PAXsims

Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Monthly Archives: November 2018

Serious gaming with (post) secondary students: civil war at a cégep

The following piece was written for PAXsims by Jano Bourgeois (Collège Jean-de-Brébeuf), in collaboration with Daniel Beauregard.


Can you adapt a complex civil war simulation like Rex Brynen’s Brynania to an audience without specific conflict resolution/peacebuilding training? Is it possible to do it and have them perform it seriously and learn out of it? Those were the questions I had in mind when I decided to try, a few years ago, to introduce a Brynania-like civil war simulation for a cégep (secondary) course.

What is a C.É.G.E.P.?

In the province of Quebec (Canada), there is an intermediate education-level between high school and university. It is called a cégep (general and professional college). For pre-university programs, like the social science program in which I teach, the level is more or less equivalent to first year-university, although the disciplines studied are much more diverse. It is a general training in literature, philosophy, economics, psychology, history and sometimes political science, anthropology or sociology.

To my knowledge, there are no peacebuilding courses at the cégep level. However, there is an end of 2ndyear course named “Integrative activity” that has students apply what they have learned in two disciplines (such as economics, politics, history, anthropology, etc.) in a new context. A former student of mine, now a Ph.D. in cultural studies, once told me that he had read an academic paper mentioning that insurgent leaders had, on average, the equivalent of a cégep education (I never found this paper, if anyone knows about it I would love to get the reference!). For me, this was the trigger: my students could seriously simulate a civil war because they had the same educational attainment as many insurgent leaders (granted, this might not be true and I have no evidence to back me up, but I just needed an excuse to try something like Brynania).

What we do

Basically, the whole thing is a simplified Brynania civil war. There is a fictional setting in which the civil war is waged in a hybrid between roleplaying game and strategic wargame. My setting is called Brébouvie because it is taught at Brébeuf College.

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Figure 1: Map of Brébouvie, 2016.

Each student received a role to embody, resources to manage, and objectives to fulfill. Among these roles, we had the cabinet of the war-torn country, various rebel leaders, members of the civil society, neighbouring States, UN Security Council member states, humanitarian NGOs, international and local journalists, etc. Brynania heavily influenced the first edition because I had the opportunity to personify the Minister of Finance of the Brynanian government during my B.A. at McGill. Over time, I adapted the model to my pedagogical needs.

Having run this simulation over the past few years, I must say that students consider it extremely demanding and difficult… and they just love it! For the fall 2017 semester, 53% of the students, in a confidential and anonymous evaluation of the class, indicated that they had a “very high interest” in the course.  A usual comment is that it is too much work and way too engaging, but that they would not have it any other way. Eventually, a history teacher, Daniel Beauregard, who also teaches the integration activity course, joined me in this project. He brought refreshing ideas to the practice.

From a pedagogical point of view, my students do well in applying what they learned, especially in economics, political science, anthropology, sociology and history, to conduct credible operations on the ground. At the end of the semester, they must hand in a formal paper to summarize what previously acquired knowledge was useful and how they used it to fulfill their role during the simulation. Most of them manage to make the links between their college training and the actual conduct of a civil war. As a bonus, they learn how to make (or fail to make) decisions in a stressful and imperfect informational environment.

Obviously the depth of the student performance is not as thorough as the one attained with 3rdyear university students: treaties signed do not always respect the Vienna Convention on the Law of the Treaties, refugee camps management doesn’t go into the specific details of finding the right spot to avoid landslide and freshwater contamination, UN Security Council resolutions use “responsibility to protect” quite liberally. Overall, one has to remember that they are unspecialized cégep students, not professionals.

Our innovation

We tried many formulas for the simulation: in class only, in class and online for 12 hours a day over a 10 days period, email only, using matrix gaming mechanisms, using an actual board to move pieces, using only virtual maps, using a wiki, Moodle, or a blog to share information, etc.

However, our major innovation, the one for which I am proudest, is the way in which we now have the students build the conflict setting.

The idea is to start with a blank map and to add layers of complexity in cooperation with the students. We add natural resources, linguistic and ethnic zones, national and internal borders, religious zones of influence, trade routes, etc. We also write the history of the various states, insurgent groups and institutions present in the zone. We create the political regimes and their institutions, the state and structures of the economies, the relations with powerful States such as Russia, China, the United States, the United Kingdom and France, etc.

For each element added to the setting, students must justify it using a historical precedent or refer to a social science model or theory. The effect of this procedure is twofold: it forces them to go back to history and what they have learned in different disciplines and it makes the setting easier to understand without long hours of study.

Here is, visually, how my colleague Daniel Beauregard proceeds. First, he provides students with a blank map.

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Figure 2: Blank map, 2018.

The class then adds geographic features.

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Figure 3: Adding geographic features, 2018.

Next, political boundaries and ethnic groups are also added.

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Figure 4: Adding political and ethnic features, 2018.

The map is refined with trade routes and other details.

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Figure 5: Final round of mapmaking, 2018.

He finally prints a map and uses Matrix Gaming Construction Kit (MagCK) tokens and markers to manage the simulation.

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Figure 6: Printed map with tokens on it, 2018.

I would recommend this practice to engage students in the simulation as soon as the instructor is comfortable with the general way of running a simulation.

Concluding remarks

Can you adapt a complex civil war simulation like Brynen’s Brynania to a younger audience without specific conflict resolution/peacebuilding training? The answer is a resounding yes.

Is it possible to expect for cégep students the same level of performance as professionals or graduate students? Obviously not.

Is it possible to obtain a serious performance and generate learning? Again, yes without a doubt.

One of the advantages of serious simulations is that it somehow self adjusts to the level of the participants. In my view, it is a powerful and flexible pedagogical tool worth exploring.

 

Jano Bourgeois teaches political science at Collège Jean-de-Brébeuf, Montréal.
Daniel Beauregard teaches history at Collège Jean-de-Brébeuf, Montréal.

 

We Are Coming, Nineveh! game development update

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One of the playtest copies.

Lately we have had a chance to run more playtest games of We Are Coming Nineveh, the tactical/operational-level wargame of the 2017 Mosul campaign being developed by Juliette Le Ménahèze, Harrison Brewer, Brian Train, and myself for Nuts! Publishing. It’s all coming along nicely, and feedback has been very positive indeed.

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Playtesting at Connections UK. Juliette looks on as Phil Pournelle advances Iraqi forces towards the Old City. War is thirsty work.

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More playtesting at Connections UK.

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Counter Terrorism Service and Emergency Response Division troops break into the heavily-defended Old City. To the west and north, units of the Iraqi Army’s 9th Armoured and 16th Infantry Divisions close a circle of steel around their foe.

The (area movement) map and (block-based) combat system are working very well: they are fast and intuitive, and nicely model the tempo of the actual campaign. Consequently, most of our recent tweaks involve Capability cards and Event cards.

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A game is about to begin at McGill University. Daesh has deployed most of its veteran units to the Old City, while using a screen of militia and IEDs to slow and disrupt the ISF offensive. If the ISF can cut the roads to the west and north it will hamper Daesh resupply.

The former represent what it is each side chooses to bring to the fight, above and beyond their core units. In the case of Daesh (ISIS), this includes such things as:

  • arms caches
  • IED factories
  • a media production centre
  • mortars
  • snipers
  • technicals
  • makeshift drones
  • tunnel networks and “stay behind” forces
  • primitive chemical weapons
  • “mouseholes” and fortifications
  • additional Improvised Explosive Devices of various sort
  • human shields
  • child soldiers
  • MANPADS
  • better infantry training
  • local spy networks
  • smuggling networks

As for the Iraqi security Forces, they can call upon (amongst other things):

  • additional military units (16th Infantry Division, Popular Mobilization Forces)
  • Coalition air and artillery support, as well as UAVs (drones) and forward observers
  • Coalition training
  • Iranian advisors
  • Iraqi air and artillery support
  • HUMINT (human intelligence)
  • SIGINT (signals intelligence)
  • enhanced EOD (explosive ordnance disposal) capability
  • additional ISR (intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance) assets
  • tighter Rules of Engagement (to reduce collateral damage)
  • expanded humanitarian assistance operations
  • field hospital
  • improved logistics
  • improved coordination
  • airmobile and river-crossing operations
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Prior to deployment, Brian considers what additional capabilities he wants for the forthcoming battle.

Each side is given 30 points to spend on such capabilities before the game starts, and they can tailor their expenditure to suit their campaign plan and preferred tactics. This dramatically enhances the replay value of We Are Coming, Nineveh!, since every game can be very different depending on how Daesh has chosen to defend its positions and what assets and capabilities the Iraqi side chooses to deploy.

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The ISF gets lucky break: human intelligence (HUMINT) reveals the location of a senior Daesh military commander, who is promptly killed in a daring strike by Iraqi attack helicopters.

The Event cards are triggered by dice tolls during ground combat. Some generate collateral damage, especially when fighting is taking place in the densely-packed Old City. Some reflect the challenges of military operations in urban terrain: troops might get lost, pause to recover casualties, encountered unexploded ordnance, or have other encounters. Others present various tactical vignettes. Do you risk accepting the surrender of Daesh fighters, knowing there might be a suicide bomber amongst them? Do you open fire on the vehicle travelling towards your checkpoint? Does an officer risk death to rescue a child caught in the crossfire? Finally, still other cards reward success or capabilities—if the ISF has invested in improved coordination, for example, they’ll encounter fewer problems when Iraqi Army, Interior Ministry, or Counter Terrorism Service (“Golden Division”) forces attempt joint operations.

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Iraqi forces (green) clear the last Daesh units (black) out of the Old City. In this case, the ISF minimized indirect fires and air support, and instead invested in better training and logistics. Their careful campaign was slower than the real one, but kept casualties and collateral damage down.

Victory is determined by three metrics: the time it takes to liberate Mosul, the casualties taken by the ISF, and the collateral damage (both physical and political) inflicted on the city. At the start of the game, each side secretly nominates the metric that it wishes to emphasize in its political messaging. We have also built in a system of narrative description, allowing players to gauge their progress against the real military campaign.

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Juliette, Brian, Rex, and Harrison.

We hope to have the main game finalized by the end of December, at which point we will deliver it to Nuts! for further development We are also developing a solitaire system to allow solo play, but that will take a few months more of work. Keep your eye on PAXsims for further details!
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Teaching serious games at Carleton University

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My colleagues at Carleton University recently hosted me in Ottawa for two days to teach a professional development workshop on “Serious Games for Policy Development and Capacity Building” for the Office of Professional Training and Development at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs. I’m happy to report that it all seemed to go very well.

The eighteen students in the workshop varied widely in terms of past experience, ranging from game designers and professional wargamers to those new to serious gaming. The group’s backgrounds and interests were equally varied: national defence, public safety, international development, peacebuilding, housing policy, employment and social development, and communications.

While much of what I had to say was pitched at an introductory level, none of the more experienced folks seemed too bored. Indeed, they were all very generous in offering their ideas and insights to the group.

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Talking about serious games.

On the first day, I provided an overview of how games have been used to better understand public policy and national security challenges, drawing upon both historical cases and my own serious gaming experience. We then moved on to look at a range of key issue areas, including:

  • setting objectives
  • resources and infrastructure
  • approaches
  • scenarios and roles
  • models, rules, and procedures
  • players
  • game control, facilitation, and data collection
  • prebriefing and debriefing
  • analysis

After lunch we discussed seminar and matrix games. To illustrate the latter, we played through a few turns of the Reckoning of Vultures scenario from the Matrix Game Construction Kit. While hopefully not too directly related to anyone’s official duties—the game involves  a dying President and coup plotting by his would-be successors in the fictional Republic of Matrixia—it nicely highlighted the ways in which matrix games can encourage both innovative thinking and critical analysis. It was also rather fun, for the participants turned out to be a rather cunning and devious lot!

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Plotting and counter-plotting in Matrixia.

That evening, about a dozen of us from the workshop congregated downtown for dinner and casual gaming at The Loft Board Game Lounge.

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Gaming at The Loft.

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AFTERSHOCK underway.

The following day we discussed interactive narrative (“choose your own adventure”) games, a variety of advanced gaming techniques, gaming pathologies, online resources, and materials and graphics.

Game Lab.pngWe also held a “game lab” session in which workshop participants were broken into three groups and asked to develop a serious game proposal. Three very good sets of ideas soon emerged:

  • An election game, highlight the role of contemporary media in influencing key political demographics.
  • A foresight and brainstorming (matrix) game, exploring the positive and negative effects of artificial intelligence on differing groups and sectors in Canada (business, workers, the tech sector, government).
  • A matrix game exploring the public policy, urban development, economic, and planning issues around the proposed effort to move the Ottawa Senators hockey team to a new arena in the LeBreton Flats area near downtown.

We then discussed the strengths and weaknesses of each proposal, offering suggestions on how the preliminary design might be further refined.

The workshop ended with a broader discussion, and few final observations. For those who are interested, the full set of workshop slides can be downloaded here (81MB pdf).

The participants were all enthusiastic and brimming with ideas, which made it a really enjoyable two days. I’m very grateful to Bryan Henderson of NPSIA-PT&D who organized the workshop. Special thanks are also due to fellow PAXsims editors Tom Fisher and Major Tom Mouat (Defence Academy of the UK), and to Colonel Jerry Hall (US Army). Tom, Tom, and Jerry not only facilitated the various game lab sessions on the second day, but the four of us also shared a single large suite at Les Suites Hotel—temporarily rendering it something of extra-dimensional nexus of global matrix gaming experience.

Stephen Downes-Martin joins PAXsims as associate editor

I am pleased to announce that Dr. Stephen Downes-Martin is joining PAXsims as one of our associate editors.

Stephen Downes-Martin.jpegDr Stephen Downes-Martin is a Research Fellow at the US Naval War College and is an independent scholar researching theory and practice of wargaming and other methods to support decision makers at the strategic, operational and tactical levels of warfare and business. A research focus is “Puppet Mastery”, how to manipulate such methods to deceive decision makers, how decision makers misuse such methods to deceive themselves, how to detect such attempts and protect decision makers from them. He has a PhD in relativistic quantum field theory from London University, a Master of Advanced Studies in Mathematics from Cambridge University, and a Masters (with Distinction) in National Security and Strategic Studies from the Naval War College. His full bio, publications list and downloads are available here.

Stephen has been tireless in encouraging, supporting, and sometimes lambasting the wargaming community to pay great attention to sponsor-designer relations, player dynamics, game analysis, and methodology more generally. He has been instrumental in several recent major collaborative projects, including the 2017 MORS working group report on the validity and utility of wargaming, a Connections Game Lab report on “How can we credibly wargame cyber at an unclassified level?” (2018), another Game Lab report on “How can we avoid risky and dishonesty shifts in seminar wargames?“(2018), and a truly epic Connections working group report on in-stride adjudication (2018). Stephen will also be one of the featured speakers at the February 2019 Connections North interdisciplinary wargaming conference in Montreal. We’re pleased to have him on board.

GMS Journal for Medical Education: Using AFTERSHOCK to teach about disaster medicine

The latest issue of the GMS Journal for Medical Education 35, 4 (2018) contains an article by Simon Drees, Karin Geffert and myself on “Crisis on the game board – a novel approach to teach medical students about disaster medicine,” in which we discuss the use of AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game to teach German medical students about humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.

The result of the workshops’ evaluation was very positive. A large majority of participants was overall satisfied with the event and all its components. Almost all participants found the level of difficulty to be appropriate. This is consistent with the findings of other AFTERSHOCK participant surveys, which we outlined in the project description [7], [8], [9], [10]. Although participants in these workshops came from very different contexts (WHO, military), they gave similarly positive ratings regarding their overall satisfaction, the level of complexity and the design of the game. The low-to-medium level of prior knowledge in our survey represents the sort of target audience for which AFTERSHOCK was designed. We saw very engaged participants during the workshops, with small group sizes and enough time for a proper introduction and debriefing being crucial to success. We disagree with the suggestion to distribute the rules beforehand or to perform a “test-run”. Experience in other settings mentioned above suggests that this is not necessarily very helpful: when players are provided the rules in advance they may feel a need to fully master them in advance. Introducing elements of the game as they become relevant during game play appears to work much better. Moreover, a limited degree of initial player confusion and uncertainty is also a valuable teaching tool: the immediate aftermath of a disaster, after all, is also characterized by uncertainty and limited information. Oral and written feedback also highlighted the importance of embedding the simulation within a more extensive course on disaster medicine to complement it with more theoretical background knowledge. Although we are confident that we achieved our main goal of providing our participants with a basic understanding of disaster medicine and humanitarian aid, especially regarding its complexities in practice, we agree with this assessment. It is also consistent with the scholarship on serious games, which stresses both the importance of integrating various course elements and value of debriefing sessions, which serve to highlight and contextualize games-based learning [11].

Conclusion

Board games such as “AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game” are well-suited tools to simulate the complexity of humanitarian assistance. They provide opportunities to apply theoretical knowledge about disaster medicine in practice while experiencing the challenges of a dynamic environment. This and their high acceptance rate among students makes them suitable for use in medical education. To ensure long term learning, simulations should always be accompanied by theoretical coursework and effective debriefing.

GMS Journal for Medical Education is the official journal of the Gesellschaft für Medizinische Ausbildung (German Association for Medical Education). You can find the English version of the article here, and the German version here. AFTERSHOCK is available from The Game Crafter (although at the time of posting they are waiting on some components to arrive before they can fill new orders).

Bartels: Building A Pipeline Of Wargaming Talent

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At War on the Rocks, Ellie Bartels (RAND) discusses “Building A Pipeline Of Wargaming Talent: A Two-Track Solution.” In it she argues the need to educate neophyte and mid-career (war)gamers, and also to educate sponsors, clients and managers about best practices and using games most effectively.

For gaming to help prepare the Department of Defense for the future, different types of wargame education are needed, aimed at different communities. Deep study of games is required for game designers to develop mastery. For those who work alongside these experts, in roles ranging from sponsor to subject matter expert, short courses may be a valuable addition to existing government educational institutions, most notably the military schoolhouses. Building up a new generation of experts, and giving civilian and military partners the tools to ask the right questions and provide information to designers is key to building more high-quality games. Without these pipelines, the existing cadre of designers will not be able to keep up with demand, leaving the department unprepared for the future.

It’s an excellent piece, and well worth reading (and not just because Ellie is one of our associate editors).

CONNECTIONS NORTH 2019

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Registration is now open for the CONNECTIONS NORTH interdisciplinary wargaming conference, to be held at McGill University in Montréal on Saturday, 16 February 2019. The conference is intended for national security professionals, academics and educators, humanitarian and development workers, diplomats,  community activists, game designers, and others interested in conflict simulation and serious gaming.

This announcement is also a call for presentations for the conference. Proposals should be sent to the conference organizer, Rex Brynen.

Further details on CONNECTIONS NORTH are available at the link above. The conference Facebook page can be found here. The following day (February 17) we will also be holding the annual McGill megagame, APOCALYPSE NORTH.

For details of the 2018 CONNECTIONS NORTH conference, see the report at PAXsims.

 

McGill megagame 2019: APOCALYPSE NORTH

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On 17 February 2019, PAXsims will be running its fourth annual megagame at McGill University: APOCALYPSE NORTH—a game of emergency response, national survival, and federal-provincial politics during a zombie armageddon.

The United States is descending into chaos as it is overrun by mindless undead abominations. Can the federal government, provinces, and municipal officials mobilize and coordinate the necessary resources to save Canada from the murderous zombie menace from the south?  

Approximately one hundred participants will assume the roles of federal and provincial politicians, the Canadian Armed Forces, the RCMP, Canadian Border Services Agency, the Coast Guard, Public Health Agency of Canada, the Ontario Provincial Police, the Sûreté du Québec, local mayors, police and fire chiefs, hospital officials, scientists, First Nations and community leaders, the media—and even local franchisees of a national doughnut chain.

Tickets for the event may be purchased via Eventbrite. APOCALYPSE NORTH can also be found on Facebook here.

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As with all McGill megagames, we’re playing this for fun. Nevertheless, the emergency preparedness aspects of the game will be quite realistic, combining elements of a refugee crisis with pandemic response, national defence, and public safety. Grrr arghhh, eh?

For details of the New World Order 2035 megagame held at McGill in February 2016, check out the reports at PAXsims, as well as this article published in the McGill International Review. For the WAR IN BINNI megagame held at McGill in February 2017, see this PAXsims report. For the DIRE STRAITS megagame held in 2018, you’ll find a report here.

APOCALYPSE NORTH is cosponsored by the McGill International Development Studies Students’ Association.

 

IDSSASSA

2019 International Teaching and Learning Conference

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The 2019 International Teaching and Learning Conference will take place on 17-19 June 2019 in Brighton, UK. The conference sponsored by the Political Science Association, the the British International Studies Association, the European Consortium for Political Research, and the American Political Science Association. The theme of the conference is teaching politics in an era of populism.

This conference aims to provide a forum in which political science educators from different countries and contexts can come together to explore these challenges and share their experiences and teaching practices. We welcome contributions which explore the challenges faced in national, international, or comparative contexts. We also welcome different approaches to understanding populism and the challenges that it may present to political science educators in different contexts.

The rise of populism across North America and Europe in recent decades presents a range of challenges to the teaching of political science and international relations in the universities and colleges. At one level, our curriculum must develop to cover new forms of political activity, the rise of new parties and movements, and new forms of political and government behaviour. But the challenges go beyond simply the content of what we teach. In a political culture in which expertise and established standards of evidence are devalued, political science educators can find themselves portrayed as mere peddlers of opinion and ideology. A range of questions arise, including:

  • Can or should political science education be ‘politically neutral’? Should we nurture values of democracy, equality, and citizenship and, if so, how?
  • How can we support students in developing knowledge, understanding and skills relating to the complex nature of politics, society and government? What role might different approaches to teaching such as simulations, civic engagement and other pedagogies play?
  • What are the challenges of constructing a curriculum and developing learning resources in a period of rapid and sometime dramatic political change?
  • How can we collaborate across different national and educational contexts to support critical learning in political science and international relations? What best practices are there for collaboration in both pedagogical research and cross-cultural classroom experiences?
  • Are there practices or pedagogies from other disciplines that can be adopted or adapted to address these issues?

Guide for Authors/Presenters/Panel Convenors

We welcome proposals for the following categories:

  • Papers. Individual papers reporting research findings, providing a critical account of practice, or assessing the current state of teaching and learning in the field.
  • Panels. Panel submissions should consist of four to five papers relating to a coherent theme. We particularly welcome panels that take cross-national perspectives.
  • Interactive workshops. Proposals to run sessions that provide participants with a structured opportunity to explore a challenging area of political science education in a collaborative session.
  • Short talks. We invite proposals for short 10 minute talks in the style of TED Talks, that present a concise summary of an argument or an idea related to the conference theme.
  • Roundtables. We invite proposals from individuals who would be interested in participating in a roundtable discussion on one of the conference themes.
  • Open stream. To encourage innovative approaches to developing learning, the open stream invites any proposal for an activity that is designed to facilitate critical inquiry addressing the conference theme.

All proposals for panels or workshops should give consideration to gender balance and the promotion of equality and diversity. The standard time for panels and workshops will be 90 minutes.

The deadline for paper and other conference proposals is November 19. You’ll find full submission and registration details at the link above.

AFTERSHOCK at the Université de Technologie de Troyes

The following game summary was provided by Gilles Deleuze, a sessional lecturer at UTT.


This session was organized as part of the 2nd year of Master IMSGA (Master Ingénierie et Management en Sécurité Globale Appliquée), and the “Crisis Management” chair of the UTT (Université de Technologie), in the Grand Est region of France. The 12 students have a background in industrial safety, political science, firefighting.

This was the first time AFTERSHOCK was used in a training course in UTT, and probably in France. The aim was to focus on importance of coordination, logistics and communication during emergency management. At another level, it was an opportunity for a discussion about serious gaming and its benefits in the Master IMSGA and training for Crisis Management.

French rules translation and aids were used. Two tables were organized in parallel. On one table, the facilitation was done by a peer, with some experience of the game. Eventually, there were some misunderstanding of the rules, and the facilitator proposed to stop the game at turn 2 and join the other table

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10.00 : Start, 10.30:  Turn 2, 10.50 : Turn 3, 11.25 : Turn 4, 12.00 : Break, 13.00: Restart Turn 5, 13.30 : Turn 6, 13.45 : End of session

At the other table,  the facilitation was done by the session lecturer, with experience of the game. After a round for explanation, the game went right.

The root causes of the success, are the high lelel of coordination since the beginning, especially between UN and HADR-TF, the strategy of Carana, investing a lot on clusters, which permitted to draw valuable coordination cards, and a some luck, as very few district resolutions were drawn at the beginning, especially for the semi rural area, which was voluntary left aside in the emergency policy. Also the players took care of media attention.

The debriefing led to following conclusions and proposals for an efficient use of Aftershock in the Master IMSGA at UTT

  • Require a gamemaster with experience dedicated to each table.
  • Not very fun at the beginning, then the players liked the challenge to achieve together the success of the mission.
  • Prefer to learn by playing rather than reading the rule book (too complex and long to read before the game, maximum 10 pages for a rule set in this context).
  • The game highlights the importance of cooperation. The players were very cooperative and succeded with an high margin
  • Realistic, good level of modeling of logistics issues, but a price to pay in complexity
  • Good for an initiation to crisis management before an exercice with more actors and software based simulator done during the Masters.
  • The « hardware » support permitted more interaction between players and a global view of the situation compared to a software based simulator
  • Strong agreement to continue in the next year courses especially before the large scale crisis exercise.

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Playtesting Viva La Revolution

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Today I had an opportunity to playtest a beta version of Viva la Revolution, a simple but enjoyable and effective counterinsurgency board game being developed by Ed Farren. As the screenshots will reveal, the game was played via Table Top Simulator (Steam)—necessary since I’m in Montreal, while Ed is currently deployed to Kabul.

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The game depicts a fictional Latin American country, pitting the government against rebel forces. The map depicts one central capital city, and eight outlying regions. The territory of the latter consists of small towns, farmland, and dense jungle. The game metrics track four strategic objectives: control of regions, support in rural population centres, legitimacy (based on a variety of factors, including the number of various types of units, as well as the political effects of air strikes, terrorism, and drug labs), and finally control of the capital. The rebels need to win in all four categories before the game ends. The government is just trying to hang on.

Judging from the title (revolution not revolución) the insurgents are a group of rebellious  anglophones.

The game turn starts with a random event. These are not entirely random, in that players have some choice as to which event occurs.

Next, the rebel player takes two actions from a menu of five choices:

  1. construct/collapse drug lab (which funds insurgent mobilization)
  2. create two new insurgent units
  3. move two insurgent units (with possible combat)
  4. upgrade one insurgent unit to guerillas
  5. move one guerrilla or regular unit (with possible combat)

In addition, they may undertake an optional act of terrorism.

The government then takes one action from their own menu of possible actions:

  1. deliver relief supplies (thereby counteracting effects of terrorism)
  2. move two police or two army units (with possible combat)
  3. train one new police unit
  4. upgrade one police unit to an army unit
  5. upgrade one army unit to a guards unit

The government may also undertake an optional airstrike, if they wish.

Units have different combat ratings for jungle, rural (farmland and towns), and urban terrain. Police and insurgent units may not leave their own region.

The rules include extensive design notes. Ed credits David Kershaw’s Irish Freedom and Brian Train’s Guerilla Checkers for inspiration.

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Turn 1: All looks relatively quiet, but insurgents are lurking in the distant jungle. This is the classic first stage of a Maoist-type insurgency.

Playing as the government, my primary strategy was to mobilize as many police units as possible to hold rural areas, and then upgrading police in the capital to better quality army units. Ed’s insurgents sprouted like revolutionary mushrooms in the jungle, where he also hid a drug lab or two. The insurgents were then upgraded and began to take on my police units in the more populated rural areas, sometimes being driven back, but other times overrunning my positions. Since victory in combat gives the rebels a free unit upgrade, the gradual effect of these victories was to improve the quality of the revolutionary army through captured weapons and battlefield experience.

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Turn 5. I’ve already lost control of Santiago, Rio Nochas, Esturia, Chi Machura, and Los Ablos. However the rural towns (and hence the roads into the capital) are still held by police garrisons. We’re on to the second stage of the insurgency, as the guerrillas expand the territory under their control.

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Turn 11. The rebel army continues to grow, although most of the rural population centres are still under government control.

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Turn 16. Caring little for political legitimacy, the government militarizes the capital and conducts frequent airstrikes. More and more of the rebel units have been upgraded to guerrilla or regular status—preparing for the third stage of an insurgency, engaging in semi-regular combat against government forces and major urban areas.

It was all very Maoist, as more and more of the countryside gradually came under the rebel control, slowly surrounding the capital. Airstrikes sometimes slowed the rebel advance, but at the cost of government legitimacy. However, my mobilization in the capital (aided by a well-timed event card) made it a difficult nut to crack. I managed to hold on to the end, and squeak a narrow victory—but only just.

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Turn 20: While the government has had some success with a counter-offensive to the south, army units sent to New Spain and Santa Maria have been destroyed. Although this has left the defences of the capital severely weakened, it is the last turn—so the government wins (barely).

Ed provided some end-of-game statistics:

Casualties:
  • Rebels: Insurgents x 8 Guerrillas x 8 Regulars x 2
  • Government: Police x 7 Army x 5
Other Stats:
  • Acts of Terrorism x 5 (3 thwarted by security forces)
  • Air Strikes x 10 (around 60% successful)
  • Drug Labs constructed x 2
  • Relief supplies delivered x 0
  • US intervention/aid to Govt = none
  • State assistance to rebels = none
  • Natural disasters = 1
  • Regions abandoned = 0
  • Elections held = 0
  • Coups = 0
  • Desertions = 0
  • Defections = 1
  • Riots = 0
  • Peace Talks = 1
  • Rebel attacks on capital = 1
  • Maximum Govt Army strength = 5
  • Maximum Govt Police strength = 12
  • Maximum Govt Guards strength = 0
  • Maximum Rebel Regulars strength = 3
  • Maximum Rebel Guerrilla strength = 6
  • Maximum Rebel Insurgent strength = 10

I thought it all played intuitively and smoothly, and the progression of the insurgency certainly fitted the classic model. We discussed a few tweaks, for example introducing a “planning” action that would enable a player to take an extra action in the next term. This would enable more organized offensive and counter-offensives, better matching the battle rhythm of most military campaigns.

Much of our discussion focus on the event cards. In my view, such cards should never be so powerful as to decisively shift the balance of the game, which would lead players to attribute a game outcome to blind luck. (In Viva la Revolution, event cards are only semi-random, in that players have often have a choice as to which of two cards is triggered.) In a game of this sort, five major types of card effects are possible:

  • Minor unexpected events. These can enhance narrative engagement, spice up game play with unforeseen twists, or include other fun little elements.
  • Consequences, whereby players are punished or rewarded for having undertaken certain types of actions. Heavy use of air strikes or terrorism might spawn a reaction from international human rights groups, for example.
  • Interesting choices. For example, a random natural disaster might present both players with the option of reassigning some units to humanitarian assistance—losing them for combat purposes, but gaining legitimacy.
  • Investments—these are “tech tree” type cards, whereby the play of one card might trigger or increase the effect of another later card. “Foreign diplomacy,” for example, might enable later play of “foreign aid,” or investment in “human intelligence” might help one side spring an “ambush” later on.
  • Catch-up mechanisms—that is, cards that reward the losing player. Such mechanisms are common in hobby/entertainment games, where you don’t want one player pulling so far ahead early on that their opponent is doomed to turn after turn of futile play.
  • Snowball mechanisms—that is, cards that reward success. These should be used sparingly in games designed for entertainment purposes, since they contribute to the problem of insurmountable leads described above. However, real world insurgency and counterinsurgency is heavily shaped by cascading effects. Insurgent victories, for example, can intimidate government supporters, sway fence-sitters, and attract new recruits. Similarly, major government victories can deter support for the opposition.

In a game like this, moreover, one could reconfigure the event card deck depending on the audience and purpose of the game. Playing Viva la Revolution for fun? Then you want more catch-up cards and fewer snowball cards, and quite a few amusing minor events. Using it for training purposes? Then you want more snowball cards (because that’s the way the insurgency works), more investment cards (because these allow players to strategize more), and appropriate consequence cards (to highlight the costs of doing things wrong, violating the laws of armed conflict, and so forth). In the latter case, it is especially important that the game design incentivize the kind of behaviours and choices that you are trying to teach.

If you’re interested, you can see the game at the Steam link above. Ed has also set up a BoardGame Geek page, to which he will be uploading game rules and print-and-play files.

 

Connections 2019 wargaming conference — Call for presentations

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Connections 2019 will be hosted by the U.S. Army War College at the Army Heritage and Education Center in Carlisle, PA, 13-16 August 2019.

Connections is an interdisciplinary wargaming conference that has been held annually since 1993, with the mission of advancing and preserving the art, science, and application of wargaming.  Connections participants come from all elements of the wargaming discipline, and include those in the military, government, academic, private sector, and commercial hobbyist fields.  By providing a forum for practitioners to share insights and best practices, Connections works to improve gaming as a tool for research, analysis, education, and policy.

Presentations on any aspect of professional wargaming are welcome.  The 2019 conference theme is Futures of Wargaming, and with that in mind, presentations on wargaming future events, advances in wargaming techniques, wargaming to train future leaders, and related topics are especially encouraged.

Please submit your proposal via the Google Form at this link (which contains additional information).

It is by no means necessary to have attended a previous Connections conference to participate as a speaker.  More information about past Connections events and current updates on the status of planning for Connections 2019 can be found at the conference website: https://connections-wargaming.com/

Feel free to pass this along to those who you think might be interested, including posting this in appropriate places online.  For additional information or any questions or concerns, please contact Tim Wilkie (National Defense University).

Wargaming Network at KCL

DrUh2x9X4AAKpPo.jpgThe recently-established Wargaming Network at King’s College London has announced its inaugural lecture on 4 December 2018, by none other than Peter Perla:

Inaugural Wargaming Lecture

Dr Peter Perla, ‘The Art and Science of Wargaming to Innovate and Educate in an Era of Strategic Competition’

What can we know about pressing security challenges through wargaming? How do we know?

To mark the establishment of a new Wargaming Network, the School of Security Studies is launching a public lecture series on wargaming. The lectures will examine fundamental challenges for adapting wargaming theory and practice to usefully address contemporary security problems facing the UK and its NATO allies.

The UK and its NATO allies have revived their interest in wargaming as a tool for strategic, operational and technological innovation in a new strategic environment marked by the return of major power competition. While the value of wargaming as a method for learning and teaching is well-accepted, its value as an rigorous academic method of inquiry is still largely contested.

Dr Perla will re-examine the fundamental theoretical debate of whether wargaming should be considered an art or a science in the context of the changed security environment. The aim of the talk is to bring wargaming theory and practice to a new multi-disciplinary epistemological ground that would enable its useful contribution to advancing knowledge, informing policy and furthering education.

Prof Wyn Bowen, Head, School of Security Studies, will deliver the welcome address and Ms Ivanka Barzashka, Wargaming Network, will chair the discussion.

Details and registration for the event can be found here.

By happy coincidence I’ll be in London that day and able to attend, so look forward to an eventual lecture report at PAXsims.

You can follow the activities of the King’s Wargaming Network via Twitter.

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87th annual MORS symposium

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The 87th annual symposium of the Military Operations Research Society will be held at the  US Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, CO from 17-20 June 2019:

This year’s theme, “Advancing Analytics to Support National Security,” emphasizes the Society’s goal of leading the national security analysis community in the development of cutting-edge tools, techniques, and best practices. The 87th Symposium will include hundreds of presentations across 7 Composite Groups, 34 Working Groups, and numerous Distributed Working Groups, Focus Sessions, Special Sessions, Demonstrations, Tutorials, and Continuing Education Unit Courses over the four-day program.  Sessions will be conducted at the classified and unclassified level.

New Working Group: Data Science and Analytics, being led by Mr. Ian Kloo of the U.S. Military Academy.  This working group will pave the way in this very active field of research and applications.

Abstracts are now being accepted through 15 February 2019.

For further information, to submit an abstract, or to register, visit the MORS website.

 

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