Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Category Archives: forthcoming games and simulations

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

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

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

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

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

NATO wargame design challenge

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

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

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

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

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

Preorders open for We Are Coming, Nineveh!

I am very pleased to announce that preorders are now open for We Are Coming, Nineveh! a tactical/operational-level game of the Iraqi government campaign to liberate the western area of the city of Mosul from the forces of Daesh (ISIS) between 19 February and 9 July 2017. This was one of the largest and most difficult urban operations of the post-WWII era, and marked a major defeat for Daesh and its so-called “Islamic State.” The game should ship in March.

Regular readers of PAXsims will likely have been following the development of this game over the years. It started life in 2018 as one of three student projects in a small undergraduate seminar I ran on conflict simulation design at McGill University. That initial experimental seminar later became my current POLI 452 course on conflict simulation.

The driving force behind We Are Coming, Nineveh! (WACN) was Juliette Le Ménahèze, who at the time was writing her undergraduate thesis on the role of the Popular Mobilization Forces in Iraq and who later went on to a MSc in conflict studies at LSE and a career in security and development in the Middle East. She was joined by fellow student Harrison Brewer, who brought greater gaming experience to the mix and who has since gone on to a graduate degree and a career in urban planning.

The game was clearly good enough to be published, so Brian Train and I came on board to help them further develop and refine the design. Brian and I have known each other for four decades (!), having first met when we used to wargame together at the University of Victoria’s “Strategy and Tactics Club.”

The development and playtesting of the game has been detailed in several PAXsims posts.

Our playtesters—most of them hobby wargamers, but many of them military personnel or defence analysts too—were enthusiastic. Indeed, a pre-production copy of the game was evaluated by the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (UK Ministry of Defence) to examine its insights into modern urban warfare.

We approached Nuts! Publishing to see whether they would be interested in publishing the game, and after they saw it they answered with a very enthusiastic yes. Although the process was slowed down by the COVID-19 pandemic, Florent Coupeau and his team have been an absolute pleasure to work with.

The Design of We Are Coming, Nineveh!

From the outset we wanted WACN to be accessible, playable by newcomers to wargaming and grognards alike. Consequently, we sought to keep the game uncluttered and intuitive, while retaining historical and military accuracy.

Extensive support from both a US-led international coalition and from neighbouring Iran—including weapons, ammunition, training, air strikes, intelligence, and more direct assistance—played a vital part in pushing back Daesh. However, it is worth remembering that over 99.9% of those who fought and died fighting the jihadist challenge in Iraq were members of the Iraqi security forces (ISF) as well as the Kurdish peshmerga (militia) of the Kurdistan Regional Government. Most of them were themselves Muslims. In examining the battle for West Mosul—and, we hope, honouring their sacrifice—this wargame very much focuses on the central role of the ISF.

The game uses area movement rather than some other system (such as hexes) for depicting terrain. The boundaries between the zones are largely drawn along larger roads or the edges of open (or dense) areas. In urban warfare, crossing roads exposes troops to enemy fire, and thus the geography of neighbourhoods and transportation routes tends to shape the spatial ebb and flow of battle. The resulting irregular jigsaw pattern also reflects the layout of actual urban neighbourhoods, and creates a situation where unsupported forces that penetrate too far too quickly are at risk of being cut off and destroyed.

Not all urban space is the same. Accordingly, each district is coded as to its urban density: open areas, medium-density areas, and the narrow streets and alleys of the Old City. This allows us to represent both the difficulty of fighting within dense urban neighborhoods (and the reasons why Daesh made its last stand where it did) as well as the military logic of the encircling tactics used by the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF). Mechanized (9th Armoured Division) units cannot be used in the narrow alleyways of the Old City, leaving much of the fighting to be be done here—as in the actual battle—by Iraqi special forces of the Counter Terrorism Service “Golden Division.” Particular attention needs to be planning lines of attack and retreat, otherwise the ISF might soon suffer disruption as vehicles and personnel find themselves gridlocked in the urban space.

It took months for the ISF to recapture west Mosul. It often took several days, or more, to secure a single city block. Game turns themselves are two weeks long. In theory, however, one can drive from Mosul Airport (on the southern edge of the WACN game map) to the Republican Hospital (on the north edge of the map) in under half an hour—if the route is clear. A system of fast movement on primary roads was developed to represent this. If Daesh is not careful to deploy IEDs and blocking forces, they might find the ISF making rapid advances down major thoroughfares with mechanized forces—mirroring aspects of the battle, where columns of Iraqi Army units pushed onto the city to cut off Daesh from supply and retreat.

We Are Coming, Nineveh uses blocks for two primary reasons. First, they allow us to represent imperfect information, fog of war, and the difficulties of identifying and targeting enemy units within urban environments. A player is able to see the location of a number of enemy units, but not able to identify what these are. Some may not even be units at all, but rather “rumours” (representing poor or false intelligence). For the ISF, identifying and eliminating high level targets, such as the Daesh leader, arms caches, or an IED factory, can be a vital element of a successful operation.

Experience also shows that neophyte wargamers find blocks less fiddly to use than stacks of chits. Block rotations are easily used to record combat losses and attrition, with the number required to inflict damage on the enemy becoming higher as a unit declines in combat effectiveness. 

WACN highlights the various tactics, weapons, and technologies that characterize modern, asymmetrical urban combat. Some of these, such as the use of UAVs and precision fires, are relatively new. Others, such as IEDs and mouseholing buildings, would have been completely familiar to soldiers at Stalingrad or any other major urban operation of the previous century. We also wanted to recognize the less visible but no less critical contribution that combat support, logistics, and training make.

This is achieved in the game through the use of Capability Cards. These allow Daesh and the ISF to customize their defensive and offensive strategies, and assure that—despite the constants of geography—no two wargames are alike, thereby contributing to the game’s replay value. In the months leading up to the battle, will Daesh invest its resources on recruiting more troops (Ashbal, Technicals, Mortars), or prepositioning other capabilities (such as Arms Caches and IED Factories)? Will it hunker down behind prepared positions (using Fortifications and Mouseholes), focus on disrupting ISF operations (using Snipers and Makeshift Drones), or assume a mobile defence of constant hit-and run attacks (with capabilities like Guerilla Training, Stay Behind Forces, and Tunnel Networks)? Should the ISF invest in additional training and Improved Logistics, or simply throw more personnel into the battle? How much of a role will intelligence play (HUMINT, EW/SIGINT, Improved ISR)? Will the ISF blast its way into the city with air and artillery support, or seek to minimize casualties and collateral damage (Rules of Engagement, Field Hospital, Humanitarian Assistance)? The game can be fought in the historical manner, with Iraqi forces advancing from the south to cut off the Old City and then capture it, but the ISF can also adopt other approaches—an earlier assault, flanking operations, or even major amphibious or heliborne insertions. All of these represent choices faced by the actual commanders on the ground.

If a player does not invest in a particular capability, it does not mean it is completely absent. It can be assumed there is always some air and artillery support, sniper fire, or fortifications present in the battle. Instead, investing in a Capability Card indicates that a special effort has been made to acquire and deploy additional assets of this type.

The various event cards used in WACN serve four different functions. Some introduce additional uncertainty into tactical operations. Others reward players for investing in certain capabilities. Still others are used to generate collateral damage effects from combat operations. 

Finally, the cards are also used to immerse the player in some of the small-unit tactical decisions and even moral dilemmas faced by battlefield commanders. Military operations in heavily populated urban areas generate many difficult choices, and we wanted to make sure the game adequately conveyed these sorts of challenges.

The Prussian military theorist Carl von Clausewitz famously said that war is a fundamentally political act, the “continuation of policy by other means.” In planning Operation We Are Coming, Nineveh, Iraqi political and military leaders had to consider the political goals and ramifications of tactical and strategic choices. What does it mean to “win” against Daesh? Is it enough to eliminate their immediate military capabilities—even if doing so leaves behind so much destruction that the local population grows even more alienated from Baghdad? How important is it to secure a rapid victory—thereby denying Daesh the grounds to boast about its prolonged resistance—if this increases the cost in ISF casualties? 

Similarly, Daesh—like all insurgent movements, and especially one that sees itself religiously destined to triumph—was playing a long game. If it could not hold Mosul, it could project an image of strength and resilience and heroic martyrdom by lasting as long as possible. If it could further aggravate sectarian and political tensions in doing so, so much the better.

In order to represent these competing narratives of the battle,  WACN uses a system of multiple victory conditions. Three different metrics are assessed: Time (how long it takes the ISF to clear West Mosul), Casualties (casualties suffered by the ISF), and Collateral Damage (civilian casualties and destruction caused by the operation, as well as political alienation of the local population). Before the battle begins, players choose which they will emphasize. They should then deploy capabilities and develop their tactical plans to support this. 

It is even possible for the game to end without a clear victor. While the points score might favour one player, extreme outcomes on any of the three dimensions can give the other player the basis on which to claim a moral-political victory. The metrics can also be used to compare the players’ performance with the historical results obtained by the Iraqi Security Forces.

The game includes an option for solo play. Here the player assumes the role of the ISF, while Daesh deployment and actions are determined by a series of die rolls and card draws.

2023 NATO field school and simulation program

Simon Fraser University is currently accepting applications for its 2023 NATO field school and simulation program.

The NATO Field School and Simulation Program is an intensive political science experience that combines coursework with experiential learning.

The NATO Field School and Simulation Program is open to students from all NATO nations. The program gives students the to observe professionals and experts in their working environment and be immersed in the decisions that political, diplomatic, and military personnel face. This includes visiting embedded experts from the Department of National Defence, Global Affairs Canada, the Canadian Armed Forces, NATO and academia, as well as high-level briefings at NATO HQ, SHAPE, EU Military Staff HQ, European External Action Services and NATO Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence and the Canadian Delegation to the European Union. Like a dynamic practicum or apprenticeship, the NATO Field School prepares you for entry-level employment in foreign affairs, defence policy and various national and international security sectors, as well as international NGO sectors.

Full information at the link above.

UK Fight Club parent-daughter wargaming night

UK Fight Club is sponsoring a parent-daughter online wargaming night on Sunday, 24 April at 1700 GMT, via Discord and Steam.

You can sign up here.

Outbreak READY! infectious disease simulation

The READY Initiative was established in 2018 by Save the Children, the Johns Hopkins Center for Humanitarian Health, the Johns Hopkins Center for Communications Programs, UK-Med, EcoHealth Alliance and Mercy Malaysia to strengthen global capacity to respond to major disease outbreaks. To the end it has developed a variety of training and outreach programmes, operational readiness checklists, and other tools for use by humanitarian and development NGOs and others. Funding is provided by USAID.

Much of this training initially took place in-person—something that became more difficult when the global COVID-19 pandemic hit. To facilitate remote training, it was decided to develop an online simulation: Outbreak READY!

Outbreak READY! is a digital simulation strengthening the readiness of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to respond to large-scale infectious disease outbreaks in humanitarian contexts. Through a unique, digital interpretation of an outbreak simulation, READY brings the complex nature of a humanitarian outbreak response to life utilizing a computer-based serious game that allows participants to test and refine their readiness skills and knowledge.

In Outbreak READY!, you will take the role of an NGO team lead managing a multi-sectoral humanitarian program portfolio for a medium-sized, international NGO named READY. The response takes place in a fictitious, low-income country that recently experienced civil conflict following a disputed national election. The simulation is divided into two modules: the first focuses on readiness prioritizations and actions as an outbreak is identified in a neighboring country; the second focuses on the NGO’s response to the outbreak as it begins to spread. Over the course of the simulation, the learner must make decisions that determine how the NGO adapts and expands programs to respond to the outbreak.

The simulation is designed for national and international NGOs responding to humanitarian emergencies, particularly targeting NGO leaders and managers from both operational and programmatic backgrounds across all sectors.

This simulation is set in “Thisland,” a low-income developing country that recently suffered from a period of violent conflict. Government capacity is limited outside the capital and corruption remains a serious problem. The country’s public health infrastructure is weak. As noted above, the player assumes the role of the team lead for an international humanitarian relief and development non-governmental organization (READY) in the outlying city of Murelle. Your current programmes include health and nutrition, food security and livelihoods, cash and voucher assistance, and water, sanitation, and hygiene. Community engagement and protection are mainstreamed across your portfolio. In the course of the simulation you’ll interact with your country director, local staff, public health officials, a partner NGO, a journalist, and a community leader—among others

The narrative-choice simulation is designed for experienced humanitarian aid workers, not for neophytes. It is also more of a simulation than it is a game. There is a lot of information to juggle. Don’t expect to see immediate epidemiological consequences from your actions, since that’s not the way it works it the field—especially when you’re but one small part of a multi-stakeholder response. The simulation content was built with input from dozens of subject matter experts.

Nevertheless, I’ve used it with my own undergraduates, and the feedback has been very positive. I think it also has considerable value for “humanitarian adjacent” organizations and personnel who would like better insight into the perspective, concerns, and priorities of the humanitarian aid community. If you’re instructing military personnel, diplomats, or journalists about humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations, for example, I think they would learn a lot.

The simulation is browser-based for ease of access, designed for low-bandwidth environments, and intended to be robust across a broad range of browsers, platforms, and operating systems. It will be localized into French and Spanish too. &RANJ—the digital game company behind the peacebuilding game Mission Zhobia—was the development studio for the project.

From the very beginning, Outbreak READY was also designed with support for briefing, debriefing, and pedagogical support built into the project. The website thus includes an optional pre-reading package, a solo play guide, and very substantial (70+ page) facilitation guides for both virtual and in-person events. When players complete the simulation they also receive a substantial evaluation of their effectiveness as a humanitarian team leader during a major infectious disease outbreak.

I was fortunate to work on the project as part of the READY team (who, it must be said, were an absolutely terrific group to work with.) Click the link and give it a try!

We Are Coming Nineveh! in the pipeline

For those who have been asking—yes, we are getting closer to the publication of We Are Coming, Nineveh!, the tactical-operational game of the 2017 liberation of West Mosul from Daesh (ISIS) control by the Iraqi security forces and their Coalition allies. The game is designed by Juliette Le Ménahèze and Harrison Brewer, with support from Brian Train and myself.

WACN is being published by Nuts! Publishing, and you can see some of the final art and components on their website.

You’ll find several previous posts discussing the design process here at PAXsims.

Dietz Foundation: Littoral Commander

PAXsims doesn’t usually post forthcoming game announcements, since there are far too many to keep up with. However, we’re making an exception for Littoral Commander: The Indo-Pacific for three reasons.

First, it is a very well-designed game.

Littoral Commander: Indo-Pacific (LC) is a 2 to 6-player ‘grand tactical’ wargame which explores the future of warfare. The wargame is designed to be accessible to all levels of players, whether civilian or military, and with no experience with games necessary to play (though it is helpful!). Utilizing a dynamic card-oriented game system, LC offers fast-paced, accessible, and flexible gameplay with plenty of player interaction during turns. LC is not about number-crunching or odds-totaling.  The LC series provides a rich and interactive “intellectual sandbox” for inquisitive minds to explore and engage with the daunting challenges of current and future wartime operations.

For this campaign, the Foundation is creating LC, a wargame/simulation currently used for professional military education.   The game emphasizes the complex nature of future modern warfare involving air, land, sea, space, and cyberspace forces and is already in use for professional military education with military units across the world

Second, it is designed by Sebastian Bae, who has done as much as anyone in recent years to encourage and support the next generation of wargaming professionals. Third, it is being published by the Dietz Foundation:

The Dietz Foundation began in July 2018, created by Jim Dietz, with the dream of making a difference in American society by helping teachers learn alternative means of education in the classroom; endowing scholarships at high schools for students going into education; endowing scholarships at the collegiate level for students pursuing teaching certificates; and teaching the general public through the play of games.

The Foundation is managed by Jim Dietz under the supervision of a board of directors including men and women with important past and current expertise for the organization: non-profit organizational leadership, game design, educational pedagogy, social media communication, game industrial manufacturing and sales experience, and educational game design.

You can preorder (USD$65 + shipping) at the link above.

UPDATE: I should have thought to have linked to this excellent interview with Sebastian at Armchair Dragoon.

Zenobia Award winners announced

The winners of the Zenobia Award have been announced!

Historical board games are enjoyed by people from all walks of life, but their designers are predominately white men. The Zenobia Award hopes to change this by encouraging game submissions by people from marginalized groups.

The Zenobia Award is not an ordinary design award. Promising applicants will receive mentorship on their designs from established industry designers, and the winners will receive help navigating the game publication process in addition to a cash prize.

Contestants must belong to an underrepresented group, including women, people of color, and LGBTQ+ people. A design team prominently including members of these groups also may enter. 

The winning game design is Tyranny of Blood, by designer Akar Bharadvaj.

Second place went to Winter Rabbit, designed by Will Thompson.

Third place went to Wiñay Kawsay, by Alison Collins.

In the video below, Harold Buchanan and Volko Ruhnke announce the winners.

As a member of the Zenobia board, I can say it was very close and there were many terrific entries. If you’re a game publisher who might be interested in publishing one of these, check out the forty-six games that made it to the second round, as well as the eight Zenobia finalists and two honourable mentions.

GWUSCS: Ruined Tempest

The George Washington University Strategic Crisis Simulations will be holding a (in-person) crisis simulation on 16 October 2021 at GWU.

In partnership with the Elliott School’s Leadership, Ethics, and Practice Initiative, GWUSCS presents our first simulation of the 2021-22 academic year! Ruined Tempest will take place on Saturday, October 16th, 2021 from 12 PM EST to 5 PM EST in Funger Hall.

After a cyclone strikes Sri Lanka, leaving vital infrastructure destroyed and thousands displaced, the nation is left to pick up the pieces and begin the process of rebuilding. However, with competing influences from abroad, Sri Lanka finds itself at a crossroads. Does it continue its partnership with China, looking to the East for investments in crucial roads and ports, or does it instead turn to the United States, which has long sought to secure the movement of its navy through the Indian Ocean? At the same time, how will Sri Lanka tackle rising internal ethnic tensions as destroyed communities and refugee camps once again fester into civil strife?

Further information and registration can be found here. Note that if If you are NOT a GWU Student who is registered with GWU on campus you MUST register yourself as a visitor—you will find the procedure for this on the registration page.

If you are interested in being a mentor for this simulation, please contact Ryan Li, Vice President of Programming at

US Army Fight Club: Battle for Moscow showdown

US Army Fight Club and Army University will be hosting their first virtual showdown: a Battle for Moscow tournament, via Discord and VASSAL.

The event will take place on Saturday, 16 October 2021 from 0900 (EDT) until complete (likely all day).

Full details are available from MAJ Wayne McInnis (Directorate of Simulation Education (DSE), Army University and Command and General Staff College). Please RSVP (individual player or team) no later than Saturday, 09 October 2021.

h/t James Sterrett

Games for Change finalists

Games for Change has announced the finalists for the G4C 2021 Awards. Don’t click the image above to see them, however—instead, you will find descriptions and links to the games at the G4C awards page .

Several of these will be of particular interest to PAxsims readers because they deal with issues of conflict and peacebuilding. These include:

Through the Darkest of Times (Steam)

Berlin 1933. “Adolf Hitler is chancellor!” We all know the consequences this message bore. Unspeakable horrors and suffering would sweep across the world. Few would stand and fight the monstrosity that was the German Reich. Will you? Lead an underground resistance group Through the Darkest of Times.

Suzerain (Steam)

As President Rayne, lead Sordland into ruin or repair during your first term in this text-based role-playing game. Navigate a political drama driven by conversations with your cabinet members and other significant figures. Beware or embrace corruption; shirk or uphold ideals. How will you lead?

Harmony Square (browser)

Harmony Square is a game about fake news. The game’s setting is the idyllic Harmony Square, a small neighborhood mildly obsessed with democracy. You, the player, are hired as Chief Disinformation Officer. Over the course of 4 short levels, your job is to disturb the square’s peace and quiet by fomenting internal divisions and pitting its residents against each other.

Radio General (Steam)

Radio General is a unique strategy game where you interact with your units over the radio using speech recognition. Test your mettle and relive famous battles as a WW2 general.

CNAS call for applications: A Russia Crisis Simulation

The Center for a New American Security has issued a call for applications for “Wargaming with the Next Generation: A Russia Crisis Simulation.” The virtual workshop will provide students and young professionals with the opportunity to simulate decision-making in a political crisis and military conflict in Europe.

The one-and-a-half-day event will be held on July 21 and 22, 2021. The first half-day will focus on the basics of wargaming and will teach participants how defense and strategy games are used by U.S. and EU stakeholders to enhance decision-making. During the second day, participants will engage in a virtual crisis simulation with defense and national security experts to gain greater insight into the longstanding diplomatic and defense relationships between the United States and Europe, including NATO and EU dynamics.

Applications will be accepted until 11:59 pm EDT on Friday, May 21, 2021. Selected applicants will participate in a virtual workshop on July 21 and 22, 2021.

To be eligible, applicants must be US citizens between 15 and 30 years old.

Additional information and application details can be found at the CNAS website.

Army University wargaming tournament, 15 March

Army University will be hosting an online wargaming tournament on 15 March, with a possible extension to March 16 if need be. Everyone is welcome to take part.

Please let Dr. James Sterrett know if you wish to take part by 1700 ET on 13 March, so they can set up the competition grids. It will be a Swiss-style round robin tournament.

  • The game to be used will be Battle for Moscow (Victory Point Games edition). The rules can be found here.
  • Games will be played via VASSAL (download here), using this module (BFM.vmod “Alternate (VPG Remake)”).
  • Communications will be via Discord, with a channel link to follow closer to the time

Liberating Mosul (solo edition)

A few weeks ago I watched the movie Mosul (2019) on Netflix—a fictionalized account of a real-life Iraqi SWAT team that fought against Daesh (ISIS) from the fall of Mosul in 2014 through to the liberation of the city in 2017. It’s an excellent, gritty movie. Filmed entirely in Arabic, it places the Iraqi security forces at the centre of the story: US and coalition support is only mentioned a few times and one Iranian military advisor makes a brief (and memorable) appearance. Indeed, during the actual campaign in Iraq and Syria, 99.5% of those who fought and died against Daesh were Arabs and Kurds.

Not surprisingly, the movie often comes to mind as I’ve been playtesting the optional solitaire rules for We Are Coming, Nineveh! As regular readers of PAXsims will know, WACN is a tactical/operational game of the liberation of West Mosul. It was first developed by two students in my conflict simulation class, Juliette Le Ménahèze and Harrison Brewer. I later joined them as a codesigner, as did Brian Train. While things have been slowed by the pandemic, Nuts! Publishing plan to release it by the end of this year. You’ll find previous reports on the project here and here.

Normally, WACN is a two player game. In the solitaire version, the player assumes control of Iraqi forces against an automated Daesh defender. First, the ISF player decides what additional assets and capabilities they will bring to the battle. The initial deployment of Daesh forces is then randomized, but in a way that reflects the group’s major tactical priorities: a last-ditch defence of the densely-built Old City, with enough units and IEDs elsewhere to preclude rapid encirclement, complicate ISF planning, and promise some difficult fights and tactical surprises. The use of blocks and rumours (dummy counters) means that the ISF player is rarely sure of the enemy’s exact dispositions.

Thereafter, game play alternates, with Daesh actions controlled by a deck of “military council” cards. These usually direct two or three sets of Daesh action each turn, from ambushes and counterattacks, through to indirect fire, quadcopter (drone) attacks, snipers, tunnels, human shields, and so forth. Some of these depend on Daesh’s supply situation, and others seek to identify weak spots in the ISF lines.

For the ISF, it is essential to cut off external supply routes into the Old City and destroy key assets (such as leadership, arms aches, and IED factories). Coalition ISR (intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance assets) and precision fires can be very helpful indeed if used carefully. But so too are things like training, improved logistics, casualty evacuation, explosive ordinance disposal, and old-fashioned human intelligence (HUMINT). Indeed, while the battle for Mosul had some key high-tech elements, most of the gruelling, house-to-house fighting would have been familiar to veterans of Stalingrad, Seoul, or Huế—a point that the movie brings out well.

Details from yesterday’s game can be seen below. (Note that this is my rather heavily-used playtesting copy, and not representative of the artwork that will appear in the published version.) The ISF has secured coalition air, artillery, and UAV support, augmented its logistics capabilities, and deployed some Popular Mobilization Forces in addition to the Iraqi Army, police, and Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS).

Military Council cards determined what Daesh did each turn. The initial advance went well, with some Daesh forces brushed aside quickly.

However, Daesh had a few surprises up its sleeve—on top of the challenges of conducting military operations in a major city. Below, veteran Daesh defenders emerge from a hidden tunnel to attack Iraqi police in a rear area.

Things began to bog down. The Iraqi Army severed the enemy’s supply lines, only to see them reestablished for another month after a Daesh counterattack.

Most of the fighting in the Old City was conducted by forces from the elite CTS “Golden Division.” However, one memorable scene from Mosul was replayed as an Iraqi police SWAT team and Iranian-advised PMF forces found themselves together—possibly trading cigarettes for ammunition, as in the movie.

The fighting here was gruelling, with some CTS units suffering over 70% casualties (as they did in real life). The local Daesh commander was ultimately cornered just north of the al-Nuri mosque, but precious weeks were lost taking these final positions.

The collateral damage from the fighting was also heavier than expected. When points were tallied at the end of the game, Daesh had lost control of the city but won a political victory.

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