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Undeniably Victorious: Refighting the Iran-Iraq War

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The battlefield.

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

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

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

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

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Saddam Hussein strikes a defiant pose.

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

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Fighting is intense on the Southern front.

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

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The Central Sector early in the game.

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

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The Iranian cabinet at work.

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

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

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

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

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

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The Iraqi cabinet discusses the deteriorating situation.

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

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More Iranian cabinet discussions.

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

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

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

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

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

Tickets are available from Eventbrite.


Please take a minute to complete our PAXsims reader survey.

RAND: Nuclear weapons and deterring Russian threats to the Baltics

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

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

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


Please take a minute to complete our PAXsims reader survey.

AFTERSHOCK in Medina Country

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


 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Daniel Sutliff

AFTERSHOCK in Ottawa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Matrix games at the Canadian Army Simulation Centre

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


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

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

 

Background

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

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

This matrix game was intended to:

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

 

Conduct

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

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

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

 

Differences from Other Matrix Games

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

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

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

Further differences included having turns divided into three phases:

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

 

Results

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

 

Key Findings

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

 

Conclusion

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

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

 


Authors 

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

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

Pandemic response matrix game

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


 

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

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

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

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

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Ben Taylor

Alas, poor Windsor: An APOCALYPSE NORTH megagame report

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

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

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

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

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A History of the Apocalypse

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

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

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A federal cabinet meeting underway.

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Federal officials and Canadian Forces commanders discuss the growing crisis.

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

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

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

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The game underway.

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

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

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Police and reservists respond to zombie infestations in Niagara.

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

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

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

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The crisis grows.

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

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

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Québec officials discuss the crisis.

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

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

 

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

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This particular Tim Hortons was overrun by the undead.

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

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

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

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

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

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Dick Danger (right) makes an appearance.

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

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

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Dick Danger drops by Tim Hortons.

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

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

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City officials in Montreal coped well with the apocalypse.

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Southwest Ontario under siege.

Game Mechanics and Reflections

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

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

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The St. Laurent map.

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

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

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

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A live CBC news broadcast.

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

 

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

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

Monday, 6 September 1943 – Liverpool

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

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

Monday, 6 September 1943 – Liverpool

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

Tuesday, 7 September 1943 – Liverpool

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

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

Wednesday, 8 September 1943 – Liverpool

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

Thursday, 9 September 1943 – Liverpool

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

Friday, 10 September 1943 – Liverpool

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

Saturday, 11 September 1943 – Liverpool/Prinsted

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

Layard attended a second WATU course in December 2013:

Monday, 13 December 1943 – In the air/Liverpool

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

Tuesday, 14 December 1943 – Liverpool

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

Wednesday, 15 December 1943 – Liverpool

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

Thursday, 16 December 1943 – Liverpool

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

Friday, 17 December 1943 – Liverpool

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

Saturday, 18 December 1943 – Liverpool/London

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

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

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

 

Clade X pandemic simulation

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In The New Yorker, Nicola Twilley reports on a pandemic simulation conducted by the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security last month:

I was in the ballroom of the Mandarin Oriental in Washington, D.C., when the worst pandemic since the 1918 Spanish flu broke out. On cable news, there were reports of four hundred confirmed cases, mostly clustered in Frankfurt, Germany, but with infected individuals reported as far afield as Tokyo, Kabul, and Caracas. Brow furrowed, eyes widened, the anchorwoman’s tone was urgent as she described the spread of a new type of parainfluenza virus, called Clade X. Transmitted through inhalation, it left the infected contagious but otherwise unaffected for up to week before killing more than ten per cent of its victims.

In the ballroom with me, seated around a U-shaped table under glittering chandeliers, were ten senior political figures, an ad-hoc working group convened at the President’s request. The situation looked bad. At Ramstein Air Base, in southwest Germany, three U.S. service members were critically ill, and three infected Venezuelans warned that the outbreak there was much worse than authorities were admitting. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a vaccine would likely take more than a year to develop. Meanwhile, Australia, China, and South Africa had already imposed travel restrictions on flights from Germany and Venezuela. A bipartisan group of senators was calling for a similar travel ban; a recent poll had suggested that sixty-five per cent of the public supported them. “What should our priorities be?” the national-security adviser asked.

Clade X turned out to be an engineered bioweapon, combining the virulence of Nipah virus with parainfluenza’s ease of transmission. It had been intentionally released by A Brighter Dawn, a fictitious group modelled on the Japanese doomsday cult Aum Shinrikyo, which carried out the sarin-gas attacks in the Tokyo subway system, in 1995. A Brighter Dawn’s stated goal was to reduce the world’s population to pre-industrial levels. By the end of the day, which represented twenty months in the simulation, they had managed to kill a perfectly respectable hundred and fifty million people….

Her account of the simulation highlights the way in which technocratic responses to the pandemic threat ran headlong into popular attitudes, social media rumours, and misconceptions, and the resulting politics of it all. She also notes some of the complications created by unclear lines of responsibility and leadership, a federal political system, and—in the US case—a private healthcare system that may emphasize profit margin over collective response to a major national and international health emergency. Finally, the simulation pointed to planning and preparations that could be undertaken now to lessen the impact of such an event in the future, were it ever to occur.

A much fuller account of the scenario is available at the John Hopkins School of Public Health’s Global Health Now website.

You can find additional reports on the Clade X simulation here too:

h/t Brian Philips

 

Matrix games for student learning at the US Army War College

The following article was contributed to PAXsims by Lieutenant Colonel Joe Chretien and Major Abe Goepfert of the Strategic Simulations Division (SSD), Center for Strategic Leadership, 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 US Government.


 

Matrix Games at the US Army War College

At the US Army War College (USAWC), the use of matrix games falls into three categories. The first category is lesson reinforcement.  In this category, the goal is to reinforce the key concepts of historical, current, or future potential conflicts.  As an example, the USAWC resident course ran four simultaneous games for the European Region Study Program (RSP) to explore a future Baltic scenario based on a NATO isolation of Kaliningrad.

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Figure 1: DDE SCS poster.

The second category is games for familiarization.  Familiarization can include a region, actor, situation, or problem.  A great example of a familiarization game was conducted at the University of Richmond in April 2017.  The USAWC Strategic Simulations Division (SSD) ran a Syrian-based matrix game where five teams split into multiple factions. In the University of Richmond game, there were only four teams.  However, each team consisted of multiple nations, organizations, or factions (15 individual team entities).  Each student (15) received a role on a team and had to create their own narratives for their individual piece of the team.  The narrative had to include a summary of who they were, who they aligned with, who they could not align with, and their goals and objectives. Interestingly, one of the teams disassociated itself from one of its own factions (represented by a student) as a show of faith to one of the major powers in the area.

The last category of a USAWC matrix game is a capstone, or course-culminating, event.  The culminating matrix game takes the USAWC year-long program of study and uses a matrix-type game to evaluate the progress of each individual student.  This article will focus on the culminating game conducted for the Department of Distant Education (DDE), second-year resident course (SRC) Course in July 2017 (Figure 1, DDE SCS poster).

The Start of Something Big

A matrix game is a low-overhead (low cost/easy setup), facilitated, multi-player, role-playing game. Games are argument-based. Players weigh arguments and counter-arguments then propose an action. Success or failure of that action depends, primarily, on the strength of a player’s argument. The use of dice in the game introduces the elements of risk.

The material, time, and personnel required to run a matrix game is relatively low compared to a large, constructive simulation exercise. Matrix Games only require a written scenario with analog map and counters for execution. Play requires a facilitator, a subject matter expert, and 4-6 players or 4-6 teamsof players.  A play session typically lasts 2-3 hours, but playing time can be tailored to meet learning outcomes (LO).

Matrix-type games are easy to learn and quick to play. Of particular value to faculty, matrix-type games can be played without constraints and with an open-ended format.  Some constraints could include a scripted non-thinking opposition, limited actions for teams, or even preordained results.  An open-ended format allows players to explore any action if it can be tied to team objectives or goals.  It also allows the gameplay to dictate the scenario as it moves forward. Through two years of using the matrix model for experiential learning, SSD staff have observed that participants are always fully engaged and retain more information than through regular seminar-based instruction. The matrix game format forces participants to articulate actions or arguments orally while also having to make decisions more quickly than normal.

It was because of their proven value as an experiential learning tool that, in October of 2016, faculty from the (DDE), U.S. Army War College approached members of the college’s Strategic Simulation Division (SSD), with the idea of using a matrix game as a culminating exercise for the DDE second-year resident course (SRC), Class of 2017. The SRC consisted of 23 seminars comprised of over 250 senior US military officers, Department of Defense Civilians, and international military officers that spent two weeks of residency at Carlisle, PA prior to graduation.  The DDE faculty were looking for a capstone exercise that tied in all the lessons learned and had the students demonstrate knowledge of the elements of national power, synthesize information, and develop and deliver compelling oral arguments.  A matrix game is the perfect tool, and SSD took on the task of developing and delivering that learning event.

The Greatest Number of Matrix Games Played, at One Location, in a Single Day

The initial discussion, more of a “back of a napkin” analysis of requirements, included three initial courses of action (COA) for the exercise.  The three COAs were:

  1. Mega Game – One large matrix game that includes all 23 seminars in the same game.
  2. Discreet Game (A) – 23 seminars playing their own individual games on the same day.
  3. Discreet Game (B) – 12 seminars playing on day 1; the remaining 11 seminars playing on day 2.

A brief description and analysis of the COAs follow:

  • COA 1: The least resource intensive and the COA that provides the least amount of individual student interaction. Each student would be assigned a role within a select team (i.e. a student on the Chinese team could be assigned as the economic advisor) and would only provide arguments if the action required an argument from that specific role.  The danger in games this large is that some of the participants provide no input to the game.  As a result, those students would not have had the same learning experience as others and could receive a poor evaluation.
  • COA 2: The most resource intensive; would require twenty-three (23) facilitators in separate rooms, as well as twenty-three (23) copies of the game. During concept development and initial planning, SSD had two trained Matrix Game facilitators and DDE had none.  In retrospect, DDE would not be able to provide any facilitators for the game anyway because the faculty would be observing the student interactions. However, this COA had the potential to provide each seminar a discreet game that would keep the teams to 2-3 players each.  Therefore, each student could participate actively in the game while being monitored by their faculty instructor (FI).
  • COA 3: Moderately resource intensive and would require only twelve (12) facilitators and rooms, as well as twelve (12) copies of the game.For CSL, this was more advantageous because of limited resources available for the game.

DDE faculty selected COA 2 because they did not have the scheduling flexibility to break the exercise into two days.  To alleviate some resource concerns, Root Hall, the main academic building at Carlisle Barracks, opened 11 seminar rooms for the execution portion of the exercise.

Wargame Development

SSD’s formal role was to develop and execute a South China Sea (SCS) Wargame during the Second Resident Course (SRC) 21 July 2017 as a capstone event for the two-year Distance Education Program (DEP). The wargame’s purpose was to exercise and assess the students’ ability to take a strategic approach to solving complex problems in a South China Sea setting.  The standards were that the students use the South China Sea Matrix Game to articulate oral arguments for furthering the goals and objectives of their assigned country team. The students would also have to demonstrate knowledge and synthesize elements of national power and operational design learned during their 2-years of instruction. Finally, during this game, students would practice creative and critical thinking while demonstrating negotiation skills at the strategic level in accordance with national interests and goals.

Army simulations officers are trained to tease out requirements before concluding how a “game” should look and feel. Form will follow function – meaning that game design is based on desired learning outcomes.   The game, theoretically, will provide the tool for the faculty to evaluate the learning based on the LOs.

For the purposes of the SRC culminating exercise, three primary and one secondary LO were identified.  The first primary LO was to apply strategic and operational art to develop strategies and plans that employ the military instrument of power in pursuit of national policy aims.  The second primary LO was to think critically and creatively in addressing national security issues at the strategic level.  The last primary LO was to communicate clearly, persuasively, and candidly.  The secondary LO was to demonstrate as a proof of concept the viability for future DDE use of this wargame method. With the COA chosen and LOs well defined, SSD officially accepted the request and began formal planning.

Planning the Event

In the US Army, during a normal planning process, lead agencies/ organizations follow a standardized Joint Exercise Life Cycle (JELC) per TRADOC Regulation 71-20, Concept Development, Capabilities Determination, and Capabilities Integration that outlines an in-depth timeline that begins 180 days prior to the execution of a required event (Figure 2, DDE SCS JELC). For this event, SSD had the entire 180 days to conduct planning and coordination that included hosting multiple conferences, meeting critical milestones, conducting planning-team deep-dives with the DDE operations team, setting up the venue, conducting rehearsals, and executing the event. In this particular planning cycle, SSD conducted three planning conferences with their DDE counterparts and CSL support personnel, Additionally, multiple progress meetings were conducted with the U.S. Army War College Commandant, Deputy Commandant, and the director of CSL.

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Figure 2: DDE SCS JELC.

As with every planned event, there were critical milestones that enabled the planning to move forward.  The first milestone was to produce a South China Sea Matrix game that was capable of meeting each of the three primary learning outcomes.  The six main parts of a Matrix game are the scenario, teams, team narratives, map, special rules, and game pieces.   Slightly ahead of schedule, all elements of the matrix game were agreed upon and a copy of the game was created and used for playtesting.  The initial playtest, internal to SSD and DDE, met all three LOs and validated the matrix game as the proper tool.  The playtest also led to some minor changes to the scenario, map, gameplay, and counters. More playtesting was conducted, particularly with Harrisburg University and the National Defense University (NDU).

The second milestone was to train, at a minimum, twenty-three facilitators.  The facilitator training took place over two months at various locations.  The first training session was conducted at Harrisburg University (HU).  SSD trained three facilitators at the Harrisburg University main campus. Two of those three served as official facilitators during the wargame.  This training also served as a playtest event. All the game’s final changes resulted from finally playing the game with a mix of faculty (HU), students (HU), and trained facilitators (SSD).

The training at NDU provided the opportunity for wargame experts to play and to train on the game. Of the more than ten NDU players in the game, six trained as facilitators and subsequently supported the DDE event.

The final training session took place at the Army War College three days before the event. SSD set up a round robin training program and successfully trained sixteen more facilitators.  In total, SSD trained over 25 facilitators for the event to allow for the eventuality of someone not being able to participate on game day (which happened).

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Figure 3: DDE SCS map.

The third milestone was to create “How to Play Matrix Games” videos.  This task included writing scripts, getting actors (SSD interns), coordinating with the AWC audiovisual team, reserving a room, filming the videos, and providing assistance for the editing of the videos.  This task had to be completed in time for the DDE Class of 2017 to watch the videos before execution of the wargame.  The videos were completed ahead of schedule and were used for two other SSD supported events.

The fourth, and last, milestone was to build twenty-three South China Sea Matrix games.  This was very labor-intensive and took a full week to complete.  Without the help of four interns, this milestone could have required much more time from the SSD team and could have thrown the timeline off.  Each South China Sea matrix game consisted of the following:

  1. Large 35’x45’ map of the South China Sea (Figure 3, DDE SCS Map).
  2. Team folders (five player teams and a control team) that included scenario, individualized team narratives, matrix “how to” sheets, and mini-maps.
  3. Counters: Each packet included “chits” or “counters” that represented a national element of power (Diplomatic, Information, Military, and Economic).  The players used the counters to mark spots on the map where an action took place.
  4. Supplies:  Each team received a pen, note pad, and post it notes pads to capture notes, to plan actions, and to communicate with other teams.
  5. Other items:Each player received a country-team name tag to provide visual delineation of team composition.  Each facilitator and SME had nametags to differentiate themselves from the students.  Additionally, SSD created seminar tags that hung on individual game doors, Collins Hall and Root Hall room diagram posters, and agenda posters.

 

Rehearsal, Training, and Cross-coordinated Wargame Events 

The key to successful execution is nearly always dependent on the work put in prior to execution.  The week prior to execution was packed with walkthroughs, rehearsals, facilitation training, and wargame support for DDE SRC electives. Two SRC electives used board games/ Matrix games as the main tool to execute their lesson plans.  One of the electives used a South China Sea board game where students role-played one of six teams to meet goals or objectives based on a set scenario.  While this game did not have the same mechanics of a matrix game, it did introduce the students to the South China Sea region and forced them into negotiations. The second senior seminar used a matrix game and an SSD developed Kaliningrad scenario.

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Figure 4: Panel Discussion>

In addition to the above events, CSL sponsored a wargame panel featuring four highly experienced wargame professionals who discussed “innovative ways to include wargames in the classroom.”  At the end of the wargame panel, the experts led participants through some wargames currently used at their institutions. (Figure 4, Panel Discussion).

Conclusion

A matrix-type game is not a suitable tool to meet all learning outcomes.  Matrix game observations and outputs are qualitative versus quantitative, and that makes it hard to gauge results.  Matrix games are also highly dependent on the skill of the facilitator for success. It is not the tool, rather matrix-type games are tool for faculty to use to meet learning outcomes.

From a planning and execution standpoint, this event was very successful. At the end of the wargame, over 300 students had received more than six-hours of hands-on experiential training and evaluation.  The planning conducted between SSD and DDE was very detailed, but leadership was not swamped with minutia.  Wargame sponsors do not always provide enough time to plan for the event. DDE, however, came to SSD with enough lead time so that the full JELC timeline was available to plan, to prepare, and to execute the event. Additionally, AWC, CSL, and DDE fully supported the event and provided resources to ensure its success.  This included the funding of facilitators and subject matter experts from outside organization.  Of course, every wargame or large event has areas that are very successful and areas that need refinement.  As successful as this game was, lessons were learned and have been applied to games used in resident courses at the Army War College.

Lieutenant Colonel Joe Chretien
Major Abe Goepfert

 

Using MaGCK to evaluate tactical challenges

The following article was written for PAXsims by Paul Strong, Stuart Vagg, Richard Perkins, and Major Tom Mouat. It is published under public release identifier DSTL/PUB108778.


 

Since the release of MaGCK (including the Matrix Game Construction Kit and associated resources)it has been used to support a range of analytical games at the UK’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) and the Defence Academy of the United Kingdom, including the evaluation of strategic scenarios, tactical vignettes, and projects looking at thematic challenges.

The strength of  the MaGCK resource pack pack lies in the discussions created by the matrix game process. Unlike other approaches, disagreements during MaGCK games often unlock deeper insights and usually facilitate the overall narrative. On numerous occasions, we found that the process highlighted potential emergent trends far earlier than we would expect when using more conventional approaches. The process is also highly flexible and the associated materials can easily be adapted to fit a wide range of scenarios and challenges. A major selling point was that it only required limited time, resources, and space to design and set up a series of games. In all of the studies where the process was utilised, we have found that the narrative-based exploratory gameplay that MaGCK enables can be used to highlight the sort of contextualised evidence that is sometimes difficult to obtain in a conventional structured wargame or a purely discussion-based event.

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MaGCK in use at an earlier matrix game design session at Dstl.

Players in a matrix game make decisions as if they are in the roles specified in the scenario. This variant of ‘role-playing’ creates context-relevant dynamic interactions between both allies and adversaries and can be used to explore the wider implications of player decisions. The process rewards players who frame and articulate both arguments and counter-arguments to achieve their objectives (a combination of their proposed action and the intended result) in the context of the role they are playing. These arguments are then used as the basis for an adjudication process based upon the quality of the claims made by the players that contributed to the discussion. The process is a very effective approach for exploring human factors in political and strategic decision-making.

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Matrix gaming tactical challenges.

The basic matrix game process in a two faction game (each faction including several players) would be as follows: The Overall Mission Narrative sets the conditions for each Narrative Challenge. The Blue player outlines their Intent – i.e. how they will overcome or exploit the situation (outlining the general arguments that support their intent) and the Effect they hope to create. This is considered by the adjudicator and, if not countered by Red, may be approved without further consideration. If the adjudicator believes that these arguments need to be explored further (or Red claims they can be countered) the Matrix approach is used. If this occurs, the Blue Player sets out a number of concise Arguments that show that their approach will achieve the objectives set out in their intent. Red then sets out a number of counter-arguments (both using their own capabilities and by highlighting real-world problems that might emerge) that provide reasons why Blue’s intent will fail. All other attendees are also encouraged to suggest either positive or negative factors, and to note any contextual issues that may influence the outcome.

Blue is then allowed to suggest appropriate mitigations that might counter Red’s arguments. The adjudicator then considers and scores the arguments of both sides – either deciding an outcome immediately or rolling dice (with a bonus for the team that presented a superior argument) to derive a stochastic result. These assumptions are recorded and the narrative continues with the new situation establishing the starting conditions. Once the adjudication is complete, the next challenge in the narrative is described and the wargame continues (the challenges do not alternate between the players – the narrative may require one side to address a series of issues before initiative is passed to the other team).

A multi-faction game (as used in political scenarios) would follow a similar process but the player actions would go ‘around the table’ in a set order (as required by the scenario context).

Unlike a general seminar discussion, both the arguments presented in the earliest turns and the outcomes decided by the adjudicator can and will be exploited by adversaries! The key to the success of the process is the adversarial interaction between the players within the framework of an evolving narrative.

In contrast to a conventional structured wargame (such as “free” kriegsspiel), where there are tables defining probable outcomes for each encounter, the players provide the tactical and technical detail that enables adjudication to proceed. This is a vital factor when the purpose of the game is to elicit insight into a force structure or challenge.

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For example:

BLUE INTENTI will order Police Unit A to occupy the bridge

EFFECT OF INTENDED ACTION: A check point will be established that will block movement across the bridge.

BLUE ARGUMENTS (pros):

  1. Police are nearby.
  2. A checkpoint can easily be established and the bridge blocked with vehicles if necessary.
  3. (etc.)

RED ARGUMENTS (cons):

  1. Police unit A is known to be corrupt (smuggling will thrive).
  2. The police are unlikely to stand firm if attacked and the vehicles could be removed in minutes
  3. (etc.)

BLUE MITIGATIONS:

  1. Mentoring team attached to Police Unit A
  2. (etc.)

ADJUDICATION:

  1. Where the arguments (in the context of the scenario) clearly favour one faction, the adjudicator can opt to allow the narrative to continue.
  2. Where there is no clear winner or the advantage is marginal, dice can be rolled to decide the outcome.

Examples of analytical Matrix games at Dstl

Future force concepts

Dstl were asked to evaluate a potential future force concept intended for consideration by the UK military (the Royal Marines Lead Commando Group). The concept used a combination of emerging technologies to facilitate an innovative approach to warfighting across a range of scenarios.

While many force evaluation exercises have tended to select from a menu of technologies and then try to understand how they might be used at the broad scenario level, the approach used for the Lead Commando Group (LCG) tested the current force and an agreed future force against a series of illustrative tactical vignettes (each set within an approved scenario). The narrative of each vignette was designed to stress each force and highlight a series of plausible ‘left and right of arc’ challenges that the LCG might have to overcome.  Some were based upon the current threat while others looked at how potential adversaries might exploit similar technologies and systems.  These Matrix games were run with the intention of fully investigating the potential strengths and weaknesses of each force, as well as establishing a finalised Scheme of Manoeuvre for subsequent combat modelling. This would then allow Dstl to identify insights on which of the future concept’s key capabilities could and should be integrated into the current force.

The narrative only covered the general background and wider operational objectives of the Blue force and their adversaries (conventional and irregular). This enabled the decisions of both Red and Blue to influence the evolving narrative. The pro-argument / counter-argument / adjudication approach enabled the concept to continuously evolve as it faced new challenges. Thus strengthening the concept and identifying areas where more detailed analysis might need to be conducted.

The matrix game approach proved to be a powerful tool for exploring capability. The argument/counter-argument approach rapidly identified issues and opportunities that could be explored by more detailed simulations and the discussion enabled the players to review a number of specific requirements and capabilities that might need to be adapted or developed. We found that two Blue and two Red players, with 2 or 3 neutral (but appropriately qualified) observers, was about the right mix with both sides using the discussion to develop their ideas and consider the wider implications of their chosen force design. The only negative remark about the process is that the players always wanted more time for discussion!

Security case study

Dstl were also asked to review a security-based case study. We were asked to look at the planning challenges for an adversary intending to attack a known strategic target so that an appropriately detailed and plausible narrative could be run through more detailed simulations.

The huge benefit of the matrix game approach is that we could tailor the discussion to key issues and explore a range of options for representing various real-life security counter-measures. For example, the security threat level was assumed to constrain Red’s freedom of manoeuvre but that it could not be sustained for extended periods unless it was localised. Understandably, Red adjusted their strategy to minimise any increase in threat level (and quickly developed a healthy level of paranoia about Blue knowledge and capabilities) so this simple mechanism helped to heighten the realism of the game.

The narrative looked at each phase of Red’s plan, from smuggling in weapons and personnel, establishing a safe-house in the target city to setting the conditions for the final attack. The adjudicator used the arguments and counter-arguments to review each phase and to indicate to the Blue players their perception of the level of threat, and the probable targets they needed to watch or secure. The game process encouraged players to lay the foundations for future success by planning for contingencies and the discussions on how these options might develop enabled us to identify a number of useful indicators and warnings for real-life security scenarios.

Overall Insights

  • The matrix game approach is a powerful tool for eliciting subject matter expert insight on complex questions. The process is fast flowing and highly flexible; enabling the group to highlight emerging issues and exchange views on both scenario specific and general challenges, and to evaluate potential mitigations.
  • “Matrix Game Style Resolution” can easily be inserted into conventional games. Anything that isn’t explicitly covered by clear rules and verified tables can be handled by a matrix game style discussion/argument.
  • We recommend using between five and nine people (including subject matter experts). You need enough players for a wide-ranging discussion to emerge naturally as the narrative unfolds.
  • A decent sized room with a large map is vital. In addition, the importance of providing food and drink should not be underestimated – too many breaks (or discomfort) can undermine immersion and break the flow of information exchange.
  • The best way to learn how to adjudicate a game is to take part in a couple of matrix games and watch how an experienced adjudicator facilitates a narrative. The core challenges are subject matter awareness (expertise is useful but not essential) and the ability to maintain narrative momentum.
  • Players quickly recognise that strong arguments help them achieve objectives and the astute ones also realise they can cunningly lay the foundations for future success.
  • While more effort may be required to provide analytically rigorous quantitative data from a matrix game, it is an efficient and cost-effective process for generating qualitative output which can then be subjected to quantitative analysis. It can also be used to identify the key areas where the next phase of detailed analysis needs to be concentrated.
  • The concepts being tested need to be more than a single technology. We found that the capabilities of a coherent system (including basic tactics, techniques, and procedures) were easier to articulate and evaluate.
  • Each system needs a champion. The advantage of a champion is that they understand the system (often playing a key role in its development) and will thus be keen to explore its potential. We were extremely lucky with our concept champions as they were both enthused about their concepts and keen to debate their merits.
  • The champion needs to be open-minded and happy to hear counter-arguments. While you want someone who is keen to develop and then defend their concept, you don’t want someone who will become defensive or angry.
  • The Adversary (Red) team need to be highly experienced in the area you want to examine. The optimum is to have an established critical thinker (to play the adversary and to introduce plausible reasons for friction) and at least one subject matter expert (to ensure that the challenge of each vignette or mission is both appropriate and realistic).
  • It is best to test your new concept against a current threat first. This ensures that Red fully understands the concept being tested and they are therefore better equipped to develop a plausible version (or counter) for the mission adversary. This approach also enables the concept champion to identify and correct fundamental issues (the kind that would naturally emerge as the concept develops) before the more challenging scenarios are explored.
  • The process requires at least a day to review each vignette as most games will require at least six turns to establish a coherent narrative.

Matrix gaming is a powerful narrative-based analytical approach that we found both useful and engaging/immersive. Tactical challenges are often difficult to quantify in look-up tables and we found that these complex questions can be more fully explored through Matrix game-based discussion and argument in the context of a tailored scenario.

Gaming Terror: Some thoughts on designing Divided Land

The following piece has been written for PAXsims by Terry Martin.


 

09ps6ozbzucw-ybkxwd7zg.jpgDivided Land is a megagame set in Palestine during 1947, the turbulent last year of the British Mandate, just before the involvement of the United Nations, and the subsequent declaration of the State of Israel and the ensuing conflicts. The game has been played in Sweden and in the UK.

In this article I will examine the original development concept, the thoughts and dynamics of the design process as it developed, and some comments on how the game actually played out in both countries. Finally, I will give some personal conclusions on how it worked and on the implications of gaming a situation which still has a lot of relevance today, and which still arouses passion and partisan emotions.

Background

I have studied Middle East history and politics since my undergraduate days at Oxford and all the games I have written have been set in that part of the world, ranging from the Crusades up to the 1973 war. But 1945 to 1948 has always had a special fascination for me. It was a period that profoundly affected the world as we know it today. It saw the birth of the modern states of Israel and the beginning of what we see today as the ‘Palestinian problem’. It was the formative period for the Arab League as well as the United Nations – and in many ways it saw the birth of modern urban terrorism. It always seemed to me to be an ideal period for my sort of gaming – a complex and enjoyable game exploring one of the ‘what if….’ questions of history.

Back in the 1990’s I wrote a committee game on this subject, with six players and one control umpire. I wrote in the briefing:

this is primarily a game about politics, and about the search for a solution to the troubles of that region of the Middle East for which Great Britain had assumed responsibility since December 9th, 1917, when General Allenby’s troops received the surrender of Jerusalem from the defending Turkish forces.

The game consists of teams representing different interests in the region. It starts in March 1947. On February 14th Ernest Bevin has announced Great Britain’s intention of laying down the Mandate and referring the Palestine problem to the fledgling United Nations, who will have the theoretical power to impose a solution if one cannot be found beforehand.

In the months before the end of the Mandate there is a frantic jockeying for position and influence, in a final attempt to force a solution before the problem is thrown to the new and unknown international organisation.

The game had six players, representing the British Foreign Office, British Chiefs of Staff, Arab League, United States, Jewish Agency, and Jewish extremists.It was a very freeform game with all the players being given the same overall objectives:

  • a settlement of the Palestine problem that fulfils your own personal objectives and yet is accepted by all other parties. This would mean that the United Nations doesn’t have to get
  • if you can’t achieve a settlement then you must have the most persuasive plan to put to the United Nations. If this plan is to recommend partition, then you must include your proposals for partition on a map.
  • Players also need to plan on how they are going to handle (now and in future) the possibility/probability of no solution being found, even by the UN

There were 5 phases to that 1990’s game

  1. Reading your briefing and decidingwhat your ideal plan would be.
  2. Negotiations with other players and other actions as time progresses. Negotiation can be secret or open; only the British home team has the authority to call an official round-the-table conference, although they can’t enforce attendance
  3. Preparation of a presentation to the United Nations (represented by the Control Umpire) This can be by individual players or several players
  4. Adjudication by the United Nations and deciding on your reactions.
  5. Final actions/decisions depending on outcome of 4.

The game was moderately successful as a small committee game – but of course it oversimplified an intensely complicated situation and for years I toyed with the idea of expanding it to encompass not only the political complexities within all the various interested parties but also the effect of the terrorist (freedom fighters?) activities on the ground. So I decided to expand the idea into a multi-player megagame.

Design challenges: Political

My first design objective was to expand the political side of the game to reflect the fact that within all the involved parties (British, Jewish, Arab, and American) there was disagreement as to what the ideal solution to Palestine would be. In London the Foreign Office and the Colonial Office were involved in a turf war over who led the search for a solution, and even within the Ministries there were differing opinions as to what that solution should be.

In the US the State Department was at odds with the White House while lobbyists for both sides tried to apply pressure. The Arab League was riven by internal dissension, particularly the hereditary feud between the Hashemites of Transjordan and Iraq, and the House of Saud. Even the Jewish community within Palestine (the Yishuv) was split between the activists’ faction led by David Ben-Gurion and the moderates under Chaim Weizmann – not to mention the extremist terrorist organisations outside the normal political channels, Irgun,and Lehi (or the Stern Gang as the British called it).

My solution to this challenge was to have multi-player teams of around three players each but no team briefs. Instead all players represented actual historical figures and received individual briefs outlining their own personal feelings and objectives. In this way I hoped for sub games within each team that would reflect some of the internal disagreements and squabbles that made finding a solution so difficult in reality.

Design challenges: Operational

The second challenge I faced was that events on the ground often influenced political efforts to come up with agreements, so I needed teams to have an ability to take actions that would have effects, not just on the player teams but also on public opinion in their various communities.

The approach I took was to introduce an operational element into the game. Most teams would have a limited number of defined Action Cards of which they could play a limited number each turn. Some actions were distinctly political. As an example, the British High Commissioner’s cards allowed him to:

  • Declare Full Martial Law
  • Declare Partial Martial Law
  • Suspend Habeas Corpus
  • Suspend the Jewish Agency
  • Close the banks
  • Evacuate civilians

As another example, the Jewish Agency could play the following cards

  • “open” immigration (e.g. like Exodus)
  • Secret immigration
  • Civil disobedience
  • General strike
  • Denounce Terrorists
  • Suppress Terrorists
  • In extreme circumstances they could also play a “Declaration of State of Israel” card – in which case they also had to decide a policy on Forced Displacement (many thanks to Rex Brynen for that suggestion when he kindly reviewed the game design for me!)

Some of the other teams were issued with more military Action Cards. For example, the GOC Palestine had the following possible actions:

  • Aggressive arms searches against settlements or towns
  • Sweeps through an area, including objectives of arresting suspect individuals
  • Demolition of suspect properties
  • Aggressive Roadblocks
  • Aggressive Beach patrolling
  • Confining troops to barracks. (Sadly but understandably, sometimes discipline cracked under the constant stress of terrorist attacks and atrocities. If the GOC was concerned that one or more units are going to over react to provocation he had this option to confine it/them to barracks until they had calmed down.)

Military teams also had Force Counters representing the resources open to them. Their chances of success for an action would be affected by the resources they allocated to the actions. In the case of the British GOC Palestine, his brief stated:

Although you have around 100,000 men under your command, your resources are continually under strain. Men need to be rested, rotated, and trained; buildings and infrastructure need to be protected. So a lot of your forces are not usually available to you for field operations, and nor are your forces large enough for some of the operations others (especially the Chiefs of Staff) would like you to take on.

Once you have decided upon an operation, your Divisional Generals must allocate forces to that action. This means putting Force Counters with the Action Card and Pro Forma when your forces mount an action.

The Pro Formas referred to had to be filled in with specific objectives and location of the action proposed.

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Gaming terror (1)

DL2.pngProducing action cards for the more conventional forces was relatively easy but I had to consider actions for the irregular and terrorist teams involved. On the Jewish side this meant the underground paramilitary forces of the Haganah and Palmach, as well asthe terroristIrgun. (I had decided not to play Lehifor reasons I discuss later).  On the Arab side it meant the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and his so called Arab Army of Salvation. In the end I gave them Action Cards that reflected their differing philosophies and historical actions. For example, the Haganah could mount a Sabotage action or a reprisal Raid on an Arab village but would not act against any civilian targets. Irgun on the other hand could take any of the following actions:

  • Sabotage
  • Ambush/Mine
  • Kidnapping
  • Bombing
  • Bank robbery
  • Raid on Arabs
  • Assassination

 

Results of actions on the map and public opinion

The results of actions taken on the main map depended on forces committed and some simple rules on chances of success. Die rolls represented random factors and plain old luck. Map control umpires would also use their intelligence and common sense to determine likely real outcomes. But the real significance of the results of actions would be their effect on public opinion in the relative communities. This was to be reflected in Trackers for the British, Americans and Yishuv. I decided that Arab trackers would be less necessary since the Arab states involved were much more autocratic and rarely reacted to public opinion until there were riots in the streets!

The real purpose of the trackers was to make players consider what the reactions to their actions might be amongst other players and world opinion. Players would need to keep very aware of that tracker, since if it reached critical levels, there would be consequences, which they would only discover when such a level was reached.

For example, if Jewish Public opinion is moving against extremism and becoming more optimistic of a settlement, the tracker will reflect this. Support for Irgun in the community will diminish, and they will become more liable to betrayal to the British. Another example; if British public opinion becomes increasingly against Government policy, morale amongst British troops in Palestine will suffer and all their actions become less effective. (Excerpt from Game Handbook.)

Research and sources

Having resolved the basic design philosophy to my own satisfaction, I realised that I had committed myself to two things

  • A lot more knowledge of the issues as seen by less famous but still important people in 1947
  • Writing over 50 individual briefs including what I was calling my ‘fall backs’

Both realisations meant much more research, which raised a design issue of its own. There are three main research sources open to any investigator, all of which raised some issues.

The first source was official and semi-official documents and papers. The clear majority of these are straightforward records and cannot be challenged for bias (e.g. Cabinet Minutes of the British Government) but there were language problems with some Jewish and Arab sources, although the official papers of the Jewish Agency were available in English.

My second main source was the memoirs and papers of many of the participants in the events of the times. It was here that any student of the period – and myself as a game designer – had to be aware of, and be prepared to discount, the inevitable bias of people recounting events as they reflected their own views and self-interest. In some cases, this was actually helpful in fleshing out a person’s character and views, making it easier to digest them into a succinct briefing for the player who would be taking on that character in the game. For example, the memoirs of Viscount Montgomery, CIGS at the time. His attitude to the Jewish community and his belief in overt military solutions come through very clearly.

Where bias was not helpful at all was in examining the motives and actions of the Jewish and Arab terror groups and their effects upon the communities they lived in. For example, The Revolt by Menachem Begin is a justification of all Irgun’s actions, but has very little on the opposition to Irgun within the Yishuv.

My third area of research was secondary sources, the various books and articles on the period, both published and on the net. A student of the period is continually reminded that the Palestine problem is still very much a live issue, with many authors having diametrically opposed views and interpretations on not just why things happened, but on whether they happened at all. This is particularly – and not unexpectedly – true of material one finds on the Internet, although there also some real gems of discovery there as well. In the end I found myself using the Washington Post’s Watergate test of trusting nothing that I could not confirm from two other sources. I gravitated increasingly towards a small core of secondary material that I trusted for accuracy of narrative and the objectivity of the writer’s own assessments.

Final roles

In the end I decided on a final player list as follows

TEAM ROLE
 
BRITISH (London)  
Foreign Office  
Foreign Minister Ernest Bevin
Permanent Under Secretary Sir Orme Sargent
Mid-East Desk Harold Beeley
   
Colonial Office  
Sec. of State for the Colonies Arthur Creech Jones
Permanent Under Secretary Sir George Gater
Eastern Department Douglas Harris
   
Chiefs of Staff  
CIGS Field Marshal Viscount Montgomery
First Sea Lord Admiral Sir John Cunningham
Air Air Chief Marshall Arthur Tedder
   
   
BRITISH (Palestine)  
High Commissioner General Alan Cunningham
Secretary Harold Gurney
Chief Justice Sir William Fitzgerald
   
GOC General Gordon Macmillan
6th Airborne Major general James Cassels
1st Inf Div. Lt. General Richard Gale
Intelligence Colonel C.R.W. Norman
   
JEWISH  
Jewish agency  
Activists  
Chairman David Ben Gurion
Head Political Dept Moshe Sharret
Histadrut Pinhas Lavon
Member Executive Golda Meir
   
Haganah Yaakov Dori
Palmach Yigal Allon
   
Moderates  
Leader Chaim Weizmann
Assistant Eliezer Kaplan
Diplomat Abba Eban
   
Irgun  
Leader Menachem Begin
Assistant Chaim Landau
 USA rep  Hillel Kook
   
ARAB  
Arab League  
Sec general Azzam Pasha
Assistant Musa Alami
   
Egypt  
King Farouk
PM Nokrashy Pasha
   
Saudi  
King Ibn Saud
Son Feisal
   
Mufti  
Mufti Amin al-Husseini
  Jamal al-Husseini
   
Transjordan  
King Abdullah
Adviser Awni Abd al-Hadi
Arab Legion Glubb Pasha
   
USA  
White House  
President Harry Truman
Counsellor Clark Clifford
   
State Department  
Sec State General George Marshall
Deputy for Mid-East George Kennon
   
Press 2 players

I chose this final cast list to reflect the varying individual views within each team, since I believed that a totally united USA team, for example, would not reflect the complexities of the time. I also reasoned that differing opinions within most of the teams would allow the development of interesting ‘sub-games’.

My approach in developing each individual brief was to impart enough information about the character to allow the player to immerse him/herself in the role but not so much that they were forced into slavishly replaying what their character had done in reality. I also thought that supplying pictures of the people involved could be helpful to players in identifying with their characters.

DLroles.png

I also had to consider how much information the players needed to make the game meaningful and successful. Obviously, a base knowledge of both background and the issues involved was essential, but at the same time I did not want to overwhelm the players with so much information that they would either be confused or simply not read the material!

The solution decided on was to keep the personal briefings to a minimum (about 3 pages), include the basic information in Appendices to the Game Handbook, and supply a further background document (Characters and Glossary) for those players who were minded to read it. I made sure that all briefing materials went out at least three weeks before the game, and I also supplied a limited bibliography to a couple of players who asked for more information.

What if….

During the final thinking through of the design process I needed to consider two matters that might impact on the playing of the game on the day.

What if players got killed?

At this time in the Middle East assassination was not as uncommon as we might hope and indeed both the Jewish and Arab terrorist teams had Assassination Action Cards that they could play.

DL6.png

I had to acknowledge that player characters might indeed be killed – both Abdullah and Henry Gurney were in fact assassinated, although not during this year. I made the chances of assassinating a major figure quite slim, but possible. As designer I had to consider how to recycle those players into the game after their unfortunate demise. This meant writing several ‘fall back’ player briefs which would only be used if an assassination succeeded. As it happened, in both the Swedish and London games, attempts were made to assassinate the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem. In one case he could not be found by the hit squad; in the other he was grievously wounded but survived to preach a fatwa against all Jews!

What if war broke out?

As mentioned above, if pushed into a corner, and provided that certain conditions were met, the Jewish Agency could in the game declare unilaterally the State of Israel. This would almost inevitably lead to open warfare between the Arab nations and the new Jewish state. Unlikely as I thought this might be, I had to be prepared for it. I decided I would need to produce a simple combat system, as well as forces counters. This was not actually too difficult as I used the actual Orders of Battle from 1948 when of course war did occur. In the event this never happened, although it came close in the London game, but as the game designer I felt rather reassured that I was ready for it if it did happen.


 

The actual games

This article is not intended to be an after-action report on either of the games, but perhaps some observations are of interest.

Sweden

I first tested the game with a small group of inexperienced but enthusiastic megagamers in Malmo. This helped me immensely with development and fine tuning of a lot of game elements, and the key players from there kindly consented to be my control team when I came to put on the full game in Stockholm.

I was faced with two issues in the Swedish games. The first was that virtually nobody had ever played a historical megagame before, although we did have some experienced LARP and boardgame players. The second I had half anticipated but was still slightly surprised by. Sweden is a culture in which compromise and consensus is deep rooted, and indeed emphasised in school Civics classes. As one player wrote to me after the game “The British have very different cultures from Swedes when it comes to turn taking. Today’s younger Swedes are brought up in a social system that ‘enforces and reinforces’ every person’s right to be heard, everyone’s right to be involved in a decision and the focus on group consensus is extremely strong.”  This resulted in a much greater search for compromise than I believe could ever have happened in reality. Having anticipated this to some extent, I had decided not to play Lehi (Stern gang) in the game, so that if Irgun turned out to be too compromising, or indeed peace seeking, Control could input into the game actual terrorist actions.

This seemed to achieve its objectives as perhaps the following extract from the Ben Gurion player’s AAR illustrates… “I had changed the subject to the question of the Mufti and had just held what I think was an effective little speech about the injustice of the Arabs, when Control opens the door and reads out a list of three atrocities, all committed by Jews. I was quite relieved when Moshe Sharett a moment later came, panic in his voice, and demanded that I go to the map, as all hell was breaking loose. I would have been humiliated, had the conference continued.”

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The Arab League in negotiations (picture credit: Richard Moreau).

The final result of the Swedish game was an agreed partition between the Jews and Arab states, with the Jewish Agency gaining British support by suppressing Irgun quite ruthlessly and successfully (three successive very lucky die rolls!). The Arab players were quite pleased with themselves until they heard of the rioting by mobs of fellahin on the streets of Damascus and Cairo.

UK

Putting on the UK game was made simpler in that the player pool had many more experienced megagamers, many of whom I knew, which made casting much easier. The game ran more smoothly with far less need for direct intervention by the Control team. The final result again was an agreed partition into two separate states in Palestine and a surprisingly generously sized Jewish state.

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The UK game (picture credit: Caroline Martin).

Jewish suspicion of the Arab generosity was quite justified, as there actually existed a secret treaty amongst the Arab states saying that as soon as the British had withdrawn, the Arab armies would immediately invade.

The resulting war would have been interesting to observe, since the Haganah/Palmach players had spent most of the game quietly and successfully transforming their forces from a semi organised paramilitary force into a regular army ready to mobilise at a moment’s notice. They even had a war plan ready to go.

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The partition agreement and Jewish war plan from the UK game.

 

Some final thoughts

Gaming live issues

You candesign a game about 1947 without being accused of bias but you need to be very careful. There were definitely some in Sweden who were uncomfortable with the thought of turning such a turbulent and still live issue into a ‘game’. From my point of view though, it worked. I think most players not only enjoyed Divided Land as a game, but some also were given cause to think.

Gaming in different countries

There are certainly cultural differences between Sweden and the UK in how they regard international relations and issues. Sweden has a long and mostly honourable tradition of neutrality and searching for ends to international disputes by negotiation and compromise. This was evident to me in the game, and indeed in their reactions to successful negotiations being derailed by seemingly irrational acts of terror on the ground.

Operational and political

Despite the extra work for a designer in adding an operational element to the game, with actions on a map, I am convinced that this worked, and made the game much more ‘real’. Having the operational game also led to 30-minute action turns, which helped to add structure to a long day’s play.

Gaming terror (2)

From the moment I conceived this game I had been concerned that finding players willing to commit acts of terror and even atrocities might be difficult. I was quite wrong. It seems (encouragingly to designers like myself) that with the right briefings players are quite willing to suspend their own moralities and try to play as their characters did in fact behave. I do wonder though whether time would affect this attitude. Could we find players to play IRA gunmen or Bosnian Serb warlords, or indeed in my own field of study could we find players able to play the Phalange militiamen entering the Shatila refugee camp in 1982. I do wonder…

Terry Martin

Ex SEA LION CADET at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst

The Royal Military Academy Sandhurst is the home of the British Army Officer and the initial training ground for officers of the British Army, be they Regular or Reserve, Direct Entrant, Late Entrant or Professionally Qualified.  It is ranked as one of the best centres of leadership in the World.  Its famous motto is “Serve to Lead.”

Captain EC Farren was, until recently, an instructor at the Academy, overseeing the injured cadets of “Lucknow” Platoon.  His remit was to help the cadets under his charge recover as soon as practicable, so they could re-join the Regular Commissioning Course.  Much of his work is focused on the cadets’ physical state, but he must also try to keep their military skills and minds sharp in the process.  As a 2009 Masters graduate of King’s College London, Captain Farren studied under Prof. P Sabin (Simulating War) and has carried his experiences of Phil’s conflict simulation course with him into the Regular Army.  He appeared at Connections 2015 to discuss wargaming (link) in officer training and subsequently delivered an update (link) on examples used in his battalion in 2016.  Since June 2016 he has instructed at the prestigious British military academy in Camberley and has sought to utilise wargaming to enhance the education of young officers.  The extract below is from an article submitted to Sandhurst’s Wish Stream journal covering his platoon’s involvement in a Battlefield Study of Operation Sea Lion.  


 

Anyone who has participated in Ex NORMANDY SCHOLAR can attest to the innate value of a battlefield study to an aspiring Army officer. There is something about standing on the battlefield that concentrates the mind and gives one an appreciation from the combatant’s perspective that no amount of book study can mirror.  In previous years Lucknow platoon has been able to tag along with the Reg CC on Ex NORMANDY SCHOLAR, but sadly this was discontinued due to funding restrictions.  Undeterred, it was with a sense of optimism and trepidation that I approached Faraday Hall back at the end of 2017 to discuss running a bespoke battlefield study for Lucknow Platoon.

Knowing that I had minimal resources (in the end one War Studies Lecturer, one weapons expert and a minibus) I hit upon the idea of using the planned September 1940 German invasion of BritainUnternehmen Seelöwe  or Operation SEALION— as the subject for the battlefield study.  Geographically confined to the Kentish/Sussex coast, the stands would be within easy striking distance from Sandhurst.  It also offered a variety of tactical actions for study; air landing, seaborne assault, combined arms manoeuvre, opposed obstacle crossings and urban warfare.  Also, because the operation did not progress beyond the planning stage, it gave the staff and cadets greater freedom to offer their opinions and arguments rather than being constrained by ‘what actually happened’.  The study would run over two days, the first being classroom-based and the second being centred around three stands in Kent.

Day 1

Starting in Faraday Hall (a nice break from Lucknow lines) Dr Klaus Schmider started by covering the strategic context of Operation SEALION, and state of the two belligerent’s militaries in the summer of 1940.  QMSI Lawson kindly provided a variety of WW2 small arms from the Central Armoury and gave the cadets an excellent hands on feel for the weapons of the period.  The cadets learnt about the weapon mix of light machine guns, sub machine guns and rifles that comprised the infantry sections of both armies. The cadets then divided into two groups representing the German and British High Commands. They had around two hours to research and then formulate a back brief of 15 minutes covering the following key themes:

  1. What are the strategic and operational objectives for your side?
  2. What forces were assembled/available by your side and their relative strengths and weaknesses?
  3. What are the terrain/environmental factors that will/may influence the operation?
  4. What do you believe the operational main effort is, why and is it sufficiently resourced?
  5. What amendments would you make to the plan and why?

The highlight of the afternoon was a tabletop wargame—one with a nostalgic nod to the 1974 wargame run by senior war studies lecturers at the Academy. Thankfully for the cadets, our variant was much simpler and could be completed in the space of around two hours rather than the week it took for the 1974 wargame to run its course. Two wargames were run by splitting the OKW and GHQ teams in half and assigning them to separate rooms. Cadets role played various Army Group, Luftwaffe/RAF and CinC commanders to add a team dynamic.

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The 1974 Operation SEALION game at Sandhurst.

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Staff and cadets pose for a reconstruction of the 1974 picture. (Image obscured for privacy).

 

In both wargames the Germans were able to consolidate their initial landing zones after overcoming the British forces stationed on the south coast.  However, as German reinforcements dried up and British reserves poured onto the map the Wehrmacht teams struggled to push further inland.  The key cities of Dover and Brighton became contested battlegrounds in both wargames.  In wargame one the Germans achieved a ‘victory’ as defined by the rules of the wargame by seizing Dover and Brighton – with significant British forces arrayed between them and the next objective, London.  In wargame two the British managed to launch a sizeable counterattack into Brighton before the Germans took Dover, thus denying them a victory. In this wargame though, the British had nothing left to throw at the Germans should they go for London.  The cadets found the wargame was an excellent way to illustrate the research they had conducted during the day and gave them a wider, strategic overview of the operation before they went into the detail of stands on the second day.  The day concluded with the cadets breaking down into their respective groups for the three stands and conducting research and preparation for the field element on the Saturday.

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SEALION wargame 1 (left) showing a German victory, and wargame 2 (right) showing a British victory.

Day 2

An early start saw the cadets and staff head off to Kent for the first stand at Hawkinge.

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We were fortunate enough to be able to stand within the original airfield’s perimeter, albeit now largely parcelled up into various private estates. The teams did an excellent job of discussing the importance of Hawkinge to both the RAF and Luftwaffe and the problems inherent with air landings.

 

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Stand 1 Hawkinge on the original airfield site (now just a field). The cadets managed to find the original defence plans (right). (Image obscured for privacy.)

Next we moved to St Mary’s Bay, now doused in glorious sunshine, to discuss a potential sea landing.  The sea wall has been significantly heightened since 1940, and the towns of St Mary’s and Dymchurch have sprawled but the groynes and sands were much alike to the era of study.  The teams discussed the problems of fighting inshore through obstacle belts and having to clear the two urban areas of defending territorial and regular battalions.

Stand 3 at Bilsington covered opposed obstacle crossings over the Royal Military Canal.  The cadets researched and discovered a 1940s era pillbox that made the stand come to life.  After much discussion there emerged consensus that the Germans would struggle to cross the canal and therefore the Romney Marsh area would become a giant kill sack for British artillery.

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Stand 2 (left) at Dymchurch St. Mary’s Bay and Stand 3 (right) at Bilsington on the Royal Military Canal. The cadest researched and found a genuine WWII-era pillbox in the background. (Image obscured for privacy.)

Feedback from the cadets was broadly positive, despite having to work on a sacred Saturday!  They really enjoyed being given the responsibility for running the stands themselves which they all agreed kept them more engaged than if it had been entirely staff led.  The Faraday Hall element was judged at being concise and to the point, and covering the most important subjects rather than a huge series of lectures.  Naturally the cadets wanted more time to plan the stands, and would have liked to study at the lower tactical level (Coy-) rather than the divisional level.  Hopefully the exercise has reinforced the benefits of battlefield studies to the cadets of Lucknow platoon and generated support for a successive exercise next term (maybe even outside of the UK!)

McGill gaming seminar: three projects

This week the students submitted their game projects for my POLI 490 game design seminar, finally bringing the term to an end. One lesson I learned this year is the need to force students into building a prototype earlier, and therefore allowing more time for play-testing. Constant exhortations weren’t enough, and I think all three teams were surprised to discover how long the play-test/revise/play-test/revise cycle can be, and how many bugs there can be to work out.

Still, I was very happy with the results. The conceptual foundations and core game mechanics of all three games were excellent—indeed, there are some potential commercial designs in here. All three teams want to continue to development over the summer and beyond, and possibly show them off at Connections US and/or Connections UK. What’s more, Brian Train has offered to assist with game development—pretty much a dream come true for neophyte political-military game designers.

 

One Belt One Road

One Belt One Road is a semi-cooperative game that examines Chinese grand strategy, focusing on its current efforts to deepen trade and investment ties in Asia, Africa, and onwards to Europe. Players represent the Ministry of Finance and Commerce, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the People’s Liberation Army.  Using financial, diplomatic, and military resources they seek to improve China’s bilateral relations, develop trade agreements, secure military facilities, and—most important of all—secure trade and investment opportunities. An events deck constantly generates new challenges to be overcome, however. Moreover, the three players have slightly different interests, which can impede cooperation.

 

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OBOR Game materials.

 

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Players have a menu of game actions they may take each turn, plus they may also support projects and respond to event cards.

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A game underway.  Eligible projects can be seen at the bottom, current events in the top right. The country displays show current relations with China. India doesn’t seem to be very happy!

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Sample event cards. 

 

 

The Logic of Atrocities: The War in Darfur

This is a mixed area/point-to-point wargame with a twist: the game is designed to show how and why governments and insurgent groups might engage in war crimes, and what might constrain them from doing so. In the game, atrocities can aid military operations, or impede rebel recruitment and resource generation through terror and forced displacement. However atrocities can backfire too. Refugees might themselves become a new source of rebel recruits. Moreover, there is a risk that they could provoke international condemnations, sanctions, or worse. Certain event cards, if triggered, are moved to the “Warn” and “Action” boxes, and if these fill up international action becomes possible. The intended audience here is those interested in mass atrocity prevention. the current version of the game is for two players (Sudan and Darfuri rebel groups), but a planned three player variation will introduce a United Nations player too.

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Game materials for The Logic of Atrocities.

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Sudanese Army (green) and pro-regime Janjaweed irregulars (white) commit atrocities as they advance towards rebel JEM forces that have just seized the town of el-Geneina.

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Sudanese war crimes have provoked condemnation from the United States and African Union—but no real international action action (yet).

 

We Are Coming, Nineveh

The third game is a tactical/operational wargame of the battle for West Mosul in February-July 2017, pitting the Iraqi security forces (and coalition support) against the so-called “Islamic State” (ISIS). It too uses a mix of zonal and point-to point movement. Before the game starts, each player invests in capabilities and defensive preparations. On the ISIS side these include such things as tunnel networks, human shields, makeshift drones, primitive chemical weapons, IEDs and VBIEDS, bomb factories, weapons stockpiles, enhanced media capability, spy networks, improved training, human shields, and so forth. Units are depicted by blocks, thus providing for some fog of war, and blocks are rotated to show losses and reduced combat capability. Iraqi headquarters units enable loss recovery, additional movement, or combat bonuses. The terrain is both shaped and coded for urban density, which affects stacking and combat: armoured units, for example, are very effective in open areas, but cannot penetrate the narrow alleyways of the Old City. Major roads provide for faster movement—but only if you’ve cleared the neighbouring areas.

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Game materials for We Are Coming, Nineveh. The Iraqi government offensive has just begun.

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ISIS preparations for this game include human shields, tunnels, improved training, and simple chemical weapons.

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The Iraqi Counter Terrorism Service (Golden Division) advances towards the Old City while elements of the 9th Armoured Division try to clear the major roads and flank ISIS positions to the west.

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Amnesty International raises concerns that coalition drone strikes are causing excessive civilian casualties.

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Meanwhile, advancing Iraqi forces are harassed by makeshift ISIS drones.

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Iraqi forces begin to break into the Old City along the southern bank of the Tigris River (right), while the 9th Armoured Division continues its flanking operations to secure the major roads and cut off ISIS supplies (left). ISIS fighters continue to appear in Iraqi rear areas (bottom), where they are engaged by troops and police.

Sea Dragon wargaming competition at Marine Corps University

The following article has been contributed to PAXsims by Major Cole Petersen. Major Petersen is an infantry officer in the Canadian Armed Forces.  He is currently a student at the United States Marine Corps School of Advanced Warfighting.


Training for conflict and developing professional expertise does not have to be exquisite, costly affairs.  Using a commercial, off-the-shelf wargame, Marine Corps University was able to create an engaging challenge that was both entertaining and instructive to the participants.

The Marine Corps University runs an annual planning/wargaming competition called Sea Dragon between teams fielded by its Schools – the Expeditionary Warfare School, Command and Staff College, School of Advanced Warfighting, and Marine Corps War College.  This year, for the third iteration, the University tried a different approach. The exercise director, Dr. Ben Jensen, used an off-the-shelf computer wargame, Flashpoint Campaigns, which was modified for modern day scenarios.  Using the wargame, the University ran a “bracket challenge” featuring eight teams from the schools.  Four of the teams were Blue (US Marines) while the other four were Red (Russians).

The scenario examined a flashpoint in the Baltics, with Latvia devolving into another Ukraine-like problem, and both NATO and Russia coming to conflict as the situation escalated.  These scenarios were developed by Colonel Tim Barrick and Dr. Jensen and looked at current capabilities as well as anticipated in the 2025 timeframe.  What follows is a synopsis of one of the bracket rounds to provide readers with an understanding of how using the computer wargame was useful as a training tool.

The scenario featured the Marines putting a Regimental Landing Team ashore and air assaulting an augmented battalion in ahead of time to hold a river crossing that leads to their beachhead.  Our team played the lead elements of the Russian Brigade Group.  We had a Motorized Infantry Battalion that was making its way to the battle area and was set to arrive two hours after the scenario started.  Our principle force until this time was a “Spetsnaz Battalion” – 10 platoons of volunteers operating in the area.  This represented a capability Russia has used in many of its recent conflicts.  Also present on our side were a dozen T-80 tanks manned by volunteers that had infiltrated the area, along with a few short range anti-aircraft systems.

A key asset for our side was the rocket forces attached to the Brigade.  Our forces had access to a battalion of BM-27 Uragan (220mm rockets) and a battery of 2S7 203mm howitzers.  These range 40+ kilometers, and were outside of the range of any of Blue’s systems.

Attached below is a screenshot of the area of operations.  The red boxes represented our starting “deployment areas,” with the box at the top centre of the map being the assembly area for the Motorized Battalion when it arrived.  The little hexes are 500m each, so the AO is about 25km x 25km.  Our task was to hold the bridges for the main body of the Brigade coming down from the north so it can attack into the Marine beachhead.

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Prior to the simulation, student teams were responsible to provide a concept of operations.  This was the primary method of inputting actions that the computer would play.  The challenging part was framing the opponent’s possible/probable courses of action, as all we were told was “he can land in this area and bring about a battalion’s worth of stuff.”  We assessed his three possible courses of action were to (1) land in the middle and try to “box out” the area between the forest in the north and the bridges in the south (this we saw as his most likely) (2) land in the north and own the defiles between us and the bridges (this we saw as his most dangerous), or (3) land in the south and try to concentrate on a single crossing site.

We planned for the first possibility but had backup plans to deal with the other two.  Our operational approach was to have the Spetsnaz teams hold key terrain, identify enemy units, and call in fires.  The tanks would mass in the west and lead a deception effort to draw the enemy there so the Motorized Battalion could push south through the defile and smash whatever was left and take the crossing sites.  Our bid for success, as described, was the Motorized Battalion as the hammer to the Spetsnaz anvil.

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Of note, we were given 2 “Decision Points”.  The first one was identified on the map.  If that point was triggered, we were allowed to tell the umpires to change our plan if we so choose.  The second Decision Point was the “Commander’s Moment” and we could use at any time to redirect our forces.  This was a creative way of forcing teams to plan and anticipate when their course of action would need adjustment within the game play.

Our first round “bracket” was played out over a couple of hours.  Our team did quite well, beating our opponent in Victory Points by a score of 6500 to 2500.  The tipping point was our “Spetsnaz Battalion”, which we positioned well off the start.  They were not expecting these teams to be so deep, and as a result, we shot up much of the Blue team’s depth elements in the first part of the battle.  The Blue team put almost its entire battalion along the wooded ridgeline in the north, focused on the outer defiles.  They covered the highway to the north with a UAV and aviation.  As a result, our Tank Company died a quick death, and the motorized battalion got hit hard coming out of its assembly area and was only able to get about a third of its forces into the eastern defiles, and no farther.  But, in the end, the mission for both sides was the bridges – the other team ignored the bridges and focused on fighting in the defiles, so our Spetsnaz teams never really had to fight to retain them and we got maximum victory points for achieving our assigned task of holding the crossing sites.

Some observations from the simulation became apparent:

  1. A force moving on a road or in the open is likely going to get hit. AH-1 and F/A-18 strikes wrecked us.  The one time Blue sallied out on the road, we smashed a company with a BM-27 MLRS strike.  The better we can get forces hunkered down to observe, the better off we are.  The tank company is better hunkered down, hitting from a city zone.  The game demonstrated how vulnerable modern combatants are to a capable sensor-shooter system.
  2. Our deception effort worked somewhat by the fact that the smoke and the wrecked tank company meant his AH-1s were floating around the west too long. While not cost effective, our team figured out how to take advantage of this circumstance on the battlefield to aid with success.  The adversarial nature of the wargame gave teams battlefield circumstances to anticipate and manage.
  3. Our killer was our fires, which is kind of a no brainer. When we picked up the adversary’s HQ and 120mm mortars in a forest, we smashed them with rockets.  When we ran into ambushes trying to clear the defiles, we smashed them with rockets.  When he made a last grab for the bridge, we fired a dispersed minefield to slow him up, and then followed up with rockets, destroying a company in the open.  There is a reason the Russians are going from a ratio of 3 gun units:1 rocket unit to 1 gun unit:3 rocket units – they appear to be highly effective and the wargame was a poignant reminder.

This approach to understanding modern conflict was both instructional and entertaining.  The use of a commercial, off-the-shelf platform, when combined with a well-structured competition, provided a useful model for participants to develop their professional abilities and understanding of modern conflict.  The adversarial nature of the game, along with the free-play aspect of each scenario, provided an engaging environment at low-cost in time, money, and manpower.

Cole Petersen

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