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Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

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MORS: Designing tactical wargames

The Military Operations Research Society is offering a three day online course on designing tactical games on 3-5 May 2022.

In this class, we will focus on building tactical games. Such games require us to represent the details of battle. Whether we do this using computer or manual techniques, it demands no small degree of simulation. We need to simulate the interaction of forces, the effects of human factors and technology, and the effects of the environment on combat. We also need to understand how tactical elements are commanded, and how to incorporate representations of command into our games. Any good wargame strives to produce realistic adjudications and outcomes, but the realism of tactical games is tested even more stringently because the players can more easily relate game mechanics and adjudication to their own, personal, experiences.

All of this can make designing tactical games different—and even more challenging—than designing operational or strategic games. This class will examine some of these challenges and their possible solutions in both theoretical and practical terms.

We will address the subject according to the different combat domains: ground, naval, and air. For ground combat we will discuss how good design must address basic concepts such as mission, time, space, forces, and command relationships. How do you bring all these variables together to create a realistic tactical environment for players to engage in ground warfare? We will review the development of different ways of representing ground combat based on a wide range of commercial and professional games and explore future challenges and innovative approaches.

Naval and air tactics are even more technically complex and interactive, involving systems from space to cyber and beyond. Games must represent not only putting ordnance on the target, but also the entire kill chain from identification to battle damage assessment. We will also explore requirements for gaming ground tactics primarily using manual games. Although these sorts of games lend themselves to digital simulation, digital simulations can limit designer and player creativity in the game design and execution processes. We will focus on designing exploratory games—games to create or test new tactics, weapon systems, or operational concepts. Our discussion of naval and air games will focus on the mid-to-high tactical level—more concerned about formations of multiple units and systems rather than individual ships or aircraft. This will allow us to examine games that incorporate multiple tactical options for the players and integrate the joint kill chain.

Participants will be able to influence the topics and detail covered depending on their interests and desires.

For example, we can go beyond traditional ground, naval, and air to delve into less common types of tactical games, such as tactical special operations games, requiring the representation and simulation of actions by individual operators. As part of these, we expect to draw from concepts in miniatures gaming to examine the challenges of micro-detailed games. We could consider as well the tactical issues in emergency response, cyber operations, technology assessment, humanitarian assistance, and disease response.

The course will be taught by Ed McGrady, Peter Perla, Phillip Pournelle, and Paul Vebber. Additional details and registration at the link above.

MORS: Certificate in gaming homeland security

The Military Operations Research Society is offering an online certificate course in gaming homeland security on 14-18 March 2022.

The course will consist of lectures and exercises designed to help build confidence in the topic of homeland security game design.

Course Sections:

Game Design for Federal, State, and Local Response, including the HSEEP program

Games for Homeland Security and the National Exercise Program

Terrorism, Bio-security, and Public Health

Student Game Design Final Project 

Our instructors have years of experience with designing homeland security games at the strategic, operational, and tactical levels. Combined, they have worked for multiple government agencies and have experience with a wide range of homeland security challenges.

The course will be taught by Roger Mason and Ed McGrady. For more information, see the MORS website.

 2022 NATO Field School and Simulation Program

The 2022 NATO Field School and Simulation Programme, organized by Simon Fraser University’s Department of Political Science in collaboration with the NATO Defense College in Rome and Canada’s Joint Delegation to NATO, is accepting applications.

This programme is intended for current undergraduate and graduate students. Applicants must be 19 years of age or older prior to departure, and must be Canadian citizens or a NATO-nation passport holder.

MORS certificate in wargaming course

The Military Operations Research Society will be offering its Wargaming Certificate Course online on 24-28 January 2022.

This course is designed to increase Analyst capability and knowledge in research, design, development, execution, analysis, and reporting of professional games for analytical and training purposes. Analytical games entail the development/execution of a research design through problem discovery, data gathering, scenario development, experiment design and execution, and results interpretation and documentation. Training games emphasize the development of learning plans and objectives to provide experiential learning for student retention.

Schedule

Day 1: The Architect: What is a Wargame, How Wargames Relate to Red Teaming, and How the Architect Designs Games

Day 2: The Artist: Wargames as a Design Activity

Day 3: Special Topics: Strategic Gaming, Game Facilitation, and Constructing Game Materials

Day 4: The Analyst: How Does the Analyst Design Games? How do we Analyze Them?

Day 5: Practicum

Instructors

Lt Col James “Pigeon” Fielder, USAF (Ret)
Mr. Michael Markowitz
Dr. Ed McGrady
Dr. Peter Perla
Mr. Phil Pournelle

You will find additional information at the MORS website.

MORS certificate in gaming homeland security

The Military Operations Research Society will be offering an online certificate course in gaming homeland security on 30 August to 3 September 2021.

MORS’ newest Certificate in Gaming Homeland Security will cover basic game design principles, but through the lens of homeland security. Specific topics include emergency response games, how to support the DHS Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program (HSEEP), local, state, and national level games, the National Exercise Program games, and games to explore the dynamics of response operations. Topics to be covered include natural and man-made disasters, transportation events, terrorism and public health response, mass casualties, active shooters and active policing.
The course will consist of lectures and exercises, with the exercises designed to help build confidence in the topic of homeland security game design.

Course Sections:

Game Design for Federal, State, and Local Response, including the HSEEP program

Games for Homeland Security and the National Exercise Program

Terrorism, Bio-security, and Public Health

Student Game Design Final Project

The course will be taught by Mary “Kate” Fisher, Roger Mason, and Ed McGrady. Full details are available at the link above.

MORS evening certificate in wargaming course

The Military Operations Research Society is offering an evening, online certificate course in wargaming on 19-20 August 2021:

MORS’ Certificate in Wargaming is designed to increase Analyst capability and knowledge in research, design, development, execution, analysis, and reporting of professional games for analytical and training purposes. Analytical games entail the development/execution of a research design through problem discovery, data gathering, scenario development, experiment design and execution, and results interpretation and documentation. Training games emphasize the development of learning plans and objectives to provide experiential learning for student retention.

The course will be taught by Ed McGrady, Peter Perla, Phil Pournelle, and Paul Vebber.

Teaching conflict simulation at McGill: pandemic edition

As regular readers of PAXsims may know, I teach an undergraduate course on conflict simulation each year at McGill University. You can find reports on previous editions of the course here (2018) and here and here (2019). In Winter 2020, of course, the pandemic hit part way through the term—forcing a quick shift to online teaching, and disrupting the various game design teams as many students left Montréal to head to homes elsewhere in Canada or around the world.

In 2021, POLI 452 has been redesigned for remote teaching—which poses certain challenges with something as “hands-on” as manual game design. The course is fully-enrolled again this year, with 44 students.

McGill discourages professors from offering long, passive, synchronous online lectures during the pandemic: they can be tedious for the students and can pose timezone problems for those living outside Canada. Instead, I’m prerecording a major lecture each week, then hosting a one-hour Zoom seminar later in the week to discuss it (which is recorded for students unable to attend). I’m also available seven days a week for individual or group consultation, via Zoom, offering students more flexibility than pre-pandemic office hours.

We are using Phil Sabin’s excellent book Simulating War as our primary course text, together with the UK Defence Wargaming Handbook, selected chapters from Zones of Control, and various other articles, videos, and podcasts.

Students are expected to participate in a number of games to earn simulation activity credits. Usually these take place in person, but this year weekly sessions in Leacock 510 have been replaced with online games via Zoom, Vassal, and Tabletop Simulator. They can also earn credits by attending various online presentations and other events.

In the first month of class, the games we have played include the following:

  • Zombies! (tactical miniatures game, repurposed as a investment/resource allocation analysis game)
  • 1812: Invasion of Canada (board game)
  • Shores of Tripoli (board game)
  • Unity of Command (digital game)
  • Delivering the Needle (online COVID-19 vaccine seminar game/TTX)
  • Refugee response (online roleplay/TTX)

…plus various GUWS and MORS presentations, McMUN (McGill model UN), campus and class speakers, and others. We will be playing AFTERSHOCK, Black Orchestra, Assassin’s Mace, a matrix game or two, and a few others later in the term, and quite a few POLI 452 students will be attending the Connections North conference on February 19-21. Sadly there will be no McGill megagame this year, which is usually integrated into the class as well.

Back in July, James Sterrett and his colleagues at the US Command and General Staff College offered some  some useful advice on distributed wargaming. In the case of POLI 452, I am generally not having students play directly over TTS or Vassal. Instead, I have a technically-savvy student volunteer head up the Red team against my Blue, and the rest of the class joins one side or the other via Zoom (with Discord being used for communication between the two team leaders). In games with no hidden information I simply host the whole thing myself. Zoom works well, is largely intuitive, and the integration with our myCourses (BrightSpace) course support software is excellent.

In non-pandemic terms all POLI 452 students undertake a group game design project. It is challenging to design and playtest a game remotely, however, so this year they also have the option of writing an individual research paper instead. I expeced that most students would be cautious and opt for the more familiar research paper assignment. In fact, indicative of their enthusiasm (and probably in reaction to the isolation of a school year conducted online), over 80% of the class has expressed a preference for the game project. POLI 452 is a conflict simulation course, not a wargaming course, so the proposed topics range from military operations to various other forms of political, social, economic conflict:

  • Imperial succession struggles in the early Tang Dynasty
  • West African kingdoms in the 17-18th centuries
  • WWII German commerce raiding (1940-41)
  • The Tiananmen Square protests (1989)
  • The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict (1994-2020)
  • Second Libyan Civil War (2014-2020)
  • Chinese-Indian border conflict (contemporary)
  • Irregular migration to the United States (contemporary)
  • Democratic backsliding (contemporary)
  • Adaptation of low-carbon technology in the US auto industry (contemporary)
  • Conflict on the Korean Peninsula (near future)

Finally, there are the inevitable exams: three online quizzes (multiple choice or similar), plus a take-home final exam in April (short and long answers).

So far, I’m quite happy with it. The real challenge will be the game design projects this year—but students seem to be very keen, and I’ve endlessly reminded them about the need to do their research and develop a first playable prototype as soon as possible, so I’m hopeful this will work out well. I’ll let you know at the end of the term!

Pellegrino: Introduction to Matrix Games

Introduction to Matrix Games

Pete Pellegrino is a retired USN commander and former Naval Flight Officer, currently employed by Valiant Integrated Services supporting the US Naval War College’s War Gaming Department as lead for game design and adjudication and lecturing on game related topics for the department’s war gaming courses.  In addition to his work at the college since 2004, Pete has also conducted business games for Fortune 500 companies and consulted for major toy and game companies.

Pete kindly provided PAXsims with permission to share this video. The views expressed are those of the author and do not represent the official policy or position of any agency, organization, employer or company.

Pellegrino: Introduction to War Game Design

Introduction to War Game Design

Pete Pellegrino is a retired USN commander and former Naval Flight Officer, currently employed by Valiant Integrated Services supporting the US Naval War College’s War Gaming Department as lead for game design and adjudication and lecturing on game related topics for the department’s war gaming courses.  In addition to his work at the college since 2004, Pete has also conducted business games for Fortune 500 companies and consulted for major toy and game companies.

Pete kindly provided PAXsims with permission to share this video. The views expressed are those of the author and do not represent the official policy or position of any agency, organization, employer or company.

MORS online course on gaming emergency response to disease

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The Military Operations Society will be offering an online course on gaming emergency response to disease on 15-16 April 2016.

Games are a way to develop disease response plans, to rehearse organizational processes and relationships prior to an event, and to build an understanding of the challenges involved in an actual response. While the current pandemic highlights that large-scale disease outbreaks can create some difficult policy, medical, and communications choices, response to smaller disease outbreaks is something that happens all of the time. And the implications of deliberate use of disease in war or terrorism has been the subject of much research in the past few decades. All of these topics give professional game designers a rich set of topics and questions to incorporate into organizational, research, and rehearsal games.

In this two-day, class we will focus on the application of professional games to the problems associated with disease response. We will cover pandemic response games, both national and international. We will also examine problems of novel or unique organisms, biological warfare and terrorism, and public health response. The objective throughout the class will be to identify unique or challenging aspects involved in designing games involving disease response. We will also incorporate emerging lessons from the current pandemic response into our discussions.

The instructors have designed, developed, and executed a wide range of disease and pandemic response games at the organizational, national, and international level. They have extensive experience in the areas of response to biological terrorism and the planning and coordination required in that response.

The current pandemic is a reminder that disease can produce unusual, unique, and difficult challenges for decision-makers at all levels of government. Games provide an opportunity to bring those decision-makers together and let them understand the challenges before they actually happen. In this class we will consider how to build games that help decision-makers with those challenges.

The registration fee varies from $700 to $800. You will find additional details at the link above.


See also our PAXsims page on COVID-19 serious gaming resources.

MORS certificate course in cyber wargaming

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The Military Operations Research Society is conducting a certificate course on from 27-31 January 2020 at the MORS office in Arlington, VA.

How do we go about understanding operational and policy decisions about cyber?  They involve a complex mix of human decisions, technical capabilities, and social interactions.  As we have seen from recent events, peoples’ reaction to cyber can be as important as the capability.

One way government and industry professionals go about understanding the complex linkages in cyber operations is through gaming.  Games allow you to bring together all of these diverse aspects of cyber policy.  Games place people in decision-making roles during a simulated real-world problem—historical, contemporary or projected into the future.  These “professional games” are used by decision-makers within government, industry and academia to examine policy issues and potential outcomes.   They also allow operational professionals to assess requirements, plan budgets, and practice response procedures.  Professional games on cyber policy and operations are run by a variety of agencies as part of an effort to develop national strategies, permissions, and capabilities.

In this course we examine the challenges of gaming cyber.  How do you develop games that address the challenges associated with cyber?  Why are cyber games inherently difficult to do well, and how do you match technical layers of game play with the operational and strategic layers?  What is the role of computer simulation in cyber games, and how do cyber games differ from exercises?  How do you assess player actions given the potential political, social, and technical impacts of game play?

We will do this through a combination of lectures and practical exercises.  Lectures will focus on games and game design, along with the application of game design to cyber issues.   We need to understand how to think about cyber technology and processes in order to build effective games.  So cyber security will be discussed in this course: but this is not a course on cyber security.  Practical exercises will give students the chance to experience different types of cyber gaming, with the expectation that students will research, design, and present their own cyber game as part of the course.

Successful students will learn how game design can be used to address challenges of cyber operations and policy.  They will build an understanding of how to represent cyber capabilities in games, as well as build games directly addressing cyber operations.  The goal is for students to become aware of the gaming tools available for cyber, and to begin to associate specific game techniques with various cyber gaming requirements.

It’s pretty pricey, though, at up to USD$3000 (!). Details and registration at the link above.

Invicta: How Did Wargaming Shape the War in the Pacific?

The Invicta YouTube channel posted another excellent video on wargaming last month, this time focusing on the impact of wargaming on WWII in the Pacific theatre.

In this interview, US Naval War College Museum Curator, Rob Doane, talks us through the naval history of wargaming in the 20th century. We begin by discussing US navy planning in the lead up to war which includes the eventual rainbow plan and war plan orange. We then look at how wargaming influenced naval warfare from the strategic to the tactical level. These impacted battles like Pearl Harbor, Midway, and the Island Hopping campaign across the Pacific. Finally we discuss the specifics of US vs Japan naval wargaming conducted by both the US Navy and the Japanese Navy.

They’ve since followed up with a couple of other Midway-themed videos, including one in which wargame designer Pete Pellegrino discuses the history of War Plan Orange and the role of the USNWC and Naval Wargaming.


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“The Day My Life Froze”: Urban Refugees in the Humanitarian System (Ottawa, July 6-7)

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‘The Day My Life Froze’: Urban Refugees in the Humanitarian System is a two-day professional development course by Lessons Learned Simulations and Training, structured around an intensive in-class educational simulation. It is being offered in Ottawa for free on 6-7 July 2019.

Participants learn to map the goals and motivations of a wide range of stakeholders in humanitarian crises. You will explore the social, political, and economic dynamics which arise from the interplay between these stakeholders. The course acts as a bridge between cutting-edge academic theory, critical “red teaming” approaches, and humanitarian practice.

In completing this course, participants will be able to…

  • Demonstrate an understanding of the social and political dynamics of urban refugee response scenarios and the systems which underlie those dynamics.
  • Map motivations and goals of multiple stakeholders in urban refugee response, including those of refugees.
  • Describe and predict possible breakdowns in humanitarian responseby discussing past examples.
  • Critically but constructively engage with humanitarian work in general and their own work in particular, in order to improve the quality of humanitarian intervention.
  • Communicate possible motivations and goals of people experiencing displacement, and contrast them with humanitarian assumptions.

For further details, see the Lessons Learned website.

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McGill end-of-term gaming update 2019

Classes are now over for the Winter 2019 term at McGill University, and it is exam-and-grading season. I have also now had a chance to review the various projects produced in my conflict simulation course (POLI 422). There are many very interesting and well-executed game designs.

The course was supported this year by Dr. Ben Taylor from Defence Research and Development Canada. The students and I were very grateful for his assistance.

 

ADVANCED OPERATIONS

Advanced Operations is a two map blind/closed game of tactical urban operations at the platoon level. The map depicts an urban neighbourhood, including vantage points, doorways, fields of fire, street clutter, and multi-story buildings. The basic combat system is straight-forward, intuitive, and quite effective. The Blue player can equip themselves before a mission with a range of new technologies and capabilities in order to assess their impact on urban tactics, ranging from small drones to power-assisted armour to robots (all based on weapons in development of field-testing).

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CARTEL

Cartel is a multi-player game examining the drug trade in Mexico, focusing on the era of large criminal syndicates. Players generate money through smuggling drugs from Central/South America into the United States and from other illegal activities. To move drugs through the country, however, they need to establish control and influence over a chain of key cities, and once the drugs have been delivered need to launder their illicit proceeds. The winner is the drug lord who amasses the most luxury items. However, be careful: as your notoriety grows, you become more of a target (and might even be arrested and extradited to the United States).

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FALLEN REPUBLIC

Fallen Republic is a semi-cooperative game in which South Korea, the United States and China struggle to stabilize North Korea after the collapse of the communist regime there. To do so they need to provide security, deliver food and medical supplies to needy populations, build local public administration, restart the economy, and win local popular support. Asymmetrical and semi-secret victory conditions can make it difficult to cooperate, while a fourth player—Chaos, representing all the fog, friction, and wicked problems of stabilization operations —wins by preventing the others from achieving their objectives.

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INTELLIGENCE COLLECTION

Intelligence Collection explores the ISTAR (Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition, Reconnaissance) and HUMINT requirements of counterinsurgency campaigns. It is a three map closed game, meaning that players only know the location of their own assets and enemy assets they have detected. Various Red actions, such as training insurgents, bomb-making, and smuggling—all have detection probabilities attached, which in turn are affected by patrolling, HUMINT collection, and other Blue actions. Interrogation of captured insurgents may also reveal information, such as who recruited them or where they were trained.

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LITTLE GREEN MEN

Little Green Men examines the war in Ukraine, and Russian hybrid warfare. The game combines both map-based area movement/combat with card-based policy initiatives. Russia needs to be careful that it’ support for opposition forces doesn’t become too obvious, or it risks stepped-up NATO assistance to the Kiev government.

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MELTDOWN

As the Arctic ice slowly melts, Canada, the US, Russia, the Scandinavian countries, and China are faced with new challenges and threats. Should new oil, mining, and fisheries resources be exploited? How should this be balanced against environmental management? What are the implications of transpolar shipping? Meltdown is both competitive and semi-cooperative—at the end of the game, the more heavily the Arctic is being exploited, the larger the chance of ecological collapse. The game allows for players to collectively change the game rules during play, through the mechanism of the Arctic Council. The map mechanic is cool too—as the ice melts you remove blocs of it from the game board, revealing the now-accessible resources beneath.

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MISSION RECONSTRUCTION

Mosul has been liberated by ISIS control, and the Baghdad government must reconstruct the areas of northern and western Iraq ravaged by the extremist group. However, ISIS seeks to disrupt such efforts, mobilize new recruits, rebuild its forces, and undermine local security. In MISSION RECONSTRUCTION the two sides each select their actions from a menu of options each turn. Event cards may also produce other crises that must be resolved if the stability of the country and the legitimacy of the government is to be enhanced.

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This is the first time I’ve taught the course as a lecture course, with 31 students—last year it was run as a seminar with only nine, which gave me more opportunity to work with a smaller number of game projects. It is also ambitious to fit it all into one term—Phil Sabin’s former wargaming module at King’s College London was a full year graduate course. Nevertheless, I think things generally worked well.

This year the teams were groups of five. Next year I think I’ll reduce that to four. While larger teams means more human resources to work on game design and playtesting, it also aggravates coordination and communication problems. I’ll also introduce a system whereby student evaluate the relative contribution of other team members. I have never been fond of these since they can be abused, but I think it will be worthwhile on balance. While most groups worked well, there were a few that generated complaints that a member wasn’t pulling their weight.

Despite constant nagging from me that the teams needed to move rapidly to prototyping and hence playtesting, I think all but one of the groups wished they had started on their project earlier than they did. Indeed, some did not do so until shortly before their interim “status report” was due. Next year I’ll require two such reports, with one of them even earlier in the term.

Finally, I’m pleased to announce that the 2019 Defence Research and Development Canada wargame design award (awarded by DRDC to the best project in the class) went to the team that produced ADVANCED OPERATIONS. Well done!

 

Serious gaming with (post) secondary students: civil war at a cégep

The following piece was written for PAXsims by Jano Bourgeois (Collège Jean-de-Brébeuf), in collaboration with Daniel Beauregard.


Can you adapt a complex civil war simulation like Rex Brynen’s Brynania to an audience without specific conflict resolution/peacebuilding training? Is it possible to do it and have them perform it seriously and learn out of it? Those were the questions I had in mind when I decided to try, a few years ago, to introduce a Brynania-like civil war simulation for a cégep (secondary) course.

What is a C.É.G.E.P.?

In the province of Quebec (Canada), there is an intermediate education-level between high school and university. It is called a cégep (general and professional college). For pre-university programs, like the social science program in which I teach, the level is more or less equivalent to first year-university, although the disciplines studied are much more diverse. It is a general training in literature, philosophy, economics, psychology, history and sometimes political science, anthropology or sociology.

To my knowledge, there are no peacebuilding courses at the cégep level. However, there is an end of 2ndyear course named “Integrative activity” that has students apply what they have learned in two disciplines (such as economics, politics, history, anthropology, etc.) in a new context. A former student of mine, now a Ph.D. in cultural studies, once told me that he had read an academic paper mentioning that insurgent leaders had, on average, the equivalent of a cégep education (I never found this paper, if anyone knows about it I would love to get the reference!). For me, this was the trigger: my students could seriously simulate a civil war because they had the same educational attainment as many insurgent leaders (granted, this might not be true and I have no evidence to back me up, but I just needed an excuse to try something like Brynania).

What we do

Basically, the whole thing is a simplified Brynania civil war. There is a fictional setting in which the civil war is waged in a hybrid between roleplaying game and strategic wargame. My setting is called Brébouvie because it is taught at Brébeuf College.

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Figure 1: Map of Brébouvie, 2016.

Each student received a role to embody, resources to manage, and objectives to fulfill. Among these roles, we had the cabinet of the war-torn country, various rebel leaders, members of the civil society, neighbouring States, UN Security Council member states, humanitarian NGOs, international and local journalists, etc. Brynania heavily influenced the first edition because I had the opportunity to personify the Minister of Finance of the Brynanian government during my B.A. at McGill. Over time, I adapted the model to my pedagogical needs.

Having run this simulation over the past few years, I must say that students consider it extremely demanding and difficult… and they just love it! For the fall 2017 semester, 53% of the students, in a confidential and anonymous evaluation of the class, indicated that they had a “very high interest” in the course.  A usual comment is that it is too much work and way too engaging, but that they would not have it any other way. Eventually, a history teacher, Daniel Beauregard, who also teaches the integration activity course, joined me in this project. He brought refreshing ideas to the practice.

From a pedagogical point of view, my students do well in applying what they learned, especially in economics, political science, anthropology, sociology and history, to conduct credible operations on the ground. At the end of the semester, they must hand in a formal paper to summarize what previously acquired knowledge was useful and how they used it to fulfill their role during the simulation. Most of them manage to make the links between their college training and the actual conduct of a civil war. As a bonus, they learn how to make (or fail to make) decisions in a stressful and imperfect informational environment.

Obviously the depth of the student performance is not as thorough as the one attained with 3rdyear university students: treaties signed do not always respect the Vienna Convention on the Law of the Treaties, refugee camps management doesn’t go into the specific details of finding the right spot to avoid landslide and freshwater contamination, UN Security Council resolutions use “responsibility to protect” quite liberally. Overall, one has to remember that they are unspecialized cégep students, not professionals.

Our innovation

We tried many formulas for the simulation: in class only, in class and online for 12 hours a day over a 10 days period, email only, using matrix gaming mechanisms, using an actual board to move pieces, using only virtual maps, using a wiki, Moodle, or a blog to share information, etc.

However, our major innovation, the one for which I am proudest, is the way in which we now have the students build the conflict setting.

The idea is to start with a blank map and to add layers of complexity in cooperation with the students. We add natural resources, linguistic and ethnic zones, national and internal borders, religious zones of influence, trade routes, etc. We also write the history of the various states, insurgent groups and institutions present in the zone. We create the political regimes and their institutions, the state and structures of the economies, the relations with powerful States such as Russia, China, the United States, the United Kingdom and France, etc.

For each element added to the setting, students must justify it using a historical precedent or refer to a social science model or theory. The effect of this procedure is twofold: it forces them to go back to history and what they have learned in different disciplines and it makes the setting easier to understand without long hours of study.

Here is, visually, how my colleague Daniel Beauregard proceeds. First, he provides students with a blank map.

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Figure 2: Blank map, 2018.

The class then adds geographic features.

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Figure 3: Adding geographic features, 2018.

Next, political boundaries and ethnic groups are also added.

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Figure 4: Adding political and ethnic features, 2018.

The map is refined with trade routes and other details.

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Figure 5: Final round of mapmaking, 2018.

He finally prints a map and uses Matrix Gaming Construction Kit (MagCK) tokens and markers to manage the simulation.

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Figure 6: Printed map with tokens on it, 2018.

I would recommend this practice to engage students in the simulation as soon as the instructor is comfortable with the general way of running a simulation.

Concluding remarks

Can you adapt a complex civil war simulation like Brynen’s Brynania to a younger audience without specific conflict resolution/peacebuilding training? The answer is a resounding yes.

Is it possible to expect for cégep students the same level of performance as professionals or graduate students? Obviously not.

Is it possible to obtain a serious performance and generate learning? Again, yes without a doubt.

One of the advantages of serious simulations is that it somehow self adjusts to the level of the participants. In my view, it is a powerful and flexible pedagogical tool worth exploring.

 

Jano Bourgeois teaches political science at Collège Jean-de-Brébeuf, Montréal.
Daniel Beauregard teaches history at Collège Jean-de-Brébeuf, Montréal.

 

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