Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

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.

One response to “Simulation and gaming miscellany, 27 February 2023

  1. brtrain 27/02/2023 at 2:50 pm

    Here is a link to more on the game LOGOPS, by Pytharec.

    Free translation of ad copy:

    “Your mission
    You are at the head of a French military logistics unit within a GTIA (Combined Arms Tactical Group). Your mission is to guarantee the timely delivery of the equipment necessary for the maneuvers and combat of your forces.

    With our serious military logistics simulation game, you will be able to test your skills in resource management and resilience in the face of crisis situations. Compete against other players in high-stakes battles where every decision counts.

    ​Earn the trust of your superiors and your troops by guaranteeing efficient and adapted logistics. Our game will allow you to develop key skills for your military career while having fun.

    Test your knowledge and skills in an immersive and realistic environment. Don’t miss this opportunity to become an expert in French military logistics. Play our serious game now and take control of your GTIA to claim victory.

    What is LOGOPS?
    “LOGOPS” aims to have a didactic wargame intended to educate tacticians and train logisticians to support a division capable of representing the three key parameters of resources, potential and security.

    To fulfill his mission, the player implements capacities corresponding to the means available or could have available to the support group of the division.

    ​The objective of victory is to maintain a higher combat potential than his opponent until the tactical destruction of the latter.

    ​To achieve this, each team must not only guarantee the operational capacity of the units but also regenerate the losses suffered as quickly as possible, despite the threats weighing on the support zone.”

    Funnily enough, I designed a similar game a few months ago.
    It’s a cooperative game for 3 players who represent different staff sections in the fictional 91st DSSB (Divisional Sustainment Support Battalion), who work together to prepare and send off daily supply convoys to 3 divisional BCTs on the FLOT.
    It’s a time management and planning game, with simple processes featuring an endless time track and roles and choices that put demands on the players as the situation continues to change.
    As a cooperative game it is not intensely competitive or antagonistic but the players have to work together to prevent the front line units from going hungry or running out of things (which will in turn make their own jobs that much harder).
    The game has simple components – 2 pages of tracks and charts, some small player mats, 60 counters and a set of 80 coloured cubes or counters for goods.
    It can be played at any length to cover any number of “days” (actually iterations of the unit’s battle rhythm); I think it probably takes about an hour or less for players to get the gist of things without prompting.

    I did this on my own time and dime – I wonder how much Pythacre got paid by the Army?

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