Please save 1-4 August to participate in Connections US 2017, at Quantico Marine Corps Base (MCB), VA. Please ensure your boss and colleagues who cannot participate in person reserve the morning of Friday, 4 August to connect to our out brief.
Connections is a free, annual, interdisciplinary, wargame conference. Connections purpose is to bring together practitioners of wargaming from the military, government, defense industry, commercial, and academic communities to advance and sustain the art, science, and application of wargaming. Each year it is hosted by a different DoD organizations, such as Air University and the National Defense University. This year’s Connections will be hosted by the Marine Corp Combat Development Center. Our theme for 2017 is advancing wargaming and analysis as distinct yet complimentary tools.
Day 0 of Connections (Tuesday, 1 August) will include a spectrum of seminars on the morning, with some appropriate to those new to the field and others of value to masters of the craft. In the afternoon there will be large wargames allowing all to apply what they learned in the morning.
Day 1 will include our keynote speaker, speaker panels on each wargaming community (defense, commercial and academic) and will conclude with a set of Game Labs, again with options appropriate to every experience level.
Day 2 will include a panel on emerging wargame applications and three working groups on; wargaming and analysis, wargame education and wargaming and innovation.
Day 3 will consist of out briefs on the findings of the entire conference. Remote participation is encouraged.
Again, mark 1-4 August on your calendar and plan to join us at Connections US.
One of the challenges with using a boardgame in the classroom is how to accommodate a large number of players. AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis game is no different in this respect. It is designed for 4 players, and if players double or triple up on each team, you can fit 8-12 in a game. However if your class is larger, you have to find another approach: for example, running multiple games in parallel (as we have done for the Canadian Disaster and Humanitarian Response Training Programme), or running one game with a new group of students assuming the player roles each turn (as has been done at the University of New South Wales).
My own POLI 450 (Peacebuilding) course at McGill has around one hundred students in it, and the approach I have used is to conduct an after-school AFTERSHOCK tournament, with players competing to secure the highest group (Relief Points) and individual team (Operations Points) scores for bonus marks. This is fairly easy to do in POLI 450, since 10% of the course grade is based on class participation, a requirement that students can fulfill by taking part in online discussions, attending relevant campus lectures, taking part in McMUN (McGill model UN)—or participating in games like AFTERSHOCK.
Members of an NGO team, upon realizing that they had forgotten to assign staff to an important task.
This year the games ran in the evening, taking about 2.5 hours (15 minutes rules briefing, a 2 hour times game, and 15+ minutes of debrief/discussion). Within a matter of hours of me announcing the tournament, four teams of 8 students had formed, representing about a third of the class. Indeed, I would have had one or two more teams if I had been willing to run more than four games. It should be noted that 23 of the 32 players were female, further evidence—as if any were needed—that women are just as happy to play conflict, policy, or crisis games if the environment is right.
In all four games the At-Risk cards in each district were placed in a pre-arranged order, as were the cards in the Event deck. While this did not eliminate all random variation across the games (since Coordination cards cannot be prearranged and must be randomly drawn), it eliminated much of it and assured a more-or-less level playing field whereby each group was facing a similar degree of challenge. It also allowed me to make certain that particular cards or effects would make an appearance in the game, so that they could be used as teachable moments.
The scores across the four games are shown below. The shade of green indicates how well each group or team did. In one of the games (#1) the players won quite comfortably, in one they lost fairly substantially (#4), and in two others they only just came out ahead in the closing stages of the game (#2, #3). This is a fairly typical distribution of outcomes. I probably could have made the games a little harder—although perhaps this means everyone had been listening to my class lectures on the importance of humanitarian coordination.
The tournament format went well, and I will certainly be using a similar format again next year. The only possible drawback was spending four evenings on campus outside classroom hours, running games—but the participants were so enthusiastic and engaged that I frankly had a lot of fun doing it!
John Mizon has put together a very useful video on “what is a megagame?,” in which he explores the player interaction, immersion, and emergent gameplay that characterize the genre. It even features a few seconds from our own recent War in Binni game!
You’ll find more of John’s megagame videos here. A great deal of insight into designing and running a megagame can also be found at Jim Wallman’s No Game Survives… blog.
A recent visit to the Netherlands by one of the PAXsims editors led to the development of Terror in Tilberg, a matrix game exploring the possible impact of a terror attack in the run up to that country’s 2017 elections.
The players in the game are as follows:
local jihadists (“Hofstadt Network”)
Right wing neo-Nazis (“New Thule”)
Dutch Emergency Services
The results of one game were as follows:
On occasions both the Islamic Terrorists and the Right-Wing Terrorists were perfectly happy with their opponent’s actions
The Coalition Government often found itself arguing against its own political interests.
The Security Services were very good at reacting to an attack afterwards, but felt unable to act proactively without legislation and techniques that put them against the Liberal policies of the Government.
Geert Wilders found himself at odds with a significant proportion of the Right-Wing terrorist actions.
The upshot of the game was that Geert Wilders won the most seats, but failed to secure an overall majority (only just) and the other political parties refused to join him in a coalition. It was a close-run thing, but the Netherlands remained a liberal democracy.
You’ll find the scenario description and game materials here (.pdf). To play it, you’ll need some general familiarity with matrix games.
The following item has been contributed by Malcolm D. Parrish, FSR III/VBS3 – Warfighter FOCUS, Tapestry Solutions. Photos by SSG Joshua Balog.
On 23 February 2017, the US Army War College hosted the “Blue Mountain” Army ROTC battalion for training using the Virtual Battlespace 3 (VBS3) simulation tool. The Blue Mountain Battalion is headquartered at Dickinson College in Carlisle Pennsylvania. The cadet trainees for this exercise were Junior (MS-3’s) students from Dickinson College, Gettysburg College, Millersville University, and Penn State Harrisburg. The coordination with the Blue Mountain Battalion began in December when LTC Joseph L. Wyszynski, the Dickinson Professor of Military Science, attended a demonstration of VBS3 in the Strategic Simulations Division (SSD) computer lab. After the demonstration, LTC Wyszynski agreed that the VBS3 simulation could enhance the training of the cadets and agreed on further collaboration with the Army War College.
The SSD is part of the Center for Strategic Leadership (CSL) at the Army War College. The CSL and SSD normally focus on strategic-level wargames, educating senior military and civilian leaders. However, over a year ago SSD began to formulate new ways to incorporate simulations and wargames into classrooms at the Army War College. One of the ideas included using VBS3 as a tool to capture realistic video that would be included into scenarios for the students. An unseen benefit of this was the opportunity to partner with the Blue Mountain Battalion as VBS3 was originally developed, not for video creation, but as a flexible simulation training solution for tactical-level scenario training.
In the 23 February training event, 13 cadets under the leadership of CPT Edward Park (Assistant Professor of Military Science) conducted squad-level training utilizing VBS3 to further develop skills required to complete the US Army Cadet Command’s Leader Development and Assessment Course (LDAC) this summer at Ft Knox, Kentucky. The LDAC training is the most important training event for an Army ROTC cadet or National Guard Officer Candidate according to Cadet Command.
The training began at 6:30 AM with a train-up session that allowed the Cadets to learn the “buttonology” of the VBS3 system before conducting their first virtual battle drill- “react to an ambush (near)”. During the rest of the morning training session, the Cadets were able to execute this battle drill twice – with marked improvement after each attempt.
One of the benefits of training with VBS3 is the cadet’s ability to conduct training on the same simulated terrain that they will use during LDAC. Every aspect of the terrain, elevation, vegetation, man-made objects to include the sounds of birds and mosquitoes are replicated. “It’s the next best thing to live training” commented COL Bill Jones, Director of the SSD. Jones went on to say “… nothing will ever replace live training. What this type of exercise allows you to do, is enter a live training event at a higher level of proficiency”.
During live training, Cadre control most of the variables – friendly, neutral, and enemy. This includes adversaries’ reaction and casualty adjudication. In VBS3, artificial intelligence within the simulation replicates those controls. This includes the possibility of wounds and even death for a cadet. Just as in actual combat, in the VBS3 simulation, “the enemy gets a vote”.
During our recent War in Binni megagame, we encountered an issue that often arises in POL-MIL games: we were missing part of the UN Security Council. In this case, all five veto-wielding permanent (P5) members were represented by players: China, France, Russia, United Kingdom, United States. Of the ten rotating non-permanent members, however, we only had two actually represented by players: Nigeria and Guinea.
Members of the UN Security Council check the latest news from Binni via the live Global News Network Twitter feed.
One way of dealing with this is to simply reduce the size of the Security Council, and the changing the real-world UNSC voting roles (nine affirmative votes and no P5 vetoes) to something proportional to the size of the group. This is the way I do things in the Brynania peacebuilding simulation, for example.
In this case, however, we wanted more for the various UN ambassadors to do during the game, and we also wanted to highlight that even the powerful P5 members need broader support for anything to happen. Consequently the non-player members of the Security Council were represented by cards. Each card listed the issues that mattered to that country. When one of those issues was addressed well in a statement by a UN ambassador, the UN Control team would dice to see whether the card (and that state’s vote) would pass to the ambassador concerned. To reflect existing global alliances and relationships, some non-played countries were more easily influenced by some than others.
In addition, at the start of each turn the various UN ambassadors could secretly use influence cards and foreign aid funds in an attempt to obtain a die roll bonus when attemping to secure non-player country votes.
I was a little worried that the mechanism might result in a stilted debate process whereby UN ambassadors made speeches, stopped to await a die roll by Control, then continued. That, however, didn’t happen. On the contrary, UNSC debates were lively and fluid.
Members of the UN Security Council debate the war in Binni.
You’ll find the materials here, should you wish to modify them for use in your own game:
I spend today in Ottawa, where I delivered a talk at Global Affairs Canada on “Gaming foreign policy.” About thirty folks attended, mainly from GAC, but also from the Department of National Defense, Defence Research and Development Canada, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, the intelligence community, and elsewhere. Indeed, it may have been the largest all-of-government meeting on analytical gaming in Canadian history! The session was sponsored by the Foreign Policy Research Division.
You’ll find the slides I used in my presentation here—although many of them aren’t all that self-explanatory.
The talk was broadly similar to those that I have given previously to the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the US State Department. There were, however, a number of really interesting questions raised by participants, not all of which I had time to fully answer because of the duration of the event (and a delay in starting due to a faulty VGA cable):
What contribution can serious gaming make to forecasting (i.e., likely outcomes over the next 3 to 6 months, 12 to 18 months)?
Can gaming help us to identify or explore possible “black-swans” and high-risk, low-probability events and scenarios?
How can games address cross-cutting and multidisciplinary issues (i.e., requiring a “whole of GAC/Government of Canada” approach, coordination and coherence
Can gaming explore sequencing questions (security, humanitarian, development, political and governance) and challenges associated with addressing non-linear, complex interactions and actions (such as but not limited to intercultural understanding between different world views and approaches)?
How can serious gaming techniques help us to develop resilient and adaptable systems that can cope with the unforeseen?
How do we address issues of apparently “irrational behaviour” by foes (or friends)? Are any actors truly irrational, or do they simply have other interests, objectives, and worldviews?
As I head back to Montréal on the train, here are some initial thoughts or additional comments on these:
Most (war)gamers are inclined to protest that “games are not predictions.” It is certainly true that no single game can be considered to reliably predict the future, and they should not be held to this standard. We also know that once we go much beyond 6 months out, the accuracy of predictions (both inside and outside the intelligence community) begins to drop off sharply. Still, I have always thought that “we don’t predict” caveats are a bit of a dodge, intended to shield game designers/facilitators from criticism when reality turns out differently, as it often will. Most games, after all, are only useful to the extent that they describe a plausible set of future outcomes, and the assessment of plausibility is inherently a predictive endeavour. A well-designed game can certainly help to illuminate such questions as how an actor or actors might act under certain set of circumstances; what variables might affect outcomes; what indicators might provide an early warning of important developments; and what trends should be watched carefully.
By definition, true “black swans” cannot be predicted since they lie outside our prior experience. However games can help us to identify low probability/high impact actions or events, and the circumstances under which they might come to pass. They can also be used to “stress test” capabilities, policies, and programmes to understand how they might fare when faced with such challenges, and what might be done to enhance resilience, adaptability, and agility.
Games can be outstanding at exploring the challenges of policy coordination. The Brynania peacebuilding simulation I run at McGill each year does this, and it is the central theme of AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game. In addition to modelling and illuminating the problems of interagency, interdisciplinary, and coalition action, the process of playing interagency games with interagency participants can build networks of contacts, rapport, and understanding that can be very useful when a real crisis hits.
The challenge here is one of what you are trying to do. It is hard to model very complex systems, especially when the underlying causal connections are poorly understood. For that reasons, there are real limitations to the validity of game findings. On the other hand, games (and, even more so, the discussions that games generate during and after) can enhance insight into the sorts of issues that might arise, and how these might be better addressed. Again, I think there is quite a lot of this in the Brynania simulation.
This is another variation of the question “How can games help us to predict the difficult-to-predict (#1-2) and develop systems and approaches that might respond to foreseen and unforeseen policy challenges (#3-4)?” It was probably the single biggest theme running through the question and answer period. I think it is possible to train for agility, and to encourage personnel to think through possible second- and third-order effects of what they do. This isn’t reflexive “if X happens, do Y” training, but rather “if faced with a new challenge, this is how we might develop the required analytical frameworks and institutional capacities necessary to deal with it” preparation.
Watch this space. We’ve already started a discussion on gaming unpredictable opponents and unreliable allies here at PAXsims, and I hope to write something substantial on it soon. It is perhaps telling that a significant number of participants in the discussion today felt this issue was of renewed urgency in light of recent global developments.
It all seemed to go very well.
Thrilled to hear @RexBrynen talk on "Gaming #ForPol" at DFATD. I participated twice in the Brynania sim while at @mcgillu. A valuable tool!
There was a great deal on interest in follow-up and continuing the discussion. I’ll be speaking with a number of GAC colleagues and other son this in the days ahead, and who knows—we may even have some games to run in a few months as a result.
I’ll be giving some thought over the next week to “(war)gaming the US as ally and adversary,” for a piece I hope to write soon. I have always been interested in how we model actors with murky or complex decision-making processes, as well as actors who may at times appear irrational (North Korea for example, or Qaddafi’s Libya). How much of this is simply different worldviews and interests, and how much of it is truly non-rational? How can pol-mil wargames best generate policy responses that reflect ideology, confirmation bias, pride, narcissism, bureaucratic infighting, and other non-realist determinants of strategic or operational behaviour?
In particular, in the coming months and years those of us outside the US who do national security gaming may need to consider:
How best to model unpredictable US behaviour (say, wavering alliance commitments) or behaviours that veer between supportive and threatening.
Last year (in)famous megagame designer Jim Wallman made a trip to frozen Montréal to run New World Order 2035 at McGill University, with some one hundred or so players taking part. It was a big success.
War in Binni has been run several times before elsewhere, notably at last year’s Connections UK interdisciplinary wargaming conference at King’s College London. The theme of a civil war in a fictional country in West Africa was of particular interest to students, including those in my POLI 450 and POLI 650 peacebuilding courses. We’ll be running our own even larger, week-long Brynania civil war simulation later in the term. However, unlike the Connections/KCL version, the game at McGill included a significant “weird science” component, with a touch of both Lovecraft and Indiana Jones. The event was held in excellent space New Residence Hall, including a large ballroom, two conference rooms, a foyer (and cloakroom), an integrated audio and data projectors. The staff were helpful as ever.
We started off with a basic orientation to the game from Jim. Rules and maps had been posted online before the game, and individual role briefings had been emailed to all players about a week beforehand.
Action at the map table, as the Clewgists celebrate a victory.
Map Control (me), pointing.
While the government, various rebel groups, and regional actors vied for territory and influence, shady international arms dealers sold weapons to the highest bidder, the UN Security Council met in emergency sessions, and humanitarian aid workers struggled to cope with a growing flood of refugees.
Heavy fighting takes a heavy toll on civilians, forcing many to flee.
The Clewgists mourn the destruction of their sacred grove by a rival militia.
Three archaeological digs were also at work in the war-torn country. These soon uncovered increasingly unusual findings. These included evidence of alien technology, and various occult items with mysterious powers.
An archaeologist briefs the French ambassador.
Little did the players know that, hidden among the participants were a small group of secret cultists. This group managed to obtain key objects from the digs, perform a dark ritual, and summon an Elder God of unspeakable power. The huge creature appeared atop Mount Clewg, and began to rampage through the country, destroying everything in its path.
An extradimensional creature appears atop Mount Clewg.
The international community responded with a barrage of cruise missile attacks and bombing strikes, but these did minimal damage. Researchers at McGill University utilized one of their archaeological finds to slow the thing’s progress. Regional powers revealed that they had all been secretly researching WMD, and unleashed chemical weapons and radiological missiles. However it was the Kingdom of Gao, in alliance with Christian and Muslim rebel groups and the local Clewgist tribal insurgents, that inflicted the most damage, severely damaging the creature with an alien death ray before a suicidal charge by the Clewgists destroyed the evil abomination.
Militias (and Gao) unite to destroy the terror.
As all this was happening, the government of Binni—afflicted by plummeting domestic political support and the assassination of the President—finally agreed on peace terms with the main opposition alliance. Peace had come… but at what cost? And what does the future hold for Binni?
Overall I thought that Binni went even better than NWO 2035. There were, perhaps, several reasons for this.
First, everyone seemed to internalize their roles very quickly, and game play was generally credible and “realistic” (or as realistic as it can be in a game featuring alien technology and an Elder God).
The Global (later, Galactic) News Network at work.
Second, our Global News Network team did a terrific job of getting information out to the players. The GNN website contained a few in-depth stories, most of which had been written in advance by the Control team to be released during the initial game turns. Most news was carried on the GNN Twitter feed. Special “breaking news” announcements were made over the audio system, sometimes only a few seconds after the event had occurred. The GNN team also did an excellent job of investigative reporting, using covert reporters and in-country teams to considerable effect. They resisted the temptation to report rumours as facts, or believe or print everything they were told.
US vetoes resolution to send cruise missiles against Cthulhu; every other member of the UNSC acts unilaterally fires their missiles.
I know from previous large games how important the media role is. It also requires players who understand their importance in the game process (acting, in some senses, as an element of the Control team), and enjoy acting as journalists: verifying, investigating, uncover secrets, and breaking important stories.
Third, War in Binni had fewer rules than NWO 2035, and game systems were generally more simple and straight-forward. This allowed players to focus on role-playing and interaction rather than understanding rules, and facilitated the sort of creative, emergent gameplay that is at the heart of a successful megagame.
We’re already thinking ahead to next year’s game, which will (in view of the player enthusiasm it generated) continue the “Binni” theme.
The Republic of Binni has been through incredible times and is now is recovering from the traumatic events of the ‘War In Binni’ – the previous McGill Megagame. The country’s civil war ended when the repressive government collapsed soon after the assassination of the hated President Ancongo. Under a new constitution, semi-autonomous Christian, Muslim, and Clewgist provinces were established in the south, east, and west of the country, all led by a weak federal government headed by former members of the opposition alliance. The Hand of God insurgency has been suppressed—but its supporters lurk in the shadows, plotting acts of terror.
In addition to the major political changes it has experienced, Binni was also the nexus of a series of remarkable events that has challenged humanity’s understanding of the Universe. Ancient alien structures have been uncovered, and a powerful transdimensional entity was brought into our world causing havoc and destruction before being destroyed itself. Shortly after the creature was vanquished, several rifts appeared in the time-space continuum in the surrounding area. These gateways seem to connect to alien worlds and other dimensions. There is no telling what remarkable discoveries are waiting to be made—or what terrible entities might use the portals to threaten Earth itself.
In ‘Gateway to Binni’ rival factions and the government must try to build a stable nation and find ways of addressing some deep-seated communal tensions. Meanwhile the country has become of even greater interest to the international community, as regional and great powers consider the potential power and perils of the transdimensional gateways. Can the factions in Binni leverage that interest into direct benefit for themselves and their supporters? And just who ended up with all those mysterious alien artifacts dug up during the War in Binni—and what do they actually do?
It has been a busy month, and as a consequence we are a bit behind on updates. So here (at last) is the latest issue of simulations and gaming miscellany, filled with items on serious and not-so-serious gaming that may be of interest to PAXsims readers.
James Sterrett suggested material for this latest edition.
It’s a written training manual given interactive life, and it’s the brainchild of a group of informatics students at the Halifax school.
Developed over three semesters by 11 students, the game is set to be tested with peacekeepers in the field as part of training offered by Dalhousie’s Romeo Dallaire Child Soldier Initiative.
Josh Boyter, who works with the Dallaire initiative, said the game is designed so it can be deployed in some of the most difficult hotspots around the world without having to utilize the Internet or wireless connections.
“This game can sit on a USB key,” said Boyter.
“It’s all locally based, so as long as they have a browser on their laptop . . . the game won’t break. It’s purely designed to be as robust as possible.”
Boyter said his organization plans to give the game to the first child protection adviser to be attached to an African Union peacekeeping mission. The adviser will use it to help train soldiers and police.
“We are really excited to see how it actually is going to help in terms of our ultimate mission, which is to end the use of child soldiers,” he said.
The game presents a range of scenarios and roles in which child soldiers could be encountered, including as spies or even suicide bombers. Each scenario presents a list of choices for dealing with the child soldier and the game user is ultimately told whether those choices are right or wrong.
Ars Technica reports on an effort in Berlin to use boardgames to bring newly-arrived refugees and Germans closer together:
At the shelter I frequent most, a children’s worker named Robin spends many afternoons playing games with the kids. He teaches them the German classic Mensch, Ärgere Dich Nicht, a best-selling variant of Parcheesi. It has become one of their favorites.
My friend Karin, who publishes games for businesses, wants to donate some games for the refugees. She gives me black-and-white Parcheesi boards that can be colored in by the children, and we pick out various colors of pawns and dice to include with each board.
When I pull out the game boards at the shelter the following week, the children enjoy choosing their pawns. Then they get right to work, adding color to their boards with the markers and colored pencils I bring with me. When finished, they cannot believe that the games are theirs to keep. I assure them that they are—and suddenly find myself in the middle of a group hug.
Later, I ask my friend Thorsten—who works for the large Berlin publisher who makes Mensch Ärgere Dich Nicht—if the company would be able to donate any games as Christmas presents for the children. He packs a large box, which I supplement with a few extra chess sets and some games that designer Néstor sent me. My family joins me in wrapping and distributing them.
This happens on a very special night, as the refugees are finally moving to “container apartments” after a full year of bunk beds and bedsheet partitions in a converted indoor basketball court. We are invited to share food and join in a dance, and the children’s eyes light up when they receive a game of their very own.
But the gifts are more than just games. They are reminders of the times we shared together every week over the past year, and the promise of more to come.
Our four work groups, i.e. patient safety, medical technologies, global health, and pervasive learning, have come together, and with outputs from the youth innovation and costs of innovation panel, produced a series of high quality manuscripts. These will be published in a special issue of BMJ Simulation and Technology Enhanced Learning, to be publicly launched at the Mar 29 event.
We are extremely pleased to have Dr. Russell Gruen, Director of the Nanyang Institute of Technology in Health and Medicine in Singapore, Dr. Nick Sevdalis, Editor-in-Chief of BMJ Simulation and Technology Enhanced Learning, and Ms. Katrine Kirk, Danish Patient Safety Champion, join us in Montreal for the event. We also have the pleasure of hosting Assistant Deputy Minister Marie-Josée Blais, Ministry of Economy, Science and Innovation, Province of Quebec, as well as many of the original invitees to the May 2016 event, to encourage and propagate further discussion, dissemination and implementation of the simnovate mission.
The event commences at 1:30pm, with a series of keynotes, panel sessions and discussions, followed by a cocktail reception for networking and further follow-up.
Polygon recently reported on UNESCO’s interest in the power of gaming to promote empathy, understanding, and positive social change:
For lots of gamers, the power of the medium is its ability to place us in the shoes of other people, making tough choices that we’d otherwise never need to contemplate.
But how does that message of power and opportunity spread outwards, away from the mostly indie games that address serious issues, and the relatively small number of people who celebrate these noble efforts?
He’s also the author of a new report commissioned by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) which seeks to find ways in which games can be used to foster empathy and understanding around the world. The report was commissioned by UNESCO subsidiary the Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Education for Peace.
“Perspective-taking helps negotiate social complexities, diminish biases, improve inter-group attitudes, and encourage a view of outgroups as more self-like,” states the report. “The potential to positively impact attitudes with digital games is not only rooted in their ability to grant perspective, but also in their potency as instruments of persuasion.”
“If you read the literature on conflict resolution, perspective-taking is very important in order to reconcile opposing points of view,” says Darvasi. “It’s difficult to have empathy if you can’t put yourself into somebody else’s perspective. Video games allow you to assume perspectives in an embodied form.
“When you watch the news or a documentary, you might not feel connected to the issue. But video games immerse you in the action. Your actions have consequences within the game and therefore there’s a greater emotional and cognitive investment.”
Donald Trump’s Challenge : play as the new chief executive of the United States and strive to keep your campaign promises on issues such as reducing the tax burden, stimulating the economy or the fight against illegal immigration… all while avoiding bankrupting the nation and maintaining your approval ratings with the end goal of being reelected for a second term in 202
War in Syria and Iraq 2017 : play as one or several warring factions in the new conflict map configuration updated as of the beginning of 2017 and strive to emerge victorious or put an end to hostilities. NB : the conflict scenarios from the beginning of 2016 will still be playable.
Gross National Happiness : improve the quality of life for your people by implementing reforms and try to raise your country’s global ranking.
French Election 2017 : play as one of the candidates in the French national elections or even the current chief of state and run a campaign, manage your budget, establish your campaign platform, participate in debates and try to get elected (or reelected) to the highest office.
Before you all ask, PAXsims has no information on whether the update includes dubious connections with Russian intelligence, immigration and refugee bans, “fake news”, bizarre press conferences, arguments over the size of crowds on the Mall, or turmoil in the National Security Council.
In early January, a not-exactly-secret ICONS simulation was mentioned in the New York Times article on US support for the Baltic states:
The intelligence also informs planning in Washington. In October, the military’s Joint Staff conducted a three-day confidential simulation exercise involving four possible situations in Latvia in which Russia used drones, cyberwarfare and media manipulation.
We’re told the event wasn’t classified at all, simply held under Chatham House Rules.
In March 2017 Hollandspiele will be releasing two Brian Train wargames-in-one:
Ukrainian Crisis will be much the same as the PnP version available now here, except that the Resource cards will be chits (they can’t print up that many cards), the game length is increased to 9 turns and there are a few extra units, for variety and to fill up the counter sheet.
Even better, this will be half of a two-game package… the other game will be the mini-game The Little War, on the brief Slovak-Hungarian border war of March 1939! This one uses only 30 counters and a deck of ordinary playing cards to drive the action. I designed this one last year.
A recent article in the Journal of the American Medical Association Neurology by Janina Krell-Roesch, Prashanthi Vemuri, and Anna Pink suggests that playing games can significantly reduce the risk of new-onset mild cognitive impairment:
Question Does engaging in a mentally stimulating activity in old age associate with neurocognitive function?
Findings In this population-based cohort study, 1929 cognitively normal participants 70 years or older were followed for approximately 4 years. The following activities were associated with significant decreased risk of new-onset mild cognitive impairment: computer use, craft activities, social activities, and playing games.
Meaning Engaging in a mentally stimulating activity even in late life may decrease the risk of mild cognitive impairment.
Recently Brant Guillory at GrogHeads interviewed James Sterrett of the US Army Command & General Staff College about how hobby wargaming is making its way (back) into professional military ranks. You’ll find the whole thing here.
The grimdark, battle-hardened warriors are known for their martial prowess – but wearing the skins of dead animals doesn’t take any skill.
Indeed, nothing on the bloody battlefields of Warhammer’s conflict-ravaged universe could match the terrible reality that foxes, minks, rabbits, and other living beings experience at the hands of the fur trade. Those killed for their fur typically first endure a bleak life inside a tiny, filthy wire cage before being electrocuted, drowned, or even skinned alive. Or they may be in the wild, minding their own business, when they get caught in a horrific bone-crushing steel-jaw trap – often languishing for days before eventually dying from starvation, dehydration, or blood loss.
PETA has written to Games Workshop CEO Kevin Rountree asking that the leading British miniature war-gaming brand ban “fur” garments from all Warhammer characters. While we appreciate that they are fictional, draping them in what looks like a replica of a dead animal sends the message that wearing fur is acceptable – when, in fact, it has no more place in 2017 than it would in the year 40,000.
This, of course, provoked much outrage, sarcasm, derision, mirth, and discussion among Warhammer players.
…which, PETA later admitted, was kind of what they were aiming for:
We’re laughing, too! For the cost of a postage stamp, our website has received record traffic – and the people who were prompted to visit our site by this story can’t have missed the prominently featured eyewitness footage showing that animals in real life are electrocuted, drowned, and sometimes even skinned alive for their fur.
Here’s a little secret: we know that Warhammer characters are fictional, and we’re not losing sleep worrying about what Leman Russ or the other miniatures are “wearing”. We are, however, lying awake at night thinking of ways to make people aware that real animals who are raised for their fur, skin, or flesh are suffering every day. We’ll sleep a little more easily tonight knowing that we’ve managed to get nearly a quarter of a million people (and counting!) to visit PETA.org.uk in the days since we sent our letter, because – whatever their reason for doing so – they’ll now know more about the cruelty behind fur.
So by all means, have a laugh at this campaign – you can even laugh at us – but please remember that the fur industry is a living hell for animals. If that bothers you, and it should, please share our fur exposés with your friends and family.
Well played, PETA, well played.
Last but certainly not least, PAXsims is very pleased to report that we’ve now had more that 500,000 page views and 200,000 visitors to the website. We’re also well on track to making 2017 our best year ever. Many thanks to our readers and contributors to making it possible!
For the past two semesters, I have had the opportunity to run AFTERSHOCKfor a crisis informatics course here at Pennsylvania State University’s Information Sciences and Technology program. The IST program is not international relations, political science, or social science focused in any way. Instead, this class focuses on the use of information and communication technologies and how those ICTs support crisis management. To that end, the use of AFTERSHOCKwas meant to offer these students a glimpse at the various bottlenecks and pitfalls that crisis responders must deal with as a response evolves.
Through that lens, we gathered these 20 students in a conference room and sat them down to play – five students to a team. I began by explaining the goal of the game, the major players, their motivations, and ended with the sequence of a turn. Given that explanation, play began. In total, the room learned how to play the game in less than 30 minutes.
The following caveats should be noted:
The players were told that if they were not participating in the cluster that they could not communicate with the other teams. This was done by placing them inside another room if they were not there. Sadly, no players actually did this.
I stacked the deck for the first turn. The cards I chose were:
Landslides – a card that allowed me to talk about the Frontier.
Things Change – a card that allowed me to talk about Needs Assessments.
Infrastructure Breakdown, which allowed me to talk about the difference between supplies and infrastructure.
The first turn ended with “Trying Times.” This card resolves the highest risk card on the board. I suggested throughout the first 3 turns that players try to meet needs according to the number of people listed on the card and the number of relief points that card represented. My hope was that this would generate some competition and the students would prioritize rescuing according to “big numbers.”
Over the course of 2 hours, we played through 4 turns or through 2 weeks of response efforts. While it was not a complete game, it was enough to see the game take shape and the players start to recognize their roles.
At the beginning of the game, the 4 representative teams – the host country, the humanitarian coalition (HADR-TF), the United Nations, and the Non-Government Organizations – were pretty much all at the same place in terms of the knowledge of the game and the knowledge of what they needed to do. This quickly changed as the first turn ended. By the second turn, the media played a significant role within the game. In AFTERSHOCKthe media begin with their cameras pointed at the administrative district or District 1. However, the Infrastructure Breakdown card allowed the players to move the media. The United Nations decided to move the media to a place that benefited them and only them – to district 4 or the middle class areas. The media would remain here for the rest of the game. On their first turn, the United Nations players asked,
“So you get points if the media is watching but what happens if they aren’t there and you save all those people?”
To which we replied,
“You know that you did a fantastic job saving all those people! The response effort as a whole becomes more stable.”
To that answer, the UN and NGO player began to concentrate on “Media Outreach.” The UN did this by distributing teams and resources wherever the media was in addition to maintaining a presence within the Media Outreach portion of the cluster. The NGO player, who was stuck without any ability to import resources due to few infrastructure being placed at the airport or dock until turn 3, sat inside the “Media Outreach” box giving themselves points for the duration of the game. It was not until week 2 – 3 turns into the game – that the NGOs began to send resources out into the field. Instead, they concentrated on placing individuals inside the “Rescue” boxes on the districts. This way, the NGOs would be represented should the media move. This tactic worked well for them as at the end of the game, the NGO was well ahead of everyone else in terms of Operations Points.
At the end of the game, we asked the room what they thought of the game. Overall, they liked what they played. They felt that the tensions were realistic even if the act of what they were doing was not. They felt a little distressed that they began to think about what they were doing in terms of points. The selfishness of what they were doing left them quite shocked. From my perspective as a facilitator, they were noticing that their role as leaders of a particular organization was clouding their ideas about what it was that they were doing. Along those lines, I didn’t start using the expansion cards until Week 2. I have a feeling if I had started using them at the beginning of the game, things would have been very different as the expansion cards concentrate on empathy and vulnerability instead of simply numbers.
Along with that selfishness, they also notice that they didn’t speak to other teams. Each turn, the active player would walk up to the game board to discuss their move. When each team was at the table discussing their possibilities, the other teams whispered among themselves what they’d like to do. Often, they ignored most of what the active player said.
As facilitator, I tried to get them to work more together but it only really occurred once when the Carana player drew the Coordination Card that allowed them to resolve an event at the end of their turn. The Carana group fared the worst out of all of the players as they were the target of Locally Engaged Staff as well as inundated with mostly Shelter for the duration of the game. At one point, they stood at the front of the table looking at the UN and the NGOs in the Media Outreach box and said something to the effect of,
“You know, we should put someone there to force them to actually play the game.”
The role of the media in this game influenced what the players did far more than any game I have played, solo, team-based, or with my wife. That it came to matter for a room full of students in a technology-based course was not surprising.
PaxSims concentrates on wargame and simulation use within those disciplines that concern themselves with conflict, peacebuilding, and development. However, there is incredible opportunity outside those realms with AFTERSHOCKRex’s game a unique opportunity for teaching and learning. The tensions, the randomized interaction between the groups, and multi-dimensional thought processes the game requires will loosen up that undergraduate fear of speaking aloud. AFTERSHOCKwill help your students see unique perspectives that cannot be taught or learned in a book.
PAXsims is pleased to present some recent items on conflict simulation and serious (and not-so-serious) gaming that may be of interest to our readers. This latest edition was coauthored with Devin Ellis. Thanks are also due to Paul Strong, Yuna Wong, Tom Mouat, and James Sterrett for pointing out some of the other items we have included. We always welcome your suggestions for material to include, so keep them coming!
The ongoing response to the Deputy SecDef initiative on revitalizing wargaming continues as different services, staffs, and organizations get their views into writing slowly but surely. One of the latest is this piece by CAPT Dale Rielage, in the US Naval Institute’s Proceedings magazine: “Wargaming Must Get Red Right.”
The piece is fairly basic in its observation of the link between quality red cells and quality wargame results, but it does include some interesting tidbits, such as a description of PACFLEET’s current red teaming practices:
There already are efforts across the fleet and key shore commands to increase the fidelity of Red play in specific events. Pacific Fleet has established an in-house Red Team. Dubbed the Pacific Naval Aggressor Team, it takes the role of adversary decision makers in fleet-sponsored war games. The team is drawn from N2/N39 personnel, who are assigned specific country and warfare areas that fit their backgrounds and experiences. They keep this focus area throughout their tours, building experience and insight. Depending on the requirements of the game being supported, the team is augmented by subject-matter experts from across the intelligence and operational communities.
The “Working Group 3: Adjudication” report from the October 2016 MORS special meeting on wargaming is now available from here.
The key recommendations of the Working Group were as follows:
The Wargaming Community and Senior Leadership get together and address the institutional barriers thrown up by DoD to the professional development of the wargaming community.
The Wargaming Community’s chains of command provide time and resources for adjudication and wargaming professional development.
The Wargaming Community develop and document educational and training materials, including an adjudication bibliography.
The Wargaming Community and Senior Leadership systematically identify which barriers and their possible mitigations are relevant to the unique circumstances of each organization that sponsors or does wargaming and applies the mitigations to the barriers.
The wargaming community continues a rigorous and disciplined continuation of this workshop’s results, both in their own organizations and together at workshops and conferences.
MORS sets up and maintains web sites that support each Working Group to maintain momentum.
As AFP reports, the incoming US presidential administration has been playing games—crisis games, that is:
Members of Donald Trump’s cabinet arrived at the White House Friday for a series of crisis simulations designed to prepare them for taking office next week.
Current cabinet secretaries as well as Trump’s national security advisor, Mike Flynn, and his state and defense picks Rex Tillerson and James Mattis are among those taking part.
The White House said the tabletop exercises will go over previous crises like natural disasters and national security emergencies and game out hypothetical future scenarios.
“Some (are) related to domestic emergency response, the response to a natural disaster or a significant weather event, for example,” said White House press secretary Josh Earnest.
“It also will include some foreign policy and national security exercises as well.”
One wonders if they included simulated random tweets from the President (and no, that’s not a real tweet above).
In partnership with the Migration Policy Institute, Games for Change is hosting a $10,000 migrant game design challenge that hopes to inspire the creation of a digital game that connects existing and migrating communities:
The integration of migrant populations has always been an important issue faced by many countries all around the world. Integration is a two-way street, with native-born and immigrant populations both experiencing significant change, challenges and opportunity. How can a game help people understand and work through concerns over perceived job competition and changes in the cultural fabric while recognizing the economic, linguistic, and cultural benefits that can accrue to the broader society when immigrants can also succeed? How can a game experience emphasize community engagement to help migrants and their neighbors improve their understanding of each other?
You’ll find full details here. The deadline for submission is February 15.
On January 11, Dr. Yuna Wong (RAND) gave a presentation on the Joint Irregular Warfare Analytic Baseline (JIWAB) study to the MORS Wargame Community of Practice. I was teaching at the time and missed her presentation, but you’ll find here slides here (ppt).
The Joint Irregular Warfare Analytic Baseline (JIWAB) study was a multi-year effort by the U.S. Marine Corps to demonstrate analytic methods better suited to irregular warfare than quantitative computer models and simulations. Multiple methods were used in combination to create and develop scenarios, understand conflict drivers and mitigators, and create potential U.S. responses. This article discusses the use of these methods, which included approaches such as general morphological analysis, wargaming, adaptations of conflict assessment frameworks, and others. This article also describes the larger context for the study within the wider defense analytic community.
The extent to which pseudoexperiments, whether war games or combat/ campaign simulations, are scientific depends wholly on the character of their execution. “Electronic computers, game-theoretic models, and statistical formulas are but instruments after all; it is not they that produce scientific results but the investigator who uses them.”Neither type of simulation is inherently more scientific than the other. The principal difference is that combat/campaign simulation is analytical—reducing the problem to constituent pieces—while war gaming emphasizes synthesis—ensuring all relevant factors are considered, including how they work together.
War gaming and large-scale computer-based combat/campaign simulation differ little in their inability to predict quantitative outcomes. The scientific value of the pseudoexperiment lies in the objectivity, rigor, and usefulness of the theory the pseudoexperiment represents. This includes the motivations, tastes and beliefs, and expertise of all the participants, including the client.
War gaming has a record of anticipating factors that largely govern outcomes, thus preventing surprise. Because DoD has used combat/campaign simulation for quantitative prediction, its performance at comparing quantitative results of combat models with actual combat has been less accurate and less reliable than that of war gaming that explored the processes and nonquantitative features that would affect a campaign most. Whereas those commanding and conducting operations rarely have the motivation and skills to become deeply involved in combat/campaign modeling, they can make the time and do have the skills to participate in war gaming. Repeated war gaming can provide firsthand experiences to limit surprise and facilitate recognitive decision making that allows rapid adaptation to emerging situations.
Using governing factors uncovered through war gaming, detailed computer models, campaign analyses, or other techniques to create simple models of the phenomena requires much more analytical skill than adding detailed models of additional processes to existing computer models. Simpler models provide greater understanding with appropriate precision than complicated computer models with large numbers of variables that give an appearance of precision but whose range of uncertainty is difficult to estimate and grows with the uncertainty of each parameter added and the square root of the number of variables.
Returning to the roots of operations research—observing, modeling operations, and collecting data in the field—is an essential aspect of a cycle of research. Work in the field yields data and knowledge that increase understanding of which concepts actually work and which do not, and provides essential data for use in computer and war-gaming simulation.
Although the discussion of questions and possibilities raised by developments in complexity sciences is incomplete, it suggests a need to reexamine combat models and to extend analytical techniques to add the rigor of appropriate techniques to combat simulation.
The Pentagon needs to overhaul its analysis paradigm if it is to meet growing security challenges with limited budgets. Overhauling the Pentagon’s analysis paradigm again will require interdisciplinary teams of scientists—from both hard and social sciences, and with an appreciation for the humanities—interacting in analysis campaigns and cycles of research. Client and contractor use and abuse of need-to-know security barriers and proprietary restrictions on studies present formidable obstacles to implementing scientific standards in DoD studies.
Between August 15 and August 22, 2016, Wikistrat ran an online simulation to identify existing and prospective partnerships for the U.S. Navy (USN), outline the main challenges in achieving success in those partnerships, propose solutions for overcoming those challenges, and red-team the proposed solutions.
Participating analysts were divided into two groups:
Group Alpha: 17 analysts role-played the U.S. Navy
Group Bravo: 20 analysts role-played prospective partners
Each of the groups progressed simultaneously through four rounds, building out a framework based upon problem-solving methodology.
Besides the simple fact that it’s fun, Settlers of Catan (together with gin rummy, which I’ll discuss in another post) is the best representation of international relations in game form. And it raises fascinating questions about the nature of rules and how we create them — questions that are unfolding on the international stage today.
Cooperation in a Competitive World
Some games, like Pandemic, are almost entirely cooperative. On the other end of the spectrum are games like Risk — either entirely zero-sum (“my gain is someone else’s loss”), based too much on chance, or both.
Settlers gets it just right. It’s basically competitive and zero-sum; you have to build and grow your settlements, cities, and roads to get to ten points before anyone else. There’s a finite amount of the space and resources necessary to expand. The robber and certain bonus cards allow players to go on the offensive against other players. There’s a good chance players will be at each others’ throats as the game winds on.
But on the margins, economic interdependence allows for some cooperation. Players can only start off with a certain amount of the necessary resources. Some territories are more productive than others. Yet at various points in the game, any player will need brick, wood, iron ore, etc. So, players trade their comparative advantages; a player with a surplus of iron ore can exchange with a player who has a surplus of brick. Both benefit.
I’m not at all sure that it is the best simulation of international relations in game form. Moreover, despite apparent mutual benefits from trade—and unlike real global politics—Settlers of Catan is still a game which can only have one winner. In this sense, while trade may appear mutually beneficial, if it shifts your opponent closer to winning than it shifts you it’s a bad move. Ultimately, that’s a variant of non-cooperative, near-zero-sum play.
As a power projection nation, our deployment options may become more limited. We have to think through the implications of forward basing in theater versus basing in the United States and deploying only for a crisis. Our enemies and allies see the increasing density of A2/AD systems globally. It is essential we modify our planning accordingly. Wargaming must examine the operational impacts of fighting a variety of enemies with long-range sea and air precision strike. China will not be the only power to own such systems. Just as importantly, wargaming must explore the political implications when an enemy can threaten other nations that support our deployment chain. (Japan, for example, is crucial to any effort to help defend South Korea and could easily be targeted by the North Korean regime in time of war.) Accordingly, we must seek methods to attack an opponent’s strategy rather than simply destroying its forces.
We need wide-ranging research and supporting analysis as well as wargames to address key questions. Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work’s memorandum on wargaming is a very strong first step. Continuing research is required to answer a wide range of questions:
Most importantly, how can strategy neutralize potential opponents’ strategies? For instance, how do we counter the perception that China may be able to exclude U.S. forces from the region? What steps can we take to assure allies that in fact we can honor our treaty obligations?
How do we protect those nations providing support as we do so—in particular, the politically sensitive targets that can be attacked with long-range, precise, but relatively low-explosive-weight weapons?
If we forward deploy, how dispersed will forward forces have to be to survive? How much would we have to invest in hardening forward bases versus investing in protecting stateside bases and building the lift necessary to deploy?
What are the political/alliance costs if we choose to station fewer forces forward?
Are we willing to employ long-range strike from the United States if we know the enemy can reply in kind? • Once forces are deployed, how do they operate in the presence of swarms of smart weapons?
Do we need to deploy more forces forward to ensure they are there for the fight? Or should we just preposition the equipment and supplies? Or are both supplies and forces safer out of the potential theater of operation?
The Journal of Political Science Education, now with a new editorial team under the leadership of Victor Asal, is looking for contributions:
Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (editors: Mitchell Brown and Shane Nordyke): Submissions should use the highest standard of evidence in writing about evidence-based approaches to teaching practices and encourage assessment of such teaching and practices. Submissions can be diverse in terms of topic, analytic approach, and levels of analysis, but must maintain systematic methodological approaches. Length of manuscript may range from 3,000-8,000 words, and research notes between 2,000-5,000 words. Authors of accepted papers will be required to make datasets publicly available online through their choice of venue or provide a compelling rationale if they are unable to do so.
Political Science Instruction (editor: Joseph Roberts): Submissions should focus on innovative teaching cases that discuss useful pedagogy, including strategies, games, and experiential learning in teaching political science to diverse audiences. They should also be organized around real classroom problems and potential solutions. Submissions may range in length from 2,000-4,000 words.
Reflections on Teaching and the Academy (editor: Mark Johnson): Submissions should be from experienced scholar-teachers that focus on reflections on timely and important teaching topics that include transitioning between institutional types, teaching under-prepared students, training graduate students for teaching careers, and other issues. Submissions may range in length from 1,000-2,000 words.
Books, Teaching Tools, & Educational Resources (editor: J. Cherie Strachan): Submissions should help readers identify available new books, software and resources, and to improve classroom and co-curricular learning experiences through reviews of textbooks, pedagogy tools and other related resources. Submissions may range in length from 500-2,000 words.
The purpose of this document is to help you think through the decisions you need to make about exercise design and administration. It will also give you ideas on how to make the documents you need to implement those decisions. I recognize that the formal guidelines set out in other places may not always be realistic for reasons of time, staffing, or money. I hope that this document will help you think through the critical planning issues and get the most out of whatever resources you can muster.Throughout, you will find that I emphasize the need for you to develop your own system of exercise planning, one that meets your needs and can be truly effective without adding a lot to existing organization or resources. If you can read nothing else, read the segment called “Early Decisions” located in the section on Planning Committees. It will set you on the course to having clearly defined goals, responsibilities, expectations, and reporting.
This document does not replace guidance provided by other agencies. It is intended to help you think through your exercise process, which may include the need to follow specific guidelines from regulatory or granting organizations*. It is divided into 12 sections.
EXERCISE SUPPORT AND FACILITATION
EXERCISE INFORMATION PACKETS
ASSESSMENT AND INTEGRATION OF RESULTS
Each section contains suggestions for planning and documentation, but you will certainly find other things that need tracking. The suggestions should be used as starting points. Depending on your needs, you may want to adapt other organizations’ materials or create your own planning documents.The most important thing is that the information is captured in a form that exercise planners can easily use and update.
Judgement-based OA (called ‘soft’ OA in the academic world to contrast with ‘hard’, mathematics-based OA) is increasingly used to support defence and security decision making both at national and NATO levels. Such decisions need to be defensible when subject to scrutiny and decision makers must have confidence that the material presented to them is the best available so that the decision risk is contained. However, judgement-based analysis cannot be subjected to conventional tests of mathematical rigour, so an alternative strategy is needed.
This volume is directed to the clients of such judgement-based OA studies. These include decision makers, study sponsors, end users and other stakeholders. Its purpose is to:
Create an understanding of what judgement-based OA is, and what it can offer;
Identify the requirements for the client group in sponsoring and guiding judgement-based OA studies; and
Show how a judgement-based OA study is carried out in order to maximise the validity, credibility and acceptance of the study and its outcomes.
The analyst-oriented volume of the Guide (“Code of Best Practice for ‘Soft’ Operational Analysis”, the CoBP itself) describes the overall study methodology, the study process, the ‘actors’ involved and their roles and responsibilities, the achievement of validity, credibility and acceptance, and the communication with the client. The TG proposes that its work be complemented by an education program to introduce the opportunities offered by judgement-based OA to decision-making bodies within NATO and Partner Nations, and to show how to make best use of it. It is expected that once published, the CoBP will be reviewed and revised in the light of experience in practice. A third volume is a brief summarising brochure for (high-level, ‘executive’) decision makers explaining key aspects.
The adoption of the Guide is expected to increase significantly the acceptance of judgement-based studies within the military and defence-oriented operational analyst communities. This will, in turn, be beneficial to the quality of defence decision making through the enhancement of the versatility of OA support, to both operations and in longer term support of strategy and defence planning.
Not every wargame leads to an actual real-world nuclear crisis—but the Able Archer 83 exercise conducted by SACEUR may have, and remains the subject of much debate (apologies to Peter Perla and everyone else who is going to quibble with me, I know Able Archer is more accurately a live exercise, not a ‘wargame’).
Nate Jones of the National Security Archive has just come out with a new book which makes a huge and important contribution to the analysis of the so-called “War Scare” of 1982-84. He publishes and analyzes for the first time a trove of newly declassified documents showing that the Soviets actually were much more alarmed than has sometimes been argued at the beginning of the Reagan administration – especially around issues of a decapitating first strike, which seemed very real to them with the potential placement of the early generation of cruise missiles in Western Europe (TLDR: their range was not sufficient to neutralize key Soviet strategic missile sites, but WAS sufficient to hit Moscow—so it seemed like a departure from Mutually Assured Destruction, and a move towards first strike capability).
The centerpiece document is the 1990 review by the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board (PFIAB), which concluded that the intelligence community had indeed misunderstood or ignored signs of Soviet alarm, and systematically downplayed the risks of escalation in official assessments. It goes on to explore some of the ways in which the Able Archer exercise fit into developing Soviet analysis of what cover for a U.S. first strike might look like (including some of the bomber deployments used), and led to alarming potential escalation.
Beyond the overall theme, two interesting notes for wargamers: one of the declassified documents is the AAR from Able Archer 83 – a very interesting read to those of us nerds out there, with great capture of the scenario, as well as the lessons learned from the game managers. Also, this conclusion from the PFIAB analysis:
In cases of great importance to the survival of our nation, and especially where there is important contradictory evidence, the Board believes that intelligence estimates must be cast in terms of alternative scenarios that are subjected to comparative risk assessment.
Without reflecting on any subsequent chapters in U.S. intelligence analysis where alternative scenarios and risk assessments might have been warranted… I think most of our readership would agree that sounds like a call to arms for more red-teaming and more gaming!