PAXsims

Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Monthly Archives: March 2020

CIMSEC: Sebastian Bae on wargaming at Georgetown University (and elsewhere)

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The latest issue of the CIMSEC podcast Sea Control (#166) features Sebastian Bae discussing his wargaming course at Georgetown University and many other things as well.

Sebastian Bae (@SebastianBae) joins Jared (@jwsc03) to discuss his own development as a wargamer and designer, the genesis for Georgetown University’s new wargaming program, the Georgetown University Wargaming Society, the explosion of wargaming in both the academic world and Department of Defense and what he’s learned in his first year of teaching. One editor’s note: Nick Murray was identified as working for the Naval Postgraduate School during the podcast. He works for the Naval War College.

You can listen to it here.

Engle: COVID-19 hospital matrix gaming ideas

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Chris Engle, the inventor of matrix gaming, has passed on some ideas for a COVID 19 general hospital simulation. We are pleased to post them below.

The world is facing a pandemic. It is testing our systems to the extreme. Maximizing utilization of resources is all important. This requires the following.

  • Effective intelligence
  • Pre-planning
  • Pre-deployment of resources
  • Public policy to slow the spread of the illness
  • Maintenance of public order
  • Distribution of goods and services
  • Medical treatment as needed
  • Maintenance of front line essential workers
  • Evaluation of effectiveness and alteration of intervention
  • Data-based decision making on when to return to normal

It is a highly complicated situation that is in a constant state of flux. Simulating this in a timely meaningful way is a huge challenge.

What follows is a simple, inexpensive, easily run, quick to initiate simulation that might be helpful. The game is about a general hospital in a moderate sized city in Middle America: imagine it being in a city of 100 to 250 thousand people. Or it might be in one district of a much larger city. The players are healthcare providers, administrators, and other stakeholders. The game consists of play sessions of around 10 participants each engaging problems and solutions, and the problems that flow from them. Sessions last between 30 tp 120 minutes and can be done by phone, video, email, or in person. The game requires a facilitator/moderator/host who does not have to be an expert. Their job is to encourage people to participate.

The Matrix Game

General Hospital is run using a Matrix Game. This is a type of game that uses words and discussion rather than numbers and mathematical algorithms to track what happens, The approach has been used since the 1980’s as a planning/training tool in a variety of fields. Chris Engle, a psychiatric social worker, invented Matrix Games in 1988. Games consist of players making statements about what they think happens next in a given situation. They are narrating events, which they make up out of their imagination. The session is a conversation between participants. The outcome of sessions is a list of brainstormed problems and solutions, with some indication about which ones are more or less likely to happen. The complete rules of the game are as follows’ The host of the event starts the session by stating a problem. They then ask the players “What happens next?” The host then allows the players to speak. The host’s remaining job is to encourage people to speak, to recap what is said, to help players through the technical rules, to occasionally re-ask the question, and to wrap the game up on time. The players make things happen by jumping in as the spirit moves them to say what happens next. This might be an event, a plan, or another problem. Whatever the player says automatically happens, it is part of the story. Other players may jump in and add to this or they may alter it or even say that something else happens instead. These also automatically happen, and overwrite the first statement. If a player says something that people think is unlikely to happen they may ask the player to roll for it. The player must then roll a six sided die. On a roll of 1 to 3, the event does not happen and cannot be repeated in this game. On a roll of 4 to 6 the event does happen and cannot be overwritten, As many players as wish may ask a player to roll and the player must pass each roll to have their event happen. This is evidence or how unlikely people believe certain moves are.

The game ends when the starting problem is solved or when the players run out of time.

Dice rolls are never required and it is not uncommon for there to be sessions without any rolls. The ideas that players come up with will range far from their areas of responsibility and expertise. They will identify problems and interventions that touch on society at large. Some input will even be silly and fantastical. All this is allowed because with each statement, the players open up a little more which makes it possible for them to speak and share incites that will help. To this end, it is helpful for top leaders to say little or nothing in games since they may overly influence participants.

Debriefing

It is vitally important for time be given after each session for the players to talk about and summarize what they learned. This cements lessons. This can be done by the players talking to one another or by the game host recapping events and highlighting the important points. These recaps should then be passed back to the administrators and decision makers who sponsored the event so they can make use of the intelligence for planning purposes.

Participants

Any health professional or stakeholder in decision making can usefully participate in Matrix Game sessions. They do not need any simulation expertise or area knowledge beyond what they already have. All they need to know before the event is that they are going to participate in a low key, planning meeting that will give them deeper knowledge of the big picture of the present problem and how they fit into it.

Using Technology

Matrix Games are usually played in face to face sessions. But they work just as well as email/text messages. They also work in phone meetings or video conferences. The medium is unimportant, and because the game consists of conversations between players, there is no need for expensive computer programs or equipment. This approach can be implemented in a high tech city or a village with no paved roads. One advantage of using video or email is the potential to have a record of each game. These records form a data set that can be analyzed at a later date using computational models.

On Use of this Game

Permission is granted for any person, institution, or company to use this game and the Matrix Game approach in general for planning and training purposes. The only request is that they cite that Matrix Games were invented by Chris Engle in 1988. Please pass this document onto any and all people you know who might be helped by it.

Note for Facilitators

People are naturally shy when it comes to making things up. It is helpful to start the game by asking each player to say one thing that people in their role would do in the face of the presenting problem. Once that is done the ice is broken and the host can take a more backseat approach.

The facilitator is responsible for establishing and maintaining a good work environment. If players engage in abusive or intimidating behavior, it is the facilitator’s job to intervene and establish order. There can be no useful work accomplished without a good working environment. It is okay for participants to say little or nothing is a game. When they do this they are being the audience. They still learn from the event and may come up with the most useful observations during debriefing because they were looking at it in a bigger picture way.

The facilitator does not have to be an expert in technical subject matter. It is perfectly acceptable and expected that they will not know certain details. This allows them to model how to ask questions and listen to answers. The facilitator does need to be an outward going person who will engage the players actively. Aside from encouraging people, the facilitator is also a player. But they need to not take too much role in the game so that they do not unduly influence play. The facilitator needs to gather up all materials from the game and return them to the administrator who sponsored the event. This may involve writing a short report.

Lastly, end sessions promptly. Make certain there is time to do debriefing within the time of the meeting. Healthcare worker are very busy, especially now, and will appreciate meetings that end on time. Overstepping their time will reduce how much they take away from it. A good opening problem to start a game is: “The coronavirus is coming. We need to deal with it. How do we prevent a disaster?”

Chris Engle


PAXsims offers substantial resources on various matrix games, including the Flattening the Curve matrix game scenario, game icons (if you are using physical displays), and the Matrix Game Construction Kit.

See also our COVID-19 serious gaming resources page.

MORS “Emergency Response to Disease Gaming Course”

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“In this two-day, class we will focus on the application of professional games to the problems associated with disease response. We will cover pandemic response games, both national and international. We will also examine problems of novel or unique organisms, biological warfare and terrorism, and public health response. The objective throughout the class will be to identify unique or challenging aspects involved in designing games involving disease response. We will also incorporate emerging lessons from the current pandemic response into our discussions.”

For full details see:
https://www.mors.org/Events/Courses/Gaming-Emergency-Response-to-Disease-Course

C3i Magazine: COVID-19 Scenario for Pandemic

While the board game Pandemic makes no claim to be a serious game, it can certainly is the most popular game ever on the subject of epidemic disease. Now, courtesy of C3i Magazine,  there is a scenario available that allows you to adapt the game to play the current COVID-19 pandemic.

C3i Magazine is proud to present Trevor Bender’s COVID-19 Scenario for the strategy boardgame1366004204.jpg Pandemic

The scenario introduces a new Action – Social Distancing – which allows players to explore the costs and benefits of this activity in a cooperative game environment, perhaps giving additional reason to what we are doing in society during the coronavirus pandemic of 2020

You can download your free copy here.


For more resources on the pandemic, see our COVID-19 serious gaming resources page.

KWN: Online Workshop on Wargaming the Pandemic

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The King’s Wargaming Network has announced details of their forthcoming online workshop on “Wargaming the Pandemic.”

King’s Wargaming Network is convening an online workshop on 1-2 April 2020 from 12:30 to 17:00 GMT to understand how wargaming methods:

(1) have contributed to research and education of health-related crises,

(2) could be used to understand the short and long-term effects of the current pandemic and how to address them,

(3) could be used to educate and train decision makers and the public.

We are grateful to those who have submitted abstracts. We have an impressive lineup of 20 presenters, including McGill University, University of St Andrews, University of Maryland Advanced Research Laboratory for Intelligence and Security, Université Clermont Auvergne, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Columbia University, Marine Corp University, European Centre for Exellence for Countering Hybrid Threats, Stimson Centre, Mexican Navy Centre for Higher Learning, Netherlands Defence Research Organisation, Global Affairs Canada and industry.

Presentations will feature past and proposed new projects examining the impacts of the pandemic on a range issues, including economic, social (e.g. healthcare, volunteerism and gender equality), political (e.g. regional cooperation in Europe and South East Asia) and military (e.g. hybrid warfare and cyber threats) factors.

Please note that space is very limited and priority will be given to presenters, policymakers and funders.

To register, you will need email the King’s Wargaming Network at wargaming@kcl.ac.uk. If space is still available they will provide the registration link and password.

The draft agenda can be found here.


For more resources on the pandemic, see our COVID-19 serious gaming resources page.

Virtual paradox: how digital war has reinvigorated analogue wargaming

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The soon-to-be-launched journal Digital War has published an (online first) article by yours truly on the utility of analogue wargaming in examining the challenges of warfare in the digital age.

War has become increasingly digital, manifest in the development and deployment of new capabilities in cyber, uncrewed and remote systems, automation, robotics, sensors, communications, data collection and processing, and artificial intelligence. The wargames used to explore such technologies, however, have seen a renaissance of manual and analogue techniques. This article explores this apparent paradox, suggesting that analogue methods have often proven to be more flexible, creative, and responsive than their digital counterparts in addressing emerging modes of warfare.

Warfare has become increasingly digital. Militaries around the world are developing, deploying, and employing new capabilities in cyber, uncrewed and remote systems, automation, robotics, sensors, communications, data collection and processing, and even artificial intelligence. The wargames used by governments to explore such technologies, however, have seen a renaissance of manual and analogue techniques. What explains this apparent paradox?

This article will explore three reasons why analogue gaming techniques have proven useful for exploring digital war: timeliness, transparency, and creativity. It will then examine how the field of professional wargaming might develop in the years ahead. To contextualize all of that, however, it is useful to discuss wargaming itself. How and why militaries use games to understand the deadly business of warfare?

You can read the full thing at the link above. For more on the journal, see the Digital War website.

Gaming the supermarket supply chain: pandemic edition

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H-E-B is an American privately held supermarket chain based in San Antonio, Texas, with more than 350 stores throughout the U.S. state of Texas, as well as in northeast Mexico. An article today in Texas Monthly discusses how they prepared for the COVID-19 pandemic—using, among other things, tabletop exercises.

On January 15, Wuhan’s Municipal Health Commission announced that the novel coronavirus was spreading via human-to-human transmission. 

Justen Noakes: So when did we start looking at the coronavirus? Probably the second week in January, when it started popping up in China as an issue. We’ve got interests in the global sourcing world, and we started getting reports on how it was impacting things in China, so we started watching it closely at that point. We decided to take a harder look at how to implement the plan we developed in 2009 into a tabletop exercise. On February 2, we dusted it off and compared the plan we had versus what we were seeing in China, and started working on step one pretty heavily.

Craig Boyan: Starting in January, we’ve been in close contact with several retailers and suppliers around the world. As this has started to emerge, we’ve been in close contact with retailers in China, starting with what happened in Wuhan in the early couple of months, and what kind of lessons they learned. Over the last couple of months, [we’ve been] in close contact with some of our Italian retailers and suppliers, understanding how things have evolved in Italy and now in Spain, talking to those countries that are ahead of us in the curve. We’ve been in daily contact, understanding the pace and the change and the need for product, and how things have progressed in each of those countries.

Justen Noakes: We modeled what had been taking place in China from a transmission perspective, as well as impact. As the number of illnesses and the number of deaths were increasing, obviously the Chinese government was taking some steps to protect their citizens, so we basically mirrored what that might look like. We also took an approach to what we saw during H1N1 in 2009, and later got on top of it. Our example was if we were to get an outbreak, specifically in the Houston area, how would we manage that, and how would we respond with our current resources, as well as what resource opportunities would we have.

Craig Boyan: Chinese retailers have sent some pretty thorough information about what happened in the early days of the outbreak: how did that affect grocery and retail, how did that affect employees and how people were addressing sanitization and social distancing, how quarantine has affected the supply chain, how shopping behavior changed as the virus progressed, how did companies work to serve communities with total lockdowns, and what action steps those businesses wish they had done early in the cycle to get ahead of it.

The important take-away here is NOT the use of serious games for pandemic preparedness, but rather how serious games were one part of a much broader analytical process. This involved lessons-learned from previous emergencies, qualitative and quantitative data analysis, and crowd-sourcing ideas and inputs—plus an agile process of making decisions. It many ways it reminds me of the successes of the Royal Navy’s  Western Approaches Tactical Unit during WW2. This didn’t just involve wargaming anti-submarine warfare, but also gaining insight from statistical analysis of convoy losses, qualitative interviews with escort commanders, multiple intelligence sources, subject matter expertise—all embedded in an institutional context that was responsive to their findings.


For more resources on the pandemic, see our COVID-19 serious gaming resources page.

New date and location for Connections US 2020 Wargaming Conference

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Due to new Naval wide (which includes the USMC) base access regulations following shootings at Navy bases USMC Quantico has had to disinvite Connections US 2020. Connections US 2020 will now be hosted by CNA in Arlington, VA, August 11-14, 2020. Note the one week shift to the right. For more details go to the Connections website at https://connections-wargaming.com/

Megagaming emergency response

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ATLANTIC RIM

As readers of PAXsims will know, over the past few years we have run several full day emergency response megagames in Montreal and Ottawa: APOCALYPSE NORTH (simulating a zombie pandemic threat to Quebec and Ontario from south of the border) and ATLANTIC RIM (giant creatures attack Atlantic Canada):

None of these games was meant to be serious, of course—as the after action reports above make clear, we play them for fun. However, the underlying game models can certainly be modified for more serious purposes.

If you would like a copy of my ATLANTIC RIM Design Notes to inspire you in your own megagame design, I’m happy to send them to you in exchange for a donation of any amount to the World Health Organization COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund. Just make a donation, then email me with the receipt to receive the design notes (pdf). I’m happy to provide tips on adapting the game approach for your needs too.

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Please note that the Design Notes were not written for an external audience. Instead, this was our internal reference document.  As a result, they do not include all game mechanics nor game materials (such as the maps, science quests, or hospital displays) you require to run a game. They probably still contain a few typos too! Still, at 51 pages long there is quite a bit there to inspire you.

For other inspiration, check out the Jim Wallman’s games at Stone Paper Scissors. The APOCALYPSE NORTH series were modifications of his original URBAN NIGHTMARE megagame, which he has since updated. His GREEN AND PLEASANT LAND national resilience megagame (which he ran at Connections UK 2018) is also very relevant.

Finally, see our ever-growing PAXsims COVID-19 serious gaming resources page.

Atlantic Rim

1.0 GENERAL INTRODUCTION
1.1 Scenario
1.2 Key Game Components and Concepts
1.3 Key Roles and Challenges
2.0 GAME SEQUENCE
2.1 Schedule
2.2 Sequence
3.0 KAIJU
4.0 MOVEMENT, RESILIENCE, AND SPECIAL ACTIONS
4.1 Impediments
4.2 Aircraft
4.3 Transporting Units
4.4 Submarines
5.0 REPORTS, SEARCH, AND DETECTION
5.1 Rumours
6.0 INCIDENTS
6.1 Damage
6.2 Resolving Incidents
6.3 Fires
7.0 COMBAT
7. 1 Collateral Damage
8.0 CASUALTIES AND MEDICAL TREATMENT
8.1 Transporting casualties
8.2 Treating casualties
8.3 Autopsies
9.0 CORPORATION(S)
9.1 The Irving Group
9.2 Maritime Commerce
9.3 Oil Platforms
9.4 Stock Market
10.0 UTILITIES AND ELECTRICAL DISTRIBUTION
10.1 Electrical Generation and Distribution
10.2 Electrical Generation Facilities
10.3 Regional Electrical Demand
11.0 DIPLOMACY
11.1 Territorial Waters and Exclusive Economic Zone
12.0 SCIENCE
12.1 Science Teams
12.2 Scientific Samples
13.0 MOBILIZATION AND REINFORCEMENTS
13.1 Deploying to the Crisis Zone
13.3 SAR and Training Units
13.3 Foreign Forces
14.0 PANIC
APPENDIX A: KAIJU
APPENDIX B: UNITS
APPENDIX C: SCENARIO SET-UP

GUWS: Ruhnke on “How to design a COIN wargame”

The Georgetown University Wargame Society recently hosted an online lecture by wargame designer Volko Ruhnke on “How to Design a COIN Wargame.” If you missed it you can watch the entire thing on YouTube.

MORS online course on gaming emergency response to disease

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The Military Operations Society will be offering an online course on gaming emergency response to disease on 15-16 April 2016.

Games are a way to develop disease response plans, to rehearse organizational processes and relationships prior to an event, and to build an understanding of the challenges involved in an actual response. While the current pandemic highlights that large-scale disease outbreaks can create some difficult policy, medical, and communications choices, response to smaller disease outbreaks is something that happens all of the time. And the implications of deliberate use of disease in war or terrorism has been the subject of much research in the past few decades. All of these topics give professional game designers a rich set of topics and questions to incorporate into organizational, research, and rehearsal games.

In this two-day, class we will focus on the application of professional games to the problems associated with disease response. We will cover pandemic response games, both national and international. We will also examine problems of novel or unique organisms, biological warfare and terrorism, and public health response. The objective throughout the class will be to identify unique or challenging aspects involved in designing games involving disease response. We will also incorporate emerging lessons from the current pandemic response into our discussions.

The instructors have designed, developed, and executed a wide range of disease and pandemic response games at the organizational, national, and international level. They have extensive experience in the areas of response to biological terrorism and the planning and coordination required in that response.

The current pandemic is a reminder that disease can produce unusual, unique, and difficult challenges for decision-makers at all levels of government. Games provide an opportunity to bring those decision-makers together and let them understand the challenges before they actually happen. In this class we will consider how to build games that help decision-makers with those challenges.

The registration fee varies from $700 to $800. You will find additional details at the link above.


See also our PAXsims page on COVID-19 serious gaming resources.

Connections UK 2020 Cancelled

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It is with great regret that the Connections UK 2020 conference scheduled for 8-10th September in Nottingham has been cancelled due to the coronavirus Covid-19.” — The Connections UK Organisers

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See http://www.professionalwargaming.co.uk/ for full details.

 

KWN: Online workshop on gaming the pandemic

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Ivanka Barzashka, Director of the Wargaming Network at King’s College London, has announced an online workshop on (war)gaming the current COVID-19 pandemic:

We will postpone Strategic Wargaming Week to a later date to focus on using wargaming techniques to understand the impacts of the pandemic and to inform decision makers and the public.

We are convening an online workshop on 1-2 April 2020 to understand how wargaming methods:

(1) have contributed to research and education of health-related crises,

(2) could be used to understand the short and long-term effects of the current pandemic and how to address them,

(3) could be used to educate and train decision makers and the public.

We are inviting presentations on past projects relevant to the current problem, as well and proposed future projects. Those who submitted a proposal under the previous call and wish to present their ideas are kindly asked to resubmit their pitches.

The deadline for abstracts is 25 March 2020. Please submit your proposal here.

You will be informed by 27 March 2020 if your presentation is selected.

If your organisation is interested in supporting potential projects, please get in touch.


For further resources, see PAXsim’s COVID-19 serious gaming resources page

Operation POMPEY WiiDOM

The following was contributed to PAXsims by Sally Davis.


 

After 5 days in quarantine I found a way to get out of the house without spreading the plague to my building-full-of-elderly-neighbours. It turns out you can connect Wii hardware to a PC by Bluetooth. I’m using the WiiBuddy API to get hold of the input in Unity:

  • The balance board returns a Vector4 with the load on each of the four load sensors (top left, top right, bottom left, bottom right). A quick bit of maths identifies individual steps, and while the player is stepping, the character walks forward.
  • The wiimote returns a Vector3 for roll pitch and yaw. I’m using pitch to rotate the character left/right, to copy the Wii Fit cycling game where you hold the wiimote sideways like bike handles.

Then I’m using MapBox‘s Unity SDK, which lets me stream in outstandingly optimised OpenMaps data within the bounds of the camera view. I’ve got a really basic setup going at the moment, using flat terrain and satellite imagery. It’s extruding buildings where the data exists—turns out that’s not many in Portsmouth (and, hilariously, Spinnaker Tower is rendered as a generic towerblock), but major cities are pretty well modelled.

At the moment it doesn’t care where you walk, so I can set out across the ocean, and walk through buildings. It’s awfully tempting to turn this into a Godzilla Simulator. As a 1-day “can I escape Wii Fit Island and go for a walk somewhere new?” experiment, I’m declaring operation POMPEY WiiDOM a success as-is.

I’m going to tidy things up, replace the somewhat inappropriate character artwork (I happened to have characters for a wargame lying around), and add some game mechanics like counting distance travelled and flags to collect. Then I’ll see about releasing an copy for the Good of Humanity in these strange times.

 

“Crimson Contagion” – What Can We Learn?

The New York Times today broke a well reported and detailed story about pandemic flu wargaming that had been done from the late Obama into the Trump administrations here

The signature item in the article was an exercise codenamed CRIMSON CONTAGION, the  AAR of which bears serious reading.

The article touches on many important process and methodology issues, especially as related to gaming at the very highest political level. It is worth reading for all of us in the community, and I expect, will be the subject of much further unpacking in the near future.

Of special note, since we here at PAXsims are always promoting the wisdom of co-editor Stephen Downes-Martin, is the question of what the utility of gaming is after the original customer moves on? (see Stephen’s famous Three Questions to ask a game sponsor – including “When do you rotate?”)

“But by the time the current crisis hit, almost all of the leaders at the table — Mr. Tillerson, Mr. Kelly and Mr. Perry among them — had been fired or moved on.

In 2018, Mr. Trump’s national security adviser at the time, John R. Bolton, ousted Mr. Bossert and eliminated the National Security Council directorate, folding it into an office dedicated to weapons of mass destruction in what Trump officials called a logical consolidation.”

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In the blog over the last week we have highlighted the Do No Harm principal. It is important for us all as practitioners to keep that front and center when gaming with people’s lives. But this story also demonstrates again where there may have been serious utility to using gaming to shape policy – with accurate data, well informed science, and serious attention from high level decision makers. It also shows how easy it is for the power of this tool to be shelved, sidelined, or fall through the cracks.


For further resources, see PAXsim’s COVID-19 serious gaming resources page.

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