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Category Archives: conferences

Call for Papers: Connections 2018 wargaming conference

Connections 2018 will be held at National Defense University in Washington, DC, July 17-20.

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Connections is an interdisciplinary wargaming conference that has been held annually since 1993, with the mission of advancing and preserving the art, science, and application of wargaming. Connections participants come from all elements of the wargaming discipline, and include those in the military, government, academic, private sector, and commercial hobbyist fields.  By providing a forum for practitioners to share insights and best practices, Connections works to improve gaming as a tool for research, analysis, education, and policy.

Presentations on any aspect of professional wargaming are welcome.  This year, the Connections conference returns to National Defense University, and as a result, any presentations related to the use of gaming for adult education are especially encouraged.

Please submit your proposal via the Google Form at this link (which contains additional information).

It is by no means necessary to have attended a previous Connections conference to participate as a speaker.  More information about past Connections events and current updates on the status of planning for Connections 2018 can be found at the conference website.

Feel free to pass this along to those who you think might be interested, including posting this in appropriate places online.  For additional information or any questions or concerns, please contact me at timothy.wilkie@ndu.edu.

Timothy Wilkie
Research Fellow
Center for Applied Strategic Learning (CASL)
National Defense University

Connections NL 2017 AAR

PAXsims’s very own Tom Moaut recently attended the Connections Netherlands 2017 professional wargaming conference, and has written up the following report. You’ll also find some slides from the event here, courtesy of Hans Steensma.


 

This year I had the privilege of being invited to the Connections Netherlands conference, which took place on 13 and 14 Nov 17 at Fort 1881 in the Hook of Holland on Day 1 and in the TNO Defence and Security facility in Soesterberg on Day 2. The whole conference was in English for the benefit of international visitors (!).

The custom for Connections NL is to hold their conferences at one of the historic forts that dot the country. Fort 1881 is housed in the former armoured fortress in Hoek van Holland. Originally built in the New Waterway to defend the Rotterdam region, the building dates from 1881. The fortress is of brick construction, featuring over 3km of galleries, passages and stairs, with a complex and sophisticated system for managing the sea water, tides, drinking water and effluent in the depths of the fortification. The fresh water facilities are still operating so well that there are plans to use the 22,000 litres in the reservoir to make their own beer. The fortress is well maintained and the tour we had was fascinating, especially the two dovecotes dedicated to communication with Rotterdam and The Hague.

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The Conference had about 50 international delegates and was sponsored by SAGANET, the Dutch association for simulation and gaming professionals (not to be confused with SAGANet, a science based outreach programme based on the works and ideals of the astronomer Carl Sagan).

The conference was a mix of presentations and live gaming, with the presentations given in one of the larger chambers situated under the position of one of the main batteries, and with the gaming sessions in one of the barrack rooms.

The conference opened with a keynote presentation from Major Tom Mouat, the Directing Staff Officer for Simulation and Modelling from the Defence Academy of the UK. Since that is me, I find it a little awkward to report on my own presentation – but I’ll try! I covered the characteristics of successful wargames while deciding to avoid the trap of trying to define “wargaming”. Most of this was taken from the recently published UK Defence Wargaming Handbook (I must admit to feeling a little strange to actually be quoting “doctrine”, but it is actually useful). I covered a few of the recent initiatives that are a result of efforts to address the UK government decision making shortcomings identified in the Iraq Enquiry, but devoted most of my time to talking about Matrix Games and the evidence for the superiority of group estimation and role-play in predicting the outcome of conflict situations. Since at least some of the organisers were from a scientific research establishment, I felt that it was appropriate…

This was followed by a presentation by Bas Kreuger on the history of wargaming, which included a moment on Rodney, Douglas, Clark and the “breaking of the line” at the Battle of the Saintes in 1782 and some interesting detail on the Dutch Warterlinie defensive works.

Jim Wallman then followed this up with possibly the fastest example of a megagame, by taking all the participants into another room, splitting them up into teams representing the state actors in the contemporary Baltic region and playing a representative turn. This was followed by an explanation of the Dire Straits Megagame played at Connections UK 2017 (and to be played again in late February 2018 at McGill University). This certainly got everyone on their feet, moving around and talking to each other and was a great icebreaker.

Then we had an excellent presentation by Ivo de Nooijer (RU Leiden) on “Lijnenspel”; experiential learning using seminar wargaming, for children of about 11 years old. The game was set in Flatland (an excellent way of avoiding emotional entanglements) and dealt with issues of non-linear communication, refugees, negotiation and small-town politics. I found the insight from the game, that children were concerned that many promises were made in the simulation but few were honoured, and they wanted to know “how adults solved the problem” (!), to be absolutely fascinating. The goals of the game were to demonstrate that team effectiveness is determined by individuals; to focus attention on the “us vs them” debate, to provide an understanding of the role of elections, and of the role of a national government. This looked to be a really interesting game and I look forward to seeing a report about it later.

We then had, what was for me, the most fascinating presentation of the conference: Erik Elgersma (Friesland Campina) giving a presentation about business wargaming. This was a complete revelation as to the level and commitment that the organisation put into the use of wargaming to generate a business advantage. They even include a programme to train successors in order to ensure business continuity and preserve experience and expertise (something sadly lacking in most military communities). The presentation was candid and comprehensive, including detail on strategies tried in the past that didn’t work and what was learned from them. I was quite embarrassed to have to reveal that an organisation making cheese was better organised in wargaming than the British Army.

Diederik Stolk (Goldsworthy Stolk & associates) followed this up with a presentation on rapid wargame development and covering two case studies: The recruiting of students into the Reserve Forces and a training game for senior civil servants and members of the Dutch Parliament. The process, while not necessarily what I would call especially rapid, was refreshing and the products sufficiently different from what I expected, that I was intrigued. The game design looked and felt bespoke to the problem and the audience. The presentation of components, and the delivery of briefing materials and rules as a newspaper, was inspired (and one that I shall exploit!).

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I particularly liked his rule of thumb that a game needs a minimum of 3 playtests to ensure a properly playable game, but a repeatable game to be played with the same audience needs a minimum of 10 playtests. Sadly, the time and resources permitted to the last few wargaming I have been involved with recently did not permit this.

This was followed by an excellent dinner in the Officer Mess building, located outside the fortress.

Following dinner, we played some demonstration games:

  • Baltic Challenge Matrix Game – Tom Mouat/Anja v.d. Hulst
  • Wargaming in the British Army – Jim Wallman
  • MBT (Main Battle Tank), Open Source Intelligence with Wargaming – Swen Stoop
  • Conflict of Heroes: Guadalcanal – introductory board wargame: Bas Kreuger

On Day 2 we reconvened at the TNO facilities in Soesterberg. This was slightly unfortunate as the mix of participants was mostly different from Day 1 and I think that it might make for a better experience overall to have the conference as a 2-Day event at a single location. Whether this is financially viable or practical, of course, is another question.

The day started off with a presentation specifically on matrix gaming by me, followed up with an introductory Matrix game about a Drug Baron in a fictitious (and deliberate caricature) of a South American state. The game is used for language training in the Defence Language School in the UK and is a useful introduction. I was helped in the session by Jim Wallman offering a slightly different perspective, as someone required to deliver such games as part of his business. This reminded me that I need to watch other people deliver matrix games, in order to gain insights as to how they facilitate the games. For too long I have been the lone de-facto “expert” on matrix games in the UK, and I am only too aware that this limits my professional development. Now that these games are being exploited more widely, I need to take the opportunities to benefit from how others solve issues that arise…

Other players, more experienced in matrix Games, ran through with Anja van der Hulst, the Baltic Challenge game.

This was followed after lunch by a design session.

Jim Wallman ran a session in which resilience was examined through the lens of the different political, police, emergency and social actors in a major container port, when faced with a major problem.

I ran a session in which the participants elected to look at the emerging situation in Catalonia: CatalExit! In the few hours we had, we managed to examine the topic, take an initial look at the actors involved, and then run through a few game turns in order to see if there were any structural flaws. The actors we came up with were essentially the Government of Catalonia, the pro-independence “Catalan Republic”, and the pro-Spanish population in the Catalan Region; mirrored by the Spanish Government, the right-wing Spanish Nationalists and the left wing Spanish Socialists. We also added an additional actor representing Russia, promoting destabilisation and extremism.

The game worked pretty well, highlighting the dangers of extremism and the fragile nature of the political crisis. There appeared to us to be a large number of opportunities for dangerous mistakes that could easily lead to extremist violence. Messaging, timing and communication were all very difficult and open to manipulation by all concerned, especially foreign actors like Russia.

Some statistics: Total attendees: 55: (of which 6 were Female (11%):

  •   Government 15
  •   Business 14
  •   Education/Students 4
  •   Organisation 4
  •   Photographer 1
  •   Others 11

Overall the conference was a great success. The location for Day 1 and the quality of the other speakers was simply excellent. I am very grateful for the invitation to attend and I hope to be able to come back next year!

Tom Moaut

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Australian Army Wargaming Conference

On October 17, Headquarters Forces Command (HQ FORCOMD) held the Australian Army Wargaming Conference at Victoria Barracks, Sydney. Presentations from that conference can now be seen online via The Cove (the Australian Army’s open-access professional development website) and YouTube.

Opening address by MAJGEN Mick Krause.

MAJGEN Krause (himself a hobby wargamer) stresses the importance of genuine competition—something that wargaming can offer. The “essence of tactics,” he suggested, is creativity—but assessment for promotion tends to emphasize binary yes/no, pass/fail measurements. He expressed concern that most wargames currently in use in the Australian Army tend to emphasize attrition, and underrepresent the human factors that shape military outcomes. Consequence, they fail to teach the “very essence of our profession.” Wargaming helps players to visualize tactics and experience some of the cognitive stress of warfare. Wargames need to be realistic, easy to use (if they are to be used, and used repeatedly), and teach good tactics (demonstrating combined arms effects in the battle space).

It’s an excellent and inspiring presentation, and there is useful discussion in the Q&A period too.

LTCOL Nick Bosio on “Johnny, Timmy and Spike” Enhancing Decision Making Through Gaming.”

LTCOL Bosio discussed how wargaming can contribute to decision-making. He focuses on three issues: the breadth of available games, why people game, and how humans make decisions. Drawing upon one typology of player types—”Spike” (who loves to win), “Timmy” (who enjoys the game narrative), and “Johnny” (the contrarian)—he goes on to discuss how gaming can contribute to the development of underlying cognitive skills and heuristics. Gaming against a live opponent may contribute to better cost/benefit analysis. I particularly enjoyed his discussion of why “Timmy” skills are important—namely that campaigns are a “story” of lethal and non-lethal effects that must be combined to alter an opponent’s perceptions and will. Timmy-types may be able to rise above functional specializations to better understand this broader picture.

PAXsim’s very own ISIS CRISIS, now available as part of the Matrix Game Construction Kit (MaGCK), gets a mention too.

SGT Tyron Casey introduces the Australian Defence Force Wargaming Association (ADFWGA).

SGT Casey offered an overview of the Australian Defence Force Wargaming Association, which was first established in 2009/10 by military personnel who enjoy (hobby) wargaming. Today it has some 270 members. The ADFWA promotes hobby wargaming as way of developing tactically-relevant skills, organizes events, and raises funds for charity. ADFWA also encourages the chain-of-command to support wargaming activities by their personnel.


I’m not sure if it was mentioned at the conference, but this is probably a good time to also remind any Australian readers that the Connections Oz 2017 wargaming conference will be held on 11-13 December at the University of Melbourne. I was fortunate to attend a couple of years ago, and had a great time.

US Army War College: Gaming in Education

On July 22 the US Army War College’s Center for Strategic Leadership hosted a panel discussion on “Gaming in Education,” with a focus on wargaming. You’ll find a video of the event below.

The panel included Peter Perla (CNA), James Lacey (Marine Corps War College), David Lai (US Army War College), and James Sterrett (US Army Command and General Staff College).

You’ll find more on it here. Many thanks to LTC Joseph Chretien for passing this on.

Dissecting DIRE STRAITS

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The DIRE STRAITS megagame was held on September 5 at King’s College London, and formed part of three days of activities, panel discussions, and break-out sessions at the Connections UK professional wargaming conference. You’ll find my overall report on the conference here, and a BBC report on the game here.

In this blog post I thought I would reflect a little on the exercise: the rationale and objectives for the game, the scenario, game design choices, how it all went on the day, and what (if any) substantive policy lessons we can draw from it.

 

Game Objectives

Connections UK first held a megagame as part of the conference programme in 2016, when Jim ran War in Binni—a civil war scenario set in a fictional country. It proved very popular with participants, who expressed a desire that the conference organizers do something similar for 2017.

However, since Connections is about improving the art and science of wargaming, and most of the participants are folks who participate in, design, or facilitate professional wargames (or other serious games), we thought that this time we might try to simulate a real, near-future situation. This is a more difficult challenge: the game designer needs to accurately reflect reality, and cannot play around with that reality solely to create more interesting game dynamics.

Complicating all this were the practical requirements of the event:

  • There would be more than 100 participants, and so the game had to accommodate this many roles and sub-roles. Everyone needed to be engaged and involved.
  • Related to this, we wanted people to enjoy themselves. Quite apart from whatever insight the game might offer into wargaming and its subject matter, it also served as a conference ice-breaker and networking opportunity.
  • Participants would have a wide range of subject matter expertise and wargaming experience.
  • The game would take up much of the first day, involving around 6 hours of game play (including briefing and lunch).
  • Physical space was rather limited: one large room, and two smaller rooms.
  • There would be no time for pre-reading. The game briefings had to be sufficiently straight-forward to enable everyone to assume their roles with minimal preparation.

As if that wasn’t enough, we later decided to raise the bar a bit higher still by adding an experimental research component to the game. This would examine issues of convergence and divergence in wargame analysis. Specifically, would three different groups of analysts, each observing the same game and with access to similar materials and documentation, reach similar conclusions about the validity of the wargame methodology adopted and the substantive findings of the game? The megagame would give us an opportunity to explore this important question.

 

Scenario

Our very first thought was to do a China-Taiwan crisis, which gave rise to the title DIRE STRAITS. However, it soon became apparent that this would not easily sustain 100+ participants. Consequently, we expanded it to include other potential regional crises: North Korea’s development of ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons; China’s maritime claims in the South China Sea; and growing tensions between India and China. Virtually all of these issues were in the news, and indeed were increasingly so as the summer progressed.

At the same time as we were developing the scenario, we also settled on a central question that the game would address: how would the unpredictability of US policy under the Trump Administration, and the growing strategic power of China, affect crisis stability in East and Southeast Asia? In order to make any such effects clearer, we set the game in early 2020. The Trump Administration was said to have survived the Special Counsel investigation, but suffered political damage. Parts of the Republican Party were in open revolt, and Trump faced a Republican challenger for the 2020 presidential nomination. North Korea was on the verge of resuming major weapons tests, and suffered from growing internal unrest. In Taiwan, revelations of Chinese (PRC) efforts to hack the island’s January 2020 elections had spurred a strong pro-independence backlash there. Just to push things along, we also planned an assassination attempt against North Korean leader Kim Jong-un for Turn 2 of the game.

Marc Lanteigne (Centre for Defence and Security Studies, Massey University)., who specializes in Chinese and East Asia security issues, was kind enough to review our scenario ideas and confirm it all seemed plausible.

 

 

 

Game Design

Although he might disagree and break into post-traumatic twitches at the mere mention of DIRE STRAITS, it was (as in the past) a sheer joy to be working with Jim on this project. We quickly divided the work between us. I handled the scenario development and team/player briefings, the White House and North Korea subgames, and the “Connections Global News” media unit. He developed the overall game system for the deployment and use of military units, the maps, and most other game components.

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We took pity on the Royal Navy and let them have the F-35Bs operational on HMS Queen Elizabeth a few months early

In developing the game system we very much emphasized relatively simple rules, with a very general combat model. With one week turns, large aggregate forces, and large areas of the region depicted, there was little need to model individual platforms and weapons system. Moreover, given that we were dealing with a series of crises that might involve more signalling than actual use of force, we decided to stress posture (how prepared and mobilized military forces were) and commitment (willingness to use force in a confrontation).

The maps used a simple system of zonal movement. Again, with one week turns, fine detail was unnecessary.

Teams were typically subdivided into a national leader, a foreign minister, a senior military commander, an intelligence chief, and one or more ambassadors. Each team would issue military orders (movement of forces, as well as changes in posture and commitment) using a  Military Operations Form. Other major decisions (including options presented in the team briefing) were recorded using a Major Decision Form. In order to provide greater insight into goals and perspectives, we also had each national leader complete a Strategic Assessment each turn, while each intelligence chief completed an Intelligence Assessment to identify threats and likely future developments.

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The Koreas map. Other game maps depicted the Taiwan Strait, the South China Sea, and the Chinese-Indian border region.

The White House subgame was an essential part of the design. In particular, we needed to recreate the uncertainties and internal power struggles of the Trump Administration. We decided early on not to have a participant playing the President himself, for fear that excessively crazy (or reasonable) behaviour might adversely affect the entire game. Instead, potential presidential policy directions were represented by various Tweets, most of them based on previous statements.

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Members of cabinet and the White House staff each had different policy preferences (anti-globalism, defeating the Republican challenger, confronting China, encouraging diplomacy, projecting American military strength, promoting the Trump brand, achieving a well-run White House, or “Making America Great Again”), and sought to influence the policy by moving various ideas up a snakes-and-ladders -type game board using White House Politics cards. Some of the latter are displayed below.

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White House players who had their favoured policies adopted by the President received Trump points. Amassing these was essential, for periodic staff shake-ups could result in the ouster of the lowest-scoring player. Once a policy was in place in a given issue area, it remained there until replaced. Of course, just as in the real world, US players would have considerable latitude in how to interpret President Trump’s statements.

The North Korea subgame took a very different approach: we didn’t really establish much of a game at all, and asked North Korea Control (Tom Mouat) to improvise if need be. At the DPRK table we placed various displays indicating the various key power centres of the regime, onto which the players placed pawns indicating their loyal cadres. Not surprisingly, the Supreme Leader had the most cadres, and controlled the key positions. However, in the event that the assassination attempt succeeded, we envisaged using matrix-game adjudication to determine the success and outcome of any internal actions. Party Politics cards added some additional richness to this.

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Some of the North Korean Party Politics cards.

It was important that lesser players retain support in the Central Committee lest they be purged. Kim Jong-un was also given—partly for fun, but also to simulate the demonstrative displays of public support that sustain authoritarian regimes by projecting omnipotence—a number of Obsequious Loyalty Forms. With these he could set his minions a task each turn, with rewards and punishments for those who exhibited impressive or disappointing revolutionary enthusiasm.

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One of the North Korea power structures displays, in this case depicting the Korean Workers’ Party. The others depicted the military, the intelligence and security services, and the civil government.

The presence of a complex-looking internal politics game on the North Korean table was also intended to generate a sense of uncertainty and confusion among other teams as to what exactly was going on in Pyongyang.

The US and North Korea subgames might seem a little satirical, and indeed were designed to allow the players to enjoy themselves. However, we were fairly confident that their actual outputs would be quite realistic. Statements from the US President would be rhetorical and unpredictable, reflecting his own views and the intense ideological, political, and personality battles within the White House. Indeed, most were simply restatements or tweak of previous statements made by Donald Trump during the election campaign or since assuming office. North Korean politics would be complex, but opaque to outsiders. This was also a case of designing for our audience, who we knew could appreciate the humour while remaining focused on their simulated tasks.

With regard to our media team (Connections Global News), this Jim and I recruited outside the conference from among experienced megagame players and some of my former political science students (all of whom were veterans of my own intense, week-long Brynania simulation). The media play an absolutely essential role in such games, making sure that players are well-informed by providing a stream of generally reliable information. Jim was able to staff the various Control positions from among experienced gamers attending the conference.

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More game materials. Photo credit: Jim Wallman.

When assigning players to teams, we did our best to match subject matter expertise and experience to roles. We were fortunate to have several people with expertise in the East and Southeast Asian security issues among the conference participants.

 

Game Play

Both Jim and I were very pleased with how it all went. The players remained extremely active and engaged. Team behaviours were all plausible. The Control members did an excellent job, and Connections Global News managed to tweet no fewer than 365 news reports in five hours of play, at a rate of more than one per minute.

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The initial CGN game briefing underway. Photo credit: Tom Mouat.

The North Korean crisis attracted the most international attention. Kim Jong-un, who survived the assassination attempt thanks to his loyal secret police, approved testing of a multiple warhead version of his ICBM, and then deployed a basic SLBM system on modified conventional submarines. The missile tests took place over Japan, moreover. Each of his decisions was met with rapturous applause from members of his government (although one overly ambitious ambassador did have to be disciplined).

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North Korea’s Supreme Leader practices his very best resolute-stare-in-the-face-of-capitalist-neoimperialism.

South Korea, Japan, and the US responded by placing forces on alert. South Korea decided to undertake covert efforts to promote peaceful change in the North. While the DPRK’s Supreme Leader (ably played by Brian Train) projected the revolutionary self-confidence one might expect of the vanguard leadership of the Korean Workers’ Party, I think that as they saw the build-up of military hardware in their neighbourhood they might have been a little anxious as to whether they had overstepped a little.

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Players react as CGN reports on a North Korean missile test. Photo credit: Tom Mouat.

Unknown to most (except the CIA), South Korea also began secret preparatory work to enable it to launch an accelerated nuclear weapons development programme at some future point, if the need arose. The growing strategic threat from the North was the primary reason for this. However, Seoul was also concerned that US commitments were perhaps less reliable than in the past. This was a concern for Japan too.

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Things heat up around the Korean Peninsula. Photo credit: Tom Mouat.

Indeed, within the US Administration there was a lively, and often confused, debate over how to respond. Some felt it was essential to send a strong message of US resolve, and indeed at one point US Pacific Command recommended that the US consider sinking a North Korean SSB to send a message. That was quickly ruled out by the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Secretary of Defense. Others argued for caution, arguing if too much pressure was placed on Pyongyang the regime might respond in dangerous ways.

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The White House. Photo credit: Connections UK.

When Pyongyang briefly hacked Donald Trump’s Twitter account, however, the President was furious. The NSA and US Cyber Command responded by briefly shutting down North Korean radio and television.

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Inside the White House. Photo credit: Ivan Seifert/KCL.

A key point of difference within the American Administration concerned the role of China. Some favoured diplomatic outreach to Beijing to coordinate policy regarding the Korea crisis. Others felt China’s interests were too different from those of the US. Still others, with an eye on US domestic politics, were eager to advance the President’s trade policy by putting pressure on “#cheatingChina” to make economic concessions. The result was that US policy signals were mixed at best, reflecting as much the tug-of-war within the White House as the evolving strategic crisis on the Korean Peninsula. Meanwhile, the situation grew increasingly fraught, and a subsequent review of national intelligence estimates showed that several countries assessed the probability of war in coming weeks at greater than 50/50.

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Everyone on alert. Photo credit: Paul Howarth.

US diplomats in their region, however, did their best to pursue a steady course, downplaying some of the President Trump’s more provocative statements and working with regional actors. China, Russia, and the US met to resolve the crisis, while both North and South Korea took steps to de-escalate the situation. The US also took the decision to expand and accelerate deployment of a range of ant-ballistic missile (ABM) systems (THAAD, Aegis, and GBD/GBI) to offset North Korea’s growing capabilities.

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Game play underway at CGN headlines are displayed on the room monitors. Photo credit: Paul Howarth.

While all this was going on, the Taiwanese team—angered by the “Chrysanthemum Conspiracy” election hacking scandal—pushed for greater Taiwanese independence from the People’s Republic of China. When efforts to win observer status at the United Nations were blocked by China in the Security Council, efforts shifted to the General Assembly. At the same time, a constitutional reform process was announced, with considerable public support. Taipei hoped that Beijing would be too distracted by the Korea crisis to respond forcefully to these moves. France was particularly outspoken in supporting Taipei’s efforts, including a promise of arms sales.

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Tensions grow in the Taiwan Strait. Photo credit: Paul Howarth.

The PRC’s response was rather less severe than one might have expected, Nonetheless, it did begin a build-up of naval forces in the Taiwan Strait, and sent a warning shot in the form of a massive cyberattack that disrupted internet traffic across the island. The US dispatched a carrier task force to the area, and President Trump at one point tweeted apparent support for Taiwan’s UN bid. However, back in Washington another heated debate was underway. Some favoured supporting democratic Taiwan. Other advocated abandoning President Tsai to win greater support from Beijing on the Korea issue. In the UN, the US refrained from actively supporting Taiwanese efforts.

In the South China Sea, ASEAN countries found common ground in resisting Chinese maritime claims. Such enhanced regional cooperation seemed to be spurred on by a feeling that American support would be uneven going forward. France and the UK joined several regional countries (Malaysia, Vietnam, Philippines) in naval exercises, while Indonesia announced that it would be upgrading military facilities and constructing an airbase in the area. Several countries announced more active measures against Chinese fishing in disputed waters, resulting in a couple of incidents between fishing vessels and coast guards.

Vietnam—adjacent to China, still smarting from China’s 2017 threats against an offshore oil project, and with bitter memories of the 1979 war between the two countries, was especially active in reaching out to other partners. It signed a secret agreement with the US to establish a joint signals intelligence facility to monitor Chinese military communications, concluded an arms deal with Russia, and allowed a Russian naval visit in conjunction with planned joint oil exploration in the area. Beijing was none too pleased by all this, but was preoccupied by other events.

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The Vietnamese team issues new military orders. Photo credit: Ivan Seifert/KCL.

Amid all this, border tensions between India and China were quickly resolved. Although military forces were briefly placed on somewhat higher alert, the two countries quickly agreed to accept the status quo and reduce tensions. Thereafter India largely focused on economic development and pursuing amicable relations with its neighbours—except Pakistan, where tensions over Kashmir flared.

And so it was that DIRE STRAITS ended with a few incidents at sea over illegal fishing and a some major cyber-attacks, but no open warfare. This, I think, was a very plausible outcome—although the Chinese response to signs of greater independence by Taiwan were rather less forceful than I imagine their real-world response would be. While it all might seem surprisingly peaceful in retrospect, many countries spent much of the game expecting war to erupt at any minute.

We also saw the President’s beleaguered Chief of Staff dismissed from his post amidst White House intrigue, and his overwhelmed Secretary of State resign at the end of the game rather than be fired.

 

Broader Lessons

After all of that, what conclusions might be drawn from the game concerning both the topic under examination, and the use of megagames as a serious gaming method?

Despite the various requirements imposed by the conference and venue, I do think the game generated some insight into current policy challenges. Specifically:

  • US policy under the Trump Administration is much less predictable than under any other president in modern times, a function of both the President’s mercurial and populist political instincts, and the clash between differing priorities and world-views within the White House. True, we had designed the game system to encourage this, but none of it was predetermined, and players could have taken a more cooperative route (as they did when deciding to increase the American investment in ABM systems). As White House Control, I was pleased to see how realistically and enthusiastically participants role-played their roles. Debate centred around different political views and goals, and not the manipulation of game mechanics. Domestic political concerns often trumped geopolitics. In short, if one builds a game system that models the existence of factions, rivalries, and differences within the current White House, one gets game outputs that look very much like current US foreign policy.
  • The mixed and sometimes wildly oscillating signals coming out of Washington do less damage than might be the case because they are quietly spun, nuanced, and moderated by cabinet officials and ambassadors in the field. In DIRE STRAITS the Secretary of Defense, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Secretary of State, and various ambassadors played a key role in this. Indeed, it was precisely because he spent so much time trying to patch over problems arising in Washington that our simulated Secretary of State found himself with little influence in the Oval Office and was ultimately sacked.
  • Despite this, uncertainties in US policy generate anxiety among American friends and allies. Neither South Korea nor Japan seemed to feel they could fully rely on Washington, as evidenced by the former secret decision to prepare a potential nuclear weapons programme. Taiwan was never quite sure how much latitude and US support it had, and Beijing was also left guessing about American commitment to the “One China Policy.” ASEAN countries increased regional security cooperation in part because US backing seemed uncertain. Several countries diversified their relations to counterbalance China and hedge their bets regarding American support.
  • The game clearly showed that there are no good policy options regarding North Korea’s nuclear capacity, only less-bad ones. Everyone was wary of pushing Pyongyang too far. Toppling the Kim Jong-un regime was seen by most (but not all) as dangerous, since it risked retaliation or chaos in a nuclear-armed state. In this sense, Pyongyang’s nukes demonstrated their value as a deterrent. Rather than punitive strikes or intervention, a messy mix of threats, deterrence, sanctions, and diplomatic dialogue appeared to offer the best path to crisis management. US-Chinese cooperation was important, but undermined by mutual suspicion, as well as tensions between Washington and Beijing on other issues (such as trade or the South China Sea). Overall, the game seemed to suggest no meaningful path to denuclearization, a real risk that South Korea (or even Japan) might consider a future nuclear weapons option, and the reality of having to live with a nuclear-armed DPRK while mitigating the threat and deterring North Korean adventurism.
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Some of the media team (and me). Photo credit: Patrick Brobbey.

Regarding the game method, there’s not much I would change. There were a few cases where misleading information circulated (CGN initially reported Taiwan was successful in its bid for UNGA observer status, and had to correct this—no such vote was held, and they would have likely lost), but overall the information flow and quality was excellent. The subgames worked well, and it was noteworthy than many/most non-American players were unaware that “Donald Trump” was a game system rather than a human player until after it was all over. Jim’s decision to dramatically simplify the military/combat system, and to emphasize issues of posture and commitment, was absolutely right. The map displays had just the right amount of simplicity and detail.

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The US analytical team. Photo credit: Connections UK.

Longer turns would have been nice—I think we would have had better briefing back to leaderships as well as more considered strategy discussions. However, longer turns would have also meant fewer turns, and we thought it important that there be ample opportunity for players to see the consequence of their actions. We also surprised players by ending the game one turn early to prevent “last turn madness.”

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More analysts analyzing. Photo credit: Tom Mouat.

We could have had more effective data collection, but here we were limited by the realities of the exercise. Teams did complete our military and major decision forms as required, but strategic and intelligence assessment forms were sometimes forgotten (or lost) in the hustle and bustle. All the news reports were archived, and pictures were taken of each game map each turn to provide a record of the military situation. Members of the three analytical teams freely circulated around the game during play, and were able to listen in on strategy discussions, negotiations, and sundry plotting. I’m eager to see what they will have to say.

* * *

At the moment, it looks like we will be designing another megagame for Connections 2018 (pending the results of the participant feed-back forms). The subject matter, however, has yet to be determined. Ideas, anyone?

Connections UK 2017 report

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The annual Connections UK professional wargaming conference was held at King’s College London on 5-7 September. Three member of the PAXsims team (Tom Mouat, Devin Ellis, and myself) were there.

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Tom Mouat at the opening of Connections UK 2017. Picture by Ivan Seifert/KCL.

 


 

old-fashioned-movie-countdown-title-film-screen-like-hollywood-cinema-one-two-three-55953948.jpgThe first day of the conference included a “Wargaming 101” session for newcomers, but was mainly taken up with the Dire Straits megagame. This involved around 100 participants, and explored near future (2020) crisis stability in Asia in the context of uncertain and unpredictable US policy, and a rising China.

I’ll say much more about that in a future post, but I certainly think it went very well—everyone seem engaged, the game systems held up, and I think the outcomes were, in a broad sense, quite realistic.

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Dire Straits about to start. Picture by Ivan Seifert/KCL.

You’ll find a BBC news report on the game here, and Bob Cordery’s account of the game (as Central Sector Map Control) here.

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The unforgettable Jim Wallman—who gave his left arm for megagaming—explains what is going on to the BBC. Picture by Ivan Seifert/KCL.

 


 

old-fashioned-movie-countdown-title-film-screen-like-hollywood-cinema-one-two-three-55954082.jpgThe second day of Connections UK began with Graham Longley-Brown outlining the growing popularity of wargaming as a method for education, training, and policy analysis. Evidence of growing attention in the UK includes the recent publication by the Ministry of Defence Development, Concepts, and Doctrine Centre (DCDC) of the Defence Wargaming Handbook. He warned, however, that this trend is fragile. Wargaming is far from institutionalized. Current momentum is maintained by a perilously small group of people. The various Connections conferences provide an opportunity to share ideas and build the community.

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The panel on UK military wargaming. Picture by Ivan Seifert/KCL.

The first panel examined UK military tri-service wargaming. Lt Col Nigel Jordan-Barber (British Army) discussed Standing Joint Force Headquarters Group Wargaming. Nigel discussed his own background as a hobby wargamer, and his efforts to use these techniques to train soldiers. He encountered uneven interest and support among more senior officers. At SJFHQ he worked with Dstl on developing wargames. PAXsims, AFTERSHOCK, and matrix wargaming were all mentioned too. Regarding the latter, he discussed the BALTIC CHALLENGE matrix game, NASHE MORE, and a joint theatre entry A2/AD wargame. He also noted a number of issues he had encountered: “last turn madness” (whereby players act unrealistically toward the end of a game in an effort to win, or just make things more exciting); the influence of the map on players; the challenge of articulating risk and effect; the importance of addressing second/third order effects and consequence management; and when to use (or not use) wargaming. He found that real scenarios were much more useful in generating interest across the military and other government departments.

Cdr Matt Payne (Royal Navy Maritime Warfare Centre) talked about “The Green Shoots of Royal Navy Wargaming.” As a non-hobby wargamer, he offered his thoughts on the development of RN wargaming in recent years, noting that much is having to be rebuilt from scratch. Most RN officers have little familiarity with the broad spectrum of (potential) wargaming, and even the term “wargaming” can sometimes attract derisive comments about “playing games.” Heavily-scripted TACEX (tactical exercise) seminar gaming has been used for teaching purposes, but they tend to lack much of a creative, adaptive adversarial challenge. As the profile of wargaming increases, it is important that games be of sufficient quality to impress, and thereby strengthen rather than undermine the approach. He also noted that:

  • There is a big jump between being a “gamer” and wargame design.
  • Rolling dice to reflect risk and probabilities often raises naval eyebrows, unless to explain the purpose.
  • The enemy is too often underestimated or portrayed in a cartoonish way that fails to respect their agility and resourcefulness.
  • A culture of wargaming needs to be developed across the Navy, ideally starting with junior officer training.

The MWC has launched two initiatives. Project PROTEUS is aimed at invigorating naval wargaming through a serious of increasingly complex wargames. The games will also contribute to force development analysis. The biggest lesson was the importance of data capture. The Wargame in a Box initiative is a simple and adaptable manual naval wargame. However, when the initial prototype (focusing on the Bab al-Mandab) was sent to ships and other assets across the Navy, there was no response whatsoever—highlighting the problem of receptivity. The game is being further developed to be a more user-friendly flexible rules-based game.

Ed Oates (Royal Navy) discussed “Wargaming in Training: The Road to Recovery,” drawing upon the DSAT (Defence Systems Approach to Training) and training needs assessment. He stressed the importance of clearly identifying the value-added and cost/time-effectiveness of wargaming. The training objectives and learning specifications need to be clear. Trainers need to be effective umpires, facilitators, and adjudicators. Wargamers need to join, and work with, trainers—and make sure that wargaming be seen as a “normal” activity. Umpires and adjudicators need to be trained. There also needs to be military/academic analysis of the learning effects of wargaming.

The final presentation of this session Flt Lt Colin Bell (RAF Air Warfare School) looked at basic air wargaming. Wargaming is underutilized in RAF training. Winged Exile is a basic board wargame to be sent to Air Cadet units that explores air operations and air defence planning, designed to support recruitment, but has broader applicability in revised version to the Basic Air Warfare course. Feedback has been very positive. Colin also discussed a card game he has developed to teach key air warfare concepts, as well as an air mobility game. One key challenge is having the right people in the right places. There also needs to be a spiraled implementation process, with clear training goals.

The entire session was an impressive display of energy, enthusiasm, and innovation, with a great deal of attention to the important issue of understanding both educational objectives and practical challenges. Howard underscored this, as well as the importance of advocacy and developing wargaming competencies.

A short but lively question and answer period followed. From this, and the previous presentations, two thoughts occurred to me.

  • The first concerned the inevitable shortcomings and flaws in any wargame, and especially simple and accessible ones. I think it is important to see these as a potential feature rather than a bug: critical reflection on what a game misses or get wrong can be very useful in encouraging participants to think beyond the game.
  • A second thought concerned the “safe to fail” environment of wargaming. The point is often made that it is better to lose simulated casualties, or otherwise make mistakes, in a gaming environment where no actual lives are at stake, and from which lessons can be learned. That is undoubtedly true. It is also the case that participants will be reluctant to experiment or be truly innovative if they think that poor wargame performance will affect their course or career progression. For that reason, the usual advice is not assess performance to avoid such a chilling effect on participants. But what happens if game performance generates serious red flags about suitability for deployment or command? I’ve certainly seen performances that have led me to have serious concerns as to whether a player should ever be placed in a conflict environment.

The second plenary session of the day looked at US and UK military and diplomatic wargaming initiatives. Colin Marston (Dstl), who chaired the session, offered some initial comments on the growing official/senior attention to wargaming in the UK. He pointed to a series of forthcoming e-surveys intended to assess UK (and allied) capability and interest in wargaming methods.

The first speaker was Phil Pournelle (Long Term Strategy Group), on “US Ongoing Wargaming Initiatives.” Appropriately enough, he started with a shameless plug for the forthcoming MORS wargaming special meeting (17-19 October). He then went on to discuss recent developments in the US. The March 2016 “practitioners summit” highlighted the lack of master game designers, the need to identify best practices, and the need to integrate wargaming into larger DoD analytic processes. This led to the establishment of the Defense Wargaming Alignment Group, as well as sponsorship of the MORS workshops. The latest (2017) JP 5-0 on Joint Planning contains an updated and expanded definition of wargaming and identification of best practices. He stressed the importance of introductory games to produce novice wargamers, as well as classes and certificate programmes to bring wargamers up to the apprentice level. He also discussed various categories and characteristics of wargames.

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Phil Pournelle emphasizing the importance of supporting the professional development of wargame designers. Picture by Ivan Seifert/KCL.

Matt Caffrey (US Air Force) took a longer-term view of improving wargaming. Often efforts to assess the utility of a wargame are too narrow: impacts have many causes, and impacts may take decades to become clear. However, wargaming may offer insight into how to gain or expand an edge.

The next presentation looked at gaming in the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The speaker suggested that traditional hobby wargames aren’t necessarily the best model for games that explore diplomatic and political issues. There has been interest and even enthusiasm at FCO for gaming, there is also some suspicion. Moreover, staff don’t always have enough time to plan or participate in a game, given other demands. One recent game on presidential succession in an African state was successful, but despite enthusiastic endorsement by the sponsoring Ambassador, there was no take-up from other posts or units in the FCO for similar gaming.

He noted that matrix games are easy to set up, and generate a chain of plausible actions and events. Matrix games do have limits too. There is reluctance to accept an element of stochastically-influenced adjudication (dice!), or even apply notions of probability and uncertainty to diplomatic outcomes.  More broadly, FCO lacked resources. Foreign ministries are about relationships and less so about doing things. FCO is not adept at planning. There is also a great deal of displacement activity—action for its own sake. What is needed is a relatively simple game that can address process and intra/inter-governmental dynamics.

Finally, Col George Wilson (DCDC) talked about the new UK Defence Wargaming Handbook. The Handbook outlines fundamentals, types, variants, contexts, and processes of wargaming. It is aimed to educate and improve standards across the British military.

The subsequent discussion addressed cooperation between the public and private sector, and the need to tailor game methodologies to audiences and context. I raised a growing pet peeve, namely the extent to which contracting processes and increasing restrictions on visits to military sites inhibit non-nationals and non-officials from contributing to military wargaming.

The keynote address was provided by Howard Body (MoD), which explored the potential contribution of wargaming to defence strategy. It was an insightful and pithy talk, with a frank assessment of opportunities, constraints, process, and pitfalls.

After lunch the first games fair session was held. During the conference, demonstrations of the following games were available:

  • Agricola: The Roman Campaign in Britain, AD 82-84
  • Brief Border Wars
  • Camberley Kriegsspiel
  • Caudillo
  • Colonial Twilight: the French-Algerian War, 1954-62
  • Cyber Strategy Wargame
  • CyberStrike
  • Dogfight
  • Future of Global Salafi Jihad
  • HOSPEX Tabletop: A Field Hospital Simulation
  • Maillot Jaune
  • MaGCK: matrix Game Construction Kit
  • RCAT: A Year in Iraq, 2004-05
  • Strategic level Decision-Making in Disaster Management
  • Winged Exile

I looked on and assisted as Tom Mouat ran a game of A Reckoning of Vultures, from the Matrix Game Construction Kit (MaGCK). The game resulted with the revolutionary workers of the National Union of Toilers emerged triumphant—aided, in part, by their seizure of the headquarters of the Ruling Party. The wily head of the Central Security and Intelligence Directory ended up as Vice President, while two generations of Matrixian oligarchs were executed. The scenario is a fictional and rather tongue-in-cheek one, but is intended to demonstrate an array of matrix game techniques.

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Tom Mouat facilitates A Reckoning of Vultures from the Matrix Game Construction Kit (MaGCK).

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With the President-for-Life on his death-bed, tensions mount in Matrixia. A Reckoning of Vultures/Matrix Game Construction Kit. Picture by Ivan Seifert/KCL.

Unfortunately, because I was involved in running a game I didn’t have a chance to look around. Fortunately Ivan Seifert did, so here are a few of the other games on display:

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After the games fair session was over, Charles Vasey offered a lively presentation on “Unprofessional Wargaming,” exploring what recent developments in hobby wargame design might contribute to serious wargame design. Traditional hex-and-counter wargaming is increasingly being supplanted by the “new New.” This is much more visual. Cards play a larger role in games, which provide a great deal of game information. Much of the “new New” is inspired by Eurogaming. More games are cooperative, where the game system provides the adversary. Quite appropriately, the singled out Brian Train’s innovative approach to gaming, as well as Volko Ruhnke and the GMT COIN series. He also noted the increasing interest in asymmetric conflicts, and issues of both war and peacebuilding/stabilization.

This was followed by Paul Strong talking about what has become a favourite topic of mine—“Wargaming the Atlantic Wart,” and in particular the contribution of the women and men of the Western Approaches Tactical Unit. It was a terrific presentation about a set of heretofore unsung wargaming heroes of WWII.

After dinner a second games fair session was held. This time I ran a near-future Israel-Hizbullah matrix game, which we had designed in July during a game design workshop at Dstl and which had been put together using the Matrix Game Construction Kit. The game saw a lot of tit-for-tat actions (Israeli bombing of major Hizbullah weapons shipments, periodic efforts to assassinate key figures), but not a great deal of investment in innovative capabilities. When a larger war started, Israel launched a quick and limited punitive incursion in the Bint Jbail sector without even waiting for reserve units to fully mobilize, inflicted some casualties, then declared victory and left—just as their US allies endorsed a UN Security Council ceasefire resolution. Hizbullah did unleash heavy rocket attacks on Israel, and followed these up with an effective publicity campaign to shore up domestic support, but otherwise found the Israelis retiring before they could do much else.

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Israel-Hizbullah War, a game developed using the Matrix Game Construction Kit. Photo credit: Connections UK.

It was not my best-run game. I had started set-up a little late, and the room was rather crowded. Two of the game roles—that of the Lebanese government and (Lebanese/Israeli) civilians—have much less to do than the primary combatants, and while that might be realistic it is undoubtedly less fun for the players concerned.

There was also an extended discussion with one player as to why the game design allowed Israel to do more than Hizbullah. I argued that this was realistic: the IDF had more capability, had (in our game) chosen to initiate major combat operations and therefore started with the initiative, and could coordinate with the US on ceasefire timing. If Hizbullah launched a surprise war much of this would have been negated, but they had chosen not to do so. My interlocutor seemed to think this was all a little unfair—a general gaming principle which may not apply well to asymmetric conflicts. Nevertheless, having long argued that fun contributes to engagement which contributes to serious game quality, I’m forced by the experience to reflect on situations where accurate modelling of a real world situation may require game dynamics that some find frustrating or less than fully enjoyable.


old-fashioned-movie-countdown-title-film-screen-like-hollywood-cinema-one-two-three-55954147.jpgDay 3 started off with a panel on wargaming in education. Mauro Faina discussed his use of wargaming in Italian high school education. He noted some sensitivity about both games in education, and “war.” He was also frank about less than ideal learning outcomes.

Paul Howarth offered a terrific presentation on “education and wargaming: mutually assured development,” highlighting how his interest in hobby wargaming (especially megagaming) and work as a teacher came together in Story Living Games. Schools are looking for games that promote empathy, resilience, a growth/”I can” mindset, and support for British values (democracy, rule of law, and so forth). Targeting students young creates memorable experiences for a broad cross-section of society, before gender roles are too firmly established. His key recommendations: consider the education context; provide accessible, engaging, relevant link to curriculum; and it is important to engage, train, and empower teachers. Echoing Mauro, he also warned that the “wargame” label can be probably be problematic in an educational context.

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Nick Bradbeer (UCL/MoD) discussed the use of wargaming to teach naval architecture, in a presentation cowritten with and David Manley (MoD) . A simple naval ship-building and combat game provided an effective method to teach students about issues of detection, vulnerability, and survivability. Student feedback has been positive.

Richard Barbrook (University of Westminster) offered an overview of his work with the Class Wargames group, examining Guy Debord’s The Game of War. This led to development of a course on political simulations and gaming at the University of Westminster.

The next panel examined “simulating the intangible,” chaired by Aggie Hurst (KCL). Jeff Appleget (NPS)and Rob Burks (NPS) explored modelling human terrain. Interest in this arose from looking at irregular warfare, in which relevant populations, not the enemy’s military capability, may be the primary focus of operations. Their efforts to do so rested heavily on the analysis, approaches and doctrine presented in FM 3-24 (now JP 3-24) on Counterinsurgency.

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Anjavan der Hulst and Tom Mouat discuss their matrix game experiments. Picture by Ivan Seifert/KCL.

In her presentation, Anja van der Hulst (TNO) stressed the need to be more systematic about the role of emotion in conflict situations. Matrix gaming and megagaming, she suggested, provide one method for doing so. After discussing the range of relevant emotions, she recounted a somewhat disappointing experience with a Baltic Challenge matrix game, which player behaviour was too reactive. After a more substantive briefing in a subsequent game, and more time to consider strategy, game moves and outcomes were much richer. An analysis of vulnerability showed much more activation of grievances. Participants found that while matrix games were not useful for decision-making, they did significantly improve awareness and understanding. In a second experiment they used gaming to examine political and social polarization.

There was a subsequent question about how to avoid introducing or creating biases among participants. Anja and Jeff noted the different ways in which different groups may approach a problem. Tom Mouat (Defense Academy of the UK) pointed to the value of replication with different sets of participants, noting that when something keeps happening (as in our multiple replays of ISIS Crisis) with different groups of players, one can have greater confidence in the validity and significance of the outcome.

After coffee, Brian Train chaired a session on wargame design and analysis. Jim Wallman and I spoke about megagaming, both in general and regarding Tuesday’s Dire Straits megagame. I presented a comprehensive analysis of the methodological strengths and weraknesses of megagaming:

Magegame Connections

…while Jim spoke about the design decisions we had made with Dire Straits. Our point was that megagames were well-suited for games in which imperfect information, fog and friction, coalition politics, and background noise were important aspects of the conflict environment, but less well suited for simulating other sorts of situations.

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The panel on wargame design and analysis. Picture by Ivan Seifert/KCL.

Erik Nordstrand (Swedish Defence Research Agency/FOI) talked about wargaming in Sweden. Wargaming is well-established in professional military education at the Swedish Defence University. There remains a shortage of experienced wargamers/trainers/facilitators. Most of the gaming at FOI is done in the defence analysis division. FOI operations research analysts embed and rotate within Armed Forces headquarters. The practical consequences of this is that FOI is problem rather than game-oriented, taskings can change quickly, and resources are limited. Most FOI games are seminar games.

Ivanka Barzashka (KCL) talked about ballistic missile defence, with a focus on a game she had run in May. The games objectives included looking at how aerospace defence affected potential nuclear use, and how two variations of US/NATO BMD might affect Russian behavior and outcomes. She described the game in more detail than I can recount here, but one interesting point was the need to balance player engagement and game purpose. Participants (especially senior ones) can become bored with periods of inaction, or with mundane tasks (like form-filling). As noted earlier, this was an issue reflected earlier when running the Israel-Hizbullah game, in which the Israel and Hizbullah teams have much more engaging (and “fun”) roles than do the Lebanon and civilian teams.

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Source: The Economist.

After lunch we held breakout sessions, in which subgroups each separately examined a topic chosen from among future scenarios outlined as part of DCDC’s strategic trends programme. This topic was “The High North.” Aspects of this to be considered included:

  • Climate change, great accessibility.
  • Competing territorial claims.
  • Growing economic importance. Natural resource exploitation.
  • Environmental concerns.
  • NATO cohesion, Denmark-Greenland relations, policy in Iceland.
  • Thinning Russian population in Sibera.
  • Chinese interest.
  • Dispute over Svalbard.

Each group was asked to outline a possible (war)game on the topic. (Groups were also given the choice of considering other topics from the DCDC report Future Operating Environment 2035, but none chose to do so.)

I was in Jim Wallman’s group. We started by discussing the task, and generating ideas. These included, among others:

  • portfolio investment and defence procurement
  • tactical implications of arctic operations
  • resource exploitation
  • increased human settlement
  • effects of technology assessment

After discussion, these were grouped into three clusters:

  1. Technology development and portfolio investment.
  2. Longer-term strategy/resource development/settlement.
  3. Sub-arctic migration.

We broke into subgroups and developed game ideas around these. We then briefed these back to our subgroup, and selected one to be presented to the plenary session. In our group “Settlers of the Arctic” (idea #2 above) won over “De-terraforming Earth” (idea #3, with a strong environmental component on a generational scale), and our own proposal, “Lockmart” (idea #1, which was a two-part game whereby players/teams first managed portfolio investments, and then were required to deal with crises or challenges based on the portfolio they had developed).

Back in plenary session, the winning game ideas from each group were presented:

  • Arctic Goldrush, a game of scrambling for resources (potentially hidden, and possibly in disputed resources).
  • High North Survival, a “ladder” game of trying to survive an incident (air crash, etc) given certain resources that you have or find.
  • Aurora Borealis, a game pitting an unstable confederacy of indigenous nations against various external actors.
  • Settlers of the Arctic, a longer-term area control and access game of resource discovery and exploitation over 50-100 years. The resource endowment of areas would gradually become revealed as the game progresses, and players would be able to make technology investments.
  • 2035 megagame, in which multiple stakeholders compete in a future, more conflictual environment.
  • Something or other (I missed the title), a game of using money and influence to access arctic resources
  • Something else (I’m not sure it had a title), a card-driven game of resource development.

Jim Wallman also gave us an opportunity to briefly present our own game idea.

There were certainly many interesting and innovative game ideas. I was a little concerned, however, that cool game mechanisms sometimes seemed to triumph over purpose or realism/accuracy. Next year it might be a good idea to more fully articulate for the design groups who their intended client is, what the purpose or objectives of the game are, and what constraints there might be (for example, number of participants, available game play time, or physical space).


 

With that the, the conference came to an end.

It had been a terrific event, and—as with every Connections event I’ve ever attended—I found it both enjoyable and very useful. Quite apart from the panels and gaming, the many tea-breaks provided amble opportunity for casual discussion and networking. I look forward to next year’s conference, which is scheduled for 4-6 September 2018 at KCL.

 

Dire Straits live at KCL on September 5!

…not Dire Straits the iconic 1970s/80s/90s UK rock band, that is—but rather, Dire Straits the megagame of East/Southeast Asian crisis stability.

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Approximately 100 participants will spend much of the day examining a series of near-future (2020) challenges—North Korean nuclear weapons development, cyberattacks and an election scandal in Taiwan, conflicting maritime claims in the South China Sea, disputed areas of Chinese-Indian border—in the context of growing Chinese strategic power, and an unpredictable and uncertain US administration.

How the US would respond in a major crisis is unclear, given both the unpredictability of the President and uncertainty within the US political system. Although cleared of any direct collusion with Russia by the Special Counsel investigation, a few Trump associates were indicted for lesser offences. This, coupled with political reversals in the 2018 Congressional midterm elections and several major policy missteps, has left the Trump Administration politically weak. President Trump faces opposition within his own party to his re-nomination for the November 2020 election, an issue that will only be resolved at the Republican national convention this summer. His main Republican Challenger has accused him of failing to deliver a resolute defence of US national interests, while the current Democratic Frontrunner has warned that desperation might lead the Administration to adopt a more reckless foreign policy.

Jim Wallman and I are designing the game, and we have an elite Control group ready to make it all that emergent game play magic work. We’ve even brought in an outside SWAT team  of experienced megagamers and former McGill students to play the role of Connections Global News. If you’re not attending Connections UK, we’ll let you know how it all went!

Workshop on “simulated peacebuilding”

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I’m happy to announce that I’ll be conducting a small workshop on “simulated peacebuilding: an introduction to serious games for education, training, and policy analysis” in London (UK) on 4 September 2017. The event is being organized by Peace Direct.

Peace Direct is delighted to host a workshop on “simulated peacebuilding”, with Professor Rex Brynen on 4 September 2017.

Rex Brynen is Professor of Political Science at McGill University, specializing in peacebuilding, strategic analysis, and Middle East politics. He is also senior editor of the conflict simulation/peacebuilding website PAXsims (http://www.paxsims.org), and designer of AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game.

“Simulated Peacebuilding” – presentation and discussion: 16.00 – 17.00.

There will be a one-hour presentation and discussion on the role of games in peacebuilding education, training, and policy analysis (16.00 – 17.00).

AFTERSHOCK demonstration: 17.00 – 19.30

After the presentation and discussion, Rex will lead a demonstration of AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game. AFTERSHOCK is a boardgame that explores the interagency cooperation needed to address the emergency and early recovery phase of a complex humanitarian crisis.

Spaces are strictly limited so registration is required. Please email Ruairi Nolan if you are interested in attending: Ruairi.nolan@peacedirect.org

Please confirm if you wish to attend the presentation only, or both the presentation and demonstration. (Spaces for the demonstration are limited to a maximum of 12 people).

The workshop will take place at Peace Direct’s office in London.

Full details can be found here.

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Peace Direct, First Floor, 1 King Edward’s Road, London, E9 7SF

Connections 2017 AAR

By Major Tom Mouat (UK Army). All views expressed herein are personal ones.


 

This year saw a welcome return of the Connections wargaming conference to the US Marine Corps base at Quantico, Virginia. The event took place in the General Alfred M. Gray Marine Corps Research Center Conference Wing—really excellent facilities, and great on-base administration. The Connections website can be found here, and the 2017 programme is here.

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Sadly, the restrictions and increased security, while less onerous than attempting to get to Maxwell Airforce Base last year, were still a significant hurdle preventing at least two European delegates from attending. Fortunately for me, the excellent support from the British Embassy and the admin staff at my home base meant the necessary paperwork was completed in time. I was also slightly alarmed to find that my NATO travel order was not sufficient alone to get me through US Customs any more, but I had to have a valid passport as well (last year I travelled without my passport because I packed my wife’s passport by mistake). Good to know in future.

I elected to travel over the weekend in order to make use of budget air fares and to recover a little from jetlag – but also to visit the simply excellent National Museum of the Marine Corps nearby. This is an extremely good museum, with free entry and is expanding every year.

This year’s theme at Connections was advancing wargaming and analysis as distinct yet complimentary tools.

Day 1

Following the usual admin and safety stuff, this started with a Wargaming 101 from Matt Caffrey. Every time Matt gives his “Wargaming 101” brief it is new and different, tailored to the conference theme and full of useful information, along with some of the old faithful points that are well worth repeating (such as: “Wargaming as a way of training allows people to practice their decision-making in a safe-to-fail environment, creating “Virtual Veterans” in their profession”).

This year took a slightly more focussed look at the analysis elements, covering Defence Secretary Robert McNamara’s drive for a “bigger bang for our buck”, General Wallace in Iraq and even President Ronald Regan’s admission that he found wargaming “useful”. He also mentioned an excellent quote that I shall steal and re-use: “Wargaming is like a powerful drug; used wisely it can do great good, but it can also do great harm”. He stressed the importance of using wargaming to communicate and clarify input on alternative resource allocations as well as a powerful tool for organisational development.

One of the most useful explanations for me, as a foreigner, was his simple explanation of the US Defence Planning Systems wargames. This helped clarify slides which I had seen in the past, but were simply covered with meaningless three and four-letter acronyms (JOPES? PPBS? JSPS?).

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He also covered the wargaming cycle, but this time with an emphasis on the need for evidence and understanding of concepts with which to inform investment decisions for future investment. Finally, he covered the area of “confidence in wargames” and prediction. Wargames are seldom spot-on in their predictions, but if the wargame was properly designed they are mostly close enough to have practical utility– but badly designed games (such as where the sponsor has insisted they want a “wargame to prove I need more of a specific thing”); can generate wrong or misleading results. The principal elements that affect confidence in the outcomes are those games are dealing with “wicked problems”, as well as in the quality of planning leading up to a game and execution of the game itself.

Effective use of games can help us make more effective decisions, secure funds and better prepare today’s and tomorrow’s leaders.” Matt Caffrey 2017.

This was followed by two seminar sessions on one of three topics:

  • Wargaming in Professional Military Education Roundtable.
  • The Marine Corps Gazette Tactical Decision Games.
  • Confrontation Analysis.

Sadly, I was unable to attend the roundtable session as I was really interested in the other two sessions. The Marine Corps Tactical Decision Games have always fascinated me. I am also interested in the relatively new field of Confrontation Analysis, as I have attended a couple of games using this method.

Tactical Decision Games (TDGs) are tactical scenarios presented in text format with a map, presenting some background and a tactical dilemma/predicament. They are intended to allow users to practice decision-making and explore tactical principles. They were first included in Lt Col John F Schmidt’s “Enemy over the Bridge” scenario in the Marine Corps Gazette (April 1990), and have been included to a greater or lesser degree ever since.

The archive of TDGs are here,  but you need to be a member of the Marine Corps Association and Foundation ($35 pa) to read some of the older editions.

Colonel Chris Woodbridge (Ret), the current editor of the Gazette, explained that the TDG was in essence a “single turn wargame”. The intention of including these games in the Marine Corps Gazette was to cover a number of things:

  • What does “manoeuvre warfare” look like on the ground?
  • How do we teach it in a practical manner?
  • Cognitive skills.
  • Promote discussion of warfighting experience.
  • Practice decision-making under time pressure.

They work best under time constraints and in front of peers (with the worry about public embarrassment providing a real incentive). They also work best in force-on force scenarios rather than in the qualitative nuances of “people’s war”. He also mentioned a book (including many of the solutions to the problems) called Mastering Tactics published in 1994. There was a lot of interest in a book of these problems from those present, rather than using the website, and it is possible that additional volumes could be produced in the future. Additional plans include improving the user interface for those wishing to submit solutions (currently it has a PowerPoint file with tactical graphics in it as well as a “guidebook” with a summary of Battalion weapons, ORBAT and map graphics).

Some of these TDGs are a little difficult for the non-Marine to understand with their abbreviations and non-NATO symbology, but several of my friends have found it useful to have a selected few examples in their pockets for down-time on the range or while stuck in inevitable transport delays. They get people thinking, especially because they are deliberately dilemmas, rather than leading to an obvious solution, and so provoke debate.

Confrontation Analysis is an operational analysis technique used to structure, understand and think through multi-party interactions such as negotiations. It is the underpinning mathematical basis of drama theory.

As John Curry, editor of the History of Wargaming Project, explained the essence of the game is to identify dilemmas between the various actors in a confrontation and then propose alternative options to help explore ways to mitigate these dilemmas. The game evolves over time in a structured way with these additional options and stated positions of the parties.

There is a lot of material available on confrontation analysis, as a simple Google search will reveal – much of it dense and hideously complex. This Wikipedia article provides an overview.

The UK DSTL analyst, Mike Young, has been a leading proponent of confrontation analysis and has recently published The Confrontation Analysis Handbook: How to Resolve Confrontations by Eliminating Dilemmas. There is also a written submission to the UK Defence Committee available on “How to Understand, Plan, and Forecast Future Politics: Evidence to Support the use of Role Playing Workshops using Confrontation Analysis.

I have found that while this is a very useful technique, it has considerable cognitive barriers to initial understanding as part of a wargame. This hurdle was a real problem in the few games I was part of several years ago, and probably contributed to its remaining below the radar since then. This was swiftly identified by the audience and it was freely admitted by John that further work was needed in this area. The book publication is an attempt to make the game technique more accessible and the spreadsheet tool used is available for free download with it.

I don’t think John managed to make the explanation of the technique “clear and simple”, but he certainly managed to draw attention to what is potentially another tool in the Pol/Mil strategy toolkit. Personally, I feel that if you thought that matrix games need an experienced facilitator, confrontation analysis will probably need a real expert…

Following lunch, we travelled over to the Breckinridge Hall for some wargame demonstrations, poster sessions and facilitated events (although the only poster was one for the Matrix Game Construction Kit.

Wargame Demonstrations

I decided this year to take a different game design with me (as a change from taking a matrix game). The game was Bomber!, an educational game designed to promote discussion about military bombing, asymmetric warfare, political ideals, deception and ethical/humanitarian behaviour.

C2017bThe game was specifically designed for education and to promote discussion in the classroom and, while it was intended for use in the UK MOD Air Warfare Centre, it has had the most use at the Westminster University, Politics Department in central London.

The game ran very well with most of the discussion points coming out easily (and with such an audience I would expect that). The asymmetrical nature of the game was appreciated, although the “Advanced Western Side” caught on quickly about what was happening and managed to secure a rare victory in what was a deliberately imbalanced scenario.

The experience participants also came up with really useful additions to the game, which I have incorporated.

All the material for the game is available here.

There was a wide variety of games going on and nice to see Victory Games putting on a stand (and having a game about my favourite episode in history – the exploits of General Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck, the “Lion of Africa”, in German East Africa).

Of particular interest to me was a game put on by Maj Abe Goepfert from the US Army College Strategic Simulations Division, at Carlisle Barracks. This was a matrix game about the South China Sea. What was especially fascinating was that it had been developed quite independently from the game of the area that I had designed (the Nine Dash Line), and had removed much of the unnecessary additional features that I felt had marred an earlier game designed by the Army War College on the Baltic least year. The game was almost identical to my design (save for having a role for Indonesia, rather than Taiwan) despite being developed independently, which said to me that the matrix game system has matured to a point where it can be run without specialist prior experience. It was also successfully run with over 300 players in 23 simultaneous games!

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My demonstration was over quite quickly and I was able to sit down with personnel from the National Guard Bureau, Joint Training and Exercise Division. This is an example of where attendance at conferences like Connections can be so valuable. They grilled me for well over an hour about my experiences of running and designing Matrix Games and I hope I was able to let them have some free “consultancy” about the subject (this being 50% of my role in the UK). I also got the chance to sketch out a design for Earthquake! A natural disaster matrix game that I hope to be able to share on PAXsims at a later date.

Day 2

Day 2 kicked off with a short presentation by Bill Lademan about the future plans for the MSMC Wargaming Division. He was concerned about the apparent divide between OA and Wargaming (hence this year’s theme) and wanted to outline plans for the new Wargaming Centre and the home of the Marine Corps. This was to be a $150-170M investment, but there was some considerable work to be done in planning to ensure that they get exactly what they want.

The purpose of the Wargaming Centre is to:

  • Carry out wargaming at Secret and above.
  • Inform budget decisions.
  • Ensure interoperability.
  • Help with the demand signal for wargaming.
  • Help the next generation of innovation.

The development certainly looks exciting and I was particularly interested in an effort to add support tools for what is essentially a manual process. There would be electronic and computerised support – but the wargames themselves would be very much human-centred and involve open “white box” processes. This was levied with a concern about technology overload and they plan a 3-year series of experiments before they actually start building anything.

Keynote Address – Peter Perla

This keynote was billed as Peter’s retirement address as, while he still wishes to remain engaged with wargaming, Peter is finally retiring (again) from his day job. Before Peter was allowed to step up to the podium, however, he was presented with a “Lifetime Achievement Award”, which turned out to be a banana (with much mirth and hilarity) since the trophy had yet to arrive. (The banana was replaced later in the conference with the formal trophy, a large chess piece – a Knight – mounted on a plinth). This was closely followed be a surprise video message from the Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral John M Richardson, thanking Peter for his service and contribution.

Peter’s address covered a wide range of topics taking as its theme a conversation with John Curry about “magic predictive wargames” as well as the Conference theme about Wargaming and analysis. He started with an early conversation he had with Trevor Dupuy about the usefulness of wargaming for prediction, where Dupuy point out that “if wargaming was useless for prediction, what was the point of doing it?”

This led to quoting Barney Ruble of NWC’s Center for Naval Warfare Studies that Wargames are indicative and that they “speak to us in whispers about potentials” and, of course, Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s book on Black Swans. What do we mean by prediction? How can anything be incapable of prediction? Ed McGrady’s point about the differences between “precision” (meaning consistency) and “accuracy” (meaning how close to being right) was also mentioned because games tend to be more accurate than precise…

coinAnother point, well made, was the consideration of the “sample” space being examined, such as taking the toss of a coin. You might be tempted to think there were only two alternatives, heads or tails, with a 50% chance of each; but in fact, there is about a 1 in 6000 chance of it landing on its edge.  (and with the new chunky British £1 coin a much larger chance I would imagine).

Game do not predict the future, humans do and, as Roger Mason is credited with saying “They narrow the set of possible futures and the value is narrowing that set of possible outcomes.”

Peter’s presentation (here) was excellent—any presentation with pictures of the PAXsims team in it gets my vote—and I look forward to seeing the slides (and stealing many of them) in due course!

This was followed by the Defence Wargaming Panel, with Drs Ed McGrady, Jon Compton, and Margaret McCown. This panel was also very good, avoiding the expected wiring diagrams and organisational backgrounds, and instead covering useful things like the games used for many purposes within the Defense Community. Of special note was the Office of Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation (CAPE) Strategic Analysis and Gaming Division (also known as the “Buck Rogers Committee”), where gaming had to have defendable results. This usually means that they are always well researched and result in a series of games (usually 8) in order to generate robust results (but take a long time and are expensive).

Ed McGrady made some very good points about the need to build a community of Wargaming to get better results for the future. The danger of a lack of consistency and skill, and the particular danger of hiring retired senior officers with an axe to grind. He also highlighted the problems with a fascination with technology, and pointed out that a good story is the best and most powerful tool.

Next up was the Game Lab with three possible options:

  • Introduction to Wargaming with Joe Saur
  • Advanced Naval Wargame Design with Paul Vebber.
  • “Gamers’ Circle” (similar to a “Writers’ Circle”) Wargame Design Workshop.

I elected to go to the “Gamers’ Circle” as I wanted to be able to get a look at a number of different ideas, despite my interest in both of the other topics. In this session, we took a look at games to examine Artificial Intelligence with Dr Yuna Wong, a policy researcher at RAND and professor at the Pardee RAND Graduate School. Following the inevitable discussion as to the real nature of what we mean by AI (e.g. “actual AI” involving some form of emergent neural networks as opposed to merely complex “If, Then, Else” process systems) and a nice set of comments on the ethics of having useful “Bright Slave” computers and opposed highly dangerous “Moriarty Class” AIs; we set to generating a list of possible uses of AIs for Defence purposes.

Yuna wanted to follow a proper methodology to examine the problem, but time was against us, so we forged ahead as best we could under her guidance and came up with the items below:

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This discussion really did demonstrate the value of a diverse set of participants (including civilians) as there was clear evidence of “group think” from the military taking part. The idea of internet based-AI and “AI in a box” that you take to a problem to plug it in for analysis purposes (such as a city power grid) was something very different to the sort of discussions I have been involved with in the past.

I really liked the idea of “Route Proving AI” – mixing driverless cars with the Husky vehicle mounted mine detection system.

With the help of others, I was able to come up with a “one-shot” (non-repeatable to the same audience) game that could be useful in the classroom for discussing AI and Cyber-related topics. I also hope to be able to share this with PAXsims shortly.

This was followed by the Commercial Wargaming Panel, with Dr Web Ewell, Dr Chris Cummins, Uwe Eickert and Dr James Sterrett. Commercial wargames can be seen as “part-task trainers for professional wargames” and I also enjoyed this panel (although, again, I did not expect to) with insights into morale coming from the miniatures community, and call to arms from Uwe for simple, approachable rules (with no “rule exceptions”), engaging mechanics, with little or no “waiting time”; and attractive, easy to handle, components. With regard to the use of computer games for Defense, there was the admission that 90% were crap and of the 10%, 90% of those had nothing readily relevant for defense.

Games mentioned of note were: Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear! (board game), Supply Lines of the American Revolution: The Northern Theater (board game) and Burden of Command (tactical leadership PC game).

This was followed by Wargame Playtesting (and pizza!) in Breckenridge Hall.

Day 3

This started with the International Panel with Scott Chambers, Hans Steensma, John Curry, Dr Hiro Akutsu and myself. John Curry gave a very good presentation, living up to his admission to being controversial (there was much I agreed with and much I didn’t – but it was good to provoke debate), Dr Akutsu gave a presentation about the high level games (definitely not using the word “war”) taking place in Japan. He also gave the best (and most succinct) answer to a leading question about “Whether Japan is gaming the possible options with relation to the leadership or military organisation of the Democratic People Republic of Korea”:  “Yes”.

This was followed by Dr Norman Friedman presenting on the US Navy Wargaming in the Inter-War Period. This was a fascinating presentation which highlighted the difficulties with academic understanding of wargaming, where games were themselves very difficult to preserve, as opposed to papers which were easy; giving rise to a dearth of actual Wargaming material, submerged in a sea of paper articles. He pointed out the importance of Newport being a “safe to fail” environment with “Chatham House rules” and effective security. This was an organisation where the teaching was conducted with everyone together (the instructors were mainly the same rank as the students), teaching them how to think against opposition and the students themselves were researchers into the problems being studied.

Some failures were highlighted, such as the understand of the role of fanatical bravery (Kamikaze), political factors largely left out and important economic factors being ignored. There were particular successes, such as the experiments to increase existing carrier capacity, carriers designed to be repaired, circular cruiser formations, the pipeline for replacement pilot training as well as the need for amphibious and ASW capabilities.

Next was a talk from Matt Caffrey on Wargaming Impacts.  His central theme was the question of whether wargaming provides an “edge” in warfighting. He illustrated his talk with comments on the Wars of German Unification, better quality wargaming and in greater depth, after WW1 and the decrease in Wargaming following WW2. His talk was illustrated with a number of good anecdotes, but I fear this was not the compelling evidence needed for the operational analysts in the audience.

We then had Keynote 2 with Dr John Hanley on the topic of Advancing Wargaming and Analysis as Distinct yet Complimentary Tools. This was an interesting talk, if a little hard to follow at times. I liked the thought process that took the number of possible states available to a game of Rock-Paper-Scissors (236) and worked out that in a force on force engagement using a computer the size of the Universe and computing for the length of time since the Big Bang, it would only be possible to fully analyse the totality of 12 participants. The conclusion being that there is no analytic way to calculate all possible alternatives to a problem, so wargaming is needed.

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This was then followed by three Working Groups:

  • Wargaming and Analysis with Yuna Wong and Bill Lademan.
  • Wargaming for an Innovation Edge with Matt Caffrey and Tim Moench.
  • Educating Wargamers with James Sterrett, Joe Saur and Tim Wilkie.

I elected to go to the Educating Wargamers session as it was squarely in my area of interest. It turned out to include Wargames for Education as well, which made the session even better. It was conducted with a number of practiced staff presenting their experiences and advice on the subject before a general discussion.

This was one of the best sessions for me, so engaging that I forgot to take notes most of the time. There were some general guidelines, however, that came out:

  • Boardgame Geek (BGG) is your friend.
  • Don’t use a game with a BGG rating of less than 7, unless you wrote it.
  • End the game before someone wins (avoiding the “I lost therefore the game is crap” reaction).
  • Make sure the game is really simple.
  • Make sure you can run the game in the time (half the time for the game, the rest for the discussion).
  • You can use a YouTube training video as homework the night before – but be careful!
  • We need a “Wargaming for Dummies” instruction guide spelling out how to do it.

The result was that all present wanted to get a “bibliography” of commercial games for education. I volunteered to put such a thing together and publish the list, along with PAXSims, so expect a questionnaire in your inbox at a later date.

Day 4

The final day saw reports on the Working Groups.

Wargaming and Analysis divided into 6 sub-groups:

  • Concerns about Battle Damage fixation and no real focus on plan analysis.
  • Attempts to do more analysis with fewer resources.
  • Connecting the beginning and end states with a coherent narrative.
  • Analysis baked into the entire process.
  • Quantification of morale and competence.
  • synchronizing requirements between various organisations in the acquisition process.

There was a general understanding that analysis is integral and essential to the process, but not easy to achieve and especially difficult in games that focus on “soft” issues. There was a recognition that there was a tendency to measure what is easy to measure, with scant regard to the overall importance.

The Wargaming for an Innovation Edge session concluded that wargaming was good for innovation and, while not every problem is solvable, wargaming can be used to help provide mitigation. “Wargames are a wind-tunnel for innovation” (can you tell the Air Force was involved?).

This was followed by the Synthesis Group with the task of providing a summary report for the sponsors. This was run by the inimitable Dr Stephen “I may be an asshole, but that doesn’t make me wrong” Downes-Martin in his usual arresting style. If you don’t pass your slide packs to Tim Wilkie as soon as possible, you will be in trouble…

We then had Closing Remarks and the Hot Wash.

The Connection 2017 is due to take place on or about 17 to 20 July 2018 at the National Defense University in Washington. This will be a problem for foreigners like me, as currently special access clearance is required to enter the facility, and obtaining authority to travel to Washington is always an issue due to the expense of accommodation and the perception of a conference taking place in the US Capital.

Overall this year’s Connections was the best yet for me. Quantico is easy to get to, yet far enough away from the capital to make the business case easy. The facilities are excellent and the Marine Corps ethos is similar to the UK military, so I feel right at home.

There were hardly any “eyesight tests by organisational wiring diagrams”, few impenetrable slides full of US defense-specific abbreviations and no propaganda presentations about what particular organisations are doing or planning to do in the future. It was squarely on-message and, noting the comments I made last year about the scale and narrow specialisation of some areas of US wargaming needing repeated visits to make sense of it all, this was the first Connections that I would whole-heartedly recommend to a first-timer.

It still has a little “folksy charm” where the programme doesn’t quite spell out what is happening in the evenings where the more reticent participant might get left behind and miss out, but overall it was the best Connections yet!

Tom Mouat

 

MORS wargaming workshop III

The Military Operations Research Society will be holding its third wargaming workshop on 17-19 October 2017 at the DoD’s Mark Center in Alexandria, Virginia.

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You’ll find additional details at the MORS website.


Note that access to the Mark Center by non-US nationals will require submission of a visit request well in advance of the event, even to attend the unclassified sessions. MORS is working on a process to streamline this, which will be announced closer to the date.

Since most embassies will only process visit paperwork for their citizens if they are on official business, non-Americans may be out of luck if they hope to attend in a private or academic capacity (whether or not one holds security clearances).

US AWC: Wargaming in the classroom poster

Wargaming in the Classroom Flyer V2.jpgAdditional details can be found here.

USAWC: Wargaming in the classroom

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The US Army War College will be hosting a panel discussion on wargaming in the classroom from 10:00am to 11:30am on Saturday, July 22 at the Army Heritage and Education Center in Carlisle, PA. The event is open to the public.

The speakers for the event will be:

  • Dr. Peter Perla (CNA)
  • Dr. Jim Lacey (US Marine Corps War College)
  • Dr. David Lai (US Army War College)
  • Dr. James Sterrett (US Army Command And General Staff College)

Immediately following the panel, gaming will ensue using games that are currently implemented in some classrooms.

Connections NL 2017

Connections Netherlands will be held on 13 November 2017 at Fort Hoek van Holland.  You’ll find additional details below.

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ATHA webcast: Serious games in the humanitarian sector

Advanced Training Program on Humanitarian Action will be hosting a webcast on the use of serious games in the humanitarian sector tomorrow (June 21).

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You can register to participate here.

h/t Melanie Tomsons

Phalanx: More MORS wargaming

Volume 50 N 2

The most recent (June 2017) issue of Phalanx, the magazine of the Military Operations Research Society, contains a couple of wargaming items.

Phil Pournelle contributes an article on “designing wargames for the analytic purpose,” drawing upon the insights of last year’s MORS special meeting on wargaming as well as his own extensive experience. Specifically, he discusses what a wargame is, what it can be used for, and the characteristics of different wargaming approaches.

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He also highlights several key elements of a good wargame:

Wargaming is most effective when people are making decisions under uncertainty, in a fair competitive environment, with adjudication to generate consequences of actions taken. Such games should be repeated in an iterative process complementary to other techniques. These iterative efforts can enable organizations and individuals to gain insights into competitions. Wargames identify potentially successful strategies and diagnose the key competitive elements.

Game designers should borrow techniques and methods from existing games, particularly the vast body of knowledge in the commercial gaming community. They should also be aware of limitations and pitfalls of using methods without understanding the purpose of the game from which the methods are being taken.

There are different categories and styles of games each with their own purpose. While this essay was focused primarily on analytic and exploratory style games, it acknowledges there are similarities between such games, commercial games, and training games. Each has their own purpose and it is important to recognize that using one category for a purpose different than their proper design has certain pitfalls. Different styles of games exist within a continuum of games addressing generalities to specific, from creative to rigorous. To be the most effective in the cycle of research, games should move from the general to the more rigorous design during each iteration of the cycle. Movement may not, and does not have to be, uniform through the continuum, particularly as new aspects are discovered.

The core attributes of a good wargame is an adversarial environment where the game focuses on the players and the decisions they make. It is important to record the decisions of the players and why they made them. Good wargames are small and have an aggressive and dynamic red team. They avoid adjudication processes that conceal why decision or results occurred.

They are best when they are iterative in nature. Wargames do not validate or prove anything, they provide insights into competitions, and allow players and observers to think through the complexities of operations within those competitions.

Wargaming can be extremely valuable, but gaining full value will require a long view of the practice. Wargames can provide the means for generating potential strategies and solutions to challenges facing the department and leaders ready to meet them. Their best bene t does not occur with one-off games, but in series as part of the cycle of research. To harness the best benefits from games and analysis within the department will require identifying the questions and challenges and a committing to iterative efforts to identify and re ne the solutions.

The same issue also contains a brief report on the 29 individuals who received the a MORS professional Certificate in Wargaming, following the programme launched last autumn. Four of the group were women (13.8%), which is far from where we want to be, and well behind Phil Sabin’s MA course in wargaming at King’s College London, but still far better than the wargaming hobby (or the PAXsims readership) has managed. The next certificate programme will begin in September.

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