PAXsims

Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Wargaming, bomber escorts, and the P-51 Mustang

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War is Boring has just published an excellent piece by James Perry Stevenson and Pierre Sprey on the P-51 Mustang fighter aircraft, highlighting the many doctrinal and bureaucratic battles that shaped its development during WWII. Among the points that are made: many early US army aviation wargames and exercises were designed to validate the flawed concept that fast bombers required no fighter escort, while later wargames and exercises that pointed to the vulnerabilities of unescorted bombers were ignored or reinterpreted.

Between World War I and World War II, bombers began flying higher and faster than existing obsolete biplane fighters. Still, the U.S. Army Air Corps’ bomber generals refused to foresee that enemy fighters might prevent the lumbering aircraft from always getting through to the target.

These officers even ran field exercises designed to support their premises of bomber invincibility. U.S. Army Lt. Col. Henry “Hap” Arnold, a leading bomber advocate who would eventually become chief of the service’s Air Corps, was particularly determined to prove this point.

“Exercises held in 1931 seem to reinforce the idea that fast bombers could fare well on their own,” military historian Dr. Tami Davis Biddle wrote in Rhetoric and Reality in Air Warfare. “Arnold reached this conclusion, as did the umpires, one of whom proclaimed: ‘[I]t is impossible for fighters to intercept bombers and therefore it is inconsistent with the employment of air force to develop fighters.’”

This rigid mindset became embedded in the Army’s air power strategy, its budget battles and its endless barrages of air power propaganda.
Within just a few years, however, fighter war games and actual air combat abroad provided ample evidence the Army Air Corps brass was committed to the wrong conclusion.

“[I]n 1933, … squadrons intercepted 55 percent of enemy day-formations as they flew toward the target, … another 26 percent as they left it; [and] 67 percent of individual night raiders were intercepted,” Biddle noted. “But what might have seemed clear defensive victories were not perceived as such: proponents of strategic bombing refused to grasp the devastating bomber attrition forecast by these exercise outcomes.”

“When assessing results, the bomber advocates created both formal rules and cognitive filters [to insure] they would see what they expected to see: the primacy of the aerial offensive waged by determined bombers,” she added. “The rules under which the exercise were run gave advantages to bombers, and umpire rulings explained away unexpected, [inconvenient] results.”

The piece highlights that wargames themselves take place in a broader institutional and doctrinal context, in which sponsors and participants may be anxious to have them serve other agendas. Of course, good wargame design can reduce some of these problems of bias and cognitive filtering. However, the design alone is not enough: serious gamers also need to think to about the broader processes within which their games are embedded.

Wallace: Wargaming needs new recruits

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At How Do We Get to Next?, Mark Wallace discusses the importance of expanding the ranks of professional national security gaming, and developing greater professional competencies in the field:

Since the early 19th century, the loose collection of military thought experiments known as wargames has been informing commanders on the eve of battle and at the height of cold wars. Wargames have guided significant tactical and strategic decisions in conflicts including World War II, the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and undoubtedly others we don’t even know about. Now, as part of a new emphasis at the Department of Defense on using innovation to sustain the United States’ military position in the world, wargaming is set to play a bigger role than it has in decades.

But as the province of a bunch of “middle-aged white men,” who for the most part came to wargames first as a hobby, the discipline is in sore need of younger and more diverse practitioners to fill out a roster that is increasingly “hair-pigment challenged,” as one person put it. So if wargames are to remain as useful as they’ve become, the question Wong wants to answer is, how do we train a new generation of these grognards?

The “Wong” being cited, of course, is none other than occasional PAXsims contributor Yuna Wong (RAND).

Also cited in the piece are (Connections wargaming conference guru) Matt Caffrey:

Caffrey also believes wargames can save civilian lives, as well as the lives of combatants. “The U.S. and our allies typically try to win our wars fast, with as few casualties overall and with the least destruction as we can,” he says. “This is because such victories produce a better state of peace. Wargames help us fight smarter, hence get closer to our ideal form of victory.”

“Two of the biggest problem with wargames are that outcomes are being taken too seriously, and that outcomes are not being taken seriously enough,” Caffrey says. “You can never prove what’s going to happen in the future. A wargame never proves anything. In fact, if a contractor says this wargame proves you should buy my product, run screaming.”

…(wargaming wise man) Peter Perla:

One of the reasons wargames work so well, according to Perla, is that the collaborative storytelling process gives players a “you are there” feeling that brings out their best thinking, and helps them internalize the experience and make it part of their problem-solving toolset for the future.

One of the most eminent of the craft’s eminences grises, Perla is also one of the grayest: “A lot of the really knowledgeable master wargamers, we’re getting up there in years,” he says. “I’m sort of semi-retired now, and I’d like to be more than semi soon. We’ve got to build the cadre of people who really understand what wargaming is, how to do it, and how to use it.”

…(PAXsims associate editor) Tom Mouat:

A more rigorous approach is clearly needed, and could also help address some questions that even the experts have. “Wargames create that environment in which people will start to think more broadly about a problem, think in an indirect manner, and generate original and unusual solutions,” says Mouat. “But there is the issue of whether manual wargaming begets original thought, or whether organizations that engage in original thought tend to have wargaming.”

…and yours truly too.

You can read the full article at the link above.

Matrix game construction kit update #1

Tom Fisher, Tom Mouat, and I are currently developing a matrix game construction kit that will contain pretty much everything anyone needs to design, and run, a matrix game. Specifically, it will include:

  • coloured tokens, representing the assets belonging to each player in a game;
  • a large collection of adhesive stickers for the tokens, representing pretty much all of the military units, civilians, and effects markers one might need;
  • access to Avery-format templates to enable additional stickers to be printed on any laser printer;
  • a general set of matrix game rules and design guidelines;
  • maps (in the kit, or downloadable);
  • two complete games to serve as examples.

The idea here is to make it relatively simple for anyone to buy the construction kit, design a game or scenario, and customize the tokens as need be using the stickers provided. We hope to have the entire thing finished by the Spring of 2017. Our efforts are being supported by Dstl.

The first game to be included will be ISIS CRISIS, with game scenarios covering both the rapid expansion of ISIS control in Iraq in 2014, and the Iraqi/Kurdish/coalition counter-offensives of 2015-16. ISIS CRISIS has been extensively playtested over the last couple of years, and  nicely illustrates how a matrix game can be used to model a contemporary political-miitary campaign at the strategic and operational level.

The second game will be a newly-designed one, A RECKONING OF VULTURES.

A RECKONING OF VULTURES is set in the capital of the fictional Republic of Matrixia. There, in the ornate Presidential Palace, surrounded by his most loyal Presidential Guards, the President-for-Life is on his death-bed—and various power-hungry factions are jostling to take power themselves. Once the President passes, competition between the would-be successors will escalate to open conflict until such time as the Central Committee of the Ruling Party can meet and agree on a successor.

A Reckoning of Vultures is a fictional scenario designed to demonstrate aspects of matrix game design. Unlike ISIS Crisis, the focus here is on urban space. Additional markers are used to indicate unit status, in this case the influence that rival factions seek to exert over actors, institutions, and assets. The game has three distinct phases—As Vultures Circle, By Beak and Talon, and The Buzzards’ Banquet—each with its own rules and game dynamics. Moreover, most of the final part of the game does not use matrix game-type interaction at all—thereby highlighting the ways in which a matrix game may be linked into another game system by generating scenarios, situations, or contexts.

Five factions compete for power in A RECKONING OF VULTURES:

  1. The Central Security and Intelligence Directorate (CSID) are Matrixia’s shadowy—and much-feared—secret police, responsible for maintaining a close watch on both dissidents and potential rival power centres within the regime. Although lacking large numbers of armed personnel, covert CSID operatives are well-placed to blackmail, influence, sabotage, subvert, or spy.
  2. The Matrixian Armed Forces (MAF) can call upon large numbers of military personnel located in three major military bases around the capital. Inter-service rivalries and the influence of other factions may mean, however, that not all MAF units are loyal or obey orders.
  3. The Ministry of the Interior (MoI) has authority over police and emergency services personnel in the capital. Although MoI units are well-positioned across the city, most are inferior in combat capability to those of the regular military.
  4. Much of what happens in Matrixia is controlled or influenced by a group of rich and powerful Oligarchs, who control much of the business sector. Although they have only a few private security guards and mercenaries to safeguard their positioned, they have considerable wealth that can be used further their political ambitions—as well as ties to the country’s major criminal syndicates.
  5. The National Union of Toilers (NUT) represents the downtrodden workers of the country. NUT hopes to mobilize the workers and their allies and advance their political agenda  through strikes, demonstrations, and direct action. If they are able to arm some of their followers into a workers’ militia, they could become very powerful indeed.

Last night Tom Fisher and I playtested with the game with five volunteers from McGill University, plus a generous supply of pizza. None of the players were professional or serious hobby wargamers, although four had previously played ISIS CRISIS, and the other had taken part in some of our other political-military games.

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Setting up the game. Unlike the playtest version shown here, the final version of the game will include a fictional tiled urban map that can be assembled in many different ways.

All in all, the game went very well. It was certainly very close right up to the end.

Phase 1: As Vultures Circle

In the first phase of the game it looked as if CSID were establishing a commanding lead, having heavily infiltrated army units at the main military barracks. The Matrixia Armed Forces commander responded by redeploying suspect units away from key locations. The Ministry of Interior sought to purge CSID agents from among the ranks of the police. The wealthy Oligarchs focused on raising new funds, as did the National Union of Toilers.

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Much plotting (and pizza) underway.

Phase 2: By Beak and Talon

When the President-for-Life died on turn 3, however, everything was thrown into turmoil. The loyalty of most Army units held. Moreover, the Army had secured influence in the forces guarding the CSID HQ, setting the stage for an extended battle for control there. The Oligarchs hired private security forces/mercenaries, and tried to seize the national airport—but were decimated by the MoI police units there.

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The President-for-Life is dead. Police units have blocked the nearest bridge, while rogue CSID and MAF units fight for control of the Intelligence Directorate. The colour of the token indicates (original) unit ownership, the adhesive graphic indicates unit type (police, infantry, leader, secret files, etc), and the smaller disks indicate units that have been subverted by another player.

MAF marines stormed the Presidential Palace, while MAF helicopter-borne paratroopers took control  of parliament. MAF aircraft also bombed the police units holding the Ruling Party headquarters, but to little effect. In retaliation MoI prison guards released NUT prisoners from the central prison, and together they sought to seize the main airforce base. They were unsuccessful.

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Tom Fisher looks on as MAF Marines storm the Presidential Palace and Paratroopers seize Parliament.

Phase 3: The Buzzards Feast

The final phase of the game began when the Ruling Party finally met (despite delays due to MoI control of the airport) to choose a new President-for-Life. The MAF Chief of Staff started with a slight advantage due to control of strategic locations in the capital, although MoI control of the Ruling Party headquarters would prove useful when the various rounds of voting were tallied.

The Oligarchs and CSID were quickly eliminated from competition, although the former’s superior financial resources allowed them to survive the game intact and place second overall. In Matrixia, money talks!

The leader of the National Union of Toilers fell out of consideration next.  Due to the workers’ having seized control of the main port earlier in the game, however, he was able to escape the country. The proletarian struggle is not yet dead!

In the final round of voting the Minister of the Interior managed to narrowly beat the MAF Chief-of-Staff, who promptly fled the country.

However the head of CSID was less fortunate. The former secret police chief was arrested, executed, and found guilty of treason—in that order.

Next Steps

The game was a lot of fun. We also had some very useful feedback, and in particular we’ll be adjusting some of the rules, especially regarding influence and subversion. Everyone thought the three phases of the game worked well together, and nicely illustrated the different ways matrix game mechanisms could be used.

In the coming weeks and months we’ll be writing and modifying rules, finalizing graphics, and doing some more playtesting. Watch this space!

Urban Nightmare/State of Chaos: A Wide-Area Megagame

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On 1 July 2017, gamers from around the world will be conducting the first ever wide area megagame, Urban Nightmare: State of Chaos. This will involve  multiple game locations (each with 50+ players), linked to each other in real time within a  common scenario:

As a megagame, the Urban Nightmare games explore the higher level decision making during a major, potentially existential, crisis. In the movies and other games the zombie trope generally focusses on the individual or on small groups of survivors, but rarely explores how the world gets to that state. It all just happened and got out of control.

In a megagame we can really look at how things get that far out of control. Or not. In the emerging gameplay of a megagame the outcome is entirely open to the consequences of player decisions and their interactions.

In the previous version of the game, the focus was on just one city—Romero City—a place beset with many mundane problems of its own even without the outbreak of a terrifying pandemic. In UN: State of Chaos, we have extended the perspective to explore what is happening across the whole state. Five cities (of which Romero City is the largest) are all struggling with their own troubles and turning to the State Governor and the National Guard for help. Will this be enough? Or will the state Governer have to sacrifice valuable political capital and go, cap in hand, to the Federal authorities and the President for Federal help?

Games will be conducted in the following locations (and possibly others):

  • London (UK)
  • Bristol (UK)
  • Southhampton (UK)
  • Cambridge (UK)
  • Leeds (UK)
  • Brussels (Belgium)
  • Nijmegen (Netherlands)
  • New York (USA)
  • Montreal (Canada)

McGill.jpegYou’ll notice the inclusion of Montreal on the list. We’ll be running a small game at McGill University, with players will assume the role of key local, provincial, and national actors in neighbouring Northland. Do they help out their southern neighbours? Turn back refugees, deny aid, and prevent the spread of the disaster at all costs? Or take advantage of the chaos to the south to pursue their own hidden agenda?

We will not be opening the game up for registration until mid-February, soon after we complete the Something’s Up In Binni! megagame, also at McGill University.

Watch this space!

 

Trew: Can Strategy be Playful?

The following guest post is by Lt Col Jason M. Trew (USAF), a senior pilot and a graduate of the School of Advanced Air and Space Studies (SAASS). He is currently studying the history of technology at Auburn University. Part of his doctoral research is about the relationship between playfulness and airmindedness. He welcomes any feedback regarding this article or his research project (jasontrew@gmail.com).


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War and strategy are serious topics and theorists constantly search for appropriate images to better grasp their complex nature. In their search, it is not uncommon to apply metaphors of games, such as gambling or wrestling. Indeed, a useful tool to “examine warfighting concepts, train and educate commanders and analysts, explore scenarios, and assess how force planning and posture choices affect campaign outcomes” is war gaming.[1]

Does the image of a game imply playfulness? Is it appropriate to frame strategy as playful? There is actually some ancient precedent for this, as reported by Plato in his dialogue, Laches.[2] Additionally, the literature on play is sometimes remarkably similar to strategic theory. In the list of quotes below, can you determine which ones are referring to military strategy or war, and which ones are from scholars analyzing play?

  • “[It] proceeds according to a set of artificial rules and, to the extent that it does, stands apart from ‘ordinary’ or ‘real’ life.”[3]
  • “[Participants] try to position themselves within a protected occasion that contains both familiar and unfamiliar elements and that possesses problems or challenges they consider intriguing or significant…players address and respond to some of the challenges, tensions, or conflicts…[it is] a form of problem solving.”[4]
  • “[Thinking about this activity requires] imagination, insight, intuition, ability to put one’s self in another person’s position, understanding of the wellsprings of human motivation”[5]
  • “[In] a de-centered world, change, randomness, particularity, cultural and social diversity, conflict, and ambiguity [it] is perhaps the most appropriate response to contemporary circumstances.”[6]
  • “[It] is about exploration and the development of new ways of seeing, thinking, and being.”[7]
  • “[It is performed] before audiences who not only critically evaluate but also contribute to an unfolding scenario that has neither clear beginnings nor ends.”[8]
  • “[It is] confined only by the event horizon of possibilities, a horizon which expands anew with every action. A potentially unlimited panorama of choices may be revealed with the next moment. There is no beginning or end…only more or less.”[9]
  • “[It] occurs in physical environments that both enable the activity and provide forms of resistance…fostered by conditions that are ambiguous, novel, and changing.”[10]
  • “[It is] not a thing…It is an idea, a product of the imagination. It is about the future, and above all it is about change. It is anticipation of the probable and preparation for the possible.”[11]
  • “References to ‘adaptive variability’ and ‘selective simulations’ at the beginning and end suggest that it is best not to think of [it] as a thing…but as a series of connected events. In this respect, [it] resembles a revolution, or a journey, or growth, or acceleration, or other processes that unfold and move along at varying rates….a process of unfolding in the direction of order supplies the most useful trope for framing [it].”[12]
  • “[It] does not seek a specific outcome or decision.”[13]
  • “[It is] often about relations of power, showdowns that make public the respective capabilities of the persons and groups involved…people do not always win or get their way. To some extent, they do not desire that they should always win.”[14]
  • “[It] is not about winning,” but more about “embracing perpetual novelty.”[15]
  • “[It] promotes the survival…when confronted with new or difficult circumstances.”[16]
  • “Surprises must be expected. They must be embraced and seized upon as opportunity.”[17]
  • “[It is] an exploration of powers and predicaments…[to] find out what we can—and cannot—do and to see if we can extend our capabilities. As a consequence of these attempts, we also learn what the world can do to us.”[18]
  • “[It is characterized as] a Conceptual Spiral for Generating: Insight – Imagination – Initiative.”[19]
  • “[The purpose of it is to] make coherent their possibilities for acting in the world.”[20]
  • “[To be effective] we need a variety of possibilities as well as the rapidity to implement and shift among them.”[21]
  • “[It is] a kind of performance, an acting out of imaginative possibilities”[22]
  • “[It involves the] “play of chance and probability within which the creative spirit is free to roam.”[23]

Can you tell which ones strategists wrote and which were written about play? Starting with the first quote, every other line is from the former. The overlap is interesting, but—to quote another strategic theorist—“so, what?”[24] Are there really advantages to construing strategy in this way, even in serious military matters?

Answering that question requires a preemptive reply to a reasonable objection: warfare and play are not coincident domains. Metaphors, however, never are. As the saying goes, “All models are wrong, but some are useful.”[25] The utility is found both within the overlap between contrasting images and where they diverge; a process that itself has been described as cognitive play.

Like other mammals, physical play is a critical component of our childhood development. But humans also play, and play for much longer throughout our life, in the domain we command: the so-called cognitive niche. Our evolutionary advantages accrue from intelligent decisions and that intelligence is nurtured by mentally playing with patterns, stories, and metaphors.[26] In other words, even if strategy is never playful, working through the competing images—that is, playing with the metaphor—yields cognitive benefits useful to strategists.

The alternating quotes above, however, reveal that strategy and play do share some elements. Therefore, those who have a role in the strategic process (theorizing, modeling, execution, etc.) should explore the origins and consequences of those connections; not in spite of the gravity of war, but precisely because of its high stakes.

We should not neglect any source of strategic wisdom, regardless of how peculiar it may first appear. Strategy as play does seem outlandish, bordering on inappropriate. But, even Carl von Clausewitz characterized war, in part, as the “play of chance and probability within which the creative spirit is free to roam.” Or was that someone writing about playfulness?

Jason Trew


[1] “Wargaming.” RAND. http://www.rand.org/topics/wargaming.html (accessed November 12, 2016).

[2] “The Athenian Sophists Euthydemus and Dionysodorus applied their skills to military strategy, explicitly calling their approach (as reported by Plato in his dialogue Laches) ‘playful’” (Armand D’Angour, “Plato and Play: Taking Education Seriously in Ancient Greece,” American Journal of Play, Volume 5, Number 3 (2013), 304).

[3] Martin van Crevald, War and Technology (2010), 286.

[4] Thomas S. Henricks, “Play as Self-Realization: Toward a General Theory of Play,” American Journal of Play, Volume 6, Number 2 (2014), 192-3.

[5] Jessie Bernard, quoted in Lawrence Freedman, Strategy: A History (2013), 153.

[6] Henricks, 194.

[7] Dolman, Pure Strategy (2005), 188.

[8] Henricks, 195.

[9] Dolman, 13.

[10] Henricks, 195-6.

[11] Dolman, 1.

[12] Scott G. Eberle, “The Elements of Play: Toward a Philosophy and a Definition of Play” Journal of Play, Volume 6, Number 2 (2014), 220.

[13] Dolman, 43.

[14] Henricks, 205.

[15] Dolman, 5, 132.

[16] Henricks, 196.

[17] Dolman, 126.

[18] Henricks, 204.

[19] John Boyd, quoted in Frans Osinga, Science, Strategy and War: The Strategic Theory of John Boyd (2006), 228.

[20] Henricks, 190.

[21] John Boyd, quoted in Osinga, 186.

[22] Henricks, 195.

[23] Carl von Clausewitz, On War, trans. and ed. Michael Howard and Peter Paret (1989), 89.

[24] Colin S. Gray, “Out Of The Wilderness: Prime Time For Strategic Culture,”

Defense Threat Reduction Agency Advanced Systems and Concepts Office (2006), 12.

[25] George E. P. Box and Norman R. Draper, Empirical Model-Building and Response Surfaces (1987).

[26] Brian Boyd, On the Origin of Stories: Evolution, Cognition, and Fiction (2010).

Simulation & Gaming (December 2016)

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The latest issue of Simulation & Gaming 47, 6 (December 2016) is now available.

Editorial
Articles
Gaming Material Ready to Use

 

A refugee crisis megagame

The following is a guest post by Tom Grant (Serious Games at Work).


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Before I say anything, many thanks to Rex for giving me a guest spot here on his blog. Rex and I both have a deep passion for serious games; both of us use them, in different ways, in our day jobs. Rex invited me to write this blog entry to tell you about a megagame planned in Washington, DC in February. Here are the details.

The goal

Now that the US election is over, the natural question is, “What comes next?” The answer: Quite a lot. The agenda during this political season shrank to a minuscule set of issues, leaving many questions—about the economy, national security, education, infrastructure, and practically everything else—unaddressed. Worse, the acrimony that saturated this election made it difficult to have a real discussion about practical solutions. Instead, we got yelling.

One of the issues that got very little attention was the refugee crisis. Americans are not facing the same influx of refugees as Europeans are, but that’s a temporary condition. The US government chose to do less that it could have in the face of the current crisis. However, what we are seeing now is just the first wave. Climate change and future conflicts are likely to compel more people to leave their homes, looking for safety or opportunity elsewhere.

The infrequent conversations about this topic that we have had in the public forum have been acrimonious and fact-free. We feel strongly about refugees, swinging between sympathy and fear. However, most people who are not already deeply involved in refugee issues don’t have basic information that might guide their sentiments in a practical direction. How many refugees are there? How many are men, women, and children? How much does it cost to re-settle a refugee? How big is the risk of a refugee being a hidden terrorist?

The game

That’s why we’re organizing a megagame about the refugee crisis: to provide a forum for a more informed and practical discussion. To play the game, you need answers to the sort of questions that I cited in the previous paragraph. (And we’ll give participants those facts.) It’s a good opportunity to learn a lot in a short period of time, as part of what you’re doing in the midst of the game.

The game is also designed to get into practical solutions, instead of just voicing concerns. The scenario puts the players in the midst of a political controversy here in the nation’s capital: What would happen if the District of Columbia government decided that it wanted to do more for the refugees? This scenario pulls in all the major parts of the US federal government, plus various groups outside the government, from charities to churches to anti-immigration groups to the refugees themselves. It gives them all a chance to make or influence policy…If they can build coalitions, make persuasive arguments, and work within the constraints of politics and the law.

Finally, the game is an opportunity to create greater empathy—and not just for the refugees. One of the reasons we moved to DC was to bring the benefits of serious games to serious political discussions. In the game, you might play a role of someone with whom you don’t agree in real life. You will have to listen to other people in order to win their support. You will have to do more than state positions if you want to get anything done.

The game itself is designed for around 50 participants, organized into a variety of different groups (refugees, DC’s mayor and city council, Congress, Homeland Security, the White House, etc.) We will have a team of referees, as is typical for megagames. It’s free for anyone to join, as either a player or a referee.

If you’re interested in participating, the game is scheduled for Saturday, February 11, from 10 AM to 3 PM. You can sign up on our web site, www.refugeemegagame.com, where you will find more details, too. Even if you can’t make it, there are ways to support the game.

By the way, there were other topics we considered and could have selected for this megagame, such as terrorism, climate change, and police shootings. We plan on future DC-based megagames to cover these and other topics. There’s a lot for Americans to discuss, so there are a lot of reasons to hold future megagames covering other topics.

Tom Grant

Something’s Up in Binni! (another McGill megagame)

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On 11 February 2017 McGill University will be hosting another day-long megagame by  (notorious) UK game designer Jim WallmanSomething’s Up in Binni!

The Republic of Binni is wracked by civil war. As President-for-Life Eddie Ancongo clings to office, rival groups of militias and warlords plot to seize power for themselves. Strange cults and radical extremists proliferate. Mercenaries offer their services to the highest bidder. Mineral prospectors and multinational corporations seek profit amidst the conflict. Archaeologists scramble to safeguard valuable artifacts from the ravages of war—or unscrupulously sell them to the highest bidder. Neighbouring countries meddle, seeking to further their own regional interests.  The great powers call for peace—but is that what they really want?

Approximately one hundred participants will assume the roles of national decision-makers, diplomats, international organizations, mercenaries,  archaeologists, cultists, corporations, journalists, rebels, organized crime, and others. Can peace brought to Binni? Or will the country further descend into chaos?

For those new to megagaming you’ll find a report on one such game in the British newspaper The Independent here, and a video report at the blog Shut Up & Sit Down here (and here and here). Details of the last McGill megagame, New World Order 2035, can be found in the McGill International Review and at PAXsims. No prior experience is required, beyond a willingness to enjoy yourself with 100 scheming people in several large rooms while confronting the complexities of a (fictional) country beset by strife and intrigue.

Space is limited, so you’ll need to buy your tickets once they become available. Watch this space for updates!

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Something’s Up in Binni! is coorganized by PAXsims, the Ivory Goat Gaming Group, and the International Relations Students’ Association of McGill.

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A scene at the map table from New World Order 2035 megagame (February 2016), sometime after New York blew up but before Japanese scientists created a computer artificial intelligence with ambitions to “fix” humanity. 

NYT: Play “The Voter Suppression Trail”

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The New York Times features a videogame/commentary by Chris the shortcomings of the US electoral system, and in particular the measures taken in many areas to suppress minority turn out—all of it based on the classic 1970s educational videogame Oregon Trail.

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It’s a clever piece of political commentary—give it a try.

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Baltic Challenge matrix game

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Tom Mouat has put the final touches on the Baltic Challenge matrix game, developed at the recent MORS special meeting on wargaming. The game involves the following actors/players:

  • Russian dissident groups in the Baltic States.
  •   The Baltic States (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania).
  •   Russia.
  •   Poland.
  •   The USA.
  •   The Nordic States (Sweden and Finland).
  •   NATO (other than the USA).

You can download the files here.

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MORS wargaming AAR

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On 17-20 October 2016 the Military Operations Research Society held a special meeting on wargaming. PAXsims’ very own Tom Mouat was there both to help facilitate the event and to bring us the report below.

Additional details from regular PAXsims reader Paul Vebber follow after Tom’s report.


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I was privileged to be invited, along with colleagues from the UK Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl), to the MORS Wargaming Special Meeting on 17 to 21 October 2016 in Alexandria, VA. Rex couldn’t make it, so again I was deputised to provide PAXSims readers with a report.

It was clear in the lead-up to the event that this was to be a more in-depth look at a few things, rather than the usual conference offering of a shallow look at a large number of things. This was unusual and I’m not entirely sure that it provided the best fit for the stated aims for the workshop:

  • How best incorporate rigorous and well-designed wargaming into the department’s larger analytical and acquisition focus.
  • As the demand for wargaming continues to grow we need to increase the pool of wargamers and wargame designers to meet those needs now and into the future.

If you were a beginner, unsure as to the role and range of wargame tools and techniques, you might have got lucky in choosing the workshop sessions that met your requirements; but if you weren’t it is perfectly possible you would get stuck in a session unsuitable for your needs. This wasn’t helped by the descriptions issued prior to the event being a little less than clear and a number of session being classified and NOFORN (no foreigners). This was exacerbated when there were a number of last minute changes to programme aims, the sessions and their classification.

I had originally intended to look at a number of the sessions and provide assistance to the “Project Cassandra, Envisioning Possible Futures” session. However one of the wargaming sessions (when I say “sessions” it was actually four half-day sessions spread over three days) had the organisation running it (US Army Training and Doctrine Command/TRADOC pull out. I was invited to stand in and run the session on matrix gaming instead—which I was delighted to do.

Travel and subsistence budgets being what they are, the cheapest flights from the UK are on a Saturday, giving us the bonus of recovering from jetlag as well as the opportunity to do some additional professional development in visiting the battlefield of Gettysburg. This is a quite outstanding battlefield, well preserved and with an excellent visitor centre. There are a large number of different lessons that can be gained from looking at details of the large battle, over the two days of the fighting. The Dstl staff, led by their own historian, took advantage of this. Sadly I was unable to participate as I was doing last minute preparation for the sessions.

The hotel recommended for the event was excellent and ideally placed for the subsequent events which were held in the hotel and at the nearby Institute for Defence Analysis (IDA).

Monday, 17 October 2016

The first day included a course, “Wargaming Introduction and Theory,” run by Dr Peter Perla and Dr Ed McGrady, which lasted all day. In addition, a shorter course, “Executive Overview of Military Wargaming,”  was run by Mike Garrambone. I attended the first of these because the UK Defence Academy is intending to run its own “Introduction to Wargaming” course, and watching how two of the foremost experts in the field do it was likely to be extremely educational.

Peter Perla started and covered wargaming history, from the earliest games and models used for training and education, through to the birth of modern wargaming. This included Kriegsspiel, Johann Hellwig’s wargame, the introduction of geomorphic maps, real topographic mapping and the use of experienced umpires in order to reduce complexity and include military common sense. He also covered the rise of the hobby game, sparked off by H G Wells’ Little Wars; the crossover from RAND’s use of hexagons to regularise movement; and the game company Avalon Hill and its success in publishing games for the hobby market.

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Peter Perla reviews the evolution of wargaming.

The course went on to cover the rise of wargaming as a fundamental part of the analytical process in the inter-war years, particularly in the US Navy War College. This is probably one of the most innovative periods of concept and doctrine development which helped shape the conflict to come, not just in the USA but also among the German General Staff.

I noted that from this period that there were two observations that emerged from these wargames:

  • Some people are dicks.
  • Innovation takes time.

Some of the participants in the wargaming process are unable to see the value of exploring a situation or problem through a game, fail to take it seriously and behave inappropriately. This is not helpful, but wargame facilitators need to be aware of this, and develop mitigating strategies to deal with it or valuable opportunities will be lost. (I would also offer that this phenomenon is not limited to manual wargaming – computer simulation is also afflicted with personnel who seem unable to grasp what the process is trying to achieve and are negative or disruptive, however well run the game.)

Innovation is not a simple process with a short timescale. It takes time to breed the open minded and intelligent organisational culture where ideas are valued from wherever they arise and where change is embraced. It is only from this basis that sustained advances can be generated and genuine advantage realised.

We then moved on to Dr Ed McGrady who covered the theory of games, how they work, what approaches work best and the human response to games. He started with a warning that, while efforts are improving, there is still no proper epistemology of wargaming and no coherent theoretical treatment—especially of manual games although there is a reasonable amount of work dealing with computer games.

Diversity in this area is a challenge and there is no simple one definition to cover all wargames.

He went on to cover the elements that make up a game, wargames vs peace games, what is not a wargame and some of the foundations of the concept of “play.” In many professional and analytical games the designers seem to want to eliminate the “play” aspects of the wargame. This is wrong, fails to get buy-in to the process, followed by a lack of understanding of the problem space and ultimately results in a bad game.He covered the elements of play, the role of making them enjoyable in a defence analytical context, their internal structure and most importantly the psychological and neurological concept of narrative (leading to engagement, and the “entre deux”, the in-between space where disbelief is suspended and insights are gained).

This included the significant observation: Lunch is important! If you are going to the time and effort in order to involve the participants in a game, where future possibilities are envisaged, disbelief suspended, and the players fully engaged, it is foolhardy to jeopardise the event by refusing to provide lunch—forcing participants to disperse, lose the game immersion and focus, and ultimately much of the value of the process.

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Some of my notes from “Wargaming: Theory and Introduction.”

I have made many pages of notes, including the dramaturgical aspects of games, the concept of “flow”, games vs simulations, hard vs soft assumptions, the big questions about the effect games have, sociological work, and theoretical principles. Indeed, it was all much too much to be able to present a coherent commentary here without significant additional thought and the risk of boring you!

Which brings me to a concern. This was not really an introduction to wargaming. Instead, it was a masterclass in the theoretical underpinnings of the art, that included some really deep stuff. I found the day incredibly useful (and I am anxiously awaiting copies of the slides because I’m afraid that my hurried notes may well have missed something), but I am also a wargaming practitioner of many years, including running and designing games used by defence as well as the wider community. I suspect that a novice, seeking an initial understanding, might well become lost and confused…

…until they decided to demonstrate what they meant, by the use of the matrix game “Lasgah Pol” dealing with peacekeeping operations in Afghanistan (available as part of Matrix Games for Modern Wargaming). Since I designed the game , and was asked to demonstrate an example move, they are obviously geniuses!.

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Tuesday, 18 October 2016

This was the start of the special event proper, and followed the more usual format of a plenary keynote and panel sessions until shortly after lunch.

Following introductions and the US national anthem, we started with a keynote from Andrew Marshall, former advisor to the Secretary of Defence for Net Assessment. At first glance it looked like the organisers were rolling out someone from an earlier era, but he quickly contradicted that impression, demonstrating sharp and timely insight. He gave a brief history of the Office of Net Assessment and pointed out that reading long papers on a subject can take time and are likely to only explore the subject from a single point of view. Games, in contrast, were very quick at distilling issues to their essential fundamentals, but he also underlined the importance of a proper opposition (the Red players).

An example he gave was dealing with the Strategic Bomber programme. This was during the Cold War—strategic bombers were expensive compared to ballistic missiles, and there were calls to make cuts in the bomber fleet. Looking at the problems through a series of wargames demonstrated that the bomber fleet forced the enemy to invest in large quantities of air defence weapons. Since the enemy was resource limited, this was advantageous to the US. On the other hand, cutting the bomber fleet would permit an enemy to switch in investment from weapon systems that were essentially of limited use, to areas that would present more of a threat. This lead to the conclusion that when thinking about a subject it is often essential to look widely at the problem to ensure a holistic solution

Marshall also pointed out, from his vast experience, that if you want innovation you should select the best players and if you want good games you should use the best facilitators. Choose the best for the most important problems.

This was followed by the Defense Wargaming Alignment Group (DWAG) Quad Chair panel. This covered the initiative resulting from DEPSECDEF Robert Work’s February 2015 memo to institute a repository for wargames and their reports. It currently includes some 550 high level games on a wide range of topics, as well as including funding for additional games and wargaming projects (including funding the US DOD and foreign government attendance at the MORS event). They issue a monthly report including a listing of upcoming games, highlighting previous games that are in the depository, the usual statistics about the depository, and other areas about DOD wargaming.

I was initially very cynical about the value of such a depository, but it appears to have access at the highest levels and is being managed effectively. I was particularly impressed by the definite focus on innovation, increasing the decision space for the leadership, and the particular emphasis on “so what?”—that is, proper explanation of the value of the work done and links to real change. Of course, the repository is a US-only classified capability, but it certainly sounds useful. I’m now jealous!

The panel also covered the intriguing idea of using wargames to educate members of Congress. This was, of course, difficult, and would probably have to focus on their direct staff, but it still looks like a really good idea. They also mentioned the lack of value gained from games that generated obvious conclusions: “Don’t tell me we have a lack of a particular resource —we already know that. Tell me what you did to compensate for it and did it work!” which is, of course, intrinsically more useful.

The Services Panel followed, with a number of useful observations:

  • An understanding that putting on more, smaller sized, games helps frame specific problems.
  • Wargames and quantitative analysis are not enemies – they are complimentary, depending on each other.
  • There needs to be robust cost modelling in games – stop inventing stuff with ridiculously cheap costs.
  • Wargames help frame a problem properly for greater understanding (a recurring theme across the ages).
  • Wargaming as a discipline encourages plagiarism – get the best ideas to work for you from anywhere.

I was interested to see the Department of Homeland Security present, happy to learn from the mistakes of others and present with a sense of humour. They hope to avoid the OODA loop problem where it ends up as “Observe, Overreact, Destroy, Apologize,” instead of what it is meant to be.

The Combatant Commands were next and I was impressed at the real efforts to reinvigorate wargaming after decades of decline. It was acknowledged that the efforts were a little patchy in places, but equally there seemed to be a real appreciation of the value to be gained.

This was followed by the Allies panel, with contributions from the UK, Holland, Sweden and Canada. These showed that wargaming efforts were in place in each nation, even if at a vastly different level of effort to the USA. The UK chose to highlight the essential work of Dstl and the Connections UK conference, and Canada mentioned publishing a wargaming doctrine publication, something the UK are also working on.

Lastly we had a panel on Red Teaming from specialists in that discipline. They were initially surprised to be invited and explained the aim of Red Teaming is to get “better decisions and better plans”, through knowing oneself, mitigating group think, fostering empathy and through applied critical thinking.

Working Groups, Courses and Wargames

At this point we broke up into smaller groups to spend the rest of Tuesday, all day Wednesday and Thursday morning in our respective session. Because of this I lost sight of what else was going on, although Paul Vebber provides some additional insight at the end of this report.

The sessions were:

  • Working Group 1: Analytic Process with Paul Davis and Matt Caffrey. Classified. NOFORN.
  • Working Group 2: Communication and Implementation, with Paul Vebber.
  • Working Group 3: Adjudication, with Tim Wilkie.
  • Course 2: Red Teaming, with Steven Rotkoff.
  • Course 3: Structured Analytic Techniques, with Joseph Cyrulik.
  • Wargame 1: Project Cassandra – Envisioning Possible Futures, with Yuna Wong.
  • Wargame 2: Phase Zero Baltic Operations with Scott Simpkins. Not Classified, but NOFORN.
  • Wargame 3. Matrix Gaming, with Tom Mouat.
  • Synthesis Group: This was an oversight group with Peter Perla looking for common themes and best practices.

 

Matrix Wargaming

Since I had 4 sessions of about 4 hours each, and one of the benefits of matrix gaming is that games are quick to design and play, we did a different game in each session.

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Matrix game materials ready for play.

We started the game with a presentation on matrix wargames looking at different approaches and the value of roleplay in predicting the outcome of conflict. This was followed with “Kazhdyy Gorod” a game about a city in a former Soviet state on the border with Russia.

The game started extremely well, with everything looking on track to being sorted out with the minimum of trouble or bloodshed. Well, that was until the Chief of Police acted against orders from the Mayor, who promptly assassinated her in a scene of the finest “Godfather” tradition in front of the rest of the city council. Chaos ensued (not least for the facilitator) but soon resolved itself with the Rebels kidnapping and murdering the Mayor, the Militia Commander sitting neatly on the fence and the Protest Leader ably supported by the power of international media (in the shape of the Press player) being elected the new Mayor of the city.

I was quite shocked and wondered if anyone was going to turn up for the following session after the adjudication difficulties, but with hindsight it was a good stress test of the system and showed the participants that the game can cope with wild play.

Wednesday, 19 September 2016

The following morning began with a short presentation on my guidance tips for facilitating Matrix Games, followed by the Cyber game “All Your Secrets Are Belong To Us“, a game about stealing the next generation stealth fighter plans.

This game went extremely well with very good participation all around and it was quite rewarding to see that the flow of the narrative was appreciated by the players. This meant the consequential requirement of detailed formal adjudication was much reduced, now that the players were more familiar with the game and gameplay.

That afternoon, after another short presentation, this time on some facilitator techniques that could be helpful for facilitators, we decided to design and run a complete matrix game on a subject chosen by the participants within the time available.

Baltic Challenge

The subject chosen was the current crisis in the Baltic States, especially as we had a Swedish and Dutch participant in the group. The game was entitled “Baltic Challenge” and the game design followed the following steps:

  • Define the game scope: modelling the current crisis in the Baltic States.
  • Define the “Actors” involved in the crisis and the order of play.
  • Define the Objectives for the Actors (simple bullet point objectives).
  • Design possible “triggers” as pre-conditions to possibly upset the current equilibrium.
  • Generate a suitable visualisation (map) for the area.
  • Allocate markers representing effects in the game (DIME/PMESII/FRIS).

We had a long discussion about who to represent as players (required to influence the game) as opposed to being mainly there to be influenced by others. In the end, we chose the following “Actors”:

  • Russian separatists in the Baltic States.
  • The Baltic State Governments as a single actor:
    • Estonia
    • Latvia
    • Lithuania
  • Poland as a separate actor.
  • The USA as a separate actor.
  • The Nordic States as a single actor:
    • Sweden
    • Finland
  • NATO

We generated the objectives for each party quickly and then commenced play. A number of possible “triggers” were also discussed:

  • Iskander deployment to Kaliningrad.
  • Russian troop movements on the border.
  • An economic report demonstrating ethnic disadvantages for Russian speakers in the Baltic States.
  • Airspace violations.
  • Soviet fleet manoeuvres in the Baltic.
  • Soviet ship breakdown on the way to Kaliningrad (assumed Iskander missiles and S-400 air defences on board).

The preferred option was a mix of an economic report indicating Russian speakers have a justified grievance and the Soviet resupply ship breaking down off Tallinn on the Estonian coast.

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A later version of the “Baltic Challenge” map.

The game worked very well, highlighting a large number of points to the participants that they were unaware of. The chief insights from the game were that the Baltic States may well try to “do the right thing” for the Russian speaking minority, but they were largely pawns in the game between Russia and the West. There were a number of treaties that affected the participants (the 1997 Founding Act, EU sanctions against Russia, and NATO relations with Sweden) that were important and needed to be understood. The fact that Poland has a right-wing government keen to demonstrate that it will not be bullied by Russia might not necessarily be a good thing as NATO depended on Poland to play a key role in the area and felt limited in the sort of pressure it could bring to bear.

It was also noted that the Inkander missiles, with a range of 500km, may violate the Intermediate-range Nuclear Force (INF) Treaty (missiles with a range of 500-5,500km) and there was speculation as to why the USA or NATO governments have not challenged Russia about them. The following morning, this was the subject of a Wall Street Journal article, neatly showing the game was on the right track highlighting this issue.

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Gaming the headlines!

We felt that the game would have benefitted (as would any game) from a specialist subject matter expert in the region to assist the facilitator with the briefings, objectives, consequence management, and adjudication but nevertheless we felt that three hours of work had demonstrated the value of the game and wider regional understanding.

The game is now available via a link at PAXsims.

Thursday, 20 September 2016

On the final day, we elected to have a game run by the participants as, given the level of experience they had achieved with the game process and mechanics, they should be able to run and facilitate their own game. The game chosen was “ISIS Crisis“, with updated briefing and dispositions to reflect the current situation.

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Playing ISIS Crisis.

The pre-game discussion indicated a strong feeling that if the game was to be wider than just Iraq, it needed the involvement of Turkish and Russian actors, even at risk of slowing down play, so these roles were included.

The game ran well, even if the most up to date developments were not reflected in the initial set up. The inclusion of Russian and Turkish actors, did change the balance of the game and showed just how far things had changed in the years since the game was designed. It was felt that it would benefit from updated quality briefings for these actors to match the other briefings.

Closing Plenary Sessions

Finally, there was a closing session in which back brief were given on the different workshops, courses and wargames as well as a keynote by DEPSECDEF Robert Work.

The Deputy Secretary of Defence commenced his remarks with the inevitable senior officer’s joke and seemed, at least initially, to be a straightforward explanation of what he was trying to achieve. After a few minutes though, when he had warmed to his subject, the presentation was transformed into an inspiring call to arms that was quite different to the usual rhetoric. Having your DEPSECDEF being quite so disarmingly clear that he wakes up every day thinking of ways that he can mess up the plans of potential adversaries was a breath of fresh air from someone who clearly knows his stuff. He gets my vote and I’m not even an American.

The final thing that stuck in my mind was the realisation that we are facing a new “inter-war period” with all the implications that this brings, and that we need to develop new ways and means to give decision makers strategic choices for the future.

I am looking forward to seeing the presentations being posted on the MORS website so that I can have an understanding of what went on in the other sessions.

Friday, 21 September 2016

The following day the UK delegation (Dstl and I) visited the Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) at John Hopkins University in order to take a look at the work of APL and the Collaborative Analysis Centre. This was an utterly inspiring visit, generating a raft of ideas and possibilities.

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Visiting JHU APL.

The MORS event continued with additional sessions about Research Design by Dr John Compton, but sadly we were unable to attend those.

Summary

Despite the minor administration problems, mainly affecting us foreigners, the trip was extremely worthwhile. Being able to practice my craft with experienced and knowledgeable participants at this level was very valuable for my personal development and a significant contribution to the UK Defence Academy plans for the future.

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I got a shiny MORS challenge coin too!

I still have reservations as to the value for an inexperienced beginner in this subject area, given the level at which many of the instructional participants were operating. This needs to be addressed if we are to generate replacements for the increasingly old expertise we have in the field (myself included).

Tom Mouat


 

Additional Details from Paul Vebber:

I was a co-chair for a working group looking at the issues of “Communication and Implementation” and the relationship of those issues with technology. First, what information needs to move within the “game world” and between the players? Second, what information needs to move between the game world and players and the adjudicators? Third, what what information needs to move out of the “game world” to the observers and analysts?

Ed McGrady and I sliced the group of about 30 we had into subgroups a couple different ways, and discussed these issues in the context of the sort of problems they typically used wargaming techniques to explore. We then focused on two different types of games—Ed the more POL-MIL type, and I a more high tactical/ low operational—and walked through a game design exercise considering where it made sense to use technologies of different levels of sophistication in this communication focused design approach.

Interestingly the team looking at the more qualitative POL-MIL type of game went “high order” on technology to address the “inside the game world” communication issues linking large numbers of players dealing with a high degree of “interactional complexity”.

The group dealing with a more operational problem (exploring the decision space associated with maintaining a long term—many weeks to a few months—naval presence in a location where an ambiguous adversary occasionally lobs missiles at you, or potentially threatens you by other means, AND you have to deal with other emergent operational requirements nearby) started with a “low tech” representation that developed into a card-driven board game.

Despite initial thoughts that some fairly sophisticated M&S tools may be required, it turned out the tech requirements were more about communicating between the game world of manual game play and observer/analysts to capture situational information about why decisions were made and the risk calculus was assessed. The “high fidelity M&S” tools were then used in analysis efforts fed by information from the game and did not have to integrated into the gameplay directly.

This provided a simpler, quicker playing game which feeds M&S efforts focused on digging into the “structural complexity” of weapon system interaction in a well understood operational context that is emergent from and traceable to player decision making.

There were two other working groups, three opportunities to play in different types of games, and five different classes. Check the MORS website for more info on those events—I’m not sure how much of the material and outbriefs will be made available, my understanding is at least some of it will be.

Paul Vebber

Gaming foreign policy (at the FSI)

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On Monday I spent the day at the George P. Shultz National Foreign Affairs Training Center in Alexandria, VA, where the Foreign Service Institute trains State Department personnel and others.

The Institute’s programs include training for the professional development of Foreign Service administrative, consular, economic/commercial, political, and public diplomacy officers; for specialists in the fields of information management, office management, security, and medical practitioners and nurses; for Foreign Service Nationals who work at U.S. posts around the world; and for Civil Service employees of the State Department and other agencies. Ranging in length from one day to two years, courses are designed to promote successful performance in each professional assignment, to ease the adjustment to other countries and cultures, and to enhance the leadership and management capabilities of the U.S. foreign affairs community.

This is the second time in two months that I’ve had the opportunity to speak to foreign ministry personnel about the potential use of games-based methods for both training and analysis—in September, I also made a presentation at the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office. This time I offered an overview of the why, what, and how of foreign policy simulation and gaming, and then took some of the participants through games of both AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game and the ISIS Crisis matrix game. You’ll find the slides I used in my presentation here..

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In the game of AFTERSHOCK, the score initially plunged deep into the negatives. However,  effective priority-setting and coordination during mid-game play ultimately resulted in a  very solid victory (especially for the apparently very popular government of Carana).

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The Government of Carana rushes large numbers of security personnel to District 2 to deal with mounting social unrest.

Our game of ISIS Crisis reflected the current situation, with Iraqi and Kurdish forces undertaking operations against ISIS in Mosul. These made gradual progress, but were slowed by ISIS use of chemical IEDs, a scandal over Iranian arms shipments to Iraq, and an Iraqi cabinet crisis that resulted in the return of Nouri al-Maliki to the position of Prime Minister of Iraq—much to the dismay of Iraqi Sunnis, Washington, and Tehran alike. Despite pledges that Shiite militias would not play a role in the Mosul campaign, they did so anyway—aggravating sectarian tensions. ISIS sought to organize simultaneous mass casualty attacks in the US, but the FBI managed to insert an informant among the plotters and arrested everyone involved before the attacks could be carried out. The game ended with ISIS still in Mosul, and military operations still underway. Afterwards much of the discussion focused on how best to debrief matrix games so as to best attain the desired learning outcomes.

Many thanks are due to Walker Hardy and the FSI for organizing and hosting my visit.

A simple planning game

On Thursday, as part of my talk at Duke University on gaming peace and conflict issues in the Middle East, I ran through a couple of turns of ISIS Crisis to demonstrate how a matrix game functions. That led to an interesting post-presentation discussion with one of the attendees, a US special forces officer, on how a matrix game might be used to generate vignettes for tactical exercises or problem-solving discussions.

Today I had a had a discussion over coffee in Alexandria, VA with Ratiba Tauti-Cherif, who specializes in planning, monitoring and evaluation of aid and peacebuilding programmes. She was interested in how a game might be used in a training context to develop local capacity in this area. Here too it seemed to me that a hybrid approach involving some matrix game elements could be quite effective.

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The results of those two discussions can be seen above, in what—for the want of a better name—I’m calling a simple planning game. It essentially works like this:

Participants are given problem to be addressed, whether it is an aid program to designed and implement, or a military objective to be achieved, or something else.

  1. The  major steps or benchmarks to achieve the desired outcome are pre-identified by the instructor (represented above by the arrows marked Steps #1-3). These might be the primary elements of the planning, monitoring, and evaluation process for an aid project, for example, or the key stages in the Military Decision Making Process, or even a series of tactical challenges as part of a broader operation.
  2. Participants are divided into groups, representing real life actors. In a development context these might be local NGOs, the private sector, local and national government, donor agencies, and so forth. In a military context these might represent some combination of staff roles and units/capabilities. One member from each group is temporarily assigned to the Red Team.
  3. The members of the Red Team identify an obstacle appropriate to the current stage of the game, and explain how  it could derail the process or operation. The various player groups then discuss ways in which this obstacle could be overcome, and offer their ideas. As in a typical matrix game, each good argument or idea generated by the participants generates a +1 die roll bonus, while each solid argument from the Red Team imposes a -1 penalty. A d6 is rolled, and the marker is advanced (or retreated) the appropriate number of positions down the track (indicated by blue squares on the image above). This processes is repeated until the participants reach the next major step/task.

    Example: The participants are trying to design and implement a project to address high maternal death rates in a developing country. The Red Team argues that conservative religious leaders might be suspicious or hostile to outside efforts to address pregnancy and child-birth (-1 modifier). The aid actors respond by suggesting outreach to national religious leaders (+1) as well as engagement with community leaders in local areas (+1). The players roll a 4, which with a net +1 modifier advances them a total of five spaces towards their first major task.

  4. When the participants arrive at a major step/task, they are given a relevant group activity or practical exercise to complete before returning to the game. In an aid game this might be a outlining a strategy for stakeholder consultation, for example; in a military game it might be developing a proposed Course of Action.
  5. Members of the previous Red Team go back to their original actor teams, and a new Red Team is formed with new members. As before, the Red Team identifies an obstacle, other players try to overcome it, a d6 is rolled and modified, and the marker continues towards the next major step/task.
  6. The session ends when the players have reached the desired endpoint.

Organizing a session in this way allows a variety of individual topics and learning objectives to be integrated into a single coherent narrative. A skilled facilitator would be able to subtly adjust the pace of the game so that everything remains on schedule, thus addressing the time constraints of an organized course. Teams might even be given a limited number of deus ex machina or lucky break cards—things like extra resources, appeals to senior leaders , or a serendipitous meeting with a key interlocutor—that allow them to overcome obstacles that would otherwise bog down gameplay.

Facilitators would also be able to  modify the degree of challenge during the game so that it remains appropriate for the participants, and to make sure that everyone feels able to contribute. The game and argument/counter-argument components should help to keep everyone energized and engaged.

Since players would rotate through temporary service as a member of the Read Team, they would  gain experience both in identifying potential obstacles and in finding creative ways of overcoming them.One could instead have experienced staff or subject matter experts serve as the Red Team. This would add to the credibility of the the Red Team’s objections and ideas, although at the cost of exposing everyone to the experience of red teaming in policy planning.

If the outputs from each group activity were integrated into a single final product—for example, a Powerpoint presentation, report, or brief-back—players would hopefully come away from it all with a sense of real substantive accomplishment. In a larger group with multiple facilitators, one could even run the simple planning game as a competition, with an award given to the group that most effectively masters the process and generates high quality outputs from each of the group exercises.

Want to give this approach a try in your own training program or classroom? Contact me, and (if my time permits) I would be happy to help you customize it for your needs.

Gaming talks at Duke University

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Today I have been a guest of colleagues at Duke University, giving a couple of talks on serious games.

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Discussing the design of AFTERSHOCK.

The first was a session with students from an interdisciplinary seminar on “Games and Culture: Politics, Pleasure and Pedagogy,” where I discussed Designing AFTERSHOCK. In this I drew upon an earlier presentation to Dstl on designing a humanitarian assistance/disaster relief game, as well as my keynote address to Connections UK 2016 on the social science of gaming and a talk at the RAND gaming Center on semi-cooperative games.

In the evening I spoke on Gaming in Support of the (late) Middle East Peace Process. You’ll find the slides for that talk here.

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I would like to express my gratitude to Shai Ginsburg and Leo Ching for inviting me to Duke and their generous hospitality, and to the students and other participants for very productive and stimulating discussions.

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Demonstrating ISIS CRISIS.

MORS livestream: US DEPSECDEF Robert Work on wargaming

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The Military Operations Research Society will be livestream an keynote address by US Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert O. Work to the MORS special meeting on wargaming on Thursday, October from 14:15to 15:15.

You can view the livestream here.

Robert Work’s February 2015 memo on the need to reinvigorate wargaming can be found here on PAXsims.

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