Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Monthly Archives: May 2020

Know your enemy

The Williams’ biography, Captain Gilbert Roberts, RN, contains a delightful little story about the work of the Western Approaches Tactical Unit:

In 1945, Roberts was sent to Germany to the headquarters of the German U-boat command at Flensburg. His task was to find out and confirm U-boat tactics, obtain all confidential documents and records and to interrogate any U-boat command officer he could. …

Roberts was pleased to find that there was little new to him. Western Approaches Tactical Unit had got it right, they had correctly assumed the U-boat strength and tactics. … Roberts asked to see the plots of the overall situation on the 2nd June, 1944, just prior to ‘Overlord’. He was pleased to see a situation identical to that presumed by WATU. …

It was noticeable that, whenever Roberts appeared, a sudden silence descended on the Germans and anxiety showed in every face. For Roberts’ was a face they all knew. In the German Operations Room was a blown-up photograph of Roberts taken from an illustrated magazine and underneath, ‘This is your enemy, Captain Roberts, Director of Anti-U-Boat Tactics’. He never bothered to take it down.

Williams, “Captain Gilbert Roberts, RN, and the Anti-U-Boat School”

This was a photo I needed to find.

It took a year to track down the text of Roberts’ Trinity Lecture, teased in later chapters of the Williams’ Biography. (And which turned out to have a lot in common with passages from The Cruel Sea.) It took two-and-a-half to track down the illustrated magazine.

After an exhaustive search, and much thanks to Ed Butcher’s ebay bidding wizardry, I give you, most likely*, Your Enemy, Captain Roberts, Director of Anti-U-Boat Tactics:

Captain Roberts gives an after-action report on the game.

The article is light on the contribution of the Wrens, but does a stellar job of putting the fear of god good operational research into the enemy:

Captain Roberts plays a grim battle of wits with his opposite number in Germany. He spends weeks working out what Doenitz may think of next, and then, translating that next possible manoeuvre into a situation in the game at the Tactical School. …

The more exciting the game becomes, the better pleased is Captain Roberts.

At the end of the game he sums up. Some of the decisions have been brilliant. Some have been faulty.

“But,” says the tactical school director, “make your mistakes here and you won’t make them at sea.”

So thorough is the course, so clever the setting of each game, that many naval officers fighting actual U-boats in the Atlantic suddenly realise that they first saw the same situation present itself when it was only a game on a make-believe ocean. …

Meanwhile, in the main building—Atlantic Battle G.H.Q.—at the other end of those underground passages, Admiral Sir Max K. Horton, C-in-C, Western Approaches, smiles as he peers at the plot of what is actually happening at sea.

For more than a year he has been directing our Atlantic Battle operations and seeing the Allied sea-war effort reaching a stage where, for some time, every Atlantic convoy ship has almost a 100 per cent chance of getting through safely.

It was not always like that. But Admiral Horton knew, like all the experts, that given adequate naval and air escort strength around the convoys, the U-boats could be beaten.

“Maxie,” as the Navy calls him, had the satisfaction of seeing the Atlantic Battle so develop during this winter that with increasingly powerful naval and air strength around the convoys, U-boat packs could often not get within fifteen or twenty miles of the actual convoy ships.

But, well as we have been doing at sea, there has been no relaxation for the Western Approaches C-in-C or for his men. Where Doenitz, Hitler’s naval commander-in-chief, failed in the winter, he may hope to stage a comeback in the spring.

March is the month to watch. March was the only good month for the U-boats in the whole of 1943.

But Max Horton is prepared for a new submarine campaign. He knows the tricks of the trade. He established a world-wide reputation as a submarine man himself.

And he, of all men, knows the value of working out new tactics for yourself and, at the same time, anticipating the tactics of your enemy.

A.J. McWhinnie, “Behind the Atlantic Battle”

* There are several great pictures in the article. This one has such a marvelously intimidating shadow cast on the wall, it feels sinister enough to put fear in the hearts of U-boat command.

GUWS: Fisher and Stevens on serious games for humanitarian training

On July 28, the Georgetown University Wargaming Society and PAXsims will cosponsor a virtual presentation by Tom Fisher (Imaginetic) and Matt Stevens (Lessons Learned Simulations and Training) on serious games for humanitarian training. They are the authors of a recent report on Serious Games: Humanitarian User Research, conducted for Save the Children UK. The study, completed in January 2020, explored the potential of games-based learning for humanitarian training in Jordan and Kenya via a series of workshops in Amman and Nairobi. Among the issues addressed are the effectiveness of games-based learned, the strengths and weakness of analogue and digital gaming, and best practices.

Tom Fisher is President of Imaginetic Simulations + Design, a serious games, training, development, and design firm based in Montréal, Canada; and an associate editor of PAXsims. With over 30 years of scenario design under his belt, and 15 years of games-based learning and serious games design and development experience. Tom’s design and development products have been used in training and analysis around the globe, from Aftershock to MaGCK, as well as numerous projects for the World Bank, NATO, and over 100 international agencies, universities, companies and NGOs.

Matthew Stevens is Director of Lessons Learned Simulations and Training a professional development training firm for humanitarian workers with a focus on simulations and serious games. Matthew has worked with refugees and migrants globally since 2008, from downtown Cairo to the Peruvian Amazon. Before returning to Canada in 2017 to found LLST, he served as Country Director for an INGO in Amman, Jordan, delivering online higher education to displaced youth.

The online presentation will take place from 6pm to 8pm Eastern. Registration is via Eventbrite.

McGrady: Pipelines, chokepoints, and what the heck are we doing?

The following article was written for PAXsims by ED McGrady. Dr. McGrady spent over 30 years at CNA where he built and directed teams on wargaming and other defense topics. He is currently a Adjunct Senior Fellow at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) and Principal at Monks Hood Media LLC.

There has been some recent discussion within the community about how to move people from “not a game designer/controller” to “professional (paid) game designer/controller” in an effective, efficient, and inclusive way.  As someone who once upon a time had the ability to hire, mentor, and promote game designers (and analysts) I thought I’d weigh in a bit on this issue.  Since I now run classes on wargame design for the Military Operations Research Society I still have some stake in the problem.  

I’d like to talk about two questions:  how do people transition from “not game designer/controller” to “professional game designer/controller?” Why is it so darn hard to make the transition?  What would I say to someone looking to become the next Peter Perla?  (Other than “Oh, my!”)  I’d also like to talk about and “what, exactly, are we doing with all this education on wargaming?”  And are our classes building the next cadre of game designers, or are they building better consumers of games?   Or a little of the first and a lot of the second?

First of all, as usual, let’s play the definitions game.  I’m talking about games that investigate or explore important and complex issues in a professional context.  These games involve players who are familiar with the profession and context of the game and are often doing something that resembles the job they have outside of the game.  I do not mean games for education, training, or entertainment, or even games that address broad policy or conceptual subjects.  Specifically, I’m talking about detailed, technical, games, whether they involve military units, disaster response, law enforcement, or disease response.  For military operations we’d call these “force-on-force” games but the forces don’t have to be military units – figuring out how to respond to a pandemic can be just as challenging.  These are the games that involve the most technical detail to build, and the ones that people are coincidentally willing to pay the most for.  Note that I said “technical detail” as policy games can be just as difficult to build, requiring the designer to often extrapolate knowledge that no one, including the intelligence community, has.  

Because of this when hiring I gravitate toward people with technical degrees.  When you’re running a game and someone turns to you and says “I’m using an AI-enhanced, spread-spectrum, wideband, emitter/receiver to manage the EM spectrum of the warhead” you cannot stare blankly at the person or guess what the impact will be.  Even if you had never heard of it before.  You have to have the technical prowess and engineering knowledge to be able to understand the technology and make a split second assessment that someone from the program office will buy into.  Or at least meet them halfway in a conversation.  

The nature of modern joint warfare requires a baseline level of experience with science and technology.  That often comes from experience in the military.  But with technology and systems moving quickly military experience alone can be inadequate to assess things we don’t understand.    Without a mathematical and scientific background, it can be difficult to imagine scenario details and extrapolate outcomes in games of exploration.  It’s not that it is impossible to do it, it is just harder when you don’t have the scientific or engineering background.  

That means the first hurdle to becoming a professional game designer is having the technical chops to manage the kind of systems that we use in modern warfare (and disaster response and disease response and cyber response: the list could go on).   You can get that from experience, but mostly you get it from having a technical degree in science or engineering.  

It’s easier for me to teach someone with a technical degree how to design games, and how the military works, than for me to teach a game designer or military professional science or engineering.  For professionals with degrees in the liberal arts who want to be game designers – there are ways to make it work – but I can’t have only philosophers and political scientists on my team (I’ve had both working for me).

So that is the first hurdle.  You have to be familiar with engineering or science.  You have to be able to do good operations analysis because a lot of game design and control involves operations analysis.

You also have to understand how the military, and organizations, work.  This requires, in my opinion, no small amount of cynicism and experience.  Games are about people, and about organizations.  How the 3 doesn’t get along with the 5, how the CDC ignores HHS, and how everybody screws up the public information message.   Where I used to work we’d solve this problem by sticking a PhD with a physics degree out on an aircraft carrier for a year or so.  Problem solved.  They came back with a lot of appreciation for how the military works, and how staffs and complex organizations try to get things done despite all the people who work there.

I can’t have a game designer who doesn’t know the subject area in enough detail to build in the tricks and complexities of real life, but I also need someone with enough technical chops to stand up to the O-6 who has flown the aircraft all his career.  

So that’s another hurdle.  

Then there is the small, and really tertiary, problem of knowing how to design games.  I can probably teach you that if you fit all of the above criteria.  

But you have to be interested.  

That, frankly, is a huge challenge.  People who are good analysts and have knowledge of the subject area have lots of potential opportunities.  Watching me do the same force on force scenarios over and over again while getting fussed by the players is not necessarily an attractive advertisement for a long-haul career in gaming.  You have to be dedicated, which is something that hobby gamers have in abundance.     

Hobby gamers’ role in professional games also raises another issue: some groups not traditionally associated with hobby gaming can feel unwelcome due to hobby gaming’s culture.  That is not appropriate in a professional environment but it does happen.  In my opinion some of the fault lies in the blending of the hobby culture, which can be quite misogynistic, with the profession.  If you don’t believe me look around the next time you are at Con and note all of the magazine game book covers with buxom women on the front, or the “joke” minis of the same.  It’s a bit awkward and a lot embarrassing.  I tend to think we need to work on it by distancing ourselves from that culture, but that is another essay.  

But this is where we lose a lot of our best candidates:  the field is not that exciting once you get in the trenches.  It’s a lot of slogging through sponsor’s bureaucracies, same scenarios, and endless arguments about systems.  And pitching for new funding.  You can’t run a game unless someone pays for it.  But if you are a hobby gamer this is your life’s dream and all the nonsense is merely the pain that lets you appreciate the joy of your job.    

Unfortunately for hobby wargamers there is a fourth hurdle.  You have to actually know how to behave yourself in a modern, high-speed, progressive, organization (see my remark about Cons).  That can be a bit of a problem.  Organizations like to screen out the difficult and challenging during the interview process.  That screening works pretty well.

The upshot is that it’s really hard to hire a game designer/controller, and you are almost better off building them yourself instead of trying to hire one from outside your organization.  (But wait, you say, “I’m a hip hobby designer who majored in operations research twenty years ago.” kbye.)

The good news is that you really don’t need a heck of a lot of top-level designers.  You certainly need analysts and support personnel, but the amount of business probably supports one or two top level designers per FFRDC, and one or two per major staff element within the military.  That’s not a lot of people.  

And once they get established designers don’t tend to die very quickly (despite their lifestyle choices) and don’t tend to leave because – “I’m a freaking game designer why would I ever leave that job?”  (Other than the constant travel, need to work hard for funding, and dealing with all the unrelated organizational issues you have to deal with, like hiring people.)  This means that the pipeline is narrow, and long, which is even more discouraging to that new, highly educated, smart, and marketable analyst I’ve just hired to do wargaming.  

So, “why are we doing all these classes on designing professional games?”  Let’s ignore the obvious answer that staffs think if they train a couple of guys on staff they will be able to avoid the rather expensive cost of paying contractors or FFRDC’s to do it for them.  Or the pain of getting their commander to task another over-tasked, wargame-providing, command to do it.  Instead I’d say that we are not actually building a lot of high-speed game designers in our classes.  Rather we are teaching people to:

  • Be good consumers of games.
  • Be better players in games.
  • Be better sponsors and funders of games.

We do this by telling people about the basics of game design, and, I believe more importantly, helping people understand what games are and are not.  For designers that take our classes we can pass on pointers and tricks that we have learned from years of experience: but I don’t believe that in one or two weeks we can build a professional game designer that can hold their own against a crowd of unruly O-6’s.  Our classes may be a stepping off point for a long period of apprenticeship and learning to be a game designer.  But for the vast majority of people it will be a (hopefully) pleasant introduction to the things they should ask, task, and review when they encounter a game in their day jobs.  

Now I have outlined a somewhat unhappy and difficult path into game design.  It is one path and based on my experiences doing complex games for demanding sponsors.  There are other routes you can take, not the least of which is that you simply declare yourself a game designer and do what the last guy in the job did.  But I’m talking about building people who will move the field forward, will bring in considerable funding for their organization around gaming, and will build a cadre of new analysts who are capable of, and enjoy, doing gaming.  Analysts that will become insightful, creative, and critical game designers.  That is a narrow path which, unfortunately, can be quite discouraging.  

ED McGrady

USAWC War Room: How can wargaming improve government response to catastrophic events?

The US Army War College web journal War Room is featuring a series of short articles on (War)gaming: What is it good for? This week’s prompt is “How can wargaming improve government response to catastrophic events?” Seven scholars and practioners offer a response:

  • Kristan Wheaton (US Army War College)
  • Stephen Downes-Martin (US Naval War College and PAXsims)
  • Ed McGrady (Monks Hood Media)
  • Jim Lacey (Marine Corps University)
  • Rex Brynen (McGill University and PAXsims)
  • Sebastian Bae (Georgetown University and RAND)
  • Ken Gilliam (US Army War College)
  • Krisjand Rothweiler (US Army)

You can add thoughts of your own in the Comments section of the piece.

Distributed gaming in the pandemic era

With the COVID-19 pandemic making face-to-face gaming sessions more difficult, many of us are addressing how best to adapt our games for distributed play. Back in April, for example, PAXsims featured a piece by Tim Price in which he discussed how he had run the Flattening The Curve matrix game online using Zoom and Google Slides

A few others have let us know what they are doing. Ben Taylor (Defence Research and Development Canada) notes:

A matrix game can be played over a video chat system with something like a shared Google Slide being used to provide common visibility of some form of map or other game board (which could be a dashboard of indicators in something like an economics based game). Many other types of game can be played in this manner, including board games and miniatures games.

The difficulty comes with the lack of mechanisms for negotiation between players in multi-sided/multi-player games. Some apps provide text chat channels, but often they allow chat with either a single recipient or all. This is limiting if, say, three players want to develop a common strategy. The workaround for this is to use some form of collaborative working tool that allows for multiple chatrooms with defined memberships. 

The challenges become harder with games using teams. These will require team breakout rooms to allow for team private discussions. Some video apps allow for breakout rooms and allow moderators to move people between rooms. Such a solution is much smoother running than having players leave one room and then reconnect to another. It is important that players always have access to a member of the control team to ask questions about rules, timing and the use of the provided tool(s). This means having one members of the control team per room as a minimum (which would be one per team plus one in plenary). A technical support expert who can ensure that everything is set up in advance and to deal with player technical issues may also be useful, adding another member to the control team. Teams may need to discuss issues with other teams and that will lead to the need for a tool to support all possible team-to-team communicaton channels. 

Online games are very likely to move more slowly than face-to-face games because of the artificiality of text chat and video conversations, as well as the time taken up working with the technology to leave or enter rooms, connect audio and video etc. That speaks to keeping games as simple as possible in their design.

We also recognize the challenges of trying to deal with specific player hardware/software configurations. An exercise designed to work on a reasonably large monitor with multiple open windows may be fine on a big desktop but unplayable on a smartphone. You exclude people if you specify a “proper” computer display, but you will have a real lowest common denominator problem if you allow any cell phone user to take part and have to design around their capabilities.  Similarly some applications have downloadable app and browser versions which might look the same but which also might not work in exactly the same way, and you won’t know until its too late if your players are using the version that you haven’t tested…

As game organizers it is important for us to respect our players and to make their workload as low as possible. This will make them better, more engaged, players in our game and more likely to participate again. This means that we should select tools with the easiest interfaces to use and ones where we can do as much of the work as possible for the players. This also means that we should set up our technical configurations in advance and test them thoroughly before engaging with the real players. In this sense our players are unlike hobby gamers who are prepared to make the investment in time to learn how to use online playing tools and so while these may look promising other solutions may prove more suitable in practice.   

Anja van der Hulst (TNO) commented: 

Although I love the dynamics of on-site games, I think there is quite a bit of opportunity for us to be able to test and run our games on-online with an international knowledgeable community. Our main challenges are global, so, if we also get our games running properly on-line we might be moving our field a fair bit forward.

From the discussions, this is what we need to get our games to work-digitally.


•Communication platforms that can be shared amongst all parties to be involved; 
•When needed, communication-platforms that allow secure communication;
•Accessible/Low threshold platform that do not require hours to get to know;
•Different digital rooms for syndicate processes/break out (which also requires more technical support);
•Ample possibilities for the game facilitator to control the discussion process;
•Good quality screensharing for the ‘game board’
•Shared workspaces to be able to move things (indicators/capabilities etc).

Game design-for on-line:

Novel game-design concepts for on-line crisis/wargaming. Maybe we need to limit the number of players, and we might need to create smaller subgames that can be run within 2 hours to explore isolated issues within a limited time frame.  

Fitting designs for playboards, e.g.:

•smaller and more condensed to allow for screensharing,
•allowing for logging that is visible to participants during the game,
•for crisis gaming, probably a game board should be based on indicators rather than maps.


•Trained on-line gaming facilitator- knows to optimize on-line discussions and good use of all those controls.
•Good tech support.

I have run a COVID-19 matrix game online too, and found that that was satisfactory, but less dynamic and engaging. Part of the reason for this was the probably the scenario (the resilience of fresh fruit and vegetable supply chains), which was perhaps not as exciting as others I have facilitated. However, it was also the case that players found it a little more difficult to discuss and negotiate. As Ben notes, direct chat and digital breakout rooms can address this, but they’re simply not as fluid and efficient as multitasking game play and conversations in real time. It’s also harder for a game controller and facilitator “read the room” in a digital environment and adjust gameplay accordingly. This isn’t a problem in more informal setting or with colleagues one knows well, but could be a problem in other cases.

The Brynania civil war simulation at McGill University was cancelled this year, but usually that is about two-thirds online (email, chat groups, Skype, etc). I usually let students use any digital media they wish, although this can pose a challenge to my ability to fully monitor and capture all game actions. I have also taken part in online gaming using the ICONS Project’s browser-based simulation support software, plus Skype for audio communication.

Having switched to online teaching last term, I’m fairly confident of using similar techniques to host seminar games. Play needn’t be synchronous, either–this might be an ideal time to use traditional play-by-email techniques.

I also had the opportunity to watch a digital, distributed play of AFTERSHOCK, using a Vassal module developed by Curt Pangracs and facilitated by James Sterrett at the US Army Command and General Staff College. This went well, although I find Vassal to have a steep learning curve for those who haven’t used it before. Fortunately, AFTERSHOCK is a game which runs well when players simply tells the (experienced) facilitator what to do, and the latter takes responsibility for making things happen on the digital board. We’re hoping too to see a port of AFTERSHOCK to Tabletop Simulator too.

I had already done a lot of hobby (war)gaming online, and now do even more now with the lockdown, providing an additional point of comparison. I quite enjoy role-playing games via Roll20—what one loses in the immediacy and intimacy of player interaction one gains in the ability of the platform to provide real line-of-sight map displays and hence a degree of “fog of war” that is absent from a traditional in-person game. I have also been running six hours of zombie apocalypse skirmish games with my gaming group each week, using Zoom and (figure) eye-level web cameras (see below). This set-up works even better than the regular tabletop games by providing a really effective visual portrayal and, once again, fog-of-war, more akin to a digital first person shooter than an analogue game. It is hardly a serious application, but has offered some insight into the trade-offs involved in in-person versus online play of the same game.

Finally, I’ve done some traditional miniature (ancient) wargaming, with the host simply projecting a conventional tabletop via a webcam and Zoom. This was not as satisfying as playing in person, but very enjoyable nonetheless—and was quicker and easier to arrange than a visit to his house would have been in the pre-pandemic days.

Do you have experiences of online serious gaming to share? Post them below in the comments section!

Simulation and gaming miscellany, 27 May 2020

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

Recently we published a piece by Caitlyn Leong (Georgetown University Wargaming Society) on “How to raise a wargamer.” In addition to thoughtful responses from Jeremy Sepinsky, David Redpath, and John Curry in the comments sections to that article, Brant Guillory has also written a piece of his own at Armchair Dragoons.

Ms Leong rightly points out that there is a lack of a clear glidepath for prospective entrants into the professional wargaming field.  The idea of ‘dumb luck’playing an overarching role in the identification, selection, and development of wargamers is, quite frankly, silly, especially for an undertaking of such significance in the national security space.  And yet, here we are, after decades of knowing the value of professional wargaming, still just muddling along and happy when we find a good success story like hers.

What’s wrong with us?
(OK, let’s be honest, we don’t have that much time.)

What’s wrong with us that we can’t figure out a better process for identifying and developing aspiring professional wargamers, and alter the ‘inverted pyramid‘ to something both less-inverted, and less-pyramid-y?  And maybe shake up the color scheme and the gender combination while we’re at it.  

Well, frankly, one significant thing wrong with us is, well… us.

At the Atlantic Council blog, the issue of wargaming cybersecurity and statecraft is discussed by five experts: Maria-Kristina Hayden (global head of cyber wargames & awareness, The Bank of New York Mellon), Andreas Haggman (cyber security skills policy lead, UK Department for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport), Nina Kollars (nonresident fellow, Cyber Statecraft Initiative; associate professor of the Strategic and Operational Research Department and core faculty member, Cyber and Innovation Policy Institute, Naval War College), Jacquelyn Schneider (Hoover fellow, Hoover Institution, Stanford University; nonresident fellow, Cyber and Innovation Policy Institute, Naval War College), and John Watts (senior fellow, Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security).

The Marine Corps Association Gazette (June 2020) contains an article by David Emmel on “Who’s Got Game? The use of wargames to enhance the learner-centric experience.”

In his July 2019 Commandant’s Planning Guidance, Gen David H. Berger placed special emphasis on increasing the Corps’ wargaming capability, noting that it is “essential to charting our course in an era of strategic fluidity and rapid change.” “Our problem,” he observed, “is not that we are not doing wargaming … but that we have not effectively harnessed this ef- fort into an integrated process of learning.” In response, the Marine Corps Command and Staff College (CSC) has spent the past academic year inte- grating competitive wargaming into all aspects of the curriculum. 

At the US Army War College War Room, Damien O’Connell discusses Marine Corps recruiting and gaming in a COVID-19 world.

COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on U.S. military recruiting. In March 2020, the Army shuttered its recruiting stations across the country, moving all efforts online. Since then, the Army has resumed in-person recruiting, but with added restrictions and in low-risk areas only. The Navy, Air Force, and Marines have also closed many of their recruiting offices. Recent epidemiological models and medical experts suggest that the U.S. will grapple with COVID-19 for the next 12-18 months, until there is a widely-available vaccine. Other experts, however, find that estimate far too optimistic. For the near future, recruiters must severely limit close contact with prospective recruits. All of the services, therefore, have made digital recruiting their main focus. And although the Army was down 5,500 recruiting contracts in April, it appears to have had significant success with its efforts in—wait for it—video games. Indeed, Army leaders claim that games have generated “a ton of leads.” The Navy and Air Force have also embraced digital games as recruiting tools. The Marine Corps, however, has not.

The Corps has been hit hard by the pandemic, due to losing out on its traditional emphasis on “kneecap-to kneecap” recruiting pitches. Recent science and marketing research support the use of games as recruiting tools, and the Marine Corps should embrace them in the short term, looking to the other services’ gaming strategies as useful models. The Marine Corps should take the opportunity of pandemic-disrupted recruiting procedures to rethink and retool its strategic recruiting plan to better adapt to long-term shifts in American society.

At War on the Rocks, James Lacey says the US military is “finally getting serious about professional military education.”

Two years ago, much of the professional military education community was startled by the National Defense Strategy’s declaration that its wares had stagnated and that the community had lost focus on lethality and ingenuity. This month, the Joint Chiefs of Staff responded with a new vision and guidance statement for professional military education: Developing Today’s Joint Officers for Tomorrow’s Ways of War. As the document is signed by each service chief, it neatly erases tensions between what the Joint Chiefs as a corporate body believe is necessary to educate officers capable of leading in a joint environment and each individual chief’s responsibility to educate officers within their own services. Most crucially, the new vision signals that the services are “all in” on the need to reform professional military education.

Take a moment to consider the implications of this “buy-in.”

The Joint Chiefs are not only agreeing that professional military education has stagnated but also boldly stating the system is not currently optimized to give them what they need to win future wars. In perusing the document, it becomes clear that the Joint Chiefs are casting almost all the blame for this failure at senior-level professional military education. This valuation is probably an on-target assessment, as — for over seven decades — the U.S. military has won nearly every tactical battle it has fought without translating this battlefield acumen into the strategic results desired by policymakers.

Sally Davis joins PAXsims as associate editor


We are pleased to announce that Sally Davis is joining the editorial team here at PAXsims.

Sally Davis is a software developer at the UK Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl), where she writes analysis models, simulations, and computer-assisted wargames. She was part of the PSOM dream team that won the OR Society’s President’s Medal for wargaming Afghanistan, once had 11 stars grinning like excited schoolboys in VR, and led the research into the marvellous Wrens of the Western Approaches Tactical Unit. She also runs an award-winning dyslexia awareness simulation.

How to raise a wargamer

The following article is by Caitlyn Leong, a M.A. candidate and CyberCorps Scholarship for Service Fellow at Georgetown’s Security Studies Program. She currently serves as the President of the Georgetown University Wargaming Society and previously served as Director of Simulations for The George Washington University’s Strategic Crisis Simulations. She specializes in wargaming, emerging technologies, and cybersecurity policy.


As a discipline, wargaming has numerous appeals – the styles and subject matter are varied, there are constant opportunities to learn, and the community of wargamers is largely friendly and engaging. Currently, however, there is no clear pipeline or navigable process for starting a career in wargaming. There is plenty of conventional wisdom on how to get started: design a game, play as many games as one can, and work in defense analysis somewhere that also does wargaming. Many wargamers confess that their careers in wargaming are happy accidents – they started out doing something else, found wargaming, and stayed.

Back in 2016, Dr. Yuna Wong characterized the wargaming field as an inverted pyramid, dominated by an older generation, and is certainly not as diverse as it could be. There has been some progress on this issue, but there is still room for improvement. So, how can the wargaming community establish a career pipeline, ensuring that the next generation of wargamers is as distinguished and robust as those that have come before?

To understand the experience of aspiring wargamers at the base of this inverted pyramid, we must identify what experiences are unnecessary, what experiences are helpful, and how the wargaming community can ensure that future generations of wargamers have the necessary skills and opportunities to develop.  Looking back on my collection of experiences, I identified challenges, helpful opportunities, and ways the wargaming community can further develop the pipeline of talent it desperately needs.

Not All Who Wander Are Lost: Forays into the Wargaming Community

As a freshman International Affairs major at The George Washington University, I joined Strategic Crisis Simulations(SCS), a student organization that designs educational exercises and political-military simulations for NCR students and young professionals. I started out writing scenario injects – simulated tweets, news articles, and think tank reports – as part of our effort to put on four large-scale simulations per academic year. These simulations were designed to place students in the roles of top civilian and military decision-makers across the U.S. government as they played through kinetic and non-kinetic crisis scenarios.

At the end of my freshman year, I was selected for a three-year leadership role, guiding the design process of those simulations as a member of SCS’ Simulations Directorate. This led me to a year-long internship at the National Defense University’s Center for Applied Strategic Learning, which boasts several SCS alumni, where I was able to learn firsthand about designing exercises for JPME and the various types of gaming that were popular within the U.S. government. My time at CASL convinced me that I wanted to be a professional wargamer and that I loved educational games, but I was left looking for additional experiences to make that a reality.

Aside from my extracurricular involvement with SCS, I had no idea where to look for other wargaming opportunities and what my job options might be after graduation. So, for the next two years, I focused on improving SCS and building a cadre of professional mentors who would attend the simulations and advise the control team and participants, hoping that through networking, our membership, including myself, could learn more about professional wargaming opportunities.

Despite my SCS experience and my network, I found myself struggling to move forward. My mentors helped me identify which organizations had wargaming components, but many of those organizations were not hiring undergraduates or civilians. I seemed to hit an educational dead-end as well. At the time, I only knew of wargaming courses at military PME institutions, which I couldn’t attend as a civilian. I knew I wanted to pursue a career in wargaming, but no one seemed to be able to tell me how to go about it. Of course, I am now aware that there are several civilian wargaming courses in addition to those offered at PME institutions, but at the time, I was woefully underinformed about existing educational and professional opportunities.

Then at graduate school, fortune serendipitously intervened. Georgetown’s Security Studies Program (SSP) was offering a first-time “Basics of Wargaming” course taught by Sebastian Bae. I re-arranged my fall course schedule to take the elective. I had never taken a formal wargaming course and I simultaneously debated whether I already had “enough” experience or if I was woefully unprepared to complete the course assignments. Through the course, I was exposed to the best articles, books, and handbooks in wargaming literature. I also led a team of two other SSP students to design an original box-set wargame, Reconquering Rome, which examines the Byzantine reconquest of the Italian peninsula in the 6th century CE.


Final version of Reconquering Rome.

The course opened up the opportunity for me to meet professional wargamers, pitch Reconquering Rome to commercial publishers, and become a founding member of the Georgetown University Wargaming Society (GUWS), of which I am currently president. Working with GUWS has connected me and our membership to a plethora of wargaming resources, established professionals, and organizations in the field that I had never imagined existed before. I acknowledge that my experience is simply one way forward, but I have endeavored to identify lessons learned that the wargaming community can act upon to improve the pipeline for aspiring wargamers.

Logjams in the Wargaming Pipeline

I believe that the current wargaming pipeline has unintentional choke points, where the pipeline narrows and only the very lucky or the incredibly determined manage to squeeze through.

For budding wargamers, student-run wargaming organizations are simultaneously fantastic access points and disappointing dead ends. Membership in a wargaming organization is not mandatory for a wargaming career. However, these organizations often serve as the first introduction to wargaming, both as a tool and as a career option. My time with SCS exposed me to design concepts and built my repertoire of wargaming experiences. Yet, only select undergraduate and graduate programs outside of the National Capital Region have student-run wargaming organizations. Those that do exist are frequently islands unto themselves. They are wonderful, vibrant communities, but there is no clear path forward after graduation. Beyond the occasional individual mentor, the connection between student-run wargaming organizations and the professional wargaming community is infrequent – if not nonexistent.

Beyond the university, there is a scarcity of entry-level opportunities to develop young wargamers. My CASL internship helped me get my feet wet in professional wargaming and I enjoyed my work there immensely, but access to these professional opportunities is severely limited. Within the national security ecosystem, there exists a myriad of internships and fellowships, ranging from regional to domain-specific interests. Wargaming is the unfortunate exception. There are several wargaming institutions that could offer entry-level opportunities if they wanted, such as the Naval War College, Center for Army Analysis (CAA), and federally funded research and development centers (FFRDCs). By creating more access points for young wargamers, wargaming organizations can systematically cultivate talent and develop enthusiasts into professionals. These wargaming opportunities can also build transferrable skills for any analyst – such as research, military analysis, writing, and analytical skills.

Squeezing Through the Wargaming Pipeline

Formal wargaming courses are invaluable resources and experiences. Admittedly, establishing a formal wargaming course or certificate can prove difficult, with as many failed attempts as success stories. However, although limited, there are formal wargaming courses offered by select universities, such Georgetown, McGill University, and King’s College London. I learned more in my one semester in Basics of Wargaming than I did in the previous four years, where I was piecing together on-the-job knowledge in isolation. In the Basics of Wargaming course, I learned about the different styles of wargames, their uses, the strengths and limitations of wargaming, and the wider body of wargaming literature. There is a fundamental difference between simply reading Peter Perla’s The Art of Wargaming, Phil Sabin’s Simulating War , and Graham Longley-Brown’s Successful Professional Wargames: A Practitioner’s Handbook, and using them as guides in creating your own wargame. The opportunity to research, design, and develop an original wargame in fourteen weeks was both a trial by fire and an irreplaceable learning experience. However, formal courses are not the only answer. Professional designers could mentor interested student groups to develop their own wargames, providing experience and structure to their learning.

Professional wargaming organizations and communities offer critical access to nodes of connections, knowledge, and experiences. The MORS Wargaming Community of Practice, PAXsims, and Connections conference are some of the cornerstones of the professional community. These professional organizations offer insight into the career path and a way for young wargamers to identify what skills and experiences they need to get there. The jump from student-run organizations to professional societies is crucial. My path in wargaming began to open up when my various experiences converged to reach that critical point, but taken individually, my experiences would not have been enough to break into the field. Incrementally, however, the transition to professional wargaming communities is proving less precarious. For instance, several wargaming organizations have increasingly sought to engage a wider audience. The diverse audience of the GUWS webinar series, where military officers, students, educators, and hobbyists interact on a global scale, is a strong example of this type of engagement.

Finally, studying and playing different types of wargames – especially commercial games– aids in developing an understanding of the depth and breadth of the field and game design. This provides an encyclopedic base of knowledge to draw upon for future game design and career opportunities, as appropriate. Some professional wargamers may not see the value in commercial games, but aspiring wargamers generally lack access to unclassified and freely available professional wargames. Commercial games offer a way to learn about different game styles, mechanics, and topics, and until an aspiring wargamer joins an organization, commercial games may be all they have. And let’s not forget, many of the giants of the wargaming field learned on SPI and Avalon Hill commercial wargames.


Graduate students from Georgetown and military officers playing Reconquering Rome at the Brute Krulak Center for Innovation and Creativity.

Widening the Pipeline: What the Wargaming Community Can Do

Currently, beginning a career in wargaming is a function of luck – a fortunate sequence of events and experiences, just coherent enough to get that first real wargaming job or opportunity. Expecting aspiring wargamers to navigate this in the hope of identifying and hiring the next generation of wargamers is both foolish and unsustainable. This is not the way to ensure that the next generation will be drawn from a diverse pool of talent – it will simply reproduce the same type of talent.

The wargaming community can change the experience for aspiring wargamers in three major ways:

  1. Eliminate the disconnect between aspiring wargamers and professionals. Aspiring wargamers are out there, if established wargaming professionals look for them. Wargaming professionals must actively participate in eliminating this disconnect – they must seek out and develop rising wargaming talent, instead of just leaving the door open behind them. This can occur on an individual level or by linking professional organizations to student organizations in a formal or informal way. These connections offer an incredible opportunity to identify and mentor the next generation of wargamers.
  2. Improve opportunities for civilian-military interaction in wargaming. There is a gap between civilian and military education, even though the civil-military relationship is foundational for U.S. national security. Robust educational wargaming can serve as the connective tissue between civilian and military student communities at all levels. In all my educational experience, I have only had rare opportunities to wargame side-by-side with the military personnel that I may one day have as colleagues. And yet, my favorite experiences in wargaming are those in which civilians and military personnel have participated in a wargame together. I have facilitated games that pitted midshipmen against undergraduates, colonels against GS-15s, and Marine Corps majors against Georgetown graduate students. More learning and exchange is necessary, both for education and enhancing the value of wargaming for both sides.
  3. Offer more academic wargaming opportunities. Academia should embrace wargaming, both as an educational tool and a skill to be taught. University is typically where students explore their career interests, so if wargaming is not even on the table as an option, how will they know if they are interested? Formal courses at both the undergraduate and graduate levels can help students to build the transferable skills that they will need for a successful career in wargaming. Even when formal design courses are not an option, universities can leverage wargames as educational tools on a wide range of subjects, such as military history, crisis management, strategy, and more. Several courses, both civilian and military, are increasingly utilizing wargames in the classroom and this trend should be encouraged. To do this, universities must provide adequate resources and allow professors to freely include wargames in their curriculum.

The field of wargaming should not rely on happy accidents. For the wargaming community to evolve and grow, it will require a robust system of diverse opportunities and pathways. Producing wargamers should not be left to luck – a whimsical roll of the dice.

Caitlyn Leong 

CNAS: East China Sea Crisis 2030


As part of its 2020 America Competes national security conference, the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) will convene a virtual wargame on July 22: A Deadly Game: East China Sea Crisis 2030.

Additional conference details and registration can be found here. Participants can register separately for various panel discussions and for the game itself.

h/t Aaron Danis 

GUWS: Fielder on the Psychology of Effective Game Design


The Georgetown University Wargames Society will be hosting a virtual presentation by James “Pigeon” Fielder on the psychology of effective game design on June 8.

In this talk, Dr. James “Pigeon” Fielder of Colorado State University will discuss why good games tap the minds and emotions of players. Drawing from interdisciplinary literature, Pigeon will delve into the gaming symbolism from board games to sports and how games transform into rituals inside which play becomes real to the participants.

Zoom information will be sent to participants from our GUWS email no later than 72 hours before the event!

Speaker Bio

Dr. James “Pigeon” Fielder joined Colorado State University in 2019 as an Adjunct Professor after retiring from the U.S. Air Force as a Lieutenant Colonel and Associate Professor of Political Science at the U.S. Air Force Academy. He is also the founder and president of Liminal Operations, LLC, a corporate wargaming consultancy. Pigeon researches interpersonal trust and emergent political processes through tabletop, live-action, and online gaming as natural experiments. He also has over two decades of experience designing, executing, and assessing training exercises and wargames, from small-group tabletop discussions to multi-day exercises engaging 5,000+ participants.

Registration is via Eventbrite.


A video of this presentation can be seen below.

RAND: Building a Broader Evidence Base for Defense Acquisition Policymaking

1200px-Rand_Corporation_logo.svgRAND has recently published a brief report by Elizabeth Bartels, Jeffrey Drezner, and Joel  Predd on Building a Broader Evidence Base for Defense Acquisition Policymaking, in which they explore the potential role of serious games in exploring procurement and investment decisions.

One of the primary responsibilities of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment (USD[A&S]) is to ensure the health of the overall defense acquisition system (DAS). USD(A&S) can bolster the health of the DAS by developing and promulgating sound acquisition policy that improves the function and operation of the DAS at the enterprise level. The premise of this report is that acquisition policymaking should be data driven. However, there are limitations to relying on empirical (e.g., historical) data to guide acquisition policy. In light of these limitations, the authors argue that acquisition policymaking should be evidence based, in recognition of a wider variety of analytic tools that can be brought to bear on acquisition policy questions. This report, intended for acquisition professionals, summarizes the case for a broader evidence base and then focuses on one specific tool that the authors suggest might add analytic value: policy gaming.

Policy gaming can be used to generate observations about how stakeholders might change their decisionmaking and behavior in light of changes in policy. Because the strengths and limitations of games differ from those of traditional tools for acquisition analysis, the authors argue that games complement the existing portfolio of analytic approaches. The authors describe a prototype game focused on Middle-Tier Acquisition (MTA) policy that RAND researchers developed to enrich the available evidence base to support acquisition policymaking, summarize insights from the game, and offer several next steps for USD(A&S) to consider.

Among their findings, they suggest:

  • Games can provide useful evidence about proposed policies by providing a sandbox to observe decisionmaking.

  • Games appear to be valuable in cases where relevant real-world data are not available because the new policy or other condition of interest has not yet occurred.

You can download the report at the link above.

The Game Crafter resumes operations

TGCIf you have been waiting for your copy of AFTERSHOCK or the Matrix Game Construction Kit, we are pleased to report that The Game Crafter has resumed production.

Your copy should be in printed and shipped soon as they work through their backlog.

14th NATO OR&A conference update


The deadline for submitting abstracts for the 14th NATO Operations Research and Analysis Conference has been extended to 15 June 2020. The Conference will be open to representatives from all NATO Nations, NATO Organizations and STO Enhanced Opportunity Partners (Australia, Finland and Sweden).

The 2020 conference theme is “Emerging and Disruptive Technology” (EDT).  Presenters are encouraged to share their EDT-related work, particularly methods for assessing the impact of EDT in military operations, or research related to EDT-enhanced analytical methods. Papers on other subjects describing emerging OR&A techniques as well as analytical case studies and best practices are also welcome.

This year’s event is currently planned to be held 05-07 October 2020 in Riga, Latvia and is open to NATO nations, STO Enhanced Opportunity Partners, and Partnership for Peace nations. However, if a physical meeting is not possible due to COVID19, the conference will convert to a virtual format.  Any updates will be posted to the conference webpage (see link below).

Interested candidates should submit abstracts (250 words or less) for consideration to LTC Pierre Han ( by 15 June 2020.  Additional conference information, updates, and FAQs may be found at the following link:

The conference is sponsored by HQ Supreme Allied Command Transformation (HQ SACT) and NATO Science and Technology Organization (STO). A PAXsims report on last year’s conference is available here.

PAXsims 2020 research associate Paul Kearney

PAXsims is pleased to announce that Paul Kearney is joining PAXsims as one of our research associates for 2020.

Camo Profile

Major Kearney is Strategist with the United States Army. Paul has operational experience in both Iraq and Afghanistan and has commanded infantry and reconnaissance units in the famed 82nd Airborne Division. He holds a Master’s degree from Georgetown University’s Walsh School of Foreign Service, where his thesis used strategic wargaming as a research methodology to access the effects of forward-basing on deterrence. He also earned a master’s degree from King College London’s Department of War Studies, and a bachelor’s degree from the United States Military Academy at West Point. His is currently on assignment to the Center for Army Analysis, the US Army’s proponent for wargaming.

PAXsims research associates enjoy generous pay and benefits.* They also have access to the full range of amenities at our luxurious corporate headquarters.**

If you would like an exciting career unpaid volunteer position with us in 2020, email me. We are especially looking for someone:

  • with experience or interest in serious gaming,
  • with experience or interest in the non-military side of peacebuilding, stabilization, development, or humanitarian operations
  • from groups that have been underrepresented in professional and hobby wargaming

*No they don’t—none of us get paid.

**We don’t have one of those either.


Exercise Cygnus pandemic report (2016)


The Guardian has published a lightly redacted version of the Public Health England report on the 2016 Exercise Cygnus pandemic exercise. You’ll find a link in the article above, and we have also uploaded a copy to PAXsims.

Some 950 representatives of various UK government agencies and institutions took part in the exercise on 18-20 October 2016.  It found both strengths and significant deficiencies in pandemic preparedness.


The report contains a full description of the lessons learned, as well as details of exercise planning and format (Annex C).


For other materials on pandemic simulation, see the PAXsims COVID-19 serious gaming resources page.

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