PAXsims

Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Monthly Archives: June 2021

Connections US 2021 YouTube Channel

Connections US has a YouTube Channel which is populated with this year’s conference events.

Peter Perla and Ed McGrady GameNation Part II Friday, 2 July

Join Peter Perla and Ed McGrady as they discuss AI and cyber games, and how the USAF game showed they almost had enough stuff, but not quite enough, to take on the Chinese.  Right before they released their budget.  Tune in to hear their take on the wargaming news of the day. https://zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_JIldrBu5RwaSJl_srXAyTg

Award-winning PAXsims editors

I am pleased to report that two PAXsims editors were recently recognized for their contributions to professional wargaming.

Sally Davis (Dstl) has received a A* Analysis Function Award from the UK Ministry of Defence for her work on diversity and inclusion. The nomination noted Dstl’s endorsement of the Derby House Principles, her work on the diversity card deck, and many other activities. It went on to note:

Sally’s work on the Derby House Principles epitomises our ambition to be an inclusive employer where diversity of thought is valued and celebrated and enables us to tackle the most complex S&T challenges; where everyone feels they belong and comfortable bringing their whole self to work. These principles are more than just words, they provide a guide for tangible actions for building our teams, cultivating our leaders and creating a community that supports everyone in it. Sally is a role model and her personal commitment and drive to helping Dstl meet its D&I ambitions is inspiring.

Major Tom Mouat (Defence Academy of the UK) was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award at the recent Defence Simulation Education and Training (DSET) conference.

Tom received the recognition for his outstanding contribution to military simulation, education and training and was presented with the award by Kiera Bentley, the Mayor of Faringdon, where he lives. He has over 30 years’ experience in the defence modelling and simulation sector. His interests include military simulation and training, manual wargaming, cyber defence and artificial intelligence.Tom has led and contributed to numerous UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) activities and projects. In 2007 he received the Chief of Defence Materiel’s Commendation for his work in the procurement of simulation systems, and in 2013 received the UK MoD Chief Scientific Adviser’s Team Commendation for contributions to defence modelling and simulation education. He is a regular speaker at the DSET conference, contributing to numerous presentations and panels.

DSET conference organiser, Tess Butler said: “We are genuinely happy to provide this award for Tom’s lifetime of dedication, knowledge and innovation in military simulation, modelling and wargaming. Tom has always been at the heart of our community, and is someone that continues to go above and beyond to support, provide advice and share his knowledge with students, colleagues and the wider industry. We hope that this award, our very first, goes a small way in providing the recognition that Tom so deserves

Two very well-deserved awards—congratulations Sally and Tom!

Iranian Journal of Wargaming

Several issues (2019-2020) of the Iranian Journal of Wargaming can be found online here, containing a mix of wargaming, game theoretic, operations research, and simulation articles (all in Farsi). Abstracts in English are also provided.

The journal is edited by Dr. Mohammad Reza Mehreghan (operations research, University of Tehran). The Director-in-Charge is Dr Valivand Zamani Hosein (Iranian Army Command and Staff University).

Barzashka: Do academic standards for research excellence apply to professional wargaming?

The following item has been written for PAXsims by Ivanka Barzashka (Managing Director of the Wargaming Network at the School of Security Studies at King’s College London), based on her recent presentation at the Connections US 2021 professional wargaming conference. This article expresses her personal views and does not necessarily reflect an institutional position. 


Wargaming has long practiced as a professional enterprise but is only emerging as an academic discipline. Civilian universities play an important role in bringing established standards of academic excellence to the theory and practice of wargaming for both research and education. 

Ensuring excellence in analytical wargames is especially important as governments increasingly looking to wargames to innovate and inform decisions. The pool of analytical wargame providers is rapidly expanding beyond the well-established expert circles. 

To achieve and demonstrate research excellence, analytical wargames need to follow established research integrity and ethics principles. Researchers, institutions and funders can then ensure these principles are implemented in practice, and action is taken when behaviours fall short. 

Research Integrity & Ethics in Analytical Wargaming 

What are these fundamental principles and how do they apply to wargames used for research? I answered this question in a recent presentation at the US Connections Professional Wargaming Conference from an academic perspective informed by King’s College London policies. I also highlighted some challenges facing scholars who wargame. You can listen to the talk here and view my slides below. 

The key takeaway: while wargaming scholarship is progressing, there is still a way to go. To properly meet research integrity standards, we need more fundamental research on wargaming, more educational opportunities in wargaming theory, methods and practice, and appropriate publication outlets. It is impossible to follow “disciplinary standard and norms” when scholars do not know or agree what these are. It is difficult to demonstrate rigour in “using appropriate research methods” when scientifically-sound analytical wargaming methods are only beginning to emerge in the open literature and are being applied for the first time for scholarly inquiry. Academics who strive for “transparency and open communication” still have issues publishing wargame findings in reputable journals.  

Expectations for Scholars vs Professional Wargamers 

But to what extent do research integrity and ethics requirements for analytical wargaming differ for academics versus professional wargamers? To advance this discussion, I offer three propositions.  

Most, but Not All, Academic Research Integrity Principles Apply to Professional Wargaming 

First, while the general principles for research excellence are fairly standard, a major difference between academic and professional wargaming is the expectation for transparency and open communication. For example, analysts who use wargames to support research for government clients are not expected to make their methods and findings available to others. In contrast, scholars are required to publish research and are promoted on the number of publications. 

Responding to Research Misconduct and Questionable Research Practices 

Second, the extent to which research integrity principles are applied in practice differs significantly among institutions and sponsors. This includes taking appropriate measures when there is evidence of research misconduct or questionable research practices.  

Research misconduct, which includes falsification, fabrication, plagiarism and misrepresentation, is a potentially fireable offence at a university. But could professional wargamers lose their jobs over poor game design or inadequate analysis of gameplay data?  

Looking at King’s definitions for categories of misconduct, many common wargaming practices would raise red flags in academe. Here are some examples: 

Falsification includes “inappropriate manipulation and/or selection of a research process.” According to this definition, creative injects by a control team that affect or determine outcomes of player decisions, but do not clearly link to research objectives and protocols, would raise questions.   

Misrepresentation includes “suppressing relevant results or data, or knowingly, recklessly or by gross negligence representing flawed interpretation of data.” Cherry-picking insights from a plenary discussion, while ignoring gameplay data, would get wargame analysts in trouble in this category. 

Another issue is plagiarism. Not acknowledging other people’s “ideas, intellectual property or work (written or otherwise)” in wargame design would be especially problematic in an academic setting but is common practice in the gaming community. 

Major Research Ethics Risks 

My third proposition concerns research ethics. The ethical issues that arise from the application of a particular analytical wargaming method that collects data from human subjects are mostly the same – regardless of whether the principal investigator works for a university or a government agency. However, the likelihood and consequence of ethical risks materialising will differ significantly in different settings. 

Scholars applying for research ethics review of an analytical wargaming process are most worried about preserving anonymity of research participants and ensuring the confidentiality of personal data. This risk arises because wargames are conducted in group settings and require support from large research teams (e.g. rapporteurs and facilitators). 

However, scholars can effectively manage these risks by carefully applying best practices, such as minimisation of directly or indirectly identifiable personal data, pseudo-anonymisation, access limitation, data separation and retention policies. These risks can be further reduced by careful recruitment and training of game staff. (At King’s, we spend 6 months selecting and training our wargame rapporteurs.) 

For professional wargamers, the major ethical risk is the conflict of interest between them and their sponsor. Stephen Downs-Martin describes the issue well in this article. Research ethics problems deepen when lines of responsibility and accountability are not clearly defined, and when the research process is not (or cannot) be made transparent. Mitigating these risks requires clear communication between a wargame provider and their sponsor but doing so might not be in the self-interest of the parties involved. 

Other ethical risks will be just as big, regardless of setting. For example, risks of harm to individuals could result from using wargames to investigate topics that could trigger stress or violence. If a principal investigator uses deception, including not fully informing participants of the purpose of the wargame, this also raises ethics concerns. (Thanks to Rex Brynen for highlighting these points.) 

Are Scholars Better Positioned to Ensure Research Excellence in Wargaming?

Ensuring and demonstrating research excellence in wargaming requires understanding, applying, and enforcing integrity and ethics principles. These principles are well established, but expectations differ in academic and professional wargaming settings. Professional wargamers face greater ethical risks than scholars who wargame, and these risks cannot be easily mitigated.   

Overall, scholars at universities are better positioned to ensure research excellence in wargaming than their professional wargaming colleagues. This does not mean professional wargamers are less interested in honesty, rigour, transparency, or ethics. Quite on the contrary – the wargaming community of practice is conscious of these risks and limitations, and the topic of this year’s US Connections conference is testimony to this fact. But there are powerful institutional incentives that influence research integrity and ethics in practice, which cannot be wished away. 

If people who are professional wargamers want to effectively demonstrate research excellence in wargaming, they should consider a sabbatical to spend some time at a university. 

Ivanka Barzashka

Hanley: A critique of strategic operational gaming

PAXsims is pleased to share John Hanley’s 1991 PhD thesis, On Wargaming: A Critique of Strategic Operational Gaming (Yale University, 1991).

This paper is a critique of strategic operational gaming. Operational gaming refers to the use of gaming to explore plans and investigate courses of action. Strategic refers to the subject explored. Therefore, this inquiry deals with two topics. One is the limits and validity of knowledge derived from operational gaming. The other is the use of free­ form gaming involving humans in formulating national security strategy.

This work consists of five parts in ten chapters. Part one addresses free-form gaming. Rather than accepting the notion that gaming contributes to better decisions, it addresses the alternatives to gaming and the issue: Why Game? This chapter uses a taxonomy of indeterminacy to suggest classes of problems most amenable to gaming. Part two suggests why we should employ operational gaming seriously as a technique in the formulation and implementation of national security strategy. It addresses the evolving nature of national security strategy, the history of gaming, and the influence of gaming on policy and strategy. Part three explicitly lays out the elements and structure of operational gaming. Part four critiques two current efforts employing operational gaming techniques to assist in national security policy analysis and strategy formulation. Similar concerns over defects in strategic analysis at the end of the 1970s led to the Global War Games at the Naval War College and the RAND Strategy Assessment System. The Global games employ free-form gaming whereas RAND has developed a computer-based system. Finally, part five addresses future directions in the use of operational gaming for policy analysis and strategy formulation. It suggests steps needed to institute a discipline of gaming and suggests areas of research.

Game Lab discussion topics at Connections US

Short discussions on the following topics to be held online at Connections US (must be registered for Connections US) Wednesday and Thursday. Discussions run in parallel for one hour.

Wednesday 23 June 1300–1400 US EDT

HostQuestionDescription
Chuck Turnitsa1. How can Simulation Systems assist with traditional (or not) Wargaming?Many organizations that are currently engaging in the push for wargaming, are intrigued by the idea of using simulation systems (mostly from the LVC world) to assist in facilitating a wargame. This may or may have limits on its usefulness, but there can certainly be some overlap – as both wargaming and combat simulation are both based on combat modeling. However the devil is in the details, and discussion of how and where simulation is useful for wargaming needs to happen.
Ed McGrady3. What are the skills that professional game designers need?Lets discuss all of the different challenges we have faced as professional game designers, and what has prepared us to be successful in that position. Do game designers need to be analysts? Should they be story tellers? Good a facilitation or just plain good at improve? What skills derive from a sordid past in board game design, and what skills come from role playing? At its core wargaming exists at this weird intersection of military analysis, history, gaming, role playing, storytelling, and acting. What skills do you value, and what should we be doing differently to cultivate these skills in ourselves and others?
Hiroyasu Akutsu4. How can wargaming be used to generate ideas for (military) technological innovation?In this new era of AI or new and emerging technologies, there may be many efforts of wargaming to contribute to technological innovation in our defense and security communities, but opportunities to share those efforts and exchange views seem to be sparse especially in open-source spaces. I have seen only a few open-source examples and have actually built on one of them to develop our own very basic and simple gaming exercise. It is not necessarily the importance of this question per se, but the importance of opportunity to discuss how professional wargamers have addressed it that I wish to emphasize. I hope this Lab will provide such an opportunity.
Matt Caffrey5. What new developments in wargaming and new findings in wargaming’s history should be included in the second edition of the book “On Wargaming”?I’m writing a second edition of “On Wargaming”. Please help me identify both important developments in our field and additional history that came to light after I finished work on the first edition (or I missed). I particularly want to improve my coverage of popular wargaming world wide, post Soviet wargaming in Russia and recent developments in NATO wargaming.
Samantha Taylor6. What should a strategic level war game on Space include?Many war games especially those for space focus on getting items into space and developing new technology to further explore space. Few focus on the strategic and diplomatic areas of space considering how space is continuing to evolve what should a strategic level focused space war game focus on and how should it challenge its players to understand Space strategy, diplomacy, and other important aspects related to space policy.
Tim Moench7. How to introduce academic rigor to wargaming?Without a thorough understanding of the rich wargaming literature available, it is easy to be dismissive of the academic rigor present. A comprehensive wargaming literature review will be presented to help one appreciate what is already available and areas for further research.
Tomonori Yoshizaki8. What lessons have you learned from red teaming for wargaming?There are many different approaches to red teaming in wargaming that depend on organization, country, interest, objective, etc. It would be useful to share and learn from one another about best and worst practices in red teaming for wargaming.

Thursday 24 June 1300–1400 US EDT

HostQuestionDescription
Alex M Hoffendahl9. How can we use wargaming and simulation to identify the intentions behind, and calculate the likelihood of, each of the adversary’s feasible courses of action (COAs)?The doctrinal planning process calls for gaming several alternative friendly COAs against several enemy COAs. The reality is that without simulation support planners hand wargame a single professionally preferred friendly COA against a single selected enemy COA (examining a few branches and sequels) in order to identify and cure weaknesses in one’s own COA. Mission planning would be significantly improved if we could use wargaming and simulation to identify the full range of feasible enemy COAs, deduce the intention behind each, and calculate the likelihood distribution of the enemy’s potential COAs
Ed McGrady11. How do we aggregate for quick, sensible, games?The problem of aggregation, of rolling up combat results into higher-echelon units, is a perennial and inevitable problem in game design. Data on fire and casualty rates are available, but often not for the circumstances we care about. Computer simulations can give detailed results for complex situations, but they are often too much for a game with time pressures. So, the question remains, how, and when, do we roll up combat results to the brigade, division, and corps levels in modern combat. The issues go beyond 3:1 and include things like how to incorporate precision fires against enemy C3, airpower, ISR, and other factors on large formation combat results. Those who have a computer simulation background are welcome to participate, as many issues we need to discuss are also issues in simulation. However the simple solution of substituting computer sims for the combat results table is not what we are looking for. Rather, we are asking: how do we incorporate all of this complexity and data into a realistic, and usable, set of mechanics for professional games?
Hiroyasu Akutsu12. What lessons have you learned from scenario development for wargaming?Exchanging best and worst practices in scenario-writing would help especially the younger generations of wargaming professionals.
Matt Caffrey13. How can the national Connections conferences and the international community of wargamers overall work together more effectively?A side effect of the global pandemic has been an increase in awareness that there is an international wargaming community. We have participated in each other’s online conferences. In the coming post pandemic world it is important to preserve and expand our communications and work together for the betterment of all.
Pijus Krūminas14. How can wargames use social science models for educational purposes?When using wargames in classes on social sciences (e.g. political science), they have the potential to illustrate specific theoretical models that are being taught. However, such models may seem closed or solved (e.g. game theoretic). This creates a challenge, since games are more flexible in their outcomes and generally more open. Bridging this gap would facilitate the use of games in the classroom, expanding their applicability.
Tim Moench15. How to gamify the onboarding of wargame control members?Too often, control team (White Team) participants are thrown into positions they neither have trained for nor have experience doing so. While there are several parts to control, I want to examine one particular segment, the analysis team. I believe the gamification of the onboarding process for analysis can better prepare them for their duties in a shorter amount of time. This process may have application to other control segments such as adjudication.
Tim Smith16. What are the best Pedagogical designs for PME courses supported by wargame labs & practical applications?This Game Lab will explore and identify methods for combining readings, briefings, data sets, structured analytic templates (SATs) and facilitated team brainstorming in support of wargaming in order to provide the best possible PME. Methods and experience from other educational areas that use gaming to teach are also especially important.

Simulation & Gaming, June 2021

The latest issue of Simulation & Gaming 52, 3 (June 2021) is now available. The issue is devoted to the topic of facilitation in gaming.

Editorial

Why Facilitation? 

Elyssebeth Leigh, Elena Likhacheva, Elizabeth Tipton, Marieke de Wijse-van Heeswijk, and Birgit Zürn

Articles

  • Becoming the Unseen Helmsman – Game facilitator competencies for novice, experienced, and non-game facilitators 
    • Rens Kortmann and Vincent Peters
  • The Multiple Facilitator: Scientists, Sages and Rascals 
    • Rob J. G. Jansen and Marino van Zelst
  • Sight Beyond Sight: A Conceptual Exploration of the ‘Gaze’ in Facilitating Simulations 
    • Anjum Naweed and Elyssebeth Leigh
  • Ethics and the Simulation Facilitator: Taking your Professional Role Seriously 
    • Marieke de Wijse-van Heeswijk
  • Trust in Classroom-as-Organization Simulations: Parallel Experiences of Participants and Facilitators
    • Laurie L. Levesque
  • Complexifying Facilitation by Immersing in Lived Experiences of on-the-fly Facilitation 
    • Joeri van Laere, Jessica Lindblom, and Marieke de Wijse-van Heeswijk
  • Design of an Impulse-Debriefing-Spiral for Simulation Game Facilitation 
    • Sebastian Schwägele, Birgit Zürn, Heide K. Lukosch, and Maria Freese
  • Decreasing Racial Bias Through A Facilitated Game and Workshop: The Case of Fair Play 
    • Christine Maidl Pribbenow, Kyrie Eleison H. Caldwell, Donald Dejon Dantzler, Percy Brown, Jr., and Molly Carnes

Are we the baddies?

Sally Davis’ recent forays into the British archives dug up this comment on “Red” and “Blue” in the Royal Navy’s 1929 war game rules [CB 3011].


Become rich* and famous** as a PAXsims research associate

Are you interested in conflict simulation and serious games? Well, here is your opportunity to join PAXsims as a research associate for 2021-22.

*To be clear you won’t actually become rich, since no one at PAXsims actually gets paid.

**We can’t really make you famous either—all we can offer is whatever satisfaction derives from helping us find material for the website (and possibly writing the occasional piece yourself).

However, we would certainly value your assistance!

To apply, email us by June 30 with a copy of your resume/CV, plus details of your background in conflict simulation and serious gaming. As a strong supporter of the Derby House Principles we particularly welcome applications from historically underrepresented groups.

ArmChair Dragoons Convention

The Armchair Dragoons are at it again, with their 3rd online convention within the past 12 months.

The ACDC (ArmChair Dragoons Convention) is happening 18-20 June, entirely online, on the weekend that was originally scheduled for Origins.  In addition to the usual designer-led game sessions, and industry-interview talk shows, the ACDC has focused on bigger ‘event’ style games that bring in larger groups for more unique gameplay, like the 8-man games run by Grognard of the Year Jim Owczarski, or the Kriegsspiel that’ll be hosted by the International Kriegsspiel Society.  There are epic-scale games of Commands & Colors (4-player teams) and several multiplayer Napoleonic games.  There is also a large ‘rolling’ scenario being hosted by Lock ‘n Load Publishing where the game will ‘carry over’ from session to session, so that new players will inherit the decisions made by their predecessors.

Something new that’s being launched at this ACDC is a Graphic Design contest for wargame artwork, which will include both open voting for the attendees to choose their favorite designs, as well as a judges’ panel of industry artists / publishers to weigh in on a live show that’ll unveil the winners.

The ACDC is also bringing back the Boardgame Bootcamp crew, to reach new players the ins & outs of VASSAL, Discord, and Tabletop Simulator.  Also returning are YouTube hosts Ardwulf, and Moe of Moe’s Game Table for their industry interviews and social hours.

Games include: Bayonets & Tomahawks, Brotherhood & Unity, Shores of Tripoli, Squadron Strike, Brave Little Belgium, La Belle Epoque, Almost a Miracle, Conflict of Heroes, Deadly Woods, Hands in the Sea, Iron & Oak, Lock ‘n Load Tactical, and more.

Seminars / Presentations include: NSDM’s “Global Hotspots” update, Space 1889, Forts Along the Ohio River, designers Bruce Maxwell,Tomislav Čipčić, Stuart Tonge, and George Dew, and a couple of happy hours for open chatter.

With the loss of so many in-person game conventions over the past 18 months, digital conventions have jumped in to fill the void, and offer a chance for a communal gaming experience, but in your pajamas, and with a much lower likelihood of contracting the con-lurgy.

Detailed info can be found here: https://www.armchairdragoons.com/acdc-june-2021/

Registration is here: https://tabletop.events/conventions/acdc-june-2021

Graphic design contest info is here: https://www.armchairdragoons.com/events/cons/the-acdc-wargame-graphic-design-contest/

Brant Guillory

Connections US approaches!

This is a reminder that the Connections US professional wargaming conference will take place on 21-25 June 2021.

UK Fight Club: Spencer on urban warfare

UK Fight Club will be hosting a webinar by John Spencer (Modern Warfare Institute) at 18:00 BST on June 24. You’ll find further details and registration here.

Forthcoming GUWS wargaming presentations

This is a periodic reminder that the Georgetown Wargaming Society continues to sponsor an apparently endless number of excellent talks on all aspects of wargaming. On the schedule for this month:

The Defence Analytical Wargaming Network in Australia

June 7 – 7:00 – 9:00 PM EST

Wargaming communities in Australia are much like the country itself: sparsely populated over vast distances, with very meagre resources. The Defence Analytical Wargaming Network is an initiative with two main foci. The first is to connect professional wargamers to share their collective knowledge and to increase our capacity to run large events. The second aim is to provide an internally-focused safe-to-fail environment where we can generate and test novel techniques and improve the craft of wargaming. Peter Williams will discuss how the DAWN was formed and the challenges and successes they’ve experienced in the first year.

Games for Professional Military Education

June 14 – 9:00 – 10:15 PM EST

This will be a discussion about the Australian Defence College efforts to incorporate games into its formal and informal PME initiatives through the joint professional military education continuum. Group Captain Brick will also discuss This War of Mine as a different kind of wargame that presents players / students with the moral and ethical dilemmas faced by civilian survivors in war zones.

Wakanda Forever: Fiction and Simple War Games for Pedagogy 

June 28 – 6:00 – 8:00 PM EST

How do you get students interested in big concepts like strategy and joint force structure? Why not use superheroes! In this presentation Dr. Ky Hunter will discuss how she created a simple game based on Wakanda from the Black Panther series in the Marvel Universe to help cadets learn about joint force organization and strategy development. She will also discuss how to adapt games to real word events and keep students involved in a 100% virtual environment

You will find details and registration links for these and other forthcoming events at the GUWS website.

How I learned to stop worrying and love climate change and geo-politics

The following item was written for PAXsims by Darren Green. After a career as a project manager at IBM and Toshiba Labs in the UK, Darren changed track to focus on using games for corporate team-building and more recently, in education. He runs training and educational sessions in the UK through his own business, Crisis Games (http://crisis-games.co.uk/) and is currently hosting an academic project to investigate how well games can communicate issues in climate change.


Why are nation-states finding it so difficult to keep the commitments they signed up to in the Paris Agreement in 2015? What can games/simulations tell us about these difficulties? The problem of climate change has been framed as an example the tragedy of the commons which is made all the more difficult because it has a time horizon that does not fit easily with electoral cycles. It is a problem that involves complex social payoffs situated decades into the future. A large-scale role-play simulation looks like it would be a good tool to provide at least some insight into this.

Watch the Skies[1] is a popular megagame that examines how the geo-politics of the modern world are transformed by the arrival of aliens. As a first approach it might be a good basis for looking at how nations (fail to) address climate change. I tried unplugging the aliens from Watch the Skies[2] and plugging in a climate model (I used the C-Roads model from Climate Interactive’s World Climate Simulation, which is freely available and has been designed as a learning resource for use in role play activities).

The next issue that emerged was that the game needed a sufficiently detailed model of economic activity and CO2 emissions to interface with the parameters of the climate model. At this point it became clear that designing a complete new rule set (rather than adapting Watch the Skies) would be the easiest route. This conclusion was further reinforced by the goal of building a game that could be used in a public engagement setting. Megagames generally require 30 or more players attending the game for 6-7 hours – requirements that don’t mesh well with public engagement opportunities. A game that was playable in around 3 hours and accommodates 10-30 players would be suitable as a side-event at conferences, or in public spaces such as libraries or as an activity to be held in schools or colleges.

After running a few promising play test sessions in 2019, the next year was spent converting the game to online play as pandemic restrictions took hold. While there were many difficulties in making this transition, an online version of the game had some clear advantages. Firstly, it presented an opportunity to run follow-on sessions. It is much easier to start a session where the previous session ended – the game state is maintained digitally, because you don’t need to take down and pack away the game. Playing a follow-on session is a nice way of simulating a change in government administrations. If the players return to take on the same roles in that they held in the previous session then they represent an administration that has held on to power through re-election. If new players take over the roles then that simulates a change of administration.

Secondly, the game left a digital ‘paper trail’ so that the turns could be reconstructed. I have been fascinated with the narrative that tabletop or role-play simulations (wargames and megagames) generate. I have often scribbled copious notes while playing a game (this was before cameras were ubiquitous). However, even with a good set of notes or plentiful photos of counters on hex maps, the full story of the game often proves elusive, and with megagames there are so many different narratives and interactions happening that it is impossible for one person to follow everything. With online versions, reconstructing the narrative becomes much easier; with spreadsheets used to conduct resource allocation, (providing a record of where resources went and their effects) and a record of communication between players left by text messaging it was possible to put together a fairly detailed narrative of the game.

ABOVE: An example of text messaging in the game using a Discord server.

So, I present below a ‘future history’ of the world from 2024 to 2030 based on two game sessions played in November 2020. If you are expecting a dry discussion of various environmental targets then you’ll have to look elsewhere. The game treated the nations in the game as fully-realised states that were able to pursue political agendas through economic or military means and the players took full advantage of this!

Some of the events may seem extraordinary (but I hope, still within the realms of believability); players were briefed with a short summary of national doctrine and key agendas, but they were given some leeway to break from this if they wished to. Also, in common with Matrix games and the megagame format, players were allowed to respond to situations with improvised plans if the rules did not address a strategy or tactic they wanted to employ. Facilitators carefully adjudicated these plans to determine a realistic outcome – a task which the facilitators in the game (Stefan Salva Cruz, Patrick Rose and Glenn Russell) performed outstandingly.

So, we begin the game with the climate change model predicting a mean annual global temperature increase of 3 degrees Celsius by 2100. Six nations were played in the game: USA, EU, Russia, China, India and Brazil. There were also three global corporations played (Trans Global, Interprime and Neotech) and a team of players took on the role of the United Nations. If a detailed game write-up is not for you, skip to the end where there is a brief summary of outcomes and concluding remarks.

ABOVE: The climate model at the start of the game

2024

  • US companies responded enthusiastically to US government tax incentives encouraging investment in Mexico, Venezuela and Columbia.
  • Brazilian oil companies finalised a deal to exploit oil and gas reserves in and around the Black Sea.
  • Trans Global corporation rolled out the first of its next-generation solar arrays to be built just outside the Russian city of Sochi. Forecasts suggest that when fully operational it will supply over 80% of the city’s power requirements.

2025

  • The world’s largest commercial carbon capture plant started operation outside Detroit. The plant is run by an industry consortium backed by the US government.
  • Paramilitary terrorist attacks against US military bases and corporate buildings across Japan left hundreds dead and many more injured. The US government withdrew all non-essential staff from Japan and advised US citizens to leave. The attacks were conducted by a Japanese nationalist group known as Rising Sun. This group was previously little known to authorities. It is thought to have links with North Korea and credible reports state that the military hardware used in the attacks came from Brazil. The Japanese Prime Minister called a state of emergency and ordered Japanese Defence Force units to patrol the streets.
  • The forest fire season in California was one of the worst on record. The President ordered federal authorities to address the situation early and provided federal funding. FEMA was able to co-ordinate local, state and federal resources to minimise risks to citizens and property damage.
  • Wild fires in Spain, Portugal, Greece and Italy plagued the EU throughout the summer. Local authorities were able to keep on top of the situation through the use of specialised drones which mapped the progress of the fires in real time.
  • Interprime announced a contract with the Russian government to establish a smart power grid which will intelligently route power to where it is needed. This is predicted to provide 10-20% efficiency savings. Construction of the grid will start near Moscow’s northern suburbs, where Trans Global plan to install another of their advanced solar arrays.
  • The Brazilian economy suffered severe setbacks. Credit agencies rated Brazilian government and commercial debt as sub-prime. After weeks of riots on the streets of Brazilian cities and unable to attract international investment, the Brazilian President was forced to declare a state of emergency.

2026

  • The US President announced that Congress had approved funding for two further carbon reduction schemes. Firstly, the nation’s aging nuclear power stations would be upgraded to use next-generation reactors provided by Trans Global. Secondly, after the success of the carbon capture plant at Detroit, new plants would be opening outside Atlanta, Portland and Sacramento.
  • The French President and German Chancellor announced a programme of EU-sponsored joint stock ventures with firms in North and South Korea. The scheme is intended to encourage further progress on Korean re-unification, applying the experience gained from the successful re-unification of Germany in the 1990s.
  • Pakistan revealed the deployment of an armoured brigade fielding Neotech’s autonomous combat vehicles. These vehicles can be driven remotely and can also switch to a fully autonomous mode in which the onboard computer will make kill decisions without human intervention. The vehicles were manufactured at the Neotech plant outside Sao Paulo in Brazil and were supplied on the basis of ongoing Brazilian defence contracts.
  • The Indian Prime Minister reacted to Pakistan’s military deployment by declaring a state of emergency and ordering an the Parachute Regiment and Gurkha Rifles to the border. The UN reminded the world of the dangers of conflict between these two nuclear-armed nations and called for de-escalation. When asked for comment, the Brazilian President’s Office said that they expected to receive a large order for Neotech’s autonomous combat vehicles from India shortly.
  • Japan was devastated by the worst typhoons in living memory. Aid was swiftly provided by the international community under leadership of the US. The death toll was finally tallied at several thousand.
  • A series of international climate summits hosted by China ended with world leaders announcing a world-wide tax on the use of fossil fuels burned for vehicle fuel or commercial power generation. The stock of major petrochemical companies dropped sharply.
  • China stunned the global community by bringing in emergency laws to restrict all commercial activities linked with foreign exports or investments. Veteran China-watchers had warned about this as internal divisions in the Chinese Communist Party had emerged at the last Party Congress. It appears the hard-line nationalist stance advocated by the Premier with the backing of the General Secretary has won the day. Chinese companies with export contracts or linked with significant foreign investment have been told they will need to apply for special licenses in order to continue their business.
  • Japanese companies with links to China were in desperate efforts to try and reposition themselves. China’s new stance on exports, combined with the domestic Japanese terror threat and higher than expected typhoon damage claims has meant that analysts regard the huge Japanese government debt as no-longer sustainable.
  • Markets turned favourably towards Russia’s economy, which appears to have successfully pivoted away from dependence on gas and oil exports towards a high-tech, green future. 

2027

  • The Saudi air force conducted air strikes on Yemen’s coastal cities. Tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran very quickly ramped up and small scale border conflicts threatened to break out across the region. Violent unrest was reported in cities throughout the Middle East.
  • Social media was flooded with memes drawn from the 1980s film ‘Robocop’ as Brazilian military officials and Neotech executives showed off the paramilitary version of the autonomous combat vehicles that have been deployed in India and Pakistan. Neotech announced that orders for these vehicles have already been received from South African police departments and Chinese government security forces.
  • The US President announced that he had signed an order to decommission 25% of US coal and gas-fired power stations. These power stations, situated mainly along the east coast of the USA are some of the oldest plants and significantly contribute to the USA’s carbon emissions.
  • China maintained a nationwide state of emergency. The government announced that emergency measures were needed to deal with the series of storms which were predicted to hit China this year. Analysts suggested that emergency measures were more likely being kept in place to handle potential civil unrest as the Chinese economy endures a huge downturn due to plummeting exports.
  • The Russian President opened a section of smart highway running parallel to the M11 from Moscow to St. Petersburg. Neotech robotic vehicles will run along the roads, powered by electricity provided by Trans Global arrays and intelligently channelled by Interprime power networking to where it is needed.
  • Trans Global corporation announced that on the back of its successful re-commissioning of US reactors, it has been invited by the Russian government to conduct a feasibility study to assess whether reactors used in its submarine and icebreaker fleets can be re-purposed for domestic power generation.
  • The Chinese Premier opened a Trans Global solar array outside of Shanghai. Trans Global shares surged on the news that its solar arrays had been successfully deployed in a second nation.
  • The Brazilian President once again declared a state of emergency after a series of riots in Brazilian cities. Police and military units were seen patrolling the streets along with Neotech’s autonomous vehicles. A film crew claimed to have recorded the first purposeful killing of a human by artificial intelligence.
  • The Russian President said that trials of its new space plane (built by Trans Global) were successful and would allow it to take cargo to low earth orbit at a fraction of the cost of traditional rocket delivery.  The President announced that in partnership with Trans Global, Russia would focus on landing cosmonauts on the moon as the first step to establishing a base there. Trans Global shares were down 30% at one point as investors dumped the stock, worried about the corporation being involved in such a risky and expensive venture.
  • The United Nations Security Council authorised the deployment peacekeeping forces along various contested border regions in the Middle-east. The US would provide the majority of the forces but France, Germany and Russia would provide contingents for deployment in areas which were too sensitive for the deployment of US personnel. 
  • The IPCC released a report showing average global temperature rise by 2100 is predicted to be 2.6 degrees. While progress in addressing climate change was praised, it was pointed out that a temperature rise of 2.6 degrees would lead to a 90cm sea level rise by 2100. This would threaten the existence of low lying cities such as New York and London, as well as entire nations such as the Netherlands and Bangladesh.
  • Australia endured one of the worst droughts on record as it entered the height of the summer.

2028

  • In response to Russia’s announcement of a space programme to land a cosmonaut on the moon, the US President announced that the Artemis mission to return US astronauts to the moon would be restarted. Artemis was originally scheduled for blast off in 2024, but had been postponed and eventually put on hold due to funding difficulties.
  • UN aid camps were set up in Oman to take in refugees from Yemen, where the short war has left widespread property destruction and displaced thousands.
  • A new government was elected in India on a platform of combating corruption.
  • A new Chinese Premier and General Secretary of the Communist Party were appointed, suggesting the isolationist stance of China may be softening.
  • The outgoing UN Secretary General and Deputy Secretary General received the Nobel Peace Prize for their extremely quick reaction to tensions in the Middle East. The prize committee suggested that their action prevented further widespread conflagrations in the area.
  • Trans Global landed a survey rover on the moon to gather geological data with a view to assessing the location as a site for a manned base.
  • A UN sponsored peace conference between Pakistan and India continued throughout the year. One of the reasons for the talks taking so long was that the Indian representatives were plagued by accusations of corruption in the Indian press and were continually being replaced by the Prime Minister due to his zero-tolerance policy on corruption.
  • Trans Global announced that it would be making a revolutionary solar-powered stove available in India. It would be cheap enough for villagers to afford and supply eco-friendly heating in areas where power is unreliable.

2029

  • Interprime announced plans for smart power grids in Brazil, Poland, Hungary, north-eastern USA and northern India. Construction work had already begun in Brazil and India and was scheduled to begin next year in the other locations.
  • Trans Global’s line of solar powered jewelry has become the sensation of fashion shows around the globe. The corporation reported that budget versions of the jewelry would be available for consumers later this year. Trans Global’s shares reached an all-time high.
  • A Category 5 storm hit the Philippines. The USA, China and India all pledged aid, but it was slow to arrive and was too little to address the effects of the widespread destruction in the wake of the storm. Analysts predicted that the Philippines’ fragile economy will be severely challenged due to the level of destruction.
  • China’s credit rating was upgraded to AA as it emerged from a state of emergency. Its economy recovered from the huge drop in exports to the west and benefitted from a revitalised domestic and regional economy. The Chinese government has also signed into law requirements on business to use of low-carbon power sources.
  • NASA announced that the launch of the Artemis manned mission to the moon would be pushed back to 2032 due to funding being held back by Congress. There was no mention of the Russian plan to land a cosmonaut on the moon and experts predicted that any such mission is at least a decade away.
  • UN peacekeepers supplied by the USA took up position on the Indian-Pakistan border.
  • The Russian President announced the opening of the city of Neo Kaliningrad. Although only a small portion of the city centre has been constructed, the ‘smart city’ will interface directly with the technologies supplied by Trans Global, Neotech and Interprime to reduce the environmental footprint of its inhabitants.

2030 

  • Russia announced the establishment of a second smart city: Neo Novosibirsk. The President explained in a long and detailed press session that the city would welcome climate refugees. There were rumours that the Russian General Staff had attempted to persuade the President against any invitation of refugees to Russia, warning that it would be difficult to maintain the integrity of the Russian huge land border. Shortly after the President’s speech, some of the General Staff were reported to be on secondment at remote military bases in Siberia.
  • Neotech assisted India in setting up a network of drones to monitor flooding risks and anti-flood measures in anticipation of a heavy monsoon season.
  • China allowed its currency to float freely and the markets took to it enthusiastically. Many institutions holding dollars reduced their exposure to the US currency and bought the Yuan. The US economy faltered as the dollar collapsed and a huge inflationary shock hit home. Credit rating agencies upgraded China to AAA, and downgraded the US to AA.
  • There was a military coup in Latvia as senior army generals took control of the civilian government, accusing it of losing sight of the ‘Russian threat’. Latvian citizens were called up and there were reports of tanks and artillery heading to the Russian border.
  • China announced that all of its coal-fired power plants would be closed down in the next two decades and no new permits for coal-fired power plants would be issued. China is now widely seen as the global leader in decarbonising its economy.
  • War broke out after a decade of peace between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Armenia appeared to be using Brazilian-made weapons and armoured vehicles.
  • The US President declared a state of emergency as rioting broke out in cities along the East coast and in the Mid-west. Falling living standards were seen to be the main driver of the unrest with US inflation running at more than 10%. Order gradually returned after several weeks of the National Guard patrolling the streets of major cities.

ABOVE: The climate model at the end of the game

Conclusion

While the game broadly accomplished its goals, there are a couple of areas of the design that need reviewing. Firstly, player feedback indicated that the briefing materials and mechanics should focus more on addressing climate change. While players appreciated the broad scope of actions available to them and the realistic pressure of balancing economics and political agendas against climate change mitigation, they felt that the climate challenges needed to be presented to players much more clearly to facilitate negotiations about them.

Secondly, while the C-ROADS climate model is scientifically based and peer reviewed, the interface between the model and the game is arbitrary. The amount of resources that a nation must spend to achieve a certain change in the model parameters has been adjusted over a number of play tests to broadly reflect expected real-world effects. The same is true of the effects of various sustainable technologies that the corporations in the game can roll out. This is very much more an exercise in empirical testing and game design rather than a scientific exercise and the numbers and game mechanics used must be reviewed to ensure that they broadly match what is observed in the real world. 

I believe the game narrative presents a credible version of future events. The predicted global temperature rise remaining stubbornly above 2 degrees for the duration of the 2020s is sadly all too believable. Although there were many economic and political distractions for the players, it should still be noted that reducing the predicted temperature rise by 0.5 degrees in 7 years is no mean feat!

One pattern that emerged was that the nations in general focussed on how they could reduce their own carbon emissions rather than looking at the big picture. This resulted in China and Russia making huge progress in switching to sustainable power but their CO2 emissions were then  ‘exported’ to other regions of the world (South-east Asia, Korea and Eastern Europe) where cheaper (fossil fuelled) power was still available. So while China and Russia’s reduction of CO2 emissions in the game look praiseworthy if viewed in isolation, overall global emissions remained stubbornly high.

Special mentions should be given to the USA team which took a globalist perspective and was instrumental in solving many of the issues that cropped up, only be crushed in the final turns by China’s push for economic dominance; to the EU team, who realised that using their economic power to support other developed and developing nations to transition to sustainable power generated much bigger reductions of CO2 emissions than if they devoted all of their resources to their own carbon-reduction schemes; to the India team who put India on a firm footing to sustainable development and were winning their war on corruption; and to Brazil team who explored many interesting (and somewhat disruptive) ways to extract themselves from Brazil’s many difficulties.

With grateful thanks to all the players and facilitators.

Darren Green, Crisis Games

[I am currently working on a new version of the game that addresses much of the player feedback from the game described above and preparing it for face-to-face play when that becomes possible. If you would like to be involved in testing/playing the new version please email me at: crisisgames.info@gmail.com]


[1] See https://www.stonepaperscissors.co.uk/games-download/watch-the-skies

[2] In fact, I first ran a version of Watch the Skies where the aliens were intent on persuading nations to adapt to sustainable technology and cleaning up excess CO2. Of course, it was extremely difficult for the nations to figure out whether the alien technology was helping with climate change or terraforming the Earth ready for alien overlords to take residence. It was entertaining, but probably had too many complicating factors to try and realistically examine the geo-politics of climate change.

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