Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Simulation & Gaming (April 2023)

Simulation & Gaming 54, 2 (April 2023) is now available.


  • Why is Serious Gaming Important? Let’s Have a Chat! 
    • Marlies P. Schijven and Toshiko Kikkawa

Theoretical Article

  • Planning an Escape: Considerations for the Development of Applied Escape Rooms 
    • Shawn M. Doherty, Andrew C. Griggs, Elizabeth H. Lazzara, Joseph R. Keebler, Bruce L. Gewertz, and Tara N. Cohen


  • Mechanics and Experience in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare: Opportunities for Civic Empathy 
    • Taylor Milan Kessner and Luis Perez Cortes


  • Application of Mobile-Based Games in The Rehabilitation of Stroke Survivors 
    • Narges Norouzkhani, Mahsa Hamednia, and Shokoufeh Aalaei

Short Research Article

  • Player Experience and Enjoyment: A Preliminary Examination of Differences in Video Game Genre 
    • Sean Eshuis, Kay Pozzebon, Andrew Allen, and Lee Kannis-Dymand

Research Article 

  • Richard D. Duke: Systems Thinker, Game Science Founder & Beloved Mentor 
    • Heide Karen Lukosch

WACN game design video

I did a presentation on We Are Coming, Nineveh! recently for the San Diego Historical Games Convention, discussing both the Battle of Mosul and how it is represented in the wargame design. Here it is for those who might be interested.

We Are Coming, Nineveh! is published by Nuts! Publishing.

Breakthrough: Arctic Albatros demos (Toronto, March 23 and 24)

Archipelago of Design will be hosting demonstrations of their Breakthrough: Arctic Albatros game in Toronto on March 23 and 24.

Breakthrough: Arctic Albatross is a turn-based mystery investigation wargame. Breakthrough puts players in situations that enable them to seamlessly develop complex strategy-making capabilities. The Arctic Albatross scenario takes place in Inuuqatigiit, a fictitious former hamlet in the Canadian Arctic in 2040. With the Northwest Passage becoming a viable alternative to the Panama canal, Inuuqatigiit is becoming a global trading hub. Yet, its development is at stake. Following delays in the construction of major infrastructure projects, the Government of Canada summons players to investigate. What they may or may not uncover will shape the fate of the country, its allies and partners for decades to come.

The Thursday (March 23) session will take place from 6pm to 9pm at OCAD U Waterfront Campus, 130 Queens Quay East, Toronto, Floor 4R, Room 424. You should register in advance using this form. For more information, contact Mikhial Gurarie

The Friday (March 24) session will take place from 1pm to 5pm at the Esri Canada offices, 4th floor, 1600 Carling Avenue. For more information contact Michele Mastroeni at

Simulation and gaming miscellany, 21 March 2023

Some recent items on conflict simulation and serious (and not-so-serious) gaming that may be of interest to PAXsims readers.

Marine Corps Times features an article on Littoral Commander, including an interview with Sebastian Bae

“I wanted Marines to understand Force Design 2030 and why these changes were happening and why the commandant was making the changes he was,” Bae said.

So, after years of wargaming in 2019 Bae started building his own game – Littoral Commander.

The game started as a weekend pet project, he said. The former infantryman couldn’t get many people interested in an educational game for enlisted.

The pandemic hitting in 2020 jumpstarted his wargame development, giving him more time than he’d had before to work on the design and concept, he said.

He finished the game in August 2020 and started testing it nearly nonstop through March 2021. He even ran it for leaders he knew at the Corps’ Expeditionary Warfare School.

Then, it kind of caught on but needed some smoothing of rough edges. Game design isn’t for the faint of heart.

You can find out more about the game at Board Game Geek and order it from the Dietz Foundation.

Japan’s Sasakawa Peace Foundation recently held a wargame to examine what might happen were Japan and the US to support Taiwan against a Chinese invasion of the island. According to a report by Nikkei Asia:

If Japan and the U.S. were to become involved in a conflict between China and Taiwan, they would be able to prevent Beijing’s takeover of the island, but at a heavy cost to their military personnel and equipment, think tank simulations show.

A tabletop wargame conducted by Japan’s Sasakawa Peace Foundation showed Japan losing as many as 144 fighter jets, with Self-Defense Forces casualties reaching up to 2,500. The U.S. could lose up to 400 jets with over 10,000 soldiers killed or wounded. But China would fail to seize control of the island.

The exercise imagined a cross-strait crisis in which China attempts an amphibious invasion of Taiwan in the year 2026. The simulation was conducted over four days through Jan. 21.

The roughly 30 participants included former Japan Self-Defense Force officers as well as academics and researchers from Japan and the U.S.

The war game pitted the Chinese against Japanese, U.S. and Taiwanese forces. The Chinese military established a command center for the Taiwan front capable of deploying all air, submarine and surface vessel capabilities. The U.S. military responded by sending nuclear-powered aircraft carriers and state-of-the-art fighter jets to areas in and around Taiwan.

Maritime Self-Defense Force warships, along with the fleet of F-35 fighters in the Air Self-Defense Force, took part in missile attacks against Chinese forces.

China was eventually overwhelmed by the U.S.-Japan response, with the conflict ceasing in a little over two weeks. China’s military supply was cut off, and the final blow came when the coalition took control of airspace over Taiwan.

All told, China lost 156 warships, including two carriers, along with 168 fighter jets and 48 military transport aircraft, according to the scenario. More than 40,000 soldiers were killed or wounded.

The takeaway was that although a Chinese military takeover of Taiwan was thwarted, it came at heavy human and material costs to the self-governed island, the U.S. and Japan.

Taiwan saw 13,000 soldiers dead and wounded in the conflict, including prisoners of war, and lost 18 warships and 200 warplanes. U.S. casualties added up to 10,700 people, with the loss of 19 ships and 400 warplanes.

The JSDF lost 15 vessels and 144 fighter jets, including F-35s and F-2s. Japanese bases were targeted by China, resulting 2,500 casualties among SDF personnel. Civilian casualties ranged from a few hundred people to more than 1,000.

At The Strategist, Marcus Schultz argues that “Wargaming will be a key to strengthening deterrence in the Indo-Pacific.”

A lack of funding for training would hamper the US military’s ability to compete in the Indo-Pacific and undermine efforts to reinforce deterrence. This is compounded by the fact that the tyranny of distance reduces opportunities for large multinational exercises to deliver the kind of wargaming experimentation that is urgently needed. Radically different and innovative wargaming exercises are now necessary to support and test joint warfighting concepts in anticipation of a crisis.

Wargames are analytical experiments that simulate aspects of warfare at the strategic, operational or tactical level. They are used to examine warfighting concepts, explore scenarios and assess how force planning and posture choices affect campaign outcomes. Wargames are designed to foster critical thinking and innovation and help prepare commanders and analysts for future challenges.

The US Army’s ‘project convergence’ is described as a campaign of learning designed to evaluate dozens of new and improved weapon systems and other technologies, including autonomous systems and network-focused technologies. Supporting five core elements—soldiers, weapons systems, command and control, information and terrain—the inaugural exercise concentrated on what the army calls the ‘close fight’ by integrating new enabling technologies at the lowest operational level so that tactical networks could facilitate faster decision-making. The second iteration focused on live-fire events and ways to incorporate artificial intelligence, machine learning, autonomy, robotics and common data standards into decision-making processes across multiple domains of operations.

While most associate wargaming with tabletop exercises simulating future conflict, the project convergence exercises incorporate comprehensive boots-on-the-ground activities to test the practical elements of joint operations with the other US services and allied militaries.

The US Naval War College recently posted a report discussing its War Gaming Introductory Course.

The war gaming course attendees’ responsibilities vary on tactical, operational, and strategic levels of war. But all are important to national defense. As such, 45 people – connected by mission – attended the latest iteration of the War Gaming Introductory Course (aka War Gaming 101) held January 17 –26, 2023 at the U.S. Naval War College (NWC). Students consisted of War Gaming Department (WGD) enlisted personnel and military faculty officers, other NWC military faculty, military officers from the Joint Staff J7, and government civilians from the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Space Command, and various U.S. Navy organizations. The represented organizations will be either creators of, contributors to, or consumers of war games.

As a fundamental research area for the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations (OPNAV), war gaming offered by the WGD is an integral part of NWC’s academic programming and provides critical insight into how and why leaders make decisions in maritime and joint warfare. A joint venture between the WGD and Joint Military Operations (JMO) department, and now in its ninth year, War Gaming 101 provides value using a multi-pronged approach that creates knowledge for a diverse group of attendees. Each department uses wargaming for a different purpose: teaching in JMO as opposed to research in WGD. And each department contributes faculty to the course to help illustrate the different applications of war games depending on environment. The course is directed by Shawn Burns, Ed.D., an NWC professor and war game director and Richard Wilbur, assistant course director, NWC war gaming specialist, former surface warfare officer, and retired foreign service officer.

Originally designed to introduce new WGD members, War Gaming 101 has been restructured to accommodate an increase in the breadth of organizations enrolling course participants. Its objective is multi-faceted: outlining the process used to create and analyze war games; exploring the origins, nature, methods, and limits of war gaming; providing essential resources to course participants; and enabling ongoing partnerships that facilitate a larger military objective. Over the eight-day period, presenters offer a series of war gaming classes and practical application activities to help new faculty. They also gain access to more experienced colleagues who serve as mentors over the span of their careers.

What have the wargaming section at the Canadian Joint Warfare Centre been up to lately? They’ve been running space games!

Liz Davidson’s Beyond Solitaire Podcast #107 featured Ian Brown (The Krulak Center) discussing his work at the Krulak Center, his interest in professional wargaming, and some of his own upcoming designs.

The Marine Corps Tactics and Operations Group podcast recent featured a discussion on “wargaming as training” with Maj Zachary Schwartz and SSgt David Wood.

Wargaming isn’t just something that goes on at think tanks in the Beltway, it is an indispensable part of a unit training plan. In this episode we discuss why and how you can start wargaming with your unit right now.

You can find it at Spotify.

MERLIN is an offensive cyber operations wargame from CNA. You can hear more about it at the video below.

Humanitarian Partnerships Weeks take place this year on 17-21 April (remote participation) and 24-28 April (in-person and hybrid participation, Geneva). As usual, the event will feature a number of presentations on simulation and gaming in the humanitarian sector:

  • Capitalizing on GDACS automated modelling for scenario-based simulation exercises
  • Natural Disaster Preparedness Supported by Simulation
  • Humanitarian negotiation simulation
  • Natural Disaster Preparedness Supported by Simulation
  • Training the Next Generation of Aid Workers: Serious Games in Action
  • Training the Next Generation of Humanitarian Workers Through University Simulation Exercises – An Interactive Workshop

LOGOPS is modern French combat logistics wargame designed by Pytharec and Yann Schmidt for the l’École de Guerre-Terre:

“LOGOPS” vise à disposer d’un wargame didactique destiné à sensibiliser les tacticiens et entraîner les logisticiens au soutien d’une division capable de représenter les trois paramètres clés que sont les ressources, les potentiels et la sureté. 

Pour remplir sa mission, le joueur met en oeuvre des capacités correspondant aux moyens dont dispose ou pourrait disposer legroupement de soutien de la division. 

L’objectif de victoire consiste à maintenir un potentiel de combat plus élevé que son adversaire jusqu’à la destruction tactique de ce dernier. 

Pour l’atteindre, chaque équipe doit ainsi non seulement garantir la capacité opérationnelle des unités mais également régénérer dans les plus brefs délais les pertes subies, ce en dépit desmenaces pesant sur la zone des soutiens

At LinkedIn, Natalia Wojtowicz describes a recent joint warghame of Safety and Security Management Studies and the Belgian Defence College.

What is the best day at the office? A day out! This week we took the Wargaming Project on the road to Brussels. Safety and Security Management Studies always speak of bringing the students to expertise – directly applying what they learn in lectures. Well, we went one step further this time. To challenge students with wargaming on an operational level – creating plans for offensive and defensive maritime and air campaigns. The outcome? Under time pressure, rapid research, and divided tasks within groups, we have a winning plan!

The next Serious Play conference will be held in Toronto on 11-13 October 2023. Details can be found here.

Board Game Academics is calling for proposals for its first annual academic conference on 2 August 2023, with presentations held virtually and in-person during Gen Con’s Trade Day in Indianapolis.

Connections North 2023 registration open

Registration is now open for the Connections North professional (war)gaming conference. This will be held at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa on 9 June 2023.

CONNECTIONS NORTH is an annual conference devoted to conflict simulation, wargaming, and other serious games. It is intended for national security professionals, policymakers, researchers, educators, game designers, university students, and others interested in the field of the use of serious games for analysis, planning, education, and training. This year’s conference will address:

  • The state of serious gaming across Canada, with two panels devoted to national security gaming and other educational and policy gaming respectively.
  • Gaming ethical challenges.
  • Building and gaming future perspectives: Canadian perspectives.

In addition, there will be time available for networking, game demonstrations, and touring the War Museum’s new wargaming exhibition. We also promise that the temperatures for this year’s conference will also be a little warmer than the sub-zero chill of our usual February date!

We are grateful for support from Defence Research and Development Canada and the Canadian War Museum for the conference. Connections North is a proud cosponsor of the Derby House Principles on diversity and inclusion in professional wargaming. Information on previous Connections North conferences can be found here.

NATO wargame design challenge

NATO is sponsoring a wargame design challenge, intended to identify innovative ways to design wargames in support of NATO operations. The winners will be invited to an Award Ceremony at the Wargaming Initiative for NATO 2023 (Rome, 26-27 Jun 2023) at NATO’s expense. The winning solution will also receive design and/or development support from the NATO Innovation Hub and Fight Club International.

The contest is not asking for a fully-developed wargame, but rather a detailed proposal that would address:

  • purpose
  • intended impact
  • target audience
  • players
  • scenario
  • dimensions and domains
  • objectives and winning conditions
  • game system
  • game space
  • gameplay
  • core mechanics and concepts
  • other mechanics
  • adjudication and combat scoring
  • innovation

Proposals will be assessed for innovation, usefulness, feasibility, and model accuracy. Full information can be found at the link above.

The submission deadline in 30 April 2023. The NATO Wargame Design Challenge is cosponsored by Fight Club International, NATO Allied Command Transformation, and the NATO Innovation Hub, and is part of the Wargaming Initiative for NATO (WIN). A PAXsims report on the WIN 22 conference in Paris can be found here.

Forthcoming MORS wargaming courses

The Military Operations Research Society has several forthcoming courses and talks on different aspects of wargaming:

Information can be found at the links above. For all forthcoming MORS events, consult their events page.

Elizabeth Joslyn joins PAXsims as a Research Associate

We are pleased to announce that Elizabeth “Betsy” Joslyn has joined PAXsims as a Research Associate for 2023-34.

Betsy is a research associate for the Joint Advanced Warfighting Division at the Institute for Defense Analyses and designer of the microgame Turning Tides, which features competing interests between powers to reduce global greenhouse gases at a geopolitical level. She previously served as a wargaming team lead for a national security think tank in DC, as a congressional liaison for the Department of Transportation, and as a rural aquaculture specialist in Zambia as a Peace Corps volunteer. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Applied Chemistry from Bridgewater College and a Masters in Science in Terrorism and Homeland Security Policy from American University. Her fields of interest include cooperation and competition between hegemonic powers, historical wargames, and wargaming for the next generation.

Votes for Women: Growing (war)gaming with new themes

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

In the last decade, the boardgame industry has had an unprecedented surge. The global boardgame market value is currently estimated between $11 billion and $13.4 billion and is projected to grow in just the next 5 years.[1]

One of the driving elements of this surge is connected to the rewarding sense of community and fun that gameplay elicits. In addition, many of us find ourselves slowly crawling out of Gollum’s COVID-cave blinded by excessive computer screen lighting and desperate for some human interaction. Board games have come to the rescue. 

To match the demand, there has been an explosion of new games from not only seasoned game designers like Volko Ruhnke and Jamey Stegmaier, but also of new game designers such as Kevin Bertram, founder of Fort Circle Games and Tory Brown, who was empowered by Fort Circles to design the game Votes for Women.

A historical view of wargames and traditional table top games shows us that many of these games were made by men for men and usually feature topics, characters and strategies represented in gendered ways.[2] The recent uptick in game design and game play has given way to more categories and themes, prettier boxes and higher quality game pieces. In many cases, the rules are simpler and there are more offerings that focus on cooperation rather than competition.[3] The result of these significant additions has opened the gaming community, expanding the player base and inspiring topics and themes within the genre of gaming that have not yet been tapped. Despite the bigger game table, your average gaming organization, club, and community still seem to be male dominated.  

In a recent review of gender dynamics in boardgames, Tanya Pobuda, found that 92.6 per cent of the designers of the 400 top-ranked board games on BoardGameGeek were men. After reviewing 1,974 figures from board game cover art analyses, Pobuda’s analysis showed that male imagery was predominant. Images of men and boys represented 76.8 per cent of the human representation on covers, or 647 images in games such as Great Western Trail (2016) and War of the Ring: Second Edition (2012), compared to 23.2 per cent of the images of women and girls, which represented only 195 of the images counted as seen in games with more gender representation like Arkham Horror: The Card Game (2016) and Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 (2015).[4]

All this say, there are still more men sitting at the table than there are women. I recently had the opportunity to interview Tory Brown to discuss her game that was publicly released in December 2022. Votes for Women, a card driven game on the ratification of the 19th Amendment, captures and celebrates the struggle by inviting players to join the suffrage movement, organize support, and campaign for victory across the 48 states in 1919-1920. Tory’s game is highly relevant to the centennial celebration of Women’s Suffrage Movement, but another significant biproduct of a game on women’s rights has appropriately inspired more women to play games.[5]

During our conversation, Tory noted that “for many people, gaming is an escape. It’s a reprieve from day to day responsibilities; an activity to do with friends and peers. In terms of wargaming, it is not a usually a family activity. However, there are many gamers who want to include their loved ones in an activity they love so much. That being said, their wives and daughters might not be as interested in battling (or sometimes playing) Nazis as much as they are.” Rather than using trickery to get new players to the table, it is so much more effective and rewarding to coax new players with a story that they can resonate with and connect with. 

“People see Votes for a Women as an entry point,” Tory commented. “Dads especially want to play this game with their wives, with their daughters, with their loved ones. In this way, Votes for Women has become the vehicle that men are using to bring the women in their lives to the gaming table as it hits a sweet spot for people that want to play something a little more complicated than Monopoly and want to play a game on an issue that retains some salience or resonance for them. Votes for Women will expose players to core ideas, concepts, and mechanics in a way that can make other games, like Twilight Struggle by Jason Matthew, more approachable and easier to understand because you’ve already mastered these elements at an entry level.” 

Bringing more women into gaming is crucial for two reasons. The first being that diverse players enrich gameplay by bringing different perspectives, and thus creative strategies, to the table. Divergent viewpoints encourage players to challenge biases.[6] Tory added “being tied to tradition creates a bias that can stifle innovation; yet, there is a language to game play and game design.” Tory’s expertise highlights that understanding that language can unlock the ability to take stories that resonate with people resonate and create an educational and engaged experience via games. In theme with the game, a fresh perspective on game design seems to fall perfectly in line with the vision of the suffrage movement in breaking traditional biases and showcasing the benefit of diverse representation. 

The second benefit is that a diverse gaming demand will inspire more diverse game designs. As mentioned earlier, one of the reasons we see more male game players is typically because many of these boardgames have been made for men by men. As the player base becomes more diverse, the demand for more diverse games will increase, prompting even more games that cover and address topics and themes that have seldom been explored and that deeply resonate with society.

Votes for Women is so much more than an excellent historical and artistic review of a crucial moment in history. It is so much more than an extremely relevant and educational lesson on campaigning strategies and ratification challenges. This is a story that men, women, gamers, and the gamers to be have joined so that the boardgame torch can be carrying to new heights. If it’s not on your shelf, it should be.

[1] Jesse Maida, “Board Games Market Value is Set to Grow by USD 3.02 Billion from 2021 to 2026, Increasing Digitization of Board Games to be the Premium Trend,” Technavio, 8 March 2022.  

[2] Matt Shoemaker, An Overview of the History and Design of Tabletop Wargames in Relation to Gender: From Tactics to Strategy, (Routledge, 2019).

[3] Jaclyn Peiser, “We’re in a golden age of board games. It might be here to stay. Despite our addiction to screens, the card and table top games industry is thriving,” Washington Post, 24 December 2022.

[4] Tanya Pobuda, “Why Is Board Gaming So White And Male? I’m Trying To Figure That Out,” Kotaku, 21 May 2022.  

[5] Tory Brown, Votes for Women (Fort Circle Games, 2022). Fort Circle Games itself is one of the cosponsors of the Derby House Principles on diversity and inclusion in professional wargaming.

[6] D. van Knippenberg, D., C. K. W De Dreu, and A.C. Homan, “Work Group Diversity and Group Performance: An Integrative Model and Research Agenda,” Journal of Applied Psychology 89, 6 (2004), 1008–1022. 

Are games disinformation tools?

The Disinformation and Games Research Group (Concordia University) will he hosting an online panel discussion on “Are Games Disinformation Tools?” on Friday, 17 March 2023 at 1200 EST.

Focused on the overlap of disinformation and games, this panel discusses the state of research in the field, areas in need of attention, and how to not only study but make an impact in this key area. The panel also signifies the launch of the Games and Disinformation Research Project at Concordia University and the establishment of a global network of scholars pursuing work in this area.

Dr. Adrienne Massanari: an Associate Professor in the School of Communication at American University. Prior to joining AU she was Associate Professor in the Department of Communication and affiliate faculty in Gender and Women’s Studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Her research interests include digital culture, online communities, platform politics, game studies, pop culture, and gender and race online. She is currently working on a book for MIT Press (Gaming Democracy: How Silicon Valley Leveled Up the Alt-Right) that discusses how Silicon Valley’s culture and politics contributed to the rise of the alt-right. Her 2015 book, Participatory Culture, Community, and Play: Learning from Reddit (Peter Lang), explored the unique culture of

Dr. Lindsay Grace: Knight Chair in Interactive Media and an associate professor at the University of Miami School of Communication. He is Vice President for the Higher Education Video Game Alliance and the 2019 recipient of the Games for Change Vanguard award. Lindsay’s book, Doing Things with Games, Social Impact through Design, is a well-received guide to game design. In 2020, he edited and authored Love and Electronic Affection: A Design Primer on designing love and affection in games. In 2021 he published the Amazon best seller, Black Game Studies: An Introduction to the Games, Game Makers and Scholarship of the African Diaspora.

Dr. Rachel Kowert: a research psychologist and the Research Director of Take This. She is a world-renowned researcher on the uses and effects of digital games, including their impact on physical, social, and psychological well-being. In her current work, she serves as one of the primary investigators on the first grant-funded project from the Department of Homeland Security about games and extremism. 

Étienne Quintal: the Manager of the Online Hate Research & Education Project. His research work is particularly focused on understanding the ways in which hate is promoted by and for young people. Based in Toronto, Étienne holds a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science, and recently completed a Master’s degree studying the use of emerging social media platforms by youth-oriented hate groups. 

Dr. Mia Consalvo: a Professor and Canada Research Chair in Game Studies and Design at Concordia University in Montreal. She is the co-author of Real Games: What’s Legitimate and What’s Not in Contemporary Videogames (2019) and Players and their Pets: Gaming Communities from Beta to Sunset (2015). Mia runs the mLab, a space dedicated to developing innovative methods for studying games and game players. She is the Past President of the Digital Games Research Association, and has held positions at MIT, Ohio University, Chubu University in Japan and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

You can register for the event via Eventbrite.

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.

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. 

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