PAXsims

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Category Archives: simulation and gaming history

A short film about WATU

PAXsims is proud to present the world-premier of A short film about WATU! Lovingly crafted from the historical record, contemporary footage, and the voice-acting skills of the Chelsfield Players and Dstl analysts.

A Filmed In Lockdown production. Written and animated by Sally Davis. Starring: Diana McDonnell-Pascoe, David Bacon, Jo East, Ken Clarke, Jeremy Lowe, James Edmunds, Anna Fothergill, Philippa Rooke, Emily Edmunds, Nick Barnett, Anne Allocca, Gill Bacon, David Childs, Maddy McCubbin, and the Admiralty Collection.

Know your enemy

The Williams’ biography, Captain Gilbert Roberts, RN, contains a delightful little story about the work of the Western Approaches Tactical Unit:

In 1945, Roberts was sent to Germany to the headquarters of the German U-boat command at Flensburg. His task was to find out and confirm U-boat tactics, obtain all confidential documents and records and to interrogate any U-boat command officer he could. …

Roberts was pleased to find that there was little new to him. Western Approaches Tactical Unit had got it right, they had correctly assumed the U-boat strength and tactics. … Roberts asked to see the plots of the overall situation on the 2nd June, 1944, just prior to ‘Overlord’. He was pleased to see a situation identical to that presumed by WATU. …

It was noticeable that, whenever Roberts appeared, a sudden silence descended on the Germans and anxiety showed in every face. For Roberts’ was a face they all knew. In the German Operations Room was a blown-up photograph of Roberts taken from an illustrated magazine and underneath, ‘This is your enemy, Captain Roberts, Director of Anti-U-Boat Tactics’. He never bothered to take it down.

Williams, “Captain Gilbert Roberts, RN, and the Anti-U-Boat School”

This was a photo I needed to find.

It took a year to track down the text of Roberts’ Trinity Lecture, teased in later chapters of the Williams’ Biography. (And which turned out to have a lot in common with passages from The Cruel Sea.) It took two-and-a-half to track down the illustrated magazine.

After an exhaustive search, and much thanks to Ed Butcher’s ebay bidding wizardry, I give you, most likely*, Your Enemy, Captain Roberts, Director of Anti-U-Boat Tactics:

Captain Roberts gives an after-action report on the game.

The article is light on the contribution of the Wrens, but does a stellar job of putting the fear of god good operational research into the enemy:

Captain Roberts plays a grim battle of wits with his opposite number in Germany. He spends weeks working out what Doenitz may think of next, and then, translating that next possible manoeuvre into a situation in the game at the Tactical School. …

The more exciting the game becomes, the better pleased is Captain Roberts.

At the end of the game he sums up. Some of the decisions have been brilliant. Some have been faulty.

“But,” says the tactical school director, “make your mistakes here and you won’t make them at sea.”

So thorough is the course, so clever the setting of each game, that many naval officers fighting actual U-boats in the Atlantic suddenly realise that they first saw the same situation present itself when it was only a game on a make-believe ocean. …

Meanwhile, in the main building—Atlantic Battle G.H.Q.—at the other end of those underground passages, Admiral Sir Max K. Horton, C-in-C, Western Approaches, smiles as he peers at the plot of what is actually happening at sea.

For more than a year he has been directing our Atlantic Battle operations and seeing the Allied sea-war effort reaching a stage where, for some time, every Atlantic convoy ship has almost a 100 per cent chance of getting through safely.

It was not always like that. But Admiral Horton knew, like all the experts, that given adequate naval and air escort strength around the convoys, the U-boats could be beaten.

“Maxie,” as the Navy calls him, had the satisfaction of seeing the Atlantic Battle so develop during this winter that with increasingly powerful naval and air strength around the convoys, U-boat packs could often not get within fifteen or twenty miles of the actual convoy ships.

But, well as we have been doing at sea, there has been no relaxation for the Western Approaches C-in-C or for his men. Where Doenitz, Hitler’s naval commander-in-chief, failed in the winter, he may hope to stage a comeback in the spring.

March is the month to watch. March was the only good month for the U-boats in the whole of 1943.

But Max Horton is prepared for a new submarine campaign. He knows the tricks of the trade. He established a world-wide reputation as a submarine man himself.

And he, of all men, knows the value of working out new tactics for yourself and, at the same time, anticipating the tactics of your enemy.

A.J. McWhinnie, “Behind the Atlantic Battle”

* There are several great pictures in the article. This one has such a marvelously intimidating shadow cast on the wall, it feels sinister enough to put fear in the hearts of U-boat command.

Wargaming and representation

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At Vice, Rob Zacny published a thoughtful piece yesterday on representation within wargames (both digital games and serious manual hobby games), specifically regarding the sometimes sympathetic portrayal of the German army during WWII.

The issues with responsibly depicting German combat forces in World War 2, and their connections to Nazi crimes against humanity, are well-known at this point and have been a point of increasing discussion and debate among historical hobby gamers for years. EA’s flagship shooter might be on the cutting edge of mainstream video gaming, but its naive politics are years behind the state of historical research. The argument that a character fought bravely and heroically for Germany, but not the Nazis, isn’t just naive, but it’s one that was aggressively promulgated by German war criminals themselves.

There are two major tenets to the whitewashing of the Wehrmacht, one more reprehensible than the other. The first and worst is that the Wehrmacht was by and large the German army but was never a Nazi army, and did not participate in the crimes against humanity that was the bedrock of Nazi governance and expansion. This was false: Particularly on the Eastern Front, the Wehrmacht worked fist-in-glove with the SS to round up and exterminate Soviet Jews, Romani, and other groups the Nazis systematically persecuted and murdered. Whatever the different experiences and actions of the millions of soldiers (volunteer and conscript) who served in the Wehrmacht, the institution of the Wehrmacht was both complicit and participant in Nazi atrocities on a wide scale.

The second tenet is that the Wehrmacht was, in a word, awesome.

We’re not going to stop making and playing World War 2 games. For whatever reason, there are countless people (myself included) who are endlessly drawn to revisiting and refighting its battles. But that narrow framing of the history, that exclusion of all the crimes and murders that surrounded the actual fighting on the front lines, serves things beyond the purity of game design. It burnishes and reinforces myths, it divorces warfare from politics, it elevates the soldier—no matter what they serve or advance—as a kind of secular hero. And it gives cover for the idea that there was something admirable and heroic about waging war for Nazi Germany.

For the full depth and nuance of his argument, you should read the full article.

One can disagree with parts or even all of Zacny’s argument, of course. It is pretty clear, however, that he is very much writing about games, game design, game play, and the possible role of games in shaping popular culture. You would think that this would be and issue that serious wargame hobbyists would want to engage, right? After all, as Clausewitz argued, politics is central to warfighting. Moreover, many hobbyists pride themselves on their love of military history and argue that wargames offer insight into real conflict.

Except that’s not exactly what happened when well-known wargame scholar Matthew Kirschenbaum shared the piece to the large ( 11,000+ member) “Wargamers” group on Facebook.

The posting immediately sparked a heated discussion on how culpable the average German soldier was for Nazi war crimes, and some discussion of how to portray atrocity and evil in games. Sadly, however, it also quickly provoked comments that showed how unwelcoming the hobby community can be:

  • The first “snowflake/social justice warrior/political correctness” insults appeared around 15 minutes after posting (ironically, by those arguing that the topic shouldn’t be raised for discussion).
  • A racist and homophobic “Pepe” meme was posted after 24 minutes.
  • After about half an hour there were calls to lock or delete the thread because it was too controversial or divisive (that is, to discuss game design in a gaming group).
  • Less than an hour in, it was suggested that the article was part of a broader socialist/globalist/Soros conspiracy. A little later on, a couple of posters implied that this was all part of blaming white people.
  • A transphobic comment was added at 57 minutes, as well as one linking the discussion to feminism and/or insufficient testosterone.

Within two hours, the thread had been shut down by the group admins. A follow-up thread lasted about an hour. Threads were also shut down in several other gaming groups.

Now, it is important to point out that the most offensive posts were from a very small handful of people, out of the several dozen who contributed. It is also important to remember that internet discussion tends to bring out both extremists and uncivil behaviour.

Nonetheless, anyone who happened to be female, LGBTQ, liberal, a visible minority, or Jewish might well see in the thread a rather unwelcoming hobby. They would have been even more dismayed by how few people spoke out against the bigotry and insults. “Discussions” like this one inhibit growing the community, inhibit greater diversity and inclusion, and discourage thoughtful discussion of serious topics.

Sadly, this isn’t the first time we’ve encountered this at PAXsims, of course.

Professional wargamers—those in the national security community whose gaming is intended to enhance security or save actual lives—tend to be far more supportive of addressing these sorts of issues. I’ve discussed issues of wargame ethics, sensitive topics, and representation in lectures I’ve delivered to defence audiences around the world, and without exception have found them receptive and reflective. These issues are also frequently raised and discussed at Connections conferences, in the US, UK, and elsewhere.

There’s a lot that serious gaming can learn from the hobby. However, there are also some bad habits and prejudices that remain far too persistent there—and which clearly need to be resisted.

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Matt Caffrey’s “On Wargaming” available as free download

Matt Caffrey’s long-awaited book On Wargaming: How Wargames Have Shaped History and How They May Shape the Future is now available from the US Naval War College Press. What’s more, it’s available as a free download.

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If you want a hard copy, that can be purchased from the US Government Bookstore.

WWII convoy escort game: The RAN version

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HMAS Nepal

From the Royal Australian Navy archives comes this September 1943 summary of a “convoy escort” game,” apparently based on the work of the Western Approaches Tactical Unit in the UK:

The convoy escort game described below has been designed to exercise Commanding Officers of Escort Vessels and their teams in dealing with attacks on convoys. It has been played successfully in England and is recommended as an interesting and valuable means in improving efficiency and team work of convoy escorts.

The game can be played either in a ship or ashore, being organised on a day when several ships are in harbour.

You’ll find a transcription of the brief instructions here (courtesy of Sally Davis, who has also kindly removed the former WWII classification markings so that they won’t cause problems with government firewalls).

What is not not made clear is how adjudication is undertaken—that is, how target spotting or the effects of torpedo attacks or depth charges were determined.So far there is no evidence of dice or other stochastic methods being used in the WATU game, so it all may have been free kriegsspiel dependant on the judgment of expert umpires.

If you come across any information on WATU wargaming, do pass it on!

h/t Sally Davis

Wargaming the Atlantic War: Captain Gilbert Roberts and the Wrens of the Western Approaches Tactical Unit

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Western Approaches war museum, Liverpool.

PAXsims is pleased to provide an early Christmas/holiday present to our readers: namely,  the longer version of Paul Strong’s article on one of the most important examples of operational wargaming during World War II: Wargaming the Atlantic War: Captain Gilbert Roberts and the Wrens of the Western Approaches Tactical Unit (pdf).

The piece is important both for shedding light on the role of WATU during the critical Battle of the Atlantic, but also in highlighting the key—and heretofore largely unrecognized—role that women wargamers played in the Allied war effort.

I took a special visit to the recently-revamped Western Approaches war museum in Liverpool during my last UK visit. I’m pleased to report that they are planning a major display and activity focused on the role of WATU.

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Western Approaches war museum, Liverpool.

 

 

Jensen: Wargaming the changing character of competition and conflict

SB4.png And there’s still more on wargaming at the Strategy Bridge! Today it is Benjamin Jensen (Marine Corps University) on “#Wargaming the Changing Character of Competition and Conflict” —and it’s not so much an article as it is an invitation to readers to participate in a series of collaborative online wargames over the coming year:

Over the next year, as a part of an ongoing series on #wargaming, we will return to Moltke’s vision of a series of map exercises that illuminate the changing character of war and, in the process, help the military professional develop new theories of victory.  Every month #wargaming will feature a vision of the next war by publishing a campaign-level decision game.  These short, seminar-style games are designed to help national security professionals think about multinational  campaigns and major operations possible, but not necessarily probable, in the near future.  These modern map exercises can be played individually similar to a tactical decision game, or used by a group to discuss military strategy and practice.

The games in this series will be take the form of short, seminar games that can be conducted by collaborative networks of individuals sharing their ideas or in small groups.  The games will establish a scenario and available forces.  Based on this initial data, readers can discuss military options, possible adversary countermoves, and the resulting cascading effects.  These discussions provide a vehicle for the national security professional to visualize and describe the changing character of war.

Wargaming, bomber escorts, and the P-51 Mustang

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War is Boring has just published an excellent piece by James Perry Stevenson and Pierre Sprey on the P-51 Mustang fighter aircraft, highlighting the many doctrinal and bureaucratic battles that shaped its development during WWII. Among the points that are made: many early US army aviation wargames and exercises were designed to validate the flawed concept that fast bombers required no fighter escort, while later wargames and exercises that pointed to the vulnerabilities of unescorted bombers were ignored or reinterpreted.

Between World War I and World War II, bombers began flying higher and faster than existing obsolete biplane fighters. Still, the U.S. Army Air Corps’ bomber generals refused to foresee that enemy fighters might prevent the lumbering aircraft from always getting through to the target.

These officers even ran field exercises designed to support their premises of bomber invincibility. U.S. Army Lt. Col. Henry “Hap” Arnold, a leading bomber advocate who would eventually become chief of the service’s Air Corps, was particularly determined to prove this point.

“Exercises held in 1931 seem to reinforce the idea that fast bombers could fare well on their own,” military historian Dr. Tami Davis Biddle wrote in Rhetoric and Reality in Air Warfare. “Arnold reached this conclusion, as did the umpires, one of whom proclaimed: ‘[I]t is impossible for fighters to intercept bombers and therefore it is inconsistent with the employment of air force to develop fighters.’”

This rigid mindset became embedded in the Army’s air power strategy, its budget battles and its endless barrages of air power propaganda.
Within just a few years, however, fighter war games and actual air combat abroad provided ample evidence the Army Air Corps brass was committed to the wrong conclusion.

“[I]n 1933, … squadrons intercepted 55 percent of enemy day-formations as they flew toward the target, … another 26 percent as they left it; [and] 67 percent of individual night raiders were intercepted,” Biddle noted. “But what might have seemed clear defensive victories were not perceived as such: proponents of strategic bombing refused to grasp the devastating bomber attrition forecast by these exercise outcomes.”

“When assessing results, the bomber advocates created both formal rules and cognitive filters [to insure] they would see what they expected to see: the primacy of the aerial offensive waged by determined bombers,” she added. “The rules under which the exercise were run gave advantages to bombers, and umpire rulings explained away unexpected, [inconvenient] results.”

The piece highlights that wargames themselves take place in a broader institutional and doctrinal context, in which sponsors and participants may be anxious to have them serve other agendas. Of course, good wargame design can reduce some of these problems of bias and cognitive filtering. However, the design alone is not enough: serious gamers also need to think to about the broader processes within which their games are embedded.

Engle: A short history of matrix games

There has been growing interest in matrix gaming in recent years, and it is a topic that we have covered extensively here at PAXsims. A few days ago Bob Cordery also posted a fascinating account of the early development of matrix gaming in the UK at his Wargaming Miscellany blog.

Today we are very pleased to present a piece by the inventor of the matrix gaming approach, himself Chris Engle.


 

A Short History of Matrix Gaming

Interest is rising in matrix games, and along with it some questions and confusion about the history of the idea. Here is an account of my part in the project. I draw it from my published games and articles, personal journals, and my recollections of anecdotes.

I invented the idea of matrix gaming in January 1988, just after finishing my Masters degree in Social Work. I was visiting a philosophy graduate student friend in Bloomington Indiana. We were discussing the idea of how to roleplay entire countries. He wanted to do it with a set of numbered statistics. I proposed using words. This grew out of my work as a psychotherapist. My practice has always included a strong use of narrative and teaching allegories (especially Sufi teaching stories which eventually lead to my conversion to Islam). My friend thought the idea unworkable so we agreed to work on the problem from our different approaches. Matrix games then grew out of an interesting question. How can you run a game with words rather than numbers?

The answer is two fold. First how to describe the world using words and second how to put that verbal picture into motion. The picture of the world is the matrix of matrix games. I started off using literal matrixes of short phrases that described various institutions and ideas. Together with scenario information (maps, character descriptions, and opening events) each player forms their own mental matrix of the world, a gestalt. The matrix of the world changes by additions to the narrative. Each turn players make arguments about what they want to have happen next.

This was a brand new idea in 1988 but I had the idea that it was good and that if I was willing to do the footwork it could spread. All it required was dedication and a willingness to stick with the message. I set a goal of talking about it and to keep on talking till someone asked me why I was saying the obvious. It took years before that happened.

I wrote the first article on matrix games in 1988. “Verbal analysis wargaming” appeared in Nugget 44 (the newsletter of Wargame Developments). It earned the Editor’s Award for most original game idea of 1988. I set a goal of telling one hundred people about the idea over the next year. I did this by writing more articles and running games at conventions in the Midwest USA. Over the next couple of years I got encouragement from some game community luminaries such as Frank Chadwick, then of Game Designers Workshop. Steve Jackson, of Steve Jackson Games, told me you would need a Masters degree in philosophy to play the game. Which I knew this was wrong because I had already had mentally handicapped people play it.

From 1989 to 1994 I published the Experimental Game Group newsletter. It was mentioned in Simulation and Gaming. I used it to work out rules and test them in yearly play by mail games. Early games included a replay of the events of the fall of Communism in 1989, which predicted the refusal of the Russian army to back the communist party and the secession of Russia from the Soviet Union before they happened. The Peninsular Campaign in 1809, the French Revolution and an Agatha Christie murder mystery followed.

My second goal was to have one hundred people play a matrix game and to tell one thousand people about it over three years. I wrote around sixty articles in gaming magazines like The Midwest Wargamer’s Association Newsletter, Lone Warrior (the journal of the Solo Wargamer’s Association,) PW Review and various Historical Miniature Game Society newsletters on top of publishing EGG. I ran matrix games at Midwestern and Near South gaming conventions including Gen Con and talked about them to anyone who would listen. I viewed gaming as a market of ideas so at some point I needed to produce an actual product. I did this in 1992. “Campaign in a Day” presented game rules, military campaign scenarios, and a miniatures game and was the basis of the game later adopted by the British army in the mid 90’s.

I corresponded widely and Peter Suber of Earlham College recognized matrix games as Nomic games in 1994. Paddy Griffin recognized them as Mugger games.

In England other writers including Bob Cordery and Tim Price started developing their own matrix games in 1990. These are important games but I am not the one to best describe them. After 1994 our two trains of development diverged when I stopped writing articles and began work on developing commercial games.

Dave Arneson, co-creator of Dungeons and Dragons, mentored and encouraged me to learn the business starting in 1995. He later introduced me to someone as “This is Chris Engle. He makes weird games.” I continued to build up my contacts in the game industry and learned about business and the mechanical process of game production. I published Dark Portals my first professional game in 1998. I followed this with a series of role play game like books from 1999 to 2005. After that I put out board game versions between 2006 to 2011 and eventually card games 2012 to 2014. Historically about half of all my players have been women. Unfortunately none of my products were commercial successes. I closed Hamster Press in 2015 and began work on an archive of all my game writings. I’ve got several interesting books from that and am looking for a publisher. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

Right now I’m working on a professional matrix game book that spells out an intellectual argument for the game approach and includes chapters on many ways to apply it. One new idea is to do iterative matrix games. I see them as a cheap way to collect a body of mineable data from a potentially large body of players. It can tap the wisdom of crowds in a completely new way. I would like to have a lot of co-authors in this project, pulling on many people’s experiences. Over the years, matrix game have been used by the British and Australian armies for military planning and reorganization, in education to teach history and creative writing, by myself in psychotherapy and by the French army to teach English. I’m aware of academics using it to explore literary criticism and the nature of being European. Some people are beginning to use them in business consulting.

Matrix games started as an idea. With work they grew into articles and published games. Now they are wide spread and looks like they will be useful to a growing body of users. My nearly thirty years of experience boils down to a few simple rules. Start with a problem. Pick a scene and say what happens. Others can add to that or change it. This overwrites what was said before. Anyone can ask you to roll to see if the action doesn’t happen. When the problem is solved the game ends.

Chris Engle 

Hanson on “Improving Operational Wargaming: It’s All Fun and Games Until Someone Loses a War”

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Lt Col Matthew E. Hanson (USAF) recently submitted a monograph entitled “Improving Operational Wargaming: It’s All Fun and Games Until Someone Loses a War” for the School of Advanced Military Studies, United States Army Command and General Staff College. I am grateful for his permission to post a copy here (pdf).

In the monograph he explores how the theory and practice of wargaming often diverge, with negative consequences. He further argues that current US military wargaming doctrine does not sufficiently address this problem.

In 2015, Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work committed the Department of Defense (DOD) to overhaul its approach to wargaming in order to reinvigorate innovation across the DOD, including a five-year target to use wargames to improve operational planning. This monograph explores the causes of wargaming failures and proposes recommendations for successful wargames. Does doctrine provide sufficient guidance, striking the appropriate balance between prescriptive and descriptive guidance? This monograph postulates that wargaming theory—including game element analysis and wargame pathologies—provides an excellent rubric for creating and evaluating wargames and wargaming doctrine, that doctrine and practice diverge from wargame theory, and that current doctrine does not provide sufficient guidance. The theory—history—doctrine approach of this monograph is intended for military planners, doctrine authors, and wargaming professionals.

Wargames are a useful tool to assess plans as directed in operational planning processes; however, commanders and staffs should neither equate wargame victory with wargame success, nor consider either as “validation” of a given plan. There are ten elements of wargame design: objectives, scenario, database, models, rules and procedures, infrastructure, participants, analysis, culture and environment, and audiences. These elements provide a framework for creating wargames, and analyzing wargames and their failure modes (known as pathologies).

By evaluating Japan’s Midway campaign plan through the theories of game element analysis and wargame pathologies, this monograph creates greater understanding of those theories and provides recommendations for doctrine. Pathologies exhibited by Japanese planners include those related to wargame objectives, scenario, database, model, participants, and culture; genuine testing of the Operation MI plan appears to have been impossible. Wargame officials twice rejected inconvenient outcomes, undermining the credibility of the game, creating lasting controversy, and preventing meaningful analysis.

Current operational planning doctrine lacks sufficient detail on how to design and conduct wargames, neglecting the diverse needs of planning staffs. At present, doctrine diverges from wargame theory in its contents and by its omissions. Improving doctrine would capitalize on these insights and potentially avert an otherwise foreseeable military catastrophe.

In the absence of updated joint and service doctrine, operational planners will lack the descriptive—yet detailed—instruction necessary to ensure useful and valid operational planning wargames. Doctrine authors should include the lessons of game element analysis, wargame pathologies, and other sources into joint and service doctrine to assist operational planners in creating wargames that are theoretically sound and operationally insightful.

Lt Col Hanson is interested in constructive feedback from PAXsims readers, and especially comments that address the following points:

  • New sources (particularly primary sources) on Midway that would enable stronger correlation to the battle outcome and/or the pathologies framework
  • Similar sources for a secondary case study such as Tannenberg or Barbarossa.
  • Additional evidence/proof for the efficacy of wargames in testing and strengthening operational plans.  How does a commander and his planning staff know that wargaming will improve their planning outcomes?  Can I improve from my general recommendations to improve wargame doctrine to more specific practices and techniques relevant to the operational planner?

Comments can be left in the comments section.

MORS wargaming news

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The latest issue of the Military Operations Research Society magazine Phalanx (June 2016) contains an article by Michael Garrambone (InfoScitex Corporation), Lee Ann Rutledge (Air Force Resesearch Lab), and Trena Covington Lilly (Johns Hopkins University/APL) on “Wargaming at MORS for Another 50.”

MORS has been involved in military wargaming for most of its existence. There were wargaming working groups in the symposia of the early 1970s, and various members of the operations research community have made many presentations on gaming through the years.

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The same issue also contains an announcement of the MORS special workshop on wargaming to be held in the fall:

MORS will hold a special workshop on wargaming in support of the Department of Defense on October 24–27 at the National Defense University in Washington, DC. The Fall 2016 Wargaming meeting will be the second recent MORS meeting on wargaming and is in response to the continued interest in wargaming from senior levels in the Department of Defense (DoD). It will serve as a venue for the services and others to share wargaming best practices and wargaming insights that have impacted service programs. It will also focus on how wargaming and other forms of analysis should best complement each other. This meeting will have portions at the SECRET/NOFORN level, as well as some unclassified sessions. Unclassified tutorials will be held October 24.

This workshop will focus on wargame execution and will provide senior officials leading the wargaming efforts within DoD a forum to provide guidance and answer questions. The workshop will showcase how wargames have been, are being, and will be employed in analytic processes within the department. During the workshop, working groups will discuss wargaming design, methods, and best practices, and provide hands on training for participants.

For details of last year’s MORS special meeting on wargaming, see my report for PAXsims. Information on the MORS Wargaming Community of Practice can be found here.

If the Cold War went hot in Asia

 

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Wargaming at the US NWC (1987).

Last month in the National Interest—and reprinted today in War is Boring—Robert Farley reviews the late Cold war series of Global wargames at the Naval War College, and what they had to say about a potential US-Soviet clash in Asia:

Nearly every analyst during the Cold War agreed that, if Moscow and Washington could keep the nukes from flying, the Central Front in Europe would prove decisive in war between the United States and the Soviet Union. The NATO alliance protected the Western European allies of the United States from Soviet aggression, while the Warsaw Pact provided the USSR with its own buffer against Germany.

But when the Cold War really went hot, the fighting took place in Asia. In Korea and Vietnam, the Soviet Union waged proxy struggles against the United States, and both sides used every tool available to control the destiny of China. However, while few believed that the Pacific theater would determine the victor of World War III, both the United States and Soviet Union needed to prepare for the eventuality of war there.

Scholars have devoted far less attention to the planning of World War III in East Asia than to the European theater. The two classic novels of the Third World War (Tom Clancy’s Red Storm Rising and John Hackett’s The Third World War) rarely touched on developments in Asia. However, in the 1970s and 1980s, the Naval War College traced the potential course of war in East Asia as part of a series of global war games. These games lend a great deal of insight into the key actors in the conflict, and how the decisive battles of a Second Pacific War might have played out.

Both the Soviets and the Americans had options in Asia. The strategic environment was far more fluid than in Europe, allowing a variety of different choices to disrupt and destabilize the opponent. This made the course of war far less predictable. At its (nonnuclear) worst, war could have raged across Asia on multiple fronts, from Korea to Japan to the Sino-Soviet border. At its best, the combatants might have observed an uneasy quiet, at least until it became necessary to outflank a stalemate in the West. But as was the case in Europe, everyone concerned is fortunate that tensions never led to open combat.

For more on wargaming (or, as they would have it, war gaming) at the US Naval War College, see their website. This includes unclassified reports from some of the more recent Global series games.

Matrix games at the US Army War College

USAWC.jpgThe following piece was contributed by Colonel Jerry Hall and Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Chretien of the Strategic Simulations Division (SSD), Center for Strategic Leadership, U.S. Army War College.


Dr. Rex Brynen of McGill University in Montreal, Canada recently delivered a presentation on “Conflict Simulation and Gaming in the Classroom” at the Royal Military College of Canada in Kingston, Ontario. During the workshop, Dr. Brynen introduced us to Matrix Games. He also moderated “ISIS Crisis,” a Matrix Game on the rise of ISIS set in the summer of 2014. Matrix Games have the potential to enhance experiential education in both wargaming and Professional Military Education (PME).

A Matrix Game is a low-overhead, facilitated, multi-player, argument-based game where players propose actions, weigh arguments and counter-arguments, and a die roll decides success or failure. Matrix Games typically last 2-3 hours and require a scenario with map and counters, a facilitator/umpire, a subject matter expert, and 4-6 players or teams of players. Matrix Games can be created on any topic, however the focus of this article is on strategic geopolitical crisis Matrix Games.

Chris Engle created Matrix Games in the late 1980s. He wanted to develop a game system in which it was possible for a player to role-play an entire country, but that did not have extensive rules, unit counters and combat results tables (like most wargames).[1] He based his system on roleplaying games, using a free-play framework where players propose actions, state their desired effect, and then posit arguments in support of why they believe the proposed action will succeed (other players may offer counter-arguments). Initially his games included a matrix of cue words, although over time the matrix was dropped, but the name stuck.[2] For additional information on Matrix Games, as well as free Matrix Games, see:

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Subsequently, the Strategic Simulations Division at the Army War College hosted its first Matrix Game demonstration session on December 10, 2015 for staff members of the Center for Strategic Leadership. The purpose of the demonstration was to provide an overview of Matrix Games and their potential for use as an additional wargaming method. The War College hosts several strategic wargames a year, using the two-sided seminar format. In ISIS Crisis, the participants represent one of six sides: the United States, Iran, Iraqi Government, Sunni minority, Iraqi Kurds, and ISIS. Prior to the game, each team was provided team-specific background information, objectives, and a special rules card explaining rules unique to each side.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: The purpose of the ISIS Crisis demonstration described below was to inform staff members on the Matrix Game methodology, not to formulate policy or strategy. Player actions do not reflect official policy of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.

The game began with a strategy and diplomacy phase, during which each team developed its strategy and conducted diplomatic negotiations with other the teams. For some teams, the negotiation session was instrumental in brokering deals that would significantly shape the subsequent gameplay. For others, the negotiation phase provided a sense of where they stood politically with other teams.

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The pre-game overview brief.

At the end of the strategy and diplomacy phase, each team announced the results of any negotiations (if they chose to). The United States team used the opportunity to announce a “four point” strategy for defeating ISIS. The final point of the strategy was support for a confederation system of government in Iraq, rather than continuing to support the Shia-dominated “unity” government. This announcement both surprised and immediately impacted the other players, especially the Iraqi, Iranian, Sunni minority and Kurdish teams.

The US team’s policy announcement set the tone for the game. The US built on its policy announcement by conducting a strategic information operations campaign to discredit ISIS and reduce its ability to recruit foreign fighters. Following a successful ISIS attack into Kurdish controlled Hasakah province and a successful Kurdish counter-offensive into Mosul, the US team deployed a significant aid package to the Kurds, in the form of air support, advisors, equipment and funding. Iraq interpreted the US policy statement and its direct support of the Kurds as destabilizing and sought to conduct reforms to increase minority representation in Parliament and its Ministries. The reform movement failed however, and the predominantly Shia Iraqi government faced the situation of a US-backed and resurgent Kurdish minority, combined with a now disenchanted Sunni minority leaning toward ISIS. The Iraqi Government responded by publicly appealing for military support. Iran responded to the call by announcing it would deploy ground forces into Iraq to help combat ISIS (the Iraqi and Iranian teams struck this secret deal during the diplomacy phase, unknown to the facilitator and the other players).

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Map orientation.

The US continued its diplomatic efforts to defeat ISIS by approaching the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries and asking them for help in cutting off funding for ISIS, then announced their own version of the 2014 Iranian Nuclear Deal, with a caveat that allowed Iran to deploy into Iraq to help fight ISIS. This deal effectively divided Iraq into a three-party state by driving the Sunni minority toward ISIS and further reinforcing Kurdish autonomy. ISIS and the Sunni minority successfully took Tikrit, then Fallujah, while Iranian forces deployed into Najaf, Karbalah and Samarra. ISIS then successfully conducted a covert operation in Samarra, destroying several Sunni mosques with explosives, and blaming Iranian forces. This event further strengthened the fissures between the Iraqi Government, the Sunnis and the Kurds. The Iraqi government attempted to gloss over the situation by conducting a “One Iraq” strategic communication campaign, but it did not reflect reality on the ground and was ignored by the other players. The game ended with Iraq in control of its Shia regions with significant Iranian ground forces, ISIS in control of the Sunni regions, including Tikrit and Fallujah, and the US-backed Kurds firmly in control of the Kurdish region. The new US policy announcement and the clever Iranian deals with the US and Iraq effectively created a three party Iraq. A by turn summary of all player actions as recorded is at the end of this article.

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Iranian team deliberations.

The after action review with the players, who were a mix of wargaming and research analysis experts, yielded several insights. Collectively the players thought that Matrix Games could be most beneficial before or during (or even in place of) the prevalent two-sided seminar wargaming method. They felt that the Matrix Game method better promoted participation and engagement among the players. The analysts felt that Matrix Games provided more quantitative data to collect due to the increased interaction, as well as more qualitative data in the form of the supporting arguments and the die rolls. All players thought that Matrix Games would be best for current or future (potential) conflicts to avoid participant knowledge of historical scenarios. They did acknowledge that historical scenarios could be used for Matrix Games to gain insights and understanding into why actors behaved as they did in historical conflicts.

Finally, ISIS Crisis demonstrated the potential utility of Matrix Games in policy and strategy formulation. National Security practitioners could conduct multiple iterations of a Matrix Game, testing a different policy or strategy approach in each one, to gain insights into how the various parties may react. For example, had this game been a test of a “confederation Iraq” policy, the US team would likely discard that policy course of action due to the implications vis-à-vis Iran, the Sunnis and the Kurds.

Since this ISIS Crisis demonstration, we briefed the War College Commandant and began to design our own Matrix Games. We plan to provide the War College faculty training on the use of Matrix Games as another tool in their instructor “toolkit” and look forward to providing future strategic leaders an additional experiential education experience during their time here at Carlisle Barracks.

ISIS Crisis actions by turn summary:

Turns 0-1

  • Turn 0 (Diplomacy Round): US announced new “4 Point” Policy to defeat ISIS; final point was support for an Iraqi Confederation Government
  • US: Global IO Campaign to discredit ISIS (success)
  • Iran: Negotiate covert SOF advisors and equipment to Syria (success)
  • ISIS: Conquer Hasakah Province from Kurds (success; doubles*)
  • ISIS Free Move: Counter US IO Campaign based on taking Hasakah (success)
  • Iraq: Expand minority representation across minsitries (fail)
  • Sunni: Propose law for proportional minority representation in Parliament (fail)
  • Kurds: Conquer Mosul from ISIS (success)

*ISIS Crisis special rule: when any player rolls doubles on two six-sided dice, ISIS receives a bonus action related to the roll.

Turn 2

  • US: Deploy forces in support of Kurds (Drones, SOF, Air, Equipment) (success)
  • Iran: Move SOF (via air) and equipment (via sea) to Syria (fail; moved but detected and attributed to Iran)
  • ISIS: Retake Mosul from Kurds (fail)
  • Iraq: Open request for ground forces in support of fight against ISIS (no roll; Iran agrees to help)
  • Sunni: Conduct uprising in Tikrit: phase 1 build militia (success)
  • Kurds: Retake Hasakah Province from ISIS (fail; doubles)
  • ISIS Free Move: Provide support to Sunnis for Tikrit uprising (success)*

*Umpire mistake, not related to failed roll!

Turn 3

  • US: Soft diplomacy to GCC to stop flow of money to ISIS (success)
  • Iran: Deploy ground forces to Iraq: Najaf and Karbala (success)
  • ISIS: Conquer Tikrit with Sunni militia support (success)
  • Iraq: Conduct anti-ISIS IO campaign based on “one Iraq” (fail)
  • Sunni: Re-propose law for proportional minority representation in Parliament (success)
  • Kurds: Retake Hasakah Province from ISIS (success)

Turn 4

  • US: Announced Iranian nuclear deal in exchange for Iranian help against ISIS (success)
  • Iran: Deploy additional ground forces to Iraq: Samara (success; doubles)
  • ISIS Free Move: Blows up several mosques in Samara; Iran blamed (success)
  • ISIS: Regional recruiting campaign (success; doubles)
  • ISIS Free Move: Conquer Fallujah from Iraq (success)
  • Iraq: Coordinate for Combined Iraqi-Iranian assault to retake Fallujah from ISIS (fail; Iraq attacks alone)
  • Sunni: Appeal to US for support (no roll)
  • Kurds: Recuit/deploy additional Peshmerga into Kirkuk Provice (fail)

[1]Matrix Games: The Origins of Matrix Games,” Wargame Developments,  (accessed January 27, 2016).

[2] John Curry and Tim Price, Matrix Games for Modern Wargaming (Bristol, UK: The History of Wargaming Project, 2014), 7.


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

COL Jerry Hall is an Army Simulations Officer and the Director of the Strategic Simulations Division, Center for Strategic Leadership, US Army War College. He can be reached at jerry.a.hall.mil@mail.mil

LTC Joseph Chretien is an Army Simulations Officer assigned to the Strategic Simulations Division. He can be reached at joseph.c.chretien.mil@mail.mil

2015 in review

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2016 is now upon us, and so PAXsims would like to wish all of our regular readers—as well as those who may have accidentally found themselves here while looking for the PaxSim advanced aviation passenger and  baggage simulation tool—a very happy new year. May all your conflicts be merely simulated!

It’s an appropriate time too to review some statistics for PAXsims in 2015:

PAXsims had 52,343 visitors (and 94,152 views) in 2015, up from 44,611 visitors the years before. Since the blog was established in 2008 we’ve now had well over 378,000 views—which is certainly more than any of my traditional academic writings have been read! In addition, 243 people subscribe to blog updates via email or wordpress.

Our visitors have come from an impressive 178 countries and territories, with the United States accounting for almost half of these:

  1. US: 45.9%
  2. Canada: 9.3%
  3. UK: 8.4%
  4. Germany: 3.5%
  5. Netherlands: 3.3%
  6. France: 2.7%
  7. Australia: 2.3%
  8. Italy: 1.5%
  9. Spain: 1.4%
  10. Brazil: 1.2%

We even had visitors this past year from North Korea, South Sudan, and Bhutan.

This year we’ve topped the one thousand mark for total number of posts on the blog, reaching 1,004. Our top ten items posted in 2015 were:

  1. Boardgames and the indirect surveillance state
  2. AFTERSHOCK
  3. Revisiting the “ISIS Crisis”
  4. Teaching professional wargaming
  5. Zones of Control
  6. ISIS Crisis at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst
  7. ISIS Crisis at MIGS
  8. Updated ISIS Crisis materials
  9. Simulating the Syrian refugee crisis in Lebanon
  10. Wargaming and innovation

Another very popular item was Gaming the crisis in the Ukraine, first posted in March 2014 but updated regularly since then.

In addition to various search engines, our most common referrers were Facebook, Reddit, Twitter, Grognard.com, BoardGameGeek, and ConsimWorld.

Finally, let me thank my fellow PAXsims editors (Gary Milante, Ellie Bartels, Devin Ellis), our research associates (Nikola Adamus, Corinne Goldberger, Ryan Kuhns, Nick LaLone, and Christian Palmer), and all those who have contributed to the blog this year. Without them there would be much less to read.

Onwards into 2016!

 

 

Playtesting RCAT

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Last week I was invited to participate in a demonstration and playtest of the Rapid Campaign Analysis Toolset in Ottawa. RCAT has been developed by the (UK) Defence Science and Technology Laboratory and Cranfield University, and is intended as flexible, low-overhead wargaming system for military planning and analysis.You’ll find more on RCAT here and here (from Connections UK 2013), here (Falklands war operational commanders test, via the LBS blog), and here (in conjunction with a digital simulation, again from LBS).

DSTL.pngDefence Research and Development Canada are interested in seeing whether RCAT might be used to help refine the scenarios used for capability-based planning within the Department of National Defence. These scenarios aren’t based on current events, nor are they meant to represent actual planned operations. Instead they are intended to be broadly representative of the sorts of missions that the Canadian Armed Forces might be called upon to perform. They are thus intended to provide the Joint Capability Planning Team with plausible problems that might be  addressed by military means, enabling the identification and validation of various military capabilities.banner.jpg

To this end, the visiting RCAT team (Colin Marston of Dstl, Jeremy D. Smith from Cranfield University,and Graham Longley-Brown of LBS) had developed a version of RCAT that addressed an existing force development scenario—specifically, a hybrid warfare scenario that explored the ability of Canadian forces to operate as part of a larger coalition in a complex conflict environment running the gamut from high intensity combat to later stabilization operations.

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RCAT design process

 

I headed up the Red Team, and proceeded to throw every plausible curve I could think of at both the Blue and Green players and the RCAT system itself. The sessions were very much a participatory seminar on the game’s design, as we discussed how RCAT modelled various kinetic and non-kinetic effects, how the system might be modified, and the extent to which it might offer insight into scenario design and capability issues. To this end, we gamed a few turns of everything from major campaign moves (days/weeks/months), through to tactical/operational vignettes (hours)—the former including one major surprise by me, and the latter including a very successful urban operation and airborne insertion by my opponents.

RCATsequence.jpg

RCAT turn sequence (with apologies for the creases).

 

What impressions did I draw from all this?

I was impressed with RCAT. It is flexible and easy to understand, and can be easily modified (even during a game) to address issues and needs as they arise. The military outcomes all seemed highly plausible.  I thought the combat components worked better than the stabilization model, but then again the scenario was a challenging one. Moreover the political, social, and economic dynamics of stabilization are, in my view, much more complicated and much less well understood than the art and science of conventional military operations.

RCAT’s design lends itself to both training and analytical use—and possibly both at once. Many professional wargamers would suggest that analytical and training games are quite different things, and one should design a game to serve either one purpose or the other. I certainly accept that a game’s experimental design might be compromised by training requirements, and vice-versa. However, I do think there are cases where one can get two (simulated) bangs for one (very real) buck. Because of its elegant design it is easy to imagine RCAT being run as part of professional military education, while analysts use player behaviours to explore research questions of interest.

Game design and playtest sessions can themselves generate useful experimental data. The usual practice with many analytical wargames is the develop the game, playtest it to identify shortcomings, and refine the design. Having done this, the final wargame is conducted—and only then is data systematically recorded regarding the research question being examined. However, our RCAT discussions, although intended simply as introduction and game development sessions, themselves produced substantive findings relating to both scenario development and future Canadian Forces capability requirements. This suggests that we need to think about more systematically identifying insights generated by game design processes.

Scenario designers need to think seriously about politics. There were a few times in the force development scenario we were using where politically-appropriate behaviour by scenario actors threatened to compromise the ability of the scenario to fully explore the intended research questions. While RCAT is certainly not a role-playing or negotiation game, the adversarial (and coalition) nature of game play did force players to think critically about their interests and motivations.

Game facilitation skills matter—a lot. The RCAT team knew exactly when to play the rules-as-written, and when to tweak the system on the fly to best model the unfolding situation. They also had the wisdom and experience to keep the game flowing despite potential distractions (including incessant comments and suggestions from me!)—and, conversely, also knew when to slow things down to allow for a deeper-dive or extended discussion.

Such facilitation skills are not necessarily intrinsic to all wargamers. Indeed, if anything they’re more common among role-playing gamers, especially experienced dungeon/gamemasters, than among “grognard” conflict simulationists. That, however, is a PAXsims post for another day.

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