PAXsims

Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Simulation and gaming miscellany, 6 November 2022

PAXsims is pleased to share some recent items on conflict simulation and serious (and not-so-serious) gaming that may be of interest to our readers. Steven Sowards suggested material for this latest edition.

The US Naval Institute has recently published three articles on the agile wargames that can support force design:

The first episode of the new Warfighter podcast features Col Arnel David (US Army).

Arnel speaks about what it means to be a Warfighter, and the importance of exercising the decision making process for leaders and how this can be enabled through wargaming techniques.

Through the Fight Club initiative that Arnel is heavily involved in, he aims to increase understanding of Wargaming amongst commanders and how these techniques can be integrated within existing training structures and pipelines.

Our hosts also welcome Andy Fawkes for the first time, who provides a digest of the recent modelling & simulation news, with some discussion around the more interesting trends.

At Revue Défense N@tionale, Yann Malard examines “Jeux de guerre : vers un nouvel essor” [Wargames: towards a new boom].

Depuis quelques années, le Wargame bénéficie d’une nouvelle dynamique au sein des armées occidentales. Les jeux de guerre constituent un outil pédagogique qui permet d’embrasser les enjeux dans toute leur complexité et se les approprier de manière active. Ils offrent ainsi une alternative complémentaire peu coûteuse, flexible et évolutive aux méthodes de planification actuellement utilisées. En réduisant son aversion au risque et en se confrontant aux conséquences de ses propres décisions dans un temps contraint, le joueur développe son agilité intellectuelle, qualité indispensable au futur haut responsable militaire. La mise en place d’une organisation cohérente en France est une condition préalable indispensable au développement et à l’optimisation de cet outil.

Recent reports in the New York Times and CNN have credited, in part, Western wargaming for some of Ukraine’s recent military successes against Russian occupation.

One critical moment this summer came during a war game with U.S. and Ukrainian officials aimed at testing the success of a broad offensive across the south. The exercise, reported earlier by CNN, suggested such an offensive would fail. Armed with the American skepticism, Ukrainian military officials went back to Mr. Zelensky.

“We did do some modeling and some tabletop exercises,” Colin Kahl, the Pentagon’s policy chief, said in a telephone interview. “That set of exercises suggested that certain avenues for a counteroffensive were likely to be more successful than others. We provided that advice, and then the Ukrainians internalized that and made their own decision.”

Together Britain, the United States and Ukraine conducted an assessment of the new plan, trying to war game it once more. This time officials from the three countries agreed it would work — and give Mr. Zelensky what he wanted: a big, clear victory.

The role played by wargaming in the Ukraine war won’t be known for decades, of course. Some caution is in order. In general, commentators are quick to claim partial credit for successes, but rarely do so with failures. The wargaming community also has a terrible habit of mythologizing wargames as either hugely insightful or deeply flawed—Pearl Harbour, Midway, WATU, and Millennium Challenge 2002, for example—when a detailed look at the historical record shows a much more complex and nuanced picture. So far there is little evidence that wargaming has played any significant role in Ukraine’s very agile operational planning, although that may simply be because it hasn’t been reported yet given the operational secrecy requirements of conducting a war.

Indeed, as Cole Petersen recently pointed out in a lengthy thread on Twitter, there’s little evidence of the MDMP or other Western staff and planning procedures either.

The latest news from the ICONS Project includes a more automated system on their website for simulation creation, information on the recent USIP “Peace Game,” and the use of classroom simulations to explore the erosion of democracy.

Bloomberg features a report on Daybreak—a new cooperative game about global warming from the designers of Pandemic.

Sayanti Sengupta, a technical advisor for the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre, was one of the first people to try the beta version of Daybreak, a highly anticipated board game from creators Matt Leacock and Matteo Menapace. Playing at home, she marveled as her friends slapped down cards to deploy solar farms, struck multilateral climate deals across the table, and swapped out tiles to phase out fossil fuel energy. Together, they counted up little gray cubes representing carbon in the atmosphere, a binding moment every round where they paused to celebrate and reassess. 

“Every time we could do a round without losing communities or without raising the temperature, people were more into it. Like next time, they want to do it better,” Sengupta says. “This is exactly what you need to feel for the climate problem. You need to keep at it.” 

After three years in development, Daybreak will hit the commercial market next spring, joining a plethora of climate change-inspired games. Leacock, best known for his cooperative board game Pandemic, is adding his own spin to Daybreak: The game is based on real-world data and policies, with a degree of game abstraction. Like Pandemic, it’s tricky to win, and players must work together to achieve collective solutions. In the runup to COP27, the creators say that Daybreak offers a miniature model through which to understand current events.

You can find out much more about the game at the Daybreak website.

As if more evidence were needed of the threats presented by global warming, last month officials in Paris held a simulation exercise to examine how the city might respond to future summer temperatures of 50C.

This simulation, which was announced on Wednesday, is set to take place in October 2023, and it would plunge two parts of one arrondissement (which has not yet been decided) into the fictitious scenario to test the city’s capacity to respond to such a crisis. 

The current temperature record in Paris is 42.6C, which was set during the heatwave of 2019, but experts predict that the record is unlikely to remain unbroken for much longer.  

According to Deputy Mayor of Paris, Penelope Komitès, the city wants to be able to anticipate the next disaster.

Public authorities hope to expand upon and move beyond the city’s first “action plan,” which was adopted in 2017.

The heatwave simulation would allow the city to test its emergency response capacity, namely deployment of cool rooms, shaded areas and other measures. It would also allow public officials to gauge and predict the reactions of Parisians amid a disastrous heatwave of 50C.

“We have survived crises, but they can happen again,” Komitès said to Le Parisien. Her goal is not for the simulation to provoke anxiety, but instead to prepare the city to mobilise in such an event. 

More on severe weather preparedness simulation—in this case, a recent report from the Associated Press on how “a 2009 planning exercise dubbed Project Phoenix eerily anticipated the potential damage the Tampa Bay area is facing from Hurricane Ian.”

In ominous tones, a documentary narrator describes the devastation wrought on the Tampa Bay, Fla. area by “Phoenix,” a tropical storm that grew into a Category 5 hurricane.

More than 160 deaths with 30,000 missing people. Upwards of 300,000 people seeking shelter. As much as $200 billion in building damage.

“The devastation to the region is almost unimaginable,” the narrator intones.

Phoenix was imaginary, part of a 2009 government preparation exercise for a killer hurricane dubbed Project Phoenix — an exercise updated in 2020 focusing on small business recovery.

Though the storm and a 10-minute documentary were fictional, the warnings have taken on special significance this week as the nightmare envisioned by Project Phoenix approaches in the form of the very real Hurricane Ian.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Florida Department of Emergency Management sponsored the 2009 simulation to identify gaps in local emergency planning and figure out responses across jurisdictions, Randy Deshazo, Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council chief of staff, said Tuesday in an email.

The tabletop exercise imagined a direct strike from a Category 5 hurricane. With help from WFLA-TV, the project created a video combining simulated weather reports and archived video footage from other storms.

Emergency managers across Florida have used Project Phoenix in training exercises, Deshazo said.

By identifying areas of hurricane prep weakness and building cooperation across jurisdictions, Phoenix was useful in “strengthening regional ‘muscle memory’ for emergency response that I think will prove itself in the wake of Ian,” Deshazo said.

The 2020 update, Project Phoenix 2.0, examined the issues facing Tampa Bay area small businesses and emergency management agencies during disaster recovery. The update drew on lessons experienced by Mexico Beach, Florida, business owners devastated by 2018’s Hurricane Michael.

The video of Sebastian Bae’s August 2022 presentation on wargaming (“Learn to Play, Play to Learn”) at Maxwell Air Force Base can be found on DVIDS.

At the Balkan Transitional Justice website, Milica Stojanovic explores depictions of the Bosnian war in games.

In the game ‘General Draza’ (‘Djeneral Draza’), players can choose to be the chief of the Communist Partisans or to command their rivals, the Chetniks, leading their forces through WWII in Yugoslavia with the aim of defeating the other side and eventually winning control over the country.

As well as the Mihailovic game, BIRN has identified at least five other board games themed around the wars in Yugoslavia in the 20th Century, as well as dozens of first-person shooter video games mostly set in the 1990s wars.

These shooter games are mostly customised versions – known as mods – of well-known video games. Some are made from a Serb, Bosniak or Albanian perspective, although they are not necessarily produced by Serbs, Bosniaks or Albanians.

Many of the shooter games offer a distorted view of history and are blind to the war crimes committed during the operations upon which they are based.

The article also addresses historical boardgames set in WWI and WWII.

As usual, there are plenty of fascinating talks scheduled by the Georgetown University Wargaming Society. Check out their website for these and more!

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