Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Monthly Archives: May 2019

Squeezing the Turnip: The Limits of Wargaming

The following piece has been written for PAXsims by Robert C. Rubel.



“Measure it with a micrometer, mark it with chalk and cut it with an axe” is an old adage that cautions us that the precision we can achieve in a project is limited by the least precise tool we employ.  We should remember this wisdom any time we use wargaming for research purposes.  Dr. John Hanley, in his dissertation On Wargaming says that wargaming is a weakly structured tool that is appropriate for examining weakly structured problems; that is, those with high levels of indeterminacy – those aspects of the problem that are unknown, such as the identity of all the variables.  Problems with lesser degrees of indeterminacy are more appropriately handled by various kinds of measurement and mathematical analysis.  However, as the tools for simulation and the analysis of textual data become more sophisticated, the danger is we will attempt to extract precision from wargaming that it is simply not appropriate to seek.

There are three aspects to this issue that we will address here; the inherent ability of wargaming to supply data that can be extrapolated to the real world, the development of “oracular” new gaming systems, and the number of objectives a particular wargame can achieve.

Peter Perla wrote, back in 1990 what has been the standard reference on wargaming, aptly-titled The Art of Wargaming. Of late there has been a lot of discussion online about wargaming as a science, or perhaps more precisely, the application of scientific methodology to wargaming.  There is no doubt that a rigorous, disciplined and structured approach to designing, executing and analyzing wargames is a good and needed thing. Too often in the past this has not been the case, and lots of money, time and effort have been wasted on games that were poorly conceived, designed and executed.  Worse, decisions of consequence have been influenced by the outcome of such games.  But even the most competently mounted game has its limits.  In this writer’s view, games can indicate possibilities but not predict; judgment is required in handling their results.

It is one thing to use a game to reveal relationships that might not otherwise be detected.  A 2003 Unified Course game at the Naval War College explored how the Services’ future concepts were or were not compatible.  It was designed as a kind of intellectual atom smasher, employing a rather too challenging scenario to see where the concepts failed.  The sub-atomic particle that popped out was that nobody was planning to maintain a SEAD (suppression of enemy air defense) capability that would cover the entry of non-stealth aircraft into defended zones. This was a potentially actionable insight that came out of the game, based on actual elements of future concepts. When games are used this way they are revelatory, not predictive.

Where we run into trouble is when we attempt to infer too much meaning from what game players do or say.  Dr. Stephen Downes-Martin has shown that game player behavior is at least partially a function of their relationships to game umpires, and so the linkage to either present or future reality is broken.  Thus there are limits on the situations where player behavior or verbal / written inputs can be regarded as legitimate output of a game.  There is a difference between having some kind of aha moment via observing player inputs and exchanges, and trying to dig out, statistically, presumed embedded meaning from player responses to questionnaires, interviews or even interactions with umpires or other players.

A first cousin to the attempt to extract too much information from a regular game is the attempt to create some new form of gaming that will be more revelatory or predictive than current practice can achieve.  Most of these are some riff on the Delphi Method, whether a variation of the seminar game or some kind of massively multi-player online game.  I know of none that have justified the claims of their designers and in any case they seem to violate the basic logic Downes-Martin lays out; the problematic connection between game players and the real world. When I was chairman of the Wargaming Department at the Naval War College I challenged my faculty to advance the state of the art of wargaming, but always within the bounds of supportable logic. My mantra was “No BS leaves the building!”

Even if a game is conceived and designed with the above epistemic limitations in mind, there could still be danger that the sponsor will try to burden it with too many objectives.  This was a common problem with the Navy’s Global Wargames in the late 1990s.  Tasked to explore network-centric warfare, the games became overly large and complex, piling on objectives from multiple sponsors, creating a voluminous and chaotic (not to mention expensive) output that was susceptible to interpretation in any way a stakeholder wanted.

The poster child of all this was Millennium Challenge 02, a massive “game” involving over 35,000 “entities” embedded in the supporting computer simulation, many game cells as well as thousands of instrumented troops, vehicles, ships and aircraft in the field and at sea.  Not only was the underpinning logic and design flawed – attempting to stack a game on top of field training exercises – but the multiplicity of objectives obfuscated any ability to extract useful information.  As it turned out, the game was sufficiently foggy to spawn suspicion of its intended use in the mind of a key Red player, retired Lieutenant General Paul VanRiper, and his post-game public criticisms destroyed any credibility the game might have had (I observed the game standing behind him as he directed his forces).

Modesty is called for.  While we might approach game design scientifically, and there are certain scientific philosophies upon which game analysis can be founded, gaming itself is not some form of the scientific method, even though rigor and discipline is necessary for their success.  An example of a good game was one run at the Naval War College in the spring of 2014 for VADM Hunt, then director of the Navy Staff.  The game was designed around the question “How would fleet operators use the LCS if it had various defined characteristics?”  Actual fleet staff officers were brought in as players and they worked their way through various scenarios.  What made a difference in the game was the effect that arming the LCS with long range anti-ship missiles had on opposition players.  The insight that VADM Rowden, Commander Surface Force, took away was that distributing offensive power around the fleet complicated an enemy’s planning problem.  One could consider this a blinding flash of the obvious, but in this case it was revelatory in terms of the inherent logic of an operational situation.  Trying to squeeze more detailed insights from the game, such as the combat effectiveness of the LCS, might have fuzzed the game’s focus and prevented the Admiral from gaining the key insight. He translated that insight into the concept of distributed lethality, now codified into the more general doctrine of Distributed Maritime Operations.

In a very real sense, games are blunt instruments, the analogue of the axe in the old saying.  Like the axe though, they can be very useful.  In this writer’s opinion – informed by many years of gaming – the best games in terms of potential for yielding actionable results, are focused on just a couple of objectives.  That said, in my experience, the most valuable insights are sometimes the ones you don’t expect going in.  In fact, some of the most influential games I have seen were essentially fishing expeditions. In 2006 the Naval War College conducted a six-week long strategy game to support the development of what became the 2007 A Cooperative Strategy for 21stCentury Seapower (CS21).  Going in we did not know what we were looking for but in the end a somewhat unexpected insight emerged (It’s the system, stupid) that ended up underpinning the new strategic document.  “Let’s set up this scenario and see what happens” is an axe-like approach that must not then be measured with a micrometer.

Captain (ret) Robert C. (“Barney”) Rubel served 30 years active duty as a light attack/strike fighter aviator.  Most of his shore duty was connected to professional military education (PME) and particularly the use of wargaming to support it.  As a civilian he worked first as an analyst within the Naval War College Wargaming Department, later becoming its chairman.  In that capacity he transformed the department from a mostly military staff organization to an academic research organization.  From 2006 to 2014 he served as Dean of the Center for Naval Warfare Studies, the research arm of the Naval War College. Over the years he has played in, observed, designed, directed, and analyzed numerous wargames of all types and written a number of articles about wargaming.  For the past four years he has served as an advisor to the Chief of Naval Operations on various issues including fleet design and PME.


Simulation and gaming miscellany, 25 May 2019


PAXsims is pleased to present some recent items on serious (and not-so-serious) gaming that may be of interest to our readers.



A new online wargame is intended to explore issues of signalling, deterrence, and escalation:

A first-of-its-kind online game, released publicly today, is poised to revolutionize the field of wargaming. Developed by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratories with support from the Carnegie Corporation of New York, this new multi-player computer game was custom built to explore deterrence and decision-making in an escalating conflict.

Over the past century, military leaders and in the United States have sought to answer similar questions with seminar style discussions or table top exercises. These types of wargames typically involve convening high-ranking military and political officials to play through scenarios that are representative of real-world situations. Insights gathered from the game are then used to inform decisions about policies, strategies and tactics. However, this approach has key shortcomings that limit its usefulness.

“Because you have a limited player set and only play through a few scenarios, you don’t get enough data from these scenario-based discussions to draw statistical inference. You may only get an idea of how these specific people would react,” said Bethany Goldblum, a researcher in UC Berkeley’s Nuclear Engineering department. “This is why traditional wargaming is often described as an art rather than science.”

You’ll find more at the link above. The article rather overstates the novelty of online games as a research method to generate large-n findings—in fact, this method is a staple of experimental psychology and economics, and used in other social science fields too. However, these are almost always very much simpler games intended to explore a narrow range of hypotheses.

If you try the game, drop us a line and let us know what you think. So far, I’ve been unable to get past the consent form (possible browser compatibility issues–I’ll play around with it when I have more time), and a few others have encountered problems setting up, or find the game and interface a bit clunky. Obviously, ease of use is a key issue in experimental games, otherwise you run into problems of sample bias or interface-driven results.

Still, it is a great idea. We’ll be very interested to see the results.


DSTL arctic.png

Some of the folks at the UK Defence Science and Technology Laboratory have been busy wargaming in the Arctic.

It was -20°C, a blizzard was moving in fast, and the Marines were laughing at me as I’d fallen flat on my face in deep snow. As hilarious as they found my predicament, this was a perfect example of the kind of conditions that the Marines are trained to face as we quickly slid down a mountain to our waiting Viking armoured vehicles to avoid the incoming storm. Not necessarily what I was expecting when the Wargaming and Historical Analysis Team had sent Paul Strong and I to support C Company (Coy) from the Royal Navy’s 40 Commando Royal Marines by running a wargame for them….


As a Montrealer, I’ve got to say that -20C is just a regular winter day—although perhaps not so much in Dstl Portsdown West.


The Centre for Land Warfare Studies (New Delhi) and staff from the UK Ministry of Defence Development Concepts and Doctrine Centre recently conducted a matrix game.



The International Organization for Migration continues to hold crisis preparedness simulations in the Sahel region as well as West Africa. The latest were conducted in April

More than 300 people took part in a fifth cross-border crisis simulation exercise organized Thursday by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in partnership with the Government of Senegal in the eastern city of Bakel near the borders with Mauritania and Mali.

The exercises prepare local populations and border management actors to respond to potential security crises by testing and strengthening collaboration and communication between border communities, administrative authorities, security forces in Senegal and Mauritania, as well as health and relief services.

“Security is first and foremost an individual responsibility that extends to the community and then becomes a national interest,” said IOM Senegal Project Coordinator Massimo Ramanzin. “With this fifth exercise, IOM reiterates the important role of the community in safe and humane border management.”

The first pilot project “Engagement des communautés frontalières dans la gestion et la sécurisation des frontières au Sénégal” (Engaging border communities in border security and management in Senegal), was launched in 2015 by the Government of Senegal and IOM.

Four additional exercises were carried out in Matam (February 2016), Tambacounda (December 2017), and Saint-Louis (November 2016 and April 2018).

and in May:

In an effort to empower authorities to effectively respond to large-scale population movements, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the National Disaster Management Agency (NDMA) organized the first ever crisis simulation exercise along the Gambian-Senegalese border.

Held in Giboro, Gambia’s West Coast Region – which hosts the busiest border post with Senegal’s southern Casamance region – the exercise tested actors’ ability to effectively respond in times of crisis; in particular, to provide assistance to vulnerable migrants.

80 volunteers from The Gambia Red Cross Society (GRCS) simulated the migrants and first responders, with various state and nonstate actors called to the scene. Key to the simulation was the interaction between immigration, security, health and social welfare authorities to register arrivals, provide medical and psychosocial support and establish evacuation and shelter plans.

“Although it was good that we were able to control the situation in the border post early, we need to improve the coordination between all apparatuses” commented Edrisa Manneh, GRCS’ Volunteer Management Coordinator, in reflection of the exercise.

The exercise was meant to model the border turmoil brought by the political tension of 2016, in which over 45,000 Gambians fled to Senegal, as well as a 2011 upsurge of violence in Casamance, in which the region received 700 additional Senegalese asylum seekers, adding to the almost 8,000 in The Gambia.

“In 2016, we realized that West Coast is at the receiving point of movement between The Gambia and Senegal,” remarked Binta Sey, Secretary-General of the Regional Disaster Management Committee, highlighting the significance of emergency preparedness in the region. “In any crisis involving migration, Giboro bears the load more than any other town,” echoed Modou Jallow, community youth leader.

The exercise was preceded by a four-day workshop, where the committee updated its contingency plan, identifying population movement as one of the region’s top five hazards. The exercise was also followed by a debriefing with all stakeholders to document lessons learned. One key aim was to incorporate the Guidelines to Protect Migrants in Countries Experiencing Conflict or Natural Disaster (MICIC) into the region’s contingency plan. IOM introduced the MICIC Guidelines to The Gambia in 2018 through a series of trainings. “You are successfully working together to increase the capacity of first responders to properly react in times of crises,” commended Carl Paschall, Ambassador of the US to The Gambia, at the workshop.


The Harvard Humanitarian Initiative held its most recent three day humanitarian training simulation/field exercise in April, involving more  than 250 students, faculty and volunteers .



Earlier this month, the International Academy of Astronautics Planetary Defense Conference undertook a simulation of an asteroid heading for Earth—ultimately impacting New York City.

A hypothetical asteroid impact scenario will be presented at the 2019 IAA Planetary Defense Conference (PDC), to be held in College Park, Maryland, USA, April 29 – May 3, 2019. Although this scenario is realistic in many ways, it is completely fictional and does NOT describe an actual potential asteroid impact. The scenario begins as follows:

  • An asteroid is discovered on March 26, 2019, at magnitude 21.1, and confirmed the following day. It is assigned the designation “2019 PDC” by the Minor Planet Center. (To reinforce the fact that this is not a real asteroid, we are using three letters in the designation, something that would never be done for an actual asteroid.)
  • Initial calculations indicate that the orbit of 2019 PDC approaches well within 0.05 au of the Earth’s orbit. (The unit “au” stands for “astronomical unit”, which is the mean distance of the Earth from the Sun, 149,597,870.7 km, or 92,955,807 miles.) Since the initial estimate of the asteroid’s absolute (intrinsic) magnitude H is 21.7, it qualifies as a Potentially Hazardous Asteroid (PHA).
  • The asteroid’s orbit is eccentric, extending from a distance of 0.89 au from the Sun at its closest point to 2.94 au at its farthest point in the middle of the main asteroid belt. Its orbital period is 971 days (2.66 years), and its orbital plane is inclined 18 degrees to the Earth’s orbital plane.
  • The day after 2019 PDC is discovered, JPL’s Sentry impact monitoring system, as well as ESA’s similar CLOMON system, both identify several future dates when this asteroid could potentially impact the Earth. Both systems agree that the most likely potential impact occurs on April 29, 2027 – over eight years away – but the probability of that impact is very low, about 1 chance in 50,000. With only two days of tracking this object, no more definitive statement can be made.
  • When first detected, the asteroid is about 0.38 au (57 million kilometers or 35 million miles) from Earth, approaching our planet at about 14 km/s (8.5 mi/s or 31,000 mph), and slowly getting brighter. 2019 PDC is observed extensively for a few weeks after discovery, and as the observational dataset grows, the impact probability for 2027 increases. Three weeks after discovery, when observations pause during full moon, the impact probability has risen to nearly 0.4 percent, or about 1 chance in 250. The asteroid continues to brighten somewhat as it approaches, but it reaches a peak brightness of only 20.3 at the end of April.
  • Very little is known about the asteroid’s physical properties. Based on the apparent visual magnitude, its absolute (intrinsic) magnitude is estimated to be about H = 21.7 +/- 0.4. Since its albedo (reflectivity) is unknown, however, the asteroid’s mean size could be anywhere from roughly 100 meters to over 300 meters.
  • 2019 PDC approaches the Earth for well over a month after discovery, and it reaches its closest point of about 0.13 au on May 13. Unfortunately, the asteroid is too far away to be detected by radar, and it is not expected to pass close to the Earth again, until 2027.
  • Astronomers continue to track the asteroid almost every night, and the impact probability for 2027 continues to rise. As of April 29, 2019, the first day of the 2019 Planetary Defense Conference, the probability of impact has climbed to about 1%. The rest of the scenario will be played out at the conference.

You’ll find more at the conference website, and a summary of what happened at EarthSky.

PAXsimsAccording to Breaking Defence, the US Army War College is thinking about how to wargame advances in Artificial Intelligence:

ARMY WAR COLLEGE: Theater commanders around the world want weapons they can see and use right now, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs told the Army War College. It’s a lot harder, Gen. Joseph Dunford said, to sell experienced senior officers on an untested and intangible capability like Artificial Intelligence.

One week after Dunford’s visit, the Army War College convened two dozen officers and civilian experts to take on that challenge: How do you demonstrate the potential value of a military AI before you actually build it? (The conference was scheduled long before Dunford’s visit, but his words were very much on participants’ minds). The immediate objective: come up with ways to mimic the effects of an AI so the school’s in-house game designers could turn it into either a computer simulation or a table-top exercise within 10 months — without new money. The hope is that the 2020 game, in turn, will intrigue Army leadership enough that they’ll support a larger, longer-term AI effort….


Wargaming the future is difficult because predicting the future is difficult. In the June 2019 edition of The Atlantic, David Epstein briefly explores the some of the challenges involved—and what contemporary social science tells us about effective forecasting.

The pattern is by now familiar. In the 30 years since Ehrlich sent Simon a check, the track record of expert forecasters—in science, in economics, in politics—is as dismal as ever. In business, esteemed (and lavishly compensated) forecasters routinely are wildly wrong in their predictions of everything from the next stock-market correction to the next housing boom. Reliable insight into the future is possible, however. It just requires a style of thinking that’s uncommon among experts who are certain that their deep knowledge has granted them a special grasp of what is to come.

Much of the piece focuses on the work of Philip Tetlock and the Good Judgment Project.



In a recent edition of the Ludology podcast, Mikael Jakobsson and Rick Eberhardt from the MIT Game Lab discuss their research into colonial themes in board games, and the game design workshops they run in former colonial countries.



When you’ve finished listening to that, here’s another podcast for you: Armchair Dragoon, this time featuring a discussion with James Sterrett and Brian Train on Matt Caffrey’s new book, On Wargaming, as well as other essential reading on wargaming.



One more podcast: a recent edition of the War Studies podcast from King’s College London features an interview with Philip Sabin on wargaming.



In December 2018 a cybersecurity wargame was held at Teachers College, Columbia University to explore insider threats, using a modified matrix game.

Lawrence Furnival has a report at LinkedIn.



President Trump’s trade war with China—and the imposition of new tariffs on toys and games—could hit the US gaming industry hard:

President Donald Trump’s trade war with China is causing a panic inside the board game industry. A list of tariffs on Chinese imports proposed by the United States trade representative would raise the cost of virtually everything needed to produce modern tabletop games. John Stacy, executive director of the Game Manufacturers Association (GAMA), says that tariffs could dramatically reduce the number of new games in production in the United States. Even worse, they could cost workers and business owners their livelihoods.

You’ll find more details at Polygon.


Finally, an item that isn’t new, but we hadn’t seen before: a 2017 research report by Lt Col Christopher R. DiNote (USAF) discussing the development of an ISR  (intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance) wargame (OPERATION AZURE OSPREY) based on AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game.

In a February 2015 memorandum, Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work issued a call to the department and the military services to reinvigorate the use of wargaming across the defense enterprise. He connected wargaming directly to innovation in technology, as well as new operational and organizational concepts to avoid strategic surprise. The secretary’s guidance emphasized the urgency of this task, explaining that the United States faces an era of constrained resources and rapid global change. This essay contributes to the Air Force response to this call to action, including a game design-in-progress, from the perspective of Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) strategic decision-making. The author contends that games designed with ISR central to their play can facilitate greatly needed, yet politically difficult discussions of force allocation, risk assessment, return on investment, prioritization, transregional threats, and the insatiable demand for ISR coverage in an increasingly disordered world of contested norms.6

Contemporary military wargames are expensive undertakings. They consume great amounts of time, personnel, and resources, and depend on classified computer models and simulations. Policy-making seminar games, featuring extensive roleplay, also make significant demands on the schedule of senior leaders, and the availability of Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) and adjudicators. Rarely will either format address or inform ISR aspects of strategy in a significant fashion. Therefore, the material presented here explores the latest academic research and wargaming innovations to demonstrate the utility of low cost, fast-play, tabletop manual games as tools to experiment, innovate, train, and analyze historical, contemporary and future defense problems from an ISR-centered lens. This project also aspires to foster an officially- sponsored “gaming culture” throughout the AF ISR enterprise.

Following an initial playtest of Aftershock held at the LeMay Center on Maxwell AFB, AFWGI personnel conducted analysis and began to conceive of modifications to the game to transform it into a global ISR-centric wargame. For Azure Osprey, the players will represent ISR producers and/or distributors, each with their own distinct player brief. The National Command Authority, representing the POTUS and executive branch, can drive priorities as well as has his or her own support requirements. The other players represent the NSA, NGA, and CIA. Originally, the author intended the players to represent various CCMDs, but the Aftershockplaytest, as well as the pointed analysis of AFWGI members showed no way around the zero- sum competition effect resident in real-world ISR allocation, in playing the game from that perspective. Therefore, the CCMDs will fill the role of the Districts in Aftershock. The CCMD “districts” host requirements for various types of ISR to meet their PIRs on stacks of cards. Failure to address these PIRs, which emulate those found in their AOR’s TCP, OPLANs, and CONPLANs, increases the risk over time of strategic surprise, attack against the US or its interests, or disastrous failure of US policy in that region. Azure Osprey will simulate USPACOM, USCENTCOM, USEUCOM, USTRATCOM, and USSOCOM. The other CCMDs will be simulated via event cards that drive their own cost requirements in ISR resources.

KCL: Lecturer/Senior Lecturer/Reader in War Studies (wargaming) wanted


The Department of War Studies at King’s College London is seeking a Senior Lecturer or Reader in War Studies (Wargaming):

The Department is seeking to appoint a Senior Lecturer/Reader in War Studies (Wargaming). In addition to possessing expertise in the field of wargaming, the post holder will be expected to teach and research broadly in War Studies and in particular to contribute to the delivery of modules, both core and optional, at undergraduate and taught post-graduate levels. They will also contribute to the supervision of doctoral students and undertake appropriate administrative duties.

The successful candidate will be expected to have a strong record of research and teaching within the sphere of wargaming/conflict simulation. They will be expected to promote actively the academic study and employment of wargaming within the department and across relevant professional networks externally, including the armed forces. In addition, they will be expected to maintain high quality research and publication and to seek out and bid for relevant academic research funding.

Applications are sought from candidates with a PhD and a strong research and teaching profile from within any relevant area within the broad remit of war studies. The Department welcomes applications from candidates from any disciplinary background, including mixed methods and quantitative approaches. The Department is also open to strong applications from promising, but more junior scholars, but whose current experience may not put them in the Senior Lecturer range.

You will find full information here. The closing date for applications is June 17.

Journal of Political Science Education special issue on simulations and games

Unknown.jpegA recent issue of the Journal of Political Science Education 15, 1 (2019) is devoted to the topic of simulations and games.


  • JPSE 15-1 Introduction

Scholarship of Teaching and Learning 

  • Bet Out the Vote: Prediction Markets as a Tool to Promote Undergraduate Political Engagement
    • Lukas Berg & John Chambers
  • Teaching Judicial Politics Through a Supreme Court Simulation
    • Ryan J. Williams & Anthony J. Chergosky
  • Lecture Versus Simulation: Testing the Long-Term Effects
    • Adam Wunische
  • Zombies, Gender, and Student Active Learning
    • Kate Hunt
  • The Statecraft Effect: Assessment, Attitudes, and Academic Honesty
    • John Linantud & Joanna Kaftan
  • The Narrative History of the Chocolate Wars: A Short and Tasty Bargaining Game
    • James D. Fielder
  • Learning By Doing: The Long-Term Impact of Experiential Learning Programs on Student Success
    • Leigh A. Bradberry & Jennifer De Maio
  • Teaching Party Systems: A Culinary Demonstration
    • Andre P. Audette
  • Active Learning in Large Graduate Classes: Reflections on an “Attaining Citizenship” Simulation
    • Aleks Deejay, Maria Rost Rublee & Steven T. Zech

Books, Teaching Tools, and Educational Resources 

  • Model United Nations: Review for First-Time Instructors and Advisors
    • Timothy A. Hazen
  • Raising the Bar: Maximizing Engaged Student Learning Using the American Mock Trial Association Case State of Midlands v. Dylan Hendricks
    • Kyla K. Stepp & Jeremiah J. Castle


Trouble in Paradise II: Melanesia

Melanesia Matrix Game Rules cover.pngCol. Jerry Hall (US Army, Pacific) has passed on to PAXsims his latest South Pacific matrix game, Trouble in Paradise II: Melanesia.

Melanesia is a Matrix Game designed to introduce players to the Melanesia region, its major actors and its most important dynamics. It is the second title in a series of Matrix Games on Oceania using the same core rules as the previous title, Micronesia. An overview of the Melanesia region follows in the next section (references to the game Melanesia will be italicized).

The major actors represented in the game (either as player countries or through game design) are the Melanesian minor powers: the Autonomous Region of Bougainville, Fiji, New Caledonia, Papua New Guinea (PNG), the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, and West Papua; and the major regional powers: Australia, China, Indonesia, New Zealand, Taiwan, and the United States.

The most important dynamic represented in the game is great and regional power influence competition at several levels. At the grand strategic level the United States and China are competing in the Oceania region in what some have called another “Great Game.” In the case of Melanesia, this competition is fueled by Melanesia’s strategic geographic location at the southern base of the “second island chain,” Melanesia’s raw materials and potential markets, China’s ever expanding Belt and Road project, and the United States’ slow “rebalance” to the Pacific. There are several competitions at the regional level. China and Taiwan are competing over recognition; the Solomon Islands still recognizes Taiwan over China (as do five other countries in Oceania: Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, and Tuvalu). Australia is the largest aid donor in the region. Both Australia and New Zealand have historic and cultural ties to Melanesia and vested interests in Melanesian security. Indonesia is attempting to influence the Melanesian countries to minimize support for the Free Papua movement in the Indonesian province of West Papua. The Melanesian countries have their own internal issues that reduce their agency as the great powers compete over and in them. A final wildcard is the separatist movement in the Papua New Guinean Autonomous Region of Bougainville; Bougainville independence could trigger similar movements in its neighbors.

Influence is represented by markers placed on the map for each country and Bougainville; each country has a graphic divided into sectors representing the Government, the People, the Economy and any Government Opposition. Players gain or lose influence markers during the game through their actions; either limited recurring actions (“Turn 0” activities), or discrete and more powerful actions using of the Instruments of National Power (Diplomatic, Information, Military and Economic, or “DIME”).

Melanesia introduces two important influence concepts, one grounded the in the core influence dynamic included in Micronesia, the other a new twist: the West Papuan separatist movement and the concept of “Melanesian Solidarity.” The Indonesian region of West Papua is represented as a non-player actor in Melanesia. The Indonesian player may take actions in West Papua (and has DIME Tokens that can only be used there). The separatist movement is represented by the Subject Matter Expert (SME). “Melanesian Solidarity” represents the concept of a Melanesian community that transcends national borders, especially support for West Papuan self-determination or independence. Melanesian Influence Markers throughout the region reflect the level of support for Melanesian culture and independence, most prominently in support of West Papuan independence. See the Indonesian and West Papua briefs, as well as Appendix 4: West Papua Independence Movement, for additional information.

You’ll find everything you need to run the game here.

You’ll also find additional matrix game resources here at PAXsims, at Tom Mouat’s website, and in the Matrix Game Construction Kit. Trouble in Paradise: Micronesia is also available at PAXsims.

Contested Holy Cities: The Urban Dimension of Religious Conflicts

image.pngRoutledge has just published Contested Holy Cities: The Urban Dimension of Religious Conflict, edited by Mick Dumper.

Examining contestation and conflict management within holy cities, this book provides both an overview and a range of options available to those concerned with this increasingly urgent phenomenon.

In cities in India, the Balkans and the Mediterranean, we can see examples where religion plays a dominant role in urban development and thus provides a platform for conflict. Powerful religious hierarchies, the generation of often unregulated revenues from donations and endowments, the presence of holy sites and the enactment of ritualistic activities in public spaces combine to create forms of conflicts which are, arguably, more intense and more intractable than other forms of conflicts in cities. The book develops a working definition of the urban dimension of religious conflicts so that the kinds of conflicts exhibited can be contextualised and studied in a more targeted manner. It draws together a series of case studies focusing on specific cities, the kinds of religious conflicts occurring in them and the international structures and mechanisms that have emerged to address such conflicts.

Combining expertise from both academics and practitioners in the policy and military world, this interdisciplinary collection will be of particular relevance to scholars and students researching politics and religion, regional studies, geography and urban studies. It should also prove useful to policymakers in the military and other international organisations.

What does this have to do with simulation and gaming, you might ask? Well, the book contains a chapter by yours truly on “Simulating the Urban Dimensions of Religious Conflict,” exploring the “Crisis in Galasi” simulation I ran for Mick’s original conference back in March 2018.

Should you want to buy a copy of the book, this flyer entitles you to a 20% discount.

Back from Glasgow


I returned yesterday from a brief, but very productive, trip to Glasgow. The visit took place under the auspices of a cooperation agreement between McGill University and the University of Glasgow, supported by an EU Erasmus+ grant.

Much of my visit revolved around (war)gaming, and in response to several requests I’m posting (pdf) copies of my presentation slides here:

We also played a game of A Reckoning of Vultures, the coup-plotting game included in the Matrix Game Construction Kit.

I’m grateful for the extraordinary hospitality shown by Prof. Beatrice Heuser and her colleagues in the Scottish Centre for War Studies and the School of Social and Political Sciences. I look forward to future collaboration!


Simulation & Gaming (April 2019)


The latest issue of Simulation & Gaming 50, 2 (April 2019) is now available.


Armchair Dragoon: wargaming civilians


DragoonsLogoHEADER-1.pngThe latest edition of Armchair Dragoons’ Mentioned in Dispatches podcast features a discussion of how civil-military and non-kinetic factors are—or, more frequently, are not—represented in wargames.

Following up on an earlier episode of Mentioned in Dispatches, Doug & Jim are back to join guest Rex Brynen in talking about all those non-military considerations during armed conflict, as we cover games ranging from A Distant Plain to The Creature That Ate Sheboygan.

So if you’re curious about how block-by-block fighting in Mosul affected the city, what game lets NGOs use nukes, Canadian government zombies, and/or what flavor firefighters are, this is your podcast!

You’ll find it here.


On Twitter, a couple of users have recently tweeted images of AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game being used as an educational game.

BA/BSc Geography students playing AFTERSHOCK at the University of Gloucestershire:

40 Commando Royal Marines playing AFTERSHOCK at the University of Exeter:

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