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! Publishingplan 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.
On Wednesday, January 20 the McGill Refugee Research Group will be hosting an online presentation by Matt Stevens (Lessons Learned Simulations and Training) entitled “What can learning games teach us about ethical refugee response?”
Matt will also be running an online refugee response simulation on Saturday, January 23.
For more information, consult the McGill Refugee Research Group website. Registration for the former is open to anyone. Registration for the latter is limited (with most places reserved for McGill University students and staff).
Major Robert J. Fritz is civilian desk officer in the situation center of the Austrian Ministry of Defence. As “Creative Warrior” he has founded “Tablewood Studios” focusing on Business Dramaturgy, Game Design and Personal Screenwriting. If readers have any questions or wish to share feedback, they are invited to email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
First of all I would like to wish all readers a Happy New Year. May you get healthy through the Pandemic Year 2021.
It is a pleasure to present via PAXsims my approach to epidemic crisis management by serious gaming. The game is based on AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game, and so those familiar with that game will recognize many of the mechanics. It is also inspired by core mechanic of virus spread used in the successful Pandemic game series. I am grateful to Rex Brynen, Tom Fisher and Matt Leacock behind those two game designs—without these sources it would have been impossible to create a prototype within a short period of time.
After last spring the first wave of COVID-19 had hit Austria, the commander of the Austrian Military Academy tasked the head of the Development Division, General Staff Col. Dr. Markus Reisner, to develop a simulation about the management of the COVID-19 pandemic by various key actors. Col. Reisner chose an innovative interdisciplinary approach. Due to our shared interest in wargaming and long friendship he got in touch with me and asked me for any support I could deliver. At the beginning I was overwhelmed by the challenge, but a look into my game collection identified a few candidates which could work as conceptual sources. I have to admit that I am not that experienced game designer, but I enjoy to cope with complex challenges in a creative way.
As advocate of educational gaming I had a few opportunities to gain some experience in the past. As student of political science I organized a NATO-related panel as part of the annual Vienna Model UN/VIMUN and as military training officer I created scenarios for the live action peace operations predeployment training of logistics and contracting officers. Being a freelance civilian logistics trainer at that time was very helpful in that regard.
As a “Creative Warrior” with my own business “Tablewood Studios” I started with miniature game designs (more or less by the principle trial and error) and did a lot of research on the history of wargaming. As civilian desk officer with a military background in the Austrian Ministry of Defence I use historical conflict simulations as analytical tools. My board and miniature game collection grows bigger and bigger and due to my cinematic approach I consider my miniatures as props for making table movies. In recent years I focused more on screenwriting and still have this great dream to see my two superheroes “Ghost Talker” and “Sergeant Gulliver” some day on the big screen. But this is another story. Back to COVID Buster.
After playing one session AFTERSHOCK with Colonel Reisner it became very clear that this simulation covers many clever aspects of crisis management, which could also work for a pandemic situation —especially the synergies of coordination by key actors. I like the elegant design and logical procedures represented by different card decks and player phases. The map system is also very attractive. Printing large geographical maps is more complex and expensive. The to scale size of different regions would also be a visual challenge to get all necessary information on the map. The district structure of AFTERSHOCK is just perfect to me.
In November the first prototype of COVID Buster was tested and presented to Major General Karl Pronhagl as Commander of the Military Academy and his Chief of Staff in Wiener Neustadt under lockdown conditions. Both gentlemen were deeply impressed and the momentum was used to continue working on bugs and new ideas. On the 17th of December 2020 the latest game lab took place and brought to light that the game system should work pretty well. There is still a long way to go and 2021 will follow a very pandemic path: Testing, Testing, Testing!
The core challenge was to demonstrate the complexity of nation-wide crisis management in Austria at different working levels during a pandemic linked with a simple, but still logical, infection rate. The actors should face the ups and downs of virus spread due to different factors like clusters, lockdowns, limited supplier markets, vaccine research, influencer conspiracies and a variety of other events which drives the situation. The dominant key player is the Health Services with the authority to put a general Lockdown in place (just once per game with a special card the actor has already at hand from the very beginning of the game). The military is the last actor during a game round, since it only acts by request of other authorities like Health Services or Police.
As mentioned above the basic character of AFTERSHOCK is very visible. The main differences are:
The key actors are Health Services, Austrian Red Cross (also representing the whole range of other NGOs), Police as well as the Austrian Armed Forces (Bundesheer) and play in that particular order.
Instead of districts you have the whole state of Austria represented by the nine federal states (Bundesländer). Each game plan for a federal state (Bundesland) includes a “Corona-Ampel” with four different colors (green-yellow-orange-red) reflecting the regional epidemic situation. The Corona-Ampel and the deck of Needs Cards (similar to the At Risk Cards in AFTERSHOCK) are linked since the colour of the Ampel increases the needs for critical supplies (+ 1 per type). Players assign teams to different tasks like in AFTERSHOCK. There are special fields for certain events like Quarantine and Disaster Relief (e.g. due to avalanches or floods) to tie up operational teams.
The four types of supplies are related to the most critical groups of goods needed to manage the pandemic. White cubes stand for personal protective equipment. Blue cubes stand for “disinfectants” and other liquid resources like blood plasma. Green Cubes are any form of test kits and also include medication. Red Cubes stand for intensive care beds and include the whole technology linked to it (e.g. respirators). In the fourth month production facilities (like Infrastructure in AFTERSHOCK) could be put in place representing domestic production capacities of critical items.
Since Austria is surrounded by eight neighbouring countries there is an Infection Plan for these countries, too. This plan also includes a “Corona-Ampel” related to the WHO representing the global pandemic situation. The Police and Military actors assign teams to border management which act as a blocker for the cross-border spread of the virus.
In each player turn there is an Infection Phase prior to the concluding Supply Phase by drawing infection cards to define the location of new infections like in the boardgame Pandemic. “Pandemic Cubes” will be placed on the Ampel of the effected “Bundesland” or “Neighbouring Country” and each color/cube stands for a reproduction factor of “1”. There are four “Pandemic Cards” in the deck which trigger an outbreak and could lead to chain reactions of viral spread.
Logistics: I am still so fascinated by the Logistic Hub Challenge of AFTERSHOCK by using this black discs. I wanted to transform this clever mechanic into a contracting based approach. My idea was to simulate limited markets of critical items by using the black discs as kind of contracting marker representing groups of suppliers and a bidding process needed to increase the capacities. To be honest, as former logistics officer and quartermaster I specialized in contingency contracting and I wanted to see this aspect in the game. My sponsor and other consulting experts did not agree and saw no benefit in that. I admit that the game is already complex enough which justifies this decision. Therefore it was simplified by delaying the availability of supplies. With a logistic operation you get ordered supplies from abroad back home into your domestic warehouses. The exchange of items between players and the generation of production facilities is like in AFTERSHOCK. There are certain events in the course of the game which will have an impact on the logistic chain, too.
Cards, cards, cards: The card driven core mechanic needs a lot of playing cards. Like in AFTERSHOCK there are cards for coordination, events, needs (like At Risk cards) and special situations (e.g. Media, Assessment, Social Unrest). In detail they differ very much due to the pandemic situation. Needs Cards (Bedarfskarten) include three different types refering either to a Regional Pandemic situation, a Corona Cluster or special situations like Corona Demos, Travel Warnings, Daily Commuters, Influenza Wave, Lack of Intensive Care Beds, Mask Refuseniks or Cov-Idiots.
The game lasts over 12 months/rounds.
Instead of the Relief Points in AFTERSHOCK, players gain or loose “Government Points” – the final score could be “good” or “bad governance”.
I am well aware that nine Bundesländer and a game length of over 12 months extend the needs in terms of playing time and game material. On the other hand I strongly believe that for a serious classroom game – provided that enough time is available – it is important to keep basic issues of the real world in the design. Players will have a personal relation to certain Bundesländer of Austria, which could have an impact on decisions about priorities. Therefore I did not want to reduce the number of Bundesländer to fictional regions.
First of all I was deeply impressed by the visual quality of the game material which was graphically prepared in advance by Andrea Zerkhold as member of the development division of the military academy. I absolutely did not expect this at this stage of the project, since so many aspects were still unclear. It is a pleasure to work with this material. It was the perfect eye catcher for the presentation of the prototype.
The first test game with the prototype took place on the 25 November 2020 and had this outstanding cast:
Health Services: Represented by General Staff Colonel Dr. Markus Reisner PhD, head of the Development Division at the Military Academy. A former SOF officer with operational experience in peace operations in Afghanistan, Chad and Mali. As historian he has written several brilliant books about military history and his broader academic profile also includes studies about robotic warfare.
Red Cross: The author and designer himself – Major Robert J. Fritz. My military baptism of fire was as UN Military Police patrolman in the 90s in Syria followed by a contracted officer career as quartermaster and logistic officer at the Austrian International Peace Support Command with duties in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Kosovo, Syria and the Western Sahara. After working a couple of years in the logistic branch of the Austrian MoD I was ready for a change. As civilian desk officer for UN peacekeeping in the MoD I joined the annual main conference of the UN Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations in New York on a regular basis. In December 2019 I took over a position in the Situation Center in the MoD and for months I am contributing to a daily Sitrep about COVID-19. This explains the close relation to the topic, although I would never claim to describe myself as pandemic expert – quite the opposite. At least my years as volunteer in the Red Cross during my time at Business School should justify my qualification that I have modest experience with key tasks of the different actors in COVID Buster. As artist I would prefer much more the Art of Peace than War. But if you want to have peace, you have to understand war.
Police: Soldier André Mayer. This young and open minded gentleman seems to be the luckiest conscripted soldier of the Bundesheer—having the privilege to serve under the command of Col Reisner and being active part of this project. He does not only play a supportive role for different services. With his critical mind he delivers valuable input to the design process. Perhaps it is worth to mention that he works in his civilian life for the Austrian Chancellor as the youngest member of the cabinet.
Bundesheer: Prof DI Dr. Col Norbert Frischauf. He is a High Energy Physicist (Astrophysics and Particle Physics) by education and a Future Studies Systems Engineer by training. Being highly interested in all sorts of technologies as well as the micro and macro cosmos his educational and vocational career led him to several distinct places, such as CERN in Geneva, Switzerland, ESA/ESTEC and the JRC-IET in the Netherlands and recently to the Austrian Broadcasting Corporation where he presents a monthly science telecast. He is part of the “Strategic Community Austria”, a military strategy adviser and writes daily analysis about the development of the COVID-19 pandemic from the very beginning. His expertise and critical contributions are still essential for the project.
COVID Buster starts with a historical setup, which means that there is a viral ground zero in the Western part of Austria, where people from around the world spend their skiing holidays. The event “COVID Ski” is activated right at the beginning of the first round (in addition to the regular event in the active player´s event phase). It says that “excessive apres ski drives the spread of the virus” and has the effect that an outbreak is starting from Tyrol. In that way players jump right into the pandemic situation.
In the Coordination Deck of the prototype a few Lockdown cards were available. The problem was, that until the third month Health Services and Police did not draw one of these cards. In the meantime we lost Government Points by failing to fulfill the needs of the Bundesländer and COVID-19 turned Austria and her neighbourhood into red. There was no other way, but to order a nation-wide Lockdown to reduce the infection rates by removing pandemic cubes without a specific card yet available. We agreed that the costs for this new Lockdown as Special Card for the Health Services should be higher for each game round it is in place (5 Government Points for the first round) and should not take longer than three rounds.
Bringing in supplies to the Bundesländer was also a challenge due to the contracting based logistics system. The delays of supplies took three months, when the distribution into the field really started. As mentioned above this mechanic was not very welcome and we dropped it.
In the first 2 months a team should be assigned to Evacuation (similar to Rescue in AFTERSHOCK) to fulfill the needs of a Bundesland. In Covid Buster it reflects the repatriation of Austrian citizens which has been managed by national authorities. As soon as the WHO-Ampel is set on red you have to assign teams to this task again. Every third month one pandemic cube is added to the WHO Ampel. Only the participation in an International Conference (a Coordination Card) could reduce this global growth.
In the fourth month we had to stop the game. For the next step I had to consider an Exit Strategy concerning the development of a vaccine, include the possibilty of lockdowns in the neighbouring countries and change the logistics system. Finally we agreed that Tyrol should not always be the black sheep as starting point of viral spread in Austria. The last issue was easily solved. By drawing an Infection Card as optional rule a new hot spot could be defined within Austria.
December Game Lab
To keep the momentum I continued working on the findings of the prototype test right away and we were able to organize another game lab on the 17 December 2020. In the meantime I played a full 12 month game session solitaire to get a better picture how the whole system works in the long run. Dealing with nine different Bundesländer, the pandemic situation in eight neighbouring countries and many other issues has increased the need for teams and supplies. My first calculations work pretty well, but I expect that after a few test games more balancing is needed.
There was no way during the first test game to get pandemic cubes removed without the Lockdown coordination card. Successfully resolving a Needs Card would also remove pandemic cubes, but this would take time. At a certain point the game became static and there was no sense to draw Infection Cards, since all Covid-Ampeln were red and no outbreaks could be activated anymore. The only penalty was the higher need for critical supplies in the Bundesländer. Conducting Security Operations like Border Management seemed also to be unnecessary due to the “Condition Red” on both sides of the border.
To cope with these flaws we had the idea that each actor should have a special “Joker Card” right from the beginning. Health Services got the nation-wide hard Lockdown Card. The Red Cross is able to generate additional teams. The Police is able to set a whole Bundesland under quarantine. The Bundesheer is able to mobilize additional teams from the militia, but has to wait for one game round reflecting the whole process from drafting to operational readiness. These cards can only be activated once in a game. Three soft Lockdown Cards are kept in the Coordination Deck to react to a pandemic situation in a Bundesland at a later stage.
The longer a Lockdown is in place the higher are the costs. The basic costs for the “Hard Lockdown” are five Government Points per active round. For each additional round one Operational Point has to be paid and one “Bürgerprotest/Citizen Protest” Card has to be placed in each Bundesland. On the other hand you remove one pandemic cube in each Bundesland for each round with an active Lockdown.
I have introduced Lockdown cards for the neighbouring countries as part of the Event Deck, which reduce Pandemic Cubes in the effected state by one. Austria has no influence on lockdown decisions of her neighbours, but there will be an impact across the borders concerning the need for teams in border management.
I changed a bit the procedure for outbreaks. If not even one pandemic cube could be placed somewhere during an outbreak the triggering Bundesland gets one “Citizen Protest” card instead. Outbreaks in the neighbouring countries are also limited to their next neighbour states and not further. The capital town and Bundesland Vienna is a special case concerning infection chains. If in Vienna an outbreak is triggered, it would also infect certain Bundesländer and neighbouring states without a direct borderline. That reflects the issue of national and international commuters or tourists, who work in or visit Vienna.
Finally I would like to outline my ideas how an exit strategy with the existence of an effective vaccine looks like in Covid Buster. There are two cards in the game dealing with research programms. There is the “COVAX Vaccine Initiative by the WHO” as Event Card and the “Vaccine Initiative by the EU” as Coordination Card. Except the Police the drawing actor could assign one team to research for the rest of the game. After six months of research it is possible to activate two other coordination cards (if the actors have kept them before in their hand): The “Vaccination Programme”, which works normally against a flu epidemic (an At Risk Card) becomes in combination with “Notfallzulassung/Emergency Use Authorization” (only activated by the Health Services) the vaccine against COVID-19. At the moment there are two “Vaccination Programme” coordination cards available. The actor holding it can activate it in a Bundesland, where they has a team assigned, by removing one Pandemic Cube.
All these latest adaptions should make COVID Buster more dynamic and should keep the attention of the participants.
Playing a full session of 12 months still takes too much time. I am sure that after more testing and bug hunting the playing time can be reduced. For the needs of the Military Academy as classroom game it should work, but as boxed game for the living room it will stay a challenge. First of all COVID Buster has to work in the classroom within a reasonable timeframe.
In real life we have not yet reached the point of one year crisis management and there are always new developments which I would like to incorporate (e.g. the mutation of the virus or like I did with the terror attack last November in Vienna). But it makes no sense to have hundreds of events with specific terms or actions available. In 12 game rounds with four actors you have about 48 events to draw. This number should also include enough Bundesländer cards to resolve Needs cards.
There is some flexibility to assign events and pandemic language to different card decks. Another approach could be to create special card decks which could dominate one game session or to use at least a few cards from them in the regular decks (e.g. using more terminology for the area of education like distance learning, home schooling, parental letter etc.)
It is scary that the first test games showed a similar viral spread which somehow corresponds with historical developments. I would not say that now it is proven to all sceptics that a hard lockdown is justified in certain situations. In game terms the right timing of a lockdown is essential. In the real world here in Austria the timing proved to be right – at least for the first wave. States had to learn to cope with many challenges. You solve one problem and generate two more. The real art is to prioritize the problems or challenges. No one knows how this experiment of nature will finally be described in history. I hope that COVID Buster could be a small piece of this big puzzle of human history to get an idea how challenging the management of the current pandemic is.
In conjunction with Australian Department of Defence, the Data Science and AI Association of Australia (DSAi) is hosting a virtual Gameathon to help generate ideas around the use of AI in the field of wargaming. The Gameathon is centred around the Defence Science & Technology Group (DSTG) wargame “Disaster of the JOADIA Islands” (outlined below) and has 2 challenges which cover Game Design and AI Assistance.
Challenge 1 – Game Design: Design new game systems and rule sets for the original game to explore concepts applicable to a HADR scenario.
Challenge 2 -AI Assistance: Exploring ways that modern AI techniques can enhance decision support for wargaming.
Prizes for each challenge = 1st $1000, 2nd $500, and 3rd $250
Contestants can register as individuals or as teams and create submissions for either or both challenges. The deadline has been extended due to COVID and DSTG and DSAi will judge the entries and award prize in late February/early March 2021.
Disaster of the JOADIA Islands is a turn-based wargame that models a Joint Task force assigned with the goal of rescuing civilians in a fictitious humanitarian aid disaster relief (HADR) scenario.
The Climate Change Megagame is a research project based at Linköping University that investigates how a megagame can be used to convey knowledge about climate change. The Megagame will take place on 21 November 2020, both in-person (in Linköping, Sweden) and online. You can register to participate here (priority will be given to local participants). The closing date for applications is 21 October.
“The digital version of the game that we have created will give the participants a better overview of what’s happening”, Magnus Persson and Ola Leifler, who are responsible for the project, tell us.
A megagame is a large-scale game with elements of board gaming, role playing and conflict gaming, with a number of players from around 10 up to a hundred. The scenario of the game is placed in eastern Sweden and the participants play various local, regional and national roles, such as political decision-makers and representatives for business. Many of the participants will play the role of local inhabitants.
One aim of the game is to create a meeting place in which different groups in society can come together and discuss.
During the game, climate change will be simulated for the period 2020 to 2100, based on forecasts from the Swedish Meteorological and Hydrological Institute (SMHI). The consequences of the changed climate will present the participants with difficult choices. The goals of the players may conflict with political decisions taken in Stockholm and in Brussels.
Representatives for regional businesses, municipalities and Region Östergötland will participate in the game.
The Climate Change Megagame will collaborate with SMHI, the Swedish National Council for Climate Adaptation, and researchers at McGill University in Canada.
The objectives of the Climate Change Megagame research project are:
• to develop a game that creates awareness of how serious climate change is, and how it affects us
•to develop a university course in which students develop, organise and participate in a megagame
• to study the behaviour of those playing the game with respect to communication, decision-making and conflict management.
U.S. defense strategists and policymakers have the perennial challenge of developing capstone documents that can coherently articulate and guide how the U.S. Department of Defense will deliver and maintain combat-credible military forces to deter war and provide national security in alignment with national strategy. These forces must be ready to fight and prevail should deterrence fail against a variety of threats in an evolving and uncertain global security environment, and they must be able to do this with acceptable risks — both in the present against today’s threats and in the future against threats that might emerge. Key audiences for these capstone documents include defense planners, programmers, budgeters, managers, analysts, and policymakers who support the development and management of forces that can be postured and employed in alignment with a given defense strategy to accomplish objectives.
Against this backdrop, RAND researchers developed Hedgemony, a wargame designed to teach U.S. defense professionals how different strategies could affect key planning factors in the trade space at the intersection of force development, force management, force posture, and force employment. The game presents players, representing the United States and its key strategic partners and competitors, with a global situation, competing national incentives, constraints, and objectives; a set of military forces with defined capacities and capabilities; and a pool of periodically renewable resources. The players are asked to outline their strategies and are then challenged to make difficult choices by managing the allocation of resources and forces in alignment with their strategies to accomplish their objectives within resource and time constraints.
The game itself is multi-sided, with an umpire/facilitator.
Hedgemony is a global, multi-sided, turn-based, facilitated, adjudi- cated wargame designed to teach U.S. defense professionals how dif- ferent strategy and policy priorities could affect key planning factors in the trade space at the intersection of force development, force manage- ment, force posture, and force employment. Players, representing Blue (the United States, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization [NATO], and the European Union [EU]) or Red (Russia [RU], the People’s Repub- lic of China [PRC], the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea [DPRK], and Iran [IR]), are presented with a global situation, competing nation- al incentives, constraints and objectives, a set of military forces with de- fined capacities and capabilities, and a pool of periodically renewable resources. Players are also asked to summarize their strategies and ob- jectives in writing before play starts. The game is about players making difficult choices by managing the allocation of resources and forces in alignment with their strategies to accomplish their objectives within re- source and time constraints.
Hedgemony is designed to be expertly staffed and facilitated. Facilitation is provided by a White Cell, a team composed of two or more experts who act as game masters and referees. Facilitators are responsible for
•Advising players on game rules and play strategies to accomplish learning objectives
•Keeping play on pace and on track through the various phases of each game turn
•Advising and walking players through the adjudication procedures for each action and event
•Maintaining and summarizing the overarching “story” of what player actions or interactions, game events, and their outcomes would likely represent in the real world
•Resolving disagreements over interpretation of game situations and rules
•Overseeing notetaking and data collection.
Although players are expected to try to “win” by achieving a certain amount of Influence—either in absolute terms or relative to one or more other players—within a certain number of game turns, the game is primarily focused on the learning objectives of the U.S. player, with the NATO/EU player, the Red players, and the facilitators all serving, essentially, as “training aids.” Thus, play balance, particular strategies and priorities of specific non-U.S. players, and the specific sequence and frequency of events played by the White Cell may all be shaped by session learning objectives as part of a given session scenario.
And yes, in case you are wondering, the game IS called “Hedgemony” with a “d”:
The name Hedgemony arose from the nature of a common challenge facing those who craft U.S. defense strategy. For the past 30 years, U.S. defense policymakers have been focused on an environment that has presented the United States with options for employment of defense forces in many different roles (such as humanitarian assistance, counterinsurgency, and major power conflict) and in many different locations (such as Afghanistan, Estonia, Haiti, Iraq, Korea, and Somalia). U.S. defense policymakers must prepare for a variety of near-term contingencies while also building U.S. armed forces for the future. The tension inherent in this set of challenges led us to think in terms of “hedging strategies”—the kinds of strategies investment professionals use to deal with uncertainty in the investment markets. This challenge also typically entails efforts to either maintain parity or achieve overmatch with one’s adversaries. Hence, we have the term Hedgemony.
PAXsims has previously reported the development of a matrix game entitled After The Apex by Ben Taylor and Ben Williams. The game allows players to explore the challenges faced by the fictional country of Bretonia as it seeks to chart a course to toward the new normal once the first wave of COVID-19 infections had passed.
The developers have now been working with Anja van der Hulst of TNO to build a dilemma game based upon the same scenario. The dilemma game is implemented in software and allows the solo player to make a series of policy decisions based upon dilemmas faced but the Bretonian government. A range of advisors will offer perspectives on the issue and provide different rationales for accepting, or not, the proposed policy. The player is left with the decisions as to what to do.
The dilemma game plays much more quickly than the matrix game and so allows some of the same issues to be explored in a shorter time, but without the rich interpersonal interaction. This may be a better design choice for some applications. Those attending next week’s Connections professional wargaming conference will have two opportunities to play the dilemma game and to meet with the developers. A fuller write up will follow on PAXSims after the conference.
PAXsims is pleased to share the following invitation from TNO. Many thanks to Rudy Boonekam and Anja van der Hulst for passing it on to our readers.
We are organizing a playthrough of the Opponent Immersion Game in the form of a webinar.
The Opponent Immersion Game (OIG) is a game that may turn a law abiding citizen into a violent conflict actor. OIG is a game environment that immerses participants in a path to violence through visual storytelling1. Participants progress by making action choices and engaging in dialogue. While playing out their roles and responding to radicalization triggers, behavior, mental state, and cognitions are measured. This approach has shown its added-value and has been well received in the NATO analysis community.
We hope to inspire you for themes such as research and data capture by (war)gaming and look forward to your feedback on the game as domain experts. See the Opponent Immersion Game flyer below) for more details.
Date: 2 July 2020 (change of date)
9:00 PDT (Pacific Daylight Time)
12:00 EDT (Eastern Daylight Time)
18:00 CEST (Central European Time)
Duration: approx. two hours
Details on how to participate in the webinar will follow. If you want to join, please mail me (Rudy Boonekamp) at email@example.com.
The following article was written for PAXsims by Captain Oli Elliot (BritishArmy). Capt Elliot has served as a rifle and reconnaissance platoon commander, as a trainer at the Infantry Training Centre, and most recently as the Adjutant of 2 MERCIAN, based out in Cyprus as the Regional Stand-by Battalion.
All but War Is Simulation. Using simulation for military training is certainly not a new concept; warriors have always trained with wooden weapons to simulate metal tipped weapons, the Prussian Military were using the wargame Kriegsspiel in the 1820s and computer simulation has been used for decades in weapons development, play testing doctrinal concepts and for training. The UK Fight Club is yet another way for the British Armed Forces to simulate warfare, but it is taking a unique approach. It is not only intending to make gaming far more accessible to every level of the Armed Forces, it seeks to change culture and make gaming a more common approach to improve thinking and fighting across all dimensions of conflict and competition.
This is a bottom-up initiative to use Commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) computer games and other gaming modalities to drive change in military thinking and mimic realistic scenarios for its members. It is a flat and lateral organisation where rank and trade are not important, but your ability to think and make decisions are what is valued. Ideas have no rank and they are judged on their own merit. All members of the British Armed Forces are familiar with using computer simulations for training. Virtual Battlespace 3 (VBS3), currently also Defence’s Virtual Simulation (DVS), is operated at training establishments and available to units via the Unit Based Virtual Training (UBVT) contractual mechanism. Other virtual simulations are used at the Combined Arms Tactical Trainer (CATT) which most units will use as part of their formal training cycle. The BattleGroup Command Control Trainer (BC2T) and ABACUS are the Army’s constructive simulations found at JCSC(L) and CAST. However, most members of the Armed Forces see simulation training as an inaccessible tool, delivered once or twice a year which takes hours to set-up and can only be organised months in advance. Fight Club challenges this mentality and argues that you can use computer-based simulation right now, at little to no expense, amongst a community of likeminded peers who can aid and collaborate with you to achieve specific results. Fight Club wants people gaming in a ‘safe to fail’ environment, conducting many ‘reps and sets’, and sharing their learning amongst the wider community.
Fight Club was founded in March 2020 as a way of bringing together serving members of the armed forces, civil servants, computer simulation designers and many other members who work in the defence sector. The date of the founding may have coincided with the MOD (and the rest of the UK) starting to work from home, but it was a plan that has been in the pipeline for a number of months and it will continue after the lock down is lifted.
Fight Club seeks to use COTS computer games to provide its members with an opportunity to hone their tactical acumen and decision-making ability against an enemy that is seeking to outsmart them (whether this be the game AI or another human player). Military professionals must be conditioned to out think, out manoeuvre and adapt faster than any adversary prior to the final audit of battle or crisis. The question, accordingly, is not whether the military has people who can think this way already but whether we have a culture of process that conditions this type of thinking. Fight Club seeks to fill what is arguably the greatest deficiency in the training and education of leaders: repeated practice in decision making against a think enemy.In the few months that Fight Club has existed it has pursued these aims along a number of routes. In April some of its members formed the red team for a COVID-19 Grey Zone Competition Wargame with Special Operations Command – Europe. Since April the club has been playing through a campaign called: ‘Operation Rising Moon’ on the COTS computer game Combat Mission: Shock Force 2 (CMSF2), where club members complete the missions, post their results in a group chat and then discuss how they would tackle the missions differently in the future. A member of the fight club has also used CMSF2 to conduct professional military education for platoon commanders in a sub-unit in 2nd Battalion, The MERCIAN Regiment, an infantry regiment currently based out in Cyprus as the Regional Stand-by Battalion, by hosting a Fight Night where platoon commanders fought each other after they had conducted an estimate on the situation they were presented with.
The Fight Club slack chat group (a social networking forum) is already full of doctrinal and tactical discussions sparked by Operation Rising Moon. The discussions have ranged from the destructive effects of Offensive Support compared to direct fire assets to the most effective staff tools for planning a course of action.
As news of Fight Club spreads, more members of the Armed Forces are realising how they could already be using computer simulations for training. Members of Reservist and Regular units have been getting in touch with the Fight Club to ask for advice on how to deliver computer-based training in their own units. The Fight Club is committed to this type of collaborative working; there is no value in junior commanders all over the armed forces duplicating the same work. Fight Club is becoming like a “Git Hub” platform for planning and fighting solutions.
The Fight Club is still recruiting, still battling through Operation Rising Moon and still providing a forum for military professionals to discuss gaming, but it has ambitious plans for the future. It will host competitions, providing an opportunity for participants and participating teams to test their skills against greater, non-simulated opponents and provide objective feedback on their quality and competence. It will host conferences allowing club members to take advantage of commercial and academic events to improve gaming, thinking and collaboration. And the Fight Club will host concentrations, these will be bespoke events that will allow all members of the Fight Club Association to come together with industry and academic leaders in the field to learn from best practices and cutting-edge developments.
The big success of this nascent Fight Club effort is the expansive human network which continues to grow stronger by the day. There are already participants across all services, government, industry, academia, and most recently, Fight Club has formed an innovative partnership with a Hollywood film company to prototype a new VR simulation in human domain engagement. In less than three months, a small group of military professionals have ignited a fire which is spreading fast and positively changing military culture for the better.
The war game explores the relationship between new technologies, domestic politics, conventional military capabilities, and nuclear threats. Players simulate decision-making roles in a National Security cabinet and come to the war game as leaders in private industry, government, academia, and the military. The aim is to better understand the role that emerging technologies play in crisis decision-making and how Cold War paradigms of deterrence and crisis escalation apply in a world with new capabilities and vulnerabilities.
The International Crisis Virtual War Game at the Hoover Institution is the first ever iteration of the game played completely virtually using the Zoom platform, but it is a part of a larger set of in person games that have been run all over the world over the last 2 years to compare behaviors across countries and cultures within crises.
As a player in this virtual game, the group of participants will first be given two hypothetical crisis scenarios and a briefing on capabilities and threats. Players will then be placed in teams and asked to represent a National Security cabinet that generates priority objectives and debates courses of action. The war game culminates in the development of a whole of government response plan to the crisis. Finally, the event concludes with a plenary session back in a large group in which players will share lessons learned from the war game and suggest potential recommendations for policies on emerging threats and crisis dynamics.