PAXsims

Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Monthly Archives: August 2017

Dire Straits live at KCL on September 5!

…not Dire Straits the iconic 1970s/80s/90s UK rock band, that is—but rather, Dire Straits the megagame of East/Southeast Asian crisis stability.

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Approximately 100 participants will spend much of the day examining a series of near-future (2020) challenges—North Korean nuclear weapons development, cyberattacks and an election scandal in Taiwan, conflicting maritime claims in the South China Sea, disputed areas of Chinese-Indian border—in the context of growing Chinese strategic power, and an unpredictable and uncertain US administration.

How the US would respond in a major crisis is unclear, given both the unpredictability of the President and uncertainty within the US political system. Although cleared of any direct collusion with Russia by the Special Counsel investigation, a few Trump associates were indicted for lesser offences. This, coupled with political reversals in the 2018 Congressional midterm elections and several major policy missteps, has left the Trump Administration politically weak. President Trump faces opposition within his own party to his re-nomination for the November 2020 election, an issue that will only be resolved at the Republican national convention this summer. His main Republican Challenger has accused him of failing to deliver a resolute defence of US national interests, while the current Democratic Frontrunner has warned that desperation might lead the Administration to adopt a more reckless foreign policy.

Jim Wallman and I are designing the game, and we have an elite Control group ready to make it all that emergent game play magic work. We’ve even brought in an outside SWAT team  of experienced megagamers and former McGill students to play the role of Connections Global News. If you’re not attending Connections UK, we’ll let you know how it all went!

MaGCK launches soon at Connections UK

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MaGCK—the Matrix Game Construction Kit—will officially launch on September 5 at the Connections UK 2017 professional wargaming conference at King’s College London. As soon as it does, we’ll update the MaGCK page here at PAXsims with a link to the order page at The Game Crafter. It all looks excellent, thanks to the graphic artistry of our very own Tom Fisher.

As an added surprise, we will also be publishing our very first MaGCK supplement at the same time—a set of estimated probability cards. These come in seven suits, indicating probabilities of 0/10/30/50/70/90/100%. They can be used in matrix game adjudication, or in pretty much any other context where you want to quickly poll a small group for their assessment of the likelihood of an outcome. They are certainly the perfect geeky stocking-stuffer gift for the methodologically-rigorous intelligence analyst in your life!

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Many thanks are due to the wargaming team at Dstl (the UK MoD Defence Science and Technology Laboratory) for supporting the development of MaGCK.

Review: Modern Crises Scenarios for Matrix Wargames

John Curry and Tim Price, Modern Crises Scenarios for Matrix WargamesHistory of Wargaming Project, 2017. 126pp.  £13.95

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This volume—by the ever-prolific John Curry of the History of Wargaming Project, and the always-elusive “Tim Price,” international man of mystery—offers several modern-era scenarios suitable for matrix games. Following a brief introduction to the matrix game method, the scenarios included in the volume are:

  • Baltic Challenge (NATO-Russian posturing in the Baltic Sea)
  • Mare Nostrum (NATO-Russian posturing in the Black Sea and eastern Mediterranean)
  • Nine Dash Line (incidents in the South China Sea)
  • Election in Centralia (an election in a “fictional” developed country with a two-party democracy featuring a with a bicameral legislature, a presidential system with an electoral college, and subject to Russian cyber-meddling…)
  • DPRK (conflict on the Korean Peninsula)
  • De Valera’s War (Irish neutrality during WWII)

In each case a scenario overview and background is provided, together with briefings for each player. Sample counters (available for download) are also provided.

Altogether this is a useful example of the many ways that matrix games can be used to explore complex conflicts. The scenarios would also all work great with MaGCK: The Matrix Game Construction Kit, which will be formally unveiled at Connections UK 2017—just a week and a half from now!

Request for submissions: The Commandant’s gaming list

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From LIFE magazine (1915): “Group of English gentlemen and soldiers of the 25th London Cyclist Regiment playing the newest form of wargame strategy simulation called “Bellum” at the regimental HQ.”

Leaders of many institutions have produced “Reading Lists” of great books for students and workers to gain insights and understanding into the situations portrayed. They are also put forward to illustrate the values and ethos of the organisation to subordinates and employees alike.

A (very comprehensive) example for the US Marine Corps is here.

The idea of this survey is to generate a “Games List“, recommended by military, government and academic professionals, for exactly the same purpose. In addition, it is to intended educate participants about the value of games.

This is not just restricted to historical subjects. Allegorical, fantasy, abstract and science-fiction game subjects are often extremely useful in illustrating specific things – so don’t rule out space or zombie games – after all the Commandant of the US Marine Corps (CMC) recommends Starship Troopers and, in the past, World War Z to students.

Please don’t limit yourself to board games, there are extremely useful PC games as well (the CMC currently recommends the book Ready Player One, about a computer game).

The intention will be to publish the list on the PAXsims blog to be shared in the community.

You can complete the survey as many times as you like, but for only one game title each time.

Finally, and most importantly, please don’t just recommend your favourite game. It needs to be a game that has something to say about that particular conflict or serves to illustrate particular values of the organisation or insights about the participants.

The questions you’ll be asked are:

  • What is the name of the game?
  • Where can I get a copy?
  • What period or type of game does the game represent?
  • What sorts of insights and understanding should they get from the game?
  • Do you have any other comments about the game? (optional)
  • Contact Details (optional)

The survey is here (click image below):

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The average time for completion is less than 3 minutes.

We will vet your submissions ruthlessly. Games needing many participants, or degrees in history, statistics and English literature, or taking days to complete are unlikely to be useful. Games that are 2-player, easy to pick up and understand, and playable in an hour or so are more likely to be viewed more favourably. Therefore, Advanced Squad Leader and Twilight Imperium (with the Shattered Empire expansion for 8 players) probably don’t need to be included…

Tom Mouat 

AFTERSHOCK review at GrogHeads

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At GrogHeads, Brant Guillory takes a look at AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game.

The first tremors hit Carana around 415 in the morning, local time. The capital was just stirring as many laborers were hurrying through their pre-dawn meals before shuffling out of their small houses to arrive at work by sunrise. The full brunt of the earthquake arrive 20 minutes or so later, and the devastation was described by at least one news outlet as “biblical.” The nations tenuous infrastructure, barely a patchwork to begin with, had no chance against the fury unleashed by the Earth’s shifting tectonic plates as bridges crumbled, roads buckled, water pipes tore apart like paper, and the electrical grid shut down, ending any communication that was out of shouting distance.

Help was slow in arriving. Certainly the help wanted to arrive, but the routes into the country – the limited airport, the ramshackle seaport, and inland border – were never ideal under perfect circumstances, and these were not perfect circumstances. The local population certainly had a will to survive, but lacked critical supplies for medical care, safe water, and food & shelter. The world mobilized to help.

And the help began to arrive, a multi-headed hydra of organizations, services, expertise, and agendas. Usually cooperative, occasionally antagonistic, and always under the steady gaze of the worlds’ TV cameras, the various organizations rolled up their sleeves to start the long, hard slog of restoring the basic necessities of life to Carana….

You’ll find the full piece here.

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If you want to see the game in action, I’ll be running a game at Peace Direct (in London UK) on September 4,  and another at the Connections UK professional wargaming conference on September 5 (during the “informal games session” after dinner). AFTERSHOCK also be a featured game at the MORS Worgaming Workshop III.

A listing of forthcoming demonstration and participation games can be found here.

If the game is sold out at The Game Crafter, try again a few weeks later. They are a print-on-demand publisher, and occasionally run out of components.

Workshop on “simulated peacebuilding”

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I’m happy to announce that I’ll be conducting a small workshop on “simulated peacebuilding: an introduction to serious games for education, training, and policy analysis” in London (UK) on 4 September 2017. The event is being organized by Peace Direct.

Peace Direct is delighted to host a workshop on “simulated peacebuilding”, with Professor Rex Brynen on 4 September 2017.

Rex Brynen is Professor of Political Science at McGill University, specializing in peacebuilding, strategic analysis, and Middle East politics. He is also senior editor of the conflict simulation/peacebuilding website PAXsims (http://www.paxsims.org), and designer of AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game.

“Simulated Peacebuilding” – presentation and discussion: 16.00 – 17.00.

There will be a one-hour presentation and discussion on the role of games in peacebuilding education, training, and policy analysis (16.00 – 17.00).

AFTERSHOCK demonstration: 17.00 – 19.30

After the presentation and discussion, Rex will lead a demonstration of AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game. AFTERSHOCK is a boardgame that explores the interagency cooperation needed to address the emergency and early recovery phase of a complex humanitarian crisis.

Spaces are strictly limited so registration is required. Please email Ruairi Nolan if you are interested in attending: Ruairi.nolan@peacedirect.org

Please confirm if you wish to attend the presentation only, or both the presentation and demonstration. (Spaces for the demonstration are limited to a maximum of 12 people).

The workshop will take place at Peace Direct’s office in London.

Full details can be found here.

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Peace Direct, First Floor, 1 King Edward’s Road, London, E9 7SF

Connections 2017 AAR

By Major Tom Mouat (UK Army). All views expressed herein are personal ones.


 

This year saw a welcome return of the Connections wargaming conference to the US Marine Corps base at Quantico, Virginia. The event took place in the General Alfred M. Gray Marine Corps Research Center Conference Wing—really excellent facilities, and great on-base administration. The Connections website can be found here, and the 2017 programme is here.

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Sadly, the restrictions and increased security, while less onerous than attempting to get to Maxwell Airforce Base last year, were still a significant hurdle preventing at least two European delegates from attending. Fortunately for me, the excellent support from the British Embassy and the admin staff at my home base meant the necessary paperwork was completed in time. I was also slightly alarmed to find that my NATO travel order was not sufficient alone to get me through US Customs any more, but I had to have a valid passport as well (last year I travelled without my passport because I packed my wife’s passport by mistake). Good to know in future.

I elected to travel over the weekend in order to make use of budget air fares and to recover a little from jetlag – but also to visit the simply excellent National Museum of the Marine Corps nearby. This is an extremely good museum, with free entry and is expanding every year.

This year’s theme at Connections was advancing wargaming and analysis as distinct yet complimentary tools.

Day 1

Following the usual admin and safety stuff, this started with a Wargaming 101 from Matt Caffrey. Every time Matt gives his “Wargaming 101” brief it is new and different, tailored to the conference theme and full of useful information, along with some of the old faithful points that are well worth repeating (such as: “Wargaming as a way of training allows people to practice their decision-making in a safe-to-fail environment, creating “Virtual Veterans” in their profession”).

This year took a slightly more focussed look at the analysis elements, covering Defence Secretary Robert McNamara’s drive for a “bigger bang for our buck”, General Wallace in Iraq and even President Ronald Regan’s admission that he found wargaming “useful”. He also mentioned an excellent quote that I shall steal and re-use: “Wargaming is like a powerful drug; used wisely it can do great good, but it can also do great harm”. He stressed the importance of using wargaming to communicate and clarify input on alternative resource allocations as well as a powerful tool for organisational development.

One of the most useful explanations for me, as a foreigner, was his simple explanation of the US Defence Planning Systems wargames. This helped clarify slides which I had seen in the past, but were simply covered with meaningless three and four-letter acronyms (JOPES? PPBS? JSPS?).

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He also covered the wargaming cycle, but this time with an emphasis on the need for evidence and understanding of concepts with which to inform investment decisions for future investment. Finally, he covered the area of “confidence in wargames” and prediction. Wargames are seldom spot-on in their predictions, but if the wargame was properly designed they are mostly close enough to have practical utility– but badly designed games (such as where the sponsor has insisted they want a “wargame to prove I need more of a specific thing”); can generate wrong or misleading results. The principal elements that affect confidence in the outcomes are those games are dealing with “wicked problems”, as well as in the quality of planning leading up to a game and execution of the game itself.

Effective use of games can help us make more effective decisions, secure funds and better prepare today’s and tomorrow’s leaders.” Matt Caffrey 2017.

This was followed by two seminar sessions on one of three topics:

  • Wargaming in Professional Military Education Roundtable.
  • The Marine Corps Gazette Tactical Decision Games.
  • Confrontation Analysis.

Sadly, I was unable to attend the roundtable session as I was really interested in the other two sessions. The Marine Corps Tactical Decision Games have always fascinated me. I am also interested in the relatively new field of Confrontation Analysis, as I have attended a couple of games using this method.

Tactical Decision Games (TDGs) are tactical scenarios presented in text format with a map, presenting some background and a tactical dilemma/predicament. They are intended to allow users to practice decision-making and explore tactical principles. They were first included in Lt Col John F Schmidt’s “Enemy over the Bridge” scenario in the Marine Corps Gazette (April 1990), and have been included to a greater or lesser degree ever since.

The archive of TDGs are here,  but you need to be a member of the Marine Corps Association and Foundation ($35 pa) to read some of the older editions.

Colonel Chris Woodbridge (Ret), the current editor of the Gazette, explained that the TDG was in essence a “single turn wargame”. The intention of including these games in the Marine Corps Gazette was to cover a number of things:

  • What does “manoeuvre warfare” look like on the ground?
  • How do we teach it in a practical manner?
  • Cognitive skills.
  • Promote discussion of warfighting experience.
  • Practice decision-making under time pressure.

They work best under time constraints and in front of peers (with the worry about public embarrassment providing a real incentive). They also work best in force-on force scenarios rather than in the qualitative nuances of “people’s war”. He also mentioned a book (including many of the solutions to the problems) called Mastering Tactics published in 1994. There was a lot of interest in a book of these problems from those present, rather than using the website, and it is possible that additional volumes could be produced in the future. Additional plans include improving the user interface for those wishing to submit solutions (currently it has a PowerPoint file with tactical graphics in it as well as a “guidebook” with a summary of Battalion weapons, ORBAT and map graphics).

Some of these TDGs are a little difficult for the non-Marine to understand with their abbreviations and non-NATO symbology, but several of my friends have found it useful to have a selected few examples in their pockets for down-time on the range or while stuck in inevitable transport delays. They get people thinking, especially because they are deliberately dilemmas, rather than leading to an obvious solution, and so provoke debate.

Confrontation Analysis is an operational analysis technique used to structure, understand and think through multi-party interactions such as negotiations. It is the underpinning mathematical basis of drama theory.

As John Curry, editor of the History of Wargaming Project, explained the essence of the game is to identify dilemmas between the various actors in a confrontation and then propose alternative options to help explore ways to mitigate these dilemmas. The game evolves over time in a structured way with these additional options and stated positions of the parties.

There is a lot of material available on confrontation analysis, as a simple Google search will reveal – much of it dense and hideously complex. This Wikipedia article provides an overview.

The UK DSTL analyst, Mike Young, has been a leading proponent of confrontation analysis and has recently published The Confrontation Analysis Handbook: How to Resolve Confrontations by Eliminating Dilemmas. There is also a written submission to the UK Defence Committee available on “How to Understand, Plan, and Forecast Future Politics: Evidence to Support the use of Role Playing Workshops using Confrontation Analysis.

I have found that while this is a very useful technique, it has considerable cognitive barriers to initial understanding as part of a wargame. This hurdle was a real problem in the few games I was part of several years ago, and probably contributed to its remaining below the radar since then. This was swiftly identified by the audience and it was freely admitted by John that further work was needed in this area. The book publication is an attempt to make the game technique more accessible and the spreadsheet tool used is available for free download with it.

I don’t think John managed to make the explanation of the technique “clear and simple”, but he certainly managed to draw attention to what is potentially another tool in the Pol/Mil strategy toolkit. Personally, I feel that if you thought that matrix games need an experienced facilitator, confrontation analysis will probably need a real expert…

Following lunch, we travelled over to the Breckinridge Hall for some wargame demonstrations, poster sessions and facilitated events (although the only poster was one for the Matrix Game Construction Kit.

Wargame Demonstrations

I decided this year to take a different game design with me (as a change from taking a matrix game). The game was Bomber!, an educational game designed to promote discussion about military bombing, asymmetric warfare, political ideals, deception and ethical/humanitarian behaviour.

C2017bThe game was specifically designed for education and to promote discussion in the classroom and, while it was intended for use in the UK MOD Air Warfare Centre, it has had the most use at the Westminster University, Politics Department in central London.

The game ran very well with most of the discussion points coming out easily (and with such an audience I would expect that). The asymmetrical nature of the game was appreciated, although the “Advanced Western Side” caught on quickly about what was happening and managed to secure a rare victory in what was a deliberately imbalanced scenario.

The experience participants also came up with really useful additions to the game, which I have incorporated.

All the material for the game is available here.

There was a wide variety of games going on and nice to see Victory Games putting on a stand (and having a game about my favourite episode in history – the exploits of General Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck, the “Lion of Africa”, in German East Africa).

Of particular interest to me was a game put on by Maj Abe Goepfert from the US Army College Strategic Simulations Division, at Carlisle Barracks. This was a matrix game about the South China Sea. What was especially fascinating was that it had been developed quite independently from the game of the area that I had designed (the Nine Dash Line), and had removed much of the unnecessary additional features that I felt had marred an earlier game designed by the Army War College on the Baltic least year. The game was almost identical to my design (save for having a role for Indonesia, rather than Taiwan) despite being developed independently, which said to me that the matrix game system has matured to a point where it can be run without specialist prior experience. It was also successfully run with over 300 players in 23 simultaneous games!

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My demonstration was over quite quickly and I was able to sit down with personnel from the National Guard Bureau, Joint Training and Exercise Division. This is an example of where attendance at conferences like Connections can be so valuable. They grilled me for well over an hour about my experiences of running and designing Matrix Games and I hope I was able to let them have some free “consultancy” about the subject (this being 50% of my role in the UK). I also got the chance to sketch out a design for Earthquake! A natural disaster matrix game that I hope to be able to share on PAXsims at a later date.

Day 2

Day 2 kicked off with a short presentation by Bill Lademan about the future plans for the MSMC Wargaming Division. He was concerned about the apparent divide between OA and Wargaming (hence this year’s theme) and wanted to outline plans for the new Wargaming Centre and the home of the Marine Corps. This was to be a $150-170M investment, but there was some considerable work to be done in planning to ensure that they get exactly what they want.

The purpose of the Wargaming Centre is to:

  • Carry out wargaming at Secret and above.
  • Inform budget decisions.
  • Ensure interoperability.
  • Help with the demand signal for wargaming.
  • Help the next generation of innovation.

The development certainly looks exciting and I was particularly interested in an effort to add support tools for what is essentially a manual process. There would be electronic and computerised support – but the wargames themselves would be very much human-centred and involve open “white box” processes. This was levied with a concern about technology overload and they plan a 3-year series of experiments before they actually start building anything.

Keynote Address – Peter Perla

This keynote was billed as Peter’s retirement address as, while he still wishes to remain engaged with wargaming, Peter is finally retiring (again) from his day job. Before Peter was allowed to step up to the podium, however, he was presented with a “Lifetime Achievement Award”, which turned out to be a banana (with much mirth and hilarity) since the trophy had yet to arrive. (The banana was replaced later in the conference with the formal trophy, a large chess piece – a Knight – mounted on a plinth). This was closely followed be a surprise video message from the Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral John M Richardson, thanking Peter for his service and contribution.

Peter’s address covered a wide range of topics taking as its theme a conversation with John Curry about “magic predictive wargames” as well as the Conference theme about Wargaming and analysis. He started with an early conversation he had with Trevor Dupuy about the usefulness of wargaming for prediction, where Dupuy point out that “if wargaming was useless for prediction, what was the point of doing it?”

This led to quoting Barney Ruble of NWC’s Center for Naval Warfare Studies that Wargames are indicative and that they “speak to us in whispers about potentials” and, of course, Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s book on Black Swans. What do we mean by prediction? How can anything be incapable of prediction? Ed McGrady’s point about the differences between “precision” (meaning consistency) and “accuracy” (meaning how close to being right) was also mentioned because games tend to be more accurate than precise…

coinAnother point, well made, was the consideration of the “sample” space being examined, such as taking the toss of a coin. You might be tempted to think there were only two alternatives, heads or tails, with a 50% chance of each; but in fact, there is about a 1 in 6000 chance of it landing on its edge.  (and with the new chunky British £1 coin a much larger chance I would imagine).

Game do not predict the future, humans do and, as Roger Mason is credited with saying “They narrow the set of possible futures and the value is narrowing that set of possible outcomes.”

Peter’s presentation (here) was excellent—any presentation with pictures of the PAXsims team in it gets my vote—and I look forward to seeing the slides (and stealing many of them) in due course!

This was followed by the Defence Wargaming Panel, with Drs Ed McGrady, Jon Compton, and Margaret McCown. This panel was also very good, avoiding the expected wiring diagrams and organisational backgrounds, and instead covering useful things like the games used for many purposes within the Defense Community. Of special note was the Office of Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation (CAPE) Strategic Analysis and Gaming Division (also known as the “Buck Rogers Committee”), where gaming had to have defendable results. This usually means that they are always well researched and result in a series of games (usually 8) in order to generate robust results (but take a long time and are expensive).

Ed McGrady made some very good points about the need to build a community of Wargaming to get better results for the future. The danger of a lack of consistency and skill, and the particular danger of hiring retired senior officers with an axe to grind. He also highlighted the problems with a fascination with technology, and pointed out that a good story is the best and most powerful tool.

Next up was the Game Lab with three possible options:

  • Introduction to Wargaming with Joe Saur
  • Advanced Naval Wargame Design with Paul Vebber.
  • “Gamers’ Circle” (similar to a “Writers’ Circle”) Wargame Design Workshop.

I elected to go to the “Gamers’ Circle” as I wanted to be able to get a look at a number of different ideas, despite my interest in both of the other topics. In this session, we took a look at games to examine Artificial Intelligence with Dr Yuna Wong, a policy researcher at RAND and professor at the Pardee RAND Graduate School. Following the inevitable discussion as to the real nature of what we mean by AI (e.g. “actual AI” involving some form of emergent neural networks as opposed to merely complex “If, Then, Else” process systems) and a nice set of comments on the ethics of having useful “Bright Slave” computers and opposed highly dangerous “Moriarty Class” AIs; we set to generating a list of possible uses of AIs for Defence purposes.

Yuna wanted to follow a proper methodology to examine the problem, but time was against us, so we forged ahead as best we could under her guidance and came up with the items below:

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This discussion really did demonstrate the value of a diverse set of participants (including civilians) as there was clear evidence of “group think” from the military taking part. The idea of internet based-AI and “AI in a box” that you take to a problem to plug it in for analysis purposes (such as a city power grid) was something very different to the sort of discussions I have been involved with in the past.

I really liked the idea of “Route Proving AI” – mixing driverless cars with the Husky vehicle mounted mine detection system.

With the help of others, I was able to come up with a “one-shot” (non-repeatable to the same audience) game that could be useful in the classroom for discussing AI and Cyber-related topics. I also hope to be able to share this with PAXsims shortly.

This was followed by the Commercial Wargaming Panel, with Dr Web Ewell, Dr Chris Cummins, Uwe Eickert and Dr James Sterrett. Commercial wargames can be seen as “part-task trainers for professional wargames” and I also enjoyed this panel (although, again, I did not expect to) with insights into morale coming from the miniatures community, and call to arms from Uwe for simple, approachable rules (with no “rule exceptions”), engaging mechanics, with little or no “waiting time”; and attractive, easy to handle, components. With regard to the use of computer games for Defense, there was the admission that 90% were crap and of the 10%, 90% of those had nothing readily relevant for defense.

Games mentioned of note were: Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear! (board game), Supply Lines of the American Revolution: The Northern Theater (board game) and Burden of Command (tactical leadership PC game).

This was followed by Wargame Playtesting (and pizza!) in Breckenridge Hall.

Day 3

This started with the International Panel with Scott Chambers, Hans Steensma, John Curry, Dr Hiro Akutsu and myself. John Curry gave a very good presentation, living up to his admission to being controversial (there was much I agreed with and much I didn’t – but it was good to provoke debate), Dr Akutsu gave a presentation about the high level games (definitely not using the word “war”) taking place in Japan. He also gave the best (and most succinct) answer to a leading question about “Whether Japan is gaming the possible options with relation to the leadership or military organisation of the Democratic People Republic of Korea”:  “Yes”.

This was followed by Dr Norman Friedman presenting on the US Navy Wargaming in the Inter-War Period. This was a fascinating presentation which highlighted the difficulties with academic understanding of wargaming, where games were themselves very difficult to preserve, as opposed to papers which were easy; giving rise to a dearth of actual Wargaming material, submerged in a sea of paper articles. He pointed out the importance of Newport being a “safe to fail” environment with “Chatham House rules” and effective security. This was an organisation where the teaching was conducted with everyone together (the instructors were mainly the same rank as the students), teaching them how to think against opposition and the students themselves were researchers into the problems being studied.

Some failures were highlighted, such as the understand of the role of fanatical bravery (Kamikaze), political factors largely left out and important economic factors being ignored. There were particular successes, such as the experiments to increase existing carrier capacity, carriers designed to be repaired, circular cruiser formations, the pipeline for replacement pilot training as well as the need for amphibious and ASW capabilities.

Next was a talk from Matt Caffrey on Wargaming Impacts.  His central theme was the question of whether wargaming provides an “edge” in warfighting. He illustrated his talk with comments on the Wars of German Unification, better quality wargaming and in greater depth, after WW1 and the decrease in Wargaming following WW2. His talk was illustrated with a number of good anecdotes, but I fear this was not the compelling evidence needed for the operational analysts in the audience.

We then had Keynote 2 with Dr John Hanley on the topic of Advancing Wargaming and Analysis as Distinct yet Complimentary Tools. This was an interesting talk, if a little hard to follow at times. I liked the thought process that took the number of possible states available to a game of Rock-Paper-Scissors (236) and worked out that in a force on force engagement using a computer the size of the Universe and computing for the length of time since the Big Bang, it would only be possible to fully analyse the totality of 12 participants. The conclusion being that there is no analytic way to calculate all possible alternatives to a problem, so wargaming is needed.

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This was then followed by three Working Groups:

  • Wargaming and Analysis with Yuna Wong and Bill Lademan.
  • Wargaming for an Innovation Edge with Matt Caffrey and Tim Moench.
  • Educating Wargamers with James Sterrett, Joe Saur and Tim Wilkie.

I elected to go to the Educating Wargamers session as it was squarely in my area of interest. It turned out to include Wargames for Education as well, which made the session even better. It was conducted with a number of practiced staff presenting their experiences and advice on the subject before a general discussion.

This was one of the best sessions for me, so engaging that I forgot to take notes most of the time. There were some general guidelines, however, that came out:

  • Boardgame Geek (BGG) is your friend.
  • Don’t use a game with a BGG rating of less than 7, unless you wrote it.
  • End the game before someone wins (avoiding the “I lost therefore the game is crap” reaction).
  • Make sure the game is really simple.
  • Make sure you can run the game in the time (half the time for the game, the rest for the discussion).
  • You can use a YouTube training video as homework the night before – but be careful!
  • We need a “Wargaming for Dummies” instruction guide spelling out how to do it.

The result was that all present wanted to get a “bibliography” of commercial games for education. I volunteered to put such a thing together and publish the list, along with PAXSims, so expect a questionnaire in your inbox at a later date.

Day 4

The final day saw reports on the Working Groups.

Wargaming and Analysis divided into 6 sub-groups:

  • Concerns about Battle Damage fixation and no real focus on plan analysis.
  • Attempts to do more analysis with fewer resources.
  • Connecting the beginning and end states with a coherent narrative.
  • Analysis baked into the entire process.
  • Quantification of morale and competence.
  • synchronizing requirements between various organisations in the acquisition process.

There was a general understanding that analysis is integral and essential to the process, but not easy to achieve and especially difficult in games that focus on “soft” issues. There was a recognition that there was a tendency to measure what is easy to measure, with scant regard to the overall importance.

The Wargaming for an Innovation Edge session concluded that wargaming was good for innovation and, while not every problem is solvable, wargaming can be used to help provide mitigation. “Wargames are a wind-tunnel for innovation” (can you tell the Air Force was involved?).

This was followed by the Synthesis Group with the task of providing a summary report for the sponsors. This was run by the inimitable Dr Stephen “I may be an asshole, but that doesn’t make me wrong” Downes-Martin in his usual arresting style. If you don’t pass your slide packs to Tim Wilkie as soon as possible, you will be in trouble…

We then had Closing Remarks and the Hot Wash.

The Connection 2017 is due to take place on or about 17 to 20 July 2018 at the National Defense University in Washington. This will be a problem for foreigners like me, as currently special access clearance is required to enter the facility, and obtaining authority to travel to Washington is always an issue due to the expense of accommodation and the perception of a conference taking place in the US Capital.

Overall this year’s Connections was the best yet for me. Quantico is easy to get to, yet far enough away from the capital to make the business case easy. The facilities are excellent and the Marine Corps ethos is similar to the UK military, so I feel right at home.

There were hardly any “eyesight tests by organisational wiring diagrams”, few impenetrable slides full of US defense-specific abbreviations and no propaganda presentations about what particular organisations are doing or planning to do in the future. It was squarely on-message and, noting the comments I made last year about the scale and narrow specialisation of some areas of US wargaming needing repeated visits to make sense of it all, this was the first Connections that I would whole-heartedly recommend to a first-timer.

It still has a little “folksy charm” where the programme doesn’t quite spell out what is happening in the evenings where the more reticent participant might get left behind and miss out, but overall it was the best Connections yet!

Tom Mouat

 

UK MoD: Wargaming Handbook

DCDC_Doctrine_UK_Wargaming

The Development, Concepts and Doctrine Centre of the UK Ministry of Defence has just issued their new 98 page Wargaming Handbook—and it is available as a free download.

In the preface, the Vice Chief of the Defence Staff notes:

Wargaming is a powerful tool. I am convinced that it can deliver better understanding and critical thinking, foresight, genuinely informed decision-making and innovation. Sir John Chilcot’s report highlighted
these very themes. I have also been struck by how important wargaming is becoming among many of our allies and partners. It allows those involved to experiment and learn from their experiences in a ‘safe-to-fail’ environment.

I wish to reinvigorate wargaming in Defence to restore it as part of our DNA. Historically the UK military was accomplished at wargaming but this culture has largely been lost. Where it exists, it is ad hoc and uncoordinated, with demand outstripping existing expertise. We must seek to regenerate this culture and the associated skills among our people – military and civilian alike – at all levels and in all areas of our business. This effort requires everyone’s participation and encouragement, but particularly at senior levels.

The Wargaming Handbook is the first publication of its type in Defence. It is an important element of this initiative and a key resource for us all. I commend it to you.

The Handbook contains chapters on:

  • Introducing wargaming (Chapter 1)
  • Wargaming fundamentals (Chapter 2)
  • Wargaming types, variants and contexts (Chapter 3)
  • Wargaming process (Chapter 4)

…plus annexes on “Applying wargaming to Defence problems” and “Further reading and information.” It is extremely instructive reading, and will certainly be a seminal resource in the professional wargaming community for many years to come.

PAXsims gets a few mentions too!

Simulation & Gaming, August 2017

sgbar

The latest issue of Simulation & Gaming 48, 4 (August 2017) is now available.

 

Editorial


Articles


Design Case Study


Onward to Victory with Dstl!

Slide 1_O.jpg

Some of the wargaming team at HMS Victory (left to right: Paul Strong, Mike Bagwell, Colin Marston, me, James Bennett, Mike Young and Major Tom Mouat).

Public release identifier DSTL/PUB103767

In mid-July I was fortunate to spend the better part of a week with the (UK) Defence Science and Technology Laboratory wargaming team at Dstl Portsdown West, near Portsmouth. As with my visit last year, I had a very enjoyable and productive time, exchanging views, discussing challenges and approaches, and generally benefitting from their broad experience. The schedule and pdfs of all my slides are provided below. (The videos have no sound, and are just another way to present the slides.)

20170728_PAXsims Agenda

Monday: Presentations

On the first day of my visit I made four presentations, each of which was followed by broader discussion with the group in attendance. The first of these examined wargaming as an educational (vs analytical) tool [pdf]. In this I discussed the strengths—and potential weaknesses–of serious gaming as an educational and training tool. I emphasized that educational outcomes depended not just on a game’s design, but also how it was used, and how it related to course objectives—the debate over the Statecraft international relations simulation being a case in point. I highlighted four general types of educational games, which I termed “pathway,” “strategy, “perspective,” and ‘fog and friction” games. I noted how the design of these differed from analytical games intended to answer one or more research questions. However, while games should certainly be designed for their intended purpose, I also suggested that practical realities (including limited resources) meant that it might sometimes be necessary or desirable to conduct dual-purpose games that have both analytical and educational dimensions. Much of the rest of the discussion focused on how best to do this without adversely compromising either aspect.

My second presentation [pdf] looked at wargaming unpredictable adversaries (and unreliable allies)—a topic of growing importance given the challenges of global terrorism, North Korean missile and nuclear weapon development, the current crisis in the Gulf Cooperation Council, and similar challenges, coupled with the complications posed by uncertainty in US policy under the Trump Administration, plus Brexit in the European context. Much of my talk drew upon ideas I first raised in an article on the topic at The Strategy Bridge in March. I discussed several possible approaches to representing unpredictability/unreliability in a game, including scripting, stochastic (random) behaviour, responsive variables (with stochastic elements), using the white cell, and two (or more) level games.

After that, attention turned to gaming the semi-cooperative [pdf]. Here we explored the challenge of designing games that are cooperative but retain plenty of room for competition, poor coordination, and friction. This can be done, of course, with game mechanics that offer tangible rewards for both sets of behaviours, such as the dual metric system of (cooperative) “relief points” and (individual) “organization points” in AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game. However, I suggested, there are limits to such a utility-maximizing, game theoretical treatment. Designers should also emphasize a psychological approach, whereby player engagement with the game narrative, imperfect information and communication, time pressures, game facilitation, and other methods are used to internalize sources of potential disagreement among the various participants.

The final presentation for the first day explored wargames as experiments [pdf ]. Here I suggested that wargames were rarely proper experiments: idiosyncratic variations between players, the limited number of iterations possible (often only one), and the complex, highly contingent nature of outcomes, all weighed against true experimentation. Nonetheless, some quasi-experimental designs were possible, and wargaming was extremely useful both as a way to generate questions for further study and in the context of efforts to triangulate findings using mixed methods. I pointed to a few techniques that might be used.

I also suggested that we needed more research on wargaming methodologies. One possible way of encouraging this would be to have an annual game design challenge, wherein wargamers would be invited to submit wargames exploring a set topic. This would allow methods and outcomes to be compared. (As Paul Strong pointed out to me, this is something the Society of Ancients already does in the hobby arena, annually refighting an ancient battle using a number of different rule sets.) A Dstl challenge for Connections UK 2018, perhaps?

 

Tuesday: Matrix Gaming and MaGCK

Most of the next two and a half days were taken up with a workshop on basic and advanced matrix game techniques [pdf], including an overview of the Matrix Game Construction Kit (MaGCK) prototype. For this I was joined by Major Tom Mouat (Defence Academy of the UK), a fellow member of the MaGCK design team. We both found it very useful to get some feedback on the kit and its contents. Most of suggestions we received will be incorporated into the final production version, which will be launched at the Connections UK professional wargaming conference in September.

Day 2 also featured a presentation on gaming foreign policy [pdf]. This examined the value of serious gaming for training and policy analysis, and reviewed some of the work colleagues and I had done over the years gaming various aspects of conflict and peacebuilding in the Middle East.

At the end of the day we sat down to play A Reckoning of Vultures, one of the sample matrix games included in MaGCK:

A Reckoning of Vultures is set in the capital of the fictional Republic of Matrixia.

There, in the ornate Presidential Palace, surrounded by his most loyal Presidential Guards, the President-for-Life is on his death-bed—and various power-hungry factions are jostling to take power themselves.

Once the President passes, competition between these would-be successors will escalate to open conflict, until the Central Committee of the Ruling Party can meet and agree on a new leader

The Central Security and Intelligence Directorate (CSID) are Matrixia’s shadowy—and much-feared—secret police, responsible for maintaining a close watch on both dissidents and potential rival power centres within the regime. Although lacking large numbers of armed personnel, covert CSID operatives are well-placed to blackmail, influence, sabotage, subvert, or spy.

The Matrixian Armed Forces can call upon large numbers of military personnel located in three major military bases around the capital. Inter-service rivalries and the influence of other factions may mean, however, that not all MAF units are loyal or obey orders.

The Ministry of the Interior has authority over police and emergency services personnel in the capital. Although MoI units are well-positioned across the city, most are inferior in combat capability to those of the regular military.

Much of what happens in Matrixia is manipulated by a group of rich and powerful Oligarchs, who both control much of the business sector and have deep ties to the country’s major criminal syndicates. Although they have only a few private security guards and mercenaries to safeguard their position, they have considerable wealth that can be used further their political ambitions.

The National Union of Toilers represents the downtrodden workers of the country. NUT hopes to mobilize the masses and advance their political agenda through strikes, demonstrations, and direct action. If they can arm some of their followers and form a workers’ militia, they could become very powerful indeed.

Slide 2_O.JPG

Things heat up in the capital of Matrixia (left to right: me, Colin Marston, Mike Larner and Major Tom Mouat).

In this particular case, our game involved a dead President (of course); student protests, which were soon crushed by hired thugs; an amphibious landing by MAF marines to wrest control of the port; a failed airborne landing at the worker-controlled oil refinery; a spectacularly unsuccessful jailbreak (in which unguarded prisoners preferred to stay in their cells than follow the revolutionary NUT leader); sabotage of the Ministry of Information communications system; bombing of the civilian airport by government jets; a dramatic face-off outside the Presidential Palace, in which tanks were vanquished by protesters (presumably through moral suasion rather than any sort of inherent anti-armour capability); and a closely fought vote for supremacy in the Central Committee of the Ruling Party. While it was all good fun, the scenario—as intended—demonstrated a variety of different matrix game techniques. Moreover, it was possible to relate most of the game events to real life coups and succession struggles in Syria, Egypt, Turkey, and elsewhere.

Slide 4_O.jpg

There was pointing too. No wargame is complete without much high-quality pointing.

 

Wednesday: More matrix gaming, and a dockyard tour

For me, one of the most interesting part of the programme was the opportunity to develop a matrix wargame from scratch with members of the Dstl staff, as a way of exploring matrix gaming and game design more broadly. The choice of topic was left up to me, so as a Middle East analyst I chose a possible future conflict between Israel and Hizbullah. After an overview of key aspects of the issue [pdf], we all set to work for a couple of hours. The result was a game design with four actors (Israel, Hizbullah, the Lebanese government, and civilians fleeing the fighting). Reflecting the complex, multi-sided character of Lebanese politics, the Lebanese government randomly determined each turn whether its actions reflected a common national interest, or the interests of a particular political or sectarian group. The civilian player represented the interests of Israeli and Lebanese civilians alike, and their actions offered an interesting way to model the safety-seeking behavior of local populations in wartime.

During peacetime phase, Israel and Hizbullah would each take one action each per turn, while the Lebanese government and civilians could take one action total during the entire phase. Once major fighting started, Israel and Hizbullah received two actions per turn (one military, one non-military), while the Lebanese government and civilians received one each. The war would continue until a ceasefire was agreed to by the parties, or the domestic support level of one of the belligerents fell to zero.

After all this it was down to Portsmouth, where we went on a specially-arranged tour of HMS St. Albans, a Type-23 Royal Navy frigate. Members of the crew were very ­informative—especially the watch officer who showed us around, and the senior engineering rating who offered a detailed look around the engineering control room and engine room (my first opportunity to get up close and personal with a Rolls-Royce Marine Spey gas turbine). The Dstl team later presented me with a copy of the ship’s crest—a lovely gift, even more so because it had been signed by everyone. We also had some time to see HMS Victory at the Historic Dockyard. Appropriately enough, dinner that evening was at the officer’s mess at HMS Nelson (Her Majesty’s Naval Base, Portsmouth), where–in the best traditions of the empire–it was curry night.

Finally, I spent a couple of hours that night, putting together a playable version of our prototype Israel-Hizbullah game, writing up rules and player briefings and using components from MaGCK.

 

Thursday: Playtesting and game design

The morning of Day 4, we playtested the Israel-Hizbullah matrix game. The game featured two distinct phases. The first depicted growing tensions, with a major arms build-up by Hizbullah, Israeli bombing of one particularly significant weapons shipment through Syria, the successful Israeli assassination of a senior Hizbullah military commander, and an ominous border incident. A system of random event cards left players the option of initiating conflict (at a political cost), or waiting for events to make it inevitable.

Slide 3_O.JPG

The Israel-Hizbullag game being playtested. The white tokens are all civilians at risk, controlled by the civilian team. The map was made by simply drawing on an acetate overlay of a Lebanon map, while all other components were quickly assembled using MaGCK: Matrix Game Construction Kit.

Finally, the war came. Israel, which had already called up a substantial number of reservists for a planned military exercise, crossed the Lebanese border on a wide front, hoping to destroy most of the estimated 150,000 rockets Hizbullah had amassed in southern Lebanon. Going was slow, however, with Hizbullah forces making good use of the terrain, minefields, bunkers, ATGMs, and the combat experience it had gained in the 2006 war, the Syrian civil war, and elsewhere. However, most efforts by the Shiite militia to score a major propaganda victory—for example, by downing an IDF helicopter laden with troops—were largely unsuccessful.

Slide 8_O.jpg

Contemplating the situation in Lebanon (left to right: Lt Cdr James Winsor, Stephen Ho and Ben Short).

The Lebanese government pressed for a ceasefire, and was ultimately successful in seeing a draft resolution tabled at the United Nations Security Council with the support of Russia, China, and the European Union. The Trump Administration, however, was sympathetic to the Israeli operation, and vetoed the resolution to give the IDF more time to achieve its objectives.

HInotes

Tom Mouat’s notes from the Israel-Hizbullah game.

There we had to end the playtest–Israel was narrowly ahead on points, but Shiite support for Hizbullah was high, and there was little evidence that the group had suffered a fundamental setback.

Later that day I made my final presentation for the week, on gaming corruption [pdf]. I differentiated between three levels at which corruption might be represented in a game: as a complicating factor largely beyond the control of players (represented by some limit or random event); as significant secondary dynamic that players could interact with and affect (as in Mission Zhobia);  and finally as the primary focus of the game. In the case of the latter I drew upon the serious games that Tom Fisher has developed for the World Bank and Egmont Group on money-laundering and anti-corruption efforts.

Last but far from least, the final part of Thursday was spent in an extended discussion of possible design elements for a project that Dstl is currently working on. I can’t disclose the topic or participants, but can say that our discussion addressed a variety interesting issues regarding:

  • in-game communication, including the constraints imposed by classified material
  • using the red cell in a way that both offers red “the freedom to win,” yet assures that game stays on course for its analytical or experiential purpose
  • employing subject matter experts (and keeping them sufficiently busy and engaged)
  • determining the level of military fidelity necessary (and deciding what of this should be communicated to the players)
  • the use and abuse of marker tracks and metrics
  • generating narrative engagement and immersion

 


 

With that, my visit to Dstl came to an end. It was enormously valuable to me to have had the opportunity to share ideas and insights with such a talented group of wargamers and defence analysts—and in a casual setting conducive to frank discussion, innovation, more than a few cups of tea, and a great deal of fun. I’m very grateful to Colin Marston and the rest of the team for their hospitality, as well as their support for the MaGCK project.

For those of you who want to try A Reckoning of Vultures or the Israel-Hizbullah War 201? matrix games, we will be running both during the games fair at Connections UK in September.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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