PAXsims

Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Monthly Archives: January 2018

Military Operations Research Society 86th symposium

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The 86th annual symposium of the Military Operations Research Society will take place on 18-21 June 2018 at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California:

This year’s sessions will be conducted at the classified and unclassified clearance level with FOUO options.  Corresponding portions of the Symposium are open to U.S. Citizens with or without a clearance and cleared “Five EYES” (FVEY) participants with some restrictions.

The 86th Symposium will include 500+ sessions taking place in 33 Working Groups, 7 Composite groups, Distributed Working Groups, Special Sessions, Demos, Tutorials and CEU Courses over the four-day program.

Take advantage of this unique opportunity at the 86th Symposium to present your work and get valuable feedback from your colleagues across the National Security community.  The submission deadline is 16 February 2018.  MORS Service Sponsors are actively working on conference approvals for the 86th Symposium.

I won’t be there, alas—the clearance procedures and restrictions for FVEY participants are just too much of a hassle—but it is a great place to interact with others in the national security gaming community, as well as to learn about relevant insights from military operations research more broadly.

A busy year of gaming ahead

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Well, 2018 is already shaping up to be a very busy year for PAXsims, and certainly for yours truly.

This term I’m teaching a small seminar on conflict simulation design at McGill University. This is really a dry run for a larger course next academic year—and, if that goes well, possibly a regular offering in the academic years ahead.

Starting this week, Hiba Zerrougui and I will be running an AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game tournament for students in my POLI 450 (Peacebuilding) course. This is an optional event, in which players pick up bonus class participation credits for taking part, and an extra bonus if they win the tournament. You’ll find a report on last year’s version here.

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Next week, I’ll be in Washington DC for a couple of days to assist the International Foundation for Electoral Systems to develop serious games and simulations for training election officials. IFES does terrific work around the world helping countries with the complex procedures and mechanisms of electoral democracy, and I’m happy to lend a hand. I’ll also be doing some work with the ICONS Project over the coming months.

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On February 6, it’s off to my alma mater, the University of Calgary, to talk about the use of serious games in teaching about international development, and to run a demonstration game of AFTERSHOCK.

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On February 24, we’ll be holding a CONNECTIONS NORTH miniconference at McGill University on professional wargaming in Canada, with around 20 participants. Small as it will be, it is likely to be the biggest assemblage of Canadians to discuss serious wargame development in quite some time.

The following day Jim Wallman (Stone, Paper, Scissors) and I will, together with members of our elite Control team, be running the 3rd annual McGill megagame, DIRE STRAITS. This is a revised version of the game that Jim and I organized for the Connections UK wargaming conference back in September (and which received international coverage from BBC News). Anja van der Hulst (TNO) will be passing through Montreal so that she can take part in both the conference and the game, and she’s kindly offered to run her comprehensive approach game for my students on the following Monday.

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In early March, I’ll be taking part in a workshop on the urban dimensions of religious conflict, being organized by my colleague Mick Dumper (University of Exeter). Mick and I have worked on other conflict simulations before—including a prescient 2013 policy simulation that explored possible US cuts to UNRWA, and an educational simulation on the Syrian refugee crisis. This time I’ll be developing a multi-part crisis simulation, set in the fictional country of Carana, that will continue throughout the event. Our hope is that it will compliment the academic papers and discussion that are the main component of the workshop with some illustrative communal flash-points, conflict, and policy challenges.

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In early April, civil war will once more stalk Cyberia, as more than one hundred students in POLI 450 and POLI 650 spend a week trying to bring peace to Brynania. This will be the 19th annual running of our massive McGill University peacebuilding simulation, and I’ll spend much of the time monitoring more than 15,000 emails between the participants in my role as CONTROL. The effort that the participants put into this is truly phenomenal, especially considering how little the activity actually counts for (10% of their course grade), and is testimony to the outstanding students we have at McGill. You’ll find a detailed account of the simulation here, in an article in PS: Political Science & Politics (2010).

During the summer, things won’t be slowing down all that much. I’ve got an article, and possibly a book chapter, to write on serious gaming. There may be another return visit to Dstl—I certainly hope so, since these have been a hugely valuable opportunity to see what my UK defence colleagues are up to. I hope to be presenting at the Connections US professional wargaming conference at National Defense University in July on the results of our DIRE STRAITS experiment, and I’ll certainly be attending the Connections UK wargaming conference at King’s College London in September.

Plus there are all sorts of game ideas germinating—some of which you will hopefully see on the pages of PAXsims in 2018. And that’s just me! Associate PAXsims editors Ellie Bartels, Devin Ellis, Tom Fisher, Gary Milante, and Tom Mouat are just as busy with their own projects too, many of which you will also see here in the year ahead.

Review: Rise Up

Rise Up: The Game of People & Power. TESA Collective, 2017. Designer: Brian Van Slyke. USD$37.00

Rise Up is a game of social activism for 2-5 players, in which the participants collectively seek to achieve a goal in the face of resistance from “the System.” Each player represents an activist with distinct skills, who must mobilize supporters and use card play to advance the cause of the Movement. Watch out, however–the System fights back. If the players secure victories in five of ten sectors (Neighborhoods, Workplaces, Government, Media, Farms, Environment, Culture, Internet, Faith-Based Communities, Campuses), they win. If the System achieves victories in any four of these first, they lose. The various Movement cards depict an array of possible actions, ranging from court challenges, research, community action, and press conferences, through to strikes, viral videos, and flash mobs. Each card has a cost associated with play, and yields different effects.

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The game can be played within 90 minutes or less. There is a set of simplified rules included, but the core game itself is so straight-forward and easy to learn that it will rarely be required. The game components are satisfactory, although the various markers are a bit small and thin, and will be prone to being knocked or blown aside by a clumsy activist or a gust of dystopian wind. In my set I have replaced these with wooden meeples and cubes for a little more weight.

The simple game mechanics aren’t especially innovative, but they work well enough. The real learning is to be had from the narrative that the players construct, and the various discussions that the game can generate. The game lacks the detail or nuance to make it a genuine simulation of social mobilization. There is, for example, but a single resource in the game—popular support—and the financial and other elements of successful organization aren’t represented.

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This really isn’t a problem, however. Rise Up is well-designed as an ice-breaker and discussion-starter. easily played in a short period of time by players from any background and those with no substantial gaming experience. Indeed, the game’s unavoidably simple representation of complex reality itself provides teachable moments, since players can be challenged to design new cards or game modifications to address these. Three print-and-play expansion packs are already available ($10) each), as is an education resource package.

Earthquake! matrix game

Earthquake0.jpgThe extraordinarily prolific and ever-mysterious “Tim Price” has produced another matrix game module—this time, examining humanitarian assistance and disaster response  in the aftermath of an earthquake. Here is a taste of the scenario:

Westland is a West-Cost State in the Continental USA, bordering on Mexico to the South and California to the North. It is also part of the Western and the Mountain states. It is the 39th largest and the 26th most populous of the 50 states. Its capital and largest city is San Paloma.

Historically part of the territory of Alta California in New Spain, it became part of independent Mexico in 1821. After being defeated in the Mexican–American War, Mexico ceded much of this territory to the United States in 1848. The majority of the state was acquired in 1853 through the Gadsden Purchase.

Southern Westland is known for its desert climate, with very hot summers and mild winters. Northern Westland features forests of pine, Douglas fir, and spruce trees; some mountain ranges; as well as large, deep canyons, with much more moderate summer temperatures and significant winter snowfalls. There are ski resorts and several national forests, national parks, and national monuments.

Population is 6.3 Million with a median household income of $42,200 (49th), this is one of the poorest US states measured by household income, with an estimate of about 16% of the population in poverty (including unrelated children).

Westland is home to the sprawling Fort Anderson Army Base, home of the 9th Special Forces Group and the National Guard 31st Engineer Brigade.

Longport

The city of Longport, home to some 250,000 people is located in the South of Westland some 40km from the Mexican border. The city is generally not as economically well off as some of the better located coastal cities to the North, with a significant population of immigrants and people living below the poverty line.

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The Earthquake struck in the early hours of an April morning, out at sea. This resulted in a tsunami that hit the port city directly with a wall of water, flooding the port facilities and the low-lying areas to the South of the city, as well as surging up the river, destroying bridges and damaging facilities along the banks. The situation is still confused, but the most significant elements are:

  • Large areas of the Southwest of the city have been flooded with whole neighbourhoods washed away.
  • All of the bridges over the river have been destroyed or damaged.
  • The 11-storey Sky Tower collapsed into the river.
  • The 150-year-old Orthodox Cathedral partially collapsed and was flooded.
  • The 15-story Seawatch Tower is still standing, but as it was built on reclaimed land it is now surrounded by 8ft of sea water.
  • The venerable Grand Hotel is still standing, even though it has lost some of its stone façade.
  • The Gas depot to the North of town has reported leaks from the facility, which is a mixture of an underground Salt Formation reservoir and a single pressurised Liquid Natural Gas storage tank.
  • The main city Power Plant to the South has shut down. It is a coal-fired station, converted to natural gas and reports an interruption in the supply and fractures to the turbine mountings. Most of the city is without power.
  • The Solar Farm to the North and Wind Turbines on the coast are only capable of supplying a maximum of 30% of the power requirement during the day and 7% at night. Several Wind Turbines are reported as destroyed.
  • The airport to the Northeast of the city has reported fissures across the runway, only permitting restricted landings by light aircraft.
  • The Metro system, where is crosses the river underground, is flooded.
  • The main City Hospital has had come structural damage, with flooding in the basement and loss of power to some of the wards.
  • The Prison has reported a major power failure, with the reserve generators off-line.
  • The War Cemetery has suffered a major land-slip, with reports of coffins and bodies washed into the streets.
  • The 422nd Light Infantry Battalion of the State Guard, to the North of the City, reports only minor damage.
  • Most of the sea water has receded, leaving a confused jumble of smashed wooden buildings and large pools of sea water.

    Politics

    Politics plays an important part of any process and, while everyone should, of course, be pulling together in the face of a natural disaster, it will become clear that plans should have been properly drawn up and preparations made to reduce the effects of a catastrophe. There is always somebody to blame when things don’t go as well as they should have.

    The primary actors in this drama are the left-leaning Governor of Westland, who is a firm advocate of equality and diversity, seeking to introduce programs that benefit the poorer parts of communities; and the more right-wing Mayor of Longport who has to deal with the day-to-day frustrations of a city full of immigrants and the decline of heavy industry in the area.

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Earthquake2.jpgYou will find the full package here, including basic matrix game rules, maps and counters:

If you want a fuller introduction to playing, designing, and facilitating matrix games, you can purchase the Matrix Game Construction Kit User Guide from The Game Crafter as a downloadable pdf:

Want counters, stickers, tracking maps, scenarios, and other resources to design an endless number of matrix games,? Try the Matrix Game Construction Kit User (MaGCK) itself. We’re afraid the price is a bit steep—it is intended for institutional use—but purchasers have access to an electronic copy of the full icon/sticker library, allowing you to endlessly print game materials as needed with only a laser printer and easily-obtained Avery removable labels:

Finally, if you want a more conventional boardgame earthquake scenario, there is PAXsims’ very own AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game:

 

PAXsims 2017 in review

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With 2017 now behind us, it seems an appropriate time to review some PAXsims statistics from the past year.

In 2017 the website attracted some 92,480 views from some 48,885 visitors. That’s slightly down from 2016, and similar to 2015. The number of email and WordPress subscribers continues to grow, and now stands at 389. Since PAXsims was first established we’ve had more than half a million views from more than a quarter of a million visitors.

Our visitors last year came from 172 different countries and territories, with the United States continuing to represent by far the largest share:

  1. United States 45.0%
  2. United Kingdom 11.5%
  3. Canada 9.4%
  4. Netherlands 4.3%
  5. Germany 2.8%
  6. Australia 2.6%
  7. France 2.1%
  8. Spain 1.7%
  9. Italy 1.5%
  10. Belgium 1.2%
  11. Sweden 1.1%
  12. Brazil 1.0%
  13. Japan 1.0%
  14. New Zealand 0.7%
  15. India 0.7%
  16. Poland 0.6%
  17. Turkey 0.5%
  18. Czech Republic 0.5%
  19. Russia 0.4%
  20. Portugal 0.4%

We posted 119 items to the website in 2017. The most popular of these were:

  1. FBI: wargamers are intelligent, overweight, messy, loyal, frugal, and spend a lot on games
  2. MaGCK (Matrix Game Construction Kit)
  3. Dungeons & Dragons as professional development
  4. War in Binni: another McGill megagame
  5. Wanted: wargame analyst (US DoD)
  6. UK MoD: Wargaming Handbook
  7. Request for feedback: Teaching wargame design at the US Army Command & General Staff College
  8. Reflections on (another) McGill megagame
  9. Review: Urban Operations
  10. Dissecting DIRE STRAITS

Our most popular post from previous years in 2017 was the AFTERSHOCK resource page.

We had 161 visitor comments last year. Once again, our most prolific commentator was Brian Train.

Of course, PAXsims did a lot more than just post materials online. Last year also saw the publication of the Matrix Game Construction Kit, a joint project by PAXsims editors Tom Fisher, Tom Mouat, and myself. We also ran demonstration games of AFTERSHOCK, helped design the DIRE STRAITS megagame, provided game design advice, and organized a diplomatic game on the South China Sea for Global Affairs Canada, among other activities.

Now it’s onwards into 2018!

Connections North 2018

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A couple of years ago we held a small CONNECTIONS NORTH miniconference on professional wargaming in Canada, bringing together game designers and national security analysts. We’ll be doing again on 24 February 2018 at McGill University, taking advantage of the fact that a number of Ottawa (and other) folks will be travelling to Montreal to take part in the DIRE STRAITS megagame the following day.

SCHEDULE

  • 13h00 – arrival and introductions
  • 13h15 – SESSION 1: Who is Doing What, Where?
    • Ben Taylor (DRDC), Canadian wargaming perspectives from DRDC
    • Rex Brynen, (McGill University), Gaming initiatives at McGill and by PAXsims
    • Anja van der Hulst (TNO, Netherlands), An overview of TNO gaming initiatives
  • 15h30 – coffee break
  • 15h45 – SESSION 2: Issues, Challenges, and Approaches
    • Jim Wallman (Stone, Paper, Scissors, UK) Wargaming large-scale air warfare: insights from RAF Exercise Eagle Warrior
    • Tom Fisher (Imaginetic), Graphic Design, Components, and Player Experience in Manual Games
  • 17h30 – end
  • 18h00 – informal discussions and gaming
    • A Reckoning of Vultures (Matrix Game Construction Kit)

Registration for CONNECTIONS NORTH free, but is limited to national security professionals, researchers, educators, game designers, and others working in the field of serious games. You’ll find further details, and the registration page, here.

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