PAXsims

Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Monthly Archives: September 2020

Moving online: Thoughts on digital learning games in the COVID-19 era

The following piece was written for PAXsims by Matthew Stevens and Ben Stevens.

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.

Ben Stevens is an expert in group facilitation and education via non-traditional media, with a growing portfolio in learning game development. He joined LLST as a Project Assistant in September 2020.


Like the rest of society, over the past six months serious gamers have scrambled to move our profession online. New methods have proliferated to adapt our favourite mechanics to online platforms, and even those designers most reluctant to leave behind face-to-face gaming (myself included) have been forced to experiment with this new digital medium.

Shortly before COVID-19 changed the way we work, Imaginetic and Lessons Learned carried out research for Save the Children UK in Kenya, Jordan, and Canada on the potential uses and effectiveness of learning games in humanitarian training. That work feels especially timely now, as our study included an examination of the differences between digital games and face-to-face exercises. The main thrust of the findings will cause many long-time serious gamers to nod in agreement: face-to-face learning games were much more engaging, enjoyable, and effective than their digital counterparts. 

But hold on: the reality might be more complicated. In the early days of the lockdown, the Lessons Learned team spent some time gaming out pathways to a best-case digital future. Here are some of the key takeaways we identified.

What Makes a Good Digital Game?

A key recommendation from our pre-COVID-19 research was that, for a learning game to be successful, the form of the game should be dictated by the learning goals. Genre, mechanics, and theme should all mirror function. A game about information flow, micro-frictions within teams, or inter-agency coordination should require players with different perspectives to discuss their actions face-to-face. If we want players to learn empathy for others, they should be emulating the decision-making processes and emotional states of others with as much accuracy as possible. Conversely, an action side-scroller makes for a poor tool to teach about a crisis case study if players are paying more attention to the nuances of the controls and the gaps they have to leap over than to the artificially injected learning moments—assuming they have the skill to pass the obstacles at all.

One corollary of our findings is that digital and tabletop games are fundamentally different learning tools. They do different things well and, similarly, are limited in different ways. As experienced tabletop game designers, we are experts in designing with the strengths and limitations of our medium in mind. We know that fog of war is hard, so if it’s needed we make that a central design feature. We know that buy-in is difficult, and so our games should be quick to set up, quick to learn, and quick to start. In particular, we know that our games should involve people with different points of view collaborating on a plan around a table because that is something our medium does exceptionally well.

But are we keeping these principles in mind as we pivot to the digital environment? For many of us (myself included!), pivoting to digital has simply meant running our tabletop learning games over Zoom. After examining my own experiences, hearing about the experiences of others, and playing a lot of games, I think that to succeed in a digital future we need to get back to basics.

Accepting and Avoiding Digital Limitations 

Try playing your favourite board game online, and you’ll quickly notice that the components we use just don’t work as well in the digital space. Moving digital pieces on a digital board feels disconnected. Virtual decks of cards can be confusing. Where can I put my tokens and why? How tall is this stack of cards? Did we shuffle or not? What deck did this draw come from?

This isn’t to say that the same mechanics can’t be used, but we should not assume that the tactile user interface we employ via units, tokens, decks of cards, and dice in a tabletop exercise will translate directly to a computer screen.

Digital games do not allow for the type of fluid, dynamic conversation that we rely on in tabletop learning games. After six months of remote work, we are well aware that Zoom calls and forum threads are less efficient than face-to-face meetings. Of course, that principle is equally true when we are engaged in a serious game. Conversation, debate, coordination, and group goal setting—the bread and butter of our tabletop designs—are all bottlenecked by the limitations of online meetings.

If these classic tabletop features don’t adapt well to the digital environment, is that the fault of the medium itself? Or should we as designers be changing our approach?

Embracing the Digital Environment

Even before COVID-19 curtailed our ability to meet face-to-face, we used the digital medium to communicate in a bewildering assortment of ways: emails, WhatsApp messages, Slack groups, social media, shared documents, video calls, SMS—the list goes on and on. Instead of using these tools as imperfect facsimiles of in-person interactions, why not build our digital game designs around digital communication itself? 

What many of these tools have in common is that they are asynchronous. Digital conversations don’t happen all at once. Even an urgent email takes time to draft and revise. The slow pace of digital conversations has a serious impact on one of the most ubiquitous game structures: turns. If each turn requires communication between players, we can expect those turns to play out like an uphill slog through mud. It is becoming clear that our digital game designs might be more effective if we made clever use of asynchronicity instead of struggling against it.

I’ll go one step further: that list of digital communications software gives us an opportunity to exploit as digital designers. We already have a magnificent suite of tools at our disposal that our participants use every day. If we are deliberate about the tools we use to host our designs, we will not have to teach participants the mechanics from scratch. They already know how to send emails, manipulate spreadsheets, and participate in Slack threads. With well-fitted digital designs, we can offload the unfamiliar elements of running the game onto the control team, leaving participants to work in ways which already feel natural to them. Since we know that cards and small components often do not translate to digital space, where we can’t pick them up and look at them, it becomes much easier to present information via email, chat, spreadsheet, PDF, image, webpage, or any of the other myriad digital options. These tools also make digital games fantastic for concealing information. As designers, we have much more control over what players see and do not see in digital space.

Another great opportunity presented by the digital environment is that digital games do not require a physical space. We don’t have to book a meeting room to set up the board. Participants don’t have to meet to debate their strategy or submit their actions. When combined with asynchronous methods of communication, this flexibility gives us the opportunity to build games which run over longer periods of time but require less frequent input: fifteen minutes a day over the course of a week or five minutes out of every hour spread across a three-day conference, all largely run over familiar digital office tools (the archetype of this structure is, of course, PAXsims’ own Brynania civil war simulation).

Digital games are much more easily automated, allowing for much more complicated rules and mathematics. This automation could be as simple as a facilitator copy-and-pasting data into spreadsheets and emailing participants the results at the end of every round. Or it could be as complex as scripting fully automated solo experiences in powerful digital game design tools such as Unity. However, in these cases, we have to be cognizant of the drawbacks of offloading the processes from the player. If a player does not understand what is happening or why, they will struggle to connect with the learning objective. If players do disconnect, the more automated a game, the less opportunity a facilitator has to intervene in order to keep it on track.

Because digital games can be automated, played in shorter chunks of time, and do not take up physical space, they can be much more easily repeated than their tabletop counterparts. The potential for repetition is a major opportunity for all kinds of reasons. We know that repetition is a powerful tool for learning—and how often have we railed against the “n=1 problem” in analytical games? 

Back to Basics

Of course, we should not consider this an exhaustive list of the strengths and weaknesses of the digital design environment (nor should we think of that environment as being homogeneous). But I think it’s safe to say that, in making the move from tabletop to digital learning games, we will need to go back to basics in our designs. We need to return to the desired outcomes of the project, and we need to search for new game mechanics that maximize the opportunities of the medium while avoiding its pitfalls. For many of us (again, myself included!), this process is going to seem frustrating and limiting as we grapple with basic problems in ways we have not experienced since early in our careers. In some cases, we may have to completely re-examine our assumptions about what a learning game can do. 

It’s clear that, as responsible designers, we can’t just force what we’ve been doing into a new shape. If we want our learning game designs to make the transition online, we need to treat digital learning game design as a new art and invest time in learning how to do it well.

Matthew Stevens

Ben Stevens

Nusbacher Associates endorses the Derby House Principles

Nusbacher Associates has become the latest organization to endorse the Derby House Principles on diversity and inclusion in professional wargaming.

Nusbacher Associates offers Devil’s Advocacy, sound horizon scanning, facilitation, and structured methods of making strategy.

Does your organization wish to support diversity and inclusion in serious games? Email us to find out about becoming a sponsor of the Derby House Principles.

Combat Mission: OP DIVERSITY

Always wanted to be in a video game? Frustrated by the lack of diversity in COTS wargames?

Two British soldiers in a firing position overlooking Red forces in the next field.

This is your opportunity to be the representation you want to see in Combat Mission, a commercially available wargame used by Dstl and wider UK MOD to support analysis. It’s a fully 3D game all the way down to representing individual soldiers… You can see a quick overview here:

In light of the Derby House Principles, Tom Halliday at Dstl has secured support from the developers (Battlefront.com) and publishers (Slitherine) to implement more diverse people into the game. This will include adding BAME and female graphical representations to NATO forces, and providing Dstl the ability to add-in voice acting from diverse people.

That’s where you come in!

We are looking for diverse people to contribute their voice to this initiative. Please spread the word, you do not have to be a wargamer, defence analyst, or service-person. Friends and family are welcome too. Here’s an idea of how the pros do it [warning: language !] in Company of Heroes (we won’t be asking you to swear) if you need some inspiration.

Everyone who contributes will recieve a splendid campaign medal Derby House Pin, and have their voice immortalised within UK MOD wargaming analysis.

Wren teddybear sporting a marvellous Derby House Principles pin

Who do we want to hear from?

Anyone who identifies as a woman:

  • white British
  • non-white British
  • Commonwealth accents
  • another country/ethnicity accents not already covered (even if you’re not British)
  • any other under-represented group (eg LGBT+)

Those who identify as men and are:

  • non-white British
  • Commonwealth accents
  • another country/ethnicity accents not already covered (even if you’re not British)
  • any other under-represented group (eg LGBT+)

Countries the British Army recruits from:

Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, The Bahamas, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belize, Brunei Darussalem. Cameroon, Canada, Cyprus, Dominica, Fiji, Ghana, Grenada, Guyana, India, Jamaica, Kenya, Kiribati, Lesotho, Malawi, Malaysia, Maldives, Malta, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Nauru, Nepal, New Zealand, Nigeria, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Republic of Ireland, Rwanda, Saint Lucia, Samoa, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Solomon Islands, South Africa, Sri Lanka, St Kitts and Nevis, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Swaziland, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Tuvalu, Uganda, United Republic of Tanzania, Vanuatu, and Zambia.

A note on age: as long as you sound like you’re between 18 and 55 you’re in.

What if I can do a few different accents?

If you can record the lines with different accents, that would be awesome. Please do a separate submission for each accent.

Note: this is not an invitation for white people to muscle-in on the representation space. Please no black-face voice acting, or bad approximations of accents that aren’t really yours.

What do I get in return?

  • Your voice acting will be immortalised in Dstl version of Combat Mission, a COTS wargame used by UK MOD.
  • The eternal glory of being part of a short film Dstl is making to publicise the new-and-diverse ORBAT and to celebrate the Derby House Principles in general.
  • The joy/pride/immense satisfaction of knowing you are playing a part in breaking down barriers for BAME and PoC soldiers, analysts, and gamers, by normalising the presence of female and ethnically diverse characters in computer games. Representation matters.
  • A Derby House Principles pin, which looks amazing on a pass lanyard. The Blue Peter Badge of wargaming ;-)

I’m in, how do I do this?

  • with Audacity & mic, or smart phone.
  • *.WAV, or if you’re doing it by smart phone I’ll also accept *.mp3 and *.m3a files (standard output from iPhone and android voice recorder apps)
  • The lines we want you to say are here—there are a lot of lines; say as many as you are able, we can make use of anything we’re sent.
  • Blow-by-blow instructions are here for Audacity and here for any other recording software.
  • Please also complete and return the consent form or we can’t use your voice-recordings.
  • The deadline for submissions is end of October 2020

Really important things to know:

  • Say your lines Clearly, Loudly, As an order and with Pauses please.
  • Hang up a duvet in front or around you when you record if you can. This deadens the echo in the room. It will improve the quality of the audio enormously. There’s a nice demonstration of the effect in this video; you don’t need a fancy blanket, any kind of duvet works.
  • Have a real go at the acting if you can. The best stuff is likely to feature prominently in the film :D
  • Please do record three takes of each line, and doing each a little differently. It really helps us. We can pick the best performance you give us, and it also means we have an alternative for any stray noise/fluffed lines.
  • Please follow the naming convention in the instructions, it’ll make it much easier for us in the post-processing work. If you’re reallyreally struggling, just send me what you can, I’d rather have the voice acting than quibble over technical issues.

I’ve done it, now what?

Once you’ve recorded your lines, drop me an e-mail with a link to the files on your google drive/dropbox/other, or ask me to send you a link to my dropbox where you can upload the files.

Also let me know:

  • where to send your pin
  • what name you’d like us to use to credit your voice acting—if you want to be credited. If you’d rather not be named, you can either supply the most amazing stage name (points will be awarded for good puns) or we’ll put you down under “the wargaming community”.
  • Please complete and return the consent form or we can’t use your voice-recordings.

Combat Mission is becoming increasingly widely used within Dstl and also within wider MoD, such as the Fight Club initiative. This is a great opportunity to promote diversity and drive change in a way which normalises the fact that minorities and women both serve in the British Army. We cannot do this without your support (and the support of your wider friends and family if they want to contribute as well). As a straight, white man as part of a group in Combat Mission of other straight, white men, this is something we are literally incapable of doing ourselves but we really want to help to promote D&I as widely as possible.

Tom Halliday

Data protection and all that jazz:

Once I have your voice acting files,

  • Your name will only be used to credit you in the Dstl film if you choose to be named
  • Your address will only be used to post you a Derby House Pin
  • Your e-mail address will only be used to let you know when the film launches so you can rush out and tell everyone you know
  • Your personal details will be deleted once the above is done
  • Your voice acting files will not include your personal details.

Read more about the Derby House Principles on diversity and inclusion in professional wargaming here.

Derby House Principles icon: a D20 dice, facets in many different colours

Atlantic Council: Competitive strategy insights from wargames

The Atlantic Council has just released a new report on “Competitive strategy insights from wargames,” which summarizes the results of a series of recent games.

How the US military prioritizes future force-modernization investments has the potential to shape long-term geopolitical and military competition. Beyond increasing lethality, new capabilities also affect how rival great powers like China and Russia conduct strategic planning and make decisions on the types of forces best suited to challenge the United States.

To assess this dynamic, the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security and its Forward Defense practice area hosted a series of competitive strategy games to evaluate: how US national security professionals allocated resource investments across Army Futures Command (AFC) moderniza- tion priorities (Long-Range Precision Fires, Future Vertical Lift, etc.) in order to advance US strategy; and the extent to which these investments altered military strategy and defense-modernization programs in China and Russia, both played by subject-matter experts (SMEs).

Two unexpected outcomes emerged. First, a new stability-instability paradox defined the competitive investment cycle. Within the games, the United States focused on bolstering its conventional deterrent and warfighting capabilities through technology, but both China and Russia players responded to new US technology by funding proxy clients, the Belt and Road Initiative, cyber operations, and propaganda…. The results produce counterintuitive findings for future force-modernization and force-design initiatives. Based on these insights, the United States should counter its competitors’ asymmetric advantages by exploring low-cost ways to bolster US and allied forces operating in the contact layer and supporting gray-zone activities….

Second, new capabilities create new escalation risks. Russia players voiced concerns about inadvertent escalation. They assumed that the extended ranges associated with modernized US long-range precision strike could be used against Moscow’s strategic (i.e., nuclear) forces. Accordingly, they sought to attack these long-range fires early in a crisis or conflict, which could produce dangerous escalation spirals….

The games were modified matrix games. By establishing several different US teams, variations in US strategy and technology investment could be explored.

You can download the full report at the link above.

Simulation and gaming miscellany, 27 September 2020

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

Aaron Danis, Volko Ruhnke, and Paul Strong suggested material for this latest edition.

Episode #10 of the Krulak Center (US Marine Corps) BruteCast video series features a panel discussion on wargaming featuring Andrew Reddie, James Fielder, Damien O’Connell, and Sebastian Bae.

On the subject of the US Marine Corps, Military.com reports on construction of the new Marine Corps Wargaming and Analysis Center.

The Marine Corps is building a new state-of-the-art facility where it will run classified wargaming scenarios in preparation for a fight with a high-tech enemy.

A new Marine Corps Wargaming and Analysis Center is expected to be up and running in Quantico, Virginia, by 2024. The 100,000-square foot center, which will be built on the Marine Corps University campus, will host more than a dozen wargames every year — including two large-scale, 250-person exercises, a new announcement on the center states.

Foreign Policy magazine features a report on Hedgemony, the recent RAND board game of US defence strategy.

According to the South China Morning Post, Taiwan recently completed an exercise and wargame designed to examine defence against a possible Chinese invasion.

Taiwan began five days of computer-aided war games on Monday, simulating an attack on the island by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).

The drills are part of the Han Kuang exercises, Taiwan’s largest annual war games. An earlier phase of the exercises in July included live-fire drills.

The war games were designed to test Taiwanese commanders’ ability to adopt the right defence strategy and coordinate different forces while under attack, the defence ministry said.

..

The five-day exercise is being held at the defence ministry’s joint training centre in Taipei and is being observed by experts from the National Defence University.

The drills will also use the Joint Theatre Level Simulation (JTLS) system bought from the US to simulate combined operations.

The JTLS was designed to create a realistic environment in which military commanders could operate as they would in a real-world situation, the source said, adding that it would help them to hone their decision-making skills and work out how to counter various attacks.

Operational data collected during the exercise would later be sent to the US experts for analysis and feedback, the person said.

At the Beyond Solitaire podcast, Natalia Wojtowicz discusses “wargaming with NATO.”

At Armchair Dragoons, Brant Guillory discusses team play of the GMT Games COIN series wargames, specifically A Distant Plain.

It’s hard to overstate the influence that the COIN series of games has had on the wargaming world over the past decade.  Heck, its influence has gone beyond just wargaming (Root!), unless you write for Meeple Mountain.  They’ve been covered in the Washington Post, and used by the military for training exercises.  Volko Ruhnke, the godfather of the COIN series games, even spent a few hours with GUWS explaining how to design one.

In our wargaming program at Origins, the COIN games have been a popular addition, largely because they are designed for 4 players, so we can get more gamers around the table than with something like Ft Sumter.  One year, we actually had to get out a GM’s personal copy of Liberty or Death to start a third full 4-player table, because there were so many interested gamers that wanted to join the fun.

However, there’s a set of modifications that we made to the COIN games – specifically A Distant Plain – that went beyond the traditional 4-player experience. By crafting each faction as a team, and moving much of the interpersonal diplomacy, horse-trading, backstabbing, etc away from the board itself, we’ve evolved the basic 4-player game into a more free-wheeling and dynamic environment that dramatically reduces the opportunity for analysis paralysis, amps up the possibility… nay, ‘likelihood’ of confusion and fog of war, and keeps the game moving to where everyone stays involved at all times….

While the article isn’t about wargaming, Jason Lamb and Jeremy Buyer, offer some useful reflections on “the psychological high ground: the surprising key to accelerating change” at War on the Rocks.

The The Indie Game Reading Club blog features an insightful guest column by Paul Mitchener on gender, race, and historicity in historically-themed RPGs.

I’ve run an awful lot of history-themed RPGs and written a few. It’s an area I love gaming in, both taken straight, and mixed with a dose of fantastic elements. Yet I would be doing the topic an injustice if I did not admit there are difficulties, both in subject matter and attitudes. So what are they, and how can you overcome them?

The focus here is Medieval Europe and the Ancient World, as that’s where I have the most experience. But much of what I say you can apply to other times and places.

PAXsims has already discussed the work of the Transitions Integrity Project, which has used matrix games to explore what could go wrong during a contested transition following the November 2020 US presidential election.

Perhaps not surprisingly, this has attracted negative comment from Russia Today:

Curiously, the TIP did not test a scenario in which Trump wins by a landslide. Nor did the organization consider the possibility of a narrow Trump victory and a refusal by Biden to concede – a possibility raised by Hillary Clinton, who urged Biden last month not to concede “under any circumstances,” and to launch a “massive legal operation” in the event of a narrow Trump win on election night. 

Regardless of the result, some top Democrats have called for continued “unrest in the streets” after November’s election. Kamala Harris, Biden’s running mate, said earlier this summer that the riots sweeping America are “not gonna stop before election day in November, and they’re not gonna stop after election day. They’re not gonna let up and they should not.” 

At the conservative Claremont Institute blog The American Mind, Michael Anton goes a step further and characterizes the TIP project as nothing less than Democratic planning for a revolution and coup.

Democrats are laying the groundwork for revolution right in front of our eyes.

As if 2020 were not insane enough already, we now have Democrats and their ruling class masters openly talking about staging a coup. You might have missed it, what with the riots, lockdowns and other daily mayhem we’re forced to endure in this, the most wretched year of my lifetime. But it’s happening.

One might dismiss such comments as the ravings of a dementia patient and a has-been who never got over his own electoral loss. But before you do, consider also this. Over the summer a story was deliberately leaked to the press of a meeting at which 100 Democratic grandees, anti-Trump former Republicans, and other ruling class apparatchiks got together (on George Soros’s dime) to “game out” various outcomes of the 2020 election. One such outcome was a clear Trump win. In that eventuality, former Bill Clinton White House Chief of Staff John Podesta, playing Biden, refused to concede, pressured states that Trump won to send Democrats to the formal Electoral College vote, and trusted that the military would take care of the rest.

The leaked report from the exercise darkly concluded that “technocratic solutions, courts, and reliance on elites observing norms are not the answer here,” promising that what would follow the November election would be “a street fight, not a legal battle.”

These items are, to repeat, merely a short but representative list of what Byron York recently labeled “coup porn.” York seems to think this is just harmless fantasizing on the part of the ruling class and its Democratic servants. For some of them, no doubt that’s true. But for all of them? I’m not so sure.

In his famously exhaustive discussion of conspiracies, Machiavelli goes out of his way to emphasize the indispensability of “operational security”—i.e., silence—to success. The first rule of conspiracy is, you do not talk about the conspiracy. The second rule of conspiracy is, you do not talk about the conspiracy.

So why are the Democrats—publicly—talking about the conspiracy?

Because they know that, for it to succeed, it must not look like a conspiracy. They need to plant the idea in the public mind, now, that their unlawful and illegitimate removal of President Trump from office will somehow be his fault.

Never mind the pesky detail that the president would refuse to leave only if he were convinced he legitimately won. Remember: Biden should not concede under any circumstances.

The second part of the plan is either to produce enough harvested ballots—lawfully or not—to tip close states, or else dispute the results in close states and insist, no matter what the tally says, that Biden won them. The worst-case scenario (for the country, but not for the ruling class) would be results in a handful of states that are so ambiguous and hotly disputed that no one can rightly say who won. Of course, that will not stop the Democrats from insisting that they won.

The public preparation for that has also already begun: streams of stories and social media posts “explaining” how, while on election night it might look as if Trump won, close states will tip to Biden as all the mail-in ballots are “counted.”

The third piece is to get the vast and loud Dem-Left propaganda machine ready for war. That leaked report exhorted Democrats to identify “key influencers in the media and among local activists who can affect political perceptions and mobilize political action…[who could] establish pre-commitments to playing a constructive role in event of a contested election.” I.e., in blaring from every rooftop that “Trump lost.”

At this point, it’s safe to assume that unless Trump wins in a blowout that can’t be overcome by cheating and/or denied via the ruling class’s massive propaganda operation, that’s exactly what every Democratic politician and media organ will shout.

As someone who routinely games political transitions for a living, this all strikes me as bizarre conspiracy theory stuff, undoubtedly amplified by the certain social media ecosystems as well as actors like Russia Today. Given that Pizzagate led one deranged individual to open fire at a pizza restaurant with a rifle, so I hope all concerned are taking appropriate precautions.

RAND releases Hedgemony: A Game of Strategy

RAND has now published its strategic board game, Hedgemony. The rules and players guides are available for for free at the RAND website, and a boxed edition can be ordered for USD$250.

U.S. defense strategists and policymakers have the perennial challenge of developing capstone documents that can coherently articulate and guide how the U.S. Department of Defense will deliver and maintain combat-credible military forces to deter war and provide national security in alignment with national strategy. These forces must be ready to fight and prevail should deterrence fail against a variety of threats in an evolving and uncertain global security environment, and they must be able to do this with acceptable risks — both in the present against today’s threats and in the future against threats that might emerge. Key audiences for these capstone documents include defense planners, programmers, budgeters, managers, analysts, and policymakers who support the development and management of forces that can be postured and employed in alignment with a given defense strategy to accomplish objectives.

Against this backdrop, RAND researchers developed Hedgemony, a wargame designed to teach U.S. defense professionals how different strategies could affect key planning factors in the trade space at the intersection of force development, force management, force posture, and force employment. The game presents players, representing the United States and its key strategic partners and competitors, with a global situation, competing national incentives, constraints, and objectives; a set of military forces with defined capacities and capabilities; and a pool of periodically renewable resources. The players are asked to outline their strategies and are then challenged to make difficult choices by managing the allocation of resources and forces in alignment with their strategies to accomplish their objectives within resource and time constraints.

The game itself is multi-sided, with an umpire/facilitator.

Hedgemony is a global, multi-sidedturn-based, facilitated, adjudi- cated wargame designed to teach U.S. defense professionals how dif- ferent strategy and policy priorities could affect key planning factors in the trade space at the intersection of force developmentforce manage- mentforce posture, and force employment. Players, representing Blue (the United States, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization [NATO], and the European Union [EU]) or Red (Russia [RU], the People’s Repub- lic of China [PRC], the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea [DPRK], and Iran [IR]), are presented with a global situation, competing nation- al incentives, constraints and objectives, a set of military forces with de- fined capacities and capabilities, and a pool of periodically renewable resources. Players are also asked to summarize their strategies and ob- jectives in writing before play starts. The game is about players making difficult choices by managing the allocation of resources and forces in alignment with their strategies to accomplish their objectives within re- source and time constraints.

Hedgemony is designed to be expertly staffed and facilitated. Facilitation is provided by a White Cell, a team composed of two or more experts who act as game masters and referees. Facilitators are responsible for

•Advising players on game rules and play strategies to accomplish learning objectives

•Keeping play on pace and on track through the various phases of each game turn

•Advising and walking players through the adjudication procedures for each action and event

•Maintaining and summarizing the overarching “story” of what player actions or interactions, game events, and their outcomes would likely represent in the real world

•Resolving disagreements over interpretation of game situations and rules

•Overseeing notetaking and data collection.

Although players are expected to try to “win” by achieving a certain amount of Influence—either in absolute terms or relative to one or more other players—within a certain number of game turns, the game is primarily focused on the learning objectives of the U.S. player, with the NATO/EU player, the Red players, and the facilitators all serving, essentially, as “training aids.” Thus, play balance, particular strategies and priorities of specific non-U.S. players, and the specific sequence and frequency of events played by the White Cell may all be shaped by session learning objectives as part of a given session scenario.

And yes, in case you are wondering, the game IS called “Hedgemony” with a “d”:

The name Hedgemony arose from the nature of a common challenge facing those who craft U.S. defense strategy. For the past 30 years, U.S. defense policymakers have been focused on an environment that has presented the United States with options for employment of defense forces in many different roles (such as humanitarian assistance, counterinsurgency, and major power conflict) and in many different locations (such as Afghanistan, Estonia, Haiti, Iraq, Korea, and Somalia). U.S. defense policymakers must prepare for a variety of near-term contingencies while also building U.S. armed forces for the future. The tension inherent in this set of challenges led us to think in terms of “hedging strategies”—the kinds of strategies investment professionals use to deal with uncertainty in the investment markets. This challenge also typically entails efforts to either maintain parity or achieve overmatch with one’s adversaries. Hence, we have the term Hedgemony.

Table Top History LLC endorses the Derby House Principles

We’re pleased to announce that Table Top History LLC has become the latest organization to endorse the Derby House Principles on diversity and inclusion in professional wargaming.

At TTH our goals are to make gaming resources available to educators and planners, offer large scale gaming opportunities – both in person and online, share war gaming design techniques, and highlight the great work of other designers, writers and gamers in the professional, commerical, educational, and recreational gaming fields.

Play with us however you roll: combat wheelchair rules for D&D 5e

Dwarf barbarian adventurer with serious attitude in a combat wheelchair. Awesome-looking miniature

You may have noticed that when disability shows up in the media, it’s:

  • Short hand for evil: Bond villains, anyone? Limps, scars, prosthetics, mental illness. The media uses disability to other the bad guy. Not cool.
  • Inspiration porn: the disabled character isn’t a person so much as their tragical experiences are the plot mechanic to spur able-bodied people to become better human beings. Me Before You pretty much takes the biscuit here, but most disability biopics fit this trope through condescension and “good on them for trying”. To quote my frienddon’t say it’s good because I’m dyslexic; say it’s good.
  • The Overcoming Narrative: because the most important thing in the world is for a disabled person to be cured of their disability. All disabilities can be magically cured if it suits the plot! Nobody needs to be ok about disability, because Real People pull their socks up and defeat it.
  • Exceptionalism: a trope common to all marginalised people, that we accept your disability (or blackness, or womanhood, or sexuality, or immigrant-status) if you redeem yourself through exceptional achievement. It’s not all bad, but it’s a toxic message when it’s the only positive portrayal of disabled people. It sends a message that you’re doing your disability wrong if you’re living a perfectly normal, happy and fulfilled life like 99% of the rest of the population.
  • Disability Issues Only: the disabled character only gets to have storylines about being disabled. Because that’s all disabled people do, right? They don’t have lives, or jobs, or partners/spouses and kids *eyeroll*

Like “the Gay Agenda”, folks with disabilities just want to get on with life the same way all you non-disabled folks do: go to work, remember to buy milk, collect the kids from school, and see positive representations of people like them in books, films, TV, and in the games we play.

Which is why I absolutely love the Combat Wheelchair rules and miniatures for D&D 5e:

Screenshot of the opening paragraphs of the combat wheelchair rules in D&D rulebook art work

Sara Thompson has created a ruleset for what’s basically a murderball chair, which levels the playing field for an adventurer with a physical disability: it functions as a basic melee weapon (with ramming, crushing, and side-swiping actions), it laughs in the face of steps and stairs (you know, like able-bodied adventurers do), and has plenty of options for upgrading and levelling-up with your chair as you adventure—mounted combat, being one with your chair as far as spell-casting goes, and pockets.

And Strata Miniatures have made amazing combat wheelchair miniatures to go with it:

Why is that even necessary?

Sigh. If you’re genuinely asking this question, alas dear reader, you have the ableist mindset that sees disability as broken, undesirable, and to be avoided and put out of mind at all costs. Yes, absolutely, disability is hard and frustrating, and at times and in certain situations, limiting (though you’d be surprised how often it’s not the disability that’s limiting, more society, infrastructure and assumptions). But, you know, so is having ginger hair or an Essex accent, or being a woman in a male-dominated field, and nobody is saying “OMG why would you want to play as these things in D&D, what’s wrong with you? Don’t give them the rules, don’t let that be an option.”

I wondered how could I get abled folks to understand and see us as people like them? – Sara Thompson

Everyone plays D&D as a little bit themselves. Why shouldn’t disabled people have the same choice to play as all-the-way-themselves as able-bodied players, if they want to?

One of the ugly things about ableism is the assumption that disability must be eradicated. That’s like saying the cure for racism is to get rid of all the non-white people, which is just about the most offensive idea going. 

I have received death threats, mockery, and vitriol from people who don’t want to understand why this representation is so important – Sara Thompson

Not all disabled people want to be cured of their disability. In part that’s because it’s not an option and it would be a pretty unhealthy mindset to live your life waiting on your legs to grow back, the injury to un-happen, or your genetic code to rewrite itself. 

Then there’s the matter of identity: disability is a part of who you are when you have one, particularly if it’s something you’ve had since birth. Not all of that is good, but excising the disability isn’t a clear-cut thing either. Maybe more akin to amputating your cultural identity. 

And finally, the ableist notion that disability must be cured is based on the idea that a person can’t be happy or fulfilled with a disability, and that s#$t doesn’t happen to able-bodied people alike—it’s like saying poverty is the cause of unhappiness, so rich people must not have any problems… they just have different human issues to deal with. Admittedly, there’s a lot to be said for not going hungry, but having food and money for the rent is necessary but insufficient to a good life.

Which is all to say, that disabled people exist, and they’re not going anywhere, and a lot of the time they’re happy and fulfilled and expect to be accepted in society like any other person on this planet. Which means seeing positive representations of themselves in games, and having the choice to play with core aspects of themselves if they want.

I had a chat with Sara over e-mail:

What led you to coming up with the combat wheelchair rules?

There were a lot of factors that led up to the chair’s creation. I’ve had experiences of asking Dungeon Masters if I could play a disabled character at their tables and was generally met with an awkward “Oh, yeah, there’s no rules for that so you can’t,” or the unsurprising method of “Okay, but you have to take all these negatives and/or penalties,” which isn’t an accurate portrayal of disability/chronic illness/neurodivergency at all.

A lot of my friends are also wheelchair users (both ambulatory and full-time) and it got me thinking about how we never see an adventurer in a wheelchair. We never see disabled folks represented as the capable people that they are – many of us, like me, have jobs and families and responsibilities. Our disability is just a part of us, and I think that able-bodied people don’t understand that. We are often seen as and used for pity or inspiration – there’s a real issue with inspiration porn in the media; look at Queer Eye’s episode about a disabled man, for example.

I wondered how I could represent us in D&D, how could I get abled folks to understand and see us as people like them? 

Already, the average Level 1 character is above the typical NPC villager, so I decided to take inspiration from Paralympians. Essentially, I spent 6-7 months submerging myself into the culture behind wheelchair sports – I recommend to anyone that they watch some Murderball matches; they’re very intense! I made some very rough concept ideas which was Combat Wheelchair v1.0 and took feedback from wheelchair users in the community who play-tested it to tell me what I could do to better reflect a wheelchair inclined towards combat and adventuring. This feedback, along with the design for the basic chair being taken from sports chairs used in Murderball matches, was then put together and written up into what people know as the Combat Wheelchair v2.0 today.

What’s the response been?

The response in general has been overwhelming, regardless of it being good or bad. I never really expected the chair to take off and get as much coverage as it did. I posted it knowing that the people I made it for (wheelchair users and the disabled community) were the ones it would reach and I only cared for their reactions to it – I wanted more than anything to put positive and accurate portrayal of them into a game that has, for the most part, failed them on the representation front for the past 40+ years D&D has been running. But then so many people started RT-ing it, including writers at WotC and Critical Role’s DM Matt Mercer, and it suddenly had a lot of eyes on it.

In general, the response has been positive. For every 1 mean comment are 20 more that have kind words of support. But still, I have received death threats from sock puppet accounts, mockery for being disabled and making an item that doesn’t erase disability, and vitriol from people who don’t want to understand why this representation is so important. It has been a lot, but at the end of the day, it made the people who needed it and who I wrote it for happy, and that’s all that matters to me.

Where would you like to see the hobby in five years?

I would like to see our hobby and communities accept that a lot of the demographic of RPGs is disabled people – they are something disabled folks can play every week and, now that a lot of it has moved online, it’s become more accessible (not entirely accessible though). A lot of disabled people play ttrpgs and it’s time we all step up to acknowledge and work on bettering our games to represent everyone.

Anyone can be an adventurer.

What would you like straight-white-male wargamers to know about gaming from a disability perspective?

Don’t be afraid of disability; open up that dialogue at your tables. Talk to disabled folks about this and learn – there are a lot of free resources out there online for you to learn from. Stop treating representation of disabled folks as a threat and see it as an opportunity to learn, broaden your mindset, and help you become a better DM/GM and player. Disability isn’t a bad thing and it’s time we stop treating it like it is.

This is awesome, what can I do to make my games more inclusive?

The FATE Accessibility Toolkit is a great disability resource. It covers how to make your gaming table accessible to players with disabilities, as well as how to include disability in character design within the FATE system, which also translates well to other systems. You can buy a copy on DriveThuRPG.

If you want to get your learn on about disability culture more broadly, I recommend reading No Pity by Joseph Shapiro, a collection of essays on disability rights and history, and watching Crip Camp on Netflix, which tells the story of the 504 Sit In, the longest non-violent occupation of a U.S. federal building in history: 100 disabled people, supported by the Black Panthers, protested for 26 days for equal access to public services. Fun fact: disability equality is part of the anti-segregation ruling handed down in Brown vs Board of Education.

Read more about the Derby House Principles on diversity and inclusion in professional wargaming here.

Fall 2020 webinar and wargaming series for Georgetown University Wargaming Society

The Georgetown University Wargaming Society (GUWS) was founded in 2020 to provide a venue for hobby gamers, professional wargamers, and those new to wargaming with opportunities to play games and learn more about wargaming as a profession. GUWS welcomes members of all academic levels and backgrounds.

The schedule for our webinar and wargame series for Fall 2020 is indicated below. The webinar series is open to the public and free – in order to be accessible to the widest audience possible. Please note some events are still in development. 

Cards in Wargames with Volko Ruhnke

Sept 21, 6:00PM-8PM EDT

 Award-winning commercial boardgame designer Volko Ruhnke will discuss the use of playing cards in tabletop wargames. Playing cards—once a rarity in hobby wargames—have exploded in designs published over the past three decades. What do they bring to the table? When should you use them in your wargame design? How can you leverage their unique power to greatest advantage? The talk will briefly survey the history of playing cards in board wargames and then focus on effective use of cards as an element of design. Register on Eventbrite

History and Principles of Solitaire Wargame Design

Sept 29, 6:00PM-8PM EDT

Bruce Mansfield & Jason Carr will discuss the history and principles solitaire tabletop gaming. Solitaire tabletop gaming has exploded in popularity over the last decade, both in solitaire-specific game designs, and solitaire game variants. Why is solitaire gaming becoming more popular? What design considerations are specific to solitaire design? How did we get to this point? This talk will outline the history of solitaire wargaming, analyze various solitaire design mechanisms, and speak about the tradeoffs in usability, complexity, and simulation in solitaire wargame designs, with special attention paid to ‘bots’ – automated solitaire opponents in otherwise multiplayer games. Register on Eventbrite.

Wargame Pathologies: An Overview, with Examples by Chris Weuve

October 5, 6:00PM – 8:00PM

Wargames can fail.  In this talk, professional DOD wargamer Chris Weuve explores some of the failure modes of professional wargames, and looks at some examples — and what to do about them. (And, given the current unpleasantness, he offers some thoughts on distributed wargames.) Register on Eventbrite.

USAF Title 10 Wargaming with Mitch Reed

Oct 12, 6:00PM-8PM EDT

 Mitch Reed, a senior wargame designer for the U.S. Air Force (USAF), will be discussing the wargame development for Global Engagement 20 (TREWMAN) and Futures Game 20. Global Engagement and Futures Game comprise the annual marquee wargames for the USAF, also known as USAF Title 10 wargames. This webinar will focus on how the AF/A5SW created the first competition wargame for the USAF – based on guidance from the Deputy SECDEF. It will also explore how AF/A5SW planned the largest competition game in DoD (before being cancelled by COVID) and its future plans for its TREWMAN competition game system. Register on Eventbrite.

Flashpoint Baltics Matrix Wargame

Oct 17, 11:00-3:00PM EDT

In collaboration with the Department of Strategic Wargaming at the U.S. Army War College (AWC), the Georgetown University Wargaming Society (GUWS) will be hosting a matrix-style wargaming examining strategic conflict between Russia and the United States in a hypothetical future scenario. This wargame will be conducted virtually and is limited to only 18 players. The wargame aims to provide an opportunity for students, aspiring professional wargamers, and military service members to engage with wargaming as an educational tool.

Registration for this event is capped at 18 participants. Interested participants may express their interest here via Google forms.

Agile Wargaming with Phil Bolger & Lexee Brill

Oct 26, 6:00PM-8PM EDT

Phil Bolger and Lexee Brill will discuss Agile Wargaming, a way to take traditional wargaming frameworks in a streamlined, low-fidelity, quick-turn format. Phil and Lexee work with the Air Force Warfighting Integration Capability (AFWIC). This discussion will focus on how AFWIC and other organizations AFWIC has worked alongside (including A5SW, multiple USAF Major Commands, and OSD-SCO) have made use of Agile Wargaming to develop concepts, refine plans, and assist decision-making, as well as what distinguishes Agile Wargaming from traditional wargaming, and how the two can benefit from each other. Register on Eventbrite

Digital Transformation of Wargames Co-Sponsored by ISW

Nov 2, 6:00PM  8:00PM EDT 

This event is co-sponsored by the Institute for the Study of War (ISW), a non-partisan, non-profit, public policy research organization, dedicated to advancing an informed understanding of military affairs through reliable research, trusted analysis, and innovative education.

Stephen Gordon will discuss analytical wargaming in the context of a transformative, distributed wargaming platform concept he co-created that leverages technologies, techniques, and methods from innovative industries and use cases including eSports, gaming, animation, virtual assistants, robotics, AI, quantum computing and hyper-scale cloud platforms. Joining the discussion as a co-presenter will be Col (Ret) Walt Yates, formerly the Program Manager, Training Systems, United States Marine Corps to share his experience with existing simulation capabilities and the wargaming technology evolution taking place inside the US Marine Corps. Register on Eventbrite.

Historical Board Games as Educational Tools: Shores of Tripoli by Kevin Bertram

Nov 12, 6:00PM – 8:00PM EDT

Description: TBD

Registration: TBD 

Virtual International Crisis War Game with Naval War College & Stanford University

November 14, 2020 10:00AM – 1:00PM

In partnership with the U.S. Naval War College (NWC) and the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, the Georgetown University Wargaming Society (GUWS) will be hosting their International Crisis War Game, which provides insights into the relationship between new technologies, domestic politics, conventional military capabilities, and nuclear threats. You do not need to have any prior wargaming experience or subject matter expertise to take participate: the game is aimed at generalists (like many political leaders), but those with deeper knowledge will also find this wargame interesting. Due to COVID restrictions, this wargame will be held virtually through Zoom. Registration: TBD

Gaming Nuclear War

Nov 17, 6:00PM  8:00PM EDT 

Robert McCreight will discuss how nuclear considerations and conflict are incorporated into wargaming. He will address the following: What factors drove US military and civilian leaders to prepare for all out nuclear war? What issues plagued strategic planners and governed strategic nuclear gaming? What aspects of genuine nuclear exchanges and MAD conflict were understood? What were the key requirements of gaming the management of a nuclear exchange? He will also address design elements for nuclear wargames, such as basic considerations in scenario development, issues in structuring interim game play moves and newly introduced play issues[scripted vs unscripted], and overall coordination and management of game flow. Register on Eventbrite.

Designing Cyber War

Dec 1, 6:00PM – 8:00PM EDT

Joseph Miranda will cover modeling cyberwar in wargames. The presentation will include board and computer games he has designed (examples: Cyberwar XXI for DARPA, Cybernauts for GameFix). Points will include use of game components to represent cyberspace, offensive and defensive programs, realworld forces, and the human element. Also, how to use cyberwar as part of a wider spectrum of conflict, a tactic for asymmetrical warfare (example: Decision in Iraq for Decision Games). Other topics will include modeling cyber security, crisis management, and emerging generations of warfare. The presentation will conclude with an analysis of cyberwar trends into the near future. Register on Eventbrite here: TBD

How to Design PNP Games by Brian Train

Dec 8, 6:00PM-8:00PM EDT

Description: TBD

Registration: TBD

Pellegrino: Modelling and games

Pete Pellegrino is a retired USN commander and former Naval Flight Officer, currently employed by Valiant Integrated Services supporting the US Naval War College’s War Gaming Department as lead for game design and adjudication and lecturing on game related topics for the department’s war gaming courses.  In addition to his work at the college since 2004, Pete has also conducted business games for Fortune 500 companies and consulted for major toy and game companies. The views expressed are those of the author and do not represent the official policy or position of any agency, organization, employer or company.

The various Excel tools mentioned in the lecture can be found here.

Others in this series can be viewed at the PAXsims YouTube channel.

Connections Oz 2020

This year’s Connections Oz conference will take place online on 7-9 December 2020:

Connections Oz is a conference for professional wargamers and serious gamers. It is scheduled for 7-9 December 2020. Please note this in your diaries and feel free to distribute to your networks.

We are now calling for presentations for this year’s conference. Please contact the organisers via connections.oz@gmail.com

Due to Covid restrictions, the 2020 program will be entirely online. This follows the format successfully delivered by the ‘Connections Global’ team earlier this year. This format offers the opportunity to include more interstate and overseas speakers participants. We hope this collection of ‘best of’ speakers will attract a larger audience here in Australia and help grow our community.

To accommodate international speakers, the daily schedule will include ‘after dinner’ sessions. A full program will be published shortly, but the anticipated daily schedule is likely to be along the lines of:

Morning Session 0800-1200
Afternoon Session 1400-1600
Evening Session 1900-2100

Registrations for 2020 is mandatory so that the links for online connections can be emailed to participants. See the registration page for details.

A highlight for this year will be an opening keynote from Matt Caffrey, the originator of Connections US back in 1993. We have a number of other international and local speakers lined up. Keep an eye on the website for more information.

The best way to keep up to date is to subscribe to the blog page: https://connectionsoz.wordpress.com/

Getting War (Gaming) Back into the War College

By Christopher Hossfeld and Ken Gilliam September 11, 2020

Photo Description: A resident seminar in the AY20 Class at the U.S. Army War College works its way through a round of Joint Overmatch: Euro-Atlantic applying lessons learned throughout the year.
Photo Credit: Ken Gilliam

Today at the US Army War College’s War Room blog:

Thinking is a critical part of warfighting, especially in the planning and execution of globally integrated campaigns. Don’t believe us, the Chairman of the Joint Chief’s of Staff says so. So how does a professional military education institution go about developing creative and critical thinking skills in military leaders? Well one tool in the kit is wargaming. Specially designed wargames that allow students to take academic content and apply it in a low risk, competitive environment are a proven and effective tool to accomplish this. WAR ROOM welcomes Chris Hossfeld and Ken Gilliam to examine how the U.S. Army War College incorporates the Joint Overmatch: Euro-Atlantic wargame into its core curriculum.

MORS Certificate in Cyber Wargaming 21 – 25 September

This course will examine the challenges of gaming cyber through a combination of lectures and practical exercises. Lectures will focus on games and game design, along with the application of game design to cyber issues. Practical exercises will give students the chance to experience different types of cyber gaming, with the expectation that students will research, design, and present their own cyber game as part of the course.

Successful students will learn how game design can be used to address challenges of cyber operations and policy and they will build an understanding of how to represent cyber capabilities in games, as well as build games directly addressing cyber operations.  The goal is for students to become aware of the gaming tools available for cyber, and to begin to associate specific game techniques with various cyber gaming requirements.

Instructors:
Mr. Ed McGrady
Mr. Paul Vebber

For more information and to Register go to
https://www.mors.org/Events/Certificates/Certificate-in-Cyber-Wargaming

Simulation & Gaming (October 2020)

The latest issue of Simulation & Gaming 51, 5 (October 2020) is now available online (paywalled).

Editorial

  • Roles, Plays, and the Roles We Play While Playing Games 
    • J. Tuomas Harviainen

Articles

  • Experiencing Cybersecurity One Game at a Time: A Systematic Review of Cybersecurity Digital Games
    • Merijke Coenraad, Anthony Pellicone, Diane Jass Ketelhut, Michel Cukier, Jan Plane, and David Weintrop
  • Professional Wargaming: A Flawed but Useful Tool 
    • John Curry
  • Green Across the Board: Board Games as Tools for Dialogue and Simplified Environmental Communication 
    • Kristoffer S. Fjællingsdal and Christian A. Klöckner
  • Exploring the Effects of Violent Video Games on Healthcare Trainees 
    • Karlie A. Krause, Chelsie Smyth, and Kate L. Jansen
  • A Study of Cognitive Results in Marketing and Finance Students 
    • Paola Andrea Ortiz-Rendón, Luz Alexandra Montoya-Restrepo, and Jose-Luis Munuera-Alemán
  • The Influence of Game Character Appearance on Empathy and Immersion: Virtual Non-Robotic Versus Robotic Animals 
    • Alexandra Sierra Rativa, Marie Postma, and Menno Van Zaanen
  • Conscientiousness in Game-Based Learning 
    • Liu Yi, Qiqi Zhou, Tan Xiao, Ge Qing, and Igor Mayer

Queeroes: LGBT+ & gender non-conformity in the military

PAXsims and the Derby House Principles are pleased to present Paul Strong & Sally Davis discussing queer and gender non-conforming representation in the military, from ancient times to the modern day.

Hear how war and the military created gay culture as we know it, and how gay culture has in turn shaped the military and how we think about war. Spot a few familiar faces, from WATU Wrens to Alexander the Great, QueenKing Christina of Sweden, Lord Kitchener, and others.

Read more about the Derby House Principles on diversity and inclusion in professional wargaming.

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