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Category Archives: not-so-serious

Gaming the apocalypse: Northland edition

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A few hours ago the world’s first ever “wide-area megagame” ended. Urban Nightmare: State of Chaos concerned a growing zombie apocalypse in a fictionalized United States. It involved some five hundred or so players in 11 cities in five different countries: London, Birmingham, Bristol, Cambridge, Leeds, Southampton (UK); Brussels (Belgium); Nijmegen (Netherlands); New York, Austin (US); and finally our small band in Montréal. The games were simultaneous (which meant a 6:30am start time for us) and linked (so what happened in one game affected the others). While subject wasn’t a serious one, many of the game design elements could certainly be applied to more serious topics.

While the rules were generally identical across games, there were a number of innovations in the “Northland” (Montréal) game, as befitted our status as the neighbouring country. Communications between games was by email and a centralized website for local and national news. Our own game had three components: a strategic game involving federal and provincial players, and two city/regional games, one depicting the Windsor/St. Catharines area (adjacent to Buffalo) and depicting the London/Windsor/Sarnia area (adjacent to Detroit or “Romero City”) .

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The peaceful streets of St. Catharines, Ontario, on the eve of the apocalypse.

The day started off with growing numbers of refugees from South of the Border arriving in Windsor and Niagara, as well as other areas on Ontario from Sault Ste-Marie to Cornwall.[1]

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In Ottawa, PM Trustin Judeau photogenically ponders the growing crisis.

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Windsor police—outside a Tim Hortons doughnut shop, of course.

Recognizing the gravity of the situation, the federal government immediately declared a nationwide state of emergency, which speeded the mobilization of federal and provincial assets. Prime Trustin Judeau was dispatched to London to cheer up hospital patients with smiling selfies.

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Trustin Judeau at London Health Sciences Centre.

In Niagara, local authorities quickly established a quarantine center and refugee camp. Newly-arrived refugees were screened and escorted to the camp, while zombie infestations were cordoned off until they could be dealt with.

In southwest Ontario, however, things quickly went from bad to worse. A light aircraft crashed at London airport, causing several casualties and closing it for more than 8 hours. Failure to screen arriving refugees led to several outbreaks, and other zombies started to float into coastal areas of Lake Erie. Local authorities were slower to establish cordons, which allowed the virus to spread. It didn’t help that conditions were equally bad, or even worse, in neighbouring Romero City (Detroit) and much of the rest of Mishigamaa (Michigan):

Mayor Mayhew tried to rally his troops:

Mayor Callum Mayhew, speaking at London City Hall today, praised municipal preparations to combat the zombie menace, and encouraged city workers to “hold your ground!”

The Mayor went on to say “Sons and daughters of London, of Windsor, my brothers/sisters, I see in your eyes the same fear that would take the heart of me. A day may come when the courage of men and women fails, when we forsake our friends and break all bonds of fellowship, but it is not this day.”

He added, “An hour of undead and shattered riot shields, when the Age of Persons comes crashing down, but it is not this day! This day we fight. By all that you hold dear on this good Earth, I bid you stand, municipal employees of southwest Ontario!”

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Floaters! Undead abominations wash up on the northern shores of Lake Erie. The Munsee-Delaware (marked by the symbol in zone #49), Chippewa, Oneida, and other First Nations would do an admirable job of keeping their areas zombie-free.

When a small group of survivalists arrived by boat near Owen Sound and proceeded to shoot up the Bruce nuclear generating station, Acting Prime Minister Aaron Brennan ordered the closure of Canadian airspace to civilian traffic, and deployed Coast Guard units and Ontario Provincial Police helicopters to Lakes Ontario, Erie and Huron to interdict unauthorized boats trying to enter the country.[2] the importance of doing so was highlighted the next day when a lake freighter docked in a Northland port—only to disgorge a cargo of zombified crewmen. Only a quick response by the Northland Armed Forces prevented disaster.

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PM Trustin Judeau confers with Ontario provincial officials in Toronto. To the northwest, a small group of foreign survivalists fleeing from South of the Border asserts its so-called “Second Amendment right to loot nuclear power stations.”

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A classified map from the Pentagon, obtained after the crisis. Areas have been coded 1-5 for severity. As can be seen, large areas of Mishigamaa have been marked as lost.

Infected refugees led to a zombie outbreak in Sault Ste-Marie, but this was quickly suppressed by the timely arrival of elite JTF2 special forces and 427 Special Operations Aviation Squadron, operating from Ottawa and NFB (Northland Forces Base) Petawawa. Other outbreaks occurred elsewhere from time to time, but were quickly dealt with.

Despite interdicting some would-be arrivals, Northland did not turn its back on its southern cousins. A refugee camp and quarantine site was established at the Cornwall, Ontario border crossing, in cooperation with the Northland Red Cross. This was opened to displaced persons of all nationalities. The Northland Public Health Agency contacted federal officials South of the Border, and offered their assistance with research—including a sample of the Pithovirus Sibericum B zombie virus that had been isolated by pathologists at the Niagara Health Services hospital.

Perhaps most important, as soon as the mechanized infantry of the 1e battalion, Royal 22e Régiment had formed up at NFB Valcartier they were ordered to the border south of Montréal. Northland then offered to deploy these forces to assist the state of Adirondack, which had suffered serious zombie infestations in Albany and elsewhere. It took a while for federal and state officials to sort out the necessary permissions and command protocols, but the Northland contingent was eventually dispatched to secure Plattsburgh and support efforts to liberate Albany.

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Northland Armed Forces units wait for a green light to assist local Adirondack officials across the border. The Cornwall Refugee Reception Centre can be seen to the west. Local OPP, SQ, and RNMP police units stand ready to screen new arrivals and escort them to the camp. Members of the Joint Incident Response Unit, based out of NFB Trenton, have established quarantine facilities there to prevent infections spreading among the refugees. (The misspelling of “Plattsburgh” was a cunning ruse to fool zombie cartographers. Given the absence of zombie maps after the crisis, it appears to have worked.)

At Owen Sound, an Ontario Ministry of Health HAZMAT team responded, and—working with local engineers—was able to seal a small breach at the Bruce NGS that had vented some radioactive steam. On two occasions aircraft ignored the closure of Northland airspace, and attempted to land anyway. On both occasions the government decided not to shoot them down. The first, landing in Ottawa, turned out to be a young family in a desperate search for safe refuge. The second, arriving at Pearson International Airport in Toronto, was a group of armed survivalists. They refused to surrender their weapons and opened fire on airport security personnel, but were soon brought under control by reservists from the 48th Highlanders and Royal Regiment of Northland. The airport was closed for several hours as a result of this incident.

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Infected refugees lead to a zombie outbreak in Kitchener, Ontario—but it is soon dealt with by reservists from the Royal Highland Fusiliers. To the east, a large concentration of refugees can be seen at the Toronto Refugee Reception Centre, guarded by an OPP SWAT team. At the top left an Ontario Ministry of Health HAZMAT team checks radiation levels at the Bruce nuclear power plant, following the incident with survivalists there.

Meanwhile in southwest Ontario, increasingly concerned municipal authorities took the drastic decision to have firefighters to refill their tankers with gasoline from the Sarnia refinery, and turn this on the undead hordes.

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The London Fire Department warily try their new weapon, as Mayor Mayhew and Chief Islam look on approvingly.

This worked about as well as one might expect: a few hordes were singed, several firefighter units suffered serious casualties, and a lot more fires erupted—including one at the Sarnia refinery. This promptly exploded, causing a fireball and column of smoke that could be seen in neighbouring Mishigamaa. Mass panic gripped the city.

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Grrrr, arghhh

In Windsor, all seemed lost. Large numbers of refugees had gathered here from Romero City, their onward route to Toronto blocked by the zombie packs that prowled large sections of Highway 401.[3] Police units had become cut off. Small children cried as undead abominations crept ever closer. Although loud Nickelback music[4] succeeded in driving back the zombies in some areas, it was only a matter of time before Windsor was completely overrun.

Then they heard it. First came a series of loud explosions, as CF-18s of 425 Tactical Fighter Squadron began airstrikes on the largest concentrations of animated abominations. This was then followed by the dull thud of helicopters in the distance. Led personally by General Daryl Cartier, Chief of the Defence Staff, Direct Action Company A of the Northland Special Operations Regiment and 450 Tactical Helicopter Squadron undertook an airmobile assault to secure Windsor airport. Soon thereafter, the remainder of the regiment arrived, transported by CH-130s of 436 Transport Squadron.[5] They quickly took control of area and started to push back the undead.

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General Cartier looks on as reinforcements arrive to secure Windsor, Ontario.

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Pretty much everything in Sarnia is on fire (left) and airmobile Northland special forces secure Windsor (right).

In London, advance elements of Royal Northland Dragoons and Royal Northland Regiment started to arrive in the city, supported by reservists from 31 and 32 Brigade. As municipal police, fire, and reserve military forces (notably from the locally-based Windsor Regiment, Essex and Kent Scottish, and 1st Hussars) formed a cordon around the largest outbreaks, heavily armed regular troops began the counterattack. Additional mechanized infantry forces, this time from 2e battalion, Royal 22e Régiment, arrived a few hours later and began to push down the 401. Drawing upon the benefits of international research collaboration, a HAZMAT team from the Northland Public Health Agency began field trials of a new cure for the zombie virus. The early results were encouraging.

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The NPHA mobile lab deploys the experimental cure as the Mayor looks on (or, perhaps, at the fire down the road).

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A convoy of Vandoos advances down the 401 from London to Windsor, escorted by local police

It came not a moment too soon. NORAD and the Pentagon urgently informed the Northland government that Russian Tu-95 Bear and Tu-160 Blackjack nuclear-armed bombers were airborne, and might be headed southwards. All aircraft were re-tasked to intercept. In a tense call over secure communications, the Deputy Prime Minister and Chief of the Defence Staff agreed: the order would be given to engage any hostile armed aircraft entering Northland airspace…

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CF-18s of the Royal Northland Air Force streak northwards to intercept possible Russian bombers, “loaded for Bear”…


Reflections

We had far fewer players than we had initially planned for. A 6:30 am start on a national holiday (July 1 is Canada Day) is, it seems, a hard sell. However, everything went very well indeed. There were some communications issues—the central news website wasn’t always available due to server bandwidth problems (I couldn’t access it three-quarters of the time), and the email system could have functioned better. Busy players probably meant that not all of the information that could have flowed between games did flow between games. However, it was the apocalypse, so what do you expect?

Our small group had an absolutely terrific time. Unlike the other UNSOC sessions we had no elections subgame, but rather a competition to earn smug self-righteousness cards (“Smuggies”). Mayor Jano Bourgeois of Niagara and Acting Prime Minister Aaron Brennan were tied at the end, and so shared the trophy for the most outstandingly nice Northlander.

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Mayor Bourgeois (left) and Acting PM Brennon (right).

However a dispute erupted when the Mayor discovered one more Smuggy which he had forgotten about. The issue was resolved with a traditional hockey brawl, and then everyone made nice again and finished off the Timbits.

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Federal and municipal officials discuss the recent crisis.

I was very happy with the way that our Northland modifications (zonal maps, refugees) worked. Indeed, in addition to being a lot of fun, it had the real feel of an emergency management game. I might even use a modified version of UNSOC: Northland in my teaching on humanitarian crisis response next academic year.

The tokens and stickers we used for units were based on the MaGCK system that Tom Fisher, Tom Mouat and I are developing. The stickers are removable, so all the tokens can be reused.  It took maybe two hours to print and assemble 200 components. Total cost: probably $10 or so for the printing. While we’ve designed MaGCK for matrix gaming, it clear has some megagame applications too!

 

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WAMCOM Kevin Farnworth (left).

Particular gratitude is due to my CONTROL team counterparts, Tom Fisher (who ran not one but two city maps simultaneously) and Kevin Farnworth (who served both as WAMCOM, interacting with the other games, and as the Northland press). Of course, none of this would have been possible at all without the megagame design and organization skills of mad genius Jim Wallman, who put the wide-area megagame together.

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City CONTROL, Tom Fisher. Note the relative calm in Niagara/St. Catharines (foreground) as local police, reservists from the Lincoln and Welland Regiment, and a Northland Border Services Agency K9 unit meet refugees crossing the Niagara River, preparing to escort them to the nearby refugee camp and quarantine centre. A SWAT team patrols the Queen Elizabeth Way. Meanwhile, firefighters deal with a small fire east of Welland, while St. Catharines police respond to a robbery in progress.

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The heroes of Northland.


Notes

[1] Refugees were a major component of the Northland game. They could be regular refugees, armed survivalists (prone to looting), or infected (who might turn into zombies). Police and military units could screen these and escort them, otherwise they would all slowly head towards Toronto or Montréal. Refugee camps could be established to hold them, and these could be upgraded with security and medical quarantine facilities.

[2] In the Northland game, the flow of refugees could be slowed by interdiction efforts in the air and by the use of Coast Guard and other assets on the Great Lakes.

[3] While most of the UNSOC games used a hex grid, we used zonal maps overlaid on Google Map images. The various major highways provided a much faster route than the city streets or rural roads. Also, our London/Windsor/Sarnia map was on a larger scale than others, with movement allowances scaled accordingly.

[4] Among other Northland-specific special action cards, our game featured Tim Hortons, support from First Nations communities, an emergency telephone conversation with the Queen, polite neighbours, the War of 1812, and local hockey teams with protective gear and sharpened zombie-killing hockey sticks.

[5] The Order of Battle in the Northland game accurately mirrored the actual deployment of the Canadian Armed Forces, with every single combat unit in 2 Mechanized Brigade Group, 5e Groupe-brigade mécanisé, 31, 32, 33, 34, and 35 (reserve) Brigade Groups, and the 1st, 3rd, and 8th Wings of 1 Air Division represented at the Company or Squadron scale. Representation of Royal Northland Mounted Police, Ontario Provincial Police, and the Sûreté du Québec generally reflected their actual deployment and organization too.

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FBI: wargamers are intelligent, overweight, messy, loyal, frugal, and spend a lot on games

C.J. Ciaramella, a criminal justice reporter at Reason, has been doing some Freedom of Information Act digging—and came up a some mid-1990s gems from the FBI on the topic of Dungeons & Dragons inventor Gary Gygax.

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Elsewhere, the FBI offers a broader assessment on wargamers:DCXm8J6XUAA8nyi.jpg

Matrix game leader tokens

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These will NOT be part of MaGCK, the forthcoming Matrix Game Construction Kit that Tim Fisher, Tom Mouat, and I are working on—for we are all very serious gamers, and would never do anything like that.

Nonetheless, Tom Fisher obviously has too much graphic design time on his hands, and we thought these might be of use for those of you involved in political-military gaming of current or future crises. The image is formatted to Avery 5410 1″ removable stickers, and you should print from the pdf file here.

We may update them, of course, if the forthcoming UK election goes the other way.

 

UPDATE: Now with Vladimir Putin!

Happy holidays from PAXsims

On behalf of everyone here at PAXsims—Gary, Ellie, Devin, Tom and myself—we would like to wish our readers the very best for the holidays. May all your conflicts be merely simulated, and not every game serious!

 

 

This is NOT a Drill!

First – Applause for the Connections UK crowd – it was a very nice week in London, and I will be posting on that front shortly.

But in the meantime… Over the weekend, I read the pretty well done Politico piece on the “missing” hours on 9/11 during which the presidential retinue was being hop-scotched around the country on Air Force One. I was struck by the following extract. Early on, they head to Barkesdale AFB to get fuel and try and figure out what’s going on. As it happens, the 8th Air Force is in the middle of dialing-in to GLOBAL GUARDIAN – the annual STRATCOM exercise – leading to the following moment:

 “Lt. Gen. Tom Keck, commander, Barksdale Air Force Base, Shreveport, La.: I was the commander of the 8th Air Force. We were in the midst of this big annual exercise called GLOBAL GUARDIAN. They loaded all the bombers, put the submarines out to sea, put the ICBMs at nearly 100 percent. It was routine, you did it every year.
A captain tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Sir, we just had an aircraft hit the World Trade Center.” I started to correct him, saying, “When you have an exercise input you have to start by saying, ‘I have an exercise input.’ That way it doesn’t get confused with the real world.” Then he just pointed me to the TV screens in the command center. You could see smoke pouring out of the building. Like everyone else in aviation that day, I thought, “How in a clear-and-a-million day could someone hit the World Trade Center?”

I had forgotten that the GLOBAL GUARDIAN exercise that year was actually investigated by the 9/11 Commission for whether it had impact the military response to the attacks detrimentally. The conclusion was ultimately that the heightened exercise readiness may have actually helped response. Go read the 2001 GLOBAL GUARDIAN scenarios – no spoilers in this post – and think about 2001 vs. 2017.

Of course 9/11 is the salient event of the contemporary, western national security narrative – but as practitioners we have to think about the same kinds of things in our daily lives. To whit, a conversation I had with a colleague and collaborator a couple of years ago:

“Me: hey [colleague], what’s up?

Colleague: Hey, did you send me some scenario materials, like draft injects?

Me: Oh, yeah, I did, a few hours ago, why?

Colleague: are they fake versions of acquisitions documents for an ISR program, with, uh, FAKE SAP markings on them?

Me: Yeah! …oh

Colleague: So, you didn’t write: “Exercise Purposes Only” on them, and now there are some guys taking all the computer hardware out of my office, and I have to see my security officer in an hour…

Me: [pause] Sorry.”

Mistakes happen in both directions. Remember to check-in!

Top scientists reveal shocking truth: amazing wargaming methodology makes wrinkles vanish in days!

Pulp-O-Mizer_Cover_Image-7.jpgIt seems the words “methodology evaluation” don’t attract readers to online media, so sometimes you have to go with a more clickbait-y headline.

The appearance of a Defence Research and Development Canada paper on (matrix) wargaming to support strategic planning on the DRDC website led to me getting a couple of calls from reporters this week about ISIS Crisis. As I told them, none of this was about planning military operations against ISIS. Rather, that just happened to be the scenario/game that was used to explore the methodology and whether it might have something to contribute to capability-based planning in general.

Because “methodology” is rather dry, geeky stuff  VICE News has just run an article under the exciting headline “The Strategy Board Game the Canadian Military Could Use to Fight the Islamic State.”

It’s like Diplomacy meets Dungeons and Dragons meets Prussian military tactics.

That’s ‘ISIS Crisis’ in a nutshell, a Canadian-developed table-top war game that a wing of the Canadian military says could be useful in getting strategists thinking more broadly about fighting in Iraq and Syria.

The game, developed by a major in the British army and a professor at a Canadian university, was given a test run by Defence Research and Development Canada (DRDC), the military’s in-house technology and research division.

The research body played the turn-based strategy game to see if it changed their way of thinking about any of the military, social, economic, or cultural problems facing the region….

Again—as is clear from the actual DRDC report—this isn’t at all why ISIS Crisis was played. It was used simply assess how this general type of game might be a useful analytical tool. The scenario was set in the Middle East, but might equally have been military response to the Great 1998 Ice Storm, the current forest fires in Fort McMurray, or a future hypothetical peacekeeping missions.

On this plus side, the article does at least highlight the value of serious gaming for analysis, and I do think ISIS Crisis does generate useful insight into the conflict with Daesh. Amazing but true!

 

How Japan saved—or enslaved—the (simulated) world

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In case you’ve been wondering what happened at the not-so-serious, but-seriously-fun McGill University New World Order 2035 megagame, this article in the the McGill International Review provides a very good overview:

We here at the MIR by our own admission talk a pretty big game when it comes to the Things That Must Be Done To Fix The World. Suppose we were thrown out of our armchairs and told “All right. Let’s see you do better.” What would the world look like then? I and fellow MIR writer Sara Gold learned precisely this when we participated in Jim Wallman’s geopolitical megagame New World Order 2035 as Japan’s Minister of Defense and Economics, respectively.

The results are not entirely encouraging. In fact, we may or may not have enslaved humanity forever to an immortal artificial consciousness. Maybe. It’s a long story.

This, at long last, brings me to the story of human enslavement I teased you with at the outset of this article. Our diplomatic efforts against Korea rendered moot, we returned to our scientific arms race fixationtechnology-worshiping cult focus. With Mexico’s help, we discovered cold fusion by the early 2040s. It was at this time that we were approached with a new project: a “Mycroft” class sentient computer. Displaying our blissful ignorance of how such projects tend to go, we approved the project. After pouring the entire state treasury into the effort, we had a prototype prepared. Jim then called us over and asked us – twice – if we were really sure we wanted to turn the device on. We said yes.

And with that, Mycroft was born. Sentient, self-aware, and with access to the sum of human knowledge through the Internet, it – I nearly wrote “he” – answered what questions we put to it, from how to upload human consciousness to how to achieve faster-than-light travel. At this point, we reached a decision: Japan would build the ship Mycroft had described and take our citizens’ consciousnesses on a voyage to explore the cosmos. Korea could have the Earth, for all we cared. The infinite cosmos would be ours.

It was around this point that the world’s satellites, one by one, started going dark. Military communications soon followed, as did the world’s nuclear arsenals. Mycroft had decided that, since humanity had created him, they had no need for such crude devices. This was, to put it mildly, poorly received. When I pleaded with the world not to shut Mycroft down, I was overruled, including by a scientific community whose moral compunctions forbade artificial intelligence but not, say, weaponized space plague. China mobilized its forces – such as they were – to shut Mycroft down by force. Korea and the United States followed suit. While Mycroft’s infiltration was able to stall the invasion fleet dead in the water in what would turn out to be the game’s final turn, it wasn’t before we immortalized him by uploading his software into the Internet itself. Such was the state of the world at game’s end – the world’s first sentient AI was immortal, omnipresent, and undoubtedly more than a little upset at humanity’s attempt to deactivate him. Add into the equation the robot servants I alluded to earlier, and we may very well have Terminator-ed the human race.

Which is not to say that, given the chance, I wouldn’t do every last part of it all again.

Otherwise, you can also try to make sense of the organized chaos that unfolded in YouTube celebrity Harley Morenstein’s vlog on the game.

For more serious discussion of the challenges of running mass participation games, see also our mini-series of Control debriefs:

More reflections on a megagame

The following thoughts were contributed by Vince Carpini, Science Control during the recent New World Order 2035 megagame. You can read my own reflections on the game here.


 

Then the Science Gets Done, and Everybody has Fun

Rex has been kind enough to open PaxSims to further commentary from the NWO 2035 megagame Control team, and I am happy to share my own observations.

Full disclosure: I am a hobby gamer and have little serious games experience. While I don’t think this was a drawback for NWO 2035, it does frame my perspective.

As Science Control, my role was to manage and (gently) drive the R&D aspect of the megagame. Players in the Scientist role are crucial, as they enable teams to research technological advancements that provide a variety of game effects, from hunter-killer satellites and military cyborgs to the cure for cancer and flying cars … and yes, even the game-changing Mycroft AI.

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Scientists hold a press conference to warn of the dangers of sentient AI.

In NWO 2035, most teams do not have a Scientist, and so must vie for the attention and assistance of a limited pool of ‘International Scientific Geniuses’ – in our game, there were six Scientists for 15 country teams (the Holy See and the four Corporations each had a dedicated Scientist). For their part, the Scientists are also engaged in a separate ‘mini-game’ wherein they aim to make the most impressive discoveries, win the acclaim of their peers, and ultimately be recognized as the Greatest Scientist Ever.

Like most of our participants, the majority of the Scientists were not gamers, and this presented a challenge: like virtually everything else in the megagame, the role requires player initiative – but without the backing and advice of a team. Fortunately, the Scientists rose immediately to the occasion, taking full advantage of their independence to work with different teams throughout the game, they shamelessly promoted their own work, stole credit for others’ efforts and bitingly undercut their rivals. All of this was expected and encouraged.

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Selling science to the highest bidder.

Quite unexpectedly however, the players spontaneously adopted a sense of responsibility as the Smartest People in the World. Each turn, the Scientists withdrew to a closed-door Conference, where they presented their work and competed for awards and prizes. On several occasions, the established agenda was ignored in favour of entirely player-driven discussions about how the Scientists could help to address the larger problems that plagued the near-future world. Global Warming was of particular concern, and several Scientists became very active in international efforts to address the phenomenon (in one case, two Scientists skipped a Conference because they had been invited to speak on the topic at the UN). I found the way in which this small group of largely-inexperienced players chose to expand their role within the confines of the larger game to be very interesting.

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I share Rex’s opinion that the game was quite successful, and I agree that there are some refinements to be made for future megagames. Speaking specifically to Science:

  • There is room to streamline the rules for how researching Technology functions in the game. The basic mechanic is sensible: spend Research Credits to ‘unlock’ a Technology, and then spend Money to put that Tech into play – but many players struggled with the idea that they had to ‘pay twice’. Further complicating matters, researching and implementing Technologies was not captured in the turn sequence provided in the player briefings, so teams only learned the exact when-and-how once the game began. Also, many Technologies directly impact team economy and/or the overall level of ‘Global Tension,’ which required a somewhat unintuitive and cumbersome process of confirming with Science Control that the research had been done, and then advising the Map and Economic Controls of any relevant developments. Going forward, I would like to explore how to reduce the administrative workload associated with getting Technology into play.
  • The Technologies available for research at the outset of the game were determined pseudo-randomly. As the game went on, I tailored which new technologies became available based on the interests of the individual Scientist players, and a general knowledge of what had already been discovered. However, while many technologies had (or acted as) pre-requisites, we did not provide a tech tree, which made it difficult for Scientists and teams to make meaningful plans or set specific goals with regards to their research. The resulting dynamic was of a world in which science ran amok, and was tremendously entertaining – but I think it would be interesting to give players the tools to make more thoughtful decisions as well.
  • Science Control needs to be disciplined and consistent in how they interact with the teams. While I believe that I succeeded in this from a ‘rulings’ perspective, I would change the way in which I actually moved through the room. Caught up in the excitement, I allowed myself to be dragged around the room by first one player, and then another. As a result, teams were often left waiting an over-long time for me to answer their questions or approve their research. Jim Wallman suggested that future Science Control could remain in a fixed position and have players come to them, which I think has merit. Personally, I enjoyed moving around the room and catching snippets of what was going on – but I think that if Science Control wants to rove in this way, then they must adopt – and stick to! – a regular route to ensure that all teams are seen.
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Who cares about the effect on the future of humanity when you can win science awards—and genetically re-engineer dinosaurs!

I feel very fortunate to have helped facilitate New World Order 2035, and I learned a great deal about game design and management from Rex, Jim and Tom Fisher. I look forward to another megagame in 2017!

Vince Carpini 

 

 

Legal Advises You to Choose a Fictional Country…

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Jonas Savimbi IRL and in Call of Duty: Black Ops

We don’t talk a lot on the blog about the weirder liability considerations involved in games designed for profit – or even sometimes as part of a public research agenda – but the risk is out there.

The family of infamous Angolan rebel Jonas Savimbi is suing the makers of Call of Duty: Black Ops over the game’s depiction of the warlord. Three of Savimbi’s children, who live in Paris, having taken the company, Activision, to court, demanding 1 million Euros in damages for defaming their father as “a barbarian.” The game designer’s lawyers, meanwhile, have called the portrayal: “favorable.”

Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 shows him rallying his troops with phrases like “death to the MPLA”, referring to the party that has governed Angola since independence from Portugal in 1975.

But his family said they are outraged at the depiction.

“Seeing him kill people, cutting someone’s arm off… that isn’t Dad,” said Cheya Savimbi…

A lawyer for Activision Blizzard, Etienne Kowalski, said the firm disagreed with Savimbi’s family, saying it showed the former rebel as a “good guy who comes to help the heroes”.

OK then. Well the U.S. government had strong currents of support for him at times too, I guess – despite the appalling violence committed by UNITA (including burning suspected witches. Really).

At least in Brynania you can assign whatever despicable behavior you want to the Zaharian Peoples Front (ZPF) without fear of winding up in court. Game writers take note.

Simulation and gaming miscellany, 14 October 2015

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Some recent items on conflict simulation and serious (and not-so-serious) gaming that may be of interest to PAXsims readers. Ryan Kuhns contributed to this latest edition.

PAXsims

Strategic Crisis Simulations

Strategic Crisis Simulations will be holding its next simulation, Rising Tides: A Simulation of Regional Crisis and Territorial Competition in the East China Sea, on 7 November 2015 at George Washington University:

The East China Sea is one of the most contested regions in the existing geopolitical climate. A small body of water, whose mass is dwarfed by the world’s oceans, the East China Sea is hotly divided, with overlapping claims by four different regional actors: Japan, China, Taiwan, and South Korea. Though the exact territorial claims vary from state to state, all actors have held firm in their demands, and recent aggressive expansionism has once more brought the East China Sea to the forefront of geopolitical focus. This tension is fueled by the immense strategic and economic value of the region: the East China Sea is home to an abundance of marine life, rich fishing grounds, vast natural gas reserves, and several highly strategic trade arteries, all of which are integral to the economies to the surrounding regional actors. These attributes combine to make the East China Sea one of the most economically valuable, and strategically advantageous, oceanic regions in the world.

This simulation will examine the complex maze that actors must negotiate when dealing with the tense social, political, and military dilemmas currently occurring in the East China Sea. Participants will assume the roles of influential policymakers, and must work with both state and non-state regional actors to execute comprehensive and multilateral government responses to issues ranging from great power politics, piracy, and natural resource conflicts; to state bargaining dilemmas, humanitarian assistance, and collective action problems. Participants will have the unique opportunity to grapple with serious questions of national interest through the eyes of the government of the United States and the People’s Republic of China as they are divided into teams in order to develop their respective policies and agendas. Participants will need to develop strategies in line with their team’s objectives to manage a variety of crises and react to actions from other teams. Whether through the Politburo or the National Security Council; the Pentagon or Central Military Commission; the Ministry of State Security or the Central Intelligence Agency; participants will be challenged to work together to develop policy solutions for the complex myriad of issues that will determine the fate of the East China Sea.

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USIPAlso in Washington DC, the United States Institute of Peace will be offering a course United Nations Peacekeeping Today: Why it Matters on 2-4 November 2015:

By the end of this course, participants will understand:

  • The new and challenging environment that confronts UN peace operations, including asymmetrical warfare, terrorist operations, drone surveillance, and organized crime.
  • The planning and implementation of modern peace operations, including the roles played by the Security Council, NATO, EU, AU, troop contributing countries and the United States.
  • The key issues confronting UN peacekeeping and the recommendations of the High Level Panel’s Report and the Presidential Summit for going forward.
  • The planning of a peace operation through interactive role play with a diverse group of well-informed fellow professionals.

The course includes a simulation/role-play exercise on planning for a fictional UN Mission in Equatorial Kundu (UNIMEK). More information is available at the link above.

PAXsims

The latest (Summer/Fall 2015) newsletter of the American Political Science Association political science education section, The Political Science Educator, contains a short article on AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game:

After the earthquake that devastated the capital, aid was slow to reach the slums of District 3. Poor coordination resulted in duplication of effort in some areas, and shortages of essential aid supplies in others. The port and airport remained severely damaged, creating transportation bottlenecks. The latest reports suggested a cholera outbreak too. It was no surprise that social unrest was growing.

The vignette above is drawn from AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game. AFTERSHOCK was developed for classroom use to highlight the challenges of multilateral coordination in the context of a natural disasters or complex humanitarian emergencies. The game has spread well beyond its initial use at McGill University, and has been taken adopted for professional training of aid workers, peacekeeping personnel, and military officers. This article briefly describes the genesis of the project, the development and production of the game, and some thoughts about using it in the classroom.

You read the whole thing here.

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The NATO website briefly summarizes a North Atlantic Council crisis simulation for European university students held in Forli, Italy last week:

“How does the North Atlantic Council (NAC) respond to an emerging crisis situation?”

That was the question posed to 28 students from leading European Universities from throughout Europe, including Cork, Dublin, Bath, Lisbon, Palermo, Istanbul and Pavia, as well as the European University Institute in Florence, in a realistic re-enactment of a NAC session.

Based on the Memorandum of Understanding with NATO, the University of Bologna, School of Political Sciences, hosted the 9th North Atlantic Council Simulation (NATO Model Event) in Forli, Italy, 8-9 October 2015.

During the NAC simulation, the students explored, discussed and seek resolution to a fictitious scenario, led by Lieutenant Colonel Alfonso Alvarez, Commander Matteo Minelli and supported by Ms Tracey Cheasley, Mr Nicola Nasuti, Ms Cristina Siserman from Allied Command Transformation Strategic Plans & Policy Branch (ACT SPP) and Lieutenant Commander Dave Jones from ACT StratCom.

As an evaluation, the students participating to the event stressed that the realism of the discussions, decision-making and eventual consensus on actions, cannot be overstated and that they are very glad to be able to take part in this simulation.

Finally, Lieutenant Colonel Alvarez mentioned his gratitude to return to the University of Bologna to stage the NATO Model Event this year.”The Sala del Consiglio, Fondazione Cassa Dei Risparmi Di Forli is a perfect venue for the event and we are welcomed here with most gracious hospitality. It is a real honour to showcase our NAC simulation here at the university with such enthusiastic and well-prepared students.” he added.

As part of SACT’s Educational Outreach programme, NATO Model Events are held in Turkey, Italy and the USA throughout the year to help students and faculty members learn more about NATO and to understand more about the countries that they represent and that make up the Alliance.

PAXsims

A recent article by Quintin Smith in The Guardian highlights those aspects of the boardgaming experience that digital games cannot truly replicate.

Surely there’s nothing a board game can do that a video game can’t do better, right?

After all, board games are so limited. You have to fit them on a table, and make them out of real, tangible stuff. Video games can do whatever you can imagine!

And the best video games should already be stealing from board games. I think game designers ought to be out-and-out burglars, pausing their larceny only to remix and rethink the latest haul of ideas.

But there are also things that make board and card games great that can’t be stolen. At least, not yet. Those elements that exist only within the sphere of real-life cards, smiles and dining room tables.

He goes on to identify three characteristics of boardgames that are hard to replicate with artificial intelligence or in a digital environment: bluffing, physicality, and ownership. (Be sure to read the readers’ comments too for further thoughtful discussion on the topic.)

PAXsims

According to research highlighted in the New Scientist, the placebo effect works in videogames too:

Even in virtual worlds, life is what you make of it. A study has found that gamers have more fun when they think a video game has been updated with fancy new features – even when that’s not true.

Paul Cairns, a professor of human-computer interaction at the University of York, UK, wondered if the placebo effect translates into the world of video games after watching a TV programme about how a sugar pill had improved cyclists’ performance.

“People have a preconception that a little round white pill that doesn’t taste nice will have a certain effect on their physiology,” says Cairns. “It’s changing your perceptions of the world around you in some profound way.”

To test their idea, he and colleague Alena Denisova asked 21 people to play two rounds of Don’t Starve, an adventure game in which the player must collect objects using a map in order to survive.

In the first round, the researchers told the players that the map would be randomly generated. In the second, they said it would be controlled by an “adaptive AI” that could change the map based on the player’s skill level. After each round, the players filled out a survey.

In fact, neither game used AI – both versions of the game were identically random. But when players thought that they were playing with AI, they rated the game as more immersive and more entertaining. Some thought the game was harder with AI, others found it easier – but no one found it equally challenging.

“The adaptive AI put me in a safer environment and seemed to present me with resources as needed,” said one player.

“It reduces the time of exploring the map, which makes the game more enjoyable,” said another.

A different experimental design, with 40 new subjects, confirmed the effect. This time, half of the players were put in a control group and told that the game was random, while the other half thought the game had built-in AI….

PAXsims

Ahmed Moussa is a controversial Egyptian television host known for his strong support for former Egyptian dictator Husni Mubarak. He’s also a strong supporter of Russian intervention in Syria, and recently broadcast apparent satellite images that showed Russian helicopters at work, hunting down terrorists…

…except that it was actually imagery from the 2010 video game Apache: Air Assault.

PAXsims

Pocket Tactics, which reviews  iOS and Android games, is taking over The Wargame. They also will soon be launching a new site, Strategy Gamer, devoted to stragey games on all digital platforms as well as tabletops. As a result, they’re looking for writers and game reviewers:

If you want to join Dave and Kelsey and the gang, now’s the time — the first call for writers we’ve put out since 2012. We’re looking for reviewers to do 2 to 3 (paid!) reviews per month. We’re also looking for another news writer, somebody who can write funny, insightful news posts most weekdays — also a paid gig.

You’ll find more on how to apply here.

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Cards Against Humanit… arian Aid. Really.

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For those of you cynics out there who have been waiting for the gamification of the aid world’s dysfunction – wait no more. We give you: Jaded Aid the satirical card game based on Cards Against Humanity (TM), but with cards specific to appalling corruption, malfeasance, abuse, failure, and greed from the realm of development assistance.

So far the cards remain under development, but the article is worth a read, if for nothing other than two gems:

  1. the idea came about at Board Room, the wonderful but absurdly elitist Dupont Circle board game bar (when the Bank has you grounded you have to get your Catan fix somewhere, right?).
  2. The initial kickstarter was oversubscribed within 24 hours. That’s how disillusioned the development community is… OK, and how much fun they are willing to have at their own expense.

PAXSIMs promises that when the “Jaded Aid” CAH pack is released, the associate editors will convene some DC testing sessions and post a review on the blog.

Bin Laden’s bookshelf: the gaming connection revealed!

Today the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a report on some of the reading material Osama bin Laden had on his (digital) bookshelves in Abottabad when he was killed by US special forces.

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One of those items will be of particular interest to gamers: a saved webpage from the ICv2.com geek culture business website noting that some conspiracy theorists had claimed that the “Steve Jackson Games’ Illuminati New World Order card game foretold the attacks on the World Trade Center.”

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And there you have it. Doubtless there will be further releases from the US intelligence community revealing that al-Qa’ida was also interested in jihadi Munchkins and giant cybernetic tanks.

Happy holidays from PAXsims

Gary, Ellie, Devin, and myself would like to wish a very happy holiday season to all of our PAXsims readers.

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John Oliver (Last Week Tonight, 10 August) pretty much nails it in his take on the realities of international negotiation.

..and yes, they actually do make games like this:

 

Simulation miscellany, Canada Day 2014 edition

canada-beaverHappy 147th birthday, Canada! In celebration of all those years of having successfully resisted American hegemony, PAXsims is pleased to post a few items of interest on conflict simulation, serious gaming, and other stuff we found interesting.

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PAXsims has received a mention at Foreign Policy magazine for our not-so-serious contribution to naval analysis, as Michael Peck discusses the US Navy’s new Zumwalt-class destroyers.

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The latest issue of the Journal of Defense Modeling and Simulation 11, 3 (July 2014) is now available. You’ll find the table of contents here.

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The April/May 2014 edition of the US Department of Defense Modelling and Simulation Coordination Office (MSCO) M&S Newsletter is also now available.

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Ubisoft got itself into some trouble last month when it said that adding a playable female character to its next version of the popular video game Assassin’s Creed would be too much work. Ubisoft subsequently issued a statement praising itself for its commitment to diversity (unless, presumably, it involves too much work).

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Once again, Existential Comics combines everyone’s favourite philosophers and favourite games. This time, Hobbes, Rousseau, Machiavelli, and Freud play Risk (click the excerpt below for a link to the full comic).

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