Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Daily Archives: 26/06/2020

After the Apex: A game of exit strategies from COVID-19

The following article was written for PAXsims by Ben Taylor (Defence Research and Development Canada) and Benjamin Williams (Professeur des Universités, IAE & CleRMa, Université Clermont Auvergne). The views expressed are those of the authors and do not represent the official policy or position of any agency, organization, employer or company.

For more on gaming the impact and aftermath of the pandemic, see the PAXsims COVID-19 serious gaming resources page.

The authors met through a workshop on Wargaming the Pandemic hosted by the King’s Wargaming Network that was held 1-2 April 2020. BW gave a presentation in which he set out an idea for a matrix game on the COVID-19 crisis that could be supported by quantitative epidemiological and economic models. BT had previous experience with matrix games and offered to collaborate on the idea. This project is therefore itself a product of the COVID-19 crisis as the authors are unlikely to have met or to have found a common project to work on without it.

We decided from the outset that we wanted to design a game that tackled the COVID-19 crisis in a country from the point after the initial lock-down measures had flattened the curve. This phase would require a balancing act by political leaders as they face challenges on three axes: economic, social and healthcare. We termed these the three frontlines of the battle against COVID-19. Our aim was for a game that would sensitise decision-makers to issues that they might face and one in which choices would be constrained by the cross-coupling between the frontlines; for example that returning people to work in offices would likely increase the rate of infection, or that a renewed lock-down would lead to public discontent. We also wanted to introduce some quantitative models to help elaborate upon the consequences of player actions.

We also decided that we did not want to build a detailed game around a specific country. Rather we wanted a tool that could be customised to any country. That required the game to have a generic framework to which national specific details could be added. For development purposes we settled upon the fictitious country of Bretonia which has a government structure like Canada and the economy of France. Our generic framework envisaged four players to represent key elements of the country; the national government, the lower tier governments, the business sector and the public health system. A fifth player, termed “The Crisis”, represents all other domestic groups, external actors and anything else that could happen to challenge the other players’ efforts. An example of the customisation necessary comes from different national approaches to healthcare funding. In Canada healthcare is a provincial responsibility, whereas in France it is mainly funded by the national government through the social security system. This difference would have to be represented in the roles and responsibilities of the two government players.

One of the first steps in designing the game was to develop an influence diagram that showed how various parts of the economy, business, government finances, social attitudes, the healthcare system and the pandemic itself are connected.  This provided the reassurance that everything that we wanted to be in scope was captured. The model also provided insight to where knock-on effects (positive or negative) might be felt, which would provide for consistent adjudication.  

We also built a dashboard that displays selected metrics grouped across the three front lines, a macroeconomic model, a model of the infection and fatalities and a slide deck for displaying new stories each turn. This latter part of the game was developed to provide some humour, some cultural flavour and to allow attention to be drawn to specific sectors of the economy. We also prepared a number of bad news stories to be injected if any of the economic or social metrics approached worrying levels.

Many design issues common to matrix games apply equally to this game. Among those that we encountered are:

  • The advantages of having players who have played matrix games before.
  • The need for subject matter experts to support adjudication if the results are to be realistic.
  • The challenges for players to switch between role-playing and becoming engaged participants in adjudicating arguments.
  • Whether the players should be left to solve the basic problem of opening the economy without triggering a spike in infections, or to subject them to additional external challenges, and in the latter whether it is best to script the injects or to have them occur randomly (the answer of course is “it depends”). 
  • The balancing act between allowing players to discuss the proposed actions in detail and curtailing discussion in order to speed up the game.

The game has been run twice with participants from Europe and Canada using a video conference link with supporting text chat facility, a Google slides deck to share news stories, and Google sheets to share the dashboard of metrics and to provide an online tool to capture the participants’ assessments of the likelihood of success of proposed actions. This setup worked very well and participants felt that they could communicate with each other and access the information that was required. There was agreement that the game largely felt right, but that play was slow. The supporting quantitative models were not used extensively. In particular the epidemiological model implemented according to formulation drawn from the literature produced counter-intuitive results and proved impossible to fit to the observed progress of the outbreak in Canada. This placed a particular burden upon the adjudicator to determine how to adjust the dashboard in response to player actions. 

Our next objective will be to design a discussion-based game without the matrix structure in order to compare the utility of the two gaming techniques in addressing the management of the COVID-19 crisis. 

Military Exercise Guidebook

Looking for information about “Military Exercise Guidebook”, an unclassified Chinese military document translated in 2003 by “The Language Doctors, Inc” about Chinese military wargaming and exercises. Anyone have a copy (paper or electronic) or know who has a copy? Thanks.

Request for Information about Chinese Wargaming

Looking for information about wargaming and staff exercises carried out by the Chinese Military (or other branches of the Chinese Government). I am not interested in field exercises, I am specifically using Peter Perla’s definition of wargames:

“a warfare model or simulation that does not involve the operations of actual forces”

Peter Perla, The Art of Wargaming

Looking for bibliographies and references to academic papers on the subject, Chinese military manuals, books or other papers (with translation if possible!), both past and present.

Please post any references or suggestions in the comments to this request, thanks.

Educational Wargaming Cooperative

The Educational Wargaming Cooperative (EWC) works to advance the teaching and application of wargaming within university and professional military curricula by fostering collaboration between educators. EWC collaboration aims to share best practices in curricular design for teaching and using wargames in the university and PME communities by providing a forum that supports the application of wargames in those communities, and assists educators through training, education, and best practices.

Aligned with its core mission, the EWC provides the following:

  • An annual issue of articles examining the application and pedagogy of wargaming for training and education, 
  • A repository of wargaming courses and related materials to assist the development of wargaming courses, 
  • Resources and materials to support the use of wargames in the classroom (such as commercial game recommendations, tactical decision games, and more), 
  • Share best practices in curricular design for wargame use in education, and in how we educate wargamers, 
  • A network of educators and thought leaders in educational wargaming,
  • Opportunities to partner with educational institutions and universities, both civilian and military. 

The wargaming community is a diverse collection of practitioners with varying purposes and affiliations. As a discipline, wargaming has repeatedly demonstrated its utility, both in analysis and education. However, wargaming education and the use of wargaming in training and education has largely remained disparate islands of excellence. As a result, whenever wargaming courses are developed or wargames are integrated into a curriculum as an educational tool, hard lessons are often routinely relearned. Thus, to end this cycle of duplicative learning and further advance the field, the EWC strives to connect these efforts into a collaborative educational enterprise.

Developing and supporting the system of wargaming education, both in design and as an educational tool, is the first step in cultivating the next generation of wargamers. 

For more information about EWC:

Chairman: Ed McGrady, Center for a New American Security 

Executive Committee:

James Lacey, US Marine Corps War College

Nina Kollars, Cyber & Innovation Policy Institute, US Naval War College

Sebastian J. Bae, Center for Security Studies, Georgetown University

Educational Liaison: Caitlyn Leong, Center for Security Studies, Georgetown University

Founding Members:

Al Mauroni, US Air University

Amanda Rosen, US Naval War College

Becca Wasser, School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University

Ben Schechter, Strategic and Operational Research Department, US Naval War College

Caitlin Jamison, US National Defense University

Christopher Weuve, US Air Force Research Lab

Dr. Jacquelyn Schneider, Hoover Institute, Stanford University

Dr. Jeff Appleget, US Naval Postgraduate School

Dr. Richard Samuels, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Dr. Robert E. Burks, Jr., US Naval Postgraduate School

Ed McGrady, Center for a New American Security

Erik Lin-Greenberg, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Frank L. Smith III, Cyber & Innovation Policy Institute, US Naval War College

Fred Cameron, US Naval Postgraduate School

Graham Longley-Brown, Connections UK

Ian T. Brown, Brute Krulak Center, US Marine Corps University

Jacob Cohn, School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University

James “Pigeon” Fielder, Colorado State University

James Lacey, US Marine Corps War College

Jared A. Cooper, Brute Krulak Center, US Marine Corps University

Jenna Jordan, Georgia Institute of Technology

Jim Markley, US Army War College

Ken S. Gilliam, US Army War College

Matthew B Caffrey, US Air Force Research Lab

Nicholas Kristof, US Naval War College

Nicholas Murray, US Naval War College

Nina Kollars, Cyber & Innovation Policy Institute, US Naval War College

Peter Perla, Center for Naval Analyses

Rex Brynen, McGill University

Scott Chambers, US National Defense University

Sebastian J. Bae, Center for Security Studies, Georgetown University 

Stacie Pettyjohn, School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University

Thorsten Kodalle, Command and Staff College of the German Armed Forces

Tim Wilkie, US National Defense University 


Thanks to Nicholas Gray, AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game can now be played virtually using Table-Top Simulator‚ which means you and your fellow players can assist the earthquake-affected people of Carana without leaving your home or violating social distance protocols.

In the article below, Nicholas introduces TTS and the basic game controls. We are extremely grateful to him for producing this module. The rules to the game are available as a free download from The Game Crafter.

A VASSAL module is also in development, thanks to the folks at the US Army Command and General Staff College. We will post information on that too when it is finalized.

The game board.

AFTERSHOCK is now available in Table-Top Simulator (TTS).

For those unfamiliar with TTS, it is a board game simulator that can be purchased in Steam for both PC and Mac. There are several excellent videos on YouTube that demonstrate its use in detail, but the following instructions should help to get you started. 

You will need a keyboard and mouse in order to play.

In order to host a game, before launching TTS, search the TTS Steam workshop for Aftershock and select ‘Subscribe’ – this only needs to be done the first time you host. Then launch TTS, choosing either single or multiplayer, open the game folder and load the game.

If you are joining a hosted game then simply launch TTS, choose ‘join’ and search for the hosted server.

Once the game has completely loaded you are ready to play.

To choose a seating position, and thus one of the four agencies, click on your name in the top right hand corner and select a colour.

The following controls should help to get you started. In order to see a full range of TTS controls press the ‘?’ at any time. Note that these controls are for PC use, and although most have equivalents for Mac use they may not be identical.

  • ‘W’, ‘A’, ‘S’, ‘D’ keys will move your viewpoint around the table.
  • The mouse wheel zooms in and out. 
  • Hold the Right Mouse Button (RMB) while moving the mouse to change the elevation and rotate the table.
  • Hover over a game object and hold ‘Alt’ to magnify the object – while ‘Alt’ is pressed you can use the mouse wheel to increase or decrease magnification.
  • To move an object hover over it, then hold the LMB and move the mouse. Release the LMB to drop it at a new location.
  • To select several objects at once use the LMB to draw a box around them, then move as above.
  • When hovering over an object use the RMB to access the object menu. This allows shuffling decks and randomising containers, drawing cards/objects and searching decks/containers for specific items.
  • An alternative way to draw an object from a bag simply hold the LMB while hovering over the bag and pull away. The same is true for decks of cards. However, this requires some timing – LMB and drawing away quickly will draw a single card, but if there is a pause before moving then you will pick up the entire deck. With practice this can become intuitive.
  • The ‘F’ key is used to flip an object. ‘Q’ and ‘E’ will rotate it.
  • To put objects back in containers simply drop them on the containers, and similarly cards can be dropped on decks. These will need to be randomised/shuffled before the next draw if you don’t want the same object to be redrawn.
Problems in District 3!

There are many other controls you can learn to use once these have become familiar, but this will give you enough to play the game.

Nicholas Gray

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