Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Monthly Archives: February 2023

Connections US 2023 Call for Presentations CLOSING soon!

The 2023 Connections Wargaming Conference will be hosted by National Defense University, at Ft. McNair in Washington, DC, June 21-23. Our theme: Next Generation Tools & Methods (however, as always, any sufficiently interesting wargaming related presentation is welcome!) Full details of the conference are on the Connections US website.

The Call for Presentations will close on March 13, after which feel free to suggest a late-emerging idea, but we will only be able to accommodate you if there is space on the agenda.

Simulation and gaming miscellany, 27 February 2023

PAXsims is pleased to present some recent items on conflict simulation and serious (and not-so-serious) gaming. We would like to thank Aaron Danis and Steven Sowards for suggesting material for this latest edition.

On December 29, the Washington Post published a substantial article on planning for the successful Ukrainian offensives at Kherson and Kharkiv. It included this reference to the role of wargaming:

To decide how to go about the operation, Ukrainian commanders arrived in Germany last July for a war-gaming session with their American and British counterparts.

At the time, the Ukrainians were considering a far broader counteroffensive across the entire southern front, including a drive to the coast in the Zaporizhzhia region that would sever Moscow’s coveted “land bridge” connecting mainland Russia with Crimea, which was illegally annexed in 2014.

In a room full of maps and spreadsheets, the Ukrainians ran their own “tabletop exercise,” describing the order of battle — what formations they would use, where the units would go and in what sequence — and the likely Russian response.

The American and British war-gamers ran their own simulations using the same inputs but different software and analysis. They couldn’t get the operation to work.

Given the numbers of Ukrainian troops and available stockpiles of ammunition, the planners concluded that the Ukrainians would exhaust their combat power before achieving the offensive’s objectives.

“This was them asking for our advice,” said a senior U.S. defense official, who like others in this article spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive military planning. “And our advice was, ‘Hey, guys, you’re going to bite off more than you can chew. This isn’t going to work out well.’”

Beyond the risk of running out of steam, a Zaporizhzhia offensive might have pushed Ukrainian forces into a pocket the Russians could surround with reinforcements sent along two axes, from Crimea and Russia.

“Our commanders thought the Ukrainians left pretty determined that they were going to do the whole thing anyway — just that there was a lot of pressure to do the whole thing,” the defense official said.

The White House reiterated the U.S. military’s analysis in talks with Zelensky’s office.

National security adviser Jake Sullivan talked to the Ukrainian president’s chief of staff, Andriy Yermak, about the plans for a broad southern counteroffensive, according to people familiar with the discussions.

The Ukrainians accepted the advice and undertook a narrower campaign focused on Kherson city, which sits on the west side of the Dnieper River, separated from Russian-held territory to the east.

“I give the Ukrainians a lot of credit,” the defense official said. “They allowed reality to move them toward a more limited set of objectives in Kherson. And they were nimble enough to exploit an opportunity in the north. That’s a lot.”

300 nuclear missiles are headed your way. You must respond. What now? That’s the question asked in a virtual reality game developed by Sharon Weiner and Moritz Kütt (Princeton University). According to an article in the Financial Times (via the National Post):

Having been sworn in as US president a few minutes previously, I am sitting in the Oval Office watching TV reports of escalating fighting in Europe. A secret service agent bursts into the room and tells me to leave immediately. I take the lift down to the White House crisis centre known as the Situation Room, where I am joined by my top national security officials, who brief me on the incoming attack. I have 15 minutes to respond. As the clock ticks down, I am presented with three options, all of which involve retaliatory strikes against Russia, projected to kill between 5 million and 45 million people. What do I do?

The experience highlights the agonies of making life-and-death decisions based on imperfect information under extreme pressure. It is based on the current US nuclear launch protocols that have changed little since the height of the cold war. In a controlled experiment with 79 participants, 90 per cent chose to launch a nuclear counter-strike.

Weiner admits the precise details of the exercise are not fully accurate. (The fact that, in my case, it crashes after a few minutes means we have to reboot the VR, too.) “But we have been true to what is likely,” she says. “The real authenticity is the stress and the complexities that result from including several decision makers in the room.” Each one of these participants is trying to do their job as best they can. But they have conflicting priorities. Each one has emotional baggage; each responds to stress differently. So, ultimately, the system depends on the president asserting agency and making a decision. “If the president is not directing all this,” Weiner says, “then the crisis mismanages itself.”

It is late 2022, and this chilling simulation is being staged at the Carnegie International Nuclear Policy Conference close to the Capitol in Washington DC. NukeCon, as it is called, is packed with many of the world’s top national security experts, who have become freshly relevant. The war in Ukraine has added a whiff of danger to proceedings, and a grim humour prevails, as speakers joke about the appropriateness of the event being held in an underground bunker. The coffee stall is labelled Baristas of Armageddon.

The King’s Wargaming Network is pleased to announce the second lecture in their 2022-2023 public lectures series on wargaming. The theme for this year is the use of wargaming to study non-military forms of conflicts, and will feature speakers who have made important new contributions to wargaming non-warfare or cross-disciplinary subjects.

On 22 March 2023 from 1700-1830GMT, Richard Barbrook will talk about how the participatory playing of games can be used for the education of political activists on the Left. Drawing on the experience of Class Wargames, he will discuss “how board games, role-playing exercises and app games offer different methods of disseminating emancipatory ideas and teaching collective practices.”

Challenging the pacifist inclinations of many of today’s activists, Richard will explain that these ludic experiments enable the Left to adapt tactical and strategic insights from military theory and military history for its own political struggles at the community, national and global levels. Friedrich Engels was nicknamed ‘The General’ and 21st century communists should aspire to become one as well! 

Dr Richard Barbrook is a member of Class Wargames which was founded in 2008 to promote Guy Debord’s The Game of War. Since then, the group has hosted participatory performances of this Situationist game and other political-military simulations across Europe and in Brazil, including at the V&A in London and the Hermitage in St Petersburg. In 2014, Richard published a book about the historical and theoretical lessons of Debord’s creation: Class Wargames: ludic subversion against spectacular capitalism. Class Wargames – under the moniker of Games for the Many – designed the CorbynRun app game for the 2017 Labour election campaign which received over 1,000,000 impressions. They also created role-playing exercises for The World Transformed at the 2018 and 2019 Labour Party conferences: A Very British Coup and Taste of Power. Class Wargames is now working on new projects which utilise games for political education. Richard taught both Politics and Media Studies at the University of Westminster for over thirty years. He was co-author of ‘The Californian Ideology’ which was a pioneering critique of dotcom neoliberalism and wrote Imaginary Futures: from thinking machines to the global village which analysed the Cold War origins of the Net.

You can register for the online lecture here.

Brute Krulak Center for Innovation & Future Warfare at Marine Corps University has many interesting podcasts in its #BruteCast series, including many that address wargaming. Here are some recent ones that may be of interest.

From CNA: 8 Decades, 8 Stories: 1990s Wargame with International Leaders (Told by Anne Dixon).

French military personnel game logistics.

At Grid, former acting CIA Director John McLaughlin discusses the contribution of wargaming, red teaming, and scenario exercises in US preparation for potential global crises.

The Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC) has launched a Discord server devoted to naval wargaming.

Today CIMSEC is launching a new platform dedicated to naval wargaming — our very own CIMSEC Wargaming Discord server. On this public server, members of the CIMSEC community will gather to play and spectate wargames focused on naval operations and tactics, among other varieties. Through wargaming we can flex our tactical thinking, debate force structure and operating concepts, and generally have a good time with our navalist friends and colleagues.

This isn’t new, but we hadn’t posted it before: an Interenational Monetary Fund presentation video on “Better Than a Crystal Ball? Scenario Planning & Policy Gaming at the IMF” (October 2020). Click the link to view.

Behar and Hlatshwayo also published a longer paper on How to Implement Strategic Foresight (and Why) in February 2021 that includes a section on policy gaming.

It emphasizes matrix gaming, including mention of the Matrix Game Construction Kit.

Ars Technica reports that “Meta researchers create AI that masters Diplomacy, tricking human players.”

On Tuesday, Meta AI announced the development of Cicero, which it claims is the first AI to achieve human-level performance in the strategic board game Diplomacy. It’s a notable achievement because the game requires deep interpersonal negotiation skills, which implies that Cicero has obtained a certain mastery of language necessary to win the game.

Even before Deep Blue beat Garry Kasparov at chess in 1997, board games were a useful measure of AI achievement. In 2015, another barrier fell when AlphaGo defeated Go master Lee Sedol. Both of those games follow a relatively clear set of analytical rules (although Go’s rules are typically simplified for computer AI).

But with Diplomacy, a large portion of the gameplay involves social skills. Players must show empathy, use natural language, and build relationships to win—a difficult task for a computer player. With this in mind, Meta asked, “Can we build more effective and flexible agents that can use language to negotiate, persuade, and work with people to achieve strategic goals similar to the way humans do?”

According to Meta, the answer is yes. Cicero learned its skills by playing an online version of Diplomacy on Over time, it became a master at the game, reportedly achieving “more than double the average score” of human players and ranking in the top 10 percent of people who played more than one game.

To create Cicero, Meta pulled together AI models for strategic reasoning (similar to AlphaGo) and natural language processing (similar to GPT-3) and rolled them into one agent. During each game, Cicero looks at the state of the game board and the conversation history and predicts how other players will act. It crafts a plan that it executes through a language model that can generate human-like dialogue, allowing it to coordinate with other players.

Alireza Haji Hosseini, director of CNN Academy, was recently interviewed about simulated news training at

During the pandemic, CNN formally rolled out CNN Academy, offering courses on an e-learning platform and live workshops with its pros for partnering universities and media entities. Curriculums and advice will only prepare journalists so much though, what aspiring reporters really need is an environment to put these skills to the test – and be able to learn from their mistakes.Before Christmas, the platform trialled something much more unusual: a simulation of a rolling breaking news story, where 88 participants took part in a game over five days. Each day, the story moved on, and journalists had to chase new information, grill mock press officers, navigate a custom-made social media platform and come up with new ways to report the story.

In this week’s podcast, CNN Academy director Alireza Haji Hosseini talks about what it takes to prepare journalists for the frenetic newsroom. The answer is a rigorous curriculum informed by CNN journalists, access to the pros, and “safe to fail” simulated newsroom experiences.

You can read more about the CNN Academy newsgathering simulation here.

The United National Environment Programme has announced a new simulation/game aimed at youth.

The UN Environment Programme’s (UNEP) Ozone Secretariat today launched a simulator game and avatar using the latest software technology. Apollo’s Edition is the latest addition to the Reset Earth education platform. Targeting 13-18-year-olds, the free online education material developed provides educators with resources to teach students the importance of environmental protection.   

Avatar in the Metaverse

The Ozone Secretariat has used cutting-edge motion capture technology to bring their new Reset Earth character, Apollo, to life. With the aim of creating a strong connection between the character and the audience, a live actor’s body movements and facial expressions were captured by a motion-capture suit with 17 sensors and headset technology for a truly human portrayal of body language and facial expression.

This technology, along with a powerful real-time 3D creation tool, has produced not only a realistic animated character, but her very own metaverse where she spends her time vlogging about an array of educational topics based on scientific research. For Reset Earth, the focus is on the ozone layer, and in particular, education material available for teachers to educate their students.

Students become the decision makers

The Reset Earth Impact Simulator game puts the students in the hot seat. As decision makers, they get to decide on four possible policy directions, all of which have specific outcomes documented and visualised by the game. Based on their understanding of the ozone layer, its function and importance, the impacts of their decisions on the environment, society, economy, and political hegemony are recorded and scored.

“By giving young people innovative learning tools, we hope to inspire them to become the future scientists and policy-makers championing environmental protection,” said Meg Seki, Executive Secretary of the Ozone Secretariat.  

Can board games teach us about the climate crisis? Game creators say yes.

Europe is planting trees to offset its emissions but is swiftly hit with massive wildfires. The United States is investing in mining operations abroad to wean off its dependence on fossil fuels but harbors concerns about trading with an abusive government. Meanwhile, a coalition of countries from the global south must decide whether to accept construction loans from China or the United States.

These are not conversations at another high-profile global summit, but rather scenarios envisioned by the board game Daybreak, which hits shelves this spring. Four players – the United States, China, Europe and the “Majority World”, encompassing the global south – cooperate to reach zero emissions before hitting 2 degrees of warming or putting too many communities in crisis.

“[We] realized the game should represent the human suffering and loss caused by the climate crisis and that the challenge was not merely a war on carbon,” co-creator Matt Leacock said.

In the world of board games, most titles involve total victories over adversaries in zero-sum competitions. In the new genre of climate-themed games, creators like Leacock make collaboration the key to success.

You can read the full article in The Guardian.

Can games be useful tools in fighting online misinformation? A 2021 study on COVID-19 misinformation suggests yes.

Misinformation about the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) is a pressing societal challenge. Across two studies, one preregistered (n1 = 1771 and n2 = 1777), we assess the efficacy of two ‘prebunking’ interventions aimed at improving people’s ability to spot manipulation techniques commonly used in COVID-19 misinformation across three different languages (English, French and German). We find that Go Viral!, a novel five-minute browser game, (a) increases the perceived manipulativeness of misinformation about COVID-19, (b) improves people’s attitudinal certainty (confidence) in their ability to spot misinformation and (c) reduces self-reported willingness to share misinformation with others. The first two effects remain significant for at least one week after gameplay. We also find that reading real-world infographics from UNESCO improves people’s ability and confidence in spotting COVID-19 misinformation (albeit with descriptively smaller effect sizes than the game). Limitations and implications for fake news interventions are discussed.

You can find the game here.

Similarly, a  study conducted by researchers at Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin and the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in the context of Covid-19 vaccination has found that interactive risk communication formats can be more effective than conventional text-based formats in overcoming vaccine hesitancy and building public trust.

[The study] compared an interactive simulation of the benefits and harms of Covid-19 vaccination with a conventional text-based information format, and investigated the effects on participants’ vaccination intentions and benefit-to-harm assessments. “Unlike opponents of vaccination, people in the vaccine-hesitant group have not yet come to a final decision. They are characterized by a high need for information on the benefits and potential harms of vaccination, and may decide to get vaccinated if that information convinces them. Findings from cognitive science suggest that interactive simulations can be more effective than conventional text-based formats in this respect,” says principal investigator Odette Wegwarth, Heisenberg Professor at Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin and senior researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development. Her main research focus is on risk literacy and risk communication in medical settings.

The vaccine-hesitant participants indeed responded better to the interactive simulation. Significantly more participants presented with an interactive simulation showed positive change in both vaccination intention and benefit-to-harm assessment than did those presented with the same information in a conventional text-based format. The net advantage of the interactive simulation over the text-based format was 5.3 percentage points for vaccination intention (9.8% vs. 4.5%) and 18.3 percentage points for benefit-to-harm assessment (25.3% vs. 7.0%).

The interactive simulation used in this study can be found here.

According to War in Boring, more (low-level) classified weapons information has appeared on an online gaming community discussion board.

Yet another leak has occurred in relation to the War Thunder simulation series of games, this time involving the F-15E Strike Eagle.The leak is one of several to recently pop up this year- and the second to involve US military aircraft.The newest update on the matter is in regard to excerpts from Operational Flight Program (OFP) software manuals for the F-15E, with focus on flight controls, navigation, targeting and weapons systems. The information is over two decades old, however, it is still considered to be restricted for dissemination to foreign entities. …The matter has been one of controversy, as many simulation fans are willing to break the law for a more immersive experience. In the past, information on a British Main Battle Tank (MBT) was also shared without authorization.

Doha Institute SSU: Wargaming in Security and Strategic Studies

The Strategic Studies Unit of the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies at the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies recently held a conference on Security and Strategic Studies: The State of the Field. My presentation there was on “Wargaming in Security and Strategic Studies.”

The video above is simply my slide deck. For the audio of my presentation, see one of the videos below (in English and Arabic respectively).

Overall it was an excellent conference: very well-organized and with some excellent speakers. The other presentations can also be found on YouTube.

A book based on the conference will be published next year.

Handbook for Survey Development for Wargamers

The War Gaming Department at the U.S. Naval War College has been war gaming since 1887. This Survey Development Handbook describes how we think about incorporating survey methods into our analysis and survey development steps to consider across each phase of our war gaming process. It augments the War Gamers’ Handbook to provide background on analytical war gaming, our terminology, and our research design process.

The goal of this handbook is to enable war gamers to prepare and conduct surveys and to help war gamers become better users of survey results. Specifically, this handbook attempts to address how to ask questions, how to collect reliable and valid information, and how to analyze and report results.

— Douglas R. Ducharme, EdD

CfP: Connections Online professional wargaming conference

The Connections Online team are looking for presentation and panel proposals:

We are excited to announce the Connections Online professional wargaming conference will take place April 18-20, 2023. Extended events (including both games and workshops) will run from the weekend before to the weekend after. Connections Online is a great opportunity to bring together the world’s experts in professional wargaming to discuss the latest trends and developments in our profession.

We are seeking proposals for presentations and panels that will make this year’s Connections Online a success. Whether you are a seasoned expert or just starting out in the field, we encourage you to submit your ideas that will make a meaningful contribution to the conference.

The title of this year’s conference is: The Enemy Gets a Vote. We are looking for proposals that cover the topic of Red Teaming or anything you think will be interesting or helpful.

If you have a proposal for a presentation or panel, please send submissions to Chris Weuve, ( or Merle Robinson, ( by March 17, 2023. The selected presenters will be notified by March 24, 2023.

We are committed to fostering a diverse and inclusive conference, and we encourage submissions from individuals of all backgrounds and experiences. We look forward to your submissions and to seeing you at the Connections Online Professional Wargaming Conference!

AFTERSHOCK humanitarian access variant

The international response to humanitarian emergencies is often severely contrained by the issue of access. This can be physical, of course, with roads, bridges, ports, and airports inoperable due to a natural disaster. However, it can also be due to politics and conflict.

The recent devastating earthquake in Turkey and Syria is an example of this: the Syrian regime would very much like to limit access to (opposition-controlled) northern Syria, or at least control all aid flowing there. There are, however, a limited number of border crossings from Turkey available to international aid organizations by virtue of UN Security Council Resolutions 2165 (2014) and 2672 (2023). Western countries have no desire to strengthen the brutal Asad regime by directly aiding the Syrian government. Aid efforts in the north are sometimes constrained by insecurity in these areas. Outside military forces (that is, those that would be represented by the “HADR Task Force” player in AFTERSHOCK) are unable to provide direct assistance in either of these areas because of a range of diplomatic, political, and security reasons—most especially, the opposition of the Syrian government.

There are other examples, however. In 1991, the US and other Western allies provided direct humanitarian aid to the Kurdish areas of northern Iraq against the wishes of the Iraqi government as part of Operation Provide Comfort, under the auspices of UNSCR 688 (1991). Throughout the civil war and in the aftermath of the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami, the government of Sri Lanka deliberately limited the access of aid agencies to Tamil-majority areas in the west of the country. Providing aid to the population of Yemen is severely complicated not only by the local security situation but also by the fact that most countries do not recognize the Houthi movement that controls the northern and western parts of the country, including the capital of Sana’a and most of Yemen’s government apparatus. There are many other examples.

Here we suggest variants of AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis game that explore the challenges of humanitarian access.

First, lay out the game mats as shown below to reflect government and rebel control over the different districts.

Districts 1, 2, and 4 are government-controlled areas, and supplies can be transferred there via the Port or Airport.

Districts 3 and 5 are rebel-controlled areas, and supplies can be transferred there directly via the Frontier. (Normally in AFTERSHOCK, supplies at the Frontier must first be transferred to the Port or Airport. This no longer applies.) No government (Carana) teams may ever be deployed in rebel-controlled areas at any point. The government does not ever gain or lose OP for anything that happens in these areas.

Second, decide on the political limitations on the HADR-TF player. Three variants are suggested below, but many others are possible.

  • Variant 1 (loosely based on the current situation in Syria, with many parallels in Yemen too):
    • HADR-TF may not deploy teams anywhere other than Cluster Coordination. On Days 1-2 and 3-4 HADR-TF receives one team (instead of the usual two). Each turn in which HADR-TF transfers any supplies to the (government-controlled) Port or Airport they lose 1 OP.
    • Neither the UN nor HADR-TF may conduct security operations. The UN loses 1 OP each time it upgrades the Port or Airport.
    • Add one additional Logistics marker to the Port and Airport at the start of the game (for a total of two at each location). Carana starts with one less supply and receives one less supply each turn, to reflect the effects of the civil war and international sanctions.
  • Variant 2 (loosely based on the situation in Iraq after the 1990-91 Gulf War):
    • HADR-TF may only deploy teams to Cluster Coordination and (rebel-controlled) Districts 3 and 5. Each turn in which HADR-TF transfers any supplies to the (government-controlled) Port or Airport they lose 1 OP.
    • Neither the UN nor HADR-TF may conduct security operations in government-controlled areas. The UN loses 1 OP each time it upgrades the Port of Airport.
    • Carana starts with one less supply and receives one less supply each turn, to reflect the effects of the war and international sanctions.
  • Variant 3 (loosely based on the current situation in Somalia):
    • HADR-TF may only deploy teams to Cluster Coordination and (government-controlled) Districts 1, 2 and 4. Each turn in which HADR-TF transfers any supplies to the (rebel-controlled) Frontier they lose 1 OP.
    • Neither the UN nor HADR-TF may conduct security operations in rebel-controlled areas.
    • Carana starts with two less supplies and receives one less supply each turn, to reflect the effects of conflict, fiscal constraints, and widespread poverty.

Third, use the various blank cards included in AFTERSHOCK to create new event cards, coordination cards, and at-risk cards. (If you create additional At-Risk Cards you will need to increase the number of cards at the start of the game in some districts.) Some suggestions are listed below, but many more are possible.

  • Security Incident (At-Risk Card). Place a Social Unrest Card in this District. If there are now two or more Unrest Cards in this district, the current player permanently loses a team from this district if they have any present. Then remove this card and flip another. (You may wish to create several of these.)
  • Security Alert (Event Card). Rising tensions and growing risks spark withdrawal of aid workers. Remove all teams from either District 3 (if Days 1-7) or District 5 (if Weeks 2-12) and place these on the calendar. They will become available again to players in their Human Resource Phase during the next game turn.
  • Playing Favourites? (Event Card). International aid efforts may be seen as a signal of whether the government enjoys international support. If there are more UN+NGO teams in government areas than in rebel areas, the government (Carana) player gains 1 RP and a Social Unrest card is placed in District 3. Otherwise, they lose 1 RP and a Social Unrest card is placed in District 2.
  • International Legitimacy (Event Card). Aid coordination meetings may be used by the government to bolster its legitimacy.
    • If Carana, gain 1 OP if attending two or more Cluster meetings with other players.
    • If not Carana, gain (Variant 3) or lose (Variants 1-2) 1 OP for each Cluster Meeting you are attending with the government (Carana).
  • Human Rights Abuses (Event Card). Human rights abuses are common during the conflict—and aid workers may be accused of complicity. The current player loses 1 OP is they have any teams in the same District as a government (Carana) team assigned to security.
  • Persona Non Grata (Event Card). Regimes may withhold or withdraw visas to influence aid operations. If Carana or the UN drew this card, Carana may remove one UN or NGO team from a District. The owning player regains the team during their next Supply Phase.
  • Security Coordination (Coordination Card). Retain this card. You may play it at any time to cancel the effects of a Security Incident or Security Alert that would affect you.
  • Temporary Humanitarian Ceasefire (Coordination Card). You may immediately move 2 supplies from any warehouse to any District where you have a team.

Finally, decide on any other modifications to OP, RP, and winning conditions besides those noted above.

  • Variants 1, 2 (international community generally opposes government):
    • The government gains 1 OP each time a rebel-controlled area is resolved without needs being met. This reflects the use of the disaster as a conflict strategy to weaken opposition-controlled areas.
    • HADR-TF loses 3 OP at the end of the game if the government (Carana) has a OP score of 2 or higher at the end of the game. This represents a situation (as in Syria today and Iraq in 1991) where the international community has no interest in strengthening the incumbent regime.
  • Variant 3 (international community generally supports government):
    • Use the regular scoring rules.

I haven’t yet playtested any of this, so questions and feedback are appreciated. Also, many thanks to Tracy Johnson for encouraging me to develop a “humanitarian access mod” to the game.

READY 2 playtesting volunteers wanted

The READY Initiative is looking for a few experienced serious gamers to join forthcoming user testing sessions and provide feedback on the design of its latest digital simulation (currently in development). In the simulation, you will assume the role of a health program manager in the fictional country of Thisland.

When major disease outbreaks occur, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are often on the frontlines, using their deep connections with affected communities and expertise to support outbreak readiness and response. READY, an initiative funded by USAID’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance and led by Save the Children and a consortium of partners, is supporting NGOs to more effectively respond to major disease outbreaks in humanitarian settings. Through investments in a robust and diverse capacity-strengthening portfolio, knowledge and best-practice sharing, and engagement with key coordination groups to identify and respond to real-time needs, READY is equipping national and international humanitarian NGOs with knowledge and skills to be ready to respond to major disease outbreaks through integrated and community-centered approaches.

READY launched an earlier simulation, Outbreak READY!, in 2022. It is currently being used to train local health workers, humanitarian aid personnel, and others around the world.

If you are interested in participating, please sign up at this link. There are two types of user testing sessions:

  • In a one-on-one session you will be asked to play the game as we watch (via Zoom), followed by discussion.
  • In a focus group session you will be asked to play the game in advance, and then join a later group discussion (via Zoom).

I would recommend experienced gamers volunteer for the latter (focus group) role. Please sign up by February 24, if interested.

If you are interested but are not able to join us for this round, let us know so we can engage you in the next round user testing sessions in May 2023. 

Sky HISTORY: U-Boat Wargamers

U-Boat Wargamers is a new 6-part series being broadcast in the UK by Sky HISTORY. It tells the story of the Royal Navy’s Western Approaches Tactical Unit (located at Western Approaches HQ in Liverpool) during WWII.

Working out of the Western Approaches Tactical Unit (WATU) in Liverpool, this hand-picked group of female mathematicians, forensic accountants and members of the Women’s Royal Navy Service (WRNS) achieved what the top brass at the Admiralty could not – a set of tactics which would outwit the deadly U-Boat wolfpacks and set the Royal Navy and the Allies on the path to victory.

The year is 1943 and Admiral Karl Dönitz – head of the Nazis’ U-Boat fleet – has brought Britain to the brink of starvation by destroying their merchant ships. The Royal Navy turns to retired wargamer Gilbert Roberts who needs to find a team, but the Navy can’t spare any men. Instead, he turns to the Women’s Royal Navy Service (otherwise known as the WRENS) to wargame the U-Boats’ tactics.

In partnership with Jean Laidlaw, one of Britain’s first female chartered accountants, and a small team of resourceful female mathematicians, they decipher Dönitz’s tactics and develop a method by which the Navy’s destroyers infiltrate the wolfpacks and pick off the U-Boats one by one.

The WRENS were some of the greatest wargamers of their generation, but their legacy has largely been overlooked. Now, the story of these forgotten heroes can be properly and fully told.

Episode One: The Mastermind – Tuesday, 21 February

When WWII breaks out, an elite force of German U-Boat commanders, under the direct command of Vice-Admiral Karl Dönitz, attempt to starve Britain into submission by sinking hundreds of thousands of tonnes of their merchant shipping in the mid-Atlantic. Vera Laughton Mathews heads the newly reformed WRENS, and recruits bright, astute, and mathematically minded women into the service. Meanwhile retired naval commander Gilbert Roberts, who has been out of the service, is keen to return to his career and use wargaming to sink the U-Boats.

Episode Two: False Dawns – Tuesday, 28 February

After the fall of France in 1940, Dönitz’s trio of Kriegsmarine U-Boat aces embark on a race to send British merchant ships to the bottom of the ocean, converging on merchant convoys in co-ordinated wolfpack attacks. In Britain, an increasingly desperate Admiralty sends for Roberts, at last willing to entertain his newfangled wargaming ideas to try and identify ways of thwarting the deadly U-Boat wolfpacks.

Episode Three: The WRENS – Tuesday, 7 March

When Gilbert Roberts arrives to set up his proposed Western Approaches Tactical Unit (WATU) for U-Boat wargaming, he receives a decidedly frosty reception from Admiral Sir Percy Noble who is convinced the Allies already possess the tactics and expertise to defeat the Kriegsmarine. Nevertheless, Roberts presses on and, enlisting the help of Jean Laidlaw and a small team of WRENS, based in Liverpool, begins the process of round-the-clock wargaming to devise tactics to outmanoeuvre the U-Boat attack formations.

Episode Four: The Game – Tuesday, 14 March

Roberts and Laidlaw have uncovered a fatal flaw in the Royal Navy’s existing anti-U-Boat tactic ‘Buttercup’. By wargaming different scenarios, they develop a countertactic of their own, codenamed ‘Raspberry’, in which a merchant convoy escorted by Royal Navy destroyers can lure in the wolfpack before surrounding and destroying it; in effect, playing the enemy at its own game. But the team now faces an uphill battle to try to convince Noble and his colleagues at the Admiralty that they hold the key to stopping the U-Boats in the Atlantic.

Episode Five: Stalemate – Tuesday, 21 March

Following a promotion to Grand Admiral of the Kriegsmarine, reporting directly to Hitler, Karl Dönitz fills the ocean with as many U-Boats as he can lay his hands on. In 1943, as the battle reaches a crisis point for the Allies, and supplies are spread more thinly than ever around the British Isles, pressure mounts on Roberts and the WRENS to prove their worth. When, in May 1943, convoy ONS 5 catches Dönitz’s attention, the stage is set for the battle that will turn the tide of the Atlantic war.

Episode Six: The End Game – Tuesday, 28 March

WATU’s tactics are tested to the limit in the final conflict for ONS 5, with over 50 Allied ships and their escorts facing off against 30 German U-Boats. In the end, it is the allies who win out and the remnant of the U-Boat fleet is left to try and limp back to its base at La Rochelle. As the Battle of the Atlantic reaches its crucial turning point, however, the work of the WATU is not yet over. Dönitz makes one last, desperate throw of the dice, unleashing an advanced torpedo to try and turn the tide back in favour of his remaining U-Boats. Roberts and Laidlaw must do everything in their power to counteract the new threat and recapture the seas in time for the impending Allied landings in Normandy.

US Army War College: Wargaming Instructional Fellow

The Center for Strategic Leadership at the US Army War College is seeking a Wargaming Instructional Fellow.

  • Collaborate with professional strategic game developers and faculty to design, develop and teach custom strategic games employed in graduate-level curriculum
  • Collaborate with Department of Defense Officials under the supervision of Wargaming Department leadership to determine the scope and applicability of wargames as a technique for conducting research into issue of military strategic importance
  • Serve as a member of a gaming team in teaching games in graduate-level education and in executing games that inform senior leader decision making
  • Participate in wargames and workshops, and write and publish on matters of importance related to strategic wargaming
  • Engage in internal and external service in support of institutional missions
  • Support faculty in the execution of wargames

Applicants must be US citizens able to obtain and maintain a SECRET clearance, and  available for employment not later than 31 July 2023. Full details at the link above.

Preorders open for We Are Coming, Nineveh!

I am very pleased to announce that preorders are now open for We Are Coming, Nineveh! a tactical/operational-level game of the Iraqi government campaign to liberate the western area of the city of Mosul from the forces of Daesh (ISIS) between 19 February and 9 July 2017. This was one of the largest and most difficult urban operations of the post-WWII era, and marked a major defeat for Daesh and its so-called “Islamic State.” The game should ship in March.

Regular readers of PAXsims will likely have been following the development of this game over the years. It started life in 2018 as one of three student projects in a small undergraduate seminar I ran on conflict simulation design at McGill University. That initial experimental seminar later became my current POLI 452 course on conflict simulation.

The driving force behind We Are Coming, Nineveh! (WACN) was Juliette Le Ménahèze, who at the time was writing her undergraduate thesis on the role of the Popular Mobilization Forces in Iraq and who later went on to a MSc in conflict studies at LSE and a career in security and development in the Middle East. She was joined by fellow student Harrison Brewer, who brought greater gaming experience to the mix and who has since gone on to a graduate degree and a career in urban planning.

The game was clearly good enough to be published, so Brian Train and I came on board to help them further develop and refine the design. Brian and I have known each other for four decades (!), having first met when we used to wargame together at the University of Victoria’s “Strategy and Tactics Club.”

The development and playtesting of the game has been detailed in several PAXsims posts.

Our playtesters—most of them hobby wargamers, but many of them military personnel or defence analysts too—were enthusiastic. Indeed, a pre-production copy of the game was evaluated by the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (UK Ministry of Defence) to examine its insights into modern urban warfare.

We approached Nuts! Publishing to see whether they would be interested in publishing the game, and after they saw it they answered with a very enthusiastic yes. Although the process was slowed down by the COVID-19 pandemic, Florent Coupeau and his team have been an absolute pleasure to work with.

The Design of We Are Coming, Nineveh!

From the outset we wanted WACN to be accessible, playable by newcomers to wargaming and grognards alike. Consequently, we sought to keep the game uncluttered and intuitive, while retaining historical and military accuracy.

Extensive support from both a US-led international coalition and from neighbouring Iran—including weapons, ammunition, training, air strikes, intelligence, and more direct assistance—played a vital part in pushing back Daesh. However, it is worth remembering that over 99.9% of those who fought and died fighting the jihadist challenge in Iraq were members of the Iraqi security forces (ISF) as well as the Kurdish peshmerga (militia) of the Kurdistan Regional Government. Most of them were themselves Muslims. In examining the battle for West Mosul—and, we hope, honouring their sacrifice—this wargame very much focuses on the central role of the ISF.

The game uses area movement rather than some other system (such as hexes) for depicting terrain. The boundaries between the zones are largely drawn along larger roads or the edges of open (or dense) areas. In urban warfare, crossing roads exposes troops to enemy fire, and thus the geography of neighbourhoods and transportation routes tends to shape the spatial ebb and flow of battle. The resulting irregular jigsaw pattern also reflects the layout of actual urban neighbourhoods, and creates a situation where unsupported forces that penetrate too far too quickly are at risk of being cut off and destroyed.

Not all urban space is the same. Accordingly, each district is coded as to its urban density: open areas, medium-density areas, and the narrow streets and alleys of the Old City. This allows us to represent both the difficulty of fighting within dense urban neighborhoods (and the reasons why Daesh made its last stand where it did) as well as the military logic of the encircling tactics used by the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF). Mechanized (9th Armoured Division) units cannot be used in the narrow alleyways of the Old City, leaving much of the fighting to be be done here—as in the actual battle—by Iraqi special forces of the Counter Terrorism Service “Golden Division.” Particular attention needs to be planning lines of attack and retreat, otherwise the ISF might soon suffer disruption as vehicles and personnel find themselves gridlocked in the urban space.

It took months for the ISF to recapture west Mosul. It often took several days, or more, to secure a single city block. Game turns themselves are two weeks long. In theory, however, one can drive from Mosul Airport (on the southern edge of the WACN game map) to the Republican Hospital (on the north edge of the map) in under half an hour—if the route is clear. A system of fast movement on primary roads was developed to represent this. If Daesh is not careful to deploy IEDs and blocking forces, they might find the ISF making rapid advances down major thoroughfares with mechanized forces—mirroring aspects of the battle, where columns of Iraqi Army units pushed onto the city to cut off Daesh from supply and retreat.

We Are Coming, Nineveh uses blocks for two primary reasons. First, they allow us to represent imperfect information, fog of war, and the difficulties of identifying and targeting enemy units within urban environments. A player is able to see the location of a number of enemy units, but not able to identify what these are. Some may not even be units at all, but rather “rumours” (representing poor or false intelligence). For the ISF, identifying and eliminating high level targets, such as the Daesh leader, arms caches, or an IED factory, can be a vital element of a successful operation.

Experience also shows that neophyte wargamers find blocks less fiddly to use than stacks of chits. Block rotations are easily used to record combat losses and attrition, with the number required to inflict damage on the enemy becoming higher as a unit declines in combat effectiveness. 

WACN highlights the various tactics, weapons, and technologies that characterize modern, asymmetrical urban combat. Some of these, such as the use of UAVs and precision fires, are relatively new. Others, such as IEDs and mouseholing buildings, would have been completely familiar to soldiers at Stalingrad or any other major urban operation of the previous century. We also wanted to recognize the less visible but no less critical contribution that combat support, logistics, and training make.

This is achieved in the game through the use of Capability Cards. These allow Daesh and the ISF to customize their defensive and offensive strategies, and assure that—despite the constants of geography—no two wargames are alike, thereby contributing to the game’s replay value. In the months leading up to the battle, will Daesh invest its resources on recruiting more troops (Ashbal, Technicals, Mortars), or prepositioning other capabilities (such as Arms Caches and IED Factories)? Will it hunker down behind prepared positions (using Fortifications and Mouseholes), focus on disrupting ISF operations (using Snipers and Makeshift Drones), or assume a mobile defence of constant hit-and run attacks (with capabilities like Guerilla Training, Stay Behind Forces, and Tunnel Networks)? Should the ISF invest in additional training and Improved Logistics, or simply throw more personnel into the battle? How much of a role will intelligence play (HUMINT, EW/SIGINT, Improved ISR)? Will the ISF blast its way into the city with air and artillery support, or seek to minimize casualties and collateral damage (Rules of Engagement, Field Hospital, Humanitarian Assistance)? The game can be fought in the historical manner, with Iraqi forces advancing from the south to cut off the Old City and then capture it, but the ISF can also adopt other approaches—an earlier assault, flanking operations, or even major amphibious or heliborne insertions. All of these represent choices faced by the actual commanders on the ground.

If a player does not invest in a particular capability, it does not mean it is completely absent. It can be assumed there is always some air and artillery support, sniper fire, or fortifications present in the battle. Instead, investing in a Capability Card indicates that a special effort has been made to acquire and deploy additional assets of this type.

The various event cards used in WACN serve four different functions. Some introduce additional uncertainty into tactical operations. Others reward players for investing in certain capabilities. Still others are used to generate collateral damage effects from combat operations. 

Finally, the cards are also used to immerse the player in some of the small-unit tactical decisions and even moral dilemmas faced by battlefield commanders. Military operations in heavily populated urban areas generate many difficult choices, and we wanted to make sure the game adequately conveyed these sorts of challenges.

The Prussian military theorist Carl von Clausewitz famously said that war is a fundamentally political act, the “continuation of policy by other means.” In planning Operation We Are Coming, Nineveh, Iraqi political and military leaders had to consider the political goals and ramifications of tactical and strategic choices. What does it mean to “win” against Daesh? Is it enough to eliminate their immediate military capabilities—even if doing so leaves behind so much destruction that the local population grows even more alienated from Baghdad? How important is it to secure a rapid victory—thereby denying Daesh the grounds to boast about its prolonged resistance—if this increases the cost in ISF casualties? 

Similarly, Daesh—like all insurgent movements, and especially one that sees itself religiously destined to triumph—was playing a long game. If it could not hold Mosul, it could project an image of strength and resilience and heroic martyrdom by lasting as long as possible. If it could further aggravate sectarian and political tensions in doing so, so much the better.

In order to represent these competing narratives of the battle,  WACN uses a system of multiple victory conditions. Three different metrics are assessed: Time (how long it takes the ISF to clear West Mosul), Casualties (casualties suffered by the ISF), and Collateral Damage (civilian casualties and destruction caused by the operation, as well as political alienation of the local population). Before the battle begins, players choose which they will emphasize. They should then deploy capabilities and develop their tactical plans to support this. 

It is even possible for the game to end without a clear victor. While the points score might favour one player, extreme outcomes on any of the three dimensions can give the other player the basis on which to claim a moral-political victory. The metrics can also be used to compare the players’ performance with the historical results obtained by the Iraqi Security Forces.

The game includes an option for solo play. Here the player assumes the role of the ISF, while Daesh deployment and actions are determined by a series of die rolls and card draws.

Wnorowski: Wargaming Practitioners Guide

The Doctrine and Training Centre of the Polish Armed Forces has just published a very useful Wargaming Practitioner’s Guide, written by Mirosław Wnorowski. The English version is shared below. The book explores:

  • The essence and objectives of wargames (including definitions, benefits and limits, history, and a link to the key elements and dilemmas of game theory).
  • The use of wargames (in the armed forces, as an element of planning, and a classification of types).
  • The key elements (participants, scenario, adjudication, data collection).
  • Game tools (space, time, actors and the interaction between them).
  • The process of preparing and executing a wargame (including particular attention to seminar and matrix games).

Excellent work, Mirosław!

NATO SAS 129: Gamification of Cyber Defence and Resilience

The final, unclassified report of NATO SAS (System Analysis and Studies) research task group 129 is now available on the NATO STO website.

Readers of this final report can expect to find a comprehensive guide to understanding, designing, developing, onboarding, and deploying game-based learning systems. The team gathered their collective expertise and their own lessons learned gained during their study developing and testing various game-based learning systems for cyber security. This guide is targeted to experts who are focusing on game-based learning approaches for enhancing current defence and education training and education methods. Critical distinctions are provided in the report for understanding and differentiating games, serious games, gamification, simulations, and wargames. The most common development problems and lessons learned from cyber security serious game projects are compiled within this report. Chosen design and development methodologies are discussed in depth for providing a quick guide to best practices to serious game development. These discussions were supported by case studies based on the SAS-129 team’s own prototype development experience. The report also contains key information for experts looking for information on understanding the transformational needs of an organisation wishing to integrate game-based learning systems into its larger educational framework. Finally, the report includes a taxonomy of Cyber Security related game-based approaches that SAS-129 either developed or examined during its study. The taxonomy provides an overview of the full spectrum of game-based learning methodologies applicable to cyber security training.

SAS-129’s main objective is to effectively enhance information security and cyber defence education and training through the use of serious gaming and gamification approaches. PAXsims associate editor Tom Fisher was one of the contributors to the study and report.

CfP: 17th NATO Operations Research and Analysis conference

The 17th NATO Operations Research and Analysis conference will be held on 30-31 October 2023 at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland (with some hybrid options).

This year’s conference theme is “Changing character of defence and deterrence: the power of analysis”. Collective defence is at the heart of the Alliance and deterrence is a core element of its overall strategy to prevent war, protect Allies, maintain freedom of action and uphold its values. NATO faces the most complex security environment since the end of the Cold War. Innovations, such as autonomous weapons systems, are changing warfare. Shifts in the global balance of power, such as the rise of China, are challenging the Alliance’s values. And aggressions, such as Russia’s actions against Ukraine, are threating the security of Allies. These major developments, along with the new Strategic Concept, underscore the need for the Alliance to ensure that its deterrence and defence remains credible and effective. The theme reflects the long-standing practice of Operations Research and Analysis in Defence, tackling ongoing challenges faced by the Alliance and looks to the future to bring new methods to old challenges or well-established methods to future challenges.

Paper proposals are due by 15 April 2023. Registration will open in July. The conference will be open to representatives from all NATO Nations, NATO Bodies, NATO Agencies, Australia, Austria, Finland, Ireland, Japan, New Zealand, Sweden and Switzerland. 

Further details can be found below.

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