Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Monthly Archives: December 2022

Simulation and gaming miscellany, holiday edition

PAXsims is pleased to present some recent items on conflict simulation and serious (and not-so-serious) games that may be of interest to our readers. Steven Sowards and Aaron Danis suggested items for this latest edition. Happy holidays!

The US Naval Institute blog discusses wargaming at Marine Corps University.

Marine Corps University (MCU) has unleashed the power of cloud computing to enhance its wargaming professional development. In September, the Brute Krulak Center for Innovation and Future Warfighting at MCU unveiled its Wargaming Cloud, a platform-independent tool for teaching a variety of skills and objectives.

Retired Colonel Tim Barrick is the wargaming director for MCU. (Note that the MCU wargaming program is distinct from the much larger Marine Corps Wargaming and Analysis Center, which broke ground in 2021.) Barrick says the Wargaming Cloud is primarily educational wargaming, not future force design concept testing. Educational wargaming, he says, “is about helping to create critical thinkers to hone adaptive warfighting.”

“When do you recognize your plan has to change?” says Barrick of adaptive warfighting, citing a DARPA study of World War II combat. Battalions that displayed adaptive warfighting fared better than those that did not, the study found. But it is one thing to say, “Adaptive warfighting is good,” and another to teach Marines how to (in Barrick’s word) “discern” when the moment to change has arrived. But it is the critical factor in a fight, and something wargaming can teach, especially with the methods the Wargaming Cloud allows MCU to employ.

On 3 October, the cloud had its first chance to shine (if you’ll pardon the mixed metaphor). In conjunction with the Expeditionary Warfare School, the MCU wargaming team staged an event with 240 students, using an adapted version of Flashpoint Campaigns, a game with a lot of customizability.

In June 2023 the Canadian War Museum will open a special exhibit on wargaming. In the run-up, CBC News discusses “The (sometimes) serious business of war gaming.”

As a senior historian at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa, Andrew Burtch has taken to wandering the galleries during the day to see which displays pique the interest of visitors.

Amid the dimly-lit recesses of the Second World War and Cold War exhibits, he’s noticed a strange phenomenon: clusters of school kids debating, in surprising detail, the merits of individual weapons.

“So, after seeing this habit occur a couple of times, I eventually said, ‘Hey, yeah, do you know about these weapons? Why are you talking about them?'” Burtch said. “And they said, ‘Oh, well, we play with these weapons in the games we play, you know, first-person shooters. Call of Duty.'”

It was startling for Burtch, a gamer himself.

“It got me to thinking that people approach history through many different ways,” he said.

Some engage with past wars through personal experience, he said — by meeting a veteran or talking a family member who served.

“But a lot of people have none of those personal connections, and instead approach it through media, and in particular, in a growing number of ways, through games,” he added.

It’s an intriguing idea —  intriguing enough to convince the Ottawa-based museum to embark on a major research project with an eye to standing up a full display for visitors next spring.

The effect of war games on society — and history — is becoming a major field of study in Canada, the U.S. and elsewhere.

Burtch said he approaches the subject with caution and in the full knowledge that games, like movies, have the potential to skew or distort views of past events.

If you want to see the exhibit, consider attending the next Connections North professional wargaming conference, which will be held at the Museum on 9 June 2023.

At The Futurist, Stephen Aguilar-Millan discusses lessons learned from the Arctic climate change game Green Arctic.

At the Transitional Matters podcast, Arnel David and Nick Moran discuss how games are changing warfare.

Will gamers win the next war?

What does playing games even have to do with real-life military strategy?

What data processing do we retain the preserve of humans, and what should be passed on to AI?

Can gaming make the learning experience richer?

These are all super important questions. 

In this episode, we try and answer these questions by taking a deep dive into the fascinating developments happening in the military sphere. Specifically the use of gaming – and how the technology behind this starting to be used to drive better strategy and more informed decision-making in a military setting. But, of course, its application is far wider.

To talk about this topic, Chris has invited two military experts with active-duty experience, who sit right at the forefront of this development. US Army Strategist Colonel Arnel David and British Army Lieutenant Colonel Nick Moran. Both Arnel and Nick bring a wealth of information and insight into the use of AI in the military setting, as well as discuss some of their observations from their setting up and running of the military strategy game, Fight Club International: a gaming experimentation group seeking to improve the efficacy of warfighting across the spectrum of conflict and competition.

Here’s a link to an article Nick and Arnel wrote that we touch on in the episode. Why Gamers Will Win The Next War.

A recent article by Stephen Wertheim in the New York Times asks if America can envisage WWIII. Wargaming is mentioned extensively:

Mr. Biden seems to be saying that defending Taiwan would be worth the price of war with China. But what would such a war entail?

A series of recent war games held by think tanks help us to imagine what it would look like: First, a war will likely last a long time and take many lives. Early on, China would have incentives to mount a massive attack with its now highly developed long-range strike capability to disable U.S. forces stationed in the Pacific. Air Force Gen. Mark D. Kelly said that China’s forces are “designed to inflict more casualties in the first 30 hours of combat than we’ve endured over the last 30 years in the Middle East.”

In most rounds of a war game recently conducted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the United States swiftly lost two aircraft carriers, each carrying at least 5,000 people, on top of hundreds of aircraft, according to reports. One participant noted that although each simulation varied, “what almost never changes is it’s a bloody mess and both sides take some terrible losses.” At some stage, those Selective Service registrations required of young American men might need to be expanded and converted into a draft.

Second, each side would be tempted to escalate. This summer, the Center for a New American Security held a war game that ended with China detonating a nuclear weapon near Hawaii. “Before they knew it,” both Washington and Beijing “had crossed key red lines, but neither was willing to back down,” the conveners concluded. Especially in a prolonged war, China could mount cyberattacks to disrupt critical American infrastructure. It might shut off the power in a major city, obstruct emergency services or bring down communications systems. A new current of fear and suspicion would course through American society, joining up with the nativism that has reverberated through national politics since Sept. 11.

The economic consequences would be equally severe. A Chinese invasion of Taiwan, which produces most of the world’s advanced semiconductors, would profoundly damage the U.S. and global economy regardless of Washington’s response. (To this end, the United States has been trying to move more semiconductor manufacturing home.) But a U.S.-China war would risk catastrophic losses. Researchers at RAND estimate that a yearlong conflict would slash America’s gross domestic product by 5 to 10 percent. By contrast, the U.S. economy contracted 2.6 percent in 2009, the worst year of the Great Recession. The gas price surge early in the Ukraine war provides only the slightest preview of what a U.S.-China war would generate. For the roughly three-fifths of Americans who currently live paycheck to paycheck, the war would come home in millions of lost jobs, wrecked retirements, high prices and shortages.

In short, a war with Russia or China would likely injure the United States on a scale without precedent in the living memory of most citizens. That, in turn, introduces profound uncertainty about how the American political system would perform.

RAND is developing The Migration Game, intended for eventual public sale. According to King Mallory on LinkedIn:

“Borders and Values” is a donor-funded serious board game intended to teach practitioners, university, and advanced high school audiences about the challenges, tradeoffs and competing interests at play in U.S. immigration and border security policy. There are four teams – representing migrants, governments, the business community, and civil society groups – each play and seek to succeed at achieving their own individual goals, all the while interacting with the other players pursuing their own distinct objectives. A novel element of the game is that it has been designed so that players can play either pursuing a pro-border-security policy or a pro-immigration policy. Players inured to one role can gain new insights and perspectives by playing the role of the other players. In this session, the designers presented the current version of the game and played through a couple of turns to demonstrate some of the game’s interesting features and how it allows players to explore and pursue consensus in this important and contentious policy area. Further rounds of beta testing with Congressional staff and Homeland Security professionals are planned before the game’s eventual public release.

According to Businessworld, the Indian military is establishing a Wargame Research and Development Centre:

After getting a nod from the Ministry of Defence project WARDEC was started in May this year. Wargame Research and Development Centre in Delhi focuses on a simulation-based training facility. AI will be used to create virtual reality wargames at the center, this program would enable a better understanding of situations that are unforeseen till now.

Different types of military exercises have been organised around the world by various nations but practicing the same in a simulation would be something new. India has the 4th largest military in the world, and now moving towards AI-based programs for enhancing skills is going to make it stronger.

The Army will use the Wargame Research and Development Centre to train its troops and evaluate their tactics through metaverse-enabled gameplay. The focus is to teach military strategy to its officers through the interface. The metaverse, which combines virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) to mimic its surroundings, will put soldiers’ skills to the test.

At the CIMSEC blog Robert Rubel discusses the importance of wargaming Naval War College education.

In the mid-1980s, the U.S. Army developed its concept of AirLand Battle and imported the Soviet concept of operational art. Soon after, the Naval War College shifted the focus of its military operations course from tactics to operational-level concepts. At the time I was a planning and decision-making instructor in the department. The imposition of joint education requirements only reinforced the focus on the operational level. Tactics became almost an epithet for contaminating discussions of operational-level matters.

Since the Naval War College was, and still is, the only place where students can study the combined operations of the various warfare communities, the deletion of tactics in its courses fragmented tactical development in the Navy and undermined the college’s purported operational-level focus. I remember vividly in the late 1980s when Vice Admiral Duke Hernandez spoke at the College and described his approach to using Third Fleet as a whole to counter a Soviet attack in the Pacific. His discussion of combined naval tactics mesmerized the student body, but tactics were still shunned by the College.

The fall of the Soviet Union turned the numbered fleets into area administrators and fleet tactics evaporated, being supplanted by security cooperation plans and the tactics of individual platforms. Now that China constitutes a substantial threat to U.S. command of the sea in the Western Pacific, the Navy must rediscover fleet tactics, and reinvigorate the College’s role in warfighting education.

The Navy badly needs for the Naval War College command and staff course to become a year-long classified wargame-centric warfighting course. In such a course students would gain a fleet-level perspective on tactics and be able to link them to operational art and strategy. Joint aspects would necessarily be included, but not in the abstract way they are in current JPME. Classified capabilities and tactics must be included. The development of multi-domain and distributed maritime operations cannot be properly accomplished without fleet-level tactical logic.

At the Institute for World Politics, Aaron Danis has been playing ISIS Crisis with students–and cupcakes.

“Preparing and implementing an effective strategy is the goal of this simulation,” stated Prof. Danis. “Teams are laying the groundwork for long-term success while battling an enemy bent on destroying them.”  When the game starts in July 2014, ISIS is in the driver’s seat, and the embattled Iraqi government needs to fight them while building a broad-based government and leveraging the tools of potential allies.

ISIS Crisis forced me to use a limited array of tools of statecraft to achieve my non-state actor’s goals which meant that creativity and originality were important,” stated graduate student Parker Sears in his role as ISIS’ military commander. “This experience was valuable, and I would recommend it to anyone interested in international affairs.”

An after action report on a Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations wargame conducted at Marine Corps Intelligence Schools in September 2022 can be found at the The Warfighting Society blog.

Ireland’s National Cyber Security Centre recently held “an emergency exercise simulating the national response to a hypothetical large-scale cyber incident affecting Ireland’s energy sector.” According to the Irish Times:

The aim of the exercise, which took place in the National Emergency Coordination Centre, was to test the procedures outlined in the National Cyber Emergency Plan to ensure the Government, State agencies, and relevant stakeholders are prepared for a cyber attack on critical infrastructure.

The Garda, the Defence Forces, ESB Networks, EirGrid, Gas Networks Ireland, the Commission for the Regulation of Utilities, and a third-party cyber incident provider took part in the exercise.

In early November, the US Army War College held an international crisis simulation at the Penn State School of International Affairs.

Each year, the Army War College, based in Carlisle, sends a team with a crisis simulation to provide students with the opportunity to experience what a real-world crisis and resolution process could involve. Col. Michael Stinchfield, Lt. Col. Chris Miller, and Edmund “Cliffy’ Zukowski oversaw the simulation, along with former U.S. Ambassador Dennis Jett, professor of international affairs at SIA, who acted as the United Nations Special Representative.

“It is the most popular part of INTAF 802, which is a core course on the fundamentals of diplomacy. The students really enjoy playing the parts they are assigned and get into their roles with enthusiasm,” said Jett. “Each year there is a different scenario about a particular international problem. This year it dealt with the South China Sea.”

Jett described how the simulation works. “The students were divided into seven teams representing the countries most directly involved — China, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, U.S., Japan, and the Philippines. The fundamental skills are formulating and negotiating a strategy that represents your country’s interests. We prepare for this event in several ways during the semester in order to develop those skills,” he said.

At the Games for Social Transformation blog, Magnus Persson has been discussing the design of climate change games.

This blog is meant to function as a research journal that will allow me to reflect on both my thoughts and ideas during the game design process and how and why I made the choices I made after the design process is concluded. It is also a way to allow members of the Changing the Game of Consumption project group and stakeholders in the Mistra project to stay up to date with the game design process and encourage them to contribute to it between meetings. Moreover, it is intended to give game designers insight into the process of designing a megagame. Regardless of your interest in my blog, I hope you enjoy it and learn something from reading it!

The Washington Post reports on the steady growth of the board gaming industry in recent years.

The global board game market has an estimated value between $11billion and $13.4 billion and is projected to grow by about 7 to 11 percent within the next 5 years, according to market research companies Technavio and Imarc. Year-to-date board game sales last month compared to the same period in 2019 increased 28 percent, according to market research company NPD Group. Card games are up 29 percent and strategic card games — such as Pokémon and Magic: The Gathering — are up 208 percent.

The crowdfunding platform Kickstarter has made it easier than ever for unknown designers to release games. Over 3,000 new games are released each year (excluding expansion packs), according to the website and online forum BoardGameGeek, which aims to log every game published. The industry now has more categories and themes, prettier boxes and higher quality game pieces. In many cases, the rules are simpler and there are more offerings that focus on cooperation rather than competition.

These developments have opened the doors for a broader audience to embrace the hobby. There are also board game YouTube channels, like Watch it Played, that aim to making it easier for people to become gamers.

Games started gaining popularity in the years leading up to the pandemic, said James Zahn, the editor in chief of trade publication the Toy Book. Board game bars and cafes had been popping up around the country and attendance at major games conventions was increasing.

Even as covid sent people home, many still bought card and tabletop games. Sales surged, the NPD data shows, suggesting that many families who found themselves forced to spend time together looked for ways to connect through games and puzzles.

The trend continued once restrictions eased, and people craved social interactions following years of seclusion, NPD data shows. Major retailers are also embracing the hobby — broadening past the classic board games produced by major toy companies.

The Society for the promotion of radical analogue games intends “convene a series of meetings and exchanges among analogue game-makers who recognize the need for radical social change and believe that games might be a small part of that process.” You’ll find full details here.

KCL professional wargaming survey

The King’s Wargaming Network would like to invite you to participate in a survey, which forms part of a King’s College London study sponsored by the UK Ministry of Defence. 

The purpose of the project is to identify, characterise and compare different types of wargaming methods and evaluate their applicability for different purposes. Because few wargaming methods are published in the open literature, we do not know how many methods exist, nor how these methods compare. The project will help advance understanding of the state of the wargaming field. 

Take the survey now. 

The survey closes on 5 January 2022

Atlantic Council: Wargaming to Find a Safe Port in a Cyber Storm

The Atlantic Council has issued a new report by Daniel Grobarcik, William Loomis, Michael Poznansky, and Frank Smith exploring how wargaming can help to address threats to the maritime transportation system (MTS).

Global and national security depend on understanding and mitigating threats to the MTS. The US government has taken some steps in this direction, including the National Maritime Cybersecurity Plan released in December 2020. More needs to be done, however, and one approach is to study what’s necessary through cyber wargaming, a useful tool for examining the complex and confusing problems involved with cyber and physical threats to critical infrastructure.

Working with Ed McGrady, the Cyber & Innovation Policy Institute (CIPI) at the US Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island, hosted government officials, military service members, students, and academics to play Hacking Boundary: A Game of Maritime Cyber Operations.9This war game addresses a hypothetical cyberattack against a major US port facility, and the first iteration of the game was played at the CIPI Summer Workshop on Maritime Cybersecurity in June 2022.

The second iteration of the game, conducted in partnership with the Atlantic Council’s Cyber Statecraft Initiative, was held at the Industrial Control Systems Village at the DefCon Hacking Conference in August 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. This iteration featured participants from across the maritime ecosystem, including active duty US Navy and Coast Guard personnel,  penetration testers, private sector operators, and many more.

This brief describes Hacking Boundary, along with several strategic and policy implications illuminated by repeated game play. The core takeaways include: (1) understanding the large attack surfaces of port facilities and the lead times that may be required to attack them; (2) the difficulties of prioritizing how and when to spend scarce resources; and (3) understanding that the tensions between competition and coordination, if navigated wisely, may offer defenders marginal—but valuable—advantages when providing maritime cybersecurity.

The full report can be found at the link above.

Position: Gaming stabilization

A contractor (Tuvli) is currently adverstising for a position working with the US State Department’s Bureau of Conflict and Stabalization Operations (CSO). The position is limited to US citizens and requires a Secret clearance. Full details here

The Planning and Gaming Specialist will work within the Office of Design, Monitoring, and Evaluation (DME) to support CSO’s Planning Advisor in designing and executing strategic planning processes, including tabletop exercises and other forms of strategic gaming, in both Washington and the field.  Examples of this include:  using tabletop exercises to integrate host country and civil society perspectives into long-term stabilization strategies or leverage their partnership on strategy implementation; preparing atrocityprevention contingency plans; developing plans requested by Department leadership for low-probability, high-impact scenarios; and strengthening Defense Department operational and campaign plans to support stabilization efforts. 

Essential Functions: 

• Support CSO’s Planning Advisor in designing and executing strategic planning processes, including tabletop exercises and other forms of strategic gaming.
• Update CSO’s planning framework and templates and develop new tools as needed.
• Work with CSO’s Learning and Training Specialist and Planning Advisor to identify external training resources, and, as needed, develop, and execute in-house supplemental training on strategic planning and gaming.
• Support the Planning Advisor in launching and sustaining a strategic planning and gaming community of practice.

We at PAXsims welcome our new AI chat overlords

ChatGPT is an artificial intelligence chatbot developed by OpenAI, currently free online. It is able to hold surprisingly realistic conversations or write accurate (or accurate-sounding) material in a matter of seconds in response to a plain-language query or set of instructions.

Here it is apparently channeling Stephen Downes-Martin:

Those of you in defence and security institutions who have yet to endorse diversity and inclusion in professional wargaming could certainly benefit from help from ChatGPT’s AI-generated commitment to principles:

Chat GPT can also be used to quickly write plausible game injects. Here are a few examples that might be useful in a asymmetric warfare game, a geopolitical crisis game, and a defence acquisition game respectively:

Turning Tides

The following article is written by Betsy Joslyn, a Research Associate for the Joint Advanced Wargaming Division for the Institute for Defense Analysis. Her game research and design has largely focused on great power competition, mis/disinformation, and risk literacy. She received a Master of Science in Terrorism and Homeland Security Policy at American University’s School of Public Affairs. In addition, Betsy served in the Peace Corps in Zambia working as an aquaculture specialist. 

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report, published in 2014, identified that international cooperation was essential to the discussion on global threats posed by climate change. In April 2022, the IPCC finalized the third part of the Sixth Assessment Report, Climate Change 2022: Mitigation of Climate Change. This report reiterated that international competition and cooperation is a critical enabler for achieving ambitious climate change mitigation goals. “Accelerated international financial cooperation is a critical enabler of low-GHG and just transitions, and can address inequities in access to finance and the costs of, and vulnerability to, the impacts of climate change.”[i] Despite the emphasis on international cooperation, IPCC notes that more international cooperation is required, sooner rather than later, to meet climate objectives by 2050.

When looking at what is needed to establish international cooperation for climate change, government bodies take a few things in mind: popular support for climate treaties and the costs of participating in such treaties. This game is meant to emulate international cooperation in climate change action while balancing popular opinion and costs.

Turning Tides is a microgame designed to demonstrate competing interests between powers to reduce global greenhouse gases (GHGs) at a geopolitical level. This is a highly accessible game that is easy to learn and can be played in under 1 hour. 

Design Approach

My approach to designing the game was centered on both the theme and the central mechanic of negotiation.  I’ve always loved the combination of cooperative and competitive style games like Lord of the Rings designed by Reiner Knizia and Dead of the Winter designed by Jonathan Gilmour and Isaac VegaIn these games, players are faced with a common foe that can only be defeated together, however, each player must weigh group survival with individual objectives that at some point in the game may compete with the interests of the group. 

As a wargame designer, many of my games focus on great power competition at a strategic level where different teams are forced to work together to combat some threats while also ensuring that their countries come out on top at the end of the day.

When given the chance to design a microgame that professionals could use, I knew that this “cooperative and competitive” style mechanic would be the central piece to gameplay. 

In terms of the theme of the game, I wanted to design a microgame that would bring value to the field. Something we are discussing in the national security apparatus, but are also struggling to translate into relatable terms. 

The purpose of this microgame is to understand the dynamic of competing interests between powers to reduce GHGs at a geopolitical level. Gameplay is meant to highlight the necessity for international cooperation, while also showcasing how difficult international cooperation actually is. As players are weighing the importance of negotiation, they must also balance economic pressures for growth – which often produce greenhouse gases – as well as achieving and maintaining popular support from the people. Each player has been given different climate and popular opinion objectives. While some elements of objectives may overlap, the lack of universal strategic goals creates significant external tensions between the players.

As a microgame, this design demanded simplicity. However, the features used in this game are meant to be viewed as commodities that can be leveraged by the players to exercise diplomacy. Though no model is 100% accurate, this game is meant to provide a useful model that surfaces the ability of players to discuss, negotiate, and strategize actions that will result in the survival of all, and the targeted benefit of one. 

Design Challenges and Compromises

One of the biggest challenges I faced when designing this game was aligning the internal validity of the game to the external validity of the theme. As it stands, the game mechanics are balanced to surface the challenges each player must face when leveraging group survival with “winning.” However, the winning conditions that I have set for each player, as it pertains to climate goals, are not based on a specific report or country specific objectives. In addition, my reduction of greenhouse gases from 100% to 0% by 2050 net growth is not quite realistic; “tech” is a blanket term that refers to green technological advancements in renewable energy, batteries, and carbon storage; and, all countries start with the same amount of funding that has equal status. Each of these game features have core internal validity to the balance of the game and the ability to negotiate. 

Team PRC: From left to right: Nolan Noble, Sarah Williamson, and Web Ewell grin manically as they prioritize tech investments over global negotiations

However, there are many other elements to climate-related international cooperation that are not represented here. One of the original design mechanics I stripped was an international summit that took place at the beginning of every turn. The U.S. and the E.U. were required to attend the summit, but the PRC was not. The U.S. and the E.U. would have to find incentives to offer the PRC in order to attend. If PRC chose not to attend, they were forced to work unilaterally until the next summit while those who attended the summit would receive increased impacts for a successful reduction roll. In the current version of the game, players have noted that there is little incentive for the PRC to negotiate with other players. Though this is realistic feature of the game, an important lesson of the game is to emphasize the necessity to negotiate, not just the fact that negotiation is hard. To address this challenge, I gave the PRC an Active Player Bonus that only works when negotiating with another government to reduce GHGs. At least 3 times in the game, the PRC may gain an additional popular opinion point (POP) when working with another government to reduce GHGs. Though PRC may not “care” about GHG reduction, they do care about global influence, especially if it means having more than the U.S. In this way, PRC could be convinced to work more with other governments if they’re getting a bonus out of it.  

Team EU: From left to right: Peter Perla and Doug Jackson deliberate on a potential negotiation to offer the US on lowering GHGs

In addition to edits made to Active Player Bonuses, the role that technology and popular support has played in the game has gone through many iterations. During a few feedback sessions, I was encouraged to bolster the external validity of the game by adding more detail to what the tech icons represented, and the different abilities that tech could host as the game progressed. I became too focused on this detail and I realized 3 things: the additional detail made the game even more susceptible to external validity criticism, the detail distracted from the original lesson of the game, and the detail was consuming far too much of my limited white space. I ended up removing the augmentation and returned to the original, simpler, depiction of tech. 

Team US: From left to right: Gino Saad and Andrew Olsen weigh the consequences of lowering a GHG outside their objectives while gaining global credit for the effort.

POPs became a focal point of contention for many players. Originally, I wanted popular opinion to be domestic element for each government. In this capacity, the U.S. and the E.U. were given victory conditions to gain certain popular opinion metrics, while the PRC was not. However, the game also features an “attack” ability where players could construct information campaigns to harm other government’s popular opinion. This element suggested that popular opinion represented global influence rather than domestic ones. If that was the case, the PRC would care about popular opinion as a victory condition. I decided to redefine popular opinion as international influence and provide PRC with their own popular opinion victory conditions. Rather than having each player obtain a certain number of POPs, I took a page from the game Hedgemony: A Game of Strategic Choices designed by Michael Linick, John Yurchak, Michael Spirtas, Stephen Dalzell, Yuna Huh Wong, and Yvonne Crane, and set the popular opinion victory conditions to world order conditions. The U.S. is trying to have more popular opinion than anyone else, the E.U. is trying to have equal or greater popular opinion than the U.S., and the PRC just wants to make sure that the U.S. does not have the most popular opinion. 

Despite the need for simplification, I did find that the probabilities of reduction rolls needed to be more complex.  Feedback I received suggested that it was just too easy to reduce GHGs. Originally, increased funds dedicated to GHG reduction dramatically increased the probability of a successful role. To make it slightly harder to reduce GHGs, I created the table below so that increased funds still increased probability of success, but not a dramatic as before (see split probabilities when paying $4-$6).

I have witnessed an array of gameplay strategies for Turning Tides, which is something I love about it. After at least 10 playtest sessions, I have seen only 1 session where all players lost. I have witnessed each of the governments chosen in the game win multiple times, which leads me to believe that the game is not weighed towards one player. In addition, I’ve also seen the game end anywhere between 45 minutes to 2.5 hours. Since the core mechanic of the game is cooperation and competition, this game relies heavily on table talk. This is not a problem if you’re interested in the topic, or enjoy competitive style games. However, this game might not be appealing to players on a time crunch or who want more strategic complexity with less bargaining breaks. The final edit made to the game addressed the pace of gameplay. By observing gameplay, I noticed that the game pace tended to slow down between turns 3-7 as the structure of the game became easier to comprehend and the pressure to negotiate seemed far off. Incentive to work together is largely influenced by one winning constraint: By Turn 10, if there are least 2 GHGs in the red zone, all players lose. To spark additional incentive to negotiate quicker, I introduced a punishment marker at Turn 5: If all 4 GHGs are still in the red zone by Turn 5, all players lose 2 POPs (which will affect probability rolls). 

Despite the challenge of aligning the internal validity of the game with the external validity of the theme, I feel that this game, designed under the parameters required of a microgame structure, have accomplished a useful and balanced model.


The lesson I want this game to teach changed over the period of game design, which resulted in about 17 design redos over 2 months. I feel confident that the current game mechanics, simplified as they are, target the complexities and sacrifices required for international cooperation to take climate action despite the external validity gaps that remain in the design. 

Moving forward, I would say that the audience for this game is very broad. Turning Tides could be used as an educational tool to increase climate change literacy and awareness, a professional ice breaker, or even a hobby game between friends who have no interest in the topic. Although the game is simple, players looking for more of a challenge are encouraged to design their own objectives cards that represent different countries and governments. 

I designed this game with no prompt or guidance from a sponsor. I never realized how hard it is to design a game when you don’t have a client who is looking for a specific lesson to be highlighted. This process reinforced for me that game designers MUST start with a question before they can jump head first into design. 

A special shoutout to GUWS faculty advisor, Sebastian Bae. His feedback, suggestions, and ineffable ability to put me out of my comfort zone have been a necessary driving force of this game design process. In addition, I would like to thank the individuals below who took time out of their busy schedules to playtest my game and share key feedback:

  • Peter Perla
  • Web Ewell
  • Sarah Williamson
  • Andrew Olson
  • Doug Jackson
  • Gino Saad
  • Nolan Noble
  • Volko Ruhnke
  • Peter Joslyn
  • James Sterrett 
  • Jonathen Turner 
  • Tom Vielott
  • John Miller
  • Julia McQuaid
  • Sophia Chang 
  • Evan D’Alessandro
  • Joe Schmidt
  • Emerson and Sue Joslyn
  • Ethan Queen
  • Tom Plant 
  • Matthew Heidel
  • Will Trimble

I hope that whoever plays Turning Tides will enjoy the simplicity of the overall game design and appreciate the complexities that such a game is meant to surface. 

Betsy Joslyn

[i] “Climate Change 2022: Mitigation of Climate Change. Summary for Policymaker.” Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. April 2022.

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