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A seat at the gaming table: MORS Wargaming Certificate

The following article was written for PAXsims by Nathalie Marver-Kwon, a sophomore at Georgetown University’s Walsh School of Foreign Service studying geography and Russian. She is a teaching assistant for geography and engages in research on Russian geopolitics. She is the Secretary / Treasurer for Georgetown University Wargaming Society (GUWS) and an aspiring wargame designer. She is originally from Seattle, WA. 


From October 24th through October 28th, 2022, I attended MORS and Virginia Tech’s Certificate in Wargaming course. I was able to attend through a scholarship granted to me directly by the program, the first of an annual prize for undergraduate and graduate students with demonstrated interest in professional wargaming. I felt incredibly lucky to be sitting in the same Zoom call as professional wargamers and analysts from all over the world. Through the course, I wanted to learn how to design and develop games in a structured way. More importantly, the MORS certificate represented a significant first step into the world of professional wargaming, an historically exclusive field.

On the first day Peter Perla walked us through his Artist, Analyst, Architect model on game design. He emphasized there is no one-size-fits-all for the design process. Similarly, the players who make up the game are just as important to the gameplay as the design. If a group of experts is playing a game on their expertise, their decision-making in the gamespace will be influenced by their knowledge. A game of non-experts in the same game will engage with the game content more intuitively and less knowledgeably – focusing more on the inherent incentives of the game design. As game designers and facilitators, it is important we keep the audience in mind as we consider the best way to adjudicate and hot-wash. How can we as facilitators maintain positive neutrality in gameplay and still engage the players? “Reading the room” is a necessary soft skill for wargame facilitators, a skill developed through practice and experience. This idea is especially important if we want to diversify the wargaming community by encouraging game participation from newcomers.

James “Pigeon” Fielder explored the idea of the “magic circle” with us– the mental space where the game actually takes place. As Perla explained, the real game is inside the player’s heads, where they make decisions, and assess their role in the whole. This environment of decision-making is what distinguishes a wargame from other forms of analysis or M&S. The physical game is the symbolic representation and medium of that mental space. When players are in the magic circle, they identify with their role in the game and engage with it as if it is real. Understanding player psychology is a key part of the design process as we pick what physical pieces of the game can best hold dynamic play meaning. For example, character cards give players a basis for their role while leaving room for personal injects; movement-constrained player pieces inherently nudge players towards spatial thinking. Anticipating which mode of thinking a player will utilize in the game will inform what pieces to provide them to that end.

Mike Markowitz’s presentation on graphic design answered more of my questions about practical game design. What do colors convey? What implicit meaning does map orientation hold? As a designer, it is easy to burrow into a checklist of necessary game parts– die, board, cards. But if I learned anything, it’s that answering the human-centered questions about a game concept is primary, and the mechanics will follow from there. Asking “what happens in the real world with this concept?” answers the question of “how should my players receive or relay information in the game world of this concept?” From there, we can parse down the information input into simple but significant design components.

The most helpful part of the class was putting the ideas we had learned all week into practice on the last day. Paul Vebber and Dr. Ed McGrady facilitated a brainstorm, and then broke us into small groups to discuss each other’s ideas. My small group outlined a rough plan for how we would execute a game about state capture. Condensing our ideas and understanding of state capture into simple mechanics was difficult. At times, we got caught in details of team size and turn quantity, which felt a bit abstracted from the game concept– picking between two and three people per team felt arbitrary. However, as I reminded myself, the difference between two and three people as a thought-group is vast, and could influence how that team plays and approaches intra-team negotiation. Refocusing our mechanics meant tying team size back to the actual politics of state capture and returning to those fundamental concept questions. I enjoyed the process and learned a lot from the ideas of my classmates. Their different perspectives and experiences were reflected in their approach to game design and analysis. If I could change one thing about the course, I would have liked more time to pick the brains of the other participants after each lesson and activity.

Thank you to the instructors, Dr. Ed McGrady, Peter Perla, Paul Vebber, Phil Pournelle, Mike Markowitz, James “Pigeon” Fielder, and Becca Wasser for their time and expertise. Thank you to the MORS staff for hosting the class. I have so many ideas for game designs I want to pursue now, and the toolkit to approach it. Institutional access to the MORS course and other official forums for wargaming is essential for young wargamers and aspiring designers. Meeting wargamers far into their career and learning the trade from them gave me a view of the path I am following and what lies at the end.

MORS wargaming scholarship

The Military Operations Research Society has established a scholarship programme that will allow one successful recipient to participate in their annual wargaming certificate course for free. Applicants must be currently enrolled in an accredited (graduate or undergraduate) academic program.

To apply, send the following information to Elizabeth Marriott (liz.marriott@mors.org).

  • Name
  • Current academic institution
  • GPA
  • Reason for wanting to take the class
  • Resume/CV (optional)

CSIS course on wargaming, simulatoons, and competitive strategy exercises

The Center for Strategic Studies will be offering a three day course on Wargaming: Constructing Simulations and Competitive Strategy Exercises on 26-28 September 2022, intended for “mid – to senior level professionals from across the government, private sector, nonprofit, military, and academic communities who are interested in learning how to organize and lead a team tasked with conducting an alternative assessment.”

Wargaming: Constructing Simulations and Competitive Strategy Exercises is Washington’s innovative, new course for mid-to senior-level professionals responsible for designing, managing, and interpreting the results of wargames and other strategic simulations. Participants will work alongside CSIS scholars with decades of experience developing and running wargames, simulations, and strategic exercises for the defense and intelligence communities, and apply these lessons to their own organizations and industries. Through a combination of interactive seminars and exercises, they will learn how to design games that help leaders and executives better assess strategic choices and risks. At the conclusion of the course, each participant will be able to differentiate the types of simulations they could employ in their organization, design purpose-built games, and analyze and present the results.  

The course will take place in Washington DC, although virtual participation is available upon request.

The course brochure can be found here. Full details and registration at the link above.

MORS: Gaming cyber and information operations

The Military Operations Research Society will offer a short online course on gaming cyber and information operations from 30 August to 1 September 2023, taught by Ed McGrady. Further details and registration information are available at the link.

Games are tools that professionals can use to understand complex problems. Problems where there really is no good solution. Problems where there are two opposing sides. Problems of deterrence and belief. 

Cyber security and information operations incorporate all of these challenges and more. But cyber games are often seen solely through the focus of computer-based games. Information operations games are thought to be too hard to execute and adjudicate. And while computer mediated exercises and games have a role in cyber preparedness, so do manual games that focus on organization, conceptualization, and experimentation. In this game design course, we will focus on building manual, professional, games designed to explore, train, or educate on issues surrounding cyber security and information operations. 

MORS currently offers a one week certificate course in Cyber Game Design in collaboration with Virginia Tech. In this shortened version of the week long course we will focus on how to build the best cyber game for the sponsor’s objectives. We will also add information operations to the mix. Information operations are important to understand because they broaden the conflict landscape to include all types of information, not just information that flows on digital networks and their components. 

Our framework for the class will be understanding the types of games that are available to us, and how they relate to gaming at the strategic, operational, and tactical levels of cyber. What is the role of matrix games in cyber? How do we build realistic tactical games without becoming overwhelmed with detail? How do we build analytical tools for tactical adjudication of cyber games? How do we handle adjudication of social engineering or deception? 

Gaming information operations will focus on practical tips and techniques for either building games that focus on information operations, or incorporating information operations into large game systems. 

The class will consist of three primary sections: game design, gaming cyber security at the tactical operational, and strategic levels, and gaming information operations. As much as possible we will incorporate class exercises and engagements as part of the learning process.  

MORS: Gaming emergency response to disease course

The Military Operations Research Society will be offering a three day online course on “gaming emergency response to disease” on 27-29 September 2022, featuring Roger Mason, Ed McGrady, and Pete Pellegrino.

In this three-day course we will focus on the application of professional games to the problems associated with disease response and will cover pandemic response games, both national and international. The objective throughout the course will be to identify unique or challenging aspects involved in designing games involving disease response.

Day 1:

  • ​Introduction: The Problem of Disease Response
  • Game Design Fundamentals
  • Ways to Apply Games to Disease Response
  • Basic Biology and Epidemiology in Games

Day 2:

  • ​Strategic, Operational, and Tactical Game Examples
  • PANDEMIC TEMPEST
  • Exercise: Nature or Nurture
  • Matrix Games
  • Exercise: Building a Disease Response Game

Day 3:

  • ​Emergency Response Process
  • Disease and Emergency Response
  • Emergency Response Games
  • Exercise: Building Emergency Response Games
  • Exercise: Practicum and Discussion

More information and registration at the link above.

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.

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