PAXsims

Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Category Archives: forthcoming games and simulations

McGill: Gaming humanitarian crisis

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On Wednesday, November 20 I’ll be speaking to the Games and Gamification for Human Development and Well-being (GHDW) working group at McGill University on “Gaming Humanitarian Crisis” (17h30-18h00). This will be followed by a demonstration game of AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game (18h00-20h30).

The event will take place on the 1st floor of the Education Building (3700 McTavish).


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ATLANTIC RIM registration now open

Atlantic Rim

Registration is now open for the 2020 McGill megagame—ATLANTIC RIM.

A mysterious meteor shower has struck the Atlantic coast of North America. Many coastal communities, including parts of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, have been devastated by the resulting tsunami.

Police, fire departments, medical services, municipal workers, public utilities, Canadian Armed Forces personnel, and the Coast Guard are mobilizing to address the emergency. Roads are damaged. The electrical grid has been shattered. Hospitals are overwhelmed. Survivors are fleeing to safety.

Can local, provincial, and federal officials pull together to coordinate an effective response?

Will Atlantic Canada rise to the challenge?

…and are they prepared for the deadly peril that might now be lurking offshore?

ATLANTIC RIM will take place at McGill University in Montréal on Sunday, 16 February 2020. Further information and tickets can be obtained via Eventbrite (and they’re cheaper if you register before January 1!)

Save the date: McGill megagame 2020

The 5th annual McGill megagame will be held at McGill University, Montréal on Sunday, 16 February 2020.

The 2020 McGill megagame will be ATLANTIC RIM.

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A mysterious meteor shower has struck the Atlantic coast of North America. Many coastal communities, including parts of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, have been devastated by the resulting tsunami.

Police, fire departments, medical services, municipal workers, Canadian Armed Forces personnel, and the Coast Guard are mobilizing to address the emergency. Roads are damaged. The electrical grid has been shattered. Hospitals are overwhelmed. Survivors are fleeing to safety.

Can local, provincial, and federal officials coordinate an effective response?

Will Atlantic Canada rise to the challenge? And are they prepared for what might now be lurking in the Grand Banks?

Registration information will be posted to PAXsims in November/December.

Undeniable Victory (Ottawa edition)

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How do you serve a dictator?

Undeniable Victory is a serious megagame built around the political, strategic, and tactical challenges of the Iran-Iraq war, 1980-1988—and still the highest-rated megagame of the decade in the UK. Ottawa MegaGames is partnering with Lessons Learned Simulations and Training to host Ben Moores, the designer of Undeniable Victory, co-host of the Last Turn Madness podcast, and one of the original Megagame Makers of the United Kingdom.

Ben has previously discussed the game design here at PAXsims.

Players can take roles in the ruling councils of either state, in their respective militaries, or the international arena hoping to influence the course of the war to their own advantage.

In 1980, Saddam’s Hussein’s Ba’athist Iraq invaded Ayatollah Khomeini’s revolutionary Iran. Saddam hoped to take advantage of an Iran weakened by revolution, with the goal of cementing Iraq’s ascendancy in the region. The result instead was a vicious stalemate between two largely inexperienced armies, indelibly marked on both sides by the egos of the two dictators, Saddam and Khomeini. How would you respond to their demands?

And here are the key details:

Mapmaker (the gerrymandering game) on Kickstarter

Three siblings from a gerrymandered district in Austin, Texas have a game project on Kickstarter that may interest the political scientists (and political hacks) among you: Mapmaker: The Gerrymandering Game:

In Mapmaker: The Gerrymandering Game, you are a mapmaker, which means you make maps… and determine who wins elections. Can you crack and pack voters? Can you scheme and strategize? Can you create unfair, lopsided, strangely shaped districts that will guarantee your party’s victory? Gerrymandering with friends and family (when it doesn’t affect real voters) is a whole lot of fun.

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The Kickstarter expires on August 7, and can be found here.

You’ll find some preview videos below.

We Are Coming, Nineveh!

We Are Coming, Nineveh! is 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 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 was first designed by (PAXsims research associates) Juliette Le Ménahèze and Harrison Brewer as their project for a conflict simulation design course at McGill University. Subsequently, (renowned counter-insurgency game designer) Brian Train and (PAXsims senior editor and Middle East scholar) Rex Brynen joined the team too. A commercial publisher has already expressed strong interest, and we plan to have a final prototype of the game to them by the end of 2018.

The zonal map depicts the major areas of west Mosul, including the densely-built Old City where Daesh forces made their last stand. Units each represent 100 or so Daesh fighters, or and battalion-sized units of the Iraqi Army, Ministry of the Interior, and elite Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS). Cards are used to indicate defensive preparations, air and indirect fire support, special weapons, and various other capabilities. Each turn represents approximately two weeks of gruelling combat.

The use of blocks maintains uncertainty and the “fog of war.” The game combines a simple, intuitive, but highly effective system for movement and combat with a number of innovative game elements:

  • Before the operation starts, players choose a number of special capability cards—reflecting their planning and preparations for this long-awaited battle. Should Iraqi government forces deploy large amounts of air and artillery support, or might this cause excessive destruction in Iraq’s second largest city? Should they bring in additional ground forces, or invest in better training for those they have? What about the volunteer Shi’ite militias of the Popular Mobilization Forces—will these be used in the largely Sunni city? Will Daesh invest in more and larger improvised explosive devices? Will they pre-position bomb factories and arms caches, or perhaps a media production facility to publicize their accomplishments? What surprises might they have in store: home-made drones, primitive chemical weapons, or a network of tunnels under the city? No two games will be the same.
  • During each turn, event cards can be triggered at any time by either player. Some of these indicate the growing collateral damage done to the city and its people. Others generate tactical vignettes. Troops can get lost in the maze of small streets, communications can break down, and commanders can be faced with difficult moral and operational choices.
  • Unlike most wargames where there is a single measure for victory or loss, We Are Coming Nineveh assesses three key aspectsof the campaign: the speed at which the operation is completed, the casualties suffered by Iraqi government forces, and the collateral damage done to Mosul. One might outperform the historical case, capturing the Old City faster—but at a terrible civilian cost.

The game is thus able to combine low complexity (and hence be accessible to even neophyte wargamers) with a rich and detailed treatment of this important battle. A typical game lasts approximately 3 hours.

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Playtesting the current version of the game, with a revised map, event, and capability cards. Units of the Iraqi Army’s 9th division (brown) have advanced to the west (right above), cutting off the remaining supply route for Daesh. The latter has largely retreated to the Old City, where the narrow alleys and dense urban terrain offers tactical advantages. To the south (top), Daesh veterans have counterattacked, throwing back some Federal Police and Emergency Response Division troops in disarray. Meanwhile, elite Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS) forces prepare to advance into the Old City itself. A Daesh IED factory there provides a constant supply of Improvised Explosive Devices for the defenders, while a prepositioned Arms  Cache has reduced the effects of supply lines being severed. Coalition air and artillery support has been important in supporting the Iraqi advance so far, but is unlikely to be available for fire support missions in heavily-populated urban areas.

 

Crisis in Galasi

Next week I’m off to France to take part in a conference on the urban dimensions of religious conflict, organized by Prof. Mick Dumper (University of Exeter). In addition to the usual academic papers and discussions, this conference will also include a simulation set in Galasi, the fictional capital of the fictional country of Carana. This envisages the rise of a Christian populist political party, a nervous Muslim minority, and a possible clash over a disputed religious site, the Sultan Hamad bin Said Mosque (or Church of St. Mychil).

I’ll let you know how it all turns out.

DIRE STRAITS: the video

On February 25, McGill University will host its 3rd annual megagame: DIRE STRAITS, a game of crisis and confrontation in East and Southeast Asia. The video we will be using to introduce the game scenario is below—assuming, that is, that no one starts a real nuclear war on the Korean peninsula in the next three weeks.

While most of the tickets for the event have been sold, there are some remaining via Eventbrite. We hope to see you there!

A busy year of gaming ahead

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Well, 2018 is already shaping up to be a very busy year for PAXsims, and certainly for yours truly.

This term I’m teaching a small seminar on conflict simulation design at McGill University. This is really a dry run for a larger course next academic year—and, if that goes well, possibly a regular offering in the academic years ahead.

Starting this week, Hiba Zerrougui and I will be running an AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game tournament for students in my POLI 450 (Peacebuilding) course. This is an optional event, in which players pick up bonus class participation credits for taking part, and an extra bonus if they win the tournament. You’ll find a report on last year’s version here.

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Next week, I’ll be in Washington DC for a couple of days to assist the International Foundation for Electoral Systems to develop serious games and simulations for training election officials. IFES does terrific work around the world helping countries with the complex procedures and mechanisms of electoral democracy, and I’m happy to lend a hand. I’ll also be doing some work with the ICONS Project over the coming months.

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On February 6, it’s off to my alma mater, the University of Calgary, to talk about the use of serious games in teaching about international development, and to run a demonstration game of AFTERSHOCK.

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On February 24, we’ll be holding a CONNECTIONS NORTH miniconference at McGill University on professional wargaming in Canada, with around 20 participants. Small as it will be, it is likely to be the biggest assemblage of Canadians to discuss serious wargame development in quite some time.

The following day Jim Wallman (Stone, Paper, Scissors) and I will, together with members of our elite Control team, be running the 3rd annual McGill megagame, DIRE STRAITS. This is a revised version of the game that Jim and I organized for the Connections UK wargaming conference back in September (and which received international coverage from BBC News). Anja van der Hulst (TNO) will be passing through Montreal so that she can take part in both the conference and the game, and she’s kindly offered to run her comprehensive approach game for my students on the following Monday.

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In early March, I’ll be taking part in a workshop on the urban dimensions of religious conflict, being organized by my colleague Mick Dumper (University of Exeter). Mick and I have worked on other conflict simulations before—including a prescient 2013 policy simulation that explored possible US cuts to UNRWA, and an educational simulation on the Syrian refugee crisis. This time I’ll be developing a multi-part crisis simulation, set in the fictional country of Carana, that will continue throughout the event. Our hope is that it will compliment the academic papers and discussion that are the main component of the workshop with some illustrative communal flash-points, conflict, and policy challenges.

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In early April, civil war will once more stalk Cyberia, as more than one hundred students in POLI 450 and POLI 650 spend a week trying to bring peace to Brynania. This will be the 19th annual running of our massive McGill University peacebuilding simulation, and I’ll spend much of the time monitoring more than 15,000 emails between the participants in my role as CONTROL. The effort that the participants put into this is truly phenomenal, especially considering how little the activity actually counts for (10% of their course grade), and is testimony to the outstanding students we have at McGill. You’ll find a detailed account of the simulation here, in an article in PS: Political Science & Politics (2010).

During the summer, things won’t be slowing down all that much. I’ve got an article, and possibly a book chapter, to write on serious gaming. There may be another return visit to Dstl—I certainly hope so, since these have been a hugely valuable opportunity to see what my UK defence colleagues are up to. I hope to be presenting at the Connections US professional wargaming conference at National Defense University in July on the results of our DIRE STRAITS experiment, and I’ll certainly be attending the Connections UK wargaming conference at King’s College London in September.

Plus there are all sorts of game ideas germinating—some of which you will hopefully see on the pages of PAXsims in 2018. And that’s just me! Associate PAXsims editors Ellie Bartels, Devin Ellis, Tom Fisher, Gary Milante, and Tom Mouat are just as busy with their own projects too, many of which you will also see here in the year ahead.

DIRE STRAITS at McGill

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It’s official—Jim Wallman and I will be running a version of the DIRE STRAITS megagame at McGill University on Sunday, 25 February 2018.

McGill University’s third annual megagame, DIRE STRAITS, is set in the year 2020. It explores crisis stability in East and Southeast Asia in the context of an unpredictable Trump Admintration, growing Chinese strategic power, and multiple regional crises.

How will the region and the world deal with the challenge of North Korean nuclear weapons? Will China consolidate its hold over the South China Sea? How might relations between Beijing and Taiwan develop if the latter decides to adopt a more independent path? And how will the White House—beset by scandal, factional infighting, and an angry, unpredictable President—respond?

Approximately one hundred participants will assume the roles of national decision-makers, diplomats, military commanders, intelligence analysts, international organizations, journalists, and others.

 

Tickets can be purchased through Eventbrite. Discounted “early-bird” tickets are available through to January 1.

You’ll find a Facebook page for the event here. A BBC News report on the original DIRE STRAITS game (held at King’s College London in September) can be found here.

Above: Images from DIRE STRAITS at King’s College London, September 2017.

Dire Straits live at KCL on September 5!

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

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

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

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

MaGCK launches soon at Connections UK

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MaGCK—the Matrix Game Construction Kit—will officially launch on September 5 at the Connections UK 2017 professional wargaming conference at King’s College London. As soon as it does, we’ll update the MaGCK page here at PAXsims with a link to the order page at The Game Crafter. It all looks excellent, thanks to the graphic artistry of our very own Tom Fisher.

As an added surprise, we will also be publishing our very first MaGCK supplement at the same time—a set of estimated probability cards. These come in seven suits, indicating probabilities of 0/10/30/50/70/90/100%. They can be used in matrix game adjudication, or in pretty much any other context where you want to quickly poll a small group for their assessment of the likelihood of an outcome. They are certainly the perfect geeky stocking-stuffer gift for the methodologically-rigorous intelligence analyst in your life!

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Many thanks are due to the wargaming team at Dstl (the UK MoD Defence Science and Technology Laboratory) for supporting the development of MaGCK.

Matrix game construction kit update #3

We have just had some of the components for the Matrix Game Construction Kit (MaGCK) prototype back from the printers, and we are very happy with the result.

MaGCK will contain one set of map tiles, used for A Reckoning of Vultures—a game of coup plotting, political skullduggery, and presidential succession.

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Part of the map for A Reckoning of Vultures. The system of tokens and stickers used in MaGCK allows for a deal of customization—here we see political leader, police, a SWAT team, riot police, helicopter, firefighters, an ambulance, and a doctor. MaGCK will contain several hundred stickers and designs,

On the flip side of these there are generic urban tiles. These have isomorphic road connections, allowing them to be assembled in many different ways.

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Generic urban terrain. By “many different ways” we mean to say that the map tiles can be assembled in more than 2.6 nonillion (10^30) different ways.

The kit also contains ten two-sided game tracks, which you can use for anything you want: tracking time, moves, die roll modifiers, and so forth.

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All of this is due to the graphics wizardry of PAXsim’s very own Tom Fisher, of course.

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Tom examines the latest components at my dining room table.

Many thanks to Dstl for supporting the project. Tom Mouat and I be reviewing the contents with them next month, and hope to do a public launch of MaGCK in September at the Connections UK professional wargaming conference.

You’ll find previous updates here:

MaGCK will also contain two scenarios for the ISIS Crisis matrix game, which we’ve written about extensively at PAXsims.

UPDATE:

Even more goodies arrived today! Here you can see the box, tokens, and some of the stickers.

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Prototype box, plus blank tokens (to which stickers are attached to indicate units, assets, effects, etc.), disks (used to track supply, turns, political influence—or whatever else you want), and dice.

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No gaming system would be complete without its supply of thugs (or armed civilians, survivalists, militia, or criminals). These stickers would be fixed to the coloured tokens above.

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Some of the box contents (minus rules, scenario briefings, tracking mats).

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Pssst, need some stickers for your next matrix game?

 

UNSOC Northland

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No, it’s not the latest UN peacekeeping force. Rather, UNSOC is Urban Nightmare: State of Chaos, the latest megagame from the fevered mind of mad genius Jim Wallman.

UNSOC is nor ordinary megagame, you see—instead, it is the world’s first wide-area megagame, with interlinked games being played simultaneously in eleven cities in five different countries. In Montreal, we’ll be playing the peaceable country of Northland, faced with a sudden and terrifying menace spreading from South-of-the Border:

Northland is a generally nice (if sometimes smug and self-righteous) place, known for its cold winters, hockey, doughnut shops, poutine, and polite do-gooders prone to apologize for the slightest transgression. As the country celebrates its birthday on July 1, however, this peaceable place may face its greatest threat ever.

South of the Border, something is happening. There are reports of violence, chaos, and panic well beyond the violence and chaos of daily life there. Military units are being mobilized, and this time not to invade some foreign country. Some even claim that undead hordes have taken to the streets in search of human brains—or, at the very least, free national health care. How much longer will it be before the urban nightmare moves north?

The game happens to fall on Canada Day, so that’s appropriate. Our game will be rather smaller than our last two games (New World Order 2035 and War in Binni). However it should be just as enjoyable for those many Canadian gamers who enjoy the complex interplay between federal-provincial relations and an impending apocalypse.

In the Montreal area on Canada Day, and interested in participating? Email me for more details, or buy a ticket at Eventbrite. We’ll be getting an early start, of course, to synchronize with the various European games.

SciTech Futures brainstorming

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