike the other UNSOC sessions we had no elections subgame, but rather a competition to earn smug self-righteousness cards (“Smuggies”). Mayor Jano Bourgeois of Niagara and Acting Prime Minister Aaron Brennan were tied at the end, and so shared the trophy for the most outstandingly nice Northlander.

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Mayor Bourgeois (left) and Acting PM Brennon (right).

However a dispute erupted when the Mayor discovered one more Smuggy which he had forgotten about. The issue was resolved with a traditional hockey brawl, and then everyone made nice again and finished off the Timbits.

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Federal and municipal officials discuss the recent crisis.

I was very happy with the way that our Northland modifications (zonal maps, refugees) worked. Indeed, in addition to being a lot of fun, it had the real feel of an emergency management game. I might even use a modified version of UNSOC: Northland in my teaching on humanitarian crisis response next academic year.

The tokens and stickers we used for units were based on the MaGCK system that Tom Fisher, Tom Mouat and I are developing. The stickers are removable, so all the tokens can be reused.  It took maybe two hours to print and assemble 200 components. Total cost: probably $10 or so for the printing. While we’ve designed MaGCK for matrix gaming, it clear has some megagame applications too!

 

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WAMCOM Kevin Farnworth (left).

Particular gratitude is due to my CONTROL team counterparts, Tom Fisher (who ran not one but two city maps simultaneously) and Kevin Farnworth (who served both as WAMCOM, interacting with the other games, and as the Northland press). Of course, none of this would have been possible at all without the megagame design and organization skills of mad genius Jim Wallman, who put the wide-area megagame together.

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City CONTROL, Tom Fisher. Note the relative calm in Niagara/St. Catharines (foreground) as local police, reservists from the Lincoln and Welland Regiment, and a Northland Border Services Agency K9 unit meet refugees crossing the Niagara River, preparing to escort them to the nearby refugee camp and quarantine centre. A SWAT team patrols the Queen Elizabeth Way. Meanwhile, firefighters deal with a small fire east of Welland, while St. Catharines police respond to a robbery in progress.

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The heroes of Northland.


Notes

[1] Refugees were a major component of the Northland game. They could be regular refugees, armed survivalists (prone to looting), or infected (who might turn into zombies). Police and military units could screen these and escort them, otherwise they would all slowly head towards Toronto or Montréal. Refugee camps could be established to hold them, and these could be upgraded with security and medical quarantine facilities.

[2] In the Northland game, the flow of refugees could be slowed by interdiction efforts in the air and by the use of Coast Guard and other assets on the Great Lakes.

[3] While most of the UNSOC games used a hex grid, we used zonal maps overlaid on Google Map images. The various major highways provided a much faster route than the city streets or rural roads. Also, our London/Windsor/Sarnia map was on a larger scale than others, with movement allowances scaled accordingly.

[4] Among other Northland-specific special action cards, our game featured Tim Hortons, support from First Nations communities, an emergency telephone conversation with the Queen, polite neighbours, the War of 1812, and local hockey teams with protective gear and sharpened zombie-killing hockey sticks.

[5] The Order of Battle in the Northland game accurately mirrored the actual deployment of the Canadian Armed Forces, with every single combat unit in 2 Mechanized Brigade Group, 5e Groupe-brigade mécanisé, 31, 32, 33, 34, and 35 (reserve) Brigade Groups, and the 1st, 3rd, and 8th Wings of 1 Air Division represented at the Company or Squadron scale. Representation of Royal Northland Mounted Police, Ontario Provincial Police, and the Sûreté du Québec generally reflected their actual deployment and organization too.

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