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Category Archives: simulation and game reports

Wikistrat: Turkey’s Intervention in the Syrian Civil War

In April 2016 Wikistrat completed two role-playing simulations that explored the dynamics of Turkish intervention in the Syrian civil war:

140 analysts from Wikistrat’s global community of 2,200 recently wargamed a scenario in which Turkey invades northern Syria to establish a buffer zone in the country’s Kurdish region.

The analysts were divided across two mirrored groups (Alpha and Bravo) which had seven teams of ten analysts each, playing Russia, Assad loyalists in Syria, Turkey, the Kurds, ISIS, anti-Damascus and Western-backed rebels, as well as Iran and its proxies.

The two groups progressed simultaneously from the same starting scenario. But the divergent courses they took revealed key insights into some of the main actors and dynamics in the Syrian Civil War.

Key Findings

  • In the event of a Turkish intervention in Syria, providing Turkish forces stayed within a ten-kilometer buffer zone and avoided direct confrontation with Russia, they would likely not face significant pressure to withdraw — and could even gain international support if they were able to stabilize the border and slow the flow of refugees to Europe.
  • Assad has an interest in encouraging Russian and Kurdish coordination in Kurdish-held areas in order to free resources to fight anti-Assad rebels in the north.
  • Anti-Assad rebels are likely to suffer greatly in the face of escalating tensions, as their backers (e.g., the U.S. and Turkey) will be hesitant to increase the risk of hostilities with Russia by providing them with significant support.
  • The potential for NATO involvement in Syria will likely constrain Turkish, U.S. and European actors far more than Russia.
  • If Russia manages to keep its focus on ISIS while checking Turkey, it could gain significant international public opinion support which could be leveraged on behalf of Assad.
  • ISIS aggression was a major determinant regarding the direction and intensity of both games. However, ISIS aggression was more likely to result in sustained victory if the focus was on insurgent warfare in Syria (e.g., an attack on Russian forces within Syria) rather than terrorist attacks abroad (e.g., an attack against Russia itself).

The findings are interesting to compare with actual developments since the analysis was undertaken, notably the launching of Operation Euphrates Shield in August against ISIS and even more so the PYD/YPG (Syrian Kurds, and their allies in the Syrian Democratic Forces), and recent Russian-Turkish-Iranian cooperation on a ceasefire and proposed Syrian peace negotiations.

You’ll find the full report at the Wikistrat website. For more on their role-play methodologies, see here.

h/t Shay Hershkovitz

Matrix game construction kit update #2

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I was in the UK this past week for a conference and several meetings, and while I was there Tom Mouat and I took the opportunity to run a playtest of A Reckoning of Vultures. This, as I’ve noted before, will be one of the sample game scenarios included in the forthcoming matrix game construction kit that Tom Mouat, Tom Fisher, and I are putting together.

I thought it went very well, both in terms of the physical game components (map, counters) and the scenario and associated special rules. We also received some very useful feedback from the participants. In particular, John Mizon has put together an excellent playtest report at his South West Megagames website:

On Sunday I was invited to “A Reckoning of Vultures”: a Matrix game designed by Tom Mouat and Rex Brynen [1]. The game is set in the capital of the fictional Republic of Matrixia, where the President-for-Life is on his death bed, and various power-hungry factions are jostling to control important parts of the city so they can seize power upon his imminent demise.

His report includes a full account of the game, including pictures. His detailed assessment will certainly prove very useful as we tweak the scenario further—so, on both of both ourselves and the oppressed workers of Matrixia, thank you John!

I should start by saying that this isn’t the first matrix game I have played – I have previously run a matrix game called ‘Kazhdyy Gorod’ [7]. Kazhdyy Gorod is similar to Reckoning, in that it is set in a fictional city undergoing political turmoil and unpredictability of who will end up in charge. Players complete to win popularity and power, trying to improve their situation (and often try to win more potential votes if it is decided the game ends with an election). The players have a map and unit/resource counters, but other than that there is very little structure (aside from the standard matrix game turn order/arguments process).

 I think that A Reckoning of Vultures benefited greatly from additional rules. The separation into two distinct phases of the game improved the pacing and helped flesh out the narrative; the use of specific counters for money, units and influence allowed for more satisfying tactical thinking; effective rules for combat meant you could clearly anticipate the benefits of which units you have; and having key locations to control meant that players had clear objectives to plan around – whilst still allowing enough freedom in the space in between to encourage both player creativity and development of a flexible narrative.

I believe that the key locations also solved an issue that I had found in Kazhdyy Gorod. Namely that the rigid turn order structure and range of actions available caused problems as to how long each player’s turn lasted in the game’s time. For example, one player’s ambush would happen in the same round as another player’s political campaign, and things became messy and it was hard to gauge what was happening within the narrative. The key locations meant that most turns were players moving to and/or doing something important in one location – thus ensuring that the turn times felt uniform.

As someone pointed out in the post-game discussion, there’s a significant amount of random chance, especially in the final phase – but I think that’s fine considering that it’s a relatively short game. The random dice rolling at the end also means that the key locations are not the final decider – if that were the case then players would be incentivised to be doing constant mental arithmetic over key location control (and potential future control) in order to win at the end, which I believe would be stressful and tedious. Adding random chance at the end means you can just do your best when obtaining key locations, taking actions based on instinct and informed guessing.

As Rex pointed out afterwards, the final phase of the game is also meant to show how a matrix game, benefiting from its value as a simulation, can be used to provide starting points for other types of game, such as the dice rolling mechanics of the final phase.

I have three negative observations, though the first two apply to matrix games in general, so they’re more systemic weaknesses than fixable problems or mistakes.

Firstly, it’s clear that matrix games are not for everyone. This is true of any kind of game of course, but matrix games look like board games and sound slightly like RPGs, whilst actually lacking a large amount of structure compared to these. If you are intending to play a matrix game with board game or RPG players, be careful to manage expectations. Matrix games’ strengths are in their ability to simulate and to create freeform narratives, so they’re best suited to players who will be willing to engage with games in order to experience those. If your players are likely to enjoy games less when they lack a lot of structure, be careful with matrix games; relative to other games, there is a lot of doubt and uncertainty about actions’ mechanical effects, and players will need to be able to move their focus away from winning sometimes in order to allow the simulation and communal narrative to work.

Secondly, as I know from experience with Kazhdyy Gorod, matrix games need a Facilitator who is both good at managing their players and comfortable with their knowledge of the setting. The freedom allowed by matrix games can end up leading to long debates about what will work and what won’t, or about what certain aspects of the setting are or aren’t. A good Facilitator needs to be able to be both flexible and firm – allowing player creativity and taking in arguments, but also knowing when to finish things and move on to avoid further debate that slows and muddies the game. Thankfully, Rex was a great Facilitator for our game.

The third criticism is more about the game as an event than as a game. The two main phases are of unpredictable length – which I thought was very interesting in terms of decision making during the game, but if you were planning to run this game, it might cause problems, as you wouldn’t know whether it would take under an hour to play or possibly up to about 4 hours. Depending on what context you are trying to organise this game in, this may be an issue. In a way, this can be seen in our playthrough – where the first phase was only two rounds long (about as short as it can reasonably be without someone deliberately assassinating the president), so we didn’t get to experience much of it, and this meant that there was less feedback on how well the first phase worked.

MORS wargaming AAR

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On 17-20 October 2016 the Military Operations Research Society held a special meeting on wargaming. PAXsims’ very own Tom Mouat was there both to help facilitate the event and to bring us the report below.

Additional details from regular PAXsims reader Paul Vebber follow after Tom’s report.


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I was privileged to be invited, along with colleagues from the UK Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl), to the MORS Wargaming Special Meeting on 17 to 21 October 2016 in Alexandria, VA. Rex couldn’t make it, so again I was deputised to provide PAXSims readers with a report.

It was clear in the lead-up to the event that this was to be a more in-depth look at a few things, rather than the usual conference offering of a shallow look at a large number of things. This was unusual and I’m not entirely sure that it provided the best fit for the stated aims for the workshop:

  • How best incorporate rigorous and well-designed wargaming into the department’s larger analytical and acquisition focus.
  • As the demand for wargaming continues to grow we need to increase the pool of wargamers and wargame designers to meet those needs now and into the future.

If you were a beginner, unsure as to the role and range of wargame tools and techniques, you might have got lucky in choosing the workshop sessions that met your requirements; but if you weren’t it is perfectly possible you would get stuck in a session unsuitable for your needs. This wasn’t helped by the descriptions issued prior to the event being a little less than clear and a number of session being classified and NOFORN (no foreigners). This was exacerbated when there were a number of last minute changes to programme aims, the sessions and their classification.

I had originally intended to look at a number of the sessions and provide assistance to the “Project Cassandra, Envisioning Possible Futures” session. However one of the wargaming sessions (when I say “sessions” it was actually four half-day sessions spread over three days) had the organisation running it (US Army Training and Doctrine Command/TRADOC pull out. I was invited to stand in and run the session on matrix gaming instead—which I was delighted to do.

Travel and subsistence budgets being what they are, the cheapest flights from the UK are on a Saturday, giving us the bonus of recovering from jetlag as well as the opportunity to do some additional professional development in visiting the battlefield of Gettysburg. This is a quite outstanding battlefield, well preserved and with an excellent visitor centre. There are a large number of different lessons that can be gained from looking at details of the large battle, over the two days of the fighting. The Dstl staff, led by their own historian, took advantage of this. Sadly I was unable to participate as I was doing last minute preparation for the sessions.

The hotel recommended for the event was excellent and ideally placed for the subsequent events which were held in the hotel and at the nearby Institute for Defence Analysis (IDA).

Monday, 17 October 2016

The first day included a course, “Wargaming Introduction and Theory,” run by Dr Peter Perla and Dr Ed McGrady, which lasted all day. In addition, a shorter course, “Executive Overview of Military Wargaming,”  was run by Mike Garrambone. I attended the first of these because the UK Defence Academy is intending to run its own “Introduction to Wargaming” course, and watching how two of the foremost experts in the field do it was likely to be extremely educational.

Peter Perla started and covered wargaming history, from the earliest games and models used for training and education, through to the birth of modern wargaming. This included Kriegsspiel, Johann Hellwig’s wargame, the introduction of geomorphic maps, real topographic mapping and the use of experienced umpires in order to reduce complexity and include military common sense. He also covered the rise of the hobby game, sparked off by H G Wells’ Little Wars; the crossover from RAND’s use of hexagons to regularise movement; and the game company Avalon Hill and its success in publishing games for the hobby market.

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Peter Perla reviews the evolution of wargaming.

The course went on to cover the rise of wargaming as a fundamental part of the analytical process in the inter-war years, particularly in the US Navy War College. This is probably one of the most innovative periods of concept and doctrine development which helped shape the conflict to come, not just in the USA but also among the German General Staff.

I noted that from this period that there were two observations that emerged from these wargames:

  • Some people are dicks.
  • Innovation takes time.

Some of the participants in the wargaming process are unable to see the value of exploring a situation or problem through a game, fail to take it seriously and behave inappropriately. This is not helpful, but wargame facilitators need to be aware of this, and develop mitigating strategies to deal with it or valuable opportunities will be lost. (I would also offer that this phenomenon is not limited to manual wargaming – computer simulation is also afflicted with personnel who seem unable to grasp what the process is trying to achieve and are negative or disruptive, however well run the game.)

Innovation is not a simple process with a short timescale. It takes time to breed the open minded and intelligent organisational culture where ideas are valued from wherever they arise and where change is embraced. It is only from this basis that sustained advances can be generated and genuine advantage realised.

We then moved on to Dr Ed McGrady who covered the theory of games, how they work, what approaches work best and the human response to games. He started with a warning that, while efforts are improving, there is still no proper epistemology of wargaming and no coherent theoretical treatment—especially of manual games although there is a reasonable amount of work dealing with computer games.

Diversity in this area is a challenge and there is no simple one definition to cover all wargames.

He went on to cover the elements that make up a game, wargames vs peace games, what is not a wargame and some of the foundations of the concept of “play.” In many professional and analytical games the designers seem to want to eliminate the “play” aspects of the wargame. This is wrong, fails to get buy-in to the process, followed by a lack of understanding of the problem space and ultimately results in a bad game.He covered the elements of play, the role of making them enjoyable in a defence analytical context, their internal structure and most importantly the psychological and neurological concept of narrative (leading to engagement, and the “entre deux”, the in-between space where disbelief is suspended and insights are gained).

This included the significant observation: Lunch is important! If you are going to the time and effort in order to involve the participants in a game, where future possibilities are envisaged, disbelief suspended, and the players fully engaged, it is foolhardy to jeopardise the event by refusing to provide lunch—forcing participants to disperse, lose the game immersion and focus, and ultimately much of the value of the process.

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Some of my notes from “Wargaming: Theory and Introduction.”

I have made many pages of notes, including the dramaturgical aspects of games, the concept of “flow”, games vs simulations, hard vs soft assumptions, the big questions about the effect games have, sociological work, and theoretical principles. Indeed, it was all much too much to be able to present a coherent commentary here without significant additional thought and the risk of boring you!

Which brings me to a concern. This was not really an introduction to wargaming. Instead, it was a masterclass in the theoretical underpinnings of the art, that included some really deep stuff. I found the day incredibly useful (and I am anxiously awaiting copies of the slides because I’m afraid that my hurried notes may well have missed something), but I am also a wargaming practitioner of many years, including running and designing games used by defence as well as the wider community. I suspect that a novice, seeking an initial understanding, might well become lost and confused…

…until they decided to demonstrate what they meant, by the use of the matrix game “Lasgah Pol” dealing with peacekeeping operations in Afghanistan (available as part of Matrix Games for Modern Wargaming). Since I designed the game , and was asked to demonstrate an example move, they are obviously geniuses!.

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Tuesday, 18 October 2016

This was the start of the special event proper, and followed the more usual format of a plenary keynote and panel sessions until shortly after lunch.

Following introductions and the US national anthem, we started with a keynote from Andrew Marshall, former advisor to the Secretary of Defence for Net Assessment. At first glance it looked like the organisers were rolling out someone from an earlier era, but he quickly contradicted that impression, demonstrating sharp and timely insight. He gave a brief history of the Office of Net Assessment and pointed out that reading long papers on a subject can take time and are likely to only explore the subject from a single point of view. Games, in contrast, were very quick at distilling issues to their essential fundamentals, but he also underlined the importance of a proper opposition (the Red players).

An example he gave was dealing with the Strategic Bomber programme. This was during the Cold War—strategic bombers were expensive compared to ballistic missiles, and there were calls to make cuts in the bomber fleet. Looking at the problems through a series of wargames demonstrated that the bomber fleet forced the enemy to invest in large quantities of air defence weapons. Since the enemy was resource limited, this was advantageous to the US. On the other hand, cutting the bomber fleet would permit an enemy to switch in investment from weapon systems that were essentially of limited use, to areas that would present more of a threat. This lead to the conclusion that when thinking about a subject it is often essential to look widely at the problem to ensure a holistic solution

Marshall also pointed out, from his vast experience, that if you want innovation you should select the best players and if you want good games you should use the best facilitators. Choose the best for the most important problems.

This was followed by the Defense Wargaming Alignment Group (DWAG) Quad Chair panel. This covered the initiative resulting from DEPSECDEF Robert Work’s February 2015 memo to institute a repository for wargames and their reports. It currently includes some 550 high level games on a wide range of topics, as well as including funding for additional games and wargaming projects (including funding the US DOD and foreign government attendance at the MORS event). They issue a monthly report including a listing of upcoming games, highlighting previous games that are in the depository, the usual statistics about the depository, and other areas about DOD wargaming.

I was initially very cynical about the value of such a depository, but it appears to have access at the highest levels and is being managed effectively. I was particularly impressed by the definite focus on innovation, increasing the decision space for the leadership, and the particular emphasis on “so what?”—that is, proper explanation of the value of the work done and links to real change. Of course, the repository is a US-only classified capability, but it certainly sounds useful. I’m now jealous!

The panel also covered the intriguing idea of using wargames to educate members of Congress. This was, of course, difficult, and would probably have to focus on their direct staff, but it still looks like a really good idea. They also mentioned the lack of value gained from games that generated obvious conclusions: “Don’t tell me we have a lack of a particular resource —we already know that. Tell me what you did to compensate for it and did it work!” which is, of course, intrinsically more useful.

The Services Panel followed, with a number of useful observations:

  • An understanding that putting on more, smaller sized, games helps frame specific problems.
  • Wargames and quantitative analysis are not enemies – they are complimentary, depending on each other.
  • There needs to be robust cost modelling in games – stop inventing stuff with ridiculously cheap costs.
  • Wargames help frame a problem properly for greater understanding (a recurring theme across the ages).
  • Wargaming as a discipline encourages plagiarism – get the best ideas to work for you from anywhere.

I was interested to see the Department of Homeland Security present, happy to learn from the mistakes of others and present with a sense of humour. They hope to avoid the OODA loop problem where it ends up as “Observe, Overreact, Destroy, Apologize,” instead of what it is meant to be.

The Combatant Commands were next and I was impressed at the real efforts to reinvigorate wargaming after decades of decline. It was acknowledged that the efforts were a little patchy in places, but equally there seemed to be a real appreciation of the value to be gained.

This was followed by the Allies panel, with contributions from the UK, Holland, Sweden and Canada. These showed that wargaming efforts were in place in each nation, even if at a vastly different level of effort to the USA. The UK chose to highlight the essential work of Dstl and the Connections UK conference, and Canada mentioned publishing a wargaming doctrine publication, something the UK are also working on.

Lastly we had a panel on Red Teaming from specialists in that discipline. They were initially surprised to be invited and explained the aim of Red Teaming is to get “better decisions and better plans”, through knowing oneself, mitigating group think, fostering empathy and through applied critical thinking.

Working Groups, Courses and Wargames

At this point we broke up into smaller groups to spend the rest of Tuesday, all day Wednesday and Thursday morning in our respective session. Because of this I lost sight of what else was going on, although Paul Vebber provides some additional insight at the end of this report.

The sessions were:

  • Working Group 1: Analytic Process with Paul Davis and Matt Caffrey. Classified. NOFORN.
  • Working Group 2: Communication and Implementation, with Paul Vebber.
  • Working Group 3: Adjudication, with Tim Wilkie.
  • Course 2: Red Teaming, with Steven Rotkoff.
  • Course 3: Structured Analytic Techniques, with Joseph Cyrulik.
  • Wargame 1: Project Cassandra – Envisioning Possible Futures, with Yuna Wong.
  • Wargame 2: Phase Zero Baltic Operations with Scott Simpkins. Not Classified, but NOFORN.
  • Wargame 3. Matrix Gaming, with Tom Mouat.
  • Synthesis Group: This was an oversight group with Peter Perla looking for common themes and best practices.

 

Matrix Wargaming

Since I had 4 sessions of about 4 hours each, and one of the benefits of matrix gaming is that games are quick to design and play, we did a different game in each session.

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Matrix game materials ready for play.

We started the game with a presentation on matrix wargames looking at different approaches and the value of roleplay in predicting the outcome of conflict. This was followed with “Kazhdyy Gorod” a game about a city in a former Soviet state on the border with Russia.

The game started extremely well, with everything looking on track to being sorted out with the minimum of trouble or bloodshed. Well, that was until the Chief of Police acted against orders from the Mayor, who promptly assassinated her in a scene of the finest “Godfather” tradition in front of the rest of the city council. Chaos ensued (not least for the facilitator) but soon resolved itself with the Rebels kidnapping and murdering the Mayor, the Militia Commander sitting neatly on the fence and the Protest Leader ably supported by the power of international media (in the shape of the Press player) being elected the new Mayor of the city.

I was quite shocked and wondered if anyone was going to turn up for the following session after the adjudication difficulties, but with hindsight it was a good stress test of the system and showed the participants that the game can cope with wild play.

Wednesday, 19 September 2016

The following morning began with a short presentation on my guidance tips for facilitating Matrix Games, followed by the Cyber game “All Your Secrets Are Belong To Us“, a game about stealing the next generation stealth fighter plans.

This game went extremely well with very good participation all around and it was quite rewarding to see that the flow of the narrative was appreciated by the players. This meant the consequential requirement of detailed formal adjudication was much reduced, now that the players were more familiar with the game and gameplay.

That afternoon, after another short presentation, this time on some facilitator techniques that could be helpful for facilitators, we decided to design and run a complete matrix game on a subject chosen by the participants within the time available.

Baltic Challenge

The subject chosen was the current crisis in the Baltic States, especially as we had a Swedish and Dutch participant in the group. The game was entitled “Baltic Challenge” and the game design followed the following steps:

  • Define the game scope: modelling the current crisis in the Baltic States.
  • Define the “Actors” involved in the crisis and the order of play.
  • Define the Objectives for the Actors (simple bullet point objectives).
  • Design possible “triggers” as pre-conditions to possibly upset the current equilibrium.
  • Generate a suitable visualisation (map) for the area.
  • Allocate markers representing effects in the game (DIME/PMESII/FRIS).

We had a long discussion about who to represent as players (required to influence the game) as opposed to being mainly there to be influenced by others. In the end, we chose the following “Actors”:

  • Russian separatists in the Baltic States.
  • The Baltic State Governments as a single actor:
    • Estonia
    • Latvia
    • Lithuania
  • Poland as a separate actor.
  • The USA as a separate actor.
  • The Nordic States as a single actor:
    • Sweden
    • Finland
  • NATO

We generated the objectives for each party quickly and then commenced play. A number of possible “triggers” were also discussed:

  • Iskander deployment to Kaliningrad.
  • Russian troop movements on the border.
  • An economic report demonstrating ethnic disadvantages for Russian speakers in the Baltic States.
  • Airspace violations.
  • Soviet fleet manoeuvres in the Baltic.
  • Soviet ship breakdown on the way to Kaliningrad (assumed Iskander missiles and S-400 air defences on board).

The preferred option was a mix of an economic report indicating Russian speakers have a justified grievance and the Soviet resupply ship breaking down off Tallinn on the Estonian coast.

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A later version of the “Baltic Challenge” map.

The game worked very well, highlighting a large number of points to the participants that they were unaware of. The chief insights from the game were that the Baltic States may well try to “do the right thing” for the Russian speaking minority, but they were largely pawns in the game between Russia and the West. There were a number of treaties that affected the participants (the 1997 Founding Act, EU sanctions against Russia, and NATO relations with Sweden) that were important and needed to be understood. The fact that Poland has a right-wing government keen to demonstrate that it will not be bullied by Russia might not necessarily be a good thing as NATO depended on Poland to play a key role in the area and felt limited in the sort of pressure it could bring to bear.

It was also noted that the Inkander missiles, with a range of 500km, may violate the Intermediate-range Nuclear Force (INF) Treaty (missiles with a range of 500-5,500km) and there was speculation as to why the USA or NATO governments have not challenged Russia about them. The following morning, this was the subject of a Wall Street Journal article, neatly showing the game was on the right track highlighting this issue.

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Gaming the headlines!

We felt that the game would have benefitted (as would any game) from a specialist subject matter expert in the region to assist the facilitator with the briefings, objectives, consequence management, and adjudication but nevertheless we felt that three hours of work had demonstrated the value of the game and wider regional understanding.

The game is now available via a link at PAXsims.

Thursday, 20 September 2016

On the final day, we elected to have a game run by the participants as, given the level of experience they had achieved with the game process and mechanics, they should be able to run and facilitate their own game. The game chosen was “ISIS Crisis“, with updated briefing and dispositions to reflect the current situation.

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Playing ISIS Crisis.

The pre-game discussion indicated a strong feeling that if the game was to be wider than just Iraq, it needed the involvement of Turkish and Russian actors, even at risk of slowing down play, so these roles were included.

The game ran well, even if the most up to date developments were not reflected in the initial set up. The inclusion of Russian and Turkish actors, did change the balance of the game and showed just how far things had changed in the years since the game was designed. It was felt that it would benefit from updated quality briefings for these actors to match the other briefings.

Closing Plenary Sessions

Finally, there was a closing session in which back brief were given on the different workshops, courses and wargames as well as a keynote by DEPSECDEF Robert Work.

The Deputy Secretary of Defence commenced his remarks with the inevitable senior officer’s joke and seemed, at least initially, to be a straightforward explanation of what he was trying to achieve. After a few minutes though, when he had warmed to his subject, the presentation was transformed into an inspiring call to arms that was quite different to the usual rhetoric. Having your DEPSECDEF being quite so disarmingly clear that he wakes up every day thinking of ways that he can mess up the plans of potential adversaries was a breath of fresh air from someone who clearly knows his stuff. He gets my vote and I’m not even an American.

The final thing that stuck in my mind was the realisation that we are facing a new “inter-war period” with all the implications that this brings, and that we need to develop new ways and means to give decision makers strategic choices for the future.

I am looking forward to seeing the presentations being posted on the MORS website so that I can have an understanding of what went on in the other sessions.

Friday, 21 September 2016

The following day the UK delegation (Dstl and I) visited the Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) at John Hopkins University in order to take a look at the work of APL and the Collaborative Analysis Centre. This was an utterly inspiring visit, generating a raft of ideas and possibilities.

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Visiting JHU APL.

The MORS event continued with additional sessions about Research Design by Dr John Compton, but sadly we were unable to attend those.

Summary

Despite the minor administration problems, mainly affecting us foreigners, the trip was extremely worthwhile. Being able to practice my craft with experienced and knowledgeable participants at this level was very valuable for my personal development and a significant contribution to the UK Defence Academy plans for the future.

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I got a shiny MORS challenge coin too!

I still have reservations as to the value for an inexperienced beginner in this subject area, given the level at which many of the instructional participants were operating. This needs to be addressed if we are to generate replacements for the increasingly old expertise we have in the field (myself included).

Tom Mouat


 

Additional Details from Paul Vebber:

I was a co-chair for a working group looking at the issues of “Communication and Implementation” and the relationship of those issues with technology. First, what information needs to move within the “game world” and between the players? Second, what information needs to move between the game world and players and the adjudicators? Third, what what information needs to move out of the “game world” to the observers and analysts?

Ed McGrady and I sliced the group of about 30 we had into subgroups a couple different ways, and discussed these issues in the context of the sort of problems they typically used wargaming techniques to explore. We then focused on two different types of games—Ed the more POL-MIL type, and I a more high tactical/ low operational—and walked through a game design exercise considering where it made sense to use technologies of different levels of sophistication in this communication focused design approach.

Interestingly the team looking at the more qualitative POL-MIL type of game went “high order” on technology to address the “inside the game world” communication issues linking large numbers of players dealing with a high degree of “interactional complexity”.

The group dealing with a more operational problem (exploring the decision space associated with maintaining a long term—many weeks to a few months—naval presence in a location where an ambiguous adversary occasionally lobs missiles at you, or potentially threatens you by other means, AND you have to deal with other emergent operational requirements nearby) started with a “low tech” representation that developed into a card-driven board game.

Despite initial thoughts that some fairly sophisticated M&S tools may be required, it turned out the tech requirements were more about communicating between the game world of manual game play and observer/analysts to capture situational information about why decisions were made and the risk calculus was assessed. The “high fidelity M&S” tools were then used in analysis efforts fed by information from the game and did not have to integrated into the gameplay directly.

This provided a simpler, quicker playing game which feeds M&S efforts focused on digging into the “structural complexity” of weapon system interaction in a well understood operational context that is emergent from and traceable to player decision making.

There were two other working groups, three opportunities to play in different types of games, and five different classes. Check the MORS website for more info on those events—I’m not sure how much of the material and outbriefs will be made available, my understanding is at least some of it will be.

Paul Vebber

Noise in the gray zone: more findings from an Atlantic Council crisis simulation

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Today I made a presentation to members of a US Department of Defense Strategic Multi-Layer Assessment group that is exploring so-called “gray zone” conflict, drawing upon some insights generated by the June 2016 Atlantic Council crisis simulation on US engagement in the Middle East. According the working definition used by the SMA team, the “gray zone” can be understood in the following terms:

The Gray Zone is a conceptual space between peace and war, occurring when actors purposefully use multiple elements of power to achieve political- security objectives with activities that are ambiguous or cloud attribution and exceed the threshold of ordinary competition, yet fall below the level of large-scale direct military conflict, and threaten US and allied interests by challenging, undermining, or violating international customs, norms, or laws

The Atlantic Council game was intended to examine US policy and regional stability, not “gray zone” conflict per se. Nonetheless, the participants certainly made use of myriad methods-other-than-(open) war: terrorism, support for armed non-state groups, cyber attacks, weapons-smuggling, information and influence campaigns, and so forth.

After a brief summary of the Atlantic Council game design and outcomes, I made several key points:

  • The parties were prone to interpret background conflict “noise”—accidents, actions by third parties—as deliberate “gray zone” warfare by a regional adversary. In the case of the Atlantic Council game, a car-bomb attack against the Iranian Embassy in Beirut was widely seen by the Iranian team as Saudi-backed revenge for Iranian actions in Syria (in fact, the Saudis were not involved in the attack, which was conducted by Syrian jihadists), while a clash between Iranian and KSA naval forces in the Gulf was viewed by both sides as a deliberate provocation by the other (whereas it was simply the accidental result of aggressive maritime maneuvering in disputed waters by local naval commanders).
  • Although the parties sometimes used “gray zone” activities to intimidate, deter, or otherwise signal their adversaries, those signals were often poorly understood—in part because signalling is often misunderstood in contexts of tension and conflict, but also because of the very ambiguity of such actions.
  • Routine actions were often reinterpreted in light of other developments. In the Atlantic Council game, for example, rising Saudi-Iranian tensions led the former to view the latter as upping the stakes in Yemen, while the latter was largely continuing on a business-as-usual basis in terms of moderate levels of support for the Houthi rebels.
  • Third parties often sought to further muddy the waters through actions in the “gray zone” intended to manipulate the perceptions of key actors. In the Atlantic Council game, for example, the ISIS team was happy to escalate Sunni-Shiite tensions so as to encourage greater Saudi-Iranian confrontation.
  • The very moral and legal ambiguity of the “gray zone” contributes to problems of threat perception and assessment. The US and Gulf teams regarded stepped-up support for Syrian opposition forces as a legitimate way of countering aggressive Iranian ambitions. By contrast, the Iranian team considered themselves as a status quo power, supporting a longstanding Syrian ally threatened by illegal, externally-backed subversion and insurgency.

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I’m not a big fan of the “gray zone” concept, partly because I think it is so ambiguous, and partly because I think it simply describes a quite common aspect of statecraft and conflict rather than anything strikingly new. Viewing the Atlantic Council game through the “gray zone” lens generated another insight, however: the very real danger that paradigms create their own reality, and may serve to frame events in ways that distort their actual causes, intentions, and implications. Rather like looking for monsters under your bed at night, it is all too easy to misperceive the shadows of the so-called “gray zone”—all the more so because some of them actually are monsters.

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You’ll find the full set of slides from my presentation here.

2016 NATO urban wargame: first impressions

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Scott Kinner (Marine Corps Tactics and Operations Group) recently returned from participating in the 2016 NATO Urban Operations Wargame that was held 28 September to 7 October at the NATO Defense College in Rome:

The wargame utilized personnel from 18 member countries, dividing them into four brigade teams, each of which worked a MEB-level problem set placed in a 2035, smart city, of 5.7 million people.

The wargame addressed offensive, defensive, stability, and expeditionary activities using three vignettes; joint forcible entry into an urban area, offensive and defensive actions to defeat an enemy in an urban area, and transition to host nation government. The brigade teams analyzed proposed 2035 capabilities, and discovered new ones, by fighting each vignette twice – first as today’s force against a 2035 enemy, and then again with 2035 capabilities.

While the wargame would have identified capability requirements and gaps, the presence of Marines proved instrumental in maximizing the event’s potential. This presence, to include a substantial number of practitioners from the Operating Forces, allowed the Marine Corps to fully exploit the game and develop a draft operating concept for the urban environment that will nest under the Marine Operating Concept and join the rest of the Marine Corps family of operating concepts….

You’ll find Scott’s full unclassified “first impressions” report here (pdf).

More information on the wargame can be found at the website of the NATO Modelling and Simulation Centre of Excellence, while broader background information on NATO’s current urbanization project can be found at the NATO ACT website.

h/t Scott Kinner 

RAND video on (wargaming) Russia and the Baltics

RAND has released a short, glossy video outlining the findings of the many wargames they have run examining a potential Russian invasion of the Baltic republics. You’ll find it on their Facebook page, as well as below.

Their original January 2016 report can be found on the RAND website here.

For the findings of a later CNAS crisis game on Baltic security (and some discussion of the differences between the two game approaches and their respective findings), see the discussion at PAXsims here.

Exploring US engagement in the Middle East: A crisis simulation

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Some weeks ago I posted a report on the game methodology that Bilal Saab, John Watts and I developed for a crisis simulation held at the Atlantic Council in Washington DC. The report from that game has now been released.

With the current American election campaign and change in presidential administrations due in January 2017, the debate over appropriate levels of US engagement in an unstable Middle East assumes vital importance. Should a new administration be more proactive in seeking to address threats, resolve conflicts, support allies, and deter foes? Should the new US president be wary about excessive American involvement in complex overseas problems, and focus on other concerns and issues closer to home? What should be done directly by Washington, and what is best addressed by local actors, alliances, and coalitions of the willing? What is the appropriate balance between doing too little and trying to do too much?

Objectives and Design

We focused in our June 23, 2016 crisis simulation on how differing levels of US engagement might affect Washington’s ability to respond to a regional crisis and how differences in US posture and policy might affect the political-military calculations and behavior of key regional and international actors. Approximately fifty former and current officials, diplomats, academics, and journalists from several countries took part as players or observers.

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The game, I thought, went well. They key findings outlined in the report include the following:

  • The fundamental policy question that needs to be addressed is primarily one of how the United States engages in the Middle East, rather than simply how much.
  • US policy levers can only influence, not control, events in the region.
  • Adversaries may not be fully deterred by a greater American military presence, but rather focus on other arenas where American power is more limited.
  • Gulf partners are reluctant to act without US support—but may do so if they feel they have been abandoned.
  • Gulf partners will seek to use US power as a proxy for their own.
  • Russia and China cannot act as substitutes for the United States in its role as regional crisis manager.
  • Europe and other US coalition members cannot provide an alternative for US leadership.
  • Both US teams felt that their alternative policies gave them more freedom than the current administration’s approach, but in different ways.
  • Regional conflict and sectarian tensions provide fertile ground for crisis escalation.
  • Iranian behavior is deeply problematic and partly driven by a desire to be seen as having a legitimate role in the regional order.
  • While cyberattacks may be an increasing part of the landscape of conflict and hybrid warfare, they pose real challenges in terms of US and allied response.

Although it isn’t addressed much in the report, I thought the game also highlighted the profound policy challenges and dilemmas associated with the Syrian civil war. In the PURPLE game, the US team significantly increased US engagement in Syria, responding to Syrian barrel bomb attacks by shooting down regime helicopters and eventually declaring a safe zone along the Turkish border. However neither of these policies worked out entirely as intended. The Russians continued—and in some cases expanded—air operations, while the shoot-down of Syrian helicopters led Iran to double down on its support for Damascus by directly deploying several thousand combat troops to Syria. In northern Syria the declaration of a safe zone led the Syrian Kurdish YPG to declare sovereignty over Kurdish-controlled areas, an action which seemed likely to bring about a Turkish military intervention—thereby raising the spectre of a coalition member attacking the supposed coalition-protected safe zone.

Gaming foreign policy (at the FCO)

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Today I spent an enjoyable day at the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office, running an abbreviated version of the ISIS Crisis matrix game and discussing how gaming approaches can contribute to policy analysis in a foreign ministry setting. About a dozen people participated, most of them FCO research analysts.

My notes for the session can be found here. I started by highlighting the ways in which serious games could be used to explore issues of crisis, conflict, foreign policy, and related issues. We then launched into ISIS Crisis. This proceeded rather more slowly than usual, partly because foreign ministry staff tend to more spend a little more time verbally framing their actions, but mainly because we devoted considerable time to discussing strengths, weakness, and possible variations in the game methodology as we went along.

ISIS started things off by organizing a successful terrorist attack against a cruise liner in Greece, which boosted their morale and reputation. Alleged civilian casualties from an unsuccessful US drone strike against a senior ISIS leader were also used in jihadist propaganda.

In Iraq, the Kurds tried to take advantage of Baghdad’s focus on Mosul to consolidate their control of the city of Kirkuk. The Iraqi government responded by bolstering its own forces in the Kirkuk area. This resulted in a tense stand-off that was eventually defused through Iranian mediation. The Kurds then sought to use the incident to reopen negotiations on a range of revenue-sharing and constitutional issues, but the central government showed little interest.

The incident also put the long-planned campaign to recapture Mosul behind schedule. When Iraqi forces sought to regain the initiative by pressing forward in a poorly-coordinated fashion they suffered heavy casualties from determined ISIS resistance.

Meanwhile, the failure of Baghdad to address Sunni grievances, coupled with a growing Iranian role and the continued presence of Shiite militias in Sunni areas only increased Sunni alienation. The Sunni opposition player was increasingly disinclined to cooperate with the central government in counter-ISIS actions, and successfully sought funding from Saudi Arabia (which only worsened relations between Baghdad and Riyadh).

We finished up with a discussion of the game and its methodology. I made the point that games need to be designed for their intended purpose, that they could be useful in generating questions and issues for further examination, and that they usually worked best when they formed part of a broader process of policy analysis.

I hope the participants found the day as useful as I did. Particular thanks are due to Owen ElliottHead of the FCO’s Africa Research Group, who arranged the session.

Connections 2016 conference report

The following report on the recent Connections (US) interdisciplinary wargaming conference was provided by Major Tom Mouat (UK Army). All views expressed herein are personal ones.


 

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In a moment of madness, I agreed with Rex Brynen that I would attempt to put together a report on Connections 2016 for PAXsims – and this is my attempt at such a report. It is important to warn you that Rex normally types on this laptop during the proceedings at a conference and is thus able to provide a contemporaneous report of what occurred. This was simply not possible for me; firstly, because I lack the expertise (I need to think about stuff for a lot longer than he does and I type really slowly) and secondly, because the conference took place in the excellent facilities of the Lemay Centre Wargaming Institute at Maxwell Airforce Base (which is a secure location – so no laptops, phones, etc).

This was unfortunate, as getting clearance to get on base was a significant hurdle to overcome and that, along with the added travel burden of not being on a non-stop flight location, made attendance much more difficult. If it wasn’t for the significant support from the on-site organiser, I wouldn’t have made it (but I believe I was the only “foreigner”). American Airlines didn’t help (missing my flight connections on the way in and making my return journey a 26hr marathon on the way back), but the Delta Airlines computer glitch messed up a lot of other people’s plans as well.

The conference programme is here  and the presentations should also be posted on the Connections website shortly.

Day 1

The initial session was a SECRET NOFORN (No Foreigners) brief, so I headed off with Matt Caffrey for an Introduction to Wargaming brief instead. Since the audience consisted of vastly experienced civilian wargamers and me, it turned into a feedback and support session on Matt’s briefing slides and a very pleasant chat about the best way to get the message about the importance of wargaming to an unfamiliar audience.

A number of useful things came out of this for me, one of which was the concept of tailoring Red force play in a wargame depending on the objectives of the event (What do you want Red to do? What should Red do for best value?)

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Next up was Cdr Phil Pournelle with a presentation on Improving Wargaming in the DOD. I have heard several elements of his presentation before, but his arguments (and slides) are developing in a way that is very useful in helping to explain the subject and issues to an often sceptical audience. I would definitely recommend taking a look at his slide pack when it is posted on-line.

The vexed question of the actual definition of a wargame came up again and Phil had bullied Peter Perla into providing another definition (a variant on his previous one) with phrases like “a dynamic representation of conflict”, “people”, “decisions” and “consequences”. The issue of having an agreed definition of wargaming (or even general agreement on whether it should be spelled “war gaming” or “wargaming”) was mentioned several times. The concern was that the field is so broad that an all-encompassing definition is so bland as to be useless, and a more precise definition always excludes some segment of the discipline. This, in turn, leads the practitioners (who are all protective of their particular sub-discipline) to meddle and nit-pick with the definition to no useful purpose.

My personal view is that this a complete waste of time and effort. It doesn’t matter what the definition is – what matters is what wargaming does and why you would want to do it. We should therefore agree on a bland all-encompassing definition (to satisfy those who say we need one), but add “with the aim of” and then individual departments are free to mess with their personal aims to their heart’s content – and we can then all get on with some productive work.

I really don’t care what the definition is – but it isn’t a Wargame unless Blue can fail. J

This was followed by Dr Shawn Burns presenting on the Game Project Management Process. This was given from the perspective of the US DOD, whose scale and reach is orders of magnitude larger than most other countries wargaming efforts, but nevertheless the basics are applicable to all projects. The project management flow of: Task – Design – Development – Testing – Rehearsal – Execution – Analysis – Archive was clear and sensible, but his insight into the concept of Jidoka (taken from the Toyota production system) and the “5 Whys” was of particular interest.

The overall concept is summarised here, but the “5 Whys” process is simply the iterative process of asking “why” until the root cause of a problem is discovered. Shawn’s view (and I wholeheartedly support it) was that you should do the same with your Wargame Sponsor to work out what the sponsor really wants to achieve (which may be completely different to what you thought it was—or even from what he thought it was!).

The presentation on the OSD Wargaming Initiative was fascinating insight into how the Wargaming Repository project (a result of the DEPSECDEF memo) and US DOD process management was progressing. What was clear is that significant funding has been made available for wargaming initiatives (significant at least for the rest of us – they might seem small as DOD projects go), and the risk that things that weren’t really wargames would be classed as such in order to get money. There was a responsibility for those involved in wargaming to use the repository and to ensure that they get their messaging right to compensate for this.

There then followed Service briefs for the different environments which, while I was able to recognise more words after attending several Connections conferences, the majority of it went straight over my head. I can only presume that it served the vital function of maintaining “situational awareness” among the other Service branches – but from my outsider’s view it appeared to me that many of the challenges faced were very similar and that the USMC had the most coherent plan (and funding) for dealing with them. Time will tell if this is the case.

There seemed to me to be quite a lot on explaining procedural issues within the US DOD, fostering connections (!) and explaining structures and rather less on sharing best practice – but it takes a brave person to say something is “best practice” in front of this audience.

Cdr Chris Baker’s presentation on Stakeholder Management was good and matched my experiences in the UK Defence Procurement organisation. Far too many people in management positions seem to expect stakeholders merely to be asked their opinion (irrespective of whether they have any qualifications or formal training in the subject) (as opposed to just being appointed to their position) as if by aggregating these views together wisdom or innovation will magically appear. Leadership is required, as typified by the quote from Dr James Brown “Stakeholders expect you to lead… manage expectations… even if they are more powerful than you are”; if time is not to be wasted repeating work already done, or money wasted on “shiny toys” that don’t contribute to the outcomes we need.

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As always Dr Stephen Downes-Martin’s talk on Wargaming Pathologies was really excellent – brutal and uncompromising in shining a light on why things go bad, but offering clear advice on what can be done. None of the advice was easy or trivial: You need deep knowledge and competence in your subject, Suitably Qualified and Experienced Personnel (SQEP), objective analysis of what we are trying to achieve and the results we gained, and above all, morale courage to ensure that we do the right thing. Too many wargames are compromised by a lack of professional ethics, competence and courage in the face of your Boss, the Sponsor and Senior Players.

We also had Lt Gen Steven L Kwast, Commander Air University, provide a particularly rousing keynote address. There might have been some criticism that his words might be somewhat lacking in practical results, but the very fact that a 3-Star Officer was taking the time to address the conference and say the right things, shows he is aware of the issues and understands the desired direction of travel. I especially liked his comments on “smart risk” and his use of the language of insurgency in order to get the message through to younger personnel. He mentioned the book Orbiting the Giant Hairball: A Corporate Fool’s Guide to Surviving with Grace by Gordon MacKenzie as an example of overcoming the tangled mess of corporate rules, systems, procedures and red tape, which has had very good reviews (including by Sally Jewell the US Secretary of the Interior): .

We then had explanations about various working groups and game labs. I elected to get involved in Matt Caffery’s group on “Growing Tomorrows’ Innovators” and did a demonstration session of a Cyber Matrix Game (a simplified version is available here: https://1drv.ms/f/s!ArdcexVTLJ4Pgdle6885ZelqslZHiw).

This was followed by some extremely useful discussions in the evening at the icebreaker no-host event.

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Day 2

This started with Dr Burns’ presentation on Cyber Wargaming which we missed the preceding day. This was very useful – particularly for me as at the Defence Academy of the UK, the Simulation, Modelling and Wargaming department works to the Cyber and Information Management department and we run a cyber wargame as part of the Cyber Operational Awareness Course.

A number of helpful points were raised, based on Prof Stephanie Helm’s work looking into Cyber Considerations for Wargaming:

  • What is “Cyber”? How do you define “Cyber”? (How do you define Wargaming?)
  • The relationship between Cyber and Electronic Warfare (EW) or Information Operations (IO).
  • Operational factors such as Time, Space and levels of Force.
  • What does a Cyber Common Operational Picture (COP) look like?
  • What is Offensive Cyber?
  • What is Defensive Cyber?

From this fall out important questions that need to be addressed when designing a wargame that incorporates Cyber elements. Where does Cyber fit at the strategic level? How does it fit into the game objectives? Are the issues relevant to the decisions being made? Who is the bad guy?

We then covered the vexed problem of classification. Many aspects of operational Cyber capabilities are very highly classified; not just the ways and means, but the organisations and their relationships. This severely restricts the ability to wargame (or even discuss) the issues to gain the insights so badly needed. Is it possible to separate out the classified “actors, ways and means” from the unclassified and generalised “effects”?

This was a very helpful, and I shall be briefing this presentation specifically back to my department when the slides become available.

We were then privileged to have Brig Gen Brian M. Killough, Director of Strategy, Concepts and Assessments, Dep Chief of Staff for Strategic Plans and Requirements, HQ USAF give us a presentation on the Wargaming Enterprise.

General Killough, like General Kwast, inevitably demonstrated the General officer’s ability to start things off with a politically correct joke, but struck me as having a more grounded and realistic view of wargaming (warts and all) than the relentlessly upbeat talk from General Kwast. He also provided the first easy to understand view of what the 3rd Offset Strategy actually was.

I especially liked his points about including some of the weird stuff (avoiding predictable incrementalism) and the dangers of making wargames too big (because you simply don’t learn anything new). He was challenged on some points (after all he is “only a One-Star”), but I felt he gave frank and honest responses about the difficulties to be faced in the current fiscal environment. “Show me your cheque-book and I’ll show you what is important to you.”

Wargaming is not a science but I believe that several of our senior leadership understand the value of it – but equally they realise that it is an art form, so it can’t be mandated. It also is really hard to quantify, consequently they will have extreme challenges in funding and priorities, so I suspect that the best we can really hope for is encouragement and support. As Cdr Phil Pournelle said “we really ought to be able to game the system to get what we want – if we really call ourselves wargamers…”.

This was followed by an absolutely fascinating presentation by Robert Mosher entitled “Observations from a Role Player”, giving really grounded and sensible advice on the role of role-players, their functions, how to manage and prepare them properly and some top tips, such as:

  • Don’t fight the White (the exercise scenario). (Nit picking the scenario won’t help at this stage).
  • Understand the role/training objectives. (Not all roles are created equal and you have a function to do).
  • Ask questions early. (Don’t make too many assumptions)
  • Draw on your real world experience (in context).
  • Remember you are in Atropia now! (read your brief and don’t assume it’s just like Kansas…).
  • Be there for real-world mentoring. (Experience in these roles is transferable).

He was able to draw on his great depth of experience to illustrate his points with practical examples. His brief exactly matched my experience in that having role-play and experience role-players is incredibly valuable – especially in the situations the military find themselves in today’s operations (and his experience is pretty much second to none!).

During the preparations for the NATO deployment to Bosnia in 1994 some of the most valuable lessons (such as the need for a Political Advisor to the Commander and the need for a “Joint Military Commission” to handle all communication and dealing with the factions) came directly out of role-play sessions in the work-up training exercises and had not been foreseen beforehand.

Following the Working Groups initial discussions and lunch (I have to point out here that the fresh fruit and endless coffee / iced water were are real boon and very much appreciated) we went into speaker panels.

Panel One was Chaired by Dr Downes-Martin and looked at ideas and techniques explicitly intended to test to destruction proposed “innovative wargaming concepts”, which featured Dr. Hank Brightman (Naval War College) “Employing Qualitative Methods in the Destructive Testing of War Game Designs”; Dr. Jonathan Lockwood (Lockwood Research Associates, LLC) “Strategic Free Play Wargaming as the Optimum Approach for Testing New Concepts” and Dr. Yuna Wong (RAND) “Did Your Concept or Your Wargame Fail?”.

C2016-4There were a lot of good ideas and concept in these presentations. I was struck by the idea (that matched several speaker’s comments) that before you embark on a quantitative model, you really need to explain and demonstrate a qualitative model to start with – because if you can’t then it is highly likely that your quantitative model has shaky foundations. Dr Wong, as usual was compelling in her presentation – if we pretend to be scientists or engineers, we should try to employ the scientific method, Discover, Demonstrate, Support, Refute, Replicate and examine our validity criteria: Construct validity, internal validity and external validity. Do wargames generate innovation? Or is it that innovative organisations use wargames? Is wargaming an indicator of an innovative organisation rather than a generator of innovation itself?

The second panel, to Explore the effectiveness and feasibility of options to facilitate the development of innovators, was Chaired by Matt Caffrey with Major Eric Frahm, LCWI, Back to the Future: Revisiting Small-Scale Wargames and the Integration of M&S into Wargame Design; Dr. Mel Deaile, Center for Unconventional Weapons Studies, The Risk of Wargaming and Joseph M. Saur, MS/CS, CMSP, Principal Lecturer in Cybersecurity, Regent University, “Teaching Wargaming at Marine Corps University: Lessons Learned”.

This panel was right on the money for me with discussions on the scale of wargames (we don’t need big games to be effective), the dangers of “Gamer Mode” (See Anders Frank’s doctoral thesis on the subject) and the often dreadfully biased assumptions made by many involved.

In the evening I was able to demonstrate the Sandhurst Kriegsspiel, used in teaching cadets at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst (available here).

Day 3

On Day 3 we were privileged to have a presentation by Colonel John Warden (ret.) (the man responsible for starting the whole Connections conference off in the first place). He spoke without notes and laid out his vision of low cost, small footprint, short war interventions.

This was followed by the third speaker panel, Wargaming and Organizational Change, with the objective to explore ways to implement the appropriate application of wargaming. The Chair was Paul Vebber with Dr. John Tiller, John Tiller Software, Strategies for Organizational Change, A Practical Approach; Michael K. Robel, Principle Senior System Engineer, General Dynamics Information Technology, Innovations in Outcome Based Training for Seminar Wargames; and Dr. Thomas Choinski, Deputy Director for Undersea Warfare, Naval Undersea Warfare Center, Macro Perspectives on Wargame Culture and Innovation.

There were some interesting ideas, particularly on Action Theory with regards to wargaming and innovation, taking an artefact, the system of manufacture, the technique and then the system of use; translating to Science and Engineering, Acquisition, and Doctrine, to the Warfighter. When considering computer simulation, Cdr Pournelle made the observation that if we are after innovation in ends, ways, means and methods, then using a simulation, by definition, handicaps your chances as it can only do what has been programmed into it – it is simply impossible to do something new (except in the most trivial of ways). It was interesting, however, to see direct parallels when considering the success factors in computer wargame design with manual wargame designs, in that it is important it looks good, it has a serious purpose, it is easy to get started with, it is engaging to play, it is easy to modify and it needs an advocate to provide “top cover”.

I then outlined the recent advances in Wargaming in the UK which were guardedly promising but still hampered by a lack of doctrine and the Connections UK Conference taking place on 06 to 08 September 2016 (see here for details).

Further sessions of the game labs were then continued. I volunteered to run a session in which we designed and ran a Matrix Game from scratch. I am extremely grateful to my willing bunch of volunteers for jumping in so whole-heartedly and putting up with my adjudication. We managed to do a run through of a scenario set in a Mega-City in Africa to a suitable finishing point within about 2 hours and then spent some time discussing Matrix Games. I have typed up a copy of the game (with a few changes) here.

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This was most useful and, in keeping with Prof Downes-Martin’s exhortation to be intellectually honest, led to the production of a short SWOT analysis of Matrix Games.

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Day 4

Day 4 was really briefing back the results of the Game Labs and the Working Groups. The brief from Matt Caffery’s Working Group on “Growing Tomorrow’s Wargame Innovators” almost exactly matched the conclusion that we had come to in the UK. There is a need for a graduated set of training courses following the Awareness – Practitioner – Expert model of training, with some form of short “Master Class” for senior officers. Our proposal is to have the Awareness Training available on-line (and this is in-hand), with the rest a mix of classroom sessions and distance learning. A Training Needs Analysis is currently underway and a business case will follow early next year.

The brief from Paul Vebber about designing an educational game, for non-military, non-wargamers to do with Naval Warfare in a complex environment, was very interesting. Called “Waves of Destiny” (and winning from the title alone!) it was intended as a very simple game to educate people about capabilities. I hope to be following this up later and look forward to playtesting the results.

Essentially there was a realisation that we need simple, accessible tools in order to train and educate people about understanding capability, learning to think against real opposition and also becoming “intimately or at least casually acquainted with a number of people that they might have occasion to work with or rely on in the future” (as Tom Shelling once noted).

The hot wash-up followed. This year’s attendance was lower than previously, mainly due to the location, but hopefully this will be fixed by returning to Quanitco and the Marine Corps next year. There were suggestions that we should put out a “Call for Papers”, deliberately invite or have a working group specifically for “under 35s”, and also invite the contributing authors to Zones of Control to participate.

Finally, I’ll leave you with a few quotes that I wrote in my notebook:

  • “Wargaming is a motivator to action not a quantifier of effect”.
  • “Wargaming should fix stupid”.
  • “We should play “The Game of Games” and work out how to get wargaming used more”.
  • “Games having analytically quantifiable results is necessary, but not sufficient”.
  • “The danger is that Wargaming can be taken too seriously, or not seriously enough”.
  • “Show me your chequebook and I’ll show you what is important to you”.

I was asked by a friend whether it was worth it for him to attend Connections after I returned to the UK. I was a little surprised at how difficult it was to answer the question. The problem is the sense of scale and range of professional wargaming in the USA – it is so large an enterprise and so full of specialisation that it can be difficult to find comparative value with the much smaller scale work carried out in Europe. Some of the presentations are only of interest (or be the least bit understandable) for the US DOD participants (but this is entirely fair). It also has somewhat of a “folksy charm” that might infuriate some people when everyone disperses at the end of the day to participate in game sessions in various rooms without some formal notice. The experienced attendee knows when to interrupt to announce a session and how to ferret out those individuals they want to speak with after the formal work is over. This might leave the first timer adrift and feeling left out. I found it to be full of ideas and moments of inspiration that make such an event essential to my professional development, but I think that much of the value is only gained by regular attendance – so I intend to be back next year!

Kaliningrad 2017 matrix game at the US Army War College

The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.

LTC David Barsness is a game designer assigned to the Strategic Simulations Division, Center for Strategic Leadership, U.S. Army War College, in Carlisle, PA. He can be reached at: david.a.barsness.mil@mail.mil

Michelle Angert is student at the University of Pittsburgh. She spent nine weeks at the US Army War College as an intern in the Strategic Simulations Division, Center for Strategic Leadership.


 

On 14 July 2016, Kaliningrad 2017 debuted in the U.S. Army War College’s academic curriculum as part of the Department of Distance Education Elective DE5540 Security in Europe: NATO and the EU, by Dr. Joel Hillison. Kaliningrad 2017 is a matrix game, modified for use in seminar instruction. Gameplay is conducted through structured argumentation and facilitator adjudication rather than a rigid set of rules that does not promote strategic thinking.

Kaliningrad 2017 is the first of seven games, undertaken by the US Army War College’s Center for Strategic Leadership, Strategic Simulations Division (SSD) which furnishes national security professionals a role-playing forum for examining aspects of non-traditional conflict. The game depicts a fictional clash between Russia and the West over rights of access to the Kaliningrad district across the Baltic States and Poland. It was designed in the winter of 2016, and reflects the conditions of that time. The time period simulated is the late winter and spring of 2017.

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Kaliningrad 2017 matrix game map

In Kaliningrad 2017, player teams take on the role of one of five state and composite actors in a potential conflict in North East Europe. Each player team has its own specific objectives and guidelines for action, but the general goal is to preserve sovereignty and deter aggression.

After months of playtesting, in the USA and abroad, this iteration was the first to feature complete player teams and included a resident subject matter expert (SME) assigned to each team. The SME provided the students an expert familiar with their region with whom to coordinate and develop focused policy and positions. Game-specific modifications were incorporated in order to meet learning objectives.[1] Dr. Hillison updated the game assumptions to reflect the British decision to leave the European Union (Brexit), modified the decision-making process on the NATO and EU teams to reflect consensus procedures, added recurring meetings (e.g. NATO Military Committee) to replicate actual structured dialogue within and between organizations and assigned a faculty member to play the Baltic States and Poland.[2]

Organization: The students were divided into four teams (EU, NATO, Russia, USA) and provided team-specific background information and goals. Preparation included analyzing current issues facing the EU and NATO and the strategic approach taken by each organization. Dr. Hillison devoted portions of several in-class seminars for the individual teams to develop strategies to accomplish their team goals. This included crafting concrete objectives, sequencing ways to achieve these objectives using the various instruments of power, and assessing risk. “In-Seminar” preparation ensured the students were prepared to articulate their team strategy and achieve their objectives during the execution of the exercise.

K2017-3Game Play: On ‘game day’, the students gathered in the Root Hall Library and moved into their respective team areas. Awaiting them was a game board, country-specific information and invitation cards for coordinating negotiations. The team venues were spaced out of earshot of the other teams. The game commenced with a ten-minute strategy session, followed by five minutes for negotiations. Afterwards, the teams gathered around the central game board, while the Facilitator reviewed for the last time the sequence of play and any changes to the situation on the ground. The order of play was Russia, the European Union, NATO, USA, BSP (Baltic States and Poland) and Russia (again). During this main phase (15 minutes), the student team leaders made an argument for a given action while the other teams argued sequentially the feasibility or infeasibility of the muted action. The facilitator then assessed the argument and counterarguments, providing a modifier to the outcome die roll (plus or minus), depending on how well each team articulated its position.

K2017-2.jpgWrap-up: The teams made it through five player turns in just over two hours. Having reached the desired time limit, the facilitator and Dr. Hillison then conducted an After-Action Review. Teams talked about their objectives and how actions during the game were meant to effect these. Teams received feedback from the SMEs on quality of preparation, team strategy, team dynamics and the plausibility of actions taken. Students left the exercise with a greater understanding of the relationship between NATO and the EU and the roles of the United States, Russia, Baltic States and Poland and other (non-specified) European nations.

Recommendations: Successful execution of matrix game exercises is dependent on three factors:

  • First, an experienced ‘facilitator’ is critical. This person must be well versed in the mechanics of matrix game play. The facilitator must also have full knowledge of the course material and scenario in order to properly adjudicate arguments. Close coordination with the course faculty instructor is required. The facilitator will guide\demonstrate a full round of play immediately before commencing the actual game. This leads to more effective game play. The demo round might be filmed (e.g. one of the rehearsals), or could be a live demonstration (e.g. move zero).
  • Second, it is imperative to have sufficient faculty expertise on hand in order to facilitate substantive group discussion, provide feedback and ensure learning objectives are met. The simplicity and flexibility of matrix game exercises allow faculty instructors to quickly modify game play in order to meet those objectives. For example, a faculty instructor might translate a teaching point through a particular game move. This is easily done through the facilitator.
  • Finally, and most important, students must come prepared. During gameplay, much like oral exams, students will be called on to properly articulate and employ the instruments of national power in the context of their organization or country and present a reasoned argument in support of a particular action. In this particular exercise, observers remarked that they saw the students demonstrate the use of the ends\ways\means analysis model, using a different “lens” or perspective to look at problems and a marked knowledge of the elements of national power.

From student and faculty feedback, Kaliningrad 2017 was a successful teaching event and validation exercise. All involved were impressed at how the game allowed them to employ lessons learned in the seminar classroom. Kaliningrad 2017 was a ‘proof of principal exercise’ that demonstrated the effectiveness of matrix game-exercises both as a teaching tool and as a measure of effectiveness of course comprehension and learning objectives.

The game materials for Kaliningrad 2017 are complete and are available for reproduction upon request. These materials include the rules, maps, game markers, player aides, and player team goals and descriptions.

 * * *

[1] Apart from numerous playtests at the US Army War College, Kaliningrad 2017 has also undergone testing at the National Defense University and the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory of the UK MoD, and has been furnished to the NATO Defense College in Rome, Italy, the US Naval Postgraduate school in Monterey, CA, the Massachusetts National Guard, and individuals in the United States and Europe. For more on the design and playtesting of Kaliningrad 2017, see the earlier July 2016 article in PAXsims: Kaliningrad 2017 playtest at NDU.

[2] Subject matter experts from across the Army War College assisted in the game and the three rehearsals. Participants included: LTC David Barsness, LTC James DiCrocco, LTC John Mowchan, LTC Jurgen Prandtner (German Army), Dr. Ray Millen and Dr. Christopher Bolan. COL TJ Moffatt and Dr. Jeff Troxell observed the execution. LTC Joseph Chretien and Michelle Angert (intern) of the Center for Strategic Leadership facilitated.

Dstl wargaming trip report (or, I visited Portsdown West and all I got was this lousy mug)

Last month I visited the UK for a week of discussions on professional wargaming. My trip report has now been cleared for publication (public release identifier DSTL/PUB097079), and I’m pleased to present it below. It was a terrific visit as you’ll see!


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 Dstl Day 1: Wargaming and its challenges

In late June I spent a week as a guest of Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl), at their Portsdown West campus near Portsmouth. Dstl is an executive agency, sponsored by the Ministry of Defence. Dstl ensures that “innovative science and technology contribute to the defence and security of the UK.”

Dstl responsibilities include:

  • supplying sensitive and specialist science and technology services for MOD and wider government
  • providing and facilitating expert advice, analysis and assurance on defence procurement
  • leading on the MOD’s science and technology programme
  • understanding risks and opportunities through horizon-scanning
  • acting as a trusted interface between MOD, wider government, the private sector and academia to provide science and technology support to military operations by the UK and her allies
  • championing and developing science and technology skills across MOD

I was hosted by Dstl’s Wargaming Team, the team having recently been described in a memo to the UK MOD Vice-Chief of the Defence Staff as: “an MOD S&T asset responsible for enabling MOD’s wider wargaming activity”.

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Since WWII, Dstl and its predecessors have had a good track record of delivering wargames, mainly in support of decision support and operations. One of the current challenges for the team is determining how best to reinvigorate, and grow, a wargaming capability (a combination of people, processes, and tools) that can respond to the high levels of customer interest and demand. One of the ways that the team is tackling this problem is by capitalising on external expertise, in particular academic staff who specialise in, and have a passion for, topics such as political science coupled with game design.

They certainly kept me busy, with four and a half full days of lectures, workshops, and discussions on various aspects of wargaming.

I started on Monday with a presentation on The Social Science of Gaming in which I presented ten sets of findings from social science research that I thought had important implications for wargame design and implementation. Since this was a first draft of my September keynote address at the Connections UK interdisciplinary wargaming conference, I won’t spoil the surprise by posting the lecture slides here—instead, you’ll have to come to King’s College London in a month’s time.

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Next, I was asked to give a brief on A Personal Journey Through (Sometimes) Serious Gaming, in which I discussed may own background first as a wargaming hobbyist and later as a social scientists using serious games to support teaching and analysis. [slides here]. Among the highlights was a satellite photo of the exact location in a British schoolyard where, in the autumn of 1975, I met my first two fellow teen wargamers, David Knowles and Matthew Hayward. The legendary (to us) Lymington and District Wargames Club would be born soon thereafter.

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In the afternoon attention turned to a presentation entitled Blessed are the Cheesemakers: The Challenges of Gaming Information Operations [slides here]. The title of the talk was a reference to a memorable scene from Monty Python’s Life of Brian, and I was happy to be speaking in a place where most of the audience recognized it. I offered some thoughts on gaming IOs: either as an adjunct to another, generally, kinetic process, or as a primary focus (focusing either on their employment, as part a process, or in an effort to develop content).

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Information and influence, I noted, were part of highly contextual social and political processes that were often poorly understood, so I was a bit dubious about placing a great deal of weight on the specific outputs of IO-focused games.

Instead, I suggested, such games should largely be valued for their heuristic value in generating greater critical awareness of the role, potential, limitations, and difficulties of information and influence operations. Members of the audience also offered a great deal of useful insight into the issue, based on their own experience. As with almost all my sessions at Dstl I may have taken away far more from the conversation than I ever contributed.

The final session was devoted to Managing Player and Client Engagement: Skeptics, Seekers, and Enthusiasts [slides here].

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I had more to say on the player end than with regard to clients, since in many cases I’m my own client or have been given very free reign to design a game as I see fit. Much of the discussion ended up focusing on problems—such as unwillingness of players, especially senior players, to risk losing—and how they might be dealt with. Not for the first time I argued that managing players and game facilitation was a skill more closely related to roleplaying games than conventional hobby wargaming—a point that I really need to develop into a full PAXsims post sometime. I learned a lot from the experiences and approaches that were shared by members of Dstl, and there were certainly several ideas that I’ll add to my game design and facilitation toolkit.

 

Dstl Day 2: Daesh and matrix gaming

The second day of my visit involved a game of the ISIS Crisis matrix game, followed by an extended discussion of the potential use of matrix game methods for educational and analytical gaming. Major Tom Mouat—who developed most of the materials for the game—was there too.

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The game itself was insightful. The Iraqi government tried to launch a systematic campaign to advance north towards Mosul, but found itself stymied by poor coordination with supposed allies, ISIS terrorism, Iranian heavy-handedness, and internal tensions. The Kurds did well and finally manage to secure some extra heavy weapons from the US, but advanced little beyond their start positions. One US air strike in support of the Iraqi government went very wrong, exacerbating Sunni anger and causing a brief hiatus in the tempo of American operations. Iran, concerned that the Iraqi cabinet was insufficiently compliant, sponsored a proliferation of Shiite militias under its direct control. Although ISIS lost some of the territory under its control, it was able to use US and Iranian actions to spur additional recruitment. Finally, the Sunni opposition eventually rose up against ISIS and supported the central government’s military campaign, but at the cost of increasing tension with the Shiite militias. This finally erupted into open sectarian fighting when Iranian-backed militias undertook security operations in the capital against suspected Sunni insurgents.

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After lunch, the post-game session was perhaps the richest and most valuable discussion of matrix gaming methods and applications that I’ve ever participated in. Among the topics we collectively addressed were:

  • Variations in format, including larger games with team dynamics (as I used last month at MIGS), games where a team leader selects from multiple potential courses of action proposed by team members (thus increasing the number of possible COAs (Course Of Actions) generated), distributed games, interlinked games, and matrix games used as an element of other, more traditional wargames.
  • Facilitator skills and requirements for subject matter expertise.
  • Suitability for various audiences.
  • Variations in adjudication methods.
  • Representation of kinetic and non-kinetic activity in matrix games.
  • Suitability for various topics recently wargamed by Dstl.
  • The value of developing a generic “matrix game construction kit” with basic components.

 

Dstl Day 3: AFTERSHOCK , humanitarian assistance, aid, and stabilization

The third day of activities at Dstl revolved around gaming issues of Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR). We started with a game of AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis. The players secured a modest success in dealing with the aftermath of a devastating earthquake in fictional Carana. The NGO team did particularly well in racking up “organization points” (reflecting public profile and political capital), although their single-minded focus on shelter projects caused some friction with other teams. The HADR Task Force had successfully withdrawn almost all their personnel by the time the game ended, and the government—although politically vulnerable to the end—utilized its informal aid distribution networks to good effect, while managing to contain or defuse any social discontent. Needs assessments proved particularly important in identifying emerging needs and challenges.

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Later that same day I made a presentation on the considerations that had informed the design of AFTERSHOCK, as well as the various ways in which in might be used [slides here].

My other presentation this day was on Aid, Stabilization, and COIN (COunter INsurgency) [slides here]. In it I warned that many of the key assumptions of COIN doctrine—namely that victory is about legitimacy; poverty and unemployment generates support for armed opposition; legitimacy is about the delivery of core government services; patronage and corruption is bad; and that we know what we’re doing—were contingent relationships. Because of this, COIN doctrine, while a useful guide to what might work most of the time in most places, does not always provide useful guidance all of the time in all places. This suggests a vital need to promote critical thinking and a willingness to modify views and approaches. I particularly stressed the importance of avoiding hubris, and the powerful (often overriding) effects that politics among local actors has on outcomes.

 

Dstl Day 4: Hybrid Warfare and Measures Short of War

Thursday was hybrid warfare day at Dstl. I offered some thoughts [slides] on the notion of hybrid warfare, arguing that most warfare was hybrid and that conflict activities across a broad spectrum were hardly new. (Later I suggested that the term had come to mean “challenges from opponents that we did not anticipate, plus things we once did that we’ve forgotten how to do.” We also identified some of the things that are commonly identified as part of hybrid warfare.

hybrid warfare

After this, we spent the rest of the day playing a few turns of three different games. Each of these explored the topic from different perspectives using a different gaming system: LTC David Barsness’ Kaliningrad 2017 (a matrix game), Brian Train’s Ukrainian Crisis (a more traditional rules/assets/area-movement wargame), and Volko Ruhnke’s Labyrinth (a card-driven game).

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Kaliningrad 2017

In the matrix game, players were limited only by real-world capabilities in taking potential actions across the diplomatic/information/military/economic (DIME) spectrum. This approach certainly encouraged greater innovation by players, although at the cost of a single action per turn. Kaliningrad 2017 uses a number of marker tracks to measure the game effects of global opinion, nuclear escalation, and a refugee crisis, and this sparked discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of such an approach compared to the simpler design of ISIS Crisis. Generally I’m of the view that “less is more” in matrix games, and that marker tracks can risk excessively focusing player activities in a certain area.

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Ukrainian Crisis

Ukrainian Crisis builds on more explicit models and assumptions than does a matrix game. Here the analytical value is not in thinking of new applications of power (since these are predetermined in the rules), but rather discovering how the subsystems and constituent parts of a conflict might interact. Labyrinth also contains an established game model, with the cards being used both to drive these and to insert various capabilities and events. Conventional wargames can certainly do a better job of modeling combat operations than an argument-based matrix games, although they may have difficulty addressing innovation adaptation, or complex political and economic consequences arising from kinetic actions.

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Labyrinth

Because of this, I am of the view that a matrix game often offers the best way of exploring broad issues of hybrid warfare, although more detailed examination of particular domain areas could benefit from a more rigorous rules- and models-based approach. A matrix game could also be combined with another gaming approach, with the former perhaps best suited for the diplomatic/information/economic aspects, while the latter could address kinetic military activities. I also think the nature of the topic lends itself well to multimodal examination, whereby the same scenario is explored using several different gaming methodologies, each offering somewhat different insights.

Ironically, one of the problems of a matrix game approach is that it does not require a great deal of preparation, nor need it involve a great deal of materials and complexity. This makes it an unattractive proposition for defence contractors and consultants since product creation and delivery generates relatively few billable hours. Similarly, a sponsor may feel that it does not seem enough of a tangible product compared with a more complex, traditional wargame.

 

Dstl Day 5: Gaming wicked and messy problems

During my final day at Dstl we looked at gaming “wicked” and “messy” problems, with a particular emphasis on mass migration and refugee crises. The concept of wicked problems (first developed in 1973 by Rittel and Webber) addresses planning issues that are characterized by ten key characteristics:

  1. There is no definitive formulation of a wicked problem.
  2. Wicked problems have no stopping rule.
  3. Solutions to wicked problems are not true-or-false, but good or bad.
  4. There is no immediate and no ultimate test of a solution to a wicked problem.
  5. Every solution to a wicked problem is a “one-shot operation”; because there is no opportunity to learn by trial and error, every attempt counts significantly.
  6. Wicked problems do not have an enumerable (or an exhaustively describable) set of potential solutions, nor is there a well-described set of permissible operations that may be incorporated into the plan.
  7. Every wicked problem is essentially unique.
  8. Every wicked problem can be considered to be a symptom of another problem.
  9. The existence of a discrepancy representing a wicked problem can be explained in numerous ways. The choice of explanation determines the nature of the problem’s resolution.
  10. The social planner has no right to be wrong (i.e., planners are liable for the consequences of the actions they generate).

“Messy problems,” on the other hand, are rooted in complex adaptive systems wherein the key variables and the relationships between them are unclear or poorly understood, and in which adaptive subsystems seek to survive environmental change.

After a very brief introduction to the topic [slides], I highlighted a number of refugee and migration games I have either (co)designed or played:

Two of these (marked * above) were not really proper games or simulations, but rather had used game mechanisms to help motivate players.

Thereafter, we turned our attentions to identifying a migration-related topic that could be usefully gamed. After identifying the audience and purpose of such a game, we spent the duration of the session brainstorming game ideas. Some very good ideas emerged for a matrix game involving major European actors (Germany, Italy, the Balkan republics), possibly Turkey, the United Nations, an “other actors/subject matter expert” player, and the migrants themselves.

The migrant player would start the game with a “migrant deck “of economic migrants and refugees that they would seek to move into Europe. These would be played face down, with the identity of the migrant revealed only when they reached a final destination , were otherwise prevented from doing so, or died—the purpose being to personalize the otherwise faceless statistic of migrant numbers. (Tom Mouat subsequently made up a set of these, which you can download via PAXsims here.)

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Source: Business Insider, 15 September 2015.

Other players would react to migrant flows in appropriate ways. National politics would be addressed by having each country played by a team representing political parties with differing interests and objectives, so that team members were essentially in competition with each other. Much like MIGS versions of ISIS Crisis, this would allow for a game-within-the-matrix-game approach.

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Left to Right: Ruby Tabner, Stephen Ho, Me, Colin Marston and Mike Bagwell

The final day ended with a visit to Southwick House to visit the D-Day map room, followed by a pub lunch.

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All-in-all it was an absolutely terrific visit that generated some excellent discussions and ideas regarding (war)gaming methodologies. Colin Marston and the others at Dstl were excellent hosts, and I even got a Portsdown West Wargaming Suite coffee mug out of the deal! I’m very grateful to Tom Mouat for helping out too. I’ll certainly look forward to seeing many of my UK counterparts again at the Connections UK conference in September.

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Back home, with my mug.

 

Simulation & gaming miscellany, post-PDW edition

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I recently returned from an extremely productive week spent discussing wargaming and analytical methodologies with colleagues from the Defence and Security Analysis Division of the UK Ministry Defence Defence Science and Technology Laboratory at their Portsdown West site. I’ll post a trip report as soon as my comments and the photos are cleared for public release.

In the meantime, PAXsims is pleased to present some recent items on conflict simulation and serious (and not-so-serious) gaming that may be of interest to our readers. Ryan Kuhns contributed material for this latest edition.

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jdn1_16In May, the Pentagon released Joint Doctrine Note 1-16 on the topic of Command Red Team:

Command red teams help commanders and staffs think critically and creatively; challenge assumptions; mitigate groupthink; reduce risks by serving as a check against complacency and surprise; and increase opportunities by helping the staff see situations, problems, and potential solutions from alternative perspectives.

The distinguishing feature of a command red team from alternative analysis produced by subject matter experts within the intelligence directorate of a joint staff is its relative independence, which isolates it from the organizational influences that can unintentionally shape intelligence analysis, such as the human tendency for analysts to maintain amicable relations with colleagues and supervisors, and the potential for regular coordination processes to normalize divergent assessments. Commanders can seek the perspectives of trusted advisors regarding any issue of concern. A command red team may also address similar issues, but unlike most commander’s advisory/action groups, it supports the commander’s staff throughout the design, planning, execution, and assessment of operations, and during routine problem-solving initiatives throughout the headquarters. Red teams and tiger teams may be ad hoc and address specific issues. In many cases, the only difference between the two may be the participation of a red team member who can advise the group in the use of structured techniques. Alternate modes employ red teaming as a temporary or additional duty or as an ad hoc operation, with teams assembled as needed to address specific issues.

JDN 1-16 goes on to address Red Team organization, challenges, and activities, as well as their contribution to joint planning and joint intelligence. The appendices include a list of common logical fallacies and tips for effective devil’s advocacy.

 

PAXsims

Wikistrat-A-Chinese-Spring-cover-464x600Shay Hershkovitz, Chief Strategy Officer and Director of the Analytical Community at Wikistrat, has passed on a recent report on how China might deal with future unrest.

Wikistrat generally uses online expert crowd-sourcing to explore scenarios and identify drivers and pathways. In this case, the simulation methodology was as follows:

50 analysts were handpicked from Wikistrat’s global community of more than 2,000 to participate in this simulation, including renowned China experts Andrew K.P. Leung, Hong Kong’s former chief representative to the United Kingdom; Professor Yawei Liu, Director of the Carter Center’s China Program; and Hugh Stephens, Executive-in-Residence at the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada.

The participants were divided into four mirror-image teams (all playing as the Politburo) to test whether they would manage the crisis differently. The game progressed across four rounds, each representing a week of real time. The teams were given the same scenario at the start, but conditions were adjusted in subsequent rounds to re ect the actions of each team.

Every participant could propose an action by submitting a “move” containing a policy decision (e.g., suppress online discussion of the protests), a desired end-state and a rationale. The rest of the team expressed their approval by “liking” the proposal (or disapproval by taking no action). Whichever proposal received the most likes in a given round was interpreted by Wikistrat as the team’s consensus and informed the next round’s update.

119 moves were proposed by the teams in total. There was often a clear preference for one or two moves per round in each team. In only a few cases did Wikistrat need to consolidate various moves that received an equal number of likes.

A fifth group of experts was engaged as a U.S. observer team to offer insights into how the United States might interpret and respond to China’s actions.

In the end, the four China teams proceeded more or less along the same pathways, seeking to quell the protests by cracking down on ringleaders while offering concessions and conjuring up foreign plots in order to demotivate the masses.

You’ll find a description of each round of the simulation and key take-aways in the full report (link above).

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PAXsims

A modified version of the digital game Civilization V is being developed for use in high school classrooms. According to The Verge:

 Publisher Take-Two Interactive announced that a modified version of the historical strategy game Civilization V is in the works, and is expected to be available for high school classes in North America starting next fall. Called CivilizationEDU, the company says that the education-focused version of the game will “provide students with the opportunity to think critically and create historical events, consider and evaluate the geographical ramifications of their economic and technological decisions, and to engage in systems thinking and experiment with the causal / correlative relationships between military, technology, political, and socioeconomic development.”

While I enjoy Civ V and other 4X (“eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, and eXterminate”) games, I’m a little doubtful that they are the best way of teaching about world history since they tend to be designed to reflect player preferences, expectations, and preconceptions rather than portray accurate historical dynamics.

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…and on that subject, it’s about time we offered a shout-out to Play the Past, a website “dedicated to thoughtfully exploring and discussing the intersection of cultural heritage (very broadly defined) and games/meaningful play (equally broadly defined).”

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At the Active Learning in Political Science blog they discuss simulating Brexit:

In the spirit of not wasting a good crisis, the UK’s decision to leave the European Union offers a great way into understanding a number of political dynamics.

Of course, we need to tread a bit carefully here, for a number of reasons. Firstly, this is a highly fluid situation, so whatever one might plan for the autumn might be completely overtaken by events. Secondly, some of the things that have happened over the past week are so extreme and atypical that while you might reproduce them in a simulation setting, you are almost certainly never going to see them happen again. Thirdly, there’s an awful lot going on, so you need to pick your targets clearly.

With all those caveats in mind, some options still present themselves….

PAXsims

460003main_merraflood93.jpgOn 20-21 October 2016, the Digital Culture Unit at Goldsmiths, University of London will be hosting a conference on Simulation and Environments: A Critical Dialogue Between Systems Of Perception And Ecocritical Aesthetics.

Theme #1: Aesthetics and Environmental Simulations

When addressing issues of climate and climate crisis, simulation models and techniques become potent tools for understanding, prediction, and prevention. Yet the epistemological merit of these tools is rarely accompanied with a critical assessment of their aesthetic properties.

Put another way, the history of nature and the environment is, particularly at its interstices with the human and the natural sciences, heavily laden with cultural and even theological ideas about how a nature should look, should make one feel, should be. What guarantee do we have that these ideological preconceptions are not making their way into our simulations and models? If they are being included, how are they influencing our data? Or conversely, should we be including the cultural and affective effects of nature so often associated with the experience of landscape into our computational models precisely because of the way they fold the human into the physical environment?

The aim of this conference stream will be to parse the aesthetic conditions of simulation technologies, assumptions, and ideologies when dealing with the ecosystem. What role can visual or other aesthetics play in the computing of climates and natural phenomena? How does the changing role of the human as geological agent reframe the digital image as an epistemological form?

Proposed essays may touch on one of the following subjects, but are not restricted to including these:

  • Geospatial technologies, imaging, & observational data
  • Earth imaging & observation
  • Computational climate models
  • Military vision and targeting technologies
  • GIS technologies
  • Remote sensing
  • New media art

 

Theme #2: Simulation and Systems of Perception

Conceptions of simulation attempt to recreate the environment through computational logics of representation that only ever remain asymptotic to the physical world. Rather than asking whether or not simulation can ever provide homeomorphic images of the physical how can simulation instead be used performatively to rethink ways of perceiving, knowing and doing?

This might entail a theorisation of vision – or visioning – in the broader sense of not just perceiving with sight, but also insight, as well as the projection of images of elsewheres and otherwises, futures and fantasies. How would such a repositioning affect the potential instrumentalisation of simulation for political imaginaries and art practices?

The aim of this conference stream will be to invite discussion on the ontological and epistemological implications of simulated modes of perception. How can perception be understood in relation to computational aesthetics and logics?

Proposed essays may touch on one of the following subjects, but are not restricted to including these:

  • Computational modelling systems
  • Mathematics and culture
  • Planning technologies and the imaginary
  • Artificial visioning systems
  • Geopositioning and robotics
  • Cognitive simulations

Those interested in participating should  submit paper abstracts of 500 words to environmentalsims@gmail.com by 1 August 2016. (Please designate theme of interest).

Crisis gaming at the Atlantic Council: Some methodological reflections

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I am currently a Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council, and this past week I was in Washington DC to run a crisis game, one designed in conjunction with my colleagues Bilal Saab and John Watts. The details and findings of the game will be outlined in an eventual Atlantic Council report, and may also be reported by journalists who participated, so I won’t detract from any of that by discussing the scenario or any of the findings here. Instead, I wanted to offer some thoughts on game methodology we used.

In particular, we had been asked by the Council’s Middle East Strategy Task Force to develop a game approach that would explore the impact of two different future US policy postures in the region. From the outset we were committed to assuring that the game design was not pre-cooked to validate a preferred option, but rather represented a fair examination of both approaches. Doing this properly really required two runs of the game, so that each posture would be presented with a series of similar challenges. However, such a desire had to be balanced against real world constraints: the participants would comprise around sixty former (and current) senior policy-makers and subject matter experts, we could really only expect to have them for a day, and we were limited by available space, budget, and other practical considerations. Also, we wanted to maximize the time players had to consider both the scenario and the implications of American policy.

What we decided on was rather different than the usual seminar wargame.

For a start we ran two simultaneous games using the same group of participants. One game (PURPLE) involved one set of US policies, the other game (GOLD) involved an alternative approach. The scenario and initial injects in both games were the same. However, once started the games were free to diverge. You can think of the process as involving two alternative game universes, with the variation built around a different set of US policies.

In terms of role assignments, the PURPLE and GOLD games each had their own US teams. However, the other teams were playing in both games at the same time.

We had concerns about doing it this way. Could players remember the details of the two games, especially when they started to diverge? We addressed this by appointing PURPLE and GOLD team captains in each team. The team captains were responsible for approving immediate tactical responses to the crisis (which could be submitted to the White Cell at any time) and overseeing the development of broader strategic responses (which were submitted in writing at the end of each game turn). The remainder of each team were free to assist both team captains with input and advice. In doing so, they were effectively operating in both alternative universes and hence were in a position to assess what impact differences in US policy had across the two games.

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Each team had a White Cell liaison attached (drawn from a group of excellent Atlantic Council interns, plus one visiting Canadian).  These acted as note-takers for the group, helped participants stay on track in terms of the game agenda, and communicated with the central White Cell and each other via the Slack messaging system. Slack was also used for formal statements by teams, and by us to insert inject events as needed (which were then being read to team members by their assigned White Cell liaison).

In most of my game designs I am eager to include elements of fog, friction, and various coordination challenges. I am also a very strong believer in building narrative engagement by players and encouraging them to internalize their roles and associated perspectives. In this particular case, each team was assigned to a different meeting room, but participants were encouraged to physically travel to amd meet with the other teams to consult and coordinate actions. There was some concern at asking senior participants to run around two floors of the Atlantic Council offices as if they were participating in model UN, but I’ve generally found people quite willing to do so. Moreover, we were able to allocate the rooms in such a way as to make communications between some rooms easier by placing them in close proximity, while making others more distant and hence increasing their sense of (diplomatic) isolation.

The crisis scenario and briefings were designed with asymmetric information to contribute to intra-group tensions and suspicions, but in such a way that escalation and desclataion were both realistic and possible outcomes. Following plenary welcome speeches and a game briefing, the first turn of the game ran until lunch. As the players ate the White Cell hurriedly collected together and synthesized the actions of the various teams, and a second game turn (with new crisis elements) was then introduced for the afternoon. Finally everyone reassembled in plenary session to share insights and analysis.

How did it go? The participants and observers are really the ones in the best position to judge that, but I was very pleased. The teams were extremly active, meeting with each other, making statements, taking immediate tactical actions, and developing larger strategic responses to the crises we threw at them. The key parties very much internalized “their” view of events, and sometimes became genuinely frustrated and antagonized by the actions of opponents. No one really seemed to be bored, or tuned out—indeed, at the end of the game we had to repeatedly tell some teams to stop playing and report for the coffee break and final plenary session.

I was also pleased with the richness of data we were able to extract from the process. The fact that most of the day had seen participants divided into multiple teams meant that we had many times more discussion than would have been possible in standard plenary sessions. The scenario seemed a fair test of both US policy postures. By playing simultaneously in two parallel games participants were readily able to identify both similarities and divergences. In some cases, US policy drove the two games in different directions. In other cases, differences in US policy were largely drowned out by powerful local and regional dynamics. That, I think, was a useful reminder that many of the levers of American power are far from all-powerful, and that it is frankly very hard to direct the behavior of a complex, adaptive system with so many actors and interests involved.

Finally, I was very pleased with the commitment of the Atlantic Council to run a methodologically-rigorous game. Not all national security gaming manages to avoid sponsor-injected bias, and using games as a mechanism to promote pre-existing policy preferences (something I’ve called “gamewashing”) is far from unusual in the think-tank world either.

When the final report is released—it has to be written first, of course—I’ll certainly link to it here at PAXsims.

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Some of the White Cell at work (picture by John Watts).

Kaliningrad 2017 playtest at NDU

The following item has been contributed by LTC David Barsness, a game designer assigned to the Strategic Simulations Division, Center for Strategic Leadership, U.S. Army War College, in Carlisle, PA. He can be reached at: david.a.barsness.mil@mail.mil.

The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.


 

Kalingrad

Map for the Kalingrad 2017 matrix game.

 

“Is it already 4 p.m.?” quipped Dr. Callie Le Renard of the National Defense University’s Center for Applied Strategic Learning (CASL), three hours into playtesting Kaliningrad 2017. Time often passes with uncommon haste while playing such free-form “Matrix” games. Nearly another three hours would transpire before the last of her fellow playtesters, Major Geoffrey Brown, Hyong Lee, Luke Nicastro, Ian Platz, Timothy Wilkie, and student interns Christopher Chen and Daniel Matsumoto, called it quits for the evening.

Kaliningrad 2017 is the first of seven games, undertaken by the US Army War College’s Center for Strategic Leadership, which aim to furnish national security professionals a role-playing forum for examining aspects of non-traditional conflict. The game depicts a fictional clash between Russia and the West over rights of access to the Kaliningrad district across the Baltic States and Poland. It was designed in the winter of 2016, and reflects the conditions of that time. The time period simulated is the late winter and spring of 2017. In Kaliningrad 2017, three-man player teams take on the role of one of five state and composite actors in a potential conflict in North East Europe. Each player team has its own specific objectives and guidelines for action, but the general goal is to preserve sovereignty and deter aggression. Kaliningrad 2017 is a matrix game, modified for use in seminar, whereby gameplay proceeds through structured argumentation and facilitator adjudication rather than a set of formal rules.[1]

The five player-teams in Kaliningrad 2017 are: Russia; European Union; NATO; USA; and the Baltic States (Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania) and Poland. Each team is comprised of three players representing the head of state (President, Secretary General, Parliamentary/Commission Chief and such), diplomatic and information, and military and economic elements of power (DIME model).   One player in each player team represents a significant friendly or allied country not depicted formally (Russia – China, EU – Germany, NATO – United Kingdom, USA – Turkey, Baltic States and Poland – Sweden). Additional players may be added as appropriate to replicate permanent representatives to standing bodies (UN, NATO, EU, International Monetary Fund, World Bank).

Gameplay is represented on a large map of North East Europe (see image above), demarcated to show national borders and ethnic minorities within the playing field. The map also shows the region’s major urban centers, oil and natural gas pipelines, and country affiliations in multiple languages. Smaller boxes off board mark the United States, Germany, Turkey, United Kingdom, NATO, EU, Baltic States and Poland and Sweden on one side and China, Ukraine, and Allied Forces in Afghanistan (Resolute Support) on the other. Tracks depicting world opinion, the influx of refugees into Europe and nuclear escalation line the outer edges. Each player team has a variety of markers representing personnel, assets, equipment, and actions.

The game is played in turns, with players making their moves in a set sequence: Russia > EU > NATO > USA > Baltic States and Poland > Russia. Owing to the array of options available to players, turns are divided into two phases. During the first phase, the player teams discuss among themselves and record their intended actions in writing. Whichever negotiations or agreements a player team wishes to undertake with other player teams also occur in this phase. On conclusion the leaders of each team rejoin the facilitator and subject matter expert around the map and make their respective arguments. As each game turn represents a period of two weeks, the facilitator must ensure that the actions conform to ‘real-world’ time constraints. At the end of each turn, the facilitator provides a quick summary of any new ‘facts’ established by the preceding actions. Note-taking during gameplay is highly recommended.

Players can take an exceptionally broad variety of actions within the game, including the quartet of actions comprising DIME: diplomatic, information, military, and economic.[2]

  • Diplomatic: Any actions or communications involving more than one player team fall under the purview of diplomacy. It is suggested that players make diplomatic moves before all other types of action. Examples of diplomatic action include (but are not limited to) bilateral and multilateral agreements, covert military support, joint statements of purpose. Diplomacy can also be conducted between a player team and a non-player through the facilitator.
  • Information: Information and espionage operations enable players to acquire vital information or undertake unconventional (and often covert) action. These include geographical, human, and signals intelligence, as well as various special operations (including sabotage, assassination, etc.). Players may also submit in writing actions they wish to keep secret to the facilitator for covert adjudication.
  • Military: Military actions are often kinetic and involve the movement of physical assets, to include combat, occupation, and maneuver. Many such actions (e.g. combat and long-distance transit) require a die-roll for resolution. Nearly all military actions are represented through the movement of tokens on the game board.
  • Economic: Economic actions are actions concerning money, resources, or trade. There is no formal mechanism to track the resources available to each player team; rather, the economic components of actions should factor into players’ arguments and are assessed by the facilitator.

The playtest at NDU was the fourth such for Kaliningrad 2017 and the first outside of Carlisle Barracks. As always, the process benefitted from the presence of fresh faces and perspectives. Equally valuable were the suggestions of fellow game designers, Luke Nicastro and Ian Platz. Their approach to the game differed from that of their colleagues or the playtesters at the US Army War College and was informed in great measure by the successes and failures of their own game: Burning Shadows (previously reviewed in PAXSIMs, 9 March 2016). The biggest setback to date has been in simulating the three-man player teams. At no playtest has there ever been more than one player per player team. As such, it has not been possible to model or test the intra-player team discussions, the recording of decisions, and negotiations with the other player teams. Similarly unevaluated has been the influence of each team’s non-depicted ally (China, Germany, UK, Turkey and Sweden).

These deficiencies will be addressed directly at the next playtest of Kaliningrad 2017, scheduled for 14 June, at Carlisle Barracks. The game will debut in the U.S. Army War College’s academic curriculum in July 2016 as part of the graduate seminar “Security in Europe: NATO and the EU” for the Second Resident Course in the Department of Distance Education, by Dr. Joel Hillison. It is also slated for inclusion, alongside six similar games, in the Regional Studies Program in the resident curriculum in winter 2017, for which Kaliningrad 2017 was originally designed.

The game materials for Kaliningrad 2017 are complete and are available for reproduction upon request. These materials include the rules, maps, game markers, player aides, and player team goals and descriptions.

 


[1] Matrix games are not intended to be fiercely competitive, with obvious winners and losers. Instead, they require players to generate a credible narrative. It is from examining this narrative afterwards that players develop insights into the situation being depicted. The objectives of one player-team will likely conflict with those of others; they may even conflict within player-teams. Similarly, it is possible (and even welcome) for all players to achieve some of their objectives by the end of the game. Matrix games lend themselves well to audiences with fixed time strictures. Being easy to play, they are easy to teach to newcomers. If you can say ‘this happens for the following reasons’ you can play a matrix game.

[2] Multiple placement of diplomatic, information, military, and economic markers. DIME markers differ from other markers in that they may be used sequentially to modify the die roll. Players have the option of placing a DIME marker and adjudicating the action immediately or withholding adjudication and waiting until a subsequent turn and using the marker(s) as a modifier to the die roll. DIME markers may be used to increase friendly die rolls (defined as members of an alliance or union – NATO/EU) by one per marker or decrease an opponent’s by the same. A player may place DIME markers up to the number available at the time of placement. Markers remain in the space until final adjudication, when they are returned to the owning player for reuse elsewhere, regardless of the success or failure of the action. Players may always employ DIME markers to increase their own chance of success or to reduce the chances of an opponent.

 

Exploring matrix games for mass atrocity prevention and response

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Yesterday I was pleased to take part in the Professional Training Program on the Prevention of Mass Atrocities being offered by the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies (MIGS). MIGS is based at Concordia University in Montréal, and is widely recognized as Canada’s leading research and advocacy institute for genocide and mass atrocity crimes prevention. I was asked to demonstrate how conflict simulation might be used both for education/training purposes and as an analytical tool.

I did so by running a version of the ISIS Crisis matrix game. We had run this before at MIGS, but with a much smaller group. Indeed, typically the games we run involve only 6-12 players. This time, however, there would be almost three dozen participants. I had never run a matrix game with such a large group, so it was all a bit of an experiment on my part. Fortunately I think it went well.

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I started with a brief (15 minute) overview of the value of serious gaming, and an introduction to the matrix game methods we were using. The slides for this are available here. We then started into the game.

As usual, we depicted the location of military forces, leaders, refugees, and critical infrastructure using markers and a map of Iraq (and Syria). However, with so many participants it was apparent that not everyone would be able to see, let alone access, the map table. Therefore I had brought along a camera and tripod, and an image of the map was projected onto a screen using my laptop and data projector. (Incidentally, the image is typically reversed when set up this way, but I use QCamera, a simple app that corrects for this.)

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The map with the camera and tripod. Only one player from each team was allowed at the map table at any one time.

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The camera-eye view of the map (screen capture of the projected image).

Players had been assigned to a role and team through the simple expedient of having one of the course organizers hand everyone a name-tag during the coffee break before the session. The eight teams were:

  • ISIS
  • Iraqi government
  • Sunni opposition
  • Kurds
  • Iran
  • United States
  • “Team MIGS” (representing the mass atrocity prevention community: human rights NGOs, humanitarian agencies, the media, the International Criminal Court)
  • Subject Matter Experts (representing all actors, effects, and consequences not otherwise represented in the game)

I hadn’t been sure exactly how many participants there would be, so the name-tags had been stacked in order of priority, thereby guaranteeing that the most necessary positions were assigned first.

The room was deliberately arranged with ISIS and the Sunni opposition on one side, Iraq, the Kurds and Iran on the other, the US at the back, and the SMEs and Team MIGS in the centre. It was my hope that the Sunni opposition would feel a bit remote from Baghdad and intimidated by nearby ISIS (they were), and the US would seem a bit disconnected at times from the local political intrigue (they were). It was a useful example of how the use of physical space can be used to shape a game experience.

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The Iraqi government team debates what to do. Photo credit: MIGS.

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The Sunni opposition realizes what a precarious situation they are in. Photo credit: MIGS.

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“Team MIGS” contemplates how best to prevent mass atrocity. Photo credit: MIGS.

Each team was provided with a team briefing, as in previous games of ISIS Crisis. What was different this time, however, was that each player was also given a role assignment within their particular team. This had several effects:

  • Each team was given a particular procedure to follow for making group decisions. In some teams (Iran, ISIS) the leader had full power to decide on a course of action, with the other team members acting in advisory positions. In other teams, decisions were taken by majority vote (Iraq, Kurds) or some other procedure. The Iraq government’s procedures were especially complicated, and designed to maximize the risk of cabinet squabbles and deadlock. Similar the Sunni opposition had to agree on their action by consensus, or decision-making authority for that turn would be randomly allocated.
  • Many of the individual roles within teams had particular goals (for example, some of the Iraqi team wanted to replace the current Prime Minister), special abilities (such as the ability to veto certain types of team action), and/or areas of responsibility (each of the Sunni opposition players had a home region).
  • Finally, players each had restrictions on which other players they could meet and speak with. Iran and ISIS were not allowed to communicate directly, for example. Iran’s Supreme Leader could only speak with the Iraqi Prime Minister for protocol reasons. Defence Ministers mainly communicated with other Defence Ministers. The Caliph of ISIS was forbidden to speak with anyone outside their team—or even leave their team table—due to the ever-present risk of being killed or captured.

Teams were also provided with a  copy of the game map, plus a recent map from the Institute for the Study of War showing areas of ISIS operations. The situation was the current one, with Iraqi forces fighting to clear ISIS from the town of Fallujah.

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The US team considers their options. Photo credit: MIGS.

And so the game started. The noise and excitement level in the room rapidly increased as teams debated their best course of action and began to meeting with other groups. I was positioned with a microphone at the map table, and would call up a representative of each team in turn to state their action, its intended effect, and the reasons why they thought they would be successful. The entire group was then canvassed for other arguments for and against, and—using our usual procedure—the dice were rolled and the outcome adjudicated.

Iraq started off by clearing the remaining ISIS fighters from Fallujah, and then preparing to advance northwards. Team MIGS, worried about possible  abuses by the government’s Shi’ite militias against the local Sunni population, introduced a human right monitoring programme (which Iraqi Defence Minister sought to block by barring NGOs and reporters from the area). The Sunni opposition sought money from Saudi Arabia, while the Kurds sought to resolve an internal political difference. Iran offered more military advisors to Baghdad, as well as arms and money for the Kurds—which didn’t go over well with the US, which delayed their own assistance package to the Kurds in response. ISIS, concerned that the Sunni opposition was considering supporting the Iraqi government, executed a prominent tribal leader as a warning to others.

ISIS also successfully carried out a suicide bombing against Iranian advisors in Baghdad. That led Iran to launch its first acknowledged direct air strikes of the campaign, against an ISIS training camp south of Mosul. Unfortunately either their information or their aim was poor, and —rolling double 1s—they instead hit a camp of internally-displaced Sunni civilians.

The bombing caused immediate Sunni outrage. An ISIS-inspired “lone wolf” in Paris tried to attack Charles De Gaulle airport, but was thwarted by French security. A subsequent plot against the US Embassy in Beirut was also unsuccessful. Meanwhile, the Sunni tribes armed themselves.

Team MIGS cooperated with the US in publicizing the Iranian attack, and Washington even raised the issue at the United Nations Security Council. It soon became apparent, however, that Iraq had authorized Iran to carry out airstrike, and China and Russia (played by Team SME) vetoed any possible response from the Council.

The SME team then reported that the Mosul Dam was at risk of collapse. Baghdad secured the assistance of the US Army Corps of Engineers, who averted a potential catastrophe.

Iraq had expended considerable effort securing US air support for a planned offensive towards Mosul and the Syrian border, although the US was reluctant to embed JTACs (forward observers) directly with Iraqi forces. ISIS sought to regain the initiative by launching a surprise attack against Ramadi, which failed disastrously. The Iraqi government ordered a hasty offensive against the retreating jihadists, but soon ran into a number of ambushes and fell back to their positions in Ramadi having also taken heavy casualties.

At this point I noticed that Caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had left the ISIS table to take a look at the main map, something which his role assignment prohibited him from doing. The Central Intelligence Agency was given a fleeting opportunity to target a vehicle which might—or might not—be carrying a High Value Target. They took a chance, and against all odds (they needed a 6 on a D6), were successful. The leader of ISIS was dead in an American drone strike!

ISIS was thrown into temporary disarray as they chose a new leader. A prominent Sunni leader in Mosul seized on the occasion to launch a revolt against ISIS rule there. The Kurds advanced towards the city in support, but stopped short of entering the fray for fear of taking heavy casualties. Team MIGS, concerned at the potential human toll of the fighting,  worked with the Kurds to surge humanitarian assistance capacity to the area. The US conducted airstrikes against ISIS forces around Mosul, but were hampered by the urban terrain, the risk of collateral damage, and a lack of good intelligence.

Nevertheless, parts of the city were wrested from ISIS control by local Sunni leaders in what could well be a turning point for the campaign…

…and there the game ended. We had played for a little over two hours, during which time we had managed to cover a surprising amount. A 20 minute debrief session followed, in which we discussed both the events in the game and the value of the matrix gaming method more broadly for thinking and teaching about mass atrocity. Feedback seemed to be very positive. I was certainly pleased that the game had gone so well with so many players, and that an additional level of interaction had been successfully introduced through the individual role assignments and team decision rules. Indeed, apparently the Iraqis had  even come close to a cabinet crisis at one point.

For those who might interested you’ll find the materials here:

 

 

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