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Category Archives: simulation and game reports

After the Apex: A game of exit strategies from COVID-19

The following article was written for PAXsims by Ben Taylor (Defence Research and Development Canada) and Benjamin Williams (Professeur des Universités, IAE & CleRMa, Université Clermont Auvergne). The views expressed are those of the authors and do not represent the official policy or position of any agency, organization, employer or company.

For more on gaming the impact and aftermath of the pandemic, see the PAXsims COVID-19 serious gaming resources page.


The authors met through a workshop on Wargaming the Pandemic hosted by the King’s Wargaming Network that was held 1-2 April 2020. BW gave a presentation in which he set out an idea for a matrix game on the COVID-19 crisis that could be supported by quantitative epidemiological and economic models. BT had previous experience with matrix games and offered to collaborate on the idea. This project is therefore itself a product of the COVID-19 crisis as the authors are unlikely to have met or to have found a common project to work on without it.

We decided from the outset that we wanted to design a game that tackled the COVID-19 crisis in a country from the point after the initial lock-down measures had flattened the curve. This phase would require a balancing act by political leaders as they face challenges on three axes: economic, social and healthcare. We termed these the three frontlines of the battle against COVID-19. Our aim was for a game that would sensitise decision-makers to issues that they might face and one in which choices would be constrained by the cross-coupling between the frontlines; for example that returning people to work in offices would likely increase the rate of infection, or that a renewed lock-down would lead to public discontent. We also wanted to introduce some quantitative models to help elaborate upon the consequences of player actions.

We also decided that we did not want to build a detailed game around a specific country. Rather we wanted a tool that could be customised to any country. That required the game to have a generic framework to which national specific details could be added. For development purposes we settled upon the fictitious country of Bretonia which has a government structure like Canada and the economy of France. Our generic framework envisaged four players to represent key elements of the country; the national government, the lower tier governments, the business sector and the public health system. A fifth player, termed “The Crisis”, represents all other domestic groups, external actors and anything else that could happen to challenge the other players’ efforts. An example of the customisation necessary comes from different national approaches to healthcare funding. In Canada healthcare is a provincial responsibility, whereas in France it is mainly funded by the national government through the social security system. This difference would have to be represented in the roles and responsibilities of the two government players.

One of the first steps in designing the game was to develop an influence diagram that showed how various parts of the economy, business, government finances, social attitudes, the healthcare system and the pandemic itself are connected.  This provided the reassurance that everything that we wanted to be in scope was captured. The model also provided insight to where knock-on effects (positive or negative) might be felt, which would provide for consistent adjudication.  

We also built a dashboard that displays selected metrics grouped across the three front lines, a macroeconomic model, a model of the infection and fatalities and a slide deck for displaying new stories each turn. This latter part of the game was developed to provide some humour, some cultural flavour and to allow attention to be drawn to specific sectors of the economy. We also prepared a number of bad news stories to be injected if any of the economic or social metrics approached worrying levels.

Many design issues common to matrix games apply equally to this game. Among those that we encountered are:

  • The advantages of having players who have played matrix games before.
  • The need for subject matter experts to support adjudication if the results are to be realistic.
  • The challenges for players to switch between role-playing and becoming engaged participants in adjudicating arguments.
  • Whether the players should be left to solve the basic problem of opening the economy without triggering a spike in infections, or to subject them to additional external challenges, and in the latter whether it is best to script the injects or to have them occur randomly (the answer of course is “it depends”). 
  • The balancing act between allowing players to discuss the proposed actions in detail and curtailing discussion in order to speed up the game.

The game has been run twice with participants from Europe and Canada using a video conference link with supporting text chat facility, a Google slides deck to share news stories, and Google sheets to share the dashboard of metrics and to provide an online tool to capture the participants’ assessments of the likelihood of success of proposed actions. This setup worked very well and participants felt that they could communicate with each other and access the information that was required. There was agreement that the game largely felt right, but that play was slow. The supporting quantitative models were not used extensively. In particular the epidemiological model implemented according to formulation drawn from the literature produced counter-intuitive results and proved impossible to fit to the observed progress of the outbreak in Canada. This placed a particular burden upon the adjudicator to determine how to adjust the dashboard in response to player actions. 

Our next objective will be to design a discussion-based game without the matrix structure in order to compare the utility of the two gaming techniques in addressing the management of the COVID-19 crisis. 

The past as prelude: urban protest edition

In March 2018 I ran an three day urban protest crisis game in support of an academic conference on urban conflict.

During that game, the hardline Minister of the Interior ordered protesters cleared and activists arrested from outside a historic church in the center of the capital. Outside policing experts (in the game, a UN CIVPOL advisor played a real life senior Italian Carabinieri officer) advised against this, warning it would only inflame tensions. The Mayor of the capital opposed the move too. The national government nevertheless mobilized military forces and cleared the square in front of the church. Local authorities and many religious leaders condemned the move and sought to have the troops withdrawn.

Who knew it would turn out to be Washington DC in 2020.

A report on the game (from this book) can be found here:

And, on a much, much more serious note—and like 16th Avenue now says—Black Lives Matter.

WotR: Gordon, Joyner and Benitez on “Competitive wargaming in a pandemic”

At War on the Rocks, Thomas J. Gordon IV, James Joyner, and Jorge Benitez address “May Madness: Competitive Wargaming In A Pandemic.”

What starts with the enemy sinking three of your amphibious assault ships, and ends with a toddler interrupting the outbrief to a three-star general? A successful wargame in the age of COVID-19.

When the Marine Corps Command and Staff College was forced to shift from in-person instruction to a distance-learning model in response to the outbreak, the faculty and staff were confident that we could make our seminars work. We were not so sanguine about the execution of our capstone exercise, Pacific Challenge X. The scale and complexity of running a 250-odd person wargame, remotely, seemed daunting, indeed.

The results exceeded even our highest expectations. What was thought to be a threat to execution turned out to be an incredible opportunity. The distributed virtual medium actually increased participation from a host of different agencies and stakeholders, who otherwise would not have been able to support the event. And the natural friction created by the distributed online format, to our pleasant surprise, increased realism.

Given the realization that disaggregation is not only possible but, in many ways, better, future exercises will capitalize on the insights of this event.

The article makes several interesting points, including this one:

The natural friction created by the distributed online format, to our pleasant surprise, increased realism. Students playing the role of headquarters staff officers could not simply walk next door to discuss targeting or collection with colleagues. The framework forced the students to communicate via various digital media to collaborate and produce products.

I made much the same point to a major humanitarian organization recently, in a discussion on how to shift some of their simulation-based training to a distributed, online environment.

“Flattening the Curve” matrix game report

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Tim Price has been kind enough to pass on this report from a recent play of the Flattening the Curve matrix game.


 

Last night I managed to get 11 volunteers together to play a distributed version of the Flattening the Curve matrix game over Zoom. It was an interesting and frustrating experience, but I thought it might be worthwhile sharing it with you.

Technology

We used Zoom for the video chat. We felt it was very important to be able to speak and see each other and Zoom has a simple and intuitive mosaic screen setup that is particularly useful for the Facilitator. The surround to the image is highlighted to show the current speaker, interrupters are shown with a highlighted line under them, and their names appear under their faces (really very useful indeed). Of particular interest for running a Matrix Game, it is possible to sent private messages to named individuals using the chat function in the application. It was also stable for the 3hrs we played.

We used Google Slides for the game map (see here). With the map itself as the background image and a number of counters imported as images onto the map (and left outside the slide boundary), so everyone could see and collaboratively move the counters if necessary. It is useful to duplicate the last slide for every turn, so you have a record of the map after each turn, and that also allows a run through at the end as an After Action Review.

Finally, we used Mentimeter  to be able to carry out the “Estimative Probability” method of adjudication.FTC1.png

When using Estimative Probability players or teams are asked to assess the chances of success of an argument, and these are aggregated to reveal the “Crowd Sourced” chance of success. In analytical games, this provides potentially valuable insight into how participants rate the chances of a particular course of action. Following discussion, players select the option on the Mentimeter slide which, in their view, best represents the probability of the argument’s success. These are displayed immediately to the Facilitator, but not to the players, so it is using hidden voting. It is generally felt that this is a more accurate method to leverage the work on Crowd Sourcing, as well as making the resulting probability more accessible and acceptable to the participants. The terms on the slide also reflected those commonly used in the intelligence community.

The advantage with Mentimeter over other poll and voting systems is that it is free, feedback is instant, and you can use a single slide for all the Matrix Arguments, because you can re-set the results each time. Of course, if you want to have a record of the results, you will have to buy the upgraded version, or save a screenshot each turn (which is a pain).

Running the Game

As is normally the case with video conferences, we had the usual difficulties getting everyone onto the Zoom, with sensible names displayed instead of “Owner’s iPad”, so the start was a little delayed. I had put out a Loom video with a short introduction about Matrix Games, but inevitably a few of the players hadn’t been able to view it, so we were delayed starting as I had to explain how the game would play.

As the game went on, I modified the map (based on some helpful collaboration with TNO in the Netherlands), to make it easier to follow. The revised map is here:

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The game played perfectly well, but at a slower pace that if it had been face to face, and it was certainly more tiring for me as the Facilitator. The inter-turn negotiation between team members and other teams was carried out using Whatsapp:  and Whatsapp Web so was private to the other players.

Results

We were time limited and were only able to have 11 participants in the end – but it was mainly a trial to see if running a Matrix Game remotely is at all possible. We got a few insights from the game, one of which I will share – as we all go into working from home full-time and are switching to remote working, we end up downloading all sorts of software and applications that we would never have normally dealt with. This increases the threat surface for cyber-attacks by an order of magnitude, so correct digital hygiene is going to be as important as washing your hands.

Post-Game Predictions

Following the game, we quickly did a couple of polls, hopefully better informed by the experience of the game:

  • Each participant was asked to give me their MOST IMPORTANT thing that would happen over the next month (please note the definition of “thing” was left deliberately vague so the players could decide for themselves what it meant).
  • They were then asked to vote on which of these was the MOST LIKELY thing to happen.

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  • Next, each participant was asked to give me their MOST IMPORTANT long-term consequence of Coronavirus.
  • They were then asked to vote on which of these was the MOST LIKELY thing to happen.

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Conclusion

It is possible to run a Matrix Game remotely, but it is very tiring for the Facilitator and takes much longer than you thought it would.

The right choice of technology can make a real difference – so mandated standards and corporate choices may well have an impact on the experience. This means that practicing, as I was, while waiting for the corporate roll out of their platform of choice might end up especially frustrating, when I am unable to do something that I know a free app on the internet will let me. But downloading all those free apps and trying them out could be dangerous, because the bad guys are definitely out to get you…


For more resources on the pandemic, see our COVID-19 serious gaming resources page.

Facing the apocalypse

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Arriving in the morning to set up.

Last week, (simulated) federal and provincial officials and members of the PAXsims team met in a top secret nuclear bunker outside Ottawa to respond to the grave threat of global pandemic. This wasn’t COVID-19, however, or even African Swine Fever. This was the zombie apocalypse.

The occasion was the decidedly not-serious Apocalypse 2 North megagame and the location was the “Diefenbunker”—Canada’s former Cold War government command centre in Carp (about 20 minutes west of Ottawa), now a museum. The game was organized by the Ottawa Megagames group, many of whom had helped us run Apocalypse North at McGill University last year. This time there were 56 participants.

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Mobilization Control arrives with a plentiful supply of coffee.

Let me start by saying that the Diefenbunker Museum may well be the most awesome place on the entire planet to run a game. The bunker is big—with four underground floors and three hundred rooms, it was designed to withstand a 5 megaton nuclear detonation 1.1 miles away and thereafter support 535 civilian and military personnel for a month or more. The place is also remarkably intact, filled with 1960s-80s decor and equipment from its days as CFB (Canadian Forces Base) Carp. The Prime Minister’s bed, for example, is the original. If you are ever in the Ottawa area, make sure you visit!

 

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We even had a red telephone.

We utilized large parts of the 300 level, including the War Cabinet Room, the Emergency Government Situation Centre, the Military Information Centre, the Prime Minister’s Office and Suite, the CBC studios, and various other offices. The staff were extremely helpful and even let us use the bunker’s PA system to make game announcements. Players also had access to other areas of the complex and ate lunch in the cafeteria there.

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Briefing the players.

The game started with a briefing—appropriately enough, in the Military Information Centre. There had been a strange rash of unexplained attacks in Atlanta, home to the Centers for Disease Control. These soon started to spread across the United States. As violence grew, thousands of fearful Americans sought refuge in Canada.

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Players consult the national map. Picture credit: Madeline Johnson.

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The Windsor (left) and Niagara (right) maps. Picture credit: Matt Stevens.

Some of those refugees were infected, however. Other zombies crossed the border or washed ashore. Very soon, southern Ontario found itself under attack from growing hordes of undead.

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Things begin to deteriorate in the Niagara area. Picture credit: Madeline Johnson.

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The Windsor map. Several Tim Hortons doughnut stores in the Windsor area have been closed, underscoring the severity of the crisis. Picture credit: Madeline Johnson.

The federal government quickly declared a national state of emergency. Military units were mobilized, as were additional civilian resources. The US Embassy offered what help it could, and some American police and military units fled to Canada and joined the fight.

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Federal officials meet.

No Canadian crisis would be complete with constitutional complications, of course. However, federal-provincial cooperation was generally excellent.

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The Prime Minister and Premier of Ontario meet, as a CBC reporter lurks in the background.

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Military mobilization underway. Picture credit: Matt Stevens.

Unfortunately, at one key point Ottawa was left undefended. It was soon infected, forcing the cabinet to go into lockdown.

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Ottawa under siege! Picture credit: Madeline Johnson.

The Prime Minister, who had been making a speech to the nation, was trapped at the Ottawa CBC studios until evacuated by RCMP helicopter. Shortly thereafter, RCMP and Ontario Provincial Police teams liberated the capital.

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The Prime Minister communicates with the cabinet by walkie talkie while awaiting rescue.

Things looked bad in Québec too, with much of the province overrun.

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Zombies enter Montreal. Picture credit: Madeline Johnson.

Fortunately the situation there was soon addressed by units from the 2e Division du Canada out of CFB Valcartier. Later, some of these units travelled south to assist Vermont and New York National Guard units in establishing a safe zone around Burlington.

In Ontario, much of initial burden of dealing withe the zombie hordes fell on police. Those in Windsor were especially effective. Later they were reinforced by local Canadian Armed Forces reservists and regular units from CFB Petawawa.

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Federal, provincial, and local officials consult.

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The Prime Minister discusses the crisis with Canada’s First Nations.

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Casualties mount. Hospitals like these would soon find themselves overstretched.

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Medical and scientific professionals were key to fighting the zombie virus pandemic.

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Much of southwest Ontario is being overrun. Picture credit: Madeline Johnson.

Rumours swirled that the Tim Hortons doughnut chain was somehow responsible for the  apocalypse, and their headquarters was raided in a joint RCMP-OPP operation. It turned out, however, that they were a secret zombie-fighting organization.

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Tim Hortons is raided by police. Picture credit: Matt Stevens.

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All of our map controllers and zombiemeisters possessed first-class pointing skills.

First Nations leaders provided another critical part of the puzzle, revealing that the zombie virus was endemic to North America, and had been responsible for past outbreaks in pre-colonial times. This information, together with technical assistance from the World Health Organization, allowed the Public Health Agency of Canada to first develop more effective treatment protocols and later a vaccine. With this, the tide began to turn. Canada would be saved!

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Scientists and health ministers and others celebrate the discovery of a vaccine.

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The Prime Minister holds a press conference announcing the discovery of the vaccine.

It was a terrific day—perhaps the most fun I’ve ever had at a megagame. We look forward to holding additional events there once the (current, real world) pandemic is under control.


To contribute to global efforts against the COVOD-19 pandemic, please consider making a contribution to the World Health Organization’s COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund. For each comment left below PAXsims will make an additional contribution.

Reflections from an infectious disease outbreak matrix game

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The latest issue of the open-access Journal of Globalization and Health 16 (2020) features an article by Julia Smith, Nathan Sears, Ben Taylor, and Madeline Johnson on “Serious games for serious crises: reflections from an infectious disease outbreak matrix game.” This is the same pandemic response game featured in a previous PAXsims report last year.

Background

While there is widespread recognition of global health failures when it comes to infectious disease outbreaks, there is little discussion on how policy-makers and global health organizations can learn to better prepare and respond. Serious games provide an underutilized tool to promote learning and innovation around global health crises. In order to explore the potential of Serious Games as a policy learning tool, Global Affairs Canada, in collaboration with the Department of National Defense and academic partners, developed and implemented a matrix game aimed at prompting critical reflection and gender-based analysis on infectious disease outbreak preparedness and response. This commentary, written by the core development team, reflects on the process and outcomes of the gaming exercise, which we believe will be of interest to others hoping to promote innovative thinking and learning around global health policy and crisis response, as well as the application of serious games more broadly.

Main body

Participants reported, through discussions and a post-game survey, that they felt the game was reflective of real-world decision-making and priority-setting challenges during a crisis. They reflected on the challenges that emerge around global health co-operation and outbreak preparedness, particularly noting the importance of learning to work with private actors. While participants only sporadically applied gender-based analysis or considered the social determinants of health during the game, post-game discussions led to reflection on the ways in which equity concerns are put aside during a crisis scenario and on why this happens, offering critical learning opportunities.

Conclusion

Matrix games provide opportunities for policy-makers and health professionals to experience the challenges of global health co-operation, test ideas and explore how biases, such as those around gender, influence policy-making and implementation. Due to their flexibility, adaptability and accessibility, serious games offer a potentially powerful learning tool for global health policy-makers and practitioners.

A post-game survey indicated that participants were generally impressed by the utility of matrix games in foreign policy planning and development in general, and for thinking about how Global Affairs Canada might respond to a global pandemic in particular.

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By playing the game, participants felt they better understood the issues and challenges involved, with regard to both global health and security issues and gender-based analysis.

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For another recent game on the value of matrix games in exploring pandemic preparedness, see our report on Gaming African Swine Fever.

Gaming African Swine Fever

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Policy points indicated the capacity of government agencies to deal with the challenge. In this game, additional resources were soon requested from cabinet.

Recently I spent an afternoon gaming real-life response plans for an emerging global pandemic. This wasn’t COVID-19, however. This was African Swine Fever (ASF).

African Swine Fever is a very frightening pathogen—if you’re a pig or a pork producer. It is 2-3x more contagious than SARS-CoV-2 (the COVID-19 virus), and perhaps 50 times more lethal (with a 95%+ fatality rate). It can remain infectious in feces and soil for a couple of weeks and in pork products for months. While it poses no direct health threats to humans, it has lead to the deaths of tens of millions of animals. Indeed, by some estimates up to one-quarter of all pigs in the world might die from the disease or associated “depopulation” (culling of potentially infected stock). For Canada, potential losses could run to many billions of dollars.

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My involvement in this project started in late November, when the Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) called to ask whether I might develop a game that could help in  policy development and biosecurity preparedness. It was one of the most thoughtful discussions I’ve ever had with a game sponsor: AAFC immediately understood what a game could (and could not) do, the value of crowd-sourcing from diverse perspectives, and the necessary linkages to other analytic methods. Moreover, AAFC was fast in following up. Within days, a team led by Amanda Stamplecoskie and Michael Donohue was in touch, and by mid-December we had developed a prototype. This was playtested early in January. AAFC was extremely prompt in responding to requests for data, and indeed pretty much everything else.

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Quebec, Ontario, and Manitoba are the main pork-producing provinces in Canada. The small pink and white stickers represent hog farming and meat processing, while the larger blue and red tokens indicate the volume of international and interprovincial trade in live hogs.

We decided to do this as a four-sided matrix game, with players (or teams of players) representing the federal government, the provinces, pork producers, and pork processors. To represent limited policy capacity, taking an action required spending three “policy points” from a stockpile. In the case of the federal government, this stockpile was subdivided into AAFC, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), and other government departments, while the provincial policy capacity was subdivided into the “infected” and uninfected provinces. Policy points had to be spent from the appropriate pool, and only replenished slowly. Other players could add an additional policy point to represent support for an initiative, but everyone needed to be wary of exhausting their resources. At the end of the round, the federal government could opt to take a second action. The provinces could also do this, but only once during the game. Finally, when all of the regular players had finished their turns, a fifth player—”markets and mishaps“—could take an action, reflecting the response of local and international markets, public opinion, political repercussions, or things going wrong.

The game is played on a map depicting Canada, with pink stickers marking areas of hog production. Each represents 200,000 pigs, which gives you an idea how big the Canadian pork industry is, especially in Quebec, Ontario, and Manitoba. Major pork processing facilities are also indicated. Removable tokens indicate the weekly volume of hog exports to the US as well as inter-provincial movement.

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In this scenario, an ASF infection at a meat processing plant in Fargo, ND was quickly traced bag to a farm in southern Manitoba. The border was immediately closed to hogs, and CFIA imposed control ones around the affected farms.

Using a matrix game approach made the game easy to learn and play, as well as easy to modify. Adjudication was done via probability polling, whereby all players were asked for an estimate of how likely an action was to succeed, and percentage dice were then rolled against the median probability. This had the advantage of highlighting areas of analytical consensus (when similar probabilities were offered by all participants) and analytical divergence (where players disagreed markedly on the odds of success, thus pointing to areas where further information or analytical follow-up might be required).

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Players contemplate their next move. Senior department officials were highly engaged in moving the game project forward.

Particularly impressive was the fact that AAFC not only worked with me to develop the game very quickly, but also developed the internal capability to run and modify it—running five games internally over the next six weeks or so, involving a diverse group of players and expertise. While common themes came up in all of the games, they also differed significant ways. Even more important, each game saw players discover insights, whether this be new perspectives, the need for new analysis, or learning about aspects of a potential epidemic outside of their normal areas of expertise or responsibility.

All in all, it was an extremely productive, rewarding, and enjoyable experience. Quite beyond it’s usefulness to AAFC, moreover, the whole thing was a model of how policy game development should be done.

 

Undeniably Victorious: Refighting the Iran-Iraq War

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The battlefield.

On October 5, the Ottawa Megagames group took advantage of the presence of Ben Moores at a nearby NATO operations research and analysis conference to run his game of the Iran-Iraq War (1980-88), Undeniable Victory. Ben has previously discussed the design of the game back in 2017 here at PAXsims. This time, two PAXsims editors—myself and Tom Fisher—would assume the roles of Ayatollah Khomeini and Saddam Hussein respectively. About three dozen people participated in the event. How did it all go?

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Ben Moores (right) briefs Saddam/Tom Fisher (left).

Well, from the Iranian point of view, very well indeed.

In Undeniable Victory, the role of a Supreme Leader is as much a Control team function as a player role—you are there to keep your team informed and engaged, and make sure everyone is participating effectively in the game. Undeniable Victory has internal factionalism built into it (in the Iranian case, we were subdivided into radical, conservatives, and moderates), and that certainly played a role. However, in Tehran we generally agreed that defence of the Islamic Revolution and victory over Iraq was more important than factional infighting, so it tended to be rather muted —with the exception of one notable plot within military ranks that resulted in a few executions.

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Saddam Hussein strikes a defiant pose.

Our strategy was a two pronged one: an offensive in the south (designed to hamper Iraqi oil exports and try to safeguard our own), a simultaneous offensive in the north (aimed at interrupting Iraqi oil production and exports from its northern oilfields), while simply holding and delaying in the centre. In support of our southern strategy our navy was to maintain a tight blockade against Iraqi shipping in the Gulf. In support of the northern campaign, we provided support to the restive Iraqi Kurds, and focused diplomatic efforts on Syria in an effort to block Iraqi oil exports via that country.

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Fighting is intense on the Southern front.

In the south, the fighting was intense—we made only limited headway, and suffered heavy losses, but it was enough. Our navy generally did very well, although it did sink a Saudi tanker by mistake. A bigger failure came when Iraqi forces were able to launch a daring amphibious raid against Iran’s Kharg Island export facilities. The cabinet had warned the General Staff of this possibility, and ordered that appropriate precautions be taken. When it was clear they had not, heads had to roll: there was a shake-up of both the cabinet and the upper ranks of the military.

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The Central Sector early in the game.

In the Central sector, Iraqi forces made substantial progress, and might eventually threaten key infrastructure and Tehran itself. We were confident, however, that a combination of Revolutionary Guard militia and strategic depth could blunt their attack.

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The Iranian cabinet at work.

In the north, our Kurdish strategy and military campaign went far better than expected, in part due to impressive military performance by the Kurdish peshmerga. (The Kurds would later get a little too ambitious and start making demands of us too, but nothing we felt we couldn’t handle.) When General James Devine, commander of the northern front (and an Iran expert in real life), reported that he had captured Mosul and “there is nothing between me and Baghdad” we were first incredulous. Surely it was a trap? But he assured us it wasn’t, and we authorized a major thrust towards the Iraqi capital.

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Iranian commanders (left), Chief of Staff (centre), and Minister of Defence (right) discuss strategy. The latter two would later be demoted and sent to the front.

Meanwhile, cities on both sides had suffered from missile and air attacks, and our economy and oil sector was beginning to suffer serious attrition too. Things were far worse for the Iraq, however, since we had cut off almost all their oil export routes. War is indeed the conduct of political economy by other means.

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General Devine (left) chortles as he sees an open road to Baghdad.

With the Kurds in full revolt, Iranian troops bearing down on Baghdad, and the Iraqi budget in shambles, elements with the Iraqi cabinet secretly asked our price to end hostilities. We were clear: a full withdrawal from Iranian territory and substantial war reparations. Not long after, a coup took place, Saddam Hussein was executed, and Iraq sued for peace.

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The Iraqi cabinet discusses the deteriorating situation.

There would be no “drinking poison” this time around (the phrase Khomeini used to describe the stalemated end of the actual war, in which up a million people may have died). Instead, the Revolution had achieved a historic, if costly, victory.

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More Iranian cabinet discussions.

As for the game itself, it was extremely well organized by Ottawa megagames. With the exception of some hiccups in the military procurement and foreign loan procedures, everything flowed smoothly. Only a few of the participants were experienced wargamers, yet Undeniable Victory successfully delivered a realistic strategic replay of the conflict.

The next Ottawa megagame will be Apocalypse North on 7 March 2020:

The United States is descending into chaos as it is overrun by mindless undead abominations. Can Canada survive the murderous zombie menace from the south? Can municipal, provincial and federal governments overcome their differences in time?

Approximately fifty participants will assume the roles of federal and provincial politicians, military commanders, local mayors, police and fire chiefs, public health officials, scientists, community leaders, the media, and even local franchisees of a national doughnut chain in this MegaGame of zombie armageddon and Canadian politics.

APOCALYPSE NORTH is a non-profit activity organized by PAXsims in conjuction with Ottawa MegaGames and the Diefenbunker, Canada’s Cold War Museum.

Tickets are available from Eventbrite.


Please take a minute to complete our PAXsims reader survey.

RAND: Nuclear weapons and deterring Russian threats to the Baltics

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Last month RAND released a report examining—in part, through wargaming—whether nonstrategic nuclear weapons use might deter a Russian attack against Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. The study, Exploring the Role Nuclear Weapons Could Play in Deterring Russian Threats to the Baltic Stateswas prepared by Paul Davis, J. Michael Gilmore, David Frelinger, Edward Geist, Christopher Gilmore, Jenny Oberholtzer, and Danielle Tarraf.

Despite its global advantages, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)’s current deterrent posture in the Baltic states is militarily weak and generally questionable. A Russian invasion there would almost surely capture some or all of those states’ capital cities within a few days, presenting NATO with a fait accompli. The United States is currently considering tailored deterrence strategies, including options to use nuclear weapons to deter Russian aggression in the Baltic states. This report examines what role nonstrategic nuclear weapons could play in deterring such an invasion. As part of that analysis, the authors review relevant deterrence theory and current NATO and Russian nuclear and conventional force postures in Europe. They draw on wargame exercises and qualitative modeling to characterize the potential outcomes if NATO, Russia, or both employ nonstrategic nuclear weapons during a war in the Baltic states. The authors then discuss implications for using such weapons to deter a Russian invasion. The insights derived from the research highlight the reality that, even if NATO makes significant efforts to modernize its nonstrategic nuclear weapons, it would have much stronger military incentives to end a future war than Russia would. That is, Russia would still enjoy escalation dominance.

Readers might also want to review the 2016 report by David A. Shlapak and Michael Johnson on Reinforcing Deterrence on NATO’s Eastern Flank.


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AFTERSHOCK in Medina Country

Daniel Sutliff (Medina County Community Response Team and Ohio Military Reserve) contributed the following report to PAXsims.


 

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I controlled an AFTERSHOCK game for the Medina County EMA (Emergency Management Agency) leadership team. It went very well – it was my first time as a controller so I had to refer to the rules multiple times (especially logistics/infrastructure related).

Lesson learned – I had scanned in the District and Calendar cards so I could use them for play (keep the originals nice), so I plan on writing a few of the key points on the images & reprinting for play.

The team got the flow of things after the first turn. One player in particular got the sequence of play pretty quickly and was giving the rest advice on the impact of the sequence on their planning.
They became pretty worried about losing supplies when districts were resolved with unmet needs. I think they focused too much on transferring supplies between each other for a “mass” transfer and not getting the supplies to the districts. Finally, one of the players said “I don’t think supplies are doing any good sitting in warehouses – we need to get them to the field and take the risk”.

One individual never really understood the “randomness” of the Event-cards and why only one district at time is resolved (generally) – she thought districts should be resolved continually in some manner. Randomness is part of disasters was my only reply. If you have another way of explaining it …

After 2-3 turns they were getting the idea to start the infrastructure build-up.

One interesting sequence happened. I think the second Emergency card in District 5 was to be resolved (needs unmet). All the remaining cards (4-5?) were all special cards: fire, measles, cholera, etc. The game had gone on long enough every one understood the mechanisms and basically realized that essentially what happened was the district was completely devastated with essentially no survivors. So we just stood there for a few moments in silence and mild shock about the potential for such a result —then laugher, “oh well at least we don’t have to worry about sending supplies to District 5”.

Around Week 2, the flow started to turn around and districts were started to be successful resolved. This was because the players drew co-ordination cards that allowed district resolution of choice.

We had only gotten to Weeks 3-4 turn, when I had to leave. It took 2-1/2 hours to get to that point (including the initial briefing and overview). As the flow was really moving, I think we could have finished it in another 30 minutes.

The 1st few turns I let them proceed at a slower rate. After all these were EMA professionals – they actually spent significant amount of time relating the process and sequence to real Incident Command System/National Incident Management System (ICS/NIMS) concepts. For example, the turns became operational periods, the Cluster Meetings became Unified Command, etc.

As I was packing up, they asked “when can we play again?”. Those four want to become better acquainted with the rules and concepts so they can “win”. Even early during this first play, one individual indicated they wanted to “win” and another said “I don’t care, as long as the country recovers”. One player finally noted that if more than two players were in Media Outreach, no one gets Operations Points. He then added a third team deliberately to prevent the other two from getting OPs. (And he did it with a mischievous grin!). I told them that real-life groups might take similar attitudes!

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In addition, the leadership wants to adapt the game to use ICS forms (perhaps 201,202, 210/211 for teams, 214, 215 for keeping track of supplies, etc). We figured that would take an 8-hour day, but hey!

My next opportunity to run a game is for the OHMR (Ohio Military Reserve) command leadership courses (mainly Officer candidates and 2LTs!) This is in preparation for using the game as the MEMS (Military Emergency Management Specialist ) practicum for the BELT (Basic Enlisted Level Training), which should be in January and a continuing usage.

Daniel Sutliff

AFTERSHOCK in Ottawa

Earlier this month I ran a game of AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game for a dozen students at Sir Robert Borden High School in Nepean (Ottawa).

As usual, no one was given the rules in advance. Instead, after a short fifteen minute powerpoint presentation on the game (available here), a devastating earthquake hit the developing country of Carana and players were thrown straight into the action.

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The Government of Carana (right) indicates priority areas for emergency aid.

As is usually the case, they were a bit overwhelmed at first: local need was massive, and they only had a limited number of supplies and relief teams with which to address urgent needs across the five districts of the capital. There was also a bit of interagency rivalry and problems of coordination, notably between UN agencies and non-governmental organizations.

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The NGO team (left) prepares to take action while the United Nations and HADR Task Force look on.

In the end, however, they all pulled together, got on top of things, and were successful. Well done!

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No longer neophytes: experienced SRB aid workers pose for media photos after successful (simulated) relief operations in Carana.

Many thanks to the SRB HS debate/model UN club for hosting me, and Alexandra Barbulescu (veteran of the CanGames 2019 zombie apocalypse) for inviting me.

 

Matrix games at the Canadian Army Simulation Centre

The following report was prepared for PAXsims by David Banks and Brian Phillips.


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Dave Banks of the Canadian Army Simulation Centre facilitates the use of a matrix wargame during the 2019 Civil-Military Interagency Planning Seminar.

For the first time in its ten year history, a matrix game was employed during the Civilian Military Interagency Planning Seminar (CMIPS) conducted from 18 to 20 June 2019 at Fort Frontenac in Kingston, Ontario. The planning seminar is run annually by the Canadian Army’s Formation Training Group with support from the Canadian Army Simulation Centre (CASC).

 

Background

The intent of CMIPS is to foster understanding among the interagency participants with the intent of building better relationships in advance of any future interaction overseas or domestic settings.  The CMIPS had approximately 50 participants with half coming from the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) and the remainder drawn from other government departments and international and local non-governmental organizations. The participants were broken into balanced groups of military and civilians who then discussed a common scenario by way of a table top exercise (TTX). While this is a proven approach, the event organizer, Steve Taylor, felt that a matrix game could be an interesting improvement to the Seminar this year.

Dave Banks and Brian Phillips, Calian Activity Leads (ALs) at CASC, with the support of CASC and the help of the other Calian Activity Leads, designed, developed and conducted a Matrix Game for one syndicate of the CMIPS. Dave Banks served as the Controller for the activity and Brian Phillips served as the Scribe.

This matrix game was intended to:

  • foster cooperation and understanding among the players (primary goal);
  • be a proof of concept for CASC in applying matrix games as a training and education tool; and
  • introduce the players to matrix games.

 

Conduct

The matrix game was held over two days followed by a review on the third day. Specifically:

Day 1 consisted of an introduction to matrix games,  a briefing on the specific matrix game set in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), a short read-in, and concluded with two hrs of play (two turns). During Day 1 the problem faced by the actors was the likely arrival of Ebola to North Kivu province. As much as possible, the participants represented their own, or a similar agency, during the game.

Day 2 consisted of two and a half hours of additional play. During this session a random event card was played that depicted the President of the DRC dying in a plane crash on landing at Goma in North Kivu province. While foul play was not suspected, the death of the president was expected to disrupt the political environment and potentially heighten the risk of violence throughout the DRC and in North Kivu in particular.

 

Differences from Other Matrix Games

While there is no definitive form or format for a matrix game, there were a few features of the CMIPS game that might not be commonly found in other matrix games.

Actor Cards.  The CASC product had fairly detailed Actor cards which included:

  • a brief outline of the nature, purpose and involvement of the Actor in the situation;
  • the Actor’s objectives, both overt and covert (where applicable);
  • the Actor’s limitations (ie: actions it would never take);
  • any specific special capabilities the Actor possessed (such as the ability to provide air or ground transport, deploy medical teams, etc);
  • the number, type and general location of map counters allocated to the Actor; and
  • a recap of the basic game procedures and concepts.

Further differences included having turns divided into three phases:

  1. Negotiation Phase (10 mins). During this phase the Players had 10 minutes to negotiate any support or cooperation they required amongst themselves.
  2. Argument Phase. Each player in sequence made their argument for their Actor’s action for that turn. Actions were adjudicated using a Pro and Con system and two six-sided dice.  Each player had a maximum of five minutes for their action which was strictly enforced by the Controller.
  3. Consequence Management (10 mins). During this phase the Scribe read back the Actions for the turn and some of the consequences were articulated including some consequences that the Players were unlikely to have foreseen.

 

Results

Overall, the matrix game was very well received by the participants. While the matrix game participants did not go into as much fine detail as some of the other syndicates did in their TTXs, the matrix game was immersive. One civilian participant remarked that the experience of uncertainty going into the first negotiation phase was exactly the same sort of experience that he had getting oriented on a previous humanitarian mission.

 

Key Findings

  • As this was the first matrix game run by ALs from CASC the three play testing sessions conducted prior to the event proved to be invaluable. Even with facilitators with significant experience in running TTXs, the specific preparation of the play testing was instrumental in successfully executing the matrix game at the first attempt. The time invested in deliberate play-testing and game development is well spent.
  • The two-person facilitation team of a Controller and a Scribe worked very well. Both the Controller and Scribe exercised firm control at different times to ensure the game stayed within the admittedly fairly wide arcs established for play. We strongly believe that this firm control is vital to the success of a matrix game: without it there is a risk that the game may degenerate, particularly if there are strong personalities around the table.
  • The key advantage of the matrix game noted by the players over a traditional TTX was the fact that the players had to participate. They could not sit at the table and just observe one or two participants dominate a TTX, rather, they had to make decisions and actively contribute.
  • There is ample reference material readily available to build matrix games from The Matrix Game Handbook(Curry et al.) to the Matrix Game Construction Kit offered by PAXsims and several online resources. As such it was fairly easy to find useful graphics for game pieces as well as ideas for rules, event cards, and game conduct through a simple web search. Tom Mouat’s website was invaluable and his Practical Advice on Matrix Games v10 was particularly useful.
  • The formal turn-structure of phased turns including, in particular, a Negotiation Phase, directly contributed to achieving the game objective of fostering co-operation and understanding amongst the players. The inclusion of a Negotiation Phase was one of the outputs of the three play-testing sessions.
  • The Consequence Management (CM) Phase was only partially successful. In future, this phase would benefit from some modification in implementation. At the end of the turn there should be a slight pause while the Controller and Scribe discuss CM and how they want it to proceed as it can function almost like a random event card. Thus CM should be implemented with some care and forethought. Whether that should be done as part of the CM phase or perhaps the CM phase should revert to a Situation Update/Summary phase. In the later case, the CM could be determined by the Controller and Scribe during the Negotiation Phase and briefed at the end of that phase. This will be play tested prior to the next running of the CMIPS matrix game.

 

Conclusion

The feedback from the CMIPS participants indicates that a matrix game proved to be a worthwhile investment of time and resources. These games take longer to prepare than a traditional TTX but the players’ active participation in the game experience made it a valuable learning event.

Matrix games have been added to the toolset offered by CASC and future serials of the CMIPS will likely continue to use this innovative activity.

 


Authors 

Lieutenant-Colonel (Retired) David Banks served 38 years in the Infantry, both Regular and Reserve. He is a graduate of the Canadian Army Command and Staff College 1990 and is a Distinguished Graduate of the United States Marine Corps Command and Staff College Quantico 1997-98. David has completed a number of overseas operational tours including Afghanistan, and participated in several major domestic operations in Canada. He has worked as an Activity Lead for Calian in support of the Canadian Army Simulation Centre and the Canadian Army Formation Training Group since 2011.

Lieutenant-Colonel (Retired) Brian Phillips spent 27 years in the Regular and Reserve force initially as an Infantry Officer and later as an Intelligence Officer. Brian holds an MA in War Studies (1993) and an MA in Defense Studies (2015) both from the Royal Military College of Canada and he is a graduate of the Canadian Army Command and Staff College in Kingston (2005) and the Joint Command and Staff Programme in Toronto (2015). Brian’s operational experience includes the 1997 Manitoba Floods, Bosnia, Kosovo, the Middle-East, Haiti with the DART in 2010 and Afghanistan twice. He has been employed as an Intelligence Specialist and Activity Lead for Calian in support of the Canadian Army Simulation Centre since 2017.

Pandemic response matrix game

The following report was provided for PAXsims by Dr. Ben Taylor, Strategic Planning Operations Research Team, Defence Research and Development Canada (DRDC) Centre for Operational Research and Analysis (CORA). His research interests include the utility of games to support strategic planning.


 

On 1 March 2019 Global Affairs Canada hosted a matrix game in Ottawa as part of a research effort into the utility of games to inform policy development. The chosen topic was to explore issues surrounding preparedness for a natural catastrophe, exemplified by an influenza pandemic. A second goal was to explore how a game could capture gender-based policy making. The game was set 20 years into the future.

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The game was designed over a series of teleconferences with the author working with the game sponsor and external academic subject matter experts. A fairly conventional matrix game structure was used but some innovative features are shared here:

  • To avoid players getting distracted by real-world details we used a map of the world from ca 200 million years ago divided into generic regions: Westland (advanced liberal democracies), Eastland (centralised authoritarian states) and Southland (disadvantaged developing states). Selected real-world cities were placed in appropriate locations within this geography, essentially “playing themselves” to provide players with familiar anchor points.
  • The three regions were represented by nation state actors and these were supplemented with proxies for the World Health Organisation and Médecins sans Frontières and also a private medical research foundation associated with a major pharmaceutical company. Players were provided with briefing sheets explain their resources, aims, sensitivities and relationships with other actors.
  • The first turn was taken up by an international disaster preparedness conference set some years before the pandemic. This allowed the players to get into their roles and to start discussions between themselves. At the end of discussions each actor was allowed one standard matrix argument about an outcome from the conference. This mechanism effectively gave the players the opportunity for a precursor argument before the crisis struck, although at this stage they didn’t know what was going to happen, or where.
  • Some volunteer players were brought in who had some experience of matrix games, if not expertise in the game subject. They were distributed among the teams, which typically comprised three players.
  • The spread of the outbreak was largely pre-determined with maps prepared in advance showing the state of the pandemic in each turn. Adjustments could be made if player actions were deemed to have significantly altered the course of events. Each turn was also supported with a collage of news stories and social media messages to provide context and to subtly remind players of issues that they could be taking into consideration. Some humour was injected into the new items, with Ottawa’s (currently in 2019) delayed light rail system deemed to be still behind schedule in 20 years’ time.

Overall the game elements worked as intended. A few participants had first-hand experience of health emergencies and suggested that the behaviours of the teams and the priorities that they selected were very realistic. A number of participants also commented upon the quality of the role-play and the utility of the news injects and briefing materials in keeping the players in-role. The presence of some experienced players paid dividends as most teams were quickly able to express their actions in the matrix game argument format. This is frequently the biggest challenge for first-time players and the combination of subject matter experts and gamers working together was effective. As designer and facilitator the most reassuring feedback was the palpable sense of disappointment in the room when it was announced that there was to be no next turn after some six hours of activity.

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Ben Taylor

Alas, poor Windsor: An APOCALYPSE NORTH megagame report

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On February 17, some one hundred participants took part in the fourth annual McGill megagame, APOCALYPSE NORTH.

The United States is descending into chaos as it is overrun by mindless undead abominations. Can Canada survive the murderous zombie menace from the south? Can Ottawa, Québec, and Ontario overcome their differences in time?

Players assumed the roles of federal and provincial politicians, military commanders, local mayors, police and fire chiefs, public health officials, scientists, First Nations leaders, the media, and even local franchisees of a national doughnut chain. A description of the roles and some basic game mechanics can be found here.

APOCALYPSE NORTH was a non-profit event organized by PAXsims and cosponsored by the McGill Political Science Students’ Association (PSSA), International Development Student’s Association (IDSSA) and Sociology Students Association (SSA). Tim Hortons even threw in some free stuff too!

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A History of the Apocalypse

The zombie outbreak had started a few weeks earlier, at—where else—the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta. It soon started spreading across the United States. Random acts of violence by once law-abiding citizens caused growing fear, leading several states to declare a state of emergency and call out the National Guard. UN military personnel were deployed to protect critical national infrastructure. Growing numbers of frightened refugees began to arrive in Canada. Most were simply refugees, but some were armed survivalists who were reluctant to part with their weapons in the midst of a possible undead armageddon. Still others were infected, and might become zombies at any time.

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The federal government moved fairly quickly to declare an emergency under the Emergencies Act on Day 2, thereby hastening the mobilization of both civilian and military assets. Later Ottawa also closed Canadian airspace to American aircraft, although several flights landed nonetheless.

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A federal cabinet meeting underway.

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Federal officials and Canadian Forces commanders discuss the growing crisis.

However, in southwest Ontario (Windsor – London), the Niagara peninsula (Niagara – Hamilton), and St. Laurent (Cornwall – Châteauguay – Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu), local officials complained that Ottawa was slow in deploy resources. The Ontario and Québec governments joined the chorus of criticism, which became a frequent theme of periodic live CBC news reports. All this was much to the annoyance of the commander of Canadian Special Operations Forces Command, who was busy airlifting in teams from Joint Task Force 2  and the Canadian Special Operations Regiment to deal with zombie incursions across the border from upstate New York and Vermont.

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Players (and yours truly) busy at the national map.

Not so far away, Fort Drum—home of the US 10th Mountain Division—was overrun. Unable to obtain prior permission from Canadian authorities, a quick-thinking commander for the 10th Aviation Regiment evacuated survivors by helicopter to Cornwall, Ontario. Thereafter, these US choppers would prove invaluable in ferrying casualties and personnel around the area.

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The game underway.

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Buffalo and Detroit fell, increasing the number of refugees—and zombies—entering Canada. Some arrived in Sault Ste-Marie, escorted by the elements of the Michigan National Guard 107th Engineer Battalion and remnants of the Michigan state police. They were sent back to the US, where a refugee camp was established.

Things were at their worst in Windsor. The city hall was overrun, and the mayor and police chief had to flee for their lives. They regrouped at Windsor airport, which was cleared of zombies. With much of southwest Ontario overrun, a massive airlift was undertaken to evacuate refugees to safer areas.

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Police and reservists respond to zombie infestations in Niagara.

In Sarnia, a fire caused a massive explosion of the various chemical and fuel tanks there.

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Zombie spreading through southwest Ontario. A 5 alarm fire can be seen in Sarnia (bottom left).

South of the border, Mar-a-Lago was overrun and contact was lost with President Trump. Vice President Pence thus assumed the reigns of power. The US Embassy in Ottawa received information that one group of CDC scientists, led by famed microbiologist Ernest Zrump, were holed up at Atlanta airport. Could Canada rescue them? They might prove invaluable in the search for a cure.

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The crisis grows.

Canada’s elite JTF2 special forces undertook the mission. While they successfully entered the airport terminal, the sound of breaching charges and gunfire soon attracted hordes of undead to their location. They, and the CDC scientists, were lost.

At the Niagara and St. Laurent maps, refugee camps were established for American arrivals, several of them equipped with quarantine facilities and security. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the World Health Organization (WHO) provided useful technical advice.  Another refugee camp was established on the outskirts of Toronto to accommodate the large number of refugees arriving there. The city of Montreal proved especially adept at dealing with the occasional zombie washed down the St. Lawrence River, while refugees were screened and escorted to nearby camps.

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Québec officials discuss the crisis.

The Public Health Agency of Canada was busy working towards a cure. Progress was slow, however, and hampered by poor coordination. The First Nations had information that the zombie plague was endemic to North America, and identified the location of an ancient, pre-colonial zombie burial pit that might contain vital clues. However, it was in a zombie infested area southwest of London, Ontario, and no one was able to reach it. Brilliant McGill University microbiologist Dr. Josephine Brant, herself of Mohawk ancestry, diligently worked on a cure.

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Mohawk militia protect the Akwesasne (and St. Regis) reserves, while the CBSA secures Cornwall despite a major fire there. To the north, local police, OPP, RCMP and Canadian military units deal with zombie infestations.

 

Meanwhile, Tim Hortons—which, unbeknownst to players, was not just a doughnut chain, but also a secret zombie-fighting organization—was working on countermeasures. It also sought to keep its various retail outlets open, providing doughnuts, ice caps, and coffee to hard-working emergency service personnel. At one point, a suspicious federal government considered nationalizing the company, but backed off when it became clear the move would encounter significant political opposition.

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This particular Tim Hortons was overrun by the undead.

Federal-provincial tensions reached the point that Ontario and Quebec announced the formation of a “New Canada” that would assume the lead in fighting the apocalypse. However, this made little difference on the ground, where RCMP and Canadian Forces units continued to adhere to instructions from Ottawa. (The Canadian Border Services Agency and Coast Guard rather hedged their bets.)

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The Prime Minister (right), in discussions with the Quebec and Ontario premiers.

Another complication was provided by the growing number of American survivalist militia in Canada, led by the mysterious “Colonel X.” While these fought the zombie hordes, they also seized Owen Sound and the Bruce nuclear power plant, hoping to establish there a new, heavily fortified society that could withstand the apocalypse. When talks failed, they were forcibly disarmed by the Royal Canadian Regiment and other Canadian military units in a rather bloody fight.

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Zombies infest Sault-Ste-Marie, Sudbury, and Barrie. Col. X and her militia have briefly taken over Owen Sound.

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Washington DC was overrun. New York and Boston fell too. In far-away Los Angeles, Nancy Pelosi was sworn in as President.

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Dick Danger (right) makes an appearance.

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The strategic map, late in the game. The Bruce nuclear facility has been recaptured, but Colonel X is still hiding in the woods nearby. Zombies are advancing eastwards from Sault-Ste-Marie. Canadian forces are assisting Vermont (which is almost Canadian anyway).

No account of the crisis would be complete, of course, without mention of Dick Danger, famed star of the presciently-named reality television show Apocalypse: Survival. Dick toured afflicted areas, lent his own special brand of help, and even took part in a national television appeal for calm.

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Dick Danger drops by Tim Hortons.

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The US military attaché consults with the Canadian Chief of the Defence Staff as the American ambassador looks on.

And after seven hours of play, it all came to an end. Large areas of southwest and northwest Ontario had been overrun by the undead. Things were rather better in Niagara and south of the St. Lawrence, however. Indeed, Ottawa authorized elements of the Royal 22e Régiment to proceed south of the border to Burlington, Vermont, where they successfully worked with Vermont and New York National Guard units to establish a zombie-free safe haven.

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City officials in Montreal coped well with the apocalypse.

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Southwest Ontario under siege.

Game Mechanics and Reflections

Overall, things worked very well. We should have done a post-game survey, but forgot to prepare one. Nevertheless, participant feedback has been positive.

The game rules were a modified version of the Northland rules we had used back in July 2017, which in turn were a modification of Jim Wallman’s Urban Nightmare: State of Chaos rules used in the rest of that wide area megagame. It would have been nice to have finished the modified rules and other game materials a little more in advance, and to have had more time to work through things with the Control team (and made it a little larger) but every did an excellent job of adjudicating on the fly.

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The St. Laurent map.

The maps were area movement maps produced via graphic arts wizard Tom Fisher, with some 3D elements (zombies, buildings, forests) added for visual appeal and clarity. I thought they looked great. Our two game currencies were megabucks and Canadian smug self-righteousness cards, or Smuggies. The latter were frankly adorable.

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Police, fire, and medical units deploy to protect Hamilton, Ontario.

Thanks to the technical wizardry of Tim Furlong, we had a television (webcam) studio set up in a nearby location, live-streaming news reports to the main room. This worked brilliantly, the CBC team were great, and players soon were eager to give interviews. I think it’s the first time this has been done in a megagame quite like this.

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A live CBC news broadcast.

We divided the room with tables into Blue (local) and Red (national/provincial) zones, and players were limited to their half of the room unless they either had a purple badge or played a travel authorization card. Everyone could also meet in the foyer and meeting rooms. This caused a few minor traffic flow problems, but generally achieved the desired effect of creating information discontinuities.

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The science/quest/investigation subgames (several of them developed by Vince Carpini) worked very well in most cases. Fuller player briefings would have been helpful—I simply ran out of game preparation time—but, with one exception, everyone unlocked all of the plot elements available to them (generally by collecting cards or doing things, which would then get them a new envelope with new tasks—much like an apocalyptic scavenger hunt). Overall, most players seemed very busy most of the time, although there were one or two who could have been given additional late-game challenges.

Because we didn’t have much playtest time, our “zombiemeisters” acted as a balancing mechanism, adding in extra challenges where appropriate, and backing off when players were overwhelmed.

Already we’re thinking ahead to next year. While there are many possibilities, I’m rather attracted to running a sequel game fifty years on, in a post-apocalyptic Great Lakes region….

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Many thanks to everyone—players, Control team, and others‚ who made the game a success. Thanks too to Jim Wallman and Kevin Farnworth for the pics.

 

 

 

 

 

WATU in the war diaries of A.F.C. Layard

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The Western Approaches Tactical Unit, Liverpool. The wardroom crest appears to have been taken from the WWI-era S-class destroyer HMS Tactician. During WWII, a T-class submarine sailed under that name, using a different crest (depicting a chess Knight) but the same motto (“checkmate”).

 

PAXsims has been closely following the research being done by Paul Strong and Sally Davis on the Western Approaches Tactical Unit, the pioneering group of (predominately female) RN/WRNS wargamers led by Captain Gilbert Roberts who played such a major role in developing anti-submarine tactics and training naval officers during World War Two.

The latest account comes from Commanding Canadians: The Second World War Diaries of A.F.C. Layard, edited by Michael Whitby and published by the University of British Columbia Press in 2005 (footnotes have been removed below for clarity). Commander A.F.C. Layard was a Royal Navy officer who was assigned to the Royal Canadian Navy for much of the war. He first attended the tactical school in September 1943:

Monday, 6 September 1943 – Liverpool

Arrived at Lime Street at about 0700. No taxis but eventually got a lift from a Wren in a small navy van to H.M.S. Mersey where after some difficulty I got a cabin and some breakfast. Apparently I ought to have asked for accommodation.

At about 0730 I went to Derby House and saw Gardner, who has been put ashore on account of deafness, and fixed up that I should take passage out to Canada in an escort leader that gives me a few days leave after this course. I then walked to the cathedral and found there was a special 4th war anniversary service at 1100, which I attended. A great many people there. F.O.I.C. [flag officer in command] read some prayers, an Air Marshal read the lesson, and the Bishop of Wilkesley preached a good sermon. Among the hymns we sang was “John Brown’s Body,” which was somewhat unusual. Back to the Mersey for lunch. This is really a T124 training depot with a certain amount of spare officers’ accommodation. In the p.m. I read and slept in my cabin. Put a call through to J. at 1900, which eventually I got through at 2000. The accommodation here is pretty seedy, but I suppose good enough. Nice sunny day.

Monday, 6 September 1943 – Liverpool

After breakfast I checked in at Derby House at 0900 for the Tactical Course. There are some 25 of us ranging from myself, the only Commander, down to Mids. R.N.V.R. Scott Thomas18 is one of us. The Director is Capt. Roberts, 33 who is a v. good lecturer but v. theatrical and, of course, would like you to know that he was 75% responsible for the recent defeat of the U-boat in the N. Atlantic. He’s probably right and is certainly thought very highly of here. The Deputy, Jerry Cousins, shouts while he lectures so that you are quite stunned. We had a certain number of lectures, and we began the first game where I am S.O. of the escort. I immediately began to feel woolly and helpless, but much as I dislike displaying my ineptitude I’m sure this course is going to be first class value. We lunched at the Derby House canteen and who should Scott and I meet there but Air Commodore Ragg who we knew in the Vivacious days at Kyrenia in Cyprus as a Flight Lt. After packing up at 1700 I went to Liver Building about pay and travelling expenses, and then Scott and I had early supper at the Mersey and then went out to a cinema and saw some mediocre sort of film.

Tuesday, 7 September 1943 – Liverpool

A lecture and then two hours of the game, which came to an end at lunch time. With a good deal of help from the staff I managed alright as S.O. G.N. Brewer was in the bar at Derby House having just had the Egret sunk under him by the new German gliding homing bomb. Sounds most unpleasant. Raymond Blagg was also there, and he took me across to a sandwich bar close by for lunch. In the p.m. more lectures and a summing up of the game. Went to the Derby House canteen for tea and then returned to the Western Approaches Tactical Unit and spent about ¾ hour reading A.C.I.s [Atlantic Convoy Instructions] and thinking about the night attack game we play tomorrow when I am S.O. again of the syndicate.

Back to Derby House and called on Commodore Russell who is Chief of Staff. He greeted me with “What have you done to be sent out there?” which seems to imply it is a God awful job. Collected Gardner from his office and brought him back to the Mersey for drinks and dinner. He, Scott, and Marjoribanks sat talking afterwards.

Wednesday, 8 September 1943 – Liverpool

After a bit of preliminary discussion we started in on a night encounter exercise. I was S.O. of our syndicate and had Eardley Wilmott for Staff Officer. Lunch at the canteen and then on with the game until about 1500 when it was summed up. My side didn’t do too badly. We then had a short lecture followed by a demonstration on the board of the sort of search operation that support groups are carrying out in the Bay of Biscay, and finally Roberts gave us a few remarks on the new German weapon, the glider bomb. Scott and I went back to the Mersey and shifted and at 1800 it was announced that Italy had surrendered unconditionally. Grand news. Scott and I then went to Derby House and met Ragg and his wife in the Senior Officer’s Lounge where we had drinks. There were all the big shots. The A.O.C. [air officer commanding] (Slatter), another Air Commodore, F.O.I.C. (Ritchie), and the Chief of Staff, Russell. Finally the Raggs took Scott and me off to the Bear’s Paw for dinner. He is an extremely nice chap, but she is developing into the typical senior officer’s wife. They have no children, which is probably her trouble. We walked back to the Mersey where we said goodbyes, and Scott told me the tale of his disappointment at being passed over after all the high ups had more or less told him he was a cinch for it.

Thursday, 9 September 1943 – Liverpool

I think one way or another I had a bit too much booze last night and my brain is feeling a bit woolly. On arrival at the Tactical School we were first shown the layout of the big and final game, which covers a period from an hour before sunset to sometime at night. There are 2 convoys, a carrier, and a support group. I am S.O. escort of our convoy. We then withdrew and decided on our policy, what the support group should do, and what the aircraft should do, etc., and then at about 1000 we started the game. I didn’t have very much to do, but there was a flood of signals and a lot of plotting to do. Chavasse and I were bidden to lunch by the C. in C., Admiral Sir Max Horton, at Derby House. Some Captain who was also there told Chavasse he had just been awarded the D.S.O. for some convoy fight which he had conducted successfully some months ago. The conversation at lunch consisted of the C. in C. pumping Chavasse about his new B.D.E. rather late. We stopped at about 1630, by which time in the game it was practically dark. Scott and I had tea at the Canteen, and then I returned to the Mersey and shifted and listened to the 1800 news. We have made another large scale landing near Naples. In spite of the Armistice we are still meeting fierce opposition from the Germans who are now estimated to have 18-20 divisions in the country. Walked to the Adelphi where I met Raymond and Venetia, and they gave me dinner. They have found a house up here and so will be leaving Little Orchard for good very shortly. Sad.

Friday, 10 September 1943 – Liverpool

A beastly hot day when Liverpool looks its very worst. At the Tactical School we carried on with our game, which today became a night encounter. I didn’t have a great deal to do as S.O. of my convoy owing to the brilliant way in which Chavasse’s support group rode off the U-boats. We finished at about 1600, and then we were taken down to the Plotting Room at Derby House and shown around. Scott and I then had tea in the Canteen and then I walked back to the Mersey and shifted and then went back to Derby House, called for Gardner, and we both caught a train to Crosby. Hector Radford who came out for a short trip with us in the Broke had asked us to drinks and supper. It turned out to be quite a big party because in addition to ourselves and Radford’s three sisters, there was an R.N.V.R. 2 striper, the old “pilot” on D’s staff and his wife, a naval padre, and three small children. We had a terrific supper. The table before we started looked rather like the food advertisements in American magazines. Quite a good party. Gardner and I caught the 11:16 back to Liverpool. The news from Italy seems confused, but the Germans seem to be fighting us and the Italians and they claim to have sunk an Italian battleship which was trying to escape from Spezia.

Saturday, 11 September 1943 – Liverpool/Prinsted

I got up early and did my packing before breakfast. It was pouring with rain when I walked to the Tactical School. The whole forenoon was spent summing up the big game, which was most interesting, and at 1200 we broke up. A first class course for which Roberts deserves full marks. Went to Derby House and had several at the bar before having lunch. I then went to the Exchange Station and after waiting some time managed to get a taxi, which I shared with 3 other people who agreed to go to the Mersey and pick up my gear and then go to the Lime Street Station. I caught the 1400 train to London and was lucky to get a seat as the train was crammed before it left. Got to Euston just before 1900 and so went to the station restaurant and had dinner and then got a taxi to Waterloo and caught the 8:45 to Havant. Joan met me there with the car, thank God, at 2215 and we drove home. A hot muggy day.

Layard attended a second WATU course in December 2013:

Monday, 13 December 1943 – In the air/Liverpool

We touched down at Prestwick [Scotland] at about 0830 after a 9½ hours’ trip. I couldn’t have been more comfortable. After checking up papers, customs, etc., I had a shave and a wash and then some breakfast. Didn’t feel a bit hungry. I tried to fly on to Liverpool but as there was nothing going I was taken to Kilmarnock station in a car and I caught a 1030 train to Liverpool. There was a heavy frost all over the country and I had a long cold wait at Carlisle. Eventually got to Liverpool (Exchange Station) at about 1700 and took a room at the Exchange Hotel. Feeling rather sorry for myself. Perhaps the height and the oxygen is something to do with it. I rang up J. soon after 1800, but as I didn’t know my plans we couldn’t decide whether or not she should come up. Turned in early.

Tuesday, 14 December 1943 – Liverpool

Feeling very much better I’m glad to say. I went along to the Tactical School and reported to Roberts just before 0900. At 1200 after a lecture the rest of the course went to finish off the first makee train game, and so as I had missed the start yesterday I went over to Derby House and saw the Chief of Staff – MacIntyre. I thought perhaps I could do a bit of the course and also do a bit of discussion with other support group S.O.s, but there don’t seem to be any support groups in just now. Lunched at the Derby House officers’ canteen and saw Gardner and his wife – now a 3rd officer Ciphering Wren. In the p.m. we had more lectures and a short plotting exercise, after which I went to Liver Building and made some enquiries about ration cards and warrants. Back to the Exchange and rang up J. again, who said she was coming up tomorrow – whoopee!!! At lunch time I met Smitty in the Bar. He has left Whaley and is now Fleet Gunnery Officer up here with an acting brass hat. He came to dinner with me at the Exchange and we had a long chat. He told me Peter Knight had been killed in Sicily a few months ago. I am sorry. Poor Bob Knight!!

Wednesday, 15 December 1943 – Liverpool

Clocked in at the school at 0900 and after our lecture we started a night battle game. I was bidden to lunch with the C. in C. with a 2½ striper, a 2 striper R.N.R., and a French naval officer who are all doing the course. C. in C. was very affable. Went on with the game in the p.m., summing up, and had one more lecture. I went back to the hotel and shifted and then went along to Lime Street Station to meet J’s train due at 6:30. It was ½ hour late and when it came in no J. Met Ragg at the station also waiting to meet his wife on the London train due 7:10, which I now imagine J. is catching. This train is known to be hours late and so we adjourned to the new British Officers Club at the Adelphi and had some drinks. It is a very nice place. As the transportation office was keeping Ragg in touch and there was plenty of time I went back to the Hotel for dinner. Then I got a telephone call from the station, and eventually I found J. waiting for me there at about 2115 having arrived by some unknown train. Anyway we eventually got back to the Hotel and I got J. some sandwiches and drinks in our room. We had a tremendous chat and it was lovely to see her again.

Thursday, 16 December 1943 – Liverpool

I went to school at 0900 and for about 1½ hours we had preliminary discussions and preparations for the big day and night game and then we started to play it. I am in command of one of the support groups, which is about the most interesting command, and have a chief of staff to help me in the plotting. At lunch time met J. at the State Restaurant, but we had to wait such a long time for a table that I had to dash back to my battle before I’d really finished. There was a great deal of activity on the board in the p.m. Went back to the Hotel and met J. for a late tea and at 1830 the Gardners came and had drinks with us. They are a nice couple. Sat about in the lounge before going to bed. This is infinitely more pleasant to stay at than the Adelphi.

Friday, 17 December 1943 – Liverpool

J. caught the 10:00 train to London as she had promised to be home for Gillian’s breaking up play. My battle raged all day on the table and finally came to an end at about 1600. Very good value and I think I didn’t disgrace myself. I had some tea at Derby House and then rang up S.C.N.O. London from Gardner’s office and had a talk with the Signal Officer about one or two W/T points. I went back to the hotel and shifted then after almost ½ hour’s wait I caught a tram out to the other side of the town and went to dinner with Speak and his wife. He was with me in Firedrake as a Sub R.N.V.R. He is now a Lieut. His wife is American and very pleasant. They gave me a lot of whisky and got me talking much too much, with the result that I missed the last tram and it took me the best part of an hour to walk back to the Hotel.

Saturday, 18 December 1943 – Liverpool/London

Roberts took the whole of the forenoon summing up our game. He is extremely good and it was most interesting. I had an early lunch at the Derby House canteen and then went back to the hotel and tried to get a taxi. After waiting as long as I dared I finally walked with my suit case to Lime Street station and caught the 2:00 train to London. Six of us from the course had reserved a carriage. It was terribly slow and we were 2½ hours late at Euston arriving at 2045. That meant I missed the 10:45 to Havant, so I went to the Euston Hotel and rang up J. to say I couldn’t get down and then rang up Lillian to ask if she could give me a bed. Had some sandwiches at the hotel and then tubed to Earl’s Court and walked to the Robinsons’ House where I was given a camp bed in the drawing room.

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For more PAXsims coverage of WATU, see the blog posts here. The WATU pictures here are from the photo archives of the Imperial War Museum.

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Plans are underway to recreate a WATU wargame at the Western Approaches museum in Liverpool in early September. Stay tuned for for further details!

 

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